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At the edge of the world


Jason
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Sarmatia, 76AD, near the border of the Roman province of Pannonia

 

Tiranês' clan and his cousin's tribe had come together, as they did occasionally, to trade and meet with friends and relatives. It meant that Tiranês and Azarion could spend some time together, go riding and hunting together. Today was going to be different from usual, though - they were close to the Romans and Tiranês wanted to see them, to try to understand what all the fuss was about them, and he had persuaded Azarion to join him. Not that it took all that much persuading, Azarion being who he was.

Tiranês swept his hair out of his eyes and tended to his horse, Burdukhan, as he waited for Azarion to join him over the brow of the hill from the encampment.

"There you are! I thought you weren't coming," he said as his younger cousin drew up to him.

 

@Chevi

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Azarion managed to sneak out of his family's tent at dawn, before too many people were up to see him leaving the camp. If anyone asked, he was ready to claim he was going hunting, and he carried his bow and arrows to sell the lie. Or half-lie. Maybe they would hunt, once they were done staring at the Romans.

He led Borena away from the camp and over the hill, just to find his cousin already waiting.

"There you are! I thought you weren't coming," 

"Like I would let you wander off alone" Azarion grinned at his cousin, tossing him a bread roll he had put away for breakfast the night before. "If you didn't find your way back, I'd be the one sent out to fetch your ass anyway."

@Sharpie

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Tiranês caught the bread roll easily. "You mean, you don't want to miss out on an adventure," he said. "I can understand that."

He just wanted to see what was so special about the Romans, and then maybe go hunting and possibly even find a river for a swim later on. Life on the steppe was so free and easy, a decision like that so natural - he wondered how on earth the Romans managed to function shut up in towns and behind stone walls.

"Race you to the river?" he said, stowing the bread roll for later.

 

@Chevi

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"You mean, you don't want to miss out on an adventure. I can understand that."

Azarion rolled his eyes at his cousin, patting Borena's nose. Of course he liked adventures. The two of them got into trouble more often than not, and if one of them came up with a reckless idea, the other usually followed, even if he snarked about it. This time, the idea had been Tiranês'. But Azarion was happy to come along.

"Race you to the river?" 

"You enjoy losing that much?" Azarion grinned, pulling himself into the saddle in a swift motion, and nudging Borena into a gallop. "I'll be waiting for you there!"

@Sharpie

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Tiranes was halfway into his own saddle as he issued the challenge, though Azarion's turn of speed was rather surprising. He had known his cousin for years, though, and was already kicking Burdukhan into a gallop before he was fully seated. Sarmatians could ride almost as soon as they could walk, after all, and it showed in the feats of horsemanship they demonstrated.

 "I'll have your lunch half cooked when you get there," he flung back at his cousin as his sturdy mare galloped across the plain beside Azarion's, the two Sarmatians happy and carefree and laughing as they rode, the wind whipping their hair around.

 

@Chevi

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They rode side by side across the plains, their horses keeping pace. The cousins were both good riders, just like everyone in their tribes, and the horses they had chosen for themselves were carefully reared and trained. Azarion leaned forward, whooping as they flew over grass and flowers and splashed in streams. He was somewhat lighter than Tiranes, which would have been an advantage had his cousin not started out precious seconds sooner. This way, they were still side by side by the time they got to the hills that rose in a soft wave between them and the great river. This was usually as far as they came, unless their tribes had trade or negotiations to do with the Romans. Azarion glanced at his cousin, trying to see if he planned on slowing down.

@Sharpie

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He had said 'to the river' but the Romans were on the other side of that and probably wouldn't appreciate even two 'barbarians' bearing down on them at full speed - and they were out of sight of their own people by a long way. It probably wouldn't be the wisest idea in the world to go bearing down on anyone at full speed... yet he could imagine the comments Azarion would throw at him all the way back to camp if he slowed down now. Still, a bit of caution couldn't hurt - he really didn't want to do anything that might cause them to retaliate when he was merely curious about them.

He shifted his weight, a very slight movement that brought Burdukhan back to a canter. "All right, you win," he told his cousin, laughing with the exhilaration of the ride. He didn't mind giving place to his younger cousin on occasion - it had only been a bit of fun and nothing serious, after all.

 

@Chevi

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"If you tell anyone you let me win, I'll piss on your blankets" Azarion declared with a grin. They both slowed down and pulled up short, side by side, before they would have crested the hills by the river. The Romans were on the other side. There was no agreement or law forbidding them from going straight down to the water if they wanted to, but relations were tense, and no one wanted some Sarmatian youth to be mistaken for a sentry. Azarion slid off the saddle, patting Borena's neck. "You want to go see what they are up to?..."

@Sharpie

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"I'd like to see you try," Tiranês said with an answering grin. "If you do, I'll just pinch yours to replace them."

He leaned forwards in the saddle, pulling fondly at one of Burdukhan's ears. "It'd be a shame to come all this way and not see them, don't you think?"

Surely it would be all right if they stayed on their side of the river? They didn't look like a scouting party, and there was nothing at all to say that they couldn't water their horses here - the river was the border, not the hills on one side or the other. If they didn't cross, the Romans would have no reason to cross either, they could look at each other in perfect happiness.

"They're probably not up to anything, either," he said. It would be a bit of a let-down if they crossed the low hill and there weren't any Romans in sight, of course. But on the other hand, what if the Romans thought they were some sort of scouting party and wanted to defend their territory by crossing into Sarmatian territory? That would be horrible, and all their own fault.

 

@Chevi

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"It'd be a shame to come all this way and not see them, don't you think?"

"True..." Azarion was curious. The Romans were weird, so different from the tribes on this side of the river, and on the far side of the plains. They believed in different gods, and built different things. And seemed intent on conquering everything in sight.

"They're probably not up to anything, either," 

"Well, let's see." Azarion patted Borena's neck again. She would stay, she was well trained. He headed for the low hills, walking up among the flowers and low bushes. On the last few steps as he crested the hill, he crouched lower in the tall grass, peering over at the river.

@Sharpie

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Tiranês dismounted easily to join his cousin. Burdukhan whickered at him before starting to crop the grass. He had no fears that she would not be where he left her, with his gear intact; Sarmatian horses were well-trained and more trustworthy than most people. He debated for a moment whether to take his bow but decided not to, there would be no need for it and if they were spotted, he didn't need to look threatening.

"It would be just our luck to pick somewhere where there aren't any Romans in sight," he said quietly, ducking down as they crested the hill. No need to silhouette themselves against the skyline, after all.

He hoped that they weren't making a mistake and that the Romans didn't think they might be some sort of scouting party.

 

@Chevi - sorry for the delay!

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"Wouldn't it be a sad world without any Romans" Azarion grinned as they got to the top of the hill, and crouched among the shrubs. Below them, the hill sloped down to the great river, grass giving way to sand and pebbles. On the other side, the same thing, like a mirror image - except on the hill opposite of theirs, the square silhouette of a Roman fortress stood out against the sky.

A few Romans could be seen by the riverbank on the opposite side, watering their horses. A few women, probably belonging to the settlement behind the fortress, were washing clothes downstream. The horses were larger than the Sarmatians', and seemed more skittish.

"How do they even ride those without stirrups?" Azarion muttered, craning his neck to see if there was anything on the closer side of the river.

@Sharpie

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"I have no idea," Tiranês replied. The Roman horses were definitely bigger than the small sturdy animals he was used to, and seemingly less placid, too. "I bet they can't train them properly, either - they look like they'd bolt given half a chance. Not horse people, that's clear!"

Which meant that they were not people he felt he had any sort of kinship with, unlike the Parthians to the south or the Dacians further west.

"I bet they're lousy archers, too," he added, watching the fortress keenly to see if he could spot one of the famed legionaries.

 

@Chevi

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No, the Romans were definitely not horse people. And yet, they had conquered half the world, and they were staring across the river now. Azarion was too young to remember the last time his people fought the Romans, but he knew it had been a stalemate at best. The Romans might not have been blessed by the Sarmatian gods, the gods of the wilderness, but they were tough as nails.

"They bring the archers from elsewhere" Azarion noted. He remembered the adults talking about tall, dark-skinned men with tall, straight bows among the Roman cohorts. So out of place for the shining metal armors. 

Talking about shining...

A glint caught Azarion's eye. He craned his neck, looking down along the river to where the hills partially obscured the view of a bend. Something metallic glinted in the sun... and it was on this side of the water. "Did you see that?"

@Sharpie

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"Did I see... Oh. Oh, shit."

There was a very unnatural looking silver flash over to their left, down the river. That wasn't sunlight on water, it was far too bright.

"If they find Burdukhan and Borena..." he added, pressing lower into the grass.

Of course the Romans couldn't hold to a treaty the way they expected his and Azarion's people to - utter nonsense. They'd put their own fort up on their side and woe betide any Sarmatian who came down to the river on this side.

Maybe they should come down here every so often and set up camp, just to show they could, that this was still their territory. That would be something to think about later on, though.

 

@Chevi

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Oh shit, indeed. The Romans were on this side of the river. And way too close. Azaron glanced back at the bottom of the hill where the horses were grazing.

"If they find Burdukhan and Borena..."

"We should probably go." Azarion noted, although he was still keeping an eye on the riverbank. "Or we could... find a better vantage point and see what they are up to?" Maybe it was nothing. Or maybe it was something very, very serious. There was no way of knowing.

@Sharpie

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