“Fail to entertain me again slave and I shall have you killed where you stand.”
Emperor Acidus was in a rather foul mood again today. He put down his wine and waved his hand away, gesturing for the slave to be brought out of his sight.
“I am in the mood for some music. Who here can sing?”
A young slave girl is pushed out In front of the Emperor, falling on her hands and knees. She looks up timidly at the ruler of the known world. His scowl frightened her. She froze on the floor.
“On your feet slave. Some here believe you have the gift of song.”
The slave girl rose to her feet, head down in embarrassment.
“Well, I’m waiting” the emperor grew impatient.
She took a deep breath and began to sing a song from her childhood. It wasn’t the best song she knew but the one she felt the most comfortable singing. Movement in the room stopped as everyone turned to see who was creating such beautiful music. The emperor gawked at her, eyes widening and mouth a gape. He had never heard such a marvelous voice before.
When she finished singing, she was met with a standing ovation from the emperor, and the rest of the room. He walked down the few steps his throne was perched on.
“That was wonderful! I must hear more of you. Between gladiator events you will keep me occupied.”
A small smile grew across the young girls face.
“What is your name?”
“Symphera. My name is Symphera my liege.”
The emperor grabbed her hand and kissed it.
“Symphera. A beautiful name for a beautiful woman. Come, there is a match now, you will entertain me and my guests.”
She followed the emperor out of the room and into a carriage. The whole time he was shouting commands, she was sitting there quietly, looking at the city as it went by. She did not get a good looked at where she was after arriving a few days ago. The carriage stopped in front of a gigantic building.
“This is the Colosseum, where slaves fight to the death for the entertainment of the people. Do not worry, I will not make you fight, yet.”
The emperor let out a loud laugh as she followed him into the building.
“I only wish to serve you, my liege.” She replied.
Symphera sang as they entered his suite. The emperor sat down, and she stayed next to him standing in the sun. She was ordered to stop when the fight was being announced. The announcers voice was booming.
“Our emperor gives you the battle between Vegetianus the powerful and Caldus the Rash!”
As the match began, Symphera couldn’t take her eyes off of Caldus. His movements so explosive, his skin so golden, his hair waving in the wind with every turn and strike of his blade. She was so captivated by him that she had inched forward to get a better look.
The two men battled under the hot sun for what felt like hours. With the clash of their swords, they could make the entire arena shake. After one such clash, Caldus fell back onto his side. Symphera gasped when she saw Vegetianus tower over him with his sword raised high. Caldus stretched out his arm, sword in hand and punctured Vegetianus before he could deliver his blow. He fell over limp and Caldus rose from the ground to thunderous applause.
“Marvelous, just marvelous. Did you enjoy the fight Symphera?” the emperor asked.
Still taken back by what she had seen, she gathered herself and turned to Acidus.
“Very much so. It was a great victory for Caldus.”
The emperor stood up front his seat.
“I am going to meet him. This is his third victory since he has been here and I do believe it deserves some recognition. Please, entertain me as we head down.”
“As you wish my liege.”
Symphera sang the same sing all over the Colosseum. One that she knew the emperor liked and knew she couldn’t go wrong singing. They were now beneath the arena. Caldus was already back in his cell. He could hear Symphera’s singing as the emperor walked up to the bars.
“Splendid swordsmanship slave. You are winning over me over as well as the crowd.”
Caldus turned to see the emperor, went down on one knee and bowed his head.
“I only wish to serve you, my liege.”
“You are serving me well, but we will see if you have the crowd on your side after tomorrows fight.”
Caldus lifted his head and locked eyes with Symphera. He stuttered for a moment and then addressed the emperor.
“If I am to die it will be a gladiator’s death.”
The emperor smiled.
“I look forward to your match tomorrow”. And began walking away from his cell.
Symphera followed. The whole time keeping her eyes locked with Caldus as neither of them could look away.
At night fall, the emperor sent Symphera to the Ludus where Caldus trained. He wanted her to make sure he was comfortable before his battle.
As she walked up to the Ludus, her cheeks began to burn red. She ignored this and went inside. Finding the Ludi Magister, she handed him a scroll from the emperor, and he led her to Caldus’ cell.
He was sitting against the wall looking out at the torch lit hallway when he saw her. The look of surprise on his face was impossible to hide.
“The emperor has sent you a visitor. Don’t act like an animal like you usually do!” said the Magister. He opened the cell, Symphera walked in, and he closed in behind her.
The two stared at each other until Caldus stood up.
“What Is your name?”
Symphera turned her head down and to the left.
“What does that matter. You know why I am here.”
Caldus walked up to her. She tensed as he brushed his hand down her arm.
“Do not be afraid. I know why he sent you but we do not have to do so. Please sit.”
Symphera sat down on his bed. Nothing moved or made a sound.
“I have been ordered to make you comfortable before you fight. Is there anything else I can do?”
Caldus sat against the wall across from her. “I heard you singing earlier. You are quite good.”
“Would you like me to sing for you? Will that make you comfortable?”
Caldus smiled “Yes it would.”
Symphera began singing the same song from earlier.
“No, not that one. I heard that before. Do you know any others?”
Symphera could only think of one more and began singing.
Again, the room stopped and all the gladiators were up against the bars of their cells. Listening to the beautiful song she was singing. Caldus had closed his eyes and could feel her song flowing inside him. When she was done, she looked over at him and noticed how blissful he looked. The other gladiators moved away from the bars when she stopped.
“That was extraordinary. How is it that you are a slave and not one of the most popular songstresses in Rome?”
Symphera looked down and smiled.
“I lived with my family to the west of here until a few days ago. That’s when Roman soldiers came and destroyed my home. It appears that emperor Acidus desired more land for his empire.”
Caldus walked over to the bed
“You must hate him then.”
Symphera looked up.
“No, I don’t hate him. I was not happy there either but my family is still out there somewhere. I would like to find them one day.”
The two locked eyes again. Symphera brushed the hair out of Caldus’ eyes, leaving her hand on his cheek. Caldus had one and on the bed and the other on her hip.
“I said we didn’t have to do this.”
Smyphera kissed him.
“I want to.”
The two fell into each other’s arms and then flat on the bed.
Caldus woke up to Symphera getting dressed. Seeing the curve of her back made him lose his breath.
“If you are comfortable, I will take my leave.”
Caldus jumped from the bed and kissed her.
“I will always be comfortable if you are with me.”
“I wish for that too. I will try to come up with ways to see you more.”
Caldus banged on the cell and yelled for the guard. One came and the two locked eyes one last time before he escorted Symphera out.
She woke with the sun the next day. Symphera couldn’t sleep knowing that today meant life or death for Caldus. The knot in her stomach grew worse as the day went on. Her singing was affected and emperor Acidus was letting her know. Walking to the Colosseum, was one of the hardest things she had done. They arrived in the emperor’s suite, and she could not speak let alone sing. Horns sounded to signal the first fight of the day. It was Caldus.
The announcer started his monologue.
“Ladies and gentlemen! Behold a winner of his last three fights, a warrior to die for, one you will remember long after he has gone. Caldus the Rash!”
As he entered the arena, Symphera locked eyes with him, and he saluted the emperor. It was as if he was also saluting her.
“His opponent. A man faster than a tiger. He uses his speed not only to elude enemy attack but to inflict more pain on his enemies. A man new to the Colosseum. Welcome Citior!”
Citior runs into the arena, his spear in one hand, his shield in the other. After he salutes the emperor, the two men take their places in the middle of the Colosseum. The emperor stands up, walks to the edge of his suite and yells.
Citior charges forward, thrusting his spear at Caldus. He defends by slashing his sword at it, deflecting it to the side. Citior spins and catches him with his shield, knocking him to the ground. Caldus, stunned by the blow, stays down for a moment to regain his composure. Citior, ceasing the moment, thrusts his spear again at Caldus. He rolls out of the way but the spear catches the side of his ribs. Now on his feet, Caldus charges shield first, deflecting the sear strike and rolling off of Citiors attacking arm to slashing his back. The two men stand bloodied facing each other.
Symphera could not move out of fear that Caldus might lose. She gasped every time the action picked up.
Caldus charges again. Citior crouches down and swings his spear at Caldus’ feet, tripping him. Caluds fall forward, rolls and turns to face his opponent. Only to see the spear flying towards him. It catches him in his right shoulder causing him to drop his sword. Caldus breaks the shaft of the spear, making it easier for him to move. Both men with only shields in hand begin swinging them at each other. Citior lands a punch, blackening Caldus’ eye. He cannot defend well with the spear still in his shoulder.
Symphera begins to cry next to the emperor, who looks over and rolls his eye at her.
“There will be other fighters you can swoon over.” He says.
She looks at him with a scowl and says nothing. Looking back down at the arena, Citior is now on top of Caldus, standing with one foot on his chest and twisting the spear into his shoulder. He looks up at the emperor who stands to give his decision on whether to let Caldus live or die.
The emperor looks around the crowd, holding his hand straight out with his thumb extended, pointing to the side. Then looks at Symphera.
“I’m sorry dear.”
And then points his thumb down. The crowd roars with anticipation. Citior rips the spear out of Caldus’ shoulder. The emperor turns to watch the end of the fight. Symphera, rage building in her stomach, grabs the guard’s sword. Citior lifts the spear above Caldus for the finishing blow just as Symphera lunges towards the emperor, the stolen blade leading the way. She’s seconds away from plunging the sword into the emperor when a noise stops her.
Symphera looks down at the arena floor and see Caldus reaching towards the emperors’ suite, Citior still holding him down. Now all eyes are on the suite. The guards tackle her to the ground and remove the sword from her grasp. The emperor turns around.
“Do you think that was wise?”
She looks down at Caldus, tears running down her face. The emperor looks too.
“I see, well If you love him that much then you can die with him.”
The guards bring Symphera to her feet. The emperor looks into her eyes.
“It’s a shame. You were one of the best songstresses I have had. Could I hear one more sound before you go?”
Symphera spat in his face then stared at him, eyes like daggers piercing his soul. Emperor Acidus wiped the spit off his face and slapped Symphera across hers.
“Take her down to the arena floor. There will be an execution now.”
Guards circled Citior and Caldus.
Symphera was ushered down to the floor and the circle opened to let her in. one guard took the spear from Citior and named him the winner of the fight before escorting him out of the arena. Symphera was thrown to the ground beside Caldus. The two of them laid there on their backs looking into each other’s eyes.
“Are you still ordered to comfort me?” Caldus asked with a smile.
“I will always be there for you.” Symphera replied while brushing the hair from hie eyes.
“Would you sing me that song from last night? I want it to be the last thing I hear before I die.”
Symphera starts to cry as Caldus is lifted to his knees. A guard stands behind him with his sword drawn. Lifts it up, points it down and then looks over at symphera, who has started singing. The crowd is so loud the guards on the arena floor are the only ones who can hear her. They all freeze due to the beautiful music. Emperor Acidus gives the order to kill Caldus but the guard is mesmerized by Sympohera’s voice. He gives the order again. Still, nothing happens. Then a pause in the song allows for the guard to regain concentration, and he drove the sword down into Caldus following his spine.
Symphera continues to sing, knowing what’s happened. She now has her eyes closed trying to block out the image of Caldus’ death. A guard helps her to her knees. Her head is hanging as she continues to sing. The guard holds the sword across the back of her neck and looks to the emperor for permission to continue. Symphera finishes her song. She opens her eyes to see blood flowing towards her from her right.
“At least I can die with you.”
She smiled, tears still running down her face. The emperor gave the signal for the guard to continue.
“I love you.”
The guard brought the sword down and everything fell silent.