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A day at the markets


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March 77AD

The year was beginning to warm, and that put a spring in Varinia's step as well as in the year. She'd thrown open the windows of their little insula apartment and washed and hung the blankets out of them to air and dry. Next she was going to go through everyone's clothes and find what needed mending, or replacing. Then she would consider what else their little household might need. Teutus had told her that she could buy whatever she wanted, but she was determined to be careful with their funds, and acquired what they needed as they needed it. But now at least she could afford better quality goods.

Varinia stood out amongst the Romans. Dressed in a rich, brown chiton that matched her wavy hair, carefully coifed by Prosperpina, and a pale blue palla that brought out the grey in her eyes, she might dress like a Roman woman, but she was too tall and too pale to be anything but barbarian stock. Jannus, she'd noted, seemed to have similar heritage, and a Roman might have mistaken them for mother and son. She hadn't really had much of a chance to talk to the young slave; he shared Teutus's room unlike the little boy Amandus who shared hers along with Proserpina. Poor old Olipor slept in the main room. It felt odd, having been a slave and now keeping them, and Varinia tended to treat them more like family; like the children and grumpy old uncle she'd never had. Perhaps she'd have to make time to sit down with each of them.

First however, she needed to shop for food. And for a very special collection. She'd spent much of the winter spinning fleece, and now the loom that she had ordered was ready to be picked up. Varinia had to admit that she was quite excited. She'd always spun for her domina as a slave, but it was only her last mistress who had taught her to weave. Now she was free and, as the woman managing the household, it was her duty to see them properly clothed. And would she ever. She'd already dyed some of the spun wool and planned out the fancy weaving she was going to do for Teutus's new tunica; then she'd see to the rest of them. There were six of them crowded into the three rooms of the insula, but Varinia was loving her new life. Teutus made mention of the idea of getting a bigger place every so often and she wouldn't mind that, but she was in no hurry. She didn't ask for much and, for the first time in her life, she was getting more than what she asked for.

She had however asked to borrow Jannus for the day; she needed someone to help carry the loom home.

@Insignia

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The older woman reminded him of a summer storm, with the way she’d quickly yet firmly turned over practically the entire insulae in order to welcome spring. Honestly, she was a bit of a powerhouse with the speed she’d washed the blankets. Jupiter knows what she’d do next, but it was probably going to involve the rest of the items in the household. It confuses Jannus, why she continues to do these things despite being freed. In the end, he chalks it up to her natural goodwill. For as long as she does these things, he will appreciate them in his own quiet way. And when it ceases, he may even take over some of the chores, despite it being women’s work, as thanks. 

He never considered himself a figure to gravitate towards women. All of his mentor figures had been male, and it had created a self-reinforcing pattern of behavior he found particularly difficult to break. Being in his third master’s household, he has been forced to, for he sees the master’s mother every day. It is uncanny how much they look alike, the two of them. Tall and lanky in build, light-colored skin, angular features. They share these common things and little else.

Jannus barely remembers his own mother. Aside from feverish childhood recollections of a warm and soft figure, he knows nothing. Did she have his grey eyes, or his rectangular face? Did she ever gaze at the stars and dream of greater things like he did? The problem with having a particularly relaxed master, he reckons, is that he has the time to contemplate stupid things. 

Late at night, while everybody else is fast asleep, Jannus lays awake on top of the thick blanket he’s set out on the floor and thinks about what might have been, and how to act in the present. When he and the other slaves eat their meals together, he refuses to reveal anything of substance about himself. In fact, he can’t bring himself to regard any of his master’s family members by their names, even in his mind. It feels strangely wrong, as if he’s intruding on something everybody else but him is privy to. How cowardly of him, to accept what the master’s mother gives him, and yet to be afraid of using her actual name! 

Jannus does not let himself remain unseeing of the changes happening in the household. Week by week, more and more woven wool populated their storage containers. This same wool was slowly dyed into different colors. There is need for a loom. As the two walk together to collect it, Jannus remains aloof. Polite, but aloof nonetheless.

@Sarah

Edited by Insignia
fixed a bit of phrasing
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As the senior woman of the household it was Varinia's duty to organise it and see that they had all they needed. When Teutus wed, she would have the assistance of her daughter in law, but for now it was hers alone and she delighted in it. She'd missed so many years of being with her son; being able to care for him in this way was a joy, not a chore. And of course that extended to the rest of their little household as well.

Their ultimate goal was the loom, but she was also perusing the various stalls looking for things they might need or foods for the next couple of days. Up ahead she spotted a stall that sold hot griddle cakes; flat, toasted pieces of flour batter with dried fruit mixed in, drizzled with honey. As a slave such a thing had been mostly beyond her, only a very occasional treat at either her domina's discretion or her own carefully saved coins. Now she could just... buy one. It was a heady feeling.

"I'm going to get a cake." She declared, partly because it felt so good to just be able to say that. "Would you like one Jannus?" She asked with a glance in his direction.

@Insignia

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One time, when he was with his first master, a young boy came to the house. It was also his first time being treated as a commodity. Jannus liked lording over the boy, who he, despite being close in age, lacked the obvious favoritism from their master. That was, until one day, he saw the boy crying alone. He asked him what was wrong, and the other replied he had dreamed of his mother. "How did you know it was her?" Jannus asked. 

"I heard her voice and recognized it at once," replied the other boy. 

The air smells of oil and dust mingled with a few hints of fragrances here and there. He knows it would sound odd to anybody else, and so he has never attempted to explain it properly, but Rome has an aroma of its own. On the handful of occasions he left the city for some reason or another pertaining to his master, the atmosphere felt distant, almost alien. Later, he realized it was not only because of its open spaces, but because the air stung.

The griddle cakes catch his eye. His first master treated him to plenty of them, the second none at all, unless Jannus cared to spend his own money on such a transient delight. When the master's mother asks him that one simple question, it catches him off guard. Was this a test, like with the second master? Would he be expected to put on a show of false modesty, abstaining from what had been offered to him? No, Jannus, he thinks to himself. This time will be different. He takes a deep breath.

"That would be lovely, thank you domina." The last word he tacks on a moment later.

@Sarah

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It was no test. Varinia didn't play such games, having been subject to them at times herself. The question was an honest one, and once she had Jannus's answer she bought two of them, hot and sweet with honey, handing the second to him with a smile. "I love these cakes." She admitted, as she took a bite. "Mmm." They were such a simple pleasure, but having gone without for so long, Varinia was resolved to enjoy the simple pleasures in life. These included hot cakes, looking after her son and ordering necessary things for their domus, which were also a bit nice. Enjoyment didn't have to be extravagant. "When I was a slave in Publius's house, I used to save up and buy one very occasionally, as a treat." And now she could have them whenever she wanted. It was an unimagined luxury. But she didn't buy them all the time, that would make them a staple instead of a treat, and would take the fun out of it.

Licking the honey off her fingers, Varinia continued through the markets, assuming that Jannus would follow. They had to wend their way through the crowds, but that was part of the fun as well. People from all walks of life mingled in the markets, and as long as one kept a hand on one's pouch, it was fun to brush shoulders with everyone from slaves to possible Patricians. She also enjoyed looking at the vast array of wonderful wares for sale, even though she made her purchases carefully and frugally. She'd promised Teutus that she would not go overboard, but if anything it was more of a promise to herself. Savour what they had, it was the key to her newfound happiness.

And she would also see that the others had what they needed. She would make Teutus a new tunica first, but he was only the beginning. "How are your clothes Jannus? Do they fit?" She asked, glancing at him. She hadn't spotted any holes but that didn't mean they were comfortable.

@Insignia

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His shoulders drop slightly as he relaxes. Why was he so terrified? This family was clearly different. Fresh air carries the sweet smell of griddle cakes along the street. It will only be a matter of time before somebody's child begs for one, he remarks to himself with a hint of amusement. Jannus almost forgets to take the treat if it weren't for Varinia handing it to him. The cake is soft as he bites into it; the honey has soaked in already. The gesture of kindness and the freshness of the cake warms him. He does not speak, but he tilts his head to show that he's listening. Next time, he promises himself, he'll get a different perspective if he's scared of something. After all, he won't know if it's scary or not until after he tries it, takes a risk. "I rarely had them either. Makes today a good one, right, domine?" His smile is small but genuine.

He'll still remain frightened of some things, but Varinia? She's only looking out for him. It feels nice to have someone in the household on his side. Not to say that the other slaves and his dominus aren't kind, but he feels he can relax a bit more around Varinia. The sea of faces surrounding him turns into a series of blurs as he lets his eyes stop flicking about from person to person. Is this what it feels like to be free, eating a honey cake in the street? He takes small, neat bites, being sure not to get honey on his fingers, a Herculean task. The last bit disappears all too quickly, wiping away Jannus's daydream with it. His chances of being freed are nigh impossible. Still, everything will be alright as long as he does not mess up. Blue eyes refocus and grow sharper. 

How beautiful, Rome. Does its value lie in its buildings or in its people? Jannus is inclined to believe the latter. So many faces, flashes of colorful clothes pass by. A young man wearing a toga virilis is in a hurry; his toga flaps behind him almost like the wings of a strange bird. The visual is funny, but Jannus keeps his face straight. Stalls aplenty are scattered like birdseed; items for all seasons can be found. And Varinia. "My clothing fits well, domine." He is not used to this, being mothered. Is it a bad thing? Definitely not.

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I rarely had them either. Makes today a good one, right, domine?

She smiled at him warmly. "It does indeed." She replied, happy in this simple pleasure, even more so to share it with him. "Perhaps I'll have to get you and Amandus to come to the markets with me more often." On the excuse of carrying things for her whilst she shopped. Then she could spoil them as she would have liked to have spoiled Teutus when he was young. Varinia had only had the one child, but she could have happily mothered a whole brood, and would still mother anyone who would let her, including the younger slaves. Especially the younger slaves. She knew all too well the things that they would have gone through, and was determined that they should not suffer in this household.

They wander on, Varinia perusing the stalls and making notes. As they passed a wool stall she asked after Jannus's clothing, which he assured her fit well. "That's good. Let me know if it gets too small, or too worn." There was no need for any in her household to be cold or uncomfortable. That was her view anyway, having been both at various times. Most Romans of course didn't care if their slaves suffered a little, considering that their lot in life. But she'd been there, and was determined that Teutus's slaves would not suffer the same. Pausing, she fingers one of the fleeces, rubbing the lanolin-rich wool between her fingers. It was soft and fine, and would make a beautiful winter tunica or cloak. But it was a big bag, and it was best not to burden them down when they had the loom to carry.

She would come back tomorrow for a new fleece to spin. She was already planning in her head what she would make with it. Perhaps she would dye it with onion skins and make a bright, golden blanket that would double as a cloak.

"Where are you from Jannus?" She asked. The carpenter who made looms wasn't too far ahead.

@Insignia

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The sun hits his back. He used to believe it had the power to impart new life upon the people who strayed from its light too far. It was not a matter of self-comfort, for he rarely got cold if ever, but one for rationalizing why it was so bright in Rome all the time. After all, the city must take care of all its people, citizen or not. The sun is the one thing he knows can reach everywhere. If he were born here, perhaps he'd have been involved with the rites and rituals that further bless the air above him and the ground beneath him. Alas, there was no point in being poetic. But slaves could be secretaries, and it's only a natural course of action for him to gravitate towards it as well. When he is the only one awake in the dark, he sometimes thumbs through imaginary verses in his mind, which will always remain his own.

Varinia is kind, caring about the little details in life most did not care to take note of. Things as simple as inquiries about whether so-and-so had enough to eat, or if somebody's clothing needed patching. It is these little gestures, small sparks of kindness, that make him believe in Rome and all it holds. The marble buildings are sights one could only imagine in a dream. And it is ultimately up to people like him, slaves, to keep the world running for those who rule from above. He is lucky. His master is far different from the last. The domina of the household cares for him. And yet, seeds of doubt sometimes spring up in his mind so matter how hard he tries to push them away. 

"I will, domina." Jannus has no idea what makes wool good to use and what doesn't. What he does know is that the lady of the household has years of experience, and to trust her judgment with everything. Her question spurs an answer, one that he can answer, even if somewhat vaguely. "Britannia. I've no idea where in particular."

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Unaware of her companion's inner monologue of conflicting impressions and concerns, Varinia continued to peruse the markets, listening as Jannus answered her question. Britannia. The most recent of Rome's conquests. He might well have been captured as part of those conquests, but he was young. "Did you not go very far from your village?" She asked, when he said he didn't know where in Britannia he was from. Many people's horizons had expanded exponentially when the Romans came, and Jannus seemed such a quiet soul. Thoughtful, or scared.

"I'm from what the Romans call Celtic Gaul." She told him, glancing over her shoulder. Since she'd asked him she felt she should share. "A village not far from their town of Lutecia. They call us Parisii." Though of course her people would have had their own names for their tribe, and those around them. But it was over one hundred years since the Romans had come, there was no one alive who remembered their arrival when she was a child. Jannus's people would be very different. And from what she understood their lands were not that far apart.

"The carpenter's just up here." She gestured, heading for one of the shops that ringed the Emporium Magnum.

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Posted (edited)

Varinia's calm nature spreads. Jannus stays quiet for a few moments as he sorts through his oldest memories. Besides blurry visuals, there are a few lines of dialogue that he recalls, long strings of words and sounds he cannot replicate nor translate, and yet he understands what they mean. "I wandered too far from my parents," he says. "A cavalryman took me." His tone is quiet yet casual. All he's doing is retelling some old stories. He believes he might be from the east. Or the west. It's hard to tell. Maybe he should devise a way to sneak in some history reading despite being very rusty in all things literary. 

"Parisii," he repeats. "What was it like?" Must be cold, certainly. A lot of snow. Now the locations are all jumbling up. There's Italia, there's Germania farther north, and there's Britannia. Celtic Gaul must be...south of Britannia? Yes, that must be it. If he were a rich traveler, he'd distribute accurate maps everywhere so everybody could know exactly where they were in the Empire. Even better, he'd teach people how to read them, too. 

Unsure of what else to say, Jannus follows Varinia into one of the shops. It smells like wood dust. 

@Sarah

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Varinia's brows rose in surprise at Jannus's revelation. He'd wandered away from his family and a Roman cavalryman had just... picked him up and taken him. In her village, if a legionnaire had even taken an interest in a wandering child he would have deposited them back in the village, but her lands had not been in the process of being conquered. That happened long ago now. She supposed, in war, anyone was considered a possible captive. And now he was here, so far from his home, and from the sound of things with little memory of it. "I'm so sorry. You must have been very young." The thought of having a child wander off and not come back, or even seeing them be scooped up by a soldier and carried off, made Varinia's heart clench in her chest. She'd only had the one child, but even if she'd had ten, she would have mourned the loss of one, especially so young. It had been so hard to be separated from Teutus and he'd been considered a man grown. She felt for Jannus's mother, wherever she was. And she felt for the little boy, now a young man, who had lost her.

But Jannus had asked her what her home had been like. "It was beautiful." She told him, grey gaze looking back across the years. "We lived in a great, broad valley, where we herded cattle and made cheese. I used to swim in the little river that ran past our village; you could follow it all the way to the big river where Lutecia is. It was our town before the Romans came, but that was more than one hundred years ago now, and it's much bigger; I only saw it once. But where I lived was quiet, peaceful. You could see the mountains in the distance, topped with snow in the winter. We usually only got frost, and the summers were gloriously warm, with flowers in the grass and bright leaves on the trees. It was very green, and we grew fruit as well. I remember helping my parents and siblings to pick the ripe berries." She smiled shyly, realising she might have said more than he really wanted to know. She didn't often talk about her past. "But I was sold as a young woman. We had several bad years, and the food ran out, and I had a lot of brothers and sisters." Selling her meant buying food for the rest. She'd never forgiven her father, and she still toyed with the idea of asking Teutus if they could take a trip there one day. 

Inside the shop smelled of wood and oils, shavings and sweat, and all around were arrayed items of furniture in varying states of completeness. Varinia ran her hand along the back of a chair with a particularly fine carving, momentarily distracted, before addressing the shop slave who came forward and explaining that she was there to collect the loom she had ordered.

"Did you do any interesting jobs for your last owner?" She asked Jannus whilst they waited. He'd been sold as a runner, but had he done anything else?

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Did the Romans leave things as it was, or did they burn everything to the soil? He tries to recall the rest of the day surrounding it, but he can't. The air smelled like smoke, but it may have just as easily been a cooking fire as a Roman artillery attack. Which begs the question: does he have the right to long for a home he doesn't remember anymore? The house he was born in is a world of blurs, his birth name a set of nonsensical syllables. Now that he thinks of it, legionnaires only took children as slaves en masse when a revolt is serious. He chooses to believe that cavalryman saw something in Jannus that set him apart from the rest of his people and took him so he could live a better life, even if reality does not support this belief. His expression softens.

"It's alright, domina. I like my life here." What else can he say that wouldn't make him feel self-conscious? For now, he draws a blank. It always seemed awkward being around slaves who were connected to their original heritage, like everybody knew a secret he didn't. A language, lost. Culture, erased. Jannus speaks Latin like the best of them, no barbarian accent whatsover, yet he's so far from being a true Roman. Where did he belong, if not with either side? As Teutus's messenger. He supposes he can start from there. 

Varinia's homeland seems almost dreamlike to him. To feel snow every year, to swim in a river not polluted. If he went back, it might be a proper place to start. But how could a family just sell off their children? Jannus thought families were supposed to hold onto each other; that's what made a freeborn one so different from their slave counterparts, after all. He'd go first if he ever had that situation with a family of his own. "I'm sorry that happened." There is nothing else to add.

The shop greets him with the smell of lumber. Hard to believe everything made here once came from a living thing. Jannus remains quiet as he takes it all in. If he had a place of his own, he'd definitely buy a bedframe with elaborate carvings to run his fingers over as he tries to sleep at night. 

"I was a runner, nothing more." He believed he was more than that at one point, but he lacked the drive to propel himself up the ranks. 

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It's alright, domina. I like my life here.

She smiled at Jannus and patted his arm. "That's good then." She knew that she and Teutus would give their slaves as comfortable a life as they could, and if he didn't remember much of his home then she supposed that Jannus was much like those who had been born into slavery rather than taken when they were older, as she had been. More like Teutus in fact, except that he would be at least aware that he had lost something, even if he couldn't remember what it was.

Varinia spoke of her home with the idealised voice of youth and longing. There had been hard winters and years when there was little food. Years when it rained all summer and the river flooded, and then the mice bred on the abundant grass and got into everything. Years when their house seemed crammed to exploding from all of her siblings. But the rose glasses of memory painted those years in the best of lights. She smiled sadly as he said he was sorry she'd been sold. "Thank you." She was too, but it didn't change the fact. She understood why her father had done it, even if she would never forgive him. Her sale could mean the difference between food and starvation for the rest of the family, and she hoped that he'd at least thought he was selling her to someone who would see she had food and clothing.

The furniture was beautiful, even the simple pieces, and Varinia eyed them covetously but realistically. She was, for the moment, window shopping. If Teutus's business became even more successful and they moved into their own domus, then she might buy one or two pieces. Now they were here for the practical item, the loom. While they waited she asked Jannus about his past roles, and he said he'd just been a runner. "Would you like to learn other skills?" She asked him curiously. "Teutus could probably teach you to read and write, if you were interested. Even do some counting." And a slave with more skills was more valuable. Not that she thought Teutus planned on selling him any time soon.

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Life is crowded at night, but more comfortable than his previous accommodations. There is no longer an oppressive weight in the air, the kind where he dreaded talking, and the words of the past domine sliced through like a knife through paper. Rather, it feels light, like a weight's been taken off of him. He's expected to do what he's told and nothing more. There are no external games to be played. 

What was home to him? He certainly left it behind all those years ago, but he finds it here instead, in the city of Rome. Not that he had roots in Italia, but the sheer number of years he lived there had to mean something. It has to be the same for Varinia as well. Just because somebody wasn't born here didn't mean they couldn't adopt the culture or language. Time's arrow only marches forward. 

A certain chair catches his eye, namely for the whorled carvings that cover its back and arms. Such a piece is something he only dreamt of owning someday. He longs to trace its patterns. Maybe later. There are questions to answer. "Very much. I know a bit of reading, but my skills are very rusty," he admits. 

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Varinia followed Jannus's gaze to the chair with the whorled decorations carved into it's dark wood. "Pretty, isn't it?" She said quietly, almost a conspiritorial whisper. "I like that one too." She admitted. "Maybe one day." But not today. Teutus had told her that she could buy things but she had promised herself that she would stick to purchasing what was necessary, and just one or two little luxuries for now. He needed his money to grow his business, and she had high hopes for it's future. Like any mother, she knew her son was a genius and would be very successful.

Jannus admitted that he would like to learn other skills, and Varinia smiled. They should make sure that happened then; it would improve his usefulness to Teutus and likely make Jannus feel better about himself too. There was nothing like having a useful skill to grow one's confidence; she'd felt that when she'd learned to weave and proven to have a talent for it. "I'll talk to Teutus. Olipor can read and write as well, and do sums. He could probably tutor you in the evenings." After all, the man had once been a children's tutor for an equite family, there was no reason he couldn't teach his fellow slave. 

At last the shop's slave returned from where ever he'd disappeared to, with a bundle of wooden pieces tied together with stout cord. Do you know how these go together? Yes, Varinia had used one before, she understood the upright loom. The wooden frame parts were handed to Jannus, and a reel of cord for it's assembly given to Varinia. She thanked the man and, with a last glance at the chair, led them back out of the shop. "I suppose we'd better get his lot back to the insula." She said to Jannus, rather glad that she had his strength to heft the heavier beams. "Thank you for coming."

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"Agreed," he replies, a small smile finding its way onto his lips. He always appreciated those who paid attention to the finer details. "Lot of work put into it." The carving reminds him rather of the circular boltheads on a door, those fancy ones his previous master had. The memories dull his enthusiasm; the smile fades once he thinks about it more. If he tried hard enough, maybe the carvings would warp and bend into a door and he'd be able to pass through to the other side. Jannus was his name, wasn't it? How many doors did the old god make in his lifetime? And how much he'd like to read about it instead of learning secondhand through someone else's retelling.

The thought almost feels a little selfish as he turns it over. No, reading would be beneficial to everyone. "I'd like that very much, domina." Frankly, he was never too sure how to get along with people; the most he could achieve was a bland yet inoffensive persona. Yet it would be best to dispel it from time to time. Olipor kind of intimidated him at times with how serious he looked, but a lesson is a lesson, and Olipor a fine teacher. 

The pieces of wood fall solidly into his arms. The weight's not too heavy, even with his runner's build; as long as he keeps it distributed like he is now, he'll have no issue transporting it back. "Of course." It's his job, after all. Besides, it's always interesting visiting different places. 

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