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Authors: Kate Poole

Beast of Caledonia

Beast of Caledonia

Kate Poole

 

In an ancient time, in an ancient
land, their worlds collided. Can their love survive? Can
they
?

Sara is the daughter of the
emperor’s legate in Caledonia, the Roman name for Scotland. Annachie is a
Pictish warrior captured by her father’s soldiers and made a slave. Their
friendship grows into a love neither of them can even acknowledge, much less
consummate.

When her father finds them in what
he thinks is a compromising position, he gives Annachie to a notorious slave
trader and takes Sara back to Rome. Thinking that she will never see Annachie
again, Sara agrees to become a Vestal Virgin. But six years later, her world is
turned upside down when the games in the Coliseum feature the renowned
gladiator, the “Beast of Caledonia”. Annachie!

Only for him would Sara forsake her
vow of chastity and risk her life. And when she faces the ultimate price for
loving him, only Annachie may be able to save her.

 

An Ellora’s Cave Romantica
Publication

www.ellorascave.com

 

 

 

Beast of Caledonia

 

ISBN 9781419928505

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Beast of Caledonia Copyright © 2010 Kate Poole

 

Edited by Helen Woodall

Cover art by Syneca

 

Electronic book publication July 2010

 

The terms Romantica® and Quickies® are registered trademarks of
Ellora’s Cave Publishing.

 

With the exception of quotes used in reviews, this book may not
be reproduced or used in whole or in part by any means existing without written
permission from the publisher, Ellora’s Cave Publishing, Inc.® 1056 Home
Avenue, Akron OH 44310-3502.

 

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This book is a work of fiction and any resemblance to persons,
living or dead, or places, events or locales is purely coincidental. The
characters are productions of the author’s imagination and used fictitiously.

Beast of Caledonia

Kate Poole

Dedication

 

To Anna,

I miss you every day, girlfriend.

 

 

 

 

 

Acknowledgements

 

I would like to thank Colleen McCullough and HBO for helping
me with my research. (I’m much too lazy to do all the research they did!) I
know that I have played fast and loose with some of the realities of ancient
Rome, but please cut me some slack—it is fiction, after all. If you want an
accurate account, I highly recommend Ms. McCullough’s amazing, excellent
Rome
series.

I would also like to thank my reader, Toni, for all her
comments, suggestions and encouragement. You helped me more than you will ever
know. Thanks also to my poor, unpaid publicist, Chris E., for the encouragement
and for working on that potential book-signing opportunity. “E.V.” won’t know
what hit it!

Thanks to Helen Woodall, Editor Extraordinaire and Queen
Frog, for not giving up on me when it took me three years to submit my second
book!

And last, but
never
least, great big thanks to the
“Tarts”—Kathy, Kate, Christie and Janet. Without all of you, I would still be
spinning my wheels.

 

Chapter One

Rome, 149 A.D.

 

“Hurry, Sara, we’ll be late.” Ocelina tugged at Sara’s arm,
forcing her to almost run to keep up with the girl.

“I’m coming, I’m coming,” Sara replied, even though she
wished to drag her feet.

They turned a corner and Sara saw the Flavian Amphitheater
in the distance. More “games”, she thought. How could anyone call men fighting,
maiming and killing each other a game? Sara hated the games. She tried to look
down at her lap or close her eyes to avoid seeing the wounds and the death
throes of the combatants. But she couldn’t close her ears to the howls of dying
animals, the cries of injured men, or the cheers of the bloodthirsty crowd. And
she couldn’t keep from smelling the blood and excrement that spilled into the
sand.

But twelve-year-old Ocelina loved the games. It worried Sara
that one so young could be so insensitive to violence and death, even though it
was the way most children were brought up in Rome.

“Why are you in such a hurry, Lina?”

The girl stopped and faced her. “What? Haven’t you heard?”

“Heard what?”

“The Beast is going to fight today. I saw the advertisement
painted on a wall near the Forum.”

“The only wild beast around here is you, Annachie.”

Sara shook her head to erase the memory. “Who is the Beast?”

Ocelina stared at Sara, her mouth agape. “Where have you
been? He is only the greatest gladiator in the Empire. He has never been
defeated. I’ve heard that he often refuses to kill his opponent, even if the
sponsor of the games tells him to, unless the man is so maimed the Beast knows
he will not live. Or, only if he has to, to avoid being killed himself. I
wonder what he’ll do if the emperor orders him to kill someone.”

There was something Sara had never heard of—a gladiator with
principles.

Ocelina leaned close to Sara and, behind her hand, she said,
“And they say he fights naked.” Lina giggled. “I have never seen a naked man
before. Have you?”

Yes, I have, Sara thought.

“Why were you naked when my father’s soldiers brought you
here?”

“My people fight naked to show the enemy that we do not
conceal a weapon.”

Again, Sara fought back the memories. He must be dead.
Slaves do not live long in the arena, nor under Septimius’ care.
Do not
torture yourself with thoughts of things that cannot be.
She chose not to
answer Ocelina’s last question, saying instead, “That can’t be true, Lina. He
must protect his…his genitals in some way.”

Ocelina giggled again. “A pouch, Sara, only a leather pouch.”
Then she sobered. “But they also say he is quite ugly.”

Sara breathed a sigh of relief. It isn’t him, she thought,
for he is not at all ugly.

By this time, they had come to the great portals of the
Coliseum. Statues of the gods loomed in the arches above them, and the canvas
awnings rippled in the morning breeze. Sara and Ocelina made their way down the
short flight of steps to the area reserved for the six Vestal Virgins, the
priestesses of the goddess Vesta. Unfortunately for Sara, their seats were just
above the high wall separating the arena itself from the spectators. If she had
a mind to—which of course she didn’t—she could almost reach down and touch the
heads of the fighters. She wished she could move much higher up and farther
away. Or better still, stay home in the shaded, peaceful garden in the
Casa
delle Vestali
, the House of the Vestals.

Soft cushions had been placed on the hard stone bench for
them to sit upon. They took their seats and waited for the emperor’s entrance.

Before long, with a flourish of trumpets, he made his
entrance. The roar of almost fifty thousand spectators seemed to shake the very
stone beneath Sara’s feet. Antoninus Pius turned to his left and right,
saluting the crowd. The Vestals, senators, and other dignitaries bowed to him.
When Sara raised her head, Antoninus nodded to her.

She was not surprised that he remembered her. She thought
back to the one and only time she had met him…

* * * * *

“Your daughter is a bit long in the tooth to become a
Vestal, Quintus.”

Sara stood before the emperor, her hands clasped together in
front of her, staring at the floor.

“Yes, Sire,” her father replied, “I know she is. But I ask
only this for the service I rendered to you and to the Empire while in
Caledonia. I would be forever in your debt, Sire.”

“And you are sure she is a virgin?”

Sara’s face burned with shame. She would never forget the
feel of the aging physician’s fingers inside her, probing and poking, and
finally asserting her virginity. She knew instinctively that the man’s
examination had taken longer than necessary.

“It has been confirmed by a physician, Sire. I have the
letter here.” Her father handed the emperor a small roll of parchment.

“Why not arrange a marriage for her then? I can think of any
number of men who would jump at the chance to join your family, Quintus.”

“She is…scarred, Sire. From an attack by a boar.”

“Quintus, Quintus, you are trying my patience now. You know
that a Vestal must be unblemished, in every sense of the word.”

“I know that, Sire.”

“Then I am sure we can find her a husband who would not be
choosy.”

Sara held her breath. Her father knew what would happen if
he forced her to marry.

“Sire, there is another reason I-I beg you to let her join
the Temple.”

“Yes?”

She heard the tears in her father’s voice as he replied,
“Since the death of her mother, she is all I have left. I do not want her to
try to kill herself again.”

With that, Antoninus consented.

* * * * *

All in all, the emperor was a kind man. Sara only wished
that he did not require her attendance at the games.

Almost as soon as Antoninus took his seat in the royal box,
the trumpets sounded again and the chariot parade began. It was custom that the
sponsor of the games led the parade, and Sara felt a chill run through her when
she saw who it was—Marcus Septimius, the slaver to whom her father had given
Annachie. Oh, how she hated the sight of him. What had he done with Annachie
after he took him away? she wondered. What did Annachie have to suffer in all
the years since he and she were parted?

Sara scanned the group of men closely. Annachie was not
among the fighters. Was that a good sign or a bad one? If Septimius was here,
but Annachie was not, had the slaver sold him to someone else? Or was he… Sara
would not let herself think of that possibility.

The chariots now stretched around the arena, a sea of golden-uniformed
charioteers and purple-cloaked gladiators. The gold embroidery on the
contestants’ cloaks caught the rays of the sun, as they stepped down from the
chariots and approached the emperor’s stand.

As one, the thirty men cried out, “
Ave, imperator, morituri
te salutant
! Hail, emperor, greetings from men about to die!” Then the
stars of the day left the stage.

The slaughter would begin later in the afternoon, but for
now, the spectators had to be warmed up.

First, came the
paegniarii,
the mock-fighters who
shed no blood, but whetted the appetites of the crowd. Then came the
lusorii,
who fought as gladiators did, but used only wooden weapons. Sara could tolerate
these displays, but she knew the worst was still to come.

As the day wore on, the sailors stationed at the top of the
arena pulled the massive awnings across the seating area of the Coliseum to
shade the spectators below. It provided some welcome relief from the hot sun of
Junius, but Sara longed to leave and return to her cool room in the temple. She
knew the day was far from over.

Criminals were brought into the arena and tied to stakes,
with raw meat hanging from a rope around their necks. Then big cats from
faraway lands—tigers, lions, leopards—were released and, attracted by the meat,
tore the hapless men apart. While the bloodlust from their meal was still on
the animals, gladiators-in-training entered the ring and methodically
slaughtered all of them, and any criminal who might still be alive.

After this, the spectators took a break for a light meal.
Sara could not eat a mouthful. It sickened her just as much to see those
beautiful animals killed as it did the men…and the occasional woman.

Finally, the gladiators themselves came out on the floor of
the arena. They gathered before the emperor again and drew lots to see whom
they would fight. But there was one man among them who was dressed in a simple
toga, not as a gladiator.

“Ocelina, who is that man? Do you know him?”

“Yes, he is a trainer of gladiators, Milonius Bato. Strange,
he is drawing lots with the men who will fight, instead of his gladiator. I
wonder why that is. Sara, do you see the Beast anywhere?”

“Considering I don’t know what he looks like, how could I
tell?”

“I told you, he’ll be naked.”

“Well, I don’t see anyone there who is naked, so perhaps the
advertisement was wrong and he is not fighting today.”


Merda
, I wanted so much to see him.”

“Ocelina! Such language.”

And once again, the bloodshed began as the day dragged on.
The orator announced the names and nicknames of each gladiator as they took to
the floor of the stadium. The African Avenger, Jupiter’s Hammer, The Germanic
Warrior, The Terror of Gaul. The crowd cheered for their favorites and booed
the opponents. Some of the fighters hissed or made rude gestures to the spectators,
which always brought a laugh or a raucous rejoinder.

Finally, there was only one match left. Sara could almost
feel the crowd’s eagerness as muted conversations began all through the arena.
Even the emperor was leaning forward, seemingly in anticipation.

Three men entered through the gate below the emperor’s box—just
one of the gates that led to the underground cells in which the
slave-gladiators were kept before their fights. The first man Sara saw was
Marcus Septimius. Sara felt sick at the sight of the man. He was still the fat,
slovenly pig who had come to the fort in Caledonia looking for slaves. He had
asked Sara’s father to let him marry her. Thankfully, her father had said no.

The second man was the trainer she had seen earlier. The
third was the trainer of a renowned gladiator who would be one of the
contestants in the last match of the day. The three men all turned to face the
emperor’s box, bowed, and, as all the other trainers had done throughout the
day, conducted the
probatio armorum
, the testing ceremony. Marcus
Septimius presented the weapons the last pair would use, then each trainer
tested the other’s deadly instruments for sharpness or weight. They seemed
satisfied that all the weapons were lethal enough, for they nodded before they
went back through the gate to the cells.

Again, the trumpets sounded and the gate clanged open. The
orator introduced the first gladiator to enter—Terranus, The Scourge of
Sardinia. Sara had seen him in the arena many times and he always won his
contests. Sara shuddered. Even from this distance, the man frightened her. He
was so big and scarred, and so very dangerous to his opponents. Sara pitied the
man who would have to go up against him in the next few minutes.

The crowd jumped to its feet, wildly cheering or booing. The
orator raised his hand for silence, and waited for the spectators to settle
down. Then he announced the final opponent of the day. “Citizens of Rome, I
give you the Beast of Caledonia!”

Caledonia!
That is what the Romans called it, but
Annachie’s people called it Pictland.

It was too much of a coincidence and Sara held her breath,
waiting.

A man entered, tall and muscular. His long, sun-streaked
hair flowed down his back. He was completely naked but for the leather pouch
Ocelina had described attached to a thin leather strap around his waist. Sara
noticed more than a few women around her eyeing appreciatively his tight, round
buttocks…as she found herself doing too.

She tore her gaze away, upward to his broad, strong back.
Scars crisscrossed his sun-darkened flesh. The gods only knew how many times
the man had been whipped. The memory of her father’s soldiers whipping Annachie
came back to her in a sickening rush.

Then the man turned around. The roar of the crowd brought
Sara’s mind back to the present. The spectators were all on their feet,
cheering wildly. Sara was glad, for it meant that the gasp she gave could not
be heard above the din. She was on her feet too, but for a completely different
reason.

Annachie!