Book 3 of the Gladiatrix Trilogy
Available in paperback.
Through the Year of the Four Emperors, Victoria and her odd friends work to fulfil her vow to destroy corrupt, brutal Rome as Rome destroyed Britain.
But will they succeed - or die?
Living by the sword is dangerous…
Victoria stared, and gasped. ‘I don’t believe it! Cram!’ She was moving forward to clasp his arms in greeting when his rigid face stopped her. ‘What’s wrong, Cram? Don’t you know me? Your cousin Victoria?’
Her cousin bowed as if to a stranger, his tone flat. ‘I know you, Victrix, Imperial Gladiatrix. Traitor!’
‘Traitor? What do you mean?’ Victoria demanded. ‘How did you get here?’
‘On a thread of gossamer the winds wafted me here!’ Cram was sarcastic. ‘I’m a slave, of course! Not a warrior, not a bard; a slave! But I can’t complain, lady, can I? Or you’ll have me whipped.’
‘No? How do I know what you’ll do, Boudicca -’ He broke off as she gripped his arm.
‘Shut up! You’ll get us both killed!’ she hissed, aware of the senators only a few paces away, and the palace slaves, unseen but omnipresent as spiders. ‘Call me Victrix, or Victoria! Or lady, if you must act the crawler! Speak in Iceni, so no-one will understand even if they overhear. Let’s have it out, then. What’s biting you?’
Cram glared bitterly at her. ‘Boudicca our Queen laid a sacred command on you to destroy Rome, and you lived here in the palace for months, and still Nero is alive!’
‘So?’ Victoria’s expression was as grim as his. ‘If I had killed him? What good would that have done? Executed I’d have been, and the next Emperor just as bad! I’m working towards something far better, far more useful than getting myself killed just to swap tyrants! But if a traitor, a coward is what you think me, then tell me, Cram, glorious, heroic patriot, why is Nero still alive when you’ve been here for – how long? Why haven’t you yourself killed him with a kitchen knife? Eh? No, not so easy, is it?’
They stared at each other. Slowly, Cram began to look doubtful. ‘I thought…’
‘You didn’t think!’ she snapped. ‘It used to be you who told me to think. Still the person you knew in Britain I am, not stupid nor yellow nor false-hearted. When the task was laid on me you sneered, I remember! You thought I could not succeed. Well, I will! I am!’ She looked round. Nobody was watching or listening. ‘Go on sulking and sneering, all superior and betrayed if you like. Or start thinking!’
Cram studied her for a moment, and then stared at his feet. ‘I’m sorry, Bou – Victoria. It’s just – I hate being a slave!’
She couldn’t help laughing. ‘Nobody likes it, Cram! But I do understand. I had to become a slave to train as a gladiatrix, and whipped I’ve been more than once. But I’m doing more for Britain than you know. Seneca I’ve already dealt with. You know, the senator who helped cause Boudicca’s rebellion? And it will be Nero’s own turn next.’
‘Truly?’ His face was twisted with disbelief. ‘How?’
‘He’s constantly trying to see how far he can go. He started out well, I believe, but these days he’s becoming – vile isn’t a strong enough word. Haven’t you seen how his cruelty is driving people to revolt, to murder him like Caligula? And if the gods are with us -’
A ripping crash dazzled them, threw them to the ground in a stink of burnt air.
They pushed themselves up, dazed.
The Colossus, the supreme symbol of Nero’s power, had been struck by lightning. Its golden head was dripping gold on the paving; an omen of disaster that no-one could hide.
‘Indeed the gods are with us,’ Cram breathed.