Sand of the Arena: A Gladiators of the Empire Novelby James Duffy
In 63 AD the Roman Empire rules the Mediterranean and the gladiatorial games are awash in blood. For Quintus Honorius Romanus, the games are pure entertainment-until Quintus loses his wealthy family, his social standing, and his name to an imposter. To escape slavery, he joins a gladiatorial school and begins a game of high stakes, as he vows to bring down his
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In 63 AD the Roman Empire rules the Mediterranean and the gladiatorial games are awash in blood. For Quintus Honorius Romanus, the games are pure entertainment-until Quintus loses his wealthy family, his social standing, and his name to an imposter. To escape slavery, he joins a gladiatorial school and begins a game of high stakes, as he vows to bring down his enemy. But first he must survive his training!
"Duffy combines a sure sense of character and narrative with an intimate knowledge of the world of the Roman arena... an exciting and satisfying novel." —John Maddox Roberts, author of the SPQR series
"Well researched and exciting." —Library Journal
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Sand of the Arena
A Gladiators of the Empire Novel
By James Duffy
McBooks Press, Inc.Copyright © 2005 James Duffy
All rights reserved.
May AD 63
The Persian captain stood at the prow as his war galley sliced through the choppy waves. The long black-and-white plume of his helmet crest blew back like the tail of a horse at full gallop. Spray mixed with sweat and made his golden armor glisten with theatrical brilliance. Behind him, two rows of slaves pulled on the long oars, the synchronicity of their labor insured by the muscular madman prowling the gangway, whip poised. The forty-foot ship glided forward with each stroke. Two more Persian galleys kept pace on its flanks, creating a formidable wedge driving toward the three Greek warships coming at them.
Quintus Honorius Romanus awaited the cataclysm. His leg bounced with nervous anticipation as he marveled at the dignified bravado of the ship leader. A gleam drew his attention from the confident captain to the long metal spike of the corvus secured to the ship's mast, ready to crash down on the enemy's deck, locking the warships together and working as a gangplank for the assault troops.
A splash off the port bow caught Quintus's eye. In the crystal clear water he saw one battle was already under way. The streamlined fin of a shark sliced the surface, then disappeared in a frenzy of white water as the twelve-foot fish plowed into its prey. The black leather back of a crocodile sprang from the water as the shark grabbed its hind leg and thrashed side to side. The reptile turned at a speed that defied its bulk and snatched the shark's head in its jaws. The croc rolled over and over, until it wrenched the head from the body. The clear waters turned cloudy red as the crocodile gulped down chunks of the defeated shark, oblivious to the warships gliding by. Within seconds, five more gray fins broke the surface, followed by the distinctive V wakes of more crocodiles converging on the scene. Quintus knew this watery nightmare awaited many of the ships' crews.
A wave of sound — the shouting of thousands of voices — snapped him from his trance. He looked up to see the enemy warships closing fast. The large white eyes painted on the Greek bows stared straight ahead. He almost expected them to flinch as the massive battering rams of the Persian galleys drew closer. The Greek ships had giant weapons of their own: directly above the painted eyes protruded two colossal spears, like twin devil horns. Although this was his first naumachia sea battle, Quintus knew he was looking at the face of death.
His attention was grabbed once again by the Persian captain. Quintus sensed valor in the man's stoic face as the captain stared into the eyes of the Greek war vessel. His helmet crest whipped sideways as he turned and shouted to the twenty marines huddled behind him. Quintus could barely make out the words over the commotion of the thousands of voices. A warning shout from a marine near the port bow interrupted the captain's commands.
"Shields up!" The powerful order reached Quintus's ears over the din.
In a single motion, twenty green-and-gold shields clanged together to form a solid roof on the deck of the ship. The nervous bounce in Quintus's leg increased. From the phalanx of Greek ships came a strange cloud. It took a few seconds for him to recognize the sight of a hundred arrows in flight. The dark shape undulated like a living thing as it arced up from the Greek ships. Again the roar of voices swept across the water, pushing the cloud of arrows on to its mark.
The clattering of arrow tips against wooden shields was ungodly. Many of the tips found soft flesh rather than wood. Screams of agony rose as five, then seven, Persian marines fell to the deck. Some lay motionless. Others wrenched arrows out of their own arms and legs.
Quintus did not know where to look next as orders came quickly, barely audible over the chaos.
"Stand by to ram!"
"Make ready the corvus."
"Stand firm, men. Victory may mean freedom for the best of you today."
Quintus scanned the faces of the men about to clash in mortal combat. Some had a hard look, determined to be victorious. Others had eyes wild with fear, not unlike a horse on its first cavalry charge.
The impact came with a violent, sickening crunch. The Persians' bow spike pierced the iris of the port-side eye that had glared at the enemy ship throughout its approach. Wooden beams as thick as a man's leg splintered like kindling, throwing shards across the water's surface. Quintus froze in morbid fascination. His leg stopped twitching. Without realizing it, he stopped breathing as he saw one of the monstrous spears above the eyes of the Greek galley rushing directly toward the head of the Persian captain. Quintus gasped and yelled a warning, knowing it was futile at his distance. With the lance only inches from impact, the captain finally ducked, the sharp point creasing his helmet crest. Quintus watched him shout an alarm to the troops packed behind him, but the chaos of the engagement, mingled with the incessant distant voices, drowned out the captain's warning. The giant lance skewered three marines like small morsels of food. Their armor had little effect against the ten-foot iron spearhead pressed forward by the tonnage of the war galley. The violent rocking of the ship lifted the screaming soldiers off the deck and suspended them over the water. Quintus tried not to wince as their final heartbeats pumped streams of blood down their legs. No sooner had the first drops kissed the water's surface than the shark fins and reptilian bodies began circling.
Quintus glanced back at the captain to see his reaction. It seemed the warrior could not tear his gaze from the three men writhing in agony, even with the chaos of battle growing around him. No longer did he have the bold look of a valiant battle hero. Suddenly the man's face reflected horror, his earlier confident expression replaced with a mask of uncertainty.
The Persian troops did not wait for further orders. One marine swung his sword against the thick rope that held the corvus. The heavy boarding plank slammed onto the enemy galley, pinning one of the Greek fighters to the deck with its iron spike. The marines moved quickly to board first and gain the advantage.
But Quintus's eyes remained locked on the Persian captain. The man seemed oblivious to the frenzy around him. He simply continued to stare at the three men dangling from the giant spear. His head tipped slightly to the side, and his face took on a sense of wonder. Quintus was mesmerized by this insignificant personal drama developing amid the growing bedlam of the naumachia. He wondered what was going through the captain's mind. What suddenly drove this brave warrior into a trancelike state? The sudden jerk of the captain's head made Quintus jump. He flushed as the captain seemed to look right at him. The sea warrior's face was defiant again, but his anger was not thrust upon the Greek fighters. Instead he jumped to the top of the bulwark, his black-and-white helmet crest billowing across his face. He screamed with all his might. For an instant, Quintus felt the man's rage was directed only at him. But he quickly realized the man was shouting at the scores of faces watching the battle. The words were unintelligible in the pandemonium, but the intent was unmistakable. The captain was boldly defying the thousands of spectators who had gathered in the Amphitheater of Taurus to enjoy the sea spectacle.
"What's he on about?" came a voice next to Quintus.
"Lead your men, you dim-witted ass!" another screamed at the ship's commander.
Quintus watched the captain's face turn brilliant crimson as his rage grew. But as quickly as it had begun, the captain's tirade subsided. His head dropped, and he looked down at his side. Quintus followed his gaze. An arrow was buried deep in the captain's waist just below his breastplate. A stripe of red grew down his white tunic and leg. Quintus turned to where the shaft pointed. An archer crouched in the stern of the Greek ship, another arrow already nocked on a taut bow string. The archer released his grip and the shaft flew from the bow. Quintus turned back in time to see the arrow strike the Persian captain just above his left eye and burrow deep into his head. The force knocked him backward into the raging waters. In an instant he was torn apart by the sharks and crocodiles.
"By the gods! Did you see that?" Quintus yelled over the rising crowd noise at no one in particular. "A perfect head shot. And now he's fish food!"
The stranger seated beside him did not seem to hear. His gaze was riveted on the crocodile attempting to snag the dangling legs of the three soldiers impaled on the giant lance. For a moment, Quintus felt an odd sense of loss for the captain, but the sea warrior was soon forgotten as the boy's attention refocused on the hand-to-hand combat developing on the Greek ship's deck.
At fifteen years of age, Quintus Honorius Romanus was a connoisseur of the arena. His understanding and appreciation of gladiatorial combat rivaled that of spectators twice his age. His father had taken him to the gladiatorial and hunting events on many occasions, but this was his first naumachia. From his seat in the middle tier of the Amphitheater of Taurus, alongside the other wealthy merchant families, he had a perfect overview of the sea battle. But he could tell that viewing the naumachia would take some getting used to. With so much going on at the same time, how could one possibly savor everything? Especially when he also had to keep an eye on the activity around him in the seats. He took a minute to scan the spectators in his section to be sure his father was not nearby. Although he and his father often enjoyed the arena spectacles together, on this day Quintus was supposed to be with his private Greek tutor in the atrium of his villa. But today was the naumachia. How could he possibly miss it? Feigning illness and slipping out the window of his bedchamber bought him a few hours of arena excitement. He just hoped his father was not seated close enough to spot him, and his mother didn't check on him in bed. The bundle of tunics under the cover would not withstand a close inspection.
"By Neptune, they're boarding quickly," Quintus said, his attention now fully diverted from the red foam that was once the Persian captain.
"Not as quickly as you're going to move your ass back home."
Quintus froze, recognizing the voice.
"Hello, Father." His own voice quavered a bit. He turned to look into the stern face of Caius Honorius Romanus, seated directly behind him.
"I spotted you from across the aisle, so I thought I'd come join you," Caius said with more than a touch of sarcasm. "What's your mother going to say when she checks up on you? You know what a worrier she is."
"With this sea battle going on today, I'm sure she'll figure it out pretty quickly," he said with a sheepish grin. "Besides, how could I concentrate on my studies knowing I was missing this? It would have just been a waste of everyone's time." He noticed the corners of his father's mouth begin to turn upward and detected a gleam in his eyes.
"Well, then, I guess we'll make the best of it and both take our lumps when we get home." The face softened and showed a broad smile. All along, Quintus had sensed that his father was as disappointed as he over his mother's insistence that tutoring not be interrupted by "those horrid games." This one look confirmed that suspicion. Quintus was relieved that he'd be allowed to stay to witness the dramatic end to this battle.
"By the way," his father said as he reached behind him, "I got this for you at one of the stalls out front. You were supposed to get it tomorrow morning, but as long as you're here..." His hand slid forward, holding the most beautiful miniature boat Quintus had ever seen.
He looked up into Caius's hazel eyes as he took the boat and cradled it carefully in both hands. His fingers traced the rich detail that made the terra-cotta warships prized souvenirs of the naumachiae.
"By the gods, it's beautiful! Thank you, Father."
A roar from the crowd turned their attention back to the flooded arena. In an instant, all thoughts of tutors and angry mothers left Quintus's mind.
"If the Persians can take the Greek ship intact," Caius explained, "it can be turned against the other Greeks. They'll be outnumbered four ships to two."
"The herald said they were recreating the Battle of Salamis. Did the Persians outnumber the Greeks there?" Quintus asked.
"Not necessarily. The Greeks won a great victory in that battle, but the outcome here could be much different. It all depends on the prisoners and gladiators playing the parts of the Greek and Persian fighters."
Quintus's hands tensed as one of the Greek ships backed out of the main battle. It was pursued by a Persian ship that had failed to drop its corvus. Many of the sharks followed, seeking their first decent meal in a week.
"It was amazing to watch them flood this arena," Quintus said. "Were you here for that, Father?"
"I've been here all day. They diverted water from two of the aqueducts to fill it. Half of Rome was without water for most of the morning. That's one of the reasons the naumachiae aren't held often. They're a lot of work and very expensive. All these ships had to be built, the fighters had to be trained in naval tactics, all the Greek and Persian armor and weapons had to be made, and the sea creatures had to be transported here."
"I'll bet the naumachiae on the big lakes are really something," Quintus said.
"They have ten times as many ships as this, but from the shore it's hard to see what's going on. Here in the arena you feel like you're right in the action because you're so close."
Greek archers lined the starboard rail of the retreating ship. They lowered their arrow tips into brass urns, bringing a deafening cheer from the crowd.
"The Greeks are fighting back with fire," Quintus shouted.
"This is always spectacular," his father yelled back. "The boats have been soaked with pitch, so they'll ignite quickly. Be wary of the arrows, Quintus. Many a flaming shaft has found its way into the crowd."
In one perfectly coordinated move, the Greek warriors drew their bows and fired. It surprised Quintus that their first volley was not toward the pursuing Persian ship, but directly at the Greek galley, which had already been boarded by the enemy. A dozen balls of hot orange flame burst from the tar-soaked deck and sides of the wooden ship. The reflection of the blaze danced across the surface of the water in the dimming afternoon light. The crowd shouted its approval at the strategic move, as the smoke and scent of charred wood quickly reached Quintus and Caius.
"Smart move," shouted Caius. "They'd rather sink their own ship than have it used against them."
The next swarm of flaming arrows flew over the burning Greek galley and onto the deck of the Persian warship. As Caius had predicted, two of the flaming arrows glanced off the wood surfaces and flew into the lower tiers of the cavea. Senators and other ranking officials scattered.
Caius chuckled. "I don't think I've ever seen Senator Marcellus move his ample body so quickly."
Within seconds the deck of the Persian galley was a holocaust. Both Greeks and Persians had to choose whether to die in the fire or take their chances in the water. Most chose the water, their capes and tunics already aflame as they dove overboard. The lucky ones were grabbed quickly by the sharks and crocodiles, dragged under, and drowned. The less fortunate struggled to stay afloat in their heavy armor, only to endure the torture of having a leg or arm ripped off by the beasts.
For almost an hour the ships waged battle in the flooded arena. A second Greek ship was sunk, sending its archers and oarsmen over the side and causing another feeding frenzy. The two remaining Persian ships converged on the last Greek vessel from both port and starboard.
Quintus tensed for the collision. "They've had it now. There's no way they can outmaneuver this charge."
"Could be," his father yelled back over the growing din of the crowd. "But Greeks never give up without a fight. Remember the three hundred Spartans at Thermopylae?"
As the words left his mouth, the Greek archers dropped behind the bulwark. They reemerged a second later, arrows glowing with flame. They split into two groups — one defending their port side, the other their starboard. In unison, the arrows flew and once again the wood ignited. One of the Persian galleys was engulfed quickly. The crew of the more fortunate ship managed to douse the flames on their deck with vats of water and continue their charge. They maneuvered alongside and dropped their corvus. Even before its spike pierced the deck, the marines were charging across the narrow bridge. The clank of weapons brought more screams of approval from the crowd.
Excerpted from Sand of the Arena by James Duffy. Copyright © 2005 James Duffy. Excerpted by permission of McBooks Press, Inc..
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Meet the Author
James Duffy is an Emmy award-winning television writer and producer with his own production company and the author of a series of graphic novels featuring the Cisco Kid. He lives with his family in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
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Up until now I¿ve had to find historic tales and action adventure stories in different books. But Sand of the Arena combines the best of both into one great read. The thrilling gladiator events, seen through the eyes of one of the combatants, were so clearly written I was able to actually FEEL the adrenaline rush of the fight myself. The only bad thing I can say about the book is that it ended too soon! Luckily the adventures of Quintus the gladiator will be picked up in the next book in the series. If only authors could write faster!
This is an amazing book