Summary: After the war, Agron and Nasir live on a goat farm. Totally indulgent, rather schmoopy and a tad cracky. Enjoy!
Live Long and Goat Farm
Agron woke to the sound of bleating goats, running footsteps and the high-pitched shouts of several children. He groaned, low in his throat, and rolled over on his sleeping pallet, reaching out an arm to ghost about the blankets in search of the familiar warmth of Nasir, intending to draw him closer and so retreat back to slumber's pleasant depths. He was disappointed, however, to find nothing but empty air and a cooling dip in the straw-filled pallet where Nasir had once lain.
Frowning, Agron cracked one eye open the barest possible amount, just enough to ascertain that the pallet was truly empty beside him. Disgruntled by the sight of bare blankets, he muttered a soft curse and buried his head in his arms, doing his utmost to shut out the hopeful sunlight that was doing its best to fill the small room where he and Nasir made their bed. Clearly, Nasir had risen early, as had been his wont all the years Agron had known him, and had gone to care for their charges, both human and animal.
Sighing, Agron tucked his chin deep into his chest and heaved a breath of the sweet-scented drying grass that filled the newly-stuffed pallet beneath him, resolving to go back to sleep. Though it was unfortunate Nasir had found entertainment that morning that did not involve Agron himself, he saw no reason why he should thus be deprived of what he considered to be some much deserved rest.
Agron jolted upright with a suddenness that set his heart pounding. Throwing aside the woven blanket that covered him, he rolled from the sleeping pallet in one swift movement, the senses he had developed as a gladiator making him immediately awake, alert and on guard. He landed bare-foot against the stone floor that was made up of large, rough-hewn rocks pushed close together and felt its chill bite against the leathery soles of his feet. With his heart still beating frantically, he reached for the long wooden pole that leant against the wall by his bedside, the one Nasir had cut for him from one of the slender trees that bordered the crude shepherd's hut the two of them now called home. Though the iron nails that had been driven though his palms three years past yet prevented him from closing his hands securely around the grip of a sword, he was nevertheless well able to grasp the thick wooden haft of the pole and so provide a level of defence for himself and those in his charge. Not that there was often much need for defence here in the peaceful world that lay beyond the mountains.
This morning, however, was proving an exception. With a trained gaze he swept the small room for the source of the sound that had woken him, taking in the rough grey brick walls that were stuffed at every crook and crevice with a mixture of mud and reeds, and the large open window that ran alongside the bed he shared every night with Nasir. Failing to locate the threat, he turned in a slow circle, eyeing the long wooden bench where Nasir often sat, his hands kept busy with all manner of tasks as he spoke easily to Agron, and the wide sleeping pallet that was draped with several large and multi-coloured rugs. Finally, his eyes skimmed the single wall-hanging that provided simple decoration to the otherwise bare room, a gift from Laeta the previous year, made of painted wooden beads woven together to form intricate patterns.
The noise came again, more forceful this time, almost startling him out of his skin. As swift and agile on his feet as he had ever been in the arena, he swung round, searching for the source of the tumult and finally locating it… but only after he had dropped his gaze several feet downwards. There, framed in the doorway that separated the room from the rest of the hut, stood a small, coarse-haired goat, its russet-coloured coat speckled with black and brown spots. Its eyes were curiously dark and it seemed to gaze at him with rather unnerving intent. 'Bleeeearrrgh,' it said again defiantly, then turned and trotted away, leaving a trail of muddy cloven hoofprints in its wake as Agron stared after it, torn somewhere between anger and abashment at having been startled so by a mere animal.
Agron nearly fell over. Only just managing to right himself, he spun round and found himself face-to-face with a black-faced billy-goat with huge, curled horns that twined gracefully round its head and neck. The goat, its coat a pale grey, was gazing gravely in at his window, its well-muscled front legs propped up on the low stone sill so that they stuck out into the room beyond as it chewed contentedly on a large mouthful of grass. 'BLEEEAAAERGHHHH!' it said again, as it caught him looking at it.
Finding his legs unsteady beneath him, Agron collapsed onto the bed and dropped his head into his hands. 'Fuck the goats,' he muttered despairingly, glad that no one else had born witness to his fall from glory. Particularly not Nasir, as the little shit would not have let him forget such a thing to the end of his days. Lifting his gaze again, he stared at the goat that was still perched at his window, its huge, horned head taking up much of the view as it munched upon its mouthful of greens with bits of stalk hanging from its fumbling mouth. Agron shook his head. He had had enough. It was time to find Nasir.
Gaining his feet, he dressed quickly, slipping his arms through his familiarly well-worn robe that Nasir had somehow managed to squirrel away with them across the mountains, mainly, he suspected, for Nasir's own benefit, for he wore it as often as did Agron. He then ran his fingers through his hair so that it stood all on end and left, stepping quickly through the second, slightly larger room that completed their home to duck his way under the lintel to make his way outside.
He emerged into bright sunshine. Clearly, he had slept later than he had thought. Before him lay a grassy slope that descended into a soft valley, dotted sporadically with tall and slender trees that waved in an amiable wind. Every bit of the scene around him was generous, lush and welcoming- the gentle colours, the muted shapes, the mild breeze that caressed his face as he turned his head towards the wind, breathing deeply of the free air. For the hundredth time, he found himself marvelling at his surrounds, so different from the dry, dusty colours of the land where he had been gladiator.
They had chosen this place for the children. Nasir had known immediately that this was where he had wanted to live and Agron had been content to let him decide, still lost, grieving and confused in the new world they had found together. With each passing day, however, the land around the lone shepherd's hut where he lived with Nasir was becoming increasingly familiar. He had no need to look to know there were two larger buildings located not far from the hut, just across the run of the valley. The ruins of an old farmhouse, Nasir had told him upon returning from scouting the area when first they had arrived there with those precious few surviving rebels who had chosen not to fight in the final battle, for reasons of infirmity, fear, injury or love. And there had been the children, some now without parents, some who had been orphans all their lives, separated from their families as mere babes.
Not all of the survivors had stayed. Some had chosen to strike their own path in the new world, unwilling to see familiar faces and the memories they brought to mind, of blood, death, battle and a life lived in slavery. Others had wanted to break all bonds and start life anew. But those who remained, most of whom were children, had together rebuilt the abandoned farmhouse that Nasir had found, their willing, nimble hands providing the labour to complement Agron's instruction and strength.
Upon completion, the children had all settled in the house with Laeta and Sibyl to care for them. He and Nasir had lived there for a time also as wounds to body, mind and heart slowly began to heal. Whilst there, they had watched as new lives were built and lived, until finally their shared desire for peace and privacy had outweighed the raw need for company they both had developed after losing so many of those close to them. Of course, Agron thought to himself, glancing around at the hillside, peace, by all counts, was relative.
Agron rolled his eyes to the heavens as a tiny, madly bleating goat scampered by him, followed closely by a second of the creatures, this one dark-haired and stocky. Behind them both chased a small girl who was so intent on her goats that she ran full tilt into Agron's knees. Sent reeling backwards, she landed on the ground with a solid thud and promptly burst into tears. With a sigh, Agron bent down and picked her up, grimacing only slightly at the familiar ache in his hands as the task stretched the scarred and stubbornly healed skin. He set the girl back on her feet, then crouched down so they were eye to eye.
'Do you suffer hurt?' he asked her, tilting her wet face up to the sunlight with a large finger crooked beneath her chin. She shook her head, eyes still welling, and he met her gaze gravely. 'Then stay your tears. I would not have your goats stray too far from their keeper.' When the little girl gave him a tentative nod, he gave her a short push in the small of her back. 'Now, go! Before they disappear from sight!' With another nod, more determined this time, she left, tearing quickly after her two charges at enormous speed. Watching her go, Agron nodded approvingly then stepped forwards, planning to go in search of Nasir.
Before he had gone more than a few paces, however, he was forced to a hasty halt as a sizable herd of goats and children rushed past, nearly knocking him off his feet before they vanished in the direction of the distant farm buildings. As the accompanying chorus of shouts, shrieks and 'bleeeaaaerghs' slowly faded, Agron took a deep breath, seeking calm amidst the goat-filled chaos his life had become. Failing to find it, he instead took another breath and proceeded to bellow Nasir's name across the hills, sending goats and children scampering for cover in every direction. Satisfied, Agron folded his arms across his body and prepared to wait.
'There is absent reason to raise voice so loud it thunders through the heavens,' said a soft voice by his side.
Agron started, nearly surprised out of his skin for the third time that day. His mood souring, he turned to his side and glared down at his newly appeared lover, only to find Nasir grinning brightly up at him. Agron managed to maintain his glare for only a moment or two before his heart softened. Heaving a heavy, much put-upon sigh, he leant forward and pressed a kiss to the dark crown of hair before him. Yet, much to his satisfaction, he managed to make sure his expression was stern as Nasir pulled backwards to catch his gaze.
There was no doubt that their new life suited Nasir. Whilst he had lost some of the bulk and muscle he had developed during the war, he yet remained trim and toned, his belly flat and his hipbones sharp against Agron's touch. His skin gleamed with health and his eyes had recently begun to shed the haunted look they had borne for the past several seasons, a result of too much grief, loss and sorrow. Agron had long ago decided it was his task to keep that look absent as often as possible.
'I was woken most abruptly from slumber this morning,' he grumbled, raising a hand to brush back a flyaway strand of hair that had fallen before Nasir's eyes.
Nasir leant into his touch, tilting his head so that Agron could nuzzle at his neck. 'Apologies,' he murmured. 'Some of the children desired to know why Crixus is so intent on pursuing Naevia these past days. Conversation was difficult with them so young, and suffered interruption when Gannicus upset entire table in attempt to steal loaf from it.' He shook his head. 'The chase that followed shall live forever in my memories.'
Lifting his head, Agron was unable to prevent a swift roll of his eyes at the series of names that had fallen from Nasir's lips. Noticing, Nasir raised a questioning eyebrow. 'Do you yet find yourself unable to warm to the names the children use?' he asked curiously.
'It is not only the children,' Agron retorted. 'I find myself the only fucking adult still wishing to bestow our goats with names that properly befit their station.' He could easily remember the sudden flash of red-hot fury that had blazed through him when he had first heard one of the children, a young boy with dark, curly hair, refer to the massive horned billy-goat, the very one that had appeared at Agron's window that morning, as Spartacus. He had scared the child, he knew, towering over him with a shouted demand to know what madness snared his mind. It had taken both Laeta and Sibyl to calm the boy afterwards, while Nasir did the same for himself.
It was not out of disrespect that the children bestowed the goats in their charge with the names of the fallen, Nasir had explained, but to remember. It was a sign of honour, a way of ensuring that those who had borne those names stayed yet in living memory.
It had begun with Saxa. Agron had snorted upon hearing this, seeing the skilled warrior who had stood for long seasons by his side in his mind's eye, remembering how vehement she had been in her beliefs and how impulsive in her actions as she blazed trail through her life and those in it. The tale went that some of the children, tasked with taking the goats to water, had noticed a particular she-goat amongst the herd, a creature with a lavish golden coat the colour of pale honey, shouldering her fellows about according to her own whims. One of the older children had jested he had once seen Saxa at similar task as the rebels had readied themselves for battle, and the name had not only taken, but spread, with the result that all the children had immediately begun to seek out other goats who displayed similar characteristics to the rebels they had met, befriended, honoured, admired and loved.
The largest of the goats, proudly horned, muscular and the clear leader of the herd, had been named Spartacus, in honour of the man who had once been named so himself. Another goat with a pale, curiously curly coat, had been dubbed Varro, after a man known by the children only from stories that had been told in the rebel camps. Though still disapproving, Agron had been unable to prevent a grin playing at the corner of his mouth upon being introduced to Crixus and Naevia, a shaggy black-haired male and a slender she-goat who were often found together. He had been less amused to learn that he and Nasir also featured in the children's game as another pair of goats, one the runt of the herd and the other of larger form than even the goat-Spartacus, and both of whom the children claimed were no more separable than their human counterparts.
Hearing the names of his friends on the children's lips had stung at first, from painful wounds that had yet to heal. Yet his resistance to sharing his name with a goat had faded one particular night when he had ventured outside into a heavy rainstorm to look for Nasir, his Nasir, only to find him lying on a thick patch of rain-soaked grass, lost to laughter as he watched the goat version of himself doing his very best to shepherd his far larger companion under a tree, presumably to protect him from the pelting rain. The large goat was bleating back at his smaller companion indignantly but to no avail, as the little goat gradually but resolutely bullied it into taking shelter.
As he had reached out a damp hand to pull a still-grinning Nasir to his feet, Agron had looked at his lover as if seeing him for the first time. Nasir's skin had been wet and slick and droplets of silver rain had caught in his eyelashes, giving them a faint gleam. His hair had been bedraggled and limp and plastered against his face and neck. Nasir had smiled at him, that look that meant he knew he had gotten his way, and Agron had rolled his eyes before shaking his head and hauling Nasir up over his shoulders where he had dangled helplessly, his protests lost to the rain as Agron carried him back to their newly furnished shepherd's hut.
The touch of Nasir's hand upon his arm brought Agron back to the present. He looked down upon Nasir's waiting gaze.
'No longer does it trouble me,' he admitted with a shrug, reaching out to slip an arm around Nasir's waist. 'The names of our friends deserve to ring on people's lips for years beyond count. If part of their journey needs be by goat, who am I to give reprimand?'
A small bleating sound down by his feet caught his attention and he looked towards to ground, perturbed and slightly anxious he would be made subject to yet another shock. Instead he found the small, russet-coloured goat that had infiltrated his room that morning standing before him, barely at knee-height and bleating furiously.
Freeing himself from Agron's hold, Nasir crouched down and reached out to the goat, which scampered forwards until it was appeared to be trying to climb into his lap. Agron could see its small hooves digging into Nasir's thighs as Nasir began to scrub at the small tuft of hair that sat at the top of its head with his knuckles.
'This one bears guilt for disturbing my slumber this morning,' Agron noted with some disgruntlement. He glared at the creature, which remained annoying ignorant of his displeasure and merely continued its efforts to climb Nasir like a human-shaped tree, bleating madly the entire time. Watching it, Agron cocked his head to the side, frowning. 'It seems fond of you,' he commented. 'Though it appears new to my eyes.'
Nasir nodded. 'He stands a newcomer. He came upon our herd two days past and shows no intent of leaving.'
'It is noisy,' Agron said, as the goat continued to bleat its enjoyment of Nasir's touch. 'Its' constant chatter pains my ears.'
Nasir shrugged, his head down as he concentrated on his task. His shoulders, however, had begun to shake and Agron bent down, concerned. He reached out a hand to touch Nasir's arm. 'Are you well?'
Nasir seemed to be fighting a silent battle with himself. He nodded and stood back to his feet, taking Agron's hand and drawing him up with him. 'I am,' he said. 'Now come. It is time we went in search of meal for you.'
Agron nodded, only then realising he had yet to break his fast that morning. Slinging a casual arm around Nasir's shoulders, he pulled him close against his body and they began to walk together across the valley towards the farm buildings that stood in the distance. He was bemused to see that the newcomer goat was following close at Nasir's heels. For his part, Nasir seemed to be doing his best to ignore it.
'Is he yet given name?' Agron asked enquiringly.
Nasir nodded. 'This very morning, by the children.'
'And what warrior's name did they bestow upon this little creature that so dotes upon you?'
Beneath his arm, Nasir's shoulders began to shake again and he murmured a response that Agron was unable to make out. Frowning, Agron bent his head until it was level with Nasir's, who repeated his words.
Agron's head jerked up and he stopped, drawing Nasir to a halt beside him.
'You fucking jest?' he demanded of him.
Nasir shook his head, starting to laugh out loud this time. Agron glowered at him for a moment, then turned to look at the goat, who, for reason unknown to anyone, had started to head-but him in the shins.
Coming to a decision, he leant down and wrapped his hands around the goat's narrow chest before picking it up and setting it down again so its head pointed away from Nasir. As a final measure, he gave it a sharp swat on the rump, urging it onwards.
Craning its head around on its short neck, the goat gave him a glare that could only be called baleful, then turned and trotted off towards the distant hills, giving him one last insulting bleat as it went.
Agron watched it go with approval in his eyes. 'Of this Castus could I grow fond,' he muttered under his breath, and continued towards the farmhouse with Nasir chuckling at his side.
NB. For the record, I don't really think that Agron, or Nasir for that matter, would let a goat be named after Spartacus. They would be more likely to punch anyone who tried to name a goat such in the face. Hope you liked the story!