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Late August 76AD

She had to do it. It had to happen. Probably it would amount to nothing, but it would at least close a chapter in her life. The young girl she had once been, the one who still carried a torch for the young man who had seduced her, who had fathered her child, demanded it. The more pragmatic woman knew that the young girl was likely to get her heart broken one more time, but at least it would be the end of it.

She had to see him.

Prosperpine had done her hair in an elaborate and very modern style and even applied a little make-up. Not too much, she didn't want to look like she was negotiable, even though she was still an attractive woman with a good figure, just no longer an adolescent girl. But he knew that, they'd basically grown into adulthood together, or at least in the same household. Being unwed she wore not the stola but a rich, brown chiton, offset by a pale blue palla that she wore draped around her shoulders and pinned with a polished bronze fibula. It was the finest clothing she'd ever owned, and thanks to her son and her body slave, she felt like an Augusta.

That feeling slipped for a moment as she approached the family domus where she had been a slave for so many years, but she reminded herself that she was a slave no more, and importantly had not been freed by Tertius, so was not beholden to him. Taking a deep breath, she straightened up, caught the drape of her palla up in her left hand, and rapped smartly on the door.

@Atrice@Sara

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Charis grinned as she gripped onto Peregrinus' chubby little hand as he made some tentative steps around the atrium. Her son's first birthday had been the preceding week and Charis couldn't quite believe the tiny, fragile little newborn she'd held to her chest a year ago was now an infant, tottering about the domus (with her or furniture's assistance), saying 'Tata' upon sight at Tertius and 'Ka-rish' - the toddler approximation of her name when he saw her. She'd prayed for a 'Mama' until Rhoda had gently pulled her aside and said it would be better, simpler for her and the boy if he learned her place as his slave during infancy. It had hurt her in more ways than she could count, but reluctantly agreed - the last  thing she wanted was to risk herself or the boy's fortune by embarrassing Tertius with his heirs exclamations of 'Mama!' directed at her, when he had company. 

She also couldn't quite believe she was a mother. She'd always wanted children - although most definitely not this way - but she was still so girlish in so many ways, and had only just turned twenty-two, a week before her son. It had come naturally though - mothering. Maybe it was because her son was priority in the house and so she spent more time with him than anybody, but she enjoyed it - sleepless nights aside. Occasionally she longed for the days of working in the garden, particularly now Peregrinus was grown and could no longer be plonked in a basket so she could help out there, but by and large she'd come to motherhood naturally and with fervent enthusiasm. The leeway Tertius gave them both, likewise, was appreciated - like the fact he had no qualms about letting his toddling son loose throughout the domus to practice his walking. 

It did make for an unexpected sight though, when a guest was admitted like the tall, well-dressed woman who suddenly stepped through. Peregrinus let out an exclamation of glee accompanied by some babbling, struggling against Charis' hand to reach out to the newcomer. She looked so finely dressed, but was not somebody she'd seen in Dominus' house before. A relative perhaps? There was something strangely familiar about her features that Charis couldn't place. She'd never met his sister - could this be Quinctilia? Blinking and scooping her protesting son up onto her hip with effort she dropped her eyes and inclined her head and uttered in her accented Latin a simple greeting: "Domina." Peregrinus was babbling something next to her ear and trying to reach up to tug at her braid. She let him as she glanced over her shoulder. "Are you here to visit the Dominus? He should be on his way back from his court soon. May-" Peregrinus let out another giggle, interrupting her and she shifted him on her hip, "May I fetch you some refreshment?" 

 

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The door was opened and Varina stepped through, holding herself carefully against the instinctive urge to resume her former role. She'd spent so long in these rooms and hallways. But she was free now. If she kept reminding herself, it might eventually feel real. She was free.

She was also a mother, and a doting one, even if she'd only had one child, and the little boy's squeal of glee just melted her inside. Without even thinking about what she was doing she clapped her hands together and smiled broadly at the child. "Hello sweetness." She cooed. But the child was scooped up by a woman who was presumably his own mother, and whose simple attire and carefully downcast gaze said she was a slave. A moment ago on seeing the child Varinia had felt all warm and fuzzy; now suddenly she ran cold. Teutus had told her enough about where the household now stood, she knew who this had to be.

Dark haired and full figured, but younger, paler, and with blue eyes instead of grey. Not so different though; Teutus said she probably reminded Tertius of her. Varinia knew that her son had mixed feelings about this woman and the boy who had replaced him, but Varinia felt only fellow feeling. It was not her fault, nor her son's, that Tertius chose to do what he did; that lay with the man alone. She smiled reassuringly at the woman. There but for the grace of the Gods go I.

"You must be Charis." She said gently. "Teutus told me about you, and your darling boy." Her tone was warm. "I'm Varinia."

Well, technically she was Teuta Varinia now, but it still sounded strange to say it. She refused point blank to take any other name.

@Sara

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The woman's warmth to her son was perplexing, most citizens just ignored the boy (wrongly) assuming he was just the brat of a slave. Hearing  her name called she glanced up with the faintest hint of a frown on her features. How did she...? Teutus? The frown deepened, and stayed there as the woman gave her name. She'd heard it before, but from where she couldn't place it. She tried to dredge back through the recesses of her mind for clues. She was somehow known to Teutus which narrowed the list a little and her mind quickly worked to pull apart the conversations she'd had with him, which admittedly had been more sparse since he'd upped and left the domus. 

It hit her with a wave of force and her face lost any facade of neutrality. She recalled the conversation so closely in her mind's eye, the morning after her night with Alexius, just passed Saturnalia; "She's called Varinia. She was taller than you - I think I get my height from her, and my build. She's got dark hair and blue eyes - or were they grey? It doesn't matter. People did say I looked like her, though I've heard them say I look like my father, too, for what it's worth" She matched the description to a tee and Charis could see it now, why her features looked so familiar. She wasn't related to Tertius, she was related to Teutus. But even just a quick glance at the woman and her finery suggested - clearly - that she was no longer the slave Teutus spoken of. 

"You are Teutus' mother." She said - it wasn't a question, but a glimmer of a smile sat on her lips as she managed to school her features back to being more neutral. "He has been looking for you, was looking for you for some time. I...am glad he has found you, domina." Peregrinus wriggled on her hip and she adjusted his weight with a wince. He really was getting too heavy for this, or perhaps she just wasn't strong enough. Turning her attention back to Varinia, she shifted on her feet. "Is...Is the dominus expecting you?" It sounded an innocent question but there was a weight of concern behind her words; she had no idea how he'd react and didn't much want to be here when he found out. 

 

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You are Teutus' mother.

"I am." She confirmed with a smile. "And I am very glad he found me too." After the pain of losing him when she'd been sold. But she didn't say so, she knew that Charis herself was in danger of the same, when Tertius tired of her. He had the son he wanted, after all. She could only hope, for Charis's sake, that she held his affection for a while yet. The young boy - Peregrinus, Teutus had called him - was still clearly attached to his mother, young as he was, and she to him. Varinia remembered when Teutus had been that small; she missed that feeling. If she'd been free she would likely have had a brood of children, or at least wanted them. She hoped that Charis got to see Peregrinus grow up.

Was Tertius expecting her? Varinia drew a deep breath and sighed. "He is not." She admitted. "I did not know whether he would see me, if I asked. So it seemed best not to ask." A wry smile curved her lips for a moment. She'd never have dared such impunity as a slave, but she was starting to get a feel for freedom, and she liked it. From what Teutus had told her, Tertius could be difficult and changeable. She wasn't certain why she needed to see him, but the feeling was strong. Perhaps it was simply the desire for closure.

"How is your master this morning?" She asked, wondering what mood he was in. Now that she was here, she felt no need to see the man immediately. Rather she was interested in Charis, and how she was faring, having been in exactly the same position herself. "And how are you?"

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Charis let out a breath. Teutus had found her. She didn't know how long he had been actively looking, but would have bet her savings thus far in slavery that it had been from the moment she had been sold. A smile filtered onto her face, one of genuine pleasure for the man she had called a friend and now...well, was now something far more complex to her, but no less important. 

If she let out a breath, however, at the revelation she was standing before Teutus' mother she inhaled one when she said she had not passed word to Tertius. She held Peregrinus tighter to her hip as he wriggled, grateful for the distraction he afforded her whilst she collected her thoughts. Judging by the dress Varinia wore she was no longer a slave, which meant Tertius couldn't force her out of his domus, but neither did Charis think she'd be especially welcome. Perhaps it was for the best, that it would be a surprise. Then again, recent history with the arrival of Wulfric had taught her he loathed to be caught off guard. She winced. 

"He is well, domina. Busy - at his work." Or she presumed he was, he always seemed to be attending to paperwork or at his seat as a Praetor. Peregrinus giggled something and reached to grab the thread around Charis' neck. She tried to prize it free with her spare hand and shushed him as sweetly as she could. "I am well, thank you I- ah!" She winced again as Peregrinus reached out to tug hard on her hair. He was most definitely in his grabby phase. "Would you take some wine, domina?" She gestured with her head to the seats set a little further back in the atrium. It would give her a chance to put her son down and give her something else to do, if she was sent for refreshments. She glanced at the woman - although was cautious not to meet her eyes; "I...am sure your son has told you much of what has happened here, since you have been away?" Which was a Charis way of asking; how much do you know? 

 

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Varinia felt for Charis, and understood that her presence in the house was awkward. Both because Charis's master might not be pleased to see her, a displeasure which the slaves might suffer for, but also because she served as a warning of what could be in Charis's future. She hoped the younger woman's path was better and brighter than hers had been, but she feared for her.

Busy at his work. A subtle hint that she would be interrupting Tertius. Varinia appreciated the warning, but was bent on her mission. She's finally worked up the courage to come here, she would not turn away now. But that did not mean she needed to hurry. If she waited here a little while, perhaps Tertius might come out from his rooms of his own accord, at a natural break in his work. Charis seemed to have similar thoughts as she offered her a drink. "Thank you, that would be very kind." She accepted with a smile.

Wincing in sympathy as Peregrinus pulled Charis's hair, Varinia remembered Teutus doing the same. He was a beautiful boy, but then all children were beautiful. "May I... could I hold him?" She asked tentatively. She knew that as a slave it was a hard request to refuse, but as one mother to another she didn't want Charis to feel that she had to acquiesce. Varinia had been a slave most of her life and felt no superiority over the younger woman, rather a kinship.

Things that had happened since she'd been away. Oh yes, Teutus had told her. The older woman gave a small nod, her lips pressed into a grim moue. "He told me some." She agreed. "He told me of your arrival in the household, and how you've ended up in much the same situation that I was." Except that back then Tertius had been younger, and not the head of his own household. "He also told me that Tertius has recognised Peregrinus - that is his name, isn't it? - as his heir, and that Tertius named Teutus your guardian, and his daughter's, should anything happen to him." She'd heard that he'd married shortly after Varinia had been sold; she suspected that was part of the reason why she'd been sold. "Teutus told me that you are friends." She added with a smile. That was a good thing in her eyes.

"Have I missed anything?" She asked, wondering whether there was anything more convoluted that she should know.

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Charis nodded and walked further into the atrium to the seats. She was about to put Peregrinus down and fetch one of the jugs of wine always laid out for unexpected guests when Varinia made her request. She blinked and glanced between the woman and her son. She knew there was absolutely no love lost between Teutus and his half-brother, and whilst it made  her uncomfortable, she could hardly blame the man. The little, chubby-cheeked boy propped between the curve of her hip and her waist had usurped what should have been his. How much his mother felt similarly, Charis didn't know, but it made her wary. But Varinia was a free woman, and that mostly trumped Charis' opinions on the matter. Swallowing, she nodded and silently held out her son, wincing a little under his weight until he was settled, giggling, in the other woman's arms. She kept her eyes fixated on her son as Varinia spoke. 

That...was about the long and short of it. She was delicate in her wording though, Charis noted. She wondered if that was because Teutus had been, or because she simply wanted to spare Charis' blushes about being called on as a bed slave to a man twice her age. She interrupted, however, before Varinia asked her final question; "Teutus is my dominus, not my friend." She could never be too careful. She liked Teutus, she did, despite the complexity of their relationship but she equally knew he wasn't on her level anymore and vipers lay in wait for her to make a mistake and reveal that. Tertius' bodyslave amongst them who was undoubtedly loitering, eavesdropping on this conversation. 

Have I missed anything? Yes. She though. As shitload. Not least being locked in her room for months by the man that fathered her son, Teutus and hers argument, the light flirtation that had passed between them and then drifted off on the wind. His promise to try and help her, if he could. So much went unsaid. She offered Varinia a tight smile, eyes flicking back to Peregrinus who seemed more than happy with a new body to paw over. "No, domina. That is a good summary. I have only been in this house a little over two years," how had time passed by so quickly? "But a lot has happened. How..." she swallowed and shook her head minutely as she rephrased the question in her accented Latin, "May I ask, domina, how you came to find Teutus?" 

 

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It was entirely reasonable for Charis to be vary of Varinia, especially in the matter of her young son, the focus of so much contention in the extended household. But having been in Charis's situation herself, Varinia knew well that the child involved was blameless, it all came down to their father. It was true that as a young woman she'd welcomed Tertius's advances at the time, but if she hadn't then as a slave she would have struggled to refuse her master's son. But Teutus had been blameless in his own conception, and in his father's refusal of him. Peregrinus was equally blameless in his acceptance. That all lay with Tertius. Varinia was simply a clucky mother hen and absolute putty in the hands of a baby, especially a chubby, giggly little munchkin like the one Charis carefully placed into her arms.

"Hello little one." Varinia cooed, carrying his weight with the ease of one who didn't have to do it all day, every day, drawing the tip of her finger in circles through the air in front of his face before landing it gentle on his nose. "Aren't you sweet?" She asked rhetorically. It wasn't a question. All babies were sweet.

She was aware of Charis watching her like a hawk as she jiggled her bonnie baby on her hip, and Varinia looked up as the younger woman corrected her description of the situation. "My apologies, I must have misunderstood." She said simply, accepting the correction outwardly, noting it inwardly. Either Teutus had a different view on their relationship than Charis did, or she could not acknowledge that friendship here, which implied complexities Varinia was not aware of. But the last thing that she wanted was to make the other woman's life more difficult.

She jigged Peregrinus gently and hummed him a jaunty little tune, delighted to be holding him, but also listening as Charis spoke carefully - oh so carefully - after Varinia's hurried summary. She'd deliberately kept it brief, not wanting to imply more, and Charis seemed keen to do the same. Except for that brief But a lot has happened... She bet it had. A great deal more than her neat little recounting of events. She'd heard some from Teutus. Whether she'd hear any more from Charis would depend on whether the woman decided she could trust her.

How had Teutus found her? "He found me. I can only assume it was the will of the Gods." She said simply. How else to explain the fortune that had brought them together again? "He came looking for slaves at the Emporium Magnum. I'd just been sold to a trader after serving an Equite family for the last eight years." What if she'd been sold earlier? What if they'd kept her a little longer? What if Teutus had gone to a different trader? She tried not to think about it. "He happened to see me there." She offered the younger woman a wan smile. "Blessed Fortuna favoured us that day." She said simply, and shrugged. She'd been sure to make offerings to Fortuna in gratitude.

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It had been another ordinary day at work for Tertius. He’d taken care of this and that, he even had to sit down and act as judge once, but eventually, it was afternoon and Tertius was on his way home, followed by his lictors of course. He really did need a new and proper secretary, but it was hard finding a replacement for Teutus. Maybe he should install Charis in that position, she had been given more lessons since the early springtime and she was a willing pupil to him. But he hadn’t decided yet. It was different to use a woman for such a job. Yet, he thought she might actually be good at it.

 His thoughts were on such things, when he finally approached the domus and walked inside. Not expecting to find anyone but a slave, approaching him to take his coat and send word for refreshments. But there was no such things. Instead there stood two women in the entrance hall of the house.

 Charis and a woman, who was strangely familiar, but how? Her hair was beautifully done, she wore a chiton and a blue palla and he could see the fibula shining. She looked like… someone of rank. And yet she wasn’t, was she? Or was she? She was holding his son in her arms.

 Tertius approached them after a brief moment, “Charis… who is our…” He didn’t finish, because when he took a closer look, how could he forget her? Teutus’ mother. His father sold her not long before Tertius married and left Secundus' and his childhood home. He hadn't seen her since. She must have been freed, considering the clothes she wore and the fact that there was no tag around her neck.

 “Varinia! This is… a surprise!” Tertius then said, because it was! She looked as stunning as ever, perhaps even more than she did when they were both young and didn’t consider that what they did, would have consequences far into their adult lives… “What brings you here?”

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"Fortuna be blessed." She said with a genuine smile. Teutus had been so lucky and she resolved to visit him when she could. Things were less awkward now than before he'd stumbled upon her and Alexius, although the distance between them whenever she accidentally mentioned her son still felt like a chasm. She could be happy for him though and she was - delighted in fact. He had his mother back. It was all she had ever known him to want. 

"He-" she was interrupted by the sound of the great door groaning open. There was only one person who that would be. She instinctively took a step back from both Varinia and her son, although wished he was still in her eyes. She cast a nervous glance at her boy. Things had been better, much better between herself and Tertius but he was still unpredictable and she wasn't sure how he would react to his heir in the arms of a previous lover. She felt panic seize her but it was too late to take Peregrinus back as Tertius was already addressing her, eyeing Varinia with a confused look but not one that was unkind. He seemed almost...happy. A new kind of panic set in and she self-consciously glanced down at herself. She looked like nothing compared to the regal woman to her left, holding her son. She ground down on her jaw. Was she...jealous? That seemed almost impossible to fathom; but it wasn't jealousy for another woman having had Tertius, it was a fear of what this meant. 

Instead of doing anything though, like a good slave, she merely kept her eyes down, hands clasped in front of her waist, willing Peregrinus to reach out for her.

 

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Charis's smile as Varinia explained the fortunate happenstance around Teutus finding her felt genuine and warm, and for that moment the older woman felt like they had a connection there. Each was a mother whose world was her son.

But the moment didn't last, as the door to the Domus opened. The man who stepped through it was truly the only one they should expect, the mast of the household himself. Tertius. She straightened up, taking him in. It had been years, and Varinia still wasn't certain how she should react to him. Like an adult, she told herself. But Teutus had warned her that he could be unpredictable. She feared he might simply reject her outright, now that he had an attractive younger woman and an heir.

And then he said her name, and his tone held nothing but surprise. For a moment she almost thought he was going to smile. And in that moment she felt the tension that had appeared in her shoulders relax. They could do this. Navigate their new situation like adults. And she was pleased to see him. She smiled warmly. "Tertius. It's good to see you." She said simply, holding his young son on her hip with the ease of an experienced mother.

"Teutus found me, and freed me." She said simply. "I came here to tell you. I wanted you to hear it from me, rather than via the gossip vine." Partly because Teutus seemed to fear his father might take it badly, apparently having a preference for control, and partly because she wanted to see for herself how he would react. Beside her, Charis backed away, her gaze again downcast, and in that moment Varinia felt sorry for her, and a touch guilty. She was throwing another complication into their lives, but the fact was that she was going to be a part of them anyway; she might as well do what she could to make it civil in all directions.

In her arms, Peregrinus cooed, and Varinia looked down at him, then up at Tertius. "You do make lovely babies." She told the child's father, booping the baby on the nose. "Charis and I were just introducing ourselves." She smiled across at the other woman, then back down at the baby. "Here, go to your mama." She used the word that Teutus had always called her, as she offered the infant back to Charis. "Thank you for letting me hold him." She said to the other woman. It had been a selfish indulgence to ask, but she was grateful, and she refused to take the younger woman for granted, regardless of their current difference in status.

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Tertius might have smiled at her, if he’d not been so surprised to see her. It wasn’t so much her with Peregrinus in her arms, it was just her. They hadn’t really had much of a relationship after he returned from Germania, other than stolen glances sometimes. His brother had been reported missing and Tertius busied himself with helping out his aiding father. Meanwhile Variania had been busy with a very young Teutus and her work in the house. And Tertius’ father had made it clear that he did not like that his son had a child with a slave. That’s why he got sent away with Secundus to Germania, after all. So no matter how much he had wanted her again, it just didn’t happen. But that didn’t mean he hadn’t wanted to. It was just a bad idea and he managed to control his urges towards her and bedded the male slaves instead. At least they would not get pregnant when it wasn’t convenient.

 She was still good looking though, Varinia was. And he was unable to hide his surprise. She appeared almost regal to him; slim and tall and beautiful. She said it was good to see him, while balancing Peregrinus on her hip and explained why she was now free and that’s why she had come to see him. Tertius nodded, “That is always the best idea… to get ahead of the gossip.” Tertius said to her. He almost forgot Charis was there. Varinia commented on how lovely babies he made and he couldn’t help but smile. Then she reminded him who was also there.

 Varinia handed Peregrinus back to Charis and he looked at them both. They were so different! At least to him! And yet now they were both mothers of his children… “It would be impossible to make such lovely sons without such lovely mothers.” Tertius replied to them both with a small smile, trying to retake control of the situation. He looked at Varinia again, “Shall we retreat to a less... busy place?” He said to her, before he looked at Charis, stroking Peregrinus’ little, chubby cheek as he spoke. The boy reached out for his finger, “Charis, will you tell someone to fetch refreshments for us?”

 Afterwards, he gestured for Varinia to come with him. He had first considered they might sit in the garden, but that place he kind of thought of a place he shared with Charis now… so one of the rooms in the peristyle next to the garden would be the place.

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"He likes you, domina." She commented with a small smile, feeling nerves flutter in her chest. 

Charis gratefully took her son back, eyes immediately on him. It was less awkward to pretend she was fussing over her son than staring at the floor or their chests, after all. She made no comment to Tertius' compliment, merely smiling sweetly and inclining her head. She felt like she was on dangerous footing and wasn't quite sure how it had happened. Suddenly things had shifted and she was just the slave in the corner. Usually it didn't bother her - few of her dominus' clients acknowledged her existence, after all, but this felt very different. Suddenly  there was a beautiful woman with a history benefitting from Tertius' smiles and compliments. She felt something tighten in her chest. She didn't want him or his affection, but she knew she needed both and yet in that moment it felt like a great chasm had opened up between herself and the men next to her. She was just a slave for fetching again. 

"Of course domine." She inclined her head at him, and then at Varinia with an assessing look in her eyes - just very briefly, before she averted them again. "Domina." She padded away silently, Peregrinus growing heavier in her arms, babbling away to himself and wriggling to be put down. She caught a slave girl ferrying something to the kitchens and gestured with her head to the direction Tertius and Varinia had slipped off to. "The dominus wants some refreshments." She struggled with Peregrinus who seemed determined to wrestle free from her grasp. "Can-can you tell," She winced as her son fought to be free and hoisted him higher on her hip, "Can you tell him I have gone to try and settle his son for a nap?" And speak to Rhoda, to find out every single thing I can on this woman.

 

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It was a little odd, seeing Tertius like this, but not unwelcome. He'd grown up, grown into himself. He was still very handsome in her eyes, but now he had a man's strength and a man's face. She remembered when he'd come back from Germania, how grown up he'd looked. She'd admired him from afar, and though she'd caught him looking at her from time to time, but there'd been nothing more. She'd been busy, and had been pretty sure that Tertius's father had a lot to do with keeping them apart. The old man had not been happy when Teutus had been born.

And she'd told herself that was nothing more than she should expect, and gotten on with her work. But there'd always been that spark, that little flame, that she'd carried in her heart. She'd half expected that this visit would snuff it, that she'd see Tertius content in his new life with his new slave and son, and that she would move on with her life. But instead a welcome that she could only describe as warm fanned that flame in a way that surprised her.

It would be impossible to make such lovely sons without such lovely mothers.

His words warmed her, kinder than she'd made herself expect, but also reminded her that she wasn't the only woman in Tertius's life. And she had decided, before she even arrived, that she would not make Charis's life any more difficult than it had to be. She would hold herself to that.

But she wanted to talk, to straighten things out and find out where they stood with each other, and clearly Tertius wanted the same, when he asked her to retreat with him. Yes, they would have time to talk, this time both as independent adults, in charge of their own lives as much as anyone under the Gods ever was. "I'd like that." She replied with a warm smile.

As Charis left to do her dominus' bidding Varinia found herself watching the younger woman go, before turning her attention to Tertius and following him into the room with the view over the gardens. There was a pleasant breeze blowing and she adjusted her hair as she sat, still getting used to having it elaborately styled. In freeing her and providing her with the little luxuries of a few fine clothes and a slave of her own, Teutus had given his mother the opportunity to remake herself, and she was slowly taking advantage of it.

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It had never been his choice, whether she was a slave or not. Even when he came back from Germania, his father was still alive and it was his slaves to free, not Tertius’. And when his father died, Secundus had returned and none other than his father’s body slave had been freed at the time. Not Varinia. And Tertius had left the house anyway, taking his few personal slaves with him, one of them being Teutus, since that was his son. Varinia had still not been his to take. And now here she was in his life again, as lovely as ever and now a freedwoman.

 He did want to talk to her, but thought it would be best to not have Charis watch over them. So they’d retreat to a more private area of the house. Tertius gave a simple message to Charis and Varinia followed him through his home. They reached the room by the gardens soon enough, with a few chairs and couches inside and he gestured towards them, he’d let her sit first. Then Tertius chose a chair and looked at her, adjusting her hair. Yes, so very lovely, even at her age and his. Now what?

 “I apologize if I didn’t welcome you properly… I was quite surprised to see you here again. It was… unexpected. But not in a bad way.” Tertius added with a smile to her, “Tell me what you do now? I expect you’re staying with Teutus?” He asked, wanting to know more about her. It didn’t take long before a slave showed up with wine and simple, sweet snacks for them and poured for them both. It must have happened recently, that Teutus found her and freed her. Else he would surely have informed Tertius of this event? He knew Teutus missed his mother, after they left Secundus’ house. But he couldn’t let his son stay under the foul rule of his brother. And then Varinia had been sold and no one could do anything about it. Until now, it seemed.

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The day she'd been separated from her son had been the hardest day of her life. Even harder than the day she had been sold. She'd known it would come, had been grateful that she'd been with him much longer than many slave mothers, but she'd still hidden and cried when Tertius had left the household. And she'd been sold not long after, before there was any chance that they might come back, even to visit. Perhaps his brother had grown tired of her moping. She'd never really expected to see them again, but she'd hoped. And now, suddenly, her wishes had come true.

Weren't they warned to be careful what they wished for?

Varinia gave a faint smile as Tertius apologised, and gently shook her head. "There's no need. I knew it would be a surprise, but I couldn't think of think of any way that wouldn't be, and this seemed simplest." And that was the honest truth. She didn't want to shock him, and she didn't want drama, but of course the moment he learned of her presence in his life again - in whatever form - was going to be unexpected, and there was no avoiding that. She'd done what seemed best, and that was all anyone could ever do.

But he smiled, and that reassured her. She knew that her son had a difficult relationship with his father, and there were reasons for that. It didn't mean that they themselves couldn't come to some sort of workable understanding. "I am staying with Teutus, yes." She confirmed. "I'm managing his household and enjoying being the busybody mother." She lowered her gaze and chuckled very softly, laughing at herself. "And I'm weaving him a tunic." It was a simple thing, but it was something that she could do for him, and it was a new skill since she'd left Secundus's household. She'd proven quite good at it.

She took a deep breath. "And I am learning what it is to be free." Which was a slow process, after a lifetime as a slave, but an enjoyable one. Then she looked up. "What about you? You've made yourself a fine home." What she had seen looked very comfortable. She remembered the fights that had occurred between Tertius and Secundus when the latter had returned after their father's death. It was... good, to see Tertius comfortable in his own space.

It felt odd, having another pour for and serve her, but she was determined to learn her new place in life, so she accepted a morsel from the platter and smiled appreciatively at the slave who had brought them. In some ways her interactions with those who were still slaves felt more awkward than with those who were free.

@Atrice

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She gave him a small smile when he apologized for his strange welcome, as he had simply been surprised. But Varinia was kind, saying that she knew it would be no matter what. He nodded. She was absolutely right. No matter how it had been revealed to him, that Teutus had found his mother again and freed her, it would be have been a surprise to Tertius. He had not seen her in years, and yet they had something together. Something he only really understood now that he’d grown up. He didn’t understand it when she fell pregnant. But they had a son. And one who had done well for himself, despite Tertius’ mistakes in his upbringing.

 Varinia explained that she was indeed staying with Teutus, where she managed his household and then she chuckled, which he couldn’t help but smile at. Weaving her son a tunic, that was a sweet thing to think of, “I’m sure he’ll wear it every day.” Tertius replied and picked up his own cup of wine, while she spoke more. About how she was learning how to be free and then she wanted to learn about Tertius too.

 “It is a home, certainly. And it feels more alive again, now that Peregrinus is here.” Tertius said, she met Charis and Peregrinus already and surely she’d understand what he meant. But he had also grown, since she had Teutus. He’d been so young back then. Now he was far from that, but he had a son and he wanted to do it properly this time…

“But I have not gained a new wife, since my daughter’s mother died. It seems the right woman is hard to find.” And his daughter was growing up too, she was no longer a small child. She would soon be a woman too, and ready for marriage. So much had happened. And Varinia was here again, still very pretty, still as kind as he remembered her. He wasn’t quite sure what to say to her now. It was almost like it was with Charis, when those flashes came over him, that he thought he cared for her. He’d once cared for Varinia too. In fact those feelings had never really faded and at least now, she was not a slave. He sipped his wine a bit more, as he was at a loss for words. He hated when that happened.

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Varinia certainly hoped that Teutus would like the tunic she was weaving him; it had fancy patterning at the neckline. It was such a simple thing, such a domestic thing, and yet she was delighted to be able to do it for him. And it almost seemed that Tertius was pleased to hear of that too. He was certainly complimentary, in his own way, and that simple thing in itself made Varinia happier than she would probably admit. She had been worried that he might not be pleased to see her, might even be angry. She suspected that Teutus might have exaggerated somewhat in describing Tertius's nature, but that didn't mean she hadn't been anxious about it, for all that she knew the meeting was necessary.

But she had received the most pleasant of surprises; Tertius was not only cordial but welcoming. He actually seemed pleased to see her, and in spite of herself she was pleased to see him. They'd both changed, that much was obvious; both in the last eight years and in the many more years since they were foolish young things. Hopefully they had changed for the better.

It was her turn to smile when Tertius said that his home felt more alive with Peregrinus in it. She thought she understood what he meant. He was of an age where he should have children. "He's a beautiful boy." She said warmly. "I'm glad you're enjoying him." As he hadn't been able to enjoy Teutus. She'd been devastated at the time, but as she'd grown older and learned more about Roman families and traditions, she'd come to understand that it had not been his fault. He had been under the control of his father. Whether or not he would have done anything differently if he'd had his own way... wasn't a wound she was ready to poke just now. Maybe never. Because really, what difference would it make? She was trying now to look to the future; it was brighter.

Then Tertius made an unexpected revelation; he was unmarried. In spite of herself, Varinia's heart fluttered. Childish dreams had never been forgotten, but they had been firmly put away as having no connection to reality. And she wasn't fifteen any more. "I'm sorry for your loss." She said simply, unsure what else to say, but meaning every word. Still, she wondered what constituted the 'right woman' for Tertius, and had echoed of her conversation with Alexius. "Should I ask what you would consider to make the 'right woman'?" She said, feeling far more daring than when she'd asked Alexius something similar.

@Atrice

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How could he not smile, when she said his son was a beautiful boy? Because he was just that. A beautiful and bright boy, if you could say that about someone who was still just a toddler and a young one at that. Charis liked to carry the boy, but he could walk by now and soon he’d be all over the place, Tertius imagined.

 “Thank you.” He said to her, after her compliments, glad that she didn’t seem upset with him for speaking like that about his new son. It had never been like that with Teutus, after all. But he’d been sent away from Rome and his father had seemed so upset, that Tertius had not really dared to do anything about or with Varinia ever again. And he didn’t have much to do with Teutus when he was so little either. It was only when the boy grew older, that Tertius made sure he learned things, so that he had a chance of becoming more than the other slaves in the household. And he had become more. So much more, now.

 But Varinia had also commented on the fine home he’d made, and it was indeed he who made it, because he had not found a new wife after his daughter’s mother died. Varinia was kind, saying the right words and then she wondered what the right woman would be. Tertius looked at her. She was a freedwoman. She could hardly be the right woman. On the other hand, he had considered freeing Charis to marry her… then both of Peregrinus’ parents would be free and they’d be a real and proper family. Perhaps he should more consider the qualities he was looking for? Antonia had been perfect, after all.

 “Well you did just ask.” Tertius said with a small grin, “I had a good relationship with my late wife, Antonia. We respected each other. She gave me space, I gave her space, because we didn’t always share the same interests.” Antonia had, after all, preferred women in her bed… while Tertius back then preferred the male kind… “But we worked together as husband and wife to make it work anyway, because we trusted each other. And we did have our daughter, whom I named after her mother.” But they only had her together briefly, before his wife died… “I suppose the right woman, would be much like her. Or perhaps even more than she was.” There had not been love in their marriage. Respect, trust and care, those things had been there. But it hadn’t been love… and that kind of brought him to the next thing to ask of her, because it seemed almost natural at this point… “What about you? Are you looking to marry, now that you’re free to do so?”

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Varinia wasn't angry over the differences between how Peregrinus was being treated, and how Teutus had been. What anger, frustration and disappointment she'd had over Teutus's rejection as Tertius's son had burned itself out years ago. Oh she'd felt incredibly betrayed at the time, but overheared heated discussions between Tertius and his father showed her clearly where the blame for that one lay. And in truth, what could she, a slave, ever do about it? She could harbour that anger and let it eat her out from the inside, or she could be glad of the comfortable home she served and her beautiful son, and just accept that life never really gave you what you wanted, so you had to want what you had. No, she hadn't come here to lay blame, or to fight for what could have been. She came here to find out what the future would look like.

"I did ask." She agreed evenly, and listened with interest. That fact that he was willing to share his wishes with her was pleasing in itself, and gave her more insight into the man that Tertius had become. He wasn't the monster she'd feared, much more the man she'd once dreamed of. From what he told her he enjoyed his space, and appreciated a relatively independent woman who did the same. Perhaps that was why he had so much difficulty; a young woman straight from her father's household might not be as independent as he liked. It sounded more as though Tertius wanted an older woman.

What about you? Are you looking to marry, now that you’re free to do so?

Her instinct, based on years as a slave, was to look down at that question, but she made herself look up instead, to meet his gaze. "I haven't really thought about it yet." She said truthfully. There was so much to think about, now that she was free, and that kind of consideration seemed a long way off. But it wasn't, was it? Ignoring the little leap that her heart did at the thought of marrying Tertius, she asked herself what she thought about the idea of marrying. Of actually having a husband. She realised she wasn't so sure about it. "Maybe." She said cautiously. "But I'm not sure." She admitted. "I've only just found my freedom, I don't want to lose it. So I would never wed by confarreatio, but then freedmen and women can't marry Senators anyway." And confarreatio was the legal form of marriage used by the patrician classes. So whatever her fantasies, she couldn't legally marry Tertius anyway, not since Augustus' reforms.

But the idea of having a man in her life, someone who actually wanted her in his life, did appeal. "I might marry by usus," then a coy little smile curved her lips "or rather, avoid marriage by usus by spending some of my nights at Teutus's home." Three nights a year was all it took to prevent herself coming under her husband's legal command.

@Atrice

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Did Varinia ask what the right woman would be like for him, because she might be the one? She might be, he thought. But it would be so odd to marry her, then she would be Peregrinus’ mother and he did not have it in him to call anyone but Charis the mother of his young son. It would also break Charis’ heart. Despite how lovely Varinia looked and how it almost felt natural to speak to her and be honest with her, he couldn’t go through with it. Not with her anyway. But, since she asked what he might look for in a woman, he wondered if she wanted to marry, now that she was free to do so too.

 She said at first she had not thought about it and then explained herself. How she didn’t wish to lose her freedom so soon after she got it. She considered marriage another type of slavery? It wouldn’t be, or, it didn’t have to be. He was sure that his late wife had not thought it a burden to be married. Then Varinia suddenly pointed out something he had not considered. That a freedwoman could not marry a Senator. See that was an issue he’d have to look into, should he choose to marry Charis, as he had also considered… good thing he was a Praetor and knew the law and had judged such matters before too.

 Tertius sipped his wine while she suggested she could marry by usus. She was clever, his old fling, wasn’t she? It was a pity she had not been freed and had not come to him until now, he thought. Now… a relationship with her would only complicate everything in the family further. And it was plenty complicated as it was already.

 “But you’d first have to find someone to marry.” For some reason, despite all his thoughts about Varinia and how he should and could not start anything with her… her marrying another man didn’t sit well with him either. It was so bittersweet, wasn’t it? So maybe it was better to attempt changing the subject… “Enough of that though… I was thinking… now you are free, but if you really had the freedom to do literally anything you’d like to do. What would you do?”

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Did Varinia ask what the right woman would be like for him, because she might be the one? Yes she did. The love-struck teenager was still there somewhere, beneath the mature woman, and she needed answers. So yes, Varinia was, carefully and delicately, sounding Tertius out. It wasn't that she really expected him to want to renew their relationship, but that old hope needed an answer before she could move on. It wouldn't be simple, even if they did want it. Confarreatio was forbidden between their classes; the cohabitation of usus was probably simplest, perhaps even simpler than the contubernium he had now with Charis. Most likely any relationship they might have would be considered concubinatus, which covered a whole range of otherwise undesirable or unallowed partnerings, but did not make any children automatically legitimate. Yes, she listened when his father discussed law with Tertius and his brothers. Marriage law was important.

But for anything to work, Tertius would have to want it too. Above all she wanted a working relationship with him, for their son, and she would do nothing to jeopardise that. So when Tertius said that first she would have to find someone to marry, and then changed the subject, she knew she had her answer. It felt, in a way, like a great, heavy Domus door slamming closed, locking her out. But at the same time, another door, smaller and simpler opened down the street, and there was light and warmth spilling through it. He didn't want her, she could move on. And just because he didn't want to marry her, didn't mean that they couldn't cooperate and even be friends. In fact, it might make it easier. "First I would have to find someone," she agreed, "and he would have to be a good man. A very good man. But I'm in no hurry." She smiled gently, feeling that they understood each other.

His next question was an interesting one. "You know, that's something I asked myself many times, before I was freed." She said easily, sipping her wine. "And I thought that perhaps I would go back to Gaul and my family." That was her instinctive response. "But my father sold me, and my mother may well be dead. I know that the village I remember won't  be the same as it was." And she had to ask herself whether it was better to keep that memory unchanged. Then again, perhaps standing before her father in her Roman finery would be worth it to hug her mother again. "The thing is, I think it's too easy to say 'I have this thing I wanted, now I shall want the next thing'. But after your father sold me, all I wanted was to see my son again. Now that I'm with him, and free, I mean to enjoy having what I wanted." For a moment her expression flashed an odd mixture of sadness and resignation, at the thought of the years lost, but then her smile returned at the thought of what she had regained. "Perhaps that sounds unambitious, but I am content." She shrugged gracefully.

"But I have thought about what I want, and that's part of the reason I came here today." Varinia said, not wanting her main purpose to get lost in the admittedly very enjoyable conversation with Tertius. "You have a lovely family, and a good household," She told him, and she meant it, "and Teutus and I now have the same. You and I share a wonderful son. What I would like is for us to be able to cooperate in our son's interest, perhaps even be friends." And she would be more than happy with that. "I don't doubt that we shall see each other from time to time, with Teutus's doings, and I don't want things to be awkward between us, or for him." There, that was what had concerned her most. Admitedly Tertius's welcome had allayed much of her concerns, but she had feared that he might hate or resent her, and that her presence might make things more awkward for her son, and she would never want that. Which was why she had taken it upon herself to come here to today to speak with his father. "Do you think we can work on that basis?"

@Atrice

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Tertius could not marry Varinia even he wanted to. And he might, but how could he have her move in and take over the role of mother for Peregrinus? Where would that leave Charis? She surely would not behave any better and things had been going well between them. And he didn’t wish to sell her either. No, it became more and more obvious, that if Peregrinus should have a free mother, it had to be Charis. That didn’t mean that seeing Varinia again didn’t stir up old feelings. It did. And she was still beautiful, even now when they were both grown and their lives were so different, from when they were just young people having fun with each other.

 Apparently she didn’t know yet if she wanted to marry, or whom, which was almost a relief. Tertius wondered if there could be anything between them. Perhaps just a night of forgetting everything that had happened… a night just for them. A night of relaxing and joy. It had been a while since he had that. Not that Hector didn’t please him, it just wasn’t the same anymore and he did find that he had a longing for something else. Maybe it was his age that did it, or something. Meanwhile, Varinia was not in a hurry to find a man to marry, it seemed.

 Tertius felt they were dancing around the same subject though, so he tried to change it a little. She was free now. What did she want, besides what she had? Did she desire more in life? She spoke of how she’d thought she wanted to go back to Gaul where she came from, but now she didn’t. She was content with what she had. Tertius almost envied her. Think, to feel content. He’d felt that once, with his late wife. But rarely since.

 Varinia then said she wanted them to be friends and work together for Teutus’ sake. She didn’t want things to be awkward. Tertius smiled, “I’m quite sure that we can, Varinia. We’re not the children we once were.” Tertius said to her, looking at her. Gods if he could only have more with her, if it would be right to do so, but it wouldn’t and he knew it. It would be unfair to Peregrinus, to give him any other mother than the one he had. He knew it was not uncommon, but… it wasn’t right, not to him.

 “I would very much like for us to be friends, Varinia. Also for Teutus’ sake, but also for our sake.” Did he really still have feelings for her? This was so complicated… but it was different with Varinia, than it was with Charis. Varinia, he’d known her since he was young. She knew him. He did not have many friends from his youth anymore. Just friends though? Tertius picked up his cup of wine and raised it to her, “To our friendship then? May it grow.” He added with a warm smile to her, still with a strange desire to let it grow into much more. Complicated indeed!

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Varinia was taking her new life one step at a time, very deliberately. There was a lot to get used to, and to explore. Whilst she'd taken over the running of Teutus's household for him, she'd started with the basics and, only once she'd set those to rights, had she begun to consider little luxuries. True, the sudden influx of four slaves had been a bit of a shock, but they were now working together as a household and beyond that she'd been careful not to get ahead of herself until she'd thought things through. It was very much the same with her personal life. She was reunited with her son, and she was relishing that. The next step had been to talk to Tertius and see where they stood with each other, which was what she was doing now and it was going very well. Only when all that was set to rights would she give any thought to the possibility of another man in her life.

She had loved Tertius, still did in a way, and despite the pain she knew Peregrinus had caused Teutus, she did not begrudge him his little family. She wished the man before her only happiness, knowing that she already had her own, at last. She resolved that she would not pine for might have beens, that way lay only sadness and resentment, and she would try to help her son do the same. That way they could all be happy.

Tertius's smile, and his confirmation that they could work together for Teutus's sake, brought an answering smile to Varinia's lips. Why did Teutus - and indeed Alexius - think he was unreasonable? All she'd had to do was ask. "No, we're not the children we were." She agreed warmly. "And we can arrange things to suit us this time." A friendship with Tertius would be a very fine thing. True, the girl she'd once been might mourn the loss of a dream, but the woman she'd become was quite satisfied, and grateful, that the man she'd known since they were both young - perhaps knew better than most - seemed to welcome friendship with her.

She lifted her cup to echo him. "To our friendship." She tapped her cup to his, then took a sip. "Thank you Tertius. It is good to see you again."

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