AN: There are several terms that may not be recognizable in this piece. There is a glossary at the end of this chapter if you get confused.

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Like satin, the coat of the mare slipped under my fingertips. I ran my hand over her neck and down one of her powerful legs. She was tense. I felt the breath catch in my throat as the dusty light from the gate brightened. Quickly, I mounted the chariot and clasped the reins.

Edie and I were both to perform together. Dacian was a greedy tyrant of a lanista. He had jumped at the chance for nearly six of his girls to fight in the games held in honor of the god Bacchus. The thought of his gladiatrix charioteers struggling to death before the Caesar Commodus was delicious in his vile mouth.

The Gates opened completely revealing the blood stained sand and shadowy figures of the Thracian fighters with their wild helmets and jaded swords. The crowds cried as our horses trotted out into the arena. The men stood at the center with their knuckles white and faces glistening. We rode a lap around the perimeter of the sand, our bare bellies soaked in the humid air, the vivid color of our tresses shining golden red in the sun from under our helmets.

We stopped before the grand canopy high above the carnage where the emperor sat with his guests.

"From the frozen lands of the north, Britannia's fierce Amazon charioteers stand before you, your highness, to fight the malicious Thracian warriors, Achilles and Hercules," Announced the gaily dressed Paegniarius, the grotesque clown of the games.

Releasing our blades from their sheaths, we held the metal to the sky.

"Ave Caesar, morituri te salutant!" My sister and I cried to the conqueror of our home and the slaughterer of our people.

Irony is a disgusting thing.

****

The rebellion had not been successful. My father had been crucified for his disobedience against the empire and his daughters were sold into slavery.

My sisters and I were warriors; as great as the Queen Boudicea who had murdered hundreds of those rawhide soldiers of the emperor. We decorated our bodies in woad with blue designs on our white bellies and pale arms. We tied our hair back in reeds and leather straps. Then we thundered down the hills toward the settlement of Londonium in our chariots. Our war cries and angry hollers struck fear in the hearts of the soldiers, but not enough fear.

Our mutinous band had been defeated. Our men and women were killed or put in bondage. The young and beautiful of our army had been used to slake the lust of lonely Romans. Our bodies were vended and bought.

My sister Cashlin was intelligent and quick witted. For her knowledge and beauty, she managed to be sold as a Courtesan to a wealthy landowner. If she was good and did as she was told, he could eventually marry her.

My sister Edie and I were not so fortunate. Our blood ran hot and hands itched for reins to grasp and Roman flesh to slice. We were brought back to their demon capitol to be either sold to some fat patrician, or to be entertainment at the games during mealtime when defenseless prisoners of war were slaughtered for the vicious multitudes.

The Romans were an ingenious people when it came to death.

Edie and I had been sent with the rest of the unwanted to Rome. We were stripped of our pride and clothing when we went on market. Our bodies were raked over by the public like chattel.

Though we were not stunningly beautiful, our red hair stood out among the brown and dark tresses of the rest of the slaves. Also our heritage and skill as warriors was paraded for the costumers. Though the Romans loved blood, they loved money even more. They would not kill us if they could make a profit first.

Dacian bought us that day. The rest of the unfortunate who were not sold were killed in some arena; unarmed and naked.

There are many strange things to thank the gods for everyday.

****

I could not see the faces of our opponents. I thanked the gods for such a blessing. It was easier to kill if you had no attachment to your victim.

My horse was young and spry with an angry snout. She seemed to ache for gore almost as much as the crowd did.

Edie made the first cut as she spun the chariot into the large figure of the man, sending him on his back. However, Dacian would have our necks if we ended lives too quickly. This was show business, you had to make things last. Though she could have easily cut the downed man's throat, she merely slashed her sword along his taut abdomen. Her horse reared up and took off once again, rounding the arena to the cries of the crowd.

Unlike other gladiatrices, the charioteers of the north were part of the main attraction, not merely a side show. Our ease and elegance in the way we fought was seductive to the hoards of plebeians and patricians. Dacian told us multiple times how lucky we were to be fighting in such an honorable arena, as though killing for entertainment was a coveted profession.

Dacian was an old bastard who had seen too many a circus. His graying hair and scarred body were testaments to what we had to look forward to, if we lived to see the morning. However, we were lucky to have him for our lanista. I had heard many tales of owners of gladiator troupes who beat their property to prepare them for the arena. Some would even rape their gladiatrixes if given the chance. Dacian was too old and tired for that.

I was even more thankful that he did not beat us regularly for mistakes in the arena as I accidentally brought down one of the men too soon. In my attempt to simply maim his right arm that held his sword, my horse had trampled his large figure and dragged the chariot over his body. I grimaced as I bumped over him and hit the sand. One of the wheels was broken. I would be fighting on foot for the rest of the match.

I hit the ground with firm feet, gripping my sword as I made my way over to the struggling body of the man. I could see Edie keeping the other occupied out of the corner of my eye. I would have no trouble from him.

I switched the sword to my left hand. This earned a sigh of interest from the crowd at the sight of an ambidextrous gladiatrix.

I stood over the man, my teeth clenched when I realized that his helmet had been torn loose. His stared up at me with a rigid face, ready for my blow. In my mind, I cried out to the goddess. Why Isis had put me in the situation, I did not know.

Even though killing was my survival, that did not mean I was jaded by it. I felt every blow I had ever given. I felt every pang of grief for these unknown men that their wives, lovers and children did.

I steeled myself and waited for the decision from the crowd.

The death of a gladiator was a serious matter. Though our lives were cheap, our deaths were not. The editor of the games had to reimburse the owners of the men for every fighter lost. It was an expensive profession.

The crowd cried death, stabbing their thumbs to the ground. The final decision came from the Caesar, who seemed deep in thought. He watched us quietly, his face far away, intent on me and my opponent. Slowly his hand rose up, and then back down, his thumb to the ground.

"Death." He said, in a loud yet calm tone.

I took a deep breath.

"You fought honorably," I whispered, "May the gods take you home."

The man's face lightened at my words and seemed to be at ease, "May your gods bless you, woman."

My sword fell mercifully.

****

"Fortunately for you, his highness was pleased." Dacian spoke, entering the tent where Edie, a few other warriors and I sat, "Though I don't see why. If I was in your place, I would be thankful that I was not dead."

He said the same thing after every fight. I could almost predict the way he shook his thumb at us like a sword, and shifted his weight onto his cane.

"You'll have to have supper tonight, I suppose. But don't expect anything else in return." With that, the tent flap whispered with his leaving.

Edie continued to braid my hair behind me. It seemed as though I was never clean, no matter how much I scrubbed at my hands and face. I still felt the stain of blood and stench of death soaking my body.

The Greek woman, Chloris, prayed quietly in the corner. You could always tell when she was communing with her goddess. She went into some sort of trance, her small hands shivering with the might of the unknown. She was a firm follower of Artemis, and though she worshipped Isis like the rest of us, her first obligation was to the Goddess of the moon.

It had become a comfort to pray to Isis with the rest of the women. No matter from what culture you came there was always a deity like her, giving common ground to all of us. Even the dark woman Delu, from the ruined land of Cyrene was able to worship along side her sisters in arms. Where language and culture would not unite, faith did.

I felt my stomach lurch as food was brought in. I could never eat after a killing. I patted Edie on the shoulder and kissed her on the forehead.

"You eat, sister." I spoke, standing and brushing off my toga.

Though I fought in a man's arena, I refused to dress like one. I was born a woman and outside the sands, I would act like one. I wore the clothing of a roman maiden and plaited my hair as such.

The night air was cool with dew. We camped outside the city, so the stench of our bloodied hands would not offend the good citizens of Rome. We were the outcasts and gods of a civilization; the walking contradictions.

The stars were bright that evening though the moon was nowhere to be seen. A ghostly shadow hung in the east where it should have been; a phantom orb. I shivered and wished I had brought my cloak. I played with my dagger at my waist, feeling more confident with it at my side. I sat beside a well not far from our encampment. The soft chanting of conversation, prayer, and sex in the surrounding colonies of tents was comforting. The sky was reflected in the black water. I could see my face faintly, the muted lines of my mother's jaw, my father's lips and my eyes. In the daylight you would be able to see their strange coloring; the right blue and the left hazel. Mother used to say it was a blessing upon me, that I would be protected all of my days. I prayed her prophecy was true.

Then, there was sudden slow climb of chills at my neck. I was not alone. I turned slowly, feeling another's presence. In the bright gloom, I could see the figure. Hooded and cloaked, I could tell the broad form of a man underneath the cloth. My hand went to my dagger and drew it out slowly.

"You may put your weapon away, woman. I mean you no harm." Spoke a voice from the hood.

I knew the voice. I could not remember from where, but I recognized it.

"Who are you?" I asked, as he drew near.

"Are you the woman who fought today against the Thracian? The Amazon?"

I warily nodded, "That I am. What is it you want from me?"

"You fought well."

"Thank you," I replied, confused and wondering where this conversation would lead.

"You probably must be wondering what I am doing here." The figure approached.

The hood went back and even in the faint light, I could make out the features of the man who was my emperor. If I was Roman I would have fallen down in worship. If I was 16 years old again, watching my father die, I would have killed him. Yet I was neither, so I stared at the face I had only seen before on coins and in the canopy high above the blood; Emperor Lucius Aelius Aurelius Commodus.

"I am." I replied simply.

I knew the Emperor Commodus to be a selfish, egotistical brat who thought himself a gladiator. Though he had managed to make peace with German and Sarmatian tribes, he felt that he was beyond humanity. He wanted to be worshipped and compared to Hercules Romanus.

Now that I was looking at him directly in the eye, I could see that he was no more than an ordinary man. I wondered if he knew this. His dark eyes flashed with something I could not name as he stood next to me. He was probably insulted by the fact that I had not stood in his presence. It was good for him to be disrespected.

"I have been intrigued by the war fare of the Britannian charioteer for quite sometime," He said, putting his foot up beside me on the well, resting his arms on his thigh, "The sheer beauty of it is intoxicating."

I wished he would stop trying to flatter me and shifted impatiently where I sat. He seemed to notice this as I stood and crossed my arms over my chest.

"I have seen many matches of the kind and wish to compete in the arena someday with my own chariot," He continued, as I rounded the well. He sounded like a naïve youth; wanting the glory of the circus but oblivious to the horror of it, "When I saw you fight today, I was impressed. Not only by your prowess but by the way you completed your duty."

"My duty?" I asked, across from him, "Your highness, I do this job for survival not for esteem or fame. There is nothing dutiful about killing another for no reason."

"You obeyed your Emperor and that is a duty." He said, sitting up, "I have come here to ask for your guidance in your craft. I want to learn the ways of the charioteer."

This was too much.

"Your highness, if I may be bold to say so, you are a foolish man. Why would you go willingly into the arena?" I questioned, feeling the fire in my voice.

He snorted a mirthless laugh, "Just like a woman. My reasons are no concern of yours. However, do not think you will not be paid in full for your services. You will be compensated. Perhaps even given your freedom."

This caught my attention. Even though I had only spoken with this man for a few moments, I already despised him. Yet I would do anything to be free of the circus. My silence seemed to give the Emperor confidence that he was winning me over.

"You would be given quarters at the palace. You would not have to compete for the time you would be teaching me. And afterwards, you could go free." He said, tossing a stone into the glassy surface of the well.

I would do anything to be free of this lifestyle. Yet my thoughts went back to my sister. What would happen to Edie if I was to leave? How would she be free?

"When do you need an answer?" I asked, walking around to him.

His muddy curls wafted with the breeze as an easy smirk spread from his lips.

"By tomorrow. I will send a messenger."

I nodded, "Then by dawn you shall have my reply."

I started to leave.

"Wait just a moment." He said through the darkness.

I looked back and threw my braid over my shoulder.

"What was it you said to the gladiator before you killed him?"

"I commended him for his valor and wished a warm welcome from the gods for him." I answered, standing tall.

His eyebrows arched in surprise at my response, "What is your name, gladiatrix?"

"Wren, your highness." I continued my way back to the tent, leaving the spoiled tyrant in the night.

I would speak to Edie of this later. Right now, I needed to find the temple. Incense and prayer always cleared my head. I needed guidance.

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Glossary of Terms:

Lanista - The owners of a gladiatorial troupe, often former gladiators themselves

Thracian - A type of Gladiator who had a smaller shield, extensive leg armor, a wild helmet and a sickle like sword

Paegniarius - The clown of the arena who entertained the crowd between fights. They often wore armor mimicking gladiators with humorous or erotic designs on them. They were the comedic relief of the arena.

Britannia - A province of Rome, now modern day Great Britain.

"Ave Caesar, morituri te salutant" - "Hail Caesar, we who are about to die salute you". The traditional salute of the gladiators before combat.

Queen Boudicea - The leader of the fierce celtic tribe of the Iceni who led a Spartacus like revolt against Rome in A.D 60 and nearly won Britannia back from Rome. Her name is also spelled Boudica.

Cyrene - A province of Rome in North Africa, now in east Libya.

Isis - The Egyptian goddess of nature whose worship spread over the Roman Empire after the Hellenistic period.