Sol of the Coliseum

"Sol of the Coliseum" is my gladiatorial fantasy novel published by Mirror World Publishing in March 2015.

4.7 Stars on Amazon with 26 reviews (as of April 2016)

Here's a blurb.

Deep in the bowels of the Empire’s Coliseum, the orphan Sol is raised by a makeshift family of guards and fellow slaves to become the most famed gladiator in all the land. With his giant yeti-like 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 end the insurgence. 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.   
   
Here's an excerpt:


            The Coliseum throbbed. 
            It was as if the massive structure had a pulse, a pulse with a name.  The thousands of spectators that packed the stands had enjoyed the earlier carnage but it was now time for the main events; time for the champion fighters to emerge from the bowels of the coliseum to be pitted against man or beast.  The sandy floor was already stained with the blood of the fallen and the throng chanted the name of the one that they would have add to it.
            Sol, Sol, Sol.
Slow and steady, almost somber like a funeral march the name repeated.  Amplified by the deep stone bowl of the coliseum, the sound was deafening.  Blocks away babies awoke crying in their cribs as the surrounding city shook with it.  Down in the lowest dungeons carved into the living stone beneath the coliseum, fighters stirred in their bunks.  The animal handlers backed away from the massive cages, whips cracking, trying to subdue the beasts driven mad by the sound.  Ladies of society high in their shaded luxury boxes covered their ears while casting disparaging looks down upon those from whom the chant sounded, but still it continued.
            In the whole of it there was only one that was oblivious to the throb.  Crouched in the dark at the foot of the gate between the coliseum floor and one of the many tunnels that lead to the dungeons, the gladiator himself was too deeply immersed in concentration to give any heed to the din.  It likely would have been lost on him anyway.  After all, for the thousands who chanted his name, this was all a spectacle of pleasurable entertainment.  For him it was a matter of survival.
            The armor clad figure rested on bended knee in the dirt awaiting the opening of the gate.  The two guards standing a dozen paces behind him had given him no weapon this time so he held his empty hands clasped on his thigh.  His head was bowed and eyes shut tight as he contemplated the first crucial moments after the gates opening.
            It was true that Sol was strong, but there were stronger.  He was fast, but there were faster.  There were those that were smarter or even better trained for combat, although not many.  Sol was a successful fighter for a number of reasons but one thing stood out, adaptability.  He had the uncanny ability to take in a situation at a glance, decide what tools were available to him, and act without hesitation.  It was something you couldn’t teach and few had it.
            Sol knew from experience that the first few moments after the gate opened were the most crucial of the fight.  Many questions had to be answered and answered fast.  Man or beast?  How many?  Armed with what?  What’s the available cover?  These questions and more had to be answered, answered well, and usually answered at a dead run to have a chance at staying alive.  Each time he emerged from the tunnels he faced a new challenge.  The lone rule of the coliseum was that the crowd got what the crowd wanted.  And since the crowd demanded novelty the promoters went to great lengths to satisfy. 
            Exotic animals were brought in from the far corners of the constantly expanding Empire.  Many times they were pumped full of stimulants or narcotics before entering the arena making them crazed and unpredictable.  Elaborate battle scenarios played out complete with detailed props and scenery.  With a different horror awaiting him each time the gate opened, a fighter could take nothing for granted.  Every appearance had to be approached with an open mind so as not to be caught off guard.
            Sol’s pulse quickened and his jaw clenched as he heard the sound he had been waiting for.  The huge wrought iron chains that opened the tunnel gate clinked and whined as the slack was removed and the first trickle of light shone under the solid door.  Seconds later the crowd cheered as the object of their chant ran out into the light of day.
            He was tall and lean, perhaps leaner than he should have been but the life of a slave was a hard one.  But he was strong and as he ran his sinewy muscles rippled under his armor.  A brightly polished silver breast and back plate strapped together at the sides and shoulders covered his torso.  The long chain mail shirt he wore under his breastplate draped over buckskin shorts secured by a wide belt.  He had on high leather boots with shining shin guards that flashed in unison with his forearm guards as he ran.  And covering his shaggy blond hair was his signature spiked helmet.  The rest of the armor had been pieced together over time having been taken from various foes: a shin guard here and a pair of boots there.  Sol had done his best to hammer out the dents and polish every piece to its utmost shine.  Right now the shiny helm pivoted right and left as Sol surveyed the field at a sprint.
            Eight roughly cut blocks of stone, each nearly twelve feet tall, had been evenly spaced a dozen paces from the coliseum wall, three down the sides and two on each end.  On the wall side of each a different weapon hung on mounted brackets.  As Sol ran for the weapon on the nearest block he saw that three other doors had opened at the same moment as his. 
            He recognized the figure at the opposite end of the oval as the massive Frorian fighter K’nal.  He was clad only in high boots and a loincloth and like all his kind he was covered in white fur, so white as to have a nearly bluish tint.  The heavily muscled giant stood head and shoulders over any other fighter and probably weighed twice as much.  Sol knew little about Frorians except that they were from a frigid wasteland far to the south and they were known for their exceptional strength.
            He didn’t recognize the other two fighters that emerged from each side but by their wide-eyed hesitation he suspected they were relatively new fighters, here only to add to the body count. 
            Sol quickly reached the first block.  Grabbing the long-shafted spear he continued running toward the next block.  Again he surveyed the field, looking for something he’d missed.  A four-fighter standoff wasn’t grand enough.  Being a crowd favorite had its perks but it also meant the promoters took special care to think up the most complex scenarios just for you.  This was just too simple.
            No sooner had the thought crossed his mind than a loud scraping sounded from the center of the arena.  The four fighters paused to watch as a large hidden door in the ground parted down the middle exposing a steep sided pit to the crowd above.  Then a different scraping sounded as the floor of the pit started to rise to the surface, revealing its contents.  Emerging from the dark to the thunderous roar of the delighted spectators raised the largest head Sol had ever seen.
            Of the thousands of people watching the beast rise, perhaps only the Frorian from the frigid south knew what he was looking at.  In his language it was called a “Dybuk” or quite literally a “demon of snow”.  The massive animal stood as tall as K’nal at the shoulder and sported four razor-sharp hand-sized claws on each foot.  Protected by its long white fur and thick layers of blubber, pairs hunted under the cover of darkness. He had seen the remains of small villages decimated by the powerful creatures.
            “Ah”, Sol said to himself as he resumed his sprint to the next block, “that’s more like it.”
Reaching his goal he watched the Dybuk lumber toward one of the newer fighters.  The brave fool had crouched down behind a block with a cross bow and was currently trying to add a third arrow to the two already stuck harmlessly in the beasts thick hump of back blubber.
            “Oh good idea, piss it off!” Sol shouted sarcastically across the arena.  Unfortunately the arrows seemed to be doing exactly that.  As he watched, the monster charged its assailant with surprising speed, pinned him to the ground and biting his upper torso, promptly tore the man in half.
            The crowd cheered.
            Sol ducked behind the second block and quickly put on the weapon: skykes; long, curved serrated blades whose base strapped to the underside of the forearm.  Each had a hole for the fingers where the hilt met the blade, making the weapons move and feel like mere extensions of one’s arm.  A skilled skyke wielder could hold off a small group of trained soldiers.  They had always been a favorite of Sol’s.
            With the skykes strapped securely to his arms and the spear he still carried, Sol judged himself as well armed as he was likely to get.  He looked down to the far end of the arena and saw K’nal with a short sword strapped to his hip and a massive double bladed battle axe in hand.  He stood much as Sol did, at the ready with a stone block between himself and the Dybuk who was, at the moment, testing the tall arena walls for a place to escape.  The huge creature paced up and down a section, sent some chips of rock and sand flying with a healthy swipe of its paw, then moved down the wall.
            The remaining new fighter seemed to deem the beast sufficiently distracted to risk an attack.  Brandishing a narrow blade nearly as long as himself, he quickly closed the distance to the restless Dybuk who turned to meet its attacker head on.  Dodging a paw swipe the small fighter slashed the beast across the face, rendering one eye useless.  The now infuriated monster charged the fighter, swinging at him only to miss again as he dived to the side.
            Sol, who had slowly been working his way toward K’nal, was impressed.  The little guy was shifty and certainly very fast.  If he was able to slay the Dybuk unscathed, Sol would have a difficult time surviving a three way brawl involving speedy and the white giant. 
            Yet again the lone rule of the Coliseum raised its ugly head.  It wasn’t enough that having been forced to fight, the gladiators had to survive a raging, half-crazed beast likewise fighting for its own survival.  But after the beast was dead they would likely have to be the last one standing out of their own ranks.  The crowd got what it wanted and the crowd always wanted more blood.
            At the moment the crafty fighter was using his speed and size well.  Dodging and ducking he worked his way into where it seemed he might have a chance at the beast’s throat.  With a final diving roll he crouched with his sword poised for what could be a deathblow.
            The blow never came.
            As the fighter pivoted on the balls of his feet his back foot slipped just slightly; enough that he had to delay his attack a fraction of a second to correct his balance.  The minor misstep was all the Dybuk needed to land a paw-swipe and send the fighter flying.  With a sickening crack the small but brave fighter hit the wall then slumped down into the dust, dead.
            The crowd cheered.
            Sol made a decision.  The small figure now being dismembered by the Dybuk had been a skilled swordsman.  If he was going to make it out of the arena today he would need help.  Turning to the Frorian who was now only a dozen paces away he pointed first to himself and then to K’nal.
            “Together” he said loud and firm.
            K’nal nodded gravely.  They both knew that they would need the other to kill the beast.  They also knew that if they succeeded they would have to fight each other, thus making their brief partnership tricky at best.
            The Dybuk stopped venting its rage on the dead fighter and turned its attention on the remaining two.  Side by side they stood their ground as the beast started its charge toward them.  Sol positioned himself and heaved his spear.  The throw went badly.  Due to the nature of the skykes he hadn’t gotten a proper hold as he threw.  The Dybuk slowed only slightly as it sidestepped the spear and continued its charge. 
            K’nal frowned down disapprovingly at Sol who could only manage a sheepish grin before the giant turned and charged toward the beast.  As he ran he dropped the ax and drew the short sword from its sheath.  The two snow-white forms met with a furry of swinging claw and steel.  The exchange was rapid, a parry from K’nal, a Dybuk dodge and swing, a lunge from K’nal.  The Frorian was having a tough time getting to the creature with the short broad blade and the Dybuk seemed to have lost most of its depth perception when it lost its eye.  It was aiming its swipes poorly; sometimes long, sometimes short.  The two disadvantages quickly came to a head as the Frorian stepped in a little too close, meeting a paw that would have fallen short. 
            K’nal’s great form flew through the air and landed between Sol and the snow-demon, his sword clattering off at an angle.  The beast charged toward the fallen fighter and Sol, without hesitating, charged toward the beast.  He sprinted over the discarded ax then hurtled the dazed but conscious fighter.  The space closed fast. 
            In the same instant the snow-demon raised its paw to strike, Sol hit the dirt in a feet first slide.  He skidded directly under the surprised animal and rolling to his back, lashed out with both arms.  The razor sharp skykes sliced deeply into the back of the Dybuk's forelegs, severing muscle and tendon.  Howling in pain the beast stumbled forward, its legs unable to support its considerable bulk.  Sol scurried to crawl out from underneath, but not quickly enough.  The great Dybuk toppled, pinning the fighter's legs to the ground, trapping him under the writhing creature. 
            Sol lowered his forehead to the sand.  He could have let the Dybuk tear into the downed Frorian and then struck the distracted beast with relative ease.  Putting himself between K’nal and the monster was the decent thing to do but decency didn’t keep you alive.
            He looked up at the cheer of the crowd to see K’nal walk slowly to the head of the beast, the massive axe in hand.  Sol watched as he paused and said something to the distressed animal.  Then in one fluid motion he swung the axe up over his head and with a powerful down-stroke buried the blade deep into the Dybuk’s skull.  The once mighty beast twitched briefly and then lay still in a growing pool of its own blood.
            The crowd cheered.
            Sol struggled again to free his lower half from the dead weight of the animal but it was no use. He had helped topple the beast, this was true, but now he lay trapped and helpless.  He watched K’nal walk over and collect the misthrown spear, the crowd growing suddenly silent.
            “At least I’m not in pain”, Sol said to himself.  The fallen Dybuk hadn’t crushed his legs and besides, K’nal wasn’t known to be cruel, hopefully his death would be quick.
            Sol lifted his head and looked up and the Frorian who now stood with the spear just out of reach of Sol’s skykes.  A thoughtful frown creased the giant’s flat furry face as he looked down on Sol. 
            Moments passed.
            The coliseum was still and quiet.  Some wanted to hear a heady comment of victory from the usually stoic K’nal.  Still more wanted to hear Sol beg and plead for his life.  Some just wanted to hear the deathblow.  Finally, they all heard something entirely unexpected.
            K’nal bent down slightly and glared into Sol’s eyes saying only one word, “Together.”
            With this he slid the blade end of the spear under the lifeless Dybuk and began to heave the dead mass off of Sol’s legs.  The spear shaft bowed and the strain showed on K’nal's face but slowly the weight shifted until, with great difficulty, Sol was able to pull his legs free.
            He staggered to his feet, the feeling returning to his legs.  He turned to face K’nal, skykes at the ready.  The giant again held the blood stained axe he had just wrenched from the Dybuk’s skull.  They stood a mere dozen paces apart, neither one ready or willing to make the next move.
            Moments passed and then slowly the crowd began to awaken from its stunned silence. 
            Such acts of selflessness and nobility had long been absent from this arena.  Gladiators fought for their survival without conviction or principle.  Most people had only heard of such deeds in fireside stories told to them as children.  Life was hard and it wasn’t long before ideals gave way to reality.  Every spectator there knew that today, they had witnessed something special. 
            Out of the silence a new chant slowly grew.  Quiet at first, it soon pulsed with the same intensity Sol’s name had.
            “Both”, it said, “Both…Both…Both…”   
            The lone rule of the coliseum was simple; the mob gets what it wants.  For once the masses wanted both gladiators to live to fight another day.
            Sol unstrapped the skykes and K’nal dropped the battle axe.  They looked each other in the eye and then each with a brief nod, turned to walk back to their respective tunnels, victorious.

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