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My family and other aliens


Teutus Quinctilius Varus
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While Sergia (and Secundus) didn't live in Rome, that didn't stop her visiting her uncle and cousins for some rather extended stays - Tertius' house was big enough to house his family several times over, with a staff to match, as befit a Senator and Praetor.

One member of that staff (and incidentally of the family too, though not officially being a slave, the son of the Senator and a slave woman) was Teutus, the said Senator's secretary. This afternoon, the Senator was out somewhere that didn't require his secretary to attend him, and his young daughter was visiting a neighbour she was friends with, which left Teutus alone to finish copying out some correspondence for the Senator, a task that didn't take him very long once people stopped interrupting him.

Once that was done, with the letters left neatly on the desk in the tablinum for Tertius to sign when he returned, Teutus found a seat in the garden to enjoy a moment in the sun. He hadn't been there long when he became aware that his cousin Sergia was there, and scrambled to his feet.

"I beg your pardon, Domina," he said.

 

@locutus-sum

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She'd noticed Teutus coming in, but he clearly hadn't noticed her, tucked away in a sconce under the portico watching a sparrow hop in and out of the hedges and glancing down occasionally to line up the next stitch of her embroidery. Her cousin's face looked harrowed (though maybe it was just scrunched up in a reaction to the sudden sunlight) as he plopped onto a bench at the opposite corner of the hortus. I hope he doesn't notice me.

He did, of course, starting up off the bench as his eyes made out her shape among the shade, stumbling out an apology that neither he nor she really knew if he ought to be making. Teutus was a slave, yes, but he was also his master's son, and likely would become his heir, and a free man. There was no guide book on how to treat someone like that, and no way to alleviate the strange feeling of guilt she felt every time he was subservient to her. In truth, Sergia tried her best to avoid Teutus at all costs - if she needed something fetching, she got one of the other slaves to do it. She tried to ignore the sight of him slinking off to the kitchen out of the corner of her eye as she and her uncles went into the triclinium. But sometimes life threw the two of them together, as it had today, much to the embarrassment of both parties.

"Oh, don't mind me," she said with a strained smile, flapping her hands to indicate he should sit down again. "You're not... bothering me."

Sergia quickly ducked her head back into her needlework.

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"Oh good," he said and sat back down, though he couldn't quite relax as he had before. The relationship he had with the other members of his family was an awkward one, he was related to them by birth but, also by birth, he was subservient to them, being a slave. Of all the various members of his family, somehow his relationship with his cousin was one of the most awkward; he always had the impression that she didn't quite know how to treat him, when nobody else bothered to treat him as anything other than a slave and Tertius' secretary.

The atmosphere was a little more tense suddenly than it had been and he eventually sighed and set his tabula aside, pausing in planning his next lesson for Antonia.

"I'm making you uncomfortable by being here, Domina," he said quietly. "I can go, if you prefer to be alone."

 

@locutus-sum

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Damn him, now neither of them could enjoy their time in the garden! A strange mix of frustration and sympathy welled up inside Sergia as she met her cousin's doleful gaze. Oh, if Uncle Tertius could just free Teutus all this would just go away! But there he was, swallowed up in his sack-like tunic, eyes downcast though they were set into a face that anyone could see belonged in the noble family of the Quinctilii Vari.

Usually, Sergia would simply leave. But something about this situation bothered her. She didn't find it easy to treat Teutus the way others treated him, and now she was hit with a sudden compulsion to show she was not entirely aloof.

Laying aside her needlework and smoothing out the folds, she slowly made her way around the portico until she reached her cousin, sitting herself stiffly down beside him and arranging her skirts over her knees.

"What are you writing?" she asked, affecting a tone that was as neutral as possible - not so friendly that it was unbefitting for a mistress addressing a slave, but not so detached as to make him feel totally alienated. The balance was not an easy one to strike. Talking to Teutus was rather like picking one's way barefoot across a floor covered in shards of broken glass.

@Sharpie

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"I am trying to come up with a lesson plan for Antonia, and not doing very well," Teutus confessed, managing a smile as Sergia sat down beside him on the bench. It was with difficulty that he restrained himself from getting up; obviously if she wanted him to stand, she could say so. He had always had the impression that she just didn't know quite how to balance the fact that they were cousins with the fact that he was also a slave.

Something nobody else in the family had any trouble with.

"I'm supposed to be helping her with her reading and writing but I have no idea what ten-year-old girls are interested in," he added. "I'd rather it was fun for her -or at least interesting - because nobody wants to learn if it's boring."

 

@locutus-sum

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Sergia listened to her cousin explain his predicament with a feeling of relief. Now here was something she could help with. She remembered only too well what it was like to be a ten year old girl stuck staring at rolls and rolls of the driest prose imaginable while outside the world was bathed in the soft yellow glow of the mid-afternoon sun, the grass was dry and ticklish against bare feet and even the slaves, chattering in the distance as they went about their chores, sounded more carefree than she felt. But she'd been taught by a hunched-up old Greek with a voice as dry as papyrus, and Teutus was not that. Sergia smiled inwardly. Bless him for at least making the effort to be interesting.

"Well, don't go putting chunks of text in front of her, though I expect you'd worked that out already," she said, brightening up. "I used to wish the gods would smite my pathetic old tutor whenever he did that. And don't, whatever you do, give her that stale old history stuff. Talk to her about stories. It's the stories we like," she said, wringing her hands conspiratorially. "Read her some poetry. Or... or tell her about Penelope." She couldn't help smiling properly now. How she'd been captivated by that tale! Her mother had always chided her for taking so long finishing her embroidery work. She'd never worked out why that was - how every time Sergia slipped free of the supervising eye and came across her needlework lying around, she'd poke her small fingers in between the threads and unpick the last few stitches she'd done, flushed with excitement at her secret game, dashing off round a corner every time she heard a maid approaching. Oh, yes, she'd loved that story. Wouldn't it be marvellous for Antonia to hear it too!

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"History is made up of stories," Teutus pointed out, deferentially. "Although admittedly, it's made up of stories of great heroes and wars and battles and things which probably are boring to girls like Antonia."

Sergia's smile was infectious and made him smile in return. He wondered if he could find a good Latin translation of the Odyssey; although he was fluent enough in Greek to be good at his job as his father's (master's!) secretary, he didn't think he could reproduce the poetry and drama of the original; he was not any sort of poet, in any language.

It was rather a shame that the other stories he could think of that mentioned girls or women - Dido, Lavinia and Tarpeia came to mind - were all rather tragic for the women involved. Not at all the sort of thing that he could imagine appealing to Antonia.

"What sort of stories and poetry do you like?" he asked, curious about Sergia herself now. He really didn't know very much about his cousin; they lived very different lives.

 

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Yes, history was full of stories that were boring "to girls like Antonia." "To anyone who's not boring, I say," added Sergia with conviction. "I simply can't stand those men so puffed up with literary pomp that they put themselves through the dullest literature imaginable to make themselves feel special."

She noticed with delight that her cousin was beginning to warm to the conversation, with a pleasant smile on his face, even asking her about her own favourite childhood tales.

"Oh, anything with a good story, really. Human stories." She wasn't going to be entirely upfront about her secret girlish predilection for love poems at the moment, but she allowed herself the following: "Ovid is really rather clever, don't you think?"

 

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"Human stories - if you take, say, the Aeneid in its various books and look at the stories it tells, they're all human, really," Teutus said. "And yes, Ovid is really rather clever. Though, probably not really all that suitable for a ten-year-old."

He wondered if Sergia was referencing the Metamorphoses or the Ars Amoria... Did she have someone she secretly composed her own love poems for? Even if he'd never read them.

"Really, though, most stories are human stories. People just want to... dress them up a bit, make them seem more impressive by pretending they're about other things. Like battles and stuff. Though the majority of the Iliad forgets the rest of the Trojan War and just focuses on one man sulking like a child over not getting his own way." He'd never really liked the Iliad because of how it focussed on Achilles behaving like a spoilt brat.

 

@locutus-sum

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Sergia looked at her cousin with shining eyes, every minute more and more convinced that avoiding conversation with him until now had been a huge mistake. You could tell by the way he talked that he shared the same natural delight at the storyteller's craft. Funny. She hadn't really met many slaves with a passion for something. That was probably because she hadn't talked to many slaves, she was beginning to realise.

She listened with interest to Teutus's defence of the great epics. She found herself nodding.

"Yes, I see what you mean. But as you say, they're all such self-absorbed, puffed-up, bloodthirsty... well, men!" She paused, looking at her knees then back at him. "I admit I haven't read them in a while. Perhaps I will give them another chance. But I prefer characters I can understand, even if they're not good people." She cleared her throat, then, with an apologetic smile, quoted in Greek: "In all other things a woman is full of fear, incapable of looking on battle or cold steel; but when she is injured in love, no mind is more murderous than hers!"*

 

*Euripides, Medea. translation David Kovacs

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"Men are like that, Domina," Teutus admitted with a sigh. "I don't know why we are, but..." He shrugged. "Then all assemble who felt towards the tyrant relentless hatred or keen fear; ships, which by chance were ready, they seize and load with gold; the wealth of grasping Pygmalion is borne overseas, the leader of the enterprise a woman."*

It was never the women who started the wars - even Helen of Troy hadn't started it herself, only spurred others on to start it by her actions. He'd always thought she was a thoughtless woman not worth going to war over - if she didn't want to stay with her husband, he'd have much better divorced her than drag men from Greece into a ten-year-war for no good reason.

"Love, or jealousy - but isn't that just love thwarted?" he mused. This was a strange subject to be discussing with his free cousin, but he so rarely got to have a conversation like this with anyone.

"Who would be your heroine, from all the stories - Roman or Greek, or anyone else at all?" he asked, curious.

 

@locutus-sum - so, so sorry for the wait!!

 

*Aeneid Book I, translation H.R. Fairclough

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