I prepared myself, and with an effort, rolled onto my good side. I was facing two other tables, both of which were bare, and a side wall of the room. The surgeon was behind me, I thought.
The movement had caused fresh pain to thrust at me from everywhere, but I breathed into it and thought of home. After a few moments, I was able to ease up onto my elbow. I could get to my feet, I told myself. I could climb the stairs to the ground level, and walk into Capua. Where I would go then, I had no idea, but there would be time to worry about that once I was out of the amphitheatre, the cursed place that had claimed so many lives today.
‘You should be resting.’ The surgeon came around to my side, fussing like a mother hen. ‘There is no need to move, unless…do you need to empty your bladder?’
Now that he mentioned it, I did. ‘Aye,’ I said.
‘You can do that lying on your side. Wait.’ Off he hurried, to get a receptacle, I assumed.
I twisted my head to look at the gate to the room, hoping that perhaps it lay ajar.
It was shut.
Worse, far worse than that, was the guard perched on a stool on the far side of the bars. Back to the wall, spear angling up between his knees to lean against his chest, he appeared to be asleep.
The surgeon saw me staring, and gave me an apologetic glance. ‘There by the order of your new owner,’ he said in a quiet tone. ‘He came down to look at you when the contests were over. His “new investment”, he called you. Told me to make sure you recovered.’
‘Of course he did. And the prick did not want to risk my making a run for it,’ I muttered, sinking into utter despair.
‘Ah,’ said the surgeon, his gaze sliding to the gate, and back to me. Quietly, he said, ‘You do not really need a piss, do you? Escape was more on your mind.’
I twitched my lips. ‘You see through me, but I do actually need that.’ I reached out for the wide-necked clay vessel in his hand. He hovered, but I waved him away. Doubtless I had been stripped naked when he was first treating me, but the small dignity of urinating without help seemed important. It was, I realised as the vessel began to fill slowly, almost the only power, the only freedom I possessed.
When I was done, though, I still had to ask him to take it away.
He made me drink some poppy juice after, to help the pain, he said. Really, I think he knew how seeing the guard at the gate had dragged my spirits to a new low.
I closed my eyes, weary to the bone, to the very marrow.
Tomorrow was a new day, I decided. Tomorrow I would find out whether my new master truly was more humane than Crixus. I hoped so. Unless he was sick in the head, he would want to recoup his outlay. I would still have to fight in the circle of sand, therefore, but I would mostly be pitted against men of similar quality. Death would be a risk of course, but after my success today, I had a reasonable chance of building a career, and earning significant amounts of coin. Of winning the rudis, and after the compulsory period that followed, achieving the status of libertus, freedman.
There was another thing, I realised with a tiny stab of hope.
Remaining as a gladiator, winning my freedom, meant that I had the tiniest of chances of revenging myself on Caligula for what he had done today.
I wanted to kill him far more than Crixus. Far more. And so that infinitesimal chance would have to do.
Holding that thought tight as a lover, I let the poppy juice carry me away.
To merciful sleep.
Here ends the first part of Midir’s story. Eighty-three episodes, sixteen and a half weeks – it’s been a rollercoaster ride, and (mostly) great fun to write. It started out in the fourth week of March 2020 as something to help you lovely people with lockdown – I know from your many comments that it seemed to do that in a small way at least. Then it developed into a tale that just ran and ran. I did not plot the thing at all, other than from one episode to the next, say; the story almost seemed to write itself.
I can see an end now, but I am afraid you will have to wait to find out what happens to our hero. You will probably find this frustrating, but it has come about partly because my publisher’s interest in Sands of the Arena (and the other stories I have self-published). There is now a distinct possibility that Sands of the Arena will make its way into print*. The other reason is that I need to concentrate on other things such as finishing Crusader, the second Lionheart book, and editing it, and spending some time with my family. Thanks for your understanding and support.
Stay tuned for more details – the best place is my Facebook page: facebook.com/benkanebooks
*If this possibility does not eventuate, I will self-publish the anthology of short stories myself, in print as well as digital format.