[personal profile] new_kate
This be the week for slutting around in different fandoms.

Title: Slave
Fandom: Eagle
Rating: PG-13
Wordcount: 2K
Warnings: slavery, violence, all that good stuff. Pretty much gen.
Summary: Esca's story.
Many thanks to [livejournal.com profile] onelittlesleep for betaing!

Mother kneels at Father's feet, lifts her face to him, smiles.

"You're mine," Father tells her. Esca's heard them whisper that in the night, year after year, as if their claim on each other wasn't a lifetime vow, but something stolen, fragile. Mine, mine, mine. Fevered words, rustle of the blankets.

The cut is quick and deep. Mother falls, safe and free.

The Romans are coming; their battle screams fill the night. Esca looks at Mother's blood on the blade. He wants to kneel, too.

"You're a man, Esca," Father says. Esca nods, shamed.

"You'll die fighting," Father says, and it's an order and a promise.

The Romans come, and Esca fights. He'd trained, he'd learned, he knows what to do. A man rushes him, tall and broad, his sword steaming with blood. Esca ducks an attack, blocks another. His arms go numb from the force of the blow he's stopped, but he doesn't drop his blade.

Then something goes wrong, too fast to understand and react, and a shield slams into his face.

He wakes up on the ground, tied up and weak. His face is stiff with caked blood. Daylight hurts his eyes; everything looks blurred, and the colours are strange.

Somewhere nearby a woman is screaming.

A Roman soldier crouches at his side with a bowl of water.

Esca squirms against the ropes, snarls, as if he's forgotten how to speak. His strength lasts a moment, and then he lays there, limp like a worm, almost too tired to breathe.

There's water at his lips, and he drinks it. The Romans look at him and speak among themselves. He knows some Greek, and he understands a few words: "slave" is one, "strong" is another. Esca drinks too fast, chokes on the water, faints again.

He doesn't remember the journey. He walks, eats and drinks. Ropes are loosened, retied in a different way, forcing his arms forward or back. His feet hurt. He can't think of what happened. He tries to think mostly about his feet.

When his ear is clipped, he barely feels it. He doesn't flinch or moan.

Later, when he's locked away with the others and told to sleep, he lifts his chained hands and touches the cut cartilage, scratches at the curdled blood, traces the new shape with his fingers.

Then he starts screaming. He screams and screams till the guards come to beat him. He calms under the lash, lies still, takes the pain.

His clothes aren't new. Sometimes he wonders what happened to the slave who wore them before. Sometimes he sits up on his pallet and looks at the shapes others before him scratched into the walls, and touches them with his fingers, trying to guess what they're meant to be.

They're building something, him and the other slaves. He's not sure what it is, but he's starting to get curious about it. He works; he keeps his body moving and his mind drifting idly. His hair is cut short to expose his clipped ear, and fierce, unfamiliar sun bears down on the back of his neck all day, making him slow, complacent. Something in him is grateful for that.

He nearly runs. They're left unguarded for a moment, and he nearly runs. Another slave grabs his arm, and while he struggles free the opportunity is gone.

"Why?" Esca asks him later, when they're left to sleep. "We could have all ran. We'd have our freedom."

"Freedom is home," says the man. He's tall and blond; he was pale when he came here, but now his face and shoulders are orange with overlapping freckles. His Greek is harsh and garbled, poor. "Freedom is your land, family, friends, you own slaves. If you run, you're slave on the run. Alone. Not freedom. Death."

"I'll escape," Esca swears. "I'll be free."

The man rolls his eyes and doesn't speak to him again.

The seasons in this land are all wrong, and Esca can't tell how much time has passed. But time passes, and one day something snaps in his heart.

He stops working. When the guards try to force him, he fights them.

In the end they tie him to the post and leave him like that for a while, his face against the wood. It's dark and polished smooth where he can see it, but feels rough and uneven under his hands. He scratches at the wood with his fingernails while he waits. The guards talk to a man that might be his owner.

"That would be a waste of money," the man says. Esca's mind is still and clear, and he's not really listening. He thinks of home, forests, rains.

He doesn't get whipped. He hangs on the post for most of the day, and when the ropes are cut he falls down, into the warm dust.

He's tied up again and taken away under guard. They walk him to a town and lead him into a big, round building.

"I hear you like to fight?" laughs a guard who puts him into a big iron cage. The ropes are cut then, and Esca gets to eat meat and bread. It's the biggest meal he'd had since home.

There are more cages around, and there are people in some of them, but they don't even look at Esca when he tries talking to them. The other cages hold dogs, big, magnificent animals. Esca talks to the one in the nearest cage till it seems to react to his voice, and then puts his hand through the bars to try and pet it. The dogs bares its teeth, sniffs at his fingers, edges back, still shy. He decides to give it some time and try again later.

"This?" a broad man in armour rushes to Esca's cage. "A slave? This puny child? Give me someone decent, damn it, I need a great victory, I need glory! I have a family to feed!"

Esca frowns at him. He's not puny. He might not be tall, but he's strong, he's a man.

"You'll just have to try and give them a good show," says an aging Roman. "A great gladiator isn't just a fighter, you must be a performer! An entertainer!"

The gladiator sighs and gives Esca a measuring stare.

"Can you fight at all?" he asks. Esca nods.

"Good. I'll hold back to start with," the gladiator says. "I'll let you attack, so don't be afraid to go for it. Don't just defend, all right? If you give them a good show, they might want you to live."

Esca can hear voices outside, an excited hum of a crowd.

"You want to live, right?"

Esca fingers the bars of his cage. Strange excitement fills his chest, makes him shiver. The gladiator nods and dons a mask that covers his face.

Esca is let out of the cage and given weapons, a sword and a shield. His body remembers the weapons, remembers the rhythm of a fight: thrust, cut, parry. While he waits at the door, he swings his sword, does a few moves, shifts his bare feet in a familiar pattern. It feels good, so good. The unseen crowd roars. They're stomping their feet; he can feel the tremors through the ground.

The door opens, and the guards push him out, into the arena. He tries to shake their hands off his bare back, turns to glare at them. The crowd screams and waves, a sea of ugly faces, twisted with bloodlust.

The gladiator is waiting for him, jeering him on, inviting him to attack. Esca walks up to him.

He's not going to fight, not for their amusement. His death will be his own, his choice.

He throws the weapons down. Lifts his face. Waits.

The blow is unexpected. Esca falls down, scrambles up. The gladiator does his best to make it a good show. He puts the blade to Esca's skin and takes it away, hits Esca with his shield, the pommel of his sword, kicks him down. Esca wants to die on his feet, and he gets up till he can't anymore.

The blade bites into his skin, sweetly, hotly. Esca arches into it, stares into the painfully blue sky. He can taste his freedom.

They scream for his death, all their voices joining as one, sing-song player for his blood. The dogs bark in counterpoint. Esca waits.

"Life!" screams someone, breaking the melody. "Life!"

Esca turns his head toward the voice. It's a big man, a tall, meaty soldier, just like those Romans he'd fought a lifetime ago. Only he doesn't look like any Roman soldier Esca'd ever seen. He looks scared, as if the sword isn't at Esca's chest, but at his own.

The man pleads for mercy with the crowd. He gets to his feet, makes a spectacle of himself, yells and yells, cheers them on, curses at them. He keeps glancing at Esca, his eyes soft with worry.

Life, life, Esca thinks. He looks at the man, barely blinking, and his breath quickens till his chest pushes at the tip of the blade. Esca's face bleeds, his heart beats, his feet are muddy. He feels every small stone under his back. He feels as if he's just been born, as if he's just woken up. Life, life. The man holds his eyes, breathes heavily, like he's coming down from a fight.

The gladiator puts down the sword. Esca gets to his feet. He's led back to the cages, and he twists around against the arms pushing him along. He wants to keep looking at that man.

The Roman turns away first, hunches down on his bench, shies from Esca's eyes.

"Lucky little shit," says the gladiator as he receives his payment from the ringmaster. "You get to live another day. Maybe tomorrow you'll be pitted against another slave, you might win that. Or maybe they'll set the dogs on you."

Esca sits in his cage, waiting for his heart to stop pounding. The sight of the man's face is burned into his mind. He closes his eyes to see him better.

Some time later he's told that he's been sold and bought. They don't tell him anything else, but he knows. The knowledge is in his blood and in his heart, certain and true.

An old man leads him through the town and out into the country, down an empty road to a lush villa. Esca isn't even bound, but he follows, angry at their slow pace. He could run very easily, but right now freedom feels like death.

When he sees the man again, Esca feels dizzied. The man's face is boyishly soft, uncertain. Esca sets his jaw and recites the speech he'd prepared.

"I must serve you," he says in the end. He wants to kneel, but he doesn't.

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