The sun was setting when the women returned to the arena. Brisia had kitchen duty so she went to the kitchen to help prepare the evening meal. The cooks were also slaves. This made Brisia think about what Calliope had said. She realized that out of the seventy people who worked or lived at the arena, fifty-two of them were slaves. She would have to rethink what it meant to be free.
When the meal was ready, Brisia took her place in the serving line and noticed that she standing next to Hippothoe. “Do you really want to fight five matches in a row?” she asked.
“It’s not that I want to, but I have to.” replied Hippothoe as the others began filing through the serving line.
“Why do you have to?”
“Margo won over a hundred matches and they let her go free. I have a daughter at home. I want to go home.”
“So you figure that if you win a lot of matches, they will let you go?”
“Yes, and the sooner I win those matches, the sooner I get to go home.”
Hippothoe returned to her starting position in front of her gate. She gingerly felt the gash on her cheek and the side of her face. The blood flow had been staunched and was beginning to clot. She felt a little light headed and a bit nauseous.
The opposite gate opened and an armored hoplite stepped into the arena. She did not carry the usual nine foot spear, but only a sword. Her shield was the color of poppies with a large black skull under a black crescent moon.
“The dark temple!” exclaimed Brisia. “The cult of darkness is here?”
“Yes,” said Helga. “It is the one thing from Latona that has infested Nica.” The island continent of Valkae was divided into three competing amazon leagues. Nica was an oligarchy, Asteria was a democracy, and Latona was an absolute monarchy.
“Who is she? She’s not a gladiatrix.” asked Brisia.
“Her name is Zoe. She’s an officer at the garrison who is quite proud of her swordsmanship. She thinks her skill with a blade is better than that of any gladiator.”
The match began. Zoe quickly moved to the center of the arena. “Come on, bitch, time to learn how a blade is properly used.” shouted Zoe, taunting Hippothoe.
Hippothoe moved with the same quick determined pace she had used in the previous matches. Zoe shifted her footing to receive any possible head on rush. Hippothoe feinted a head on attack and to Zoe’s surprise, Hippothoe was on her unshielded side. The deadly ax was already swinging its deadly arc. Zoe tried to duck and parry the swing, but too late. The ax sank deep into Zoe’s sword arm exposing bone.
Zoe screamed in pain and moved back out of Hippothoe’s reach. Hippothoe followed with that same determined pace and attacked. Zoe crouched behind her shield and blocked the fury of blows from the gladiatrix. Not finding an opening, Hippothoe stepped back.
With her right arm now useless and unable to even grip her sword, Zoe dropped her shield and shifted her sword to her left hand. The shield would eventually be useless for there is no mercy in Agaithia’s arena. She had to fight on as best as she could.
Hippothoe charged again and again gained the right side. Hippothoe swung to sever the arm, but Zoe was just able to parry the blow. The blood was flowing, but Zoe didn’t dare drop her sword to try and stop the bleeding. Hippothoe again attacked her right side. Her swing missed the right arm, but cut into Zoe’s abdomen. Zoe screamed again and moved toward the wall of the arena.
Again Hippothoe charged and again gained the right side. Zoe blocked a swing aimed for the bleeding arm. On the back swing, Hippothoe sliced through Zoe’s armor and into her chest.
Zoe turned toward the grand stand where the head women were seated. She ran a few paces toward them with arms raised as if to plead forgiveness. Then she crumpled to the gound.
“That didn’t take long. I thought as good as Zoe was with a sword that this would be a long match.” said Helga.
“Hippothoe’s first swing that nearly took off that sword arm ended the match. Zoe was a dead woman from that point on.” said Ingrid.
It was an effect that Margo’s training and presence was having on all of the women. Before Margo, the women fought to survive. Now, they fought to win. And some like Hippothoe equated winning with freedom. They believed there was a point where if you had killed enough and sated the bloodlust of the head women, you would be granted freedom. No one had said that that was the case, but many of the women were beginning to believe it.
“How old is your daughter?” Brisia asked.
“She’s only three. I’m afraid that if I don’t return soon, she’ll forget who I am. Do you have any daughters, Brisia?”
Brisia blushed. “No, I tried to conceive once. It was in the year when I had slain my first enemy in combat giving me the right to bear a child. On the night of the harvest festival when the sun enters the scales of life, I got especially drunk and took a man. He seemed happy to do his part with as many of us as possible, even though he knew he would have his throat slit at sunrise.”
“So what happened? Did you conceive?” asked Hippothoe.
“I don’t think so. I changed my mind when I sobered up the next day. I drank mother’s milk with bitter root for a week until my flow returned. Do you really think they will let you go?”
“I’m sure they will. Anyone who wins enough will get what they desire most. I’m going to win and I’m going home.”
Hippothoe had watched Zoe’s body collapse in silence. She quietly returned to her position in front of the gate. She knew that it wouldn’t help her cause any if an Asterian gloated over the defeat of a Niccan officer.
The opposite gate opened and the crowd cheered as Tethys entered the arena. She twirled her long sword and held up her buckler in triumph. She wore no armor. She was counting on her speed and skill to defeat Hippothoe, who had to be tired after three matches.
“Tethys!” exclaimed Ingrid. “She doesn’t like you Asterians, especially you, Brisia.”
“I know. She started training with us after I defeated Antigone. She and Antigone were close. Every time we are paired in practice she tells me that she wants to see me dead.”
After Brisia’s match with Antigone, the number of gladiators training under Margo rose. Out of the forty gladiators kept in the arena, eighteen now trained on a regular basis.
Tethys hesitated as she watched Hippothoe begin that quick determined pace to the center of the arena. She hated the eight, but she also feared them. A fear that was like an iron ball in her stomach. She pushed the fear down and moved into the center of the arena. She was still cautiously approaching when Hippothoe rushed her head on. Tethys managed to move out of the way and as Hippothoe rushed past her, she saw an opening.
Hippothoe grimaced with pain. Tethys’ sword sliced into her left arm. Hippothoe swore an oath and quickly turned. She screamed a war cry and a frenzied Hippothoe charged again head on into Tethys. Tethys couldn’t dodge this time and the cruel ax bit deep into her sword arm. Tethys screamed, blood sprayed, and she lost all feeling in the arm. She quickly backed away from Hippothoe.
Catching her breath, she cast away the buckler and switched the sword to her left hand. Her right arm was useless and she was losing blood. Hippothoe watched with an evil grin on her face. The grin angered Tethys and she moved back into the center of the arena. Again, Hippothoe attacked head on in a frenzy. Tethys couldn’t block the ax. Hippothoe struck her chest cutting ribs from the sternum.
Tethys fell to the ground. Her vision was going black. She felt her body shudder. She sat up. Hippothoe struck her again in the chest. It was over, there was no more blood for her heart to pump. Tethys slumped and her body rolled to the ground.
The crowd stood to their feet and cheered as Hippothoe walked back to her gate. She had survived four matches with only two wounds. The sun was setting. One more match and her day would be done.
After dinner, the women gathered around the board where the roster of the next day’s matches had been posted. Those who could read, read the list for those who could not.
“Hey, Hippothoe!” shouted Polydora. “You got your wish. You are fighting five in a row late tomorrow afternoon.”
There were gasps and everyone began talking at once expressing their thoughts and opinions on fighting multiple matches and what it meant for them.
“Who is she fighting?” asked Glauce.
“It doesn’t say.” said Polydora.
“That’s so the head women can change the line up.” said Ingrid.
“Yes, they want the option of putting in stronger gladiators if they are bored with the performance of the one fighting the multiple matches.” added Helga.
“So who do you think they will they choose?” asked Calliope.
“It doesn’t matter.” said Hippothoe. “I’m going to win.”
The head women were conferring about who Hippothoe’s final opponent would be. Slaves lit torches in the arena in case the match went on into the evening.
After what seemed like an eternity, the head women sent a herald to the Arena Mistress. She listened intently and then faced the gate and called out.
To Be Continued.