The Colloseum was a large complex to scour. As soon as the sun went down, we scampered through the labyrinthine squalor of Rome to get to the huge building. There were plenty of entrances, I knew. I operated mostly on stealing ships and cargo, but the odd plantation raid wasn’t too uncommon either. Or Colloseum raid. Whatever. Plus – why not get myself a few gladiators to add to my crew? I could use a man or woman who was handy with a knife, and tougher more so with a pair of fists.
Midnight was behind me all the time, as the back of the line of our team. It irked me, that. She made sure that those we killed stayed dead and turned out any burning torches we passed. But it also meant she was exposed, from behind. It didn’t help that William was nearer to her. I’d voted against bringing him. He was more of a sitter than a stander, and more of a beaten than a beater. And, also, I hated him. But he insisted on “helping in the rescue” of his son.
“Thomas?” Midnight whispered to me, skulking her way to the front of the line, “We need to split up now.”
“Ye know where William’s son is? Or where Kenny is?”
She nodded, “The guard you half-killed – after he’d finished howling like a maniac and I threatened to cut out his tongue with a spare buttering-knife–”
“I really do love ye. Ye’re charmin’ like that.”
Midnight ignored me, “He only had one set of keys,” she held up the clinking ring of keys, “but he said the Under 18s that are good are one floor up, to the right wing, and the one that aren’t so good–”
“The lily-livered punks?”
“Yes, because we’re still at sea, Thomas.”
“I’m a pirate both on land and sea,” I replied defensively.
She shook her head, “And clearly an idiot in both circumstances also. Anyway, those Under 18s that aren’t so good are two floors up on the left wing.”
“Then we need to split up.”
“That’s what I said.”
“Give credit where’t’s due, love. Don’t take the glory for yourself – that’s just sad.”
She glowered at me, “Just do it.”
I allowed myself a smirk, “If only ye were this enthusiastic in bed.”
“Can we not discuss this now?”
“Fine,” I said, raising my hands, “We’ll hit that later,” I pointed out the directions to half my crew and told William, “John’s bein’ kept up two floors t’the left. We haven’t found the keys to his cell, but if the lock can be picked, the lad’s’ll do that for ye.”
William regarded me, his half-brother, “I… I find it hard to believe that you’re doing this for me.”
“I’m not doin’t for you,” said I, turning away, “My wife has a good influence on me, and she prefers’t when I act nice – even though the three o’ us know that I’m not. So I’m doin’t for my ha’-nephew. I’m doin’t for John. Not for you, William. Ne’er for you.”
He mumbled, “Of course…” and followed the others.
I took the other half of my crew, Midnight retaking her place at the end of the line, and one of the younger sailors said, “Captain?”
“Why’re we slinkin’ around the Colloseum?”
“I’ll explain everyth’un later,” I said, “For now, ye just follow orders, that understood?”
The cells were individually guarded.
“Damn…” I heard Midnight mutter. This could be a bad fight, but we had the element of surprise to our advantage – and so used it.
Midnight was the first to rush in, charging with a howl that could wake the dead, and slashed through the throat of a guard with her heavy sword. The gladiators stood up in their cells and cheered.
I heard our little Kenny jump up and howl, “Go, Aunt Midnight, go!”
Another guard ran at her, but she ducked under his swipe, and kicked his feet – knocking him onto the ground and plunged her sword into his belly. One of my crew knocked back the blade of a third guard that rushed at Midnight, and all of a sudden we were in the thick of things. Grabbing my cutlass, I blocked a descending blow and pushed back my attacker, kicking him in the gut and slicing through his jaw. The white bone shone in the scarce lighting, just before I stomped on his face, knocking him unconscious.
I looked for Midnight, seeing her hack down another man with nothing but murder in her eyes.
Fight now, grieve later.
She lived by that.
I saw another man leap on her, the edge of his blade licking her upper arm and drawing blood. She screamed, surprising him and stuck her sword clean through his skull. His eyes glazed over, still looking afraid even in death. She ripped out her sword and slid it into her scabbard.
After the holding area had been purged of guards, the lads got to picking the locks and Midnight got to opening Kenny’s cell. I stood by the entrance, waiting for the sound of reinforcements. There was a side-entrance, not too far from here. We could make an easy escape and my new quarter-master knew how to get away quickly from where he was with William.
“Come on,” she said to Kenny, “let’s go.”
Kenny didn’t move, “But what are you doing here?”
Midnight stared at her for a while, “I’m here to take you home, Kenny.”
Kenny hesitated and pointed at Midnight’s arm, “You’re bleeding.”
“I can deal with it later,” she tugged Kenny’s fraying sleeve, “Let’s go!”
“I… I don’t want to.”
Midnight furrowed her brows, “What?”
“I want to play in the games.”
“Aunt Midnight, you know I can do this.”
“To win the games… Kenny, it’s a seven-year bond. Every year you’ll be trained and you’ll have to kill twenty-four opponents.”
“I know. I want to do it. I want to earn my freedom. Isn’t that what you always taught us?”
Midnight looked at her hands and said nothing.
“You said,” said Kenny, “We should be known for the things we do. I want to do this. I want to be known for it… Don’t you believe I can?”
I saw Midnight look at Kenny, her eyes trained on the little girl’s – her burning gaze boring into her, “I do. If this is what you want, then I’ll leave you to it.”
“Thank you,” said Kenny, as Midnight shut the gate and turned the key in the lock, leaving the ring hanging there.
“I’ll be watching you, Kenny,” she said, “Make us proud.”
Kenny just nodded.
“Are ye mad!” I said, coming up behind her.
“This is not up for discussion, Thomas,” said Midnight.
“I said no.”
I paused, regarding her, “Fine. Let’s go, then,” I nodded at Kenny, “It was nice seein’ ye.”
“You too, Uncle Tom,” Kenny smiled from behind those iron bars.
“William’s probably made his way out,” said Midnight, leading me towards the exit, the crew following after us with our newly-acquired mates…