Crowd is yelling. They’re screaming for me, they’re curious.
I never wished for fame, nor aimed at glory, but I am sure this is not what glory sounds like.
They aren’t only hungry for a good show, they are blood thirsty: nothing is gonna make them feel satisfied if not a glorious, painful, theatrical death. They don’t even care about who the winner is going to be: it’s so easy for them to turn sides, so much the whole concept of fame is as vane as morality: no one can seem to define it, now.
Gates slowly open, allowing the shadow to raise.
I never felt more scared to leave a prison.
Holding my sword tight, I took my first steps like my own legs were not under my control. In fact, it is foolish of me to think otherwise; I have no will power.
In moments like this one I feel like everyone can only rely on their only conviction, their only number one rule, but my hope isn’t at its best and all I have now is a sword.
Not even that sharp.
How do they even enjoy a battle, when is not even close to fair?
I am fighting one of the most requested soldier, with not only a shield that I haven’t got the luck to possess, but a horse to sit on top of.
Sun was challenging my eyes, but I did not have to struggle to see my opponent’s armour well enough. I've never seen a human being so tall. I surely never faced one in battle.
And well, there’s the horse.
The crowd was screaming louder by now, feeding the ego of whoever I have to fight, but my thoughts were not blurred by their voices.
My mind came back to my father’s horse. Such a clever animal, yet so easy to trick: they won’t make distinction between what they see and what there is – at times, even humans barely can.
It isn’t fundamental to make a tight not – the horse won’t run away. If it was bound to a chair, it would still be convinced to lack a way out.
I don’t have anything else.
As soon as it started to run towards me, I attached my back to the wall, hiding my sward behind me.
If I can trick the horse to confuse me with the wall, it should stop.
I think. I hope.
As I saw them coming closer, I almost had to shut my eyes in order to stay still, but standing still was less a priority than being focused. My grip was just getting stronger, enough to make my hand hurt, but I was holding onto it like it was my mother’s.
When I wished to close my eyes so I could at least have a fast, shaming death, the horse jumped back, kicking its man on the ground.
Following its movements like a mirror, the tip of my sward followed the neck of the warrior untill he was on the ground, showing his neck.
Her neck. That wasn’t a man’s hand. That wasn’t a man’s body.
As the realization slowly came to me, I instantly looked upon my opponent’s eyes – the only thing I was able to see underneath the helmet. That could only be a woman’s stare.
She didn’t look scared – well, a little, yes – she looked focused. On the edge between terror and hope.
“Emperor” – I yelled, with my sword still on her neck.
There no longer was a sound. Just an incredible tension.
“I have a deal to propose”
Suspense raised as he stood and leaned his hands on the balcony in front of him.
Curious, careful; still verifying if he was about to face a great disrespect.
“Speak, soldier. What deal?” – he royally announced.
“His life spared, in exchange of his horse and sword”
The crowd’s surprise showed in chuckles and mumbled words, too many to hear them clearly, but that is not what I would focus on: the Emperor, on the other side of the arena, hasn’t changed his expression at all.
“Are you aware of the reasons behind all this, soldier? Why arenas exist and we so carefully oversee them?”
“I am aware, Emperor”
“I am sure you see the size of your demand, then. It has to be denied”
The mixed screams came back louder than ever, but it was hard to tell who was joying and who was complaining. Both sides, for sure, were present.
The whole point is to hear the crowd’s cheers: it is not over, yet.
“I esteem your judgments, Emperor. I also respect this man’s abilities; how immoral would be of me to win unfairly! I know who I’ve just faced, his name speaks before him: would you lose one of your most precious soldier over the luck of his opponent?” – before he could answer, I raised the risk.
“Come on, Emperor. You’re a clever man.
“How dare you question the Emperor’s choices!” – his consultant intervened.
I could hardly contain my rage: how could anyone not see his disloyalty? His opportunism?
“On the contrary, Sir. My words are out of extreme respect: I could’ve killed the man, win the fight and gain my glory. Don’t you think?”
“Alright, then.” – the Emperor has taken over.
“You can take the horse, nothing else. A man’s sword is a man’s pride – he has lost enough”
She looked at me with both gratitude and hate: the Emperor was right. I spared her life, but her honour has not been unsigned.
As I put my sword back, I gave her my hand to help her stand up; I shouldn’t have, but I wanted to show loyalty. I wasn’t trying to impose authority – and I wanted her to know.
Her rage started to fade. In the end, she’s alive.
“What’s the horse name?”
I just smiled, strengthening my grip on her hand as a sign of peace. She answered with a smile, too - a bit too hidden, but not enough for me to leave it unnoticed.
“Meet me at the city gate, at dawn. You’ll get him back”
She, for a second, failed to contain it once again: a full, bright smile escaped her mouth before she stood her ground and regained control.
I rode Jamie out of the Arena, to the closest tavern.
Freedom is such a vane state, the oldest of the tricks. People would give their everything to life as a free man, in which even fighting becomes a job: high-grade soldiers are entitled to live outside, attend taverns or even leave, but no one is free. We are all bound to the chains of honour, rankings, reputation. Damaging those, would mean the end.
The oldest, subtle trick.
I was sitting next to a bush, not far away from the main arch, when I saw her approaching me.
Her long, dark hair were let loose behind her shoulder. I couldn’t know how she looked like, but I could recognize her bare, muscly arms – and her height was unforgettable. It must be her.
As she got closer, I could recognize her eyes: it is her.
I gently tapped Jamie’s back, encouraging him to reach her – her smile brightened as he got closer. She didn’t mind me at all; she just caressed his face, keeping her smile as bright.
I would lie if I said it did not fill my heart.
“Thank you” – her hand was still on her horse, but her stare was on me; so sweet it could have trapped me for a few seconds. I couldn’t feel my smile gradually increasing, but she gave me one I couldn’t help but answer entirely.
“I couldn’t do otherwise”
“Why did you, anyway?” – she was genuinely curious, her tone was friendly, but she moved her hand like she wanted to take back her words, alongside an amused expression.
“Well, nevermind. I owe you” – I couldn’t imagine the warrior who tried to kill me this morning is looking at me so tenderly.
“I wasn’t searching for favours.” – I couldn’t answer in any different way, mysteriously.
“I do owe you, but I still would like to know why” – she walked towards me, bringing Jamie with her and sat right where I was standing. We both laughed; Her intention was clear, so I proposed a better idea:
“Would Jamie allow the both of us on?” – she frowned amused, curious to figure me out.
“I think he won’t complain. Do you have something in mind?”
“Anywhere outside of this hell hole can do” – laughing, she stood up, ignoring my helping hand.
“I couldn’t agree more”
She jumped on her horse, offering me her hand – which I, of course, ignored.
She noticed, but it’s safe to say it amused her.