"A well-written story of ancient Rome, comparable to novels written by Simon Scarrow and Michael Curtis Ford . . . an exciting portrayal of gladiatorial combat." The Historical Novels Review
Fight for Rome: A Gladiators of the Empire Novelby James Duffy
Continuing the adventures of Quintus Honorius Romanus (a.k.a. Taurus)legendary gladiator of ancient Romethis second book in the series picks up in AD 68, when the emperor is dead, and the throne is up for grabs. Three contenders square off to take control of the government, and as civil unrest begins to build, Quintus and his friends, the
Continuing the adventures of Quintus Honorius Romanus (a.k.a. Taurus)legendary gladiator of ancient Romethis second book in the series picks up in AD 68, when the emperor is dead, and the throne is up for grabs. Three contenders square off to take control of the government, and as civil unrest begins to build, Quintus and his friends, the beast hunter Lindani and the gladiatrix Amazonia, are forced to fight with the legionnaires of Rome in what will soon become bloody civil war. Meanwhile, in a remote corner of the empire, Quintus’ former slave, Lucius Calidius, plots another rise to powerand not even Quintus will stand in his way.
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The Fight for Rome
A Gladiators of the Empire Novel
By James Duffy
McBooks Press, Inc.Copyright © 2007 James Duffy
All rights reserved.
December AD 68
There was nothing Taurus liked better than the roar of the crowd when he cut into flesh. The adversary he studied through the grated eyepieces of his Thracian helmet now had a ribbon of blood running down his left arm. And the mob loved it.
The stench of offal from the morning animal hunts, the noxii criminal executions, and the preliminary gladiator bouts hung in the crisp air of the December afternoon. But the smell didn't bother Taurus. It was simply the vestige of another successful day of games in the Pompeii arena. The familiar coolness of the sand beneath his feet gave him comfort, even as he occasionally stepped through the dampness of warm blood. The harenarii — the arena attendants — had been too hasty in their raking between bouts, he thought as he toyed further with his opponent.
He kept the late afternoon sun at his back, forcing his adversary to squint through the glare. There was no need for the amphitheater's vellarium roof on such a beautifully cool day, so the view of Vesuvio and the green hills to the northwest provided a dramatic backdrop to the action in the arena. But Taurus knew the attention of the twenty thousand spectators was not on the landscape. He could feel their eyes pressing upon him. The boisterous crowd showed no sign of tiring on this first day of the Saturnalia festival. Even after a full slate of hunts, executions, and fifteen gladiator bouts, they still called for blood.
The brute facing Taurus was Livius, a massive hoplomachus of top primus palus ranking. Taurus had sparred against him often on the training field of their Pompeii ludus. He knew the man well. He knew how he wiggled his small shield ever so slightly before he lunged high for the shoulder with his spear. He knew how he dug his right heel into the sand just before a low thrust to the thigh. Of course, Livius was not aware of these tells. But Taurus made it his business to know them all. Most heartening, he knew Livius did not have near the speed or agility that he himself was able to muster. Even with the extended reach of Livius's six-foot pike, not a trace of anxiety crossed Taurus's mind.
Although his heart had been pounding hard for more than five minutes, Taurus continued to stalk his prey, waiting patiently for the slightest mistake that would give him the split-second advantage he sought. He saw the hoplomachus's helmet turn ever so slightly to the left. He knew his opponent was glancing at the fresh gash on his arm, worrying about how slippery the blood would be when it reached the handle of his shield. That was all the information Taurus needed. The time had come.
His sica shot forward. The curved sword beat once, twice, three times against the wooden spear handle. Taurus heard the wood start to splinter. Livius backpedaled across the sand. Taurus pursued his adversary, his sica now a blur of silver as it windmilled toward Livius's right, then left shoulder. He augmented the threat of his blade with the bottom rim of his square parmula shield, catching Livius on the thigh, then in the chest. Taurus had mastered the concept of using his shield as much for offense as for defense.
Although wounded, Livius did a good job of blocking the assault with his own small bowl-shaped shield, which would have seemed terribly inadequate to a lesser fighter. He attempted a lunge to back Taurus off and stall the advance. But Taurus had his own shield in place before the metal spear tip came close to his chest. Taurus pressed his advantage and swung his razor-sharp blade in blinding arcs. The speed came from somewhere deep inside; Taurus didn't understand it, but the power was there when he needed it.
As his sica beat against the shield again and again, he sensed the tiny protective disc shift ever so slightly. The blood had reached Livius's hand. He saw panic in the eyes behind the grating of his opponent's face mask. And he knew the match was won.
He sliced sideways at the shield. Livius's bulky arm glistened as the muscles tightened. But he could not hold on. The slickness of the blood, combined with the crushing power of Taurus's blow, forced the gladiator's only protection to sail from his hand and clang against the arena wall. The small dagger he held in place behind the shield as a backup weapon also slipped from his grasp. Before the hoplomachus could recover, Taurus went to work on the spear. Two more blows and the metal tip fell to the sand, leaving Livius waving a splintered pole half its original length. He swung the pitiful remnant in an attempt to parry Taurus's sica. But on the next contact the curved blade sliced through the wood like a loaf of bread and buried deep into Livius's left bicep. The hoplomachus screamed and dropped to his knees. He grabbed his arm to try to stem the torrent of blood, his fingers disappearing inside the gaping wound. Taurus placed the tip of his blade on Livius's chest.
The referee stepped forward and used his five-foot rod to halt the match. Taurus looked at the smile on Julianus's face. As chief trainer at the ludus, it was Julianus's job to also referee his troupe's arena battles, using the rod to beat some sense into the more cowardly tiro gladiators. But there was little need for the pole in these late afternoon matches with only the top fighters and crowd favorites on the sand.
"Another fine fight, Taurus," he said quietly as the crowd roared. "You, too, Livius. I know it's hard to match that speed of his."
Pleasing Julianus and his lanista, Titus Cassius Petra, was a key ingredient in Taurus's passion for arena combat. It ran a close second to the adulation of the mob. Ironically, the only part of arena combat he hated was the killing. The art of the fight was paramount to Taurus, not the taking of a brave man's life — although he had had to do it on occasion.
"I just hope we don't lose Livius," Taurus replied. "He's a good man." The trembling in Livius's body was transmitted to Taurus's arm through the sword touching the man's chest.
"His fate is in the hands of the magistrate," Julianus said.
All three turned and looked across the arena at the old man seated on the podium. The magistrate was studying the reaction of the mob.
Taurus scanned the cavea and was relieved when a sea of white handkerchiefs fluttered in the late afternoon light — the sign of mercy. He glanced back at the podium. The old magistrate reached inside his draped sleeve and pulled out a small white cloth which he waved briskly twice across his chest.
"Missio!" Julianus shouted. He pushed Quintus's sica aside and helped Livius to his feet. Two harenarii arrived quickly to escort the bleeding fighter to the tunnel.
Taurus dropped his shield and touched the tiny terra-cotta figurine that hung from the thin leather strip around his neck. He raised the effigy to his lips and planted a quick kiss on the icon that embodied three beloved spirits: his late mother and father, and his murdered friend and childhood bodyguard, Aulus Libo. He let out a wild victory cry and hurled his sica, blade first, into the sand. The victory ritual was more dramatic with his trident when he fought as a retiarius, but the sword worked almost as well. As it swayed at his feet, he raised his arms and incited the mob of twenty thousand to a deafening crescendo. A chant of "Taurus! Taurus! Taurus!" swept around the oval cavea. He absorbed every second of it, bathing in the adulation as if it were a warm pool in the local baths. He wondered what other vocation could bring such hero worship to a young man barely twenty years old.
"Funny how they know you only as 'Taurus,'" Julianus said with a smile as he retrieved the remnants of the broken spear and readied for the final bout. "Yet at the ludus we have the pleasure of knowing both Taurus and Quintus."
"Ahhh, but is it not Taurus who makes the money for Dominus Petra?" the fighter replied without taking his eyes from the crowd. "So you tell me which half of me he prefers."
Julianus laughed and slapped his back. As he scanned the cheering faces in the crowd, Taurus considered how he was able to leave Quintus Honorius Romanus in the tunnel before each bout. The process wasn't clear to him, he just did it. He always managed to assume the persona and herculean fighting tactics of his alter ego, Taurus. This was how his legions of fans knew him best: as the showman and always the victor — at least so far in his three-year arena career. But Taurus was much more than a stage name fabricated to instill fear in his opponents and excitement in the mob. Taurus was a state of mind. It defined the swift, aggressive, calculating warrior that Quintus was able to muster from deep within his being each time he stepped onto the sand. Taurus could do the things that Quintus could not. And he proved it with each appearance in the arena.
"I think it's time to visit the podium," Julianus said, pointing his stick toward the magistrate.
With his usual flare, Taurus pulled the griffin-topped helmet from his head and dove for his sica. He tumbled through the sand and rose a second later in a theatrical pose, left arm stretched forward and curved sica arching gracefully over his head. The crowd screamed its appreciation. The sand that stuck to his sweat-drenched torso did little to cover the beautiful black stigmates that had become his trademark. The ornate bull head on his chest stared defiantly forward with wicked eyes bordered by elaborate curved horns, its wide-set, ringed nostrils set above a row of pointed teeth. Taurus's broad back was adorned with the face of Medusa the Gorgon, her hair a nest of vipers and her evil white eyes daring any foe to attack from the rear. Both images did their job in distinguishing Taurus the Bull from every other helmet-clad fighter in the arena.
After a few more poses highlighting his solid physique, Taurus crossed the sand and stood before the magistrate. It took a few moments for the old man to quiet the crowd. As Taurus waited, he relaxed and took a few deep breaths. The rush of adrenalin ceased and his pounding heart began to slow. Once again, he was Quintus.
"Each time you appear, you prove yourself a true hero of the arena, Taurus. I congratulate you on your twelfth victory." Shouts and applause from the crowd briefly interrupted him. "May Hercules continue to protect you." A bag of coins landed at Quintus's feet, followed by a green palm frond, the traditional symbol of arena victory. Quintus bowed with a smile, gathered up his spoils, and trotted toward the arena tunnel, waving the palm above his head. The cheering of the crowd followed him into the passageway and echoed off the rough stone walls.
As he rushed through the portal, he almost ran into a female fighter who was securing her helmet and readying for her first fight in more than a year. Her statuesque form was enhanced by the shape of her murmillo helmet. The crest of scarlet-dyed horsehair made her appear even taller than her six-foot height. The silver flair at the rear of the helmet matched the graceful shape of the auburn locks hanging across her bare shoulders. Her well-oiled body, naked but for a small red loincloth and black leather belt, glistened even in the dim light of the tunnel. It was easy to see why the lanista had decided to pluck her from a life of prostitution and slavery. Although this would be only her third arena battle, it was clear she was already one of the top arena draws of the Empire. She was known to all as The Gladiatrix Amazonia.
But on this late afternoon, Quintus noticed her normally self-assured stance and confident swagger was missing. "You're ready for this, you know," he said to her quietly so her opponent, a slim Thracian, could not hear.
"I know, I know. I just want to get it over with," she snapped back.
She shook her arms again and shifted her weight from side to side. The jittery moves betrayed her nervousness to Quintus. He knew this was her first bout since the near disaster in Rome a year earlier. Not many fighters could have recovered from a deep puncture wound, a fight with a lion, and an almost fatal infection all in the span of one week. The wound came at the hands of a crafty Germanic hoplomachus in a featured bout. She had lost her concentration and paid the price with his spear tip buried deep in her thigh. The lion came later that same day. It had been one of ten sent into the arena to dispatch Quintus. While gladiators did not fight beasts — that job was left to the trained venatores like their Ethiopian comrade, Lindani — this fact was lost on the games' editor, Lucius Calidius. Such a breach of arena protocol was not about to stand between Lucius and the death of his lifelong rival, Quintus Romanus. To this day, it pained Quintus to know that his closest friends, Amazonia and Lindani, had both almost been killed helping him defeat the lions sent to destroy him.
Quintus looked at the ugly scar on her left thigh that marred an otherwise flawless limb. He thought about the horrid infection that had set in. The head ludus physician, Agricola, felt it might have been triggered by the lion's blood, which had entered her gaping wound and mixed with her own. She had recovered from the high fever but almost lost the leg. Only constant vigilance by Agricola — and Amazonia's own perseverance — had saved it. She endured months of painful recuperation, followed by many more of therapy, herbal remedies, and excruciating exercise. Finally, the ludus physicians pronounced her physically ready to return to the arena. But was she ready mentally? Quintus wondered as he watched her twitching arms.
"He's small but light on his feet, this thraex," Quintus warned. "You know he always feigns right before going for the left shoulder."
Amazonia did not respond. On the podium the praecone stood for his final announcement of the day.
"Fellow Romans and guests, in honor of our esteemed new emperor in Rome, his Imperial Majesty Servius Sulpicius Galba, our benevolent magistrate, Publius Aurelius Capito, presents the final bout of our first day of Saturnalia." He paused for the expected swell of voices from the cavea. "For your amusement, we present the thraex Priedens. And fighting for the first time in more than a year, the most beautiful murmillo in the Empire, the magnificent Amazonia!"
Amazonia stepped into the dim light of the afternoon as she and her opponent began their walk across the sand to where Julianus stood waiting. Quintus stepped forward and crouched at the tunnel entrance. He leaned against the rough stones of the arena wall and let their coolness soothe him. The cheering that had sent him from the sand returned in earnest as every pair of eyes in the amphitheater now followed the magnificent semi-nude figure floating across the arena. Although female gladiators had appeared here before, none came close to the beauty of Amazonia. And certainly no other had the skill and power to be matched against a male fighter.
Before the battle began, Quintus felt a presence beside him. He turned to see Lindani next to him, still wearing the leopard-skin loincloth from his morning animal hunt. The flexibility of the man's lanky frame was evident as he sat motionless with his feet flat on the tunnel paving stones and his knobby knees almost at shoulder height. His skin, the color of polished ebony, was rimmed with a copper highlight by the late afternoon sun. The colorful beads braided into his long locks of black hair clicked gently as he moved his head. His bright eyes held the intensity Quintus had come to know well when the African was keenly focused.
"She is nervous, no?" he said in his melodic Ethiopian accent.
"I've seen her on edge before," Quintus replied, "but never like this."
The moment she stepped from the cold hard stone into the sand of the arena, Amazonia's senses began to tingle. It had been so long since the softness of the sand caressed her feet, quite different from the hard packed earth of the ludus training field. She was surprised at how much it soothed her rattled nerves. But in the back of her mind she wondered if she was truly ready for this. Her leg felt fine, but would it tolerate the extreme test of an arena match? More important, could she herself still endure a match?
The roar of the crowd grew as Julianus motioned Amazonia and Priedens into position.
"Be on guard ..." he yelled as he dropped the rod between them.
Amazonia crouched slightly, sliding the bottom edge of her large scutum forward and positioning her gladius along the right edge of the scarlet shield. She watched the tip of her opponent's sica as it wavered, ready to thrust, and felt a chill rush up her spine. She checked her position behind the scutum and lowered the shield a bit further. She needed to protect her leg.
Excerpted from The Fight for Rome by James Duffy. Copyright © 2007 James Duffy. Excerpted by permission of McBooks Press, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
James Duffy is an Emmy Awardwinning television writer and producer and the owner of his own production company. He lives in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
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