[begin blog post #22]
Chapter 11 – The Drook Challenger
Deirdre desperately needs to be trained if she is ever going to become a fighter. I have earned a certain kind of “reputation” among the handlers and developed an understanding of their pecking order in the training compounds, from the overseer down to the lowly trainers.
Perhaps I should explain the hierarchy of authority and power surrounding the whole aspect of arena fighting. First are the owners whom we never see or have contact with. They foot the bills for our maintenance and they recoup these losses and sometimes even make money from the gambling on our fights. The fighting is arranged by the arena council, a group of a dozen owners or other influential people representing Hyrete and other major centers where fighter slaves are bred and raised. Then come a variety of “judges” who adjudicate on the various laws and rules of combat, weapons and the conduct of fighters and challengers. They also decide when a fighter is ready to enter her first arena combat. Then come the overseers, guards, handlers and trainers.
What a fighter must quickly learn is not so much the official power of each class of male over her, but their pecking order. It is important to develop a sense of which men are the most power hungry and vicious and which men are there because it’s a fairly safe job, certainly more so than being palace guard, police or military. These latter can often be manipulated if one knows how to play the sex and humility angle. I know the ones who have enough authority among their peers to approach for small favours. By dint of hints and innuendos, I am able to make my desire to train Deirdre known to a couple of handlers.
In return, possibly as a favour to an old and battered crone but one considered still in good enough form and a safe bet in a fair fight, I am given permission to begin her training. I cannot fail to notice more than a hint of cruel amusement on the faces of the handlers when they authorize the training of Deirdre. The reason is soon brought home to me.
She is utterly hopeless in hand-to-hand combat. Though taller than most T’Sing Tarleynan females, she has no aptitude for weapons. Try as she may, she cannot produce a single hit and winces as if in pain each time she does attempt it. She blocks thrusts and jumps blows with amazing alacrity, using subconscious reflex actions that blur her movements. She performs intricate dances of evasion to any thrust, even using the staff weapon as if it was made for pole vaulting, her acrobatics causing cheers to come from the males watching from the benches where they sip on their home brewed mead. No doubt she is a superbly trained performer and entertainer.
But her heart refuses to enter fighting mode. There is not one ounce of motivation there. All the wonderful energy I experience from her when she helps me, or makes love to me, there is none of that on the grounds. I am in despair. One day she will be thrown in the arena and the worst possible will be done to her. Why won’t she fight?
In each session I speak to her of this. I try to impress the necessity of going along. “You are strong, daring, probably the fastest I’ve ever seen. And you are fearless,” I say to her, “So why can’t you do what you are supposed to?” Today she shrugs, drops her staff to the ground – a violation of my own rules as an unofficial trainer that could get her severely punished – and turns from me. When I grab her and spin her around to upbraid her for her neglect and cowardice, I see her face is covered in large, hot tears.
In desperation I ask, “Who are you, Deirdre? I know you are not gladiator material.”
“I am ‘Cholradil’ (pronounced show-ray); a natural born empath.”
I am shocked by that revelation. “I thought they had no such class of female.” I reply to her.
“They don’t.” She replies. “It is said we are rare – they call us atavistic ‘throw-backs’ or freaks. When they can use us they keep us, otherwise we are killed as soon as they discover what we are. About three years ago while I was still in crèche I was caught stealing herbal medicines to help a wounded friend. They could have flogged me to death but instead they put me in the line-up to be sold for gladiator training. That was their real punishment. Since the buyers were not made aware of my predicament, they made money on me which they would not have had they just killed me.
“They knew I couldn’t fight and considered it was a great joke to put a Cholradil in among fighters. I cannot harm anyone or anything, let alone kill, you see? I never told you because there was no point in it. I always knew I would never be able to fight anyone and that I would be killed the very first time I go into the fighting ring. It is my punishment. It is the way of it.”
“It is the way of it.” They say that with so much fatalism.
“They actually tolerate individuals who could never harm others? They have empaths on this twisted world? Why?” The question was rhetorical, of course. I did not expect her to have the answer.
“I was born feeling what you feel; what anyone feels who is close enough to me. If you hurt, I hurt. If I hurt you, I hurt me. When I was still very young, I knew if another beat me up, I could do nothing but put my arms up to block the blows. But if that person was hurt, I’d find some way to help her because I could always feel what she felt in her pain. It wasn’t what you call “compassion”. I didn’t have to like her. I did not have to want to do it but I had to help her heal so our pain would go away. After a while they did not hurt me anymore. They left me alone and came to me only if they were hurt. I would heal them and they would ignore me. I was something they could use. I could never play in their violent games or listen to their thoughts of violence against one-another and against the authorities they hated.”
“What class of girls were you bred for and raised in, then?”
“Sex slaves. Entertainers. Pleasers. We learned all that is known about sex.”
“But your branding says you are class 04, fighter. How can that be?”
“They changed it by grafting and re-branding to make more money. I am tall and look as if bred as fighter. It was a ruse on their part. I sold for much money.”
Well, that explains some of what I’d observed in her. “Is that why you speak so clearly and knowingly? You were educated in the arts of words, of communication?”
“Yes. I would be worth more. Maybe even become a concubine of some great man.”
[end blog post #22]