The Sword of Jupiter - Cover

The Sword of Jupiter

Copyright© 2021 by Lumpy

Chapter 12

His conversation with Lucilla lasted several more slow laps before one of the Emperor’s guards found them, signaling it was time to head towards the Colosseum. After they moved off, the subject of slavery in the Empire, something he knew would not be solved with a single conversation anyway, was dropped.

Ky found he enjoyed his time with her. She told him stories about growing up in the imperial residence, and some of the trouble she and her brother had managed to get into as children.

She actually seemed wistful when talking about her brother. Had Ky not known that her brother was alive and well, he would have almost thought she was mourning him. He considered asking about her strained relationship with her brother, but she moved off onto more cheerful topics by that point in their conversation, and Ky found he did not want to see her troubled again.

They met the Emperor at the steps to the imperial complex and joined his procession of senators, religious leaders, and guards, to the multi-story round building that sat several blocks away. Ky had to admit that the looming structure was an impressive sight. He had seen the Colosseum once through his drone the night before as he tried to get a better idea of the layout of the city, but that view did not do the building justice.

The circular building towered above him as he reached the large front gate, at the moment held clear for the Emperor’s arrival. Behind the line of imperial and senatorial guards stood a sea of humanity wanting to get into the stadium. Ky could not imagine that all the people currently pressing towards the entrance could possibly fit inside, which suggested the seats were on some kind of first-come, first-serve basis.

The crowds, although not the swell of noise they generated, disappeared as Ky passed through the entranceway. As the senators who followed behind the imperial procession turned right and left, apparently moving to their own seats, Ky followed the Emperor through an open doorway flanked by guardsman into a covered area with enough benches for almost a dozen people. The front row of benches was broken by a single seat at the very front of the box, which was almost certainly for the Emperor himself. Ky’s guess was confirmed as Germanicus walked through the rows of seating and lowered himself into the padded seat.

Over his shoulder, the Emperor said, “Ky, if you and my daughter would please come sit with me.”

He indicated the bench to his right. Ky tried to let Lucilla sit next to her father, but she shook her head and sat down with enough room between herself and her father’s chair for Ky. Ky assumed she knew what she was doing and did not argue. He did notice the look her brother gave him as he circled to sit on his father’s left-hand side.

“According to commentaries reviewed, the position immediately to the Emperors right during important functions is reserved for the Emperors closest adviser or heir, depending on the situation.”

While Ky had not asked, the statement did answer the question of what he had done to upset Caesius this time. More men filed in behind them, taking seats on benches. Some he recognized, such as Ramirus and the Pontiff Maximus from earlier. Others he did not recognize, although everyone seemed to know everyone else as they talked softly among each other.

Ky frowned at the slaves that lined the walls, holding jugs of wine, from which they poured when signaled by one of the spectators in the Emperor’s box.

“I hope you find this exciting,” the Emperor said, leaning over to him.

“I’m not sure what to expect. Your daughter said that there would be races and some type of personal combat.”

“There won’t be chariot races as such. There will be a display by several pairs of chariots, but the competition is not a race, at least not how our ancestors would have considered chariot races. They had the Circus Maximus, which was many times longer and somewhat wider than our current arena. There would be a half dozen chariots moving at top speed as they flew down the track. Or at least that’s what I’ve heard. My grandfather constructed a similar, if not as grand, track in Londinium and used to tell me stories of the races they held. While I am proud of our amphitheater, the design is not very good for chariot races. By the time a competitor could get his horses up to speed, he would run out of room and have to stop.”

“They pretend to do a race?”

“After a fashion. Everything’s still very exciting, but the drivers keep their charges at a slow speed while the competitors attempt to dismount the other teams.”

“The race is more combat among slaves, then; just on chariots, instead of the ground?”

The Emperor turned to look at him, a slight flicker of his eyes indicated the other spectators around them.

“Ky, I welcome your thoughts, but this is not the appropriate time or place.”

Ky managed to hold back his retort. The Emperor and his daughter had seemed to Ky to be decent people. Besides, short of burning all bridges with the Romans, there was not anything he could do about the situation now. He could not fathom why a man who otherwise seemed decent would sit and watch this barbarity, even considering the points Lucilla had made earlier in the day, but he would give the man time to explain. While he hated the idea of what he was about to see, he held his tongue, and slightly bowed his head instead.

“As you say, Imperator.”

The emperor laid a hand on Ky’s shoulders and said in a lower tone, “I know you are going to have problems with our entertainment, but you must let things happen as they will. I promise to discuss this with you, afterward.”

Ky nodded once more and looked to the arena below. A gate on the other side of the arena opened up, and four chariots pulled out, lining up two abreast. Each Chariot held a driver and a second person armed with a weapon. Ky thought the man with the gladius was at a pretty large disadvantage to the pair using a spear, and both would be at the mercy of the woman with the short bow. The chariots themselves had long spiked protrusions from their wheels, and everyone wore some type of armor, most seemingly a patchwork.

Ky noticed Lucilla shooting him worried glances out of his peripheral vision, and gave her a weak smile.

They did not have to wait for long as the seats had been mostly filled when the Emperor’s procession had walked in, which meant all the people Ky had seen outside of the amphitheater were entirely the overflow.

A man in a small box just off the Emperor’s box stood up, adjusted his ridiculous wig, and unfurled a long scroll.

“A hundred and twenty-one years ago the great consul Cornelius Lucius Sulla met the Punic devils on the plains of Hispania at the gates of Corduba. We relive that day and celebrate the titanic clash on Hannibal the Younger’s right flank as Sulla’s cavalry pushed the Carthaginians back, turning his flank. Behold, Rome’s mounted warriors.”

The crowd erupted in cheers as two of the charioteers, the one with the spear and the one with the gladius, raised their weapons in salute. Both chariots were on the outside, closest to the crowds, with the gladius welding chariot in front and the spear-wielding chariot behind.

“Behold, the dogs of Carthage.”

The crowd booed for the ‘Carthaginian’ pair of chariots louder than they cheered for the ‘Romans.’ The passenger in the first chariot of the pair was armed with a sword as well, although this one was longer and somewhat thinner than the short, wider bladed gladius. The passenger of the rear chariot was the woman with the short bow.

Lucilla gave Ky one last sheepish look and then stood, holding up a white cloth. When she released the makeshift flag, the chariots took off. Their path was essentially one long turn, and Ky watched as the drivers tried to push the mounts as fast as they could without losing control. The first of the ‘Carthaginian’ chariots, which was on the inside of the circle, almost did lose control in spite of that. The driver was pushing his horses hard, and the chariot lifted up on one wheel, forcing the rider to fall forward, gripping the side of his chariot.

For the first lap, none of the passengers did anything except lift their weapons or nock an arrow in the case of the archer. When they passed the starting point, everything changed. The woman charioteer lifted her bow, an expression of extreme concentration on her face as the chariot bounced. She released an arrow ostensibly at the rear ‘Roman’ chariot, but a sudden bounce made her aim go high, the arrow streaking into the audience.

Ky was shocked when a citizen in the stands grabbed at his chest, clawing at the wooden shaft embedded there. Ky thought they would stop and rush someone to the man’s side, but the chariots continued, and the cheers and howls of the audience only grew louder. He was further shocked when no one came to the man’s aid, a few nearby citizens making room for him to collapse on the ground, never looking away from the action for more than a glance.

Even in a society with fairly high mortality rates, the casual attitude towards someone’s death shook Ky to the core.

“Aren’t they going to help him?” Ky said, leaning over to the Emperor.

“One of the attendants will get to him shortly, although they will have some problems getting through the crowds. When the mob has their blood up, they aren’t easily dissuaded from their entertainment.”

Ky saw that someone was pushing through the crowd, almost towards where the man had fallen. His eyes kept darting towards the racing chariots, but he did not stop until he reached the man. Ky watched as he pulled on the fallen citizen’s arms, dragging him out of the way of the other spectators. While the man was most likely already dead, Ky was still shocked that none of the people around him had tried to help.

He was contemplating this when his attention was again drawn towards the chariots. There was an arrow sticking out of the side of the rear chariot now, and the archer was trying to line up for another shot when the Roman chariot finally managed to pull ahead slightly and get close enough for the gladius wielding passenger to make a move.

Instead of attacking at either the driver or the archer, the man instead slashed across the leather halter around the horse and into the horses back. The horse stumbled and tried to veer off while the rest of the leather strands that connected the horse to the wooden frame extended from the chariot began to break loose.

The wooden frame, now freed from the horse, dropped into the dirt floor of the arena, digging in, causing a sudden cascade of effects, as the chariot flipped forward and sent the two riders sailing through the air, while the body of the chariot crashed onto the still connected horse. Dirt flew in all directions as animal, man and wood smashed to the ground. Both of the passengers and the horse that had still been connected lay still, blood seeping into the dirt, as the remaining horse made a break for the entryway, causing Roman guards who had been standing on the ramp to jump out of the way.

As the horse disappeared down the ramp, the spear welding ‘Roman’ made his move, stabbing out, catching the driver in the side. The spear was ripped from his hands as the driver fell, the wooden shaft sticking straight up in the air as the driver dropped to the floor of the chariot.

The passenger made a grab for the reins, apparently, both to keep the chariot going and to force the horses to turn in the same direction to avoid the collapsed chariot that was quickly coming up. He did not see the second Roman chariot pull inside of the first, and probably had no idea he was in danger until the ‘Roman’s’ short sword stabbed into his back.

With no one holding the reins and whipping them to run, the two horses stopped, with the body of the last ‘Carthaginian’ rolling out the back of the open chariot, onto the dirt.

The crowd went wild. The cheers and shouts went on for several moments, too loud for Ky to do anything other than stare at the carnage below him. Eventually, the announcer raised his hands, and the crowd silenced.

“Once again, the cowardly Carthaginians are shown the might of Rome! Their tears wet the sand as our victorious armies crush all that is before them.”

The crowd roared its applause as a small army of men had run out of the tunnels to pull the destroyed chariot out of the way as the two ‘Roman’ chariots finished their victory lap and drove down into the bowels of the amphitheater.

Once the chariots were pulled out of the way the announcer again stood, holding his hand for silence. As he began to speak, a group of men were led into the arena by guards. The men were wearing tattered clothes, and all looked grimy and malnourished. They were a stark contrast to the fit and armored slaves who had driven the chariots in the earlier competition.

“For your entertainment, a collection of thieves, murderers, and villains, each destined to the ax. By the mercy of the Roman people, these men each have a chance at life. If they can survive against some of nature’s most dangerous creatures, they will earn a reprieve, allowed to join the ranks of gladiators, and fight for their freedom.”

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