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Bardic Circle - War Stories & AAR forum
Moderated by Terikel Grayhair

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Topic Subject: Sands of Fate
posted 05 December 2021 05:34 EDT (US)   
Here is a little tale I found, written long ago when these memories were fresh in the mind after my discourse with the man in question. I have translated his words into the modern tongue and present them here for your perusal. Enjoy!

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Kill or be killed, eat or be eaten. That was the law of the wild.

The law of the arena was simply kill or be killed, so long as the crowd is pleased.

Entertainment, they call it. By they I mean those self-righteous cretins who leave their thriving businesses in the heart of the ordered city to come and watch death on the sands. They come to watch animals slaughter each other, to see blood spilled, and when that does not satisfy their bloodlust, they watch men fight and die. They come to see blood run in rivers, to taste the excitement of combat from the safety of their seats outside the sands. The smell of blood and screams of wounded men excite them as it had those who built the empire. But their ancestors had established a peace that has lasted for a hundred years. The only sense of battle the spectators of today have are watching the games, where they can see men die, themselves safe from the touch of death.

Some of the men who fight are prisoners of war, doing what they do best to earn their way to their gods' halls. A few, very few, were free men who volunteer their lives for the thrill of the fight or to earn their fortunes. But the large majority of the men of the sands were slaves like myself. Big and strong, we were farmhands or longshoremen or other hard laborers who had the misfortune of having a bloodthirsty master, a greedy lord, or were being punished for acting like men instead of chattel.

I have trained for four years now, a long life for a gladiator. Today is my sixtieth appearance on the sands, my seventeenth in a solo fight. Today, like every day I set foot on the blood-soaked sands, will determine my fate. Victory means I kill to survive to fight again. Defeat means I am dead, finally freed from the vicious circle by Death's cold touch.

There is another way out of the arena for a slave. I could win the Wooden Sword. It is won by impressing the Emperor. Since he is seldom at the games here in Augusta Treveri, and a cold-hearted bastard to boot, the chance of winning it is miniscule.

The master of the school, the lanista, comes to me now. He tells me the details of my fight. I groan as I listen. My opponent is to be a retinarius- a net-and-trident man- who has fought for two years. He will be quick. His net will try to ensnare me so that his trident can pierce my flesh. Therefore I must be quick as well.

I am to be armed as a Gallius. This is bad. I will have a sword and shield- useless against a net- and armored in a cuirass and greaves. The cuirass I don't mind- it will deflect all but the most direct of trident thrusts- but the greaves I do not like. They are brass shin guards which give good protection, but they are also heavy. They will slow me down. Against a retinarius, they are worthless. Any good trident man knows the shins are not a good target anyway. It is the less-mobile thighs which provide the better chance to handicap a foe. I could drop my shield to cover the exposed thighs, but that would uncover my neck and upper arms- too good a target to pass up. A hit to either will be the death of me.

I hear the bleating of several deer as they are released into the arena. Sweat breaks out across my brow. The games have begun. I begin to think over my tactics for the match.

My only chance is to avoid the net of my foe and close with him. Once I have him at arm's length he is finished. His trident will be no good to him in close quarters. The only armor he has is a leather sleeve over one arm, making his entire body one huge, unmissable target.

The applause and howls of the crowd let me know the lions have been released to kill the deer. I envy those lions. In Rome they would be slaughtered after making their kills, but here in the hinterlands of the Empire they will be merely hunted back down into their cages to enjoy their meals until the next fight. Lions are too expensive to slaughter wantonly. Men are cheap. Lions kill their prey as they do in the wild. I must fight and kill another man like myself, forced into fighting his own breed by a twist of Fate. If Fate so decress, I may die this day. The lions need never taste Death. Yes, I envy them.

The deer are slain. The handlers move in now, hounding the lions back into their cages while others drag away the carcasses with long hooks. I hear the lanista readying our school's team for the next match. We are to field twenty fighters against a similar team from the school of Veggius. Those men will fight with German longswords while we will use the trusty gladius, the sword of the legions. Last minute tips are laid out as the trumpet sounds. It is time.
I watch our twenty warriors march out into the sun. They are proud and anxious, not unlike I was when I was in their sandals. But three years in the arena separate me from them. I have tasted the blood of my opponents. They have not.

It is over quickly. The lanista returns to me, smiling broadly. Our team won, losing six dead and four lightly wounded. The other team was wiped out to a man. I guess he thinks this should pump my up. He is wrong. While I am glad that fourteen of our men survived, I am saddened that twenty-six died to please a crowd whose only experience of war was what they saw here. Entertainment. Bah!

Trumpets blare. The lanista bids me rinse my mouth with posca, a mixture of water and vinegar. I know this will help me so I do as he asks. I return the cup to a one-armed servant of the school and take up the sword he brought. It is time.

I am the main event. Placards bill me as a German giant who has slain over sixty on the sands. They are half-right. I am half-German and have killed thirty.

I am big as well, towering head and shoulders over the underfed Greeklings and stocky Latins of the schools. My mother was a German of some wiped-out tribe. I never knew which. Neither did she. She was captured as an infant and raised as a slave.

I never knew my father. Our lord's father was obsessed with breeding the perfect example of a species. His sheep had more wool and meat than any other in the province. His cattle and swine were larger and stronger than any other as well.

So were his slaves. His obsession carried over to humans, though I dare say he did not consider any of his slaves humans. To him we were lumps of furniture that moved, cattle that could understand words and perform functions. But we were not humans, never his equals. He bred us as he did his cattle. My mother, tall, blonde, and strong as she was, provided him a wonderful broodmare for strong slaves. She was mated again and again with different slaves in an effort to produce the best. Intelligent Greeks, stocky Latins, powerful Gauls, wiry Thracians, any and all were used. Any one of them could have been my father.

I was a farmhand. My size and strength grew as I lifted heavy bales and cut acres of grain. It seemed the old lord had succeeded in his breeding plan after all. My mother produced a fine crop of strong workmen.

The old lord died, sealing my fate. My new lord, his son, was a gambler and a drunkard, throwing away the fortune his father built in colossal debauches. None of the monies were put into the villa. Our tools and implements fell into disrepair due to his neglect. The coin to be used to buy seed grain were gambled away. Soon all that was left was the house and household.

The older slaves were sold first, my mother among them. My sisters, young and pretty, were sold to the pleasure houses after first being sampled by the lord. The rest of us were sold one by one whenever he needed more denarii to gamble his way out of debt.

I was not sold, nor were three others. We were enrolled into a fighter school. We were to fight for our lives to provide him with silver.

The other three are dead now. Only I remain. My master has sold the villa in which I grew up. He lives in an apartment somewhere in the city. I do not know where. The foundries which provided the old lord the majority of his wealth have been sold off, but a few still remain. Their profits go directly to paying the new lord's debts. Only I, who fight twice a month now, provide him with the silver he wastes in his daily existance. It is enough to make me yearn for Death so that he should fall into the destitution he so richly deserves.

The fight. I must concentrate on the fight. I am too much a coward to surrender so easily to Death. I feel a sharp pain in my lower back. The herders are jabbing me, forcing me toward the open portal ahead. They mistake my daydreaming for fear. They will never make that mistake again.

I step lightly out in to the sunshine. It is a good day to fight. The sunshine beats down on me, warming me to battle. I notice the crowd. The stadium is only half full. The Emperor's box is empty. No chance for the wooden sword today.

My opponent appears across the sands. He stops suddenly, shocked by my size. He covers his momentary surprise by checking over his net one last time, but he does not fool me. Nor is he any surprise to me. I had expected a scrawny, wiry Greek or Thracian and that is what I got.

We march toward each other, stop three paces away, and face the empty Emperor's box. We salute, then face each other. Again we salute. We step ten paces backward until the trumpets blare. The show begins.

He circles warily. He knows he must strike quickly and accurately to win. He knows that is his only chance. He does not know my speed or agility, so he must test me out.

I react slowly to his feint. He smiles. Another feint in which I am leagues too slow broadens that smile. He thinks he has me pegged now- a slow, strong lug fit only to battle other behemoths. He throws his net.

I dodge aside, letting his net fall onto empty space. He is quick. He pulls the net back before I can lunge to cut the thong binding it to him.

His smile dies. He knows now it will be a fight. And a fight it becomes. The day drags on as we circle and thrust, feint and counter, strike and parry. The crowd is silent- awed by our battle.

Time favors the retinarius. Unarmored, he can better handle the heat and activity. He knows this, has known it for a while. I, on the other hand, am growing weaker and weaker with each drop of sweat. I must end this now. I feint left and charge right.

His net lands between the two, missing me but catching on those thrice-cursed greaves. He yanks hard, ripping my feet out from under me. I fall. The only consolation is that I am able to cut his net while it is drawn fast. I do, forcing a groan from him. He is finished if I regain my feet. I am finished if I do not. It has become a race.

He is quicker, the long reach of his trident giving him an edge. Two of the three points bite deep into my shield arm at the shoulder. I wince in pain. I cast off my shield and hold the trident in place by sheer willpower. He missed my neck by inches. I will not allow him a second chance. My sword strikes forward. I feel it bite into his thigh. Muscles and sinews part beneath my steel. He falls, losing his grip on the trident.

I regain my feet. I rip the trident from my arm. Blood cascades down my arm and shoulder, both over and under my armor. The crowd roars its approval. I do not care or notice. All I see is the thrashing retinarius trying to drag himself toward the sword I dropped.

I reach it first. He looks up at me with pleading eyes. He knows he is finished. Even if I let him live, he would never walk again. He is begging for mercy, the gladiator's way. I give it to him with a short chop. His head rolls from his body, freeing him from pain and the arena both. The crowd roars its approval.

I accept the laurels of victory and the small coins thrown to me. They mean nothing. All of my will is focused on getting myself back into the gates before I collapse.

I make it. The crowd is forgotten. Leeches and surgeons swarm over me, poking and prodding my wounds while heating up iron. They cauterize the wound, causing incredible pain, but I do not care. They have already told me what the lanista can expect- the trident has rendered my arm useless. There is a very small chance that I may regain its use, but he shouldn't count on it. My fighting days are over. They tell me nothing I do not already know.

Gladiator slaves cannot be returned to the fields. I know this, wondering when they are going to strangle me. That is the way of the sands. Fight while you are able, die when you are not. There is no other option. We slaves are too dangerous to be set out among the populace. Spartacus, dead hundreds of miles away these two hundred years, has thrown a scare into the Empire.

I hear the lanista speaking to my master. So the old sod had come to the fight? I had not noticed him in the crowd, nor cared if I had. He will probably try to talk the lanista into letting me perform one last time- as lion bait for the Emperor's visit. Cripples and heretics are always crowd-pleasers when thrown to the lions. My death in a lion's jaws will give my lord one last sack of silver.

Here it comes. Two of the men from our team come over and drag me outside. I am cat food.

I am thrown into the wagon belonging to our school. I am confused, not knowing what this means. The one-armed driver smiles to me, telling me he earned a bundle of silver on me. The lanista won a bundle as well. He asks me if I know how to prepare posca or sharpen a sword. I nod. He smiles broadly. I begin to smile as well.

The lanista was wrong. There was a second way out of the arena alive. I have just found it.

|||||||||||||||| A transplanted Viking, born a millennium too late. |||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Too many Awards to list in Signature, sorry lords...|||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Listed on my page for your convenience and envy.|||||||||||||||||
Somewhere over the EXCO Rainbow
Master Skald, Order of the Silver Quill, Guild of the Skalds
Champion of the Sepia Joust- Joust I, II, IV, VI, VII, VIII
posted 02 April 2022 07:04 EDT (US)     1 / 3  
Three months and no reactions? No praise, no corrections?

|||||||||||||||| A transplanted Viking, born a millennium too late. |||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Too many Awards to list in Signature, sorry lords...|||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Listed on my page for your convenience and envy.|||||||||||||||||
Somewhere over the EXCO Rainbow
Master Skald, Order of the Silver Quill, Guild of the Skalds
Champion of the Sepia Joust- Joust I, II, IV, VI, VII, VIII
posted 09 September 2022 03:33 EDT (US)     2 / 3  
A very well written tale as always, Terikel. 👍

General Rawlinson- This is most unsatisfactory. Where are the Sherwood Foresters? Where are the East Lancashires on the right?

Brigadier-General Oxley- They are lying out in No Man's Land, sir. And most of them will never stand again.

Two high ranking British generals discussing the fortunes of two regiments after the disastrous attack at Aubers Ridge on the 9th May 1915.
posted 15 September 2022 11:47 EDT (US)     3 / 3  

|||||||||||||||| A transplanted Viking, born a millennium too late. |||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Too many Awards to list in Signature, sorry lords...|||||||||||||||||
|||||||||||||||| Listed on my page for your convenience and envy.|||||||||||||||||
Somewhere over the EXCO Rainbow
Master Skald, Order of the Silver Quill, Guild of the Skalds
Champion of the Sepia Joust- Joust I, II, IV, VI, VII, VIII
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