The stillness of early morning was interrupted by the sound
of a single pair of heavily booted feet upon the worn stones of a long, dark and damp corridor.
Roxtonus – tall,
rugged and strong - lay on the hard bed in his cell. He was awake, wondering about life and the circumstances which brought
him to this, a slave and gladiator, entertaining the masses in the empire’s greatest city, Rome. He was once a free
man, the pampered son of a Senator, a young man born into prestige. The gods had blessed him with a handsome face, intelligence
and, most important of all, the ability to adapt to any situation. His father doted on him, especially since the death of
Roxtonus mother. He and his older brother were given anything they wanted, including the respect of their peers. But then,
through a series of betrayals and misunderstandings, Roxtonus had been driven from his home, his father murdered by order
of Caesar, and forced to fight for his own life.
He dreamt of revenge but after fifteen years of struggle he was now
a beaten man. He fought merely to survive. Roxtonus either struck down a rival or bled to death himself in the arena, to be
cheered or jeered or laughed at by those who came for the sport. He didn’t know why he continued. There were times when
the gladiator thought it would be so easy to succumb, to let his opponent strike him down with their gladius sword or trident.
Death, at times, had such an appeal. He often found himself envying those he had eradicated.
“Do you remember
your first kill?” A cellmate once asked him, “Do you remember how it felt?”
Yes, he remembered. Roxtonus
was chained to his brother and if he hadn’t killed the barbarian who was battering Willmus they both would have been
slain. Roxronus bitterly recalled how he thrust forward, without thought, penetrating deeply into the flesh just underneath
the man's left side ribcage. He watched the large, bearded barbarian clutch the wound and fall, seemingly in slow motion.
Then he lay sprawled on the blood stained gound. The man's torment was over; having been snuffed out by a ninteen year old
newcomer. It had been a surreal moment but short-lived. The battle raged around them and Roxtonus didn't have time to contimplate
Night after night, with torchlite, or day after day in the heat of the blazing sun, Roxtonus and Willmus watched
the thumbs either arise in a sparing gesture or lower, dooming their competitors. The only thing they could do was make the
men’s deaths quick and, on their own, say small prayers to whatever god or goddess was watching and listening in at
the moment. Together they would get through it, Willmus swore to his little brother, but even then Roxtonus saw the doubt
in his sibling’s eyes. Willmus wasn’t as athletic as Roxtonus. He had a slighter build and was a scholar, a deep
thinker, but not really a fighter.
Roxtonus closed his eyes and inhaled deeply. “I am a damned man.” he
whispered as he rested on the shelf bed. Seventy two hours ago he faced a competitor who was shy and inexperienced …
and very young. They called him a warrior but Roxtonus knew it was a lie. He spoke with the boy and was told Corbulo worked
in a spice mine near Morocco. He was kidnapped by slavers who were desperate for human merchandise.
Yet, here he and
the boy were, fighting to the death. Corbulo was incredibly outmatched. When Roxtonus knocked him down and raised his sword
he saw the boy’s eyes open wide in fear. They were a vivid blue and terrified; reminding Roxtonus so much of Willmus
moments before his luck ran out.
Roxtonus, in his mind's eye, saw the huge masked gladiator bring the mace down upon
Willmus head, cracking his skull. He didn’t die, not then, and Roxtonus was quick to push his own blade into their opponent’s
lower back, mortally wounding him. Roxtonus then fell to his knees and held his brother, feeling his heart beat but knowing
his mind was gone for all time. As the battle with other gladiators raged around him, Roxtonus knew what he had to do. Willmus
would do the same for him under the same circumstance. They had made a pact. He settled his brother gently on the splattered
ground then, slowly standing, he placed the tip of his sword to his cherished sibling’s heart; the only family he had
left. Roxtonus could hear his voice in a whisper although his lips did not move: “Do it. I want you to … Just
do it!” He hesitated briefly, Roxtonus heart beating so heavily he could hear it, then he pushed down, killing Willmus.
It had taken less than thirty seconds for the entire ordeal to come to pass but it seemed like hours.
those who had survived the games that day, told Roxtonus what he did was a mercy. Willmus would never recover, his mind gone,
and he would have been eventually killed by the sentries, without honor.
Now in the present, as he looked down at the
young man before him, still whole and hardy, Roxtonus could not kill him. Corbulo was a boy who had barely begun to live and
who held so much potential. He needed to become a man, have a future as a writer or in politics … Life, at least for
this slave, had to mean something.
Thumbs jerked downward and chants of “Kill! Kill! Kill!’ rang through
out the arena.
“NO!” Roxtonus shouted to the wealthy land owners and their sons – and to their women
who watched him with flirtatious expressions. “I won’t murder him! You can’t make me! No more!” Then,
on his knees, Roxtonus drove the sword into the sand before he and the boy and spat out at the frenzied crowd.
saw the bow and arrow lifted. One of the soldiers had been commanded to take aim. He knew what was going to happen. Roxtonus
had proven himself a liability. He was going to die now, shot through the heart. Finally, there would be peace. However, when
the bolt was released it was not into the chest of Roxtonus but the boy behind him. The gladiator turned and looked down at
his dying competitor, watching as those blue eyes closed forever, and Corbulo gasped his last breath.
Roxtonus bellowed, running to the fallen man-child, lifting him in his arms as he had with Willmus so many years ago, his
heart breaking yet again. He looked out at the cheering faces, “Damn you! Damn you all!!” he cursed.
was all Roxtonus remembered; that and a sharp blow to the back of his skull.
He awoke in his cell yesterday and was
told that he was to be sold. Normally unruly gladiators were humiliated then killed outright – usually before a cheering
crowd - but because Roxtonus disobedience had been so public and he had made such a name for himself, becoming a crowd favorite,
he was to be sold at a public auction to the highest bidder. He would then be taken from the market place as soon as possible.
“But don’t think you will be getting off easy.” A half drunk soldier had told him outside the cell
before he slept last night, “You’ll be doing back breaking labor, slave. No doubt you'll work in a rich man’s
fields. Cattle! That's what you'll be." He lifted his wine skin, swallowing loudly, allowing the liquid to dribble off his
chin. Then, focusing once again on the silent Roxtonus: "Now, wouldn’t that be amusing, my friend, you working on the
same lands you once owned – now as a nothing slave?” and he laughed gruffly, walking away from Roxtonus cell.
now alone, closed his eyes and lowered his head into his hands.
“Move over to the wall.”
the young soldier, Roxton did as he was told. The chains from the manacles blinding his ankles made a grating noise as he
Opening the cell door, the guard dropped a pair of hand manacles onto the straw strewn floor. He backed slowly
out then relocked the cell door. He stared at Roxtonus for a moment, at the hard and grimy face of a once proud … no,
a still proud man. “Sir,”
Roxtonus looked up, stunned at the small measure of respect.
praetorian will be coming for you with in an hour. Put those on.”
A short while later, cuffs in place, Roxtonus
walked out of the cell. He did not try to fight the guards or run away. There was no point. Some might have considered him
a man in his prime, with a future, but Roxtonus knew better. He was too old and undisciplined to be a gladiator any longer
and too beaten to be anything other than a lowly slave … But he held his head high as he walked down the corridor, hearing
the groans of other prisoners in their cells, awaiting what fate he did not know.
A new chapter in his life was opening.
‘The last chapter.’, Roxtonus assumed.
Lady Marga wandered through the market place, selecting
fruits and grain, taking a few moments out of the day to escape the chore of running her household and managing dull accounts.
She appeared a beautiful and refined woman with long dark hair, tied in an elaborate braid to the back of her head. She was
the possessor of a clear, creamy complexion, the envy of all the ladies, the wives and daughters of her neighbors. The woman’s
large, dark-rimmed eyes sparkled with mischief, as did her enticing dewy lips.
She listened to the bartering going
on about her. Marga’s thin white long-sleeved gown swayed in the gentle breeze about the market place as she approached
Tacitus, the jewelry salesmen.
“Anything interesting today?” she asked, eyeing a charming silver bracelet
which dangled from a hook near the proprietor’s head.
“Beautiful, is it not?” he enthused, pulling
the bracelet free and carefully clamping it around the slim wrist of his best customer. “It will go so well with the
cuffs you wear, my lady." He mimed to the delicately wrought upper arm jewelry Marga wore. Both cuffs peaked through the generous
slits at the shoulders and arms of her toga. "And you may have this fine piece of handiwork for a mere pittance of 10 dracas.”
I think you can do better than that.” Lady Marga lifted her wrist and admired the bracelet, watching how the sun caused
it to glimmer.
“Nine.” He bargained, tapping nervous fingers against his generous belly.
Tacitus rolled his eyes, “I will be losing money!’ he insisted. “Eight.”
…” she murmured in mock sorrow, “And it’s such a lovely piece." Marga made a motion of removing the
jewelry from her wrist.
“Okay, okay!” he sighed, “Seven and not a draca less.”
She chuckled, “Pay him Felix.” Marga told the manservant who stood obediently by her side.
The young man
nodded and pulled the coins from the pouch in his hand.
With a grin of satisfaction, Marga turned from the merchant
and was about to move to a fabric stall when she was distracted. She saw a line of muscular, shackled and half dressed men
being led to a stage near the ampetheatre. Her smile turned into a frown when she realized what was happening. Slave auction.
She knew them well. They were a way of life in Rome. "All men this time." she pondered.
Troubled, Lady Marga was about
to walk away when the sight of one particular slave caught her attention. His shoulders were broad, not slung like so many
of the other men, those poor slaves that had been lashed too many times or had a hot poker applied to their flesh …
No. This man appeared almost proud and aristocratic as he approached the steps. It did not escape her either that he was quite
“My Lady?” Felix asked, noting where her attention was focused. “Are we in need of more
field service?” Felix was one of the few men she trusted and if he hadn’t been a bonded servant she would have
even call him a friend.
“What do you think of that third slave?” she asked him, valuing his opinion.
The young man said, “A strong back but …”
“But?” she glanced at Felix, aware of the concern
in his voice.
“He seems arrogant as well. The proud are not always the best buy for the money.”
smiled and nodded, “Still, there’s something about him that makes me …” Marga hesitated and felt the
young man’s eyes on her, “… want to break his spirit.” She watched as the slave looked boldly out
to the crowd that was gathering. His expression was barely contained hostility. A fire raged deep within him and Marga felt
a pang of empathy. There was a story to be told there and she wanted to know what it was. “Buy him.” she instructed
"Yes, my lady."
As if he had heard her, Roxtonus looked in Lady Marga’s direction and made direct
eye contact with her. Marga did not turn away. He was the first to avert his gaze and only because he was prodded to stand