Borena danced and whinnied. Of course the prissy lady of a horse would choose this moment to act up. Nymphias backed away, visibly scared, which in turn spooked Borena more. Azarion would have sworn out loud if he could have, but Nymphias was doing an excellent job of that all by herself, sitting on the ground.
“Shit, fuck, cunt!”
That was impressive, for someone just learning Latin.
Azarion huffed, trying to calm Borena without pulling too much on the reins, but she was not having any of it. Finally, for lack of a better option, Azarion pulled himself up in one swift motion, straddling the horse and pulling the reins to turn her away from where Nymphias was sitting on the ground. Riding a horse was second nature - firs, really - for the Sarmatian boy, even if he was used to smaller steeds. Borena, surprised by the weight of someone on her back, walked in a small circle, but finally seemed to get the idea that Azarion was in charge, steering her as much with his legs as with the reins.
The woman drove a hard bargain. What was the big deal with the apples anyway? It wasn't like the cook counted them. Or maybe he did? Food was not bad at the Whites', but t wasn't as lavish as Roman feasts usually were either.
"One. I can explain away one missing apple, but not five."
Azarion sighed, then deliberately reached over the table, and picked up two apples, one in each hand, holding her gaze. Was she really going to beat him with the rolling pin? Holding the two apples up, he nodded to her with his head, motioning her to follow. If she didn't believe him about the apple situation, he was going to have to show her.
Azarion put down the apples, and the girl put town the pin. At least he was not about to get bludgeoned by the crazy woman. She followed his gestures and seemed to get the gist of what he was trying to say. Apparently it was not her he was supposed to convince, but he didn't really care. He was going to go and do the rounds in the stables, and the horses would not be pleased if he showed without the usual treat.
"You may take one."
Azarion arched an eyebrow. One apple? For all the horses? Was she for real?
Oh well. At least they were haggling now. Azarion raised a hand, holding up his five fingers.
"It's not up to me to decide. I'll get in trouble if I let you leave with those apples."
Oh for all the gods' balls...
She was really not going to let this one go. All other kitchen staff had looked the other way about him stealing a few apples for the horses so far. Why was she so strict about this one thing? And what was she going to do, beat him with the rolling pin?...
She would, wouldn't she.
Azarion walked around her, dumping the apples on the large table next to the onion basket. With both hands free now he turned, giving her a less than amused look, and a few gestures she might or might not understand.
We are a racing stables, and we don't get to give apples to the horses?!
Azarion was not sure she understood what he was trying to convey. She worked in the kitchen, so she had to have an understanding of how food worked around here, right? But how could someone work in the kitchen of the Whites and not know horses needed apples?
"You can't. If you want to take some you have to ask cook first. Put them back."
Azarion huffed, hauling the bundle of apples in one arm as he took a step closer. As annoyed as he was, he tried to convey a request with his look, underscored with a gesture with his free hand. What, she really wanted him to ask nicely or something?
Here, I'm asking you. Happy?
Alright, so she was not going to cry thief or robbery just yet. Good. Azarion did not like her glare, or the brandished rolling pin.
"Put those back. You have to wait until lunch like everybody else."
The boy rolled his eyes, shifting the cloak-wrapped bundle of apples until he managed to hold it with one arm, having the other one free. He shook his head slightly and made a gesture, as if holding an apple out to someone taller than him. It wasn't for him. It was for the horses. Which, frankly, should have been self-explanatory in the racing stables.
Of course Bassus had to pick just this moment to strut out into the sunshine and make a spectacle. Azarion rolled his eyes, but no one was paying attention to him anymore. Bassus turned to look in their direction, and made a gesture which was probably meant to be friendly, but all it succeeded at doing was get Nymphias excited.
“Did you see that? He notice me!”
Of for fuck's sake. What was it with women and charioteers?
“Maybe when you that old, you do that too? Now I tell everyone I meet charioteer. It is good thing I meet you and we are friends.”
Go die in a fire, Bassus.
Azarion huffed at the girl's excitement. Maybe he would have to become a charioteer himself. If only someone agreed to teach him...
As much as the wailing from the spectators annoyed Azarion, it definitely spooked Borena. The mare snorted, dancing sideways, jerking on the reins as she flipped her head from one side to the other. Azarion tried to soothe her, but she worked herself into a fit, kicking at the sand with her front hoof.
Azarion liked working for the Whites. Being owned by them aside, it was a job he did willingly and did well, and the other people of the team were... alright to be around. It was strange of the Romans to race their horses in teams, making them pull chariots rather than riding them like the warriors of the steppes used to, but Azarion had to admit it took a lot of skill to be a chariot driver.
Not all of them treated the horses well, though.
Nothing bought the good will of a fussy horse quite as well as a fresh apple. Azarion had the habit of carrying quite a few of them, and after a few months, all the White horses knew him from the scent of treats, and behaved accordingly. Apples were not part of the official fare for the horses, but Azarion knew when and how to sneak into the kitchens to get some, and so far, he had been lucky.
He was on his way out of the kitchen with a bunch of apples folded into his cloak, when he heard the thud from the table. He froze, trying to melt into darker corner.
"Hey! What do you think you're doing?"
Azarion couldn't very well hold up his hands without dropping the apples, and he couldn't exactly say anything either. The girl looked about the same age as him, but she definitely had a fierce look on her face. And a... was that a rolling pin?
Why was she so upset about a few apples anyway?
Azarion's eyes widened as he stared back at the girl, frozen and wondering what to do. He finally wiggled his shoulder, throwing part of the cloak back to show the white tunic he was wearing. It marked him as someone belonging to the Whites, at least.
“You race?... Or are they racing men?”
Apparently Nymphias did not quite catch his meaning the first time around. Azarion huffed, and shook his head again. He was definitely not a charioteer, and their were the slaves cleaning the chariot. That's why they had slaves at the stables. Someone had to do all the work that wasn't the life-threatening stampede around the race tracks.
Azarion wished he could be a charioteer.
“Are racing men handsome? Are they mean, crass, pig-headed?”
Those were a lot of questions. Azarion smirked at the last one. Like any slave working in the shadow of popular, famous, but not noble people, he also had a less than favorable opinion about the charioteers. Especially when they were not good at handling the horses. Creatures like Borena deserved a lot better than that.
Looking around, Azarion spotted one of the charioteers walking out into the race tracks. Some people yelled his name, and he waved at the spectators with a bright smile. He was tall but lean; chariot drives had to be light, for speed, but strong enough to steer the horses. The man was quite handsome, and from the way he behaved (and the fact that he had come out for no other reason than to wave at some fans), he was well aware of it. Azarion huffed, and pointed in his direction, then rolled his eyes. A good example.
“I have never seen one. I hear about them. I would love to see one. I hear gladiator games very dangerous. I don’t like those but maybe race better.”
The girl did not seem to be a connoisseur of the races, but Azarion was also not sure if she had heard about them. Some Romans who were enthusiastic about racing talked so much about it probably their entire household knew the Circus in and out, even if they had never been there. Nymphias, however, seemed to be new to the whole idea. Azarion smirked and chuckled when she said they were better than the gladiator games. Less dangerous. He clearly did not agree with her comment. But it was not her fault for not knowing.
“Do you race? Is this horse you use when racing?”
He chuckled and shook his head again. He wished he could race. He would have been good at it too. It was tempting to tell her he was a charioteer, but it was no use trying to keep up a lie like that for long. He patted Borena and made motions that signaled taking care of the horse, doing menial tasks like sweeping and feeding. The he pointed across the tracks - now they had almost made a full lap - here some other slaves were dragging a chariot out into the sun for some repairs. Azarion pulled himself up to his full height, strutting around for a few steps, miming holding the reins and driving the chariot. Drivers were a different breed. Popular, strong, usually quite full of themselves. Especially the Reds.