Spartacus: The Gladiator – almost done!

Well, the fantastic news is that my editor is delighted with the final manuscript of Spartacus: The Gladiator. She’s given me some homework (as always), but it shouldn’t take me more than 2-3 days to sort out. Knowing that on Friday evening felt like the holidays had begun early. To celebrate, I’m putting up some of the first chapter – a taster, if you like. To be continued later in the week. I hope you enjoy it!

South-western Thrace, autumn 74 BC

When the village came into sight at the top of a distant hill, he let out a happy cry. 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 kausia before now. For years he’d worn a felt liner, and when necessary a bronze helmet, rather than a typical Thracian fox skin cap. 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 leadrope 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 virtually all Thracians, yet one that many served all the same. It had been done for good reasons. To learn their ways so that one day I can fight them again. Father’s idea was a good one. It wasn’t just that, added his combative side. You are a warrior, who follows the rider god. You love war. Bloodshed. Killing.

            And I’ve had enough of it to last me for a while. 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 time 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 now,’ he said to the stallion. ‘That, and making lots of babies.’

            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, made it 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 armed with javelins. He eyed the tinned bronze helmet that hung from the pack on the stallion’s rump, and decided against making a grab for it. Few peltasts could hit a man in the head. As for his shield, well, he could reach that while their first javelins were still in the air. If he was hit, his mail shirt would probably protect him. Trying to untie his thrusting spear would take too much time. He’d carry the fight to them with his sica, the curved Thracian blade that hung from his gilded belt. They were acceptable odds, he decided. As long as the brigands weren’t expert shots. Great Rider, watch over me with a ready sword.

            ‘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 kausia perched uneasily 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.

            He 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.

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15 Comments

  1. John Salter
    Posted 11 July 2011 at 12:00 | Permalink

    Sounds good Ben. Are you ready for the weekend?

  2. benkane
    Posted 11 July 2011 at 12:05 | Permalink

    @John: well, as I won’t have my falcata *sob, sob*, I don’t need to do much to get ready. Oh yes, there’s my talk for the Sunday! *slaps head* Yes, ready, sort of. The good news is that I just sent my falcata to the cover artist, Steve Stone. He’s going to use it in the re-jacketing of the Hannibal paperback. (It’s being re-jacketed to be even more kick-ass, and to tie in with the release of Spartacus.)

    Are you ready? Are you coming on both days?

  3. John Salter
    Posted 11 July 2011 at 13:46 | Permalink

    Shame you won’t have it with you for Kelmarsh, can’t be helped though if it’s away. Yes I’ve got tickets for both days, lets hope the weather holds. It looks like it will be good on Metcheck for both Saturday and Sunday with a few showers later on Saturday afternoon. Will you be there for both?

  4. benkane
    Posted 11 July 2011 at 14:57 | Permalink

    @John: I hadn’t thought to check the weather forecast. From my experience, if it rains, more people come in and buy books, so it’s not all bad! Yes, I’ll be there all day, both days. See you then!

  5. Attalus
    Posted 11 July 2011 at 21:26 | Permalink

    Sounds Good, I can’t wait for this to come out!! I’m very upset to be missing Kelmarsh but work is interfering this year:(

    Nick.

  6. Nad_faro
    Posted 12 July 2011 at 09:19 | Permalink

    Brilliant! cant wait for this one to come. Love your work Ben. waiting for Hannibal to arrive. good luck with the rest. Hope you meet the deadlines, if there are any.

  7. benkane
    Posted 12 July 2011 at 10:45 | Permalink

    @Attalus/Nick: Cheers for posting, and welcome to the site! Sorry you won’t be at Kelmarsh. It’s such a great event, isn’t it?

  8. benkane
    Posted 12 July 2011 at 10:46 | Permalink

    @Nad_faro: welcome to my site, and thanks for the compliments. I met the deadline for Spartacus already really. Six months I wrote it in. Nothing like pressure to keep a man busy! I’ll post the rest of the scene later in the week… in the meantime, I hope that Hannibal arrives for you!

  9. Jeran
    Posted 12 July 2011 at 18:38 | Permalink

    wow, looks really great ben, cant wait for it to be released !

  10. Posted 12 July 2011 at 19:25 | Permalink

    Not reading it cant make me!…. i am sooo tempted but i hate teasers… you tease you!! Great news about how well the book has been received. See you on the 16th. (i have my Pen and my books)

  11. benkane
    Posted 12 July 2011 at 19:53 | Permalink

    @Jeran: welcome to my site, and thanks for posting! I’m counting down the days now myself… 🙂

  12. benkane
    Posted 12 July 2011 at 19:53 | Permalink

    @Parmenion: see you then!

  13. Posted 17 July 2011 at 13:45 | Permalink

    Was really great to finally meet face to face, thanks for signing the books Ben, hope Sunday went well.

  14. benkane
    Posted 18 July 2011 at 19:50 | Permalink

    @Parmenion – ditto! Glad to sign em for you. Sun was excellent. Apologies for brevity, in area of like reception.

  15. Posted 19 July 2011 at 16:24 | Permalink

    No worries, you where there to sell books and meet those who need to be snared in your work…im hooked. A beer another day….besides Angus and Simon looked after me. Had a lovely time, hope to come back next year with the family, and if Manda needs it Help out!

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