AN: I have no idea what this is. I take absolutely no responsibility for this. The idea came from a prompt by Ariel Riddle for the June 2016 dhrfavourites at Tumblr, and for some reason, it sparked this story. I have no idea where it will be going. It's probably going to be horribly OOC. But it's kinda fun to write, so here we go.
Hermione is a princess from Gaul who goes undercover as a slave when her kingdom is conquered and the royal family slaughtered. She is sold to the house of Malfoy where Procounsel Draco quickly sees there is much more to his newly acquired slave than meets the eye.
Some remarks before I start:
1. This is a Roman era (probably) non-magical AU - at least not the magic we're used to...
2. I'm trying to be as historically accurate as I can be. The only historical fallacy I'm willingly committing is that the tribe of the Eburones was defeated and just about eradicated in 55-50 BC by Julius Caesar, and this story, in my mind, takes place in 75-76 AD. The year may become relevant, and it may not. I'm not sure yet. Anyway, the tribe lived in an area that currently spans the North-East of Belgium/South-East of the Netherlands/Western Germany.
3. I Latinised some names and I am using Roman names for places.
Gallia Narbonensis = the South-Eastern part of France that borders the Mediterranean, also referred to as Provincia (since it had been under Roman rule for so long, the Romans literally called it 'the province', as if they had only one. Also probably the most popular area for Romans to move to, outside the Italian peninsula.)
Massilia = Marseille (It's sometimes also spelled Massalia but for some reasons my fingers refuse to type this)
Colonia Narbo Martius = Narbonne (Capital of Gallia Narbonensis, Narbo for short)
Lutetia = Paris
Augusta Treverorum = Trier (Germany)
Aduatuca is a place lost in the mists of time. It never developed into a modern city, but was located somewhere in what is currently Southern Belgium.
4. Money: Soldiers would get 1 Denarius a day (or the equivalent in bread). This gives you some idea of prices.
5. The Roman economy depended on slavery for several hundreds of years. It was as bad then as slavery in later eras. However, educated slaves would be treated really well and were considered very valuable. They worked in all sorts of jobs, from hand labourers to scribes. It was fairly common to grant a slave freedom after a number of years of service. Either their master would grant this or they would be allowed to buy their freedom. Formally freed slaves would be granted Roman Citizenship, with all the privileges that entails, except the right to hold office. This restriction is lifted for any children born from freed slaves.
6. Ancilla is Latin for slave girl or servant girl.
And now the history lesson ends and the story begins.
Triggers: some gore and torture and murder, possibly assault and attempted rape (it won't be glorified, it will be talked about in passing), probably almost certainly smut in later chapters
Hermione pressed her body closer to the trunk of the massive oak tree in which she was hiding. The Roman soldiers were still looking for any of her tribe they could find. They probably wouldn't think to look up in her tree. It was too close to their camp and the branches were too high up to climb easily, but any noise or movement could betray her - and she knew she would not be spared. Not the daughter of the rebellious Eburon Chief.
The battle had been horrendous and vicious but, perhaps thankfully, short. The Romans had overpowered them in no time, and they didn't fight to take prisoners. Not this time. She'd seen her mother fall, a Roman sword thrust through her heart. She'd seen the bodies of her youngest brothers, mouths forever frozen in soundless screams of agony. She didn't remember exactly how she had managed to escape the carnage. Her hands were cold and sticky with the blood of the men she'd stabbed in pursuit of her friends, but when she saw them surrounded by enemy soldiers she'd hidden, hoping to be able to rescue them later.
She realised now there would be no later. They were all captured or dead, all of the fighters her father had gathered around him in a last desperate attempt to drive the enemies out of their ancestral territory. They had failed. The bodies of the fallen lay strewn across the forest and throughout their village, and those who had survived the massacre were bound and thrown together in a cage in the Roman camp, like animals. Her father was bound against a large pole, on display, forced to watch as his men were marched, kicked, dragged before him and whipped within an inch of their lives, begging for mercy before one of the soldiers struck and finished them off.
Hermione could distinguish the faces of all those she had fought alongside. She could distinguish the faces of the Roman soldiers who humiliated and killed her defenseless kin. She could have looked away, but she forced herself to watch. She watched in silence, refusing to let the tears cloud her eyes as she bore witness to the execution of her tribe, one after the other, men, women and children alike. She was the last of the Eburones and she would watch and honour each of them. She would see and remember.
She didn't look away when the beasts forced themselves on the women. She didn't look away when they brought her elder brothers out of the cage and tortured them. She pressed her lips together to muffle the cries that were trying to burst free when her father begged them for mercy. There was nothing she could do but watch as her family and friends were cruelly murdered by the Roman soldiers. She watched and watched and watched and vowed to remember.
The legion returned to Aduatuca two days later. Hermione hadn't stirred from her place in the oak tree in all that time. She was thirsty and hungry and stiff and exhausted, but she knew the slightest movement could have resulted in her death, and though the idea didn't scare her, she didn't want to leave this cursed earth just yet. So she'd remained still, praying to the Three-faced Mother Goddess for strength and protection, until she was sure they were gone.
She managed to half climb, half fall down the tree without breaking her legs and staggered towards the campsite. She'd been prepared for the sight that awaited her there, but her stomach still turned painfully. The Romans had left the bodies behind, discarded and desecrated, abandoned for the wood predators to feast on. She couldn't stop the tears when she found her father's body, mangled almost beyond recognition. She fell to her knees and wept and cried and cursed until she had no tears or voice left to mourn.
She buried them, all of them. She prepared the pyres and recited the burial rites a thousand times over to guide each of the souls to their new life. She buried their bones as tradition dictated. It took almost half a moon cycle to give them all the send-off they deserved, and she was shattered by the time she had buried the last, but she was not done yet. She had one more task to do to protect the memory of the fallen.
Hermione set the remains of her village on fire so there would be nothing left to plunder and no reason to defile the grounds on which so many had died. She watched the flames from a safe distance, the rage inside her swirling and churning and scorchingly hot as the fire before her. And as her home went up in flames, she vowed vengeance. Vengeance on the General who had ordered the troops to take no prisoners. Vengeance on the centurions who allowed their soldiers the sport of torture, instead of giving the warriors a dignified death. Vengeance on all the faces she would never forget for all the faces she could never forget.
She slowly took off the golden torque that her father had given her on her twelfth birthday and buried it. She was no longer Hermione, princess of the Eburones.
Draco Lucius Malfidus, newly minted Proconsul of Gallia Narbonensis, impatiently cursed at the traffic that impeded his trek to the slave market. The lecticula was uncomfortable and hot, but he couldn't travel on horseback in Massilia, it wasn't the safest of the cities under his command. It was, however, the first port they'd stopped at that would have a decent slave market and he urgently needed a new slave. His wife had died of a nasty fever only days before they were set to travel to Colonia Narbo Martius, where he would take up his post, and he needed a female slave to take care of his son. He hadn't wanted to leave the child behind, despite his parents' insistence, but the boy hadn't taken to any of the slaves in his household and had refused to even eat unless his father was there to feed him. His mother had called it most undignified when she found them eating together. And much as he loved Scorpius, Draco knew his duties would take him away from the villa too often to take care of the child himself.
He had been appointed proconsul as a reward for negotiating a new truce with the native tribes of Britannia, which was sure to bring about a calmer era for the Legatus on the isle, and less of a headache for the Emperor. Gallia Narbonensis, though by no means entirely quiet, had been under Roman rule for so long that the Celtic tribes no longer even remembered the times before, and there was no more trouble there than in Italia or even Rome itself. Draco had been looking forward to a quieter life, but in a cruel twist of fate, he was now set to start this quiet life alone, without the support and company of his wife. Draco shook his head to chase away the gloomy thoughts. She was gone, and he would miss her, but he had to concentrate on what mattered: his son and his work.
His slaves finally came to a halt, and the lecticula stopped jolting about. Draco closed his eyes in relief. He took a moment to wipe his face and rearrange his toga before stepping out of the chair. His two guards easily slipped behind him as he looked around. His nose twitched in distaste at the spectacle before him, but it was the only sign that betrayed his real feelings. He didn't like the slave markets, rows upon rows of underfed and unwashed bodies, the taste of stale sweat and despair heavy in the air. It was the underbelly of a society he was so proud to be part of, but unlike many of his peers, he refused to look the other way. He always selected his new slaves himself, priding himself on being an excellent judge of character. He gave his slaves a lot more freedom than was generally considered wise, so he needed to choose people he could depend on. He refused to brand them, gave them wages and offered them freedom after years in his service, though none had taken that freedom as an opportunity to leave him. He knew he was a lenient and kind master who provided them with food and shelter, and most of his servants knew exactly what the world outside his household looked like.
Tertius, his scribe, hurried to his side as soon as he saw his master had arrived.
"I've had a look around, Master Malfidus, and I think you may find what you are looking for among the wares of Maximus Arcanus. You can find him over there," he said, with a low bow and pointing in the direction of the furthest stage. "His slaves are in good condition, strong and well-trained."
Draco nodded at Tertius and followed the man towards the slave trader. His guards made way for him, and he could hear the whispers and exclamations as people recognised him.
His pale skin, light hair and grey eyes were as famous as his political legacy and made him stand out among his people. It sometimes irritated him that his Grandmother's Nordic blood was so strong. He focused his gaze on the slaves before him, quickly assessing and discarding them in a single glance, until his eyes lingered on a young female with wild brown hair, the skin on her arms scratched and sunburnt. He didn't know why she attracted his attention. She looked just as desolate as the others, her head bent down, shoulders slumped. The chains around her neck had cut into her skin and her wrists looked bruised, probably from more chains. Apart from that ridiculous mop of hair, she looked the same as every other woman on display. Except…
She glanced up, her eyes darting over the people who were gawking at her, and there was a flash of such hatred and disdain in her eyes, gone before Draco could really be sure it had been there. He smirked, understanding. She wasn't resigned to her fate, she wasn't submitting. She was pretending. And that was... interesting. Just as Draco managed to catch the slave trader's attention to purchase the rebellious curly haired girl, someone stepped onto the podium and grabbed her arm.
"I like her," Blasius Zabini said, trailing a finger up her arm, then grabbing her chin and forcing her to look up to him. His smile was feral, his intentions clear by the way his eyes roved over the body that was barely covered by a thin, ripped shift. She recoiled, but the chains that linked her to the slaves around her prevented her from moving too far back.
Draco suppressed a shudder. He knew what kind of man Zabini was. He'd boasted the massacre of a rebel group up in the North a few months earlier with great relish. And he knew what Zabini would do to the girl. Not the kind of behaviour he approved of, even towards slaves. He coughed delicately, attracting everyone's attention.
"Ave Tribunus Zabini, what a surprise to see you here. Last I heard you were still in Augusta Treverorum." Draco smiled at the man, but the smile didn't reach his eyes. Zabini stepped back from the girl and turned towards Draco. He didn't bother smiling.
"Ave Malfidus. What brings you to Massilia?"
Draco's eyes swept over the girl with the brown curls, and she stared at Zabini with such hatred, he almost took a step back.
"I am on my way to Narbo Martius. Surely you've heard I'm the new Proconsul of the Provincia?" Draco smiled at the trader. "Master Arcanus, I am in search of a female slave to help me with my son. He is too young for a tutor but needs constant care. Which would you recommend?"
The slave owner quickly dragged two women forwards, explaining how they'd nursed children with previous families, and enumerating their many qualities. Draco wasn't really listening. His eyes kept straying to the curly haired girl and Zabini, who was now reaching out to touch her chest. He didn't even notice his hands clenching into fists.
"And what about her?" Draco interrupted the merchant, indicating the girl. Zabini's hand froze in midair.
"She's not the kind you would like to raise your son, she is headstrong and stubborn. I don't even know if she speaks our language. I picked her up somewhere near Lutetia. I cannot vouch for her behaviour or her past."
Draco nodded and looked intently at the girl. She met his eyes and studied him, then looked down again, but not before a calculating look had appeared in her eyes.
"I should like to take her and the two others to my ship, to see if my son responds to any of them. Can you bring them round to the port by the tenth hour?" His eyes flicked over at Zabini. "Undamaged, of course. I will pay 15,000 denarii upfront to keep these three aside until then. We can negotiate the full price when I make my decision."
Zabini stepped up to them.
"I want the curly haired one. I believe I came in first. Or did you want to challenge me over a common slave?" His face showed no emotion and his voice was low enough not to be overheard by the crowd, but Draco recognised it for the threat it was.
"I did not hear you make a formal offer for the girl. Or did you want to be sent to the Pictish border?" He smiled pleasantly and motioned for his scribe to make the transaction. Zabini turned around and stalked away, the crowds quickly parting to let him through. Draco suppressed a triumphant smile but caught the mixture of anger and relief in the eyes of the girl he was so fascinated with. He still didn't quite understand why he wanted to see if Scorpius would respond to her. She was everything he wasn't looking for right now. But his instincts told him not to turn away from her, and he always followed his instincts.
The trip back to the ship had been as uncomfortable as the trip to the market. Draco vowed to never use a lecticula again if he could help it. It took two slaves to carry the chair, it jolted to and fro with every step and the air inside was stuffy and hot because of the curtains shielding him from the sun. He much preferred to ride on horseback.
Scorpius was fussy and moody on his return. His servants told him the boy had been crying since he'd left, and no matter how often they tried, he refused to eat or move or speak without his father. Draco knew the child was suffering from the sudden loss of his mother, but he was reaching the end of his patience. At barely three years old, his son had a temper to rival Neptune, and dealing with that was exhausting. He managed to keep the boy quiet, letting him play at his feet while he met with the Prefects of Massilia and Arelate. He didn't like the men, and didn't really want his son near them, but they were old friends of his father's, so he showed them the proper respect and, after relaying the latest news from Rome, sat back and listened to their grievances and gossip.
He was glad to see the back of them after long discussions of taxes and security and army provisions. He'd barely had the time to take some refreshments when Tertius entered his chambers.
"The new slaves have arrived, Master. Would you like to see them here or on deck?"
Draco considered the question. He would prefer them to meet Scorpius in private, but to bring all three slaves and their merchant into the small room he was occupying at the moment would be too much for the child.
"I will meet them on deck. I will be up in a moment. Send Flavia down to watch Scorpius while I'm up there."
Tertius bowed and left the room again, his footsteps on the wooden floorboards fading out quickly.
Flavia entered the room soon after. She had been Astoria's maid and was the only one who could, occasionally, calm his son down when he wasn't around.
"I would like you to watch Scorpius while I meet with the slaves. I'm hoping one of them will suit my son and relieve us all from his care. You will stay in the room with him while I send in the slaves one by one. I will wait outside. I will ask them to feed Scorpius, and play with him, and we'll see what happens."
Flavia nodded and busied herself with her charge. He was antsy from being cooped up in the small room for so long, and even more so because he sensed his father was leaving him behind. The wailing started before Draco had even closed the curtains.
Hermione shifted her weight left and right, trying to find her balance on the ship. It was so strange to walk on a surface that was never really still. The sea looked glorious and big and beautifully blue. She had never seen anything like it. Her eyes followed the seagulls in flight, then darted to the other ships in the harbour and then back to the quay where the activity never seemed to cease.
She didn't quite understand why this strange, pale man had asked her to come. She had made no effort to get into his good graces, and she was, in fact, quite put out that Zabini had not been able to purchase her. She had no illusions about what he had wanted, but he would not have survived even a night, and she would not have been found out. The others never knew what hit them either. A satisfied smile crept onto her face, but she suppressed it quickly when the pale man came up to them. She felt rather than saw his gaze linger on her, and had to stop herself from squirming. It wouldn't do to show him how uncomfortable he made her feel.
She stared at her feet, and listened intently as the men talked among themselves. Her eyes widened when she heard his name. Malfidus. The name sent a spark through her body that ignited every fibre. Malfidus. She had been looking for him. She had been looking for him since Aduatuca.
It had taken her days to figure out who had ordered the troops to her homeland. She had easily blended in with the other skivvies in the camp and listened quietly until she'd heard enough: Zabini had been the one to bring the orders from the General, and the dux himself was named Malfidus. He was the one who had given the order to kill all the rebels and their families. Once she knew that, she proceeded with the first part of her plan.
She'd poisoned the centurions who had urged their soldiers to torture her family and several of the soldiers who had participated in the cruel slaughter of the prisoners. It was so easy to mix a couple of bad mushrooms into the soup and drop some nightshade berries into certain soldiers' plates. For Alderic. For Weland. For Gundahar. For Father. She smiled and smiled as she dished out the stew and added the berries and watched them walk to their deaths. She knew many of them hadn't survived. It had eased the anger and the constant pressure she felt on her chest.
Hermione bit her lip. Poisoning the soldiers had been child's play. But she couldn't avenge her family unless she struck the ones responsible. Zabini and Malfidus. She'd recognised Zabini that morning, and though she couldn't keep the loathing from her face when seeing him, she had been excited at the chance to finally exact revenge on him. Of course she knew what he had wanted from her, but she couldn't bring herself to care, not really. Not when it would bring her a chance to kill him. And he wouldn't have survived the night… She'd been peeved when the pale man asked for her to be brought to his ship. She felt uncomfortable under his scrutiny and didn't want him to step in, to get so close… until now. Now she knew who he was, she could only thank the Goddess for looking out for her.
One of the other slave women was taken away by Malfidus, and Hermione lifted her head again to gaze out over the sea. It really was wondrous. All that water, as far as the eye could see, and further.
"What do you think he's doing with Alia?"
Hermione blinked and turned towards the woman next to her. She thought her name was Tulla. She never bothered to learn the other slaves' names. It didn't do to become attached to any of them, as they all left eventually.
"We're here to see if we can take care of his son, so I assume he's taken her to meet the boy."
Tulla shook her head and stared past Hermione.
"Then why aren't we all there to meet the child? No, I fear he wants something else from us. Maybe he's trying… Many men bed their slaves, especially if they no longer have a wife."
Hermione looked away again.
"I don't believe it. He doesn't seem the type. He specifically requested we be presented to him unharmed, remember?"
Tulla opened her mouth to respond but Hermione took her hand and squeezed.
"Please don't. It's bad enough, the situation we're in, and we both know what can happen. But there's no need to say it out loud, not now. I just want to see the sea and feel the sun, and not feel so damned stuck, just for a moment. It doesn't matter whether he's a good master or a bad one, if he becomes your master, you will obey. There's no choice. There's nothing we can do."
A moment later she let go of Tulla as Alia was brought back to the deck, looking shaken and distressed. Malfidus beckoned for Tulla, and Hermione stepped closer to the other woman. She didn't like to admit that the sight of her had made her feel uneasy.
"What happened?" she whispered.
Alia shuddered and pressed her hands to her head.
"That child just keeps screaming… He's impossible! I tried everything and he just threw his food at me and bit me and he cried so loudly the Master came running into the room. I was sure he was going to punish me for hurting the boy, even though I hardly touched him, but he only sighed and took me outside again. I don't know what's wrong with the child. I don't know what I did wrong! I've never had something like this happen."
"I'm sure it's nothing you did," Hermione said, trying to soothe her, though she wasn't entirely sure what had made the woman so upset.
"But what if he doesn't choose me?" Alia whispered fiercely.
"Did you want him to?"
"Of course. I know his reputation, he treats his slaves and servants very well, you couldn't find a better place!"
Hermione blinked in confusion. That wasn't what she'd heard at the campsite. General Malfidus was rumoured to be a cruel and vicious man in his private life as much as in public. Hadn't he flogged a slave to death?
But before she could ask Alia, Malfidus returned with Tulla and handed her back to Arcanus. He motioned for Hermione to follow him. She suppressed the urge to disobey - it would only earn her more whip lashes once they got back to Arcanus' house. He smirked at her as if he could see her reluctance, and lead her below deck.
"My son is in this room with one of my slaves. I want you to go in and try to get him to eat something," Malfidus said in a low voice. Hermione nodded and walked up to the curtain, her fingers brushing the rough fabric, but then she turned around again.
"Why did you stop the other man from buying me?"
The man sucked in a surprised breath, opened his mouth to answer, but then paused. He tilted his head to the side and studied her. "Did you want to become Zabini's property?"
Hermione shrugged. "I find that my wants no longer matter. I am more curious about your motivations."
"He would have raped you. Repeatedly. It is the only reason he ever buys a female slave. They never last long. Is that the kind of life you want? The kind of death?"
She looked away from the piercing grey eyes that seemed to read her as easily as a scroll.
"Is that not the kind of life I am destined for?"
The man shook his head. "Not if you enter my household, and I'm sure there are many other families that would treat you well."
"What if I do not want to enter your household?" Hermione asked, knowing she was pushing the boundaries of what was acceptable but doing it anyway. He only laughed.
"Weren't you the one who just said that your desires no longer matter?" He paused, the smile fading from his lips. "If you refuse, I will not force you. But don't be a fool, ancilla." He saw the flash of anger in her eyes at the pet name but ignored it. He motioned for her to step into the room. "You don't even know yet if you will be in a position to be asked, let alone to refuse."
Hermione took a deep breath and thrust her chin out defiantly. Then, with a ramrod straight back, she walked into the room.
Three beautifully carved bench were placed along the three sides of a small, square table. A woman was sat on the floor next to one of them, and on it sat a small boy, playing with little wooden horses. He lifted his head as she came in, stopped speaking mid-sentence and stared at her. Hermione stared back. Then he opened his mouth and started wailing. By the way the other woman flinched, it hadn't been the first time he'd done that.
Hermione didn't move, her sharp eyes taking in the way the boy kept glancing at her, then at the slave next to him, then at the curtain behind her, as if hoping his father would run into the room again. It reminded her of the way her brother Ninian had behaved right after the baby was born. The memory pierced her heart and she flinched, shaken by the force of it. But then she quickly pushed those memories away and looked at the boy before her again. She could always cry later, at night, when nobody could see her tears.
She sat down on the other side of the bench. His cries faltered when she didn't seem shaken and didn't start fussing over him.
"I don't like you. Go away," he said, trying to sound imperious between sniffles.
Hermione lifted an eyebrow. "I don't like you either. Why don't you go away?"
He seemed to consider that. "But you are a slave and you have to like me." There was a faint tinge of wonder to his tone.
"Not really," Hermione said. The boy's mouth dropped open and he stared at her with wide eyes. She reached out and took an apple from the little table. She meant to bite into it, but the boy pounced on her and grabbed her hand.
"You don't eat, that is mine!"
"But you weren't eating, you were crying. So why shouldn't I eat? I'm hungry."
The boy was quiet while he thought about that. His brows knotted and his eyes darted between the apple in her hand and her mouth.
"I want apple. So give me."
Hermione carefully freed her hand from his grasp, took a knife and cut the apple into smaller pieces. By the time his father entered the room, he had eaten half of them.
"It seems that you will be given the choice after all, ancilla. What will it be? My service or back to Arcanus?"
Hermione looked at him. She thought of her family, the tortured cries of her brothers and father, the broken bodies of the little ones, the blade through her mother's heart, and the man who had given the orders. Her smile was more feral than reassuring, but if Malfidus noticed, he didn't even blink.
"I accept, of course," she murmured, with a submissive bow of the head that hid the hatred and pain in her eyes.
Malfidus smirked at her. "I expected no less. Flavia, please prepare a fresh shift for the girl. I want you to take her to the Baths as soon as she is collared, Tertius will accompany you. She needs to be cleaned thoroughly, and we cannot wait. The ship sails tomorrow."
Hermione was taken back to the deck, where Malfidus started haggling with Arcanus and eventually settled her price on 25,000 denarii. She swallowed uncomfortably when she heard that. It was more than she'd thought she would be worth. Arcanus left the ship with the two other slaves as soon as the transaction was made, and Malfidus turned to her, an uncomfortable look on his face.
"I don't brand my slaves because I promise them freedom. I know there is no freedom to be found with a brand. But you will wear a collar with the crest of the House of Malfoy. It will be fused around your neck so you cannot take it off at any time."
Hermione saw the scribe hand something to his - their - master. It was a fine iron collar with a tag. Then the scribe placed a bucket with hot coals and rod with a white-hot end next to him.
"Don't move, ancilla," Malfidus murmured as he placed the collar around her neck and carefully pressed the ends together. The scribe melded them with the iron rod. The heat was uncomfortable, but Hermione didn't move. She closed her eyes, half in fear of the hot iron, half in mortification. She didn't notice that the ends were cooled down with sea water immediately and that the collar was adjusted so that the tag rested on her collarbone.
She felt a familiar weight settle around her neck, and for the first time since she left her village, she felt a single tear run down her cheeks. Her torque had marked her as a noblewoman and princess among her people. This collar made her the property of the man who had robbed her of her family. She hadn't thought that humiliation could be so complete.
Any mistakes, please PM. Always happy to hear your thoughts so please review. Unless you have nothing nice to say, then please just move on to another story and don't ruin my day.