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Strawberry hunt


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April 77AD

Didia was up in the early hours of the morning, but this time, she did not head straight to the Reds' stables. Instead, she walked to the Emporium Magnum in the cool morning air. The city would get unbearably hot in a few weeks' time, but for now, it was just perfect, especially in the morning. The flowers of spring were on the Palatine, and for a moment, it felt like it was not such a dirty, overcrowded place after all.

And there were strawberries.

Didia meandered through the emporium, looking for the fresh red fruit she loved. It was not early enough that she would have beaten the first shoppers, the kitchen slaves and busy housewives, but there was still a lot on offer that had not been picked through. She looked at the fruit, asked for prices, and assessed with expert eyes, before she stopped at a stall that offered nice, round, sweet-smelling strawberries. 

Several minutes later she was still there, looking increasingly frustrated.

"What do you mean, these are worth double the price? What, do they give you eternal life or something?... Saving them, for whom? Do you see anyone from the Palatine walking down here for your strawberries specifically?!"

@Sharpie

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"Do you see anyone from the Palatine walking down here for your strawberries specifically?!"

Rufus couldn't help overhearing the fierce debate between the stall-holder and a young woman with skin the colour of fresh wheat bread, whose hair was a cloud of dark frizz. The stall-holder pointed to him over the girl's shoulder with a smirk. "There's a slave from the Palace, so..."

"I'm not buying strawberries, though," Rufus pointed out, drawn into the debate against his will. "You might as well let her have them, and you're over-charging, again."

It was probably because they were early strawberries, to be fair; the stall-holder likely only had to hold her off for a short while in order to be able to sell the fruit to some snooty house-slave of some ancient balding senator. Why shouldn't the girl get there first and deprive the fat old bastard of the first ripe strawberries of the summer? It wasn't as though he'd particularly notice their presence among all the other exotic food at his banquet, after all.

@Chevi

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Rubina looked over her shoulder as the red-haired slave approached; the merchant clearly thought he'd won the argument. As if. The redhead was at least decent enough to deny the responsibility.

"So, you'd rob the Imperials blind with your strawberries, is that it?" she asked, turning back to the merchant with hands on her hips. "I wonder what they'd think if they knew." They probably wouldn't care at all, she imagined. But she was too deep into the argument now. "Fine. He and I are both walking away." She decided, linking an arm into the redhead's. The merchant looked unsure. He probably didn't care about losing Rubina's business, but the Palace slave...

@Sharpie

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"He's charging you because they're early strawberries," Rufus said, a little startled (but not displeased) that she took his arm. He was obviously a slave - and anyway, the stall-holder had just pointed him out as being a slave. "Probably other people have strawberries too."

His friend Didia might well have, in fact, but her stall was halfway across the city and partway up the Esquiline (or at least, he thought it was, considering where they had met for their illicit exploration that time).

"I doubt the Imperials even care," he added, the words meant for her alone - it was very easy to whisper into her ear considering their unplanned proximity to one another.

"Why don't you let my friend have her strawberries and I will send the next Imperial slave who needs to buy produce to you?" he offered, at which the stall-holder seemed to breathe a sigh of relief.

 

@Chevi

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"Oh I know they don't care" Rubina whispered back with a sly smile. "But he does."

Sure enough, the redhead's suggestion seemed to break through to the merchant. The prospect of imperial buyers was enticing enough that he allowed Rubina to select a small batch of strawberries at half (as in, normal) price. He walked away from the stall with a happy grin, popping one of the sweet fruit in her mouth, and offering another to the redhead.

"So, are you really from the Palatine?"

@Sharpie

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"So, are you really from the Palatine?"

Perfect timing - he had already taken the strawberry into his mouth as she asked her question. It was delicious, too, just the right mix of tart and sweet. He chewed, savouring the flavour before he had to swallow.

"Strangely enough, yes," he told her. "Though I don't have anything to do with where the kitchen slaves get their produce." Which wasn't entirely the truth, although he had very little influence over it - he had a friend who ran a vegetable stall and would be remiss if he didn't promote her interests.

"I don't have anything to do with Caesar, though," he added. "I serve in the house of one of his uncles."

Which was perfectly true, if not quite the entire truth - but there was no need to spill everything to someone he didn't know.

 

@Chevi

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"Strangely enough, yes. Though I don't have anything to do with where the kitchen slaves get their produce."

Rubina smirked, enjoying the sweet, fresh taste of the fruit she'd procured with his help. She didn't give a fuck about whether the merchant got his business in the end, or not. He had not been that friendly to begin with.

"I don't have anything to do with Caesar, though. I serve in the house of one of his uncles."

"Ooh. Fancy." Rubina chuckled. "What's your name? Or should I just call you Rufus?"

@Sharpie

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Rufus couldn't help laughing. "It's the hair. I don't mind if you call me Rufus - I was named for the hair, after all." He looked at her, as much as he could see of her because they were walking so close together. She wasn't wearing a slave-tag, although that didn't necessarily mean anything. "My name really is Rufus, but I'm not going to be so lucky in trying to guess your name." She had darker skin that indicated a heritage from somewhere across the wide Mare Nostrum, probably in Africa or Cyrene or Libya or somewhere.

"It's honestly only just as fancy as serving in the house of a senator," he added. Octavius Flavius Alexander merely lived on the Palatine because he just happened by chance to be related the Emperor. He'd live on the Quirinal or the Esquiline or in the Piscina Publica otherwise. "Although serving in a senator's house is probably pretty fancy if you don't have to do it yourself."

She reminded him a lot of his friend Didia, and the comparison made him smile.

 

@Chevi

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Rubina laughed, tickled that she had managed to guess his name. It have been somewhat of a safe bet, given that Romans liked to name their slaves after obvious things. Still, it fit him.

"It's honestly only just as fancy as serving in the house of a senator. Although serving in a senator's house is probably pretty fancy if you don't have to do it yourself."

Rubina honestly had no idea either way. The only slaves she knew were the ones serving at the Reds' household. She always imagined the households on the Palatine being incredibly elegant.

"Well, go figure, we have something in common as far as naming goes." she giggled "I'm Didia Rubina. I usually go by Rubina. My father was a charioteer for the Reds, so they called him Rubeus. Go figure. Red, and red." she grinned at him, holding another strawberry aloft. "We have a color theme going here."

@Sharpie

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"I guess that's a better reason to be called red than just because someone can't be bothered to think up a better name than Ginger," Rufus said. He'd been Rufus all his life, he rarely bothered to remember the connotations of the name. "Anyway, can you imagine a redhead named Flavius or Corvus?" Ginger was far more apt than Blondie, and his hair was about as far from the colour of a raven's wing as it was possible to get.

"So, Didia Rubina, I don't suppose you followed your father's footsteps to become a charioteer with the Reds too? I'm sure I'd have heard about you if you had." He knew there were female gladiators - his master's niece had a bodyguard who'd been a gladiatrix, after all. But he'd never heard of a female charioteer.

 

@Chevi

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"Ha! I wish" she grinned at his question about being a charioteer. "I'd be better than half of the charioteers in the Circus. Trust me." Rubina had never had the drive to try to make her idea a reality. She enjoyed spending time at the stables, she adored the horses, she was friendly with the charioteers... but while she would have loved to drive a chariot sometimes, she was in no great hurry to break herself into pieces in an actual race. "Someone one day will come up with that idea, I bet. Like they did with gladiatrices."

@Sharpie

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"Maybe one day - but the difference is that it's hard to see the drivers in a race and gladiators are pretty slow, in comparison." He wasn't exactly a connoisseur of the various entertainments the Romans liked, but he'd been to both the circus and the amphitheatre at different times, accompanying his master. "I'm sure you'd be the best charioteer ever, though."

It was a shame they didn't give girls - and women - the chance to do things like that, but they probably didn't want to be shown up by someone supposedly weaker than them. (That was a laugh, though - Rufus had met more than one woman who could easily take on a man and win. Lenia at the local laundry was one such woman.)

"So what do you do at the Reds stables, then, if you don't race for them?"

 

@Chevi

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"Damn right" she agreed with his assessment. He had never tried to drive a chariot, but she was sure she'd be good if she put her mind to it. And if her parents, and the faction leaders, would ever agree. Rufus wanted to know what she did instead. Rubina shrugged.

"Try to help out, and control the general chaos?" she smirked. "I am... basically everyone's little sister and den mother at the same time.It's not an official position, it just kind of happened." she added with a grin. "How about you? What do you do in that fancy house up the hill?"

@Sharpie

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Den mother... she definitely reminded Rufus of the other Didia he was friends with. He wondered if that description was common to all Didias. The thought made him smile.

"That's a good thing to be," he said. "I can't say I've been around chariot stables, or anything like them, but they seem like the sort of people that need mothering. All that bluster and boasting." He returned her grin with one of his own. "I'm the body slave of one of the imperial family - not the emperor, I'm not as important as all that. Really it just means I fetch and carry and make sure his toga hems aren't going to drag in the dirt."

 

@Chevi

Edited by Sharpie
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