Against the Dark Ones: Gladiator
A short story by T.S. Dickson
I remember laughing.
I always laughed when daddy ran holding me close to his chest. I had my chin on his shoulder, and I laughed with glee as the wind blew my hair, daddy’s run bouncing me rhythmically. I was happy. He would run and then lift me high in the air, and we would spin around, and we would both fall in the snow and laugh and laugh and laugh.
Except this time, he didn’t stop running. He kept on running, avoiding the trees and the stumps in the forest, his breathing becoming louder and louder. I giggled, I was happy, daddy was close, and I was in his strong arms. I squeezed my tiny arms around his neck and snuggled close against the cold.
When I opened my eyes, I saw the horse behind us. It came out of the night, out of the darkness of the forest. It was a white horse – white like the snow – with bright red eyes that seemed to glow in the darkness. It was hard to see it through the dark trees, tall and black: a white shadow moving through the black forest, a white shadow on the snow. It was closer now, and I could see its breath misting in the cold. I could see the stars through the trees, the bare branches covered with ice.
I could see the rider. He was tall and thin, like the trees, and like the trees he was also dark.
I remember him lifting a stick high over his head. It looked like a tree branch, bare and knotty. I remember the whistle as he swung the club and the thumping noise when it stopped.
I remember daddy spinning around and falling. We rolled in the snow, and I laughed and laughed. That was when the dark man got off his horse. He walked over to me and looked down at me with his steel grey eyes. I was suddenly very frightened of the dark man. Daddy didn’t move. I tried to get up; I cried. Daddy would protect me. I knew daddy wouldn’t let the dark man do anything bad.
Why wasn’t daddy moving? Why wasn’t daddy breathing?
It was a long, long time before I ever laughed again.
“Move!” yelled the gateman, an older man missing a leg, and the gong rang once, low and long, to announce it had begun. I ran through the low stone arch. The dry sand crunched under my boots, and dust rose up from my feet as I ran. The leather harness that served as my armor was stiff, but it would loosen soon as I sweated. The mace was heavy in my left hand, and in my right I carried my shield, wooden with a steel boss in the center of its oval surface. I glanced down at my leather.
It was red.