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Don't Get Attached


Paullus
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July, 73 AD

New environment, same song, same dance. Paullus's learned to roll with the punches, both literal and metaphorical. One of the other slaves responsible for sweeping the stables makes a big point out of whacking Paullus's legs with the end of the broom, and it's getting incredibly annoying. Also, the bruises aren't very attractive. Right now, Paullus's looks are about all he has going for him. He supposes he deserves it, in a way. Back before the farm went under, a new stableboy joined the ranks to handle the horses, and handled his own share of ribbing from the others. Paullus gleefully joined in once he realized it helped him gain acceptance from the others. Now, he's the butt of every joke and mishandled prank. New blood always faces the same problems. 

Right as he dodges the broom to the knees, he accidentally barges in on a gathering of three other boys. They're slightly older and have been here for longer, so even though he really wants to tell them how stupid they look when they make fun of him, he holds his tongue. A rare occurrence, yet one that grows more frequent as the days pass. Quite a pity, really. Once a proud Dobunni second in line for taking over his father's business, now a slave with a butt-ugly brand on his arm from a few years ago, and freshly cropped hair courtesy of his most recent buyer. The boys look at him before the tallest looks Paullus up and down. He feels oddly vulnerable, and responds in kind by puffing up his chest and standing up as straight as possible. The tall one, who he figures is leader, smirks, flicking his eyes from Paullus to somewhere beyond the group. "Here comes the ruby of the stables." A prod to Paullus's chest. "You should ask her out."

"...What?" 

"I'm not kidding. Do it."

"I-"

"Who do you fear more right now, us or the dominus?" They crowd around him. Self-preservation takes over. 

"Fine." With that, he walks over, having never met this girl before. She has an air of elegance about her. Paullus clears his throat and hopes he can pull this off. "Hey. Nice weather today, ain't it?"

@Chevi

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Rubina strolled into the stables like she owned the place - which she didn't, but she might as well have. She had been around since before she could walk, on account of her father being one of the Reds' star charioteers. He was retired now, but still worked training the young blood, and Rubina... just liked spending time around her racing family. 

Today she was dressed in a simple, rust-colored tunica, with her hair haphazardly pinned back. It was not a racing day, no need to doll up, and even though she was sixteen years old, more than ready for marriage, she was in no hurry to catch anyone's eyes. Especially at the stables. That would have been weird. 

She was just heading out to the tracks to watch the training, carrying an apple she had pilfered from the kitchens, when the boy walked up to her. He was one of the new slaves recently brought in. Rubina was naturally curious about him, as she was about anyone, so when he walked up to her, she greeted him with a friendly nod.

"Hey. Nice weather today, ain't it?"

Rubina chuckled a little at the awkward attempt at conversation. "Hey. Sure. Paullus, is it? You're new. Aiming to be a charioteer?" 

@Insignia

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Paullus hates the way the stupid brand on his arm clashes with his skin. It's an ugly thing, uneven texture and whatnot. He'd tried covering it up with some scrap fabric, but the older slaves either ruined his work or stole it away. If only he could be properly handsome like one of those gladiators who were always in the limelight, a figure everyone fixed their eyes on but nobody dared touch. At least, those are the rumors he heard. He knows deep down that gladiators are equally likely to have their skin whipped to shreds. Still, not like daydreaming ever hurt anyone.

It isn't as though he's never heard of Rubina. She walks around the stables often enough, usually helping out some of the unlucky slaves with various chores. Sometimes, he'd seen her moving some of the horses from one part of the stables to another. And as for the training, he hopes she wasn't watching when he rode a lap at an embarrassingly slow pace. In his defense, the horse he was riding was old and somewhat feeble. Dominus said it was to be safe. Paullus didn't care about safety. He managed to get to riding a proper horse soon after that!

The girl ahead of him has warm eyes and a friendly smile. Paullus forms a plan. That introduction of his was downright stupid, and he's got to do better if he wants to spare himself the ire of the boys in the evening. "Sure am. Still have a ways to go, but I'm getting there." Almost... "Say, wherever you're heading, wanna go there together?" Genius. Absolutely genius and not completely slapdashed.

@Chevi

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"Sure am. Still have a ways to go, but I'm getting there."

Most of the young men at the stables dreamed of being charioteers. Even the ones that would never rise above the rank of stable hand had their hopes when they looked at the tracks. Rubina liked watching some of them train and learn and win - but she had also been around charioteers enough to know the fame and admiration did not always have the best effect on them.

"Say, wherever you're heading, wanna go there together?" 

Rubina glanced over his shoulder at the older boys, looking intently like they were just loitering about. Something was afoot, a prank maybe, but she was not yet sure what. She nodded with a small smile. "I am heading to the tracks to watch the training."

@Insignia

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He puts his hands on his hips and straightens up. Falling off of Procella the other day gave him a few bruises, but his tunic hides them and he similarly camouflages his grimace with a grin. The slaver said he had good teeth. Might as well show them off. Not to boast, but he spent quite a few years taking care of and riding horses, and he's sure he has a slightly better chance of becoming a charioteer. Even if that plan falls through, he can still busy himself with tending to the horses. Their diets have a lot of room for improvement.

"I'll come with," he says. Instead of walking behind her, he decides to stay at her side. "You've been here your whole life, right? Any racing tips?"

@Chevi

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Rubina turned, heading across the stables towards the door that led to the tracks. Paullus caught up to her. She didn't expect him to keep a slave's distance; none of that mattered to her in here.

"You've been here your whole life, right? Any racing tips?"

"Born and raised." she nodded with a smirk. "As for tips..." she glanced over her shoulder. "Don't let the other trainees goad you into something dumb out there. That's how people get injured."

@Insignia

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Paullus walked at his usual pace, but quickly realized that he's very likely to outpace her and somewhat sheepishly slowed down his walk. It wouldn't be polite if he made her run to keep up, after all. He stopped growing a while ago (which is unfair, considering how even a fair portion of Romans, the short ones, are taller than him by comparison), so it's best to get used to it. 

"Right," he replies. "Goading me into doing something dumb." Stop repeating what she says like an idiot, Eis-Paullus! "Yeah, well, what was the, uh, worst injury you saw?" Way to go, blockhead. What a question to ask a lady.

@Chevi

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Paullus was still a little awkward as they walked together. It was not new that a boy her age did not know how to carry a conversation; Rubina knew from experience that he'd soon learn how to be boastful and overconfident - at least in public. Most charioteers did. It went with the job. The good ones left it on the tracks, though.

She smirked at his question, in a very unladylike way.

"Well, I've seen a couple... people crash and get dragged all the time. I think the worst one to see what this one man from the Blues, who got dragged by the reins, and the skin on his arm just came off like a glove..."

@Insignia

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All phoenixes start out as fledglings. Paullus is no different. When he takes the charioteering life by the reins, will it consume him or help him? Only time will tell. However, his ego's a hungry one, and it'll lap up whatever he gets from each victory and subsist him through the losses. Honestly, Rubina's comment doesn't bother him all that much. He's seen worse. Caused worse. He still sees it whenever he tries to sleep at night.

"Okay, this may sound stupid, but how do you drive a chariot without the being-dragged-like-a-meat-stylus part?" As always, he's a master of tact and grace around a lady. 

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Paullus did not seem shocked. Honestly, the memory made Rubina cringe; she knew charioteers as family, not just the spectacle they were for most Romans. But this boy either wasn't that squeamish, or he was good at hiding it.

"Isn't that the big question" she chuckled, walking through the doors that led to the tracks. A few people were riding or walking horses around, and there was a charioteer with a biga, getting ready to practice. Rubina stopped, with her hands on her hips. "Practice, mostly. A whole lot of good-old-fashioned, run-on-the-mill putting the work in." She arched an eyebrow at him "Do you have a lot of experience with horses?"

@Insignia

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Posted (edited)

Oh, he has seen many things. Like the man and the men with their hard hands clutching weapons, three with ropes. Passing out from the pain. Time on a farm has helped dull the memories, but they continue to come up. Such memories aren't good to share with anyone, especially her.

The words flow out before he can stop them. "I grew up with them. My family raised them, you know?" Stupid, stupid, stupid! "Mainly took care of them." If he were particularly impertinent, he'd lean against the wall and watch. But he's with proper company, and he really needs to act the part. Paullus almost forgot about the initial dare. How is he ever going to pull this off? If he says something wrong, he may well get dashed by a horse. 

@Chevi

Edited by Insignia
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"Well, that's an advantage" Rubina noted. If he was comfortable around horses, and had experience with them, then he would start out ahead of the rest of the trainees. The question was, would he work hard enough to keep his advantage. Rubina glanced over her shoulder. The other boys were loitering by the door, trying to seem inconspicuous. Something was definitely up. She turned her attention back to Paullus. "So... where did you grow up?"

@Insignia

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For a moment, he felt close to normal. Instead of being a slave permanently divided from the rest of Roman society, he was merely a teenager with the same ability to connect with others, the same hopes and dreams. Perhaps it wouldn't be so bad here. The sight of the other boys, however, in addition to the question posed, remind him that this is not safe, that the world is full of illusions. The shutters close behind his eyes; they become shallow and bright. "North," is all he says. "But enough about me. What's it like growing up here?"

@Chevi

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North. That was all he said. Rubina could tell he wouldn't say more even if she asked. He had a chip on his shoulder, no wonder, since he was a slave. As the daughter of two slaves, she knew how these things went. She still gave him a look.

"But enough about me. What's it like growing up here?"

"Like having a whole army of idiot brothers" Rubina grinned, nodding over her shoulder to the other young men snickering and hanging around. "And a whole lot of friendly uncles. Who were also idiots at one point or another." She smirked. "I like the horses, though."

@Insignia

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Too much to talk about. He made far too many mistakes. Life was going well, but he just had to make a last stand for so-called freedom and watch in pain as the rest of his family paid the price. Boduoc didn't glare at him as usual; instead, he gave Paullus a look of pure hurt. That was the last time he saw his eldest brother.

One of the boys grins at Paullus, gaze flicking between him and Rubina. Paullus smiles back, though he's a bit nervous. "Idiots, huh? You probably have stories of all of us, then. Don't tell the others about my track record with Procella. He's great, but I think he hates me." Indeed, the stallion never took too well to Paullus and often left him on the ground.

@Chevi

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"He doesn't hate you, he is just not used to racing yet" Rubina chuckled. Some horses did hate some of the charioteers; she had seen it happen before. But Paullus seemed like he cared for horses, and the animals could sense that.

There was more snickering behind them, and Rubina looked back again. She knew a bunch of young men up to no good when she saw one. She turned to Paullus, arching an eyebrow.

"Alright, what in Epona's name did they put you up to?"

@Insignia

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He swears Roman horses have larger and sharper teeth than the ones in his homeland. Seriously, what did they feed their horses? Right, he knows plain well since he's been responsible for feeding them. Something about this place makes even fixtures from his past life unfamiliar at times. Procella's black coat was a far departure from the mount he had with kind eyes and a white coat spattered with dark spots. "I hope he gets used to it fast, 'cause he's going to get tired eventually." 

Paullus slowly looks behind. Several pairs of eyes bore into his. Why him? Why him. And now she's looking at him, and he's not sure what to say. No, he'll think of a good retort. Damn it, he's taking far too long to be considered sly. An answer escapes his lips: "Uh..." No, not like that! "They are, let's say, testing my skills."

@Chevi

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"Your skills?" Rubina arched an eyebrow at him. He was not even anywhere near a horse yet. Whatever those other idiots wanted him to prove, he was definitely in the wrong place at the wrong t... oh.

Rubina arched the other eyebrow, finally catching up to the situation. "Wait... I am the challenge here?"

It wouldn't be the first, or the last time one of the trainees tried to start something with her. Usually they tried on their own, however; putting each up to hitting on her, that was new. And not much appreciated.

@Insignia

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