Authors: Eva Scott
Hetal rested one giant paw on the hilt of his sword and regarded his great-nephew for one quiet moment. “No,” he said. “But I do know they have not taken her to Delos, which is good news.”
“Where have they taken her then?” Lucius’ horse snorted and tossed its head, picking up the mood.
“Who can say for certain?” Hetal shrugged. “She was definitely here. Made quite a stir at market. Kicked some man in the head and broke his nose apparently.”
Lucius smiled. “Sounds like Klara.” What other woman would do such a thing? It could only be her. They were on the right trail.
“Needless to say, the little Hun didn’t sell. No one wanted her after her performance.”
“Where would they go next, do you think?” Lucius handed the reins of Hetal’s horse over to him.
Hetal took them and prepared to mount. “If it were me I’d be heading towards Italia. Ravenna most likely. From there down towards Rome. The biggest slave market in Italia is in Rome. That’s not to say your little Hun couldn’t be sold somewhere along the way. If she’s causing trouble they’ll want to be rid of her as quickly as possible.” He settled in the saddle and waited while Lucius mounted. “I warn you, the more trouble she causes, the cheaper they’ll sell her. That won’t bode well for your girl.”
Lucius’ mouth settled in a grim line. “Then we’d best be off, there is no time to waste.”
The cart bumped and swayed on the paved road called the Via Flaminia. The word sounded strange in Klara’s ears. At least this road provided a much gentler ride than the other they’d traversed. They seemed more like dirt tracks by comparison. The town of Ravenna had been the last slave market before Rome. Klara had acquitted herself in her usual spectacular fashion. She held on to the window bars letting the rhythm of the cart sway her from side to side, smiling at the memory of the momentary chaos created when she’d lashed out at a potential buyer.
They’d been on the road for days now heading south towards their destiny. At least her bones rattled less on the smooth Roman road, a small mercy. She peeped out of the tiny window at the passing scenery. How many men had it taken to make a road of stone so stable and flat? Here and there large monuments languished, telling the stories of lives long over, carved with images of men and women undertaking daily tasks or with the grand profiles of what must be important people. She found it impossible to tell, not reading Latin or being able to read at all.
“What are these things?” she asked Meda who sat with her legs curled elegantly beneath her.
“Monuments to the dead.” Another woman answered. “Romans like to be remembered with a bit of brick and concrete. You’ll see when we get to Rome.”
. The word hung in the air like a curse. There was no telling how things would go once they arrived. Klara’s plan was flimsy at best and relied entirely on who bought her at the slave market. Surely someone would—it was the end of the road for them all.
“I have no idea what concrete is!” said Meda. “Tell me what you see.” Even in the shadowy light of the covered cart Klara could see the girl was pale with anxiety, and she couldn’t blame her. The thought of Meda being sold to a brothel made her own stomach queasy. The worse part about the situation was her lack of power to change it.
“I can see farmland stretched out to the horizon. I can see a man herding goats, or maybe they’re sheep, too far away to tell. There are a few monuments to people here and there.”
“Do you remember the part of the road that went right through the middle of the rock? I’ve never seen anything like it!” Meda smiled, wonder lighting her grey eyes and Klara knew she had succeeded in distracting the girl from thoughts of their immediate future.
“I liked the arches at the gates to the cities best. So grand! Imagine building one to honour yourself. What does a man need to do to deserve an arch?” Keeping Meda busy was a good way of fending off her own growing nerves.
“Kill, invade, enslave, have an army bigger than anyone else’s.” The words of the woman who had spoken earlier were laden with bitterness and hatred. Clearly her people had suffered at the hands of the Roman legions and she had become enslaved. She had barely spoken on the long journey, preferring to keep to herself. Klara had named her the Bitter One for lack of something better.
Klara shrugged. “Out on the Great Steppe war is fought just as it is everywhere else yet we don’t run about putting monuments up to celebrate our own glory.”
“Perhaps you don’t have enough stone,” the Bitter One said, her sly smile barely visible in the shadows.
Klara resumed looking out the window, determined not to be drawn into an argument. Clutching the bars of the window she stood on the tips of her toes to get a better view. “I can see buildings. I can’t see them properly but I think it might be Rome.”
“Already?” Panic edged Meda’s voice. Klara sat quickly by her side and took her hand.
“I promise you everything will be alright. You’ll see.” She winked to make Meda smile and was rewarded with a weak grin.
“Humph!” The Bitter One clearly did not agree with her assessment of their situation and Klara shot her a dark look to silence any further conversation on the matter. Meda didn’t need the awful truth right now. What she needed was hope and Klara was going to make sure she got it.
“What’s that smell?” A scent wafted in on the slender breeze, like nothing she had ever smelled before. Her nose wrinkled at the pungent aroma. “What
that?” she asked again, not expecting an answer.
“I can smell it too,” said Meda. “What do you suppose it is?”
“The stench of civilisation,” said the Bitter One.
A cold rivulet of sweat traced a path down the length of Klara’s spine. She stood, hands tied behind her back, her feet bound together with loose loops of rope, facing the crowd at the Roman slave market. The forum was packed with jostling men, some shouting questions to the
, some inspecting the wares, all here to buy slaves. She found a spot on the wall above their heads and kept her eyes firmly fixed, ignoring the leering faces staring up at her.
A sign hung about her neck.
Strong, capable of hard work
was all it said. No suggestion she’d make a good bed slave, or a ladies attendant. No mention of her violent tendencies either. The
, Warty and Fat Man, wanted rid of her and hoped to sell her quickly; they’d tied her hands behind her back so she couldn’t hit anyone. They’d grown clever.
Fat Man climbed up on the crudely built platform, stopping a moment to catch his breath before his voice bellowed out across the forum. “Gentlemen! Feast your eyes upon this magnificent specimen of a woman. Look at these strong legs. She’ll work hard for you. These Hun women are tough as boiled leather.”
“Let me see her tits!” shouted one man.
“Does she understand Latin?” asked another.
Hands groped her legs, squeezing her flesh, slipping to cup her bottom. Fury raced through her veins and she lamented the binds that tied her. As a hand came around to fondle her breast she threw her head back in a swift motion, connecting with a Roman head.
The man yelled and leapt away, holding one side of his face. “You bitch! Did you see what that whore just did to me? I demand she’s whipped for her insolence.”
“Now, now,” said Warty, moving quickly to defuse the situation and deftly manoeuvring the man away from the platform. “I’m sure it was an accident.”
Klara was unable to contain her smirk of triumph even as her head throbbed from the blow.
“What do you think you’re doing?” hissed the Fat Man in her ear. “I am not leaving here with you. If I can’t sell you today then I will kill you. Do you understand?”
She swallowed hard. No doubt Fat Man meant every word. Death did not serve her plans for freedom. Keeping her eyes straight ahead she nodded to show her understanding.
“Good. Now let’s hope you haven’t ruined your chances of gaining a good master. Although, who would want to own such a slave as you is beyond me.” Fat Man sighed and turned once more to the crowd. “See the fire in her belly! Have no doubt about the stamina of this slave. She’ll work hard for you, I promise you that.” He shot a dark look at Klara from under his heavy brow as if daring her to challenge his words.
A man standing at the back, deep in the shadows, stepped forward into the light. His voice, dark and rich, rose above the cacophony of the crowd. “I’m interested in purchasing your Hun. I offer you two denarii for her.”
“Two denarii?” Fat Man could not keep the surprise from his voice. Klara had no idea what wealth two denarii represented but the Fat Man seemed both surprised and pleased.
“Is that acceptable?” The man walked forward with swagger, advertising his power. The crowd parted like a herd of sheep before a wolf. He stood before the platform looking up at Klara. “She looks like she’d be a good fighter.”
“Yes, she is.” Fat Man was surprised into a candid answer. “I’m sure the legend of the Hun women warriors has reached your ears,” he said, quickly recovering.
“Indeed. And can you fight?” The man addressed Klara directly.
Fat Man nudged her with his surprisingly sharp elbow. “Answer the man, slave.”
Klara swung her gaze downwards to meet the dark, intelligent eyes of her potential new owner. “I have had cause.”
The man smiled. “Then you shall fight for me.” He slipped his purse from his belt, withdrew some coins and tossed them carelessly to the Fat Man. “Untie her feet.”
Fat Man scrabbled to catch the coins, biting one to check it authenticity. “Oh, I don’t think you want to do that! This one likes to kick.”
The man’s eyes had never left hers, and his lips tilted in a crooked smile. “You won’t try to harm me, will you?”
Klara considered his question. Something about him compelled her to agree. “No I won’t.”
“No sir!” Fat Man gave her another jab in the ribs with his cruel elbow.
“No sir.” Klara mimicked.
“Good. Then untie the woman and be done with her. My time is pressed.”
Fat Man did as he was bid. He coiled the rope quickly, a huge grin stretching his fleshy jowls. “Good riddance.”
“Untie her hands also.”
“Good sir! I must protest. This woman is unpredictable at best.” The smile disappeared from Fat Man’s face; chased no doubt by the thought Klara’s new owner might change his mind once he fathomed the truth of her. She smiled at his growing discomfort.
“I am a dutiful, obedient slave,” she said. “My new master has nothing to fear from me.”
“There, you see? Now untie her hands and let us leave this place.”
Klara’s new master waited patiently while Fat Man did as he was bid, muttering under his breath the entire time. Klara jumped down from the platform.
“Follow me.” Her master turned and walked into the crowd. Klara looked back once, searching for Meda who awaited her turn on the platform. Finding her friend’s pale, frightened face she offered her smile and blew Meda a kiss. From this point forward they were both on their own.
“My name is Sirom. I am the
, for whom you will now fight.”
Klara tried to match her strides to his as Sirom’s hurried through the busy Roman streets. She had no idea what he was talking about. Could a slave ask her master a question?
Sirom turned, looking over his shoulder at her, yet managing not to break his stride. “A
is a manager and a
is a gladiator school,” he said as if reading her mind.
She stumbled at his words.
But only men fought in the arena, didn’t they? At least that’s what she’d heard. Did they expect her to fight with the men? Klara hopped over a dubious-looking puddle and dodged a woman carrying a large basket on her head. Questions crowded her mind causing her head to ache, that and the infernal sound of the city. Rome made her ears ache!
“You will live in the female quarters at the
and train with the other women,” said Sirom.
“There are others?” Klara spoke out of surprise. Other women fighters meant she would not need to fight men.
That was good
“Of course,” laughed Sirom. “You will not fight as often as the men but you will fight. Romans love women who fight.” He laughed again, a deep throaty laugh causing a shudder to run along Klara’s limbs.
Sirom led her along the narrow streets crowded with people. The smell of so much humanity hit the back of her throat and Klara struggled to breathe without gagging. Could she ever get used to all of this? She stole glances at the faces of the people around her. They all seemed quite at ease in amongst the chaos. Her head began to throb as her senses admitted defeat, overwhelmed.
And then she saw it—the Coliseum—blazing white in the harsh sunshine. Her heart dropped to her feet, stilling them, as she stood mouth agape staring at the building before her. In her wildest dreams she could never have imagined anything like it.
“Come! Hurry!” demanded Sirom. “There is work to be done.”
Lucius drew a hand across his weary eyes. Every bone in his body ached with long hours in the saddle. Hetal had departed, refusing to enter Ravenna, something about debts outstanding. Lucius didn’t want to know. He loved his uncle, but he didn’t like him. Hetal had given him introduction to another slaver, a
, of renown.
“You are sure she was here?”
carefully wound a length of rope into a neat coil. “Of course. Not many slaves are stupid enough to be violent, especially females. Who could forget a woman like that? And well-shaped too. I would have brought her myself but what would I do with her? My wife would kill me if I brought a harridan like that into our home.”
Lucius sighed. The story was the same in every town. It had to be Klara. “Do you know where they were going next?”
The man shrugged. “From here to Rome, I’d say. The only place you could sell a woman like that would be to the
and even then I doubt they’d take her.”
“Thank you for your time.” Lucius bowed his head in thanks, spun on his heel and strode back towards his lodgings. Somehow they had fallen behind Klara by several days. He began to wonder if Hetal’s detours had more to do with his own problem with creditors and less to do with the quest to find Klara. An uncharitable thought but probably deserved.