This story is by Alexis Pavlovich and was part of our 2018 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Zenobia’s mind raced as she faced the doors to the arena. As much as she tried, the shaking of her hands would not cease. Crowds of spectators chanted her name from the amphitheater, in the hope of a barbarous display of a Roman gladiator’s bravery. Zenobia stood, longsword in hand, ready to fight.
A horn blew, echoing throughout the massive pillars. That was Zenobia’s cue. All she had to do was walk in, spill some blood, and walk out. Zenobia was a skilled fighter. She had conquered dwarves in the dark and defeated Rome’s fiercest gladiators, but today, something didn’t feel right. Her stomach churned and just taking a step, made her legs turn into noodles.
She looked around the barracks, with an aim to escape. It was brick and stone. Marble statues of gladiators loomed over her, making everything seem smaller than it was. Her eyes adjusted to the dark, as she looked at a pudgy man entering the large hallway. His face held a disgusted expression as he slammed a wooden door behind him. The angry man’s sandals whisked dirt from the floor up into the air, putting a tickle in her nose.
“Zenobia! Why aren’t you out there? The people are getting restless, and so is Felix! He has a big bet placed on you winning today!” His raspy voice filled the corridor.
“I can’t fight anymore, Titus. The gladiators that I fight are innocent people, and Felix orders me to slaughter them like cattle.” She tugged at her dove-white toga, then adjusted her leather arm guard. What she wore into the arena a thousand times over, now seemed foreign.
Titus slicked back what was left of his receding hair and let out a calming breath. “ Felix would not like you talking like this.”
“I do not care what he thinks. All Felix wants is to fill up his pockets with Aureus!”
“So do you, isn’t that why you became one of the gladiators?”
She didn’t answer Titus, instead, looked at the ground with shame. She clenched her fist around the hilt of her longsword, trying to suppress the feeling. The question lingered in the air, mixing with the stench of sweat and freshly opened wine. She remembered first joining the gladiators. How the thrill of defeating an opponent made her adrenaline rush. How fighting kept her off the streets and provided meals when she had no money to buy any.
Zenobia’s mind turned like gears, never really stopping. She thought about Felix. He was the editor of the games which meant he controlled everything. Even whom she could fight and the executions she carried out.
Her head lifted, a smile encountered her blood-red lips. Zenobia’s eyes held a glimmer of hope and a cunning idea.
“I will be fighting today, but only who I pick,” Zenobia told Titus.
She grabbed her small round shield and ignored Titus’s cursing and questions. As Zenobia approached the doors, guards opened them, letting light pour into the darkness. She walked into the arena; her braided black hair swayed with every step. Upon seeing their favorite female gladiator, more than 50,000 spectators roared with passion. They hollered with anticipation and excitement, seemingly making the stone columns come alive. Crimson liquid stained parts of the walls and slowly oozed down to the sandy bottom. A slight breeze gently ruffled the canopy hanging above the Royal Box, sheltering a man who sat there from the scorching heat.
Zenobia squinted, keeping the sunlight from her eyes. Sitting in the Royal Box, was Felix. She snarled at the sight, clenching her jaw.
When Felix saw Zenobia, He stood up and raised his hand, asking the audience for silence. When the spectators calmed down, Felix cleared his throat to speak, but Zenobia had other ideas. A loud blood-curdling shriek came from her mouth, making everyone freeze in fear. All eyes turned towards the awful cry made by Zenobia.
“Enough with introductions! Enough with all of this!” Zenobia projected her voice with ease. She looked at the editor of the games with deep hatred and cried out. “Felix! You have been arresting innocent people. The Citizens of Rome, you make them fight against their will. You’ve seen my talents and exploited them for only your benefit!”
“Such accusations, woman! That is not true,” He announced. The people started to murmur, silently amongst themselves. There was tension in the air as everyone anticipated what was to happen next.
Felix started to laugh. “Let’s forget this and go on with the show, shall we?”
Some men and women laughed along with him; others exchanged nervous glances as their eyes darted between Felix and Zenobia.
She now raised her sword, pointing to Felix. “I challenge you, Felix of Florence! A fight to the death. Here and now.”
Everyone’s eyes widened. The ones who just loved a fight that went to the bloody death cheered and hollered. A dual like this was serious. Even challenging a high ranking man like Felix was dangerous.
Perspiration started to run down his forehead. “You can’t do that.” Felix gulped.
“I just did,” Zenobia stated.
Titus made his way to the Royal Box and was speaking to Felix. Zenobia couldn’t hear what they were saying but seen Titus throw his hands up in the air while Felix swallowed a full chalice of wine.
He called down to Zenobia, in an agitated voice. “I accept your challenge.”
Then he went off, leaving the safety of his throne.
A few minutes passed, and the spectators were getting restless. Thirst for water lingered in the back of Zenobia’s throat. Her bronze skin blazed in the overwhelming heat.
Finally, Felix appeared on the opposite side of the arena, wearing similar armor as Zenobia. They slowly met in the middle of the stadium. A shining galea covered his blond hair. His stance was sloppy, and the way he held a sword was pitiful.
“Zenobia, there is no need for this!” Felix begged. “Call off the dual.”
“Hah! You brought this onto yourself! ” Zenobia snapped. “Now you will pay for what you have done.”
Her feet instinctively positioned themselves in a fighting stance. Her right hand gripped the long sword, while her left guarded with the shield.
Zenobia advanced, attacking with the tip of her sword. Felix deflected and retreated. He eyed his opponent, trying to predict when she would strike next. Zenobia spun around, in a 360-degree movement, making momentum for her attack. She thrust her longsword, Felix tried to block, but the force that Zenobia exerted on his sword was too much. Terror flooded Felix’s face as he watched his weapon snap in two. With Felix defenseless, Zenobia used the pommel of her sword to strike him on the forehead. He staggered backward, losing balance. Zenobia immediately raised her leg and kicked him in the chest. She threw all of her might into it, sending Felix flying back. He landed on the ground with a hard thud. Slowly, Felix tried to stand, moaning in anguish. He only made it to where he was kneeling, when a blade stopped him from moving any further.
Zenobia’s crystal-blue eyes peered at Felix like daggers. A deadly sharp sword was in her grasp, teetering on the edge of his throat. The amphitheater erupted with shouting and cheer.
Felix spat blood from his mouth. “Do you think killing me will atone for your sins. Don’t tell me that you didn’t like the fame of fighting. The crowds chanting your name everywhere you went?” His laughter sent a chilling quiver down her spine.
“I did, and that was the problem. I earned that popularity by following your orders, and now I realize those orders were wrong.” Zenobia threw down her shield. “Your reign of terror is over.”
She raised her sword with both hands and let all of her guilt and anger release into the blade, striking Felix’s neck. Blood spilled, saturating the dry ground as his body fell.
“No one will suffer from your decisions any longer,” Zenobia told the headless corpse at her feet.
She lifted her blood-stained sword to the sky in triumph. The Spectators stood up and shouted with joy, hailing Zenobia. She let out a sigh of relief. For once Zenobia will be at ease knowing she has control over her destiny and that no more suffering would come to the people.