—bread and circuses.”
THE CHARIOT DRIVER stood and offered his hand. “Would you like to see Cerberus? I will give you the honor.” His handsome smile was warmth in the cold air. “My name is Braedin.”
Together they walked out of the compound, past the curved hindquarters of the marble horses protecting the gates. Beyond them, the outline of buildings topped the surrounding hills, a moonlit cityscape framed by stone. Hard-packed road passed between a circle of pens and an adjoining work-shop. Inside could be seen a shadowy row of neatly stowed chariots.
They passed the workshop area and approached the paddocks. Out of the darkness a stallion’s scream pierced the night air. A horse charged the fence. The driver smiled as dirt flew around him and announced, “The warrior Cerberus!”
Meagan watched in disapproval. “Horses do not have to be like this, Braedin. You would be amazed what some carrots and a nice bridle can do.”
The driver watched the angry stallion with admiration. Hooves smacked against the wood fence in front of him. “The greatest son of Pegasus, the Thundering Horse of Jove! If I had three more like Cerberus our team would win without challenge!”
“Actually Braedin, I think you would have four dead horses.”
“You are wrong. Were the others as strong as mighty Cerberus, he would pull with them. Cerberus is a warrior. He only hates weakness.”
Common horse sense told Meagan that the stallion only hated rivals, but she decided against pressing the point. Instead she watched a small shadow dance toward them in the moonlight, approaching with a comical jig. A goat came up to the fence and shoved his wiry neck through the timber poles, hoping for a handout. It is not uncommon for a horse to bond with a smaller animal, and a transformation came over the stallion as he sniffed his tiny companion. Meagan reached to pet the goat and Cerberus laid back his ears. She stepped back. “So, they do not fight because this is a strong warrior goat? I mean, the horse does not hate everything. You can see he has a nice side.”
“We are not interested in the stallion’s nice side,” the driver said sharply. “Cerberus is not the Emperor’s favorite stallion for his nice side.”
“This is the Emperor’s favorite?”
“Yes. From the day Cerberus savaged Titus’ Blues and scattered them across the track. A glorious day.”
Meagan made herself stay silent.
“It was the same month the horse became a centenarius!” The charioteer’s voice was a boast. “Emperor Trajan gave orders that Cerberus would always run in his team. Trajan was a general of the legions, and Cerberus is to represent the military strength that now rules Rome!” The boast died. “Of course, that was many months ago. And many horses.”
“I am sorry, what is a ‘centenarius?’”
“A horse that has won a hundred races. I drove Cerberus to half of those victories before he became too fierce.” His voice grew boastful again. “One of my fans is a poet named Martial. He gave me an epitaph for when I am killed.” The driver stood straighter and recited: “Here lies Braedin, the glory of the roaring Circus, the object of Rome’s cheers and her short-lived darling. The Fates, counting not years but victories, judged me an old man.”
Meagan listened appreciatively. “That is very nice, Braedin, for when you are killed.” She watched the goat grazing quietly by the stallion. At least the horse was not insane, she realized, ending doubts. “I think Cerberus wants friends. Horses do, you know.”
Eclipsed by Shadow (Book #1 of the trilogy) won national awards including the Eric Hoffer Award for best Young Adult Fiction, and the Mom’s Choice Award for best family-friendly Young Adult Fantasy.
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