Historical Fiction

Being a girl in the world of the Colosseum was tough.

Trying to pull two lions into their cages was no tougher. Neither was bartering with the man who didn’t take me seriously. It was just part of the job.

I was an assistant then, for Marcellus, the show director. His main job was to put on shows that would entertain our high and mighty emperor. His secondary job was to discourage me as much as possible. On my first day, he said I should leave because this “wasn’t a woman’s place.”

I told him I’m here to stay, and anyone who tries to stop me will regret it.

I grabbed the gladiator mix and carry it to their dorms. “Eat,” I said, tossing it in between the bars. “You’ll need strength for tomorrow.”

The only thing tougher than being a girl in the world of the Colosseum was being a gladiator. Fighting animals and men day after day… well, we all had to do that. But the gladiators had to do it with swords and their lives on the line.

I moved to the plant atrium. Marcellus said he needed one olive tree and one cassia tree. Cassia trees always made me smile. They shared my name, and they stayed scrawny for a while until they became beautiful. I hoped I would share the same success.

Right now, though, I thought as I lifted the olive tree, I’m at the scrawny part of my career.

I hoped I could get promoted. I knew the Colosseum was a little messed up, but I needed a job. 

I guess our whole world was a little messed up. I knew we were one of the best civilizations out there, from what knowledge I’d managed to scrape by as a child. But I also knew our emperor was far too powerful. I’d seen his power executed in ways that it should never be. 

It wasn’t like I could do anything about this, though. I needed to focus on building my career. Speaking out against the emperor could cost me everything.

I set the olive tree in the middle of the arena. Later that day, it would be packed, filled with tons of people. But right then, it was eerily silent. 

I positioned the tree, then noticed two men entering the arena. I squinted until they got closer, then noticed the olive wreath on the taller man’s head. The emperor. I quickly fell into a bow until they reached me and the emperor said, “Rise.”

I obeyed, and the bodyguard gave me a steely look. I’d never met the emperor, but I’d seen him from afar. I wondered what he wanted. Surely it wasn’t protocol for him to wander into the Colosseum arena. 

I didn’t dare say that, though. I waited for him to speak.

“Can you fetch the show director?” he sniffed.

I nodded and went to get Marcellus. “The emperor’s here!” I cried.

“I don’t have time for your jokes,” Marcellus said.

“It’s not a joke,” I insisted. “It’s true. He asked me to get you.”

Marcellus straightened up. “All right, I’ll go, but if this is a joke—”

“It’s not.” I looked him straight in the eyes. He was taller than me, but not by much. I straightened up. “I swear on Zeus.”

Marcellus nodded and left. I wanted to look out, to eavesdrop, but I was too nervous they’d find out. Instead, I sighed and sat down. I’d been up since five a.m., and it had taken forever to get those lions. My limbs were heavy with exhaustion. Leaning back against a sack of hay, I nodded off.

When I woke up, I cursed myself. How could I have fallen asleep on the job? 

It was dark now. I had fallen asleep in the late afternoon, so… I was out for a long time.

Marcellus was nowhere in sight. I hoped he had been taken away for something with the emperor and hadn’t caught me sleeping on the job. I stretched and rose from the ground.

Something was off. I couldn’t tell what, but it was eerily quiet, with a sense of unease in the air. 

“Marcellus?” I called. “Are you here? Anyone?”

No one responded. I stepped into the storage room, then out the door into the arena.

It was dark here too, the sun barely set. I noticed a figure on the ground, in the middle of the arena. I couldn’t make out any details, though. 

I started moving towards the figure, walking, then jogging as I realized something wasn’t right. Only when I got closer did I realize that Marcellus was the one lying on the ground. A sword lay on the ground next to him, and his chest was covered in blood.

I looked for a pulse. Nothing.

Marcellus was dead. I’d never really liked him, but his death shook me. If he died, then no one was safe. I didn’t know who killed him. For all I knew, I could be next.

I picked up the sword, examining the hilt. I noticed the crest of the royal palace etched into it.

The emperor had killed Marcellus.

The next day, everything was fine. It was like no one had died last night. I supposed the emperor was covering it up.

It’s not like Marcellus was the only person to die last night, with the fires and diseases in the city. But he was the show director. A little behind-the-scenes, sure, but important nonetheless. Was I the only one who realized he was dead?

I checked the Acta Diruna, the tablets of news posted in the markets. The only thing about Marcellus was a small notice about a new show director in the Colosseum.

“Cassia Vestus?” A voice rang out, but the marketplace was so loud I barely heard it. I turned. 

“Cassia Vestus?”

I threw up a hand. “That’s me! Cassia Vestus!”

A man in a toga came up to me, looking displeased at the crowded marketplace. “I need to discuss some important matters with you.” 

“Who are you?”

“My name is Hadrianus. I'm an official with the government. I oversee the entertainment in the city,” the man said, adjusting his toga. “Would you be willing to discuss a matter in private?”

“Yes, sir. We can go to my-- Mar-- the office,” I said, not knowing whose it was anymore. Luckily, he didn’t seem to mind my stuttering.

“That’s fine,” Hadrianus said. “I’ll also need your husband.”

“I’m not married,” I said. 

“Oh?” he said, looking surprised. “Well, that may be an issue.”

“Why?” I said defensively. I’d always been opposed to the idea of marriage, and I hated people who looked down on me just because I was unmarried.

“I’ll have to explain in a moment,” Hadrianus said. “But you’ve been promoted to show director.”

I lied in bed, but it’s strange because it wasn’t the bed I was used to. I was in the show director’s sleeping quarters. They’d replaced Marcellus’ bed with a new one, and it was far nicer than any bed I’d ever slept in. 

I was show director now. I couldn’t believe it. It was what I’d always wanted. Even Hadrianus’ idiotic rule about “unfeminine careers” being passed to women’s husbands couldn’t stop me. No longer an assistant, I was in charge. No longer scrawny, my career was blossoming, just like the Cassia tree. 

So why did it feel so wrong?

Well, I knew why. Marcellus. I couldn’t believe the emperor just killed him. He shouldn’t have been able to do that. 

A firepit coiled in my stomach. I sat up. Everyone else accepted the emperor’s blind power, but I couldn’t. I almost wished I would, just so my life would be simpler. But wasn’t it better to think for yourself? Wasn’t it better to question? To wonder? 

I knew what I needed to do.

“Emperor Antonius’ power is corrupt!” I shouted in the forum. Most people bustled along, but a few stopped to listen. Their support gave me the courage to keep talking.

“He killed Marcellus Titus, the show director at the Colosseum. He killed him for no good reason. I knew that man, and he didn’t deserve to die. This absolute power is suffocating. Have you ever been scared to speak out? That ends now. We need freedom!

The last word turned my voice hoarse. Freedom was all I’d ever wanted. 

“Go home and leave the politics to the men!” someone shouted. I tried to stay firm, not be hurt by their words, but I was stinging inside.

“I think what you’re saying is important,” an elderly woman whispered, “but be careful.”

I nodded. “Thank you.”

I knew when I was coming here that the emperor could kill me for speaking out. I knew I could be arrested. I knew I could lose my job.

But I did it anyway. I did it anyway because I knew this was important. 

I kept talking, sharing everything that I’d seen and kept quiet about. I invited people to share their stories.

“My daughter was killed by a soldier,” a gray-haired man said, “And the government didn’t even care.”

“I lost my job because the emperor promoted his cousin, who’s been messing up our government now for months.”

“I can’t even leave the house because of the emperor’s new law.”

Some people listened. Some people joined in. Some people ignored me. I didn’t care if they did.

When the soldiers came, I was ready. When they said, “You’ll have to come with us,” I did. I knew this was coming.

Whatever is facing me, I thought as I was led away, I’ll be ready.

April 09, 2021 01:02

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Johan Rosenblad
11:56 Apr 17, 2021

Intresting story that probably didnt end well.


Victoria Bogatz
13:30 Apr 17, 2021

For me, one of the main parts of Cassia's character arc was that she was willing to risk speaking up because she thought that was more important than the consequences. I'm glad you thought the story was interesting!


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Victoria Bogatz
01:04 Apr 09, 2021

I did some research for this story, and here are my sources: https://www.babycentre.co.uk/blog/mum_stories/hail-caesar-20-awesome-names-from-ancient-rome http://www.legendsandchronicles.com/ancient-civilizations/ancient-rome/emperors-of-ancient-rome/#:~:text=The%20emperor%20was%20the%20permanent,affairs%20of%20the%20Roman%20provinces. https://www.historyforkids.net/roman-emperors.html#:~:text=As%20'Pontifex%20Maximus'%2C%20emperor,legal%20authority%20of%20a%20tribune. Thanks for reading!


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