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Aglaea was comforted by his presence, somehow. How could that be, though? He was an almost perfect stranger, and, apparently, related to her master's brother. How could she be comforted by a member of that family? And yet, she was. He had a different energy about him, calming and assured. She smiled briefly at him when he touched her arm and then launched into her story. 

His question was right on the money. He had struck into the heart of the issue: Secundus. "Secundus is not kind to anyone," she said flatly, her mouth twisted into a bitter, wry smile. "But, no, he wasn't kind to her. She was deep in grief and he wasn't patient with her. You see, my master is childless. And he wants nothing more than a child to carry on his name." Unconsciously, again, she touched her belly as though to protect the child within. "I do love my mistress. She is like a sister, and her life is not good, you're right."

"I... I don't know if he wanted to hurt her through me, get back at her for not performing her duties as a wife, or if it really was as simple as him wanting a child, but..." She grit her teeth and stared up at the sky, steadying herself. "A few days after their marriage, he became frustrated with her and came to me. He wanted me to... to take her place." She wondered if that was too vague, but she found herself momentarily unable to talk around the lump growing in her throat. 

@Atrice

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She didn’t tell him to move his hand from her arm, instead she just smiled and seemed comforted by it. When she seemed so moved by the story he told though, he felt more and more sorry for her. Wulfric removed his arm, but inched closer, in case she needed an embrace or just someone to lean on. She seemed to be on the verge of tears already. He hadn’t meant to make her cry, when he asked about his family! He didn’t know it would be like this…

But he was right, when he suggested Secundus had not been kind to Aglaeas mistress. She said he wasn’t kind to anyone and not to her either. She continued with the story about how Secundus wanted a child badly. That was understandable. Every man wanted a child and especially a boy, to carry on the family. It was the same in Germania. He expected it was the same everywhere… although there were stories about places where women ruled and were more important than men. But he didn’t know if those were just tales.

He continued to pay attention, saw how she touched her belly and continued to talk about Secundus’ reasons for something he did. Wulfric already suspected Aglaea was with child and it was Secundus’ and she basically confirmed it, when she said he had made Aglaea take his wife’s place. Only a few days into the marriage? Had he even tried with his wife… getting along with her, talking to her? Arranged marriages were common, again also where he came from. But with the arranged marriage came an understanding from both parts – a desire to make it work. It sounded as if Secundus and Aglaea’s mistress had barely tried. And then Aglaea had drawn the shortest straw in it all, because she was a woman and a slave. Poor woman.

Wulfric inhaled a small breath, feeling with her, “I think I understand. He… made you carry his child. And you are…” He trailed off what he tried to say and sighed, shook his head, “He not kind, you told me. And I see it now. I understand. You are unhappy. You and your mistress are unhappy.” Why was his uncle like that? Sure Aglaea was just a slave, but she clearly had feelings on this matter and she was deeply unhappy about the whole situation… “I wish I can… help you?”

@Echo

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Perhaps it was because Wulfric was a stranger that Aglaea found it easier to talk to him about this situation. She had been closed off about it with the other slaves in the household, knowing they had their own problems to sort through and didn't need hers. But Wulfric could do nothing about this situation, and therefore she didn't feel like she was burdening him overmuch. If anything, she hoped that this information was the reason he returned to Germania to forget about his father and his family, though that didn't seem likely. 

Wulfric understood without her saying outright that Secundus had fathered her baby and she nodded, the words tumbling out easier now that she'd gotten started. "Yes, and he has it all planned out... he's moving the whole household to the villa in the countryside for the duration of my pregnancy, pretending Livia is pregnant too. He wants me to pretend that I miscarried my child when the time comes, and that it's really Livia's, and..." She stopped, wiping her eyes and sighing. "We're going to be stuck there for nine months, or at least from the time I start showing. I can't stand being under that man's roof that long..."

She gazed at him as he said he wanted to help her, the ghost of a smile appearing, though it had little warmth. "You are too kind, Wulfric, but I am afraid that there is nothing you can do for me. Secundus has everything figured out." Unless... she stared at him again, trying to guess what his reaction would be to her next statement. "I can't- he can't have this child. I can't let him. He would ruin the child. Everything that enters his household is ruined."

@Atrice

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She was talking faster now and Wulfric tried to keep up with the tale of Secundus and Aglaea’s mistress, whose name appeared to be Livia and of course Aglaea’s whole peculiar and bad situation. She confirmed that she was carrying her master’s child. Again it was not a new thing and nothing out of the ordinary, but Secundus was handling it all the wrong way. He made her with child intentionally and now that Aglaea told her the continued plan, it just became worse. He was… cruel! How could Wulfric be related to such a man? It would be hard to keep a straight face, if he met the man. But he promised Aglaea to not let it be known, that she told him this story.

“It sound… horrible.” He said and leaned forwards, resting his arms on his knees while deep in thought. He’d said he wished he could help her, help them, and looked at Aglaea when she smiled and called him kind. She said there was nothing he could do. Then she said she couldn’t have the child and that Secundus would ruin the child. What was her plan? To… get rid of it?

“It dangerous to try and make it go away.” Wulfric said, “But I understand. I don’t want…” He stopped as he realized what he was saying. Aglaea’s child would be his cousin! If it was born… “If he is father, your child is my family too. I will not… let him ruin child.” But how to help? Maybe if he spoke to her mistress too. Maybe there was something he could do. Or maybe if his own father took him in, he could stay in Rome long enough for the child to be born and then take it and return to Germania. He could of course also just take Aglaea with him now. But then he would not meet his father. He’d not even met his father or his uncle and already this was quite the dilemma!

“I will find solution for you. I will try.” Wulfric then promised.

@Echo

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Aglaea realized that she had accidentally made it sound like she wanted to get rid of the child before it was born. That was not her intention at all - she loved the little life growing within her already, with all her heart, and that made it all the more poignant that its father was Secundus. If she let him have it, or let Livia have it, it would grow up living a lie, not to mention what effects growing up in such a household would have on the child. "I don't want to- to harm it," she said, the tears becoming more prominent now. "I want him to have a good life, safe, far away from here. A life that- that I couldn't have." 

And then when Wulfric promised to find a solution for her, the tears flowed over in earnest. How could she have been so lucky, to find a good man like him? God must have sent him her way, knowing she needed a friend. She grasped his hand in hers and with her free hand, wiped her eyes. "You are too good, Wulfric. I don't want to burden you." She fell silent as she fought to gain control of her tears again. "I think... I think I just need a friend for now. Perhaps if you introduce yourself to my master, you can come and visit the villa... but I don't want to burden you, of course. You wanted to find your father - you should go to him first, before you worry about me. I will survive."

@Atrice

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She was about to break. He could hear it on her voice. Women didn’t break out in tears so often where he came from, but he found that the Romans were so much more used to keeping their feelings private, that sometimes they were overwhelmed by them. Of course he didn’t know if that was the case with Aglaea. But it seemed so, because it seemed to him, that she had no one else to talk to. No one else to tell about her problems. And the problems she had… they were not for the fragile or lighthearted and he felt sorry for her.

Aglaea said she didn’t want to harm her child, she just wanted it to have a good life far away from here. Which brought him back to the thought from before, taking the child with him to Germania. He would have to be careful to come up with a good plan for this. No one could know the plan, no one should suspect him. He would have to pretend to not even come close to having such intentions. Secundus, whom he had not even met yet, would have to be persuaded into thinking that Wulfric was nothing but a barbaric and uncivilized Germanian, as the Romans here seemed to think Germanians were. He would have to be the stereotype. And behind that, he would find a solution. He told Aglaea this and now she did cry.

He looked at her when she grasped his hand and wiped her eyes, gods, it was horrible for her, wasn’t it? Wulfric blinked, surprised by how her emotions played with his too! She said he was too good, didn’t want to burden him and she just wanted a friend. Wulfric sighed, placed his other hand over hers that she still held his hand with. He had no idea when he came to Rome, that he'd step into a family like this. But family it was and the issues were up to him to solve, it seemed.

“Survive is good. Happy life… better.” To survive was fine enough, if you had no other options, but she should strive for more than that. She wasn’t a bad person. She was just a slave who had ended up in the wrong household for her. Another slave might have been more content with the circumstances, but not this one. It wasn’t for her.

“You do not burden, Ag-laea. I will be friend. And I will meet your master, my uncle… and he will not know, that I know.” He said, looking at her pretty and dark eyes, filled with tears. Maybe it was better that even Aglaea didn’t know his plan. Then she could not be forced into spilling it, if she didn’t know it at all. For now though, he had to deal with a crying woman and how to please her best, to calm her down? “In this moment, can I do good for you? Do you want food… or drink? Or another thing? Tell me… if you will. You do not burden.”

@Echo

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A wave of relief washed over her as he confirmed that he would be a friend to her. She hadn't realized it but she had been sorely needing one - even if he wasn't the kind of friend who could help her, he could at least keep her company and perhaps let her vent every once in a while. Perhaps Secundus would even let him come to the villa, which would make it easier. But for now, he was company and she was thankful for him. 

As he confirmed that he would meet her master, she nodded, the analytical part of her mind now working hard. He would need to seem respectable, and understand how Secundus operated in order to pull this off. She had another few weeks, perhaps, before he whisked them all away to the villa. She could teach him what she knew and then have him present himself. She hoped desperately that everything would work. "You are a good man, Wulfric," she repeated quietly, wiping her eyes and smiling. 

She was calmer now, but the simple gesture of him asking if he could do anything for her made her laugh a little. No one had asked her a thing like that in such a long time. As a slave, it was her job to ask such questions, and other slaves simply kept to themselves, not worrying about others. "That is sweet," she said, smoothing her skirts. "I'm better now, but thank you." She wiped her eyes once more. "I want you to be prepared before you meet Secundus, though. Do you think we could meet again, sometime soon?"

@Atrice

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Unless she or Rome proved him wrong, Wulfric would be a friend to her and he would try and help her the best he could. He only just met her, but so what? She had a rough life and a rough master and she didn’t deserve this, with how kind and sweet she was. Wulfric liked Aglaea so far, so why should he not want to help her? She did seem to want him to come see her again and spoke of him meeting her master, which he definitely would. Secundus was both his uncle and her master and also someone he had to meet, no matter what. But now he had more reasons than just the fact that Secundus was family. Maybe it was wrong to already judge him without having met him, but if there was just a fracture of truth to what Aglaea had told him… Secundus was not a good man.

 She said however that Wulfric was a good man and he could not help but smile at her kind words, “And you are a good woman, Aglaea. You are.” He replied to her, while she wiped her eyes with a smile. Poor woman. He wondered if he could do anything for her, if she needed anything, but she only laughed at his words and said he was sweet and she felt better. Then she went on saying he should be prepared before he met Secundus and she wanted to meet Wulfric again.

 “Of course we could meet soon.” He said, nodding, “But… I think we must be careful? Where do we meet, you know a good place?” Wulfric then asked and added with a little smile, “I promise I try not make you cry again. You smiling, better. And pretty.”

@Echo

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Aglaea wasn't sure why she felt like she could trust him, but something in her heart told her that he was trustworthy, despite being produced by the Varus family. She had to believe that the circumstances of one's birth could not be the only determining factor in their lives. After all, Christ was born in a humble barn, laid to rest in swaddling clothes in a manger. Wulfric was related to the Varus family somehow, but he had not been raised by it. He was something else entirely. And Aglaea could sense a great alliance, even a friendship, forming, so quickly and suddenly it threatened to take her breath away. 

Wulfric confirmed that they could meet again soon and she nodded as he asked whether she knew a good place. "Yes, the Gardens of Sullust. They are discrete, plenty of places tucked away where we could talk. I am not sure when I can get away again, but I will send word to you when I can. Where are you staying?" His next words produced a smile. How charming he was. "You didn't make me cry," she assured him, knowing that wasn't the point. "Thank you, Wulfric. I am in your debt already." Once they had worked out all the details, she stood and took his hand in hers. "You are a good man. I will send word soon. Thank you." And with that, she was off, tentative hope blossoming in her chest. 

@Atrice End? 

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