The Colloseum in Rome.
Ah, that’s the stuff.
It’s the first time I’ve actually been (besides the pre-first-time, when we were trying to break Kenny out about seven years ago).
Kenny’s final game. Her moment to shine. I didn’t get to spend too much time with her, when she won games. She’d be whisked away by her trainer and he’d never let us into the school to see her.
But I guess protocol is protocol.
The Colloseum was absolutely breath-taking. Being the guardians of Kenny, Thomas and I and the girls were in a pre-prepared box, with the best view of the place. The seats were plush, and fine Chianti and food was offered to us. Not that I paid that any attention to the wine, but Thomas took one glass and a bit of food. The girls were whispering amongst themselves fervently, talking about the view and such. Two seats sat empty, waiting for the arrival of Trevor and Brynna Stoll.
Ted sat by, timid and unwilling. I don’t suppose a battle to the death was the most favoured sport for a pacifist to watch.
“A bit… barbaric, don’t you think?” he muttered.
“Aye…” Thomas murmured, “that it is.”
Ted passed him a look of surprise, “Really? You really think so?” Ted sounded over-excited.
Thomas gave him a irritated side-glance, “Don’t get your panties in a bunch about’t, Theodore.”
“Dad…” Des mumbled.
“It’s quite alright, tesora,” said Ted. He had an Italian accent. His parents were originally British, but their shoe-making business was transferred to Italy. Ted had spent most of his life in Florence, but the business moved to Venice later, and so he and Des had met there. He continued, “Sorry, sir.”
I laughed, “He called you sir!”
Thomas pouted, “Shut up, Midnight,” he said.
I giggled, “But he called you–”
“I know what he said.”
“The look on your face!” I pointed at him and fell in fits of laughter. Thomas hated being called ‘sir’. It reminded him he was old.
“Aye, and they call me the immature one…” he muttered, shaking his head, “Oh, look, clowns.”
The girls rushed to the banister and watched as the clowns performed.
I cleared my throat and resumed my composure. I sighed.
“It wasn’t that funny, mum,” Des mumbled.
“Believe me,” I said, “If you have to be around your father while he tries to act out as to how young he is, it’d be funny to no end.”
“He’s my daughter’s boyfriend. That’s why he calls me sir,” said Thomas.
“He doesn’t call me ‘ma’am’,” I said, raising a brow.
Thomas gave Ted a look. The boy’s face blanched, “What does he call ye then?” said Thomas looking back at me.
“What you call me. He calls me Midnight.”
Thomas glared at me, “He calls me sir because he fears me.”
“That, or he’s looking for a father-figure for approval. That does sound a lot like him.”
“Right, Mr Rogue, whatever you say,” I pecked him lightly on the cheek, just as the Stolls walked in.
“Brynna!” I stood and embraced her, “So glad you could come. And congrats on your marriage. Gifts and a welcome are in call and are waiting at the hotel.”
“Thanks, Aunt Midnight,” Brynna said, hugging me tightly, “It’s been an age since we saw you.”
“Ah,” I said, nodding at Trevor, “My brother’s nancy.”
Trevor looked away, annoyed, “Please, madam, don’t call me that.”
Thomas forced a laugh, “There’s a man who thinks you’re old.”
“Yes, but I don’t have a problem with being old,” I said, looking back at Thomas.
Thomas stared at me, “I hate’t when ye got a runnin’ win!” he shook his head, and took Trevor’s hand, “Good t’see ye again, lad. I know my nieces well enough, your Brynna’s a keeper, I tell ye,” he smiled at Brynna, “Treat her well.”
“Or else,” I added.
Thomas shook his head, “Must you?”
“You do it all the time with Ted!”
“Aye, but I’m–”
“Oh, for God’s sake, I know you sired my daughters, okay?”
A strained chorus of “Mum!”
“But it’s not an excuse for everything,” I continued.
“It is,” said Thomas, retaking his seat next to me, “And I’ll use’t in that fashion.”
“Ted is going to die in fear of you, looming over him all the time. I’m not always going to be around Trevor.”
“And so he should. He’d die honourably.”
I scoffed, “What?”
“If you die in fear o’ your beloved’s father, then ye’re a good man t’mate with.”
A strained chorus of “Dad!”
“Except you’d be dead?” I said.
“Better than than a livin’ coward.”
“Your logic is really flawed, Thomas. And also, a little bit twisted.”
“It’s what happens when I share a life wi’ a woman who once crushed a man’s head in her bare hands.”
“My hands were gloved.”
“And I s’pose the gloves were the ones that crushed him?”
I ignored him, “And, remember, you were the one who proposed to me.”
“Aye,” he gave me a suggestive grin, “but I wasn’t the one who started the all beddin’ before that.”
A strained chorus of “Mum! Dad!”
“I think my running win’s ended,” I laughed.
“Aye. It’s much more rewardin’ when you get the runnin’ lose, t’grab the grand prize at the end.”
“I hope we never end up like them,” said Brynna and Trevor.
“How did you live with these people?” Ted asked Des.
“Well…” she scoffed nervously, “We lived in a big family house and dad was… absent for most of my childhood – but after we moved to Italy, it, um… I’m a natural, Ted, at being able to–”
“Live in a mad-house?” I suggested.
Des glared at me, “No. To… cope, yeah. To cope in tough conditions.”
“It’s in her blood,” I said, looking back at Ted, “Just like her cousin, Kenny,” I turned back just as the master of ceremonies called out:
“Presenting: with twenty-three wins this year, on her final battle – Kennedy of the House of Shadownight!”
The was a raucous cheer from the crowd. Thomas and the girls joined in. Everyone was chanting her name.
“Kennedy. Kennedy. Kennedy…” I dare say, it was hypnotic.
Then she got into the ring, and I looked down at her from our box. She was tall, lean, and mean-looking. Her dark hair was pulled off her face and tied up high on her head, and – by the look of it – it wouldn’t move from its position no matter how hard she fought today. She wore Grecian armour, gold-plated, held together by tight leather. She had a quiver of arrows and a bow slung over her shoulder, a round shield in one hand and a short-sword sheathed at her side. She looked around and found our box, found me. Our eyes met, and I raised a hand. She drew her sword and raised it in my direction.
I felt a numbness spread over me, as she stepped to the dead centre, facing King Silvio’s box that wasn’t too far from ours.
“And now,” cried the MC, “to present our final contestant: having also won twenty-three battles – Thierry of the House of Kare-Silver!”
He came out. Thierry’s face was hidden behind his helmet. He wore blue livery, perhaps to show his French roots, and had iron armour strapped to his shoulders and his back. He had a round shield in one hand and a broadsword was sheathed at his side. He was tall and bulky, like he’d been fed well in all his years in Rome. He stepped next to Kenny and they both knelt on the sand, calling out some gladiator clichés to honour King Silvio. I couldn’t see him, but I assume that King Silvio rose from his seat, and the gladiator’s rose with him, parted ways and faced each other.
There was a bracing silence. I took Thomas’s hand and grasped it, chewing my lip. He glanced at me briefly and we shared a look.
“She’ll be a’right,” he whispered.
Kenny had come so far. Seven years of this she’d gone through and remained successful. All I could do was keep my eyes on her and whisper back, “I hope so.”
“And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for,” cried the MC, “Gladiator’s…” he paused for effect, “Commence battle!”
The calling of names resumed, “Kennedy, Thierry. Kennedy, Thierry…”
I watched them draw their swords, raise their shields and circle each other. Each step was agonising to watch, and I was sure I was breaking Thomas’s hand in my anticipation.
There were a few feint jabs from both sides, before Thierry jumped and swung for a coup-de-grace.
Kenny rolled to a side and cut his calf swiftly – his blood spilling on the sand – and kicked him away, standing up and waiting, her poised stance resumed. Thierry got up and struck, Kenny dodging it, not using her sword.
“Good,” I mumbled, “your sword is too small to throw that thing off.”
Kenny used her shield to throw another swing wide, and then ran into Thierry with her shoulder, throwing him down. They rolled in the sand for a while, a mess of limbs, before she rose up again.
Thierry lingered on the ground, “Why do you keep doing that?” he barked, clearly furious, “Don’t come at me and walk away! Is that your tactic? Keep throwing me down until I get a concussion or something?”
“The hell…?” I heard Thomas mutter.
“He’s entertaining the audience. He’s asking for favours,” I murmured back.
“He’s askin’ t’die.”
While Thierry was too busy bawling, Kenny threw her shield at him, like a Frisbee. It hit him in the jaw, and he skittered back in the sand and spat blood. She leapt on him and punched him.
“What are you doing?” I shouted, rising from my seat in shock, “He’s wearing a mask, Kenny!”
Kenny howled, holding her hand.
Thierry threw her off, pinned her to the floor and head-butted her several times.
“No, no,” I said. Thomas held my shoulders and tried to force me down, “no…”
“Ye can’t do anyth’un about this,” he said, only managing to keep me from falling into the arena.
“If I have to, I will.”
“No,” Thomas said, turning me to him, “No, you won’t.”
“She’s going to pass out, Thomas!”
He didn’t say anything for a while. Des was holding a hand to her mouth, Brynna had tears in her eyes. Ted was just not watching.
Then there was a howl from Thierry.
I pushed Thomas back and saw that Kenny had stabbed the boy in his side. He was gasping, as Kenny smashed the pommel of her sword in his face. There was a sticking crack as the metal mask bent inwards. She hit him again. Again and again and again…
She threw her sword to a side, spitting blood, and grasped his neck and pressed down with her thumbs.
“And the winner,” cried the MC, after it was plain that Thierry was dead, “of this year’s Games is Kennedy Shadow–”
A shield came spinning at him. It hit the MC under his chin and took him off his feet. He fell in a heap, unconscious, as Kenny stood – breathing harshly in the middle of the blood-splattered Colloseum.
“Is this not what you came to see?” she barked, the people gasping as she addressed them, “Are you not entertained? Have you had you fill!” she gasped for breath, stumbling momentarily, “All of you? All of…”
She fell to one knee and then on her face, passing out.