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Authors: Eva Scott

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BOOK: Barbarian Bride
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“Be that as it may,” said Sirom. “I intend to schedule her for a fight so by the time our contract is struck she will be worth even more. Consider the amount I’m asking to be a bargain price. People will be lining up to purchase her once they see her in action.” He leaned forward and dropped his voice to a conspiratorial tone. “She is truly magnificent to behold.”

Lucius wanted nothing more than to punch Sirom squarely on the nose. The man’s leering face and blatant greed caused his fists to clench involuntarily and his arms tremble with the effort taken to still their action. He took a long, deep breath and dampened down his anger. Right now he needed to convince the
lanista
his interest was purely business and nothing more. “I do see your point yet I can’t help feeling your asking price is aimed somewhat high. Anticipating the woman’s performance won’t necessarily make her a success. Can I persuade you to lower you price a fraction?” He named an amount somewhat higher than he’d originally planned to pay. Finding that amount of coin would be tough and it would leave him with next to nothing yet Klara was worth more than the sum of all his worldly belongings.

Sirom placed his empty cup on the table. He tipped his head back and studied the ceiling, his fingertips steepled. After a long moment his eyes sought Lucius. “I cannot consider less than my original asking price,” he said simply.

“What? A
lanista
who won’t haggle?” Lucius heard the tendrils of desperation begin to wrap around his words. His heart pounded with alarm. Everything was slipping through his fingers. Sirom smiled and he knew the man smelled blood.

“I
might
be convinced to reconsider if your esteemed father would agree to stand as patron for our humble
luda.”
And there it was! The thing Sirom really wanted; the one thing beyond Lucius’ power to grant. His father would never agree. Senator Decimus Aurelius took himself far too seriously to consider patronising a grubby
luda
in the seedier part of Rome.

“Now it is your price that is too high, my friend.” Lucius worked hard to keep the warmth in his tone and the panic out. “My father is a very busy and important man. I doubt he has either the time or the inclination to involve himself with a school for gladiators.” He named a higher price. “Now you must agree, that is a fair offer.”

Sirom shrugged as if the matter was of no concern to him. “We both know the people love the games and any man who supports them. Your father may be persuaded to see the advantage in such a move. I’m sure the son of the Senator is as persuasive as the man himself.”

Lucius bowed his head in acknowledgment of the point scored. Sirom had him by the balls and the damned man knew it! “I can approach my father and impress upon him the advantage of the deal but in return I will expect your asking price for the Hun woman to lessen considerably.”

A broad, genuine smile split the face of the
lanista
. “Of course! If you secure your father’s patronage for the
luda Livius
I will be more than happy to renegotiate the terms of sale.”

“Then it is agreed.” Lucius stood, suddenly desperate to be as far away as possible from the oppressive atmosphere of the
luda
.

Sirom stood and ushered Lucius to the door. “I look forward to your next visit Lucius Aurelius. I am sure you will bring good news.”

Lucius gave the man a dark look. Roman society might hold
lanistae
as nothing more than pimps, traders in flesh, yet their canny business sense made them smarter than many patricians he knew. As he turned to go, Sirom spoke, “Oh! And should the Queen of the Hun should not survive her first fight, I will give you the pick of my finest selection of gladiatrices, at a very good price of course.”

With his blood boiling, Lucius stormed down the steps of the
luda
and plunged into the busy Roman street.

***

The Forum was crowded with the daily market under way and the shops open for the morning trade. By lunchtime everyone would be gone and the shops closed. Lucius welcomed the chaos and colour as a distraction from his anger, losing himself in its midst. He walked without purpose, letting the activity in the Forum wash over him. There was no point trying to see his father until he’d calmed down and thought through exactly what he was going to say. How on earth was he going to present this dilemma to the Senator and get him to agree? The problem seemed insurmountable.

Visiting the
luda
left him with a layer of grime on his soul. He needed somewhere quiet to think. Never one for the gods Lucius bypassed the temples in favour of the bath house. A good scrub would help divest him of Sirom and his grubby ways and a long soak in hot water might loosen his brain enough to find a solution to his problems.

Turning a corner, he spotted tell-tale smoke billowing from long thin chimneys of a local public bath. The wood, fed into the great furnace keeping the bath’s waters hot, permeated the air with a welcome familiar smell. Lucius cheered up immediately at the prospect of a hot bath. The steam room would help him think. He joined the short line of people waiting to pay their way in. He fished in the soft leather money pouch he carried concealed beneath his tunic for the coin he needed, a
quadran
. Passing it to a slave who placed it in a small wooden strong box Lucian passed beneath the portal of the bath house.

He walked past the
natatio
, the swimming pool where many people languished chatting with each other. He didn’t feel like company. Heading to the centre of the baths towards the
caldarium
, he bypassed the first room where people went to warm themselves before tackling the steam room. Today he needed to sweat, to punish himself for being so foolish as to have lost Klara in the first place.

He divested himself of his toga and tunic, paying a small fee to the attendant to take care of his belongings. Taking a towel and a pair of wooden shoes he made his way to the steam room. The heat hit him like a wave as he pushed open the door and stepped inside. His wooden shoes banged loudly on the scorching hot marble floor, the sound reverberating around the domed room. Figures perched around the room on marble benches. No one spoke. The steam took Lucius’ breath away and he was grateful for the lack of chatter.

Taking a place on the far side of the room he was careful to arrange his towel so he didn’t scorch anything he might need later. Steam enveloped him, covering his skin until there was no other sensation but heat pressing against his body. His tumbling thoughts slowed and his earlier anger fell away. Lucius sighed, welcoming the sharp pain, a rush of hot air searing his lungs.

Putting his elbows on his knees he dropped his head in his hands. Even if he did manage to raise the money he needed to buy Klara it could not be done quickly. Each time Klara fought in the arena the risk of her dying increased. They were trapped by circumstance. Around and around he chased the possibilities but none of them went anywhere except back to his father. The one man he wanted to avoid was the now the only path to salvation.

***

Klara lay on the cold stone floor of the tiny room and stared at the ceiling. Her head pounded. Gone was the earlier euphoria of Lucius’ visit. Seeing him again had infused her with a wild hope. She had walked out of Sirom’s office and back to the training yard, buoyant with the knowledge the end of her troubles was in sight. Yet, an hour into practise all those finer feelings had dissipated as she faced a very angry Athena.

Sighing, she folded her arms behind her head in an effort to find a measure of comfort. Golden rays slanted through the room’s one small window, telling her the sun was on its journey towards dusk. It was going to be a long night. A large cut graced her eye. Athena had managed to get a couple of good blows in before Klara could respond. She gingerly wiggled her eyebrow to be met by fierce stinging. No doubt she’d have a black eye and a nice scar. No matter, Athena sported her broken nose from earlier in the day now coupled with a missing front tooth. Both permanently disfiguring. Perhaps the woman would think twice before tangling with Klara again.

Footsteps echoed along the corridor, the sound of sandals slapping on stone. Klara sat up, pushing her back against the wall. The uneven brickwork dug in between her shoulder blades, the discomfort taking her attention away from her throbbing eye. The door opened to reveal Sirom, accompanied by his personal bodyguard. She couldn’t help wonder if the
lanista
was nervous to face her alone. Her mouth curved into a half smile at the thought.

“Queen of the Hun! It’s good to find you in fine spirits.” Sirom clearly mistook her smile for one of contentment. “However I’m disappointed to find you confined to this cell like an animal.” He folded his hands and cocked his head on one side as if he were a concerned uncle instead of her owner.

“I prefer to be alone” she said, her voice husky from lack of use. A gladiatrix had no need for conversation in this cesspit of survival.

“Be that as it may, I can’t have you beating up my fighters before they get to the arena. I need them in one piece to fight. Think of them as your family rather than your opponents.”

Klara turned her head slightly letting her eyes meet Sirom’s, something she’d learnt a slave must never do. She regarded him for a heartbeat before returning her gaze to a spot on the floor.

Sirom shifted awkwardly from one foot to the other. “Yes, well, perhaps family ties aren’t as
strong
amongst barbarians so may I suggest you refrain from attacking the other girls?”

She let the question float in the air like dust motes in the afternoon sun.

Sirom cleared his throat and continued. “You have attracted the attention of an influential patron.”

Patron?
Lucius never said anything about sponsoring her! The plan was to purchase her from this idiot. Her heart began to beat faster and her throat constricted. Something had gone wrong with their plan. The world narrowed in an alarming way until all she could see was the edge of Sirom’s toga as he stood in the doorway. His words dropped heavily into the silence, each one ringing with doom.

“So, of course,” he continued, oblivious to her growing panic, “I intend to schedule you for a fight as soon as possible. We need to show our interested party that you are indeed a fine investment. I am assuming you have no argument to my plan.”

He asked it as a question but Klara knew the unspoken implication behind his courtesy. She would fight whether she wanted to or not. Where was Lucius? What had happened? If only she could get word to him, speak to him. Her eyes flicked to the tiny window offering the only source of light. She had as much chance of getting a message out of here as she did of sprouting wings. Even if she could get word to Lucius she had no idea where to find him.

Sirom took her silence for acquiescence. “Good. You will resume your training tomorrow.” He turned to go. “Just to reiterate,” he stopped and addressed her over his shoulder. “Attacking the other gladiatrices must stop. I can’t have you damaging my fighting stock. So from today forward, unless you’re facing each other in the arena, I want all scuffles to cease. Am I understood?”

Steel underpinned Sirom’s words and Klara knew better than to provoke the seemingly good natured
lanista
any further. “Yes, master,” she said, working hard to keep the sarcasm from her voice.

Sirom left then, appearing to be satisfied with her response. She sighed and slumped against the hard stone wall. Her chest tightened with the thought of mortal combat. Her breathing became shallow and her head light. There was no way around the situation. Screwing her eyes shut tight she fought to control her thoughts. Now was not the time to crumble or to think of her father. She’d been in battle before. Yet this was different. This time she was performing for a crowd baying for blood, her blood. She would be alone with no comrades to watch her back. Even if she won her bout it was not a guarantee of life. Tales of gladiators killed on the whim of the crowd filled the
luda
, tales of horror and cruelty outweighed any she’d heard of from the battle field.

An image of Lucius rose unbidden in her mind’s eye. He’d come so far in search of her surely he would not abandon her now? She must trust Lucius to overcome whatever obstacle had been put in their path. Her job was to stay alive, to keep her mind strong and let nothing distract her. From this moment forth she must wear a carapace of unfeeling emotion if she was to survive. As she lay down to catch what sleep she could a little part of her heart broke. Tomorrow when she awoke she would not be the same woman. That Klara would be gone forever. The Queen of the Hun would take her place.

Chapter 14

“So where are you going all dressed up?” Alexandra lounged in the doorway, eating an apple, her long blonde tresses uncharacteristically loose. Lucius glanced in her direction, still surprised at how his little sister had blossomed into a woman while he’d been gone. Her beauty caught him by surprise at odd moments, like now.

“To see father.” He held his arms out to the side while a house slave draped his toga just the right way.

“What?” Alex choked on her apple, coughing and spluttering with the effort to clear her throat. Lucius ignored her. He had no doubt her surprise was genuine although Alex had always been prone to dramatics. “Why?” she finally managed to croak.

“Because I need coin—a lot of coin—immediately.”

“Whatever for?” Alex stepped into the room and into his direct view. “I thought you were as rich as Croesus.”

“I am. But I don’t have it all in one place. My business is stretched out across the Empire. It would take me weeks, even months, to gather the amount needed. So I’m…”

“Going to see father,” she finished for him. “You know he’s not going to give you the coin you seek, don’t you? I’d hate for you to waste your time asking when it could be used profitably elsewhere.”

Lucius sighed. “Yes, I know the outcome is almost certain. I’m not asking father for coin. If I can convince him to become the patron of the
luda Livius
then there is a very good chance I can get the price of a certain gladiatrix lowered. Then I won’t…”

BOOK: Barbarian Bride
3.23Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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