In the year 300, Avitus, a convict gladiator, ekes out a brutal but satisfying existence in the arena of provincial Carnuntum. A champion in the secutor style, he fights using sword and shield. His life changes when a Persian retiarius, fighting with net and trident,enters his gladiator school. Evenly matched against each other, the two gladiators receive an unwelcome invitation to stay at the villa of Gratianus and Paula, Carnuntum’s most depraved aristocrats. (F/M), (F/F/M)
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Crispus stared at him without speaking or moving, then said,
“One of the most powerful and wealthy men in Carnuntum sends you a personal invitation to recover at his estate. And you wish to decline.”
“Yes, sir,” Avitus said. His thigh ached from the inflamed puncture wounds.
Crispus cleared his throat and folded his hands in front of him on his desk. He stood up and walked slowly to the door, opening it and looking casually left and right before closing it again. He stood next to Avitus and spoke quietly, not facing him.
“My best fighter, no, my two best fighters have received invitations to recuperate at a most important man’s home. I will speak frankly with you, Avitus. By turning down this invitation, you would insult Gratianus. Your insulting of Gratianus would be seen as my insulting Gratianus. There are persons of influence involved in this matter. The politics of hospitality often supersede one’s own desires. That bears true for a gladiator. And it bears true for a lanista.
You belong to this school, and the school, and I, belong to Rome. The Emperor’s Rome. Faustina has already been sent to Gratianus. I cannot emphasize enough how ill-advised a refusal of Gratianus’ hospitality would be at this time. The only help I can render you is this advice. Reconsider long and hard your choice to decline. That is my final word on the subject.”
Crispus walked to his table without another look at Avitus. He sat down and began writing.
“You may go. And have your bandages changed,” Crispus said, his voice strained.
“Yes, sir,” Avitus said. His hand shook as he opened and closed the door on the way out. He walked away from Crispus’ office, blood pounding in his ears. He was still adjusting to seeing with only one eye, and he felt dizzy as he stomped along the way. He didn’t know where he wanted to go, but he walked toward the sound of the drill yard, towards the sound of Felix’s rasping voice barking out commands.
Avitus rounded a corner and saw Felix holding something too flexible to be a rod, and too rigid to be a whip. Rows of secutores, each wearing an extra heavy training helmet, sprinted back and forth between two lines on the ground about ten yards apart. The men threw themselves along as Felix screamed at them to charge. Those too slow, or who fell, Felix stepped forward and struck with his whip rod. Most of the men bore at least one fresh red stripe on their sweating, dirty bodies.
Felix looked over at Avitus, and whistled to an assistant doctor, who ran to Felix’s side. Felix handed the man the whip rod and pointed to the secutores. The assistant took over the sprint drills as Felix walked up to Avitus.
“You look like dogshit, boy,” Felix said. “Change your bandages before you turn green.”
“How long will they keep me at Gratianus’ villa?” Avitus asked.
Felix looked away and shrugged.
“I don’t know,” he said.
“Well, has this happened before? That gladiators had to recover there?” Avitus asked.
“A couple years ago,” Felix said. “A few gladiators were guests for a week. No one still at the ludus.”
“What did they say?” Avitus asked. “I’ve heard what the whores say about Gratianus. And Paula.”
“Well, then you’ve already heard it,” Felix said, rubbing the back of his neck. “What can I say? They are a pair of rich fucking degenerates. Have fun. Fuck. Make the best of it.”
“Crispus warned me not to decline the invitation,” Avitus said.
“Decline, eh? Avitus. Gratianus is a friend of Diocletian, or at least a friend of an important friend. You and Faustina, you’re a favor. Do you think Crispus has any say in this?” Felix shook his head and laughed without humor, and spat in the dirt. “No. Gratianus did something for somebody in Rome. What, I don’t know.”
Felix stared off in the distance. He smiled suddenly, his face a mask but for the toothy grin forced onto it. He slapped Avitus on the shoulder. “You’re looking at it all wrong. You’ll go there, probably hump his wife raw, and come back to the arena fresh as springtime. See you in a few weeks, Avitus.” He grabbed Avitus’ hand, squeezed it, and walked away, his back stiff.
“And change your fucking bandages!” he called back over his shoulder.