The doors swung open and Anitecus stepped out into the arena of death. The crowd screamed, chanted and booed. He walked slowly out into the middle of the arena, out of the shadow cast over a third of the fighting area by the high walls. He looked around, taking in the crowd. Although he had been fighting for just over two years now, the buzz the crowd gave him was the same.
His heart raced, his senses sharpened, he could feel the blood pumping though his veins, he could feel the air around him, he could smell the city, the sweat from all the unwashed bodies, the tang of blood, the smell of garlic from the food being sold in the stands. He felt alive. He looked up to the heavens and smiled under his helmet. He felt like no one could defeat him. He revelled in the glory of the arena, he was worshiped by some, loathed by others, but he was respected by all; he was one of the best, and they all knew it.
He did not know who, or what he was facing. It did not matter to Anicetus. He knew that he could face and beat whatever the event organisers threw at him. He had gained a reputation in the past two years and when you had a reputation; people took it as a challenge to try to beat you. He had faced exotic animals, multiple enemies, men on horseback and had beaten them all. With each victory the crowd had grown to love him or, for those who had lost money betting against him, hate him. Now he stood, awaiting the next challenge.
Un-oiled hinges squealed and the door opened. A dull rumbling, punctuated with more squealing emerged from the open door. Anicetus spun on his heels just brought his shield up to deflect the arrow the skimmed off the leather and buried itself in the sand. The evasive action took him wildly off balance and he fell backwards, rolling over his shield. A mass of wood, metal and flesh powered past him. He sprang to his feet and brought his shield up in time to deflect the next arrow over his head and into the stand behind him, killing a spectator. The crowd fell silent, before erupting, even louder than before. The contest had begun.
The vicious blades on the wheels glinted in the sun as the chariot turned and began to circle the arena, horses pulling in tandem, straining as they powered around the edge of the circle of sand. The next arrow imbedded itself in his shield as Anicetus turned, watching the chariot over the corner of his shield. Arrows continued to fly towards him, some deflecting off his shield, others flying harmlessly past his head.
The chariot turned and began gathering speed, the horses powering towards him, pulling the mass of wood. Anicetus threw himself to the side and rolled over his shield, and arrow deflected off his iron cuirass and flew over the top of the stadium. Standing, he spun quickly, trying to find the chariot again, the beating hooves and rumble of the chariot wheels reverberated around the arena, almost drowned out by the excited roar of the crowd. He felt a jolt as another arrow thudded into his shield. He spun again, following the chariot at it raced around the arena again.
The chariot turned again and charged towards him. Again he dived out of the way, arrows zipping all around him. Again and again the process repeated, the chariot circled round him, occasionally turning to charge, firing arrows at him all the time. The crowd cheered and roared with every turn, getting more and more excited with every near miss. The more he dodged and dived in his heavy armour and ungainly shield, the slower he became and the closer the razor sharp scythes came to cutting his back to ribbons, or slicing his limbs off, the closer the arrows came to piercing his armour and finding his flesh. The crowd, sensing his exhaustion, rose in anticipation. Some bayed for his blood, others encouraged him, but all Anicetus heard was a load roar drowning out the rumble of the chariot.
On the next turn the chariot thundered straight for him again, but this time Anitecus sprinted as fast as the fatigue and heavy armour would allow him at the charging platform of death. The crowd fell silent as the gladiator charged at the huge and deadly chariot. With the straining mass of muscles, bone and wood almost upon him, he dived forward and to the right, jamming the wicker bound shield into the spinning blade and used the leverage to swing round to the back of the chariot. Ignoring the pain that ripped his arm apart, he reversed his sword and plunged it between the neck and collar bone of the archer, putting it deep into his rib cage, puncturing his heart, ensuring that Hades would take him.
His momentum flung him off the back of the chariot and onto the sandy floor, carrying the dead body of the archer with him. There was a rattle as the bow skittered to the floor a few meters away from Aniticus. As he tried to pick himself up, pain stabbed up his left arm. He saw blood soaking the sand and knew it was his. He could feel that his hard had been ripped to shreds by the scythes of the chariot. He shoved the pain to the back of his mind and focused on the chariot again.
It wheeled round, heading towards him. Anicetus dived out of the way, crying at the pain that jolted up his arm as he landed on it. He gritted his teeth and ignored it. Fumbling on the ground, his hand clasped the shaft of the bow that he had landed on. The pain burned in his arm and he lifted the bow and grabbed an arrow from the floor. Putting it to the bow, he lifted his eyes to the chariot. Blood, sand and sweat made his vision blur, but he blinked them away, ignoring the way his eyes stung like a thousand bees were all stinging his eyeballs at once.
The chariot wheeled round again, charging him, looking to finish off the injured warrior who was crouching in the sand. He pulled the bowstring back to his cheek, blocked out the noise of the crowd, blocked out the pain in his arm, blocked out all distractions. He had to be able to shoot under any pressure; this was that pressure. In his mind there was only him and the target. He took a deep breath and loosed, the arrow flew true, the horse screamed as the arrow pierced its windpipe, its legs fell from beneath it and the whole chariot exploded into a thousand pieces of wood and metal. The charioteer was hurled forward in the destructive collision of forces and landed head first in the sand a foot in front of Anitecus. The force of the impact snapped his neck. Splinters flew like arrows towards Anitecus, who only just brought his shield up in time to protect himself, he screamed in pain as they thudded into the open wound in his arm.
Trying to ignore the agonising pain, Anitecus stood and walked to the centre of the arena, now half bathed in light, half darkened by shadow. He stood on the edge of that shadow. The crowed roared in adoration. He lifted his sword in appreciation and let out his own roar. The pain in his arm was nothing, the stinging in his eyes didn’t matter, the exhaustion in his legs was a sign that he was alive.
Anitecus’ shadow fell so that it looked as though a giant warrior stood on the top of the arena, watching the games. He stood on the cusp between light and dark, between day and night, between life and death. He decided who would live and die in the arena; he was the god of battle. He was Ares.
Sunday, 19 June 2011
This is another of those character sketches I did about the Gladiator I wrote about a couple of weeks ago. The next couple of weekend might be a bit like this, I’m incredibly busy at the moment, so I may not have time to write anything too long, of at all. I hope you enjoy this though. Let me know what you think.