“Come on, Zipper, your turn,” one of the Romans training the gladiators called out.
Then he threw him a wooden sword of average length and a wooden shield.
Zipper took them and went towards his adversary who was taller than him and was armed with a wooden spear without a sharp end and a small wooden shield. They started stalking each other, like beasts, and strive to hit each other as if they were fighting with real weapons.
The tall man was tough and brisk. He tried several times to “stab” Zipper in the front, but Zipper avoided the ”stabs”.
“He is tall,” the Thracian thought, “so he must be more vulnerable in the legs.”
He stalked his adversary and promptly shifted to the right, then crouched and hit him in the leg with a strong move of the sword.
The tall man shrieked with pain, but he managed to stay upright. Nevertheless, he started limping. Zipper was satisfied and happy that his strategy proved to be winning. Now he moved faster around his adversary and managed to hit him several times on the arms and body with his sword. Had that been a real weapon, he would have already eliminated him. He spied on the tall man when he wanted to stab him with the spear again, took a step backward and caught him. He pushed him towards himself and hit him with his sword mightily in the part of the neck which was not protected by the helmet. The tall man moaned with pain and caught the wounded spot.
“Enough,” the trainer called. “Thracian, you go to the special group, and the other man goes to the beginners.”
The men who were good fighters were selected, and better care was taken of them. Their food was better, and they were trained more intensively.
Zipper did not need training. He had been trained by an old warrior in the mountain who had taught him the most important lessons on battles. He mastered with ease all the new weapons they were given, and was certain of his victories.
The slavery tortured him. He was not used to being a slave! He could not be a slave! He could only live freely, without being forced to kill, so that the enraged crowds and spoilt masters could entertain themselves.
He longed for Skedesa too. He saw her in his dreams, she was running towards him and calling him, but he could not budge from his place and go to meet her. He woke up covered in sweat, and he whispered her name. He loved her more than he loved himself.
One day another Thracian from the Getae family shared his plan of escape.
“It will hardly be an easy matter,” Zipper told him. “Look how they guard us. We have no weapons, and even if we get out of our cages, outside it is full of guardians who will spot us.”
“I am thinking over a couple of plans. One is to pretend I am ill, start bending as if with pain, as if sick with something. When they open the cage, I will attack them and will escape.”
“That’s pure nonsense. You’ll get killed as soon as they find out you are making it out and trying to escape,” Zipper told him.
“Then I won’t attack them, I will only pretend I am seriously ill. They will take me out of the camp and will leave me there.”
“You must be rather naive. Didn’t you hear the stories that the older gladiators narrated? All those who are ill get killed instantly. The Romans don’t care if you are alive or dead. You are just an animal to them. They can replace you with another one in a moment.”
The Getae man did not like that.
“What’s your name?” Zipper asked him.
“Getan,” the man replied.
“Listen, Getan, we may manage to escape, but you must listen to me. I’ll tell you what we shall do, when I feel the right time has come.”
“How do you intend us to escape?” the Getae man asked.
“I told you, when I decide it is possible to escape, I’ll tell you,” Zipper repeated, annoyed.
Their cages were next to each other, and they could talk quietly, without being overheard.
But Zipper was also afraid of treachery. He could believe no one. And yet he would be waiting and looking for a convenient moment for himself, to be able to escape.
Their training was getting harder, but that intensified his strengths and his desire for freedom.
One evening he saw Skedesa in his dream again, but this time she spoke to him. Her words were coming from far away and were not very clear, but he managed to make out the last ones:
“My love, I’m coming ...”
He woke up with a strange feeling. She seemed to be near, close to him.
In the morning they told him that he was going to fight two other men, and if he won, he would be given good food and a woman as a prize.
Zipper hesitated. He knew he could win, but he didn’t want to. Because of the prize. He wanted no other woman but Skedesa. If he refused the woman, there could be unforeseen implications. He decided that the only way to save himself from the situation was either to fall or to hurt himself. He could hit his head, as if by accident, and say he was unable to fight. But that would certainly only put off the battle for some time.
When they were taking him out, he arranged to trip and fall head first bumping it into a cage. Blood streamed from his head after the blow, and he collapsed and wriggled on the ground, more pretending than really feeling pain.
The battle was postponed. For Skedesa he was ready to do everything!
A Roman healer came to examine him and help him.
“Does your head hurt a lot?” the healer asked.
Zipper slightly nodded affirmatively and looked with eyes full of suffering.
“You should rest for a couple of days. Then I’ll examine you again,” the healer said and left.
In two days, there was excitement in the camp. There was a rumour that eminent Romans from Athens were coming to select gladiators for the Games in Hellada.
“It’s very good that I am unwell,” Zipper thought.
But in a couple of days he saw a group of patricians go among the cages with the gladiators and look at them. He overheard their words.
“I didn’t like those outside. Most of them fight like women.”
“And they don’t have strong muscular bodies,” another one added.
They reached Zipper’s cage and stopped. They saw he was lying on the wooden bed, his head bandaged, and not budging.
Zipper remained with his eyes closed, and breathed heavily, as if he was ill.
“What’s the matter with this one?” one of the patricians asked.
“He hit his head, but he’ll be OK. He is one of the best.”
“There’s nothing the matter with him. He is already recovering. So the healer said,” the school owner said.
“Zipper!” one of the trainers called out.
But Zipper didn’t budge.
“He has very strong muscles,” one of the guests remarked.
“Yes, and he is very quick and capable with the sword and the spear. He was the only one to hit the target with his spear ten times in a row.”
“And when did the healer say he will recover?”
“In a day or two.”
“I think we should stay for a couple of days,” one of the patricians announced.
They left and Zipper was relieved.