Being born as a member of royalty means nothing unless you can prove yourself in the Igesia Games. Hypatia is a woman now but has refused to participate in them because she believes slavery is wrong. However, her position close to the throne means she has no choice and must sacrifice her beliefs in order to preserve them.
Being a spymaster's son comes with many difficulties, not the least of which is that Erasmos's father doesn't feel the need to assist his sons unless they're about to die. Since being kidnapped by pirates and sold into slavery does not threaten his life, Erasmos has to escape on his own. He did not intend to fight in the games for the spoiled, aloof princess, but she promised him his freedom if he won and it's his best option for getting his freedom back.
All Hypatia wants is to be taken seriously, seen as an adult for the first time in her life. Fighting and placing high in the games is her only option. She soon finds that she must also win for her own freedom for the young Lord Loxias has his eyes set on having her to wed and will get his wish if he wins the games.
The bloody Igesia Games are set to start and the power in Thandros hangs in the balance. Winning means glory and having a single wish granted, losing will be the seal on both Hypatia and Erasmos's dismal fate.
"If you win, I will give you your freedom."
"Then I will fight for you. I will win for you."
"Come now, Hypatia, there's no need to look so surly. You act as if we're taking you to fight in the coliseum."
Hypatia continued to ignore her mother as she had ignored both of her parents for the entire, somber ride. It wasn't easy as both of them had maneuvered their horses directly beside her. She wasn't sure if they had taken those posts out of coincidence or if this was somehow their plan to keep her from turning her horse and returning home.
Which was likely as she had been bullied into coming along. Not only her parents, but the archon himself had declared that it was finally time for her to participate in the games. She had been commanded to come here today in no uncertain terms. Hypatia might not be so mad – doing things you didn't like was just a part of life – except that she was against the games fundamentally and they all knew it.
The Igesia Games – named after the archon that had started them – were a long standing tradition in the city of Thandros. They were held once every two years and were open to any and all contestants no matter their origins or status. People from cities all around came to try their hand at winning the notoriously difficult and bloody games for the prize was without equal.
Besides the glory bestowed upon the winner that lasted for the entirety of their lives, the winner was also given a single wish to be granted by the power of the archon. Many poor came out for the chance to win money, to live in luxury, or earn a title and land so they could earn that money and luxury. The winner could request a marriage into the royal family, they could request for retribution to fall on their enemies, or for a marvelous villa beside the palace. The only rules for the wish were that you could not ask to be archon yourself and you could not take from the high court.
The first rule was to protect the archon, the second was to protect his people. Other than that, anything you dreamed of could be wished for. Buildings had risen and fallen, political alliances formed and broken, and laws created or destroyed with the wish.
You could enter into the games as many times as you wanted with as many people as you could afford, but you could only win once. A winner of the games could not ever participate again. This bothered no one as once was enough to get their heart's desires.
More often than not though, the winner was the archon himself. He did it solely for the glory and honor as he could not grant his own wish. Defeating the archon's people was often the hardest part of the games as those people trained all the two years between games for the next games.
The high court usually did not need the wish granted by the games. With money, land, and royal connection already theirs, most of them wanted only for the glory and the right to boast of their accomplishments. However, every member of the high court was required to enter.
To ensure that his closest people were suited to their post, the archon insisted that they all participate until they couldn't any longer or they won. The games were a test of strategy and leadership for the contestants, not strength or courage. Winning the games proved that you were skilled at leading troops into battle. It proved your skills at tactics and strategy; all things Archon Igesia deemed necessary for the high court when he created the games.
Those in the court who couldn't win past the first round were rarely given positions of power. They retained their title and rank, but the archon rarely, if ever, used them for important positions. They had no voice for telling how the city should be run, they didn't command troops, they were useful only to marry and keep their line going.
Hypatia's own father, Harmocydes, was a great military general. He himself had never won the games though he entered every year. He had managed to reach the final round twice but lost to the archon on both occasions.
His success was considered quite impressive. The archon made him a commander of the armies, showered him with titles and awards, and kept him close for more reasons than simply the fact that they were brothers. Harmocydes proved himself a good leader and earned the right to stand beside his younger brother, the ruler, as his most trusted general. Though being eldest did give him the right to be archon, when it came to it, only Paopeus had ever won the games. There was no bitterness between brothers, both were content with what they had earned for themselves.
Hypatia was third in line for the throne. That position wouldn't be hers much longer as the archon's wife was with child and he or she would take the crown from Harmocydes if they could win the games when they came of age. She didn't mind that as politics and ruling did not interest her. Her father was a respected army man and eager for the birth of his niece or nephew. Their family was happy with their position in life.
However, that position so close to the throne meant that Hypatia needed to prove herself in the games just as her father did. In the event of war or famine or plague, the rulers might die and Hypatia – in however unlikely the circumstances – might inherit the throne. It was a remote possibility but one that the archon demanded she prove herself capable of handling.
She had reached adulthood without ever entering the games. She could admit that was mostly because her father spoiled and indulged her in every way. It was only because Paopeus had insisted that Harmocydes finally put his foot down and ordered his only child to participate.
No one listened to Hypatia when she told them that she didn't approve of the games. No one listened when she denounced the entire competition. No one listened when she told them that she refused to participate on principle. Because no one ever listened to Hypatia.
She was an adult now, but only as of this year. It was well known that she was spoiled so people believed her stupid and naïve. Anything she said was dismissed as either the ramblings of a girl that was not quite yet a woman or the petty complaints of a high born, useless female.
Hypatia took exception to both assumptions. Her parents might have made sure that she wanted for nothing, but that didn't mean that she didn't appreciate what she was given. They may go out of their way to please her, but that did not make her useless or stupid. She may be young, but that didn't mean she didn't have a brain in her head.
And just because she was a combination of those things did not mean that her beliefs were silly or to be so easily dismissed. That they had been made Hypatia angry and annoyed. Ignoring her parents was a bit childish, but it was the only satisfaction she was likely to get.
There was a new thought sweeping through the cities of the land. It was one that was met with derision from some and open hostility from others. It had started in a city east of Thandros called Eleutheria. It was a radical idea, one that Hypatia believed in completely.
Simply stated, the belief was that slavery was wrong.
It was also the only way to compete in the games. Contestants did not fight themselves, the Igesia Games were not about strength or fighting prowess. It was about leading a slave – and it must be a slave – though each harrowing round and emerging victorious. People in Thandros laughed to hear that belief of slavery because how else could the court prove itself?
There were entire families of slaves that had been slaves – sometimes to the same family – for as long as anyone could trace their ancestors. There were slaves that were bred and trained only to participate in the games. Hypatia's parents owned only two slaves. Though neither of them were as radical as their daughter, they didn't see the need in keeping an army of slaves. The two they had were kept only because, as members of the court, they had to participate in the games.
The slaves themselves seemed happy with their lot in life. At least, when Hypatia asked them about it they seemed happy. They had a dry bed, warm food, and masters that didn't believe that beating someone made them better workers.
Not all families were as good to their slaves as Hypatia's were though. Slaves were property, not people, and were treated with that kind of carelessness at times. Not all family's were cruel to their slaves, of course. A dead slave couldn't work, after all. However, there were always those who though that because they could buy a life, they could treat it however they pleased. It was like they though pain and misery was something that slaves couldn't feel.
Hypatia despised such thoughts. It just didn't seem right to own another human, to treat them so callously because they were slaves. The metal collar around their necks had to be uncomfortable, their lot in life meant that they could never decide their own fate, and nothing they ever did was credited to them. Their master took the credit for anything a slave did, good or bad.
Which was why when a slave won in the games it was really his master that won.
A master could enter as many slaves as he liked in his name to increase his chances at winning. If one of them won, the credit for leading and training and directing him was given to the master. If the slave lost, that too was blamed on the master. The slave only had to deal with all of the wounds that fighting in the games bestowed upon them. It wasn't right to Hypatia that they fought so hard and often only received wounds for their troubles.
Since Hypatia disapproved of slavery and thought the concept wrong, she owned no slaves herself and therefor could not enter the games.
However, they were going to the coliseum today with the sole purpose of purchasing a slave. With the games only a few weeks away, slave traders were coming from all over with slaves from every city in the land to sell for high bids. This time of year, the slaves were all strong, capable fighters, often skilled in weaponry. Selling a bed slave or a farm slave this time of year was pointless as no one wanted or needed either. They wanted victory, so they needed strength.
Three slave ships had come in yesterday carrying cargo they picked up from gods knew where and the auction for the slaves they held was today.
Hypatia had to purchase a slave. She had to train him, she had to enter him into the games, and she had to get as far into them as was possible. She could deny to do so of course. There was nothing stopping her from crossing her arms and playing the spoiled child everyone thought her to be. She could just refuse to do as she was bid. Her father would not punish her. The archon, her beloved uncle, would not either.
However, Hypatia would never be trusted with anything important if she did. It would only confirm that she was childish and a fool.
And her father would suffer. Not being able to reign in his willful daughter, not willing to punish her for openly defying him, would cause his standing with the court to go down. Hypatia had no doubts that he wouldn't punish her. It wasn't in either of her parents to punish her. Even her uncle, as ruler of the city, wouldn't take her to task.
Her mother Diantha was a sweet woman, loving and kind. Her hobbies were flower arrangements and painting upon vases and plates. She wanted nothing more from life than to care for her husband and child. She entered the games because she had to, but her slave never made it past the first round. She wasn't trusted with a court position and that suited her just fine.
Harmocydes was a big man. He was larger than life with broad shoulders and big arms that Hypatia found were really good for giving great, big hugs. For all his prowess as a military commander, for all his skill with a sword, Harmocydes was a nice and honorable guy that wanted to harm no one. He would, if he must, but it was in his nature to give mercy and leniency first. He was well loved by the court, respected and honored
However, if Hypatia defied them both by refusing to participate, it would effect them negatively. If she let her father do everything for her because she refused to, it would weaken people's image of him. If she didn't at least make it past the first round, it would be forever cemented in everyone's mind that Hypatia was exactly what they thought her to be.
She felt like she had been driven into a corner and there was no way out except to do what was demanded of her. She didn't like the feeling at all.
Hypatia loved her parents. She didn't want to tarnish their good name. She especially didn't want to tarnish her own. So she was participating in the games, but she was doing it under protest.
Though the longer she thought about it, the more she was sure that participating was a good thing. If she could get far enough in the games, she could earn the respect of those around her. She would gain a voice in the court that would actually be heard. And, in so doing she might be listened to when she told others that slavery should be outlawed.
So she looked ahead to the coliseum with a heart heavy with unhappiness and determination, but she continued to ignore her parents for forcing this non-choice on her.
The coliseum was a large, monolithic structure that reached so high into the sky that it dwarfed the other buildings around it. It was large enough to hold the entire population of the city and more and had been built specifically for the Igesia Games.
The floor of the stadium was long, dirt covered, and had soaked up the blood of countless contestants of not just the games but of the tournaments that were held here as well. It was surrounded on all sides by long rows of seats in a full circle. At one end there was a box for the archon to sit and much more comfortable seats around it for the high court.
The gates that opened to the stadium floor led underground where there were untold numbers of tunnels, rooms, and pens. It was there that the slaves were prepared for auction, that the fighters of the tournaments and games were prepared for battle.
It was a modern marvel of building. Hypatia could admire the architecture that had taken several generations to create even as she dreaded going inside.
Harmocydes dismounted easily as two of the family servants stepped forward to assist Diantha and Hypatia down from their horses. He took in a deep, appreciative breath. "I always love the smell near the games. It smells like life and vitality, doesn't it Hypatia?"
"It smells like sweat and the heat of summer," she crossed her arms, feeling ornery.
Harmocydes laughed as if she had told a joke and the three of them walked through the nobility entrance that led to the seats for the highborns.
Harmocydes almost strutted as he walked. His big chest was puffed out in pride that his daughter was taking on this adult responsibility. His golden brown, shoulder length hair ruffled in the summer breeze that blew gently against them. He had a few braids in his hair, some of them beaded, because he had wanted to dress for the occasion. Which was also why his white chiton was covered by a vibrantly dyed himation as if her father was going to a festival of some kind. His leather sandals slapped against the stone with his large feet making larger strides. Though his face was lining with age and wear, to call him old was to give him the greatest insult he could imagine.
Diantha, in contrast, took small, easy steps. Her pale lavender peplos cinched at the waist with a leather zoster that had been elaborately beaded and bejeweled. Her long, deep brown hair, had been bound up in a series of complicated braids on her head before being allowed to trail down her back. The soft smile on her face was one of peace. Age was settling in on her as well in the droop of her breasts and the slight widening of her hips. However, her face remained unlined and unmarked. She was still very much the beauty she had been in her youth.
Hypatia took much more after her mother than her father. She had inherited from her the same pale, thin skin that made the flush of her cheeks and lips more obvious. Her body looked just as fragile, just as dainty and feminine as her mother's had when she had been her age. Her lips were just as full, her eyes just as big, and her lashes just as dark against that pale skin. Though the curve of her hips and the swell of her breasts wasn't as prominent as it was in her mother, no one would accuse her of not having either.
She had inherited her hair and eyes from her father though. Her golden brown hair was long, past her waist when it wasn't bound up like it was now. It was also curly to the point of being almost untamable. It had to be kept in a braid while she slept and constantly looked after by her lady's maids while she was awake. Her eyes were a blue tinted silver, reminiscent of the water in the gulf of Thandros itself. They dominated her oval shaped face, being all the more powerful for being framed by her dark, long lashes.
Her skin was flawless thanks to her ladies who cared for it everyday. It was covered by a pure white peplos that was tied around the waist by a long leather thong. Because it was summer, the peplos left one of her shoulders bare and the other could easily be unpinned. Many men and women would do just that, bearing their breasts and allowing the summer breeze to cool their bodies as the auction wore on though the heat.
There would also be food venders and beverage peddlers going around the coliseum as though today were a festival instead of the buying and selling of lives.
Those too poor to own a slave and those who did not wish to participate saw the selling of slaves as the opening event to the games. They got to see who was buying whom and they often placed bets on who would be purchased and by which family. Gambling was a big part of the games and it all started right here.
Hypatia followed her parents as they climbed up to their seats, both of them chatting peacefully with each other. Just below them, in the tunnels and waiting with varying degrees of excitement, dread, and eagerness, were the slaves that would be purchased today.
Hypatia couldn't stand the thought. She hated herself for going through with this even as she knew that she didn't have any other choice.
As Hypatia and her family were settling into their seats, being served by their servants cool chalices of sweet water and fresh fruits, down below the slaves were being given their auction numbers.
A wooden board around their necks was held on by a dirty, worn rope had the number that they were to be auctioned off in order of carved into them. They were all tied to one another by wrists creating a chain of men – and a few women – wearing nothing but a short, thigh length chiton that didn't even cover their chests and was old and used by other slaves that had been sold here. They weren't given sandals nor were they allowed yet to even bathe. It was dark as they were underground
Among them, waiting towards the end of the last line, Erasmos was trying to loosen his bindings ever so slightly. They had been tied on too tight and if he didn't restore blood flow to his hands, they would burn far too painfully once the ropes were removed.
He didn't have his number yet, but the auctioneer's men were getting close to him. He was paying them very little mind, he was completely focused on his task. He didn't think he would get free, not here at least, he just wanted the bindings less tight.
Most of the slaves here had been slaves their entire lives. They were excited, even a bit eager, to get out onto the coliseum floor to prove themselves to their perspective masters. Winning the games for their masters meant that they would likely spend their life in relative leisure. Some slaves were even offered freedom. The chance to win those honors were making these lifelong slaves excited.
There were only a few that had obviously been freshly made slaves. Whether sold into it because of outstanding debts, as punishment for crimes committed, or, as Erasmos had been, kidnapped by pirates and forced into the life, the newer slaves were obvious.
They didn't fit as well into their collars as those that had been wearing them for years did. They kept adjusting their heads and necks trying to make it more comfortable, some necks were rubbing raw from the collar digging into it. They also had a slightly wild look in their eyes as if they were considering breaking out and running to freedom. Others looked like their world had crashed around them and they didn't care if they died or not.
Erasmos did none of those things. The collar was irritating but not nearly as much of a problem as the rope was at the moment. His mind was calm and working methodically, his body not fidgeting or shuffling as others did from the discomfort of standing for so long. He had been trained for situations like this. Situations that seemed hopeless or inescapable. His mind had been honed, his body worked, and his skills sharpened to handle any unforeseen circumstance.
Such was the burden placed on the son of a spymaster. Since he could walk, Erasmos had been trained in the shadow arts. He could speak many languages without even a hint of an accent, he could blend into a crowd without being noticed, he could sneak around in the dead of night and search an entire house with the inhabitants still sleeping inside without giving himself away. Though he had never intended to be a spy himself, he still knew exactly how to be one.
That he was standing here in this holding room bound to other slaves was the result of a series of uncontrollable events and his own arrogance. He had heard the rumors of pirates, but had ignored them to enjoy a night of drinking with his brother. He had walked off on his own too close to the water and had been too drunk to fight when he had been captured.
When he woke up, the collar was already around his neck and he had already been bound in place. But, as his father said, you couldn't change what had already happened, you could only react to it.
So, instead of cursing his own foolishness, Erasmos had begun plotting ways to escape and return home. There was nothing else that he could do.
As of this moment, his plan was very simple. He knew why he was here. The games at Thandros were known even in the far away city of Eleutheria. He knew that he had been picked because of his lean, strong physique. It was assumed that he knew how to fight by looking at him. Even if that weren't true, he was being put here just in case it was.
And even though it was, Erasmos fully intended on pretending that it wasn't.
Before the auction began there would be a demonstration of the slaves. All slaves would be given dull swords that could hurt but not kill and forced to attack one another. The purpose was for the watching bidders to see how well they performed. It drove up the price of the skilled slaves and showed which ones could not fight.
The fighters would be sold to the high court families who could afford them. Those that couldn't fight would be sold at much cheaper prices to the common folk. Folk that probably didn't intend to enter the games at all and might just need a regular slave for common house work.
Erasmos would hide his skill, make it seem like he was even scared of battle, and therefore make himself completely undesirable for the games.
He would be purchased by an ordinary family. A family that likely had only one slave and that would be him. With no security and likely a small house, it would be easy for Erasmos to break away.
From there, he needed the keep himself hidden and escape the city. The collar around his neck identified him as a slave and such a public auction meant that there was a greater chance of him being recognized even if he could cover the damning piece of metal somehow. A slave that had fled from his master could be beaten or put to death for his crime. Erasmos absolutely could not let himself be caught after he escaped.
However, once he did escape, he would minimize that risk by leaving Thandros altogether. Then he could either run to a city that contained a spy that he knew worked for his father or simply hike back to Eleutheria on his own. The former option was the least desirable. He ran the risk of outing his father's carefully placed spies if he sought them out for safe passage. It would not be appreciated if he revealed a spy in his attempt to get back home.
That left the latter option. Stealing and sleeping outdoors on the long trip home that promised to take weeks. He would need to avoid people, take what he needed to survive, and never allow himself to be caught. It would be harsh, but he was more than up to the challenge. Erasmos was, after all, his father's son.
The auctioneer's man came to him and threw a numbered plank around his neck without ceremony and continued on. Erasmos looked down at it and prepared himself, giving up loosening his bindings. They were about to be let into the stadium to fight for their new masters.
It was time to prove himself as incompetent.