Serrae stands on the precipice of marriage to an Athenan citizen. Will it fulfil her hearts desires or only take her further away from her long cherished freedom?
This story follows Freedom Bound.
The story so far…
Serrae was born free in a foreign land, but was kidnapped as a child and forced to become a slave, dancing in a brothel in Athens. There, she is bought for the exclusive use of Timotheus, the son of an Athenian merchant, Stephanos. But a year later, Stephanos leaves for war with Artaxes' army, and dies in Selenica, a land separated from his family by all the wiles of the Aegean sea. Timo sets out to find his father's body and bring it back to Athens, taking Serrae with him. In Selenica, Serrae abandons Timo and finds her family, securing her freedom. However, growing up in a brothel, she has never learnt the villa-bound ways of free born people, and her temper and dishonourable past further count against her. Her prospects are poor. Her uncle takes her back to Athens, determined to avenge the family's loss of honour by either having Serrae married into Timo's family, or having Timo's life. Forced with this choice, Serrae says she will marry him, if given time. Ecstatic just to have her back, Timo agrees to these conditions, so Serrae's uncle leaves her with Timo's family: his mother Hagne, and his siblings Petros, Andronika and Niko.
Many thanks to Michael Howard, for without his encouragement this story would never have come to be, and to my wondrous and tireless Beta Narq.
1. Citizen Serrae
Hestia: Goddess of the hearth, home, cleanliness, wives and their duties, and slaves
Serrae stared in restless acceptance at her golden prison. The sun lit the walls of the courtyard a rich gilded hue, but it was still a prison. Though far preferable to any of the dark rooms of the villa, whether they contained rest or work or play, it was, inescapably, a prison.
Serrae had lived imprisoned in slavery for almost as long as she could remember. Now, though she had gained her freedom, she had lost much as well. So many of the things she was free to do as a child, and then as a slave, were no longer available to her. She could no longer roam the markets at a whim, or chatter with Timo's friends. All of this was improper for a citizen's wife. A respectable woman's place was in the home. Preferably in the women's quarters.
The courtyard, at least, offered a patch of sky and the warm touch of the sun. This is freedom, she told her confused mind. This is what you have wanted for so long. But her mind answer back in a small voice, then why does it feel like a trap?
Pushing those thoughts aside, she concentrated on learning the ways of the free-born. She had much to learn, but she could find no kinder family than Timo's to help her. They cared nothing for her past and smiled at her temper; for in their eyes nothing was more precious than the girl that brought a smile to Timo's face. She knew his mother did not regard her as caught yet, seeing as they were not yet married. It made her more precious to them still, and for Serrae it was yet another reason to delay the wedding date.
"What would your father think, you marrying a slave?" Serrae asked him, trying to relax on a lounge in the courtyard sun. Timo, Petros, and their youngest brother and sister were playing a game of ephedrismos, as she licked at spoonfuls of yoghurt and pomegranate, from the villa's own goats and trees.
"You're not a slave, silly one," Timo replied, eyes alight with tender amusement. Somehow he managed to make his stone miss its target yet again. Niko did a victory dance and jumped onto Timo's back for the requisite piggy back ride. "You never were," he went on, glancing at her as he lugged the boy on laps of the sunlit square, Andronika chasing behind them. "And my father would be pleased. He picked you out for me, from all the others, did he not?"
She smiled, remembering it well. It had been a fateful morning, despite a late and painful start. The night before, the symposium had run into the wee hours as usual and Kailis had had to shake her awake.
"Go away!" Serrae had groaned, trying to bury her face in the sheets, away from the sunlight.
"Get up! Come on, quick put this on," Kailis said, dragging at her til she sat upright, "Mistress wants you. There's a new client!" She held a new gown before her, so finely woven it was almost transparent, and Serrae was instantly alert.
Stephanos sighed as the he watched the girls simpering in front of him. None of them were right. There were obedient girls, laviscious girls, silly girls, and stupid girls, but none were what he wanted for Timo. The Mistress of the House was getting frantic, pulling out all her spare girls, lest she lose the fat purse this man offered.
Then Serrae walked in, and went to stand next to Stephanos' chaise, to better appraise him. She tried to find something to like about him, but was having difficulties. He was at the older end of middle aged, his hair graying, his cheeks heavy, his skin worn and lined. His eyes were rather sad, but occasionally there was a kind note to them too.
The Mistress noticed her staring too long at Stephanos, looking at him directly, unselfconsciously, almost appraisingly, which Serrae well knew was not the proper way for a consort to behave.
"Serrae!" the Mistress barked. Serrae looked down at once at the reprimand. But Serrae had caught Stephanos' eye. He had noticed her thoughtful, intelligent gaze. It prodded him from the well of hopelessness he was sinking into. Here was someone with spark, with energy to prod Timo too out of his funk. She had spine, but that she obeyed her mistress quickly showed she was willing enough to please, as well.
He caught her hand and had her do a twirl before him. She spun around with her head high, knowing her dress was beautiful.
"This one," he said, no trace of question in his voice.
"But she is not well-trained!" the Mistress stammered, baffled. There was a crackling silence around them. The others girls stared shamelessly. Her?
"I don't think Timo will know the difference," Stephanos smiled, "But, he can make up his own mind. Three month trial period, then we'll see."
It was not hard to find something to like about Timo. He was young and good looking, not drop dead gorgeous like some of the athletes, but very pleasing on the eye. Timo was excited to meet her, brought her gifts, chatted animatedly, and twined his arm around hers like they had known each other all their lives. She'd liked him very well indeed.
Not everyone had been pleased with the match though. Kailis, who had grown up with Serrae in the House, was particularly unimpressed.
One evening, she decided she would have to do something about it. That night, the musicians warbling in the main room of the symposium, both Artaxes and Timo had been visiting the House. Timo, of course chose Serrae, and Kailis had had to entertain the old General. The difference been them couldn't have been more stark. Artaxes bedded her with all the grace of a minotaur, and what was worse was having to listen to Serrae and her Timo giggling away to each other on the side of the wall the whole time. Kailis felt the injustice keenly. No one could fathom why Stephanos had picked Serrae. She was not beautiful: her hair dark, her skin tanned. She was not very developed, she was barely trained, inexperienced, and she did not know how to be submissive and pleasing to a man, despite all everyone had done to try and teach her. She had a spine in her like a rod of iron. Only her will was stronger, and could bend it, if it pleased her, and only then. The only thing she could do well was dance, and Stephanos hadn't even seen her do that.
Despite all of this, Timo seemed to approve of her, and whenever any of the other girls tried to draw him into a conversation, Serrae's eyes flashed menacingly, and they knew better than to play with her temper.
But Kailis would be damned if she was going to let her get away with it. She began to talk to Artaxes of Stephanos, and how he was thinking of joining the army once more, and how good he would be with the men, just look at his own son, a fine strapping lad… With Stephanos out of the picture, she reasoned, the money would stop. Or equally, if it was Timo that went, the deal would lapse. Either way, Serrae would have to work for a living like the rest of them. Justice would be done.
But the gods had not approved of Kailis' plan. Timo told Serrae oft enough that it pleased the gods that they were together.
"And it is our duty on earth to please the gods," he'd say, smiling as he gazed at her.
At his words, an idea woke in Serrae's head. To please the gods? There were as many ways to please the gods as there were Gods. But which one… Serrae wondered.