God, don’t let this happen!
The sound of ropes stretching and the cries of hungry animals carried through the arena. Aquilus watched in horror as the trapdoors opened in the amphitheater. Roars of starved beasts hung in the now still air as the spectators held their breaths for the show.
The trapdoors seemed to open too slowly for the beasts. A lioness - the largest the legate had ever seen - burst into the open air, roaring and opening her lungs to the sky. Her mate leaped up after her.
On the opposite side, oriental wonders exposed themselves. Aquilus had only heard of the striped cats- he had heard they were called ‘tigers’. Three of them sprinted out of their cages, much to the joyous uproar of the stadium.
The prisoners and common folk who had been sentenced to this death screamed and attempted to run, much to the motivation of the beasts. The starved lioness was the first to capture a prisoner and the first to eat. As the crowds cheered, Aquilus groaned and closed his eyes.
“Watch,” snapped Thracius. He grabbed the prince by the chin and pointed his head down into the stadium. “Watch this.”
Aquilus hatefully obeyed.
The old were weeded out by the beasts. They corralled the prisoners like sheep, nipping at their bodies to intimidate them. Quite intelligent, they were, thought Aquilus, and yet, still barbaric. The smallest tiger’s skin scraped across her ribs each time she breathed. He could see the desire for food in her every move. One by one, scream by scream, the arena grew bigger, as did the beasts’ stomachs. Aquilus wanted so dearly to protest, to run from it, but he was frozen. Thracius didn’t watch the show but rather the reactions of the prince, his eyes narrowing.
In the end, Scaevola was left over.
The Vesus had been kneeling nearer to the wall, his hands folded before him, his head bowed down, while his fellow prisoners were fed to the beasts. Now, both lions and all tigers were filled. They were peaceful now, sauntering and mewing like innocent housepets. They paid no attention to the last man in the arena and began playing with each other, biting at ears and wrestling across the sand.
The masses booed at the bad sport. Workers in the arena guided the animals back to the trapdoors. They were brought down and closed off from the world again.
The next set of workers grabbed the captain and threw him in the central position so that the arena could jeer at the coward. Scaevola looked up from his prayers, bewildered and traumatized. Aquilus wondered if he observed tears fall from his face. Was he glad he was alive or was he despairing that he didn’t die? What would be going through his mind?
Pompeius’s eyes widened slightly. “Is Scaevola the only one left?” he sputtered. “Seems those beasts don’t like the tough meat on a Vesus, eh?”
Aquilus looked up at Thracius, whose brow contorted. He was angry- no, raging - behind his small grunt of disapproval.
Cassian, on the other hand, bristled with discontent. His face darkened as he turned away from the balcony. “What sport that soldier carries,” he growled. “There must be more animals.”
Thracius allowed his head to cock in silent thought. He faced the corridor leading out of the balcony, where a silent slave stood, bald head angled down until he was given orders. The slave, feeling the penetrating eyes in him, bowed slightly, as to avoid the evil gaze.
“Tell the cage keepers that I’d like to see starving animals fight,” he growled.
The slave nodded once and left the box.
Aquilus abruptly stood. “This man has gone through enough,” he protested. He waved an arm towards the arena. “Shall he suffer worse punishment for his supposed crime?”
“‘Supposed crime’?” huffed Pompeius. “The Christians are just itching to smite the Romans.”
The prince frowned. “What do mean by that?” he asked carefully. “They’re just peaceful-”
“Do you know what those Christians say?” Cassian barked. “They call their Jesus, that lunatic, their Lord. The King of Kings. What shall you defend when they overthrow our emperor?" He shook his head in resolve. "No man is the King or Lord except for our emperor.”
Aquilus did not believe it. He was already wary of the Christians, as a Jew, but he did not want otherwise innocent blood to be spilled over a belief. He turned back to the arena, where Scaevola knelt again.
It seemed that God wasn’t delivering either of them.
God will deliver me, thought Scaevola. He knew with all his heart that this wasn’t the end. The angels were with him.
He knelt slowly, as the screams of the masses droned into wet echoes in his mind. He closed his eyes and folded his bloodied hands.
“Our Father,” he whispered, “Who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy Name! Thy Kingdom come, Thy Will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.”
Howls of starved creatures emanated from the trap doors, alarming Scaevola of his fate. He opened an eye quickly, spying the wooden slabs open again, allowing him a gaze at a giant, bristle-furred black dog. Another brown one followed, both foaming at the mouth and growling insanely. Yellow eyes glowed above sharp, ravenously gleaming teeth, snouts curled in ferocious anger.
Scaevola’s heart thudded against his chest. He cautiously stood, a sheep in the midst of wolves. His legs shook underneath him.
The sheep had nothing to fear with the Shepherd by his side, he thought.
“Give us this day our daily bread,” he continued, his eyes pointed heavenwards, “and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors-”
Something urged him to look to the viewing box. Where the emperor would have been seated was the Prince Aquilus. In his mind’s eye, the captain found it almost a perfect match for him. How his blood boiled at the sight of him who did nothing.
But he softened.
God worked in unknown ways. If Aquilus had protected him, he would not have been in the arena, surrounded by hungry dogs, awaiting his execution as they stalked ever closer. His Lord, his Jesus, was calling him Home, and in the last leg of the race to the Gates, how could he remain unhappy?
He smiled at his killer.
“And lead us not into temptation,” he cried, “but deliver us from evil!”
The dogs were prompted on by the sudden noise. They sprinted towards him in long, sinewy strides. In the last moments, he heard the shouts of the crowds rise above the dogs.
“Lord, into Your Hands, I commend my spirit,” he whispered.
This chapter is very choppy because I had rounds of editing to do, but it just didn't flow the same way. The ending is supposed to be very sudden, taking into consideration he has just died. My favorite chapters are coming up shortly!