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Aeterna Roma RPG

Wheels That Never Stop Turning


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May, 76 CE

 

The sound of a footfall, shod in a boot of leather, crunching the rimed dead grass underneath, as the winter wind tugged at his cloak. His breath, frost filled clouds coming from nostrils, and lips slightly parted. Gathering ice crystals on the beard about cold-dried lips. In his hand, a long spear, as with stealth he approached the den. One tender plume of vapor standing proof of the sleeping bear therein. His weapon raised on high. Eager but still cautious signals, man to man, with steady hands and keen eyes, as they encircled the lair. A final sign, and the hunters moved forward at speed and thrust the cruel tips of iron down, through spaces between logs and earth. Those holding the silent dogs some paces back felt the urgent tug at collar and lead, as the hounds quivered and lunged with anticipation. A wounded roar. A bellow. And the spears withdrew and pierced anew, bringing the creature stumbling out into the thin air of a day far too early. The dogs released by their handlers, baying with frenzy. The spearmen quickly retreating. Several bows twanged in unison and sharp tips found their marks. Blood and foam and an ever insistent cry of rage. Tarbus once again moved in, with the others, on all sides, and quickly the death blow was dealt. Bending over eagerly, to peer into the face of his prey. But instead of hair and fangs and eyes dimmed to the sun evermore, he saw another face, fair and fresh yet washed with blood and sorrow on her brow…

 

Tarbus woke with a start. His heart was pounding in his chest, and sweat suffused his face and back. Another muggy day in Rome was set to begin, the sun just beginning to peep over the rooftops of the grand city of splendor. In the stables it was still dim, and quiet, the horses only just beginning to shuffle about in anticipation of their own day to come. He sat up, having no desire to return to a sleep beset by nightmares. Two years it had been, but always the same come nightfall. He rose and brushed stray bits of straw from his one piece of clothing, a simple tunic spun of rough cloth. He slipped his feet into a worn pair of sandals, and moved to begin his own day, one that would be like all the others, since his arrival in Rome.

 

Much later, when many, but not all, of the never ending tasks that were required to keep and train and race multiple teams of horses entered and competing successfully at the Circus were seen to, he stood for a long moment, leaning against the frame of the wide doors that gave into this section of the stabling. He gazed at the sky, the sun now tilting down into the west, his own gaze fixed to the east. To home, so far away.  More than a month’s march, if one also had the use of a boat to cross the water. His fingers went to the simple, serviceable iron collar about his neck, a weight he had grown accustomed to physically, but which served as a constant reminder. He was clever enough to realize, that was its main purpose.

 

Many people there were, in that moment, milling about. But his dark eyes immediately caught the presence of a newcomer. A face he hadn’t seen more than a handful of times, and not since before their arrival here, was still etched in his memory. He knew the former legate at once. But to look at Tarbus, there was no sign of emotion. His face was like stone, though the eyes moved to follow the progress of his owner as the man made his way across the yard. 

Edited by springy
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The clear spring morning had heralded perfect weather for chariot racing, and young Publius had wasted no time in using it to his advantage and dragging his secretly rather entertained father to the Circus Maximus, where they could join the excited crowd in cheering for their favourites and jeering at their least-liked aurigae. The end result, a smashing victory by the Whites over the Greens, brought no particular joy or sadness to Titus as a Reds supporter, but Publius was over the moon and would happily extol Menelaus' virtues and prowess to anybody who would listen. So endearing was he with his boyish enthusiasm that Titus figured he could try to pull a few strings and get them a backstage tour of the stables; to look at the ten-year-old's unabashed joy, one would think his birthday had come half a year earlier.

With the approval of those in charge and after they had been treated to thorough explanations about everything from the best horse breeds to how chariots were actually made, Publius went off with a slave in search of his idol, whilst Titus was more or less left to his own devices. He had no particular desire to meet charioteers and his interest in horses did not extend beyond their usefulness, so there was little for him to do. He had half a mind to leave for a quick visit to the nearest baths just so he could shrug off that unbearably hot toga and come back later for his son, when the sight of a man leaning against a passage across the wide yard brought about a flash of recollection.

Of course. One of the Dacians he had added to his collection of slaves two years prior - part of his property now, as much a possession as the domus on the Quirinal or the gold ring on his little finger - was working here. An afterthought, really, although if he prodded his memory, Titus thought he remembered it was the tall dark one with the crippled arm, and grew slightly curious as to how the man was faring. If that arm turned out to have healed to a greater extent that he thought was possible, perhaps the slave could be assigned more intensive tasks - and if not, Titus had got no word of complaint from Eppius Parthenicus via his secretary, so letting things stay as they were was just as viable. No news was good news, and the old saying had proven true to the point where he had all but forgotten he had leased the former warrior to the faction in the first place.

His curiosity was piqued, though, and he found it appropriate to indulge it by crossing the yard at a leisurely pace. Titus' only greeting to the Dacian was a lazy smirk and a quick look of general appraisal. "Don't let me keep you from your work, slave." Idle hands made for an idle mind, which was never good as far as slaves were concerned; especially not relatively new ones like this one. To his credit, the man remained impassive like a marble statue, showing no obvious signs of anger or discomfort. "What was your name again?" He took a few steps closer, arms folded over his chest and mocking smile giving way to a furrowed brow and a tone that brooked no room for disobedience. "Show me your arm."

@springy

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He saw the spark of recognition, as their eyes happened to meet, and despite the grip of anger and resentment that grabbed at his stomach and squeezed tight, Tarbus’ expression remained neutral. The man across the way in some sense embodied everything that was now wrong in the slave’s life, just as the iron collar was the inert symbol of the calamity that had befallen him, his adopted tribe, and almost certainly, in one way or another, his wife and sons. The fact that the legate remembered him brought no joy or sorrow to the Dacian, only an intensified sense of caution, which came up like a shutter inside of him. Best to be careful around the man who, above all others, now controlled his movements, if not his fate. Never his fate, for in Tarbus’ mind, whatever actions he took, or refrained from taking, would drive his future. Right now, it was a long game, with no definitive resolution anywhere even remotely on his horizon. Watch and wait, those were the words that guided his every move, his every thought.

And so he did, watching Rufus walk towards him with a casual gait, waiting to hear what his owner might have to say to him, a lowly slave. Of course, what he had to say was replete with the privilege of his status, as would always be the case, for any Roman, regardless of their class. The citizens of the empire would always be so far above him that he could not even see their feet, although they always expected him to lick their boots. He replied in an even, though not obsequious or servile tone, “I paused only to gage the hour of the day, dominus.”

Tarbus was quite careful to add that term of respect, a reflection of their relative positions, though he did not harbor any such emotion for this man. There was no “one warrior to another” sentiment that the Roman had simply been doing what he himself would have done, if their advantages had been reversed, and done it well. Tarbus despised the man, just as he despised all who would or had harmed his people, in particular his own small family. He could accept it, as a fact. But he would never see the perpetrators as anything other than vile foes, to be cast down if and when any opportunity to do so should arise, as long as in the doing he could still execute what was for him his prime directive - find Zia and Luto, and Diegis if possible, and get them all safely back to Dacia.

He had half turned to get back to that work Rufus had just alluded to, being happy to avoid any further scrutiny by one who could so easily switch up his fortunes and place his goal even further beyond his reach. The slight opportunity which the Roman may have presented to possibly garner some useful information about his cousin and her child was so remote, to Tarbus’ way of thinking, it was not worth the assay. To his knowledge, Rufus did not know of their relationship there, or of his relation by marriage to Diegis, erstwhile chieftain of the Ratcensii. So he did not look to the man to divulge anything useful in that vein, nor did he wish to be questioned in a way which might require him to make any such disclosures himself. But before he had taken a step, Rufus demanded his name, moving closer, and as the reply was given – “Tarbus, dominus” – the Roman next demanded to see his arm, in a pissy tone.

Tarbus held out the limb, done up as it was in a jury-rigged brace of leather, running from below his left elbow to the end of his little finger. It gave some support to the lower arm and wrist, and kept his hand aligned straight withal, or as straight as could be given the now deformed bones of his forearm, which angled away at a notable degree from normal. Leaving the thumb and first finger free, he still had some use of the pincer grip that came from having an opposable thumb, which set humans apart from all other animals, save the primates and a few other rare exceptions. He displayed the arm silently, offering no explanations and volunteering no information. This was not out of stupidity or sullenness, although he would not mind if Rufus took him for a fool. It was out of caution that he held his tongue so expertly and with now two long years of experience. Speak when spoken to or only if necessary outside of direct questioning, this was the best way to keep a close guard on his tongue. Plus, when your lips are not moving, your ears tend to work better, he had always found.

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An idiotic answer, befitting a barbarian. His Latin was quite passable, though, and if nothing else, at least the man had got that out of slavery. Another benefit of Roman expansion: provide few opportunities for barbarians to use their pig languages until they faded into oblivion, replaced by the civilised duet of Latin and Greek. The deferential term the Dacian tacked on sounded to Titus' ears rather neutral, as it should. Any sign of animosity would have made him more inclined to set the slave straight as to his position, and a subservient tone would have been as fake as the wares of dodgy sellers that littered the markets. "How diligent. Still a few hours to go before your work day is over, I reckon." Presuming they rested when the sun went down, all the wishful thinking in the world wouldn't make night come any faster. The thought wiped the wrinkle from his forehead, and he almost smiled.

Tarbus, the slave said. Probably his original name, but it was easy enough to pronounce, and he inconsequential enough to warrant a change. It rang no particular bell in Titus' recollection, but he filed it away for later just the same - maybe inquire in a letter to his former tribune or the now-retired camp prefect, just to make sure he hadn't overlooked anything of importance. He gave the slave a dismissive grunt and looked down at the arm being held out to him, supported by a makeshift brace. The bones had set poorly, and Tarbus might have lost some function - not that Titus was a medic, but he had seen a few injuries of this sort before and risked an educated guess. He gripped the arm none too gently and twisted it up and down a few times, then from side to side, completely indifferent to any pain or discomfort he might be causing the slave. If the Dacian and his kinsmen hadn't been fools, they might still be in their homeland with full use of all limbs - they only had themselves to blame. 

Titus let go of the lame limb with a quick, careless movement, as though it no longer merited his attention. That was not the case, however, and he frowned again, shooting Tarbus a quick but hard look before before focusing on his arm once more. "Move your fingers. All of them." Time to see just what the man could still do, if he wasn't stupid enough to try and deceive his master. Titus' tone was as stern as before. "What are your tasks in this place?" Should anything raise suspicion, he could always go to Parthenicus for confirmation.

@springy

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