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Ione
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January, 77AD

For once, Ione was out of the Elysium and not just looking for a customer. The weather was freezing but it was a clear day, a bright sun bobbing along a blue, cloudless sky and a breeze rustled at the covered stalls of the market. She'd seen so little of Rome since she was brought here in chains, but she remembered this place. The slave holders cages where she had been housed were only a few hundred yards away and she purposefully kept her gaze down so as not to look as she milled between the stalls. Beyond the walls of the Elysium she had only really seen the region where she fished for business and the markets. Her dominus didn't trust new girls to venture too far but he did need the wine and all of the other works were either occupied or out fishing. He'd debated asking Darius, but had decided to send her. She didn't know whether it was a test of trust or for his own amusement to see the slip of a girl lug an amphora of wine half-way back across the city, but he'd allowed her out, and out alone. 

She wore her cloak, it was worn and threadbare in places but it was long, falling to her knees and by the way she'd pinned it, it covered the gaudy yellow toga she wore which marked her out immediately as a target for heckling and licentiousness. She was grateful for that. To the naked eye she must have just looked like any other slave as she milled through the stalls, trying to find the place she had been told to go. She didn't know why her dominus couldn't get his wine delivered, or from somewhere closer (it didn't occur to her that he was doing this just out of spite and amusement and it wasn't really necessary). She bit her lip, glancing around the people that bustled between the stalls, trying to spy the man, repeating the dominus' instructions out loud, to herself, in Greek; third row, usually on the corner at the back - make a right at the silk stand but don't go past the man selling sweetened nuts. She couldn't see a silk stand or a man selling nuts. She let out a breath, frustrated at herself, and spun on her heel...right into the chest of somebody else.

 

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Davus was out on the usual shopping trip for the household - yes, they had some things delivered, but not everything and for those things, they had house slaves to do the shopping.

The markets were as busy as ever, and of course he had to end up down near the Emporium Magnum, with its shops and stalls that catered to the wealthiest members of society (of whom Davus' master was one, being a senator and all). There were people everywhere and his attempts to navigate without getting too close to the areas where merchants touted their human wares led to him getting into a narrow gap between two stalls with nowhere to go when someone spun unexpectedly on her heel, straight into him.

"Sorry, Lady," he said automatically, having registered that it was a woman, before he fully took in what she was wearing - though really, even a pleb around here could be wearing a cloak as threadbare as the one she had on. He pulled his own lacerna a little closer about his shoulders.

 

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"No, no it was my fault, I'm sorry." she apologised, it was second nature to her really and took a step to the side so he could pass if he wanted to. That was one of the first things she'd been taught since she had been enslaved; that you were always in the wrong.

She wrapped her arms around her waist protectively and glanced around. The stalls looked no more familiar, and no more related to her dominus' instructions. She bit her lip. She couldn't return home without the wine, although of course it wasn't for the girls or their clients - that they had to fund out of their wages, this was for his own personal collection. "Do you..." She called after the man, her voice soft, unsure, "Do you know where I might find Cossus Antius' wine stall?" At least, that's how she thought it was pronounced.

 

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She seemed nervous, uncertain, her enquiry directed at him in a soft voice he almost didn't hear over the bustle of the market, her Latin accented.

He turned back, registering her request and her timid manner - she would surely be taken advantage of, if she wasn't careful.

"Cossus Antius?" He knew most of the stalls, just through familiarity with this market after several years of shopping here regularly, even if his master didn't buy from them. "Yes - I think so. You've come the wrong side of the spice traders... Shall I show you?"

He needed to head that way anyway, he had several different spices on the mental shopping list he'd been given this morning.

 

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She cast a glance at the man; polite, dressed as any other man here really - nothing distinguishable about him and cast a glance over her shoulder. She'd heard of girls being lured into traps by men, women of her profession especially but there was nothing to mark her out as a prostitute with her cloak covering her, and they were in full view of the crowds. 

She nodded silently, with a polite smile and stepped forward to follow him. "If it isn't any bother, thank you." She said, unfailingly polite. Her whole existence now was to please men, which included being respectful no matter the man she was speaking with. They took a few paces before she spoke again, hesitant and unsure if he wanted to converse; "I haven't been here much, I haven't gotten to know all the traders yet, is all so I really do appreciate it." 

 

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"I need to go that way anyway," he assured her. "It's no problem, really. And you'll get used to everything - it might take a little bit, it took me a while."

Part of that had been the language issue for him, some of it was simply that it was a new place for him. "It can be a bit overwhelming until you're used to it all, though." Rome was bigger than pretty much anywhere else Davus had ever been, and if she was new here, she would be having some of the same sort of problems. Maybe worse; the traders could be bad enough for a male slave, he didn't like to think what they might be like for a woman - especially one as young and uncertain as this one was.

 

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She doubted she'd get used to it; her leash was kept short to the Elysium, for the most part, and it wasn't as if she had any of her own coins to spend here. Anything she did have and tried to save often went on items she needed; the tools to prevent a child, broken lamps from customers, wine and food for herself and the other girls who earned less than she did and needed some help. 

"It is," She smiled softly at her company, "Overwhelming I mean, with so many people." And smells and sounds and sights. She barely remembered it from her days in the cages, waiting to be sold. Only that opposite to the hungry, fearful slaves was a stand selling hot cakes that smelled like divinity and almost made her want to weep. She could almost touch it, if she stretched out her arm through the bars, but had never managed to. 

"You've been in Rome a while then?" She asked, trying to make polite conversation with the polite man.

 

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"About... seven and a half years. More or less," he said, with a shrug. It hadn't been enough for him to lose his accent - maybe it was a good thing slaves weren't supposed to be heard. He was sure he would have been the subject of some snide comments from various of his master's guests if they heard his accent.

He adjusted his cloak against his neck, his fingers brushing the iron slave collar he wore. He had no idea why his master thought he might be a flight risk but that was the only reason he could think of for why he had it, as uncomfortable as it was.

"Rome is a big city, the biggest place I've ever known," he said. He was used to cities and crowds but nothing came close to matching Rome for the sheer size and numbers.

 

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Seven and a half years?! No wonder he knew where he was going, she thought to herself. She made no comment though, and kept her head down as they walked and weaved through the crowds that congregated in the markets. 

"Me too." She agreed quietly and had to side-step hurriedly out of the way of an oncoming litter - the delicate fabric of its curtains and drapes brushing her as it passed. She couldn't even imagine the sorts of people that rode in them, with sweat drenched young men ferrying them like precious cargo. "The town I grew up in was so small, I could look down the street and see the end of it." She gave him a half-smile. She didn't often mention her past, but the man was polite enough to make conversation with her and she felt like she should return it. "You are not from Rome then?" She ventured gently, before adding, "You don't have to answer, of course, if you don't want to." 

 

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"No, I'm from Alexandria originally," Davus replied, steadying her as she hastily stepped out of the way of a curtained litter. That small bit of information couldn't hurt. "It's a big city, but not as big as Rome - I don't know if there's anywhere as big as Rome."

She had an accent, too - lots of people in Rome did - and he wondered how far she was from her home, though he wasn't going to be so rude as to ask.

"You don't have to get to know the whole city, if it helps - just the region where you live and the market you go to the most. You'll get to know the stallholders, too - which ones will help and which ones to avoid because they're bad-tempered or their goods are poor quality and overpriced. If you can get to the market early, you'll have a better chance of getting the good stuff before it's all gone and you're just left with the bruised apples and going bad vegetables."

He was a house slave, he mostly shopped for things needed in the household, though some of it they had delivered, or sent a bigger burlier slave to buy.

"How long have you been in Rome?" he asked. It couldn't have been all that long, really, and he hoped he wasn't prying too much with even that question.

 

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"Alexandria..." She said with a wistful note in her voice and a small smile on her lips. She'd heard of it; traders passed through the island baring stories of a great city shrouded in history. She wanted to press him for information but the slave collar, subtly hidden under his cloak didn't go unnoticed and she knew better than to press on a history that was too painful to tell. She thought herself fortunate she didn't have a collar of her own, but supposed the gaudy toga hidden under her cloak told her station well enough, usually.

She listened to his explanation as they walked with a polite smile and a hurried gait and nodded; "Thank you." Although she really had no need for the knowledge, and clarified a few moments later; "I'm  not sent here often at all. I think that's why I find it so...overwhelming." She chuckled. She usually stuck to her region - what business did she have in other parts of the city?

"Four months." She replied quietly and frowned, trying to wrack her mind. "I think..." Her voice was light though, with no hint of the melancholy that might have been expected of a woman in her station. "It's hard to keep track sometimes," She said with a small smile and glanced across at him, "Rome is unlike anywhere I've been before. I...don't understand how so many people fit in a city...I'm from a town where you knew everybody," She shook her head and buoyed by the fact he was making conversation with her, smiled gently. "I'm Ione." 

 

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"Rome is a big city, of course it's overwhelming," he said. He'd found it overwhelming, and he'd come here from Alexandria via Corinthos, both of them bustling vibrant port cities with their own markets and populations of outsiders - Alexandria had its Egyptian quarter, and its Jewish quarter and its Greek quarter, all of them very different from one another yet all lively, small cities within the larger one.

He needed to stop thinking about it, he was maybe never going to see it again and it was no use dwelling on the past.

"People fit because... because Rome's so big, around," he added, thinking about it. "And so big up, in lots of places - all those insulae with people stacked on top of each other." Like piling flatbreads on top of one another.

"You'll get to know the people in your own neighbourhood easily enough, and that's all anyone needs, really," he added. "Nobody could possibly know everyone in the city, it's far too big for that." He returned her smile. "I'm Davus. And there, you know someone else in this really big city."

 

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"I know a few people in my region." She said with a small smile and a nod; the girls and boys that worked at the Elysium with her, the barmen and servers in the cheap little bars that dotted the street where they often went fishing for business, and the regulars who frequented her bed. "And yes," Her smiled broadened, "I know you, Davus. Thank you." He didn't have to humour her, but he did and she was grateful.

She swiftly sidestepped a passing litter, pressing her back against the wall of a building as it passed by, revealing a flash of her thigh and the gaudy coloured folds of her toga as she did so, her cloak sweeping open. She didn't realise at first and pressed on with him after the litter passed. "Which region do you live in, Davus? I...only know a few. And not really any by name." She felt a chill work its way over her skin and glanced down, mortified that her cloak was open. She hurriedly wrapped herself back up.

 

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Davus didn't blush or get flustered as Ione's cloak fell open as she stepped back to avoid another litter. He had been born the son of a whore in Alexandria, and was as used to seeing naked women as clothed women. Or he had been, things had been different since he'd been taken away from Alexandria.

"My master's house is on the Esquiline," he said. "It's one of the seven hills - most of the regions are named for something important found there, like the Circus Maximus or the Temple of Isis and Serapis."

Technically, the latter was within the region known as the Esquiline, but it gave its name to the third region. Davus didn't get the logic there, but it hardly mattered. "Each region has its own character, too, some of them rougher or nicer than others. Or with more expensive houses, or cheaper insulae."

 

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"Esquiline..." She repeated slowly in her accented Latin, listening intently to her explanation and trying to keep the embarrassment from flushing her cheeks. She should have been more careful, or at least pinned her cloak better. She knew full well she'd be charged more at the stall if they thought she was a whore, or more probably she'd be asked for other services in lieu of payment. She would give her worldly savings for one day un-accosted or unmolested. 

"I'm from the Porta Absidata..." She offered in a quiet voice, keeping her head down as they ducked between the groups of people in the market, trying to keep up with Davus' pace. "I don't think there are many nice houses there, although I remember walking in one of my first weeks and I saw some - they were enormous," she couldn't believe that so much land and space was taken up by a single house until one of the other girls she was with had sworn on her life that it was. "Why do they need so much room?" She questioned with a frown and a shake of her head.

 

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"Because they're rich and need to show how much money they've got?" Davus guessed with a shrug, and slowed down as he realised he was walking a little bit too fast for Ione to comfortably keep pace. "The Porta Absidata is all insulae, I think - I don't really know that area." There were far more people living there than in a single Senatorial domus like his master's, which might easily take up as much space (or maybe even more!).

"They are enormous, too - with very big rooms and even private gardens inside, though they're like another room of the house and not the size of some gardens like some of the public parks." A single domus like his master's was much bigger than the brothel in Alexandria, or his master's house in Corinthos.

 

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"It's just lots of tall buildings and bars and..." Brothels, she shrugged. No fancy people walked through her neighbourhood unless they were trying to get somewhere else. She'd seen one once - dressed all in white with a big purple stripe on his clothes. The girl next to her had nudged her with a grin, saying she should try and land him. She tried. He'd laughed and the men accompanying him had shoved her into a puddle. 

She blinked at Davus though, eyes wide. "Gardens in the house?" Some people had more money than sense. She would have been happy with a room to herself with a door that locked, at present. Even when she had been free all she had really wanted was a small little house on the edge of the beach. That would have been plenty. "They're lucky." she offered with a little sigh, and then she added more to herself; "I'd love to see inside one, one day." Not that there was very much chance of that happening. 

 

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"Well, sort of. It's like the house is built around a courtyard that they fill with plants and things." They could be hard work to maintain at their best, of course, as Davus knew only too well - but his master's new young gardener seemed to have a magic touch which made things somewhat easier for the other slaves who had to help there at times.

"I think this is your wine stall," he said, indicating a few stalls up from where they were.

"And maybe you will, one day - stranger things have happened, after all," he added. She seemed somewhat sad, and too nice to have ended up where she had. He hoped that she would find herself in a better place one day than running errands for a hard master.

 

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She slowed to a stop as he indicated up to the wine stall and nodded, although she was unwilling to leave the conversation. She had so few new people to converse with, and when she did it was usually about sex. That was the way with her line of work; little free time and little opportunity to meet people who were interested in something other than her body. 

"I don't think it's for me," She chuckled and shook her head - giving him a peculiar little smile, "I know my place and it's not in one of the fancy houses." She had grieved the loss of her innocence but never railed against it, nor her captivity. It was something she had to live with, she knew, otherwise she'd go mad. Too many tears were shed in the dark of night, when she was alone, though. "I can't imagine any slave gets to end up living in one, not as a free person anyway." And being the slave of a rich man might be worse - then at least she wouldn't have the variety of the very rare decent men that bedded her.

 

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"You never know what might happen," Davus said, and offered a smile of his own. "I mean, I never expected to end up here in Rome, after all."

Her smile was sad around the edges, though, making him wish he could do something for her. She really was too nice to have ended up where she was - Rome was not a nice place for nice people, not really.

It was all right for Davus, he'd ended up in a not too bad situation in a senator's home and was well aware he'd been lucky. But for someone like Ione... it just wasn't right.

"I wish I could help," he said, voicing his thoughts.

 

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Ione gave Davus a quizzical look at his lamentation that he couldn't help. Ah. She glanced down at herself, bundled up in the cloak now...so he knew what she was. She had seen a lot from the men of Rome  but never, up until now, pity. She swallowed and shrugged awkwardly. "It's better than the mines...?" She swallowed with a little sigh and shifted her weight from foot to foot. 

"You don't need to feel sorry for me, Davus." She offered in an attempt to cheer him up. "It's not so bad and the..." An idea struck her, desperate to get away from this awkwardness, "Place is very nice. It's big and spacious and the clients aren't so bad at all, I only work two days." She lied through her teeth and gave him a small smile. "Brothels aren't as bad as people imagine, honestly." They were worse.

 

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Davus said nothing but just gave her a sympathetic look. He didn't know about the brothel where she was, but they really weren't all fun and games, he was aware of that - even if he'd only been ten when he'd been taken away from home. He knew she was lying to try to make him feel better, but it was having the opposite effect. He remembered enough of his first years back in the brothel in Alexandria to know that she wasn't telling him the full truth - but even if she were, he couldn't do anything about it.

It had turned desperately awkward suddenly and that was probably his fault.

"I didn't mean to make you feel bad," he said. "I just meant, I wish things could have been better for you, I hope they get better for you. I hope you've got friends there - and even if you don't, I hope you could think of me as a friend?"

 

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She visibly relaxed at his words and nodded her head hurriedly with a beaming smile (which made her profession make more sense - she could be an attractive girl when she looked happy). "I would of course consider you a friend, Davus, but I do have friends, there's a few people there who are kind...showed me what to do, what to wear, how to act...although I'm not the very best at...pretending." She wrinkled her nose.

Maybe he could help? He was a house slave, granted, not a prostitute but some things she considered universal. "How...how do you lock away all of how you're feeling? Your emotions? How do you make sure they don't show on your face? Everybody always tells me I need to pretend but...I don't know how." She gave him a wince and a shrug.

 

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That was a question Davus wasn't quite sure he knew the answer to, not in so many words, and he had to think. "Um. It's a... it's an act. I don't know. The person the master sees, that anyone else sees... it's a character, a version of you that isn't really you. If they want you to be like a statue, then pretend that's what you are."

He wasn't sure about when it came to dealing with customers, not as a prostitute. "Don't take things personally - I mean, if they're calling you names or blaming you for something, it's probably just because you're there. Not because you're you or the one who upset them. And some people just want to be angry for no real reason." He shrugged. "It must be a very sad life, if you just go through it looking for reasons to be angry."

 

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She nodded with a little, unfeminine snort of amusement, grinning. "A very sad life." She nodded again. She, perhaps, shouldn't be quite so honest but she felt relaxed and freed by a conversation with an equal...or...sort of equal. They were both slaves, but she didn't doubt that there was some unspoken pecking order even in the enslaved and she was sure a house slave in a fancy house outranked a whore in one of the cheapest brothels in Rome. 

"And they think they are so much better for you..." she said in a hushed whisper, grinning, "And that's why they are so...unhappy...because they're not. They still need to pay for sex with women that don't want to bed them...that must be humiliating." At least in Ione's estimation. Imagine not having your own wife or slaves to bed and having to pay for it. It was a little...pathetic.

 

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