Clang! Optimus’ stone sword collided with my wooden shield. My legs gave way to this thunderous force, and I struggled to stand upright. Blood cascaded from the numerous open wounds on my torso and legs. Clang! Optimus came down again, my shield was now centimetres from my face, his sword pushing it perilously closer. The resounding boos and jeers from all around the coliseum was all I could here. Suddenly, the pressure on my shield disappeared. I ventured a look over the shield and saw the dreaded thumbs down. The ensuing fear was quickly punctuated by a sharp pain in my chest and Optimus’s sword protruding from my ribcage. I fell backwards onto the sandy ground and everything blacked out.
I sat up, breathing heavily, drenched in sweat. I glanced around the dim room, regaining my bearings. I was in my dormitory in The Academy, sitting upright on my cloth bed. What a dream! I was already dreading my final battle with Optimum, and my dream did nothing but emphasise this fear. I could die. For real. I tried for the next half hour to get back to sleep, but the suit of armour across from me kept reminding me of the impending battle. My thoughts wandered back to home. I remember the day I left, the distraught faces of my wife and sons. I was doing this for them, I told myself, so they could eat, survive. It was the only way. I put my pen to paper in an attempt to vent, and express my dedication to my dear family.
I hope you and the boys are well. This will not be a long letter, for I do not want to cause you grief. Today is the day. The day when all my hard work pays off. The day either I get paid and freed or... the day I die. I know you need the money I could earn from my battle against Optimus, the greatest gladiator of all time, but I’m sure Agricolius will give the boys paying jobs when they are old enough. However, I am not writing because of the money, I am writing because this may be my last letter to you. I want to thank you for all you have done for me. Giving me great sons. Believing in me when no one else would, and helping me through my gladiatorial career with your supportive letters. But, no matter what may become of me, I wish you and the boys a happy and prosperous life.
By the time I had finished my many redrafts and written my final letter, the sun began to flood through my open window. Just as I got up to give my letter to Infirmius, the slave who was wandering the corridors outside, I heard a firm knock on the door. “Pertinus!”, called the familiar voice of my gladiator master, Fortius, “Quit lounging around Pertinus, it is time for breakfast.” Great. I hated him very much before today, but now my hate for him was salient.
“I am coming!” I called back. I quickly tucked my letter inside my tunic sleeve, grabbed my suit of armour from its stand, and my sword from my bedside table. I pushed my door open to see Fortius standing tall in front of me. “Ready for the big day, big man?” Fortius said, his unconvincing attempts to remain confident falling short.
“I am as ready as I will ever be.” I commented resignedly.
After breakfast, we made our way to the arena preparation room. On the way, we passed Infirmius in the hall and I discreetly passed him the letter through my sleeve and whispered, “For my family.” We went to get my armour polished and my sword sharpened, but all the while, my thoughts were focused on the upcoming battle. Optimus was the best of the best. He had never lost a fight. Ever. According to his master, he didn't plan to, either. His reputation for physical acuity and fighting calibre had spread all over The Empire, even to my home. Bang! Bong! My thoughts were interrupted by the coliseum bell. It was time.
I could hear the crowd roaring behind the door to the preparation room. I could hear the bells ringing to demand silence from the audience. I could hear Fortius introducing audiences to Optimus, and then to me. Then silence. It was time. I slowly pushed open the bulky wooden door and stepped out into the sunlight. I saw Optimus doing the same on the other side of the coliseum. “FIGHT!!!” screamed the adjudicator. Optimus broke into a frenzied run towards me, while I slowly inched my way forward. Halfway to the red sand that marked the centre of the coliseum, he stopped and began making bellowing noises. Trying to intimidate me, I assumed. I began to jog towards the centre of the coliseum, and he resumed his mad run. We will meet in the middle, I thought.
When he and I arrived at the centre, we began circling around the red sand, parallel to each other. Abruptly, he stopped circling and charged towards me. Luckily I was prepared and I poised my shield in front of me. He rammed me straight on, head-first into my shield. Crack! An “oooooohhhhhhh” arose from the crowd as it splintered in two. At least I had had that in the dream! I blindly began hacking at him with my iron blade, but I was no match for his agility. He deftly dodged every single blow. But I was not some pugnacious amateur. I was Pertinus the Tenacious! I was feared. I hoped. Finally, obviously having had enough of my mad slashing, Optimus swung his axe at my torso. I was only able to absorb some of the momentum with my sword as he slashed me across the chest. I stumbled back, clutching my bleeding wound. He kicked me over harshly and held his sword over my neck. So... this was my end. Optimus really was the best. “I can not lose hope, that’s what he wants!”, I said to myself. While he was distracted basking in the audience’s cheers, I rolled to the side, throwing my severed chest-guard at his face. In his blinded anger, I managed to get in a few cuts across his body, however nothing major enough to win the fight. He was obviously stronger and faster than me, but I was smarter. Maybe I could wear him out until he was incapable of fighting. We exchanged many blows over the course of the next few minutes, which stretched out to eternity, until he grew tired and retrieved his shield from his back. He continued to parry my thrusts like before, but I could tell something was awry. Suddenly, he threw his shield at me. I barely had time to move out of the way before it sliced my leg. I howled in pain. We were both badly injured, all his small cuts began bleeding more profusely, and my leg crippled in pain. I thought of my poor family, my wife who had to scrounge for scraps of food, my boys who were barely old enough to defend themselves, I had to do this. I... still... had... the... upper... hand... We were both on the ground.
So this is how it ends, us crawling around like dogs... “NO!!!...NOOOOOO!!!” I bellowed as I lethargically swung my sword at him, slamming him in the skull. As fast as I could, I straddled his semi-unconscious body and held my sword above his neck. The sensation of metal piercing through sinew and muscle was unbearable yet relieving. I look at the emperor for confirmation. His thumbs were up. I won! Slowly, my head spinning, I fell back onto the sand-covered ground.
Blinking profusely, I sat up to find Fortius standing over me. My leg was wrapped in a bandage, still stinging profusely.“You are a free and rich man, Pertinus,” Fortius said, relieved. “Well done.” 2 hours later, I arrived at the amphitheater for the freedom ceremony. An elderly man stood on a pedestal, addressing the audience in the amphitheater, “This man, Pertinus, has earned his freedom through battle. He will now be honoured with his Rudis.” He stepped down, arms outstretched, holding the wooden sword I had learnt to fight with. “I honour you, Pertinus the Tenacious, with your FREEDOM!”. The crowd went wild.
After I had bathed and was given a large sum of money, I packed my few possessions, preparing to return home. After saying farewell to the people who I knew, I was soon sent on my way home to Pompeii. Throughout the carriage ride, the alluring countryside, with its brilliant emeralds and somber maroons, flew by as I was pulled along by a jet-black stallion. I couldn’t wait to see my family again! Oh, how I’d missed them! We continued moving forward as we neared our destination. We were coming up on a huge pile of rubble and ash when we stopped. “Why have we stopped?” I asked the carriage driver.
“We are here,” he said.