Liberty by Kim Iverson Headlee Genre: Historical Romance
How hard would you fight for a chance at love across a vast social divide?
“Epic.” ~ Drue’s Random Chatter Reviews.
Betrayed by her father and sold as payment of a Roman tax debt to fight in Londinium's arena, gladiatrix-slave Rhyddes feels like a wild beast in a gilded cage. Celtic warrior blood flows in her veins, but Roman masters own her body. She clings to her vow that no man shall claim her soul, though Marcus Calpurnius Aquila, son of the Roman governor, makes her yearn for a love she believes impossible.
Groomed to follow in his father’s footsteps and trapped in a politically advantageous betrothal, Aquila prefers the purity of combat on the amphitheater sands to the sinister intrigues of imperial politics, and the raw power and athletic grace of the flame-haired Libertas to the adoring deference of Rome's noblewomen.
When a plot to overthrow Caesar ensnares them as pawns in the dark design, Aquila must choose between the Celtic slave who has won his heart and the empire to which they both owe allegiance. Trusting no man and knowing the opposite of obedience is death, the only liberty offered to any slave, Rhyddes must embrace her arena name, Libertas—and the love of a man willing to sacrifice everything to forge a future with her.
The door shut with a terrifying clang.
“Sir!” She clutched the cold bars, failing to bleed the raw panic from her tone.
The guard paused with the key in the lock.
A hundred questions clamored for release. Every one started with, “Why?”
He frowned as if trying to discern what she’d asked. She wasn’t sure herself. “Why the lock?”
’Twould do, for a start. She nodded.
He scrunched one shoulder. “Lanista Jamil’s orders.” He twisted the key. The lock engaged with a loud click. “For all warriors—gladiators. And you, Gladiatrix.” He withdrew the key, hooked the ring on his belt, and stepped away.
“May I know your name, sir?” It felt ungodly strange asking that of a captor, but she hoped to reclaim a hint of humanity in this inhumane place into which the gods had thrust her.
“Vederi,” he said without breaking stride.
He had disappeared from sight before she realized he hadn’t bothered to ask her name.
So much for humanity.
She sank onto the cot, head in hands and heedless of the straw poking her thighs through the mattress’s canvas cover, and sobbed out all the rage, fear, despair, and grief that had harried her for the past fortnight, feelings pride had forbidden her to show the soldiers or the slaver or her new owner or his servants or even that pampered Roman—especially him—denying them all the chance to wield those emotions against her. Pain as visceral as a blade’s thrust sliced into her gut. She dropped to her knees and pressed her cheek to the wall, painting it with her tears and pounding the cool slate with the heel of her hand.
“Da, how could you!”
Each futile thump knelled like another nail driven into the coffin housing the remains of her freedom.
Kim Headlee lives on a farm in southwestern Virginia with her family, cats, goats, Great Pyrenees goat guards, and assorted wildlife. People and creatures come and go, but the cave and the 250-year-old house ruins--the latter having been occupied as recently as the mid-twentieth century--seem to be sticking around for a while yet.
Kim has been a published novelist since 1999 with the first edition of Dawnflight (Sonnet Books, Simon & Schuster) and has been studying the Arthurian legends for nigh on half a century.
In September 2000, British archaeologists announced an extraordinary find: the cremated remains of a wealthy young woman buried in a Roman-era paupers’ cemetery on the south bank of the Thames, outside the perimeter of AD second-century London. The ossuary was remarkable for its eight oil lamps, bearing gladiator and Egyptian motifs; evidence of an exotic feast that included almonds, dates, and figs; and traces of stone pine incense from the cones of trees that grew nowhere in Britain save for the grounds encircling London’s amphitheater. The “Great Dover Street Woman,” as the London Museum archaeologists prosaically named her, was either a gladiator’s aristocratic consort or else a superstar gladiatrix in her own right.
I chose the latter interpretation and gave her a story.
Carbon dating placed Great Dover Street Woman’s remains at about a hundred years earlier than I depicted, coinciding with the rebuilding of London’s amphitheater following a cataclysmic fire, and at about the same time as the opening of Rome’s Flavian Amphitheater, or Colosseum, as it quickly came to be known. Since I wanted to show an emperor who wasn’t a raving megalomaniac, I employed literary license to set Rhyddes’s story during the early reign of Emperor Marcus Aurelius and the governorship of Sextus Calpurnius Agricola.
Contemporary inscriptions show that Agricola was responsible for refurbishing an eastern section of Hadrian’s Wall, and Roman lighthouses were built along Britain’s northeastern coastline at approximately the same time. If those lighthouses weren’t Agricola’s idea, they should have been.
Other historic personages in Liberty include the emperor’s wife, Empress Faustina, and their son, Prince Commodus—who did not grow up to murder his father, as shown in Russell Crowe’s movie Gladiator, although Commodus did enjoy fighting as a gladiator in later years and became arguably the worst of Rome’s megalomaniac emperors.
The Greek physician Galen of Pergamum received his professional start treating gladiators and cured Commodus of some unspecified childhood disease; I selected chicken pox, with complications. As a result, Galen became Emperor Marcus Aurelius’s physician in Rome during the precise period depicted in Liberty. Galen’s prolific medical treatises, which have proven to be about 80 percent accurate by present-day standards, including essays about the dangers and avoidance of infection, formed the vast bulk of the Roman world’s medical knowledge. Healers continued to consult them well into the medieval era.
My major written source for gladiatorial research was Gladiators and Caesars, edited by Eckart Köhne and Cornelia Ewigleben, University of California Press, 2000, and my research was supplemented by various television documentaries, produced by the Discovery Channel and History Channel, and aired between 2000 and 2004. For everyday details I found the Handbook to Life in Ancient Rome by Lesley Adkins and Roy A. Adkins, Oxford University Press, 1994, to be indispensable. My research into the history and cultures of British Celts and Picts spans more than twenty-five years, and those sources are far too numerous to mention.
But, educational nuggets aside, my primary goal with Liberty was to create a story that inspires as well as entertains. Observed the newspaper reporter who interviewed James Stewart’s character, Ransom Stoddard, at the end of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance:
“When the legend becomes fact… print the legend.”
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