Tredroy, 2035

The games, the games. All glory to them. All things I am are because of the arena.

The fighters stand in a row, twenty of us in salute as the mayor is seated again to the sound of bucinae. We view the fresh sand laid over new bloodstains, thirty yards of it between the seats where the hungry crowd stands cheering. As the music plays, we stand erect and proud. Here we are, the headliners: six provocatores, a new retiarius and a pair of even newer secutores to goad him, plus a tired old charioteer.

Today I spread my arms wide, turning about to sneer at the crowd. I am The Lion, Yusuf The Lion, none other, and no one touches me without a lot of gold changing hands. I draw my sword and clap it against shield, signaling the rest to disperse, and they obediently run the perimeter, shouting at the spectators and twirling. Still more obediently, the crowd roars, willing slaves at my command, hanging on my every gesture. I’ll knock down any young fool who raises a spear at me, or any old one, and the paying customers love me for it.

Down the generations the rules have altered, they tell me, always favoring more of the carnage that pleases the city fathers, telling them that they are men, capable not just of dealing out death but of commanding Death itself.

In other cities, in the west, it is said that more fighters die in their arenas, with no set times for matches, leaving bodies piled high enough to offer shade. Mere slaughter does not impress me, I who have met their finest and lived. Here at home are games that thrill, but more importantly build fighters who have hope of life, who live more often than not, and know how not to die.

After my tenth kill, they told me, folk learned to fear my roar. Twenty or more, beyond counting, and they would scream along with the fresh meat I cut down. Years passed, and the faces changed, but the games remained.  Blood for cheers, cheers for blood.

After some magic number, after the screams of the women became more pointed, they rented me out. The women, young or old, and the men, always old, seeking something in The Lion’s embraces that they lacked, or feared. I slept apart from the rest of the fighters, those whose stylings and reputations were ordinary, whose scars were less comely.

Some who paid for me were eager, some feigned reluctance, but all paid in hard coin; there were rules to these games that I learned quickly, and my masters were pleased. I was fed meat, rubbed with expensive oils, and given the cape they call The Lion’s Mane.

By day I trained in the sand, and thousands cheered. By night I was a different sort of warrior, slipping past shields and under armor to win single hearts in new ways that took me as long to learn. They were there, after a match, perhaps pretending interest in the outcome, perhaps so eager that there was little talk of the kill, or of who might face me next.

Their eyes wandered as I rinsed the blood and grime from my skin. Their tongues touched their lips as I slipped the leather straps from my arms, and my master would nod once. Then I knew that here was another match, and that I already belonged, for this night or for several, to this lady or to this man. I would smile, sneering as I did in the ring, and see my new master tremble with anticipation. With these my newest skills I would buy myself a week of rest, of no spears nor blades trying to pierce me, and of whatever fine food and wine my captor cared to share with me.

It is a life any might envy, and now, today, they tell me that it is at an end, that a stranger who names my father has bought all my future days and nights, and given them back to me, if I will only go to the west to meet the stranger who sired me.

I know not how or why. I only know that without word or thought I walked away to join the caravan, into the afternoon sun as the horns struck up again for a match I would never see. There are lovers enough to mourn my loss. My sandals tread lightly in the dirt as I turn away from the slaves of the arena and toward the world of free men. I hum along with the horns for a time, and then I cease to hear them or the crowd’s cheers behind me. The games, the games, glory to them, but greater glory to me.


(Really sincere apologies to William Harrison.)