Borena bolted for a door that would have been too narrow for her to get through, and then danced back as she noticed a person in the doorway. Azarion let out a yell as he saw the blonde girl emerge right in the mare's path, but Borena, for all her fussiness, was a clever horse; she reared and retreated, snorting as she allowed the girl to catch the reins.
Azarion ran over, walking around Borena to take the reins from the girl. She seemed shy, but thankfully not terrified. He gave her a look; for all her help with catching Borena, she should not have been down on the tracks. She did not work in the stables, and visitors were only allowed on special occasions.
“Here... He is very beautiful. You are lucky, you work here with animals. Not people.”
Azarion's eyes narrowed at Borena being called a 'he', but he could not really argue with the second part of her comment. Working with horses was much, much better than working with people. Although it was a tad surprising to hear someone like her say that out loud.
“What is his name?”
Azarion unceremoniously pointed at the hindquarters of the horse, signaling that she was not a he. Then he made some hand signs, using one hand to hold the reins; he did not expect her to understand him, but at least she'd see he was mute. What are you doing down here on the tracks, lady?
Azarion had been a stable boy for the Whites for a few months now, and he was working harder than he'd ever worked since he became a slave. But this time, he wanted to. The horses were nothing like the pack and saddle animals his previous masters owned; they were hand picked and carefully bred, and while they were very different from the sturdy horses of the steppes he grew up with, they were a different kind of amazing. Azarion cared for the White's horses, made friends with all of them, and gave them Sarmatian names that no one knew about. In his free time he practiced some letters, but his reading and writing was still very far from smooth.
The teams were preparing for the races in a few days, but on this afternoon, the Circus was mostly empty. Some of the stable hands were walking and exercising the horses on the tracks, and some people were sitting on the spectator benches, watching. The Circus always seemed a lot larger when it was not full of people. Azarion walked around, leading a lean white mare by her bridles. The people above him on the benches did not bother him much; most of them were fans of the races, while others just came to the Circus for the view, admiring the sight of the Palatine above them.
The mare, whom he'd secretly named Borena, was being a little skittish today. She snorted and danced, jerking her head back and pulling on the bridles. Azarion made some soothing sounds, but she reared up anyway, pulling herself free, and galloping a few paces to the wall that divided spectators from the race course.
Azarion learned the hard way not to assume his masters' wishes unless he was certain about what they wanted. Right now, everything could be a test, and he was not exactly the picture of an obedient slave. And for the first time in his life, he wanted to at least appear like one. So, he lingered at the door of the stall, waiting for further instructions.
"I think you'll do all right, you know. Celeritas likes you, I think. Let's see how you do with grooming him, though."
So far, so good. Azarion opened the door, making sure not to spook Celeritas as he entered his space, ready to put the grooming tools to work.
There was a chance Celeritas would bold. Horses, even well trained ones, were sometimes skittish around strangers, and even though Azarion knew how to keep an animal calm, it was just like with people - one could not be completely certain.
Celeritas snorted and danced a little as Azarion walked into the stall, running his hand along the horse's side in a soothing motion...
Another slave appeared with an apple, and Azarion took it. He knew this was all a test, to see if he would actually be useful in the stables; Alucio must have said some good things about him, but Azarion was aware what he looked like with the brand and the scars and the tattoos. He didn't care anyway. Celeritas was a magnificent horse. He hummed again, offering the apple, which the stallion sniffed for a moment before accepting it.
"How would you begin grooming him? Theseus here will show you where the tack and grooming equipment is, and I want you to select everything you need and come back here."
Azarion nodded, following Theseus to where all the equipment was kept. Celeritas seemed like a horse that liked to be groomed, and groomed well. He carefully selected some brushes and hoof picks, and returned to the stall where Marcus was waiting. None of the equipment he picked was new - new tools always ran the risk of the horse not liking their feel - but he made sure to choose the ones that would fit Celeritas' hair and mane, and also the ones he could work best with.
Arriving back to the stall, he offered his hand for Celeritas to sniff again, then held up one of the brushes too. The stallion sniffed and whinnied. Azarion glanced at Marcus before reaching for the door that was already unlatched.
Azarion followed his new master into the stables. So far so good; it was the first place he would have gone on his own anyway. The smell was familiar, and something he felt comfortable in (more so than the people tended to be around him). Slaves and grooms hurried after their work all around, but the master led him to a particular stall with a particular horse. Azarion did not need to be a genius to know this was going to be a test.
Celeritas. Speed. Romans were not the most creative people in the world when it came to names.
Azarion tilted his head, looking at the horse as he poked his head over the door. Swift horses were often also skittish. This one was pretty, and lighter than the horses Azarion was used to from Alucio's household. He had to be treated with careful respect, the way a fussy lady would be (or so Azarion assumed, since he had more experience with horses than women). Azarion held out a hand for Celeritas to sniff at, a little apologetic since he did not have an apple to offer. He made a humming, soothing sound; the horse huffed and poked the hand with his nose.
As far as being sold - again - went, this day was definitely working out in Azarion's favor.
That was a first.
Technically, from what he could make out from the conversation, he was not even being sold. He was being loaned. Alucio claimed it was a financial decision, a shrewd investment of giving the boy to someone who could make the most of his skills, and cashing in the money without putting in any work ,or bothering with Azarion and his mute resentment. A few months ago, the Sarmatian boy would have believed that. Now, knowing his master a lot better... he suspected it was only half true.
Either the gods really, really liked his sorry ass, or Alucio did.
Gods bless him.
Azarion was being loaned to the Whites, one of the four racing teams that regularly competed in the Circus. Pure magic, that was. Not quite the wild horse-riding competitions of Sarmatia, but it did involve horses, competition, and a whole lot of danger. Azarion had not been in Rome for long, and he'd been pretty isolated as a stable boy, but even he had heard people talking about the Circus with excitement and enthusiasm. This first visit was already proving that those feeling were well founded. The smell of horses, the open space, the craftsmen working on chariots and reins, and... it just... smelled like home. Azarion took a deep breath as he looked out at the courtyard.
Oh, he was going own this place.
"Come along, I suppose you ought to see where you'll be working,"
And that stern voice belonged to his new master, for all intents and purposes. His name was Marcus Eppius Parthenicus. He seemed a tad tired of the negotiations, and wary of his new charge. Azarion hoped he'd be half the master Alucio had been.
He nodded silently as he followed along. Alucio had told Parthenicus that the boy was mute, and that he had some rudimentary skills in writing letters. He did not elaborate beyond that. They would just have to work it out as they went along. Azarion walked behind the taller man, his gaze constantly distracted, staring at the horses in the courtyard.
Even if the woman could not haggle, she at least appreciated the success. Azarion decided that he liked her alright.
“Well done. You got what you wanted. I suppose you’re going home now, then… and I guess I should too. Do you live in Rome?”
Azarion wrinkled his nose and shook his head. How did he explain where his master's villa was? Not that it mattered. He was not really allowed to have outside friends just come and visit anyway. He waved a hand, indicating somewhere far outside of Rome. He also tapped the small bronze tablet that hung from his neck; he had to wear it when he was allowed to go out to the market with the other slaves. The tablet, just like his master, did not bother to mention his name, but it did have (as far as Azarion could tell) Alucio's name, in case he decided to make a run for it. At least he did not get the name tattooed on him, right?
The other slaves must have been looking for him by now. He could see their nervous glances in the crowd. Azarion smiled up at the tall woman, and nodded a thank you and goodbye. Hopefully, they would meet again somehow.
The blacksmith knew how to play this game. So did Azarion. It was generally considered beneath him, back when he used to be a chief's son, but being bought and sold himself multiple times since then, he was getting the hang of it. In addition, people found it unnerving to haggle with someone who did not make a sound, or talk melodramatically about losing his family's livelihood. He stuck to his numbers, and allowed the process to run its course.
“If you don’t have any more than that… it’s a pity. But try and go a tiny bit higher if you can.”
Alright, so the giant woman did not know how to haggle. Figured. She was probably some noble warrior type who looked down on merchants. No bother; all she had to do was stand there and look impressive. No one had to know they had just met a few minutes before.
Eventually, they began to move towards a compromise. He went from ten to fifteen, and the merchant came down to twenty, although not before accusing Azarion of trying to have his family starve. Eventually, they settled on seventeen, which Azarion promptly paid. It was a good deal, or at least as good as they were going to reach, and the bit was decent work. Azarion put it in his bag, and tilted his head up to Cynane, giving her a smirk and a wink. Now what?
"Thirty is too much for that piece. But he might be willing to buy it anyway..."
Cynane did not start haggling in Azarion's name. That was interesting. Most people did not give a shit about him in general, and the few that did sometimes overdid the whole thing, assuming he was dumb in addition to being mute. Cynane did neither. Azarion smirked, and turned to the blacksmith, holding up his fingers.
"Ten denarii? What, why don't you just rob me blind?! I would be losing money already if I gave it to you for twenty-five!"
Azarion furrowed his brow and held up ten fingers again. He was not gonna give in that easy.
"What, are you deaf as well as mute?! This bit is excellent work, not the kind of garbage they sell at the other table. Twenty-five is already a bargain!"
Before Azarion could use some extremely rude hand gestures to let the blacksmith know exactly where he could insert a bit for that amount of money, Cynane pulled him aside by the shoulder. She either knew what was going to happen in advance, or she just wanted to have a discussion. Either way, Azarion shot a dark look at the man (who probably knew perfectly where how ridiculous his price was), and followed along.
“You don’t have that kind of money, do you?”
Azarion shook his head in a definite no. And even if he did...
“We could haggle for a better price. How much do you have?”
Azarion looked at his purse than furrowed his brow, thinking. How much money he had was one thing, how much he was willing to pay was another... he considered the question, then held up his hands. Ten denarri. Let the bargaining begin.