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Shabbat shalom


Davus
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September 75

 

"Onions, garlic, figs, cumin, lentils," Davus murmured to himself, repeating the shopping list over again (minus the items he had already bought, of course). "Onions, garlic... oof!" He had been distracted in his search and ended up very nearly walking into someone. The someone, when he'd recovered his wits and stepped backwards, an apology ready, turned out to be a young woman, of similar complexion to him, dressed simply, and with a veil over her head.

"Apologies," he said, checking that he hadn't dropped anything - he hadn't. "I wasn't watching where I was going - I hope you're not hurt?" His Latin was perhaps more melodious than a native would pronounce it, thanks to his Egyptian Greek accent.

 

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Aglaea, too, had been in her own world as she walked along to the marketplace from synagogue. She had been considering the teachings she had heard of Jesus today, lost in thought as she synthesized her new knowledge with her own life experiences. But as sometimes happened when she became too engrossed in thought, she almost walked into someone. She noticed him just before she would have crashed into him, but in her haste to move out of his way, her veil was dislodged. She quickly replaced it and turned back to apologize, but he got there first. 

Smiling generously, she waved her hand. "Not at all." She looked at him with an interested expression, having noticed his accent. She thought that she must, too, speak with some accent, though she had learned Latin at a very early age, so it must be faint. "I'm not hurt, thank you - are you? It seems we both were lost in thought," she said, laughing. "Forgive me, what accent is that? I haven't heard it before..."

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"Not hurt at all," Davus said, thankful that the other was equally uninjured. "Uh, Egyptian," he said, in answer to her question - what an odd question to ask, in a city like this, that had people from all the corners of the empire in it. Her own Latin was accented, though much softer. She had probably spoken Latin for much longer than he had, if she'd ever spoken anything else. He couldn't place hers, although the accent of the few words she'd spoken sounded vaguely familiar - yet not quite. "I'm sorry if I, uh..." He indicated her veil, which she had had to rearrange.

He wasn't sure where she was from, and from the plainness of her dress, she was possibly a slave, and for a slave to cover her head probably meant she was Jewish or something - he remembered them from his childhood in Alexandria.

 

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Ah, Egyptian. But surely that wasn't all? She'd heard Egyptians speak - but, she realized, it didn't particularly matter. She had encountered plenty of people with interesting accents, and since languages were an interest of hers, she always made a point to ask, as though she were collecting exotic accents for her collection. "I see. Your Latin is excellent," she said kindly. 

The young man then gestured at her veil which she had securely rearranged onto her head, apologizing for knocking it loose. She laughed a little - she really only wore it during synagogue and after it, being sure to remove it upon reentering the domus, since she didn't want to draw attention to her membership in a religion other than the Roman sect. "That's quite alright," she assured him. "It was my own fault for not wearing it securely enough. So, you are from Egypt, then?" She was clearly interested in Egypt, having never been there before. 

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"Thank you," Davus said simply, thinking that she must be very kind - his Latin was by no means as good as hers, though it did help that Latin was a regular language that followed the same sort of patterns, in its own way, as his native Greek did.

"From Alexandria," he said, somehow finding it quite natural to fall into step beside her, although he was perfectly ready to be told to get lost. She must have heard of Alexandria - it was a city renowned for learning and philosophy, after all. "Can I ask where you're from?"

 

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Aglaea smiled as she continued on her way but he fell into step with her. The company was welcome and she wondered if he wanted to eat lunch with her; eating alone got lonely sometimes. "Of course," she responded. As they walked, she asked where he was from and he told her that he was from Alexandria. Always interested in learning, Alexandria was the pinnacle of everything she found interesting in her free time. "Oh, amazing! I've always wanted to go, but of course..." She chuckled a little. "I go where my mistress goes."

He then asked where she was from. "Judea," she said with a small smile. "But I haven't been there in many years. Are you new to Rome?"

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He shook his head at her question. "No, I've been here for..." he had to pause to work it out. He'd been in the household of Titus Sulpicius Rufus for six years, and in Rome itself for three years before that... "Nine summers?" She looked at least a little interested, at least.

"I was only about ten when I left Alexandria, I'm sure it isn't how I remember it at all." He shifted the shopping basket to sit more comfortably on his arm. "What about you - where are you from?"

She had at least confirmed that she was a slave, like him, which meant he could relax a bit and not have to worry that he might somehow offend a free woman - he wouldn't want to offend anyone, even a slave, but free people were apt to get touchy when their dignity was somehow offended by a slave, and touchy free people were quick to lash out, even when the slave was someone else's property. He risked a sideways glance. This young woman looked altogether too gentle and kind for that sort of reaction - there was something about her that had drawn him and he couldn't even begin to say what it might be.

 

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Nine summers was quite a long time, almost as long as Aglaea. She'd been with Roman mistresses since she was seven, but with Livia since she was fourteen. She was caught for a moment by surprise at that thought - she'd spent most of her life with Livia at this point. "That is quite a while... what did you say your name was?" She smiled briefly before attending to his question. "Judea," she explained. "Though I don't remember it all too well. I've been with my current mistress for fourteen years, and my mistress before, I was with for seven."

The young man she was walking with seemed kind and interested in talking, which was a trait that either endeared a person to Aglaea or put her on guard. But there was nothing dubious about him - he seemed well-mannered and honest. He was clearly a slave as well, too, which she was glad to notice - one found all sorts of interesting information through the grapevine of slaves. But he was also nice for talking to about their homelands. 

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"I didn't, but it's Davus," Davus said. "You didn't tell me your name, either, though."

Fourteen years with the same mistress? He could barely imagine that; he'd had three masters in the same length of time. "Judea? That's a long way away - even further than Alexandria."

He thought it was, anyway, further towards the rising sun than his birthplace. "I've only been with my current master for six years, the longest I've been anywhere except my very first place." 

Only thinking about that reminded him of his mother and then he was reminded of the last time he'd seen her, when they were pulled apart in the huge slave market at Delos.

 

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"Forgive me," she said with a little laugh. "It's Aglaea. I'm pleased to meet you, Davus." She was, too. He seemed like a pleasant young man and she was interested to learn more about him. He asked about Judea and said that it must be a long way away, further than Alexandria. "It was quite a journey, but I didn't go straight from Judea to Rome. It was a bit more roundabout than that."

He mentioned that he had been with his current master for six years and she glanced at him. "Might I ask who your master is? Mine is Livia Justina - but she doesn't get out so much, you might not know her." 

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"Mine's Titus Sulpicius Rufus," he said - the slave tag he wore just gave his master's initials (he thought) and those could refer to almost anyone. "I don't suppose you know him, though - he's a senator, though, so you might." There were over six hundred senators so the chances of her knowing his master, out of all of those, was pretty slim.

"And I didn't come straight here from Alexandria, either - I was in Corinth for a bit." It was nice to have someone to talk to, someone who understood his journey and where he'd come from, even if neither of them had been to the other's birthplace. She must be a bit older than him, he thought - maybe four or five years older than him? It was hard to tell, with her hair covered.

"I hope you don't mind me asking," he said, speaking a little quieter. "Why are you wearing that?" There were slave women who covered their hair, but most of the ones he'd seen didn't bother - it was far more common for upper class ladies to cover their hair when they went out.

 

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The name rang a familiar bell in her mind but she couldn't place it. Surely she must have met someone who knew someone in his household. "I may have heard the name," she said with a shrug, chuckling. "But as I said, my mistress does not socialize much, so I don't get to know them much." There were too many senators in Rome to know for sure, of course. 

Davus went on to explain that he had been in Corinth for a while before proceeding to Rome and Aglaea nodded. "I've never been there either. Is it nice?" She played with a loose end of her head covering as they walked, an unconscious motion. "I lived in Antioch after I left Judea, with my first mistress. And then I was sold to my current mistress, of course."

Davus seemed nervous when he began his next question, asking her why she was wearing her head covering and she giggled a little. "Oh - I'm a Hebrew. It's customary for women in my faith to cover their hair, especially during our worship. I just left my... temple." He might not have been familiar with the real term for her place of worship, so she figured 'temple' was easier. "But I don't wear it all the time. I usually take it off when I return home." They had come to a honey cake place that Aglaea had been planning on stopping at and she drew to a stop. "You don't... want to join me for a cake, do you?"

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"Oh, uh - Shabbat shalom?" he said, stumbling a little over the Hebrew; he'd heard people greeting each other that way in his childhood. Alexandria had a large Jewish population, after all.

His memories of Corinth were somewhat coloured by his experiences, but he'd been there for about five years or so, and it hadn't all been bad. "Corinth was all right - it's a really busy city like Alexandria, and Rome. It's got the port and everything, you see."

She'd only had two mistresses, and had been with her current one for fourteen years? Davus could only wish for that sort of stability in his life; he was starting to get nervous about being sold again, just because he hadn't gone as long as this without being on the block, not since he was young. But his current master hadn't seemed displeased with him, or wanting to replace him, so he could hope.

"I wouldn't mind," he said, in response to her suggestion. "I can get my own, though, you shouldn't have to spend your money on someone you've only just met." Slaves didn't have a nice disposable income, after all, not in Davus' experience, anyway, and he could spare a few asses for something sweet.

 

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Aglaea smiled brightly at him as he greeted her in her native language. When was the last time she'd conversed with someone who spoke her language, outside of her synagogue? It must have been months, years even, as she deferred to Latin in most situations. But she was getting ahead of herself - he had only greeted her, and had admitted to being from Alexandria, which was not a place populated entirely by her people. "Shalom aleichem," she responded, thrilled slightly with the words. Language had always been a passion of hers, since her first mistress educated her well, but she always felt excited speaking her mother tongue. 

Davus spoke about Corinth being a busy city with its port and she nodded. She remembered her journey from Antioch to Rome, remembered the ports with a slight shiver - she preferred her feet on solid earth. "I imagine it must have been exciting. I haven't traveled much since I was a young girl." As they reached the shop she'd been heading for and she invited him for a cake, he responded by accepting, except he wanted to pay for his own. She waved her hand casually and chuckled. "Nonsense. I invited you - why would I expect you to pay?" It wasn't like she needed to save it for anything else, anyway. Livia would never let her buy her freedom. 

Without letting him speak another word of protest, she proceeded into the shop and purchased two of the dense cakes, then led the way back outside. "Here, I can sit and chat for a little while." She handed him his cake. "So, you have been with your master for a while now?"

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Davus favoured her with a shy smile. "I can manage Greek and Egyptian as well as Latin, but that's all the Hebrew I know." The Jews had kept pretty much to themselves, after all, or at least had not wanted to socialise with a child slave much, which was fair enough - they had looked different enough from everyone else (though all the different people in Alexandria looked different enough that it was pretty easy to work out whether someone was Egyptian or Roman or whatever).

"Thank you," he said, accepting the offer of even the small expenditure that a cake was. "Yes. Six years - like I said, I haven't been anywhere else that long since I left Alexandria, but I'm nothing special in the house, not like a body slave or a secretary or anything." He took the cake she handed him. "Your mistress must like you, if you've been there as long as that." He was still a bit shy but she was easy to talk to, and non-threatening, and she had been nice enough to spend some of her money on him. Of course he could sit and chat with her for a bit - it wasn't as though the house steward knew ho long his shopping trip was going to take, after all.

 

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"Well, you've mastered that phrase," she said with a chuckle. "I was blessed with an education in Greek and Latin, but I've never learned Egyptian. I would love to learn sometime, though." The conversation paused as she went inside to purchase the cakes and then resumed as they sat on the curb to eat their treats. He explained that he was not anything special within the household, but that he had been with his master for six years. "That's quite a long time," she commented. Time had lost some meaning to her - she barely remembered a time before slavery, or even a time before Livia, now that she was getting older. Her younger years had become a blur. 

"Oh - yes, my domina and I are very close. I have been her companion for quite a long while." She gazed at him. "You shouldn't be down on yourself about the work you do, you know. I am sure you do important work for your master," she said gently. Aglaea was of the opinion that all slaves were important in the working of the household, no matter their tasks. She always made a point to help wherever she could, anyway, so she could relate to most parts of the house. 

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Davus took the cake she offered him, and shrugged. "I don't know if sweeping the floors and pouring drinks is exactly important work. And I'm sure there are plenty of worse masters in Rome - he's not bad." He wasn't; Davus could count getting the odd afternoon off to do what he wanted, so long as he was back by nightfall. "It's nothing like the as important as being his secretary or something like that, though."

He couldn't write, so anything more impressive would be out of the question. Still, his chores were easy enough, and it meant that he got time to sit outside in the sun, eating honey-cakes with a pretty woman. Which was about all he could ask from life, really.

"It's not as important as your work, even. Body slave to a senator's wife - making sure she looks nice when she goes out, and going shopping with her - I bet you have nicer things to carry home than just onions and cucumbers!"

 

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Aglaea smiled at him as he suggested sweeping and pouring drinks wasn't that important. "Well, I beg to differ, Davus," she said, shrugging. "Every person has a place in their home, a role to play. No matter what that role is." She had to believe that, anyway. She had not always been a body slave; indeed, she had not always even known the language she spoke regularly now. Everyone came from somewhere, no matter how humble. "It is good that you have a good master, though. Not everyone is so lucky."

She flushed as he complimented her work. "Well, it is interesting work, at least. Roman matrons are quite demanding." She laughed a little. "I have an understudy of sorts... the poor thing can't comb her hair right, dress her properly... she has a lot to learn." 

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He had been trying to offer her a compliment and it had fallen flat. Oh well, never mind. 

"But she lets you attend services for your own god, though. A lot of mistresses wouldn't." 

He thought she was behaving as though she had permission to be out, anyway, but maybe she had just been sent to market for something and had taken the opportunity presented to her. 

"I'm sure you're a good teacher, too. Though I wouldn't blame you for not wanting to be."

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A naturally modest woman, Aglaea sometimes had trouble accepting compliments. She had known that that was what was intended, of course, but didn't believe that she deserved it. He was right, however, that Livia allowing her to attend her services was a rarity. "I am truly blessed that way. But our relationship has shifted in a way - we are almost like siblings, truth be told." With some major differences, of course. 

Aglaea chuckled. "I try," she said. "Thank you. Though I don't think Livia will ever replace me with her, unless she can help it." She looked at him. "I haven't done much traveling in my life. Will you tell me about your homeland?" If she were ever freed, she supposed she might travel if she got the chance. 

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"I told you I'm from Alexandria," Davus said, hastily swallowing the mouthful of cake he'd just taken. "That's in Lower Egypt, right by the sea. It's a big city, though I don't think it's as big as Rome, and a lot flatter. Most of it, anyway. There's an island just off the coast, with a causeway running out to it, so you've got two big harbours, and the Pharos is out there, with a beacon to guide ships in safely. And there's the Library, and all sorts of temples and everything." He shrugged. "I wasn't that old when I left, and went to Corinth, which is another big city near the sea."

He looked up at the hill above them, with the Temple of Jupiter stark against the blue Italian sky, and then brought his dark gaze back down to his companion. "I think, I miss the sea more than anything. Just being able to look across the blue water to where it touches the sky - there aren't any horizons in Rome."

 

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