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Blood and Sand (Untitled #1)
Author:C. V. Wyk

Blood and Sand (Untitled #1)

C. V. Wyk



For the wandering and the wild, the new heroes gazing fearlessly into the dark.



For the young ones rising.





AUTHOR’S NOTE

Many of the events and individuals in Blood and Sand are based on actual historical record, though, for the sake of the narrative, the author has taken creative liberties with dates, titles, places, and characters. All historical discrepancies are intentional.





O, pardon me, thou bleeding piece of earth, That I am meek and gentle with these butchers!


Thou art the ruins of the noblest man That ever lived in the tide of times.

Woe to the hand that shed this costly blood!

Over thy wounds now do I prophesy—

Which, like dumb mouths, do ope their ruby lips To beg the voice and utterance of my tongue— A curse shall light upon the limbs of men.

Julius Caesar, 3.1.269–277

*

Spartacus was a Thracian from the nomadic tribes and not only had a great spirit and great physical strength, but was much more than one would expect …

Plutarch of Chaeronea, A.D. 100





CHAPTER 1

They called them slaves.

In the shadow of the Coliseum, through the paved streets of Rome, armed guards dragged them by the neck. Rusted iron shackles cut at their wrists and ankles. Each labored breath was fouled by the bitter stench of the city. Old and new blood darkened the rope that bound them together. Clumps of hair, torn fingernails, and other bits were trapped in the heavy, twisted strands. It was a rope that had been used many times before.

A crowd of dusty citizenry parted to let them pass, urged along by the guards and watchmen flanking the slaves on their walk to the auction block.

Twenty-one women in total, and they all averted their eyes, trembled with terror. All but one.

At the very end of the line, a slight figure lifted her head and stared around her, her gaze steady, penetrating. The dirt and mud that streaked her face wasn’t enough to hide her disgust. She knew what was going to happen to her and the others. She knew the warped rules by which the Romans played. Patricians and plebeians. Masters and slaves. They all filled their roles without exception. It didn’t matter who she was sold to, just that she would be sold. She would be bought, and she would be paid for, and she would be a slave.

She tried to summon calming pictures of her home—the salty air that drummed against the walls of her father’s tent, the alternating calm and fury of the Aegean, the stormy gray of her mother’s eyes. But the pictures quickly turned to images of carnage and violence.

She’d been a warrior once, and free. Now she was the only one left, the last Thracian the world would never know. She wondered if history would remember the genocide of the Maedi, the annihilation of her people.

Doubtful, she thought. History only serves the winner.

Roma victrix.

She knew she didn’t have the luxury of denial—not if she was going to survive. So when the bloodstained rope pulled her forward with a sharp jerk, she focused instead on her training and her discipline and managed to remain steady.

“Keep moving,” the guard behind her grumbled.

Gripping her rope with bleeding fingers, she spat into the sand and walked on.

When she was young, her father, Sparro—swordlord of the legendary Maedi and war-king of Thrace—shot a barbed arrow into the heavens. The lives of his wife and unborn son had been claimed in childbirth, and brimming with grief, he forswore his people’s gods. In a single night, he’d lost everything. Everything except for his young daughter, and in spite of his sorrow and resentment, he called her to his side.

It was the first time in her memory that all of their people were gathered together. Though their villages were separated by miles of mountain and field, all of Thrace stood as one that day—a proud mass of thousands upon thousands, stretching along the unforgiving coastline of the Aegean. They waited to see if their king would defy the gods one more time. To the east, the sea waited, too, silent and still. Not a single white wave crashed against the rocks below.

The crowning sun glinted off a pendant cradled in King Sparro’s palm: finely wrought silver molded into the shape of a falcon in flight. The bird’s bright wings spread wide, every feather carved in stunning detail. Its talons clutched undulating waves, and in place of its heart sat a large, clear stone that blazed in the dawn light.

Thracians of old called the pendant zhimanteia—“fire of the immortals”—a jewel meant for the swordlord’s heir, the crown prince.

A serving woman brought forward a needle and a length of thread, and King Sparro himself made quick, neat stitches, fastening the pendant onto a new cloak. Then he draped the wool across his daughter’s thin shoulders so that the pendant rested heavily against her heart.

Even heavier were the words he spoke next.

“I name Attia, my daughter.”

Only a moment of silence passed before Crius, Sparro’s first captain, raised his sword into the air and cried out the child’s name. “Attia!”

It was a testament to their loyalty and their love that, without hesitation, all of the people took up the cry. And then as one, ten thousand honored soldiers of Thrace—Maedi warriors all—fell to their knees before the girl. The red of their cloaks spread out like a sea of blood.

Attia became her father’s heir that day, the first future queen and swordmaiden of Thrace, destined to rule the greatest warrior kingdom the world had seen since ancient Sparta.

She was seven years old.

Now, ten years later, the once–crown princess found herself bound at the end of the line of new slaves. A fresh piece of meat up for auction, paraded onto a rotting wood platform in the middle of a small plaza. The twenty-one bound women were strangers to each other, all dressed in various shades of filth. At the opposite end of the line from Attia, one woman began to sob. Her shoulders shook with despair as the merchant gripped the back of her neck, shoved her forward, and began the bidding.

The Republic had conquered nearly half of the known world, its rule reaching from the western coast of Germanica to the eastern jungles of Siam. Even the dialects of Thrace shared much with the Latin Vulgate—the common tongue of the Republic. But at that moment, Attia wished it didn’t because she understood the merchant’s words all too well. “Who will give one denarius for this one? She is strong yet. Look.” He slapped the woman’s hip. “Pair her with your largest field worker, and she could breed two or three more, easily.”

Bile rose in Attia’s throat.