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Charis
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Mid-March 76AD

By the time Charis had actually tracked Wulfric down, it was a month or so after her conversation with Tertius. It wasn't that he was exceptionally difficult to find: a couple of light enquiries at various stalls in the market had led her to this warehouse, it was more that she a) didn't have the time to spend on the errand, and b) had been putting it off. Being in league with her dominus was an uncomfortable feeling for her. She hadn't been on 'his side' of anything since she'd come to Rome, but their joint suspicion of his newfound son was something other than Peregrinus that they had in common, and it was an unpleasant feeling, but she knew she couldn't put this off forever. If she did try and ignore the fact that Wulfric was here for...unkown reasons, the curiosity would eat her alive. 

So here she was, awkwardly standing outside of a bustling warehouse - stacked to high-heavens with produce, waiting to try and catch a glimpse of her...step-son? No, she wasn't married to Tertius...Peregrinus' half-brother sounded less awkward. She tried to ignore the fact that Wulfric was older than her, that made the whole thing all the odder and much more complicated. When she did spot his face, she had to do a double take. He really was the spitting image of Tertius - his parentage really couldn't be denied. She swallowed, and weaving through the big, burly men that stood around lugging crates or chatting, she moved to stand in front of him. She let out a small smile and inclined her head, "Dominus, sorry, I know you're busy but I thought I would stop by to see you, I was in the market and well..." Well, she didn't have an excuse. 

 

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It was now a while ago since they began giving Wulfric more responsibility in the warehouse – he could do much more than just lifting bags and wooden boxes with produce. He could oversee people, it was something he’d done before. He was used to being someone’s superior, but at the same time, his diplomatic skills were good. In fact better than some of the Romans, it seemed. More than one of the workers and even one of the slaves had said they liked him overseeing them more than they liked their Roman superiors. He didn’t mention it, of course. It wasn’t his place. He wasn’t here to stay, after all.

 Today was a day like many others. He woke up in the tiny insula he lived in, got dressed, found something to eat on the way to the market and then he went to work. He’d learned some of the Roman letters, although especially numbers, since that seemed most important here. They’d just unloaded a few carts that came in and he’d sent the workers on a break. Then he picked up one of those apples the Romans called a Punicum malum, which looked like an apple on the outside, but within it had sweet and crunchy red seeds to eat. He’d grown fond of them and broke it in two and began scooping out the little bits with a few fingers.

 That’s when he noticed that he was approached and when he looked up, it was Charis standing in front of him. His father’s slave and the mother to his little brother Peregrinus. She smiled and made an excuse for being here. She would stop by and see him? But he never told that he worked here and she got into the warehouse to find him. She had intended to be here and see him.

 “Charis! It is nice seeing you.” Wulfric said after he'd finished chewing, now smiling at her as he stood, not mentioning his suspicions to her, because he didn’t want her to feel awkward or make more strange excuses. But he stood, feeling strange sitting when she was standing, “How are you and Peregrinus? I hope you are well.” What if she came to see him because there was an issue or something? Gods he hoped not.

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"We're well, thank you Wulfric." Wulfric didn't sound right, but nor did calling him dominus. Sir, maybe? She'd have to try it out for size. 

"I would have brought Peregrinus but he needed his nap whilst I was out at the markets...but next time I will bring him." Because once she found out where he worked, and Tertius could be convinced, she'd be allowed to go somewhere with her son. Ridiculous though it was that she needed to even ask permission for her own child. "I...wanted to thank you, for your advice about sleeping in the bed with him. It's helped," She chuckled, "And I wanted to see how you were doing...I'm sorry we haven't been able to see one another since..." That very fucking awkward dinner. 

 

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See, it worked. She stopped trying to explain why she was here. She just told him why Peregrinus was not here and she'd bring him next time. So she did intend to come here, else that explanation would not have made sense. Wulfric kind of enjoyed that he made her admit it without any of them really saying it. Thankfully both she and his little brother were well. Then she thanked him for his advice on how to get Peregrinus to sleep better and now she wanted to know how Wulfric was doing. He waved a hand when she trailed off.

"There is no need to mention. You come. Came." He corrected himself, "I am well also, thank you. Please, let us sit." He invited her to sit with him on some wooden crates, where he also sat just before when she came.

"You want this? I think it is good." He handed her one half of the pomegranate he had broken, keeping the other half to himself. She was a slave, sure, but also the mother of his brother. And she wasn't from here. He felt there was a connection and she was very likable. So why should he not wish to share with her? Meanwhile, he could also try and figure out the real reason why she was here. Was she really just here to thank him and see how he was doing? And if she was, did that mean she was fond of him? Or was there another reason?

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"Your Latin is improving." She smiled, genuinely. "It's not so bad to learn...I barely had two or three phrases when I first came here, and look at me now..." Because her domine forbid her from speaking Brythonic. Although she still did with Cynane and Aia...and to Peregrinus when she was sure nobody could overhear. 

She glanced at the fruit in his hand and wrinkled her nose, shaking her head as she sat down. "I've seen domine eat it, but it's not for slaves." Like most things. "But it looks...unpleasant. Like the seeds I used to plant in the village." She shook her head. The Roman food still confused her - why anybody would eat the dormouse was beyond her - the thing was a pest, not a delicacy. 

"I'm not disturbing you am I?" She glanced around nervously, "You have time to talk?" 

 

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She complimented his Latin, which made him smile widely, happy to hear she thought it was so well, "Thank you, you are nice. I know some Latin, before I come. Working here, makes me learn better." He explained. Being around ordinary people in Rome, just working, experiencing life, that was a good way to learn a new language. Often they'd comment if he said a wrong word or in the wrong order, but he was getting there. And he wasn't afraid to ask, if he didn't know a word. Really, how would you ever learn anything, if you were afraid to ask questions? 

He'd then offered her half a pomegranate, but she wrinkled her nose and said it wasn't for slaves. This caused him to arch a brow, "It is better than looks. Also, you are not my slave. I will offer, if you will have it." He said, placing the other half of the pomegranate between them and scooped out a few more seeds for himself. He enjoyed the way they popped between his teeth and their sweet taste. It almost reminded him of sweet raspberries mixed with a sour apple, or something like it. Charis hoped she was not disturbing him, but he waved a hand dismissively. 

"You could not disturb." He said with a smile, "I have break now, so we can talk. Is something on your... thoughts?" He looked for the right word and hoped he found it and she'd understand what he meant. He was really curious about why she'd come to see him. It was not just for a casual chat, he was sure of that. There had to be more. 

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Charis shook her head when he offered the fruit again. It wasn't a principle-thing, it was just that it genuinely did look unappetising. Antonia, her domina, loved them though although Rhoda always complained to the heavens whenever she had to prepare it and scrape out all the seeds. Thank goodness the household had nimble-fingered young slaves to do it for her, she always said (ergo, leaving it to Charis). 

"Mind." She corrected with a gentle smile, "Is something on your mind. And...no, not really I..." she hesitated. She'd rehearsed this, although she hadn't necessarily cleared her approach with Tertius. It was, however, the only one she could really think of that made sense. "I thought I would warn you. Domine...is suspicious." So am I"Of you, and why you're here. I...thought I had better warn you. Maybe I could tell him I ran into you by accident and got talking and that I believe you are here for a good reason? But...he's going to ask questions..." 

 

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Charis still didn't want to taste the strange fruit, so he wouldn't offer it to her again. Instead he carefully asked into why she came, what she wanted. And she corrected him when he picked the wrong word to finish with and he nodded, "Mind." He repeated to remember it for another time. But then he focused on her again, to find out what exactly she wanted to talk about. First she paused, as if she was uncertain, but then she began speaking of her master, his father, saying that he was suspicious of him. She had come to warn him and suggested telling Tertius how she ran into Wulfric. She knew there'd be questions.

"I am here for good reason. Meeting family. Learning about Rome." Wulfric explained to her and shifted to face her better, "I know he not trust me. It is obvious. But... you think he will do a thing, to me? I am not fear him." He wasn't afraid of his father, why should he be? Even Tertius had been unable to deny that Wulfric was his son, they looked too much alike for that. He would admit it, and yet he did not trust Wulfric. Yet there was a long way to go from not trusting a son who suddenly turned up, to wanting to hurt him. If Tertius would hurt him, he'd have to defend himself. He hoped it wouldn't come to that. That wasn't why he was here, at all.

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"It's a long way to come Wulfric...just to meet your father, and to learn about Rome." She opined with an arched brow and then remembered herself...she was supposed to be being friendly, making him think it was Tertius that was suspicious not her. She swallowed and offered a smile. "I think he is confused...did your mother not say what sort of man he was?" Surely she would not have bedded him willingly? A woman of high-status? She'd heard that the men of Rome had forced women in Britannia, powerful, important women. Was it not the same in Germania? 

Shaking her head, she sighed and nudged him with her knee. "He'll not hurt you, I'm sure he won't...but he's not likely to meet you again either, if he still thinks you are here for more than you say..." 

 

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Honestly it upset him a bit, when she almost repeated something he thought his father had said to. That he shouldn't travel all the long way to Rome just to meet his father and learn about Rome. What was so wrong about that? Sure Rome was filled to the rim with dishonest people. Wulfric just wasn't one of them. Was that so hard to understand? He broke another seed between his teeth and she said his father was confused. And wondered if his mother didn't know what sort of man Tertius was. He gave her a look.

"He was young, when they meet. She was too. I think he was other man. Different." Wulfric said, "She say he was nice so she spend more nights with him. But..." He smiled a little, "Maybe they not talk much." It didn't really feel so strange to him, talking about his mother like that. The houses in Germania weren't as large as a domus in Rome and often families would sleep in the same room. You could hear everything that went on, so you kind of just knew.

Charis said his father might not hurt him, but he didn't want to meet Wulfric either. He sighed and stood, feeling a bit upset again, "I am telling truth. Mother and... Wulfstan not raise me to lie. Family matters. I will not lie to family." Didn't they understand that? Surely it was the same thing in Rome. If you couldn't trust anyone else, at least you should be able to trust your family, right? 

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Charis scoffed, arching a brow. "Nice?" It shouldn't have surprised  her so much. Tertius had been kind to her, in his own peculiar way, fairly often. Unfortunately his kindness was peppered was acts of (to her) supreme cruelty; forcing her into his bed, locking her in a room for months...she supposed it was possible that he was genuinely pleasant his youth before the years and influence of Rome had worn him down, but she couldn't picture it. Nor a woman - an important woman - volunteering to take him as her lover. She ignored that she'd done exactly that when she was trying to manipulate him in the Gardens, all those months ago. 

She flinched a little as Wulfric stood, and smoothed out the tunica over her knees. He seemed so genuine...but it didn't make any sense. Surely no man would risk his safety and security to come all the way here just...for a conversation. "I'm sorry." She winced with a little sigh, "I'm sure it's frustrating for you. I...think he is worried you are here for his money, for an inheritance." She flicked her eyes up to his face from where they had been trained on his chest. "He doesn't have that sort of money  to give you Wulfric." A lie, but maybe if she suggested he was broke, sweet Wulfric would reveal his true colours...

 

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He arched a brow when she did so, as she seemed to question the fact that his father could be nice. Surely his mother would not have slept with Tertius more than once, if he hadn't treated her well? It was before she got married, after all. And as far as he understood, it hadn't meant all that much to any of them, not until his mother found out she was pregnant anyway, and by then she had a husband. It was obvious to her though, when she had the child, that her husband was not the father. Still, surely his father could be nice? Apparently just not to Wulfric, even though he seemed to try and stay civil at least. But he didn't understand why he wasn't welcomed. Had Teutus shown up in Germania, looking for his long lost brother, he'd be welcomed with open arms.

Wulfric couldn't stay seated though, when Charis again questioned Wulfric's reason to be here. Or rather, Tertius questioned it and so did she. Did he send her? He looked at her. She seemed so sweet, so likable, but maybe it was all a lie? Rome wasn't at all what he expected. Nor its people. Charis apologized, then said Tertius thought Wulfric had come for money. She looked straight up at him then, saying Tertius had no money to give.

"I have never ask for money." Wulfric said, a frustrated tone to his voice, "Why I would do that? In Germania, there is no much need for money. And my family, not poor. My grandfather is leader of my people." He inhaled a breath, giving her a look again, "Do Tertius tell you? To tell me this?" 

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Charis heard the frustration in his voice and felt a wave of guilt climb from the pit of her stomach. She flinched at his look and dropped her eyes. He looked so much like his father. "No, sir." She replied, swallowing the lump in her throat. It was not an abject lie; Tertius had merely told her to get to the bottom of this, which she was doing. He hadn't given her the words. 

Gingerly, she eased herself up from the wooden crates she had perched on until she was standing, although she was still a great deal shorter than him. "I'm sorry if I offended you." She wasn't that sorry, but she hid it well. "He just fears what your presence will mean, and I sought to warn you." Because even if he was a proficient actor and this was all a ruse and he was here for money or inheritance or recognition, he'd not find any of the three with Tertius, that she was sure of. "Perhaps it is time for you to return to Germania?" 

 

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Wulfric rarely got this upset, he was usually very good at staying calm and diplomatic and friendly, but the conversation was becoming tense. And it didn't help when she denied his claim that Tertius sent her. Then she stood too, apologized for offending him and tried to make excuses for her odd claims and questions. Gods he wanted to like her, she had been very likable in his father's home. But apparently on her own, she was different. He recalled how he halfway wanted to just steal her away, along with Peregrinus, and bring them both with him to Germania. Away from Rome and away from the strange family he had down here. But maybe just Peregrinus, then? If he could... meanwhile he hadn't answered Charis, who now suggested he returned to Germania.

He ran both hands through his hair as he paced a bit. This wasn't going anywhere useful. He couldn't be diplomatic when he was upset. He closed his eyes briefly, as he was turning away from her, and he inhaled a deep breath to calm himself. Then he turned to face her again.

"Sorry I ask, I just... do not know, why people do not trust me? I have not wish offending you. Or my father. I have not wish offending anyone in Rome." Wulfric said. A part of him wanted to return the sentence to her, wanted to tell that perhaps it was time for her to return to his father's house. Instead though, he came closer to her, met her eyes, as if he was searching for something in them, "I do not know, why you are like this? You seem... changed, from other time we speak?" 

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Charis felt that same wave of guilt. Wulfric had been kind to her. So few people had, in her time in Rome that she viewed it all with suspicion. Beyond that though, it was not just herself she had to worry about now. Peregrinus' life and his security both physical and as the son of Tertius, his heir, was the most important thing. She couldn't jeopardise that, not for any soft feelings of guilt. She liked Wulfric, but he wasn't worth her son's future. 

"People...Tert- Domine," She clarified, "Does not understand why you have come here just too seek him out. Nobody in Rome would do it so it is odd to him." Sighing and finding his stare uncomfortable, she moved to place a hand on his upper arm in an attempt at comfort. "I...am being honest now. In a way I can't be in the house. I have had a hard time here Wulfric," that was not a lie, she would not wish her enslaved state on anybody, "I...just wished to make you understand what sort of man you are dealing with, and why it is not sensible to push him." She blinked up at him, "Do you understand?" 

 

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He didn’t find what he was searching for. She tried to make more excuses for her claims, that Romans would never do what he’d done and that’s why it was strange. And then she placed a hand on his arm, trying to say how hard she had it here in Rome and she wanted to make him understand. Wulfric looked at her hand on his arm, it didn’t comfort him the slightest.

 “I understand you do not wish me in Rome.” Wulfric then replied and brushed her hand off his arm. If she thought she could use her beauty to allure him and believe in her, she was wrong. But he could see why such actions would have drawn his father in.

 “I think you must leave now. I must work.” He then added. It was such a pity! She’d seemed so nice and sweet, but turned out to be someone he didn’t want to trust. Or, he did want to trust her, but wasn’t sure if he could. He already understood well what kind of man his father was, but Charis helped make it more clear. He still didn’t quite believe she wasn’t sent by his father. Maybe to spy on him, even. He took a step away from her, waiting for her to leave.

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Charis stared as he brushed off her hand. It worked on Tertius, and she had assumed - naively perhaps - that it would likewise work on his son. She'd gotten lost somewhere and assumed Wulfric - who had shown her nothing but kindness, was the same sort of man as his father. It was a mistake and she regretted it almost immediately. 

"Wulfric..." She started, her voice more timid now. She had - in her own way - been honest. Tertius was not a man to cross, she knew that better than anybody. Perhaps there was some self-interest in her warning, but it was a genuine one all the same. She cleared her throat, folding her arms across her waist self-consciously as he stepped away from her. "You'll get nowhere with him acting like this." She commented mildly. "I meant what I said, even if you don't believe it."

She nibbled at the inside of her cheek, trying to figure out her next move. She'd evidently lost his trust, and couldn't understand why. "You'll not find your family here Wulfric." She said, although her voice was sad and small as she turned to leave with a shrug. "At least not in your father." 

 

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Wulfric wasn't sure why she would place a hand on his arm, it was something people did when they wanted to be heard and trusted. But his mistrust in Charis grew, to his own annoyance, only larger by the touch. She seemed surprised that he dismissed it and even her, but she didn't leave. Instead she tried to clear her throat and hugged herself, saying he wouldn't get anywhere with Tertius if he acted like this. Acted like what? He had been telling the truth the whole time, but wasn't sure that Charis had been doing the same. Or maybe she told the truth, but she also kept something hidden from him. 

"I believe he is suspicious with me. But I do not know why you are." Wulfric said firmly. Charis said he wouldn't find his family here and especially not with his father.

"Maybe not, we will see. I have other family also. Two brothers, one sister. Maybe they will trust me better." He said. It seemed to him like she was trying to leave in the way where one hoped they'd be told to not leave after all. But Wulfric felt disappointed and betrayed. She'd seemed so friendly. They spoke well in his father's house, the first day he came there. And he'd been happy to see her today too. But now, he wasn't sure what to think. She more or less told him to go back to where he came from, after all. And he would, eventually, when he was done with Rome. Maybe taking someone with him, if he could. Peregrinus did certainly not deserve this life, and he was young enough to not remember it if he left now and grew up in Germania. The only question was how to make that happen.

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"I'm not..." She tried to protest, but judging by the firm tone and glance he spared her, he didn't particularly believe her. 

Charis shook her head in deep confusion, a frown creasing her brow. "But he won't let you see Antonia or my son...Peregrinus, if he doesn't trust you, Wulfric. Teutus..." She sighed, "He has a complex relationship with domine, I...he's a good man but he won't convince domine that you are here for a good reason...or if he does, I'm not sure domine will believe him." She swallowed, huffing out a breath in irritation. "I...I don't understand what I've done Wulfric." She looked upset, frowning up at him. She'd obviously not been convincing but in her estimation, she hadn't been particularly untruthful just...probing. 

Frustrated, she sighed deeply; "I just...I just don't know. You have come here and you disrupt things and I'm trying to be kind and...what? You don't trust me?" 

 

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She was suspicious with him, why else would she have asked all those questions? And she even stopped herself when she tried to argue with his statement, which meant there had to be some truth to it. But then she went on, instead of leaving. Wulfric listened with as much patience as he had left. He hated losing his temper and becoming angry like this. And he wasn't even as angry as some people got, but just the feeling when he wasn't nice to someone... he hated it. But how could he trust her? She tried to say that he wouldn't be allowed to see his siblings and he couldn't talk to Teutus either. And then she claimed she had no idea of what she'd done to Wulfric to earn his distrust.

He looked up, seeing his workers come back from their break. So he took hold of her arm, not hard, just firmly enough to lead her out behind the building, where they could continue their conversation in private. His workers weren't stupid, they knew what to do until he came back. Once out the back, he let go of her arm. 

"You say perhaps it is time I return to Germania. And now, you say I disrupt!" He then said, once they were on their own again, "How you think I feel, when you say so? You expect I am happy? You are mother of my brother, but I disrupt and you want me leaving Rome. And you ask questions. Many questions." He explained. He wasn't used to arguing in Latin, but he tried! "I wish trusting you! But I am not know, if I can!"

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Charis tried to pull her arm back as Wulfric reached for it. So like his father that it almost made her flinch. She followed him though, as any good slave would until they were round the corner and she snatched her arm back, holding it around her waist - out of his reach. 

"How do you not see it?" She choked in response, shaking her head with a deep frown and an anguished expression that was utterly genuine. "Of course you've disrupted things! That is not a criticism, Wulfric, it is clear! Domine likes control, he likes to know what everybody is doing and what everybody is thinking and you've come here and...and he doesn't know what you want, he doesn't know how to react to you and...and...maybe you can't trust me! Maybe you shouldn't!" She choked back, "But I am trying to help you and help domine...but...forget it!" She threw up her hands in frustration, "What do I know, right? I'm just a slave." She was frustrated and she was indignant and she was walking a fine line between being honest and being well...foolish.

 

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Wulfric had only wanted to quickly lead her away from his workers and that's why he took her arm to lead her away. But he noticed how she snatched it back when he let go, and she held it close to her now. So he couldn't do it again. Well he didn't wish to treat her like this, but this conversation had turned out quite differently than what he imagined, when he first saw her today. He'd been happy to see her. Now he felt frustrated, upset! It wasn't a feeling he liked at all. Then again, it wasn't every day someone told him he ought to go back home, despite that he thought he had a good reason for being here.

And now Charis tried to explain herself. That he disrupted things because her master liked control and Wulfric clearly confused his father. Then she stated that maybe he could indeed not trust her even though she tried to help him. What? Those words made no sense at all. And then she tried to pretend she was inferior by claiming she was only a slave. Wulfric sighed as he tried to turn the words in his head a few times, until it made sense. He hadn't had a real argument in this language either. It was hard.

"Do not speak words such. You are more than only slave." He first said then and continued, "I think you can no help me and help my father, on the same time." Wulfric said, "So is true? He tell you to see me? What you will tell him?" 

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"I'm not!" She yelled back, irritated. "I am just a slave!" She huffed in frustration. She'd learned that, if nothing else during her years here. She might have friends and her son and hobbies and skills but ultimately all most people would see her as, including her dominus and including her son, was a slave. 

"He didn't tell me to see you. I swear it on my life, and my son's." She said - grinding her teeth, annoyed. It wasn't a lie - she had suggested it to Tertius, after all. "A-and I suppose I'll tell him that you didn't trust me, that you didn't wish to see me but that you wish to see Teutus, domina Antonia and my son." She shot him a glare and then let out a deep sigh, "Is that all you wish for me to tell him?" 

 

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She yelled at him that she was just a slave, but the way she did it, the fact that she did yell... told him she might have come to terms with the fact, but at the same time, she didn't want it. He could not tell her of the idea he had, of removing Peregrinus from Rome. Not unless he could trust her and that would mean she came with him. He would have to find out if he could, but how? Meanwhile, she kept claiming that Tertius did not tell her to see Wulfric and she even swore it on her son's life. Wulfric might trust such a claim, when spoken like that. Then she went on to say what she'd tell Tertius. And she glared at him, as if daring him. 

He shook his head at her question, "No." He then said, "I wish you tell him nothing." Honestly it would be better if Tertius did not know Charis had come to see him. He wished he could find out if she would tell Tertius or not! Did she like him? He wasn't sure. She had his son, but that didn't have to mean she liked her master. No matter though, if she wanted to befriend Wulfric, she'd have to decide whom she wanted to help. She could not play both sides and hope for the best. She wasn't in a good enough position to do that.

"I do wish seeing you." Wulfric said, "I was happy, seeing you come. But I know you mean to come. It was no... accident." He continued, "You are more than slave, I think. You are mother. You have family? Friends? You are more than slave, to them. You have something... here." He pointed at her head and then her heart, "And here... that mean something." 

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He wanted her to tell Tertius nothing. She managed to swallow the scoff before she let it out. He'd never stand for that, and she was not going to lie for him. She knew Tertius hadn't ever raised a hand to her, but she equally knew he didn't brook lying and keeping something from him or deception ranked - it seemed - top on his list of infractions. She wasn't going to risk her neck or liberty for Wulfric, not when he seemed so utterly apathetic to her now anyway. 

With a frustrated sigh she pushed her fingers through her hair and shook her head. "You don't understand Wulfric, you've never been a slave." He had been born free in Germania just as she had been born free in Britannia. She wondered how he'd cope, with the loss of his liberty? "I love my friends, but every day I wake up and I'm still a slave. Their love might mean something but...it doesn't change anything, not for me. You can't escape slavery. At least not for long." She had glimpses of it - when she was with Cynane or that Saturnalia night with Alexius but...it was fleeting. 

 

TAG: @Atrice

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