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A rose by any other name


Artemon
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Early July, 76 AD

It was a sweltering day in Rome like so many others, but the heat did not bother Artemon, who was used to Ra visiting worse punishment on him. It was also a very rare day off for him, and after sleeping in past lunchtime he felt very much ready to start his day - get dressed, eat, hit the thermae, steal a certain something from the nearest public garden and busy himself with people-watching.

In this case, however, there was one person Artemon was hoping to see, and even amidst the bustling crowd, his eyes found their intended target.

There she was! A nymph, the loveliest creature the gods had ever made. Nay, she was Ken herself come to Rome and walking among mortals, may his father forgive him for such blasphemous thoughts! From behind a marble column Artemon studied the young woman's activities. Such grace! Such beauty! And that hair, fairer than the emperor's togas and shining in the sun like a thousand aurei! She was a dream, a vision, a balm sent by the gods to rest his tired, bulging eyes.

And she was walking in the opposite direction.

Springing into action, Artemon left his hiding place and broke into a jog to catch up with the lady. "Domina!" he called out, hoping to get her attention, and produced a single, slightly crushed rose from a worn pouch around his waist. "For you, as a token of my appreciation," he beamed as he held out the flower for her to take.

@David

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Mania's day had been going at a leisurely pace up until this point, as was customary for a woman of her status. An assortment of fruit for breakfast, followed by being dressed by and gossipping with her acillae and then simply lounging around and looking at herself in the mirror. There was little else for her to do - after all, she wasn't entrusted with any meaningful position within the family business. At most, her father would let her consult him on jewellery designs or seek her approval in terms of which pieces to put into the shop for sale or use her as a diplomat in some less important negotiations or discussions. Today, she had another one of these negotiations on her agenda, regarding some incoming gem shipments from Noricum. Mania was called in every time the people coming to negotiate were from Noricum, as she spoke the language most fluently. Arguably, this was to be expected, as she had had much more time to perfect it than Primus or even Cassius, with all the free time she had.

Mania had just left her family's domus to make haste to the shop on the Emporium Magnum. Her pale skin glistened in the sunlight and her blond hair glittered like straws of golden wheat. She had decided to traverse the short while it took to reach the Emporium by foot, so as to be able to admire the beauty of the scenery. The view from atop the Esquiline Hill was rather magnificient, and it would surely help Mania calm down her nerves before the meeting with the Norics. As always, she was quite upset at the fact her role in the business had, once again, been reduced to such a trivial one. They already had enough gem merchants on their payroll as it were, and besides, Mania could bring as many gemstones as her father wanted back to Rome after spending the late summer back up in Noricum again. But alas, she had to do what she was told if she wanted to remain in her father's good graces.

...Oh no. She really didn't have time for this right now. Not him again. That damned Egyptian! She had seen him lurking up and down the street, making big eyes at her. Hopefully he wouldn't notice he-- no, too late. "Domina," she heard his desperate yearning. If only he were better situated... He was certainly handsome, however he was also a Peregrinus. Less than a Plebian, for Jupiter's sake! Perhaps she could get her father to try and purchase him, or offer him a job at the jewellery shop... Could he bring in gold or gemstones from Egypt? He didn't look like the type to have business connections... What she felt for him was nowhere near affection, moreso a deep and resounding pity. His plain and uninspiring choice of wardrobe gave his status away to anyone around, as did the rings under his eyes. If the neighbours found out someone like him was trying to court Mania... Gods, no.

Still, the pity he inspired her prompted Mania to be at least somewhat polite towards him. She turned towards him as she heard his feet hitting the pavement behind her. For a moment, she was afraid he might try to tackle her in pursuit. "Oh, for me?!" she exclaimed, in a theatrically smitten tone. "How... kind of you." Her tone became less enthusiastic as she noticed the flower's stem had almost broken in two. In a way, his idiotic chasing of her had somewhat of an endearing quality to it. "Thank you," she said. "A perfect accessory for the summertime, don't you think?" she added before sticking the rose into the sculpted updo that adorned her head. She would surely take it back out before entering her meeting with the Norics, but at least this would bring some joy into Artemon's day. Mania may not be the kindest person around, but she certainly wouldn't ruin a poor Peregrinus' day for showing affection towards her. In fact, she quite delighted in his compliments, but then again, the source of delight in this situation was that they were compliments, not that they came from him.

She stood and posed for him, as if to show off the newly acquired accessory. "From now on, I shall expect you to bring me a flower for every changing season!" Hopefully, he wouldn't take her up on this promise...

@Liv

Edited by David
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She was even more beautiful up close, if that was even possible. Artemon's body felt as light as Hermes' winged sandals, and he himself could have taken flight that very instant. His heart soared at the dulcet tones of her voice. This was his lucky day, the day his fortune changed and the gods smiled down at him. He just knew it.

His grin grew impossibly wider as the lady took his present, apparently pleased with it and entirely oblivious to her dwindling keenness. "Its beauty is nothing compared to yours, of course, but it crowns your hair like a kiss from Isis," Artemon said, watching as if transfixed as she pushed the flower into her elaborate hairstyle. He had scraped off the thorns, he thought - hopefully he hadn't missed any.

"But of course, domina! Anything to make you happy!" was his eager response, and Artemon almost took the young woman's hand in his before he remembered that such boldness would land him into trouble. "I shall come, rain or shine, to fulfil my vow to you!" First, however, he would have to check with Iophon or somebody equally wise just what flowers were in bloom that season. The neighbours downstairs sold fruit, maybe they knew a thing or two about flowers? Or the Dacian witch? No matter; he would find a way.

All he had to do was not mess this up. A difficult task and one he had never quite succeeded at, but Artemon was nothing if not persistent. "Domina, if you are not too busy, will you share with me the gift of your presence over a blackcurrant bun?" His eyes glinted with hope. The baker's stall was just across the street, so her attendants should be able to see that nothing improper would take place! Not that Artemon would even think of it, of course. He was a gallant, although often misunderstood, gentleman.

@David

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Had Artemon been a puppy, Mania would've collected him this instant and adopted him as a pet. He was certainly endearing and lovable, but for all the wrong reasons. Was he really such an idiot? Anyone with an ounce of common sense would've known that for him, a foreign day labourer, chasing after an Equestrian was viable only as a daydream at best. However, she couldn't just outright refuse him - he was, after all, making an effort, even if in vain. She was usually a venomous snake, but even snakes made good companions if you treated them right and cared for them, and the attention Artemon was giving her surely made Mania feel cared for. If only he were a Senator, she might actually give him a real chance at courting her, but given he was a Peregrinus, not even a citizen...

"Your words are as sweet as those of Cupid himself!" She was beginning to grow somewhat impatient. It was obvious Artemon had nothing of importance to do, no responsibilities to speak of - if he did, he would be well-aware of the utmost importance of time and wouldn't have chased her down at the crack of dawn, just as she was about to take on her own responsibilities for the day. She couldn't keep the Norics waiting. This was one of the few chances she was given to prove herself as a capable part of the family business, and she surely wouldn't let the contract go up in smoke due to the persistence of some clueless, although well-meaning, lovestruck Egyptian.

His ambition and resilience were remarkable. Either he didn't want to believe she had no real interest in him or he just didn't notice. Either way, she didn't want him to cause a scene, so outright rejecting him was not in the cards for her. "Very well, but only if you take the bigger half!" she answered diplomatically. "You deserve it, given your knightly demeanor!" As he ran off to fetch the bun, she hinted at her slaves to go and prepare a litter. She certainly wasn't going to set off on foot after their shared snack, possibly giving him more chances to distract her.

@Liv

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If Osiris decided to claim him now, Artemon would pass on a happy man. A compliment! It sounded even sweeter coming from his beloved's lips; it was something he would cherish for days to come and draw strength from when Gallus got on his case again. "You are kindness embodied, domina," he retorted with a bright smile.

The moment the young woman spoke the magic words he sped off towards the baker's, procuring a bun in what was probably the fastest business transaction in his whole life. Within minutes he was back, presenting the bun to his nymph to examine before breaking it into two uneven halves as per her request and handing her the smallest one. Truth be told, Artemon was hoping they could have a nice sit-down chat over the bun, but he realised now it was nigh impossible. Her slaves would no doubt go snitching on them to her family, and might even forbid her from ever seeing him again! That was something to be avoided at all costs.

"Domina," he started between bites (the bun was juicy all right), "please forgive my curiosity, but I must say this. I am fascinated by your hair! Not even in Egypt have I seen anything like it!" Alexandria was almost as eclectic in population as Rome, with people coming in from all corners of the empire, and whilst he had seen people with yellow hair before, none had possessed such a fair shade. "Is it a wig or is it really yours?"

@David

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"Thank you," she said, still smiling at him. "I shall save it for later - it's sweetness shall remind me of your kindness once I return back home!" She really did not want to ingest anything that had been handled by a Peregrinus. It would, however, be an apt snack for her slaves to share between themselves. She did feel somewhat bad for making him waste what little money he had on the bun, but then again the fact he was an obvious airhead wasn't really her fault.

When he complimented her pristine platinum hairher most prized posession, which made her the envy of even many a Senator's daughter, Mania genuinely lit up somewhat. Anyone who knew Mania knew she was vain, and caressing her vanity with compliments was certainly the best way to get on her good side. However, her mood quickly soured when he asked if her hair was a wig. A wig?! Mania wearing a wig?! Not only was he stupid, he was apparently also chronically maladapted to any and all societal norms. You can't just ask someone if their hair is a wig! Who does he think he is?! Truth be told, Mania had made somewhat of a hobby of asking questions like this at social gatherings, however she only ever did it in a very calculated way, never as directly as this. Seeing the faces of Rome's high society lose all color when asked questions like this was incredibly amusing to her, and it was a good way to find out people's secrets without actually having to pry them out of them - a simple glance to the floor or furrowing of the brow was all the answer she needed.

She would, however, stay as nice as she had been with him, despite the fact she would've loved to instruct her slaves to beat him senseless right about now - and they would've done it, too, to avoid the beating they themselves would be subjected to otherwise. She faked a laugh. "A wig? But of course not, my hair is all natural! My ancestors come from up north, in Noricum, and the Gods blessed me with their features!" She didn't really know if her ancestors had actually been blond, but it was a good way of rubbing in the fact her hair was actually naturally this color and length - while other, visually less fortunate women would spend hours trying to lighten their hair - and also mentioning her rather exotic heritage, which always made her seem at least a little bit more interesting. She hoped Artemon wouldn't try to touch her hair, with his already dirty laborer fingers now also soaked in blackcurrant juice. If he did, she would personally slap him across the face.

@Liv

Edited by David
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It was a slightly disappointed Artemon that nodded as his nymph explained she would save her half of the bun for later. He had hoped they could discuss its rustic yet exquisite flavour and that in doing so he might entice her to sample more foods in his company, but her reasoning was perfectly sensible. In fact, now that he thought about it, it was very flattering indeed! "I hope you enjoy it," he mumbled with uncharacteristic shyness. It was the first time in forever that he was the target of such a nice compliment.

That hair really was something. Artemon watched as if in a trance as the fair strands moved and bounced in synchrony with their owner's movements - he could swear they did a little happy dance of their own when she laughed! Or that might have been his heart fluttering instead. "Wow!" he let out, unable to hide his awe. It was not a wig, could you believe that?! Artemon was sorely tempted to bring his clean(er) hand to a silvery golden lock and give it a good tug, but the lady would not appreciate that at all. Her slaves would probably beat him up if he even tried. What a shame it was not to be able to touch it!

"So your ancestors had the same hair colour? Is it common amongst people from the north?" He wasn't quite sure where or what Noricum was - all these Roman city names sounded the same anyway, and 'the north' was as faraway a concept to him as the source of the Nile: he knew it existed somewhere but that was about it. "It is not only beautiful, but very practical as well! I imagine lice are much easier to detect, aren't they?" Like dark stains on a white toga! "Lice are a big problem in Egypt, lots of people wear wigs instead," he commented with the most serious of looks before finishing up his half of the bun and licking blackcurrant juice off his fingers. "I remember when I was little one of my sisters got lice, my mother had her hair all shaved off before they spread to the rest of us." Unconsciously, Artemon ran a sticky hand through his own unruly mop. No lice there! At least not as far as Artemon was able to tell - sure, his scalp itched every now and then, but it was mostly due to sweat what with how hard Gallus worked him... or so he thought.

@David

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