Book 2 of the Gladiatrix Trilogy
Available in paperback.
Victoria becomes Victrix, a great gladiatrix, and a favourite of Emperor Nero. But is that really a good thing? She faces hard, heart-breaking choices, before and after the Great Fire of Rome
The path to your goal may not be as straight as you think
Pulcher nodded towards the sword. ‘Can you use that?’
Victoria grinned tightly. ‘How hard can it be? You stick the pointy end in.’
He didn’t laugh. He sighed. ‘Another smart-arse.’
She glared. ‘I’ve killed my man.’ More than one, in fact, but she didn’t want to talk about it.
Neither did he. He didn’t look impressed as she had hoped; he sneered. ‘That means you’ve a load of bad habits that we’ll have to train out of you. Like that sword. We don’t use steel here. Not for training. Nor keep it in the barracks, not with slaves about.’
She bristled. ‘I don’t give Needle up for anyone!’
‘Then leave,’ he challenged her, raising an eyebrow towards Glaevius, who nodded.
Losing Needle would be like losing an arm. But if it was the only way… ‘All right.’
Glaevius grunted satisfaction. ‘Yes, you are determined. I shall keep it safe for you. You might even use it in the ring.’
As Victoria’s face cleared, Pulcher jerked his head disdainfully at her. ‘Let’s see you fight.’
The noise was dying again – the men were stopping training, to spectate. This time Pulcher allowed it. Victoria glanced round at the grins, the expectant eyes. They wanted a show? She’d show them!
In the open square in the middle the fighters stood aside. One offered her his wooden sword and small shield.
‘Ready?’ Suddenly Pulcher’s wooden sword smacked her left arm. She cursed indignantly, and then was being chased all over the palaestra. Pulcher was fast, stabbing, weaving, driving her among the posts. The other men leapt clear, cheering and jeering. Curse him, curse this curved sword, it was oddly balanced, the shield was too small, he was making her look like a fool! She ducked round a post from one side to the other, left, right, left, suddenly doubled back, parried a blow harder than he had expected, and thrust in return. He jumped back, and for a minute they exchanged blows. She was getting used to the sword - he dropped back, she advanced gleefully, got him on the run –
Her sword suddenly jolted out of her grasp, flying away to clatter against the wall on the far side of the yard. She cursed again as Pulcher’s blade whacked her bottom, and the crowd jeered. But then he nodded, lips twisted derisively. ‘I suppose my old granny would do worse.’
Not panting, he led her back towards Glaevius. ‘Fairly fit, not bad balance. Her wrist’s strong, her eye’s straight, quick reactions, and she’s not shy of being hit. She’s been taught a bit, by a cavalryman, and she’s used to fighting longer weapons, spears maybe, or long Gaulish swords. Her knees are stiff. No idea about using a shield, and the left hand is very weak. But she learns fast.’ He shrugged. ‘Worth a try, if Manny can fix the hand and knees.’
‘How could you tell all that?’ she demanded. ‘About the cavalryman?’
Glaevius smiled slightly. ‘He has fought in the arena for thirteen years, girl. There is little he cannot tell about an opponent after one minute. If he says you are worth training -’
‘You’ll take me on?’ Her grin was ecstatic. She turned it on Pulcher. ‘Oh, thank you!’
He shrugged a dismissive shoulder. ‘Thank me again next year – if you’re still alive.’ Her smile faded as his sourness, and those horrible scars which twisted his face and made her clench her teeth to hide disgust, threw a bucket of grit in the high smooth glide of her joy.