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Fresh Fruit


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February 77AD

It was mid morning and Spurius was out wandering amongst the various customers in the centre of the Emporium Magnum. His last customer had left him irritated, not seeming to know what he wanted nor appreciate the value of what was being offered, and Spurius knew better than to serve another customer in that mood. So he ordered the guards to take the next batch of barbarians out to the auctioneer and went for a walk.

He was idly perusing some of the wares for sale - fabrics, trinkets, bronze jewellery, ceramics - when he spotted the usual fruit and vegetable stall along the row, with a basket of ripe figs front and centre. It was very effective marketing; having seen them Spurius decided that he could really do with a handful of ripe figs just now. Something sweet and distracting.

The woman at the stall was vaguely familiar, in the way that most of the vendors in the Emporium Magnum knew each other at least by face.

"Salve. How fresh are the figs?"

@Sara

Edited by Sarah
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Didia stifled a yawn behind her palm as she squinted into the winter sun blanketing the Emporium Magnum. It was a slow day - nobody seemed to care much for fresh produce at this time of year when all they really wanted were hot meats and warmer bread. Her father had adjusted the shipments from Hispania as a result, but it would take time for the change to filter through and so today her stall was overflowing with an abundance of things she knew she wouldn't sell and would have to cart back to the warehouse after trading today. 

She saw the man approach from the corner of her eye and inclined her head in familiar greeting. She didn't know his name but his gait and his staff was hard to miss - as were his slaves milling about in their pens with ever more luxurious looking buyers drifting past. She smiled in greeting and glanced down at the figs. "Freshly unloaded this morning," She offered and straightened her spine, "From down near Herculaneum, they came in last night but were picked a few days ago." They were just as likely to have been discards from the geese fattening but he didn't need to know that. "Or," She swept  her hand to a basket of apples she desperately wanted to offload, "Some apples? Picked yesterday." She grinned and arched a brow. She gestured with her head to his own place of work. "Slow day?" 

 

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Given the time of year, picked a few days ago was about as fresh as one could get for figs. It was too cold to grow them locally. Unfortunately they didn't travel well, but he did like them. Dried figs just weren't the same. She gestured towards the apples she had on display, which were apparently much fresher. They also kept a lot longer and were always cheaper; people used them to fatten and sweeten pigs for butcher. Mind you, he'd known some people who were right pigs...

Slow day?

"Just a customer who didn't know what he wanted." He grumbled, one merchant to another. He was sure she understood the irritation. Some he could guide to find a slave that would suit their needs, others seemed to want the best in Rome, whatever that might be, but didn't want to pay the price. This had been one of the latter.

He picked up an apple and bit into it. Some apples were bitter, and when they'd been stored for a while they went dry and floury, but this was sweet, juicy and tangy, with the chill air lending the flesh a pleasant crispness. And at this time of year they were one of the main fresh fruits available. He glanced back towards the warehouse; why not, as a treat?

"Do me a deal on five librae* of apples to the warehouse." He requested, being unable to carry that many himself. "And I'll take a sextans* of figs and this one for myself."  He waved the bitten apple before taking another bite. It was really rather good.

@Sara

*Libra = 328g, sextans = 55g

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Didia chuckled and nodded in sympathy. Her trade was simpler - fruits, vegetables and sometimes baked goods if they could procure them from a baker for cost-price. No people to feed or rich Senators swanning up and demanding the world. Usually. 

She arched a brow and folded her arms under her chest as he took one of her apples without permission. "Presumptive." she smirked and kept her narrowed gaze on him. But an in with a commercial buyer was good. She did deliveries all over the city from senator's houses to brothels, but having a client who would pay for bulk was the dream ticket. A warehouse full of slaves munching on her apples wasn't exactly the best advertisement, but she'd take it over a glowering matron demanding a free orange for her little brat. 

"Deal. If you also take them," She gestured to a small basket of pears and named her price - fairly reasonable. "Nobody eats them," she wrinkled her nose, "But I'm sure your stock won't mind?" 

 

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Presumptive.

"You know I'm good for it." Spurius always paid his bills; one apple was hardly going to bankrupt him. He just wanted to see whether he was buying one bad apple he wouldn't finish, or a bunch of good apples he would. It paid to give the slaves something other than oaten porridge from time to time. The fresh taste of an apple would be a treat.

He eyed the pears. They were out of season. Pears didn't keep well, unlike apples, so these were probably small and sour, the last of the harvest. "If no one eats them I'm doing you a favour." He said, and named a lower price, not unreasonable for unwanted fruit. Haggling was all part of the ebb and flow of the markets. If they were too sour to eat fresh, they could be boiled.

"Where's your old man?" He asked, thinking of the fellow he was pretty certain usually ran this stall. The young woman was familiar, he'd watched her grow up helping her father, though he was certain he hadn't seen her for a couple of years. But suddenly here she was, and where was he? It paid to know the other traders in the market.

@Sara

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She did know he was good for it, the man was clearly one of the better off merchants that plied their trade in the markets. People always needed slaves. It amused Didia a little that the Romans that frequented their stalls seemed to think slaves more of a necessity than the food she offered, but such was life. 

She arched a brow at his counter offer and folded her arms over her chest, not budging, but offering him a couple of as' lower. Didia had been brought up haggling, and knew her worth. "Not well," She admitted as she began to stow the applies in sacks - counting on the fact he'd accept her offer, "His leg is worse in the winter since the accident - something about the rain." She shrugged and glanced at him, noting the staff. "But he might just be angling for a lie-in and a relaxing day," she chuckled, meaning it as a compliment if a man like Spurius was striding around whilst her father lounged in bed...although cramped into their small apartment wasn't much relaxation. "I don't know your name, you know." She arched a brow and looked up, "Not much of an advertisement for your business if you don't give me your name." She grinned.

 

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That was probably the best price he was going to get. "Done." He said simply, with a nod. He'd found that slaves - as with anyone - benefited from a little variety in their diet. As long as that variety wasn't too expensive then the benefit outweighed the cost.

He'd been right, it was the same stall, and the older man wasn't here because he'd been injured, and was struggling with the cold. "I'm sorry to hear that." What else was there to say? "A hot bath and a stick to lean on can help." He suggested mildly, as one who spoke from experience. He didn't know how old the woman's father - Gaius, that was his name, he was fairly sure - was, but certainly older than himself. Spurius wondered vaguely if the man had just given up. It was easy to do so, and sometimes tempting. For himself, he'd been young enough that giving up was a recipe for a life of poverty, so in that sense he'd had no choice and the rest was history and stubbornness. But with... how many kids? At least three, he was sure; there were boys. Perhaps Gaius felt he was done.

She distracted him from his musings by asking him his name. "I'm sure you've heard most people here call me Claudus, it's how I'm known." He told her with a shrug. It meant 'the lame' and was a pretty obvious cognomen, here at the markets. "My father called me Spurius Antius." He added with a wry smile. "Take your pick." He wasn't too bothered about what most people called him, so long as it wasn't a bad salesman. "And yourself? What did Gaius call you? You father is Gaius, isn't he?" He queried, just checking.

If Gaius was ailing, that could make things difficult for his family. He felt for them, though as always, business was business. Still... "Do you have any vegetables going cheap in bulk?" He asked, since he was getting a delivery anyway. "I could use a weekly delivery to the warehouse of whatever's cheap and plentiful." Which meant seasonal, but that was fine.

@Sara

Edited by Sarah
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Didia nodded earnest at his advice, with a focused face and mewls of agreement. Her father was tetchy about the injury, enough that she knew she couldn't outright say to him 'oh father, please take this lovely warm bath in our one room insula' but she could do little things. Maybe she'd get one of the carpenters she knew in the markets to whittle him a stick, and claim she found it? Food for thought. 

"Spurius." She inclined her head with a beaming grin. She had no mind for nicknames. "Didia." She gestured a thumb at herself, "Didia Nonia, one daughter of Gaius Didius Nonianus. Not very imaginative in their names, our lot." She chuckled and continued to parcel up his goods with care and attention as befit a diligent trader like Didia. She nodded as she worked, "This time of year we have an abundance of pastinaca1, onions, cabbage..." She wrinkled her nose at that, "Oh!" She darted down in her little booth, rummaging in her boxes until she procured something special. "Broccoli." She held it out for him. "We have a supplier whose trying it...you'll not get it at any of the others." she gestured to the market at large, "...pity it's not very popular. I'll do you a deal...if you think your slaves would actually eat it." She chuckled.

 

TAG: @Sarah

Pastinaca is carrots/parsnips...and broccoli cultivation only started by a few small farmers in the Empire, according to wiki.

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"Didia." He echoed in turn, and she confirmed that he'd recalled her father correctly. She was named according to standard practice, though she claimed it wasn't very imaginative. "Evidence of a proud father." He countered. Certainly it made her parentage clear.

She detailed what vegetables were available and it sounded as though he'd be able to get a good mix of simple produce at a reasonable price. Still, when Didia flourished the lumpy, green... produce in front of him, he regarded it somewhat dubiously. Then he shrugged. "I'm sure they will. They'll eat what they're given." Or they went hungry. But salad leaves were healthful and he could almost convince himself that it looked like condensed leaves. He might even try some at his household, since it had novelty.

"If you can provide a good quantity of cheap vegetables weekly - whatever is in season - then I'll make it a standing order." He named an amount; whatever he could get for that.

@Sara

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She chuckled and placed the broccoli down on the front of the stall so he could examine it at his leisure. She had tried it, it was foul, although her nephew lapped it up - mushed up in milk. Vile. She almost shuddered a the thought. 

She quirked a brow at his price and stood back, folding her arms under her chest and shrugging as if she could afford to lose his offer. She named a higher price, substantially more. "And that's doing you a favour. You could get cheaper over there -" She waved at a paunchy man across the way with a stall laden with food, "But his stuff will just as likely poison your stock as nourish them. You want the best..." She gave him a wry grin, "Or at least decent food then you've got to pay I'm afraid." Didia was an expert negotiator from her years in this trade but then again she very rarely had to negotiate with another salesman. "Come on Spurius," She tutted, "I see the fancy sorts going to your place...you must earn a mint!" 

 

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Didia placed the odd, green thing pointedly in front of him and Spurius picked it up, observed with curiosity the strong green stem, many branches and tiny green globes on the ends. How bizarre. Carefully, he broke a tiny piece off and popped it in his mouth, chewing thoughtfully. It was crisp, crunchy and... almost like cabbage? But a bit stronger. Perhaps if it were dipped in vinegar... he set the thing down again. "Not bad." He said non-commitally.

He raised an eyebrow at her sudden launch into enthusiastic haggling, bargaining for a significantly larger amount of money. He might indeed earn a mint, but he didn't do it by casually throwing money at things. "I think you misunderstand me, Didia." He said mildly when her spiel had wound down. "I will pay that much, and you will provide however much cheap produce that amount will buy, as per your prices." So the amount could vary, depending on what things were costing her, and the exact type of vegetables would definitely vary with the seasons.

"If I find that the quality and amount suits my establishment, then I will increase the amount of funds available to purchase." So she could supply as little or as much as she thought was appropriate for the money. But he'd only buy more if the value and quality was acceptable. It was a kind of trial, but the opportunity for a regular contract with his business was right there.

@Sara

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Didia arched a brow. It was a novel idea, and likely one her father wouldn't sign off on - he was traditional and liked orders in the way he'd always taken them - a set price for a set amount, but Didia could see the opportunity here - it could be a significant money-maker for her and benefit Spurius. She grinned and inclined her head, doing a mock bow. 

"I bow to your superior negotiating skills, Spurius. Makes sense to me," She nodded and folded her arms over her chest. "I'll need to know how many slaves you want fed, and what days. I don't want any complaints, either, if they don't like it." She chuckled and then nimbly tossed a peach in his direction, "And I'm assuming you want something savoury, not sweet? What about for any of your more expensive stock? Something a little better or just  the usual rations, same as the rest?" 

 

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Spurius smiled as Didia bowed, though the smile took on an amused twist as she then immediately began setting terms, and asking for information about his business. She was a canny one, no wonder her father trusted her to run his business whilst he was indisposed. Whatever would the old man do when she wed again? Or would he pay the tax for her, as Spurius paid it, to remain celibate, so she could keep the business going. But he was certain Didia had brothers. Likely this was one of several stalls, and with any luck things were going well for the family.

He named a number of people to feed, though of course his stock ranged around that number depending on ingoings and outgoings, and she wasn't the only supplier he purchased from. But fresh vegetables and even some fruit to add to their diet of porridge would be a good addition to maintain health. "If the slaves don't like it, that's their problem." And he was pretty certain that they would. "You'll only hear complaints if I don't like it, and I'm sure I won't have cause for complaint." The words will I? hung unspoken in the air.

And there she was, pushing for something else for his more expensive stock. Whilst he'd laud her salesman's instincts, Spurius didn't appreciate being pushed. "Just what we've discussed." He said, a little more firmly. "If I like what I get, we can talk about more next month." He was as good as his word. If the produce was fresh and plentiful, he would increase the order, but he wasn't going to commit large amounts on an unknown. He might not be trading to foreign lands but he'd learned his father's lessons well.

"Here's what I owe you for the apples and pears, and here's for the first week's delivery." He counted out the sum in coins and offered them over. It was a neat little sum. "I look forward to us doing further business."

@Sara

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