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JULY, 74 CE

As he shovelled another pile of manure out of the stall and peered around the wider stable to no sight of a groom, Manius had begun to believe he’d never left Greece.

A hundred-thousand denarii in my hands and appointed to one of the most prestigious posts in the city, yet here I am... still covered in shit!

A sudden commotion around the exterior of the building would alert Manius to a nearby presence. Resting his spade on the stall’s curtain wall and exiting through the gate, he continued on his path towards the ruckus. A distressed neighing, followed by the thumping of hooves and high-pitched laughter would instil Manius with clarity of the situation; a young slave of the faction, with a mare in tow, waylaid by stone-throwing youths. Upon closer inspection of the scene, his comprehension of the perpetrators became clear, “Is that you, Alfius?”

Manius paused in his admonishment momentarily, to scowl in disapproval of the young man. “That boy is half your size and three-to-one is hardly a fair fight,” he rebuked of the youth and continued, without giving the assailant a chance to reply. 

“Not to mention that you of all people should know better than to startle the horses. Your dolt of an uncle got himself killed that way. It seems stupidity must run in the family, at least on your father’s side. I think my wife may have words for your mother tomorrow evening, at the Ludi Victoriae Caesaris,” he threatened.

A crowd began to gather around the rather public scene, causing the cheeks of the vilified boy to burnish a bright red. Alfius’ darting eyes began to tear up at the possibility of punishment from his parents for his cowardly actions, leading to his immediate flight, less he bore a two-fold embarrassment.

Manius huffed at his small victory, glad that the neighbourhood boy hadn’t possessed a sturdier backbone or the rabidness of the racing fans he was accustomed to. He shifted to assist the wounded slave to his feet, before recovering the scampering mount. Upon their return to the stable yard, Manius was surprised to spy another unwarranted visitor. This one was a young woman, who seemed to have taken an interest in one of the steeds that appeared to worm it's way out of a stall.

No grooms and no guards. What am I paying these incompetents for?

“Eh, little lady!” Manius exclaimed a brusque reproach, whilst trudging in her direction. Upon a sudden dawning of realisation at the evidently aristocratic bearing of his target and the unwarranted sternness invoked in his tone, he sighed in exasperation before adulterating his annoyance towards the stranger.

“Uh. My apologies, milady,” he respectively amended his patter, before continuing, “but a stable is hardly the place for such fine silks.”

@Gothic

 

Edited by Polarity
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Claudia had a way of encouraging people to let her do what she wanted.

The princess had watched as Manius had been elevated and celebrated at the Imperial Banquet. She had been too busy speaking with her family and friends to be able to approach him then. Her goals and aspirations drove her to seek him out, and ask him a variety of questions concerning horses. Not to mention, the additional information on how a charioteer had managed to find himself so favoured by her uncle along with many curiosities about his life, and how different it was in comparison to her own. 

There were so many questions she wished to ask. 

Therefore, Claudia decided to seek him out and observe the horses when they were relaxing in their stables. Behind her, Decimus, her favourite Praetorian and Cynane, her faithful Gladiatrix slave both watched to ensure she remained safe. Her clothing marked her as a woman of wealth, and thus, power. The blue silk was not the most practical item of clothing she could wear to the stables. The stablehands had been polite yet curious about her approach. She asked if Manius was there, and confirmed that he was and would likely see her soon. There were many nobles who made their money through selling horses to the army, races, or to other nobles who wished for new bloodlines for their stock. 

She smiled, her hand reached out and stroked the neck of the chestnut mare. The mare was fiery in temperament when she held footsteps behind her. Claudia's head turned and gave him a questioning look with the tone he had taken. Her chin remained raised, and her expression softened when he realised her position in society. However, clearly he was not pleased with the intrusion into the stables, and understood why. There was a chance that he did not recognise her when they had seen each other. From what she remembered. They had not been introduced to each other either. 

"Apologies accepted," She answered kindly, removed her hand from the mare's neck and approached him. Her skirt lifted at the front and back as she gracefully stepped over a couple of pieces of horse manure. Claudia looked up at him and was instantly aware of the great height difference between the pair of them. 

"I do not believe we were introduced at the banquet. I am Claudia Caesaris." 

@Polarity

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Silk was certainly an impractical item of clothing for a stable yard, as well as being typically considered immoral and undignified of a proper Roman woman. Focusing more on Claudia's attire, Manius noted it was only her palla[1] that was of pure silken cloth. Her stola[2] was perhaps… a silk-cotton blend? His wife would know. She had her own predilection for fine fabrics and fashionable garments. In these hot summer months, a material such as that would bestow the modesty of cotton, while retaining the ventilative properties of silk. In Manius’ eyes, it at least appeared to be of similar material and hue as his own favoured blue tunics, though likely superlative in quality.

Closing the distance between the two of them, he momentarily peeled his eyes from the gentle-born lady to the intimidating entourage that followed in her wake. A Praetorian and a Gladiatrix? One could hardly blame her for such caution. Manius’ earlier incident with the neighbourhood boys would simply be the most recent example of the lamentable quality of residents within the area. The Campus Martius also served as an epicentre of propaganda from the multitude of temples that served as political instruments for Rome’s elites. It might only be natural to assume any number of opportunists could desire to take advantage of such a public outing.

Ave, mea domina[3], Claudia. I don’t believe we’ve met, but I’m always at the service of our Imperial patron. My name is Carisia Magnus, though Manius Magnus to the masses. You may simply call me Manius, as my wife does,” he humbly submitted in deference.

“We’re truly honoured by your visit. At least we would be, if I could find anyone else in my employ to warrant such a claim,” he quipped, with more bitterness than he intended. It had been a long day. “Most of the team is running laps in the Circus Flaminius, in preparation for tomorrow’s games,” he explained, attempting to assuage any doubts he may have inadvertently cast on to the competence of his faction members or himself.

“We’ll be ready to win renown for the Imperial family, but uh, I’ll spare you the details. You must have important business. To what do we owe the pleasure of your presence?” Manius finally inquired.

@Gothic

Reader Advisory:

  • [1] The palla is a mantle or shawl-like garment, worn by Roman women and fastened by brooches
  • [2] The stola is the traditional garment worn by Roman women, corresponding to the toga for men
  • [3] 'Ave, mea domina' is a Latin phrase meaning "Hail, my lady"
Edited by Polarity
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Claudia smiled and nodded her head. Perfectly happy to refer to him by Manius. There was the slightest raise of her eyebrow at his bitterness but soon it relaxed in place once more. Her life at the Imperial court had given her a level of patience. Horsemanship was not considered to be a feminine trait, and one she hoped that would not later cause her reputation harm. Still..... it was a passion she would not be pushed from. In truth, there were several reasons for her visit, and each of them had several concerns. 

There were many questions that she wanted to ask him concerning his background and how he managed to rise to such favour. Still, there were other questions that required answers first. For a moment she hesitated to tell him the next statement then boldly continued. 

"I have recently been learning to ride," She began confidently, her pale blue eyes focused on him to see any signs of shock or disapproval in his reaction. "My stable is small at the moment. Many of the stud horses my late mother had were plundered during the civil war or had been mismanaged in later years. I have a Lusitanian stallion at the moment, he is," Claudia's fingertips fiddled at her side, a possible sign of nervousness and embarrassment. "Willful and at times unwilling to listen. I believe I am not yet skilled enough for him." 

Still, she continued. 

"I have Aurea, she comes from Scythian stock and we have been getting along quite well." She added, a slight blush on her soft pale skin and a hint of a smile of pride at her achievements already. Still, she wanted more. 

"I was wondering if you had any advice for Soluto, the Lusitinan stallion or if you had any possible stock for sale that would be good matches for either?" She asked, and waited to sere what his reactions and thoughts would be. 

@Polarity

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Manius planted his thumb and forefinger at the base of his chin, rubbing a fine grain of newly sprouting stubble. As Claudia began her explanation, he quirked his eyebrow at her searching eyes. She was hardly the first horsewoman he’d met and unlikely to be the last. His wife was an adept rider herself, though she preferred the comfort of a chariot. Manius preferred the wealth and stability of a career in charioteering, but his first love had always been the saddle.

He grinned at the blue blooded, young woman as she mentioned a wilful stallion in her care. A Lusitanian, no less? Manius had encountered such a horse many years prior, as one had served as the personal favourite and mount to his then Dominus, but future Brother-in-law. He had not possessed the gall to ever attempt riding the bucking bronco, but had further opportunities to do so with other such horses throughout his career. They had been the unruliest breed he’d ever been required to stable and their training was often painstaking. “I may have something that would help with that,” he replied. Noticing the idle stable boy that had brought the mare back to the yard, he gestured toward him to grab his attention before shouting, “Go find me the new training bits, boy!” As the stable boy startled to attention and ran off to complete the task, Manius turned back to his imperial guest.

“We’ve recently acquired some new equipment for the horses, to assist in training new riders. As our equipment is largely paid for by the imperial purse, your more than welcome to take one,” he offered, perhaps too eagerly. He did not wish to seem sycophantic, just appreciative of his station. The stable boy interrupted that momentary dismay to present a silver bar, designed similarly to a sort of abacus, with matching silver beads that revolved on the bar. The clicking noise from such a motion would give an indication to the rider as to the mood of their steed. Too much or too little clicking of the rotating beads indicate a problem, such as an agitated or nervous horse. “’Ah! ’tis a beauty, is it not? We got them to assist the novice riders. Just affix it it to your horse's bridle and it should provide a modicum of aid in your endeavours,” he explained, as he presented the mullen to her for review and receipt.

“Should you require a more hands on approach to breaking him in, we may be able to arrange a more opportune occasion,” he extended a further proposal. “As for the time being, while we’re not exactly the best market for breeding stock, I believe I may be able to provide some offerings. Just about everything has a price, as I’m sure you’re well aware, but I could hardly refuse a request of our patron. If you’ll forgive the smell, I’d escort you in to the pens, my lady. So that you may view your options in person,” Manius ended on that note and directed her towards the doors of the largest structure in the yard, housing the multitude of stalls for the faction’s racing stock.

@Gothic

Edited by Polarity
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She noticed the surprise on his face when she mentioned the breed of horse. Horse riding was not feminine by any means. But... even moreso to have one typically bred for the purpose of war. Claudia's face brightened at the mention that Manius had something that could potentially help with that. Training or possibly something that would be helpful would be wise. Claudia knew what a bit was, however, she had no education about the different kinds of bits and what different role they played. The princess expected good service from the client and yet had the decency to be gracious about it. "Thank you, you are most kind, Manius." She answered him politely. In the familial manner that she had been invited to previously. 

Claudia looked at the silver bar that had been placed in Manius' hand. She assumed that this must be one of the bits he had been talking about. She stepped closely and looked, her fingertip moved along it and jingled the bells on the sides. When Manius continued to speak she withdrew her finger and listened to him. It made sense. Gentle hands were vital for riding well, and it had taken her time to develop her hands. Claudia took it gently and smiled in gratitude before she handed it to one of the servants who had accompanied her. "Thank you, Manius. I hope this will aid us. He is a good horse just.... willful." Claudia added. 

More training could be effective, and listened to what he said concerning the breeding stock currently available. Still, plenty of possibilities. Claudia smiled and while she loved horses. The aroma of the stables was her least favourite part it. Her smile became strained, still she nodded and lifted her skirts once more to avoid getting it caught in any of the excrement or urine from the horses. A princess had to long learn how to disguise her true feelings, and at the moment, she slipped. 

"Of course, lead the way," She answered, the servant and praetorian guard made ready to follow her. Security was always vital. 

@Polarity

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Noticing the slight slip in his guest’s noble reticence at the prospect of the odour, which could be nauseating for the unaccustomed and gentle born, Manius gave further thought to assuaging any offense to her senses. “I believe we’ll find some smelling salts inside, should you wish to spare your stomach. I hope you’ll forgive me for being unprepared for your visit,” he offered his apologies once more, before taking his first stride toward their destination.

Casting his eyes to the door of the main stable building to the north of the stable yard, he could also see in his right periphery the western wall of the faction headquarters – a structure housing the many slaves, employees and charioteers of the company. Though expansive in its own right, it paled in comparison to the exceptional size required of penning the substantial animals.

Presuming his visitor would follow in close step, Manius took this brief window of opportunity to converse less formally with his new acquaintance, in hopes of striking a rapport. “If I may be so bold as to ask, where did you happen to acquire such a specimen as your wilful Soluto? I know a few officers that would be quite envious of you for such an acquisition. They’re highly sought after as warhorses,” he began with this harmless inquiry.

@Gothic

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She gave him a visible smile of gratitude at the offer of smelling salts. Claudia nodded and followed him into the stables with her faithful body slave followed her. The Princess knew she had come unexpected, and completely out of the blue. "I understand, I did not give you a lot of notice," She answered politely. Claudia followed his gaze and looked towards the vast complex used to house the slaves, employees and others. She had seen similar and familiar structures previously. Although much of her time had been focused on the areas that were typically 'for show'. 

The next question caused her to smile, a hint of a blush on her cheeks and knew her mother would have been happy. It was not a normal animal for a Roman princess to have. "Soluto is descended from one of the horses bred by my mother at her stables. A lot of the stock had been stolen during the purges and he was one of the animals I was able to track down." She answered, shrugged her shoulders. "As for the origin of the stock. I am not sure where she got them. A lot of people would give my mother horses and other exotic beasts," Claudia explained, as she began to feel more at ease. Many of her memories of her mother were few, and relied on the experiences of others. Essentially, it was a way to feel close to her. 

"Some of the others horses have been gifts from Ambassadors that I have managed to come into my person, or animals that I have purchased myself." Claudia continued. "Where do you usually find stock for the races?" Claudia asked. 

 

@Polarity

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The wind. It had been many years since Manius had recalled that story. His friend and late dominus, Belanus, had hailed from Hispania originally, and had once regaled him with the local tradition regarding their origins. The first mares were said to be sired by the wind, bestowing an unmatched swiftness that their foals would inherit. Fanciful as the legend may seem, the inherent rapidity associated with the breed marked a certain precedent. The Equestrian’s own thoughts held that they must have been sired by the wind of a storm, for no fiercer temperament had he perceived in other stock.

Uenerabilis Dea Lucilla[1],” Manius recited in recognition when Claudia made mention of her mother. Though they had never been introduced, the late Augusta had been a significant benefactor of the games and many of the Etruscan’s formative career had been established at such events. It seemed to be yet another of the innumerate ways in which the hand of the Imperial family had touched his life.

“She must’ve been quite a woman to have handled such creatures. I regret never having had the chance to meet her,” he offered consolingly. He had known few soldiers capable of taming such a horse as the Lusitanian, let alone civilians. She would’ve truly been remarkable in that respect, not to mention a valuable contact for a charioteer to possess. He wondered if the Hispanian folktale could prove analogous to his new acquaintance.

“Wherever the best ones are. When we can find them, of course,” he replied with a grin, referring to the network of talent scouts the faction employed. This seemed to be normal practice for most chariot factions, though they all had a main source. “In the spirit of our Caesar’s namesake, we’ve taken to housing Greek horses; mostly from Macedonia. Many of them descend from the steeds of the Diadochus[2],” he proclaimed proudly, if not spuriously.

“I have a personal fancy for the ‘Marino[3] breed, though the ill-informed Roman tends to call them ‘marsh-horses’,” he shared a subtle intimation of his Etruscan lineage. Along with the Neapolitan, the Marino had served for generations as the typical mount for officers in the Roman legion, as well as for regular soldiers in the small number of native cavalry.

“Was there something in particular you had in mind? Some of our individual stock comes from more remote locales,” Manius explained, hoping his answer had not put her off the idea. His profession may force others to regard him with a degree of infamy, but he doubted his honour could sustain disapproval from a woman of such status as this noble lady.

@Gothic

  • [1] Latin for "Revered Goddess Lucilla".
  • [2] Latin for "Diadochi", the successor generals to Alexander the Great's empire.
  • [3] Latin for "of the sea"; substituted term for an antecedent to the modern 'Maremmano' breed of horse.
Edited by Polarity
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She listened closely and nodded. There were few mental images she had of her mother. One was her face as the disease began to take hold and stripped her of health. Claudia would often receive praise for both her mother and father, what sort of people they were and she found herself questioning how true they were. Still, it was pleasant to hear. Much of her early life was spent in the company of her sisters; Rufia Flavia and Claudia Livia. Her knowledge of horses came later in life, and it was not the most feminine of tastes for a Roman Princess. 

Claudia smiled, that didn't narrow it down much for her. Yet talented horses could no doubt be found in strange places, and other staff. No doubt her Uncle would be pleased to hear all about that. Admittedly, much of her knowledge concerning the different breeds were limited. "Marsh horses?" She asked, then remembered his Etruscan heritage and had a feeling that came with it. 

The Princess was torn between feigning knowledge concerning the horses, and admitting her lack of knowledge. She chose the latter. "In all honesty, I am not sure what kinds of horses would be suitable. Rather than a breeder for a specific purpose, I enjoy horses that move well and are beautiful to the eye." Claudia answered, perhaps a brief sign of her youth. Her mother had some bred for warfare, or as messenger horses that had considerable amounts of stamina. 

"Perhaps you could show me these horses and offer instruction concerning the attributes of their type?" 

 

@Polarity

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