The Gladiator, стр. 1

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THE GLADIATOR

Simon Scarrow and available from Headline

The Roman Series

Under the Eagle

The Eagle's Conquest

When the Eagle Hunts

The Eagle and the Wolves

The Eagle's Prey

The Eagle's Prophecy

The Eagle In The Sand

Centurion

The Gladiator

The Wellington and Napoleon Quartet

Young Bloods

The Generals

Fire and Sword

THE

GLADIATOR

SIMON SCARROW headline

Copyright © 2009 Simon Scarrow

The right of Simon Scarrow to be identified as the Author of the Work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

First published in 2009

by HEADLINE PUBLISHING GROUP

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Apart from any use permitted under UK copyright law, this publication may only be reproduced, stored, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means, with prior permission in writing of the publishers or, in the case of reprographic production, in accordance with the terms of licences issued by the Copyright Licensing Agency.

All characters in this publication - other than the obvious historical characters - are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Cataloguing in Publication Data is available from the British Library ISBN 978 0 7553 2778 2 (Hardback)

ISBN 978 0 7553 3916 7 (Trade paperback)

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This book is for Mick Webb and the staff of

Stoke Holy Cross Primary School.

Thank you for everything you have done for my sons, Joe and Nick.

Once again, my heartfelt thanks to my wife, Carolyn, for road-testing each chapter as it came off the word-processor. Also to my agent, Meg, and surely one of the best editors in the business, Marion, who always manages to rein in my excesses and point me towards a leaner, cleaner tale. Finally, huge thanks to my son Joe, who now has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the series and thus saved me from making a very embarrassing error. Joe, you're a star.

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THE HEART OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE 49AD

ROMAN PROVINCE OF CRETE

CHAPTER ONE

We should reach Matala on the next tack,' announced the captain as he shaded his eyes and gazed at the coastline of Crete off the starboard beam, burnished by the late afternoon sun.

Beside him on the deck stood some of his passengers, a Roman senator, his daughter and two centurions, bound for Rome. The four had boarded at Caesarea together with the daughter's maidservant, a young Judaean girl. The captain was proud of his vessel. The Horus was an old ship from Alexandria, retired from the fleet that shipped grain across the Mediterranean to Rome. Despite her years she was still a tough, seaworthy vessel and the captain was confident and experienced enough to take her out of the sight of land when necessary. Accordingly, the Horus had headed directly out to sea when she left the port of Caesarea, and had made landfall off the coast of Crete three days later.

'Will we arrive at Matala before night?' asked the senator.

'I'm afraid not, sir.' The captain smiled faintly. 'And I'm not going to attempt an approach in the dark. The Horus has a full hold and rides low in the water. Can't risk running her up on any rocks.'

'So what happens tonight then?'

The captain pursed his lips briefly. 'We'll have to stand off the coast, hove to until dawn. Means I'll lose a day, but that can't be helped. Best offer a quick prayer to Poseidon that we make up the time after we leave Matala.'

The older centurion let out a frustrated sigh.' Bloody sea travel.

Never straightforward. Should have taken the land route.'

The other officer, a tall, slender man with a curly mop of dark hair, laughed and slapped his stout comrade on the shoulder. 'I thought I was the impatient one! Easy there, Macro, we'll still reach Rome long before we ever could if we had gone by land.'

'You've changed your tune. Thought you were the one who hated the sea.'

'I'm not fond of it, but I have my reasons for wanting to reach Rome as soon as I can.'

'No doubt.' Centurion Macro winked, with a faint nod towards the senator's daughter. 'I'll just be glad to get a new posting. Back with the legions, permanently. The gods know we've done enough to earn it, Cato, my friend. Two years on the eastern frontier. I've had my fill of heat, sand and thirst. Next time I want a nice cushy post somewhere in Gaul. Somewhere I can rest a while.'

'That's what you say now.' Cato laughed. 'But I know you, Macro.

You'd be bored witless before the month was out.'

'I don't know. I'd like to get back to some proper soldiering. No more doing the dirty work of the imperial palace for me.'

Cato nodded with feeling. Ever since they had carried out their first mission for Narcissus, the emperor's private secretary and head of the imperial spy network, Macro and Cato had faced perils fromevery quarter, besides the usual dangers of being soldiers. Cato's expression hardened. 'I fear that's rather out of our control. The more problems we solve, the greater the chance that we'll be called on again.'

'Ain't that the truth,' Macro muttered. 'Shit...'

Then, remembering that the senator and his daughter were present, he glanced at them apologetically and cleared his throat.

'Sorry, miss. Pardon my Gallic.'

The senator smiled. 'We've heard worse in recent months, Centurion Macro. In fact I think we have be come rather used to the rough ways of soldiers. Otherwise I'd hardly countenance the attention Cato has been showing my daughter, eh?'

She grinned. 'Don't worry, Father, I'll tame him sure enough.'

Cato smiled as she took his arm and gave it an affectionate squeeze. The captain looked at them and scratched his chin.

'Getting married then, Miss Julia?'

She nodded. 'As soon as we return to Rome.'

'Damn, had hoped to ask for your hand myself,' the captain joked.

He examined Cato briefly. The centurion's features were unmarked by the scars one tended to see on the faces of experienced soldiers.

He was also, by far, the youngest centurion the Greek sea captain had ever met, barely in his twenties, and he could not help wondering if such a man could only have been promoted to the rank through the patronage of a powerful friend. But the medallions fixed to the centurion's harness spoke of real achievements, hard won. Clearly there was far more to Centurion Cato than the captain had first thought. By contrast, Centurion Macro looked every inch the hard fighting man. Shorter by a head, but built like a bull, with well-muscled limbs on which numerous scars clearly showed. Some fifteen years older than his comrade, he had cropped dark hair and piercing brown eyes, yet the creases in his face hinted at a humorous side, should a suitable occasion arise.

The captain turned his attention back to the younger officer, with a touch of envy. If he married into a senatorial family, then Centurion Cato was set up for the rest of his life. Money, social position and career preferment would be his for the taking. That said, it was clear to the captain that the affection between the young centurion and the senator's daughter was real enough. At the end of each day the two of them were on deck to watch the sun set, arms around each other as they gazed across the sparkling waves.

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