Enter the world of Ancient Rome, c. 108 AD – Love & Vengeance

Love & Vengeance – The Colosseum

A menacing growl followed by an earth-shattering scream bellowed above the rafters. The roar of the crowd snapped her back out of the numbness. The applause echoed through the chambers as particles of sand rained through the wood slats in the ceiling.

She was filthy, covered in sweat, blood and grime. What damage could more dirt do? Toes on the dirt floor wiggled as she stared at them. Her hair hung around her face like a curtain, matted with dried blood. Inadvertently, she lifted her hand to tuck one side behind her ear but jerked to a halt, restrained by the iron cuffs around her wrists, bound together with a chain. The same chain connected to the metal collar around her neck. How had she forgotten its weight resting so heavy on her shoulders?

Another scream and the sound of flesh ripping, laughter and clapping became louder above. Fear snaked down her spine and she shuddered.

Gustina sat on the stone ledge, chained with the other miscreants, waiting to be forced up the ramp to the carnage above. If she could just return to the numbness again, where nothing mattered any more. The place she’d escaped to before she’d heard the animals attacking the condemned out there. But she couldn’t silence the roar of the crowds, enjoying the executions as their noontime entertainment. Trembling, she pulled her sluggish legs up, wrapping her joined hands over them, to hold herself as she buried her face in her knees.

***

In the hallway outside her chamber, Marcus stood, flexing his muscles, his arm extended with the metal disk in his hand. It equaled the weight of his sword – a weapon he would not have until it was his turn in the arena. Besides, there was no room in the corridor to swing it, to loosen his arms in preparations for the next fight.

Christians and convicts. What a surly lot. But it was an easy way to feed the vast array of beasts the Empire kept to compete in the games. Did he ever feel sad for the poor souls about to perish by their claws? No. Nor did he mourn the loss of life at the end of his sword.

He was one of the rare attractions people paid to see. He was gladiator. And he soon would be victor of all he opposed on the sands. Marcus’ victories gave him the privileges and money he wanted – as long as it remained wine and women. But not his freedom. Not what he had lost to the Romans. No, the only way to gain that came by victory in the arena and in front of the Emperor. And to earn that opportunity, he’d kill whomever they placed before him.

He closed his eyes as the screams filtered downward. His soul heard them and his body tingled with the smell of blood and dirt. Breathing in the welcoming atmosphere, he exhaled and opened his lids to look straight into the captives’ chamber.

He found her. Sitting, hunched on the small ledge, draped in chain and metal bands, her head down. But when she looked up, through all the muck and grime, her pale blue eyes shined, sparkling and bright. Her unmarred face was a rarity amongst captives dragged to this place, usually after rough treatment prior. He noticed her high cheekbones, a small nose, narrow chin but ripe mouth. Her eyes locked on him and his mouth went dry. When her tongue licked her lips, his body tightened.

He had to have her. Period. Regardless if she was a convict, runaway or Christian, he wanted her.

A guard butted past him, into the room and yanked the chain, pulling all the captives up. Many moaned, some pleaded. She didn’t. She stood straight, pushing her shoulders back, waiting at the end of the line. Her eyes locked on his until the guard turned chain in hand to lead them out.

Marcus stepped back. Instantly, his hand went to his stomach guard and pulled the narrowed pick-knife out of its hidden sheath. As the captives stumbled past him, he extended his foot, causing her to trip. She fell into his grasp. His free hand placed the knife into the lock and with a twist, it opened. His hand covered it to deaden the noise as his other arm encircled her tiny waist and pulled her against him.

“Not a sound,” he whispered. He shoved her to the wall, his massive body hiding hers as he flexed his limbs. The guard stopped at the sound of the loose chain but didn’t look far when he saw the gladiator’s well-muscled body. Marcus glanced at him over his shoulder and gave the man a nod. His status as a victorious gladiator allowed some privilege. The guard shrugged and moved on. The frightened woman gasped for air and shook with fear.

Quickly he lifted her. She was light, lighter than his sword but he knew that couldn’t be. In a swift move, he turned. Next to the doorway sat a covered alcove. He dropped her in it.

“You’ll be safe here.” He looked her over. Her wide eyes, full of fear and mistrust, returned his gaze but she said nothing. He heard the gong of his master calling him – he fought next, after the final execution. “Remain here. I will be back for you.” He touched her cheek, his bulky hand swallowed half her face. Her skin was soft, like silk. Back in the days when he wore silk… He banked the anger. With a final nod to her, he left. He knew she’d be there when he returned.

To leave meant death.

 

Available Spring 2014 Turquoise Morning Press