Jump to content

Of cabbages and kings


Recommended Posts

Jason's master had taken up residence in the villa attached to the Gardens of Sallust, but he still attended the Senate meetings regularly, and slaves still couldn't enter the Curia. Jason had wandered further, from the Forum Romanum towards the Forum Holitorium, the vegetable market. Why the vegetable market? He had no real idea, except it wasn't the meat market closer to the Palatine and the huge structure of the Circus Maximus.

Thoughts of the Circus made him think of his cousin and he wondered for a moment what Azarion was up to right now - though if he went to see him, chances were good that he'd end up spending far too long with him and get into trouble when he finally recalled the time and went to find his master. It wasn't worth the risk, especially as he got to see Azarion on a fairly regular basis now.

So, it would have to be apples and carrots and cucumbers and gods knew what else. It wasn't really worth getting any carrots or apples; if he had another chance to visit the Imperial stables, or the new stables at the new villa, the stable master would surely have something to hand.

He stepped back from the stall and jostled someone who'd been standing perhaps too close without realising.

"Oh - sorry," he said, though it was a little late.

 

@Insignia

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

As for Jannus’s master, he was most likely revising some contracts for his business. Jannus used to have a natural sense of curiosity that he considered sated, but sometimes it still has an effect on him. Some part of his mind is intrigued by his master’s line of work. Communication is what keeps Rome running as smoothly as a river; his master certainly has to do a lot of it. 

The prospect of sending letters is one based on trust. It is quite ironic that Jannus cannot enter many places due to his status and yet he’s been given the responsibility of ensuring the prosperity of a freedman. Sometimes, in the deepest of night, he dreams about running away and finding his people again, but the distinctly barbarian jabber wakes him at once. 

Enough of dreaming about the past. Jannus has been sent to purchase the day’s groceries, with a mental list of dishes. The ingredients, he must ascertain on his own. With a bag in hand, he moves from stall to stall to find what the household needs. Flour. Cheese. Cabbage. His master eats garum with his food, a far cry from the muria Jannus is left with to season his own. While waiting at the last stall, Jannus gets a bit too close, wanting to be done early. The man in front of him steps back, and he tries to not drop what he’s holding, but he loses a cabbage to the ground nonetheless. He makes a small irritated noise, but crouches to pick it up regardless. “It’s fine.”

@Sharpie

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

"Still. I should have been looking where I was going," he said with a shrug, though nobody had eyes in the back of their head. Slaves needed them more than most, though from his appearance and the fact he was straightening up after retrieving a cabbage, the other seemed to be a fellow slave. Jason's own simple clothing probably gave his own status (or lack of it, rather) away in turn.

The brief encounter would have remained just another moment in a Roman market if Jason's sharp eyes hadn't spotted a gleam in the dust at their feet. He stooped to pick it up.

"I think you dropped this," he said to the other slave, holding out what proved to be a silver denarius.

 

@Insignia

 

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

A spike of fear pangs through him, for what if he pestered someone of a higher status than his own? Noting the simple tunic, said fear dissipates like smoke. He's grateful he's learned how to tell apart the slaves and the non-slaves. Those are the only two major categories of people in this world, for it dictates who he can freely speak with. Jannus sighs and waves off the apology. "The fault lies on me. I shouldn't have been standing so closely." Indeed, he was so wrapped up in his own business that he forgot about his surroundings, something that has been happening more and more frequently. 

That denarius was the equivalent of an unskilled worker's daily pay. In other words, what Jannus would be earning if he was freed. "Thank you." How could he have been so careless? Mentally, he berates himself for this lapse in duty despite knowing not much will come of it. "Is there anything else I missed?"

@Sharpie

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

"I don't think so," Jason replied with a shrug. The other had been off somewhere in his own little world, which Jason could understand to a degree. He handed the coin over - it might not be a lot to Jason's master, but it was rather a lot to Jason, and probably the other slave and maybe even the other slave's master, too.

"You could hardly help being that close, though," he pointed out, trying not to roll his eyes. Who knew that there were this many people in the world, let alone in one city! Back at home on the steppe, it was easy to ride away from the camp and be the only person you could see, with the horizon a huge circle all around you and nothing else except your horse, the blowing grass and the hunting hawks.

Better not to think about that, he missed it too strongly and would never get to experience it again.

"There are far too many people in Rome," he added.

 

@Insignia

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Jannus sighs, but it is one of relief, not annoyance. "Thank you greatly." He takes the coin. The light glints off of it. It is no longer time for daydreaming. The horizon spans ahead of him, yet it will be no use if he cannot focus on the here and now. Besides, his master was not as rich as the previous one. A denarius meant much more than simple change to throw at others depending on one's wishes.

"I have spent most of my life here. I would have thought I'd be able to navigate the streets well enough by now." He barely remembers anything of the place he was born in. Mainly the feeling of cold wind, of lying on something fluffy and soft. Of a soft figure with a kind voice speaking a language he couldn't recognize. It is a far cry from Jason's own upbringing. Like a bird kept in a cage for too long, Jannus has forgotten how to fly. The proud dove, turned into a chicken.

"Oh, are you new here?" His question has an underlying one: have you been in the Roman Empire for long? 

@Sharpie

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

"New here?" Jason adjusted the rough woollen cloak pinned round his shoulders with a sigh. "Not all that new, not really. I've been here for... four years now, though I've been in Italia for nearly nine."

For far too long, in other words, with home just as far away as ever. The other man's accent seemed that of the native Latin speaker, unlike Jason's own which still carried some of the lilt of his native Sarmatian.

The other man was taller than Jason, with the same blue eyes as Tiberius', though his hair was as dark hair as the Romans - most of them, anyway; Jason's master had dealings with last year's Consul Prior, whose hair was as golden as wheatfields at harvest time. There was something rather melancholic about his demeanour, for some reason, which brought out a fellow feeling in Jason, for whom thoughts of home were never far away.

 

@Insignia

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Nine years? He must be handling it well, is all Jannus thinks. Whenever he pondered his life outside of Italia proper, it was always with misplaced gratitude towards the Equites who snatched him in the first place. To come from such a backwater place, no doubt with many traditions of its own, to arrive at the city of shining marble and concrete would be life-changing for anyone. Living in Rome as a child meant he already had a good idea of what customs and gestures to follow. For a man like Jason, the transition surely must have been more difficult. Even for Jannus, who prided himself on his knowledge of the city, got lost from time to time. Foreigners who arrived later in life are forever forced to play a game of catch-up.

The two of them are quite different, coming from opposite directions of the Empire's fringes. Jason shares the same eye color and little else. "You're doing well for someone who arrived in Rome relatively recently. Has the weather been a large adjustment?" For some reason, Jannus's own blood must run hot, a reminder of the cold-dwelling people he came from. Even in late autumn and early spring, he rarely covers himself with a blanket when sleeping. 

@Sharpie

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

"If you're not going to buy anything, move on and stop blocking other people," the stall-holder said, getting irritated that the two slaves seemed intent on having their conversation right in front of his stall.

Jason rolled his eyes and led the taller slave away to a slightly less congested part of the market where they could talk without being in anyone's way. "The weather... a bit. The winters aren't so cold here, though the summers are hotter and longer," he said. "It's the people more than anything - I never knew there were so many people in the whole world, never mind in one place."

And the buildings. He was used to a country of big skies and open plains, low hills and wide horizons. It wasn't the fact of his slavery that made him feel trapped at times quite so much as being hemmed in by everything.

 

@Insignia

Link to comment
Share on other sites

It feels like his head is more often in the clouds than not these days. He feels a deep sense of wanderlust, but has no idea where to go. Has nowhere to go other than the deeper reaches of Rome. Jannus is thankful the other leads him to a better place to chat. 

As the two stand next to each other, Jannus allows the din of passersby to form a net of white noise. The rush of people calms him, strangely enough. Yet Jason's words ring loud and clear above the background noise. "It's amazing, isn't it? Getting to see so many people, from all over the world." Never mind how many of those people, Jannus included, didn't come of their own free will. Rome has a spell of its own, one that winds around Jannus's head and twists him into its many contradictions. Believing in the Roman gods while simultaneously knowing none of them would ever protect him. Upholding the structure of servitude with lingering doubt in its feasibility.

When he grew taller, like the shoot of a castor plant, Jannus had a lot of difficulty keeping his movements small and restrained. Now, it is second nature.

@Sharpie

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

"I'm not sure about 'amazing'," Jason confessed. If the truth were known, he found it exhausting to be so continually surrounded by people and noise and high buildings and steep hills... He wondered, just for a moment, if it was the quietness of the steppes' vastness that he missed more than the wide open spaces. It was all tied up together, though - and the encampment wasn't silent, by any means. Horses, and sheep and people of all ages weren't exactly a quiet thing, after all.

"So, you're from Rome, then?" he asked, for lack of anything else to say now that they were apparently going to have this conversation despite not knowing one another, having never met before. "I'm - they call me Jason," he added, feeling that they should probably introduce themselves.

 

@Insignia

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Who wouldn't like Rome for the wonders it holds? A look of doubt washes over Jannus's face before he quells it to an expression of neutrality. Of listening. He hears, but he does not understand sometimes. This is one of those moments. Deep in Rome, he feels protected knowing that strong buildings surround him on all sides, buildings tougher than the hardiest trees. From time to time, he does feel a deep ache within him to take a break, to get away, but the streets of Rome more than satisfy that. It has to. 

"I'm from up north," he confesses. "I came here as a young child." The past is dead, but why does it continue to affect him so much? Nostalgia taunts him. "It's Jannus, by the way. Nice meeting you, Jason." Their two names, both given to them by their overlords, are similar in name. Jannus finds comfort in that. 

@Sharpie

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Posted (edited)

"Did you?" Jason wondered for a moment what his life would have been like if he'd come here as a child. On the other hand, Azarion had been a child and he was as Sarmatian and sarcastic as ever - if you could read his face and his signs.

"I'm from north and east of here - more east than north, though," he said. "Sarmatia, if you've ever heard of it." Even in the closed-in streets of Rome he could face his homeland with unerring accuracy, though from here all he could see was the façade of one of the hundreds of temples dotted around the city. Juno Sospita, or something, he thought. There was something of his own longing in the other's face, though Jason was probably imagining it. 'A long way north' spoke of his being German or Gaulish or maybe even British, from the islands at the edge of the world which were where Jason's blood-sister came from.

 

@Insignia

Edited by Sharpie
Link to comment
Share on other sites

He was only six when it happened. One fateful battle and one night of wandering had led to his life completely changing in a single moment. His first master did his duty of making sure Jannus grew up knowing proper Roman customs. The latter used to hate the way he looked, thinking it too barbarian. He still does, deep down.

Jason being from Sarmatia makes sense. Granted, Jannus does not know where Sarmatia, or that it existed until now. For manners of geography beyond Italia, he has remained ignorant. All he knows is a vague Germania north, a Britannia further north, and that's it. No tribes or other nations, merely two giant conglomerates of untamed land. "Is that in Germania?" The question is foolish, and for one time out of many Jannus feels quite uneducated. "I was from Britannia, I think." The cultures all blend together for him; what difference does it make if he's from one or the other? All the same, he's still a slave.

@Sharpie

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

"No," Jason replied. He should be used to this by now, it was hardly astonishing that people didn't know the lands beyond the borders of the Empire. They had probably heard of Germania and Parthia mostly because of the various wars and things. There hadn't been those wars with Jason's people for anyone in the Empire to hear about Sarmatia.

"It's beyond the empire, the same as Germania, though. Germania's further north - east and north more." He couldn't draw a map but he knew north no matter where he was, an innate skill and ability that had always meant he could find his way home wherever he was. "You've been in Rome a while, though?"

Jannus had the accent, more or less, of the native Latin speaker, where Jason knew he spoke with a foreign accent that was a dead giveaway that he wasn't Roman. Jannus could be; blue eyes might not be common among the Romans but they weren't completely unknown.

Anyway, he had the same dark hair as the vast majority of Romans did. He could blend in far easier than Jason, if it weren't for his height and the fact his skin is fairer than the olive-skinned Italians.

 

@Insignia

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Jannus is properly embarrassed. He didn't think knowing all of the places outside Italia proper was that important. His first master told him as much: "You are in Rome. There is no use in learning about barbarian territories when you are at the center of the world." If Jannus knew better, if he'd tried to reconnect with heritage sooner, if the Romans didn't discourage his questions about his background, he'd know that he was from the east of Britannia, and that his true name was-

"So it is more west?" Jannus puzzles on it for a little bit, trying to redraw his mental map of the empire. Germania is north. Britannia is further north. Then there's Sarmatia, and what else? Parthia is crammed somewhere between everything else, and then there's Italia. That is all he needs to know for the time being. "I've been here since I was six." His accent proves it just as much. Honestly, with the exception of the accent, Jason similarly might blend in. It takes time to know Rome, though, and Jannus isn't sure if he's even mastered it himself. "It feels like far longer."

@Sharpie

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

"I can't draw a map," Jason said. Mostly because he had no idea at all of the shape of any of these territories and places. "I don't think very many people have heard of Sarmatia, though." Ovinia Camilla hadn't and she was the daughter of a Senator. Though, admittedly, her father or brothers might have - Ovinia's rank didn't mean she'd had any sort of geography lessons.

"Sarmatia is... mostly east and a little bit north. Germania is east and north - of us, here in Rome, I mean. Gaul is north of us and Britannia more north of Gaul?" He wasn't certain of that, but it sounded right, and that was how it sounded when his master had spoken about those places in Jason's hearing. "It isn't important, anyway, not really." Only to him, and perhaps to Jannus.

It was enough knowing that it was all so far away. Jason might go to sleep facing home every night but that was cold comfort.

Six? That was horribly young to have been brought here from as far away as Germania. No wonder Jannus wanted to know about Jason's home and where places were.

 

@Insignia

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Jannus has an eye for visuals. Outside of message delivering, which covers routes that have since been ingrained into his muscles, he learns best by seeing diagrams. Many years ago, his first master once showed him an expensive papyrus map of the empire. The little shapes looked more like meaningless squiggles to him at the time. Now, he comprehends their power, both for traders and as symbols of the empire's might. If only he could go back in time and appreciate the craftsmanship of that map! He'd never been able to slake his dim yet persistent desire to see the finer things in life.

"I think I get what you mean." The lands fit together like puzzle pieces in his mind. A large blob on top is Germania. To the lower right is Sarmatia, and so on and so forth. When he was small, he used to dream about being able to fly and see Rome from a bird's-eye view. Back then, he also wanted to become a cartographer, and indulged his pipe dream by sketching imaginary territories in the sand with a stick. "Plus, if I ever leave Italia, it'll be useful to know where I am." A big 'if' hangs in the air. He doesn't know if he'll ever see the place of his father's birth.

It was a warmer night than usual when the soldier plucked him off the ground in Britannia. When he was able to see again, a man in shining armor and red cape, plus an impressive-looking helmet adorned with a plume of red, approached him. There was blood on the man's scabbard, but his eyes were kind. He poked the boy in the chest and said one word: Jannus.

"Thanks for letting me pester you about where everything is. When it comes to Rome itself, I'm usually better."

@Sharpie

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Jason didn't need to find his way around the city, not really. If he could get to the Forum, or the Circus Maximus, he could easily find his way back to the Palatine. Although he supposed that now it wouldn't be the Palatine but the Gardens of Sallust and the private villa within them. That would be a whole new set of landmarks to memorise.

"You weren't pestering me at all," he said. Fitting together the various lands and territories was like fitting together mosaic pieces to make a picture or a pattern - he'd once seen a mosaic makes at work and had been fascinated by the tiny stones and tiles that the man used to make his pictures.

"You've been here for so long, do you have a favourite place in Rome?" he asked, trying to work out why people liked the city and whether it had any redeeming qualities or not.

 

@Insignia

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

If somebody kidnapped and blindfolded Jannus, he'd more or less be able to find his way back to his master's neighborhood. His first master lived on the outskirts of the city, in Regio XIV. It was a wonderfully quiet place, that villa. The man's own sons had long since moved on with their lives. Apparently Jannus had the same eyes as one of them. 

"Where are we, boy?" The map stretched out in front of them on the table. Jannus fidgeted, but quickly stopped, embarrassed. Dominus smiled at him, reinforcing laughter lines.

"It's Regio fourteen, dominus." 

"Correct."

Regio VIII was louder and more glamorous. Regio V is even louder and less glamorous. Jannus will take what he can get. "I haven't dared enter, but the temple of Quirinius is beautiful to be around. The Theater of Marcellus is also nice." It's not the inside he's after, but the sounds of people from all over the city he wants. He's surrounded by people, but remains alone. Out there, he can appreciate his position as an outsider for a brief time. "If you can get to the roof of whatever building you're in, it's a good place to sit. Makes you feel like all of Rome's out for only you to look at."

@Sharpie

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Jason managed a smile. He hadn't dared get caught simply relaxing since the day Marcus Junius Silanus had nearly tripped over him - sitting up on a roof somewhere would probably lead to a worse set of consequences than he'd had that day.

"I miss the horizon," he said, sharing his own secret in turn. Rome had nowhere that he could see to the edge of the world. The wide open spaces of his childhood and youth had been replaced by steep hills and buildings crammed together - buildings as large and spectacular as the new Flavian Amphitheatre and the much older Circus Maximus which was where he'd first seen Azarion after eight years apart, and buildings as high as some of the insulae, and as blank as the inward-looking domi of the richer members of society.

He wondered if he'd like Rome more if he had had the choice to come here rather than being brought here as a slave.

Life was what you made it, and he did have a good position, much better than many others, even if he was a slave. He really ought to try to remember that more.

 

@Insignia

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

His journeys to the roof are relatively new. Most of it is because the insulae he's currently residing in can get crowded. When he's not due for any chores, he finds it easier to go up there and watch the people underneath than to stay inside. In the back of his mind, he wonders if this is how the Caesar feels, with his palace up on a tall hill. There must be at least a balcony or two the Emperor can recline at and observe everything he and his forefathers have achieved. 

Jason's comment spurs him into sharing a bit more about himself. "I've walked practically every corner of this city and I still get restless. May well be my Britannic blood calling me back." He slips away at night to wander the streets like he's trying to find something. The city has all things bright and beautiful, but it continues to get under his skin from time to time. Can a chicken be capable of gaining flight? 

One time, he passed by a windowsill garden to find a hawk moth sipping nectar from a flower, its flitting wings showing promise. They are all hawk moths trying to find home, aren't they?

@Sharpie

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Jason shrugged. He got restless, too, but not in quite the same way - at least, he didn't think it was quite the same way. "My people are nomads," he said, though he wasn't quite sure of the Latin word, nor of whether Jannus would understand what he meant by it. "We don't live in brick-built houses like the Roman do but in round tents, and we move with the seasons."

He sighed. "I miss - it's more that I miss having a horizon, I think. Rome seems too big and too small at the same time - too many people crowded into a space that seems too small because you can't see the sky properly from anywhere. Not the big skies I grew up with, anyway."

Rome had everything you could possibly want, if you had the time and the money for it - and Jason's master certainly seemed to have both of those - but it didn't have the wild grass and rolling hills and the sense that you could ride forever and still not reach the edge of the world.

 

@Insignia

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Moving with the seasons? It sounds like a life Jannus could grow used to. His whole life in Rome, he'd grown up knowing a few fundamental truths about how the city worked. One, it never moved. Real estate and location meant a great deal, and it was up to messengers like him to deliver things between two or more people. Two, nobody gets taken to Rome and leaves of their own accord. So many years, and the only way Jannus himself could leave was through being purchased by somebody living in the provinces. Three, trying to leave is futile. He's seen the thrashing scars on other slaves' backs, showing the punishment. 

"I don't know if it'll replace the skies from your home completely, but it's worth getting to a hill every now and then. Depending on who your dominus is, you might get lucky a few times or so, maybe more." 

Some of the less developed spots upland were prime for picnicking and whatever else the upper crust do in their free time. Of course, those same people can't go anywhere without a trusty body slave by them, so maybe Jason lucked out.

@Sharpie

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

"Maybe," Jason answered. Or maybe not; the last time he'd tried had led within a hair's breadth of real trouble with his master's friend and he didn't doubt that if he tried it again, and was caught the same way, Marcus Silanus would somehow force his master's hand and Jason would be in for a very real whipping. On the other hand, Tiberius had let him have time in the stables - probably a punishment for any other slave of Jason's status, but Jason had grown up with and around horses and felt it far more of a punishment to be kept away from them.

Rome was too loud, too crowded, too smelly, too dirty, too... people, for Jason ever to feel quite comfortable. And yet Tiberius did spend time away from the city, in the country, and even though Italy very much was not Sarmatia, it was a relief to have that time away.

It seemed that Jason wasn't the only one in this city to feel restless on occasion, if Jannus liked walking it just for the sake of walking. What would it be like, to find the high buildings and steep hills comforting rather than constraining? Jason wasn't sure he wanted to know the answer to that question.

"I wish I had some advice or knowledge I could share with you in the same way," he said. "Except maybe, things aren't always as bad as they seem."

Except when they were and you had a really tricky situation to navigate without any clues or help. You only really learned to ride after falling off - the trick was not to fall off very often, and to get back on if you did fall. The analogy was an apt one, apart from the fact that you always had people giving advice when it came to learning to ride and Jason didn't when it came to figuring out the latest tricky situation he'd found himself in.

He really was going to have to chat with Silvanus to find out how to deal with Silvanus' master without risking his skin.

 

@Insignia

  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Please sign in to comment

You will be able to leave a comment after signing in



Sign In Now
 Share

×
×
  • Create New...