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July 26th, 2020
Lucilius gazed at the worn skin beneath the hot iron rings shackled round his wrists. The skin was bruised and crusted with blood. His hands were curled beyond, pressing a wider shape on the outer rim of each shackle, pushing each up and off from the centre of each pained part of his wrists. He breathed a light sigh, and closed his eyes, feeling the weight of his chest slowly drop. He took in the of the colosseum again, the stagnant taste, in the gated wings, now sweet to the one who could feel such simple pleasure.
He was to be put in the arena, with what he had no notion. Some terrible fate, he supposed, awaited him. He’d been living now for so many strange years, and despite the youth he could still taste in the air, it didn’t strike him as much of a bother that these moments might be his last. They were moments like any other - to be missed and lost in thought, of to be settled to see what those moments had. Dust filled air. The taught sheets of old light pulled out from the cracks in the wooden gate. The nervous smell of sweat among the other men worrying about nearing moments beyond the door, the hot iron round his wrists. No matter his fortune, the moment was much the same as any other. His eyes meandered shut and once again he was among coarse sheets, hot with different sweat. Light fingers grazing his brow as he felt himself nearly gripped by sleep. His eyes opened then to the touch and met softer eyes, a face so calm in its beauty, as though fascinated by the common lines of his own face. Hoe long ago those tender moments had been. And now, here he was at the end of such a common twist of fate. But such was the ways of states, conquered and subsumed, enslaved by those foreign men who braved their own borders, pushing them ever farther into others.
He heard common screams and cheers. The commotion of the arena was not new to Lucilius, though now it was odd to hear it from that machine’s own bowels as he waited to be fed into the heart of its purpose, its mission of violence.
Finally, the sheets of light began to tilt and the door to the arena was pulled wide. He, along with all the other chained slaves were hustled out into sand pit, where pools of blood caked spots of ground with new and simple mud.
They were all still shackled and it was to be a common slaughter, the cheapest of thrills during that day, and when the executor, mounted upon his horse started towards them to cut them down, there then rang out a rare horn, and the charging blade held up.
There was commotion among the crowd in a language Lucilius did not know. A solitary voice called out in announcement, further words Lucilius was blind to. He merely stood in the sand pit among others, waiting.
But the blade never came, and Lucilius along with the other gang of slaves was rounded up, and with an enraged owner screaming at a government official, they were marched off across an immense distance, the lot of them being rotated in wagons while others walked in order to speed the process.
It was months before Lucilius and the others glimpsed the ramparts of the capital in the distance. And there within the immense city they were herded before the capital building aside hundreds of thousands of other people: slaves, commoners, visitors, of all kinds. Ferried into the bowels of the empire, Lucilius supposed, to be fed into a thicker need of thrill. And then this new arena towered stories above any Lucilius had ever seen, and again, he found himself sitting in the rank wings, waiting for death. Each of the men before him was lead one after another into the wide baked pit of sand where it seemed to Lucilius, each perished, until it was his own turn. A guard unlocked the iron rings that Lucilius had grown so accustomed to and as he walked out onto the sand he held up his wrists to watch what he could only feel: the delight among this worn part of his body, lifted by being lighter without the weight of iron. He smiled, as it seemed he walked out to his death.
There, on all sides, were more people than Lucilius had ever seen. Whatever it was they screamed, Lucilius knew none of these foreign tongues, but the sound, the swelling of yells, the dip between it’s surges - he knew the words they probably used, but even here, in this terrible place, Lucilius could only but wonder what else might be musing in the stands - what other person might share a thought with him.
And then the mounted warrior jostled his horse into position yards before Lucilius. When the crowd finally reached its crescendo, the warrior charged at Lucilius, but he did not move, but simply watched the sweating horse, blindly charge his way.
He felt his arm light up with pain, and to it he looked to see deep coloured blood streaming down the length of his arm. The mounted warrior had sliced his shoulder open. And before all that pain blistering through his mind Lucilius wondered at the strangeness of the strike. It was unusual custom in this new capital, he figured, to be slowly torn down with nicks and simple cuts instead of the gore he knew the crowd wanted.
The mounted warrior rounded and returning upon Lucilius, he opened up the side of his leg. Lucilius felt that side of his body crumple, the stance now inoperable from the new wound. From his rest on the folded leg, he looked at the new wound, the hot sand caking dark beneath him. Surely the next blow would be the end of this strange execution, he wondered and look up to find the warrior bearing down upon him. The horse slowed, and the warrior swung over his leg and fell to a stance upon the sand. He walked up till he stood above Lucilius, and there he raised his sword.
Lucilius looked up at the man, squinting, and as he took in the sight, he couldn’t help but yawn. The air filling him seemed the most delicious thing he’d ever had, and in those dwindling moments, Lucilius felt the smile of his mind, grateful for that last moment before the sword: how lovely it was to close out such a long life while still in the present.
But as the raised blade was unhooked form that position, a whistle sang out from somewhere high in the stands. Lucilius was grabbed and pulled up by other men and after he was dragged off the sandy arena, he was patched and bandaged and left to rest in a cell.
The next day, upon waking, he was pulled from the cell and confined to a carriage that bumped along the cobbled streets and when he was pulled forth again, he was before the grand palace. He was lead up the hundreds of tiers and there left before the grand entrance, already open and wide.
A courtier was there, waiting and after the guards left Lucilius, he beckoned him to follow. He was lead into the splendid hall of marble and was told in his own language to sit before a spread of meats and grapes with clean water and wine also left before him. But Lucilius took none of it, gazing upon the fine craftsmanship of stone all around him. The courtier seemed to have a constant stream of attendants added to a line, waiting to his attention, and with each he attended to the scroll they held while he waited with Lucilius.
And finally, the emperor emerged. The courtier raised himself to attention, but Lucilius remained seated, entranced by the fine work of the emperor’s clothes. The guards to either side of the emperor moved to haul Lucilius to his feet, but the emperor waved them off, and then the man decked in splendour spoke to Lucilius, the language ever new and unknown to Lucilius. At length he went on, until he nodded and then left.
Lucilius looked to the courtier.
“You will need to learn the emperor’s language,” the courtier said.
“For what reason, why am I hear?” Lucilius asked.
The courtier looked displeased. He glanced up from the scroll he held and exchanged it for the next in line.
“The emperor has decided that you shall be his spiritual advisor.”
“But why?” Lucilius asked.
The courtier looked back at him briefly before resuming his study of the scroll. “Of thousands of men, you were the only one who did not cower before blade and death. The emperor has been searching for you, and now you will teach the emperor to be like you, to find peace with his fear.”
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