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Late October, 75 AD - near the White stables

The sun had already disappeared behind the horizon, and only a few remnants of its light tinted the sky with streaks of lighter blue among the growing darkness. Nightfall meant most well-meaning inhabitants of Rome retreated back into their abodes, and Safinia, on her way from the market, was about to join them in doing just that.

The sack on her back was heavy with turnips and delayed her already slow pace, but if she got the vegetables to the kitchens today then she wouldn't have to venture out in the middle of the day tomorrow, when the crowds were greatest and their patience least for someone standing in their busy path like her.

Another couple of minutes and she would reach the stables, but a curious sensation that Safinia wasn't able to shake off had persisted for a little while now - although whether said while was a minute or thirty she could not say. It was almost as if somebody was watching her very intensely... A pickpocket assessing his next victim, perhaps? She would be an easy one, unable to run away, but unless they wanted to make off with a sack of turnips she had nothing worth stealing on her.

The feeling grew more and more intense until Safinia felt the urge to stop. Standing a little to the side, she looked over both shoulders, but saw nothing through the sack-obstructed view that could explain the odd inkling. Maybe she was just tired and hungry. Yes, that had to be it.

@Atrice

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It had been a while, since he’d done anything other people would consider bad. He had actually been pretty good lately. Aculia might disagree and Tinus too, but they were just slaves, so that didn’t count. Germanus was no longer a part of the household staff. He’d bled beautifully and he had given Marcus some release too, but in the end, the German slave with the very broken Latin was just too wild and fierce. And not in a good way. And like any good property owner, when a tool did not work and was unmendable, you had to get rid of it. So he did.

 But besides all that, he’d been his most friendly and charming self to other people! He had made quite a good profit and he would soon be able to buy himself a new slave from the market, so that Tinus and Aculia didn’t have to do all of the cleaning, shopping and cooking by themselves. Manus had enough to do with being head slave, helping Marcus in the shop and helping with paperwork and so on. Really everything felt quite ordinary lately. But winter was coming, days grew darker and colder, slowly... and Marcus was feeling the itch. Aculia and Tinus were not enough. He had to keep them, they were good. He had to find another to take the itch out upon.

 And so it happened this afternoon, while he was on his way home from yet another private shaving in an Equite household, that he saw her. A young woman with a limp, carrying a huge sack of something on her back. The way the light fell on her skin was stunning. Especially because she appeared to be so skinny, yet not delicate. But her skin was thin. Almost as if it clung to her. Like clothing on a Greek statue. Marcus had his own bag over his shoulder, with the supplies for shaving people, including his blades. Somehow he ended up following the young woman, well she was barely a woman, more a girl really and she didn’t look like much.

 Suddenly she stood still. Looking over her shoulders, as if she was afraid she would be seen. What had she done? Was she someone society would shun for some reason, if they knew what she had done? Had he spotted someone who did horrible things? Maybe she had done horrible things and she was afraid someone would find out. But Marcus saw her now. He had to ask her. Had to question her. And he knew how to force her to stay put.

 Marcus rounded the corner so she would be able to see him and walked down the street, not as if he walked towards her, but rather that he was just another bystander, just walking by. But he had a blade hidden against the palm of his hand. And he pretended to look at something on the other side of the street as he passed her, so by accident, he’d walk too close to her and look at that, he almost walked into her and hit her sack and his blade cut a tear in her sack. And the turnips fell out. Marcus stopped, “Oh! apologies!”

@Liv

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Seeing nothing that raised suspicion, Safinia resumed her snail pace, noting to herself that the sack seemed to have got heavier in the few instants she had stopped and stood. Almost as if a tricky god with a twisted sense of humour had added a few turnips to the sack while she was distracted. If that turned out to be true, the cook would undoubtedly be pleased, but it was as likely as the sun rising again at that very moment.

With heavy breaths she trudged along, wiping a stubborn lock of hair away from her eyes. Nobody paid her much attention or offered to help; the few passersby had their own affairs to concern themselves with. A man, distracted by something across the street, almost bumped into her, and while Safinia was just quick enough to avoid a head-on collision, her leg didn't allow her to completely dodge. A moment later, the sack grew inexplicably lighter and a mass of turnips came tumbling down onto the ground. Some stopped more or less where they fell whilst others rolled away, and as Safinia looked on in dismay the man's apology barely registered.

Great. How was she supposed to retrieve them all? She gave the man an angry glare and shook the sack off her shoulders before handing it to him. "You can make it up to me by picking them all up." Kneeling had become quite the painful task for her, although it had become dark enough that the man probably didn't see anything wrong with her.

@Atrice

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He didn’t know why she had stopped, but was pleased when she kept on moving and clearly had not seen him. Marcus could then make his move and he did it with skill, almost as if he had done something similar before, and who knew, maybe he had? She didn’t notice that he was the reason why the sack of turnips suddenly split and they all tumbled to the ground. Other than that he bumped into her of course, but she was more occupied with watching the turnips than with wondering how it happened. Marcus had easily hid the blade again while he exclaimed his apology to her.

 She glared angrily at him after a few moments and then she simply handed the sack towards him, saying he should help her pick them all up again. What right had she to tell him what to do? She was just a girl. He saw no collar, so she was no slave. But she was still just a girl. She meant nothing to him besides what was inside of her.

 But Marcus took the sack and held it up, examined it, “This is not going to hold any turnips for you. It’s ripped too much.” Marcus said and seemed thoughtful. He still had his own bag over his shoulder, but it was heavy with oils and salves and blades and tools. Besides, there was no way she was getting his bag. That wasn’t the point of him stopping her. He wasn’t here to help her… “I’d lend you my bag, but then I’d have nothing to carry my items in. Do you live far from here?”

@Liv

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To his credit the man took the sack without complaining - which was only appropriate, since the turnips would still be safely stored inside it if he hadn't bumped into Safinia. That the sack turned out to be ripped was also his fault, she felt, although that was harder to explain rationally. Chances were a small tear had widened when the turnips were jostled. Not quite pacified, she looked expectantly at him, wordlessly willing him to get down and start collecting the vegetables, but blinked in surprise when he spoke.

"Not really. I need to take these to the White stables." Distance had become less meaningful with her injury, though, as terrain played a bigger part than ever. "But I don't see how that helps you pick them up."  What did he have in mind? Safinia couldn't figure out the man's plan, whatever it was. They had only one usable bag between the two of them and quite a number of things to carry. "I can't do it myself, I've got a bad leg," she clarified matter-of-factly, thinking to herself that even if she had been fine he should be the one to pick up the turnips as a matter of principle. You break it, you buy it, or something along those lines.

@Atrice

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Marcus knew he had to be careful in these matters. At least when they were still out in the open. The conversation could be nothing but proper for both of them, or at least for him, because then there’d be no one to question his words at least. The girl though, she was questionable! She just stared at him, while he examined the broken sack and then she told him she was on her way to the White stables. Racing. Marcus never cared much for it. Sometimes he enjoyed the gladiator games, for his own reasons of course. Well anyone enjoyed the carnage in the arena. But maybe Marcus enjoyed it differently than the rest. He knew he was different. And he’d learned to hide it and control, to a certain extent of course.

Like right now, he was controlling it just fine. The girl kept talking, saying her living close to here didn’t help him pick them up. Marcus looked at her, surprised. Was she giving him orders? No, she wasn’t. She was just assuming that’s what he would do. As if she was in any position to tell him what to do or assume he would just follow her lead. He’d been good to her so far. Now she tried to make him pity her, with her limp.

“We still have nothing to carry the turnips in.” Marcus replied, trying hard to not express his dislike for her ordering him about. She shouldn’t do that. She had no right to. She was beneath him, he was sure. Poorer than him, younger than him and even a female. He doubted she’d understand that though, with her attitude. Marcus had ways to make people understand though… but he had to get her somewhere more quiet first. There had to be someplace near the stables… “You don’t live far from here… why don’t we go there and get a new sack, and I’ll walk back and pick them up for you?” He suggested, “Then you’ll have me both picking them up and carrying them for you. Come, we better hurry, so no one else takes them in the meantime. Else, I guess I'll have to compensate your loss.” Marcus said and gestured for her to lead the way.

@Liv

Edited by Atrice
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From the look of surprise on his face it seemed the man had little experience being told what to do, or having it done in less than convoluted ways. Odd when half of Rome was constantly ordering the other half around, but perhaps he was one of the fortunate ones that did the ordering. Looking at him, he didn't quite come out as poor like her, but he didn't seem to be swimming in gold either. 

Fantastic, they had reached the same conclusion. Suppressing the urge to roll her eyes, Safinia waited in silence for the man to own up and start picking up the turnips, but the next words out of his mouth were more sensible that she could have predicted. She gave it a moment's thought before nodding. "That sounds like a good idea. It's the stables' loss, so you'll be in a world of trouble if you don't fix this." Finding a new sack would take no time at all; the worst part would be convincing the guard that bringing back a stranger really was a twist of fate and that the man would be gone in no time... but she could explain the situation well enough for it to be believable.

"Fine. Come with me then," Safinia demanded, waving her hand to signal he should join her and slowly taking off towards the stables. "But when we get there let me do the talking, all right? For all anyone knows you could be a spy from the Blues or something. In fact," she paused as the thought struck her, "how can I be sure you're not?"

@Atrice

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He had experience with being told what to do – but he didn’t like it much when it came from someone lower ranked than he. If a mighty fine Senator told him what he liked and preferred and what he’d like for Marcus to do for him, sure, he would be fine. But a young, poor Plebian girl who worked for the stables and even had a limp? No, he didn’t like that at all. She had no right to. He was her senior by many years and she should just stop. But she didn’t, she just looked at him strangely and he had then continued to be pretend to be his most kind self. Offering her help and even money. She’d get neither – although she would get something shiny.

He would make her understand to not toy with people like Marcus. She would learn it. And it would be beautiful. She agreed to his idea and claimed he’d be in trouble if he did not fix the accident somehow. And then she told him to come with him.

“I’m glad we came to an agreement.” Marcus simply said, following a step behind her slow limp. She knew the way, she could walk first. It made sense. Then she suddenly stopped and suggested he was a spy. Marcus gave her a look, as if she was saying something stupid. Something that made no sense to him at all, “I guess you can’t. But I don’t care about the races. They don’t interest me much at all. I prefer other kinds of public entertainment.” Which was true. The races just didn't produce enough blood. Sometimes there was, but he just liked the way it was produced by gladiator games better. Marcus gestured with his free hand for her to continue then. In the other hand, he held the blade against his palm and wrist and he also used that hand to keep his own back secure, “Please… lead the way, girl.” Knowing she didn’t move so fast, he kept a sharp eye for any place he could drag her to on the way. There was still a bit of way to go.

@Liv

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That was exactly what a spy would say. Safinia could not lower her guard. Within seconds a plan had formed in her mind: she would tell the man to wait a few feet away from the entrance while she went inside to get a new sack, and the guard could keep an eye on him in the meantime. Then she would return with the sack, hand it to him and come up with a good excuse for her lateness whilst she waited. The patronising look the man shot her went unmentioned, though she returned it with an unsympathetic one of her own.

"If you really were a spy that's exactly the sort of thing you'd say, isn't it?" She shook her head, her braided hair swaying lightly from side to side, and let out a sigh of hopelessness. Then again, she supposed there were people who didn't really care for the races - deep down, she was one of them. "What don't you like about them? Not exciting enough?" There was always the risk of someone getting trampled to death or maimed for life, not to mention the fortunes that could be made and unmade by betting on the right or wrong team.

She looked over her shoulder to make sure the man was right behind her. "What, afraid I'll run away?" she chuckled derisively. "As if I could."

@Atrice

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She really wasn’t a nice girl and she didn’t know her place. And she tried to give him orders and apparently now she didn’t trust him, although he’d done nothing towards her (that she knew) to prove himself untrustworthy. She was just a stupid girl who had to learn a lesson about life. And how to treat others. Marcus would teach her a lesson she would remember until the day she died. Every time she looked at the scar, she would remember. Just like Aculia remembered all her wrongdoings. And just like so many others.

The girl now still claimed he was a spy, “I don’t know about what spies say.” Marcus simply said and she wondered why he didn’t like the races, “I prefer people who fight. With sharp weapons. I prefer gladiator games, if anything. They’re much more… exciting, to me.” Marcus explained to her and told her to lead the way. She tried to joke about running away and he smiled slightly. Dusk was slowly settling and darkness was creeping out from shadows and corners. His hand curled around the hilt of the knife. Just the thought of cutting her made his fingers tingle. It would have to be soon.

“Why should you run? I don’t see why.” Marcus asked her then and spied a stack of barrels in front of a building. That would be a good spot. He inhaled a breath, his heart was pounding so hard. He almost felt as if his head was throbbing too. In just a few moments, they’d be at the right spot. He had his excuse ready, “Can we stop a moment? I need to adjust this a bit better.” He gestured to the bag he had over his shoulder and he slowly came to a stop next to the barrels, briefly giving them a glance. As he guessed, there was a narrow space behind them. Just enough.

@Liv

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Again the man proved he was reacting as Safinia would expect a spy to, feigning ignorance and claiming he preferred to attend gladiator games. Of course he did, trying to throw sand in her eyes. "Oh? Who's your favourite then?" She would agree the matches could sometimes be exciting, but if blood and death were what he was after as a spectator, the races provided those on occasion too. "I don't keep up with the ludi much." How would she manage to trot up the stairs to the cheapest seats now? Affording the ones closest to the arena was entirely out of the question.

She chuckled at his words, though there was no humour in it. "So I could fetch the cook from the stables and watch them try the new wooden spoon on you for making me drop all those turnips, for example." The image that formed in her head was comical enough to make her smile a little, but not laugh. They had barely taken a few more steps when the man requested a pit stop. "Out of breath already? It's not that far," Safinia piped up before turning round and seeing it was the bag he was carrying that was giving him trouble. At least he'd had the foresight to stop by some barrels, conveniently stacked for her to lean against for a bit and put all her weight on her good leg, giving the bad one some respite.

Grimacing in discomfort, she looked down at her legs; still and covered by her tunic, they appeared normal. Would she ever get better? Things wouldn't go back to the way they were before, obviously, but if she eventually managed to go longer distances... or jog for a little while... Safinia bit her lower lip in frustration. All she could do was take things one day at a time, like she often told Azarion. If only he'd been here to carry the turnips instead!

@Atrice

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The girl apparently still didn’t trust him and now that he told her he preferred gladiator games to races, she wondered who his favorite was, “I don’t have one. They’re all going to die. They’re just slaves. Who they are does not matter to me.” It was more what they did. And some of them were very good with their swords and spears but again, then it was the swords and the spears that mattered and not who they were. He could not fancy a slave or call a slave a favorite! They were the lowest of low and the gladiators were practically dead meat walking. He wrinkled his nose by the thought.

As they kept walking, he pointed out she should not want to run from him, why would she need to? And she chuckled strangely and smiled, speaking of fetching a cook to punish him, “That sounds very much like a threat. It’s not nice to threaten someone trying to help you.” Marcus said and then he made up an excuse to stop by some barrels and sacks stacked by a building. She came with another of her nasty remarks, but she agreed to stop to rest. Marcus turned away from her, pretending to adjust his bag, while also glancing up and down the street. It was somewhat empty right here. Dusk was settling slowly. But fuck that, really. She wanted his help yet she was threatening him. And speaking down to him, giving him orders. That was not her place. She did not hold any power over him. And she’d soon understand that. Very soon. He opened the bag to put the small knife into it and fished up a larger razor instead. It glistened as the light touched it in the dark bag and he smiled.

 After he picked up the razor, he set down the bag, still turned away from her. Only when he’d set down the bag he turned towards her and before she knew it, he’d be up close and personal with her and his razor was at her throat while he tried to focus on looking her straight in the eyes, “You should not order strangers around or threaten them.” He hissed at her, “If you scream, talk or try anything, I will hurt you badly. Blink if you understand."

@Liv

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It didn't really seem as though the man was trying to help, grumpy as he was. For one, all he had done so far was make a smart remark on the state of the sack and suggest they get a new one, but there were no turnips in his hands. Safinia frowned, and was about to mouth off that it wasn't nice to make such accusations to the party he had wronged when she felt quick movement around her and then the sudden coldness of metal against the warm skin of her throat. Huh?

How the fuck was this lunatic so nimble that he had sneaked up on her without her noticing?! But even if she had noticed, would it have made a difference in escaping in time? Shocked by the rapid succession of events, the man's words didn't fully register with Safinia unless a few seconds later, and she stared at him in surprise and confusion before what he was saying finally sunk in. Her blue eyes widened in panic and her heart beat so fast it seemed about to burst out of her chest. He had ordered her not to talk or scream, but she couldn't help the frantic shallow breaths that escaped her lips, and they sounded so loud to her ears that she couldn't fathom why no passerby was hearing them and coming to her rescue.

There was no choice but to do as the man said. Unable to nod for fear of having the blade he was holding dig into her throat, Safinia blinked a couple of times between ragged gasps. Yes, she understood. Too late, but she understood the situation she found herself in. "Please..." she whispered, more a movement of lips than actual sound, "I'm sorry... Please..."

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Barbatius took his time to work with his bag, or pretend to do so while he fished out a properly sized razor for the deed he planned to do. He would just hurt her a little. Cut her. Make her understand how you should treat those better ranked and wealthier than yourself. She didn’t matter to anyone in Rome and so she had no rights to tell him what to do. Or to make assumptions about him. Or to threaten him! He would make her see this. While he harmed her. It was surprising no one could hear his heart, the way it was pounding when he finally made his agenda known to her.

 She was surprised. She stared at him with panic written in her eyes and he could not help but take some pleasure from her being so startled. She didn’t see this coming. She didn’t think he’d do anything at all. Just showed her to never assume anything about anyone she didn’t know! She stared at him, he told her to not talk or scream or anything and she seemed to understand. She blinked, as he instructed her.

 Then she whispered a few petty words.

 “I know you’re not sorry. You think you’re something but you’re nothing.” Marcus hissed close to her face, trying to stay calm, but now the razor was at her throat, he wanted to cut through her skin so badly… “Now… we’ll walk around behind these sacks and barrels. Don’t try anything.” He said and nodded sideways, gesturing for her to move and he would move with her. Not at one point would he remove the razor from the proximity of her skin.

@Liv

Edited by Atrice
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