Chapter 1

It was a violent sport, vicious, bloody, inhumane. No one in their right mind would condone such hideous slaughter.

No one, that is, except those who stood to gain profit.

In Calormen's later years, the sport had been adopted nationwide. Some Tarkaans specialized in training these killing machines. They molded them, starved them, beat them, pushed them to an inch of their lives until the physical toughness of them was astounding. And then, when the biweekly meetings took place, the prospect earned the chance to prove his mettle. A few times he proved himself. Many times he lost.

Arena battling, which the commoners comically called chicken fights, was born after the favorite son of Ishleeb died in a jousting match. Grieved, his father wondered why it was that all the brave ones died against their own countrymen, instead of fighting the wars of the Tisroc and gaining glory for him and more importantly for themselves and the family name. However, the crowds seemed to love the butchering. From this, Ishleeb had an idea. Why not let the men fight their wars, gain glory, and yet make money off slave warriors? It would be like putting dogs against each other in a fight. The more he thought, the more he liked the idea, and before long, Arena battling, similar to our gladiatorial games, was born.

And Suruv, Ishleeb's great-grandson, was ashamed to say that, despite his upbringing in the sport, he could not produce a slave worth showing. His last fourteen had died, gigantic men he was sure would sky rocket him to glory. But they had all failed. And now, he stood, before a young man, no more than twenty, and no bigger than himself. He made a mental note to decapitate his foreman when the cowardly man stuttered out an apology,

"I-I-I-I'm so s-s-s sorry my lord. The man, he said, well, he said this one was a perfect candidate. Not very big, but strong, and determined. And he.."

"Quiet, for Tash's sake, stop your groveling," Suruv growled. What would the other lords think of him now. A boy for a fighter...

He gave the boy a good look. He was fair skinned, with dirty blond hair, no doubt a barbarian of the north. He was very lean, making him taller than he appeared. His clothing hung loosely about him, putting Suruv's mind to wondering how scrawny he really was. Despite all this, it was the young man's eyes that caught Suruv's attention. They held no fear, no worry, not even a gleam of terror. The blueness of them shocked the dark man, and, for the first time, Suruv became afraid of a slave. The eyes pierced his mind, saw through him, the iciness of them froze thoughts. He tried to cover up the agitation in his voice, but even the foreman could hear it as he hissed,

"Take him to the training grounds, see what he's got. He may be of some use. Have a name?" he dared to ask the young man. He merely blinked.

"The trader said he was called Galian, my lord," the foreman informed his master, obviously confident he wasn't to be exterminated.

"Galian. Northern?"he asked the young man again, who nodded, which was actually more like a short jerk of his head than a nod. Suruv shivered, noticeably, Galian smirked after him before allowing the foreman to push him to the training grounds.

Suruv sped back to his house as fast as he would allow himself without looking foolish. He finally reached one of his offices, and sat down to steady himself. The look of that was chilling. He couldn't say in words what exactly had shaken him so, it was more the boy's mannerism. Suruv was not used to people who didn't quell at his every move, people who knew he could have them killed in the most painful way if he so wished. He had a feeling he couldn't do so with this young man, that at the mere mention of an untimely death would arouse a malice so terrifying the order would barely pass Suruv's lips than his very life would be in danger. Taking a last sigh of nervousness and allowing himself a swig or two of wine to cheer himself, he thought suddenly, He's the one. My prize fighter.

A knock at his door interrupted his grandiose imagination, and in entered the person he liked to see least in all the world: his daughter, Aoife.

To say she was his daughter was not completely true. She belonged to his one of his wives, one who, after giving Suruv plenty of boys, wished for a girl to which she could dote upon. It would have been easier to have one of her own, but the Tarkeehena didn't enjoy bearing children much, and one day, upon seeing a beautiful baby girl being carried by her slave mother in the orchards, at once decided the girl would be hers, and sent for the slave. Unfortunately, no manner of bargaining or threatening would deter the slave-woman, and in the end it was the Tarkeenhena's duty to slay the mother and take the child anyway. The girl was raised in the household like one of Suruv's own children. Ironically, when Aoife was a child, her "mother" only spent an hour or so a day with her before sending her to a nurse and whatnot, and as a young woman, Aoife saw her even less.

Suruv wished he could say the same about Aoife. She was a constant thorn in his side, always trying to play the politician, asking why this happened and what would happen if that happened. Her political views were astounding, but then again, what else could be expected from a young, northern-bred woman.

"I saw the new fighter. Quite a character, isn't he?"

"What business is it of yours?" Suruv growled.

"I only meant that he was quite a striking young man. Very perceptive, I thought. Is he to be your prize winner?"

Suruv scowled, not liking the direction this was taking. Aoife had always opposed slave-fighting vehemently.

"Did you want something? Or am I to listen to your incessant bickering once again?"

"That depends. Which will void my participation in the banquet this evening?"

"Neither. Shameth shall be here tonight, and he'll want to see you. Which brings me to the subject of manners. If you, at any point during the evening, make any reference to politics or insult Shameth in any way, so help me I will cut you into pieces and feed you to the dogs, am I clear?"

"Quite clear," the other replied sarcastically, and sauntered out of the room.

Suruv had a bad feeling about the night to come.