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Late September 76CE

"Jason?" Tiberius called lightly, as he carefully tied the scroll he'd been reading and set it aside. His body slave was usually around somewhere, discrete and out of view, but near enough to be summoned when needed. It was what one wanted in the best of slaves. He'd been a gift from Tiberius's Uncle Jullus some three years ago now, and proven entirely satisfactory.

The only times he wasn't around was when he occasionally asked to go off on his own, or Tiberius dismissed him as he did when he knew he'd be busy most of the day, such as during a Senate session. As long as he was back by the time he needed him, there was no reason to make him wait. And he always was.

He wasn't Roman born, Tiberius knew that; he had an accent, to go with his looks. But he knew little enough about him otherwise. That hadn't really struck him until his conversation with Cynane.

@Sharpie

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Jason hastily set down the carving he'd been attempting as he heard his name called from elsewhere in the suite of rooms that belonged to Tiberius (or were set aside for his use, at least). It still seemed surreal that one person had a whole set of rooms that was bigger than the yurt shared by Jason's entire family back home.

"Domine?" he said, coming into the room where his master had been reading. He stood with his hands folded and eyes lowered though he remained poised, watching his master in case there was some subtle indication or signal that he needed to be aware of.

 

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As always, Jason appeared mere moments after Tiberius called for him.

"I'm going to go for a walk." He told his slave. "Fetch my cloak."

The scrolls were neatly lined up on his desk; later he'd probably ask Jason to put them away, but he wasn't certain that he'd finished with them. He wanted to walk so that he could mull over the contents. The one by Seneca he'd read before, but the words had stuck in his mind, and somehow the reading of them made them more real.

He pondered this as he stood, arms slightly away from his sides, so that Jason could drape the cloak about his shoulders.

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It only took Jason a moment to retrieve his master's cloak (and his own, just in case) and a little longer to drape and pin it around Tiberius' shoulders to his satisfaction. Whether he was content to merely walk among the houses and temples of the Palatine complex, or whether he wanted to wander further into the city, Jason would be with him unless specifically told otherwise.

It was an invisible leash and Jason had found it extremely frustrating in his early days as a slave. Now, though, he was older and had settled to it a little more. And a walk outside was at least to be outside rather than indoors.

"Will there be anything else, Domine?" he asked, stepping back once the cloak was pinned satisfactorily.

 

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The cloak settled comfortably around his shoulders and Tiberius stood still whilst Jason deftly inserted the fibula to hold it in place. Autumn's chill was beginning to be felt in the breeze and the warm wool would be a comfort. He noted that the slave had fetched his own cloak, also good wool, without being asked. Tiberius rarely went out without at least one of his slaves, and it was usually Jason.

Will there be anything else, Domine?

Tiberius smiled faintly. "No, lets go." The assumption that Jason was coming was plain.

The young Imperial wandered out of the palace and into the Hortulus, more for somewhere to put his feet than anything else. He'd had a number of conversations recently that had brought new meaning to that treatise by Seneca, all of which was feeding a thought process and series of ideas which Tiberius had been working through.

He was starting to see slaves in a new light.

"Where did you go the other day, Jason?" He asked out of mild curiosity. He often gave his slaves leave when he had no need of the, but Jason had seemed particularly keen to head into the city the last time he'd been out that he'd left Tiberius wondering.

He wasn't quite at the point of respecting a slave's privacy.

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Let's go.

Well, that was as clear a command as any and Jason hurriedly picked up his own cloak, pulling it around him. The question caught him by surprise and made him pause in trying to pin the plain brown folds into place. As though he had a guilty conscience over it - which he didn't, not really. Except he sort of did.

"I went down to the chariot stables, Domine," he said carefully, trying to gauge what motive might lie behind Tiberius' question. "To the White stables."

Was he going to be in trouble for that? It would be the first real time he'd been in trouble with Tiberius, if so, although he'd been in trouble many many times since his capture, before he'd come to the Palace to serve his current master. He had started to relax, to let his guard down, and now he was going to pay for it. Probably.

 

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As his body slave followed Tiberius out of the palace building and into the Hortus, his answer both surprised the young Imperial, and intrigued him. How very interesting. What was Jason's connection with the chariot racers, if any? It had been a fairly idle question, but now his curiosity was piqued. Still, there was no evidence that he was at all displeased with the answer.

"I saw you were watching the charioteers keenly, when we attended the races across the Tiber." He commented. Jason's interest had been pretty obvious. It had also pleased Tiberius in some way that Jason had seemed to enjoy himself that day, or at least take a strong interest. "What is it that interests you so?"  He asked, wondering what his slave might have thought to achieve at the stables.

Presumably if he'd caused any trouble Tiberius would have heard about it, but it just seemed such an odd thing for him to do. Jason was never trouble, not whilst in Tiberius's possession, but he was also mild and unobtrusive in so many ways. This  gave a sudden and unexpected glimpse of the man behind the slave's demeanour.

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Oh, his master was sharp-eyed, and observant with it!

"Yes, Domine. I thought I recognised one of the charioteers." The back of his master's head and the set of his shoulders gave nothing away and Jason sighed quietly. He'd be questioned until he said everything, probably, so it would be better to say it voluntarily. But he didn't really want to let this Roman in on a private thing, and maybe give him knowledge he could use against Jason later.

Not that he had ever seen Tiberius do that sort of thing. But he was still young, and he was a Roman.

He took a breath. "I was right, Domine. He was my cousin."

 

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He was my cousin.

The words seemed to make the world pause for a moment. They were said so mildly, so evenly, and yet they had so much meaning in them, and that deep breath. Jason's cousin.

It was a glimpse into the background of his body slave, of which Tiberius realised he knew so very little. He assumed that Jason wasn't born a slave, not with that accent, and those words seemed to confirm it. His cousin, from his past life, when he was free. And his cousin was a charioteer? He might be a slave or free, in that role. He had to be good at what he did.

"Not the one who was injured?" He asked, thinking quickly. "No, he wasn't a White." So hopefully he was well.

The young Imperial paused, glanced back over his shoulder at his body slave. It was easy to forget that Jason was older than him, though not by too much; he was so unobtrusive. The words of Seneca, whom he'd re-read that morning, echoed in his mind. How hard was it, to be kind?

He started walking again. "I have no objection to you going to the stables to see your cousin when you have time off, so long as I receive no complaint from the owner." He said clearly, so that there was no doubt on the matter.

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"No, Domine, the younger of the White charioteers," he said quietly, very nearly missing his master's pause, although he caught himself just in time. "Gratitude, Domine," he added, trying to squash his resentment that he needed permission to be able to see his own family - all the family that was left to him in this city that was far too big in all the wrong ways.

Tiberius would receive no word of complaint from the Whites' chief. Jason was not going to give anyone any cause to prevent him from seeing and speaking to Azarion, his last link to his own people (as he was to Azarion).

He dropped back into his usual place as his master resumed walking again, looking unusually thoughtful even from Jason's position behind his right shoulder. He wondered what his master was thinking about, though it probably wasn't anything good.

 

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The younger of the White's charioteers. Jason's cousin. Tiberius thought about his own cousins, half of whom were resident in the palace and the other half could wander through it with impunity. He could see them whenever he wanted, within reason. It explained his body slave's interest in the race. Had he known his cousin would be racing? Or had he only learned of the man's presence when he saw him?

Of course, legally a slave had no family, no ancestors, few rights and no personal soveriegnty. Even things they might own were considered to belong to their owners, unless they were manumitted. They also had a lower birth rate and shorter life expectancy. But did it have to be that way?

Slaves were an important part of the Empire; her economy would falter without them. And as Jason's owner Tiberius held responsibility for his actions. There were always a few slaves who were problematic in their behaviour, but most were quite reliable and many seemed to prefer their security, though it depended on what roles they played. He'd heard about harsher conditions out in the countryside - particularly in the mines - which concerned him.

Most of those who struggled with their place weren't born slaves; and he knew Jason hadn't been. Had he been captured then? Might his cousin be the only person he knew from his previous life, here in the city? Tiberius suspected that might be the case.

"Where are you and your cousin from, Jason?" He asked, curious.

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Tiberius had never previously shown any interest in Jason's background or history or anything else about him; he was there, he followed orders and made Tiberius' life easier by taking care of all the small things, fetching and carrying and tidying.  Tiberius' interest was new, and Jason wondered what he had been reading or discussing that had led to this sudden curiosity.

"Sarmatia, Domine," he said neutrally, hoping that this piece of information was not something that could be used against him somehow in the future - even if Tiberius himself wouldn't do so right now, that didn't preclude him or anyone else from it at some point. Though Tiberius was not duplicitous as some people were... and if anyone knew that, his body slave did.

Sarmatia was outside the Empire anyway, and did not have the sort of riches that made the Romans want to conquer a place. The riches came to Rome from the East via a much more southern road than any route through Sarmatia, a route that was not snowbound in the depths of winter.

 

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"Sarmatia." Tiberius echoed. The word brought to mind steppes and treed plains, and not a great deal else. No big settlements anyway, not the way that Romans thought of them, rather he'd read that the people were nomadic, travelling the vast plains with their herds of horses. Like the Parthians they were sometimes raiders, and apparently their women fought as well. They were also the nearest people within the Scythian regions, which also bordered the Parthian lands. They had, at various times, been a thorn in the side of Rome, raiding along their shared border, but that was all he knew.

Presumably Jason's presence here was result of that last fact; captives regularly became slaves.

"I read that your people are nomads; you travel all the time, and keep many horses. Is that true?" He asked, intrigued. "Is that why your cousin is working with the Whites?" If the Sarmatian people were raised with horses and skilled with them, a Sarmatian charioteer could be a real boon for the White teams.

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Well, what do you know! His books had actually taught him something useful and correct, for once!

"Yes, Domine, it is," he said. "We can ride almost before we can walk."

And your people have taken it away from me, he added in his own thoughts. It was an old bitterness by now, something he tried not to think about too much, except on the days when the longing for it was so strong it left a tang in his mouth that tasted almost of blood. He had never let it show, though; some things hurt too much to be allowed to show, especially to people like the Romans.

He squeezed his hands behind his back, trying to let the sudden tension bleed out before it could be detected in his words.

"I suppose it must be, Domine." Though they don't know he's Sarmatian - how could they, after what happened to him?

 

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They were horse people. Records were always written through the eyes of an individual, so it was gratifying to know that particular one had held truth. And that skill was presumably what had brought Jason's cousin to the reins of a Whites chariot. He'd never really thought about Jason's past before; enslaved people lost their heritage along with other rights, but of course he'd had one.

Was it necessary? After all, slaves with certain skills were valued, like those who could read and write, or speak languages. Many of the makers - the potters, the bakers, the clay bowl makers - were slaves. Did it matter whether if learned those skills before they were enslaved? Clearly not in his cousin's case.

On impulse Tiberius changed direction, through a gateway that let out onto more of the palace grounds. "Come with me." Not that Jason had much choice. But the young Imperial led the way through a courtyard and in the direction of a long, low building. From it, on the cooler autumn breeze, came the scents of hay, leather, and horses. The stables.

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"Come with me."

The command was given in as level and neutral a tone as any order Tiberius had ever issued him; Jason had never once known him to get impatient or angry with his slaves, or to snap an order unnecessarily.

Three words and an abrupt change of direction, through a gateway that led out of the private gardens and to more serviceable courtyards, and across towards another building. The autumn breeze was in their faces, bringing with it the smells and sounds of horses. Jason had been to the stables here, but only on very infrequent occasions. It was a place he would like to be able to visit more, but it was out of earshot of his master's rooms and he could not spend so long away from his master when Tiberius was in the palace.

He wondered what thoughts were running through Tiberius' head, but the upright bearing and set of his shoulders gave nothing away, and he could not ask. No Roman liked their slaves to talk out of turn, after all, and Tiberius was no different in that regard.

 

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As the two young men stepped inside they were met with stronger scents that indicated this was most definitely a place of horses. Several long faces looked at them with dark eyes and pricked ears over their stall partitions. One of the stable slaves hurried into the back and a few moments later the master of the stables was hurrying forward, asking what he could do for the young Imperial.

"I want two horses saddled." Tiberius said simply.

Two? The stable master queried, glancing from Tiberius to his body slave and back again. Tiberius raised his brows slightly, indicating wordlessly that he was quite certain the stable master had heard him, and the other man murmured yes, of course and hurried off.

There was a flurry of activity and soon two beasts of the Imperial stables were brought forward. They were fine creatures, bright of eye and alert in the flicking of their ears, handsome heads raised, reins hanging from the bits in their mouths. One was a bay gelding and the other a chestnut stallion, the latter wearing particularly fine tack. Even as they watched the chestnut flattened his ears back and shuffled his bum around, trying to aim a kick at the gelding. Tiberius resisted the urge to roll his eyes. The stallion had been a gift to him and he disliked it because of it's temperament, but apparently having a mount that thought with it's gonads was a sign of one's own virility, or something.

At Tiberius's nod, the slaves led the two horses over to the mounting blocks. "You take the chestnut." He said to Jason, whilst the stable master's but Dominus... earned him another look. If Jason was as comfortable on a horse as he said he was, he was probably a much better rider than Tiberius.

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Jason had thought that his master was simply going to show his horses off, maybe letting him stroke the noses of one or two.

"I want two horses saddled." That simple order, expressed as a wish, earned his master an incredulous look from behind his shoulder. The stable master wasn't the only one who thought he might have misheard.

And of course, Tiberius being who he was, it wasn't long before two horses were being led out, both of them far finer creatures than the sturdy horses of the steppes. It was obvious which of them was intended for Tiberius, of course; the chestnut stallion was wearing tack inlaid with gold. No stirrups, naturally.

Tiberius' quiet next order - "You take the chestnut" - earned him a protest from the stable master and a jaw-dropping moment from Jason before he gathered himself enough to reply quietly, "Yes, Domine."

And Tiberius might be different in his temperament and expectations from all other Romans in this over-crowded city, but there were still things which gave him away as being as Roman as anyone else. Everything suggested that he expected Jason to get on the back of a strange horse he'd never met before, which had a fiery temperament and probably wouldn't appreciate it, and all without the security of stirrups, which the Romans had never shown any sign of adopting even though they had had plenty of clashes with Jason's own people and people like the the Parthians who also used them.

He was probably going to risk being snapped at, or earning that silent disapproving look that had made the stable master's protest become merely a "Yes, Dominus" - but he was not about to climb on the back of a horse he'd never met, which seemed intent on kicking its stable mate.

He approached the big stallion from the side, where he could be seen, speaking softly in Sarmatian to it. "My name is Tiranes. I am sorry they didn't tell me yours, but you are very beautiful."

He lifted his hand to the animal's soft nose, pausing as it nickered at him, and blew gently into its face as it lowered its head again. "Ssh, easy, easy now..."

He switched back to Latin, raising his voice enough that his master could hear him. "What is his name, Domine?"

 

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Jason earned a look, but not the one he was probably expecting. Rather, Tiberius was watching him with interest. And because the Imperial didn't object or interfere, no one else dared to either. And Tiberius had deliberately told Jason to take the chestnut because he wanted to see what he would do with the beast. The Imperial disliked the horse because of it's temperament, but he was open to the idea that there could be ways to manage it and that Jason, if he was as good with horses as he claimed, might just know how.

The language was unintelligible to Tiberius, but the animal seemed to respond positively to Jason's murmurings, nickering and sniffing at him as he reached up gently to touch the animal. Usually that was asking for a bite.

"He's called Ignis." He supplied simply. The Latin word for fire, appropriate to both colour and temperament. Intrigued, Tiberius stepped closer, watching Jason with the horse, but not close enough to interfere. His body slave was doing what he wanted, he simply wanted to observe.

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"Ignis," Jason repeated, turning back to the horse. "Is that because you're full of fire, hmm? That can be a good thing, but you need to learn patience and stillness too, my friend."

He glanced at Tiberius, who had come a little closer although not close enough to encroach on the horse's space. He seemed to be in a strangely indulgent sort of mood today, which was unusual although not out of character. He didn't seem in a hurry to mount and ride anywhere - he hadn't come in the direction of the stables until Jason had confirmed that his people rode, in fact. Was it possible he'd brought Jason here just for Jason's own pleasure?

How utterly bizarre - not that he was going to complain.

He wanted nothing more than to be in the saddle, but this was not his own well-trained and much-mourned Burdukhan, this was an Imperial horse with an Imperial master - and a temper to match - who didn't know him. And wasn't properly equipped with stirrups, although Jason wasn't about to let that stop him - he could ride bareback as well as with a saddle, though he'd never made a habit of it and never done it for very long.

Ignis was starting to look impatient and had begun pawing the ground.

He was about to take a risk, though it was one he thought worth it - for both the horse and Tiberius himself, in the long run. "Would you ask them for some apple or carrot slices, please, Domine?"

 

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It was interesting, seeing Jason with Ignis. It had been an impulsive move, taking them to the stables, but not without thought. Tiberius was seeing a side of his body slave that he'd never seen before. If he seemed indulgent, it fit with the types of thinking he'd been doing recently, derived from the philosophers he'd been reading. And the Imperial officials, particularly in the provinces. After all, it was the slaves who harvested the grain and the fruit, who hunted and butchered many of the beasts, who mined the ore and cut the wood. It was important for the Empire's economy to understand them, and he could start with his own.

He had also considered that Jason might enjoy the experience, and that he himself might learn something about horsemanship, as well as about slaves. Certainly Ignis seemed to have accepted Jason's handling with more grace than he did with most, though he was already starting to shift his weight from hoof to hoof and paw in frustration. Next it would be the head throw, Tiberius knew from experience.

Then Jason made an unexpected request. Some food, apple or carrot. It had to be a treat for the horse. He turned to the stable master, who was watching, trying and failing to keep the incredulity off his face. "Do you have any?" He asked, with the Imperial expectation that something would materialise. The man gave Jason a fleeting look of slight respect, before indicated that there were. He came back a few moments later with an apple, red skinned but slightly over-ripe. Pulling a practical knife from his belt, the stable master cut the apple into slices with an ease that said he'd done it many times before.

"What is that for, Jason?" Tiberius asked, interested.

Behind him the bay gelding seemed content to whuffle at the hair of the slave holding him, as though asking ever so gently why they were all dressed up with no place to go.

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Jason recognised the signs though the only thing he changed about his stance was his grip on the reins, which he tightened so that Ignis would not be able to jerk free when he did toss his head.

"You want him to learn good behaviour, Domine," he said. "You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar." He took one slice from the stable-master (he would take them all but had nowhere to stow the others for now).

"Let's show them you know how to stand still," he said quietly to the horse, speaking in his own tongue.

Ignis snorted and threw up his head, but Jason was ready for him and did not let him jerk the reins free.

"Still, my friend, nice and easy. Just like that," he said and offered the apple slice the moment there was a pause in motion. He switched back to Latin, taking another slice of the apple. "You associate the good thing with the behaviour you want, Domine. Horses are very intelligent - more than a lot of people realise - and you can teach them almost anything, if they trust you."

It would be good to mount Ignis and ride, something he yearned for almost every day, but this lesson would not take very long, and hopefully it would be short enough that Tiberius would still be in a frame of mind to go for a ride.

He clicked his tongue at the chestnut. "We are going to have to talk in Latin, even if it's a very silly language, because our master does not know Sarmatian," he said quietly, and switched back to Latin again, still talking in the same soft tone of voice. "Walk on..."

The horse came with him and a moment later, "Stand - good boy." He offered the second piece of apple as soon as Ignis halted with all four hooves on the ground.

 

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You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

It was an easy comment, an aphorism repeated so often that one didn't really hear the words any more, and yet there was something in the way that Jason said it, or perhaps in the way that his thoughts were running, that made it echo in Tiberius's ears with the the impact of the voices of the Gods. Jason was talking about the horse - probably - but his master heard it with far wider relevance.

You can teach them almost anything, if they trust you.

Perhaps the impulse to come to the stables had been guided by something more than just his own fancy. But even as parts of his mind wanted to whir off into wild philosophy, Tiberius grounded his attention on Jason and Ignis. The horse was known for fighting his handlers and generally being a pain in the posterior, but Jason's gentle approach and what Tiberius assumed were words of encouragement seemed to be accepted far more graciously. He watched what his slave was doing; feeding the horse whenever it did what he wanted, rather than whipping it when it didn't, which was what many would do. Honey and vinegar.

"So you're rewarding the good behaviour, rather than punishing the bad." He voiced his thoughts. Which made sense. "Is there ever a situation where you would punish a horse?" He was of course looking at the situation from a very Roman point of view, but he wanted to learn, was trying to understand. The Sarmatians were expert horse people, and assuming that his slave wasn't lying to him, Jason's advice had to be the better road.

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Tiberius sounded thoughtful. Probably nobody around here had ever tried actually teaching horses before.

"Is there ever a situation where you would punish a horse?" was his master's next question and Jason gave him a quick frown.

"No. They wouldn't understand it, they don't think like humans to have a concept of bad behaviour and punishment," he said. "The very closest would be something like this..." He clicked his tongue at the horse again. "Walk on, Ignis." He backed up, keeping in front of the horse and a few steps later he put his hand out on the horse's chest. "Woah there," he said, still using the quiet gentle tone of voice, and offering another slice of apple as the horse stopped.

"It's... pressure, and the release of pressure when he moves the way you want," he said in explanation, thinking the demonstration might have been too subtle. "You want the horse to trust you and he won't do that, he won't give you anything except trouble if he's afraid of you and what you might do. You want to make it easy for him, pleasant for him, to give you what you want. You work with a horse to get what you want, rather than driving him to it - you will never get the best from a horse that's driven."

Romans would never understand, of course they wouldn't. It was something that Jason had never really been taught; he'd seen the example of his father and the other tribespeople and just knew it, the way you followed the north star at night to keep the right direction, the way the wind blew the grass and the sun rose in the east.

"It's hardly surprising you wouldn't wait for a Roman if he left you alone, isn't it," he told the horse quietly, revelling in being able to speak his own tongue to such a magnificent creature. Latin was such a clumsy language in comparison.

He glanced at his master's face, to see curiosity written there, and something else, something that prompted him to add, quickly, "Give me - give me a month, to work with him, Domine, to show you what he can do."

 

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Tiberius was thoughtful. He'd only been taught how to ride horses, not how to train them. He was an Imperial, training them was left for others. But the way that Ignis responded to Jason's simple actions - and whatever he was saying - spoke volumes. He was also seeing parallels between the horse and certain other creatures in his possession. In his care.

It very quickly became clear that Jason knew far more about horses than Tiberius did, which was what he'd both expected and hoped, given his earlier assertion. And so the young Imperial listened and watched carefully, giving Jason his full attention. Though is body slave was no doubt aware that Tiberius rarely did anything thoughtlessly or with less than full deliberation.

You want to make it easy for him, pleasant for him, to give you what you want.

"Do you think Ignis is afraid of us, or what we might do?" He asked quietly, watching the horse. He was high spirited, that much was obvious. And if he was afraid, perhaps his high spirits caused him to fight, to attempt to flee. A more cowed animal might cower obediently instead, but he could see what Jason said in that one would never get the same enthusiasm of cooperation unless the horse wanted to do what was asked of it. Rather like people really.

Jason glanced at him, and for a moment the two young men's gazes met. It was a rare instance, Tiberius recalled Jason's gaze as usually downcast. But this horse had suddenly turned the tables on them, and Jason was the expert. Then he did something Tiberius didn't think he'd ever recalled the man doing; he made a direct request. Give me a month. Tiberius looked from the chestnut stallion - who was looking more relaxed than he thought he'd ever seen him - to his body slave, who was looking much the same. And he gave an odd little smile. "Granted, on the proviso that you teach me too." He clearly had a lot to learn about horses, and perhaps about people.

Copying Jason's earlier gesture, Tiberius slowly held out a hand towards the horse's nose.

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