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Panem et aurīgae


Menelaus
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With celebrations soon to commence, so too does the appetite for races increase. The charioteers, then, must prepare for battle. Each race is a battle against themselves as well as the other contestants. A chariot, loosed from one man’s control, is a weapon of instant annihilation.  The sport takes a toll on their bodies. Meanwhile, the hungry watchers take in the spectacle. All of this would be enough to make any patrician balk- but Menelaus is not a patrician. He adores the attention, relishes the spectacle, and craves the toll. He plans to live a hard life, even though he dreads the end of it. Why choose caution over bravery? That would hardly be the appropriate path for a charioteer.

Instead, Menelaus prepared for the upcoming races. He did not yet know the details, but they would certainly be expected to participate in the ongoing celebration in some fashion. For now, he had returned from the latest round of practice, and had a moment of quiet in the stables. He felt the rush of it, still, even now that he was at rest. Menelaus took a moment to breathe deeply, smiling, when he heard someone else approaching. He turned to greet the newcomer, curious to see who would be here to speak with him when there was no race in progress.

@Sharpie

Edited by Járnviðr
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Marcus had always found it best to regularly visit the various workshops and stalls of the stables. Although he trusted his charioteers, workers and slaves, it was and ever would be only to a point. Once he took his hands off the reins, so to speak, the place could easily run amok. To know that the faction leader could, and would, descend upon them without a moment's warning kept them on their toes and didn't allow any of them to get too slipshod.

And so it was that Marcus, walking with his usual unhurried deliberate tread, came upon one of his best charioteers taking a breather in a quiet corner of the stables.

"Menelaus. How is training going?"

 

@Járnviðr

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Menelaus comported himself respectfully as Marcus entered the stables. The warm openness in his bearing smoothed itself into a patient receptiveness. The question was a simple one. Menelaus only gave himself a moment to consider it. Regardless of the details, the overall answer would be the same.

Well enough. I believe I can keep up with some of the youngsters who have joined our ranks, despite my advanced age,” Menelaus quipped. More seriously, he added, “I cannot speak much on the others’ progress, at such an early stage.” It was not that early, though, as they both knew. Training needed to proceed at a rapid clip in order for the racing team to reach peak performance on time.

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Marcus clasped his hands behind his back, nodding at the charioteer's words.

"And what do you think of Azarion's progress?" he enquired, unconsciously lifting a hand to stroke the nose of a curious horse that had put its head over the stall door to huff at his head.

He was still not sure whether or not he should allow the boy to enter the bigae race that would be the precursor to the main races in celebration for the new Caesar. The mute boy had surprised him and seemed to have flourished in a way neither Marcus nor Azarion's master had expected.

 

@Járnviðr

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“Azarion? Performing well beyond my expectations. He’s taken to it quite naturally- use him before he has a chance to weaken with age- most who burn that brightly do so quickly.”

Menelaus frowned thoughtfully. Most of the young charioteers had an attitude that concerned him, but it wasn’t his place to question these things. After all, he had most likely once been like them. He still enjoyed the thrill and the excitement. Perhaps it was normal, until they earned some wisdom.

“What are your plans for him?”

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"I was thinking about letting him race in the bigae for the upcoming celebrations," Marcus said. "He's young, but not much younger than any other charioteer, and it would be a good experience for him - although perhaps I should wait for a less prestigious occasion, perhaps in one of the other circuses than the Circus Maximus? I wouldn't want him overwhelmed by the size of the crowd and the importance of the occasion, even if it isn't the quadrigae."

The races between the four-horse were naturally much more prestigious than those between the two-horse bigae, and required far more skill - the skill of charioteers such as Menelaus, who would be racing in the most important races, and for the largest prizes.

 

@Járnviðr

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Menelaus hesitated for the barest of moments before answering. Taking an opportunity from a newcomer to the races could be selfish, if it benefitted him, but if his honest assessment was that the boy had potential but was not ready- no, it was not. The boy was ready.

“The expectations will be good for him. He will learn. Some boys would not, but if my measure of him is correct, he will not buckle under pressure. Speak with him yourself to form your own opinion, of course, but I believe you will find the same.”

While the bigae were less prestigious, they were no less stressful on a beginner charioteer- and yet, Menelaus believed that Azarion would benefit from the experience, even though it might cripple the progress of a lesser athlete.

“Let him race in the bigae, and you’ll see a man emerge with the right talents to entertain a crowd, despite his inexperience.”

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"Speak with him?" Marcus' voice grew dry. "You are aware he can't talk, of course?" He smiled. "But as much as we can communicate, I will."

He grew serious again. "There's something else I wanted to talk with you about, other than Azarion. I've watched you with him - he's made great improvements since the first time I took him round the circus in a chariot, and I think you have great potential to be a trainer, if you want the role."

Marcus took pride in selecting the best people for the jobs he required, whether slave or free, and he would not force anyone into something they hated - to put someone into a role they hated would be to run the risk of that person sabotaging things whether accidentally by neglect or deliberately by their actions, and that could potentially lead to injury or death. Much better to have people happy in what they did, after all.

 

@Járnviðr

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Menelaus had long worried that he would never make an impact. Slaves did not tend to affect the future. Charioteers had a unique problem, in that they lived short lives, in most cases. Menelaus had outlived many of the young men he had come up with, and he was hardly the oldest charioteer- for now. Sometimes, he dreamed of that. The oldest charioteer, dying only when none would ever dare to beat that record. Him, as a trainer? It would afford him the chance to mark the sport. Charioteers would remember his training, and it would carry them forward. He could become part of this on a level that no man before him ever had. He couldn’t keep the gratitude out of his voice, a fact which he supposed Marcus would appreciate, having made the offer at all.

It would be a great honor to serve you in this way, sir.

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"Good." Marcus clapped him on the shoulder. "How much do you have saved towards your manumission?"

It might be an impertinent question, but Marcus was the faction leader talking to one of the faction slaves, no question could ever be deemed impertinent when put to a slave. He had a vague idea of how much Menelaus had, and a better idea of his worth - at one point he had turned down an offer from the Reds to buy him, in fact, reasoning that he would do better here. And he had kept an eye on him, as he did with all his charioteers.

"Come up to my office," he said, turning to lead the way up to his own domain, which overlooked the stableyard.

 

@Járnviðr

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Menelaus followed Marcus dutifully. He had not expected the question- Marcus had never asked about the specifics on Menelaus' long-term manumission plans. It was not something that a master would normally take an interest in. He walked just behind Marcus, nearly matching his speed. He had been saving towards his manumission, of course, though not at the rate that another slave in his position might have. He scarcely imagined what life would be like after manumission. He had always known he would die because of the races, so why work against his nature? He had outlived his own expectations.

"Not enough to buy my freedom," Menelaus demurred. "I will serve as your charioteer for some years yet."

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Once they reached his office, Marcus crossed to the scroll cubby-holes to look for one particular scroll - he kept records on everything to do with the Whites, from its employees to the horses and slaves, and the races they took part in.

When he found what he was after, he crossed to his desk, sitting down and unrolling the scroll, Menelaus' record. The man was a successful charioteer (Marcus did not need the record to know that much), bringing in a substantial sum over the years, and of course his value had increased in proportion.

"You will be racing in the celebrations for our new Augustus," he said - of course there would be races and naturally each faction would only allow its best to take part in the most prestigious of those races, on the day when the new Emperor would be present. "I am not one to hold a promise or threat over a man's head. Shall we say that, should you win this race, you gain your freedom. If you choose, this could be your retirement race and you can move to training the new charioteers. You need not retire from racing outright if you don't want."

He leaned his forearms on the desk, clasping his hands on the open scroll. "Free or not, you will have quarters and work here, you need not worry about that."

 

@Járnviðr

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Menelaus waited, still and silent, as his master read the scroll. He had spent so much time imagining the end of his career, dying painfully in some way or another. It was a common for charioteers to die young. Whether from injuries sustained during a race or for the hard living of being an athlete, very few lived to grow old. Menelaus was one of the oldest and most successful in Marcus' faction, though, and it seemed that he might just live to see freedom, and a life after the races. All of this, he thought while he waited with bated breath. He had voiced his own thoughts already, and Marcus would have something to say.

Indeed, he spoke of the upcoming races. Menelaus would honor the emperor with his performance, and so he needed to be at his best. That was what motivated Marcus to promise him his freedom in exchange for victory. It was- tantalizing, to have his freedom be earned, not through the money he had saved, but through chariot racing itself. He would remember that moment of triumph for the rest of his days. Though Menelaus did not often dream of freedom, the idea of freedom as a rightfully-won reward was too perfect for him to resist. Yes, he would win this race and gain his freedom. He would teach the next generation of charioteers, and watch as they struggled and strove just as he and his own peers once had.

Whether I retire will be a matter for the gods to decide, but as for freedom, and the chance to train the next generation of racers- I would be honored to accept this challenge. Thank you for your generosity.

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"Very well," Marcus said, and dipped a reed pen into his inkpot to make a note at the bottom of the last column of text. Of course Menelaus would be honoured; he was a decent charioteer with a rather large fanbase that would probably be sad to see him retire from racing, but would be pleased for his freedom (probably - doubtless not all of them would be, but they would get over it soon enough). "It's only right that you should have the opportunity; you have been a good racer for the faction, after all."

If he didn't win, he would still have the opportunity for his freedom, of course - Marcus would not snatch that away from such a deserving man. It just might play out a little differently than it would were he to win in front of the crowds that would be present for this particular race.

"Do you have any questions for me?" he asked, wiping his pen off and looking up at the other man.

 

@Járnviðr

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Regardless of his future (which was always up in the air, for a charioteer), Menelaus was grateful for the compliments. Marcus was kinder than most masters. He offered such honeyed words to his slaves, but unlike other masters who might do so at their whims, Marcus offered them only when they were deserved. It was not soft-heartedness, but a trust in his slaves' strength. It reliably informed him when he had performed well. Menelaus appreciated the structure that it gave to his life; that, certainly, he would regret losing. It was hard to say how he felt about the rest of it- retirement and freedom was a better outcome than death, he supposed, though part of him would always wish he had died in his prime.

"If I might ask," Menelaus began, feeling emboldened by his master inviting the question, "what do you think of recent events? The changes in politics are far too complicated for me to follow, but I prefer to be informed of larger concerns than just victory. Thus, I ask, sir, what is your opinion, that I may come to share it?"

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Marcus did not answer immediately, letting the ink dry before rerolling the scroll and replacing it in its niche and then sitting back down again.

His own position depended on the goodwill of the current Augustus, so he took a necessary interest in who that was, but that was his only real interest in politics outside of the racing world. The Whites had been left alone during the civil war - Marcus' own knowledge of it was as more of a background event to the events of his own family. His father had died in 61, nothing to do with the riots and fighting but simply his heart giving up (at least from what he understood from the medicus) and Marcus had retired from racing himself to concentrate on running the faction and looking after his family.

"I think that Quintus Caesar has show wisdom in deciding to retire while he can hand the reins over himself to his chosen successor," Marcus replied, slowly. "It remains to be seen what sort of a leader Titus Augustus will be, but I understand that he has appointed a council made up of some of the most experienced members of the Senate, as well as family members, to advise him. Whether or not he will take the advice given is another thing, of course, but the potential is there for this to be a smooth stable transition without the fighting and rioting in the streets that we had fourteen years ago." He looked up at the other man, still standing there. "I don't know if you remember that civil war, but we have as good a chance as any to avoid another, if the young man is sensible. And a son of Quintus Caesar must have as much chance of being sensible as anyone."

 

@Járnviðr

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Menelaus waited for his master's answer. Rather than offer empty platitudes, Marcus seemed to seriously consider his question. Menelaus appreciated that his master. Eventually, when Marcus did speak, he spoke of Quintus Caesar's wisdom in retiring. Menelaus nodded to show that he was listening intently. Marcus spoke of the new emperor's council, and why it gave him hope that Rome might avoid conflict and bloodshed. Menelaus had not considered the historical element- he supposed that among certain circles, there might be men comparing this rise to power with the previous one. Menelaus himself had never troubled himself with these things, until now. He wondered what this successor would be like. What was a future emperor like, before ascending to the throne? And how did his destiny shape him? Menelaus had been shaped by his own life- he supposed this Titus Augustus must be a wise ruler, having been been raised by one.

"May we all see a peaceful succession, then, and a new Caesar as wise as his father. Thank you for gracing me with your time and your wisdom."

And with that, Menelaus waited to be dismissed.

@Sharpie

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It had been a serious question that demanded a serious answer, especially in view of the potential change in Menelaus' status that would be happening soon - and if he did not win, Marcus would see him free via another route. He deserved it, after all.

He watched the man consider Marcus' response to his question - he was a serious sort of person who considered a variety of things before making a decision, yet who was not afraid to make a decision on the fly. A charioteer was, after all, by their very nature someone who could make snap decisions having taken in the view at a glance (how often did a charioteer round the spina and have to act instantaneously to avoid a shipwreck, after all? It happened far more often than you might think from the number of times shipwrecks actually occurred).

"We will have a further talk after the celebratory races," he said, looking up at the charioteer who was still standing there, waiting for his dismissal. "You may go."

The inauguration for the boy and the probable retirement for Menelaus - the celebrations were going to mark some interesting changes within the Whites' line-up.

 

@Járnviðr - thank you! It's been an interesting thread!

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