Leaving your marks in the sand



Many times you only realize what moments will change your life when you look back at them.

You give some boy a piece of bread because you saw him steal to survive and the rest of the story is trivial, don’t you think?

Scene 1

The sun hardly reaches all the way down here. The rough stone walls are set in dim but warm light and even though it’s terribly hot outside, down here the air feels cool.

“Where are we?” he asks.

The woman that brought him here doesn’t answer. She’s turned away. Her hand runs over the cold stone of what might be some kind of coffin. Did she bring him to a grave?

Without turning around, she replies, “Where do you think?”

“It’s too big to be a commoner’s. And if my instinct is correct, we should be right underneath the temple. Maybe the grave of a long-forgotten king?”

The mysterious woman walks deeper into the room. Three coffins, three chests, and three paintings. The paintings are very beautiful. A man and two women but there are no crowns in it. No king would leave out such a thing. Not on the painting that’s hanging over his grave

Finally, the woman faces the man. She looks him into the eyes and asks, “Do you know how this kingdom was created?”

“You mean the legend? Yes, everybody knows it. The warrior, the monk, and the all-knowing bitch.”

“The leader, the innocent, and the academic,” she corrects him. For each person, she points at one of the coffins.

“You want me to believe that these guys not only existed but that we are standing in their grave? I think you need to take another look at the legend. The innocent was a man. I never really understood what was so innocent about him. Yes, his preferred weapon was a stick but if I remember correctly, he did plenty of damage with it. Nothing innocent about that.”

As he was speaking the woman opened one of the chests. “Not a legend,” she says amused. She takes out a sword.

“She always hid underneath her robe and never said a word in public. Only a few people knew about her real sex.” The woman hands over the sword. “Careful, it’s still sharp.”

Scene 2

A drop of sweat runs down his cheekbone as the man hands over his sword. The girl that takes it is his friend. Maybe even his only one.

The girl turns away and cleans the blood off the blade. “Did you kill him?” She asks.

The name of the man is Akin and the girl that’s helping him is called Sacara. Officially, she’s his servant. She helps him prepare for the fights, makes his bed, cooks, and bathes him. His owner assigned her to him a few years ago.

“He didn’t die on the battlefield,” Akin says as he sits down. That’s what he always says if he doesn’t know whether his opponent will make it through the next night. This time he performed a real number on him. His enemy was determined to keep on fighting even though it was obvious that he had already lost. Over and over, he got back to his feet and every time he did Akin was there to bring him back down. The crowd loved it.

Sacara begins to unstrap his armor. “That woman was here again. She bought another night with you. What does she want?”

“You know what these women want when they buy a night with a gladiator and I’m happy to give it to them. What is it to you, Sacara?”

She lifts off his harness and carries it to the other side of the room. “She’s been with you three times in the last two weeks. I asked around. She’s only seeing you.”

Akin laughs, “Are you jealous?”

Sacara hands him his clothes. “Do you even know who she is? No one I talked to saw her face. I think she’s trouble. Be careful around her.”

Akin stands up. “Don’t worry.”

Scene 3

he guard hands Akin a set of cuffs. “Put them on,” he says.

Akin looks at them surprised. “Why?”

“They just told me that you must put them on. Maybe that new woman has a fetish? Just do it. I can’t let you in without them.”

Akin does what he was told and the guard opens the heavy wooden door. Akin has seen the room behind that door before. A fancy bed, a table, two bottles of wine with glasses, a pot of herbs, and a shit tone of lit candles. All these noblewomen that want to fuck a real gladiator. Akin lays down on the bed and waits.

After a while, the door opens again and a woman enters the room. She hides her face in the shadow of her robe. As soon as the door closes behind her, she pulls down her hood revealing her face. Her blond hair falls down over her shoulders. Her blue eyes have widened in the dim lighting of the room.

Akin stares at her in amazement. She is, hands down, the most beautiful woman that he served in these nights but there is something about her that he can’t really put in context. The women he usually gets, do take care of themselves. Their husbands got bored with them and they still have to keep up the appearance of the perfect wife. But they are usually a bit older than that young woman that is standing in front of him now. And he doubts that anybody could get bored with her.

“You ordered them to cuff me?” Akin asks.

“No, I didn’t.” Her voice is lovely, it completes the whole innocent looking girl look.

“Here,” she says and throws him the keys.

Akin sits up on the bed and unlocks his cuffs. “You must be a pretty important person out there for them to not trust me around you.”

“If you say so.”

Akin stands up. “Should we get to it, then?” He asks.

The woman smiles. “Let’s start by talking.”

“You want to talk?” Akin asks.

She’s a talker, he knew there had to be a downside. Not the first and certainly not the last. They got the whole night. Most wait till after the fun part but he had a few that are like her.

The woman takes a look at the two bottles of wine and Akin joins her at the table. “The last time we didn’t really get a chance,” she says.

The last time? Then he realizes it. He has seen that face before. “You’re the woman from the market. You made your guards chase me, didn’t you?”

“So, you do remember,” she says. “They wouldn’t have killed you if that’s what you were afraid of. As I said, I want to talk. Something that dead people have a really hard time doing.”

“If your guards are as trustworthy as you claim, why did you slip out of their sight to see me back then? I think they were quite upset when they finally found you.”

The woman lifts her eyes from the bottle of wine. Up close she’s even more beautiful. “Don’t flatter yourself. I didn’t ditch them for you. And they wouldn’t dare to refuse one of my orders but in the end, they are more afraid of my father than me. And there are things my father doesn’t have to know.”

“What’s your name?” Akin asks.

“Just call me Lin.”

“Ok, Lin. You want to talk? Then talk.”

Lin turns her head. She’s got to look up because Akin is pretty tall in comparison to her. “Why did you help out that boy?”

Akin turns away. Hell no, he thinks and lays back down on the bed. With folded hands behind his head, he just stays there while Lin watches him in disbelieve. “Why did you help that boy?” she asks again with a more persistent voice.

Akin doesn’t move a muscle.

With folded hands in front of her chest, Lin moves to the foot of the bed. “Tell me why you helped that boy! That’s an order.”

“An order?” Akin laughs, “Is that right? I’m curious, tell me. Who exactly is going to enforce that order if I refuse? You?”

Lin’s eyes widen. “You really got no idea who I am,” she says.

“Some spoiled brat that has never even heard about the meaning of the word no?”

Nobody has ever spoken to her like that. They’d be dead if they had. Who does he think he is? A gladiator, a slave. He’s got no right to talk that way in front of her. She paid for him. For this night he’s hers. “Well, it’s going to be a long night for you then. Because this spoiled brat is going to keep asking you the same question over and over again until you answer me.”

“And why wouldn’t I just leave?” Akin asks.


“Oh, that’s cute,” he says, “You thought I’d have to stay here enduring everything you might want to do? Sorry to disappoint you. I’m free to leave if I choose to.”

“You’re a slave.”

“I’m a gladiator,” Akin clarifies. “I’m a slave because I want to be. Only slaves are allowed to fight in the arena. And this little night business they are running. You think they’d had to force me into sleeping with all these women? It’s a win-win situation. They get money and don’t have to hire whores to keep up the morale of their fighters.”

Did he just compare her to a whore? Man, this guy got some nerves. But what did he say? He’s not forced to do this? There goes her leverage. How did he do that? He’s a slave but it’s still feeling like he is holding all the cards. If he doesn’t wanna talk to her then so be it. She’ll get her answer sooner or later. There is no doubt about that.

“So, you’re here because you want to?” She drops her robe, revealing her beautiful white dress. Golden adornments hold it together. They shimmer in the lights of the candles. “What do you think?” she asks, “do you like what you are seeing?”

Hell yeah, Akin thinks but he can’t get a word out. She’s definitely the most beautiful woman that has visited him. But didn’t she want to talk? “What are you doing?” he asks in return.

Standing next to the table she takes off her bracelets. “I paid for it, didn’t I?” She pours herself a glass of wine. “You want some?”

Akin shakes his head. “I don’t drink.” He likes where this is going. Maybe he was wrong about her being that innocent but spoiled brat. She didn’t know about his arrangements with his owner but that was to be expected.

“Smart decision,” Lin says. She takes a hand full of the herbs and starts chewing them. With a good sip of her wine, she swallows them. “Sadly, I don’t really have a choice, since these things won’t work without alcohol.”

The herbs make it impossible for her to be impregnated this night. It’s commonly used by whores but it also proved quite useful for rich people that want to have some fun without taking on responsibility.

“You wouldn’t want to leave now, would you?” Lin climbs on the bed. As she comes closer a short expression of uncertainty crosses her face. A little imperfection in the otherwise perfectly majestic performance.

Scene 4

The shadows grow larger as the sun is fading behind the ranks of the arena. The sand beneath the two fighters is still hot. It’s been a long day but it’s finally coming to an end. All-day long people fought on these grounds.

Akin is one of the fighters. This is the climax of this celebrational event, the moment all these people sitting and standing around them have waited for. They came to see him win; they came to see him lose.

Today is special, they said. This time the royal family will attend the games and gratulate the winner, they said. But standing on this sand now, things like that don’t matter. There is only him and his opponent.

They circle each other waiting for the other to make his first move. Akin throws a swing. The sound of steel crashing on steel and the crowd goes wild. It’s a match, so great they’ll talk about it for years to come. Two undefeated champions going at each other, swing after swing.

You dodge one and you can be certain that another one will follow shortly. An even match or so it seems for the first minutes.

Then Akin moves slower; goes more on the defensive. His opponent keeps up the pressure, forcing Akin backward. One step at a time. A window presents itself and Akin’s opponent tries to capitalize on it. It doesn’t go as planned and he finds himself face down in the sand of the arena. As he looks up, he sees Akin walking around, a bit short on breath but without a worry in the world. “That’s all you got?” Akin asks.

His opponent was only down for a second. Back on his feet, the two start to circle each other again. This time it’s not Akin that throws the first swing.

This time it’s not an evenly matched fight. With an elegance that you wouldn’t expect from a gladiator Akin dodges everything that gets thrown at him until that one swing that presented the perfect opportunity. He ducks under his opponent’s arm. Not hitting anything throws the other fighter off balance. Akin takes the step around him, cutting the side of his opponent’s body.

A devastating hit. The blood starts running out of the wound. Akin turns his back to the other fighter, mocking him.

Back to start. They circle each other again.

A few encounters later it’s obvious who’s the better fighter. The only way for Akin to lose would be by a fatal mistake. It doesn’t seem likely. The fight has already lasted a couple of minutes. The crowd just waits for Akin to land his final blow.

The sound of steel crashing on steel. This fight is relentless.

Somehow Akin managed to get behind his opponent. He could end it right here and now but he doesn’t. The other fighter realizes what just happened and drops to his knees. He has put on a good fight but at some point, he’s got to admit his defeat. He takes off his helmet and throws it into the sand. You can see that he’s in pain.

Back in the days Akin as the winner would have to kill him now but this practice was eradicated by the last ruler of these lands. The crowd goes wild. The last time for today.

Scene 5

“I know you don’t like to kneel but I beg you. Please do it today. He’ll have you killed if you don’t. You only speak if you’re spoken to and don’t disrespect him. Please Akin …”

The pleading words of Sacara echo in the back of his head as he steps out on the balcony. There’s a little staircase down to where the royal family watches the fight.

“You’ll address him as king, my king, your grace, or just Kathar the great. You don’t speak to his family. His wife and daughter are quite beautiful but you mustn’t stare at them.” Sacara was more worried about what might happen after Akin won than about the actual fight.

Akin takes off his helmet and kneels in front of the royal family. They are still sitting in their chairs facing the arena. A servant girl tells Kathar that Akin has arrived.

He stands up from his seat, “What a great fight. It’s a pleasure to see your work, Akin.”

“Thank you, your grace.” Akin keeps his eyes on the floor.

“I think congratulations are in order. Stand up, you fought well. I mean for a gladiator you’re pretty good with the sword. You’re almost as good as one of my guards.”

His guards? They’d have no chance against him, he thinks but he bites his tongue. “If you say so, your grace.”

Kathar’s wife and daughter take their place at his side. Sacara begged him not to look and so he doesn’t. Kathar could take it as an insult if a slave stares at his trophy wife and perfect daughter but on the other hand, Akin heard that Kathar likes to show them off on numerous occasions bragging about their beauty.

Kathar orders him to step closer. With every step, he takes he can feel how the guards are getting more and more nervous. A trained killer, so close to their ruler?

Holding eye contact Kathar extends his hand. The traditional handshake for the winner.

“In the name of this country I want to congratulate you for your glorious victory.”

Akin never understood how people could have such a high admiration for gladiators but still have them be slaves, subhuman. On the bottom and the top of society at the same time. Some look at them like celebrities, some only see the dirt at the bottom of their sandals. Kathar seems to be more on the admiring side of things.

“Meet my wife Tinga the wise and my daughter Linara the beautiful.” Kathar signals the women standing behind him to step forward.

Don’t stare, don’t stare, don’t stare, he thinks. The young one is the first that extends her hand. But it’s also impolite to not look at them while shaking their hands, so he decides to hold eye-contact for the short duration of the handshake.

He grabs Linara’s hand and freezes. She was already staring at him. Akin had seen those beautiful blue eyes before. A short flashback to that room full of candles. The picture of that naked piece of art that has burned itself into his memory. The feeling of her warmth.

Lin clears her throat. “You fought well, Akin.”

It’s really hard to take his eyes from Lin but then he hears Sacaras voice again, “you mustn’t stare!”

“I heard stories of your beauty but they don’t do you justice, my princess.” Then he turns to Tinga, the wife. She is equally as beautiful but not as young of course. She’s got blonde hair, too. If it wasn’t for the brown eyes you might think that she’s an older version of Lin. He shakes her hand.

With that, it’s over. The royal family leaves their spot on the balcony. Akin walks to the edge and looks down into the arena. Only a few people are left on the ranks. That’s the view of a king, he thinks. How disappointing.

Scene 6

It’s already dark outside. Sacara checks the temperature of the water and nods. Then she turns away, so Akin can undress and step into the bathtub. While the sun is up it’s pretty loud inside the buildings connected to the arena but the moment she fades behind the horizon, everything quiets down. As Sacara stares at the wall she can hear every sound in the room. It’s not much but she can follow how Akin takes off his shirt, then his trousers. She hears his steps, the slight sound of splashing water, and his voice that tells her that she can turn back around.

She looks at Akin, quietly asking if there is anything else that she can do. He shakes his head.

Sacara takes a seat on a tripod next to the door. She tries not to look at Akin, not that she could see much. From her angle, there is only his head that’s above the edge of the bathtub.

Akin, on the other hand, enjoys the feeling of the hot water. It counteracts the soreness of his muscles. He looks over to his friend. She had changed so much since he first met her. Back then she wore her hair short, she was flat-chested, and always had dirt on her face. Now she grew into a beautiful young girl.

A thought crosses his mind, beautiful young girls don’t do well in captivity.

“What are you thinking about?” Sacara must have noticed that Akin was looking at her. She asks that question before she lifts her head to face him.

“You’ve changed since I first saw you”

“I got older,” she says.

“Yes, you did.” Akin couldn’t help but notice his friend’s curves. No longer the curves of a girl but of a woman.

Did he just check me out, Sacara thinks? She tilts her head a little. Did Akin just turn his head away because he was ashamed for looking, or is she imagining things?

Akin starts to wash. He takes the sponge and slides it over his arms and chest. As he wants to reach over his shoulder he stops. He goes back to his front and starts with his legs.

Sacara knows what just happened. Akin was never one that showed his pain. This trait of his makes him dangerous on the battlefield but other than that it’s not too useful.

“Let me help you,” she says and stands up.

“You don’t need to …”

She interrupts him, “that’s what I’m here for. Get over your pride and hand me the sponge.”

A bit reluctant he gives it to her and leans forward so she can reach his back. She dips it into the hot water and begins to rub off the dirt. She knows he is hurt but it isn’t obvious where, so she explores his back watching his every reaction. There isn’t much to observe but after the years she can see when Akin is in pain. Something in his expression changes. It becomes a little bit colder.

Slow but steady movements. The soft and unfamiliar touch on his back. The curves he saw just a minute ago.

Sacara puts a hand on his shoulder and guides him to lean back again. She’s finished.

As Akin looks up to her, he finds that her eyes are drawn to his waist. He didn’t even realize that he got a boner. He quickly hides it by pulling it underwater. Sacara’s cheeks flush red in embarrassment but she keeps her eyes locked on his waist. Shit, that’s nothing he wanted her to see. He hopes this doesn’t make things weird, he wouldn’t want to lose his only real friend.

Then she surprises him, “Can I see it?”


“Your … eh … penis,” she says, “I haven’t seen one in a while. And … eh”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

Sacara smiles like she just found her usual self again, “Would you rather have me ask one of the guards? I think they’d be happy to show me.”

Akin is very protective of her, so she tries to play into it but it’s way too obvious.

“You know, these are just empty words.” He says and shakes his head.

“Pretty please?” Sacara tilts her head and tries to look as adorable as possible but it’s just to overplay her uncertainty. In the last months, her mind wandered more and more often to what might be if Akin didn’t find an interest in her. Maybe it’s time to give something back?

“Are you sure?” Akin asks.

Sacara nods.

With that he stands up, the water dripping down his body and his erection irritatingly close to the one woman he didn’t mean to have it with.

Sacara doesn’t move, she just looks at his shaft.

“Do you want me to touch it?” She asks and bites her lip.

Akin moves away, “I’d never ask you to do something like that.”

“I know,” she says and falls to her knees. She reaches forward to grab his hips and guide him back to the front of her face. As she tries to touch his shaft Akin stops her by grabbing her arm. Sacara looks up to his face that’s asking her if she knows what she is doing.

“Let me help you,” she says and as he releases her arm, she grabs his penis. “That’s what I’m here for,” she adds as she starts with some slow strokes.

Scene 7

The guy that is standing across from Akin lifts up his wooden sword preparing himself for the next defense. You can clearly see that he’s short on breath. The sweat is running down his cheek and dropping into the dry sand.

Akin suggests taking a break. Immediately, the man lowers his arms, losing any tension inside his body. He takes a deep breath, nods, and leaves.

Akin walks to a tree, lets go of his wooden sword, and sits down in the shadow. Someone hands him a bottle, filled with water. He looks up, sees the black robe, and rolls his eyes. He takes a good sip, staring at the sand of the training field. The water is cool.

“Who was so stupid to let you in here? Doesn’t he know that this is no place for a lady?”

She leans against the tree. “Being the princess brings some benefits.”

Akin looks around. “There are no guards.” There’s no one in the training area but him and Lin.

“I like my privacy,” she says.

Akin sights and stands up. “Why are you here?” he asks.

Lin looks at his wide chest. If he wanted to, he could crush her. God knows, he’s strong enough for that but he doesn’t look threatening. His eyes have a sadness to them that she hasn’t seen before.

“You refused to see me at night,” she says.

“And you thought maybe if you’d talk to me during the day, that might change that?” Akin shakes his head and turns his back to her to walk away.

“I did my research,” she says, “The kid that fought with nothing but a piece of wood.”

Akin stops, so Lin takes it as a sign that he wants to hear what she has to say.

“Your parents sold you into slavery. You’ve done the dirty work around the arena. One day your owner decided that it might be a good idea to make you fight someone twice your size, right in the sand of the arena. It was a death sentence and everybody knew it. You only got a stick but you killed him with it. Since that day you fought regularly and as the province didn’t have any fighters left, they sold you again, so you can fight on the big stage in the capitol. Still undefeated.”

“That’s not how it happened,” Akin says.

“Then tell me about it.”

Akin closes his eyes, takes a deep breath, and says, “As you told me that you’re the princess? I mean you’d think that that’s a little detail that you’d like to know before you sleep with someone. Maybe it’s not the first point on your introduction list but at some point, you could have mentioned to me that your father is the king and he might kill me if he finds out about us.”

“He wouldn’t kill you,” she says and raises an eyebrow, “And what happened to the man that straight up told me that I’m just a spoiled brat? You want me to believe that you’re afraid of my father, all of a sudden?”

She’s right, Akin doesn’t really fear the wrath of her father. He isn’t even doing it because Sacara would want him to stay out of trouble. No, she … eh …. What did she do exactly?

“Everything you told me was a lie,” Akin says.

“I told you my name. At least, sort of,” Lin says and smiles.

Finally, Akin lightens up a bit. “Yeah, I think it would be a little awkward if you’d introduced yourself as Linara the beautiful. Probably would have called you a spoiled brat a few sentences sooner.”

Scene 8

“You want to tell me now what I got wrong about your story?”

Akin doesn’t know how to respond and only stares at her in disbelieve.

“You should see your face, it’s priceless.” Lin says amused, “but don’t even think about giving up on me after only one round.” She playfully moves her hips in circles. Then she climbs off his dick, letting it slowly slide out of her pussy.

She chuckles and lays down on the bed next to Akin.

After his post-orgasmic confusion, he turns to his side, facing that magnificent looking girl. “I think I’m pretty happy with your face,” he says and plants a kiss on her cheek, “It’s priceless.”

Hard to tell in this lighting but did her cheeks just flush red? Akin thinks, my princess, you’re confusing me over and over again.

“So?” Lin stares at him.

He doesn’t understand what she wants and quietly asks for more information.

“What did I get wrong about your past?”

Akin takes a deep breath and rolls back into the position he was before, looking at the ceiling, his hands folded over his stomach.

It doesn’t seem likely that he’s going to tell her anything, Lin thinks. Why is he so reluctant about sharing? There are dozens of stories surrounding him. Some of them have to be true. She only wants to know which ones.

“For starters, my parents didn’t sell me into slavery. I was an orphan that was caught stealing. My parents were killed in your countries war. I sometimes dream about the night in which your troops came to our village. My father was a blacksmith. Hands my ability to use a sword. I had access to them from the early stages of my life. He was killed on the battlefield.”

“I’m sorry,” she says but Akin isn’t finished with his story.

“They dragged my mother out of the house and as she resisted, they killed her in front of my eyes.” What do you say to something like that, especially if you’re the daughter of the man that waged this war? You don’t say anything and listen.

“Also, I didn’t kill someone with a stick. My owner at the time wanted to know how good we were with a sword and send one of his gladiators to find out. He was a sadist that liked to fight us, boys. They gave us wooden swords. He didn’t expect me to know how to fight so I landed a good first hit. He was slow, so I had him on the ground in no time. Then he got angry and the fight got serious. It ended with me hitting him on the head. He fell and lost his consciousness but he didn’t die. Since that day my owner decided that it’s a good idea to let me fight in the arena but he was humane enough to only let me use wooden swords till I grew into a man.”

“That’s …” Lin searches for the right word, “… sad.”

“Don’t sweat it. It happened. The rest was pretty accurate. Went undefeated for a while, got sold to the capitol and now I’m fighting on the big stage.”

Again, Lin doesn’t know what to say. She is still thinking about the first part of his story in which he told her that it’s her family’s fault that he doesn’t have one of his own.

Then a face appears in front of her. Akin had taken a seat on top of her and leaned down to plant some kisses on her neck. “Are you ready for round two, my princess?” he whispers and from one moment to another her thoughts take a turn. She smiles and grinds her hip at his groin. Yes, she’s definitely ready for another go.

Scene 9

And again, Akin finds himself in the sand. This time he has numerous people lined up in front of him. He walks up and down the row like an officer talking to his soldiers.

“… I know that you guys can fight. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be here. Some might even think your pretty good but let me tell you …”

The new recruits.

Recruits might be the wrong word. If you came this far, you’re already a gladiator.

“… Here you’re only one of many. Back in your province fight clubs, you might be a winner but if you take a foot into this arena you better leave that mindset outside. If you don’t, then I can assure you that you’ll be dead very soon …”

A couple of people have come to look at the newcomers. Mostly other fighters that want to check out the competition but also some boys that help around the facilities and of course the real recruits that get trained to be a gladiator one day. Sacara is one of the few girls. She’s sitting on the little fence that is splitting the field into two separate training areas. Akin notices her but he’s not finished talking to his ‘soldiers’

“… If you didn’t understand it now, there is nothing I can do for you. In the next step, you’ll get to prove yourself. We’ll rank order your abilities to get some equal matches for the crowd to enjoy. If you think we didn’t rank you high enough, then prove us wrong but do it the hard way.”

With that, he ends.

“Nice speech,” Sacara says as Akin walked up to her. He can’t tell from her tone but she probably meant it ironically. She heard this so many times before.

“You know they need to hear this. Otherwise, they’ll dive heads on into their first fight. That’s deadly.”

“I know,” she says and offers him a bottle filled with water. Akin declines. Today is one of the rare days where the sky’s grey, filled with clouds. It’s warm, though.

“You still don’t want to talk about that mysterious woman that’s visiting you? I mean, you told me that she’s alright but I don’t even know who she is.”

Akin smiles. He thought about telling Sacara who he was meeting but, in the end, she probably wouldn’t have believed him anyway. If he just told her straight up that he’s meeting Linara the beautiful, daughter of Kathar the great, she’d probably be insulted. Good thing that he got some solid proof heading toward him.

“You could ask her yourself,” Akin says.

“Ha, ha,” Sacara replies, “And how do you think I should do that? Maybe catch her in the hallway when you’ll meet her next time?”

“No, just do it right now. I think that black robe over there is coming towards us.”

Sacara turns around and watches the black robe find its way.

“Hello, you must be Sacara,” Lin says, “Akin told me about you.” She extends a hand. A bit confused about the whole situation Sacara takes and shakes it.

She’s young, that’s the first thought Sacara has. Young and blonde, some of her hair is falling out of her hood.

“That’s strange,” Sacara says and throws an irritated look towards Akin, “because, he wouldn’t even tell me your name.”

“You didn’t?” Lin asks and also looks at him a bit confused.

“Sacara, that’s Lin. You know her as Linara the beautiful.”

Sacara wants to protest. Is he fucking with her? That’s not funny, she thinks. But as she opens her mouth to call bullshit on that the woman lifts up her hood a little. Only for Sacara and Akin to see her face and the gesture did what she was intended to do.

Sacara’s eyes widen in shock. She glides down from her fence. She can’t sit like this in front of a princess. The only word she can stumble together is “Sorry.”

“I mean, Sorry my prin mhmmnmh”

Akin has put his hand on her mouth before she could say it.

Lin giggles a little about Sacara’s reaction. “Just call me Lin,” She says.

“I wouldn’t dare …”

“I insist.”

Sacara can only nod.

Akin smiles. “What happened to, I’d like to keep my conversations private?” It’s nice of her to meet him outside of her nightly visits but there are around fifty people in this area maybe not the best way to keep a secret.

“Look around,” Lin says, “how many are there? Forty, maybe forty-five, and all of them have their eyes pinned on the new arrivals. I don’t think they would notice me even if I’d walk around here naked.”

Scene 10

“You know, he had a point. If you don’t want to be seen, then the black robe isn’t the best thing to wear. People notice on the spot that you don’t belong here,” Sacara says.

Akin has left the two to themselves. He had to go back and fight some of the newbies. Now the girls are watching from the sidelines. Sacara is back to sitting on the fence and Lin just leans against it.

“It’s not about not being noticed; it’s about not being recognized. Now everyone thinks I might be some rich woman that found an interest in a gladiator but no one would guess that the princess would hide like this. Nor that I’d go anywhere without my guards.”

“Where are they anyway?”

“I think they are still standing outside my study. And even if they’d understand I’m gone what should they do? Tell my father that they’ve lost me? No one is that dumb.” She laughs.

The girls watch as Akin goes on the offense. He delivers blow after blow until his opponent stumbles and falls into the sand.

“Well, he is the best,” Lin notes with a smile, “did he ever fall to someone in training?”

Sacara laughs, “Yes he did.”

“To who?”

“Me,” Sacara states and you can hear how proud she’s about that.

“You can fight?” That’s surprising, Lin thinks. Did she misunderstand that Sacara is just the girl for everything? A helping hand? Well, she might know him better than anybody so if he has a weakness, she’d know about it.

“Yes, I’m pretty good, actually. I was trained as one of the new recruits,” Sacara answers.

“But you’re a girl.”

“I didn’t look like one. I made sure of that,” she explains, “Akin had to take a look at us. He just got sold into the city and didn’t expect much out of a few young boys. One by one he fought us. He obviously was holding back. Most of us were pretty terrible with the sword. Then it was my turn to face him. Let’s just say that I’ve surprised him with my ‘eat or be eaten’ style of fighting. I don’t remember how but I made him fall, put my wooden sword against his neck, and said that he’s dead now.”

Lin laughs, “beaten by a girl, he must have been furious about that.”

“He was, but as I said. He didn’t know that I was a girl. He demanded a rematch and this time he wasn’t holding back. When I tried to block one of his swings, my sword blew out of my palm from his mere strength. There was no way that I could defeat someone that much stronger than me.”

Meanwhile Akin is fighting two of the newbies. They said that he’s good but could he win a 2v1? It seems like he can. They try to split up, so one of them will always be behind him. It’s smart but Akin constantly repositions himself counteracting their movements. It looks like they are dancing on the sand. Blow after blow, swing after swing. But the outcome is the same. Akin was standing his ground and the other two admitted their defeat.

There is one thing that’s bugging Lin, “Why would you pretend to be a boy? You really wanted to fight and maybe die in the arena? And didn’t you know that it will become obvious that you’re a girl?”

“Girls don’t do well as slaves,” she says trusting that that’s explanation enough. “And if you’re talking about boobs. I wrapped a long piece of fabric tightly over my chest and hoped that it would hinder the growth. It didn’t … but it also didn’t matter. They made me before it could become relevant.”

“What happened?” Lin asks.

“Funny enough it’s been Akin that first realized it. We boys trained like usual and it’s not like we knew how to contain ourselves. Injuries were inevitable. I didn’t duck away fast enough and a swing hit me. I think I prelled a rib or something. At least, it did hurt pretty bad. The idiot I was, I brushed it off. It‘s nothing, I said and went back out there on the sand. Akin was training, too. He saw the pain when I tried to lift my arm. He asked me if I was hurt and told me that I should focus on healing rather than fighting. Of course, he was right but I was too proud and had too much fear to admit it. If I can’t fight, I’d be of no use and they’d probably sell me again. Akin pulled me away, sat me down at a wall, and tried to lift my shirt. I didn’t want him to, since he’d notice the fabric around my chest. He told me that I should get over my pride and let him take a look. At first, he was confused, and then he understood. I think he would have kept his mouth shut about it but others saw it, too.”

“That’s some bad luck,” Lin says. She just listened to the story. Sacara is way more open about these things than Akin. It’s always hard to get him to talk more than a few sentences, at least when it comes to his past. “But they didn’t sell you.”

“They definitely wanted to. Akin told them that I was a good fighter but there was no way they’d let me into the arena. No one wants to see a little girl get slaughtered by some grown man and if they waited till I was older I’d still be overpowered by all the other guys. Eventually, they decided that they had no use for me and would sell me to the next best whore house. They told me. If it wasn’t for Akin, I’d … I mean you know … But he didn’t let them. He was a rising star and told them that if they’d sell me, he wouldn’t fight. Of course, there are ways to make him bend to their will but these ways make you weak and what is the price of one girl in comparison to the sold-out ranks of the arena. In the end, it’s all about money with these guys.”

“And now you serf Akin,” Lin says.

“Yes, I do. I owe him a debt that’s hard to repay.”

Lin turns her head away from the fight. Akin and another gladiator are competing against all eight of the newbies. She faces Sacara and raises an eyebrow, “Do you serve him in ‘every’ way?”

Sitting on the fence, she begins to blush. That’s definitely nothing she wants to talk about but it’s still the princess that’s asking. “Akin would never ask me to do anything inappropriate.” She technically didn’t lie.

Lin smiles, it’s too cute how Sacara is avoiding eye contact. “But you have thought about it, right? I mean, Akin is a beautiful man, there is nothing to be ashamed of.”

Quietly Sacara nods.

Scene 11

A room full of candles. The fun part is already done and Lin gets ready to leave. Now she’s standing at the table putting on her bracelets. Her blonde hair falling over her shoulders. Man, it’s a view to remember. Akin comes from behind, sliding one of her strains away, revealing her neck. He puts a single kiss on it, quietly asking if she really wants to leave so soon.

Lin doesn’t take him up on that. She just keeps on fumbling with her bracelets staring into the air.

“What’s on your mind?” Akin asks. Today was different. He doesn’t really know how but she seemed a little beside herself and as much as he tried to make her forget about any troubles she has at day; it apparently wasn’t enough.

A short moment of silence in which Lin asks herself if she really wants to tell him? It doesn’t feel like the right moment but maybe there is none. He’ll hear about it sooner or later and it would be best if he hears it from her.

“My father asked me to marry,” she says.

“Marry who?”

“He lets me choose,” Lin explains. Her voice is not much more than a breath.

“Then marry me,” Akin responds and for the first time of the night, Lin begins to smile.

“If you’re going to tell my father,” she says and chuckles.

Akin plants another kiss on her neck. “Would you marry me if you could?”

Hoping for a plain ‘Yes’, he gets surprised by Lin saying, “Any day.” It’s so serious and genuine. It’s beautiful.

Scene 12

They step out onto the training area and into the first light of the day. Sacara and Akin are the only people out here. For everyone else, it’s way too early.

“What weapon do you wanna use?” Sacara asks. Akin is already on the sand.

“Dealers choice,” he says and smiles.

Sacara throws him a single wooden stick. It’s her favorite. She’s got the same.

Both go into position waiting for the other to make his first move. From the outside, it must look funny since Sacara is smaller and she’s a girl. Akin starts the fight with a first swing and from that point, things evolve into a quick repeating sequence of attack, block, and counterattack.

Sacara knows what she is doing. If she competes on brute force, she’ll lose. If she lets her opponent set the speed of the fight, she’ll lose. If her opponent comes too close to her, even just once, she’ll lose.

What did Akin tell her? If you haven’t any real physical advantages then you got to be smart with what you’re doing. You got to be confident in your abilities. If you got these things down, you’re deadly, he said.

And that she is, deadly.

The two fight for more than an hour with little to no break. Even with the cool morning air, they’re soaked in sweat. They fight till the first gladiators come to train.

“You’re still wasting your time on her?” one of the new arrivals says. It’s as if they can’t see past her gender. She’s a great fighter. Probably better than many he fought in the arena and still, the same old question. Akin knows that Sacara has it in her, she proves that to him every second day. And he knows that she’s one of the best fighters around, not because but despite being a woman.

Sacara notices the angry gaze Akin throws over to the other gladiator and tells him that it’s not worth it. Let’s just end today’s sparring session. She claims that she’s tired but it’s just a lame excuse to keep Akin from picking a fight. It works, though.

Scene 13

Sacara rests her head on Akin’s exposed chest. He on the other hand holds her a little tighter. Today they take their bath together. Any other day Sacara would have waited for Akin to finish and take the half warm water later on but today Akin asked her if she wanted to join him. He saw her massaging her muscles. It was a hard day, Akin really pushed her limits in training. The hot water feels great on the skin.

“You love her, right?” Sacara asks out of the blue. She looks up and finds Akin staring into the air.

“And …” Sacara hesitates, “You love me.” Her last words aren’t much more than a breath. It’s a statement but her uncertainty swings within it.

This time Akin answers, “Not in the same way.”

“What do you mean?” she asks and lays her head back down on his chest.

He thinks he knows where Sacara is coming from. “You’re afraid,” Akin says, “you’re afraid that because I love her, I won’t love you anymore.”

Sacara only stares into the air. Got you, Akin thinks. “Sacara, there is no reason for that. No one could ever take from us what we have.”

“Not even the princess?”

Akin carefully caresses her hair. “Not even the princess,” he says.

“But she’s beautiful and smart, and I see the way you look at her.”

Akin smiles. She’s insecure. That’s a new one. It’s sweet but there’s also no reason for it. He grabs Sacara and makes her sit up. She ends up in his lap like she would if she’s riding him. One knee to either side. She blushes and looks away. Her upper body is now exposed above the water. She’d hide it but Akin grabs both her hands and keeps them to her side. A soft but persistent touch.

“Sacara,” he says and waits until she looks back into his face, “You’re one of the best fighters I’ve ever seen. And of course, you’re smart. Just because you haven’t read a library of books doesn’t mean a thing. You’re certainly smarter than me, that’s for sure.”

His words felt nice. At least, until she noticed what he didn’t say. Akin sees the disappointment in her eyes and smiles. He’s still holding her hands as his gaze leaves her face and travels over her upper body. He can feel a twitch in her hands. She wanted to move.

Slowly he adds, “And you’re without a doubt one of the best-looking women I’ve ever seen.”

There it was. The thing she wanted to hear most but maybe he’s just saying it to make her feel better. As if he’d know that she needs some proof for his words, something pokes her ass.

Sacara raises an eyebrow and this time it’s Akin that’s a little ashamed. “Is this what I think it is?” she asks and shifts her weight a little backward, onto his boner. His reaction tells it all. Sacara giggles.

As nice as it is to see her back to her usual playful self if she keeps grinding on his cock, she’ll probably lose her virginity right here and now.

“You should stop,” he says and sits up himself. He tried to deny her access to his dick but it didn’t really work. “At some point, I can’t control myself,” he adds.

Sacara smiles, “Maybe that’s what I want.”

“I think what you want is to find someone that looks at you the same way that I look at Lin.”

Sacara pouts. “And what do I do until then?”

Akin smiles. “You’ll be a good girl and don’t tempt your friend,” He says, stands up, and plants a soft kiss on her forehead, leaving her kneeling alone inside the bathtub.

Scene 14

Kathar sits high on his throne. With a silent look to his sides, he orders his guards to leave. The room is structured to bring fear and respect into the heart of everyone that steps in front of the great ruler. Stairs to his throne and at their foot stands Akin.

The doors to the room shut close. Their sound gets reflected from the walls. Now there’s only Akin and Kathar.

“I don’t give two shits about your political usage! My answer is No. I can’t marry my daughter to a slave. Gladiator or not.”

With that statement, he stands up from his throne.

“I like you, Akin. You’re a good fighter. Some would say the best. My daughter is a smart girl. One day she will rule, there is no question. Maybe she has to rule through her husband if the people aren’t ready for a female king but that’s not why she has to get married now.”

Kathar the great walks down towards Akin, one step at a time.

“Her not being married is a distraction. I can’t have our enemies ask for her hand in exchange for peace. Not again. These perverted assholes asked me for her hand since she could barely read. Her beauty is her blessing, but it’s also a curse.”

Only a few steps until Kathar stands eye to eye with Akin.

“I think you understand where I’m coming from. Now tell me, what would happen if I’d wed her to a slave? You think they’d stop demanding her hand if they don’t even believe in the humanity of her husband?”

Akin holds his gaze as Kathar takes the last step of the stairs. “What if I wasn’t a slave?” Akin asks.

Kathar shakes his head, “To buy and free you would only make me the ass of everyone’s jokes.”

But that’s not what Akin meant. “There’s a saying in the arena,” he says, “Fight for your freedom. You make them enough money and you can go. If I wasn’t a slave, would there still be a problem?”

“Nobody ever made it.”

“Nobody ever tried,” Akin says.

Kathar turns away and walks up to his chair. Before he sits down, he says, “If you’d be a free man and if my daughter chooses you, then there won’t be a problem.”

With that, the audience comes to an end.

Scene 15

“Did you really talk to my father?” Lin asks. It’s the first thing she says after finding him walking down some hallway inside the facilities of the arena. She isn’t even wearing her usual black robe which means that soon the only thing people will talk about is the princess that visits a gladiator.

“Good morning to you too,” Akin says a bit overrun by her words.

Lin isn’t in the mood for idle conversation. She wants some answers and she’d rather get them from Akin than her father. “What did you guys talk about? What did he say?” She asks.

“I asked him for your hand of course,” Akin says. He speaks his words calm having his eyes locked on the princess’s face to observe her reaction. Her eyes widen. There is a slight hint of her shaking her head in disbelieve.

“You’re a crazy person, Akin. Do you know that?”

“Oh, you don’t know half of it!” Another person has joined the two lovebirds. It’s Sacara and other than Lin she’s not amused at all. “Tell me it’s not true. Fuck Akin, tell me you didn’t ask to fight for your freedom!”

“Fight for your freedom?” Lin repeats confused.

“Yeah, fight for your freedom. Five fights on following days, you win them all, you’re a free man.”

Both heads turn to Akin.

He on the other hand looks at Sacara and says, “You know I did.” Then he turns to Lin, “And you know why I did it.”

With these two short sentences, he leaves the two women. A tear runs down Sacara’s face.

She sniffs.

Lin tries to calm her a bit. “He’s undefeated,” she says, “and that won’t change with another five fights.”

“You’re assuming that they’ll play fair. Nobody has ever tried this because it’s madness. Your owner dictates the rules and if he doesn’t want you to succeed, you won’t. They already hate him because he knows what he’s worth and uses it as leverage. You think they’ll just let him leave? No, they’ll kill him, just for the satisfaction!”

The tears start rolling uncontrollably and Lin presses that crying mess at her chest.

Her guards enter the hallway. “Here you are,” one of them says, “We told you, princess, don’t run away. It’s dangerous.”

Lin’s still holding Sacara. Her tears have faded and she takes a step back. A bit ashamed she says, “I’m sorry, my princess,” and leaves.

Scene 16

“The leader, the innocent, and the academic,” Lin corrects him. For each person, she points at one of the coffins.

“You want me to believe that these guys not only existed but that we are standing in their grave? I think you need to take another look at the legend. The innocent was a man. I never really understood what was so innocent about him. Yes, his preferred weapon was a stick but if I remember correctly, he did plenty of damage with it. Nothing innocent about that.”

As he was speaking Lin opened one of the chests. “Not a legend,” she says amused. She takes out a sword.

“The innocent always hid underneath her robe and never said a word in public. Only a few people knew about her real sex.” Lin hands over the sword. “Careful, it’s still sharp,” she says.

The first thing Akin notices is that it looks very nice, with golden adornments. The second thing he notices is that it’s as light as a new recruits training sword. This is supposed to be legendary? The metal is probably soft and wouldn’t hold up in a fight against a real weapon.

“It’s special,” Lin says, “Perfectly balanced. It’s a rare metal that’s light and strong at the same time. Try it, use it. I heard that if you can control it, it’s the best sword that there is.”

Akin spins it through the air a few times. He understands what Lin said. It feels a bit unnatural to handle a sword this light. “Why are you showing me this?” Akin asks.

“Sacara was right. They won’t let you off easy. You should be prepared for anything,” she says, “It’s yours. You can fight with it if you want.”

Akin nods, silently thanking her.

Scene 17

The sand of the arena, thousands of people that came to watch the first fight, and Akin who’s standing right in the middle.

He lifts up his sword and the crowd cheers him on for it. He looks up to the balcony and sees Linara standing there. She nods and Akin turns to the door that leads into the arena.

A long and low tone drowns out the noise of the crowd. A horn that’s used to structure the fights.

The door swings open and a mountain of muscles holding an ax steps out of it. With every step he takes, he gets faster and faster. Akin goes into position. A crazy piece of meat storming at him. At the right moment, he jumps to his side and rolls over his shoulder.

The mountain couldn’t change the direction that easily and had to put all his effort into stopping, so he won’t run straight into the wall. Akin doesn’t take a chance. There’s no need to fight fancy anymore. He runs after him and while the big guy struggles to stop, he puts two wounds on his back making him scream out in pain.

The big guy turns around, swinging his ax at Akin but he just ducks away and cuts his opponent’s leg. With a loud scream mister mountain of muscle falls to his knees. A last swing with the ax.

Akin doges it too and brings his sword to the throat of his opponent.

The big guy opens his palm and lets his weapon fall into the sand. The crowd goes wild.

Akin looks up to the balcony and sees Lin smiling down at him.

Four more to go, he thinks. 

Scene 18

This fight is different. It’s number four of five. He’s faster than the first three. This opponent made a name for himself on the streets. When they caught him, he had a choice, life in prison, or fight in the arena.

He’s fighting with two swords at once and he definitely knows how to make use of them. Akin first noticed how good his opponent really was when he almost made Akin fall to the ground.

Luckily, he quickly rolled over his shoulder and kept on standing or he would probably have lost right there.

The slick smile on his opponent’s face says it all. I know you’re good but I’m better, it says.

A short moment to catch his breath and back into the fight. Metal crashing on metal, blade screeching on blade, only audible for the two fighters. For everyone else the cheers of the crowd drown out the noise of the fight.

Akin with shield and sword goes into attack, block, counterattack. It’s a back and forth and nobody gives anything for free.

The two of them have another go at each other. Their fast movements swirl up some of the sand and a light fog starts to surround the fighters.

The dust falls back to the ground and there they are. Akin and his opponent only staring at each other. Akin reaches under the armor protecting his arm. As he pulls out his hand, there’s blood on it.

The other fighter isn’t looking any better. Blood is running down his leg. With a surprised face, he first falls to his knees and then to the ground. Blood runs into the sand. Akin has cut his belly in exchange for a wounded arm.

People run into the arena trying to save his opponent’s life. The fight is over. Akin raises his sword and the crowd cheers him on for it. One to go, he thinks while looking up to the balcony. This time Lin seems worried.

Scene 19

Sacara leaves Akin’s room. Out in the hallway, she meets Lin.

“How is he?” Lin asks.

He’s a stubborn idiot, that’s what he is. He wants to keep on fighting even though he’s wounded and all of that only because of you. He’ll probably die tomorrow, blinded by love. He barely survived today’s fight.

That and so much more runs through Sacara’s mind but it’s still the princess that’s asking so the hardest thing she can bring herself to say is, “Ask him yourself.”

She looks down to the floor and walks away.

“I didn’t want this,” Lin says but Sacara just leaves.

Lin enters his room and finds Akin sitting upright. The only thing on his upper body is a bandage wrapped around his left arm. It doesn’t look too bad but what does she know. It definitely restrains him in his movements.

“Hey,” Lin says, “how’s your arm?”

“It’s alright. I heard chicks dig scars?” Akin laughs but Lin isn’t in the mood.

She shakes her head. “You’re still gonna fight tomorrow?”

“You know I will,” he says.

“I could still just buy you, set you free.”

Now it’s Akin that’s shaking his head. “Your father was right. I’d have to watch you marry some other guy and …”

“… you can’t do that.” Lin finishes his sentence.

Again, there’s this sadness in his eyes. She has seen it before. Deep inside Lin is fully aware of the fact that there is nothing she can say to change his mind but she still tries.

“Just say that you’re hurt and can’t fight anymore. It’s an unnecessary risk,” she says.

“Lin, I’m going to fight tomorrow,” Akin replies, “and I’m going to win.”

“I know.”

“I can do this,” he says.

“I know”

Scene 20

Final day. He steps out of the shadows and into the heart of the Arena. The ranks are full of people that want to see if Akin can win this fight and earn his freedom. His arm got a little better overnight. It doesn’t hurt that much anymore and he can move it. Still, this time he’s only wielding his sword, no shield. He can’t risk his left arm failing him amid the contest.

In the center, he lifts up his sword again. The crowd is almost deafening.

Akin looks up the balcony and finds Linara at her usual spot but this time she’s got company. Kathar the great and Tinga the wise are standing beside their daughter.

The familiar low tone that makes the crowd go silent echoes through the air.

Akin faces the door into the arena, waiting for what comes out of it.

It swings open and a slim figure stumbles into the sand. It looks like she’s got pushed. That figure looks up. Long brown hair tied into a ponytail, little to no armor, and what looks like a solid rod of metal. It’s Sacara.

The people are confused. You can hear them mumble on their seats. That’s a girl. Isn’t she a girl? What does this mean? Did she sneak into the spotlight? Are they going to fight?

Anger builds up in Akin’s throat. He and Sacara walk towards each other but instead of talking, Akin walks right past her. He bangs on the door.

“Is this a joke!” He screams.

The guard behind that door answers, “You wanted to fight for your freedom, so fight for it.”

“I give up,” Akin quickly replies.

“It’s a fight until the death,” the guard says. His voice breaks. Apparently, he doesn’t like to be the mouthpiece of his employers.

“Not gonna happen,” Akin says.

“Listen,” the guard’s voice shakes a little, “they told me you got two options. You kill her and leave as a free man, or they kill her and you keep on fighting till one day you’re half a second slower than your opponent.”

“These assholes,” Akin mumbles.

He turns around and walks back to Sacara. She had listened to the conversation from a few feet away.

“You got to fight,” she says.

Akin shakes his head. There is no way he’s going to kill his friend. He looks up to that balcony. Lin is talking to her father.

“You got to fight!” Sacara screams and goes into position. She lets her rod swirl through the air and if Akin didn’t move back it would have hit him in the face.

“What are you doing?” Akin asks as he defends another attack of his friend.

“I told you they wouldn’t let you off easy but you didn’t listen. Nah, you just had to do this. Only to keep on fucking that cheap whore?” Sacara stays on the offense, forcing Akin backward. Attack after attack.

“I know what you’re doing,” Akin says and blocks again, “You’re trying to provoke me into killing you but that’s not gonna happen!”

“Is that so?” she says into a little pause, “Well maybe I just don’t want to die here today!”

She goes on the offensive again and Akin gets pushed dangerously close to the wall of the arena. He makes the turn and brings the fight more to the center.

Sacara lets him put some space between them. “You can’t stay on the defense forever. At some point you got to throw a counterattack,” she says and she’s right. Akin looks up to the balcony but he can only spot Tinga.

With that being said, Sacara throws herself back at him. Akin does his best to defend but Sacara lands a hit on his shoulder, close to his wound.

“This is crazy, Sacara. Stop!”

She doesn’t even think about it. She only goes back into position and strikes again. “I know you,” she says. “You only fight for real when you’re threatened for your life. What will it be, Akin, me or you?”

She goes in and Akin blocks all her swings but while doing so has to retreat more and more. Sacara’s attack ends with Akin swinging his sword at her. If she didn’t jump back, she’d now have a slight cut across her stomach.

It was second nature. Both of them are surprised.

“I see you’ve grown a spine? I almost thought you’d just roll on your back and show your belly while a girl beats you up.”

Akin somehow knows that Sacara is only trying to provoke him but it’s working.

No more defense. The next time Sacara goes in, Akin stands his ground. A vicious fight erupts.

A thousand chins drop simultaneously as all these people witness something, they thought to be impossible. A girl standing her ground in the Arena. And she doesn’t do it against some no-name gladiator, she fights against Akin who’s arguably the best.

Until now, most people watched in silence. They were too confused to cheer but with Akin fighting back they come to live again. These two fighters floating over the sand, dancing to the sound of their weapons, have something so elegant but also brutal to them.

Sacara blocks and delivers a counterattack. She realizes too late that she’d open an opportunity for Akin that way. He quickly redirects her blow and takes advantage.

The outcome isn’t overwhelming. A small cut underneath Sacara’s chest. A single drop of blood.

She looks at herself checking if she’s seriously hurt. Then she looks up at Akin. “Is that all you got?” she asks.

His eyes are locked at her waist as he realizes what he’s doing. “Yes,” he says and throws his sword in the sand.

The sound of the crowd dims out and into the erupting silence, you could hear a man’s scream. “Stop the fight! You’re deaf? I said stop the fucking fight!”

The horn gets blown and the long deep tone halls through the arena.

The doors open and a group of guards enters. King’s guards. Lin pushes one of them away and runs towards Akin.

She falls into his arms. “Thank god it’s not too late,” she says. Sacara only watches from the outside.

Akin’s confused. “What’s happening?” He asks.

“You’re free,” she says, “My father spoke with the arena owner. He was furious when I explained to him that they’ve matched you against your friend. He stormed out and began yelling at everyone that crossed his path. He told them why you asked to fight for your freedom.”

Lin smiles, “I think your owner is still on his knees apologizing.”

“Former owner,” Akin clarifies.

Lin laughs. It feels so great to hear these words. “Yes, former owner.”

The guards took their place around the two lovebirds. They awkwardly watch while their princess talks to a gladiator in the middle of the arena with thousands of people watching.

Lin looks around. She giggles and pulls Akin in for a kiss. Everyone should know about them. No more hiding in the shadows.

With a bit of a delay, the crowd begins to cheer.

As Akin looks over to his friend, he sees a single tear slowly rolling down Sacara’s cheek. “I need a minute,” he says and pulls out of the hug.

Lin understands and nods. She looks to her guards and they leave with her the arena.

Sacara looks lost. What is there to do? She was certain that she wouldn’t leave here alive and Akin. Oh god, Akin. The things she said, what she did.

Another tear runs down her cheek. This time Akin is there to brush it away.

Sacara sniffs. “I didn’t,” her voice breaks, and she starts again, “I didn’t mean to …”

Akin presses her against his chest.

“They said it’s either your sword or theirs,” she says.

“And you wanted for me to get my freedom. Thank you, but as I said. That’s not gonna happen.”

Akin leads Sacara out of the spotlight of the arena, one arm around her shoulders.

“What happens now?” Sacara asks, “With me, with you?”

“I didn’t win my freedom,” Akin says, “but I think Lin forced her father’s hand right there by kissing me in front of so many people. And as the fiancé of the princess, I got to have a talk with my former owner. I think he’d be more than willing to buy my forgiveness by setting you free.” Akin smiles.

“So, you’re gonna take your freedom and marry the princess,” she says.

“I’d like to believe that I’ve earned it.”

“You almost got beaten by a girl,” Sacara says and chuckles.

“I made you bleed.”

“It’s only a scratch.”

Akin smiles, “I was holding back.”

“Is that so? I think that screams for a rematch.”

Scene 21

The bright sun falls into the high windows. The white silk curtains that surround the bed sway gently in the wind.

Linara is running her fingers playfully over Akin’s chest. “You made it,” she whispers.

Akin got an arm around her and the other behind his head. “You’re a woman worth fighting for,” he says and kisses her on the hair.

Lin laughs but blushes a little, “I meant you got from being an orphan all the way to living in the palace, being part of the royal family.”

Akin laughs, “Yeah, you got me. I only used you to climb the social ladder. Don’t tell your father. He’d kill me if he finds out.”

Linara playfully hits Akin. “He wouldn’t kill you,” she says, “he likes you too much.”

“Yeah, maybe he wouldn’t but there’s still your mom.”

Lin climbs on top of Akin. “She likes you, too,” she says, “and even if, I wouldn’t let them.”

“You and what army?”

Lin raises an eyebrow. “You wanna keep on talking or fuck me again?”

“I thought you’re the one that wants to talk,” he says and smiles.

“You’re an idiot,” Lin says and kisses Akin.

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