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Authors: Eva Scott

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“Women fighters!” Decimus threw his hands up and Lucius realised any advantage he might have won was now lost. “Never. I cannot condone women fighting in the arena and there are many who feel as I do, the Emperor is one of them.”

Lucius nodded in defeat. “And you will not be seen to hold an opinion opposing the Emperor’s own.” He stood to leave. There was no point continuing the conversation. His father would never agree to help him and there was nothing Lucius could say to change his mind.

“I must do what is right for Rome.”

“And I must take my leave, Father.” Lucius gestured for a servant to get his sister. “I was hoping you’d agree to lend our patronage to the
luda
I intend to buy my fighters from but I can see I was wasting my time, and yours, with the proposal.” He sighed, defeated.

“With time you’ll come to realise the ridiculous nature of your request, Lucius. When you are ready to commit to a
respectable
course of action do come and see me.” Decimus stalked from the room, leaving Lucius alone to wait for Alexandra.

She wasn’t long in coming. Alex stepped into the room a scowl upon her face. “That woman is the absolute last word in vulgarity. I know she’s the Emperor’s niece or cousin or whatever she is but that doesn’t give her leave to be so awful.” She pulled her shawl closer about her shoulders as if feeling a chill yet the filmy nature of the material would do little to warm her.

“You didn’t fare so well with Claudia?” he asked.

“Hardly. She wants an Egyptian themed wedding. Of course she expects to come as Cleopatra as if it were
her
wedding. They’re lucky I’m considering marrying the old goat as it stands.” Alexandra was majestic in her fury. Her golden curls tossed like waves upon the sea and her blue eyes flashed.

Lucius chuckled. “I’m sorry, sister. I should not laugh but the image your words brings to mind provokes humour.”

“Well you may laugh, brother, until you tell me how you fared. I expect it was no better than I.” Alex stalked passed him and out of the room towards the front door. A servant scurried ahead to open the door for them. “So what are you going to do now Father has said no?” Alex hesitated on the threshold.

“How did you know he said no?” Lucius asked as he gently shepherded her into the street.

“All he’s ever wanted was you to take up the family business of politics and you walk in there to ask him to patronise a gladiator school so you can buy the woman you love. His response isn’t a big deduction of logic brother dear.”

“Shh!” Lucius hushed her quickly. “I never told Father about Klara. I merely asked him to support me from a business perspective.”

Alex shot him a look he couldn’t interpret as their body guard fell in behind them. “Claudia will find the truth of it before nightfall. She has spies everywhere. Father will know exactly why you have a sudden interest in gladiatrices. Even if you could convince him to support you he’d withdraw that support the minute he knew you intended to marry a Hun.”

“I never said anything about marriage!” Lucius protested weakly.

“Really? So you’re going to all this trouble because she makes a nice goat stew?” Alex’s voice dripped with sarcasm.

Lucius sighed. “Fine. I concede I love the woman and have no intention of spending my life with anyone else. Marriage is something we’ve never discussed.”

“Father will never allow it. He has the power of life and death over you under Roman law, as you well know. If he thinks for a minute you’ll run off with the Hun girl, your life is as good as over. You know that, don’t you?” All sarcasm had fled from her voice, replaced by concern. She laid a hand on his arm. “He’s been very lenient with us both but push too hard and Father will push back. Please don’t do anything to put yourself in danger.” Her eyes glittered with unshed tears and Lucius heart contracted. He would do anything to spare his mother and his sister pain. But would he sacrifice Klara?

They walked on in silence. Everything Alex had said was true. His father had the right to demand he follow the course in life Decimus saw fit. Only his father’s love for Olivia prevented him from forcing his will upon his children. Yet there were limits and Lucius feared he was close to crossing them. There was only one clear course of action left to him. He needed to find Hetal and raise the purchase price for Klara. The sooner he left Rome, the better.

***

Sun, dust, sweat and blood. These were the things which made up Klara’s new world. She wiped a rivulet of sweat from the back of her neck. Her leathers stank and she’d only been here a few days. What would they smell like in a month? Assuming she’d be here in a month of course. The slender hope Lucius would get her out of this hell hole any day now kept her sane.

Klara took her place at the practise stock.
Thwack!
The wooden practise sword hit its mark, the reverberation travelled up her arm and rattled her teeth. There was a momentary wait while the other gladiatrix took her turn. As they both slogged away at their sword practise, the repetitive actions gave Klara time to think. Tensions were rising amongst the ranks of gladiatrices and few of them supported her against Athena.

Smiling grimly, she struck the practise pole with all her might imagining the Greek woman’s face. Athena was a ridiculous name for a gladiatrix. Living up to a goddess took more intelligence and cunning than Klara would credit the woman. Still, she posed the biggest threat in the
luda
. Doctore took pains to keep them apart but it wasn’t always possible when the women lived side by side in such close quarters. Klara knew a reckoning was coming and it would arrive long before they got a chance to face each other in the Coliseum.

Klara’s training partner suddenly stopped and stepped away, a blank look carefully masking her true emotions. Klara whirled around just in time to face Athena as she descended upon her, knife in hand. Had she spun about a moment later her rival would have wounded her without a doubt. She brought up her wooden sword and blocked Athena’s downward sweep, the momentum taking both women to the ground.

She gasped as impact bruised her ribs barely having time to draw breath before Athena was upon her, knife still in hand. Her sword had gone flying out of reach. All she had left was her cunning, now grateful for the long hours of practise which had made her muscles ropey and strong. As the two women struggled, Klara became aware of the other women gathering about, shouting encouragement. Doctore stood with them, making no move to intervene.

In that moment she realised no help was coming. Doctore intended for this to be their final fight, their reckoning. A vision of Lucius flashed before her, unleashing all the frustration, longing and anger she had been so carefully repressing. Life was worth nothing here at the
luda
. If she didn’t finish Athena, then she was finished. With this certainty she attacked with renewed ferocity, letting Athena’s arm go and turning quickly so the knife plunged into the dirt beside her head.

Taking advantage of Athena’s surprise Klara struggled to her feet, panting with effort, and kicked Athena as hard as she could in the ribs. Athena yelled in pain, scrabbling to get out of the way. Klara leapt upon her back, placing her hands around the woman’s throat. She had never tried to choke another person before. Any fighting she’d done had been from horseback. Athena’s pulse beat harshly beneath her hands and Klara hesitated. In that time Athena tried to swivel her head so she could bite Klara’s arm, an impossible move but one showing Athena had no intention of giving up. Klara tightened her grip.

“Enough!” Doctore’s voice boomed out over the gladiatrices excited raucous. “Do you hear me, Hun?” A hand grasped her neck and she was forcibly removed, flung to the ground. “I have had enough of both your disobedience. You will be punished.”

Athena knelt in the dust, coughing and rubbing her throat where red finger marks were clearly visible. Klara watched her warily. Even under the watchful gaze of the Doctore she wasn’t safe. Now she had bested Athena in front of the others nowhere in the
luda
would be safe. She climbed to her feet more as a tactic to show she was the superior of the two. Athena eyes held nothing but pure venom as she remained where she sat.

“Take her to the baths and clean her up. Get her looked at.” Doctore gestured to two gladiatrices who stepped forward. They helped Athena to her feet and led her from the courtyard. “As for you,” he turned his attention to Klara. “You will be removed to the Coliseum where you will reside in a cell on half rations until you learn to respect your fellow gladiatrices.’

“But I—” Foolishly she began to defend herself.

“This
luda
fights as one. I will not have dissension in the ranks.” His tone was quiet, far more menacing than if he had shouted.

Klara bowed her head and waited for the guard to escort her from the
luda
. Things had just gone from bad to worse.

Chapter 15

“I do wish you’d reconsider.” Olivia peeled a fig efficiently as she spoke. “You’ve only just arrived home and now you’re taking off again. Who knows when I’ll see you next?”

Lucius suppressed the urge to sigh heartily. “Mother, you know if there was any other way I could raise the money for Klara I would. But Father was quite clear about where he stood on the matter and my only recourse is to find Hetal. Together we can tie up my business interests and then I can return to Rome. I am most definitely returning, you have my word on that.”

Olivia raised her eyebrows and he wondered if she believed him. He could no more leave Klara to her fate at the Coliseum than her could murder his own mother. Unthinkable!

“Do you have to immediately after breakfast? What difference does a day or two make?” Alexandra helped herself to some honey and drizzled it over the figs on her plate.

“The longer I take, the greater the risk for Klara. You know that.”

Alex nodded. “I know, I know.” They’d spoken about this the evening before but he couldn’t blame her for trying to talk him out of leaving one last time. They’d seen each other so infrequently and he’d discovered he had a great deal of affection for his nearly-grown sister. “But surely you mean to say goodbye to Klara. You can’t just disappear on her without a word.”

“You have a point, dear sister. I’m concerned if I do request to see her, Sirom will be alerted to the fact there is more to my proposition of buying Klara than the desire to have her fight in my name. He already suspects something is going on and if he pushes the price any higher I won’t be in a position to buy her back at all.” Lucius had spent a restless night trying to find a way to see Klara before he left. No matter how he looked at the problem it remained impossible to solve.

“And you make a good point too, brother. Perhaps I can be of assistance.” Alex had a sly, pleased-with-herself look which alarmed him.

“I’m not sure I want to hear this,” he said.

“Neither am I!’ said Olivia.

“Don’t be silly. I have a perfectly good plan. I will go and see Klara and give her a message from you. I can pretend I’m looking over the goods, so to speak, as this gladiatrix project of yours is a family affair. Sirom won’t suspect a thing.” Grinning with her own cleverness she popped a piece of fig into her mouth.

“I really don’t like the idea of you visiting a
luda
alone,” said Olivia. “What on earth would your father say if he found out?”

“Then come with me, Mother.” Alex laid her hand over Olivia’s and gave it a squeeze. “We could have our own adventure.”

Olivia withdrew her hand and gave her daughter a stern look. “That is the most ridiculous suggestion I have ever heard.”

Lucius laughed at the look on Olivia’s face. “Mother is right, Alex. It’s bad enough for you to be seen entering a
luda
but Mother? Father would have a fit if he found out.”

Alex sat back in her chair and sighed. “I shall go on my own then. What would you have me say?” She turned her sky-blue eyes towards him and he knew in that moment there would be no dissuading her.

“Alexandra!” Olivia’s tone left no doubt of her disapproval.

“Mother, I am going and you cannot stop me. You want me to marry that awful old man; the least you can do is let me have a little fun first.” Alex stared at her mother, her eyes suddenly hard and cold. Lucius pitied the poor man she was marrying. He might think he was marrying a biddable young girl. Wait until his first disagreement with Alexandra! Olivia held her daughters gaze with equal frostiness and he wondered who would give quarter first.

“Good, then we are settled,” Alex said after a long moment. She turned back to Lucius, her expression sunny and sweet once more, as if the argument with her mother had never happened. “Tell me what you want me to say and I’ll leave straight after breakfast. I can’t wait to meet her!” She clapped her hands in excitement and he was reminded Alex was still very much a little girl. Perhaps he’d come to regret letting her go to Klara on his behalf.

***

Despite the fact little natural light filtered into the bowels of the Coliseum, Klara found she quite liked the solitude. Her cell was dank and cold, a small price to pay for relative safety. No one could mount an attack on her here. Her training continued with Doctore sending a male gladiator to drill her or coming himself with one of the gladiatrices to practise combat. Sirom did not dare to include her in the
luda’s
daily training schedule for fear of another incident. Klara sat on the floor of her cell and sighed with something close to contentment. For the first time since she’d been captured and sold into slavery she was out of immediate danger.

She chuckled at the thought. Above her head lay the most notorious killing field in the known world and she felt
safe
. At least the other fighters would only try to kill her in the arena and not out of it. Regrets circled like roosting birds around her heart and she refused to let them settle. To think about things any other way invited melancholy. Klara had enough troubles without thinking herself into gloom.

Closing her eyes, she listened to the sounds of the Coliseum workers as they prepared for the upcoming games. There was strange comfort in the calls of the men and women as they went about their business, reminding her that the world outside had not stopped despite her own trials. Her thoughts drifted to Lucius. What was he doing right at this very moment? Her first bout was scheduled in the upcoming week and although the cycle of moon and sun remained relentless, she had every faith he would free her before she had to draw her sword in the arena.

BOOK: Barbarian Bride
12.29Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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