The Winter of Discommunication

I posted just five times in January. A combination of ongoing winter bugs (both myself and my other half) that won’t go away coupled with an upturn in work has meant I’ve neglected this blog a little. But life isn’t stagnating. I’ve joined the gym, climbing more often and running again although mostly on gym treadmills. I haven’t let fiction projects slide either.

I have made some good progress on Children of Phobetor. This progress has been enabled in part by my other half doing a pottery course in the week allowing me to find a quiet spot in the comfort of the college’s lobby to plough on with the story in the late evening while she plays with her clay. The novel is now some 43,000 words long. I’m pleased with recent progress, especially as I started this over four years ago (here is the post where I first discuss Romans Vs Aliens) and it’s progressed in dribs and drabs ever since. I must have added around 13,000 words since the autumn alone.

In a recent chapter, I took the opportunity to develop the gladiator character of Livia Saturnia, the only woman in the group. I’ve discussed before how the profile of a gladiatrix was typically different from her male counterparts. It was not unheard of for young middle and upper class women to fight in the arena in lieu of anything else to do before marriage or finding good ways to invest their money. I also wanted to challenge one of the greatest myths about gladiators – that the loser in a fight would always die. This is not true. Owners invested lots of money in training their men. Typically, a battle would end with first blood (even a simple flesh wound would do), a submission, or when one was clearly too exhausted to carry on – rather like modern boxing.

In fact, rather like modern contact sports, some archaeological evidence suggested a system of healthcare to ensure the prize specimens continued to be able to fight for as long as possible. Many more retired than died. Most experts in the period suggest around a 10% mortality rate. Mary Beard’s book Pompeii suggests around 13% of fights ending in death. So without further ado, in this short snippet I present two challenges to the gladiator stereotype.

The spear in Livia Saturnia’s trembling right hand, slippery with blood, slid out of her grip and clattered to the gravel. She let out a long sigh of relief. The small shield in her left, no larger than a platter, fell limp as she lowered her arm to her side and let that fall from her grip too.

She’d done it; she’d achieved what many thought she was not capable of achieving with Livia herself feeling the least convinced in the moments leading up to her first fight. She raised her fist in victory, thrusting it high and ignoring the pain of the pulled bicep. Blood – her blood – trickled from the scratch on her wrist and tumbled along her arm.

The words of her trainer rang in her ears. ‘Remember what I told you,’ he’d said moments before she entered the arena, ‘you must not try to overpower your opponent. His body is strong and heavy, but slow. Your young body is light, but fast and flexible. Use this to your advantage.’

She turned to face him, peering at her through the gate, a large grin plastered across face. She offered him a small bow; in return he bowed deep and extravagantly.

The crowd roared in delight at her raised fist. The substantial number of plebeians cheered with enthusiasm. The smaller number of richer Equites merely applauded but the landowning patricians – her people – offered little encouragement. Even the emperor sat watching proceedings with little interest.

Finally, she turned her attention to the man on the floor. Flat on his black, arms spread wide, at first, she thought him dead but his Adam’s Apple moved when he swallowed. Blood caked his beard and stained his armour. His eyes stared upwards, not looking at her.

Finally, he rolled over onto his side and foisted his body up onto his elbow. ‘Well done, my lady,’ his tone was respectful but with a hint of grudging. She realised this would be painful for him as he returned to his trainer. He’d be punished for being beaten by a woman and would look to win his next. She wasn’t sure whether she feared for the man she’d just beaten for the punishment he would suffer or his next opponent who would feel the brunt of his frustrations.

‘It was by no means easy. You are a formidable fighter.’ She reached out her arm to him to help him up.

‘No,’ he said, ‘I can do this. If it isn’t bad enough a woman beat me, I will stand on my own two feet.’

‘Sorry,’ said Saturnia.

‘Don’t be. You fought well. You won, enjoy your victory.’ He climbed to his feet and began his slow hobbling back to his master who did not look happy.

Saturnia basked in their adulation for a few moments more before heading for the exit gate. It opened as she approached, and she stepped quickly into the cool shade of the wooden structure, descending quickly down the steps with her trainer in tow.

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