Hey, so this is my story I decided I had to give a shot after watching Gods of the Arena and just loving Gannicus. By the way, in case you're unsure, my OC's name is pronounced Au-ray-lee-ah-na, and I hope you like her. Anything you recognize is probably not mine. The lyrics I use at the beginning of the chapter belong to Bastille's Pompeii song, which I'm obsessed with at the moment. Enjoy.
Chapter One: The Worth of a Man's Life
I was left to my own devices
Many days fell away with nothing to show
The unforgiving sun covered my skin in a layer of slick sweat, the strands of hair sticking to the back of my neck. The stink of sweat clung in the air, overpowering the soft fragrance of lilac and roses that I rubbed into my skin, scenting my hair and clothing. My heart quickened in excitement and a horrible kind of fear; an oddly exhilarating feeling I was unused to. A clang of steel against steel rang out, barely audible before the crowd roared, going wild in response. Metal cut through human flesh and drenched the sand a bloody red.
The gladiatorial games were not for the faint of heart.
Days spent studying philosophy, art and literature evoked nothing compared to these games that forced me to bated breath in tension as I waited to see whether a man would live or die. It was a gruesome sight, death, particularly violent death, and it turned my stomach.
A man fell and did not get up. My hands clenched the thin, soft fabric of my dress, the light material draped across my frame. The match was over; the body dragged away, the victor cheering at the crowd before the next two gladiators were brought out. This was it; this was the match I came to see today, that made me venture out to the arena despite my brother's wishes.
Gannicus was next, the gladiator they talked about in the markets and streets; the charmer, the jester, arrogant and unbeatable. It was unnerving for one man to be claimed as unbeatable.
"Aureliana," Cassia whispered, her voice low and carrying an undercurrent of fear. I turned to her, tearing my wide amber coloured eyes away from the stage for a moment to look at her. My body slave twisted her hands in her lap, anxious, her black hair falling into her eyes in a shielding manner. Her skin, a dark shade of ebony a contrast to my own ivory skin.
My body slave was my best friend; we had grown up together so we were of closely similar ages and we were bonded as if sisters. Her mother was charged with my wellbeing when my own mother died in birthing me. She died not long after my father, which put my brother, Decimus, as head of the household. He was in charge of everything and despite disapproving of our untraditional friendship, he begrudgingly wouldn't deny me what I asked for. It was possibly the reason I was as yet unmarried, despite my age. I did not want to be and he would not force me, though in recent years he had become more determined to find a suitable husband for me.
It was for Cassia we were at the games now. "I know."
In punishment for deserting the army in the Allied war against cities of Italy, Cassia's brother was sold to be a gladiator. He'd earned his mark of brotherhood for his ludus in a recent game and was to fight Gannicus in an upcoming match soon. I'd known Cassia's brother, Visius, when I was younger; he was a good man, who'd only deserted because his wife was having their child. He didn't deserve to die for that. He was worth more than just some twisted form of amusement, to be slaughtered for a crowd of fans cheering for his blood to be spilt.
Further down, much closer to the stage I saw Quintus Batiatus, a distant cousin of mine, and his wife, Lucretia. Quintus seemed to be throwing glares at the pulvinus which was occupied by only Vetius, an apprentice of Tulius', who was a rich merchant.
My mouth went dry when the crowd of common people on the lower down stands cheered with voracity, eager for more blood and chanting a name; Gannicus. My eyes dropped down to the man emerging onto the stage, a satisfied grin on his face at the crowd's reaction to his presence.
He was the most intimidating man I'd seen, and I'd just spent most of the morning watching large men beat up other large men. Gannicus was intimidating for different reasons; three reasons to be exact.
Beneath his easy grin and playful demeanor was the strength and skill of a lethal killer. That was probably the scariest thing, to hide his deadliness behind an arrogant smirk as he enticed the crowd into a frenzy, seeming to take the possibility of death like it was a joke, not at all serious.
Second, that confidence he exuded at every turn was intimidating. He was a slave, of the lowest rank, and yet he could coax men and women to cheer for him. So sure was he, that he would win, that he was not yet intended for the road of the afterlife. Confident, and used to taking a life, the life of a man he did not know and probably did not care for in any manner.
But the most intimidating thing about him was his attractiveness. Born of the dirt and still he had the face and body as if carved by Apollo himself; his skin a sun-kissed, golden bronze expanse, on display for the gathered today, sculptured in hard ridges and panes of taunt skin covering rippling muscle. Broad shoulders, imposing, demanding attention, a wide jaw giving way to a wide mouth that called for that attention and brown eyes that danced with mischief and mirth. Hair to match his skin; golden brown, twisted back off his face, but still hanging in strands that came down just below his shoulders. If I were of a betting kind, I would wager my dowry that the women here today were here to see him.
"Now there's a fucking gladiator!" Quintus yelled down below, his voice loud enough to carry over the roar.
I found myself agreeing with the sentiment.
I feared for Visius deeply.
"Liana," Cassia said again, this time reverting to the name she called me with affection, one I found much easier to say. Her round dark brown orbs glistened at me and I knew she felt the same dread I did at the sight of Gannicus.
Seeing her hurt made me hurt too, and I'd do anything in my power to not let her hurt. My mind was thrown into half-thought plans and ideas, vague and fleeting and useless as my eyes became stuck to the gladiators below. They faced off at each other before being ordered to begin.
I jumped at the first meeting of swords, the clash seeming to run right down my spine in an ominous, foreboding manner and I wondered if it was a warning from the Gods of Visius' impending match. I did not like it.
Gannicus used no shield, instead wielding two swords with vicious force, blocking and swinging at the other gladiator. I could hear his laughs from here, a playful sound of reckless abandon and sheer…enjoyment. He was enjoying the battle, relishing in every blocked thrust and parried swing as his swords sliced through the air and anything else that got in the way.
He laughed, running towards a corner, up the wall and onto the roof of the lowest level where the masses stood under it before jumping off, bring his swords crossed down onto the other gladiators neck behind him. the other gladiator threw of his helmet and turned to face Gannicus, angered at the cut on his neck.
Gannicus raised his swords into the air, cheering with the crowd. A woman's shout sounded above it all; "Gannicus! I love you!" before she pulled the top of her dress down, exposing her breasts to him. He laughed, grinning widely as he pointed his sword at her in amusement, liking women fawning over him, lusting after him.
That distraction merited him a cut on the arm from the other gladiator and he was thrown back by his shield a few steps. I kept a mental note of that; his lack of seriousness and easy distractibility, for Visius to use to his advantage. He was going to need it judging from the almost lazy way Gannicus fought, like this was as easy as breathing for him.
He backed away, shoving one sword into the sand to inspect his cut arm and the swell of red liquid. For the first time this whole fight, he showed something other than lightheartedness and enjoyment; irritation. For a second, his eyes ran over the crowd in front of him, coming across me.
I was not moving, frozen in the middle of a sea of rough movement, of jumping and clapping and thrusting arms, my round eyes wide at the display of brutality, face blank and stiff surrounded by faces alive with activity, with excitement and shouting. His eyes dropped back down to his opponent, plunging the other word into the sand.
Confusion spread through the crowd as they looked at each for indication of what he was doing, why he was laying down his swords, his only weapons. He started walking towards the other gladiator calmly, but with an expression of vengeance. He ducked below a swing, getting beneath his defenses, before punching his in the face.
Gannicus rained blows down upon his, proving he could take out his opponent without sharp metal and with only his bare hands. My pulse quickened at the sight of unadulterated strength, knocking the other large man back with the punches until he was on the ground. He yelled at the crowd, pumping his fists and they went crazy for his exhibition of skill.
The other gladiator got up and Gannicus dived out of the way of his sword, rolling before springing up near his swords still poking out of the ground.
He grabbed one, blocking a blow before rolling and grabbing the other, spinning around, blocking the downward swing before stabbing his other sword clean through the gladiators' gut, his mouth open in a yell which just pushed the crowd on.
It was amazing how he worked them, beckoning them to side with him, support him, cheer for him.
The other gladiator fell to the sand, blood spilling out, but still he attempted to drive his own sword through Gannicus. My hands were sweaty in anxiousness though I wasn't routing for anyone. That was just what the games did to you. Flushed faces, hastened pulses, nervous fingers. It was a thrill. It was exhilarating. It was frightening.
Gannicus blocked before thrusting his sword through the other man's back. He yelled in pain and my stomach turned over. What did it say about the worth of men to kill each other and enjoy it?
The crowd turned to shouts of 'Kill him! Fucking kill him!' and below I could see Quintus try to get his gladiator's attention, yelling at him not to kill the other gladiator. The important seats in the pulvinus were still empty.
Gannicus paid them no heed, crossing his blades at the man's throat before slashing and spilling the man's life blood into the sand. How much blood had that sand seen?
Another man dead in these games and the crowd was wild in their screams as Gannicus walked the space of the arena, his victory. As if in mocking from the Gods, only then did the seats fill with the magistrates, the important men of considerable pull. The men who could get Quintus' gladiators to fight in the new arena being built.
Quintus and his wife turned to leave and I jumped up, grabbing a hold of Cassia's wrists to tug her after me, "Come on."
"Where are we going?"
"I think it's time to pay my dear distant cousin a visit," I said, the beginning of a strategy forming in my head. It was a pathetic idea, but it was the best I could come up with in such a short time and under such unmovable restraints.
I threw a glance back down at the arena one last time and caught Gannicus looking up in our direction, his eyes catching hold of mine. His mouth widened into a larger grin, if it was even possible, and he threw a wink at me. I turned my head dismissively away, coldly, with a toss of my curls, defiantly.
Hoping he didn't see the flush creep up my neck. It was bold of him to wink at me like that, but I suspected he was caught up in the moment, in the ecstasy of having your name chanted, falling from the lips of the masses. He shouldn't have, though, if only because I was of a much higher status than that of a gladiator slave.
We hurried down the stands, out behind the arena, pushing through the people too buoyant to worry too much about hurting a woman of higher standing. This was probably why Decimus did not want me to be here. But he only made his distaste known rather than forbidding me, so if he found out I couldn't be in too much trouble.
Up ahead I saw the bobbing of the head I was looking for and I called, "Quintus! Quintus!"
He turned, his eyes spotting me but not immediately recognizing me. "Yes?"
"Quintus, it's me!" I smiled when I reached them, Cassia close behind. "Do you not - ,"
"Aureliana!" he exclaimed. "I almost didn't recognize, but that smile instantly reminded."
I laughed, a fond gesture. My cheeks were rounder rather than defined or high, my least aristocratic feature, so when I smiled, it lifted my whole face in the genuine expression, reaching my eyes with ease. I turned to his wife benevolently, in a serene, innocent and delighted expression that usually occupied my face when I wasn't in deep thought or trying to think up a cunning plan. My face fell naturally that way and I'd learned to reproduce it on a whim when Decimus said he found it hard to ignore or deny anything.
"Lucretia," my tone warm though I knew very little about the woman. I had often admired her though, because Quintus had married her despite her lower station to him. it made me wonder what it was about her that he so loved, and I found the idea positively stirring. The woman had always been kind to me the times we had met.
"Aureliana," she smiled, taking a step forward and kissing my cheeks.
"Please, Liana," I told her and she nodded.
"How the years have favoured. When last we meet, you were but a babe, as gangly and clumsy as a new born foal. How you have flourished," she said motherly, her tone equally warm.
"Thank the Gods those years have passed," I laughed and she joined in.
"Aureliana," Quintus said. "This is trusted friend, Solonius," he introduced, gesturing to the man standing beside Quintus. His hair was fair and twisted in curls, while Quintus had shot, straight, dark hair as bristly as a beard.
"A pleasure," I nodded, inclining my head in a short jerk of respect for the friend of my cousin.
"The pleasure is mine," Solonius replied and I smiled.
"Tell me," Lucretia said, moving closer to my side, in a conspirator-y way, like it was just us women gossiping together the way Cassia and I do. "Have you been wed?"
"Not as yet," I said demurely, eyes dropping to the stone road under my sandal clad feet.
"Then you simply must join us for a visit and perchance we may rectify that grievance," she offered.
'My brother," I began.
"Is undoubtedly doing a marvelous job of searching for a husband befitting of such radiance, but he is a man," she said knowingly. "We are much better suited to the ways of the heart."
I smiled, though I wasn't thrilled at the idea of her helping me find a husband. If I wanted to be married by now, I would. I was waiting. For what, I had no idea, all I knew was that I should wait; I felt it in my bones and I wondered if that was the God's speaking to me of my fate, "Only if I wouldn't burden."
"Don't entertain such silly thoughts, Quintus would enjoy such a stay, surely," she turned to him and I tried to hold back the successful smile.
"Of course," he nodded. "How sounds three days' time?"
"Positively splendid," I enthused. "I think Decimus should be glad to be rid of me for but a short time."
"How fares dear Decimus?" she asked but Quintus interrupted.
"Now is not the time to partake long assembly with distant cousin," he reminded her gently and she nodded. He turned to me, "I look to our meeting in three days."
"As do I," I nodded, gently squeezing Lucretia's hand, "Your generous invitation is well received. Gratitude. For how many days should I pack for?"
"For as long as you should like. Our house is always open to you, and your brother."
"Gratitude," I repeated as they turned away to continue about their day.
When they were a suitable distance away, I clapped my hands and jumped around to face Cassia, a victorious smile in place. Her own face was marred by confusion, "Liana, I do not understand."
"Don't you see? There is nothing we can do to relieve your brother of his fate in facing Gannicus, but perhaps we can convince him not to kill Visius, prolong his life. What better way to speak with gladiator than residing in house of distant cousin, owner of gladiator?" my eyes widened in encouragement as she absorbed what I said.
Impulsively, and out of turn should she be anyone else's body slave, Cassia threw her arms around my shoulders, bringing her to me in a tight hug, "Thank you, Liana," she whispered reverently in my ear, her breath fanning across the curls beside my ear.
"I hold you in deepest affection," I told her seriously, drawing back and gripping her shoulders so her dark eyes could meet my amber ones. She was taller than me, her frame slender and willowy, again a contrast to my own, much shorter, more curved and full frame. "Your pain is mine."
I held my hand up and she pressed her palm against mine, in a single gesture of sisterhood, of our bond, of all we shared with each other and no one else, each other our closest confidant. We'd often done that when we were younger to better see our physical differences, and over the years it became a symbol of our connection.
Other women scoffed at our unbreakable links to each other, but I paid no mind; I'd never paid much mind to the simpering's of privileged women who had no one to hold close to them and entrust their every secret and desire without fear of betrayal.
"Sister of my heart," she said.
"Sister of my heart," I repeated softly.
Thanks for reading!
So, what do you think? Please let me know what you liked/didn't like, and if I should continue or not.
I hoped you liked Aureliana and Cassia, and their bond of friendship, which is particularly strong. I understand that patrician women more than likely would not have had such a close bond with a slave, however, I do believe that , as women talk to each other, they can hold each other dear despite different status', which is the case with Aureliana and Cassia who grew up together, and experienced the same things at the same time.
Thanks again for reading!