Female gladiators fought in the arenas of the Roman Empire at the beginning of the first century. Who were they? What were their lives like? Why did they want to participate in such a deadly 'sport'?
Those of Us About to Die is an epic-styled novel that follows the life of --
JURISA, an Amazon warrior woman from North Africa who ignores the laws of her tribe and attempts to join her lover, Dau, who's been sold as a slave to a gladiator school. Once in the school, however, Jurisa realizes that Dau is nowhere to be seen, and she is bound by oath to remain for at least three years, during which time she can win her freedom or die in the attempt.
This historical novel also weaves Jurisa's story with those of several other important characters--
NERO ... Emperor of Rome, he's more interested in developing and showcasing his musical and poetic abilities than govenring the Empire
SAUL ... once a hated Pharisee determined to arrest the followers of the Way, he suddenly becomes an Apostle of God
KENDRA ... daughter of Queen Boudicca, she's sent to a chariot racing school from which she plots to escape as soon as she can
XIU MEI ... an Oriental slave girl who flees her master's villa, only to find herself training as a beast hunter for the arenas of Rome
DAU ... Jurisa's lover, sold to a gladiator school, escapes and then finds himself in the company of an Apostle of God
[I'm currently one quarter of the way through this book]
"Amazon! Amazon! Amazon!"
"Gunter! Gunter! Gunter!"
The chants filtered down through the stone structure of the huge arena in Leptis Magna where they caught the ears of Jurisa-a tall, black-skinned, muscular woman in her early twenties.
'Amazon' was her cognomen, the nickname given her when she entered the gladiatorial school some three years previously.
The school's manager, Rufus Severinus, meant it as a mocking gesture against her gender. However, at the time, he didn't realize how coincidentally right he was when he bestowed it on her.
Over time, the name stuck, and that was how everyone came to know her.
Or, Jurisa reflected on occasion, perhaps the Goddess had some other obscure reason for it, a purpose known only to Her. Perhaps that was why, after all this time, Jurisa still lived.
Not that Death hadn't kissed her several times already.
A long-healed, light brown scar tracked its way across her chin and lower lip; another, down half the length of her right arm; and yet a third, across the top of her left thigh, the scar's actual length lost from view beneath the hem of her short chiton.
Jurisa wore the light, short-sleeved long shirt in a wrap-around style, cinched at the waist by a narrow, camel-hair belt. Although the material draped from her full left breast, the right seemed oddly flat. Two wide silver bands, now tarnished and dull, decorated her upper arms. On her feet, a pair of hob-nailed caligae would help stabilize her stance later in the arena. However, once the fights got under way and blood soaked into the dirt, no modified sandals or boots offered any sort of decent traction.
Her dark auburn hair, which she normally wore loose and long to her waist, she'd now double-braided and tied behind her neck to keep any strands from getting in her eyes. That would also help keep her opponents from grabbing her hair and using it to their advantage during a fight.
At one time, Jurisa would have been considered attractive; but now, after these many months of living, training, and fighting as a gladiatrix, her fine features had weathered and hardened, her face lined with premature wrinkles. Even her green eyes seemed void of emotion as she stared sullenly at the steel-and-wood Gates of Life.
Beams from the early morning sun filtered through myriad cracks and holes in the thick slats of lumber. The rays illuminated millions of miniscule dust particles, as well as tiny gnats that floated, flitted, or hovered like golden sand in the light. Here and there, clouds of buzzing dung flies darted in and out of the rays in their never-ending hunt for fresh droppings.
However, it wasn't yet time for the opening parade when all the participants in the fights that day, including wild animals, would travel around the perimeter of the oval arena to the accolades or catcalls of the crowds.
Gossip reached Jurisa earlier which speculated that, during the past week, over fifty thousand spectators had gathered to watch the ludi plebai games, a series of competitions that included sports and gladiatorial combat in honor of the Roman god, Jupiter.
Now the final day had arrived, and thousands of spectators had already begun to gather once more for the big event-the last spectacles and fights. Thousands of people had travelled to Leptis Magna, a thriving city of trade in the province known as Africa Proconsularis on the north central coast of the huge and virtually unexplored and uncharted continent.
They came not only from Rome, some four hundred miles distant to the northwest across the Mare Mediterranean, but also from many other countries, provinces, and territories within the now-vast Roman Empire.
Several hundred people had already camped outside the main entrance overnight, most of them hoping to get a good seat on this particular morning as soon as they could.
Not unlike all the games in the Empire, there was no admission charged since the Romans believed that free citizens had the right to watch the games without any cost to them.
Marius Dentatus, the magistrate of Leptis Magna, financially covered the whole week's events. However, rumors hinted that he'd done so at the behest of the Emperor who offered to help defray some of the costs, and who also promised to add a few more mid-day break entertainments.
Several hundred spectators, or perhaps even a thousand by this time, chanted again for the presence of the day's most popular gladiators.
But, of course, even though they'd show themselves during the parade, Jurisa and Gunter wouldn't appear in the fights until mid-afternoon.
Soon, however, after the parade, the Gates of Life would swing open to allow Jurisa and several hundred other gladiators, fighters, hunters, charioteers, and animals access to the main arena. There, through the prowess of their fighting skills, or merely the whim of the gods, they'd conquer their opponent and live to fight another day; or be defeated, and die a glorious death, all for and before the cheering, jeering crowds of frenzied Roman spectators.
Jurisa smiled grimly to herself. One eyebrow arched slightly at the sound of her cognomen.
For some reason, the chants encouraged her.