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A Sarmatian and a Senator's daughter


Jason
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Come and see me - if you want.

Jason didn't think that Ovinia would remember the offer, or be willing to entertain a slave, but that didn't stop him approaching the yellow and red painted house with the green door. He wasn't going to be allowed access through the front door, but it was worth a try - and he had no intention of walking all the way round the house to try to locate a service door and probably equally unhelpful slaves there.

He knocked, and waited. The ostiarius looked out from his spy-hole with a frown that became distinctly less friendly when he saw that Jason was a slave, and alone. "Slaves go round the back."

"I've got a message for your mistress," Jason said. He didn't like name-dropping or using his position as his master's slave - he'd been the son of a chief, he hadn't needed to rely on his association with anyone else, once.

"From my master Tiberius Claudius Sabucius, to be delivered in person to Ovinia - Camilla." She hadn't given her second name, but Jason had the sharp mind of a Sarmatian and knew that there was only one Ovinia his master was any acquaintance of.

"I should still send you round the back," the ostiarius muttered, but grudgingly opened one leaf of the double door. Just enough for Jason to squeeze through.

"And I hope your prick shrivels up and drops off," Jason told him in Sarmatian in a perfectly friendly tone of voice. "Thank you."

 

@Sara

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Ovinia was not expecting company and so was peering over the hydraulis that was propped on the table next to her in a receiving room off of the garden. Her father had bought it for her, apparently, to cheer her up. He hadn't stretched to buying her a cithara though which seemed a much more practical and far less confusing instrument, evident was his faith (or lack thereof) in her musical abilities. He also hadn't procured her a teacher. She had read enough practical pieces on how the instrument worked to have a vague notion of how to play, but whenever she raised her fingers to the keys, she withdrew them nervously. It was large. And it looked so confusing with its water tank and the pump at her feet. What if she was terrible, and the singing was a fluke? What if she really had no musical aptitude at all?

She was disturbed from her musings by a mousy little slave coming to inform her that she had a messenger from Tiberius Claudius Sabucius. She quirked a brow and nodded. She hadn't heard from Tiberius since her walk to the temples, and couldn't think why he'd write...and then she saw the messenger. She frowned, face confused for a moment, trying to place him before it clicked and clunked into place and the pit of her stomach dropped about twenty feet. It had only been a month or so since it happened and whilst not well, she could at least manage in the days now. Seeing him brought everything back though in a rush of emotion she wasn't prepared for. 

She blinked, unsure of what to say and swallowed - making a shooing motion with her hand to dismiss the slave girl. She swallowed and looked at him. "Jason." She tried to manage a smile but it was weak and wavering. "It is good to see you. I...apologise I didn't send my  thanks to the Palace. You understand why I couldn't?" She cleared her throat awkwardly and tossed her long waved hair over her shoulder. She was dressed simply in a thin, plain tunica she usually lounged around the house in, hair undone, no palla in sight. She had hardly been expecting company. "You have a message?" 

 

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"No - well, sort of," Jason said, the confession hanging between them. "You said to come and see you if I wanted and... I needed to know that you were well, and being cared for. And - there are people looking for... him."

He kept his eyes on her face. Yes, probably not the sort of thing expected of a nice well-trained deferential slave, but Jason wasn't a nice deferential slave except when he chose to be, and right now he was too concerned about Ovinia. Who did not look too thrilled to be confronted so abruptly with a reminder of the awful day.

He could empathise, very much so - he had equally brutal memories of his own, from the day he'd been enslaved, but saying so wouldn't help.

"I didn't expect you to send a message to the palace," he added in reassurance. He was slave, she was a senator's daughter, it would hardly be right for her to send a word of thanks to a mere slave. "I haven't told my master, though I think he knows one of the investigators."

Tiberius was a clever, canny sod; he'd pretty soon work things out once he got wind of the investigation.

 

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A look of confusion filtered across her face and then settled as he admitted why he was here. She didn't remember making the offer, but most of what had happened after she'd suffocated against the wall of the hut was dark and fuzzy. She remembered Jason's face though, and his kindness, and the tenderness with which he'd bandaged her bleeding wounds. 

"That..." She sighed, "That is very kind of you Jason. I'm well," She gave him a look and a low chuckle, "Or well enough." 

She glanced at him, keeping her eyes on his which he didn't shy away from. Curious. She found it didn't bother her though - he was here with her deepest, darkest secret and she wasn't going to turn him down or tell him to lower his gaze. The thought that he had her fate in his work-worn palms ran through her; a word in the wrong ear, or even to his master could ruin her. She chose not to dwell on such an image. He had seemed kind and had her trust. "I'm grateful you haven't told him. I knew my trust wasn't misplaced." She breathed and gestured to the stool that was ostensibly laid out for her to rest her feet on. It seemed odd to invite him to sit on one of the couches, but she felt equally awkward sitting whilst he stood. They were conversing, after all, she wasn't barking orders at him. "You are in the coterie trying to find him then?" She quirked a brow, "I told the vigile sent to investigate to seek you out, with my bodyguard." 

 

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"You told them...?" Jason took the offered seat, and tried not to roll his eyes at typical Roman heavy-handedness. It wasn't Ovinia's fault that Roman society was so stratified that a slave couldn't sit on the same level as a free person. If they sat at all, it was below the person they were talking with. Romans!

"I need to thank you for nearly giving me palpitations, then, Domina." he said lightly. "I thought they were going to accuse me of being the one who'd done it. Your Vigile officer isn't exactly one for subtlety."

Tiberius would have been well within his rights to have sat in on that conversation, which would have blown Ovinia's secret wide open - and if they had been any more like vigiles accusing a slave, he would have.

"I promised not to tell - I'll swear it, if you need, on anything you choose. But I can't promise he won't find out. He's clever, like that." And doesn't like mysteries and things he doesn't know about, he added in the privacy of his own thoughts.

 

@Sara

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"I...remember you talking to me," She shifted uncomfortably on her seat and exhaled softly, feeling decidedly uncomfortable at dredging this up, "And I remember you saying somebody close to you had also..." She swallowed, "Suffered at his hands. I thought you might be a great help to them, as you were to me." She gave him a softer smile and sighed. Only when he made his little joke did she look up, slightly astonished, her lips forming a perfect 'o' shape. Ah. She hadn't considered what it might be like for a slave to be summoned by a vigile. Her face quickly schooled itself into a wince and she gave him an apologetic look, but didn't go so far as to apologise, merely commiserating with a nod. 

"He won't know it was me who was attacked," She countered, her gaze becoming slightly more assessing. "I don't mind if he finds out a woman was attacked, but he cannot know it was me, Jason. And there would be no way for him to figure it out unless somebody says something," She pre-emptively held up a hand, "But you have assured me you won't, and I trust that." Or somewhat, at least. She smoothed he tunica over her knees, awkwardness rising, flushing her cheeks. "I...don't know what would happen if it got out. Or if people like your Dominus found out. I...wouldn't marry well, people...would assume something happened that didn't. You understand?" 

 

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"My cousin," he said, and sighed. Of course, slaves didn't have families - even if a slave gave birth to twins, none of them were related in Roman eyes. They'd merely be a matching set or something, like two marble tables designed to complement one another.

Bloody Romans.

"I understand, Domina. I don't think he'd be like that but... I understand." Why would she want to risk it - and Jason could be wrong, of course. Tiberius had ample capacity to surprise him, even after three years together. He was thoughtful and considerate but he was just as Roman as anyone else here.

"But, there's a group of us who know, and who are looking. My cousin's part of it, too, and there's a woman, a plebeian girl. And your vigile and an ex-gladiator. We'll catch him."

She didn't want to think about it, of course.

"If you think of anything else that might help, you'll tell your vigile, won't you?" Not the slave, who legally would have to be tortured just so the court would be happy he'd passed on the message and hadn't missed anything or added anything. Probably.

"What in Tabiti's name is that?" he asked, the strange contraption on the table catching his eye as he sought for a way to change the subject to something hopefully a lot less uncomfortable for Ovinia.

 

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"Your cousin," She nodded with a sigh and listened as he explained the group. She knew all of that, had heard it from Lucius and Alexius in turn but didn't want to cut the man off, she owed him her patience after all - had he not found her when he did, the Gods only knew what would have happened. "Is he alright?" Possibly a stupid question, and she didn't know if he'd already told her on...that day, but it seemed a polite thing to ask. 

"I'll tell one of them. I know a few people, in your group." She gave him a weak smile, "I'm only sorry I can't be there myself." But there was no way she was going to be seen dead in a group with several slaves, freedmen, plebs and Gods knew who else. Her reputation was only hanging by a thread as it was. 

She blinked at his outburst and frowned. "Tab...iti?" Maybe one of his Gods? She had been trying to place his accent and it came to her in a rush, although the memory was fuzzy, distant almost, even if it had only been a few weeks. "One of your Sarmatian Gods?" She offered a kind smile and then finally followed his gaze to the hydraulis next to her. She winced and shrugged; "An instrument. A gift from my father but...I don't think I'm going to be any good. Do you play anything?" She glanced back at him, knowing plenty of slaves had talents more than they were often used for.

 

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"He's all right. He has a theory..." Jason didn't know this woman but kept his eyes on her face. She didn't want reminders of what had happened to her, that was plain enough, but there was a sign there that she was interested in the group, in what they were trying to do. He would stop and change the subject completely (or let her do so) if his guess was wrong, though.

"His friend was killed, about a year ago, and he came across the man recently. He thinks, maybe, the man came back to the same place he'd had success, for some reason of his own. My cousin was in the wrong place at the wrong time - he saw the man's face." But he's a slave and can't talk to tell us exactly what he looks like.

And his face lit up in a smile. "Yes! You remembered! Tabiti is... ah. Like Vesta? The most important of our gods, she looks after the family and the hearth." He shook his head as she asked if he played anything. "No. I am - I was, a rider and and archer, like all my people. We have drums and pipes, and something like a lute but played with a bow." And songs, too, but he wasn't really much of a singer and they'd sound all wrong in nice civilised surroundings like a Roman domus, and without the proper instrumental accompaniment.

 

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Ovinia's eyes widened. She'd never been very good at masking her feelings and now that was an utter impossibility. She almost breathed the words; "She was...killed?" She felt bile rise in her throat and her skin blanched. Thoughts of his cousin, even as he was speaking, were utterly irrelevant to her. Somebody had died. A girl. Like her. Gone from this world, undoubtedly as unceremoniously as she had been dumped in the hut. But she'd lived. 

She nodded, pale and sipped her wine, trying to draw her thoughts back together into some semblance of normality. Tabiti. Right. She blinked, and nodded dumbly, sipping again at the wine, trying to breathe. She felt like her chest was constricting, like she couldn't breathe. She struggled on nonetheless, nodding at what he said, breathing deeply through her nose. "Tabiti." She nodded. "She kept me safe then, as well as Vesta. Because of you." 

She listened on as he spoke of his proficiencies, wondering if he'd ask about her own. Probably not. She should be annoyed about it, but supposed both that slaves were so rarely asked about their lives that when asked, they would speak selfishly for an eternity and in any case, she was in no state now to carry on her side of the conversation. She instead offered a weak smile and nodded; "A rider and archer? I like the former, but I've never understood how the latter works. Explain it to me? You m-must need tremendous strength to draw a bow?" 

 

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Ah, shit. Shit, shit, shit.

The levity dropped away, leaving him as serious as he had ever been in his life. "Yes - but you survived, Domina. You lived. And we're going to catch him so he doesn't hurt anybody else like that, again. I swear it."

He would make it a blood oath if necessary, though Romans doubtless didn't do such things and he didn't know what use he would be, truly, to the group as a slave.

He took a breath and nodded at the change of subject. She was rattled by what he'd said - he hadn't realised that she didn't know someone had died - and seemed in no state to talk of her own interests.

"We use short bows, because we shoot from horseback. They might look strange to you." He sketched the double S shape of a recurve bow in the air. "They don't take as much strength to draw as you might think - it takes more strength the further back the arrow is drawn before it's loosed, but the speed is in the flexibility of the bow. I wish I could show you."

He wished he would ever be able draw a bow again, but that was probably never going to happen.

 

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She merely nodded dumbly at his assertion that they would catch the man. She hadn't believed Lucius when he said it, or Alexius. She had no reason to believe this man either, but he didn't deserve her doubts. His emphatic pronouncement that he'd hunt down the villain was probably more for his cousin than her, and she'd let him believe that he could, for his own sake and sanity. 

She gave him a half-smile, weak and lifting up the corner of of her lips; "Perhaps one day you will. Or you could whittle one," She offered, "And use paper arrows. I can understand why they wouldn't wish for a slave to have a bow on the Palatine." Her voice wasn't unkind, merely stating the obvious. She did give him a sympathetic look though. "Have you been in Italia long? Your Latin is excellent." It probably wasn't the compliment she thought it was, but to her being fluent in the most civilised language of the Empire was a skill, and worthy of praise. Plenty of slaves in her own household spoke in broken, awkward sentences with accents so heavy she could barely understand them. 

 

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"Maybe, one day," he said. It wasn't how bows were built, of course, but she didn't know that and she was trying to help. "And gratitude. I've been here for... eight years."

Eight and a half, but who was counting - except every day was one more day spent talking a foreign language and surrounded by foreign people, without the endless horizon and clean bright air of the steppes. A long way from home.

"Have you tried your instrument?" he asked, looking at it - it was so very different from anything he had ever seen before. He couldn't begin to work out how it operated, or what it might sound like. It was probably very different from the haunting sound of the duduk, and the three-stringed kemenche.

 

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"Eight years." She repeated with an inscrutable look. Eight years and he still seemed, at least to her, lost in the past, in his background, in his old-home. Slavery was a necessary evil and unfortunately the man in front of her was part of it. In her mind he must have done something that warranted his enslavement. It was just what it was. 

The change in topic caught her and she glanced towards the towering instrument with its pipes and heavy body. She shook her head solemnly, almost a little...embarrassed. "No." She glanced to him, "I...have an idea of how to play but I've never tried before. I'd wanted a lyre or a cithara," She chuckled - the entitlement of that statement passing her by entirely, "But I suppose I'll have to learn." She looked hesitantly back at it and pushed herself up from the couch to round on it - looking at the keys and the pump at her feet. It was oddly terrifying. "I sing," She offered weakly to Jason, "And I can spin wool and weave but...what if I'm not very good at anything else?" 

 

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There was something inscrutable, unreadable, in her expression as she repeated, "Eight years."

Probably she thought he was to blame for his own enslavement or something - a lot of Romans thought that, about the people they captured. Possibly she thought he was stupid to have let his memory still turn so easily to his own people. She'd be the same though, surely, if their positions were reversed?

"I'm sure you weren't very good at spinning or weaving the very first time you tried either," he said. He probably hadn't been very good at archery with the very first arrow he'd loosed - but that was so long ago he couldn't remember not being good at it, and the same was probably true for her.

"Sometimes you have to be bad at something first, to learn how to be good at it. And that can take courage. The thing is, to be willing to try."

But really, to learn to be good at anything, you needed someone to show you how it was done. But she had got up from her seat to look at it, which was something.

"Do you need someone to pump it for you?" he asked, looking at the contraption. There was a lever or something at the bottom, that seemed to be some sort of mechanism.

She was probably going to laugh at the silly Sarmatian slave with Tiberius at some point in the future. He couldn't help hoping she would, anyway - she didn't look as if she'd laughed at all recently.

 

@Sara

 

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"No, that's true." She offered with an unconvinced look. No girl was good at spinning or weaving, but that was a job they had all been brought up to do so she had to persist, despite the fact it was one of her least enjoyable hobbies.

"I think it can be pumped by somebody else, or I use my foot...but then I have to keep time on two different things, the pump and the keys." She frowned, looking at it. She was embarrassed to be so unsure. Why on earth couldn't her father of gotten her a normal instrument? Or a well-known one? It was all for use in the privacy of the domus anyway though...and then a thought occurred to her. That was probably exactly why he'd bought her something so enormous and bulky; she couldn't reasonably take it anywhere like a friends house. No chance of Ovinia Camilla playing her hydraulis anywhere she shouldn't be; like in front of other people. Of course. 

"I...don't want to play it now." She looked at him, embarrassed and hurriedly moved away from the thing, returning to her seat. Maybe she'd never get the courage to touch the keys. "It was good of Tiberius to spare you some time to visit me." She offered, a bland conversation topic to distract her.

 

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He nodded, accepting her decision - if she wanted to do it, it didn't have to be in front of someone she barely knew, after all.

"He lets me visit - friends, when he doesn't need me around," he told her. She wasn't exactly a 'friend', the chasm between them on a social level was too vast for that, after all, but Tiberius hadn't asked for precise details and Jason wasn't about to give her away by telling his master that he was planning on calling on the respectable daughter of a Senator just because he was worried about her. "He didn't ask for details. He knows I visit my cousin sometimes, after all. And I was worried about you."

So long as he was back before Tiberius was, everything would be all right.

He couldn't dismiss himself, of course; her position wouldn't allow that, and he'd rather not risk upsetting her, or making her angry.

 

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She smiled a little and nodded, acutely aware that she and Jason were not friends. He was kind, and she liked him, and she owed him her life and her health, but they were not friends. Women like her couldn't be friends with slaves. It just wasn't done. Still, that did not mean she wasn't grateful. As he finished speaking and an awkward pall settled between the pair of them, she bit her lip, mumbling; "I'm glad you have ended up with such a decent master, Jason. Even if this life was not the one you wished for." Because they both knew that it could have been an awful lot worse for him.

The silence swelled between them and she exhaled, conscious that she had very little to talk of. He was welcome here, how could he not be, but with each passing moment he was also reminding her of how they had met and she felt the same fluttery, anxious feeling bloom in her chest. She needed him to go. But she had something to do first, something she really should have done a while ago. She pushed herself to stand abruptly and held up a hand; "Wait here." 

She had wanted to get him something, by way of thanks but hadn't a clue what. What did one get for a slave that carried her bloodied through the streets of Rome, selflessly caring for her? She had thought money, but considered it gauche. Then she had considered food but that was nowhere near enough. Jason, however, had given her an idea. She was gone for some time and she had spent that time rummaging through the various trinket boxes she had in her room. She had so much jewellery - from the very fine that could only be worn on special occasions, to cheap bangles that she's acquired when she was a girl. She knew what she was hunting for though, and it took an age to find it. When she finally did find it - battered and buried, its gold tarnished, she grinned and taking a square of linen she had been stitching on, secured it in a little pouch. 

Coming back into the room, she found Jason exactly where she had left him. She extended her hand and a soft, genuine smile settled on her face. "I...cannot thank you enough, Jason, for what you did for me. You know you have my gratitude and...should you need anything, you know where to find me. But...should you not, I hope this suffices." Inside the small makeshift pouch he would find an old, careworn intaglio ring, carved with the image of an archer. It wasn't worth very much - certainly not compared to her usual jewellery and it had been a gift of one of her mothers first suitors, apparently - hence why she'd passed it down without a care. It was perfect for him, she thought (almost oddly so) and Ovinia wouldn't miss it. 

 

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The silence stretched, growing awkward - they each knew how and why they had met and really, that was the only point of connection they had. Jason served at the parties Ovinia attended as a guest, they had nothing else to really talk about at all. She stood abruptly, and Jason was on his own feet, blinking with the rapidity of the change as she told him to wait there. She was gone in a moment, leaving him waiting, wondering.

It seemed an age (and yet wasn't, the shadows were the same length as when she'd left) before she returned, holding something wrapped in a square of linen. She pressed it into his hand, a soft and genuine smile on her face, making her look younger and happier than she had been for any of this visit.

He unwrapped the linen to find a ring, battered and slightly tarnished, but set with an intaglio carved with an archer carrying a recurved bow. He rewrapped it reverently, accepting the simple heartfelt gift. He would not be able to wear it, as a slave, but he would treasure it nonetheless.

"Thank you. And if there is anything else I can do for you, you only have to say. I hope you stay safe, and well, Domina."

 

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She smiled, delighted at his reaction which appeared almost reverent. She didn't imagine or countenance that he might not be able to wear it - his station was so far removed from her own that such a thought didn't even cross her mind, but the fact he seemed pleased with it said she had chosen well. She exhaled, relieved. Her debt was not paid to him - they both knew that, but as token gestures of thanks went, she would wager she'd done well.

"Thank you, Jason." She inclined her head and reached gently for his hand to rest his fingers on his just for a moment, to squeeze them, her look so utterly sincere and heartfelt - she really did owe him everything, "I mean it. Apostus," She stepped back from Jason and the lumbering house slave came shuffling through into the room, bowing his head to his Domina, "Will you show Jason out please? You're dismissed." She inclined his head and stepped back, exhaling so deeply once he'd left, fingers trembling, that she had to retake her seat.

 

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"Domina," Jason said again, smiling his slow and crooked, but genuine, smile at her in response to her own earnest look. "I know."

He squeezed her fingers in return and carefully stowed her gift to him inside his tunic before stepping back and bending his head, then turned and followed the other slave to the side door he probably should have used in the first place.

Someone had gathered who he was, and he found his cloak pressed into his arms - he'd thought he'd lost it for good when Ovinia had been whisked away into the house still wrapped in it, that day.

Well, his master would be glad he hadn't lost that, he thought, ducking under the low lintel of the slaves' side door into the street, and pausing to wrap the warm brown wool around his shoulders before turning to head back up the hill to the Palatine, where Tiberius was no doubt waiting for him.

 

@Sara - thank you; it was a fun thread!

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