In the Roman Republic, slaves were everywhere. In homes, in public works, in the streets. They blended in to the background. But slaves saw everything. Heard everything. Sometimes, the truth was more complex than their masters imagined it. And sometimes, a slave isn’t content to just watch and listen anymore.
Theft and Flight
Livia hated the new household. She’d come to the Domina upon her marriage to Publius Crassus, and she’d expected to stay with his estate, which passed to his surviving brother Marcus the younger. But Marcus the Younger’s wife was also a Metella, and she would not hear of her precious cousin losing her favorite slave.
“Livia. Hurry up!” The Domina’s voice rang shrill in her ears. Livia’s nails bit into the flesh of her palms as she looked again for the necklace Pompey had sent to the Domina, one that belonged to his mother. Or pretended to look.
Helen, the old cook, tutted at her as she helped tear apart the Domina’s room. “I told you no good would come of it, girl.” The crone spat on the floor. “Never does when our kind believe theirs wish us any good.”
A twinge in her belly gave Livia pause. Publius had promised her. Promised nothing would change when he married his wife. Promised to manumit her soon. Promised, promised, promised.
“Shut up.” Livia turned, yanking the pillows from the Domina’s bed. A good faith effort to show she tried to find the necklace. At least in a Pompey’s house, she had plenty of other slaves to blame for the loss.
“She’ll see it soon enough. The Domina.” Helen kept talking as she sifted through the chests holding the Domina’s gowns. “And what will she think when you birth a brat with his features?”
Livia gritted her teeth. Let the well-bred bitch think the truth. That her beloved husband left her abed that last morning. That he’d found Livia in the Peristyle, and they had rutted against a pillar like dogs in heat. That he’d moaned Livia’s name in her ear, how hot she was for him, so much better than his wife.
“LIVIA!” The Domina stalked into the room. “Where is it?”
“I don’t know, Domina.” Livia cowered prettily. “We’ve looked.”
The Domina back handed her, the rings on her fingers gouging into Livia’s skin. Livia jerked back as blood welled up in the ragged cuts. “Ungracious idiot. What do I say to Pompey?”
Say you don’t want him. Say you pine for a dead man. Say that you’d have stabbed your own throat if we hadn’t stopped you. Livia spat to the side, blood mixed with her saliva. Her teeth had sliced the inside of her cheek.
“I am sorry, Domina.”
“You’re sorry.” The Domina’s face twisted up with rage. “Well that makes it all better, doesn’t it?”
Livia should have let the bitch cut her own throat. Then she’d have gone to the brother for certain.
Damn Publius for not leaving a will. For leaving her trapped with the harridan he’d married. Damn him.
Helen said nothing, standing there stinking of silphium and cumin. The combination made Livia’s stomach heave.
“Find me a different gown for tonight, and jewelry to match.” The Domina’s voice rang cold and cruel. “And wash your face first. Don’t stain anything.”
“Yes, Domina.” Livia bowed to her, fighting the urge to retch on her delicate sandals.
“And you, get back to the kitchens.” The Domina barked at Helen. “This is our first banquet since the wedding. I won’t have it done by halves.”
Helen made an appropriate obeisance and slithered out. The Domina followed, leaving Livia alone.
Tonight, then. She’d take the necklace and the other jewelry secreted among her meager possessions. And one of the Domina’s gowns. She’d make for Ostia, and from there to Alexandria. Or Cyprus. Hell, Britannia. Anywhere far, far away from that woman.
And there, she’d birth her child and figure out what comes next.
Cornelia Metella may have married Publius Crassus. But Livia had done what that barren bitch couldn’t.
She’d created his legacy.