Himilco and the Thracian
The Roman guard shoved Himilco into the sun baked arena.
“Toughen up this whelp, Thracian,” the guard said to a gladiator who stood like a bronze statue.
Himilco shuffled into the training area as the hot sand stung his feet. A clack of iron rattled and he turned to see the guard lock the gate.
“Here.” The Roman tossed a wooden sword through the bars.
Himilco watched the guard return to a shaded bench where the rest of his troop sat. They were raucous, drunk from too much wine in the sun. Himilco picked up the sword, chipped and splintered, and faced the Thracian who bore his own blunted blade. The man was taller, broader and he gazed with the keen eyes of a warrior. Himilco was a Carthaginian, a lowly gambler sent to pay his debts in the arena. He knew little of combat but figured all life’s endeavours were a game of chance. The Thracian seemed strong, though he moved with slow steps. Himilco hoped that with speed the odds were in his favour to land a blow. When the gladiator took his next step, Himilco pounced.
The Thracian moved with the suddenness of a spark. His sword cut through the air like a wing to strike Himilco across the knuckles. Himilco winced and dropped his sword. The Thracian’s saunter had been a deception.
A roar of laughter bellowed from the guards and they clapped their cups to the bench. The gatekeeper threw a rock at Himilco.
“You should be ashamed,” he said as he wiped wine from his chin. “A Roman cripple could fight better.”
Himilco clawed his sword from the sand. His hand throbbed. He took in a breath and readied himself for another try. The Thracian was poised to fight, though his eyes were fixed on the guards with a cold stare. He looked to Himilco, paused, then charged like a bull.
Himilco ducked, swung his sword and struck the gladiator. A victory, though the Thracian’s charge seemed suspiciously inept. Himilco looked to the guards and saw they no longer cared to watch. He shook his head. If he fell in the amphitheatres to no cheer, that would be a final shame on his family name. He loosened his shoulders, closed his eyes and tried to focus his mind. He flinched when a broad hand touched his shoulder. The Thracian was stood beside him, his figure bright in the sun like gold.
“Save your strength, Carthaginian,” the Thracian said as he spied the drunken guards. “You will need it. Tonight this ludus rebels.”
“Rebels,” Himilco whispered. He looked at his wooden sword and to the sharpened steel of the guard’s. “You will take quite a chance then.”
“We gamble our lives to win our freedom.” The Thracian smiled and held out his hand. “Will you join us?”
Himilco shrugged. “Gambling brought me to this arena. Perhaps then, gambling will save me from it.”
He shook the gladiator’s hand as the guards gulped more wine.
(Originally posted on the Total War Center forums.)