“Grab that sword,” yelled the old man, pointing to a short sword that stuck up from the sand of the arena floor, near at hand.
Aiden walked over to the blade, his right hand grasping the worn, stained hilt. He pulled the blade from the ground and examined
the edge. There were some nicks on both of the double edges, but otherwise it seemed to be sharp enough, with a strong point. He swung
the sword through the air a couple of times, testing its balance, and was satisfied.
“Don’t cut yourself, farm boy,” yelled one of the guards, laughing along with the others that gathered there on the floor. The catcalls
of the crowd turned into a roar, and Aiden looked up to see the man who was to kill him walking forward across the sand, fifty yards away.
Aiden could feel the paralyzing fear come over him as he watched the Gladiator come forward. The man was dressed in a breastplate,
with leather taslets covering his deltoids. A closed face helm was on his head, leather taslets covering his groin and upper thighs, iron
greaves on his booted shins. Worst of all to Aiden’s mind was the round shield on the man’s left arm. The short sword in his right hand was
similar to Aiden’s, and the man carried it by his side like a professional.
“Get out there and face him in the middle, you idiot,” yelled one of the guards. When Aiden looked over at the man, the guard made
a thrusting motion with his spear, one the teen knew meant he would be prodded forward if he didn’t advance himself. Aiden closed his eyes
for a moment and said his calming mantra, feeling some of the fear slip from him, enough to allow him to move.
Aiden stepped forward, handling his blade clumsily now that his mind was working. Never let your opponent know how competent
you are, had said Kelric. It was better to let the opponent think you were an easy mark, so that any mistakes made might be theirs.
Aiden walked forward, making his steps those of a clumsy farm boy. He could see the eyes of the man glaring through the slits of the
helmet. They were devoid of emotion, a man moving forward to execute a slave. His rolling muscles moved with smooth economy as he
approached. He stopped ten yards from Aiden and waited.
Aiden stopped when the warrior did. He did not want to open the fight with an attack. He would rather the other man did that, so
that Aiden could attempt the easier task, defense, while he looked for weaknesses. The jeers and catcalls started again, but the Gladiator did
not move. Aiden was sure that most of the desperate men who entered this arena could be goaded to an attack. Aiden kept his eyes on his
opponent and kept saying his mantra over and over in his head, tuning out the crowd and concentrating on the one man who mattered.
“Attack me, boy,” said the man in a deep voice. “I will make your death swift.”
“I do not want death at all,” said Aiden, his eyes locked onto the Gladiator’s. “But I would rather have yours than mine.”
The Gladiator laughed at him then, a roaring guffaw that was meant to rattle an opponent.
“That is not going to happen, boy,” said the Gladiator, who then moved forward, shield held up and sword point probing forward.
Aiden held his ground, sword at guard, as the man walked toward him. As he got within reach the Gladiator covered his side with his
shield and swung his sword in an overhand strike. Aiden caught the descending blade on his own in a clang of metal and a shower of sparks
as the edges slid past each other. The man went into a series of swings, Aiden catching each with skill on his blade. The man grunted, then
swung his shield out, plainly anticipating catching Aiden with the boss and knocking him flat. Aiden moved out of the way with a jump, his
blade licking in, the point cutting a furrow in the shield arm.
The experienced crowd saw the blood and exploded into a flurry of sound. They were seeing more entertainment than they had
through the morning. Aiden knew they still expected to see him killed, but he also knew their thoughts. This one can fight back.
The Gladiator turned with a roar, bringing his shield back in to cover up his side. Aiden was sure that the man would be angry, but he
didn’t expect a professional to attack in anger. The Gladiator charged forward, leading with the shield, sword point set over the edge. Aiden
ran away, turning tail and peddling as fast as his feet would carry him, staying in front of the armored man, who could not quite keep up.
The crowd was yelling and screaming, and Aiden heard many calling for him to stop and fight. He ignored them. He was also a
professional at this moment, and would act in a professional manner to save his life.
After Aiden made a couple of large circles he turned, hoping that the Gladiator would be winded. Instead the man continued to jog
steadily after him. Should have known better, thought Aiden, watching the man’s approach. The man was a professional fighter, and his life
depended on his conditioning. The man moved in, slowing to a walk, his shield held at the ready.
Aiden blocked a couple of blows, then returned some of his own, getting the measure of the man. The Gladiator was stronger, and
much more knowledgeable in life or death fights. Aiden was more agile and much faster, and his blade craft in the same league as the
man’s. The shield was Aiden’s main disadvantage, and what he had to work around.
The blades clanged together, separated, and came back to strike each other. The man grunted, sweat rolling off of his chin after
running down his face under the helm. The blades clashed several more times, and Aiden thought the man was trying to set him up for another shield
Can’t have that, he thought, as he went for a strike of that shield. As his blade bounced off the hard surface he brought it back in, over the shield
and into the side of the man’s helmet. Back in and out for a second hit. He knew he had at least hurt the Gladiator’s ears. The man yelled out and
brought his shield up to protect the side of his head. At that moment Aiden crouched down and swung his sword into a sideways strike above the knee
cop of the man’s left leg. The Gladiator could not bring his sword over in time, his shield was out of place, and Aiden was moving too fast. Aiden’s
short sword sliced into the exposed flesh with all the teen’s strength behind it, cutting through the large thigh muscles before grating on the bone. The
Gladiator brought his shield down fast, but not in time. Aiden pulled his sword back and stood from the crouch, twisting into position and pushing the
point of his sword through the man’s left bicep as the shield moved over the leg too late for protection.