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Tarbus

The mane event

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February 75CE

But for the steady huff of the horses’ breath in the heady air around him, Tarbus felt – as ever in these stables – that he was alone, a novel sensation in a city that swirled with intrigue and interference. By rights, his time was not his own these days. The shackles of ownership steered him, mostly, even if he had been released at least partially to the finer act of training horses and riders. 

Charioteers, rather. 

In truth, Tarbus did not understand the Romans’ compulsion toward chariots. They were dangerous, as most man-made things were in the end, and one could not feel the beast beneath him in those great, monstrous contraptions. Perhaps that was why Tarbus had resisted racing himself, though the pulse of promised glory lingered as a temptation. Training others and seeing, at least partially, his hand in their victory would suffice. For now. 

The crunch and rustle of footsteps amongst the hay drew his attention from the warm flank of the gelding to which he currently tended. In the illuminated light of the doorway stood the scrawny figure of the stable boy. 

Tarbus turned. “Azarion,” he piped up in greeting and lifted an eyebrow. “Had enough of racing the chariots, have we?”

@Chevi

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Things had taken an unexpected turn: Azarion was to be a charioteer. If he could learn the tricks of the profession well enough to hold his own on the tracks, there was a door open for him now, a door to fame and maybe even freedom. Or horrible, bloody death. That was there too.

He'd spent the afternoon practicing, and while he got the gist of the idea, it was going to take a long time for him to get used to steering four horses at once, while strapped into a chariot. It was not a natural thing to learn. And it would need the right horses. Azarion knew a lot about the animals he worked with, but he had never trained any of them for racing. That was a job for other slaves.

Tarbus, for example. Azarion found him in the stables as usual; he was one of the few people that had the same kind of connection with the animals the Sarmatian boy did. They knew each other in passing, but Azarion was, obviously, not one for conversation.

“Azarion. Had enough of racing the chariots, have we?”

Azarion smirked, stretching his shoulders to show he'd gotten an exercise out of it. He made some hand signs, describing a chariot and two horses, and made some wobbly steps to show it had not been a smooth ride. Huffing, he wished he could just race riding on horseback, and he said as much with some gestures. He held up a hand with four fingers, and shrugged. How did they even get four horses to work together like that?...

@Jane

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Tarbus knew little of the lad who stood before him. He knew, vaguely, that Azarion was young, though maltreatment had apparently stunted him. Not for the first time since arriving in Rome, then, Tarbus was grateful for the privilege that years of freedom had afforded him. Strange: he felt better equipped to fight, somehow, or to resist, even if both were impractical. 

Between himself and Azarion, Tarbus knew little of what they had in common. Perhaps that didn’t matter. The horses were apparently enough. 

“With great difficulty sometimes,” Tarbus replied with a grin to that final gesture. The four horses. How unnatural it had seemed to him, at first. Only by necessity had he grown accustomed to it. “I don’t understand why they can’t just ride the poor things properly. Race them properly. Why involve the chariots?” 

Still, they were easier to sabotage. 

But none of that. Not here. “It’s more difficult to feel the horses that way, but I think you have an advantage anyway, knowing them like you do,” Tarbus decided. Some of the charioteers who’d emerged, ready (or not, as the case often was) to be trained, were damned useless.

@Chevi

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Tarbus grinned at Azarion's gestures; he understood just fine what was rubbing the young man the wrong way. Neither of them was Roman and therefore both liked to make jokes at the expense of how Romans dealt with horses. Azarion had no idea where the man came from, but he behaved differently around them just like the Sarmatian did. 

“With great difficulty sometimes. I don’t understand why they can’t just ride the poor things properly. Race them properly. Why involve the chariots?” 

Azarion tapped his forehead, then shrugged. I know, right? Why indeed? If they had to go into actual battle instead of orchestrating bloodshed on the race tracks, they would have thought twice about riding in those contraptions. A good horse could follow orders without even needing reins, if the rider was good enough. And that left both hands for archery. Azarion made some gestures, frustrated over having both his hands tied up the whole time.

“It’s more difficult to feel the horses that way, but I think you have an advantage anyway, knowing them like you do,” 

Azarion smirked, and nodded. They recognized each other's knowledge even without even having worked together. The lad walked closer, tilting his head at Tarbus as he leaned against she side of the stall.He gestured at him, and in the direction of the chariot workshops. Why not learn to drive, then? He was taller and stronger than the scrawny Sarmatian.

@Jane

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Yes, that was it: Tarbus hadn’t liked the thought of being tied up, either. It struck him as a morbidly shrewd representation of what he felt in Rome anyway, without adding literal binds to the equation. Slaves bound to chariots, to horses, roaring towards a precarious victory (if they were so lucky). Were it not for his work with the horses, Tarbus would have scorned his own fate, working for the racing factions.
 
Azarion, at least, understood that. Hadn’t been absorbed into that life with promises of riches and glory, or not yet, anyway.
 
Tarbus followed the boy’s gaze towards the chariots. His brow furrowed.
 
“I don’t think I could stand racing one of those,” Tarbus confessed. He could hold his own in one by the necessity of training the charioteers, but careening around the track in one, tied to his death, struck him as deeply alarming. “Besides,” he continued, “I’m not sure how good I’d be in the long run with this damned thing.”
 
The short sleeves of his tunic fell back further as Tarbus lifted his right arm, displaying the vicious scars that wound like bands around his flesh. It was the reason he hadn’t been simply shoved into the colosseum, after all, and why he was reluctant to enter into those treacherous races, too.

@Chevi

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“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?

@Jane

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His life had been one marked by scars, though few of them had caused him as much anguish as the one that curled like a viper around his arm. When his fingers went to brush the leathered skin there, Tarbus endured in brutal flashes the day that had snatched his freedom away. Ferried around like a prized slab of meat, rather than a man. 

The bruises and nicks and wounds gained during the natural life of a warrior was nothing beside that great monstrosity, then. Tarbus supposed a fellow slave, even one as young as Azarion, must understand better than most. 

“My tribe was attacked,” he explained. That much was likely obvious. “By Romans. I tried to protect my family, to fight back, but… Well, this happened. I was brought here after that.” 

Those days had passed in a bleak, painful blur. Much of Tarbus’s time in Rome had eddied along in a similar manner, though much of the sting that he endued was the indignity of it all. The physical pain in his arm had abated, though the same could not be said for his pride. 

With that, Tarbus withdrew his arm and shrugged: a jaunty thing, aided by a crooked, sheepish smile. “It isn’t as bad as it looks,” he said, though in truth he thought it far worse. 

@Chevi

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“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?

@Jane

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Ah, yes. The boy’s tongue. Tarbus did not know what misfortune had befallen Azarion in the time that preceded his arrival in Rome, but he did not doubt, either, that it was an agonising ordeal. If Tarbus’s own suffering had been keen, both psychologically and physically, then he conceded that it was nothing set against Azarion’s terrible loss. His own scars would heal and perhaps one day he might wield a sword again; Azarion would surely not speak again. 

It did not surprise Tarbus that Azarion had found some solace in caring for the horses here: a shred of familiarity, perhaps, the likes of which Tarbus had been keen to retain himself.

He followed the boy’s gaze. “The horses?” For a moment, Tarbus paused, attempting to parse his meaning. Was it not so bad because of the horses? Did it prevent him from working efficiently with them? He settled upon the latter. “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.” He gave another shrug, his expression rather more grim this time. 

@Chevi

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“The horses?”

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.

@Jane

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