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Chapter 8 The Colosseum
The gladiators waited for their contest in an area that was at the same level as the sand of the arena. In there they were given helmets, body armor, and swords.
Proximo’s guards led his gladiators into the area and Maximus walked over to a window He looked out at the sand that seemed to continue for ever.
Maximus spoke in a low voice to one of the guards. “Is the Emperor here?” he asked.
“He’ll be here,” the guard replied. “He comes every day.” One of the guards held out a helmet to Maximus. He shook his head and looked instead at the other helmets. He chose one with a better face guard and tried it on. He turned his head back toward the arena, knowing that now his face could not be recognized.
Proximo’s gladiators were armored and ready. They were dressed to look like soldiers from Carthage. They carried spears and long, curved, heavy shields.
As they waited to go out into the arena, an official spoke to them. “You have the honor of fighting in front of the Emperor himself,” he said. “When the Emperor enters, raise your spears in salute. When you salute him, speak together,” he said. “Face the Emperor. Don’t turn your backs.”
“Go,” Proximo said. “Die with honor.” His five best gladiators walked past him and onto the sand of the arena.
Maximus was the last to step onto the floor of the great Colosseum. He had never imagined such a sight. There were thousands and thousands of screaming, shouting people. All around him was an ocean of cheering faces. It took his breath away.
The gladiators moved into the center of the sand. At the same time, three other teams appeared in the arena from different entrances. There was now a total of twenty gladiators on the Colosseum stage. All wore the same armor and carried long double-pointed spears and heavy metal shields. They stood in a line and faced the Emperor’s seat. It was still empty. Fifty royal guards surrounded the area where Commodus and his friends would sit.
Then Commodus and Lucilla entered—and the crowd went wild, cheering and shouting salutes. Lucilla and Lucius went to their seats. Commodus moved forward and waved to the crowd.
Gaius and other senators near the Emperor watched in silence.
They had just heard the latest news: To help pay for the games, Commodus was taking the houses and money of senators he disliked.
Commodus looked down at the gladiators, and Maximus froze as he felt his eyes rest on him. He stared up at the man he hated and wanted to kill. On one side of Commodus he saw Quintus.
On the other side, Lucilla and Lucius. The distance between them was too great—this was not his chance. He knew there would be a better one.
When Cassius gave a sign, the gladiators all saluted with their spears and shouted, “Caesar—we salute you before we die!” Only Maximus was silent.
Cassius stepped forward to introduce the afternoon’s event.
“On this day we reach back into history to bring you the Battle of Carthage!” The crowd cheered loudly. They laughed at the gladiators, dressed as the soldiers of Carthage, the battle’s losers.
Then Cassius continued, “On that great day the gods sent them against Rome’s greatest soldiers—the Army of Africa!” The crowd cheered again as the doors at the ends of the arena suddenly opened with a crash, and six chariots came in from each end. The chariots raced through the line of gladiators, who jumped out of the way. They turned and came back, running over one gladiator. Then the chariots raced around the outside of the arena, forcing the gladiators back into the center. It was difficult for the men on foot to see well through the cloud of dust and sand from the wheels of the chariots. As they thundered past, Maximus saw a spear flying through the air. It hit one of the gladiators in the neck and killed him immediately.
Maximus could see that he must take control and he called to the other gladiators, “If we work together, we can win!” He made them move in closer. “Shields together! Shoulders against the shields!” he called. The gladiators followed his orders—except for one. Haken stood alone, ready to fight his own battle.
The crowd was very surprised. They had never seen anything like this before! The men in the chariots circled around the group firing arrows and spears, but they only hit the gladiators’ shields.
A Roman spear from one chariot hit Haken in the leg. Juba threw his spear and killed the driver, and Maximus pulled Haken into the safety of the group.
Two chariots drove straight at the gladiators. Fixed to their wheels were short, sharp spears. As the wheels turned, they could cut a man to pieces. But the shields were good protection, and the wheel spears broke when they hit them. The wheel of one chariot hit the corner of a shield, and the chariot turned over. Another driver, close behind, crashed into it and was thrown out. His chariot raced on, and its wheel spears killed him as he tried to get away. A third chariot was very close, and both vehicles crashed into the gate.
Maximus ran for one of the broken chariots and cut the horse free. He jumped onto the horse and rode fast toward one chariot.
The driver was watching Maximus carefully. He did not see that he was very close to another vehicle. Their wheels touched. Both drivers were thrown onto the sand. One was killed by Maximus’s spear, and the other died under the feet of his horse.
The gladiators pulled two crashed chariots into the path of the others, who were forced to slow down. Then they rushed at the drivers, striking them with their spears.
Maximus looked around. All their enemies were dead. He climbed down from his horse, and the gladiators stood on either side of him. Haken was among them.
In the arena, Maximus, for the first time, raised his right arm and sword high. It was the gladiators’ traditional sign of beating death. The crowd cheered wildly.
Commodus called for Cassius.
“My history is not so good,” he said, “but I thought we won the Battle of Carthage.”
“Yes, sir,” said Cassius, his voice shaking with fear. “Forgive me.” “Oh, I’m not unhappy,” said Commodus. “I enjoy surprises.” He pointed to Maximus. “Who is he?”
“They call him the Spaniard, sir.”
“I think I’ll meet him,” said Commodus.
The gladiators were almost at the gate. Maximus turned and saw the Emperor walking out onto the sand, smiling at him. He noticed a broken arrow in the sand and, as he fell to his knees he quickly closed his hand around it. This would be his chance.
Commodus was nearly there . . . just a little further . . . almost close enough to kill. Maximus was ready . . .
Suddenly, Lucius ran out and took Commodus by the hand.
Commodus laughed and moved the boy in front of him, facing the gladiator hero. Maximus could not strike—Lucius was in the way.
“Stand, stand,” said Commodus to Maximus. “Now, why doesn’t the hero tell us his real name?” Maximus stood and said nothing. “You do have a name?” asked Commodus.
“My name is Gladiator,” Maximus said. Then he turned and walked away. It was a great insult to turn his back on the Emperor. The crowd were shocked. Commodus was very angry.
He made a sign to Quintus, who moved the royal guards into the arena. They stood at the gate, swords ready, and did not let Maximus pass.
Commodus spoke calmly and clearly. “Slave,” he said, “you will remove your helmet and tell me your name.”
Slowly, Maximus turned to face him. He knew he had no choice now. He took off his helmet.
Commodus stared. Quintus could not believe his eyes. Lucilla recognized Maximus from her seat in the arena and put her hand over her mouth in total shock.
Maximus spoke in a clear, proud voice. “My name is Maximus Decimus Meridas, Commander of the Army of the North, General of the Western Armies, loyal servant to the true Emperor, Marcus Aurelius” The Colosseum was completely silent. Then he turned to Commodus and spoke more quietly. “I am father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife, and I will punish their killer, in this life or the next.” Commodus gave a sign to his guards and they moved closer.
The crowd shouted out. They had seen enough deaths for one afternoon and they did not want their hero to be the next one.
They reached out a forest of thumbs, pointing up to the heavens.
Their meaning was clear—Let him live!
Commodus looked around at his people and with great difficulty he forced himself to smile. He slowly lifted his own thumb.
The crowd cheered. “Maximus! Maximus!” they shouted.
Lucilla and the senators could not believe the scene happening in front of them.
Another shocked face was watching from his seat in the Colosseum. It was Cicero, Maximus’s servant in the army As he watched the General, his mind saw many possibilities.
Maximus led his men from the arena. He looked back just once, from the gate, and thought, “The battle hasn’t ended yet.” ♦
In the darkness of the palace Lucilla stopped in front of the doors to Commodus’s room. She took a deep breath before she entered.
Commodus sat calmly at his desk, signing papers. Lucilla was surprised that he was not still in a violent temper. When he returned from the Colosseum, he had screamed in anger and attacked a picture of Marcus Aurelius. Now he was quieter and behaving quite normally. She walked up to the desk.
“Why is he still alive?” he asked her.
“I don’t know,” she said.
“He shouldn’t be alive,” her brother said. “That makes me angry. I am terribly angry.”
Lucilla watched him carefully, waiting for an explosion.
“I only did the things I had to do,” said Commodus. “Father’s plan was crazy—the Empire . . . Rome . . . they must continue.
You do understand that, don’t you?”
“Yes,” replied Lucilla.
He moved to the tall window and looked out at Rome, quiet now in the late night. “They lied to me in Germany. They told me he was dead. If they lie to me, they don’t honor me. If they don’t honor me, how can they ever love me?”
Maximus was lying awake in the dark of the prison when he heard a guard coming. He was on his feet immediately.
The guard entered and took Maximus along to another prison room. He chained him to the wall and left without a word.
And into the light stepped a woman. Lucilla.
Maximus stared at her. “I knew your brother would send one of his killers,” he said. “I didn’t think he would send his best.” “Maximus, he doesn’t know . . .” Lucilla began.
“My family were burnt alive!” Maximus interrupted, throwing the words at her in anger.
“I knew nothing of that, you must believe me. I cried for them.” “As you cried for your father?” said Maximus.
“I have been living in a prison of fear since that day,” Lucilla said. “I live in terror for my son because he will be the next emperor . . .”
“My son was innocent,” said Maximus.
“So is mine,” she replied. “Must my son die, too, before you’ll trust me?”
Maximus began then to relax. “Why does it matter if I trust you or not?” he asked.
“The gods have allowed you to live. Today I saw a slave become more powerful than the Emperor of Rome,” she said.
“Use that power, Maximus. My brother has many enemies, but until today no one was strong enough to face him. The people were with you, they would follow you.”
“I am only one man. What possible difference can I make?” “Some politicians have worked all their lives for the good of Rome—one man above all. If I can arrange it, will you meet him?” she asked.
“Don’t you understand? I could be killed tonight in this prison—or tomorrow in the arena. I’m just a slave now.” “This man wants the same things as you,” said Lucilla.
“Then let him kill Commodus!” Maximus said in anger.
Lucilla searched for a way to make him understand. “I knew a man once,” she said. “He loved my father very much and my father loved him. This man served Rome well.”
“That man is gone,” said Maximus. “Your brother did his work well.”
“Let me help you,” said Lucilla.
“Yes, you can help me. Forget you ever knew me,” Maximus replied. “And never come here again.” He shouted for the guard.
“This lady has finished with me,” he said.
The guard unlocked the door and led Maximus away.
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