Disclaimer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Gladiator belong to their respective creators, Joss Whedon and Ridley Scott.
Author's Note: Special thanks to Skoellya, who pointed out that filia
is the Latin for 'daughter,' and puella
would be the more accurate 'female child.' I'm throwing out my Cassell's.
Also, thank you, everyone, for your good thoughts! I'm beginning to think I might live after all.
Pankratios himself brought the strigil and the oil.
He brought, too, a slave, a girl who trembled and whimpered and clung to the sack she carried and had to be dragged through the gate, loosing a half-choked shriek at the sight of the corpse in the dirt. The other gladiators raised their heads at this, eyes following the slave, but none were bold enough to try anything when it was Pankratios that held her arm.
Puella's head turned.
Not much—a glance, perhaps out of the corner of her eye. But Hagen saw it, as did Juba, and Maximus had felt the movement through her arm, the tensing of her muscles.
He felt it when her hand began to leave his, when the intent formed in her mind.
Maximus tightened his grip, the knuckles of his fingers flushed white.
“Pankratios,” he said quietly, “she should not have been brought here.”
Pankratios stopped in front of them, the slave's arm still in his hand. “I know that, Spaniard.” He shrugged, the massive shoulders stretching his tunica
. “But I do not give the orders.”
Puella—her eyes had narrowed, glinting as sharply as a whetted point. The pressure of holding her hand was aching at Maximus's wrist.
“The girl is for her
,” said Pankratios, “to clean her up. I'll wait.”
The slave's face went the white of bone, and she faltered as if she would have collapsed if not for Pankratios's hand.
“Go, Poppaea.” Pankratios pulled at the slave's arm, thrusting her forward so that she stumbled. “If you do well, Proximo might forget to cut off your hand for stealing.”
Poppaea straightened, eyes glancing from Pankratios to Puella. She was dark-haired and dark-eyed, tall and well-formed, with a face that was more Roman than not. Maximus at first glance could not find a fault in her, but then, when her eyes came to rest on Puella, some of her terror was pushed aside by scorn.
Maximus turned to Puella.
“Go with her,” he said. Not a command, not a request, and yet—
She looked at him, and it was as if the ground had opened and swallowed Pankratios whole, so completely did he cease to exist for her.
“Go with Poppaea,” he said again, more firmly, now, like a father speaking to his daughter.
Puella's eyes—an expression in them of something more than nothing and less than everything, a glimpse of mischief as if she were saying, What if I don't?
, and he could almost hear, in his head, a young, teasing, girlish voice—
Her hand slipped from his.
Poppaea, no longer so pale, sniffed derisively, nearly over her terror, and pushed at Puella's shoulder as if at a small, slow child to get her moving toward the barracks behind them. Puella, who only moments earlier had broken a man's neck with her bare hand, tamely went.
Maximus watched her go, and his hand clenched as if feeling a loss it could not place.
“She hates you,” he said, and looked at Pankratios. “More than the men do.”
Pankratios—shrugged, again. “She should. I was the one who split open her head.”
Hagen's head went back, Juba's breath went in. Maximus considered this.
“She means to kill you,” he said.
“I think so.” Pankratios looked after them, the girls, where they had gone through the closest opening, hung with faded blue cloth. “I'll have to watch my back, so long as Andromache lives.”
Maximus—felt the muscles of his throat work. “Andromache?” he repeated, managing not to raise his voice.
Juba and Hagen were looking at him, Hagen's brow raised, but Juba was a black and Hagen of Germania. The name would mean nothing to them.
“Proximo's scheme for the Games.” Pankratios's face was indecipherable. “The hero and his woman, Andromache and her husband, the most virtuous man in history, against the Greek horde.”
At the look on Maximus's face, Pankratios's mouth split, showing his teeth.
“Be careful, Hector,” he said. “This Andromache is not so obedient as the other one.”