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A study in Brythonic


Attis
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Britannia, 67AD

Attis had grown used to the life of a Legate's personal slave with the Legions in Britannia. He was still growing used to the weather and the wet and the mud, but after that first time tripping over a grass hummock, he hadn't manage anything quite so ignominious again, certainly not where anyone could see. Oh, for paved roads again, though - they were building some outside the fort, but the fort itself was still a ditch, a wooden palisade and rows and rows of tents, with one or two more permanent structures like the bathhouse and the Praetorium and prison.

It hadn't taken him too long to find his way around, Roman army camps were laid out in nice neat straight lines with all the important buildings (or tents) in the middle and the less important ones outside of them and so on, right to the edges of the camp by the palisade. Which meant that at least his master's tent, one of the nice big ones, was near the middle of the camp.

Longinus was elsewhere at the moment, either on the parade square or in the Praetorium, and Attis wasn't needed, so once he'd finished his current chores, he ducked out of the tent for some air somewhere. He pulled his cloak around his shoulders; autumn here might be pretty but there was a chill in the air that he really wasn't used to, and he'd been told it would only get worse as winter wore on.

There was a familiar slight figure up ahead, the interprex Aius - Attis had seen him around, of course. Longinus didn't always dispense with Attis when he was doing Legion business, and occasionally had need of an interpreter while doing Legionary business.

"Salve," he said, stepping out of the way as Aius approached - Attis the slave was marginally beneath Aius the free peregrinus in the grand scheme of things. It seemed they were both going the same way, to the cookhouse for food. Of course.

 

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The cold was settling in for another long winter in Britannia. The chill went straight to the bones despite the autumn sunshine, but Aius was still grateful for it: colder weather meant more clothes, and less questions about why she was not willing to undress in front of others. She was the subject of jests for being a shy boy, but that was still better than everyone finding out she was not a boy at all.

Decimus was on guard duty at the moment, so Aius headed out to get some food. Whenever she was not interpreting or running errands, she stayed close by her friend, the only one who knew her secret. It made her feel less alone. For now, she would have to do with warm food. She was jolted out of her thoughts as someone greeted her.

"Salve" she returned the greeting. She liked to know who was who in the camp, and she had seen the young man around. "You are... the legate's secretary or something, right? Sorry, I forgot your name."

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"The 'or something' - I'm his body slave," Attis said, then realised that the other man probably didn't care for his humour even if Longinus did, before his eyes widened. Not many people would care to learn a slave's name, after all. "Attis. You're one of the interpreters, aren't you? Ajax, Aius, something?"

The other man had an excuse for not knowing Attis' name; Attis had less excuse for not knowing his.

He shivered, pulling his cloak tighter around himself as a sudden gust caught it. "Brr! It's colder than Minerva's tits - how do the British stand it?"

 

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"The 'or something' - I'm his body slave. Attis. You're one of the interpreters, aren't you? Ajax, Aius, something?"

"Aius" she nodded. She was used to the name by now, she had had it for a long time.

"Brr! It's colder than Minerva's tits - how do the British stand it?"

"They kill Romans for exercise" Aius quipped with a smirk. Honestly, she could not imagine living comfortably in this climate at all. "Warm food probably helps too. Were you going for lunch?"

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"Well, I probably don't count - I don't have the armour and the sword to look Roman, even if I was born in Italia," Attis replied. "Anyway, we're in a nice organised military camp, I don't think anyone is going to get that sort of exercise for a bit."

Warm food probably would help quite a lot - and a good amount of alcohol, even if it was that barbaric mead stuff rather than proper wine. Good luck getting vines to grow up here, thought he was willing to grant that they might further south. It was almost civilised further south, so of course his master had to come up here all the way to this wasteland of mist and moorland.

"Warm food - yes, I was. I wouldn't want to impose on you, though," he added. He knew his place when it came to the queues at the mess tent - right at the back after all the free people had had theirs. If he was lucky, he might get to the head of the line before all the actual legion slaves, but he wouldn't bet on it.

 

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"Well, I probably don't count - I don't have the armour and the sword to look Roman, even if I was born in Italia. Anyway, we're in a nice organised military camp, I don't think anyone is going to get that sort of exercise for a bit."

"Well, I wasn't born in Italia, and yet one of the fuckers tried to stab me" Aius pointed out with a smirk, pressing a hand against her ribs where her scar was hidden under the bindings. The last time the barbarians had broken into the camp had been almost a year before. The Romans were more wary since then. But if another attack came, it was not like they were going to check personnel records to see who was Roman and who was... a woman from Gaul.

For now, food was in order.

"Warm food - yes, I was. I wouldn't want to impose on you, though,"

"You are not imposing. I don't really have company for the day." Aius shrugged. Decimus liked her company, but most of the other soldiers did not have a lot in common with an interprex. She was free, that made her outrank Attis, but only barely. "Come on."

She headed to the cookhouse, following the smells of food. Hopefully there would be a bowl of something for the both of them. "So, you think the province will settle down soon?"

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"I hope you got him back," Attis replied. A peregrinus interprex would be far more likely to carry a blade than a Roman slave, though Attis did sometimes wonder if he should ask his master about being able to have at least a dagger. Just in case.

"I don't really know - if the barbarians have any sense they'll stop with the fighting and least appreciate the nicer aspects of civilisation. Like bath-houses and heating and proper roads."

The cookhouse was one of those nice new permanent buildings in the camp, with actual proper heating that made Attis let out a sigh of appreciation as they entered. If the other man didn't mind eating with a slave, Attis certainly didn't mind eating with him - better him than some of the coarser legionaries, anyway. Some of them knew how to make you very aware of your lack of standing around citizens, in a way Attis did not appreciate.

Though he had direct access to the Legate and they didn't, so who was the one with the lack of standing, again?

"It's more civilised in the south, though, I think - but that's why we're up here not down there. They don't need legionary forts in nice civilised parts of the world, so much, do they?"

 

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"I hope you got him back,

"He's dead." Aius shrugged. She had not killed the man, it had been Decimus, or one of the other soldiers that had jumped into the fray, she was not sure. She had been too scared about being taken to the medicus at the time.

"I don't really know - if the barbarians have any sense they'll stop with the fighting and least appreciate the nicer aspects of civilisation. Like bath-houses and heating and proper roads."

"Now that makes you sound very Roman" Aius grinned at him. She didn't mind all the trappings of Roman civilization, but she doubted the Britons saw it quite that way. They seemed to like their wilderness untouched.

"It's more civilised in the south, though, I think - but that's why we're up here not down there. They don't need legionary forts in nice civilised parts of the world, so much, do they?"

"Not in Italia, as far as I know. But I have never been" Aius noted. They walked into the building, and she joined a line, hoping to get to the food soon.

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"Well, I should hope so - I am Roman," Attis pointed out. "As Roman as chariot races and garum. Though I've never had garum with my chariot races, that would be... odd."

He joined the queue after Aius, hoping that he didn't get pushed to the back of the line as more soldiers came in. He might be a slave, but being the Legate's slave had to be good for something.

Well. For something other than half-decent sex, anyway.

"You've never been to Italia?" He was sure his eyebrows were halfway to the ceiling. "Never been to the heart of the Empire? You haven't lived!"

Attis missed it; Italy was a sight warmer back there than it was here, for one thing. He missed his friends, though he was perfectly willing to make new friends - the lixae were mostly rough labouring sorts, but there were clerks and other body slaves, and even some of the lower-ranking free people. Perhaps even this slight, quietly spoken young man might come to be a friend in time.

 

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"Well, I should hope so - I am Roman. As Roman as chariot races and garum. Though I've never had garum with my chariot races, that would be... odd."

Technically, Aius was Roman too. Not a citizen, but someone who had been born inside the empire, in the part of Gaul that had been conquered for the better part of a century. She did not think of herself as Roman much, but given that she was an interprex for the invading army, the Britons were not likely to make that distinction. And she was definitely not chariots-and-garum Roman.

"You've never been to Italia? Never been to the heart of the Empire? You haven't lived!"

"If you say so" Aius said with an amused smile. Now that was very Roman of him. The line moved along towards the food. "Do tell me. What's your favorite part?"

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Attis grinned. He did like this young man, very much. "What's my favourite part of Rome? Oh, the weather, absolutely - none of this cold wet stuff that gets into your bones and stays there. Though I think they might have summer here - I seem to remember there was a hot day last year and a bit of sun. Though that might have been my poor fevered brain overcome with wishing it wasn't so cold."

He was exaggerating, of course, but it was so easy to do, and fun, too - and it was all in good fun anyway. "I do miss the scenery, though - and the light. It's like... I guess it's like looking at everything if light was made of gold. Very vivid and bright. Britannia's all soft colours and a lot of grey mixed in with everything."

It seemed to look cold, which made it feel more cold, though there were times in the late summer afternoons that reminded Attis of Italy. He felt felt homesick most when seeing that golden light on a later summer day, or even an early autumn day, though the scenery and surrounding weren't exactly Italian.  Far too many burly men doing far too much grunting and swearing, and not nearly enough street traders and citizens in togas.

"what do you like about Britannia, then?"

 

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Aius had heard stories of Rome, and it always sounded like a place larger than life. Somewhere filled with light, gods, and expensive things. To hear Romans speak of Rome made her feel like they were all poets at heart. But she was curious what Attis would say about it.

"What's my favourite part of Rome? Oh, the weather, absolutely - none of this cold wet stuff that gets into your bones and stays there. Though I think they might have summer here - I seem to remember there was a hot day last year and a bit of sun. Though that might have been my poor fevered brain overcome with wishing it wasn't so cold."

"I think I have seen some sunlight last year" Aius grinned in agreement. Compared to Britannia, Gaul was just as sunny and warm as the distant city of Rome. Aius was not very fond of the cold either. Maybe after her service was up she would move to Italia to experience the warm weather too.

"I do miss the scenery, though - and the light. It's like... I guess it's like looking at everything if light was made of gold. Very vivid and bright. Britannia's all soft colours and a lot of grey mixed in with everything."

"There goes the poetry" Aius muttered with a smile. Rome really had a pull on the hearts of men, even as sarcastic men as Attis.

"what do you like about Britannia, then?"

"I like having a job I get paid for. And maybe eventually get citizenship." she noted. She was not a solider officially, but she served as a member of the auxiliary units, as any peregrinus would. Only a fleeting twenty-something years, and she could be Quintus Flavius Aius, or whatever. "I don't mind Britannia, though. I like the green, and the hills. The forests are neat too, although I like my forests without being shot at from the bushes."

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Poetry? Attis shot Aius a puzzled look. He hadn't been talking any sort of poetry - it was all a lot of nonsense anyway, pretty much, if you asked Attis.

That that opinion owed more than a little to his master's thoughts and feelings on the subject was neither here nor there.

"We can all hope for citizenship eventually," Attis said sympathetically. Aius would get it before he would, and a better version of it, probably; Attis would be limited because he'd be a freedman, though any kids would be full citizens. As if he'd have kids - he'd be a terrible father.

"I wonder what would happen if we built them nice things like bath houses and let them get on and discover the joys of civilised life, though? We've got proper roads, and education, and heating and baths and sanitation and aqueducts and everything. Even wine." It boggled Attis' mind that anyone would choose to live in a freezing mud hut rather than enjoying all the benefits of proper civilisation. Even slaves could use the baths, and enjoy the heat from a nice properly built and maintained hypocaust, after all.

"It looks all very nice, but I don't like bushes shooting arrows, either. I don't think I'll ever understand the British."

He couldn't help wondering if his master would be able to help Aius in his quest for citizenship, or anything else. He'd test the waters, carefully, later on - he wasn't about to make a promise he couldn't keep, not if it meant raising someone else's hopes in vain.

 

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"We can all hope for citizenship eventually," 

Aius nodded. Attis was a slave, which made his dreams a lot more unattainable than hers. Maybe, if his master was kind, he would earn his freedom eventually.

They finally got to the food. It was not the best one could eat, but it was decent enough for the rank and file of the legion. It was the army's interest to keep them healthy and fed.

"I wonder what would happen if we built them nice things like bath houses and let them get on and discover the joys of civilised life, though? We've got proper roads, and education, and heating and baths and sanitation and aqueducts and everything. Even wine." 

"I think they would say something about freedom." Aius noted, taking a bowl of stew and some bread "I would give a lot for a hot bath right now though, so dunno, maybe some could be swayed."

"It looks all very nice, but I don't like bushes shooting arrows, either. I don't think I'll ever understand the British."

"I don't think they will even understand us either. Which is ironic. Given that it's my entire job." Aius smirked.

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Attis gave a companionable grin to the slave on the other side of the counter. Just because he was the legate's slave and therefore one of the most senior slaves in the whole camp (if not the senior slave) didn't mean that he was going to look down on the others - the soldiers did that enough for anyone, after all.

"Is it really freedom to freeze to death, though?" he asked. "Surely people can be free and civilised at the same time." Though if the Emperor had wanted the legate to set an example of how to be free and civilised, he'd picked totally the wrong man when he'd chosen Longinus.

Not that Attis would ever say as much to anyone.

He tore off a chunk of bread to accompany the nondescript stew.

"There's a bath-house right here in the camp," he pointed out. "And I think the only reason we're here in Britannia at all, really, is because Roman soldiers can't bear to think that there's a place they know of that they haven't even tried to conquer yet."

 

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"Is it really freedom to freeze to death, though? Surely people can be free and civilised at the same time."

"Oh, they can be. But if we wanted them to be, we'd sent engineers and not soldiers." Aius noted, then immediately clamped her mouth shut. Talking to Attis, someone closer to her position in the camp, had made her too talkative for her own good.

"There's a bath-house right here in the camp. And I think the only reason we're here in Britannia at all, really, is because Roman soldiers can't bear to think that there's a place they know of that they haven't even tried to conquer yet."

Aius let out a sight. At least Attis was thinking the same thing. Civilizing barbarians sounded all nice, but in the end, it was the conquest that had brought the legions over the sea to Britannia. "Now that we can agree on. Who do you think is next? I hear there are some Hyperborean lands we have not seen yet..."

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"Well, they tried Germania Superior, maybe they'll try there again - after all, didn't Julius Caesar try to come here about a century ago, and fail?"

Though Gaius Julius Caesar hadn't lost three whole legions in doing it, so maybe that fact alone removed Germania Superior from contention. "Sarmatia, perhaps? Or whatever it is that's on the other side of Dacia, anyway. Or further south, past Africa."

He had only a vague idea of where these places were, precisely, and wouldn't be able to point to any of them on a map with any certainty - not even Britannia! - but they made for good sounding places to toss into this conversation.

 

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"Well, they tried Germania Superior, maybe they'll try there again - after all, didn't Julius Caesar try to come here about a century ago, and fail?"

Aius coughed, having swallowed a bite of her food wrong. "Gods, no. I don't wanna fight those people. I'd like to be not devoured by the forests, please, thank you." Everyone knew legends about the forests of Germania. No one wanted to go there.

"Sarmatia, perhaps? Or whatever it is that's on the other side of Dacia, anyway. Or further south, past Africa."

"Somewhere warm?" Aius ventured with a smirk. "I hear there are lands full of riches south of Egypt... Although Caesar had tried that one too, didn't he. Or so I was told by a woman in the camps nearby, I think her name was Cleopatra..."

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It was Attis' turn to choke on his food. The name Cleopatra coming so soon after his thought and Aius' mention of Julius Caesar had automatically made him think of the Cleopatra who'd smuggled herself into see said general, rolled up in a mat, and then gone off with Marcus Antonius and committed suicide when they'd lost the Battle of Actium. A moment's thought made him realise the camp woman couldn't be the same Cleopatra, of course, but it had been a jarring and interesting mental image, the Egyptian queen stuck in the middle of the British mists.

"Somewhere warm. Probably most places are warmer than this, Jupiter knows why my master like the place enough to have come back - this is his second term out here. Second or third, something like that."

If there was anything that could prove his master was mad, it was coming back out here voluntarily after being out here once. Attis would prefer anywhere warmer. "Riches and a warmer climate... I'll have to try to persuade my master he wants to try for somewhere out past Egypt next, then. Though I suppose the natives there are just as dangerous as the Britons here."

 

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Aius laughed as Attis choked on his bite. Cleopatra was a camp follower and a nice woman, but definitely not royalty.

"Somewhere warm. Probably most places are warmer than this, Jupiter knows why my master like the place enough to have come back - this is his second term out here. Second or third, something like that."

"Patricians will do a lot for a career, huh" she noted, chewing on her piece of bread. She doubted most Roman nobility would have ever come this far if they had not had an opportunity to further their standing in the empire.

"Riches and a warmer climate... I'll have to try to persuade my master he wants to try for somewhere out past Egypt next, then. Though I suppose the natives there are just as dangerous as the Britons here."

"Natives are dangerous everywhere" Aius chuckled. "So... what would you do with all the riches?"

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"Natives are dangerous everywhere"

"That's true enough," Attis replied with a shrug.

"So... what would you do with all the riches?"

"Oh, now you're asking the really difficult questions! I don't know - I don't think anyone's going to be able to actually spend all that money, no matter what they say. I wouldn't need half that sort of money, anyway. Just enough for a little farm somewhere back in Italia, maybe." He gestured at the other man with his spoon. "What would you do with all that money, then? Got a nice girl you'd like to settle down with somewhere, perhaps?"

 

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"Oh, now you're asking the really difficult questions! I don't know - I don't think anyone's going to be able to actually spend all that money, no matter what they say. I wouldn't need half that sort of money, anyway. Just enough for a little farm somewhere back in Italia, maybe." 

"Farming?" Aius chuckled. She had a hard time picturing Attis as a farmer. Then again, different people had different dreams. Maybe he would be good at it. It sounded like a much more peaceful life than the frontier, at least. "Italia does sound nice."

"What would you do with all that money, then? Got a nice girl you'd like to settle down with somewhere, perhaps?"

"You could say that." Aius grinned.One day, after service, she would be able to live as a woman if she wanted to. And maybe settle down with a nice girl. Or boy. "She's very nice." Also, sitting right here. "I don't think I'd be good at farming, though. Trading, maybe? My father was a merchant. I have a little experience."

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