Did I tell you that I’ve started Tacita? Well, I have, and I’ve got only one proper chapter so far, which is more like a prologue. I’m going to write a bit more now, but here’s the first chapter for your reading pleasure:
‘One day, Marcus, that will be you.’
The song of metal on metal screamed out below us, making our father’s words almost inaudible. The two fighters were locked in their world: the noise of the crowd, the sand slipping underneath their feet was not even there. To them, the only thoughts in their minds were to kill. Nothing else mattered.
The taller man was tiring quickly, the swords in his hands slipping from his grip. One dropped, hitting the ground with a soft thud, and the light in his eyes went out, replaced with a look of desperation and hopelessness.
The other gladiator, the more heavily-armed hoplomachus, immediately thrust his spear in the hope of quickly dispatching his opponent. The dimachaerus still had a shred of energy left, as the weapon grazed his torso, and quickly stepped away. The crowd cheered at the defiance of the fighter, and the match became more violent, the adrenaline pumping through the veins of the gladiators. The dimachaerus found his last reserves of energy from the desire to win, and rushed into the fight with a new fury.
‘I hope I am more skilled than the taller one,’ Marcus commented.
The dimachaerus was on the ground, his remaining sword just out of reach. His breath was so heavy I thought I heard it from where I was sitting. He raised his finger to the editor: he was finished. The fight had lasted for a long time, and he had accepted defeat, although very unwillingly.
A quick turn of the thumb from the editor standing next to me signalled the missio. The gladiators slowly made their way to their gates, feet dragging in sheer exhaustion. There was a polite cheer from the audience, who wanted to see more blood in this match. Marcus too was hoping for a ruthless kill, and simply clapped.
My father seemed relieved. ‘I cannot afford to lose any more men. These games have been expensive.’ he said to the editor, who nodded.
‘I suppose the plebs were happy about that—the losses, I mean. They seem to enjoy gore in these fights.’
That night, I lay in my bed awake, thinking of the future. My father’s words about how it could one day be Marcus were a chilling prospect, but I’d acquiesced to it. The arena was the only option for my brother and me, the only place we had known for our entire lives. At least becoming a gladiator would give him a chance at some fame and adoration from the people of Pompeii, and in fact around the Empire. Still, there was always a chance he would be killed—I preferred not to consider it.
And what would become of me? This had been on my mind recently. When Marcus took to the sands, would I be standing behind the gates, waiting for my turn to fight? Or would I be sitting in the box, looking down at every detail? My father had never mentioned whether I would follow Marcus in the profession of a gladiator; it always seemed to be about him. I didn’t mind about this. I knew that women were not known for being arena fighters, and any that managed to get into the games were treated as a novelty act. I could not submit myself to this.
I had trained too. Rather, I had been training—as soon as we returned to the ludus, I would be wielding the wooden sword, practicing for an unknown reason. I would be running around the training ground, doing exercises, hitting and stabbing dummies until I dropped unconscious. But it was all I knew.
The sounds of the city were loud in the silence of my surroundings. Shouts, screams, laughter, singing. The citizens did not know that some would be silently grieving for the loss of a man they had seen killed for their own enjoyment. They did not know that some would be hoping, praying to all the gods they would live through another fight.
Sleep came slowly, reaching towards me in a mocking gesture, so I touched its edges, then retreating into another corner I could not reach. Too much was going through my mind, and there was no way I could shake these thoughts away. Focusing on the endless hum of the late-night revelries of outside, I readied myself for a night of wakefulness and worry.
But soon I was standing on the edge of sleep, so I fell into its welcoming arms, letting my mind rest for this night.
Your Roman writy blogger, Jaz