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An Excerpt from GLADIATOR’S ATONEMENT
Copyright (c) AMY RUTTAN 2011
All Rights Reserved, Ellora's Cave Publishing, Inc.
“Destiny waits alike for the free man as well as for him enslaved by another’s might.”
The Libation Bearers-Aeschylus c. 525-456 B.C.
The city of Antioch bustled around Eratos and no one paid him any heed. Why would they? He was almost as bronzed as a Roman now, his long hair shorn away. The only thing which put him apart from the others were his eyes, it is why he wore a hooded cloak. He did not need to attract any attention.
It was his eyes that attracted Thelonius to him in the first place.
Just thinking of his master made his blood boil. He clenched his fist, focusing his gaze on the rich residential district nestled against the base of Mount Silpious on the eastern side of the city, it rose like steps created by the very hands of the gods, seated high above the poorer districts.
Taking a deep calming breath, he pressed his back against the marble statue of the city’s patron goddess Tyche. The sun was setting, and he had to move quickly to get a feel of Thelonius’ villa before night fell. Antioch was dangerous at night, but then any city was.
He hated cities—the closed in feeling of them, all the strangers. Eratos longed for the open heaths of Britannia, the small villages where it was safe to walk at night because everyone was family. Of course, it was all gone now.
It had been gone for some time, since Caratacus of the Catellavani had lost his lands along the river. The Romans had built a city there, on the blood of its people.
He had come here for one reason and one reason only.
Kill Thelonius. Eratos moved along the wall of the city. Keeping to the shadows, he headed to one of the walled-off sections that divided Antioch. It was where the upper class was separated from those beneath them, and where Thelonius lived.
He knew where Thelonius hid. He had been to the villa once when Thelonius first bought him. He would never forget that place. Shaking his head, he tried to pry the nightmares of what he endured there from his mind, but to no avail. It constantly haunted him.
Just like the thought of the woman Thelonius hid there, she was Thelonius’ wife. Though his master never touched her, all he did was force her to watch as he took men either with their consent or not. Her sympathy, their shared pain in that moment so long ago still calmed him. She was beautiful, and hurt just as much as he.
In that moment, which lasted eternity, he found solace in her grief and her face got him through many a night when the nightmares came again and again.
Keeping his profile low, Eratos strode with purpose toward Thelonius’ villa. It sat overlooking the city, an ominous beacon of pain and torture. Ignoring the beads of sweat that broke across his brow from anticipating his revenge, he opened the gate that was used by the servants and sneaked into the garden.
Crouching down in palm fronds and a small grove of olive trees, he peered through the branches and surveyed the villa. He could see a couple of hired guards pacing on the roof.
So the fool is scared, and well he should be.
Eratos tried not to chuckle, but he was pleased Thelonius was frightened. The guards would be not hard to take down, he could probably bribe them to leave their post—such was the nature of hired men. It was just the moment he needed to figure out when to strike.
Shifting his weight so he balanced on the balls of feet, he made mental note of the easiest access points, until a cry of pain echoed across the garden. A shudder went down his spine when he recognized that voice.
It took all of his might not to run for her, but he did not have long to wait for she came fleeing from the villa her hands covering her face as she ran quickly through the garden, before coming to stop at the stone wall and slumping against the stone gate at the edge before the drop off. A steep cliff he often thought of throwing himself off of in the earlier days.
Eratos crept closer. He wanted to comfort her, the way she had comforted him after Thelonius was done with him. He could still recall the softness of her skin, the gentle touch as she cleansed his wounds and the scent of myrrh enveloped him in a warm embrace. Eratos could not let her know he was there, even as his heart beat faster at the thought of being so close to her again. Thelonius’ warning about what he would do to Helena if Eratos did not comply still rang in his ears. He was thankful Helena had not been sold to the slave traders upon his escape from Thelonius.
Helena wiped her tears on the back of her hands, and let out a frustrated growl, obviously she was angered by Thelonius’ return. It had been many years since Thelonius had been in Antioch. Eratos knew, because he was forced to remain close to his hated master.
It was why he fought so hard. He struggled to survive in the gladiatorial arena for this moment, this glimmer of freedom to seek revenge on Thelonius. Taranis and his little Roman had granted him this gift, and for that he would be eternally grateful.
He would kill Thelonius, freeing Helena, and then it did not matter what happened to him. Eratos would be content to die, for his task would be complete and the pain would be over.
Helena sobbed again and he shifted, a branch cracking under his feet. Her spine stiffened and she turned around.