Gladiator

Charles raised his sword above his head in victory. His foe lay dead in the sand at his feet while the crowd in the stands around them cheered and clapped. Charles focused his fierce gaze upon the most prominent seats in the circular stadium, belonging to the tyrant, who sat calmly and silently. The emperor nodded, and then beckoned a servant over, to whom he whispered a few unheard word.

Charles walked out of the arena, through the entrances below the stands into the pits below where torch lights illuminated the cells of other competitors, to his own cell, where he would await the next match.

To be honest, he didn’t enjoy killing people in the arena. It was but a necessary evil in his path to justice. The tyrant had visited many cruelties upon his subjects – of which one of the least was the very arena Charles now sat within. But Charles would soon see an end to this. Slowly, he would rise through the ranks of the competitors and eventually reach the level where he could easily beat the Champion, the tyrant’s greatest warrior, who had slain countless soldiers in battle and countless more in the arena. Defeat the Champion, and Charles would soon be able to fight and kill the tyrant himself.

For now, though, he just had to make it through this tournament alive. It had gone well for him so far, but he couldn’t know if it would stay that way – how close in skill his opponents would be to himself.

 

The next day Charles was called up for his next duel. He entered the arena, waving his arms at the crowd cheering for him, wishing his victory. As the crowd calmed down, though, Charles was surprised to see the tyrant rise from his seat.

“My people, there has been a change in the lineup for today’s match. My Champion has chosen to enter the ring, and will now fight this contestant!”

Charles stared in shock at the tyrant sitting back down in his seat. He wasn’t ready for this! Sure, he’d planned to face and defeat the Champion, but later, when he had acquired sufficient skill. Above, the tyrant seemed to nod and smile at him, as if telling him, “Yes, I know what you were planning. See how you deal with it now!”

But as the gate below the tyrant’s section of the stands opened, releasing the large, brutish figure that was the emperor’s Champion, Charles pulled himself together, quickly going over his options.

There was no way Charles could win in a fight against the Champion. The Champion was too strong. Charles had beaten perhaps ten other contestants while in the arena; it was said the Champion had defeated hundreds on the battlefield, including the heroes of those countries that had tried to withstand the tyrant.

He could try running, but he knew that would only work until either his dignity told him to turn around and fight, or until the Champion caught up. And with no escape from the arena, that was inevitable. Really, the only choice Charles had was how hard would he fight.

But as the Champion approached and the two of them drew their swords, another idea occurred to Charles. There was a slight possibility that he might be able to take down the Champion with him. If he could pull off the right moves, he would be able to strike the Champion, though while also allowing the Champion to kill him. It wasn’t much, but it was probably a better death than just becoming another one of the many slain by the Champion.

The fight began slowly as each tested the other one, barely moving their weapons as they got a feel for the other’s style. It didn’t take long for Charles to figure out the appropriate means to his own suicide. He swung, leaving himself wide open for attack. The Champion took the opportunity and thrust his weapon through Charles’ side, while Charles’ blade hit the Champion’s shoulder. He twisted, bringing out a gush of blood, before they both collapsed onto the arena floor, dead.

 

Above, the tyrant sighed. “I suppose this means I’ll need to find a new champion.”

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Backstab

“My Lord, the main gate has fallen. We’re taking heavy casualties, so we expect they’ll be here soon.”

If the messenger’s anguished tones hadn’t clued King Konrad into the desperation of the situation, the blood pouring down the side of his face and his desperate expression did.

“Very well,” said Konrad. “Pull everyone back to the courtyard. If we can defend the keep, we may still have a chance of making it out of this alive. Remember, we still have the secret entrance if all else fails.”

He glanced over at a tall tapestry near the back of the atrium, where the secret entrance led down to the catacombs beneath the city and outside from there. But he hoped that he wouldn’t have to resort to that.

He looked over the atrium, where his bodyguard sat scattered around, sharpening swords and waiting for either the battle to come to them, or for their lord to send them to the battle. There was Luther, sharpening his heavy battle ax. Johann sat nearby, looking as though he were sleeping, his spear resting against the wall. Ulrich and Anton spoke in whispers near the back of the atrium. Konrad frowned. There were four of the five of his best men, but where was Gustaf, the fifth?

Another messenger came hurtling into the room and collapsed as he reached toward the king. A crossbow bolt protruded from his back.

“My Lord, they’ve breached the courtyard. We won’t hold out for long. And they have…archers…on the walls….”

“What?” exclaimed Konrad, bending down to the messenger. Around, his bodyguard stiffed warily. “On the walls? What do you mean? How could they have soldiers on the walls by now?”

There was a series of noises and sounds of movement from behind Konrad. He stood and swung around, only to see the tapestry hiding the secret exit cut vertically through the center. A battalion of soldiers bearing the red of Konrad’s enemy emerged from the doorway, followed by none other than Gustaf.

“Gustaf, what—what is the meaning of this?” demanded Konrad as his bodyguard positioned themselves defensively around him, drawing their weapons.

“I switched sides,” replied Gustaf.

“But why?”

“I wanted power.” The traitor shrugged and turned to the soldiers he had led into the atrium. “Kill them.”

A hail of crossbow bolts flew at the bodyguard, cutting down a number of them instantly. The bodyguard charged at the red-garbed soldiers. But as they engaged in battle, Konrad turned at the sound of clattering boots to see the enemy soldiers breaking into the atrium. They were surrounded.

Luther swung his ax through three foes at once before a spear pierced his back. Johann stabbed one, only for two to grab him by the shoulders and thrust their swords through his gut. Ulrich and Anton fell under the second volley of crossbow bolts. Others quickly drowned underneath the sea of red soldiers that flooded the atrium.

Consumed with rage, Konrad thrust his sword through the nearest soldier, taking the man’s spear. Turning toward Gustaf, he threw the spear straight into the traitor’s chest, just before three soldiers thrust their spears into the king’s back.