The arena was already cleared of the blood and gristle of the last fight between gladiators; dust settled on the empty booths. The spectators have gone home, satiated by yet another deathmatch between those who were condemned to fight — where only one emerged with his life spared and the other unfortunate, at day’s end, was carrion for the waiting vultures.
In the coliseum’s dungeons, a silent celebration took place. The moss-covered walls served as witness as each gladiator partook of a goblet of wine raised in honor of the one who lived. There was no fanfare, as gaiety and mirth were unknown in the dimness of the dungeons, where fighters — strong men and women though they are — were still subject to the whims and evil designs of the Usurper Princess Catatonia.
The one who lived, Marco Antonius Johanus, sat in the shadows. He has not changed out of his bloody rusty mail shirt, and the stench of blood from himself and from his fellow gladiator, who was now at peace with the gods, rose from his body like acrid perfume. (more…)