At the top of the ramp, Hugh could see most of the arena floor through a wrought iron gate. The announcer shouted the names and crimes of the prisoners.
All twenty were men. Thirteen of them were murderers, four were rapists who killed their victims, one was a serial arsonist who had started fires that killed dozens, and one was a soldier who was caught spying, and who was responsible for the slaughter of an entire legion in their camp at night as they slept.
“And the man who will send them to the icy depths of Hel… is no man at all, but a cyclops from a far off land, here to dole out justice for your approval. People of Polity, please welcome, Hugh Mungous.”
The squire looked at Hugh. “You last name is seriously ‘Mungous?’”
“Alright, Hugh Mungous, are you ready?”
Hugh nodded once more.
“When you’re done, look for me. I’ll wave my arms in case you get disoriented during the fight. You’ll exit back through this door.” The squire turned a key and swung the gate open. “Now, get out there, you huge bastard.” Hugh ducked down and walked at a slow pace through the gate, and the squire locked it behind him.
Hugh continued to walk to the middle of the floor. The crowd cheered, gasped, whistled, woohooed, and shouted. When Hugh got to about where he thought was the center, he stopped. The drums also stopped, and the crowd grew quiet. There was a loud horn, and a gate in front of Hugh opened.
A dirty, bearded man came running out, completely naked. At first, he ran right at Hugh, but he quickly turned off. Hugh walked to close the distance. The man hugged the wall and kept moving, but Hugh continued walking towards where the prisoner was moving, not where he was. After a few more seconds, Hugh had closed the gap to within ten feet. With his back to the wall, the man tried to run to Hugh’s right.
Hugh slid his grip on the poleaxe to near its butt, and swung it in a wide arc at the man’s legs. The axe head made contact with his ankle, and he fell face first into the dirt. The man rolled over on his back and tried to scoot away, but Hugh closed in on him, adjusted his grip, and stabbed him under his jaw up into his skull. The man spit blood, and Hugh withdrew his weapon.
Another horn blew, and a gate opened far behind Hugh, on the other side of the arena. This man stayed where he was, struggling at the gate he was pushed from. Hugh was upon him quickly, and he turned to run far too late. Hugh used the hook to catch his leg, tripping him. As he was standing up, Hugh swung the poleaxe down into his back. The man fell motionless, and Hugh put his foot on the man’s hip to wrench the axe head out of his spine and ribcage.
The third horn rang out. A nearby gate opened and the man ran right at Hugh. Hugh stood there, watching him approach. As he got near, Hugh swung the butt of the spear up, hitting him in the jaw, snapping his head back. His legs kept moving forward, and he fell hard into his back. Hugh took a few steps forward and gave him two quick stabs, one on either side of his chest.
The fourth horn trumpeted, and a man limped out, looked at Hugh, and slowly hobbled in the other direction. This man was older, and he seemed barely able to move. Hugh walked up to him and swung the axe at his neck. It sliced deep, and the man slunk forward, the axe head lodged over halfway through. Hugh choked up on the pole and kicked the man off.
The fifth horn blared, and the man released came from a gate right behind Hugh. The man ran right at Hugh, who swung his shield at him. He connected with the man’s forehead, causing him to stagger and wobble on his feet. Hugh stepped into him and smashed the broad side of his shield into his face, knocking him over. Hugh stood over him, his face turned to the side, convulsing. Hugh lifted the spear high in the air, pointed up, and smashed the butt into the man’s temple, splattering a bit of blood onto his shins.
The sixth horn was heard, and a gate opened on the far side. The man tried to keep away from Hugh, but again, he was unsuccessful, meeting his end with an axe blade to the left side of his face.
The seventh, eighth, ninth, and tenth horns signified similar circumstances, of men running about, and Hugh effortlessly mowing them down. The man who came out at the eleventh horn had his skull crushed under Hugh’s foot. The twelfth horn introduced a man who was tripped up and chopped right in the middle of his forehead.
The thirteenth horn brought in a man who tried to dodge Hugh’s swing, but who ended up taking a hard chop to his shoulder, nearly severing his arm. As he desperately shuffled away, his arm dangled uselessly, and he ended up run through while groveling against a closed gate.
The fourteenth horn bellowed and a man came out, looking nervous and confused. He stood staring at Hugh as he brought the axe head home between the man’s neck and shoulder. Hugh had trouble dislodging his weapon.
When the fifteenth horn blasted, Hugh’s spear was still not free. The man did not approach, so Hugh methodically removed his sword from the leather wrapping, swung it in the air a few times to acquaint himself with the balance of it, and advanced on the prisoner. He slashed the man’s chest, then in one fluid motion brought the blade back around and slashed his neck. The man kept standing, grabbing his throat as blood poured out around his hand. Hugh thumped him between the eyes with the pommel of his sword, causing him to fall over.
The sixteenth horn sounded, and the man was large. He ran to the body of the thirteenth man and desperately pulled at his arm. He tore it free, held it by the wrist, and approached Hugh, who bent his knees low and peered out over his shield. When the prisoner was close, Hugh swung and the man easily dodged it and hit Hugh’s sword hand with the arm.
The man then kicked Hugh in the knee, who showed no sign of the blow even registering. Hugh stepped into him with his shield and pushed hard, knocking him back. The man maintained his balanced and began circling Hugh. He swung the arm, which Hugh blocked with his shield. He swung the arm again, and again, each time being blocked by Hugh. The man feigned a swing, causing Hugh to flinch, and the man ducked low before burying his shoulder into Hugh’s gut.
Hugh didn’t budge, and he kneed the man in the stomach before hitting him on the back of his head with pommel of his sword. Hugh stepped back, but the man still didn’t fall. He steadied himself with his hands and stood back up. Hugh back pedaled with his shield raised. Hugh adjusted his shield, and the man shook his head a few times, trying to gain composure. He screamed and ran at Hugh, the arm raised high above his head.
Hugh had removed his arm from the shield grips, and he now gripped it by its edge. He hurled it like a discus at the man, who was hit right in the sternum. He dropped immediately to his knees, the arm falling to the ground as he grabbed his stomach with both hands, struggling to breathe. Hugh took a few deep breaths before walking forward. Hugh drew his sword back, and the man looked up before quickly grabbing sand and throwing it up at Hugh.
Hugh closed his eye and shielded his face with his free hand. He swung blind and connected with something. He looked, and the sword had sliced from the forehead of his left side to his right cheek. A diagonal line of blood grew wider by the second, and he fell over.
The seventeenth horn burst through the roars of the audience, and Hugh retrieved his shield. He stood panting for a bit, and the prisoner gawked at the carnage around him. Hugh approached him and the man put up his hands in protest. Hugh slashed some of his fingers off his hand, then proceeded to open every artery in his neck.
The eighteenth horn announced another entry, and he ran with one good leg towards Hugh. Hugh stood with his arms at his side and watched the man approached. He was small, reaching only to Hugh’s waist. Hugh watched as the man slammed into him, then proceeded to grip his leg and bite. Hugh pounded him in the head with the pommel of his sword until he let go. When he lunged at his leg again, Hugh stepped back and swiped down, slashing a bit of his head.
A small flap of his scalp flopped over, but he scurried away on his hands and knees, only to stand and charge once more. Hugh stepped forward and kicked him square in the chest, planting his foot there and bringing it down on his ribcage as he fell back. Hugh leaned in close, put the sword nearly at the hilt to his neck, and slashed the full length of blade. The man’s tongue stuck out and his eyes went wide.
The nineteenth horn went off, and the man moved slowly away from Hugh. The man kept looking back at Hugh, but he didn’t look afraid, he just kept moving, seemingly faster and faster. The distance between them grew, and the man was nearly at the wall. He now sprinted, as if he was perfectly unhurt, and Hugh turned to cut him off. The crowd began to react strangely, with many people shouting and pointing at Hugh. He stopped and looked up into the stands. Suddenly, his back really hurt.
Hugh turned to see the large prisoner holding the poleaxe. His back stung horribly.
The man swung and Hugh deflected, shattering his shield. Hugh’s arm stung from the sheer force of it. The man stabbed at Hugh’s head, and he dodged it while grabbing the pole right below the axe. Hugh bent low and placed the spear head almost on the ground, then stomped on the pole. He managed to splinter it, maintaining control of the spearhead.
The man swung his part of the shaft, which was over a meter long, hitting Hugh in his sword hand. He dropped the sword, but managed to slice the man’s arm a bit with the spear head, which was left with a handle no longer than a foot.
They faced off again, each sizing up the other. The sword lay on the ground between them, neither one closer to it than the other. Hugh looked around for the second man, who was cowering on the far side of the arena. The large prisoner feigned diving for the sword twice, with Hugh not budging. Finally, the prisoner stepped in and swung at Hugh’s knee with the pole. Hugh grabbed it with his bare hand and brought the axe down in the middle of the shaft, not breaking it but freeing it from the man’s grasp.
The prisoner pivoted and dove for the sword, but Hugh was too close. His foot came down hard on his arm, which barely had time to grab the handle. Hugh dropped his weapons, took his opponent’s head in both his hands, and spun it completely around so that his body lay chest down and his head was face up. He picked up the spear head and sword, moved toward the other man like nothing had happened, and he buried the point of the sear directly into the heart of his screaming, terrified victim.
Finally, the twentieth horn resounded through the arena. Out stepped a man, who calmly walked towards Hugh, who stood where he was, allowing the man to approach. There was no fear in this prisoner’s face, no anger, just a look of calm.
“We do what must be done,” said the prisoner.
“Yes, we do,” said Hugh.
“And we all pay for our crimes.”
“One can only hope,” Hugh said.
“Give me the death I deserve.”
“Turn around,” said Hugh. “If I strike you neck first, you won’t feel a thing.”
The man gave him a slight bow. “Good bye.” He turned around and stood perfectly upright.
Hugh held his sword out at arm’s length, lined it up with the man’s neck, wound up, and lopped his head clean off. The body crumbled in a pile and the head rolled a ways before coming to rest face down.
Hugh stood, waiting, but there were no more horns. He looked around and saw his squire waving frantically at him. Hugh jogged off the arena floor to deafening applause.
“Wow,” said the squire. “That was one hell of a performance.”
“My back,” said Hugh. “I got stabbed in the back.”
“Let’s take a look.” The squire helped him remove his armor. He used a rag to wipe the blood away to locate the wound. “There it is.”
“How bad is it?”
“It’s nothing,” said the squire. “I’ve cut myself worse chopping vegetables. Here.” The squire reached into his satchel and took out a glass vial. “This will stop the blood and help it heal. It won’t do anything for the pain, does it hurt?”
“I guess a little,” Hugh said. “It’s hard to tell.”
“Come on,” the squire said. “Let’s clear the area.”
They walked down the ramp and through another gate. Hugh removed all of his armor and stood there in just his pants. “Where’s my shirt?” he asked.
“Probably still in the armory, unless some fan has already gotten to it.”
“I’m kidding, no one took your shirt.” They walked back to the armory, Hugh carrying his armor, sword and the broken spear. When they arrived, Hugh located his shirt, had his back bandaged up, cleaned his weapons, and made his way to the Chancellor’s viewing box.
There, he found the twins, who ran up to him, asking about his injuries and congratulating him.
“Everyone up here seemed really impressed,” said the giant.
“It was crazy when that guy got up and stabbed you with the poleaxe,” said the dwarf. “I wanted to jump down there so bad and kick his ass.”
Hugh just smiled.
“Everyone here said he was a highly trained soldier,” said the giant. “I was so worried about you.”
“Lemme see where he stabbed you,” the dwarf said.
Hugh turned around and lifted his shirt. The dwarf peaked under the bandage. “Ah, it doesn’t look that bad.”
“I think it’s deeper than it looks,” said Hugh.
“Naw, see,” the dwarf stuck his finger into the wound. “It’s not even two knuckles deep.”
Hugh winced. The giant smacked the dwarf on the back of his head.
Walker came up to Hugh. “That was the most dramatic Zombie Match I’ve seen in years, literally years. It was probably the most exciting one I ever saw where the executioner survived. Usually it’s only that interesting if a prisoner wins his freedom, but there was so much back and forth with the soldier… I’m telling you, there are trained gladiators who can’t put on a show that entertaining.”
“Great,” said Hugh, “How did the new weapons go over?”
“No one was surprised when that shield shattered like glass. Everyone in this city knows an axe will neutralize a shield, and a heavy axe will reduce a shield to splinters.”
“It was a poorly made shield,” said Hugh. “I should talk to your carpenter about reinforcing the edges and curving the face a little. There’s also got to be a better wood to use, because that shield was far too light.”
“Well, no one in this city really makes or uses shields. Our gladiators tend to rely on heavy metal gauntlets and arm guards to fulfill the function of blocking with the weak arm,” said Walker. “Let’s watch the last two fights and then we can retire to the banquet I have prepared for us.”
Hugh took a seat but he didn’t watch the fights. He mostly looked around at the crowd, watching them foam at the mouth with rage, and at other times go red in the face screaming. Occasionally, he would look down at his hand. Sometimes he just closed his eyes and imagined he was somewhere else, that he wasn’t surrounded by people yelling at the top of their lungs.
To be continued…