1. The Nursemaid
Rishima stood up and faced forward. This was not what she had thought her life would be. This was not how she wanted to die. She tightened the grip on the sword in her hand and straightened her shoulders.
She was her father’s thirteenth daughter, born to his fifth wife. She had been proud of her father, of her family, and their place in the world she knew. She had taken her lessons seriously when she learned to dance. She had taken the training seriously when she had been taught of sex and the pleasures of the body. She had taken her life seriously when she had been married as a first wife to the man that her father chose for her.
Even when she had realized that her father had made a mistake, she had taken what she had inside of herself and dedicated everything to improving the man she was married to. She had kindled a child, and still kept their home well in spite of being sick from the time of conception until the time of birthing. She had worked harder than she had ever imagined possible to support and care for her husband.
Her husband was still an idiot.
He had ruined himself, and he had destroyed her in the process. His business dealings had ended with both of them in chains, their newborn son in her shackled arms, as they were thrown in a cart and shunted further from anything familiar than she could have imagined was possible. Her world had become much larger. Men at her father’s banquets often spoke of the largeness of the world and the extent of their travels, and she had made a journey in the cart that only those who traded to other cultures had recounted. Not just other tribes, but cultures so far away that the languages, laws, clothing, and tools were different.
Her idiot husband had tried to lie to and cheat a trader from one of those distant places. The trader had discovered the cheat, and Rishima and her husband were put in chains to pay the debt. And her son… her son…
The roaring of the crowd pulled her out of her lapse into her memories. She didn’t know where she was. She had traveled so far that she was lost forever to her family and her home. The stone walls around her now were too high to climb and the doors were all heavy wood or iron bars that she couldn’t get through. The crowd was cheering because her son had been ripped from her arms, gutted and tossed away like a toy. The man her husband was supposed to have been fighting was who the crowd was cheering for. Her idiot husband, who had pissed himself and then been stabbed through when that man had lunged at him. Then that man had taken her son from her arms, so she had picked up the sword her idiot husband had dropped beside her while he’d been pissing. Then she stood up.
Rishima looked at the man who was many steps away and raised her chin. She was her father’s daughter. She was a proud daughter from a proud family. This was not the life she wanted. This was not a death she could accept. She did not want to die with an idiot.
The man laughed at her, pointing at her, and the crowd laughed with him. He walked over to attack her as though she were a joke and as she spun away she slashed his leg. She had taken her dancing seriously when she had learned. He attacked faster so she dodged faster, spinning away and cutting him again. The crowd grew confused and quiet as she twisted away from the man’s sword blade, keeping her feet in place, only to rise back to standing straight and drive the blade she was holding through his ribs.
She did not accept dying beside an idiot
Brasus walked without seeing. Yesterday he had been a husband and an expectant father. This morning he had become a widower, and his living child had been wrapped in the death linens of his dead wife because there was no wet nurse. Now, at nearly midday, he was walking through town because he had been sent to deliver the horse that was quietly following him. He had only gone to get away from the weakening wails of his son.
The gladiators were fighting today, but the roaring of the crowd held little interest while his mind was so very occupied with other matters. Usually he would have stopped to make his own bets, but today wasn’t usual. The roaring cheers turned to laughter and jeers as he remembered his tiny son being swaddled for death only an hour earlier. He looked up, angry at their mocking, and watched through the iron bars of the gate as the crowd favorite collapsed and the laughter stuttered to a stop.
A woman appeared in his line of sight as the gladiator fell. She was dark skinned, black haired, and holding the sword that had killed the crowd favorite. The front of her tunic was dirty, bloody and… milk stained. A man nearby yelled wordlessly.
“The gods have cursed me today!” he added words to his yell. The owner of the woman laughed and collected his prize money from the vocal owner of the gladiator.
Brasus ignored them as he stopped to watch through the bars. The sword fell from the woman’s hands and she stumbled a short distance, falling to her knees and reaching for – but not able to bring herself to touch – something that he couldn’t see. Something small. She sat back on her heels, her body rocking, and then threw her head back and screamed at the sky. She voiced every emotion he felt today in a single breath.
“That’s a lovely horse for a freeman to be leading,” the woman’s owner stared at the colt.
“He’s the finest you’ll see in Verona,” Brasus answered slowly.
“I doubt that,” the woman’s owner shrugged.
“I’ll sell him to you,” Brasus stated, tearing his eyes from the woman to look at the man he was talking to. Her owner was about to decline when the gladiator’s owner stepped forward.
“I’ll buy him,” the man offered quickly. His eagerness left the woman’s owner staring at him in sudden confusion.
“I’m not speaking to you,” Brasus stated, not looking away from the woman’s owner.
“Come now, surely you –”
“I’m not speaking to you,” Brasus repeated, his gaze not shifting.
“Here and now, young Nazario, certainly one man’s coins are as good as –”
“I’ll buy him,” the woman’s owner interrupted, his look snapping to Brasus the moment the gladiator’s owner mentioned his surname, and then reassessing the colt that Brasus was leading as the gladiator’s owner kept talking. Brasus knew his father was renowned for excellent horses, and both these men knew they couldn’t afford a colt from the Nazario family’s stock if they sold everything they owned. “What’s your price?” the woman’s owner asked quickly.
“Her,” Brasus stated, turning to look at the woman who had just killed a gladiator. She was being dragged toward the bars he was looking through by one of the men who cleaned up between each fight. She wasn’t resisting, and simply dangled from the hands that held her, sobbing.
The man who owned her looked at her when she sprawled to the ground in front of him. She barely moved after being thrown out through the gate. The iron clanged as the gate was slammed shut.
"She’s yours,” her owner agreed.