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When Tomorrow Comes


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May, 76 CE

Tarbus stood close to the mare, running his fingers through her long mane, over and over, rhythmically and without hurry. Resting his left arm against her withers, he used the right hand to tease out any tangles and lay the mane straight on her glossy neck. Fingers were more gentle than a rigid comb. And the repetitive motion coaxed more oil from the roots, adding to the silky look of the mixed black and white hairs. She was a deep, dappled grey, and the rest of her coat was already burnished, rubbed and brushed to a high shine, although a grey coat would never come close to that of a chestnut, bay or black, in terms of luster. But she was a beautiful creature none the less, well proportioned and in top condition, a far cry from the shorter, stouter mounts common to his homeland. The blood of the horses of Hispania ran through her veins, and she had the more fiery disposition that went along with such breeding. It was one of the few things of his new, unchosen place of residence – hopefully a temporary residence – which he admired. These racing horses were only one example of how the Romans bent the world to their wishes, in this case by the selective breeding of the best to the best, to produce a superior line to what nature alone could have supplied. Of course, it was superior only in terms of what the Romans desired in their steeds. Nature could not be bested in producing that which was truly the heartiest, the strongest, the most adaptable.

As for the rest of what the Romans had conceived of and brought into existence, Tarbus had no admiration or awe. Rome, the city, was a hundred times bigger than anything in Dacia. The architecture and building methods were advanced almost beyond belief, even the materials used were of profound beauty. Yet they held no allure for the slave, a man once a noble in his own country, around whose neck the simple iron circlet he now bore weighed heavy on his soul, like a bitter gall. There was nothing about the Romans or their city or empire that Tarbus envied or respected, other than their power to subjugate other peoples and lands. If he could have called forth an army of millions, to sweep this accursed place into the Tiber, he would not have saved a scrap of it. Well, maybe the weapons, but nothing else. As far as Tarbus was concerned, he’d take the mountains, the snow, the forests - the modest villages and homes, with an occasional temple built on simple lines - of Dacia, over the progressive bustle of this well-oiled machine of conquest, any day!

But today would not be that day, for the likelihood of Rome falling to armies of what they deemed “Barbarians” seemed remote indeed. This day was drawing to a close, in much the same way as all the days of the past two years had drawn to a close. Tomorrow was a race day, so in that it might be said things were just a bit more hectic, a bit more intense, around the racing stable of the whites. But like all things Roman, the team and all its many, many workers – slave, servant, freedmen, and plebian alike – ran like a well oiled machine, for the most part. Each person knew his or her tasks and acted like many cogs that fit together smoothly and turned with precision. Tarbus, seeing nothing to be gained by throwing any monkey wrenches in the works, at least not yet, did his part without any fuss and very few words, keeping to himself and watching all about him with keen observant eyes.

With soothing sounds that were not really formed words, he hummed and murmured to the mare, as he finished a job that was perhaps not quite so urgent as the hundred others he had performed throughout the day. Working directly with the horses in the racing stable was literally the only thing he enjoyed about his daily existence, and he lingered over it, if he could. It gave him real pleasure to touch them, listen to them, try to communicate with them on some level, get to know each one’s personality and quirks. It was soothing and it was something he’d never taken, or had, the time to do, before his enslavement. Then, he had enjoyed riding and training the horses they needed for transportation and making war on other tribes, and the Romans, and other people who occasionally tried to make inroads from the north or east. But here, the contact with living flesh held some strange sort of comfort for him. Where there were no loved ones to hold him, or for him to hold, the horses provided at least some form of connection with living beings that he could tolerate. The same could not be said of many of the other people he now was forced to live and work with.

His fingers leaving off combing, their part of the work done, he turned and moved to the opening of the stall to retrieve a stiff brush of wood and boar bristles, to complete the job of seeing to her mane. The mare shuffled, at the approach of another two legged creature. Tarbus’ gaze went to the dark haired boy, and he nodded a small greeting. “Ready for tomorrow?” he asked, in Latin, eyeing the other slave with curiosity. He knew tomorrow was a really big day for the mute – his debut as a charioteer. It wasn’t something Tarbus was interested in – risking his neck for the entertainment of the fucking Romans. But he knew, his story and his goals were not the same as every other slave’s - they each had ambitions or dreams according to their own experiences. He could still pray to Darzalas to preserve the boy’s health, for after all, Azarion was not a bad sort. The fact that he had no voice probably played a part in Tarbus’ opinion of him.

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It was the calm before the storm. Figuratively speaking. In reality, everyone was rushing, preparing, doing last minute things before the day of the race. The morning was for getting ready for the snow. The day before was for getting ready for everything to run smoothly behind the scenes.

Azarion walked up to Borena's stall, and found Tarbus there. He liked the man, because he sensed the same kind of affection for horses in him that he had. He always treated Borena and Tabitha well. Now that Azarion was not a simple stable hand, he found he was very picky about who got to care for his horses. Even though it was not technically his place to pick them.

Azarion was dressed for racing. He was not going to make the horses run today anymore, but he had to get used to wearing the gear with the reins wrapped and tied intricately arr around him. It felt restraining. He was used to riding free, with the option to roll if he was thrown from the horse. Nothing like that was available at the races. If he crashed, he would have to cut himself free, or die.

The Sarmatian nodded to Tarbus as he walked in, running his hand along Borena's neck. He shugged his shoulder, trying to feel more comfortable in the outfit. After a moment of hesitation, he tapped his shoulder and looked at the taller man. He needed some help, making sure he was wearing it right. 


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