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A Slow Start [M]


Ione
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January, 77AD

Mid-morning was always a slow time for the brothel; workers were...working, the drunks were only just getting their first wine of the morning and nobody could stomach the thought of a whore before food. Well, most people couldn't; judging by the sounds drifting from one of the little rooms occupied by one of her colleagues, some men could. A mid-morning on a rainy January, however, was even quieter. They'd barely had a man between them today and it looked likely to stay that way, at least until the post-dinner rush later.

She relished these little snatched moments of calm - even as the drizzle petered in through the holes in the ceiling - remnants from the Earthquake that her dominus had, only now, begun to fix. The Elysium was a dank, dark place - the soot on the walls from the lamps and tallow fat candles casting it in a dingy light, the small rooms where the girls worked separated only by curtains from the corridor where she now lingered. Her dominus had tried - a few chairs and a couch had been squeezed into the space, but nobody could call it luxurious. Glancing around the other girls and stray man that worked with her here, they weren't exactly glamorous either. 

She adjusted the folds of her toga, feeling the coldness eat at the uncovered skin of one of her arms and her legs. "How was the baker's boy?" Eris asked her, her trademark feline grin on her face. "Quick." Ione replied in her accented Latin and the faintest hint of a smile. She liked Eris - she had the confidence that Ione would never have, the confidence born of somebody who had grown up here and was written about on half the walls of Rome. Apparently. "Probably for the best," She chuckled and shook her head, "His fathers not much better." Ione knew that too. Four months here had given her a good introduction to the regular clients of the Elysium. The thought turned her stomach this early in the morning. 

A head ducked through the curtained door that led to the street and one of the dominus' men glared back at them. "Fix yourselves up. Polite company coming in." What 'fix yourselves up' meant in the context of a bunch of slaves who spent the majority of their time looking as unpresentable as possible, she didn't know. For her part, Ione tried to run her fingers through her hair to free it of knots. She'd get it done later, by one of the other girls, before the evening rush. She saw Eris and the others, eyes widen and smirks settle on the faces as they turned expectantly to the door. Ione tried to replicate the coy, flirtatious look but couldn't quite muster it and so stood awkwardly as a man ducked through into the corridor. 

 

TAG: @Sarah

Edited by Sara
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Spurius didn't come here often, only on business, and his own business, not theirs. He sold slaves, and he sold good ones. Some were suitable as prostitutes. Most of those he sold to the Domus Venus. But he knew Domina Titania's tastes, and occasionally he would come across a slave who was suitable, but didn't quite meet the full measure. Like this one. She was good looking but not stunning, she was middle aged, her previous Dominus had made use of her and lent her to his friends. She apparently hadn't minded that, but she had also been beaten, badly enough to leave marks, and apparently with no more cause than her master's temper. That he objected to.

She'd objected to it too, but silently of course. But it had been bad enough that Spurius noticed she became sullen and reserved whenever a customer looking for a house slave came through. That wouldn't do. Spurius prided himself on the quality of his slaves and on his ability to find the right slave for the right purpose. Certainly she might settle in time, in the right household, but he decided that she might do better in a situation where she wasn't likely to be subjected to her new master's attentions, and she would be largely protected from violence from others, since those who ran brothels generally objected to customers damaging the merchandise. Unfortunately she wasn't up to the Venus's standards with those scars, but there were other options.

So here he was. The brothel's master came out to greet him, one merchant to another, and as always asking if there was anything more that he could do for Spurius. But the slaver never sampled the wares, and even if he was inclined he wouldn't do it here. Instead he followed the man inside, leaving his own slaves at the gate, just the woman following. Seeing the other slaves, mostly women, arrayed about the place, and only a couple of male guards, she actually started to look around properly, rather than hanging her head.  It was hardly luxurious, but it was something different. And it was a sale.

Still, when Spurius stepped in a puddle he mused aloud that the Elysium seemed to be struggling at the moment. He didn't like trading here but he wasn't a charity. As they concluded business one of the whores arrayed in what was probably meant to be an enticing way, caught his eye. The others were at least trying; this one looked awkward, almost uncomfortable, like she fit in as well as the women he'd brought now fit in as a house slave; and like she wanted to be there about as much. True, some people sold and bought slaves with no care for their suitability, determined to force them into the roles chosen, but Spurius always viewed traders with that attitude as lazy. That was how you ended up with dissatisfied customers.

"She's new." He observed to the dominus, tipping the long staff in his left hand in Ione's direction.

@Sara

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Ione's eyes drifted over the man - unseeing - and to the middle aged woman behind him. She looked curious and confused and entirely the sort of person who would do well here; the men that frequented the Elysium were hardly looking for quality. She wondered, briefly and with a sagging feeling in her chest, whether the woman or the man who was with her, knew the extent of the cruelty inflicted on the girls and boys that worked here. She'd heard from others that there were far nicer places with far fewer thugs that frequented it. She almost wished Leontie was finished with her client. The poor girl had lost one of her front teeth two days prior from a sailor that was new in the city. He'd paid an extra as and been allowed on his merry way*. She wondered if the slaver knew, or cared.

She saw Eris drop the neckline of her toga, a grin on her face and determined to capture the mans attention as he concluded business with their dominus. Ione, for her part, kept her eyes on the woman - trying to flash her a reassuring smile, which wasn't returned. Well...soon enough she'd be just like them, and any hint of judgement would be gone. She remembered her own foolish pride before she'd been taken for the first time, in the little cell to her right. Distracted in her thoughts, she saw the movement of the staff from the corner of her eye and misread its distance from her, flinching. Her dominus laughed with an amused grin and nodded. "We say she's Greek, she's from Crete. Ione." He curled his finger, gesturing her forward. She dutifully did as she was told, and she heard Eris scoff behind her. She was not outwardly alluring or enticing like her colleague, but her dominus had figured (correctly) that some men liked the naive, lost-looking, ingenue type. He'd even claimed she was a virgin long after that had been stripped of her, charging men double for the privilege. It had worked until one had figured out his brother had also had her the day prior.

She stood next to the two men and flashed a smile at the guest. "Can I do anything for you, dominus?" 

 

TAG: @Sarah

* In canon, the dominus allows his prostitutes to be treated as badly as the customer wants, as long as they pay extra. He even allows Marcus Barbatius to cut them.

Edited by Sara
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Spurius watched with the cool, assessing gaze of one who traded in people as Ione approached under her Dominus's direction. Definitely ill-placed to his way of thinking, but such was the way in the world of slavery, some slavers were simply looking for a quick sale. And he was sure that there were those customers who preferred the quiet, innocent looking woman to the overtly sexual ones. No doubt she was far less innocent than she looked.

Can I do anything for you, dominus?

Not for him. Spurius made a point never to mix business and pleasure. It was a very slippery slope. Still, there were others in his household who had needs which required attention. Not Linius, he and Corva had existed in contubernium for as long as he could remember - they'd been his father's slaves before his - and he'd seen no reason to interfere with that, but the twins were fit young men with certain needs, and it had been a little while since he'd hired someone to see to them. This one might do as well as any other.

"Not today." He said, then glanced at the Elysium's proprietor. "Send her to my domus in the morning, two days hence, to see to the twins." He tipped his staff in the direction of the doorway, through which could be seen a matched pair of slaves, with large, muscular builds that harked to their half Germanic heritage. "She is to be washed and clean." He'd be charged extra for her not taking a customer right before hand, he knew. But it was irrelevant.

The Elysium was cheap as brothels came; certainly if he was purchasing services for himself he wouldn't buy them here, but he didn't do that, for the same reason he took no wife and paid the tax. There were those who looked on the physiques of the twins and speculated, but he didn't care. They couldn't imagine anything worse than the truth.

@Sara

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Her heart leapt a little at the start of his pronouncement, before rapidly falling again with a thud as he finished. She didn't even try and mask her look to the doorway where two hulking figures stood, smirking between themselves.

The marginal look of panic must have been evident on her face as her dominus stepped in front of her to talk to Spurius. She felt like a twig in the presence of the men lurking just beyond the boundaries of the brothel, and wasn't entirely unconvinced they wouldn't snap her in two like one. She shifted awkwardly and tried to keep her eyes down as Titus spoke with his usual amusement. "A fine choice for your boys. Of course there'll be the usual extra coin for taking her out of the brothel, to pay the guard." There was no 'usual' fee, because girls leaving the tightly controlled atmosphere of the Elysium was so rare. And even more so for poor Ione after what had happened with Wulfric1. She could feel the tension ripple off her dominus at the thought, but he was not going to turn down coin. He was transparent in that regard, at least. 

A hand was thrust out and Titus made a shooing motion as he concluded business with Spurius; "Find her somewhere to sleep." Ione didn't even need to look at him to know he was talking about the middle aged woman who was watching the whole scene with a mixture of something between horror and intrigue. Ione hurriedly nodded and placed a hand on her shoulder to guide the woman down the corridor to the little service area that had a vacant cell. The last girl in it hadn't lasted long, no more than a week. She shuddered at the thought and tried to keep her expression neutral as she felt the eyes of all four of the men burn into her back as she walked. It was going to feel like a long two days. 

In truth though, the days passed quickly - as was the way with her trade - until she was stood, teeth chattering, outside of the door she assumed led to Spurius' home. Her cheeks were red from the winter wind and she wrapped the cloak even tighter about herself. She was late, she knew that, but the baths had hardly been a luxury no matter what the guard escorting her muttered. She'd been plucked and scrubbed and scraped to within an inch of her life and her body felt almost raw...which was not a good omen for the rest of the morning. She looked presentable though; Titus was many things but he didn't wish for his girls attending outside of his control to look cheap. Her hair had been washed and curled and fell over her shoulders in light brown waves - although by now there were a few tangles in from the wind. She wasn't even wearing the gaudy, cheap toga that marked her out as a prostitute, he'd allowed her to clean and press the simple linen tunica she had been given. It was absolutely not a beautiful garment, but it least it was plain and neat and unobtrusive. 

The guard knocked again and muttered, stepping back, shooting Ione a glare. "If your bloody preening has made us late and cost us this job, you-" He jabbed his index finger into her shoulder, "Are going to answer to the dominus." She swallowed and her face must have looked ashen as the door finally swung open. 

 

TAG: @Sarah

The last time Ione was allowed out to work was this thread (it's mature!), about a month prior - but she overslept and her drunk, grumpy guard beat poor Wulfric to a pulp. 

Edited by Sara
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"Of course." Spurius wasn't worried about the cost. The Elysium was still cheaper than most other places, but regardless he could afford it. He might be a plebian but he was a very successful one. Normally he wouldn't hire prostitutes from here, given their usual quality, but there was something about this one that suggested she might be worth trying with the twins. Spurius considered himself a good judge of people, slave and free alike, and trusted his instincts.

Still, he'd almost forgotten about her when the knock came at the door two days later. The domus was not so grand as those of the patricians, but it would likely satisfy an Equite who was not excessively wealthy. The door that opened revealed a short entrance passage that opened onto a neat atrium with a simple, geometric mosaic on the floor, the central impluvium pool holding still water from the compluvium in the roof which was open to the sky. The person opening the door was an old man with a slight stoop, who looked the pair up and down for a moment before recognition seemed to dawn.

"Ah yes, Dominus did say. Come in." He said, holding the door open. Inside braziers warmed the atrium, and the white plastered walls, with their delicate wine-like painted decoration, reflected their light and that which came in through the roof.

As they were ushered in, a form that would be familiar to at least Ione appeared as Spurius exited his tablinum, and glanced in their direction. Gripping his staff he wandered over and looked Ione up and down. She scrubbed up surprisingly well for one of the Elysium's, for all that the cruel winter wind had messed up her hair. But he was satisfied with what he saw. "Good. Go upstairs. Linus here will send Romulus up. When you're finished with him, send him down and Remus will come up." The twins were quiet lads but he wouldn't let them have at the poor woman together. "When you're done with both, come down and Corva will give you something to eat. Your guard can wait here."

With that he turned on his heel and walked away, and Linus - the older man - indicated a chair near a brazier where the guard might wait. I'll get Corva to bring you something. Then he ushered Ione up the discrete stairs, to the level above the main part of the house, which was without mosaics and painted walls. Being in part over the kitchens, it was actually warmer up there. Leaving her in a room which held two single beds and smelled of young men, it wasn't long before the first of the twins came up.

Meanwhile downstairs Spurius had Remus stoke the fire that fed the hypocaust heating at the rear of the house under the family rooms, and divert the hot air to the one real luxury he indulged in; the balneolum, his private bath. For his own reasons he eschewed the public baths, but when the weather was cold his wound ached, and soaking in the hot water helped.

Plus it was on the opposite side of the house from the rooms below the slave quarters.

@Sara

(OOC: Happy to time skip to when she'd done)

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Ione kept her eyes averted as the dominus looked her over. Her palpable relief that she wouldn't be servicing both men at once was evident on her face though, downturned though it was. That was always awful, no matter the palatial (to her) setting of a place like this. The act was the act and with two men vying for attention and hungry for sex, it was never going to end well for poor things like Ione. She nodded at his instruction with a quiet; "Yes sir." And set about following the older man up through the domus and to the stairs. 

The room was nothing really, but to her it was a revelation. Actual beds! Trunks for belongings! Ione made do with a stone based bed topped with a straw pallet and so she looked in with a small smile. When she was finished she hoped to have a chance to see more of the place, it was already beyond her imaginings. She knew she shouldn't dawdle though and promptly disrobed, standing awkward and naked in the room - trying to pick a bed to lounge on. What if she picked the wrong twins bed? As it happened, it didn't matter. The man was up and in the room, the door slamming back on its hinges before she'd had a chance to make her choice. He was on her in a moment and...then it was over. Her respite was short-lived though before an equally hulking figure stepped through the door.

As was expected, Remus - despite his lack of words - was clearly none too pleased about having seconds. By the time he was finished and Ione was left alone, she felt wrung out. Her legs were trembling and her gait was unsteady as she re-dressed as quickly as she could. She managed to drag her fingers through her hair to make herself look a little more presentable, but her cheeks were still high with a flush whilst the rest of her was as pale as freshly cut marble. She wobbled from the little room but Remus had long since departed. She blinked to her right and then to her left. Both directions looked the same. Biting her lip she panicked lest she be struck down by indecision and went right, following the coridoor until she came to a narrow set of stairs. Were these the ones she came up on? They looked the same...but then it felt like years since she'd been brought up here and couldn't tell. She descended tentatively, gripping onto the wall for balance until she came  to rest at a part of the house she didn't recognise. Her eyes widened though at its beauty. She was so distracted taking everything in that she didn't hear the movement behind her.

 

TAG: @Sarah

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The set of stairs let out discretely into the corner where the triclinium opened off the main atrium, next to the kitchen. The geometric mosaic continued on the floors and the vine-leaf motif on the plastered walls. The furniture was not ostentatious, but elegant and well made. The house spoke of quality rather than quantity or gaudiness. The scents of foods wafted from the kitchen, whilst hints of steam came from another direction.

The footsteps had that uneven rhythm that heralded the master of the house, pausing when he spotted her. He hadn't expected her at this end of the house, but either she'd got turned around up there, or had followed one of the boys down. Or perhaps she was looking to steal from him like the last one, but if so she was most inefficient. "Lost?" He asked simply, more to get her attention because she was looking the other way.

And when she did turn towards him that youthful face looked worn and tired. Wrung out. That was perhaps partially his fault. It had been some time since he'd arranged for the twins' needs to be met. They'd had a regular woman from another brothel for some years, but then she'd been sold and the one sent in her place had tried to steal from him. In disgust he'd tossed her out and neglected to make further arrangements. The twins were good boys, but they were big, strong and energetic fellows. Still, each had looked satisfied when he'd seen them go past.

After a moment's thoughtful look at her dishevelled state, he sighed. "The bath's still hot. Go and wash." He directed, pointing to a room across the atrium, towards the rear of the house. It cost him nothing but time and a little money to her master, and by the look of things she'd done a good job. Not paying her any further attention, Spurius turned to the kitchen to give Corva instructions about food.

The balneolum was where the hint of steam came from, and inside was a room tiled in white and blue tiles, a small plunge pool in the middle, heated by the hypocaust system underneath. There was a stack of towels placed neatly on a bench along one wall, along with two which had been used and dropped in the opposite corner, near some wet footprints. A pumice stone floated in the water and the cake of soap was wet and had a bone comb unceremoniously stuck in it. Clearly Spurius had used the bath and his slaves hadn't yet cleaned up after him.

@Sara

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Ione jumped at the voice and she span around on her heels with wide eyes and parted lips. "Yes, sir." She said hurriedly and kept her eyes down. "I thought I was going down the same stairs I didn't realise..." How big your home was. She swallowed and tried to catch her breath from the fright. She felt as if she'd done something wrong, that she shouldn't be here. It had been an innocent mistake but her lingering in the beauty of his domus was - she knew - testing the limits of what could be considered 'accidental'. She should have immediately gone to find her guard, as soon as she was done and take the offered food. He had been generous to suggest it, earlier, and she hoped she hadn't spoiled it. Her stomach was gnawing itself. 

His next words surprised her and she blinked, confused. She followed the point of his hand to a the waft of steam and smell of soap. She nodded dumbly, silently and started towards it with an unsteady gait - not dissimilar to a newborn deer. It certainly wasn't something she'd expected, but she tried not to look too eager as she walked unsteadily to the room. Her eyes widened in shock and pleasure as she took it in. For a girl like Ione - who had grown up respectable but on the poverty line, and was now enslaved in one of the cheapest brothels in Rome, it was luxury beyond compare. She wasted no time in stripping off the scratchy tunica and tying up her hair with a thin linen strip before taking a few tentative steps into the water. Bliss. She gasped in pleasure and sunk in up to her shoulders. She would have happily stayed there for hours; floating in the warmth and the heat with none of the usual irritations of the public baths, but she knew this was a kindness she shouldn't abuse by dawdling. She reached for the soap and discarded the comb, and set about scrubbing herself clean. She always had the habit of it after seeing clients but usually it meant washing in the cold water basin in her cell, not this. 

When she was done, she bit her lip and glanced to the side. She wanted to stay. Was this how the slaves in fancy Roman houses lived? Did they get such privilege? When she had been a house slave herself there had been none of this, but then again her first owner could hardly be considered successful or particularly wealthy. She moaned as she rolled her shoulder blades, seeking out the last of the warmth before she reluctantly drew herself from the pool. Luxuriating in the soft towel she draped herself in, she retook up the comb and worked it through the waves of her hair. When she was done and had returned it and the soap to their rightful places, she re-dressed, although the neat simple tunica now felt brazenly cheap by comparison. Folding her own used towel she set it down neatly next to the others discarded and sighed. Despite the difficulties of two clients so close to one another, this had been a good job; ranking amongst her best. 

She quietly padded out of the room, running her fingers through the soft waves of her hair and towards the smell of food. The woman - Corva - saw her and offered a muted smile, holding out a place which held a husk of bread, some oil and some unidentifiable meat. The sight made her stomach growl. "Sit down before you fall down." The woman said, amused and pushed the plate in front of her on the long bench used for food preparation. Ione needed no encouragement and devoured it all before she'd really had time to breathe. They were given one meal a day in the Elysium, the cost of which - procured from local thermopolia - was taken out of whatever wage they were due. It wasn't enough, even for a girl as slim as Ione, and she stared longingly at the empty plate.

But that was all she was due, and it was more than she had been expected and so with a little nod to the older woman, she left the kitchens en route through the home back to the atrium. She saw, from the corner of her eye, the master of the house returned to his tablinum and hesitated. She really should just leave and be out of his hair, but something of the old Ione drew her to a stop, just in his eyeline. "Thank you sir," She called with a small, soft smile and a nod. "That was very generous of you. And for the food. You...have a beautiful home." It sounded like a cheap compliment but to her it was a palace. 

 

TAG: @Sarah

Edited by Sara
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Corva was an old woman, with long, wavy grey hair tied up in a sensible tail. The odd dark hair - and her name - suggested that it had once been a glossy black. Dark eyes were vaguely sympathetic, as she placed the plate of simple fare in front of Ione before getting back to her work. She looked to be of about the same vintage as Linus, and there was no way the two could be related to the twins, not that one would expect it.

It was routine in this household that after Spurius's bath his slaves could make use of the facilities before the water was drained, and from the sound of things someone else was in there now. Otherwise the house was quiet. Where the other two slaves were wasn't obvious. The only other sound was the quiet noises made by the rustle of papyrus and the shuffling of wax tablets.

Spurius was working on his accounts in his tablinum, a platter containing what was left of his cena by his elbow, now ignored. The prostitute that he'd hired had evidently been satisfactory, and he assumed that Corva would see to her once she was out of the bath, and pay her guard the money he'd set aside for her services. He paid no mind to the footsteps crossing the tiles outside the room, but when he heard the voice he paused, turned and looked over his shoulder.

Most people held that slaves should not speak unless spoken too, and Spurius was generally no different, but he made allowances depending on what was said. It might surprise some to know how many slaves thanked him; Ione wasn't the first. He'd determined long ago that slaves, like children and animals, benefited from boundaries. Given them clear instructions and expectations, and see that their needs were met, and they would thrive. He didn't understand those who abused their slaves or sought to get more and more out of them whilst providing less and less. It was like a farmer who starved his ox because it cost money to feed, then cursed the animal when it hadn't the strength to pull his plow, and subsequently died. The farmer next door, who afforded the food for his ox and kept it well, had a strong animal that was content to do the duties required of it. A little kindness, and this slave was almost absurdly grateful. He gave her a silent nod of acknowledgement.

From the look of her, the master of the Elysium was the kind to starve his ox. How many women did he run through? But then, perhaps the strained waif look was deliberate. Certainly Spurius preferred it to the overtly sexual manner of most of the prostitutes, not that he ever bought them and certainly not from the Elysium. He could afford the Domus Venus on occasion, if he wanted to, but he kept things there strictly business. He held a deep suspicion that the Domina, Titania, held criminal connections, and the last thing he wanted was some whore telling her details of his very particular situation, and finding himself being blackmailed.

Better just to leave them alone. With her hair down and combed rather than artfully curled, and in her plain shift, Ione looked younger than ever, and he noticed the way her lowered glance flicked towards the food remaining on his platter. She probably didn't even realise she was doing it. "Did she eat?" He asked Corva. Yes Dominus, everything, came his old slaves reply. He sighed, not at Ione but at masters who kept their slaves poorly. Rising to his feet, he ripped a lump of bread off the remains of the loaf, cut a chunk of cheese and picked up the remaining cold duck drumstick, then grabbed his staff in his other hand and stepped out of the room, looking down at Ione from closer quarters. "Here, eat this." He shoved the food into her hands. "You're too thin."

Walking past her without any further comment, he headed to the front of the atrium, where the guard waited. "Corva has your master's money, and an as for you. Bring her back next week, at the same time." She was quiet, obedient and apparently satisfied the twins, so she'd do. Plus she was cheaper than the last one. Who'd have thought he'd hire from the Elysium?

@Sara (OOC: want to skip ahead?)

Edited by Sarah
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With the way she had left the domus - arms laden with food she was happily munching all the way back to the Elysium, Ione was more than happy to return as promised the following week, and then the week after that. Things had gotten a little easier; the twins seemed less competitive with each visit and more languorous, which made her job easier and more tolerable. Corva and Linus both managed smiles and Ione had even conversed a little with the older woman, mainly about the weather and the state of the suburra, but it was still more than she was expecting. It was nice to have a stable job that got her out of the dark, dank brothel for a little while once a week. Despite herself, she had even started to look forward to it. 

Today was different though. She had tried to push the man off, the night before after he'd drunkenly smashed her lamp (her third in as many months) and she had been rewarded with a bitingly hard slap to the face. Followed by a a kick to her side. Mercifully the guards had managed to pull him off before he'd stamped down on her head. The bruises that decorated her cheek and her waist and the split lip, however, were far from alluring. The twins didn't seem to mind although she'd seen Remus' clear confusion and then annoyance he couldn't hold her in the way he liked, lest he touch the blue bruises up her ribs. Corva, likewise, said nothing as she sat in the kitchens to eat her usual bread and meat as they idly talked about the new traders in the market.

It was only when Ione winced and tried to stifle a gasp as she stumbled over an even corner of mosaic, right outside the tablinum, that anybody seemed to pay her and her injuries some attention. To most, they were just facts of her trade and a by-product of being one of the cheaper whores in Rome. 

 

TAG: @Sarah

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He could have arranged for her to come to the house one of the days when he was at his warehouse, which was most days, but after the last woman had tried to steal from Spurius' home he preferred to be present. Plus he often took the twins with him when he worked. But as it turned out Ione was unobtrusive and quickly fit in to the household's routine on the day when everyone was at home.

She'd arrive and be sent upstairs. After the first couple of weeks her guard would be given his as when they arrived and told to come back in an hour. The twins would come up one at a time; one week it would be Romulus, and the next week Remus. Spurius was nothing if not scrupulously fair. Once it was clear that she'd be back each week the pair were less desperate in their use of her, though still eager. The bath would be left in after he'd used it and once she was done Ione got her turn at it, along with the rest of the house slaves. Even if she was last in the water was at least hot, there was soap, and dilution was the solution to pollution. Then to the kitchens where Corva would feed her; simple fare and often leftovers, but as per Spurius' orders she got as much as she could eat. Then back to the Elysium with her guard. Spurius might say two or three words to her in passing, but she was quiet, unobtrusive and did what she was brought in to do, so he largely ignored her. She fit in quietly as any good slave should.

Spurius was sitting at his desk, going over the weekly accounts, when she heard the odd step and gasp, outside his tablinum. Glancing over his shoulder he saw Ione there, steadying herself, and the change to her face was immediately obvious. "Come here." He said, turning his chair to face her as she approached, running a critical eye over the bruising on her face. It hadn't been the twins; both knew he'd have their hides if they mistreated anyone he brought in for them. Besides, the bruises were at least twelve hours old, having achieved a rich palette of black, blue and purple. He heaved a disappointed sigh through his nose. "And what happened to you?" He asked in weary tones.

@Sara

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Ione wound her arm round her middle protectively, wincing visibly. Her side ached...well, everything ached, but her side with its bluish bruises hurt the worst. She jumped at the words and snapped her wide, saucer-like eyes to see Spurius watching her over his shoulder. Dammit. She saw him infrequently in her three visits to his home, but as with any man who owned slaves, feared him as she did her own dominus. Not even his kindness could offset that and so she hurriedly did as she was bidden and stepped into his tablinum, standing in front of him with downcast eyes and hands clasped together in front of her. The very model of a dutiful, submissive slave.

His voice sounded weary and she swallowed the lump in her throat. She couldn't afford to lose this job and nobody wanted a bruised and battered slave, or most didn't. Some did. "An accident, last night, sir." She kept her voice quiet. It wasn't purposefully a lie but she thought he might prefer a vaguer explanation so he didn't have to dwell on the realities of her profession and other clients. She raised a hand to her cheek and self-consciously brushed her finger over the bruise and the split lip before dropping it back down to clutch at the fabric of the cheap tunica she wore. "It should heal within a week, sir, and won't scar." As if his concern only extended to her attractiveness to his own slaves. 

 

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"An accident." Spurius echoed. Right. An accident where she landed on her face and got a split lip and, to judge by that momentary grasp of her side, had something impact her ribs. He might have a relatively cushy job now, and live in comfort, but Spurius had been a soldier for nearly twenty years. He was pretty sure he knew a beating when he saw one. He seemed to sigh in disappointment around Ione a lot, though usually it was because of the condition in which she was kept, rather than because of her. She was generally the perfect slave. But this time, for once, she disappointed him. He knew the injuries wouldn't scar, that wasn't the point.

If there was something that Spurius had learned in his time handling slaves, it was that the heavy hand that some favoured was so rarely necessary. "Ione." He said, to ensure he had her full attention. "You know that I trade slaves." She'd seen him bring that woman to the Elysium - a move he was coming to regret, having little desire to be associated with poorly kept slaves - and she'd been in the house a few times now. "And you've seen the way I keep mine." Which was well. "Know that I will never punish a slave for telling me the truth. If I ask a question, it's because I want to know the answer." Which was a concept that seemed to escape a lot of people, who tried to flatter, or tell what they thought you wanted to hear. "But I will punish a slave for lying to me." His words took on a firmer tone, a simple statement of fact but with a warning.

"Now, lets try that again." His usual, even tone returned. There was so rarely the need to shout at a slave. "What happened to you?"

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She felt his disappointment like a shroud of cloud filling his tablinum and she gulped in a panicked breath to try and dislodge the lump in her throat. She nodded as he posed his questions, phrased as statements. Yes, she knew he traded slaves. Yes, she knew he kept them well. The twins' room was bare but a palace to her - and their belongings were always littered across the space. She couldn't even fathom owning belongings. All she had was her clothes, make-up and her lamp...and she didn't even have the latter anymore. 

Her eyes widened in fear at his swift, throwaway mention of punishment. She knew most men wouldn't hurt another man's slave - there were rules, as far as she could understand them, but her dominus was different. He wouldn't blink twice, she was sure, if Ione came back bloodied and bruised, whipped or scarred as long as he got coin for it. It put the fear of the Gods into her and she hurriedly started her rambling tale. It didn't occur to her that mentioning what had happened might raise her dominus' ire: "A-a client last night, he was drunk, he was angry at something, I-I couldn't work out what and whatever I did made him angrier and he smashed my lamp." She gave him a sorrowful look, as if he'd countenance how expensive it was to her, "And I tried to stop him and he slapped me and then when I s-started to cry he kicked me and t-then the guards threw him out." She swallowed and breathed heavily, "I-I'm sorry I've disappointed you, sir, I shouldn't have lied." She shook her head and clutched awkwardly at the thin material of her tunica.

She tried to even her breathing out and kept her neck bent, looking down at her sandalled feet. "You've always been so kind to me, I should have been honest. I...I genuinely enjoy coming here, sir." She did. The work aside - although even with that both the twins were easy enough to manage - his home was warm and inviting in a way she'd not experienced yet in Rome. She added almost inaudibly: "Please don't send me away." 

 

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It was true that there were rules against beating or physically punishing another man's slave, but those who resorted to violence first had little in the way of imagination. He could complain about her conduct to her dominus, and the man would likely beat her for him. Or, as she so clearly demonstrated herself with her quiet, almost  inaudible plea, he could send her away. Spurius had no illusions that her work here was likely the most comfortable job she had all week, by a long shot. All he had to do to punish her was not call for her again. Withdrawal of privileges was one of the most effective forms of punishment, and one of the most simple. Plus it left no mark, and persisted only as long as needed, until compliance was achieved.

But in order for such punishment to work, a slave had to have some privileges in the first place. Spurius rather suspected that Ione had none at all, save for the few he'd given her, which she so clearly feared losing. He listened as she confirmed his suspicions; she'd been beaten by a client of her dominus. The tragedy in her expression when she spoke of the destruction of her lamp was almost comical, as she'd lost her whole world, except that it was probably all that she owned. No doubt she'd be expected to pay for a new one out of her meagre earnings. Thus was it ensured that these women would never accrue enough to buy their own freedom.

She kept her gaze down, drawing deep breaths as she whispered to him. "Always tell me the truth, and I will have no reason to send you away." He assured her simply. "You've been satisfactory in your work and your conduct." Which had surprised him a little, given how cheap she was. But looking now at her bruises and split lip, perhaps this was what he got for hiring from the Elysium. But she was quiet, obedient and the twins were much more content, so it had all worked out.

As she stood there clutching her tunica, his gaze was drawn to a mark on her collarbone, revealed by the pulled fabric. "This isn't the first time you've been hurt, is it?" He asked, as he ran one finger ever so gently over the mark, feeling the bump of proud flesh. It was a scar, but a relatively new one, the wound healed but the tissue still red. And it was a very straight one, quite likely made by something sharp. Mind you, that could be anything from a blade to a shard of pottery.

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"Yes sir." She affirmed with a vigorous nod of her head. "And...thank you." She offered with a gentler nod of appreciation. She was pliant by nature and always had been, the first slaver that had bought her had commented that she seemed a natural fit for the ranks of the manacled and enslaved. Of course, the biddable part of her had been enlarged as she came under the hand of her present dominus. She feared him, as she now feared most Roman men, and it meant she was more quiet, submissive and obedient than ever. Some girls fought their enslavement and places in the brothel but Ione saw little point. Her life was hard enough, why would she risk the beatings and cruelty that accompanied refusal to submit to their dominus' whims?

His outstretched fingers softly touching her skin made her jump and flinch. She'd kept her eyes averted and hadn't seen them coming until they were upon her. She straightened her back to try and steel herself. Nobody liked a flighty girl and besides, she was touched for a living, she should be used to it. "No, sir." She admitted with a quieter voice and glanced down to where his fingers rested over the neat scar on her collarbone. She swallowed the lump forming in her throat. "The client...likes to cut the girls." She exhaled deeply  through her nose, figuring that volunteering information was likely to land her in his good books after lying at first. Besides, he must have wanted to know otherwise he wouldn't have asked. "Most of the time the men are rough, but it is just slaps or hits." As if that was absolutely fine and normal and nothing Ione should be upset about. She glanced back down at  the scar. "This one was different...but the girls he had done it to before, their scars healed well. Just thin white lines...and I can put make-up on it, if it displeases you?" 

 

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She jumped, obviously not expecting him to touch her, even though it was only a momentary brush of her collarbone, before he let his hand fall. Just enough to confirm that the mark he'd spotted was indeed a fresh scar. Was it an odd reaction, in a prostitute? Anyone might jump if they weren't expected the touch, and her gaze was firmly down. But she'd never seemed particularly suited to her role. He recalled one girl he'd sold to the Domus Venus who'd thanked him profusely when he'd spotted her months later. From beaten house slave to high class whore. But the Elysium was not the Domus Venus; if anything they were at opposite ends of the spectrum. And this girl - she was barely a woman - was stuck at the bottom end of that spectrum.

A client who liked to cut the girls, and a brothel owner who let them. Spurius was aware that there were some strange depths of depravity, as well as far too many people with unbridled tempers, and all too often those things found their expression with slaves, those who had no rights of their own. It made him angry, a kind of slow, cold anger that he kept to himself. And it did so because he knew how much restraint cost, and looked down on those who didn't care to exercise it. Because that could have been him, when he'd come back from Britannia crippled and rejected, and he'd made a choice that it would not be.

"The scar is not a problem." He told her simply. He'd seen worse - he had worse - and it wouldn't bother the twins. "It will fade." He added, with a touch of compassion. She might well be worried that she'd become too marked for her job, not that it was one she would really want to keep. He assumed it was a measure of security for her, as unpleasant as it was. Security was what most slaves craved. "But I shall speak to your dominus." He really couldn't be sending her up here in this state if he wanted to keep Spurius as a client. "Titus, isn't it?"

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"It will fade." She agreed in a small voice, although it was hopeful. She didn't want to be tossed out of the Elysium in a handful of years battered and scarred beyond recognition. She could shoulder the indignities inflicted on her because she assured herself that they were temporary - transient, even. Very rarely would a slap or a kick scar but the wound on her collarbone was different and she'd live with it for the rest of her life. The thought made her shoulders tense and her slender fingers bunch into the fabric at her knees in pain. 

The pain, however, turned to outright anguish at his words. She turned her wide eyes up to him, blinking and shook her head hurriedly, her voice pleading as she spoke. "P-Please don't complain," She shouldn't debase herself so but she couldn't help it and she choked, outright begging, half-tempted to supplicant herself at his feet, "Dominus won't be pleased and he might not let me come anymore." Humiliation was one thing Titus loathed and to have a man such as Spurius lambast him for his treatment of his stock was bound to wound his pride. Ione wasn't even thinking of the physical punishment that might be meted out on her, just focusing on Titus' presumed fury...and the anguishing thought she might lose this job. "I-I can wear makeup!" She offered, still looking at him with pathetic, wide eyes. How she'd pay for the makeup she didn't know. "I-I'll do anything just p-please don't tell him you're unhappy." She took a step forward and moved to kneel down on the floor in front of him. Her side, however, protested in a ripple of pain and she gasped - not making it down to the floor - instead staying awkwardly stooped in front of him, one arm wound protectively over her slim waist.

 

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She agreed that the scar would fade, but the tension in her hands where they bunched in the fabric of her tunic was obvious. No doubt the knew the fate of a whore who became too marked or damaged to be attractive to even the customers of the Elysium. Though he was of the opinion that a woman would have to be very damaged indeed to fall below their standards.

He thought he'd be doing her a favour by speaking to her dominus about preserving her condition, so her reaction, her over-reaction, surprised him. Quite apart from the fact that she'd spoken when not spoken to - apart from his question about her dominus's name - he obviously had underestimated how cruel the man was to his slaves. Perhaps that was because he usually dealt with a higher class of customer.

She stepped forward, perhaps to kneel or something, he wasn't certain, and nearly fell, grasping her side. Definitely bruised ribs, possibly broken. Dark blue eyes looked up at him beseechingly, as though she might cry at any moment. How did he end up with another man's slave, all but begging, almost on his floor? He caught her shoulders gently before she did fall, and hooked a foot-stool under the desk with his toe, dragging it out next to her. He used it to rest his foot on when his leg was playing up. "Sit down before you fall down." He told her firmly.

She could be pretty, if she was fed and wasn't beaten. And whilst he seemed to periodically ask himself why he was doing business with the Elysium, he still maintained that his instinct in hiring Ione from that establishment had not been incorrect. Spurius prided himself on his judgement of people, and she'd fit in well in her time in the household. The real problem was her dominus. The notion of simply offering to buy her had crossed his mind; he had wanted a younger woman for the household to help Corva who was getting arthritic, and Tacita hadn't worked out due to her mutism. But he could get himself an un-abused young woman from amongst his own stock easily. He didn't need to buy a beaten-up whore.

"You don't need to wear make-up." He said again. "I am not unhappy with you." Slaves needed surety, he knew that. "But do not presume to tell me how to conduct my business dealings." He added, this time far more firmly. Then his tone softened again. "There are ways to re-arrange a situation without making a complaint." And he was well versed in them. Not that he needed to explain his business techniques to her. Still, perhaps it would be best to let things settle, let the bruises fade, and think about whether he really wanted to involve himself further with that brothel owner. He could always take his business elsewhere.

"Go back upstairs. Find a bed and have a rest. Your guard isn't back yet." Was this arrangement about to become more trouble than it was worth, he wondered? "And here." He reached into his pouch and pulled out a small coin, a sestertius. "Get yourself a new lamp or something." After all, she'd served them well and he'd tipped her guard.

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Ione did as she was bidden, gratefully accepting the seat on the footstool and bunching her fingers into the fabric of her tunica around her knees. Grasping then releasing, grasping then releasing. "Yes sir." She nodded hurriedly as he informed her she had no need to paint her face, nor tell him how to conduct his business. She knew that. She knew begging had been a mistake and she felt embarrassed, colour creeping onto her cheeks as she sat there like a naughty child on a stool. 

She nodded again at his instruction, relief sweeping through her like a tidal wave. What had she done to deserve such generosity? She didn't know but she accepted the coin with the gratitude of somebody who had rarely seen such coins in her life. "T-thank you." She stuttered as she stood, wobbling, in front of him, eyes so downcast she was staring at her toes. "I-I am so grateful for your kindness, sir." And she waited until she was formally dismissed before slowly easing her way back upstairs. She found a small room with a cot already prepared - likely for messengers or such, and curled up over the top of the blankets. She didn't wish to mess them up, it would only be more work for the others in the household after she left.

---

She saw Spurius fleetingly during the following three weeks. Whether he was busy at his warehouse, or keeping himself to himself in the tablinum she didn't know but the weeks passed with joyous monotony for her. The twins actually engaged her in conversation after her work, complimenting the flowers she'd woven through her hair or the new tunica she wore. That was affirmed by Corva who offered her a wise smile and nodded at her clear skin, free from any remnants of bruising. The violent men still came into the Elysium, of course, but the new winter winds had swept in a new dominus and he seemed to understand she should go to the rich house unmarked on her face. 

He was precisely why she lingered outside of Spurius' tablinum that day. She had serviced her clients, taken her fill in the kitchens, bathed and scrubbed herself clean and was now standing outside, waiting to be noticed. The ends of her hair were still damp and curling from the water. She cleared her throat. "Sir." She kept her eyes down and offered, very quietly, respectfully; "May I speak with you a moment?" 

 

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He hadn't spoken to her dominus about her bruising, heeding Ione's obvious distress at the thought of the man's reaction. There was always more than one way to achieve something in business, and Spurius firmly believed that the opportunity would present itself, if he kept a watchful eye and open mind for it. At least there hadn't been a repeat of the incident; he'd barely seen Ione in the last three weeks but from what Corva and Linus had told him, she'd arrived fresh and unmarked to their eyes, and according to the twins, without any marks elsewhere either. Which was good. Perhaps he need not say anything at all. She simply became part of the weekly routine, and that was that.

Until, four weeks after the bruising incident, he heard quiet steps stop outside the door of his tablinum whilst he worked. He wasn't in a particularly good mood, not through anyone else's influence but because his leg was playing up. His right foot rested on the little stood he'd previously bidden Ione sit on, his leg stretched out to it's full extent to stretch the injured muscles. They tended to cramp and seize when over-used, and stubborness goaded him to periodically test that limit. Which he then paid for.

None of which was Ione's fault. She was well behaved, rarely disturbing him and when she did it was with something that she at least thought was important. So he took a deep breath, set his stylus aside and turned to look over his shoulder. "You may." He gestured for her to enter the tablinium, setting his right foot down and turning his chair away from his desk so that he could look at her more fully. But his leg was hurting, so he hooked the stool out from under the desk and set his foot back up on it. It wasn't a cure but it was better than nothing. Then he looked at her expectantly.

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Ione swiftly glided into the tablinum as he acquiesced and moved to drop her eyes, clasping her hands together in front of her waist. She noted, however, from her viewpoint the way he dragged the stool over and rested his leg on it. She frowned - she was never very good at hiding her emotions - but did so out of concern rather than any amusement or curiosity. She'd noted his limp a few times but hadn't ever, obviously, dared ask anybody about it. 

Realising she'd been silent in her thoughts for too long she cleared her throat and spoke softly; "I wanted to inform you sir, that The Elysium has a new owner. My new dominus is content to let me continue our arrangement, but I thought you may wish to know." She vividly remembered Lucius' words that she should say no more than that, and so instead just kept silent, eyes down, listening intently as any  good slave would do. She'd learned well. 

 

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Spurius watched Ione enter the tablinum with mild curiosity, tempered by annoyance over his leg. Not that he wasn't used to it; she wouldn't bear the brunt of that annoyance. He did notice the little frown as he dragged the stool over and put his foot up on it; distaste for the maimed? Or disappointment at the display of weakness? He'd had his fill of both in the time since he'd returned from Britannia. Or maybe there was something else going on in there. None of which mattered; she'd asked to speak with him and presumably it was for a reason, but as he waited the silence grew.

Finally she spoke, and the information that she conveyed was worthwhile indeed. "A new owner." He echoed. "You are correct, I do wish to know." And he appreciated that good judgement. "What is his name?" He asked, entirely businesslike. It was agreeable to hear that the current arrangement would stand, he had no real desire to have to accustom another woman to the household's rhythms. Ione had fit in very easily and that suited him just fine.

As he spoke he unthinkingly stuck a thumb into part of the muscle of his thigh which was spasming particularly badly, jabbing it viciously in an effort to get it to stop, and distracting himself from his irritation by considering how this might affect his dealings with the Elysium. "Please inform him that I will pay a visit in the morning, two days hence, so that we can discuss business." He said, thinking that it would be good to get a feel for this new owner, and whether he intended to follow in the last one's footsteps or if he was looking to make some changes.

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"Lucius Armenius Valerius, sir." She repeated it - having practiced her pronunciation so her Greek accent was as minimised as possible. When she was tired, as she was now, it slipped and caught on the Latin words despite her fluency. From her vantage point she could see the motion of his thumb working through the muscle of his leg and she frowned, watching transfixed. It reminded her of her mother when she had been a girl, after she fell and broke her arm in the workshop and Ione had to massage the poorly healed wound better in the evenings. She knew the toll such injuries could take, and her brow knitted together, watching him. She almost missed  his statement and she caught it at the last moment, nodding hurriedly. "Yes sir, I will." 

She didn't know whether Spurius sold many slaves to her place of employment - he certainly hadn't been the slave trader that had bought and traded her, and she hadn't seen him since he dumped the ex-house slave at their door, but perhaps he wished to expand his business there? Bring in new girls? Her new dominus had made it clear it wasn't beyond the realm of possibility that he'd get rid of some of the staff it suited him to. She swallowed, hoping she wouldn't be considered surplus to requirements. Curiosity urged her to ask how much Spurius would value her at, but she decided against it, instead keeping her eyes on his leg. She frowned again and couldn't help but ask; "Are you alright? Is...there something I can do?" 

 

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  • Sara changed the title to A Slow Start [M]

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