Just when Azarion was starting to think they had reached some kind of a truce, Safinia had to go and dig her heels in.
"Absolutely not. Even one is more than enough. There is no way I'm letting you steal enough apples for four horses."
Azarion sighed, bit the rolling pin was still ready to support her verbal argument, so he did not dare get more cheeky. He knew the beating he'd get would hurt, but not as much as the news getting out that the White's prospective new charioteer got his ass whopped by a kitchen girl.
"One apple every other day for this bottomless pit of a horse here and that's that. Take it or leave it."
Azarion rolled his eyes and nodded. Fine. One apple was easier to turn into two, or four, than none. It would just take some time...
Azarion had not communicated with Tarbus often enough for the signs to work well between them. He would have to learn, if Tarbus was going to help him train the horses. He had to make sure his meaning was clear. He could tell Tarbus was not sure what he was asking.
“I’m fortunate that it doesn’t affect my work with them. I’ve been around them since I was a boy. My father was the stable-master for our tribe. I s’pose I would’ve taken after him, if it weren’t for… Well.”
Azarion nodded. His life would have been different too, if he had not been taken as a hostage. But now he was here, training to drive chariots around in the greatest building the world had ever seen. For entertainment. He smirked, gesturing at the horses and the chariots, and at himself. He was going to be someone, even if that someone had nothing to do with where he came from.
He gestured at Tarbus and the horses next. They would need to train a team.
"That's fair. You can't like everyone."
Sometimes people did not quite follow Azarion's gestures. It was hard to show subtlety, let alone sarcasm, when one did not have words or voice. And the worst part: sometimes people misunderstood, and Azarion could not even be sure if they did. Safinia picked up her infamous rolling pin, and suddenly decided to give up the whole apple fight that had started all of this. Borena huffed right on time. Azarion was not sure what happened, but he suspected his gestures might have missed their mark. In moments like this, he loathed the Romans, for taking his ability to speak.
Well. Sure. But this was not really about winning anymore. Azarion held up his hands, keeping his eyes on the rolling pin. Safinia could still beat him up if she wanted. After a moment, he pointed at the horses, then held up his fingers. Four apples, from now on. It was a reasonable deal, presented with a sheepish smile.
“My tribe was attacked. By Romans. I tried to protect my family, to fight back, but… Well, this happened. I was brought here after that.”
Azarion did not need to hear the pain behind the man's words to feel it. He'd gotten the scars while fighting for his life against the Romans, and as bad they looked, he survived. And was taken as a slave.
“It isn’t as bad as it looks,”
Oh, it was. Not because of the scars, though. Azarion nodded, tapping his lips. He'd lost his tongue, and almost his life, in a similar fight. The fugitive slave brand on his arm was obvious anyway. The two of them were much alike; growing up in freedom, and now starting another life as slaves. Picking their way slowly to something they did not hate.
Azarion nodded at the horses, giving Tarbus a questioning look. Where did he learn to work with them like that?
"I saw that when I read your name. I don't have one. I'm free."
She was. Definitely free with her words and opinions, and with the rolling pin. Sometimes people just... took that for granted. Azarion wondered if he would ever live to say 'I'm free' with such nonchalance.
"Do you care for all horses, or is it the same ones every time? Like that insatiable beast?"
Azarion quirked an eyebrow. Insatiable beast? There were some people around the Whites he would have used that description for, but Borena was not one of them. He chuckled, nodding in the direction of a charioteer that just sauntered across the stables in the background. Wanna see an insatiable beast? Look at that guy.
Turning back to the horses, he shrugged. He did what he was told to do, caring for the horses on his turn. He walked back over to pat Borena on the nose as she poked her head out of the stall, then gestured at Safinia. Some of them I like more than others.
“I don’t think I could stand racing one of those. Besides. I’m not sure how good I’d be in the long run with this damned thing.”
Tarbus rolled his sleeve up to show a series of scars. Azarion had many scars of his own: from whippings, from beatings, the FVG brand burned into his arm, and various other injuries. It was not easy to impress him, but at the sight of Tarbus' injury, he furrowed his brow anyway. It looked like... Azarion was not even sure what would cause a scar like that. He tilted his head, glancing up at the man again, making an inquisitive gesture. What happened there?
"I will have a word with Varica for you to train these horses for the bigae. He'll probably set you up with one of the others - most likely Tarbus or Theseus."
Azarion nodded in understanding. So, his training would move forward, for now, and so would that of the horses. Marcus was giving him a chance. Now he just had to make sure to be actually good at what he was doing. He hoped Tarbus would be the one to talk to. The man had a way with the horses he cared for, unlike most Romans.
"We will have to see about whether you can actually race, of course - you don't have much weight to you, and that would help, but there are ways around that."
Azarion nodded again. He'd have to put on some muscle if he wanted to hold his own in a four-horse chariot. Weight, and muscle. He had been growing somewhat since he ended up at Alucio's household, mostly because the food was better and people were not constantly beating him. Working for the Whites kind of continued the process.
Azarion touched his hand to his forehead, thanking Marcus for the opportunity. For noticing him, really.
"If you spread your feet a little wider apart, it will help with your balance. Especially when you have your hands full and can't hold on to the chariot."
He did so, trying to find a stance that was stable enough without being too wide apart. Between the chariot and the reins, it was not easy to find a center, and stay confident while the chariot made another hal round around the tracks. Marcus seemed comfortable, despite Azarion's wobbly attempts at keeping a steady pace. He was used to it.
"How do people drive four horses? Practise, mainly. I won't say that it doesn't take hard work and skill. There are some thing that can't be taught, though, that come from inside - the very best drivers have a connection to the horses."
Azarion smirked, hoping his master didn't notice. He did have a connection. Horses were magnificent animals, sacred to the gods, and they had to be treated with respect and understanding.
Chariots, however, were stupid contraptions made by men. It was that part that he had to put effort into, if he ever wanted to be come a good charioteer. Or a great one.
Eventually they returned to their starting point. Azarion stopped the horses, then disembarked from the chariot and walked around to pat them on the neck. They had done well together, as he had suspected. He looked back at Marcus, tilting his head. Would he allow him to train?...
"They're still horses, and they still respond to the same pressure as they do when riding. The excitement doesn't change that."
They kind of did. With the initial wobbliness slowly wearing off, Azarion was recognizing the familiar reactions to the reins. Sarmatians also harnessed horses on occasion, usually to pull carts when they traveled from one camp to the next, but those were not the same kind of horses they rode. Still, the principle remained, even with the light, wobbly chariot. He would just have to learn to steer them with his hands instead of his body.
"You're doing very well. Perhaps a little more speed, if you're up for it?"
Azarion nodded, and tried to find his balance before he snapped the reins lightly. The horses jumped and pulled; Azarion wobbled and had to steady himself by grabbing the edge of the chariot with one hand. The horses made a beeline before he could get the reins in hand again. Still, they sped up, and made another half round around the tracks at a steady pace. Azarion glanced back at Marcus. How did people even do this with four horses?
Tarbus grinned at Azarion's gestures; he understood just fine what was rubbing the young man the wrong way. Neither of them was Roman and therefore both liked to make jokes at the expense of how Romans dealt with horses. Azarion had no idea where the man came from, but he behaved differently around them just like the Sarmatian did.
“With great difficulty sometimes. I don’t understand why they can’t just ride the poor things properly. Race them properly. Why involve the chariots?”
Azarion tapped his forehead, then shrugged. I know, right? Why indeed? If they had to go into actual battle instead of orchestrating bloodshed on the race tracks, they would have thought twice about riding in those contraptions. A good horse could follow orders without even needing reins, if the rider was good enough. And that left both hands for archery. Azarion made some gestures, frustrated over having both his hands tied up the whole time.
“It’s more difficult to feel the horses that way, but I think you have an advantage anyway, knowing them like you do,”
Azarion smirked, and nodded. They recognized each other's knowledge even without even having worked together. The lad walked closer, tilting his head at Tarbus as he leaned against she side of the stall.He gestured at him, and in the direction of the chariot workshops. Why not learn to drive, then? He was taller and stronger than the scrawny Sarmatian.