فصل 04

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فصل 04

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CHAPTER FOUR

A Prisoner Again

Maximus rode fast through the German forests on Cornelius’s horse. He was leading one of the other horses behind him. He had put a cloth around the cut in his shoulder, but it was bad and gave him a lot of pain. Blood ran down his arm as he rode, but he did not have time to stop.

By the middle of the day he had crossed into the east of France. He rode his horse as hard as he could-he had to get home before it was too late.

Into the night he continued riding, not stopping for water, food, or rest. He saw nothing as he passed through the country and he remembered nothing. He could only think that time was passing so quickly. He became hot and tired and decided to throw off his armor. His horse was also tired, and he knew it could not go much further. He changed horses and continued his urgent flight toward Spain and the faraway hills above Trujillo.


In the light of early day, the Spanish hills around the farm and house were unbelievably beautiful.

An eight-year-old boy with dark hair was in a field beside the pink stone house. He was training a wild horse, making it walk around the field. A beautiful, black-haired woman watched her son working with the horse and smiled. He would have a fine riding horse by the time his father returned.

The boy stopped-he saw something. Over a hill he could just see a battle flag, coming in their direction. He shouted with excitement and happiness and ran out of the field. He ran toward the flag, calling, “Father! Father!”

The woman, too, looked toward the flag. But there was something about it that worried her. Something was not right, and she suddenly felt anxious.

The boy continued to run along the road. Soon soldiers appeared over the hill. But they were not the Roman soldiers he expected to see. He slowed down, then stopped, confused. Twenty royal guards were riding down the road, and his father was not among them. He searched their faces again, looking for his father, hoping.

Behind him his mother started shouting out his name. The horses suddenly came faster, riding over the small boy and crashing him into the dirt of the road. Then they rode straight toward his screaming mother.


At the hills turned pink and gold with the sunset, a rider raced for his life killing the horse under him. His shoulder was bleeding badly. He came to the top of a long, low hill and stopped. There was a line of thick, black smoke in the distance and he tried to see where it was coming from. With a cry of pain he forced the horse forward, racing down the far side of the hill. Would he arrive in time?

Maximus’s worst dream did not equal the sight in front of him. His family home and farm were burning, completely destroyed. The wheat and the apple trees were burnt black, and smoke still curved upward from the last stones of his house. Two pink stone chimneys were left standing-nothing else.

He stopped the horse violently. It fell over onto its side and Maximus was thrown off. His stomach was sick with fear. He knew now what he would find.

He stopped before the field of vegetables, looked up, and forced himself to breathe. There, hanging on ropes, were the burnt bodies of his wife and son. There was almost nothing left of them. He reached up with both hands to touch his wife’s feet. A terrible scream came from him, and he sank to the earth. His world was now dead.


Maximus dug one deep hole in the black earth on the hillside for his wife and son. He pushed the earth back over their broken, burnt bodies and cried. He looked down toward the ruin of the house he had built, to the dead apple trees.

He spoke to his loved ones through his tears. “Lie in the shadow of the trees, my loves, and wait for me there…”

He fell onto the earth beside them.


They came because they had smelled the smoke in the air. Fire meant there was something to be found and taken.

These were Spanish thieves, and their chief was a big mountain man with a black beard. They found the man lying dead on the black earth. Hands touched his shoes-expensive, leather shoes. Other hands moved over his soldiers clothes-fine, dark red cloth.

Suddenly, the dead man moved. The hands on his body stopped. Something was said in a strange language. Everyone waited.

The big man on the ground did not move again. The chief made a sign to his men, and the hands roughly took hold of Maximus and pulled him away.

Days and nights passed, and for Maximus it was like a never- ending feverish dream. Terrible pictures crossed his mind as he lay close to death in the open carriage they had thrown him into. He dreamed of wild animals, close to his face… then he was on a ship, traveling across water. A large African man smiled down at him … he saw views of the desert… far-away mountains… heard shouts in a strange language. It was hot, too hot to breathe…

Maximus’s eyes opened slowly. Centimeters away from his face was a wild tiger-and this one did not go away when he closed his eyes and opened them again.

He looked around and realized that he was one of several men chained together in a dirty slave carriage. There were small windows at the front and back and on both sides. He looked through one of the windows and saw other carriages traveling with them. Wild animals in chains were walking along with them, some close to the window that he was looking through. He fell back onto the floor, thinking, “This must all be a terrible dream.”

When Maximus woke again, he saw twelve slaves, all chained together, all looking at him. Outside the carriage he could hear men talking in a language he did not understand. Someone was looking down at him, a big African man.

“Juba,” said the African, giving his name. He, too, was chained.

Maximus moved with great pain and saw that the sword wound on his shoulder was worse than he had realized. Juba was putting something on the wound. Maximus fell back again and slept.

When he woke again, the African was still with him. “You see?” he said. “Now your arm is getting better-it’s clean.” He put his finger gently on the wound. “Don’t die,” said Juba. “They’ll feed you to the tigers. They’re more expensive than we are.”

Maximus stared at him, and Juba looked down with a small smile on his lips.


The desert heat of Morocco was not like anything that Maximus had known. The hot air made breathing difficult. He did not care about breathing, though. Maximus did not care about anything.

All around him men were standing in the sand in a slave market. The buyers walked slowly around, looking at the men and touching them. There was a man with a black beard standing near them, calling out to tell people about his slaves.

Maximus stood with the others, looking far away, beyond the people and the market. Physically, he was getting better with Juba’s help. But nobody could help the darkness inside him. He did not even care about his own life. Maximus the Roman General, Maximus the farmer and husband was already dead.

Across the market square Aelius Proximo sat in a small, dirty cafe and watched everything with interest. Proximo was a large man with big, blue eyes and white hair and beard. He looked like a man who enjoyed the good things in life. He drank his tea slowly, as a man measured his feet for new shoes. Two slave girls sat beside him.

“Proximo, my friend!” said the man with the black beard. Proximo recognized the man immediately and turned away. “Every day you are here is a great day,” the man said, smiling. He came to sit with Proximo. “And today is your lucky day”

Proximo caught hold of his arm and held it tight. “It wasn’t my lucky day the last time you sold me some animals. They’re no good-they only run around and eat. Give me my money back!”

The slave-seller tried to pull his arm away. “I’ll give you a special price today-because you are unhappy. Just for you. Come and see the new tigers.”

Proximo let him go and followed him across the square.

“Look at this one,” said the man. “Isn’t he a beauty?”

Proximo looked at the tigers through the bars. “Do they fight?” he asked.

“Of course! For you, my special price, only eight thousand.”

“For me,” said Proximo, “four thousand. That’s my special price.”

“Four? I have to eat…”

Proximo looked around at the group of men in chains. “Do any of them fight?” he said. “There’s a contest soon.”

“Some are good for fighting, some for dying. You need both.”

Proximo walked over to Juba. “Get up,” he commanded the big African.

Juba lifted his head and looked at him. He got up slowly. Proximo looked at him carefully. He turned over Juba’s hands and felt the hard skin.

Then he moved on to Maximus. He saw the wound on his arm and then he saw the mark just above it-the letters “SPQR.” Proximo knew that they meant Senatus Populusque Romanus: The Senate and the Roman People.

“A soldier,” said Proximo. “Did you run away?” he asked Maximus. But Maximus said nothing.

“Probably,” said the slave-seller. “They say he’s a Spaniard.”

Proximo walked on and looked at the others. “I’ll take six-a thousand for all of them,” he said. His servant handed him a small brush with red paint on it.

“A thousand!” the slave-seller cried. “The African alone should cost two thousand.” He whispered to Proximo, “Turn your back on him, he’ll kill you.”

“These slaves are no good,” said Proximo, as he walked away.

“Wait, wait… we can discuss the price.”

Proximo made a mark in red paint on the chests of the slaves he had chosen. “I’ll give you two thousand,” he said, “and four for the animals. But it will be five thousand for an old friend.”

The slave-seller thought for a second and then accepted.

“But those tigers have to fight,” said Proximo.

“Don’t feed them for a day and a half,” said the slave-seller, “and they’ll eat their own mothers.”

“Interesting idea,” said Proximo, as he walked away.

His servants pulled the chains tied to Juba, Maximus, and the others, and they were led away.


Proximo’s carriages arrived in a crowded, Moroccan port city. Maximus and Juba sat together with twelve other new slaves. One was a small, very frightened Greek man. He was probably a teacher or a writer. He was definitely not a fighter.

The carriage of slaves was followed by several others carrying wild animals-including the tigers. Most of the chained men looked back at the tigers from time to time, not with interest but with fear. They knew what a hungry tiger could do, and they guessed why they and the animals had been bought together.

They drove through some large iron gates. There was no sign on the gates or on the buildings inside, but everyone in the city knew the place as Proximo’s School. It was not a place to learn Latin, Greek, or mathematics. It was a school where men learned how to fight-to live one more day in the face of death. It was a gladiator school.

Proximo’s school was like a castle prison. In the center was a square. On one side were the cages for the animals, and on the opposite side the human prisoners were kept.

Maximus and the other new slaves were pushed into their prison, and the doors crashed shut behind them. Maximus noticed the guards. They all carried short swords and some also had arrows or spears.

At the far end of the square a group of about ten men were training. “Battle practice,” thought Maximus. “Like Commodus.”

A very big man was teaching two new gladiators how to throw a spear. They were trying to hit a picture of a man, but they were not very good. Both students missed it. The teacher threw his spear and hit the picture in the stomach.

“Haken,” said a voice from behind, naming the teacher.

Maximus turned to see Proximo, who was admiring Haken’s strength. He and Maximus stared at each other.

“Spaniard…” Proximo said, naming Maximus. Then he moved along the line, naming each new slave. “Thief… murderer…”

Suddenly, he stopped and smiled. “Proximo!” he said. “Anyone know the meaning of that?”

‘Nearest.’

‘Dearest.’

‘Close to.’

‘I am Proximo. I shall be closer to you in the next days than your own mothers were. I did not pay good money to buy you,” Proximo said. “I paid to buy your death. You may die alone, in pairs, or in groups-who knows? Many different ways with just one ending.” He walked around his new slaves, enjoying himself. “And when you die-and you will die-the sound of cheering will send you to the next world.”

Proximo raised his hands and stretched them out to the group of slaves. “Gladiators, I salute you,” he said.

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