Spartacus the gladiator, p.1
Spartacus: The Gladiator,
About the Book
About the Author
Also by Ben Kane
About the Book
As winter approaches in 74 BC, few travellers are abroad. But one man is making the long and weary last stage of his way home. Large parts of his homeland, Thrace, a land north of Greece, have fallen under the hated power of Rome. This Thracian has fought in the Roman legions for nearly a decade. Skilled, hardened in battle, a sophisticated fighter. Spartacus.
But home is no longer the safe haven of his imagination. A new king sits on the throne. Treacherous and cunning, he has seized the crown by murder and he will hold onto it by violence. When a Roman slave trader comes to the village in search of men who will fight as gladiators, Spartacus is betrayed and sold. His odyssey has begun.
The legend that is Spartacus has come down to us through the centuries – the story of a man who took on the might of Rome and nearly brought her down. Now Ben Kane, the brilliant author of The Forgotten Legion and Hannibal: Enemy of Rome, brings to glorious life the first part of the Spartacus story.
Look out for the next part of this great epic, Spartacus: Rebellion, coming soon.
About the Author
Ben Kane was born in Kenya and raised there and in Ireland. He qualified as a veterinary surgeon at University College Dublin, and worked in Ireland and the UK for several years. After that he travelled extensively, indulging his passion for seeing the world and learning more about ancient history. Seven continents and more than 65 countries later, he decided to settle down, for a while at least. While working in Northumberland in 2001–2002, his love of ancient history was fuelled by visits to Hadrian’s Wall. He naively decided to write bestselling Roman novels, a plan which came to fruition after several years of working full time at two jobs – being a vet and writing. Retrospectively, this was an unsurprising development, because since his childhood, Ben has been fascinated by Rome, and particularly by its armies. He now lives in North Somerset with his wife and family, where he has sensibly given up veterinary medicine to write full time. To find out more about Ben and his books visit: www.benkane.net.
Also by Ben Kane
The Forgotten Legion Chronicles
The Forgotten Legion
The Silver Eagle
The Road to Rome
Hannibal: Enemy of Rome
Spartacus: The Gladiator
For my brother Stephen
South-western Thrace, autumn 74 BC
WHEN THE VILLAGE came into sight at the top of a distant hill, a surging joy filled him. The road from Bithynia had been long. His feet were blistered, the muscles of his legs hurt and the weight of his mail shirt was making his back ache. The chill wind snapped around his ears, and he cursed himself for not buying a fur cap in the settlement he’d passed through two days prior. He had always made do with a felt liner and, when necessary, a bronze helmet, rather than a typical Thracian fox-skin alopekis. But in this bitter weather, maybe warm clothing was more important than war gear. Gods, but he was looking forward to sleeping under the comfort of a roof, out of reach of the elements. The journey from the Roman camp where he’d been released from service had taken more than six weeks, and winter was fast approaching. It should have been less than half that, but his horse had gone lame only two days after he’d left. Since then, riding had been out of the question. Carrying his shield and equipment was as much as he could ask it to do without worsening its limp.
‘Any other mount, and I’d have sacrificed you to the gods long ago,’ he said, tugging the lead rope that guided the white stallion ambling along behind him. ‘But you’ve served me well enough these last years, eh?’ He grinned as it nickered back at him. ‘No, I’ve no apples left. But you’ll get a feed soon enough. We’re nearly home, thank the Rider.’
Home. The mere idea seemed unreal. What did that mean after so long? Seeing his father would be the best thing about it, although he’d be an old man by now. The traveller had been away for the guts of a decade, fighting for Rome. A power hated by all Thracians, yet one that many served nonetheless. He had done so for good reasons. To learn their ways so that one day I can fight them again. Father’s idea was a good one. It had been the hardest act of his life to take orders from some of the very soldiers he had fought against – men who had perhaps killed his brother and who had certainly conquered his land. But it had been worth it. He had learned a wealth of information from those whoresons. How to train men mercilessly, until they fought as one unit. How vital it was to obey orders, even in the red heat of battle. How trained soldiers could be made to stand their ground in the most extreme situations. Discipline, he thought. Discipline and organisation were two of the most vital keys.
It wasn’t just the desire to learn their ways that had you leave your village, added his combative side. After its last defeat by the legions, your tribe had been thoroughly cowed. There was no chance of fighting anyone, least of all Rome. You are a warrior, who follows the rider god. You love war. Bloodshed. Killing. Joining the Romans gave you the opportunity to take part in never-ending campaigns. Despite everything that they’ve done to your people, you still took pleasure from waging war alongside them.
I’ve had a bellyful of it for now. It’s time to settle down. Find a woman. Start a family. He smiled. Once he would have scorned such ideas. Now they were appealing. During his service with the legions, he’d seen things that would turn a man’s hair grey. He’d become used to them – in the red heat of battle, he had acted in much the same way, but sacking undefended camps and villages, and seeing women raped and children killed, were not things that sat especially well with him.
‘Planning how to take the fight to Rome will do me for a while. The time for war will present itself again,’ he said to the stallion. ‘In the meantime I need a good Thracian woman to make lots of babies with.’
It nibbled his elbow, ever hopeful for a treat.
‘If you want some barley, get a move on,’ he said in an affectionate growl. ‘I’m not stopping to give you a nosebag this near to the village.’
Above him and to his left, something scraped off rock, and he cursed silently for letting his attention lapse. Just because he’d encountered no one on the rough track that day didn’t mean that it was safe. Yet the gods had smiled on him for the whole journey from Bithynia. This was a time when most Thracians avoided the bitter weather in favour of oiling and storing their weapons in preparation for the following campaigning season. For a lone traveller, this was the best time to travel.
I’ve done well not to have run into any bandits thus far. These ones are damn close to my village. Let there not be too many of them. Pretending to stretch his shoulders and roll his neck, he stole a quick glance to either side. Three men, maybe four, were watching him from their hiding places on the rocky slopes that bordered the rough track. Unsurprisingly for Thrace, they seemed to be arme
‘I know you’re there,’ he called out. ‘You might as well show yourselves.’
There was a burst of harsh laughter. About thirty paces away, one of the bandits stood up. Merciless eyes regarded the traveller from a narrow face pitted with scars. His embroidered woollen cloak swung open, revealing a threadbare, thigh-length tunic. A greasy fox-skin cap perched atop his head. He had scrawny legs, and his tall calfskin boots had seen better days. In his left hand, he carried a typical pelte, or crescent-shaped shield, and behind it a spare javelin; in his right, another light spear was cocked and ready to throw.
No armour, and apart from his javelins, only a dagger in his belt, noted the traveller. Good. His friends will be no better armed.
‘That’s a fine stallion you have there,’ said the thug. ‘A pity that it’s lame.’
‘It is. If it wasn’t, you shitbags wouldn’t have seen me for dust.’
‘But it is, so you’re on foot, and alone,’ sneered a second voice.
The traveller looked up. The speaker was older than the first man, with a lined visage and greying hair. His hemp-woven clothing was equally ragged, but there was a fierce hunger in his brooding gaze. For all his poverty, his round shield was well made, and the javelin in his right fist looked to have seen good use. This was the most dangerous one. The leader. ‘You want the stallion, I suppose,’ the traveller said.
‘Ha!’ A third man stood up. He was larger than either of his companions; his arms and legs were heavily muscled, and instead of javelins, he carried a large pelte and a vicious-looking club. ‘We want it all. Your horse, your equipment and weapons. Your money, if you have any.’
‘We’ll even take your food!’ The fourth bandit was skeletally thin, with sunken cheeks and a sallow, unhealthy complexion. He had no shield, but three light spears.
‘And if I give you all that, you’ll let me go on my way?’ His breath plumed in the chill air.
‘Of course,’ promised the first man. His flat, dead eyes, and his comrades’ sniggers, gave the lie to his words.
The traveller didn’t bother answering. He spun around, muttering ‘Stay!’ to the stallion. Even as he slid his hand under his large circular shield and snapped the thong that held it in place, he heard a javelin zipping over his head. Another followed behind on a lower arc. It struck the dust between the horse’s hooves, making it skitter to and fro. ‘Calmly,’ he ordered. ‘You’ve been through this plenty of times before.’ Reassured by his voice, it settled.
‘Oeagrus, stop, you fool!’ shouted the leader. ‘If you injure that beast, I’ll gut you myself.’
Good. No more javelins. The stallion is too valuable. Keeping his back to his mount and raising the shield, he turned. The skinny bandit was to his rear now, but he wouldn’t risk any more spears. Nor would the others. Drawing his sica, he smiled grimly. ‘You’ll have to come down and fight me.’
‘Fair enough,’ growled the first man. Using his heels as brakes, he skidded down the slope. His two comrades followed. Behind him, the traveller heard the thin brigand also descending. The stallion bared its teeth and screamed an angry challenge. Let him even try to come close.
When the trio reached the bottom, they conferred for a moment.
‘Ready?’ he asked mockingly.
‘You whoreson,’ snarled the leader. ‘Will you be so arrogant when I cut your balls off and stuff them down your neck?’
‘At least you’d be able to find mine. I doubt that any of you scumbags have any.’
The big man’s face twisted with fury. Screaming at the top of his voice, he charged, pelte and club at the ready.
The traveller took a couple of steps forward. Placing his left leg behind the shield, he braced himself. He tightened his grip on his sica. This has to be quick or the others will be on me as well.
Fortunately, the thug was as unskilled as he was confident. Driving his shield into his opponent’s, he swung a wicked blow at his head. The traveller, rocking back slightly from the impact of the strike, ducked his head out of the way. Reaching around with his sica, he sliced the big man’s left hamstring in two. A piercing scream rent the air, and the bandit collapsed in a heap. He had enough sense to raise his pelte, but the traveller smashed it out of the way with his shield and skewered him through the neck. The thug died choking on his own blood.
He tugged the blade free and kicked the corpse on to its back. ‘Who’s next?’
The leader hissed an order at the skinny man before he and the cap-wearing bandit split up. Like crabs, they scuttled out to either side of their victim.
The stallion trumpeted another challenge, and the traveller sensed it rear up on its hind legs. He stepped forward, out of its way. An instant later, there was a strangled cry, the dull thump, thump of hooves striking bone, and then the noise of a body hitting the ground. ‘My horse might be lame, but he still has quite a temper,’ he said mildly. ‘Your friend’s brains are probably decorating the road. Am I right?’
The two remaining brigands exchanged a shocked look. ‘Don’t even think of running away!’ warned the leader. ‘Oeagrus was my sister’s son. I want vengeance for his death.’
Unobtrusively, the traveller lowered his shield a fraction, exposing his neck. Let that tempt one of them.
The man in the fox-skin cap clenched his jaw. ‘Fuck whether the beast gets hit,’ he said, hurling his javelin.
The traveller didn’t move from the spear’s path. He simply raised his shield, letting it smack directly into the layered wood and leather. Its sharp iron head punched two fingers’ depth out through the inner surface, but did not injure him. Swinging back his left arm, he threw the now useless item at the thug, who scrambled away to avoid being hit. What he wasn’t expecting was for the traveller to be only a few steps behind his flying shield. When the bandit thrust his second javelin at his opponent, it was parried savagely out of the way.
Using his momentum to keep moving forward, the traveller punched his opponent in the face with his left fist. The man’s head cracked back with the force of the blow, and he barely saw the sica as it came swinging back around to hack deep into the flesh where his neck met his torso. Spraying blood everywhere, and looking faintly surprised, he fell sideways into the road. Keeping time with the slowing beats of his heart, a crimson tide flooded the ground around him. Three down, but the last is the most deadly.
The traveller turned swiftly, expecting the leader’s attempt to stab him in the back. The move saved him from serious injury, and the javelin skidded off the rings of his mail shirt and into thin air, causing the man to overreach and stumble. A massive backhand to the face sent him sprawling backwards on to his arse, losing his weapon in the process.
He stared up at the traveller, frank terror in his eyes. ‘I have a wife. A f-family to f-feed,’ he stammered.
‘You should have thought of that before you ambushed me,’ came the growled reply.
The bandit screamed as the sica slid into his belly, slicing his guts to ribbons. Sobbing with pain, he waited for the death blow. But it did not fall. He lay there, helpless, already passing in and out of consciousness.
A few moments later, he opened his eyes. His killer was watching him impassively. ‘Don’t leave me to die,’ he begged. ‘Even Kotys wouldn’t do this to a man.’
‘Kotys?’ There was no response, so he kicked his victim. ‘You were going to cut my balls off and feed them to me, remember?’
‘Very well.’ The sica rose high in the air.
‘Who in all the gods’ name are you?’ he managed to whisper.
‘Just a weary traveller with a lame horse.’
The blade scythed down, and the brigand’s eyes went wide for the last time.
Ariadne scraped back her hair and carefully pushed a couple of bone pins into her long black tresses, fastening them into place. Sitting on a three-legged stool by a low wooden table, she angled the bronze mirror that sat there so that it caught the watery light entering through the hut’s open doorway. The shaped piece of red-gold metal was her sole luxury, and using it occasionally served to remind her of who she was. This was one of those days. To the vast majority of the people in the settlement, she was not a woman, a relation or a friend. She was a priestess of Dionysus, and revered as such. Most of the time, Ariadne was content with this prestige. After her harsh upbringing, her elevated position was better than she’d have ever dreamed possible. But it didn’t mean that she didn’t have needs or desires. What’s wrong with wanting a man? A husband? Her lips pursed. Currently, the only person showing interest in her was Kotys, the king of the Maedi tribe. Unsurprisingly, his interest had put paid to any other potential suitors. Those who crossed Kotys tended to end up dead – or so the rumour went. Not that there had been any before that, she reflected bitterly. Men with the courage to court a priestess were rare beasts indeed.
Ariadne did not want or appreciate Kotys’ lecherous advances, but felt powerless to stop them. He hadn’t yet tried to become physical, but she was sure that was because of her vaunted status – and the venomous snake that she kept in a basket by her bedding. Her situation was complicated by the fact that she had to remain in the village. She had been sent here by the high priests in Kabyle, Thrace’s only city, which lay far to the north-east. Extraordinary circumstances notwithstanding, hers was an appointment for life. If she returned to Kabyle, Ariadne could expect to be performing menial duties in the main temple there for the rest of her days.