Remember the simple days of very early childhood, when your mom told you to walk ten miles to the Macellum, slaying poisonous snakes along the way, fighting off gangs of roving bandits or wild bears, and finally getting fermented fish for the family, while clearly specifying “NOT ROTTED”?

Gods, how that terrified me to my core, having to say “not rotted,” knowing that the vendor might tell me to speak up or not mumble.

Having been recently captured by the Romans and forced to be a gladiator totally against my will, I'm reminded of that tender young boy at the market. I have to repeat an oath, you see, in front of all the other gladiators: “I will endure to be burned, to be bound, to be beaten, and to be killed by the sword.”

I just get so nervous, so convinced that I'll reverse “beaten” and “bound,” or forget to say “by the sword,” and all the guys will laugh at me. I bet Crixus (afraid of heights and the number XIII, by the way) or Oenamus (generalized anxiety disorder) are nonetheless ready to pounce on every missed word of mine.

At least, I assume they are, when I'm not holding myself in kindness.

Also, I obsess. Like that day I beat Tetracarpopcellus to a pulp and stepped on his face, when the crowd willed me to stab him repeatedly, and then finally between his shoulder blades deep into his heart for its last unholy beats? Literally all I could think about was how weird it sounds if you repeat “to be” multiple times in a sentence: to be beaten, to be burned, to be killed…. Say it enough and it sounds like one, bizarre word.

I’m almost blushing here just thinking about it.

Escaping with Spartacus was a no-brainer—frankly for a lot of reasons, not only the oath—but the Romans have caught us. They keep going on and on about death and torture and the usual. My mind wandered, but I snapped right back to reality when they said we have to identify Spartacus.

No way will I do that. First, it’s really uncool. Second, what an embarrassing spotlight on yourself. This whole capture and punishment thing is shaping up to be just incredibly awkward. But then it got even worse.

“I’m Spartacus.”

“I’m Spartacus.”

“I’m Spartacus.”

One after the other, everyone started speaking up. Standing up too!

It was all just as cringe-y as when you are at the Forum and you aren’t sure whether to give a standing ovation, and some are sitting and clapping, and some have stood up, and at some point no matter how hard you clap and no matter how much you think you are taking a stand against grade inflation by remaining seated, if you don’t actually stand up, then you’re a total asshole.

There's no choice. I have to say it. I can't be that asshole, but I don't want to speak. What if I mess up the line, the tone, the tense, the name? “I was Spartacus,” “I would have been Spartacus,” “You’re Spartacus but what am I,” “I'm Martacus.”

What if I lose control? “I'm Spartacus, and my mom ruined my life,” “I like to dress in women’s tunics,” “Toes are funny.”

Gods, some of those things aren’t even true! My brain is just panicking, like the time I was put against the human giant Atilicuspiculusistanipus with the metal spiked gloves, but this is much, much worse!

It’s almost my turn.

WHAT IF I AM TOO LOUD AND THE ROMANS SAY “YOU DON’T NEED TO SHOUT ABOUT IT?” WHAT IF I AM TOO SOFT AND THEY ASK ME TO SPEAK UP IN FRONT OF EVERYONE?

Mentally, I'm back at the Marcellum.
I'm nowhere.
I'm terrified.

I’m rising. This will be over soon and I will safely be back at the arena, fighting to the death. Please please please let this be over soon.

“I’m Spartacus.” My heart is pounding. Did my voice rise? Like, “I’m Spartacus?” I think it did. Did it squeak? I’m too sheepish to look around to see if anyone is staring at me in a funny way. My ears are red.

I just need to think soothing thoughts of self-care, like surely I will be killed soon in a brutal way. Just breathe.


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