When she was not being reprimanded or ordered about, Meagan was generally considered not to exist. The fact of her station was impressed upon her by the Emperor’s driver. Handsome and popular, the young man was a celebrity. Well-dressed businessmen accompanied the star athlete at all times, and groups of admirers waited for him outside the courtyard gates. The first time Meagan saw the gray-eyed driver, she gave him a nervous greeting. The driver strode past her without the slightest acknowledgment.
Someone did notice her, however. The scarred soldier, Horace, came to talk whenever he saw Meagan in the courtyard. Sometimes he would be gone for days and reappear with a new limp or nasty cut. “These scratches?” he would say, joking. “I get them training. Careless of me.”
At first the man’s hulking presence frightened her, and she avoided looking at the dried, shriveled place where his eye should have been. Still, his was the only friendship Meagan could claim, and she learned simply to look at the eye that was looking at her and to avoid the map of scars.
“You take many baths,” the soldier told her one day. (Actually, he pantomimed the splashes Meagan took in the courtyard’s fountain.) “You are so clean. Not like the others.”
She smiled and nodded, her usual response to the language. Classroom Latin had not stressed conversation.
Horace bent down to unlace his sandal and nudged it towards her with a mud-spattered toe. “Like my new sandals? I got them from a Macedonian cobbler. Good, no?” The man flipped the sandal over to show an underside studded with iron nails. “They have hobnails too, for a practical Roman. It saves the soles.”
Meagan nodded blankly.
Horace sighed and picked up his sandal to show her. “Sandalio,” he said in a good-natured baritone, and knelt to lace it. He stood and plucked his garment. “Tun-i-ca.”
“Oh! Your tunic is …” Meagan searched vainly for an adjective.
“Elegans,” Horace prompted her, grinning. Then he held up his thick fingers, counting patiently, “Unus, duo, tres…”
With his eye-patch, Horace was remotely handsome in a mashed sort of way, and Meagan tactfully encouraged him to wear it. Regardless, when Horace made her laugh she found it easy to forget his imperfections. Soon Meagan forgot academic Latin terms such as imperfect and present tense—words that described imperial Rome quite well—and instead rehearsed the names of things explained by Horace.
Excerpted from Eclipsed by Shadow, the award-winning 1st volume of “The Legend of the Great Horse” trilogy. (Hrdbk pg. 129)
Book II: The Golden Spark will be published soon.
Read the 1st Chapter online!
Copyright © 2008 John Royce