Lugdunum Arena, 23 August, 27 AD
Women besieged the parading gladiators and reached out to touch them as they passed. Catrin strode with the other gladiators on the narrow road to the arena. Unlike the bare-chested men, she wore a black-feathered manica spread out on her shoulders and leather chest armor provocatively covering her breasts. The alabaster skin on her bare midriff contrasted with the onyx loincloth draping like a tapestry over her hips. Her legs were left unprotected up to her hip for the crowd’s hunger for sex and violence. The raven on her shoulder added a menacing element to her persona.
The crowd’s clamor excited Catrin, unlike her isolated life as a slave in the Roman legion. As a gladiatrix, she held her head high. For a brief moment, she would receive accolades for her wins. The cheering mob saw her as Decimus intended: dark, beautiful, and barbaric. The rumors had spread like wildfire that she was a fierce female warrior who had inspired a young Roman woman to rise up against her husband. Catrin was the embodiment of power with her muscular shoulders and arms, small hips, and powerful legs. Weaving through the outstretched hands of the crowd, she gave a smirk when she read a poster advertising: Corvus, the Harbinger of Death.
She would fight to the death as an eques. Her raven would be let loose before a multitude of two thousand spectators from across the Roman empire. Her match was the first of twenty combats to showcase Gaul’s adoption of Rome’s blood sport and their conquest of the world. Her skills as a Druidess fighter would decide her fate.
And that of Decimus and her opponent.
If the mob chose death, she would obey their wishes. The Romans would cringe in terror as she unleashed the dark forces of nature. The crackling energy emitting from the Raven into her mortal essence would briefly make her a goddess—immortal and invincible.
The image of the brutal moments during Catrin’s capture in Britannia were branded into her mind. She relived the outrage of watching Marrock rape then behead her mother. Marrock had intended to do the same with Catrin as he pressed his sword against her neck. Before he could deliver the deathblow, the ravens she’d summoned shredded his face with their talons and beaks.
Catrin’s vivid nightmare transformed to the time when Decimus stripped and humiliated her in front of her gladiatorial brothers. Every muscle in her body tensed like a cat as she declared inwardly, I may be a caged raven, but I still have its powers. Before I end the life of every man I battle, he will curse the gods I was ever born.
She no longer grieved the loss of her beloved Roman nobleman. Instead, she resolved to meet her fate with dignity—death in the arena if need be. As far as she knew, Marcellus had already married. She was a fading memory to him.
She often prayed for a respite from her unrelentless hatred of the Romans, but the gods showed her no mercy. Hate burned inside her like a firestorm.
Today, she would not show any mercy to her opponent, Decimus, and spectators in the stands. She would never tenderly touch a man again. Every man she faced in combat would be ripped apart with her claw-like hands. Wielding black vengeance, she would annihilate every opponent she battled—or die in the attempt. She’d rather die fighting than to be debased. To survive, she told herself, hate must consume love.
Don’t look back. Forget the dream. Move forward and meet your destiny.
Catrin strutted into the amphitheater that morning to the rumble of cheering spectators. Her mother’s words resonated in her mind:
No matter what happens, fight to survive! Live and avenge the black hearted deeds of your treacherous half-brother and Decimus!
Today, I am the Raven Goddess of death and vengeance!
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