Summary: Written for the September challenge, Non-Musical Related Jobs. I chose Roman Centurion/Slave.
Ante victoriam ne canas triumphum.
Do not sing of victory before you triumph.
It is after a skirmish that a fighter feels the blow.
Especially if there is more than one blow and more than one skirmish, the young centurion mused, the gentle hollow sound of his horse's hooves barely penetrating the still comfortable night and the deep exhaustion that filled his body. The legatus had been so pleased with him, so delighted with his reckless performance on the blood-soaked foreign fields, that he had handed over a large portion of the spoils, and three captured young men before allowing him to leave the garrison. These were trailing abjectedly behind him, hands tied, as he passed through the sleeping walls of his beloved city, Roma, his home.
Home. He had not seen its solid dusty structures in many months, and his face dissolved into a tired, yet cocky grin. In the middle of battle, he would find his thoughts reaching as if to push open the doors of his private apartments, the ones that let in from the open atrium where the cool water in the small impluvium lay trembling under a light rainfall. As he would sit cramp-spined on a calm Quiriac, he would think about burrowing under cool cotton sheets so that his mater wouldn't invade his peace when she came to visit and attempt to boss around Docila and the other servants. While his men in the Sixth Cohort waited silently around him for instructions, he had reveled in the pleasurable anticipation that in a few months he would be able to roam around in his quiet little bibliotheca, touching the smooth parchments he had taken from his grandfather's house and unfurling them with deep respectful care. His grin remained in place as he finally dismounted in front of his own vestibule, and one of his servants came out to shyly take hold of the shiny-black Quiriac and lead the proud horse, nickering in weary salutation, to the side of the centurion's home.
First thing: a hot steaming bath. Then hot steaming food, heaps of it from Docila, who was most likely aware of his return, probably from the houses of other warriors. She had probably been frantic in the cucina, hassling the cook to get out his favourite meats, porca maybe, and dulcias designed to ravage his tastebuds with cloying sweetness.
And there she was, plumply ecstatic, standing beside a column in the open-aired atrium as he emerged from the narrow passage of the vestibule, dressed in her best tunica, her shawl drapped cunningly and smiling with a sort of mad relieved joy as he removed his crested helmet slowly. She was careful not to embrace him, not in front of the rest of the household servants who had come to greet him in the cool lamp-lit courtyard as well, but there would be a critical inspection of all his bruises later, and an annoying series of exclamations that only other women who raised centurions would be able to decipher.
"My little caesar," Docila said affectionately, taking his helmet and snapping at another servant to bring the new slaves forward and untie their hands. He grinned at her, and then winked.
"See? Look what I've brought you. More for you to bully around."
Docila laughed gently, stepping around him to look at her new charges. There was one who wore a robe that formed a tattered hood over his head, and she tugged at it, making it fall to his shoulders.
"Petronus! Look at this one!"
Petronus rolled his eyes, in the middle of unlacing his caligas, and stepped out of one, turning to see Docila holding on to the chin of one of his new slaves and shaking it with delight. His face was very dirty, just like the others, hair matted, but as Docila gave his chin another gentle squeeze, his eyelids slid up and met Petronus' for the first time.
Such a light colour, not strange, but still very unusual. This young one held onto Petronus' gaze for a bit, but looked away as the centurion stepped closer. Docila was rubbing at his skin in earnest with a fisted palm, removing some of the grime, and Petronus saw that the shade underneath was a smooth cream, like the milk Docila used to force him to drink as a child.
He reached out a slow calloused hand, and his newest acquisition flinched away.
"Noli me tangare," he uttered in a rusty, strangely inflected yet intelligible voice, and the centurion and his housekeeper looked at each other in suprise, then looked at this fair slave, who had pulled his chin out of Docila's grasp and turned his head to the side. Touch me not. There was a slight murmur bouncing among the rest of the servants and Docila clucked her tongue at them warningly; she even shot an admonitory look at the other two slaves, who had shrunk back and into each other as they watched the anger stretch the planes of their new master's face.
Petronus raised his hand, his temper flaring too rapidly, and Docila grabbed at it, which still held the sandal he had just taken off.
"Pete." The use of his childhood petname brought him up short, and he glowered at the slave before relaxing and succumbing to Docila's calming voice. "Go take your bath. I made sure it was very hot. Go, little caesar. Before it loses the heat."
Pete stalked off, his sandal swinging in his hand. He stopped suddenly and turned, sneering.
"Docila! Put that one to clean the stables and my horse. Quiriac has had a long day. And make sure he doesn't rub him down too harshly. I will beat him if Quiriac catches fever."
He smirked as the little rebellious one flashed surprised blue-grey eyes at him, and Petronus turned away, back straight and commanding.
Petronus frowned heavily as the slave poured more hot water. Docila had obviously taken pity on him, and no wonder too, because he was lovely. Lovely in the way the lamplight glowed on that copper-coloured hair, washed and combed, now falling in a smooth light sheet around his face as he picked up another heavy jar and tipped it up into the large square bath slowly. His body was pale curves under the swaths of the tunic, soft and obviously not used to labour.
"Ah, now I see. A little patricius is what I got," Pete mocked, and held out a smaller jar to him; he hesitated, then took it from Pete, fingers suprisingly long and deft. "A noble one, yes?"
"If you wish it to be so," he murmured in reply, and took some of the water out of the bath, letting it slip in warm waves over Pete's head. Petronus snorted.
"And your name?"
"You have named me Patricius, I suppose," this...this child said in icy tones, and Pete glared at him. He flushed, cream melting into pink tones and bit his bottom lip, full flesh disappearing in between his teeth and Pete suddenly forgot for a few heartbeats to be angered. "I am sorry....master."
Pete reclined against the walls of the bath, feeling highly smug. Well. Docila had obviously educated him in his new place and purpose. Which was good. He was not in the mood to give out beatings tonight (not that he usually was, but this little patricius did not have to know that).
"You're right," he said, suddenly jovial. The slave blinked at this mercurial change, the jar perched in mid-air. "Patricius. That is your new name. Patrick. Once a son of a nobleman. Now a simple slave," Pete finished airily, grinning wide at the jar trembling in the pale hand.
"As you wish," came a choked-out reply, and Pete chuckled, highly amused by the guarded look on his round face. A little highborn, probably very well-educated, so Pete could probably keep him in the house. Although, if he continued to look at his master with such barely-concealed disdain, Petronus would make sure he slept in the stable with Quiriac.