Sol of the Coliseum
Genre(s): Epic Fantasy, Adventure
Tags: Fantasy, Adventure, Epic, Coliseum, Gladiator
Length: Approx. 259 pages
Release Date: September 17, 2015
Publisher: Mirror World Publishing
Survival is an act of defiance.
About Sol of the Coliseum:
Deep in the bowels of the Coliseum of the mighty Astrolian Empire, the orphan, Sol, is raised by a makeshift family of guards and fellow slaves to become the most famed Gladiator in all the land. Alongside K'nal, his giant Frorian fighting partner, Sol must battle cunning warriors and fantastic beasts to delight the crowd and stay alive. But when an oppressed populace transforms Sol into a revolutionary folk hero, the Empire sends its most ruthless assassin to put an end to the uprising. Sol’s only chance is to do what no slave has ever done: escape from the Coliseum and the only home he’s ever known.
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Read an Excerpt:
A baby’s cry.
Grall was sure that was what he’d heard. In the depths of the Coliseum a person became accustomed to various cries of pain or despair. Prisoners, men broken physically or mentally, called out in the night. Spoils, the women given to victorious fighters to do with whatever they saw fit, cried out often. The beasts, crazed by captivity and seclusion, howled and cackled. Even Grall, though the proud young guard would never admit it, sometimes fought back tears that came in the dark. Over time, one could learn to block out the sound completely.
But the cry of a child, an infant, a sound that had no place in this world, could not be ignored.
Grall made his way slowly down the roughly-carved stone hall, unenthusiastic in his search for the sound’s origin. He knew what was expected of him when he found the child. His stomach clenched at the thought.
“I don’t need this,” he thought aloud, his voice barely a whisper. “I should be in bed.” In truth, only minutes before he had lain wide awake, willing dawn to come and give him a reason to abandon his tossing and turning. With the day came his duties; blessed menial tasks he could lose himself in, briefly forgetting his loss.
Grall had come to the Coliseum only a few months before. He had been a guard in the city of Astrolia, capital of the Astrolian Empire, until he refused to participate in a drill using live captives. His protests changed nothing. The captives had died regardless and he had yet again angered his captain, the man that controlled his fate. As punishment he had been transferred to the Coliseum, a post feared by guard and soldier alike. Far more than the danger and brutality, what inspired dread for the post was that for all intents and purposes the Coliseum was a closed system. Be you slave or guard, once you entered it you probably didn’t leave. He had begged his captain, promising him utter obedience. But for the Captain, Grall had made it personal. It mattered not at all that Grall’s young wife had just given birth to their first son. Neither did it matter that he would probably never see either of them again. Even if he managed to be one of the few to live long enough to see retirement, his son would be grown with children of his own.
He had been all for packing their meager belongings and making a run for it, but his wife’s cooler head had prevailed, as always. They lived in the middle of the Astrolian Empire, two week’s hard ride in any direction from free lands if they had a mount, which they didn’t. She was still weak and sore, not yet recovered from a difficult childbirth. Most importantly, they had a brand new baby. In the best of times the road was no place to raise a child, and they would be in hiding.
“No,” she had answered stoically through her tears, “you will go to the Coliseum. You will send us your pay. I will raise our son.”
He protested and argued to the point of exhaustion, vainly fighting the logic in her words. Eventually he conceded, packing his bag and leaving his family, barely started, standing at their doorstep.
He still grieved for the son he would never know.
And now there was this.
“I don’t need this,” he repeated to himself, stopping outside the door to the women’s barracks.
They had promised to take care of it.
He knew the mother. She was a slave in the luxury boxes. As sometimes happens, one of her wealthy male patrons had an eye for her and he raped her after she refused his advances. She’d hid the pregnancy well at first but eventually her condition became all too obvious. Grall had been sent to deal with it. The women of the barracks had assured him that though uncommon, such things were not unheard of. The baby would be disposed of in a quiet manner. He had relented.
An infant howling down the halls was not a quiet manner.
Grall took a deep breath and opened the door. His broad frame and barrel-chest filled the doorway while he let his eyes adjust to the dimly-lit barracks. Women were sitting awake in their bunks, eyeing him with considerable disdain. He made his way down the candlelit center aisle toward the source of the disturbance, avoiding the hostile glares and trying to keep his face passive. He didn’t want to be here any more than they wanted him here. The object of his quest lay wrapped in a blanket and was held by a rather large cook. He saw the mother lying in a bed off to the side, unmoving. The sheets were soaked with blood but it was her face that drew his gaze. She had obviously been beaten, badly.
“She panicked,” the cook said flatly to answer his unasked question. “She confronted the father. He did that and she gave the last of her strength giving birth to this boy. We’ve named him Sol.”
A heavy silence settled over the room; the baby was finally quiet, as if showing respect to his deceased mother. Grall’s gaze lingered on the dead slave, her many bruises contrasting with her pale skin and long blonde hair. In life she had been beautiful, a curse for a woman in the Coliseum. In the peace of death she still held her beauty, despite the violence she had encountered.
“And now you’re here,” the cook broke the silence accusingly.
“I’m sorry. Melina was well liked,” he said, attempting civility.
The cook nodded. “She never let this place get to her.”
He nodded, recognizing the compliment. There was a long pause.
“You can’t keep it,” he said plainly, surprised at the feeling he was able to keep out of his voice. Several hisses sounded behind him. The cook neither responded nor moved. She just sat holding the child.
“You know the rules as well as I.” He could feel the animosity radiating onto his back from the bunks.
“What life could he hope to have here?” he asked, almost pleading, bristling at the tone of his own voice. He was a guard of the Coliseum; he didn’t need to explain himself. Who were these women and this cook who sat unmoving? Had they taken care of things as they promised, he wouldn’t have to be down here at all.
He straightened up. “I’ll deal with it,” he said firmly. Moving the last few paces toward the cook, he felt the women stir behind him. The cook made to strike him and several cries of protest sounded as he reached for the baby. But something unexpected happened, something amazing. As Grall reached for the bundle, his hand was met by the child’s. Without fear and with a strong little grip, the baby grabbed one of Grall's fingers and held. He froze, as did the women.
Had it been any other guard, hard and embittered with years of service, nothing would have changed, but for Grall that tiny hand struck with the force of a blow. He shuddered visibly, staring wide-eyed at the child. All was still. Grall knew his duty, what was expected of him. The problem with duty was that it belonged in the Coliseum and he was no longer in the Coliseum. Looking at this tiny baby, feeling it holding his hand, the guard was home.
The little hand holding his finger melted Grall's resolve. The women saw it immediately and smiles passed around the bunks. Grall didn’t see them, he only saw the child. He sighed and then without a word he slowly straightened, turned, and walked back the way he had come.
From that moment on, Sol was a child of the Coliseum.
Adam Gaylord lives with his beautiful wife, daughter, and less beautiful dog in Loveland, CO. When not at work as a biologist he’s usually hiking, drinking craft beer, drawing comics, writing short stories, or some combination thereof. He’s had stories published in Penumbra eMag, Dark Futures Magazine, Silver Blade Magazine, and Plasma Frequency Magazine, among others.