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Artemon
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October 75 CE

After a successful praying session to the ancient gods of his homeland, Artemon was feeling quite ready to honour another Egyptian custom of old - a nice mug of beer. Even though his deity of choice was Sobek, the crocodile god to whom he had not found a temple yet, he had faith that neither Isis nor Serapis would object too much to being second best.

The small tavern a couple of streets away was mostly frequented by countrymen of his and, as far as Artemon was concerned, had pretty decent beer for its price. He hummed an old tune all the way there and headed straight for the counter upon entering, where he parted with a bit of coin and was given a big cup with a generous amount of beer inside. He took a sip, sighed in delight and made his way outside again, intent on enjoying his drink under the autumn sun...

That was, until he walked into something quite solid and proceeded to spill half his beer over it. As he processed the event he first mourned the loss of his drink, and only a moment later did he realise he had unwittingly given a young man a beer bath. With a sheepish smile Artemon awkwardly and futilely tried to pat the man dry as he apologised in Egyptian. "I'm sorry brother, my mind was elsewhere."

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"Watch where you're going!" Davus instinctively replied in the same language he'd just been addressed in, before registering that the other bore no signs at all of slavery, and Egyptian was an unusual language to be addressed in. Though less unusual in this part of the city; he recognised the statues of Isis and Serapis (well, Serapis was easily recognisable, after all, with his distinctive headdress!). The temple of Isis and Serapis naturally drew worshippers from Egypt, and of course one of them was going to spill his beer down Davus after walking into him.

"I shouldn't have got in your way," he added, just in case this was a free man (there were plenty of those in Rome and several of Egyptian stock, even). Too bad he'd return home smelling of beer and have to get his tunic washed days before it was due for it.

 

@Liv

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"No, no, it was my fault! I was focusing too hard on my drink and not enough on what was in front of it!" Artemon assured the other man, hoping the admission of guilt would save him from a black eye. "I will buy you a drink to apologise. And myself another one, too." That would leave him two steps closer to bankruptcy or begging on the streets, but if he got beaten up he wouldn't be able to work anyway.

He put a beer-sticky hand on the young man's shoulder and guided him inside the popina, where the owner was seemingly pleased to make another sale so soon. As they waited Artemon examined the damage to the other's tunic as sneakily as he could, keen on avoiding a fullonica bill that he couldn't possibly afford. "Don't worry, once the smell is gone your clothes will be fine. Happens to me all the time," he explained with a smile that was meant to be reassuring.

Two full cups were handed to them and he hurried to take a good swig so the contents wouldn't spill if a second collision were to happen. "So who do you pray to the most, Isis or Serapis? Or do you pray to the Roman gods?"

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"I don't..." Davus began and was overruled, a hand on his shoulder guiding him inside the popina that the other man had only just left. "I don't bother the gods and they don't bother me," he added as a cup was passed to him.

Well, it wasn't as if there was any rush to get back home - he'd only end up sweeping the floors again, that the Dacian woman never bothered her head about, or dusting statues that didn't need it. His master would hardly need him for at least another hour or so.

"I'm only here because, well," he shrugged. "I miss hearing people speak Egyptian."

Greek was all very well; he spoke it better than Egyptian, but he'd heard that every day until he'd come to Rome, and could still hear that almost anywhere because it was a language of culture and even the Roman citizens spoke and read it. His own childhood tongue, though, he could only hear in this area of the city, and at certain times.

"What about you?" he added, feeling awkward at this whole conversation - he wasn't very good at talking with people he didn't know.

 

@Liv

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Oh, so his new friend was one of those who did not believe in the greatness of the gods. What most people did not seem to get was that you couldn't just waltz into a temple and start begging for favours - no, first you had to show proper, heartfelt devotion, and when the deity was satisfied then they would look kindly on you and maybe help you a little. It was inconceivable to Artemon that somebody could be so indifferent to all gods, what with how many of them existed.

"I was fancying a good Egyptian beer after praying at the temple, but now I see that Mother Isis gave me a task when she made our paths cross. She sent me a new friend!" he exclaimed, giving the young man a hearty clap on the back. A friend who I must teach to find room in his life for a god, he added to himself. But first he would have to earn some trust.

Artemon took another drink of his beer and licked his lips clear of any foam. "Beer is one of the things I miss the most about home. Or missed, until I found this place! The owner is from Oxyrhynchus but he's lived here for decades, or so he said last time. There are patrons from everywhere in Egypt, though. And you, my friend," Artemon stared unabashedly at the other man, a broad smile on his face softening the unsettling way in which his eyes bulged, "are from Alexandria! Am I right or am I right?"

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Davus missed an awful lot about his home (if it could really be called 'home'), but he wasn't about to spill any of that to someone he'd only just met. Especially when one of those things was his mother. Beer would do as a substitute for any of that, at least for now. "I don't think I've found anywhere outside Egypt that knows anything about making proper beer," he said instead. "And... yes. Though it was rather a while ago."

Hopefully that would explain some of his hesitation over some words; it had been rather a long time since he'd had a full conversation in his mother tongue with anyone.

He wasn't entirely certain that the other would appreciate describing a slave as a friend, especially a slave who was as low in the household pecking order as Davus was, and anyway, could anyone really be friends with someone they'd barely met? Friendly, maybe.

"So, how long have you been in Rome?" he asked after a pause during which he sipped his beer while trying to think of something to say - Davus didn't often have conversations with people he didn't know, after all.

 

@Liv

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His new friend was in agreement - a man of taste when it came to beer, like a true Egyptian! "Indeed! I don't think they actually brew it here though, I'd bet you an as it comes on boats." As far as he could recall Artemon had never been involved in the shipment of beer, though grain was a different story. Then again, Romans had a strong appetite for grain, but not for beer. They clearly didn't know what they were missing out on.

Artemon took another healthy swig of his drink, proud of his knowledge of Egyptian accents. "Have you not been back? I can't say I blame you, Alexandria is a fine city but Rome also has a lot to offer," he conceded, caressing his chin thoughtfully. "Not long at all, I only came last year. I was working mostly in Ostia, but the earthquake really did a number on the harbour, so..." He  motioned for the other man to follow him outside, where they could bask in the weak autumn sun. 

"I've been working at a warehouse here in Rome since. Can't say the pay's good, but at least it's steady," he said with a shrug. "How about you?"

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"I wouldn't think beer would travel as well as all that, and it's easy enough to brew, isn't it?" Davus asked. It tasted like the stuff he'd had back in Alexandria, but who knew whether it would taste that good here if it had been brewed there? Davus didn't know one iota about such things, he just enjoyed them when he had the chance to, which wasn't all that often, not really.

"Doesn't the collar give it away?" he asked, probably about to completely embarrass the other man as he gestured to the tag hanging with his master's initials. "No, I haven't been back. I don't know if I want to or not - it's bound to have changed a lot." And going back would confront him head-on with  lot of memories, not all of them good. If he didn't go back, he could pretend his mother was still there, singing her old songs as she ground grain into flour for bread.

"I belong to a Senator. The money's terrible," he added, trying to lessen the other's potential embarrassment with a bad joke (he wasn't used to making those, either).

 

@Liv

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Hmm. Maybe his new friend had a point. But Artemon was a sailor, not a brewer, so he didn't argue. But could beer spoil like that? He had always drunk any he could get his hands on before it ever had a chance to get to that stage, though. The best beer was the one in his stomach, preferably enjoyed out in the sun like he was doing just now, taking a leaf out of the book of cats all over Egypt with their fondness for basking in the warm rays.

He hadn't even noticed the collar on the other man, much to his embarrassment. To Artemon, free or slave made no difference and he hadn't yet made a habit of automatically taking note of collars, but a rare sliver of intelligence told him that it was easy for him to do when he wasn't the one having his existence restrained. He scratched his ear, looking contrite, and apologised to the other Egyptian. "I'm sorry! I was so excited to make a new friend that I didn't notice your... um..." he trailed off awkwardly, waving his hand towards the offending object. "For what it's worth," he brightened up almost instantly, "it makes no difference to me!" Embarrassment, while a very well-known emotion to Artemon, was as fleeting as a butterfly bumbling by on a hot day. If he dwelled on all the times he'd brought shame upon himself by accident, he wouldn't have the time to do anything else.

"I know that sometimes slaves travel with their masters, but senators can't go to Egypt, right?" Artemon inquired, thoughtfully chewing on his lower lip. He was sure somebody had mentioned this before: maybe his father...? Or Iophon...? No matter. "Well, a city as big as Alexandria changes every day, even if you don't always notice it right away. I doubt we knew the same people there, but if you're curious about some temple or shop, feel free to ask away. Maybe I'll know of it." He chugged his beer with little sounds of satisfaction, his mind's eye teleporting him to the Egyptian capital for a moment. "If you ever want to go back-," (the and are able to went unspoken) "I will help you find cheap passage on a ship." That was the easy, doable part - what came before, perhaps not quite so much.

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"It's all right," Davus said, trying to lessen the other's embarrassment - not that he seemed to need the help because he brightened again almost immediately, as if there was nothing amiss at all. He couldn't help similing in response to the other man's enthusiasm and overall cheeriness.

"I don't know if senators can go to Egypt or not. Even if they can, I'm not very likely to get the opportunity to go with him." If they could, and if Davus' master was sent to Egypt and if a whole bunch of other things...

"I don't really know what I ought to even ask about," he confessed. "I don't suppose you knew the House of Isis, near the Library?"

It hadn't been much of a place, not really, but it had been 'home' for the first few years of Davus' life. He'd made himself useful, running errands and keeping the girls amused in the way kids could, and tried to stay out of the sight of the patrons.

"It's a very big city - almost the size of Rome, though I'm sure it's a lot less hilly." He would like to go back, sometime, he thought. Maybe one day, if he got the chance. He paused for a moment, fantasising about going back and becoming a glassmaker or something - Egyptian glass was highly prized all over the Empire, and he was sure it would be a good way to make a living. Better than running all over Rome buying fruit and vegetables that the usual delivery people didn't have, or sweeping floors that the Dacian hadn't done properly because the work was beneath her.

 

@Liv

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It was very, very rare for Artemon to possess knowledge others didn't. It was almost always the other way round, and the extremely few times it was't, like now, he was going to milk it for all he could, even if his lack of book smarts invariably limited him in his gloating. "I'm quite sure of it," he insisted, straightening his shoulders and puffing out his thin chest just a little. "I don't remember who told me - maybe my brother, or my father, or my grandfather. But senators can't go to Egypt because of the grain! Imagine if one of them was cross with the emperor and decided to buy all the grain or blockade a harbour ? It would be ruinous for us sailors!" he exclaimed, taking another swig of his beer, before adding a few mollifying words. "And for the people of Rome, of course." The gods knew he had already been lucky once not to offend his new friend, he shouldn't risk it twice.

He stroked his chin and stuck out his bottom lip, going over the area around the famous Library in his head. House of Isis... was his compatriot not a godless soul after all? But then he would have said 'temple' rather than 'house', wouldn't he? Or could that be some feature of the Alexandrian dialect Artemon wasn't familiar with? Isis... Isis... But yes, there was one such place! Not that Artemon had dared show his face there too often, after that blunder with Herankh the courtesan and her cat early in his stint in the Egyptian capital. How was he to have known that 'tickle my pussy' wasn't referring to the lovable critter? He would have rather scrubbed all traces of the establishment from his memory, but if the other man had some sort of connection to place, the least Artemon could do was stay true to his word.

"I... uh... may know of the place you speak of. It's been years since I last visited, but it was home to beautiful yet feisty ladies. Is it of meaning to you?" His friend was right about the size of Alexandria, and to that day Artemon wasn't quite sure which of the two cities was the biggest, but perhaps the gods were feeling generous enough that the two men were indeed speaking of the same establishment, never mind the strong possibility of there being far more than one 'House of Isis' in the port city.

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"Feisty and beautiful could describe most Egyptian women, I think" Davus said, and shrugged. "But yes, that's the place. My mother was a courtesan there." Well, there could easily be more than one place of the name in Alexandria, but whether they were talking of the same place or not hardly mattered, not this far away from the city and after so many years.

"So you're a sailor?" he asked. "You must have seen a great deal of the empire then - the port cities, at least."

Including Corinthos, but Davus wasn't about to mention that name, it didn't really hold much in the way of good memories for him, after all. Davus' own view of the sea and the harbours had necessarily been limited, considering his position as cargo the few times he'd been in a ship.

"I suppose you must have some interesting stories to tell," he added, thinking that he himself didn't really have anything of interest to bring to the conversation, but most people liked talking about themselves and if Davus could help the other man get over any lingering embarrassment by showing interest in his travels, it was a small enough gesture. And far more interesting than haggling over onions and garum.

 

@Liv

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Ah, so his new friend was a child of the brothels, like so many others. Artemon held no prejudice towards such things: it was all the luck of the draw, the gods' caprice. It could easily have been him in the other man's place, and there was little point in wanting to rise above your station. Increasing your riches - yes, that was a possibility and a different matter entirely, but a cat would never be a camel no matter how hard it tried.

"Were you young when you left? Your memory is excellent!" he complimented, trying to cheer up his compatriot and completely failing to consider that his memories of youth might not be happy ones. At the question, however, he took a swig of his beer and grinned at the other man. To think that somebody was interested in Artemon's stories!

"Well, to tell the truth most of my career was spent sailing up and down the Nile. We carried grain, you see. Brought it to Alexandria from cities all over. Memphis, Heracleopolis Magna, Nilopolis, Thebes... Back and forth like ants. Unfortunately I didn't get to see much of the cities." There was always work to be done on the barge, whether guarding the cargo from thieves or loading and unloading the grain or mending a sail threatening to tear. "There was a time we had a stowaway on board and only noticed it hours later. A little boy who wanted to explore the world," Artemon reminisced fondly. The kid had reminded him of himself. "Another time, we all got a bit drunk at night and Wadjenes - that was another sailor - fell overboard. We all thought it was funny until he started screaming. The crocodiles got him," he concluded with a sad sigh, sending a quick silent prayer to Sobek. Sacrifices to the crocodile god were needed, but Wadjenes had been a nice man despite his gruff demeanour - now stupid Ptahwer, smug bastard that he was, would have been no loss.

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It wasn't as though Davus had seen all that much of Alexandria, all things considered, though he had probably seen more of it than Artemon, which was a slightly weird thought. 

"I was pretty young, yes," he said, and shrugged. Such was the life of a slave, though looking back, he was surprised that he hadn't stayed there, that someone had thought it worth their while to ship him across the sea to Greece and the hugs slave market of Delos. And despite his thought of a moment ago, he couldn't help saying, "I spent some time in Corinth before I ended up here - I suppose you must have been there, too?"

He would be surprised if the other man hadn't. Corinth, like Alexandria, was a huge centre for trading, the gateway to Greece - or one of them, anyway. Even with his mixed feelings, he managed a grin. "I don't really like the sea, though, it doesn't agree with me. I suppose it's different, if you spend a lot of time on a boat?"

 

@Liv

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Though he tried not to let it show as he finished his drink, Artemon was a little bit miffed that his new friend didn't show much of an interest in his seafaring stories. Granted, not everybody was a fan of boats and there were many who suffered seasickness, but his tales had it all: crocodiles! Villains! Treasure! A downtrodden hero (Artemon himself)! On occasion, a girl! But it was all right, Artemon reasoned - his compatriot had too much on his mind to be able to fully appreciate the rich tapestry that was Artemon's life.

"Corinth? Hmm..." He tucked his tongue between his teeth, trying to jog his memory. The truth was that market cities began to look an awful lot like one another after a while, unless there was something or someone worthy of mention there. "It rings a bell, but I can't say what's remarkable about it," he confessed sheepishly. "There comes a point where you just come in, sell your wares, load up with new wares to sell and go on your way..." he said by way of apology, trying to fix his blunder.

Now boats and water, he could talk about all day. "Don't worry, you're not the only one!" Artemon gave his companion a cheerful pat on the shoulder. "There are many sailors who are poor swimmers and end up in the jaws of Sobek's servants, more's the pity. But I haven't seen any crocodiles in the Tiber yet, so you're safe!" A hearty laugh left his throat and he patted his friend's back again. "Most find their sea legs after a while. My brother Hermolaos never did, he still turns pale as a toga every time he has to climb on board." The smile on Artemon's face was more than a little smug. "Wonder what he's up to..."

An idea hit him, and he whipped his head so fast it was a miracle his neck hadn't snapped to look at his friend with huge, bulging eyes. "I should send him a letter! Can you write?"

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Davus shook his head regretfully. "No, I don't, sorry. But you should, if you can find someone to write it for you - I'm sure he'd like to hear from you."

Davus himself couldn't think of anyone who'd like to hear from him, but that didn't necessarily hold true for Artemon, of course. It must be nice to have a brother who you could write to. Not that it sounded as if Artemon could write, and Davus was rather glad that he didn't have any siblings (that he knew of). Family was always rather a fraught and precarious thing, when you were a slave.

He nudged the other man. "You know, when I said you must have a lot of stories to tell, most people would take it as a hint to tell one or two of them," he said , as if confiding some great secret. It didn't seem as if Artemon was precisely the sharpest knife in the set, but he made up for that with enthusiasm and optimism - he was about as enthusiastic as any puppy Davus had ever seen. The mental picture was helped along by the other's fluffy hair, which would probably be some wild mane if it was much longer than it was.

"You've probably got a lot more interesting stories than I have, anyway," he added with a smile.

 

@Liv

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Oh. That had been a short-lived delusion. But his new friend had a good idea: procuring a scribe! "Of course! Do you know of any scribe that doesn't charge an arm and a leg? They don't need to be too good, my brother is quite stupid," Artemon grinned, blissfully oblivious to the fact that said brother might say the same about him. "Is there anyone you would like to write to? A friend in Corinth? Or a love, maybe?" He elbowed the other man in the ribs while winking (or attempting to) at him with a knowing look on his face.

It was said that sailors had a lover at every port - Artemon didn't fit that mould, but his companion's clarification emboldened him to tell a couple of stories of his own. "Ohhh!" His face was like that of a caveman who had just discovered fire. "Sorry, I'm not good at taking hints. Sometimes I pick up on ones that were never there at all, and sometimes I just don't get them." His sheepish smile betrayed no embarrassment; this was clearly a familiar situation. It was compounded by the fact that only very seldom did Artemon have a rapt audience; he was not like Iophon, a master wordsmith. In any case, perhaps he could bring some light entertainment to his friend's day.

"Well, I know a few. Oh, I've got one! So a few years ago I was doing grain shipping up and down the Nile, right? In some random town an older man joined us, and he was pretty strong. So he stayed with us for a few months. A bit quiet, but nice. Then one day we dock at this village close to Thebes, and there's always people by the harbour selling and buying stuff." He paused to draw breath. "Anyway, the man goes and buys himself some dates, and before we know it the saleswoman is thwacking him with her basket! Turns out our new mate was married to her many years before, and just up and left one day! She beat him within one inch of his life, he didn't dare leave a second time. The boss wasn't too happy about that, though." Artemon finished his tale with hearty peals of laughter, unbothered by the violence of the story. He turned to gauge his friend's appreciation. "Good one, huh?"

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At least it didn't seem as if Artemon would ever be embarrassed for long. Davus wondered if he ever suffered second-hand embarrassment or got embarrassed when remembering things - Davus knew plenty about that last one; he'd put his foot in it more than once in his life and got embarrassed all over again when remembering those situations. Several of them had happened years before and he was pretty sure that the other people involved didn't remember them at all.

He laughed at his new friend's story; he'd be willing to bet that the man concerned merely nodded and went along with his wife's every suggestion ever after. "The wife sounds formidable," he said. It was a good thing that they didn't end up taking jobs as sailors and the like. He almost asked if the other had a wife anywhere, but that would get too personal too fast and probably lead to Davus having to answer the same question in return, which he didn't really feel like doing.

"I suppose you've seen a great many places," he said instead, though the other had probably only seen the docks of a number of cities and they all looked much alike - at least, they did in Davus' admittedly limited experience. "What sort of cargoes do you usually work with?"

 

@Liv

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The old woman had indeed been formidable, and it was on such occasions that Artemon was glad he did not have a wife of his own. For one, he could barely afford to feed his brother and himself, let alone yet another person. For two, if she left like his erstwhile comrade had done to his wife, Artemon would probably be sad. And definitely colder at night. "Right? I don't know why he left like that! Maybe she snored a lot," he tapped his chin with a knowing look.

"Eh, a few, but there's not always time to explore much," he replied, going uncharacteristically pensive. Now that he thought about it, the cities he had seen the most of were Alexandria and Ostia. "We mostly stay near the harbour if we're not aboard, and it's much the same everywhere. Warehouses, taverns, brothels, shipwrights, fortunetellers..." Artemon had parted with much coin in a great number of such places, but somehow never seemed to learn his lesson for the next time.

"Up until recently it was grain! We sailed up and down the Nile to collect it and bring it to Alexandria. I did this for, uh..." he started counting on his fingers only to get lost halfway, and aborted the mission. "Many years! And then I decided I wanted to see where the grain went, so I came to Rome. Nowadays it's something lighter, I'm not sure what it is. Textiles or medicine, maybe. It smells herby." He punctuated his ignorance with a shrug, not even slightly embarrassed by it.

A lightning-fast idea struck him, and Artemon turned to grab his new friend by the shoulder in excitement. "Do you know much about herbs? You look smart, so I bet you do! Your master is rich, so he must have lots of herbs in his food." To Artemon's pea-sized brain it was unfathomable that there could be senators who weren't rich. That they, regardless of wealth, did not share their richly-spiced meals with their slaves did not occur to him.

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Herbs? "I know something about them, but not much - I'm not a cook, or a gardener," Davus replied, a little startled at the rapid speed the conversation had diverted to another topic. Artemon seemed to be one of those enthusiastic, optimistic types, which was different - most slaves of Davus' acquaintance were realists, some even downright pessimists.

"Why the sudden interest in herbs? If you're trying to grow something, it needs light and water, though not too much of either - maybe water it a couple of times a week?" he said; his role as a house-slave meant that among his chores he had to water the various plants that were scattered in pots around the house, mostly in the atrium and whatever was in pots in the garden.

 

@Liv (for when you're back, of course!)

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