"IS THAT A CHALLENGE?" Jator repeated, spraying Lucius' prone form with saliva.
Lucius kept his eyes down, mind racing as fear threatened to overwhelm him.
Either decision led to death for him... So now the question was... How to die? Would he die in this little courtyard, crushed underfoot and forgotten? Or would he challenge and be remembered?
What would Maximus have done?
Lucius' thoughts drifted back to the dream, and calm instantly overcame his rising fear. Maximus would have fought.
Boos and jeers erupted from the men as Jator egged them on.
"Little dog has the brains to bark, but not the balls to have his guts spilled..." He laughed, the men laughing with him.
"Wrong." Came a voice that instantly silenced the entire yard. Heads turned to the gateway, where Macoro's previously unnoticed litter had been set down for the lord to stand upon. Macoro fixed Lucius in his stern gaze, waiting. The entire yard held its breath for Lucius' reply.
"I-I..." He stuttered, fear racing over him once more. Jator's grin widened, showing rotten and missing teeth.
"Stand up! Now is your chance!" A voice from his dreams sounded in his head.
Lucius stood, wiping his face. He suddenly launched himself at Jator, and in one colossal leap, grappled onto the bigger man's neck, swinging around his head and using Lucius' body weight to bring him down into a headlock.
The entire courtyard took a collective breath, stunned.
"I challenge." Lucius growled.
Cheers erupted from all the men, and they surged on Lucius as Jator pushed himself out of the headlock, furious.
Lucius found his eyes drawn to Macoro's over the crowd. Macoro nodded once in acknowledgement, then sat down and ordered the litter out of the yard. It went unnoticed by anyone by Lucius.
"ENOUGH!" Jator yelled, barely silencing the crowd. He fought his way over to Lucius, and Lucius was pleased to see that someone had elbowed him in the lip. It was swelling pleasantly.
"Luckily for you, little rat, the next fight day is more than a month away because of the storms. You will have time to prepare. But that will not matter because I. Will. Best. You." Jator growled between clenched teeth, blood from his cut lip dribbling down his chin.
Lucius glared, then turned away.
Anger crossed his face, and Jator ran at Lucius with his sword raised, but was intercepted by Arus' wooden stave. Arus cooly deflected the attack.
"You know the rules, Jator. No attacking the challenger until the fight. That includes training and disclipline."
Jator colored as much as was easily seen in dark skin. Arus was right.
"I don't need you quoting me the rules, old man." He seethed, picking up his sword and storming away just as the meal bell rang.
"Well done, boy." Arus growled as Lucius passed him on the way to the meal. Lucius wanted to say something else to the man, but Arus was gone before he could think of anything. Lucius shrugged it off and quickly joined in the singing and raucous laughter of the meal.
That night, after he had shucked off his tunic and lay down in his bunk, Lucius ran the day back through his mind.
What on earth had he been thinking? He attacked a guard in front of Macoro. It could have gone drastically wrong, and yet it didn't. Macoro's interception on his part was puzzling. Why was Lucius suddenly shown mercy now, of all times?
Lucius sighed. The gods worked in mysterious ways. Years ago, he had been a prince... Now he was a slave.
Lucius tried to remember what Rome had been like. He tried to remember his mother. Nothing. His memory had eroded away like sand scours stone. All he knew now was of his life as a slave, and even the beginning of that was growing hazy.
Lucius sighed once more. The years had not been kind to him, so why should he grace them with remembrance? How old was he now? Nine? Twelve? Sixteen? Twenty? He felt old, but not old enough.
Would would his life have been like if things hadn't changed? Would he still be living in the palace with his mother? Would he have married? Would he have given up earthly possessions and joined a league of scholars or priests?
There were too many what ifs, Lucius decided as he rolled over and wished sleep would take him soon. His death was rapidly approaching, and he wasted his time with pitiful recollections of the past.
That wasn't warrior-like at all.
Lucius rolled over again, unable to be comfortable.
After a moment, a puzzling thought crept into his mind.
Given the choice, would he take his freedom? What would he do with himself?
Lucius wasn't naive enough to think he would be given the throne in Athens if he just politely asked for it, nor was he sure he wanted that life.
Would he get work in a city? Build or sell things? Take a wife?
There were, again, too many what ifs. That was the simple thing about slavery. What you did in your life was dictated by someone else. Sure, it was backbreaking labor, but it worked.
Lucius let out the biggest sigh of them all and thunked his head on his bed. Too much thinking. Best to go to sleep now, and wake up ready to fight in the morning.
Lucius didn't feel like he wanted to fight the next morning, but slept anyways.