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Authors: Eva Scott

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BOOK: Barbarian Bride
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Receiving her bowl of meagre rations she turned to seek a place to eat. Crude tables lined the walls and most spaces were taken by surly, aggressive women; each one intent on protecting her place in the
luda’s
pecking order. She surveyed the room, finally spotting the self-styled leader of the gladiatrices, the Greek woman Athena, named for the Greek goddess of war. Pushing all thoughts of anything but her own survival from her mind Klara covered the distance in two strides.

“Move over!” she commanded, hoping the older woman would not notice nerves thrumming through her voice.

“Well, what do we have here? It’s the Queen of the Hun! Why don’t you go sit with your own people Queenie? Oh, that’s right! They’re all dead.” The other women at the table, Athena’s lackeys, laughed at the joke. The only other Hun woman to see the inside of the Coliseum had died of her injuries after the last games.

“I said move over.” Klara kept her voice low and her body perfectly still. Winning this exchange was crucial. The respect and fear of the other gladiatrices would bolster her reputation, important if she hoped to be included in the selection of the best fighters as draw for an event.

Athena roared with laughter. “Feisty little thing, isn’t she? Let me give you a piece of advice…” The Greek woman made to rise and as she did Klara took the opportunity to strike. She slammed her wooden bowl full of gruel into Athena’s face, taking her by surprise and toppling her backwards over her stool to land at the feet of the Doctore.

All chatter stopped as the women held their breath. The Doctore loomed over them with his brooding presence. Athena rose clumsily to her feet, wiping the content of Klara’s bowl from her eyes. Her nose bled copiously. Blood smeared across her face and stained her boiled leather breastplate.

“Go and get yourself cleaned up,” Doctore said to Athena who offered Klara a deadly glare before shouldering past her. Klara gave way but did not step sideways. The other gladiatrices did not meet her eye and she noted none had rushed to Athena’s aid either.

“You are wanted by the
lanista
.” The simple order carried many potential meanings. Perhaps she had indeed been sold on or scheduled for a bout in the arena. Klara nodded in acknowledgment and followed Doctore with her head held high. Her bowl remained on the floor, cracked and useless. Let someone else clean up the mess. If the gods were on her side she may never have to eat a bowl of that slop ever again.

Sirom, the
lanista
, sat behind an impressive desk in a room with walls the colour of new moss. Somewhere out of sight water ran providing a musical background. Little natural light filtered through the silk curtains artfully hung about the door. Sirom’s office gave the impression he was a man of means although Klara understood
lanistae
were considered little better than brothel keepers by Roman society.

“Ah! Klara, there you are.” Sirom’s tone put her on guard immediately. It was too sweet and concerned. There was something wrong. She looked from side to side but there was no one else in the room except Sirom and Doctore. “Our little Queen of the Hun.” Sirom walked around his desk, hands folded across his belly and a smile upon his face.

“You may leave us Doctore.” Sirom waited until the man disappeared through the door. “Now Klara, let me look at you. Training is going well I hear, and so say others.”

For the first time Klara looked Sirom in the eye. What on earth could he mean?

“It seems you’ve come to the attention of influential people,” he said.

“Have I?” she blurted out, curiosity outweighing caution.

Sirom gestured for her to follow him. “You have a visitor.”

Klara followed him. He stopped at the doorway to an anteroom and turned to her.

“I expect you to behave. There won’t be any need for restraints will there? This man may be the key to your future, your advancement. It wouldn’t do to upset him in any way. Am I clear?” The smile disappeared from Sirom’s face replaced by an intensity in his eyes, the meaning of which unmistakable.

She nodded.

“I need to hear you say it,” he said.

“Yes, I will behave.”

“Good!” His smile returned as quickly as it left. “Now be polite, speak only when spoken to and keep your hands to yourself.” Pulling back the silk curtain he ushered her inside.

Klara stepped into the room, darker than the one she left. As her eyes struggled to adjust she made out the figure of his man with his back turned to her. Should she speak? Or wait to be spoken to like Sirom said? Unsure, she shifted her weight from one foot to the other.

The man turned at the sound of her stirring. His hair was cut short in the Roman fashion and his face was clean shaven. She didn’t recognise him until he spoke her name. “Klara.”

“Lucius!” she cried, as relief and joy flooded through her in equal measure.

“Shh,” he hissed yet with laughter dancing in his voice. “We don’t know who is listening.” He stepped forward and opened his arms. She flew to him pressing herself against his chest, his heart beat confirming he was real. “I thought I’d lost you,” he said into her hair. “You were there one minute and gone the next.”

She pulled back and stared up into his sky-blue eyes. “I’m here now and so are you.”

“Don’t ever disappear on me again. Where I go, you go. Got it?” He held her face gently in his callused hands and kissed her with a soft tenderness which meant more than passion

Tears welled in Klara’s eyes at the rough affection in his tone. Life had been so very harsh for such a long time she had forgotten what it was to receive kindness. “You’ll know where I am for the time being,” she said to cover up her awkwardness.

“Yes, about that. Of all the things that could have happened to you. You’re a gladiatrix!” Lucius held her at arm’s length, taking in her appearance. “Getting you out of this mess is going to be tricky.”

“But you can get me out of this mess, right?” Fear clenched at her heart, pushing away her earlier delight.

Lucius sighed. “I will succeed or die trying, I promise you that.”

She smiled and drew him close to her, wrapping her arms about him, inhaling his scent. All of those days locked in the slaver’s cart, all of those hours spent training as she fought to survive in the
luda
, melted away. She was transported back to the day they lay together in the hut in that miserable little village. How sure she’d been of her course of action! How could she have known how wrong she was?

“I’m sorry,” she whispered against his chest.

“For what?” Lucius held her tightly, one hand rubbing her back with a slow, firm motion.

“For not speaking with you, for not telling you what I planned, for going off as I did. It was unfair.”

“Not to mention it didn’t do either of us any good. Do you know how far and wide I’ve looked for you? The only way I could be sure I was on the right track was the stories they’d tell from town to town, always the same story about the slave woman who caused a ruckus at the market.” He tipped her chin up with his fingers, his thumb tracing the outline of her lips.

Klara bit down softly on the fleshy pad of his thumb, not hard enough to do damage.

“Ouch! See, there is the Klara I love,” he said.

“You love me?” She looked up at him in wonder. Even in the dim light she could see the blush that stole across his face.

“Yes,” he said finally. “Yes, I do. Does that meet with your approval?”

She laughed. “I more than approve. I love you too. I don’t think I’ve ever loved anyone properly before.”

“Not even your husband?” Lucius pressed her hips against his. Jealousy lurked around the edges of his words.

“I loved Bleda as a brother, as a friend. It’s a different kind of love as well you know.” She stood on tip toe and kissed him deeply, unleashing all the longing trapped within her during their long season apart.

Lucius groaned against her lips as he hardened against her thigh. “Stop now,” he whispered. “We need to leave your
lanista
with the opinion this is a business relationship only. If he suspects otherwise we may lose our advantage.” He took her by the shoulders and gently pushed her away from him.

“So what is our plan?” Desire swam through her blood, making her limbs feel heavy and languid.

“I intend to buy you if I can. I’ve not spoken to the
lanista
about the price as yet but I’m sure we can come to an agreement. He knows I’m Senator Decimus Aurelius’ son.”

“And should I be impressed by that?” she teased.

“I’m hoping Sirom will be. I’ll lead him to believe we are starting our own stable of gladiators.”

“Or perhaps your father would like a female body guard?” Klara suggested.

“You’ve not met my father. I’m not sure I’d trust him around you, nor you around him.” Lucius laughed. “Let me talk to Sirom. Until then, stay safe and stay alive.” He covered the short distance between them and kissed her, his lips hot and urgent against hers. “I’ll do my best to see they don’t put you in a fight. I need you in one piece.”

“What on earth happened to your hair?” A question she had wanted to ask since the moment she laid eyes on him.

“My mother happened to my hair, and beard. It was the least I could do for her once she heard I had no intention of staying on in Rome. I think she hoped I was home for good.” He smiled and patted his closely cropped head, a rueful expression on his face.

The silk curtain parted in that moment, a shaft of light permeating the room, dazzling the occupants. Sirom entered as Klara and Lucius stepped apart.

“I trust all is well,” he said. Klara hoped Sirom struggled as she had to adjust her vision to the dimly lit room.

“I am well pleased with the woman,” said Lucius in an authoritative tone of voice Klara had never heard before. She wondered if his father sounded like that.

“Good. I am pleased to hear it. Klara, you may leave us now. Return to your training,” said Sirom.

Klara stole one last glance at Lucius, not daring to smile or show any emotion that might give them both away. Then she turned and walked from the room. As she departed she heard Lucius speak.

“Come now, Sirom. Let us talk business…”

Chapter 13

“Come, take a seat.” Sirom indicated a chair opposite his desk. His office was overly decorated with gaudy items designed to allude to their owner’s wealth. As Lucius sat he noted the chair was far less comfortable than Sirom’s own seat. He gathered his toga carefully in one hand to stop it dragging on the floor. It had been a long time since he’d worn one and by comparison to his usual outfit the toga was a difficult piece of clothing to wear.

“May I offer you a cup of wine?” Sirom didn’t wait for Lucius’ response before clapping his hands to summon a servant, who entered immediately with a jug of chilled wine on a tray, leaving Lucius in no doubt Sirom anticipated a robust negotiation.

Accepting a cup of wine, Lucius took a sip and allowed the cool sweet liquid to slide down his parched throat. “I intend to purchase the Queen of the Hun from you. So, perhaps we can bypass the niceties and get down to business.” The sooner he secured Klara and got her out of here the better.

Sirom raised his eyebrows and nodded his large bald head once. “I see the son of Senator Decimus Aurelius is frank and to the point. I like that in a man.” He indicated for the servant to refill Lucius’ cup. “I am curious as to why a man such as you would want to own a gladiatrix, especially one so…troublesome.”

Lucius shifted his weight on the hard seat. Already his backside felt numb. “As you may be aware, I like to travel to the edges of the Empire and beyond. I’ve developed quite a taste for women who fight. Scythians, Sarmatians, Alans—all the women of these tribes like to fight alongside their men. I find I need to spend more time in Rome so…” He shrugged in what he hoped was a careless manner. It wouldn’t do for Sirom to read too much into the situation, to guess Lucius’ heart was also in play.

“So you wish to purchase a few fine fighting women of your own? Interesting.” He leaned forward, elbows on the table, a keen light in his eye. “I must warn you, gladiatrix are expensive. They must be fed, housed and trained. None of this comes cheaply.”

Lucius smiled over the rim of his cup. “I am a wealthy man with no wife to spend my money.”

Sirom smiled, baring his teeth. The effect was unsettling. “In that case, I would be pleased to show you what I have. Perhaps one of the other girls may take your fancy.” He sat back, picked up his wine and took a mouthful; his eyes never leaving Lucius’ face.

Sirom’s intensity reminded Lucius of a ferret stalking a mouse. “I believe I will start small, try one gladiatrix and if the arrangement works out I shall buy another. I intend to engage your services in the area of housing and training of course.”

“The Queen of the Hun is a handful. My trainer tells me she causes fights with the other women on a daily basis. She will be expensive. You will find yourself responsible for any damage she causes. She is
very
aggressive.”

What exactly was Sirom implying? How much had he seen or heard of Lucius’ earlier exchange with Klara? He began to suspect the man harboured another darker motive than merely driving a hard bargain. Could he have seen them kissing? Was blackmail at the bottom of this conversation? “I don’t mind the expense. I want to build an impressive stable of fighters and what better way to begin than with the most aggressive woman you have?” He spread his hands wide and laughed. “I want to win fights,
lanista
, not waste my coin on fodder.”

“Don’t we all!” Sirom let out a bark of what Lucius assumed to be laughter. “I can see you have given this considerable thought and are determined to have what you want. Let’s speak about the purchase price. The Queen of the Hun is a fine specimen and I cannot be expected to let her go cheaply.”

“Nor would I expect you to. Name your price.” Lucius relaxed a little. They were nearly there. Soon Klara would be in his arms once more and this time he could protect her properly.

Sirom named a price so outrageous the blood drained from Lucius’ face at the amount. “But the woman has never been blooded! She’s yet to prove her worth in the arena,” he spluttered. “You’re asking the same amount as for a seasoned
gladiator
.”

BOOK: Barbarian Bride
2.38Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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