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“This is very exciting, my dear,” the master’s wife loudly announced to her husband, ensuring all of the servants heard the conversation. “I hear Gold obtained the best price, and soldiers the lot of them, no common criminals this time.” She checked her nails. “The crowd doesn’t appreciate those sorts.”
Gold wasn’t really my name, however the master—or lanista, as he was more commonly called—had the right to call me whatever he chose. I had earned the name Gold when I became the lanista’s champion in the arena. With twenty two victories, and no ties or defeats, I was the undisputed champion.
“He seems to have a good sense for slave buying,” Gracia went on with her commentary. “It was very astute of you to send Gold to town to do the buying. If anyone knows gladiator stock, Gold does.”
Gracia often talked about me as if I wasn’t in the room. But then, I was not really a person to her at all. I was a slave, albeit a somewhat exalted one.
I didn’t even bat an eye when Master Simeon replied with a sly smile, “Yes, and Gold even bested my rival in the auction. I have won six of the finest on the block, and that’s not easy to do nowadays, given what we mostly have to choose from is Sparta’s rejects.”
I was one of those so called Spartan rejects.
“That horrible Phineas must be cursing the gods themselves today,” Gracie giggled recklessly.
We were trailing the master as he walked on through the tablinum, the place where he kept an impressive array of written scripts and original paintings.
He paused, a scowl spread across his middle-aged face. He was extremely superstitious and very careful about not offending the gods. His reprimand was severe. “Woman, watch that vile tongue of yours. The gods are no joking matter. Do you wish to bring the entire house down upon us?”
“I am sorry, my husband.” She lowered her head.
I hid a smile, noting some of the other slaves in the vicinity did as well. We’d all felt the effects of her tongue and her whip often enough. It was nice to see her get some in return.
When we reached the other side of the grand house, we waited in the atrium, which was really the most important place in the house. It was the room where distinguished guests were usually entertained, so I didn’t get to be in here often.
The master considered this to be an important event, so the new slaves would be brought in through the main door which faced the street.
I glanced up at the high ceiling for a moment and stood with my legs apart. I knew the lanista was relieved to have a new lot of slaves who had some potential for gladiator training. We had lost over twenty gladiators in a short period of time, due to the lanista volunteering many of his best to pay homage to dead family members of prominent citizens. He had ambitions to be elected to the senate, and he was willing to go to great lengths to win favour—sometimes to his own detriment, I felt.
I looked straight ahead now as I heard the shuffle of chained men being herded inside and down the narrow passageway to the grand, sparsely furnished room where we waited. There were six new slaves brought in, all of whom had been warriors in various foreign militaries. They were robust men in their youth and considered a prize, even if I knew most of them wouldn’t see the sun set for more than one more day.
They were naked, hands thrust behind their backs, chains on their wrists. The chains extended in one direction to a metal collar around their necks, and in the other direction to both ankles.
The lanista went to inspect the first one in line and lifted his head up high. He did the same to the next and the next, until he came to the last one in the line.
I knew he’d take extra time with this one. He was the one I had bargained the hardest for, perhaps paying far more than I should have. But I knew he was worth the price. It was true he had an attitude which had actually forced me to order the guards to gag him on the way back home. Attitude, however, could be a good thing if channelled correctly. And I would soon strip him of his defiance, as surely as he’d been stripped of his clothing.
As the master inspected him, the slave did not attempt to disguise the sneer on his face. He stood to all his six feet, almost as tall as I was myself, and glared directly at the master. I knew what was to come. The master, a man of no more than five feet six, and far smaller in stature than his new acquisition, doubled up his fist and hit him directly in the mouth.
The slave’s head went back as if on a spring, and his mouth ran with blood. His expression however never changed. He didn’t utter a sound. He had the makings of an excellent gladiator, and the lanista knew it because he turned to me and laughed out loud.
A gladiator was taught to face death without crying out for mercy, without acknowledging pain. This one would honour the tradition nicely.
“This one has big balls, Gold. You have done well. If he survives the initiation, he will make a fine addition to the ludi.”