Welcome to Sunday Scribbles!
This Sunday’s prompt is: Invisible.
I’ve written a story based on slaves in Ancient Rome. This was inspired by a recent blog post by Elizabeth Drake. Check it out!
This week’s top tip is:
Onto the story!
She was invisible. No one saw her. No one, except him.
As Aurelia stirred the pot above the fire, she caught a glimpse of scraggly black hair out the window. He was there again, staring at her with sharp crystal grey eyes and paying little attention to the hoe in his hand or the sack of seeds at his feet.
She didn’t know his name. Her master bought him last week. He’d been rude, insulting and spirited since the moment he set foot in the villa. The crack of the whip didn’t stop him. He refused to be broken. Aurelia liked that in a person, although she preferred to remain invisible herself lest her master take an interest and make her warm his bed. She shuddered and tucked a strand of hair into her hood. It needed a cut soon, if she were to keep up the illusion.
‘Can I try some?’
Aurelia looked up. He was there, in front of the open shutters, one hand on his hip and the other arm leaned against his hoe. She flushed and looked down at the bubbling mixture.
‘You speak Latin?’
He nodded and held out a hand. ‘Benedict.’
‘Aurelia,’ she replied. She wiped her hand on her ragged tunic and clasped their palms together.
‘That the name they gave you, or yours?’
Aurelia scoffed. A master, give a slave a name? ‘Neither,’ she finally replied. ‘I chose it for myself.’
He barked a laugh, eyes alight with mirth. ‘Got to take what we can get, I suppose.’
‘Choices. We don’t get many, given who we are.’
Aurelia sighed and nodded. ‘Highlight of my week is this.’ She gestured to the cooking pot, where a beef and onion stew bubbled. ‘Once a week I get to go to market and suggest a meal for the household. I’ve not been outside the city since I arrived, but if I had the choice, I’d leave.’
‘You must have been here a long time.’
‘Longer than you.’
‘I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to pry,’ he replied with a wry smile. ‘Just curious.’
Aurelia glanced up at him. ‘I was only little when they snatched me. I don’t remember the name my mother gave me, or much of life before the master bought me. The other slaves taught me sewing and cooking. It’s all I know.’
‘So you are a girl then?’
Aurelia glanced around and lowered her voice. ‘How did you know? I’d rather no one did.’
Benedict shrugged and turned that sharp gaze on her. ‘They don’t teach the boys sewing. That, and I saw you. In the stables.’
‘You’ve been following me!’ Aurelia accused with a flush. She wrapped her arms across her bound chest and glared at him.
‘Oh don’t be that way. I’m not interested in you, only the puzzle.’
Aurelia scoffed. ‘It’s hardly a puzzle.’
Benedict sighed and ran a hand through his hair. ‘No. I suppose it isn’t… But around here, what else is there?’
Aurelia took the soup off the fire and heaved it onto the counter. ‘Nothing. We’re nobodies. Invisible. Our lives belong to our masters. We don’t get to love, learn, leave the city or make our own lives.’
‘Or fight, or talk about strategy and tactics,’ Benedict added. His eyes darted to the left, and they clouded as a group of soldiers marched by.
‘You were a soldier?’
‘Slave to a commander,’ Benedict replied, but his eyes remained on the armed men on the road. The chains around his ankles rattled as his feet shifted. ‘I’m a great tactician though.’
‘Clearly not that good, if you’re here.’
His glare was sharp as he turned on her. ‘I said I’m great, not that they listened to me.’
Benedict made a noise of agreement and gestured towards a man working the fields. ‘My ex-master. This is our punishment. At least I get to say I told you so every day.’
Aurelia followed his gaze. ‘What good does that do?’
‘I thought it would make me feel better, but it doesn’t change anything,’ Benedict replied with a frown. He slipped a hand through the window and grabbed a fork.
‘Hey! You can’t take that.’
‘I just did,’ Benedict replied. He slipped the fork into his pocket. ‘I’ll need it later.’
‘Please don’t kill the master!’ Aurelia begged. ‘The mistress will kill us all if you do!’
‘I’m not an idiot,’ Benedict replied. ‘I promise you, I won’t use that fork to kill him.’
‘Or anything else!’
Benedict rolled his eyes and threw over his shoulder as he turned to leave, ‘Or anything else.’
Aurelia watched him walk away, a swing in his step. She turned back to her pot and dished out twelve portions of stew into bowls. Into the dining room she slipped, unnoticed by the lively family. Invisible as always, she served dinner.
The slaves retired long after the household, and although Aurelia always slept well, she always struggled to fall asleep. Crammed in the barn with other slaves, snores and shuffling keeping her awake, she didn’t notice his approach. When Benedict touched her arm, she jumped.
Aurelia glared through the darkness. ‘Benedict?’
‘Oh good, you weren’t asleep. Grab your things.’
‘What things?’ Aurelia asked. She had nothing. No possessions to call her own, and no jewellery or trinkets to mark her apart from the rest. When she looked down, she gasped. Benedict’s legs were free of his shackles.
Benedict twirled the fork in his hand, eyes darting around the barn. ‘Plenty of things you can do with a fork.’
‘Come with me,’ Benedict said. He dropped to his knees in front of her and made short work of the shackles on her legs.
‘Because you’re a girl who loves adventure, who’s never seen the world but would love to,’ Benedict replied, hand outstretched towards her. ‘Maybe we’ll even find your family.’
Aurelia thought of her mother, father, brothers and sister. She’d been so young when she’d been snatched. She barely remembered them, but it would be nice to have somewhere to call home. Still, she hesitated. ‘They’ll come after us.’
‘You’ve passed as a boy for years. With your skill at blending in and my intellect, we’ll disappear together. They won’t catch us.’
Aurelia met his eyes and nodded. She grabbed the sack she used as a blanket and got to her feet. ‘We’ll stop by the kitchens. They have so much food they won’t miss some.’
Benedict grinned. Aurelia smiled back at the oddly observant man who’d come into her life and turned it upside down in a single moment. They raided the kitchen and slipped out the back door into the shadows of the night. No paid them any mind as they slunk through the cobbled streets. For the second time in her life, Aurelia was grateful she was invisible.
Thanks for reading!
I’m following the advice of a fellow writer on Twitter and making a box for my plot ideas. Inside, I’ll keep index cards for all the prompts I want to expand on someday. Since I have so many, I want somewhere to keep them all until I get time to work on them!
Each week I encourage other writers to write a short story around the weekly prompt. The prompts for the rest of this month are:
One word not enough? I post expanded prompts weekly on Pinterest:
I intended to post prompts on Instagram too, but it only allows mobile uploads and I create my graphics on my laptop. If anyone knows how to upload via web browser, let me know.
If you use one of the prompts, feel free to share your story links below.
Feeling creative? I also run a weekly hashtag game on Twitter, #sunscribbles, where you can share one off lines or quotes from a #WIP around the weekly prompt!
See you next week!