Azarion made a surprised sound as Safinia grabbed him by the arm to tug him along, as she suddenly decided to explore what the man was yelling about. It was one of the ludi, alright. A big one. And she was clearly more interested in it than she was in the shopping.
"Is there an admission price?"
"No, today you get to see our fine fighters in their home turf for free! Of course, if you would like to get up close to your favourite, that may be arranged for a small fee..."
Azarion raised an eyebrow at the man, then at Safinia. Did she have a favorite gladiator? Did people actually do that? What... pay to pet the fighters? Romans were so weird. He made some gestures at Safinia, pointing at the glistening bodies beyond the gate, then at the basket with a sarcastic look. Did they send you out to bring home a nice fresh gladiator for dinner?
She dragged him inside and he followed, partly because she gave him no choice, and partly because he was also a bit curious about the ludus. The Circus was a small world onto itself, and he suspected this place was the same. With a different kind of violence. And no horses.
"Now what? How does this work?"
Azarion gave her an incredulous look, shaking his head. The fuck are you asking me for? You dragged me in here! He looked around, surveying the various training courts and the groups of people standing around them. He shrugged. Dunno, pick your favorite... he gestured, willing to follow along... when, over the din of the crowd and the clash of swords and shields, his ears picked up a familiar sound. Forgetting about Safinia for a moment, Azarion's head rose like a hunting dog's.
"I know what we need to buy. But this is not the place to do it."
Azarion huffed and rolled his eyes. Obviously. Somehow, Safinia managed to lose her way between the Circus and the freaking market. In Rome, one needed a special talent for that. He was not about to correct her because, well, this was her task, and it was kind of fun to watch her flail.
"Let's just keep going down this street and see where it leads."
She marched down the street basket swinging, and Azarion followed, wondering where they were headed. Once they reached the small square, he had a general idea - but he was distracted by the open gates in the wall, and the noise coming from the other side. So was Safinia.
"What do you think is going on in there?"
Azarion tilted his head, listening, then shrugged, and mimed holding a shield and a sword in his hand. Gladiators? It could be one of the places where they trained people for the games. As if trying to confirm his suggestions, a man standing on a crate by the open gates started yelling:
"Come on in, step right up! Only for today, see the best of the best, the heroes of the arena, training for the next deadly fight!"
Azarion followed the young woman, observing the teeming life of Roman streets, and resigned to go wherever she wanted to go. He was just there to carry things, and to punch people if they tried to hurt her. Although he was not sure about the latter. Safinia could be quite fierce when she was angered. He would not be surprised if he ended up having to save some poor soul from her wrath.
After a few minutes she stopped to look back at him.
"I think we're lost. Do you know the way?"
Azarion blinked, then made a face. Why on earth was she asking him? He shrugged, making some signs, pointing at her basket. She was supposed to know what they were shopping for.
Early June, 75CE
Azarion was a junior charioteer now. It was only a matter of time before he could join the actual races, driving a quadriga around the tacks of the Circus. He had been training for months, making progress, even building up some muscle (although he was still fairly lean for a charioteer). He was wearing the colors of the Whites, and training his own horses.
With all of those things noted, he was definitely sure that he should not be sent on shopping duty.
And yet, here he was.
Since that first, rolling pin and apple fiasco, Azarion only crossed paths with Safinia a few times, usually around meals. There was a tentative truce between them, in which she gave out his two apples, and he only tired to steal more if he was sure he could get away with it, every once in a while. He had risen in status from stable boy to charioteer-in-training. But sadly, said raise did not come with an extra amount of apples. And he had four horses under his care.
Safinia was being sent to the market, and Azarion was told to accompany her, for safety, and for extra hands to carry things. It was a disgrace. As someone a step away from being the star of the races, why did he have to accompany her to shop? Just because he couldn't talk back, and she could wield a rolling pin?... Azarion was not in a good mood as he walked behind her, out of the Circus and around the Palatine. This was not the glamourous life he had been promised.
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?