A Lucky Man, by Chris Bone and Paul L. Mathews
People thought Lucius indestructible, a man revered by Saturn and feared by the underworld, but he knew better. I owe my longevity to my doves, he thought as he cradled one such bird in a hand burnt by fire and missing its middle finger. Blowing gently on the white dove’s head, he stroked its neck to calm it. His left knee—the one Bolgios the Gaul had smashed—cracked as he knelt before the small shrine he’d built in his sleeping quarters. He encircled the dove’s neck with his other hand and made a swift rotation with his wrist, uttering a small prayer as he did so. He then kissed the limp feathered corpse and placed it reverently upon the shrine.
This was his ritual before every job, and the reason he kept a flock of doves. Even from here, in his little room in the insula at the southern end of the Great Circus, he could hear them in their dovecote on the roof, cooing and oblivious of their fate. He rose from the floor, knee cracking once again, and limped to the table beside his broken bed. A fire of pain consumed his ankle—the one Urganalla had snapped—as he limped across the room. Reaching the table, he took up a long-bladed knife which lay upon it and slid it into the sheath on his belt. He then took his woolen cloak from the rickety bed—the one upon which he’d conceived his son—and drew the threadbare garment around his shoulders in a futile hope it might protect him from the spring showers. For all its faults, Lucius was fond of this cloak. A gift from his first wife—the one who had tried to cut his throat—it didn’t keep him dry, but the moth-eaten thing still served as a meagre blanket and was big enough for him to hide his favourite weapon: an Arbelas’ scissor. The one with which he’d killed his second wife.
He placed his forearm into the scissor and gripped the handle. The rooms meagre light reflected on the weapon’s semicircular blade. He smiled as best his bloodied lip—split in a drunken brawl with Hanno the Nubian—would allow. The scissor had been a gift from his old friend Marcus Attilus, the retired Murmillo. He paused to reflect on poor Marcus. How sad it was he now spent his days as a gladius for hire, far from the deafening roar of an appreciative crowd, but time waited for no man. Lucius’ wrecked and shattered body—a gallery of bones broken by Rome’s great and not-so-good—served as testimony to that.
Still, he thought as he made his way down the stairs—the ones Rufus and Manlius had thrown him down—he missed old Marcus, if not the crack of the gladiator’s wooden sword on his skull as they sparred together. Lucius may have never fought in the arena, but he had grown up mucking out the horses for the Blues at the Circus Maximus. Marcus had won his freedom, but the great and mighty gladiator—now a middle-aged shadow of his former glory—was reduced to hiring himself out at staged bouts for rich patricians, and as a strong arm for whichever gangs paid the highest price.
But that’s Rome for you, Lucius thought with a wan smile as he reached the bottom of the stairs. One day you’re up, Fortuna smiling upon you, the next you’re down in the gutter, fighting for handouts. But now Lucius was on his way up. He had a reputation as a survivor. No matter how many wounds he took—and by the gods, he’d taken many—no matter how much of his crimson sanguis was spilt upon the cobbles, he still got up and fought back. Many adversaries had thought him finished only for Lucius to stab them in the eye or open their throat with his scissor. Many were the men and woman he had sent to the grave.
He stepped out into the benighted street, nodding in acknowledgement to Cato and Aemillia as they waited in the shadows beneath the Aqua Appia. He smiled as best he could. Tonight was going to be his lucky night...
…The dove’s sacrifice would make it so.