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"Aza... Azarion. That's you, huh? Is that Greek?"

Azarion snorted and scoffed, not unlike Borena, and got to carefully cleaning the girl's palms. Greek indeed. That, he definitely wasn't. Her hands looked like the hands of anyone who worked menial tasks in a kitchen; not white and delicate like the Roman ladies', but then again neither were his. Azarion had scars and callouses and dirt under his fingernails. He tried his best to dab her palms with the wet towel, though.

"I'm Safinia."

Safinia. Azarion glanced up, tilting his head. He used one hand to make a motion as if he meant faraway places. Are you Greek?

@Liv

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If the stable boy's reaction was anything to go by, he was most definitely not Greek. He even looked almost offended by her suggestion that he might be - or he had been spending so much time with that bloody horse that he had taken on its mannerisms (if a horse could have them, and before meeting that beast, Safinia would have said they couldn't.)

For all his indignation, however, Azarion was being surprisingly gentle as he cleaned her hands. Perhaps it was because he knew they were the tools for her work; if she couldn't use them, there would be delays in food prep, leading to delays in serving the day's meals, leading to very unhappy workers overall. Her job might only be a small peg in the engine, but it was not a superfluous one.

The blood was cleaned off quickly enough, and now her hands only looked slightly rougher than they normally did, with bits of skin threatening to peel off where they'd scraped hardest against the floor. She nodded her approval at his handiwork.

Azarion seemed to find her name as strange as she found his. It was not a remarkably obscure one, but it wasn't like there were thousands of them skipping about Rome either. In the circles she moved in Safinia was its only bearer that she knew of, which was why she never bothered with her praenomen and in practice ignored it all the time.

"I'm Roman. From Lusitania." Like her father and grandfather before her, and surely Azarion knew not all Romans were actually born in Rome. "I guess it is a bit far away, now that I think of it," she conceded, tilting her head to the side as if deep in thought. "Where are you from, then?"

@Chevi

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"I'm Roman. From Lusitania... I guess it is a bit far away, now that I think of it,"

Azarion only had a vague idea of where Lusitania was; somewhere in the west, one of the provinces. She was born in the Empire, and therefore she considered herself Roman. It was funny, how people born in faraway lands still thought of themselves as belonging to Rome. And now she lived here, and worked in the kitchens. Azarion finished cleaning her hands.

"Where are you from, then?"

This was the one question he still had not figured out an answer to; none that made sense to Romans, anyway. He'd never met anyone who'd known where Sarmatia was, or who his people were. He shrugged, and pointed towards where the rising sun shone into the stables, making gestures. Far far away to the East. He pointed at the horses, and made gestures that showed shooting and arrow, and tapped the tattoo of the deer on his calf. Barbarian. From the East. That was the closest he was going to get.

@Liv

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It appeared Azarion too came from far away, though his reply required Safinia to exercise her admittedly poor imagination in order to get a decent grasp on what he was trying to tell her. The rising sun, very far away, horses... And hunters? She peered down at his tattoo, completely ignorant of it until he pointed it out. Deer hunters from the East who also kept horses. She had never heard of them and had no clue as to what foreign tribe the stable boy might have belonged to, or where beyond the borders of the empire they might hail from.

Her hands were now clean from muck, grime and blood, and she contemplated them appreciatively. He'd done a good enough job, possibly better than what she would have managed on her own. "Thank you," she said with sincerity, looking him in the eye. Was cleaning wounds a skill he had acquired in Rome, or with his tribesmen? She knew now he hadn't been born a slave, though, and by that tattoo, hadn't become one until somewhat recently. Safinia pulled back her hands and with one of them freed the rolling pin from its place tucked under her arm; this time round, she let it hang from her side as a simple extension of her arm.

"When did you come to Rome?" For once intrigued, it did not occur to her that this might be a touchy subject for Azarion. Carrying on as if she had simply asked about the weather, she grabbed Azarion's hand that had been struck by the pin with her free one and twisted and turned it round slowly, looking for signs of injury. He would probably sport a nice purplish blue bruise in a few hours thanks to her.

Not knowing what else to do but feeling she should repay the favour, Safinia unceremoniously dunked the boy's hand into the pitcher. The water was cold, so it should help with any swelling... right?

@Chevi

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 "Thank you,"

Azarion shrugged with a sheepish smile. It was the least he could do, honestly, after the brawl they just had about the apples. He doubted Safinia understood where he came from, but there was no reason to act like barbarians were expected to act in Rome.

"When did you come to Rome?"

Azarion counted in his head, and then he was jolted out of his thoughts as Safinia examined his bruised hand, and dunked it into the colt water. Azarion yelped, giving her a wounded look. The woman was a menace. He held up his other hand, using one finger to signal a year. Had it really been only that long? He only spent a few months in Alucio's household before he was loaned to the Whites. He gestured to the building around them and then held up his fingers, signaling the months he'd been there as a stable boy, then tilted his head, turning the question back on her.

@Liv

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So maybe shoving Azarion's hand into the pitcher had not been the brightest idea. He couldn't speak, but he certainly could yell. Unnerved by his reaction, Safinia removed her hand his his arm and left it up to him to decide what to do with his own cold wet one. "Sorry," she apologised genuinely, hoping her action hadn't made his injury worse.

He didn't seem to hold it too much against her, though, which she counted as a good thing. The last thing she needed was someone going to the boss and telling on her for hurting other workers. "One.. year?" That was way longer than-- no, wait, he had probably meant Rome in general as he gestured to the stables and held up more fingers. A few months, then; still her senior, but not by that much.

"Me? Since the beginning of the month." Still practically yesterday compared to him. "Or did you mean the city? In that case, over ten years ago. I barely remember my hometown." A flash here and a hint there, not enough to make her long for it. It belonged to a different life as far as Safinia was concerned.

@Chevi

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She let his hand go with an apology, and Azarion smirked, washing his bruise before he shook the cold water off. He'd had a lot worse, honestly. Not usually from a kitchen girl, though.

"Me? Since the beginning of the month. Or did you mean the city? In that case, over ten years ago. I barely remember my hometown."

So, she had been in Rome since she was a child, but she only recently came to the stables. That made sense, he'd seen her in passing before, but not very often; she was a new face, one of many who surrounded the Whites. Azarion wiped his hand on his tunic and looked her over again, tapping the tablet hung around his neck that marked him as a slave. She didn't have one, so his best guess was, she was a free woman working for pay.

@Liv

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Safinia noticed the boy's smirk, but did not know what it meant and so did not react to it. He could have been making fun of her - wouldn't have been the first either -, or it could be self-satisfaction from pretending to be shocked by the cold water just to mess with her. Either way and whatever the reason for Azarion's smirk, she didn't care. 

Funny that he should wipe his wet hand on his clothes and not on the towel he had used on her, though. Maybe the cloth was too soaked through to be useful now, or maybe he had done it out of learnt convention that free people abode by one set of rules and slaves by another.

"I saw that when I read your name," Safinia deadpanned in response to Azarion's tapping on his tablet, not quite understanding what he meant. She knew he was a slave, why did he want to draw attention to it? Most slaves she had come across had wanted the exact opposite, if anything. She studied his face intensely in a vain attempt to read his thoughts, then gave a defeated shrug when she became none the wiser. That left it up to her brain to interpret his gesture, and it concluded that the boy could only be asking if she too had a tablet. "I don't have one. I'm free." The statement was as blasé as if she had said the sky was blue or that her hair was brown; it was how things were, something to neither gloat over nor be ashamed of. There was no pride or arrogance in her voice, just its usual matter-of-factly flatness.

She was running out of things to ask him. Not that she had been that interested in the first place - her original goal had been to retrieve the stolen apples -, but now she knew that amongst those who made up the Whites there was a slave stable boy named Azarion who came from the East, did not speak and was easily manipulated by at least one greedy horse like a puppet by its master. There was for nothing her to do with that knowledge but file it away in a section of the 'Facts about person' cabinet inside her head. 

Time to discover how many more apples he might try to abscond with in the future, then.

"Do you care for all horses, or is it the same ones every time? Like that insatiable beast?"

@Chevi

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"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.

@Liv

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Azarion didn't seem agree with her that that horse had a bottomless pit for a stomach.  And yet it had gobbled up what it had been offered in the blink of an eye, and had the audacity of demanding more. If all horses were equally greedy, the Whites could very well plant an entire orchard and still not have enough apples to feed them.

Safinia followed the stable boy's nod with her gaze, landing on one of the charioteers. Azarion was right - that one man's appetite in particular could be compared to a horse's, or perhaps a cow's with their four stomachs. She pursed her thin, chapped lips and nodded, conceding the point.

As the slave went back to his beloved horse she stayed put, eyeing the creature with suspicion despite its friendliness towards its caretaker - who pat it with affection before hand-talking some more at Safinia. She wrinkled her nose trying to make sense of his gestures and eventually reached an interpretation. If he liked horses better than he liked her, it was no insult to her - she was used to not being liked, just tolerated. "That's fair," she shrugged, unperturbed. "You can't like everyone." And what was like, anyway? Being thankful to someone? Being infatuated with someone? She wasn't sure she grasped the concept entirely.

With an uncharacteristic sigh she looked down at her rolling pin, then at the horse (or rather, its head) and then at Azarion. All hope of retrieving those apples was now gone. At least the remaining bits would be all dirty and yucky after their tumbles on the ground.

"You win." This battle, but not the war.

@Chevi

 

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 "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.

"You win." 

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.

@Liv

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The boy made no sense at all. Safinia had just declared him the winner, and he brought up his hands in surrender? It made no sense. Maybe it was how it was done back wherever he was from, but they were in Rome now. So it made no sense. Or could the gesture be how his people gloated? Regardless of what it was, it was confusing. 

She watched attentively as Azarion gestured some more in an effort to make out what he was attempting to communicate. Horses... four? Four horses? Did he seriously expect her to go with that? "Absolutely not," she declared stonily, impervious to his shy smile. "Even one is more than enough. There is no way I'm letting you steal enough apples for four horses." Safinia crossed her arms but kept the pin facing outwards. If Azarion was being so bold and cheeky as a result of their unintended collision, maybe another blow to the head would set him right.

"One apple every other day for this bottomless pit of a horse here and that's that. Take it or leave it."

@Chevi

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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...

@Liv

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In the end it looked like they were able to come to an agreement. Even though she had failed at recovering the stolen fruit, Safinia was felling pretty good about herself and her newly-found bargaining skills. Better to earmark an apple every now and then (maybe even save the bad ones for this deal!) than to suddenly realise a whole bunch of them had gone missing.

"Good. This was today's, so you can come to get another one the day after tomorrow. I'll be keeping count." More for her own benefit than his, so she would know how many apples it would take before the cook started getting suspicious. And speaking of which, if she didn't return to her tasks quickly, Safinia would be risking both the cook's wrath and her current job. She lowered the pin, nodded back at Azarion and exited the stables, making her way back to the kitchens.

@Chevi

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Thanks for a very fun thread!

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