SUMMARY: "Euphrasia ate like someone who never had enough food—Valyanos recognized it, with an inward shudder, from his time in the mines, before the arena and his wooden sword—methodically scooping soup into her mouth with the bread and cleaning the bowl with the crust until not a single chickpea remained, nibbling the apple down to the barest core."
Valjean and Cosette in Roman Gaul, 38 B.C.E.
CHARACTERS: Jean Valjean, Cosette
NOTES: For plinytheyounger, who requested a Roman AU.
Valyanos = Valjean (probably dodgy Gaulish, but shhh)
Euphrasia = Cosette
Faenia = Fantine
Epponina = Éponine
Thanks to sath and Sineala for catching typos and generally looking this over; hopefully no glaring historical errors remain.
The Lark Ascends
In the market Valyanos bought chickpea soup and bread soft and fragrant from the oven, and, noticing Euphrasia's sidelong glance at the fruit-seller, an apple for the girl. She took the food, following him obediently as he looked for somewhere to sit.
When she tried to hand the food back to him, he took only half the bread for himself. "I am not hungry; the rest is for you, Euphrasia."
Euphrasia ate like someone who never had enough food—Valyanos recognized it, with an inward shudder, from his time in the mines, before the arena and his wooden sword—methodically scooping soup into her mouth with the bread and cleaning the bowl with the crust until not a single chickpea remained, nibbling the apple down to the barest core. It was as if nothing else in the world was real so long as she had food in her hands.
Valyanos offered her the remainder of his bread, but she shook her head, looking down at her dusty feet in their worn house-sandals. He would have to buy her proper shoes before they set out for Lutetia, and a good gown and mantle. She would never want for anything again; he had sworn an oath before the gods and Euphrasia's dying mother that he would care for her as his own.
"Is my name to be Euphrasia now, master?" Euphrasia asked in a small, thin voice, startling him from his thoughts.
The old blind animal bloodlust of the arena rose up in Valyanos; not at poor little Euphrasia, of course, but at those creatures who had abused poor Faenia's trust, and it took a great effort to gentle his voice."Do you think I bought you as a slave?"
"Epponina always said she would be glad when I was sold; that men bought girls like me with no families and took them away, but that no one would ever buy her, for she had parents who loved her."
"Epponina, whoever she is," Valyanos said, taking Euphrasia's rough little hands in his as gently as he would have a wounded lark, "is a fool. Your mother loved you very much, although she is with the shades now and has sent me to care for you—not as a slave, but as a daughter. It is she who named you Euphrasia. But if you do not wish to be Euphrasia—if you are called something else—"
Euphrasia shook her head almost violently, her eyes shining with the gleam of a wild creature and her hands trembling. "No, no! I hate that name—no! I will be Euphrasia."
"Euphrasia," Valyanos said, still as gently as he could. "You may call me Father, if you do not mind it too much; and I promise I will care for you as well as father or mother ever cared for their own blood. Are you still hungry?"
The faintest color rose in her cheeks, and when she spoke it was a whisper, "I would like some more soup—Father?"
"Then we will have more soup," Valyanos said. And somewhere deep within a scarred breast he had thought turned to marble against the whips of the mines and the hot-eyed crowds of the area, he felt the first stirrings of something he had not dared name since before the Romans came, and certainly not after Alesia.
Note: Valyanos is probably going to forge some citizenship papers—I'm not sure if you can manumit children in this period—but I couldn't work that in and I refuse to map out an entire Roman Gaul AU because I'm lazy.