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facilis descensus Averno (M - S, V)


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This is more of a two-part fic than an RP thread. It's not a happy story so don't expect a happy ending.


AD 68, the river border somewhere between Pannonia and Sarmatia

It had all been orchestrated, planned. Not the raid, or incursion, or whatever it was that had meant the Roman camp turning out to beat back the Roxolani or whichever tribe had crossed the river. The response, once the Romans had regained control of their side of the river, was conducted in a way that led Tiranês to suspect the garrison commander had already made his plans.

The hostages – there were a number, from various of the Sarmatian tribes – were gathered together and brought down to the river. He could see signs of a camp on the other side, and hoped that it was not one of his own tribe's encampments.

Soldiers moved among the group of hostages, forcibly lining them up, separating the younger ones from the older ones.

“I always knew we shouldn't have had some of these, what use are they?” one said, shoving Tiranês so that he stumbled.

“They're all good for examples,” someone else rejoined. “What about this one?” He poked Tiranês hard in the shoulder.

“He's what, sixteen? We'll sell him – someone'll get some use out of him.”

Tiranês was frozen in horror for a moment before the scene coalesced in front of him – the Romans were systematically stripping each of the older hostages before nailing their outstretched arms to a heavy wooden beam, the cross-piece of a cross. Three long iron nails – the third in the feet – and then each was lifted and dropped into a prepared hole, leaving each naked prisoner writhing in agony, unable to do much more than gasp for air. Other soldiers were going through their clothing, taking anything of value and piling everything up in a heap that someone then set on fire.

He turned away, finding his younger cousin and pressing Azarion's head close to his chest. “Don't look – better that you don't look.”

“Where's that lippy little shit? It's about time we taught him to hold his tongue!”

He instinctively tightened his grasp on Azarion, only for a Roman soldier to forcibly tear his cousin from his arms, leaving him helplessly grasping at air as someone else took hold of him from behind.

“No! No – Azarion – leave him alone, you bastards, he's just a child!”

“Shut up, you. You'll have your own problems to think about soon enough.”

Let him go, he hasn't done anything to you!”

A fist connected solidly with his solar plexus at that point, winding him and leaving him gasping even as he was unceremoniously pushed to his knees, with a hand sliding into his hair and using his own braids to wrench his head up. He scrabbled for leverage but that hand was far too tight in his hair and then there was the whisper of cold steel at his throat, making him jerk back from the threat of the blade.

“Leave him alone – he's only a child, he hasn't done anything!”

“He's been a lippy little shit for far too long, and lippy little shits need to learn to hold their tongues,” said the man above and behind him, the voice seeming to relish what was happening.

There was the flash of steel from in front of him and a scream that seemed to go on for far too long. Tiranês tried to turn his head to one side or the other but the hand in his braids was holding him far too tightly.

They were... they were... “No – no – he's just a child...”

“He'll be a lot quieter without his tongue. He might fetch a decent price somewhere if he can't gossip or answer back. If he survives that long.”

The shriek cut off abruptly and Tiranês twisted futilely in the grasp of the man above him, as much as the painful grip in his hair would let him. “You murdering bastards!”

The grip of his hair was released, but before he could respond a hand between his shoulder-blades shoved him forward, and he landed hard on his hands in the dirt. At least, he thought it was a hand, it might just as easily have been a foot.

There was a scrabbling at the fastenings of his trousers and he twisted, trying to kick out. Someone cuffed him around the head, hard, and the next thing he felt was cold air on his ass and thighs.

He watched a soldier drag Azarion's limp, unresponsive body away – he could not tell whether his cousin was alive or dead; there was blood all over his clothing, and the soldier's armour.

“Hold him still!”

He was brought back to his own predicament as someone grasped his wrists in a crushing grip and someone else spread his buttocks, pouring a cold trickle of something liquid over him before ramming his cock in hard and fast which made Tiranês let out a wordless shriek of his own even as the soldier above and behind gripped his hips tightly and set up a punishing pace, thrusting in and out with no thought at all for his victim, merely chasing his own pleasure.

Gods, you're tight. Ugh, so good – you could have his mouth, Sextus.”

“And risk him biting my cock off? No damn fear – his ass'll be good enough once you're through.”

He tried to pretend it wasn't happening, but the firm grasp of his wrists, the bruising grip on his hips and the grunts and groans of the soldier abusing him, the cold sharp spikiness of the grass, the chill of the spring air on his exposed thighs and cock, the the painful rhythmic thrusts, the hot puffs of air on his neck and in his ear... He felt sick.

And then he was retching and heaving, and brought the remains of his meagre breakfast up, emptying his stomach into the grass, where the smell of bile added to the pall of blood and smoke that hung over the area.

But it wasn't stopping; it was just going on and on, the panting of his violator loud and hot in his ears until there was a series of hard thrusts and then smaller shudders that were still just as deep and the man collapsed over him as he scrabbled futilely in the other soldier's grip, clawing at the ground as the liquid proof of the man's completion dripped from his ass and down his thighs.

So good... so tight... you'd think he was a virgin,” the man said, his breath hot on Tiranês' neck.

My turn, Gaius,” the other said, letting go of his wrists, though he couldn't go anywhere, couldn't get away from the weight of the man on top of him, pressing him into the dirt, his nose full of the scents of grass, damp earth and acidic vomit.

“In a moment, let me get my breath back.”

“You'll want to be careful here, the stupid barbarian's thrown up.”

“Shift him to a clean spot, then.”

He was dragged a few feet to the side where the two Romans rearranged themselves, his first rapist coming to hold his wrists as the other man sank his dick in up to the balls. Tiranês retched again, dry heaving, as the man set up a pace every bit as hard and fast as his friend's had been, though it was easier now with whatever body fluids – probably including Tiranês' own blood – providing lubrication along with the earlier trickle of oil.

Someone grabbed his hair again, dragging his head up until he met the eyes of the soldier in front of him. He tried to spit but his mouth was dry, and he received a hard slap that knocked his head to the side.

“Good slaves don't do that – whoever gets you will get to do this every day, the lucky bastard. You'd better learn to like it.”

“Fuck you,” Tiranês managed weakly, though it just made the two soldiers laugh.

“You're the one getting fucked, barbarian, I hope you like it.”

Tiranês spat out a mouthful of invective that just made them laugh even as he scrabbled and writhed, desperate to stop them using him for their own sick pleasure. It was all to no avail and his ass was again filled with the hot liquid evidence of a Roman's orgasm.

Eventually the man pushed him down to the ground, pulling himself free of his ass and leaving his ass and thighs bared to the cold spring air. His hands were wrenched behind his back and tied there, so tightly that there would be no possibility of being able to work his ways out of the bonds. And then there was a hand in his hair, again, just as tightly and painfully as the first time, pulling him back up to his knees solely by the grip on his braids.

“He's going to a proper slave market, we ought to make him look more like a proper slave and less like a barbarian,” the first one said, using his grip of Tiranês' braids to give his head a hard wrench to the side. He staggered on his knees, hands tied behind his back and his lower legs entrapped in his trousers.

“You hold him, I'll cut them, then,” the other – Sextus? – said.

“The only thing these are good for is as a grip to hold him by,” the first one said mockingly, using his tight grip of Tiranês' braids to give his head a shake, as a dog would do a rat, and making him cry out with the pain of it.

“Best gag him first, he's only going to protest like the stupid barbarian he is,” the other one said, producing a length of rope from somewhere and tying a knot in the centre of it.

Tiranês balked as it was pressed to his mouth, then one of them pinched his nose, forcing it into his mouth when he could no longer hold his breath. The ends of the rope were tied tightly at the back of his head, the knot mostly filling his mouth and preventing him from saying anything other than a few muffled sounds.

The Romans kept their weapons sharp and it didn't take long for the pair of them to hack Tiranês's braids off using Gaius' short dagger, the hacked-off braids left in the grass at Tiranês knees as he tried to contain his fury and humiliation. He couldn't fight back, tied up and half-naked as he was; the two legionaries were older and brawnier than he was, and there was half a cohort of soldiers milling around anyway.

“Prisoners are to be stowed in the cages there,” someone said once the two had finished their self-imposed task. The messenger looked Tiranês up and down. “Doesn't matter what state he's in, he's still breathing, there'll be a good profit there.”

The cages were crude things, made of iron bars and barely chest-high. Tiranês was dragged stumbling over to one that was already occupied, and shoved inside, still with his hands tied and the improvised gag in his mouth.

It was a cold miserable and uncomfortable night; he couldn't tie his trousers with his hands roped behind his back; the makeshift gag was rubbing at the corners of his mouth, his head was cold without his braids, he ached in places he had never ached before and every time he closed his eyes, that afternoon replayed itself again and again in his mind, not helped by the audible sounds of the dying hostages on their crosses only a few yards away.

He must have eventually dozed off, fitfully, because he was startled awake by someone clanging a heavy stick against the bars of the cage.

They were dragged out and lined up, the line of crosses on one hand and the river on the other. Some of the crucified hostages were still groaning and whimpering and he tried not to hear or see them – they were friends and he could do nothing for them.

Rough hands, pushing him into a line with the others who were still alive. Somewhere in front of them, the clothes of the crucified hostages still smouldered, the smoke hanging heavy in the damp chilly morning air.

Strip them!” A moment later the same voice added, They can keep their footwear.”

There was nowhere to run – he couldn't run anyway, his hands were still bound behind his back. There were enough soldiers to deal with the remaining hostages swiftly and efficiently. Clothes were cut from those who resisted, and from Tiranês and others who were bound. A few soldiers started adding their clothes to the smouldering fire of the previous day, picking them over to take anything valuable for themselves.

It wasn't long before they were left naked and shivering in the cold morning air to see what horrors would be inflicted on them next. A soldier – one of the two from the previous day – stopped in front of Tiranês and drew his dagger. Tiranês shrank back, but the man only raised the weapon to cut away the improvised rope gag from his mouth.

He spat dryly.

Instead of receiving the dagger to the gut (which he had half hoped, half feared that he might get), he received a stinging backhand across the face which snapped his head to the side.

Any more of that and you'll get a proper whipping, slave.”

His mouth was too dry and he hurt too much to make any sort of reply and the soldier moved down the line, apparently satisfied.

His scalp still hurt from having his braids wrenched the previous day, his head was cold, his wrists were raw, he was sore in places he hadn't known could get sore, and he was so heart-sick he was numb from his cousin's death and the cruel humiliating deaths of his friends.

A man dressed in civilian clothes was making his way down the line, accompanied by a group of guards or enforcers or something – burly, no-nonsense, grim-looking men.

Male, aged approximately fifteen...” A hand squeezed his upper arm. “Good condition. Teeth?”

Someone – a soldier – the cold armour pressed against his bare skin – pinched his nose and grasped his chin, pulling his mouth open.

None missing or cracked. Add him to the others.”

He was pulled out of the line, stumbling. His hands were untied, or the ropes cut, but he didn't have time to rub his wrists. A small pile of rough cloth was deposited in his hands.

Get dressed!”

The cloth turned out to be a tunic – or the threadbare, ragged remains of a tunic – in a rough, undyed wool worn thin in places. He pulled it on, grateful for the fragile covering. There was no belt nor any undergarment.

Someone else took him by the shoulder, forcing him down to his knees, the grass cold and spiky against his bare legs. Cold iron closed around his neck and there was the rattle of chain under his ear momentarily. The collar was not so tight that he couldn't breathe, but was tight enough that it would not pass over his head.

He was linked by the neck with five or six others, the chain then being fastened to the slavers' wagon. There was another row of slaves also chained to the wagon, and soon it began to roll, forcing them to walk behind it, or be dragged, more of the slavers' men on horses around them, heading to a dark uncertain future as slaves in the territory of their Roman enemies.

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(Make that a three-part story; this was getting long and I reached a good point to end part two. It's not over yet, though!! Also I apologise if the paragraph spacing had gone wonky between copying from Word and pasting here.)


AD 72, a farm somewhere in north Italia


Tiranês paused to lean on the hoe he was using to weed the flowerbeds as his Roman-bestowed name was called. He turned to see Corvus, the house's steward, who was standing with his arms folded and an inscrutable expression on his face. There was little love lost between him and the Egyptian.

“You're to wash and find a clean tunic, the master wants you to help serve dinner this evening, though Isis knows why, especially as there's a guest. Look sharp about it!” And he turned on his heel and left, with Tiranês left gaping after him.

There was probably still dirt under his fingernails when he was pushed into position in the triclinium, which was hardly his fault, and hopefully wouldn't be noticed in the light. The tunic he had on now was crumpled and too big, but was the only one he'd been able to find that could pass as clean. He had a wine-jug pushed into his hands and, with the admonition to keep his eyes open and his mouth shut, was told to pour when it was obvious that people wanted their cups topping up.

The master's guest turned out to be a man somewhere in his forties or fifties, one of those men who was whipcord thin and tanned by the sun, with dark hair and dark eyes and a serious no-nonsense look to him, a soldier with an upright bearing and easy sense of command

Tiranês had no interest in the conversation – his Latin wasn't good enough to follow all of it anyway – and was glad when the master, mistress and their guests retreated to their own rooms for the night, allowing the slaves to clear up behind them.

He received a second summons the next morning, this time to the master's tablinum, a summons which sent a spike of fear through him. He hadn't been the perfect slave but didn't think that he'd done anything particularly bad of late, so it was with trepidation that he presented himself, to find the guest of last evening also present.

“This is the slave I believe you were enquiring about,” his master said, and the soldier nodded.

“Jason, I believe you said his name is?”

Tiranês gritted his teeth; he would never get used to being talked about as though he was an animal or inanimate object.


And then the soldier looked up at him in a way that made Tiranês wish he hadn't.

“Take your tunic off,” he said, in the same sort of tone of voice he might have said 'fetch me a cup of wine' – an order to a slave that signified nothing to the free person.

He looked at his master, only for the visitor to speak again, mildly yet with an undercurrent of steel. “I'm not in the habit of repeating a command.”

Tiranês swallowed and moved to unbuckle his belt before pulling off his tunic, silently consigning the man to the deepest pit of the Underworld.

“And his subligaculum...?” The master sounded unsure and Tiranês went very still at the implication.

“Not necessary. Turn around.”

Tiranês closed his eyes and turned, hating every second of it.

“He was captured, the lash marks aren't from me,” his master said in hasty reassurance.

“They don't look fresh,” the visitor observed. “Three thousand is a fair price for a captured barbarian. Especially one who's been whipped.”

Shit! His master was selling him! He wondered if Corvus had had a hand in it.

It wasn't the humiliation of standing naked on a raised platform in the middle of the slave market, feet chalked white and being examined by any passer-by who chose to stop and look, but it was more than humiliating enough, being discussed as if he were worth no more consideration than the chairs the two citizens were seated in.

“All right, three thousand. I suppose I'm making out the bill of sale to you?”

“Jullus Flavius Alexander – and you, Jason. Get dressed and if you've got any belongings, go and pack them.”

Tiranês didn't need telling twice that he could put his tunic back on. “Yes, uh...?”

“Dominus, to you, now.”

And fuck you, too, Domine.

He managed to rescue his things – he didn't have much, but he did have his small collection of pretty things, one or two from before his capture and the others that he'd acquired in the four and a half years since. A spare loincloth or two, a couple of coins and that was it. Not much to show for twenty summers of life – though he'd lost everything four years ago and the Romans didn't let their possessions have possessions.

It all went into a rough haversack and he slipped the strap over his head, nervously presenting himself back at the door of the room his new master had slept in.

He was entirely in the power of this man now, and knew almost nothing about him.

“Jason – an acceptable name, there's no need to change that.”

Tiranês swallowed. Jason was not his name, it was merely what the Romans called him, but it was something, at least. To be forced to answer to something different yet again...

“Thank you. Domine,” he managed, his mouth dry, after a moment, suddenly realising from the other man's expression that he was expecting some sort of acknowledgement of his magnanimity. He had no idea what this man was like or what treatment he might receive at his hands, and the uncertainty was a hard knot in his stomach.

He followed his new master down to the stable, where his horse was already saddled, waiting for them.

There was only one horse.

Someone brought out a chain and he froze in uncomprehending disbelief. To be dragged on foot at the stirrup of a Roman – him, the son of a Sarmatian chief!

“No,” he managed, silently, the word nothing more than the movement of his lips. It went unheard and unseen – or merely ignored – as the two parts of the neck-ring were placed around his neck, the larger tear-drop shaped link passed through the eye to fasten the two halves together and then the length of the chain fed through the large link, locking it around his neck until it pleased his master to remove it.

There was only one neck-ring on this chain, rather than the five or six that had been on the chain used by the slaver who'd brought him into the Romans' territory properly. It would still require having the other end of the chain loose to be able to remove the shackle from his neck, and that was unlikely to happen for a while.

The free end of the chain was fastened somewhere on the saddle and his new master mounted – clumsily, with the aid of a stone mounting block! - and turned his horse to the exit of the villa's yard, and the road beyond it, legs dangling in a way Tiranês thought looked ridiculous.

He could only hope that his new master wasn't in a hurry; he would not be able to keep up for long if he broke into even a trot, never mind a canter, and would end up being dragged along the stone paving of the road, to end battered and bruised and possibly unconscious or dead.

Why he'd been chained was a whole different question – he wouldn't be able to outrun the horse if he'd been unchained and decided to make a break for it.

He had no eye for the countryside the road passed through, beyond noting dully that it was cultivated, with fields, meadows and olive groves. There were houses or villas here and there, and gangs of slaves out harvesting the crops of wheat and barley. He tried to appreciate the wide skies above them, but was too full of apprehension to fully enjoy it.

The steady hoofbeats of the horse, his own quieter footfalls and the clinking of the chain were all that he could hear, apart from occasional distant shouts and calls between slaves in one field or another, and the calls of some bird or other that he didn't recognise.

His new master did at least seem content with the slow pace, despite being mounted on a horse that was much finer than the small sturdy steppe horses Tiranês was used to. It wasn't the slow creaking slaver's wagon drawn by a pair of oxen, either, but then again Tiranês wasn't accompanied by other prisoners, most of them younger than him.

He wondered how far they were going, and how long it would take to get there – surely, surely, his master could not be planning to take the entire journey at this slow sedate pace? He was a soldier – he was wearing a soldier's uniform – and though Jason knew little of how the Roman transport systems worked, he knew enough to be aware that military personnel could make use of systems that ordinary people couldn't.

He couldn't blame the man for not being willing to put him on a horse, not really – he wouldn't, if their positions were reversed, and while he knew that he was Sarmatian and born to the saddle, his master didn't know that and probably wouldn't ask, either.

He didn't know precisely how long they had been on the road but the sun was high when his new master drew off to the side of the road to a stand of trees, and dismounted, somewhat gracelessly in the eyes of one who had been riding since before he could remember.

The Romans didn't have stirrups, which was a ridiculous oversight to Tiranês' mind. They made mounting and dismounting so much easier, and gave a far more secure seat – vital for people famed for being horsemen and archers, but apparently irrelevant for the Romans.

His master didn't bother unfastening the chain from where it was linked to the saddle, but hobbled the horse and reached into his saddlebag to withdraw a loaf of bread and a wineskin, moving into the shade of the tree and finding a soft spot to sit.

It would be easy enough for Tiranês to reach to unhook the other end of the chain from the saddle, but it would be a hindrance while he got away, and it would take precious moments to pull the length of the chain through the locking link and divest himself of it. Anyway, where could he go, around here? He didn't know the countryside here, where he could hide – and although he knew where his homeland lay, he also knew that it would take time to return there, and he had no money to buy food nor any equipment with which to hunt and cook anything.

He cursed himself for his weakness and indecision – surely he had not been so indecisive before the Romans had taken him?

“Make yourself useful. There's a bag of feed for Aethon behind the saddle, and his nosebag's there, too.”

The order was given with a nonchalance that Tiranês had come to expect after four years among the Romans.

“Yes, Domine,” he said, hating that the required reply emphasised to both parties that one was the slave and possession of the other. Which was probably the whole point of it, of course. The Romans were about as subtle as a thunder storm.

Feeding the horse – a beautiful animal! – was complicated by the chain linking his neck-ring to the saddle, but it was soon accomplished, and the sounds of the horse eating, and watching his master relax, brought his own tiredness and hunger into sharp relief.

“You can sit down for a bit,” his master said, as if he'd heard Tiranês' thoughts. “We've got another fifteen miles or so to cover this afternoon. Here,” he added, almost as an afterthought, and tore a couple of pieces of bread from the loaf, tossing them carelessly across. Tiranês fumbled to catch them but he managed without dropping either of them.

Tiranês had to move closer to the horse to give the chain enough slack that he could sit more or less comfortably, finding a patch of grass and pulling his legs up to sit cross-legged, before making a start on the bread. There was no olive oil to accompany it, nor any water – he might be allowed a mouthful of wine to wet his mouth once his master had finished – but the bread was fresh, at least.

A moment later, his master held the wineskin out. It proved to hold water, rather than wine, which was much better for Tiranês' thirst.

“Thank you, Domine.”

The rest wasn't nearly long enough for Tiranês, who was already footsore and tired, but was in no position to protest having to start walking again once he'd packed Aethon's nosebag away and cupped his hands to provide a boost so that his master could get back into the saddle once the horse had been unhobbled. That was another thing that roused Tiranês's scorn – no Sarmatian ever needed to hobble his horse, or tie them to a tree. Sarmatian horses were taught how to stand and wait, even if their riders were off swimming or not right next to them for some other reason.

It spoke more to the stupidity of the Romans than of their horses, in Tiranês's opinion.

It was a long afternoon's walk that brought them to what Tiranês thought at first was another villa a little way from the main road, with a wheel-rutted paved roadway up to the wide high arch in the wall and a soldier standing guard. No ordinary villa then, especially as his master pulled out an official-looking document to show the guard and was waved through, though the soldier gave Tiranês a sour look.

There was the familiar smell and sounds of horses, and the courtyard turned out to have several stalls along two sides, with doors to rooms Jason took to be where the soldiers slept, or something, in the long wall to the right, and a staircase immediately to the left, probably leading to rooms over the horses' stalls. There was a long balcony and more rooms upstairs on the right, too, probably accessed by another staircase he couldn't see from where he was standing.

His master dismounted and turned to Tiranês who swallowed and nearly stepped back before realising that his master had unhooked the chain from Aethon's saddle and was reaching to remove the iron ring from around his neck.

“Bring my things,” he said, turning away, obviously with the expectation of being obeyed. Surrounded as he was by Romans, it wasn't as though Tiranês had any choice, and he hefted the saddlebag to follow his master up the stairs and along a balcony that overlooked the stableyard to a door that opened onto a bare room with one bed and a table in it, leaving the horse in the care of a slave who'd come out from one of the stalls

“Put them there and help me with my cuirass,” his master said, unfastening his focale and throwing it on the bed. Tiranês unbuckled the various straps, eventually setting the breastplate aside as well.

“Bring a clean tunic and attend me in the bath-house,” his master said again, moving to the door. “You'll find one in my bag, there.”

Tiranês wanted nothing more than to sit down and relax, yet had no choice in the matter, hastily extracting a fine woollen tunic and turning to follow his master back down the stairs to the bath-house. He was under no illusion that he was not being evaluated on his tractability and obedience and everything else – and if he was expected to give a massage and everything that was implied by 'attend me in the bath-house', everything else meant personal service.

He paused, clutching the wall momentarily and squeezing his eyes shut at the thought of what 'personal service' might entail. “Whoever gets you will get to do this every day, the lucky bastard. You'd better learn to like it...”

He shook himself to dispel the memory and the fear, and found the bath-house, where his master was already stripping off, merely dropping his tunic on the floor. Much as he wanted to just ignore it, Tiranês knew this was a test and bent to pick it up and shake it off before folding it to put it into one of the cubbies, with the clean tunic on top of it. He'd received enough beatings in his time and didn't particularly want to earn himself another one. He eyed his new master warily, from the corner of his eye... He seemed to be the wiry sort of strong and Tiranês was willing to bet that he was stronger than he looked. If he was pushed enough to want to administer a whipping himself, it would surely hurt – he didn't seem the sort who'd summon a lorarius to administer a punishment on his behalf.

He was tired and hungry and his day wasn't over yet, not by a long way, even as his master found a seat on a bench in the first room, the tepidarium, and lounged back against the wall. Tiranês himself would be lucky to get the chance to rinse the dust of the road off in the horse-trough, probably.

“Have you ever given a massage?”

He jerked back to reality, trying to work out the safest answer before deciding honesty was probably the best course of action. “No, Domine.”

“Pity. Still, there's time yet.” His master adjusted his position on the bench, summoning over one of the mansio slaves, a leathery-looking man in a worn grey tunic, who bent to attend the citizen, leaving Tiranês feeling both relieved and irritated at being ignored.

It was something he kept telling himself that he should be used to by now, but it was somehow different being one of several slaves in the background, and being his master's only attendant. Especially when you didn't know the master or his foibles – Tiranês felt more on edge than he had in a long while. He refused to examine his feelings on the matter any further, especially as whatever his feelings might be, they were inconsequential to his master or any other Roman. He would just have to get used to be treated like a piece of furniture that occasionally did things it was told to.

It felt like an age before his master was ready to dress again, and go to have his evening meal, clearly expecting Tiranês to wait on him there, too, despite the fact he'd been on his feet all day already and had eaten somewhat less than his master at noon. Who knew when he'd be fed again – he could only hope that his master was sensible enough to realise that he couldn't not feed his new slave, especially if tomorrow was going to be a repeat of today.

In the event, he was dismissed after the meal had concluded; his master obviously intended to remain and continue his conversation with the two other officers staying at the mansio overnight. Tiranês found himself seated (finally!) in the kitchen, with a wooden bowl of vegetable stew and a cup of rough wine.

Eventually the meal was over and Tiranês got tiredly to his feet amidst the clatter of people clearing the table and making their own way to wherever they spent the night.

All right, you're to come with me,” said the same leathern-faced man of earlier. “Your master's said you're not needed to attend him overnight, but you're to be secured for him.”

Tiranês swallowed; that didn't sound at all promising.

He found himself in an otherwise-empty stall, again with the hard iron neck-ring around his neck, the other end hooked somewhere out of his reach, and with a rough blanket. There was plenty of straw, at least. The door was only a half-height stable door but with the place full of soldiers he couldn't get away even if he wasn't chained.

He wrapped the blanket around him, making a nest in the straw, but the sounds of soft snorting from the next stall made him pause, shifting over until he was sitting next to the rough wooden partition between the stalls.

He kept a close eye on the colonnade on the other side of the half door. He could hear movement above him; the wooden ceiling obviously formed the floor of whatever rooms lay over the stables, and from the sounds of it, that was where the mansio slaves slept.

He pulled the blanket tighter around himself as best he could although the chain made it harder, and leaned his head against the boards of the partition, hoping that the closeness to a horse might keep the nightmares at bay.

“I wish you could tell me what kind of master he is,” he said in his own tongue, speaking softly in case anyone other than the horse should hear him. He wished he knew what might be in store for him with this new master, too, but there was nobody who could tell him that.

The hard steel of the collar was uncomfortable and a little tight around his neck, but he'd survived being kept chained with four others for the journey into Roman territory, he could survive a night or two chained alone.

He hoped it would just be for a night or two, anyway, though there was no reason to think it might be longer than that – why would his master buy him otherwise? This had to just be for the journey, however long it was going to take to get to wherever they were going.

He shifted around a bit in the straw until he was laying down facing east and Sarmatia, and closed his eyes.

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