“She can’t be serious?” asked Brisia as she stepped out of the river. Polydora handed her a towel and replied “She is serious, you can ask her yourself. She wants to fight five matches in a row come next game day.”
“What did Margo say?” asked Harmothoe brushing her hair. Polydora shrugged her shoulders. “She shook her head and said she would see what she could do.”
The eight, as they were now called, were enjoying a swim and a bath after a hard morning of training. They were all from Asteria from different walks of life. There was Antiope, Brisia the potter also “shield flinger”, stern Glauce with gray eyes, Artemis, Harmothoe, tall Polydora, Hippothoe, and cheerful Calliope. They had much in common, including the brand on their left hip marking them as slaves.
“It’s madness, if you ask me.” said Artemis. “What bothers me most is that if Hippothoe manages to carry it off, they will want us all to fight five matches in a row.”
“We’re all going to have to fight multiple matches eventually.” said Harmothoe.
“Yes, but are we ready to do it now?” asked Brisia.
The gate opened. Hippothoe stepped into the arena. The crowd gasped. She looked like a goddess of war. A bright bronze helmet reflected the glory of the sun and she carried the most sacred of all Amazon weapons, the double headed battle ax.
The opposite gate opened and a timid young man entered the arena carrying a spear and wearing ill-fitting leather armor. The crowd erupted in laughter and cat calls.
“That’s her opponent?” asked Brisia.
“Yeah, looks like they are starting her out with an easy one and the matches will get harder as the afternoon progresses.” replied Helga.
“He’s little more than a boy, can he fight?” inquired Brisia.
“Heavens, no.” said Ingrid. “The fool mouthed off that where he came from men were better than women.”
“A lot of men believe that.” said Helga. “How did that get him into the arena?”
“The idiot said it within earshot of his mistress and some of her friends. So the noble ladies decided to let him prove what he said.”
The young man crouched and advanced toward Hippothoe. She stood and watched his cautious move. As the young man, “boy idiot” as Ingrid labeled him, reached the center of the arena, Hippothoe began a deliberate fast pace straight up to the young man and attacked. She couldn’t find an opening, so she backed up.
Then she screamed and rushed the young man. He was so surprised that she was past the reach of his spear before he could thrust with it. The ax bit into his right arm. He gasped with pain and backed away from the amazon. Hippothoe continued her determined fast pace and with a grunt she bashed him with her shield and knocked him to the ground.
He groaned and fought to gain his breath. She had broken ribs. He struggled to stand. Hippothoe gave another loud grunt as she swung hard and the ax bit deep into the young man’s left leg. He crumpled to the ground again bleeding profusely from the wound. With a back stroke while he was on the ground Hippothoe sliced into his left arm.
“Is she toying with him?” asked Helga.
“No,” replied Brisia, “she gets into a frenzy and swings wildly until she settles down.”
The young man stood up and gave an unsteady thrust at Hippothoe. She smashed her shield into his face and knocked him down again. He attempted to stand, but with another grunt and large swing of the ax, she severed his right arm and a good bit of the shoulder from his body. He cried in anguish. Again his body fell to the ground in a large pool of his own blood. His life quickly ebbed away.
The women squealed as Calliope waded up to the water’s edge and began splashing them with water. “Let’s get her!” cried Artemis. Laughing, Calliope turned and dove for the center of the river as Artemis and Brisia charged in after her.
When they caught up to Calliope, Artemis and Brisia dunked her under the water. Calliope resurfaced sputtering and giggling.
“All right, ladies!” shouted Margo. “It is time to get out of the water and return to the arena. The roster for tomorrow’s games will be posted by the time we get back.”
There were a few groans at the announcement, but everyone made for shore. “Are you always happy?” Brisia asked Calliope.
“Sure, why not?” Calliope responded.
“We are no longer free women and we will never see home again.”
“Free women, what does that mean? Did you ever own any slaves? You were a potter, did you run your business alone?”
“No, I didn’t own any slaves. I had two apprentices. Two girls that wanted to become potters themselves.”
“Well, I was a weaver. Weaving entails work that is often tedious, and the demand for cloth and garments was always high. I had an apprentice like you, but I also owned three slaves. One was a captive from battle like us, but the other two became slaves because of their debts. They were like any other worker. Look about you, Brisia, half of the people you see are slaves of one kind or another.”
“Now I’ll admit that becoming a slave was humiliating and painful. I didn’t think being branded would hurt as much as it did. But, since we’ve been slaves, we really haven’t been abused or mistreated. It just so happens that I’m now living my life like the other half of the people in the world. And that’s really not something to be overly sad about.”
“But we were free. We could choose how to live.” said Brisia.
Artemis, who had been listening snarled, “Free choice? What choice did we have when the polis demanded we take up arms to fight over some field hundreds of miles from home? I’ll tell you what choices you had, you could go to prison, pay some poor idiot to go in your place, or take your place in the ranks. The weaver is here fighting to stay alive while her slaves are safe and warm in Asteria. You saw what happened, the wealthy were able to be ransomed after the battle, while common free women were sold into slavery.”
The women lined up in columns as they were chained together for their walk back to the city.
Hippothoe returned to the starting position in front of her gate as the young man’s body was removed. She didn’t have a scratch on her and she still felt fresh. The opposite gate opened and a black woman stepped into the arena.
“A Nubian!” exclaimed Polydora.
“Yes, that’s Luthwei. She’s new.” said Helga.
Luthwei carried a short thrusting spear with a large sharp spearhead. On her left arm she carried a large round shield. Her hair was braided and she wore only a loincloth. She was a tall lithe woman and she looked very determined.
As the match began Luthwei quickly moved to the center of the arena. Hippothoe approached with a quick walk. Before she could crouch in preparation, Luthwei had already moved into Hippothoe’s unshielded side. Though caught off guard, Hippothoe lashed out in frenzy and her ax bit into Luthwei’s left arm on the inside of the shield. Luthwei quickly danced out of the amazon’s way.
“Oh, she’s quick.” said Brisia.
“Yeah, but why’d she let Hippothoe on the inside of her shield?” asked Ingrid.
Hippothoe followed after the nubian. Luthwei looked like she was going to dance away again when she abruptly changed direction and charged Hippothoe head on. Hippothoe’s ax hit Luthwei’s shield with a loud thud. But in her frenzied attack, Hippothoe left just enough of an opening for the tip of Luthwei’s spear to slide under her helmet and leave a gash from her cheek to her ear. This caused Hippothoe to leap back in pain. Luthwei followed up and no matter how she danced around the stunned Hippothoe, she couldn’t find an opening.
Luthwei backed up for another charge at Hippothoe. However, Hippothoe rushed her with a fury of blows. The ax found Luthwei’s right arm. Luthwei screamed in pain and ran back against the wall.
Both women paused to catch their breath. Luthwei rushed back into the arena. Her approach was like a dance and she whirled to get onto Hippothoe’s unshielded side. But her momentum had carried her too far and it was her unshielded side that was exposed to Hippothoe. She was lucky in that by the time Hippothoe realized that there was an opening she was able to turn her body back.
“She moves like a dancer. But she doesn’t fight well.” said Ingrid.
“Maybe that’s the problem. She is a dancer that somebody thought would make a good gladiatrix.” said Helga.
Angry at the missed opening, Hippothoe bashed Luthwei with her shield and knocked the nubian to the ground. Hippothoe then swung her ax and caught Luthwei again on the right arm. Luthwei just managed to get up when Hippothoe struck her in the abdomen and knocked her down again.
Hippothoe backed off to catch her breath. Luthwei crawled away a few feet and then struggled to stand up. She went to the wall. Her right arm was useless, so Luthwei cast away her shield and gripped her spear with her left hand. She screamed a war cry and charged Hippothoe.
Again her approach was like a ballet. She leapt high in the air and found Hippothoe’s unshielded side. She had the advantage. The skill of her dance was not equal to the frenzied fury of the amazon. Hippothoe counterattacked. The arc of the ax cut deep into Luthwei’s abdomen and sliced her open from side to side. Luthwei’s dance was over. She fell hard to the ground and the last breath rushed out of her lungs.
The crowd was ecstatic. It had been a long time since they had seen a gladiatrix win two matches in a roll. They eagerly awaited the third match.
To Be Continued.