The war had ended many years before Anezka was born but still there was unrest within her country. Albion had been a prosperous and happy land. Its people cared for by a King and Queen, its soil fertile and its oceans clear. Unlike its neighbours, Albion had been lucky. One by one, all the surrounding nations had been pulled into the Thousand Year War. They had a common enemy: Jitendra and its rapidly growing empire. But a wolf will never stay satisfied for long and Albion was soon fighting for its freedom. It was all over for them in only a month. The graceful white palaces, the busy market street and the open fertile fields were soon filled with Jitendrans and the Albionese were forced to become second-class citizens in their own land. They were not even deemed worthy to associate with Jitendrans. They were an inferior breed of human, forced to live in shanty towns. Its monarchs were forced into exile.
Anezka was one of the lucky few. She still went to school, still had as much of a childhood as she could have in such a desolate place. Her parents worked hard to keep the ugly world hidden from their perfect child.
The days passed quickly and soon Anezka was in high school. It passed as normally as it could have. The school was occasionally raided by the Jitendran imperial guard as it was illegal for any Albionese person to receive an education but the children hid in a cellar under the school. She was surrounded by those who cared about her. Her parents and her three best friends: Radek, Rayna and Vàclav. Then high school was gone and it was on to work. The four friends went their separate ways. Anezka took a job as a maid in the palace and life seemed as if it was at peace, until defeat started to not sit so well with the Albionese. Riots, strikes and murders began breaking out. High ranking Jitendrans went missing in the dead of night. It could not go on like this; civil war would break out. Finally, one day, it was announced. The King of Jitendra himself came to visit. He stood in front of a crowd of over a million people and said these words:
"We have claimed these lands as rightfully ours. There is not a man, woman or child native to this country who can defeat us!" and as soon as the last echo had died away a wave of guards erupted from the palace gates, gathering any Albionese person they could find and dragging them to a convoy of military jeeps that had gathered to take them away to a place that was hidden from prying eyes.
Anezka woke on the cold concrete floor of her cell thinking of the deal the Jitendrans' King had made them. If just one Albionese person could defeat a Jitendran in hand to hand combat, the entire country would be free to go and life could go back to the way it was before the war. Of course, you only had one chance to beat the gladiator because, after all, the fight was to the death.
What chance did a single, shackled, starving Albionese have against a Jitendran who had been training their whole life? Her one chance would have to wait for at least six months more, until her child was born.
Jitendran guards did not only take her land, they had taken something much more precious than that; her self-respect had also been rather forcefully taken. She shook her head and stood up trying to shake the memory from her mind, but the bulge that was just beginning to grow on her stomach was a constant reminder of the past. No one knew why they wouldn't make pregnant women fight. They seemed to have no problem with a five-year-old child.
Anezka opened the unlocked door to her cell and walked out into the corridor. If she couldn't fight she would at least watch. She was determined to be strong for her country. No doubt she would cry while she watched but she was determined to at least be there to let whatever poor, unfortunate soul who was fighting for their life know that there was at least one person who believed they could do it.
The arena was just a large glass box. A man the size of a buffalo stood in one corner, his hulking shoulders rising and falling with every breath. His shoulders engulfed the entirety of his neck and his squinted eyes glared at the people who had come to watch. Anezka heard a noise nearby and turned her head in time to see a man as thin and frail as a toothpick be dragged sobbing from a room and thrown, head first, into the glass room, his hands still chained together. The buffalo man stepped forward and the Albionese man closed his eyes.
He stopped crying.
It was silent and horribly tense. Suddenly, the buffalo man swung his tree-trunk arm at the man and he fell to the ground. He was doomed the moment he was dragged from that room. Then the giant man leapt into the air to come crashing down on the smaller man's head, crushing his skull. Only then did he step back and resume his previous position and the body could be dragged out.
There were steps in the corridor. A group of five men were being lead into the waiting room and at the back…
"Radek!" Anezka cried, jumping in surprise. He was just as he had been in high school.
Radek raised his head at the sound of his name. "Anezka…" he said sadly.
Anezka ran to his side. One of the guards went to stop her but the other just shook his head and pointed to the small badge on her sleeve.
"After all this time, I didn't want this to be the way I met you again," Anezka said, throwing her arms around Radek's neck.
"This really isn't how I'd pictured I'd go," he said, disentangling her arms.
Anezka felt her eyes begin to burn and itch. She gritted her teeth, she blinked hard but no matter what she tried the tears ran hot and fast.
"I'll come and watch!" she cried defiantly. "How long do you have?"
Radek smiled sadly. "Until tomorrow afternoon," he said.
Anezka gripped him tightly by the shoulders. "Until then!" she whispered, and then she turned away and marched back down the corridor to her cell as Radek was led into the waiting room.
Neither of them looked back even once.
Anezka only sat in her cell for a few hours before she realized she could still help. Slowly, she walked back to the arena. This time, instead of watching the unwilling challenger, the Jitendran held her full attention and she began to make mental notes.
That night Anezka hardly slept. She rose early and hurried straight to the waiting room. Once again the guards obeyed the pregnancy badge and let her through.
"Now listen," she said once she had found Radek, "there is a chance you can win. There are three fighters, as far as I can tell. Now, The String Bean is the one you have to watch out for. He's fast and agile. The Buffalo you saw yesterday-"
"Anezka?" Radek interrupted. "My sister. If she's still here, look after her."
Anezka swallowed the lump forming in her throat. He had completely given up. He would be just like the man yesterday. She suddenly realized she was crying again. Anezka wiped her eyes and placed her wet hand on Radek's face. A traditional gesture amongst the Albionese. It meant: My tears are for you. He roughly pushed away the hand.
"Please, I'm begging you. She's still young. She doesn't deserve this." He took Anezka by the hand and looked her in the eye. "Do anything to keep her safe."
Shakily, Anezka nodded. Radek looked over at the guard at the door.
"Time to go," he whispered and pushed Anezka to her feet.
Reluctantly, Anezka left. The next time she saw her childhood friend may very well be as his body was dragged out of the glass box.
Anezka arrived at the arena just after noon. Radek had said that he would be in the afternoon but neither of them knew what time that would be. She had to sit through the brutal murder of three women, a child and no more than a dozen men before Radek appeared. Anezka cleared her head. The graphic images of the last 'fight' were still imprinted on her brain: The child on its knees, begging, crying, pleading and then the almighty blow that ended it all.
Anezka closed her eyes and tried to send a message to her friend who was waiting in the wings.
Please, Radek, at least try!
She screamed inside her head. He seemed to have somehow heard her because, just then, he lifted his face to look directly at her and gave Anezka a smile of such trust and understanding that it killed her heart to know that a person so kind may not be there in only a few minutes.
Radek stood in one corner. His shackles glinting off the artificial lights, his face a wall of stone, his eyes dry. The buffalo stood in the other corner. Heavy footed and self-assured, each arm the size of both Anezka's legs combined. Anezka wanted to look away, to close her eyes to what was happening before her but she knew she had made a promise and she was determined to live up to it.
The buffalo ran at Radek. Anezka had seen him use this technique many times. The idea was to terrify his opponent. But it wouldn't work on Radek. Anezka knew it wouldn't because she had seen him fight before. In the school yard he was terrifying; unafraid and tactical. He ducked the blow and came up on the other side of the huge man. His shackles were quickly around the man's neck. Tighter and tighter he squeezed. The buffalo's face went red then white then purple. Suddenly, the shackles snapped and the buffalo stood up with an angry roar. Radek backed away, seemingly terrified. The buffalo straightened to his full height and glared down at Radek with a sly smile. He was closing in around the man. Radek would have to act soon in order not to be cornered. The buffalo grabbed Radek round the middle and began to crush his chest.
Anezka was crying, using all her self-control not to jump up and fly into the arena to help her dear friend. Radek could barely breathe but he remained calm, drew back his fist and landed it square on the monster's nose with a tremendous 'crack'! The buffalo dropped the young man who collapsed to the ground, his chest heaving, and his breath raspy.
The giant would not be tricked again; he knew Radek was waiting for him. He would come at him so fast he wouldn't be able to dodge this time!
Radek was lying on his back, trying desperately to get his crushed lungs to do their job.
The buffalo ran at him and jumped! He was going to crush his skull! He would teach this insolent rat what it was to fear for his life!
Radek lifted his legs with tremendous speed and kicked the giant in the chest. The buffalo went flying through the air to crash against the wall of the glass box which shattered under his weight. The shards seemed to explode in all directions and the spectators screamed and scrambled away. Anezka still watched on, safe on the other side of the arena where she had been sitting.
The monster of a man hurried back to his feet only to find Radek already facing him with his stony expression back on his face. The buffalo had incurred several injuries in the last throw. His face, arms and back were cut deeply from the glass and there was a noticeable dent where his ribs had shattered under the force of Radek's kick. Radek was trying to make him mad. He had seen The Buffalo fight before and he relied solely on his brute strength; the more frustrated he became the more rash his attacks. The guards were gathering. They were evidently distressed by the current course of events. Anezka was on her feet now, pressing her hands against the glass, too excited to even utter her pride, hope or fear.
The buffalo's eye twitched as blood from his scalp ran into it. He ran again; faster than any of the other times but not as straight or with as an engulfing aura of terror. Radek held his ground. The buffalo was getting closer and closer. Radek held his ground. The giant of a man was almost upon him! Right at the last second possible Radek did a spinning kick at the speed of light.
The buffalo stopped.
His eyes bulged.
His face paled.
He looked down.
Radek's foot was lodged in the great man's chest. One of his ribs had pierced his lung. His life's breath was escaping. Radek pulled his foot out with a tug. The buffalo collapsed to his knees, then to his stomach and, finally, was still.
It took only a few seconds for the Albionese to rush inside the arena. Anezka pushed her way through them all to find her safety in the arms of a nation's hero.
He was crying. Whether it was a delayed fear, relief, or shock at what he had done he did not know but he carefully raised his hand to his tear-streaked face and wiped away his own tears to place his wet hand on Anezka's cheek. Anezka was crying as well. Suddenly, she grabbed his already ripped collar and pulled his battle ravaged face towards hers, completing what she had wanted to do since she had met him again the day before. The kiss lasted longer than either of them knew they could hold their breath but finally they broke away, gasping.
"It seems I would be leaving behind one too many people," Radek said with his hand still resting on her cheek as they stood together amongst the throng of rejoicing Albionese while the Jitendran guards attempted to regain peace.
The King kept his word. Only a week later the Jitendrans were being migrated back to their home country and the land was going back to the Albionese. The King and Queen of Albion were allowed to return from their exile and it was only a few years before the once prosperous kingdom of Albion was prosperous once more. Anezka moved to the country with Radek where they started a farm and Anezka could have her child. But they were soon recalled by the King of Albion because, it seemed, that he did not feel he could rule a country without the man who had saved it.
[A/N: I wonder if I should tell you the reason why they don't make pregnant women fight. Back when I was still planning this story, it was going to be an epic conspiracy story filled with mystery and danger. Obviously that didn't end up happening but I still have the conspiracy in my head. One of the greatest sources of natural stem cells is in human umbilical cords. Can you see where I'm going with this? Jitendra intentionally impregnates women through any means necessary and, when they give birth, they use the stem cells from the child's umbilical cord to create miracle cures for their own countrymen. I don't think the ordinary people of Jitendra know where that magic injection they're getting comes from or just how it works. The children themselves are either immediately killed or taken away and raised as slaves for the very rich and very eccentric. And because they have so many Albionese kept captive, many of whom are women, they have an almost inexhaustible supply of stem cells. It's a pretty devious and very inhumane plan but there we are. The original plan was to have Anezka, Radek, his sister, Rayna and Vàclav discover this plot and go on a massive adventure to stop the Jitendrans doing what they liked with whatever they liked. But, since you've gotten to the end of this story, you can pretty much see that didn't happen. I just wanted to let you know why it is that they didn't make pregnant women fight, in case you were curious.
P.S. My brother and I often play this game where one of us writes a few hundred words and then the other has to finish the story. It's always interesting to see how he can take my serious plot and twist it into something absolutely hilarious and he's always surprised when I take his characters and completely ruin them (surprised and a little annoyed). What I'm say is, if anyone felt like continuing this, I would love to read it. I always enjoy seeing where another mind would take my ideas. Sorry this author's note was so long. I hope you've enjoyed this!]