گلادیاتور های جدید

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Chapter 5 New Gladiators

Proximo never missed training for the new boys. He could learn so much about them.

The more experienced gladiators trained against each other, working with swords and spears and with shields and armor.

The new ones were put together into a small arena in the center. One by one they were given heavy wooden swords and sent in to face the teacher. He had a similar sword.

Proximo watched from a short distance. Very quickly his trained eye could sort the new class into two groups. The fighters were marked with red paint, and the others with yellow.

Haken enjoyed his job as gladiator teacher. He took great pleasure in knocking away the swords of his new students and then hitting them hard so they fell onto the dirt. It was soon Maximus’s turn to face Haken.

“Spaniard,” Haken called to him.

Maximus went forward slowly. Proximo watched more closely, to see what would happen.

Maximus picked up the sword and stood facing Haken.

Suddenly everyone, especially Haken, saw that this man was a fighter. There was something about the way he held the sword, the way he stood—but most of all there were his eyes. There was no doubt—he knew how to fight.

Maximus lifted the sword and then dropped it to the ground.

He seemed to be saying, “I could kill, but I choose not to.” Haken was surprised. Was this an insult? He looked to Proximo for orders. Proximo made a sign to him to continue.

Haken struck Maximus across the stomach. Maximus fell forward but then stood straight again and faced him.

Haken looked again to Proximo, and again he was told to continue.

This time Haken struck Maximus across his wounded arm.

Maximus almost fell to the ground but managed to stay on his feet. All the time he stared straight at Haken, who was becoming very angry. Maximus’s thoughts were clear: “I may be low, but I’m not as low as you. I won’t kill for sport” Proximo found it very interesting. Haken lifted the sword again, ready to hurt Maximus really badly, but Proximo stopped him. “That’s enough for now” he said. “His time will come.” He looked behind him to the servant with the pots of paint. “Mark that one,” he said.

In the heat of the late afternoon Haken, Juba, the Greek, and the other new gladiators sat on the ground in the shadows.

Maximus lay by the wall to one side. He had a small, sharp stone and was using it to try to remove the letters SPQR from his arm.

Juba called out to him, “Spaniard! Why didn’t you fight? We all have to fight.”

Maximus did not answer.

The young Greek was very frightened. “I don’t fight,” he said.

“I shouldn’t be here. I’m a secretary—I can write in seven languages.”

“Good,” said Haken. “Tomorrow you can scream in seven languages.”

The other gladiators laughed.

Juba moved closer to Maximus and watched him digging the stone into his skin. “Is that the sign of your gods?” he asked.

Maximus did not answer.

Behind them Haken was making fun of the Greek. “Maybe the secretary will be the one who wins his freedom,” he laughed.

“Freedom!” the Greek replied. “What do I have to do?” “You go into the arena and you kill me,” Haken replied.

“Then you kill him, and the African, and him, and a hundred more. And when there are no more men to fight, you’re free.” “I can’t do that,” cried the Greek.

“No,” said Haken, suddenly serious, “but I can.” He looked from one gladiator to the next until his eyes rested on Maximus.

Maximus stared back at him, his face like stone.

Proximo and his gladiators walked through the streets of the town on their way to the arena. Haken and the gladiators were chained together, and Proximo’s guards walked with them. They were all carrying short swords.

The arena was small. It was not like the enormous Colosseum in Rome, although it was there for the same reason—to entertain the people. This arena was just a circle of sandy ground with a lot of seats around it. But the seats were filled with people, and the people were expecting to see blood.

Maximus and the other gladiators were taken to a small area behind the seats. Above them were Proximo’s seats, next to the seats of several other gladiator trainers. This special position gave the trainers a good view of the arena and they could also see the gladiators preparing to fight. They discussed their gladiators together before the contest started—who would live and who would die.

“Has the African fought before?” one of the men asked Proximo.

“No, first time.”

“And that one?” he asked, pointing to Maximus. “Soldier?” “Him? He’s no good,” said Proximo. “But I have an idea” He called down to his guards. “Chain the Spaniard to the African.” he said.

The other man was not sure about Maximus. He liked the look of the Spaniard. “I think he’ll live through this fight, you think he’ll die,” he said. “Let’s put money on the result—a thousand?”

“Against my own man? I don’t do that,” said Proximo.

“And if I make it five thousand?”

Proximo thought about it. That was a lot of money.

Proximo liked to see his new boys before they went to fight. A guard called for silence as he walked into the waiting area.

“Some of you are thinking that you won’t fight,” Proximo said, “and some that you can’t fight. They all say that until they’re out there.” He pulled a sword down from a shelf. “Push this into another man and the crowd will cheer and love you. You may even begin to love them back.” He stuck the point of the sword in a table. “In the end, we are all dead men. Sadly, we cannot choose how. But we can decide how we accept that end, so we are remembered as men. You go out into the arena as slaves. You come back—if you come back—as gladiators.” Outside, the crowd was getting impatient. Before he left, Proximo walked down the line of men, saying who must be chained together. They were all put in teams of two—and it soon became clear that the method was to chain a “Red to a “Yellow.” Each good fighter was with a certain loser.

Haken was chained to the crying Greek secretary. Maximus— a “loser” because he had refused to fight Haken—was chained to Juba.

Maximus turned to look at the closed door. From the other side they could hear the shouts of the crowd. Suddenly, Maximus bent down and picked up a little sand from the ground, then let it fall through his fingers. Juba watched him but did not understand. When Maximus stood up again, he looked different.

He was ready for battle.

Outside, the crowds were cheering and shouting. There was the sound of drums. Everyone stood anxiously waiting.

Suddenly, the doors to the arena crashed open and sunlight poured in. For a few seconds the men were blinded by it. There were trained gladiators already in the arena, waiting, their swords and spears ready for killing.

The new gladiators ran out, some to immediate death. Side by side, their chain loose between them, Maximus and Juba ran out into the arena.

It was not a fair fight. The new men had only one small sword and no armor; the experienced gladiators had much better equipment.

Maximus and Juba fought together. Juba was surprised to see that his partner—marked with the yellow of cowards—was fighting bravely. All the anger and pain inside Maximus had come out, and he was better than any man in the arena. He knew this was not his day to die, not like this.

Together they killed the first pair of gladiators. Others came to fight them and, for a second, Juba lost his sword as he attacked.

Maximus pulled him clear of the other man’s sword and then struck the attacker hard. His sword point came out the man’s back. He and Juba worked together as a team. They were strong and fast, and many of the attacking gladiators were killed by them.

Haken fought with great power. The Greek was soon killed, and Haken cut off the man’s hand so it was easier for him to move about in the arena.

Proximo watched everything closely.

The crowd quickly realized that Juba and Maximus were a strong fighting pair and began to cheer them.

Soon all the attackers were on the ground. Juba and Maximus looked around, and then at each other. But then, as they began to relax, one of the gladiators tried to get to his feet. They ran forward together and pulled their chain tightly around his neck.

The fighting had ended. The crowd were on their feet, cheering. Maximus looked at the many bodies around him, and then at the excited faces of the crowd. It made him sick that people were entertained by the sight of men killing other men.

He walked toward the entrance and threw his sword into the crowd. It only made them cheer louder.

Proximo was pleased with the day’s work. He had lost a lot of money but he had found a new fighter.

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