Ludi Plebeii 2761 AUC: Chariot Race - Quarterfinals
Publius Constantinus Placidus reporting from the Circus Maximus, Rome.
It’s a rather gloomy November day in Rome. Grayish clouds cover most of the late-autumn sky, menacing rain... but the fact that not a single drop shall touch the soon-to-be-trampled-over ground of the Circus is somehow guaranteed by the Sun popping his head in and out of hiding... every now and then... so the charioteers and the audience, which is already crowding the bleachers and chattering – quite loudly, in fact – feel quite safe that it’s going to be a rain-free, safe (well... not quite!) and, of course, very exciting series of quarter-final races.
The first race makes for a promising start: standing at the starting line, we have veteran driver Petronius Gnipho with his rough, sea-proven skin, at the helm of Albata’s Vita Brevis; Praesina’s proud Celt Ambicatos, driving The Sunburst, hoping to repeat April’s rather good performance in the Ludi Ceriales; Orionis Draco, driven by Veneta’s peculiarily-named Equus Magnus, returning to the circus after a three-year hiatus, and the first of two first-time entrants from Provincia Italia: Nox Rubra, driven by the owner himself, Marcus Iulius Perusianus, and sporting the bright red colours of the Russata team. Now the horses’ nerves are all tense... the audience is suspended, expectantly... trumpets sound, and they’re off. The first two laps are definitely to the advantage of the younger newcomers: Ambicatos and Equus, making a good use of their well-rehearsed technique of hurrying in the straight line, lead the race with confidence. Close behind, Perusianus and Gnipho struggle to keep on with the others’ pace, and proceed more or less as a pair. The third lap sees a further advance from Perusianus, but little else. However, his situation turns out not to be so good during the fourth lap: he makes a perfect straight line, but right after the first curve his left wheel hits a turd on the road – ouch! The whole chariot is thrown completely off balance. Fortunately the driver’s control is good enough not to have the vehicle tipple over, but still his efforts cost him the hard-earned third place, and he slips into the fourth. And that’s pretty much it, as in the meantime Gnipho is gaining his strength once more to keep himself right behind the powerful Ambicatos, but the latter is definitely stronger. But his opponent Equus on Orionis Draco is evidently more skilled than him and even more powerful – his prolonged absence from racing evidently did him nothing but good. He makes a wonderful fifth and sixth lap and goes on to win, followed closely by a grinning Ambicatos on The Sunburst – after all he’s qualified –, a disillusioned Gnipho thinking he’s too old to race on his Vita Brevis; and a tired Perusianus on Nox Rubra, who, in spite of having spent all of his remaining time lashing his horses like mad, still managed not to come in any better than fourth. Maybe he’ll be luckier next time...
The racecourse is now cleansed up and smoothed... more or less... for the next race, and four people are up again. The most easily noticeable thing, right now, are the ooohs and aaahs from male audience members gazing at the flowing, long blond hair of the next Albata driver, the mighty woman Aoife, driving Biga Fortuna... who, in spite of belonging to the so-called weaker gender, sports a couple of scintillating, fiery eyes which promise nothing good to her fellow drivers: from left to right, newcomers Vellocatus on Veneta’s Fulgora, Poncianus Sergius Caesar on Russata’s Erebus, and another Celt, Merddyn, driving Praesina’s only other entered chariot for these Ludi, Volcanus. They’re ready now... off they go, and right after the start, the Greens’ charioteer immediately rushes ahead and stays so for pretty much the first two laps, followed by Aoife, Vellocatus and Sergius just a few centimeters from each other. During the third lap, while they’re running even closer, Aoife and Merddyn exchange a couple of fiery glances, looking almost like they’re jealous of each other’s long hair... or maybe they’re not fiery glances at all and is there something of an affair between them, going on ever since last April, when they first raced together?! Well, only time will tell! Right now, however, nothing counts but power and strength. And the Celt’s power definitely shows off in the fourth and fifth lap – he goes through the straight lanes at really lightning speed, while the younger drivers behind, Vellocatus and Sergius, don’t seem to care much about it all: the others are just too much for them. Strong-willed Aoife goes on in her struggle, she just can’t let this fellow Britannia guy steal her victory! So in the sixth lap she starts yelling at her horses like a madman – ahem, a mad woman, and she almost overtakes her Praesina colleague. Almost, because in the very end she just doesn’t – Merddyn wins on Volcanus, Aoife follows him on Biga Fortuna, and the two resigned drivers of Erebus and Fulgora come third and fourth respectively. And while Merddyn and Aoife shake hands, complimenting each other’s qualification to the semifinals, a strange twinkle is in their eyes...
After a pleasant interlude with catchy dance music and even more eye-catching young female dancers from Gallia, the race-course is ready again to welcome four more contenders. From left to right, they are: long-bearded Barbarufa on Russata’s Rubidea; the Gaul Emrys, who waited patiently for these Ludi to come after being pushed at the very last minute out of April’s Ludi Ceriales, on Veneta’s shining blue Windchaser III; the young, curly-haired Stolo, from Liverpool, on Veneta’s Incitatus, with memories of his silver-medal second place in September’s Ludi Romani still ringing in his ears – of course, when he’s not wearing the music-blasting earphones of his Beatles-filled iPod (which he is now!); and finally, another veteran, short-bodied, menacing Antropophagus on Russata’s Germanica. Everybody’s ready to hear the trumpet sound... it does sound, blaringly and they go. Stolo’s racing prowess, honed in his Oxford days, starts to show itself off even in the first two laps: his risky tactic of cutting the curves short by passing extremely close to the spina proves winning, and even an experienced driver like Antropophagus is struggling to keep up with him. He does, however, and by the third lap they’re all going in a diagonal line, again with a very short distance between them: Stolo, Antropophagus, Emrys and Barbarufa. But right at the beginning of the fourth lap, something strange happens: Emrys is starting to leave a trail of blue paint droplets, from his chariot, behind him! There can be only be two explanations for this: either the paint on Windchaser III is still wet, or, in the haste caused by chariot owner Messalina’s fear of being denied a race entry again, out of time constraints, the paint was poorly applied. Anyway, whatever the reason, the new paint proves to be more an obstacle than an improvement for the Veneta team: the right wheel of Emrys’ chariot, having caught some sticky paint on it, gets very quickly covered with racecourse sand, slowing the vehicle down a great deal and making it slip rapidly into a dishonourable fourth place. And thus it stays up to the very end of the race. Indeed, the fifth and sixth lap are pretty much dominated by Stolo’s mighty riding: evidently his favourite band’s music powers him up greatly, allowing him to outrun by a fairly good distance his direct opponent, the disgruntled Antropophagus, and the other two. The order on the finish line is as follows: Incitatus, Germanica, Rubidea – with a distressed Barbarufa munching at his own beard – and Windchaser III, whose driver angrily gives a huge kick to, splashing his foot blue in the process, making the vehicle promply fall down onto the sand, and of course dirtying it all up.
Gosh, we’re definitely seeing all sorts of strange events today at the Circus Maximus, and it’s not over yet! And as the sweaty racecourse workers finish up their job and go off to get a well-deserved rest, the last four drivers line up: Lucius Fidelius Lusitanus, (another forcedly excluded rider from April’s Ceriales), driving his own Lightning II for the Veneta team; from Italia, first time entrant Livia Plauta’s chariot Oreas, driven by athletic, handsome Statius for Russata; and both chariots of Russata’s seventh entrant S. Postumius Albus – Blazius III with Spurius Figulus and Felix Ferrum, driven by Sarmatius, whose perfect Latin pronunciation cannot adequately disguise his strangely exotic facial traits. For the last time today the trumpet sounds, a little squeaky by now – even the trumpeter’s getting tired! – and they rush on. Unlike all the other races, the first two laps of this seem to be perfectly balanced: at every curve there’s a different leader, as the distance between them all is ever-so-short. It’s by the third lap that the menacing, but fully allowed tactic of lashing the rivals, adopted by Lusitanus and Sarmatius, starts to pay off: Figulus feels the sudden pain of a whiplash coming from nowhere on his left shoulder and slows off just a bit, just what’s enough for Lusitanus to overtake him, while Sarmatius does the same with the good-looking, but relatively unexperienced Statius. However, during the fourth and fifth lap, the young driver with the foreign markings earns at his own expense that lashes to rivals may be useful, but one should not forget lashing horses as well! Indeed, Figulus’ constant-pace tactic allows him to go several steps further than Sarmatius, and he settles in the second place. In the sixth and final lap, he seems to be content that way, as he doesn’t even try to contrast the mighty galloping of Lusitanus’ horses, who saved all of their strength for this very last lap. Thus Lusitanus wins on Lightning II, smiling at Figulus, his fellow driver from Russata – as if saying “We’re both in, mate!”, because they indeed are – who came second. Third by an inch is the other driver from the Russata house, Sarmatius on Felix Ferrum, while poor Statius, who came in at a very distanced fourth place, will maybe try again next time, having gained some more confidence with the racecourse in the meantime. And so it’s all over: Veneta fans cheer loudly, having gotten no less than three chariots in tomorrow’s semifinals; Russata people stream away feeling happy as well about having their newest chariot in; the consuls rise from their seats, and the Circus Maximus slowly empties itself.
...And for today it’s over just as well for me, Publius Constantinus Placidus, signing off. See you all tomorrow, and optime valete omnes.
–P. Con. Placidus
Aedilis Plebis Novæ Romæ