It had been a long journey for her. She had thought she left the Hippodrome behind—but her life’s road had travelled in a circle after all, and all the choices she had made when faced with a crossroads in her path seemed to have conspired to lead her back here, back to the arena, back to the shadow of the four great banners snapping above the gate.
Maxentius would go in. He would have to. She, Callidora, had left him no other way.
And it would be the Hippodrome that would pay the price of the wrath of Empire, her people, the people who had been lured into the game of kings without being aware that the stakes, for themselves, were higher than they might have been willing to pay.
Usually the arena itself was the preserve of the men—but these were not ordinary times. Callidora knew her tribe. This would have been heady wine for the Hippodrome folk. Men would take their small sons into the Hippodrome and hoist them on their shoulders, to show them the new Emperor in the Kathisma—but this involved everyone, men and women alike, the dancers and the acrobats would be out in force and even those women who ordinarily shunned the glare of the open arena might be there that night—because these weren’t the races, nor the games, these weren’t amusements for their menfolk to place bets on and squabble over and cheer from the stands. This was one of those moments when the world came to the Hippodrome, when the Empire brought its glory to the arena, and the people were made aware that without them, their support, their approval, the Empire could not exist.
Maxentius’s response would have to be swift, now—and brutal. When his soldiers went into the arena, they would not have time to care who was falling underneath their swords.
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