“They have you matched against Antigone today. She has two long swords, do you remember how she uses them from training?” asked Margo.
“I’ve never seen her train.” replied Brisia.
“Exactly.” said Margo. “You’ve never seen her exercise or practice. She may not be any better with a blade than you, or she may be very skilled, so be careful.”
“After an attack, Antigone likes to back off and twirl her swords.” added Hel.
“Yeah, she really likes to show off to the crowd, a real ham.” said Ingrid. “She’s won four matches since she’s been here.”
“Good.” said Margo. “It will be a good match. You’re aggressive and fast, which why I chose to train you in the manner of the hill barbarians. Stay close to her, don’t let her back away. Remember to use your shield, “the small moon”, as a weapon as well as for protection.”
“Yes, ma’am. If you had trained both of us, would you be telling me this?” asked Brisia.
Lady Medea smiled as Bremusa, the arena mistress, and the dwarves, Helga and Ingrid, approached the council. “And what business does the Mistress of the Arena have before the council?” she asked.
“I’ve come to request training be given to the city’s gladiators.”
“Training?” asked Lady Hippolyte, another of the council elders. As with most Amazon settlements, ruling was done in sets of three. The council of elders for Agaithia consisted of Lady Hippolyte, Lady Jocasta, and Lady Medea as the headwoman. “Do they need training to be able to kill one another?”
“Yes, my lady. They need training to be able to do their killing in a correct manner.” said Bremusa.
“Correct manner?” quizzed Lady Jocasta. “I wasn’t aware there was a right and wrong way to kill someone. I thought killing was killing.”
“Ladies, please.” said Medea. “Bremusa, could you please elaborate on what you are trying to say?”
“Yes, ma’am. It’s the gladiators. After we have them do the maintenance on the arena and arena grounds, they do nothing. None of them work out or practice. And when the day of the games comes, many of them do not know how to properly use the weapons.”
“Why is that a problem?” snorted Lady Jocasta. “They are all condemned to die in the arena. Just let them hack at each other until it’s done. What’s the point?”
“Spectacle, my lady.” replied Bremusa. “Provide a contest that all of Agaithia would pay good money to see.”
The gates to the arena floor opened. The crowd roared with anticipation as Brisia watched a lithe Antigone step into the arena and began twirling her swords.
“You can beat her! Go do your best!” shouted Hel as she slapped Brisia on the backside and gave her a gentle push.
The dwarves watched as the gate closed behind Brisia and a guard stepped behind her. “Did you pat her on the butt?” asked Ingrid.
“Yes, for some reason it seemed the thing to do.” replied Hel. “I hope she does well.”
While the crowd focused on Antigone’s twirling exhibition, Brisia trotted to the center of the arena to take her place beside the Mistress of the Arena. The last time Brisia had stood here she was dirty, beaten, and naked except for a loin cloth that Helga had quickly wrapped around her waist. Now she was clean, perfumed, and her long hair brushed. She wore a single braid beside her right ear. Her loincloth was white as was her shield. The small shield had two pink roses on green stems with a white background. Her sword was a small curved broadsword called a “sica”. Since the shield was small, she wore oversized greaves and a thick leather belt above the loincloth for armor.
Antigone was a tall slender woman with dark brown hair. She wore no armor to speak of. She wore a small top of chain mail and a small amount of mail about her hips. Brisia couldn’t help but notice the two long swords. Swords that were nearly twice as long as her sword.
“Ladies and citizens!” shouted the arena mistress. “In this contest we have a sword maiden such as those dedicated to the art of war confronted by a tribeswoman from the hills of the Slumbering Dragon Mountains. Wager the outcome, skill of the sword versus the ferocity of the barbarian!”
As the spectators placed their bets, Brisia and Antigone took their starting places. “Fight hard and die well. Begin!” shouted the arena mistress.
“Money? Now you’ve got my attention.” cackled Lady Hippolyte.
“What makes you think training will work on the gladiators?” asked Lady Medea.
“It is something that the dwarf, Helga, discovered.” said Bremusa pointing to the dwarf. Helga blushed and looked at the floor. “She discovered that the Asterians were tradeswomen before being called to serve in the Asterian army. These women learned a trade and can learn a new trade, the trade of a gladiatrix. Better gladiators mean better matches attended by more people and generates more income for the polis.”
“Your proposal is appealing, but where will we find someone to train them?” asked Lady Jocasta sipping from a goblet of water.
“Ol’ One Eye can do it!” blurted Helga. Lady Jocasta sprayed water and others in the chamber gasped at the dwarf’s outburst.
“Order, order, please! There’ll be no more outbursts.” said Lady Medea. “Ol’ One Eye? Do you mean Margo?”
“I remember when that elf plucked Margo’s eye.” cackled Hippolyte. “She had so much blood in her face she couldn’t use the blade, so she caught that elf and smothered her in the dirt!”
“Oh, and when that high born Lady Polemusa brought her three Northmen to the arena and Margo took the head of each one of them in succession.” said Lady Jocasta. “Now there was a gladiatrix!”
“Yes, but Margo retired from the arena years ago.” said Medea. “Why would she come back?”
“Well,” began Bremusa, “It is known that she has no income and that she has large debts. If she doesn’t do something soon, her creditors will force her into slavery to pay the debts.”
“We can’t let that happen. I vote that we hire Margo to train gladiators.” said Hippolyte.
“And I second that.” added Jocasta.
“Then it is unanimous. The council wills that Margo be the new trainer of gladiators in exchange for the payment of her debts.” said Lady Medea. “The Mistress of the Arena will make the arrangements.”
Brisia rushed toward Antigone and was surprised as Antigone also rushed toward her. Antigone attacked raising both swords above her head and back to swing in great arcs. Brisia decided to counter the attack by rushing in as close as possible. Brisia screamed a war cry. With her shield she blocked the swing of one sword and as the two women collided, Brisia used her shoulder to push the other sword arm away.
Antigone shifted her weight and took a half step back to raise the swords for another swing. Brisia followed Antigone’s half step with her curved sword and found an opening. The sword bit into the left side of Antigone’s abdomen slashing into the diaphragm and scraping ribs.
Antigone screamed with pain and stepped back. Before Brisia could close, Antigone surprised her with an attack. Brisia was just able to parry the blows before she could get in close to Antigone. She had to stay in close to negate the reach and the momentum of the swinging swords. Both women grunted as their deadly dance moved about the arena. Brisia was able to parry and block Antigone’s blows. Antigone was able to step away from Brisia’s sword. But Antigone was tiring and losing strength.
Antigone stepped back in an attempt to catch her breath. Brisia charged. By instinct more than anything else, Antigone twirled her swords up above her head for another great swing. This time, her showmanship cost her dearly as Brisia’s shield pushed her shoulders back and Brisia’s blade slashed deep across her entire abdomen.
Antigone gasped, her eyes grew large in horror. Brisia looked into those eyes and knew that it was over. She stepped back and Antigone crumpled to the ground. Antigone shuddered with one last breath and she was gone.
The crowd was dismayed. Their favorite had been defeated. Brisia looked up at them and raised her blood soaked sword in salute. The crowd cheered. They had a new favorite.
The gladiators had assembled in the arena after breakfast. A one-eyed woman with graying hair addressed them.
“I am Margo, veteran of over one hundred matches in the arena. My retirement has been interrupted because you girls do not know how to fight. My training is optional to all but eight of you. That means that you can choose to be trained or not, unless you are one of the eight Asterians. If you are one of the eight, my training is mandatory.
Bottom line, girls. Training will help you fight better and live longer. We will start with some endurance training. We’re going to have a nice run to the river for a nice swim and a bath. From now on, whenever you step into my arena you will be clean. Slaves and pigs die in the dirt. A gladiatrix dies in the hearts of the people.”