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Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Sports · #2313219
Love story about a Roman charioteer and a senator's daughter

         The party was at Senator Scaurus's splendid single-story villa high on the Aventine Hill overlooking the Circus Maximus in Rome. Gaius, a famous charioteer and winner at today's prestigious ludi publica games was a guest. In any other circle, he would have been the center of attention but here the patricians smiled politely at him and then hurried to meet the important senators and aristocrats that formed the bulk of the invitees. He politely smiled back sipped his wine and watched this alien world before him.

         The splendor of the mosaics on the floor, the ornaments on shelves around the room and the tapestries on walls of white marble all told stories of battles and gods and heroes. But there were no pictures of sporting heroes like himself here.

         He noticed a dark-haired beauty dressed in expensive white silk embroidered with green and gold. As he moved closer he noticed she also had startling green eyes. She was reading from a codice and seemed unimpressed by the party guests.

         "If I may ask, what are you reading, my lady?"

         The young woman's eyes rose from her book and studied him carefully. Then they shone with recognition and she put down her text beside her on the table by her chair. He felt as if he had passed some test and her smile warmed his heart in this cold den of patricians.

         "Gaius the charioteer, you won today. My father was very pleased with you. You made him a lot of money."

         "Yes I think that is why he invited me here. To be honest I feel a little out of place. It is a great honor, do not get me wrong, but the guests are all ignoring me."

         She studied him, "You are a plebian among patricians, judging from your blue eyes and blonde hair you are German, so a foreigner, but at least you are not a slave. If you understood how they thought you would see why you are persona non grata. Do not take it to heart, they ignore me also but for different reasons. My name is Junia by the way. Salve." She held out her hand which had elegant long fingers and was smooth to the touch.

         "Salve. It is my honor to meet you, Junia. Why would they ignore a distinguished lady like yourself? You can read!"

         Junia giggled at that, "Everybody here can read. I read for the pleasure of it and because the worlds in the stories are often so much more interesting than this one."

         "What are you reading right now?" Gaius nodded at the leather-bound parchments in her hand.

         "The story of Aeneas and Dido."

         Gaius gave her a blank look and Junia giggled again apparently amused by him.

         She continued, "Aeneas was a handsome prince of Troy. When the Greeks took that city after a ten-year siege he fled with the sword of Troy and a few survivors. He had a long voyage that led him to Carthage where he met a beautiful widowed queen called Dido. The gods conspired to bring them together in a storm, but Jupiter King of the gods had a higher purpose for Aeneas and told him to leave his beloved and go off to Italy where his descendants would found the city of Rome. Dido in her grief killed herself."

         "No," Gaius was shocked, "Why would she do that? She was a queen!"

         "She loved Aeneas...what do you mean?"

         "Well, I know what it is like to be adored by women. I mean every time I win a race women flock around me. When I tell them to go away, some get very upset but these are low-born women. A woman like Dido, like yourself, is a high-class woman with reading and riches and much to live for. Why would she kill herself?"

         Junia replied,
"You reject these women who worship you. But what would you do if you were rejected by someone that you loved?"

         "I would go and talk it out with my horses."

         She giggled again, "Really?"

         "Yes my horses all have different personalities, I tell them everything. I care for them, feed them, clean them and we talk about everything. When I race them I call them by their names and they know my voice. All the best charioteers have good relationships with their horses. A race can be a scary thing for a horse with the noise of the crowd and the pushing and shoving from other teams. The best charioteers anchor their teams with their voices. The ones that are heavy with the whip do not love their horses and do not do as well in the races either."

         Junia's eyes smiled at Gaius and then widened as she looked behind him. He turned around to see his boss Senator Scaurus approaching with a scowl on his face.

         The senator spoke gruffly, "I may have made a mistake inviting a low-born like yourself to my party. Your presence here was meant to be merely ornamental and a reminder of my success today at the races. You were supposed to stand in a corner, flex your muscles, show the ladies your abs, look pretty and keep your mouth shut, but here I find you chatting with my daughter inappropriately.

         "Gaius was nothing but a gentleman and we were speaking about the Aeneid and the horses, father, there was nothing inappropriate in that."

         The Senator snorted his disagreement and nodded to two slaves who took Gaius's arms and led him to the door. "I release you from my service."

         "But my horses..."

         "Belong to me. Be gone pleb!"

         With that Gaius was manhandled out. As he left, he glanced at Junia to notice tears in her eyes. Maybe that was the moment he fell in love with her.

*Horse* *Woman* *SwordR*

         The Green Team was quick to capitalize on Senator Scaurus's mistake in firing his best charioteer from the Reds. They had not won in a long time and secured Gaius as their new star. This required him to build a new relationship with a new set of horses.

         Gaius was given four beautiful new Spanish black stallions and they quickly bonded. In three months he was ready. As he rode out into the Circus Maximus he searched the podium wall where senators sat in marble front row seats. He found the senator and his daughter Junia. She wore a green silk palla wrapped around an expensive white silk stola and his heart jumped. She stood out among the red and whites of her father's entourage. He knew now that though the Circus Maximus had 250000 people crammed in its seats with maybe the same number on the overlooking hills, he would race thinking of only a single pair of green eyes watching him.

         The twelve teams of horses collected in the stalls by the track. Each included four horses, mirroring the fiery chariot of Apollo himself. These were fierce and unpredictable horses with a passion for speed. The pipes began to play. They used them to silence the crowd. The sun shone brightly on the four different team colors in the crowd: blue for cold winter, green for growing spring, red for hot summer and white for frosty autumn. They would race seven laps because there were seven days in the week. The race was embedded in the deepest convictions of pagan Rome, all its religions inscribed upon the three-story high Circus Walls and in monuments along the spine of the stadium. This was the site where the first Roman men kidnapped and raped the Sabine women and the center of life in the city for most of the locals now that that same city ruled the world.

         Gaius knew that the very sand of the race track would hide buried curse tablets, many of them focused on himself. He laughed, as a Christian he neither believed in the gods of Rome nor the power of these curses yet he kept his faith secret on the peril of his life. Gaius watched as his fellow charioteers kissed amulets and offered up silent prayers for victory to a host of gods. All of them were convinced that even the gods themselves watched from their high point on Olympus. Everyone went quiet and held their breath waiting for the white mappa to be dropped and the stall gates to open releasing the chariots.

         Suddenly the gates were open and his horses surged forward. The crowd roared, the race was on...

*Horse* *Woman* *SwordR*

         A few days later it was early morning and Gaius lay next to Junia in the silken sheets of her bed. She was still fast asleep. He admired the smoothness of her flawless skin, her perfect shape. His every breath was of the smell of her beside him and he breathed deeply for the sheer pleasure of it. The memory of her touch still lingered from the night before. What miracles had led him to this moment and the love of his life?

         His thoughts drifted back to the race. The Red Team was brutal, eliminating all his opponents, one by one, crashing them into barriers and to each other. They worked together to do this, whipping their horses furiously. One of the red chariots was pulled by his old team of stallions. Tears came to his eyes as he remembered the charioteer mercilessly whipping them, their mournful whinnies tugging at his heartstrings.

         When the sixth dolphin fell to indicate the beginning of the last lap there had only been three chariots left in the race. Three charioteers were dead on reddened sand and slaves also had been killed trying to move the debris of broken chariots. He had a slight lead as they came into the back strait but his old team of horses, from the Red Team, held the inside track. He called over to Aramis the lead horse from his old team, the strongest of all of them, holding the line by the spine of the stadium. "Aramis, stop, left!." The horse heard his master's voice and stopped pulling the team around with him. The momentum of the chariot they pulled swung it violently into the middle of the track and the second team just behind them crashed into it. Both chariots tumbled over and smashed into each other tossing the charioteers onto the track.

         After that Gaius rounded the bend alone and completed the race to the rapturous applause of the crowd. His new sponsors the Green Team had been thrilled at his success and the prize money was considerable. But his greatest prize had come with a message from Junia delivered by her servant. They had met, one thing had led to another and here they were, naked lovers, lying in bed under silken sheets.

         During the night they had discussed their plans for the future. They wanted to run away together, away from Rome and Junia's father to a farm in Gaul where they would raise horses and Junia would have a great big library of books to read.

         The whinny of a horse outside interrupted Gaius's pleasant reflections. It was followed by the violent sound of a door breaking and the heavy footsteps of armed men bursting into their bedroom.

         Still half asleep Gaius was slow to react. He began to rise but then saw the steel of sharp swords racing toward him and then through his heart. Junia had awoken only in time to scream as a blade was also thrust through her.
They gripped each other, as their lives slipped away, knowing it was over.

         Gaius whispered into Junia's ear as their blood mingled on the silk sheets,
"Ride with me my love, hold tight to me as we ride bareback through Elysium fields. We will search together for a better God and a truer life than the world can know."

         Junia gripped him and said, "Yes my love, let us ride together."


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