Chapter 1

It all started out when I got that funny looking envelope in the mail one day. Inside was nothing but a short note and a very simple ring, a white gold band that looked a lot like a man's wedding ring. The note said, "Slip this ring on the little finger of your left hand and enjoy an adventure like you have never before experienced." That was all.

Hell, I don't know why I didn't just pitch the whole thing in the trash and go on about my life. Well, yes, I do know why—I was bored to death. I had been at the accounting business for several years and had gotten my CPA. I was making a fair living in a small town, but life had settled into a deep rut. I was not married and had no immediate prospects. I didn't even have a steady girlfriend. Here I was in my mid-thirties and had hit a dead end.

I had no idea what I was getting into when I slipped the ring on my finger. It was way too big for my finger when it went on, but, unaccountably, it immediately shrank to be a proper fit. The problem, now, was that there was no way for me to get it off.

A few moments after the ring settled into place on my finger, the whole world seemed to disappear in a cloud of smoke and a flash of bright light. The next thing I knew, I was stark naked and standing in a line of people, also naked, up on a platform. Other people in a crowd below me were bidding for my services as a slave.

I looked around in kind of a daze. I was surrounded by a crowd of people dressed like extras out of a Cleopatra movie. To my surprise, I could understand the language. All I could tell for sure was that I was somewhere in the Mediterranean area. I got that from the feeling of the weather that day and the appearance of the people that I could see. Beyond that, I had no idea where I was.

My body was much as it had been when I was at my physical peak while in the SEALs. That would make me physically about 22 years old, and I wondered where that extra 13 years had disappeared to. Oh, well, that speculation was for another time. The bidding had started at some ridiculously low level and seemed destined to stay there. I guessed that slaves like me were a drug on the market currently. From the comments that I could hear in the background, apparently I was mixed in with a group of prisoners from the losing side in a border skirmish. In other words, everybody in my group was deemed likely to rebel with fatal intent if the degree of servitude got too onerous. Therefore, the bidders were afraid of us!

Then, someone in the crowd came to the rescue of the auctioneer. He offered to buy all of us as a single lot for some number of silver pieces that still made us dirt cheap, but was better than the auctioneer was going to get for us individually. That was enough to close the sale, and we were marched off the auction block.

We marched through the streets of a town that looked just like those I saw in the boondocks of Iraq when I was assigned there as a SEAL. The difference was that I saw very few women, but the few I did see were not veiled. We were still naked, and I began to worry about sunburn. That's when I realized that my skin was a lot darker than it had been only hours before, but even a darker skin was not going to protect me for very long from that damned bright sun.

Fortunately, we eventually came to a stockade, and we were ushered inside. I immediately looked for as much shade as I could find and headed in that direction. Within the next hour we were fed some slop that looked like a barley mush that was none too clean. Nevertheless, I knew better than to turn it down, so I ate as much as I could get, though that was not enough to be filling.

Later that afternoon, I found out that we had been purchased to be a part of a major show in the local arena. It seemed that some local official was trying to curry favor with the townspeople by holding a "gladiatorial exhibition" in which we were to be the victims! Shit! That was not something I wanted to participate in, but it looked like the guards were ready for that and had their swords in hand.

I made a trip around the stockade fence that enclosed us and saw that there was no way to get out that could be managed in only a few hours. My only hope seemed to be winning the upcoming fight in the arena, but at the moment I had no idea how I was going to do that. Just before we went to bed, a man came in and announced that we would all be issued wooden swords and shields tomorrow morning and instructed in how to use them. Our new owner wanted to put on a good show, so he was giving us a "chance" to defend ourselves. Ha! Wooden weapons against steel and bronze—fat chance!

At least, I thought I remembered what I had learned in the SEALS about close-quarter fighting, so I probably had a better chance than most of the men around me. I had been very good with a knife and with unarmed combat, so I might be able to apply that tomorrow, since my opponents would not be expecting it.

We spent the next day going through the motions of how to hold a short sword and a medium size shield. The wooden sword was around 30 inches long (760 mm), so I had another option: I was pretty damned good at stick fighting, so I might get some use from that.

The wooden shield was a joke! The wood was too soft to stop a sword very well, and it would probably be chopped to pieces in minutes if the swordsman was in any way competent. However, even that had its uses if the opportunity arose. Things were looking up. However, I figured that I was the only one of the slaves who was going to survive tomorrow, and that was only problematical.

The next morning we were marched into the arena with our wooden swords and shields, but otherwise naked, and left to await our fate. A few minutes later, an Army detail marched in with all kinds of pomp and musical flares. The soldiers stood at attention and we lounged in whatever shade we could find, not much of it, while the local official gave a boring speech that was way too long. The crowd was getting restive, and I could see that he cut his speech short when he found that he had lost his audience. The official waved his arm and there was a blare of trumpets.

The soldiers started marching toward us and we knew that it was time to put up the best fight that we could. At least, the swords were of stout wood, even if the shields were punk. It looked like I was the only one of the crew who had paid attention to the instructor the day before, because I was the only one who held his shield like he knew what it was for.

When they got close, the soldiers spread out in a long rank of 23 men, the same number as us slaves. It was obvious that this was supposed to be a one-on-one battle, with each soldier assigned to kill one slave. That was better than I had hoped, so I prepared myself to meet the soldier advancing straight toward me.

Obviously, he was overconfident. I was supposed to be some local barbarian brigand who could throw rocks and that was about it, while he was a battle hardened soldier who knew which end of the sword to poke with. Man, was he in for a surprise!

I walked a little way toward my man simply to insure that I had plenty of freedom of movement. Then I stopped and waited for him to come to me. I might have gained something from the element of surprise if I had charged him, but I didn't want to give myself away too soon.

The soldier got very close to me and tried to press his shield against me. He then thrust out his sword as if to gut me in a single blow. That's what I was waiting for. I pulled my shield down to block his sword, and, naturally, the sword penetrated the punky wood a few inches. That was what I needed to make my first offensive move. To his surprise, I twisted my arm far enough to force his sword from his grasp. The sword was locked into the wood well enough that he could not hold on to his sword when I twisted.

The poor man was so surprised that I had no trouble jamming my sword "point" into his throat and crushing his wind pipe. Naturally, he dropped his shield and used both hands to try to get air through that crushed tube. I dropped my shield and grabbed the pommel of the sword sticking into it. I jumped on the shield with both feet and jerked the sword from the shield. Now I was armed with a real weapon. I also picked up his shield and jammed his helmet on my head.

I was not through fighting, I just now had better weapons. Hell, I didn't expect to be able to defeat 23 men, but I was sure going to try! I charged at a soldier who had just dispatched his well-nigh helpless opponent and was relaxing. I gave him no warning as I rushed in behind him and lopped off his head with a blow to his neck on the right side just under his helmet. This brought a cheer from the audience who had been somewhat bored by the performance so far.

The problem with this was that I also attracted the attention of several of the other soldiers who had already killed their men. The soldiers turned on me as a group, and I knew that I was in trouble! They marched toward me in good formation, just as if they were on a normal battlefield. As long as they could attack me like that, I had no chance. I had to break up the formation as quickly as possible. If all 21 men could assemble and encircle me, I certainly had no chance. In effect, I was working against a literal deadline.

I had to keep moving, so I ran at the four men advancing toward me. They were taken aback by my audacity, but that didn't last long. I could see the grins of triumph form as I got close. OK, I had their attention, so now I had to act. A straight, head on charge was going to get me killed real quick, so I had to do something unexpected.

What I did was suddenly dart to my right. The man at that end of the shield line was right handed, so his sword was in his right hand and his shield was in his left. This gave me a slight opening, so I had to take advantage of it. I ran to the man's side and feinted a strike at his knees. Reflexively, he lowered his shield, and that gave me an opening to his upper body. His helmet protected the sides of his face, but not the middle, so that was where I stabbed him. I didn't try to drive the sword in far enough to make a kill, I just wanted to take him out of action. The result was that I split his lips, nose, and right eye. He screamed and fell, and I was able to jerk back my sword before it became entangled in his helmet or other armor.

This produced another cheer from the crowd. Unfortunately, pleasing the crowd was not what was at the top of my priority list at the moment. However, I did get another break. The man that I had just wounded fell against the man next to him and jostled his shield out of position. This produced another small opening I was able to take advantage of, and I was able to slice the soldier's hamstring. He didn't fall, but he was not going anywhere in a hurry.

There were now two men left, but some others were getting too damned close, so I had to run away from the crowd of soldiers. There was more cheering and I realized that I was acting the part of a Secutor, who was lightly armored and ran around the arena chasing his opponent and being chased. His normal weapon was a short sword. He carried a small shield, somewhat smaller than the one I now held, but that was a detail of the fight.

The Secutor wore almost no armor, only a helmet and some cloth or leather protection for his sword arm and one leg, usually the left. I didn't have that protection, so I assumed that the larger shield was acceptable under those circumstances. In any case, the crowd began to chant "SECUTOR!" at my every move. Suddenly, I was the star of the show. Unfortunately, in this kind of fight, the star was usually dead by the time the show was over.

The Roman soldier's armor was not made for quick and sustained movement across a field. It was more of the steady slow march type of movement that was not exciting to watch, but absolutely effective against an enemy not prepared for it. Undoubtedly, I was going to get just as tired as the soldiers, just not as quickly, but maybe I could get one of the referees, Ianistae, to declare a timeout so that I could get a rest. Such was not at all uncommon, so I had a chance for a rest and a drink of water. The idea was to make a good fight, so such things were done when necessary. Well, I would worry about that when the time came. My main job right now was to stay alive while killing as many of those damned soldiers as I could manage.

I saw one of the soldiers walking by himself, but coming toward me, so he was as much of a danger as any other. I detected that he had a slight limp, and maybe I could take advantage of that fact. He reacted as any man would under the circumstances; namely, he raised his shield and extended his sword. I had no idea why he was limping, but his right leg was giving him some trouble, so I ran at that side. My idea was that he could not swing to his right fast enough to cover himself with his shield.

I ran to his right side and forced him to try to turn in that direction. He simply was not able to cover himself on that side, though he did bring his sword around in a defensive move. His effort was totally inadequate, and I was able to block that move easily with my own shield. This left him completely open to my sword, and I stabbed him in the side, angling my blade so that it could pass between the small steel plates hanging on his leather armor. I did stab a little too hard this time, since I had no idea how much force would be required to get through the leather behind the steel. My blade went in so far that I had to push him away from me with one foot while I dragged my sword from his body.

That was very near my undoing! Another soldier had come up behind me and had taken a swipe at me with the cutting edge of his blade. I can't imagine why he made that mistake, but it saved my life. I caught the motion of his sword arm out of the corner of my eye, and was able to dodge out of the way of his foolish swing at the last moment. This put him off balance, and I poked him in the neck with my sword point. He kept his head in place, but a lot of blood spurted from the wound, and he fell at my feet, as good as dead, though it would take a few minutes for the last bit of death to catch up with him. This increased the cheering from the crowd, and, not being a complete fool, I took a moment to wave at them. This only increased the volume of the cheers of "SECUTOR!" Damn, at the way things were going, I just might get a swelled head if I lived through this mess.

I thought that was five down out of 23 soldiers to start with, so maybe I might have a chance after all. The remaining 18 soldiers were trying to form a wall of shields around me, so I had better move without any more clowning around. I ran toward one end of the arena, far enough to get out of the forming ring, but 18 men was still enough to do a good job of blocking off the width of the arena. It looked like I was going to have to knock off a few more of the soldiers before I could hope to relax a little.

One thing for sure, the gamblers in the crowd were tearing themselves up trying to figure out how to wager on how much longer I was going to last. Another thing that I was pinning my hopes on: my owner was going to have one valuable piece of property if I could survive this day!

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Story tagged with:
Ma/Fa / Science Fiction / Time Travel / Historical / Humor / Violent /