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Don't get all emotional on me


Jason
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Two days after the races at the Circus Neronianus (stupid name), and Jason had tracked down the boy he'd seen racing, that he thought looked remarkably like his cousin, last seen being hauled off, kicking and screaming and with blood everywhere, to be sold gods-knew-where to gods-knew-who. How and why he'd ended up here in Rome, the same city Jason was now living in, was a minor miracle. The fact that he'd seen and recognised him was a bigger miracle - how close had they been, for how long? They could have passed one another a hundred times in the Forum or the streets and never seen one another, and for Jason to have seen his cousin racing a chariot for the Whites... He had followed his master home docilely and slipped out to the garden during the night to give thanks to Tabiti for the preservation of his cousin, the last member of his family he had seen and to ask for her continued blessing on the boy (chariots were not horses, but it was closer to actual riding than Jason himself had come for several years), as well as for her favour when it came time to speak with his master.

He had left as an offering a bronze coin of indeterminate provenance, whose reverse showed a horse. Tabiti would understand.

That had been the night after seeing his cousin at somewhat of a distance. Today, he had permission to come to the Whites' stables to try to see his cousin from a lot closer up. Maybe even to actually talk to him, if the gods smiled on them and Azarion's masters would allow it.

He entered the stable-yard and was hit full-force with nostalgia - the layout was all wrong but the sounds and scents were all right. He hadn't been so close to this many horses for the best part of ten years, and had to swallow.

"I'm looking for Azarion," he managed in accented Latin, addressing the first person he saw who might spare him enough time to point his cousin out.

He was in luck; the other waved him towards a stall where he could see his cousin's dark head as he moved around the horse. Feeling relieved that he'd been right in thinking the boy was his cousin, and somewhat jealous that he hadn't been renamed - though how he would have asked for him if he had been was anyone's guess, he crossed to the indicated stall. He would not interrupt Azarion's work; simply waiting would allow him to spend that bit longer in an environment that took him straight back to his childhood.

 

@Chevi

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Azarion still had bruises on his arms from the reins, and he was fairly sure one of his ribs was cracked, whatever the medicus was saying. But he had come through his first real race alive, and, even more importantly, the horses were unhurt. He would have blamed himself if he had gotten them injured through his own incompetence. But in the end, he turned out to be a decent driver. Maybe even a good one, in time.

He was in Borena's stall, trying to clean the skittish mare and brush her hair. She had done well at the race. Azarion hummed soothingly as he worked, running his fingers through the horse's made to find tangles (Borena was particular about tangles, and snorted repeatedly). He only noticed someone was standing in the doorway when he moved on to the other side.

Azarion dropped the brush he was holding; in hit the ground with a loud clattering sound. He didn't care. He was too busy staring, wide-eyed, at someone he had not seen in a very, very long time. Another life.

@Sharpie

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"Azarion," Jason said as the brush hit the ground, and promptly forgot every word of Latin that he'd learned (frequently painfully) over the last eight years. "So it was you, I wasn't sure. I hoped - I didn't think I'd see you again." Not alive went unspoken.

Sharp eyes scanned his cousin, looking for any sign of hurt, of injury - and oh, hadn't he gathered quite the collection. Including a brand of all things. Jason's gaze darkened as he saw it, FVG burned into the other's arm. When had the Roman bastards done that? Weren't they content with silencing him for good that they had to maim him like that too?

He silently called the Romans every foul name he could think of in every language he knew such words in, from his own native Sarmatian through Latin and the smattering of Briton and other languages he'd picked up over the years. The deepest level of the Underworld would be too good for them, in his opinion.

"Are you all right? They don't mistreat you or anything?"

Of course they did. Fucking Romans.

 

@Chevi

 

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"Azarion,"

Tiranês.

"So it was you, I wasn't sure. I hoped - I didn't think I'd see you again." 

Azarion stared at his cousin, standing right there in the Whites' stables, speaking Sarmatian. The first time he had heard his language in almost a decade. And by someone he had thought long dead. The last time he'd seen Tiranês he was dragged away between life and death, and from what he had heard later, he assumed he was crucified with the rest of the hostages.

Was he a ghost?

Tiranês looked him over.

"Are you all right? They don't mistreat you or anything?"

Azarion finally jolted out of his frozen shock, with  a laugh. Mistreat him? He had a slave tablet around his neck, a brand on his arm, and a whole assortment of scars. He bridged the distance between them with two steps, and threw his arms around his cousin. When he finally stepped back, he spoke with his hands, in the old way, for the first time in almost a decade.

Idiot.

@Sharpie

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That was a solid flesh-and blood hug, so tight he almost couldn't breathe. He'd thought Azarion must have bled out and died all alone somewhere, and to see him here, as alive as ever... and just as sarcastic as he'd ever been.

"Who are you calling an idiot? You're working with horses, and driving a chariot. It's not riding but it's closer to it than most slaves get. Yes, I can see your slave tablet, don't think I've gone blind." He had a tag of his own; even an Imperial body slave had a slave tag when they were considered to be barbarians, after all.

The horse whickered behind them and huffed into his hair, bringing a sudden lump into his throat. He'd missed horses, they were as much family as any blood relation was, not that a Roman could understand that.

 

@Chevi

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Having someone there, alive, from home, it almost made Azarion cry. He rubbed his eyes with the back of his hand, and resorted to sarcasm instead. He looked his cousin over. Tiranês had changed since they had last seen each other. He was taller, more... grown up. And also a slave. But at least he had his tongue. He had always been more careful with it than Azarion.

"Who are you calling an idiot? You're working with horses, and driving a chariot. It's not riding but it's closer to it than most slaves get. Yes, I can see your slave tablet, don't think I've gone blind." 

Azarion rolled his eyes and poked at his tablet. It said JASON on it, he made the letters out. Tiranês had a new name then. Not that he was going to call him by it. Or call him anything, really.

Borena whinnied, clearly miffed that she was not the center of attention. Azarion turned and reached up, patting her gently on the neck. He glanced over at his cousin, and nodded to him. He could come meet the horse if he wanted to. Borena was taller and more elegant than the sturdy Sarmatian horses. She was a beauty. And also a diva. Azarion gestured at her. She is not friendly.

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Not friendly.

"Neither are you, usually - don't get all emotional on me, for Api's sake. You dropped this." He bent to retrieve the brush, being very careful of the horses' hooves - they could do some damage, especially shod the peculiar way the Romans did, confining everything into iron and stone instead of letting their horses run as the gods intended - wasn't that why their hooves were iron-hard? They didn't need additional iron hammered on.

"You are a beauty, I hope my cousin has been taking care of you, though he's probably forgotten everything he learned at home," he told the horse, speaking softly, the musical Sarmatian being the only tongue one should ever address horses in, wondrous gifts of the gods that they were.

 

@Chevi Going on precisely 0 research, I felt the Sarmatians may not have shod their horses in this period because it felt right for them not to.

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"Neither are you, usually - don't get all emotional on me, for Api's sake. You dropped this." 

Fuck you. Azarion gestured to him, but grinned anyway. So what, he was emotional. He had someone, a living relative, someone who had survived the killing and being sold into slavery. And somehow, he found his way here.

"You are a beauty, I hope my cousin has been taking care of you, though he's probably forgotten everything he learned at home,"

Azarion made a snorting noise, louder than Borena. But he loved hearing his own language, spoken by Tiranês. The horse calmed down too. Azarion ducked under her neck to stand on the same side as Tiranês, so he could talk with his hands. No horses for you, then?

@Sharpie

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So Azarion told him to go swivel. Tiranês - he was Tiranês here, with his cousin, even if nobody else cared to bother remembering he might have had a name before the Romans sold him - grinned.

"Careful, you don't want to lose fingers as well now, do you?"

The horse huffed into his hair and he shrugged, gently blowing into her nostrils the way he'd been taught as a boy to let the horses get his scent, to know he wasn't going to harm them.

"No. I got a prince, but no horses. Maybe in the future, he's going to be some army officer or something, but right now..." he shook his head. "This is the closest I've been since..."

He didn't need to say since when. That day was burned into both of their memories like the brand was burned into Azarion's arm. Or the wolf was tattooed on Tiranês's arm. The former was the more apt comparison, though.

"Do they treat you all right, here, though?"

 

@Chevi

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"Careful, you don't want to lose fingers as well now, do you?"

Azarion grinned. It was good to be able to talk to someone, even if it was through the gestures their people used for hunting and trading. Tiranês understood him, not because of the language, but because they shared a home, and because he had known him back when he used to be a much more talkative little shit. And slave or not, his cousin still had the same touch with horses as all of their people.

"No. I got a prince, but no horses. Maybe in the future, he's going to be some army officer or something, but right now... This is the closest I've been since..."

Since the day Azarion lost his tongue. And somehow both of them survived.

"Do they treat you all right, here, though?"

Azarion nodded. He raised his arms, looking at the FVG brand and the lash marks, and shook his head, gesturing. Other men. Right now, with the Whites, he was in a good place, with a good master. And he got to do something that was exciting. I like this place, he added, gesturing at the horses. Of course he would have liked more to be free. But as far as slavery went, this was not the worst he had seen. He tilted his head at Tiranês. How about you?, poking at his tablet again. Chief? They did not really have a word for prince back home.

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"Stop that," Tiranês said, batting his younger cousin's hand away from poking too hard at the slave tablet he wore. "Sort-of chief, the way the Romans do it. The son of the old chief and the adopted brother of the new one."

Sarmatian didn't have a word for 'emperor' either, naturally.

"I'm the body-slave of Tiberius Claudius Sabucius, not that the name's going to mean anything to you." It hadn't meant anything to Tiranês when he'd been informed of his new master's identity, after all. The Sarmatian word he used was 'shield bearer' rather than 'body slave', their people did not have personal slaves the way the Romans did, personal servants were young warriors given the responsibility of looking after an older man's weapons and armour and learning from him. That the Romans gave such an important role to mere slaves just showed what a backwards sort of people they really were.

At least it wasn't Azarion's current owners who were responsible for the brand and all the various scars Tiranês could see on his arms. He would be willing to bet he had a good collection of whip scars across his back, too.

 

@Chevi

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His cousin did not seem all too happy or content with his position as an imperial body slave. Or maybe with Romans in general. Azarion could relate to that. Still, he somehow felt luckier, in a way. Which evened out the whole not-having-a-tongue difference.

"Stop that. Sort-of chief, the way the Romans do it. The son of the old chief and the adopted brother of the new one. I'm the body-slave of Tiberius Claudius Sabucius, not that the name's going to mean anything to you."

Azarion arched an eyebrow at him. The name did ring familiar. The races? Some young imperial had been there. So that was how his cousin found him.

Azarion finished fussing with Borena's mane, and nodded to Tiranes to follow. He walked out of the stables, closing the door, and headed towards the kitchens. He did not frequent the kitchens anymore, not since Safinia's death, but there was always food and drink left out for the charioteers. He glanced at his cousin over his shoulder. Tell your story.

@Sharpie

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Well, Tiranês didn't need Azarion to speak to understand 'come with me' and then a moment later, 'tell me everything that happened in the last eight years'. Where to start!!

He found himself seated on a rough bench with a cup of wine and his cousin's sharp eyes fastened on him.

"Well. You don't want to hear everything, do you?" He sighed. "They made me watch, you know. When they..." he indicated Azarion, with a shudder, the meaning clear. "They had me kneeling in the grass and one of them had a hand in my hair and a sword to my throat. I couldn't.... I couldn't stop them, I tried."

How desperately he had tried!

"And they call us barbarians," he added bitterly.

 

@Chevi

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"Well. You don't want to hear everything, do you?"

Azarion poured wine for the both of them. It was terribly watered down, as per Marcus' orders - no one wanted drunk charioteers around. But for what they were about to remember, they did need a drink.

"They made me watch, you know. When they... They had me kneeling in the grass and one of them had a hand in my hair and a sword to my throat. I couldn't.... I couldn't stop them, I tried. And they call us barbarians,"

Azarion sighed and nodded. I know. He was used to being an outsider here, many times over. And he knew Tiranês would have saved him if he could. He barely remembered anything from that day except for the terror and the pain, and that he was sure he was going to die and at one point wished he had. But he had never thought any of the hostages abandoned him willingly. I know. He could tell Tiranês remembered it more clearly than him. I thought they killed you.

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Tiranês shook his head. "I wished they had. I thought you were dead, or going to die soon, it was horrible. Anyway. They dragged you off and then one of them thought it would be fun to cut my hair off, they'd just been holding it. Well. Twisting their hands into the braids till I thought they were going to tear out by force." He hadn't had braids since, he'd never been able to grow it long enough even to start braiding it again - anyway, after that day, he didn't feel worthy enough to wear a warrior's hairstyle even if his captors had allowed it.

He managed a wry grin. "You can, though. Being a charioteer. Don't they let you get away with things like that?"

"There isn't much else to say, really. They put me in one of those neck rings - you know, the long slave chains with neck rings every so often, to chain a group of slaves together? Several of us were taken to one of their towns, I don't know which, and sold there, to another slave dealer who brought me to Italia. I ended up on a farm or something, somewhere. No horses, but I still had the sky, at least." He sighed. "And somehow someone in the imperial family saw me and wanted me, and he gave me to Tiberius, and here I am now."

Stuck as a slave in the middle of a city that didn't move, without any sort of horizon at all to speak of. Even on the Palatine, what horizon there was was filled with roofs and temples and hills.

He desperately missed the wide open steppe, as well as everything else.

"He came to the race the other day, and brought me, and I saw you. I wasn't sure it was you, at first - I thought you were dead."

 

@Chevi

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"I wished they had. I thought you were dead, or going to die soon, it was horrible. Anyway. They dragged you off and then one of them thought it would be fun to cut my hair off, they'd just been holding it. Well. Twisting their hands into the braids till I thought they were going to tear out by force." 

Azarion winced and frowned. Fuckers. Cutting hair was not brutal, compared to the other things they did to their hostages, but to a Sarmatian warrior, it was humiliation. Azarion wore his hair short too, ever since. Apparently, so did Tiranês.

"You can, though. Being a charioteer. Don't they let you get away with things like that?"

Azarion shrugged. First race. Maybe once he was more famous, and had brought more money to the Whites. One had to earn those kinds of freedoms.

Tiranês told the rest of his story: being sold, then sold again, to a farm, and then to the city, to the imperials. It was similar to his own journey. Probably with less lashings and torture, but Azarion chalked that up to his own stubborn self.

"He came to the race the other day, and brought me, and I saw you. I wasn't sure it was you, at first - I thought you were dead."

I thought you were. Azarion repeated with a sigh. So, he did see him at the races. Made sense. Is he good to you?

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Tiranês clasped his hands around the pottery cup he was holding. "I didn't think there were any good Romans, but he might be. He's very thoughtful. I mean, not considerate but... he thinks a lot. He's very serious."

He'd gone through a lot. Maybe not as much as Azarion and Tiranês had, but still, a lot, and at the hands of people who should have been friends or on the same side anyway.

"He's not bad," Tiranês allowed. He wasn't wilfully cruel and didn't inflict petty humiliations like some Romans did to their slaves. "He let me come to see you, to see if it was you." It was frustrating and rankled that he needed to ask for permission to go and see a friend or family member, but that was a relatively minor thing overall.

"What's it like, being a charioteer?" Azarion probably didn't have the signs for all the nuances and everything, but that didn't matter. What mattered was this time together for the first time in eight years - being able to speak his own tongue was another thing that had been taken away, simply because Tiranês had nobody around him who could understand it, which meant he was confined to Latin even when speaking with other slaves.

Not with Azarion, though. It felt so good just to talk in Sarmatian again.

 

@Chevi

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 "I didn't think there were any good Romans, but he might be. He's very thoughtful. I mean, not considerate but... he thinks a lot. He's very serious."

That was good to hear, at least. That Tiranes' master was not some kind of a violent monster like some of his had been. Azarion was not naive enough to imagine that imperials were in any way better than common people; in fact, he would have gladly believed they were all worse. But he also needed to hear that his cousin was in a better place than the last time they had met.

"He's not bad. He let me come to see you, to see if it was you." 

Oh. Azarion blinked. He knew. Alright then, his cousin definitely had to trust the dominus to tell him something like that. Romans did not like their slaves banding together.

"What's it like, being a charioteer?" 

Azarion shrugged. It was a hard question to answer, even if he could put it into words. I like the horses. He was lucky he got to work with them. I'm good at it. He was not the best charioteer yet by a long shot, but there was a challenge in it, a show of skills that he had sorely missed since he had lost his freedom. He was doing something of his own will and skill, rather than following orders. I fucking miss archery. The fucking was implied from his face, rather than a gesture.

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I fucking miss archery.

Azarion's expression said everything he felt about not being able to draw a bow again, and Tiranês nodded in agreement. He missed it, too. He looked down at his right hand - after eight years, he was losing the callouses from the bow-string that had been there ever since he could remember. Just another thing the Romans had taken away from him.

"Of course you're good with horses, they don't know the first thing about horses here. You're Sarmatian, there's nobody better with horses than a Sarmatian. You could ride before you could walk." He reached across the table to grasp Azarion's hand. "I'm glad you've got the horses, at least."

 

@Chevi

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Tiranês looked down at his hand. Azarion knew what he was looking for. His own hands were calloused now in all different ways, from the chariot racing. But he still remembered how to shoot a bow. That had been proven the one time when he'd wandered into a ludus, and almost made Safinia strangle him.

"Of course you're good with horses, they don't know the first thing about horses here. You're Sarmatian, there's nobody better with horses than a Sarmatian. You could ride before you could walk."

Azarion smiled a little. His cousin squeezed his hand in a reassuring gesture.

"I'm glad you've got the horses, at least."

He nodded. He was glad, too. He waved his free hand at the rest of the building. Chief. Parthian. If there were other people almost as good with horses... The Whites were a good team for a reason. Crazy Roman games...

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"The... chief? Oh." He must mean the man who ran the faction - Tiranês had some idea that the factions had someone in charge of them, as most organisations here did because working as a collective group was a complete mystery to the Romans. "He's Parthian? Well, then, you are in the right place."

His expression grew curious. "Does he know you're Sarmatian?"

He wasn't sure how he could, seeing as Azarion no longer had the ability to speak (fucking Romans!) but he had his first tattoo, which might be enough clue for someone from a similar culture and part of the world - Sarmatians and Dacians all traded with Parthia, and there were alliances and treaties.

 

@Chevi

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It took his cousin a moment to realize what he was saying. It had been easier for Azarion to figure out where his master was from than the other way around, obviously. But it made a difference in how they related to each other. Sort of.

"The... chief? Oh. He's Parthian? Well, then, you are in the right place. Does he know you're Sarmatian?"

Azarion nodded slowly. Marcus had figured it out eventually, with some help, and some letters. Whether he thought it was an advantage or not remained to be seen, but at least he had enough trust in Azarion to promote him to charioteer. He tilted his head.

Does your chief know?

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Tiranês shook his head. "No. Oh, he knows I'm not Roman but he's never asked about my past or anything. You know what Romans are like; they think you can't think or feel anything and have about as much of a story as a table does." Which was maybe being a bit harsh on Tiberius, but he was young, just a bit older than Azarion, and had the characteristic arrogance of a Roman patrician especially when dealing with slaves.

It wasn't as though the Romans were the only people who had slaves; even the Sarmatians did, but they didn't have so many, and the ones they did have were for the benefit of the community as a whole, not just for the privileged few.

He found himself studying his younger cousin's face, committing it to memory as it was now. He still had that wild fierce look about him, though it was a bit tempered now (and apparently only a bit, he seemed every bit as sarcastic as he always had been, he just couldn't say the words any more - but his expression was as open and speaking as ever!).

And that old ache he'd felt for so long, thinking that his cousin was dead and had died alone without anyone to care, was easing. He was sure that he'd wonder whether this was real, later.

"Do you think your chief would let me see you again, if I could come?" he asked, refusing to believe that this would be the only time they could meet.

 

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"No. Oh, he knows I'm not Roman but he's never asked about my past or anything. You know what Romans are like; they think you can't think or feel anything and have about as much of a story as a table does."

Azarion smirked. Tiranes had always been good at sarcasm too, just in a less obnoxious way. But now what Azarion could not talk anymore, his cousin was taking on the task of saying many of his thoughts out loud. And although less mutilated, he did not seem to have a better opinion of Romans at all. And now he was looking at him funny. Don't you get all fuzzy on me.

"Do you think your chief would let me see you again, if I could come?"

Azarion shrugged, then nodded. Marcus was not that strict when it came to visitors to the charioteers. As long as they behaved themselves. Important riders, he signed, not having a sign for charioteer in particular, have lots of friends. And women. He added with a smirk. Or men, depending. Visitors, anyway. I just need to get better. And behave well. He added, rolling his eyes. As if.

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Tiranês wasn't sure he wanted to think of his cousin with lots of women, though he supposed Azarion wasn't as young as he had been - it was getting easier to reconcile the image in front of him with the memory of the young boy Azarion was when he'd last seen his cousin. He had tried, over the years, to remember the good times with his family, but inevitably it had been spoilt by the insistent image seared into his memory of that very last time he'd seen Azarion.

Which was why the Romans had made him watch, of course.

It had given him a recurring nightmare for years.

"How many women do you need?" he asked, focussing on the here and now flesh-and-blood person in front of him; his cousin alive and mostly well, save for the fact that half the conversation was in the traders' sign, which wasn't fantastic for holding this sort of conversation but had to do. It was helped by Azarion's expressive face - there was more than one reason he'd ended up here. Tiranês couldn't see him serving in a Roman's house for more than day without angering someone important because he couldn't keep his thoughts off his face.

"You did well the other day - you must have been racing for a while already. You won't have any problems with the horses, anyway."

The hardest part would be behaving; Azarion had never really been good at that - they'd be talking with each other now, if he was better at that, after all.

 

@Chevi

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