Gladiator and tiger

gladiator and tiger

Kamirtad woke up in a cage where he was locked up like an animal. He had his sword and armour with him but what of it; he was still doomed. On his arm, bloody and swollen, was a fresh tattoo: “Gladiator”.

“Hello,” said a voice in his head.

At first, Tad thought he was going mad from thirst, fever, and the noise coming into his prison from the outside where people enjoying the bloody spectacle yelled at the top of their lungs. But no, the voice that had greeted him didn’t go away. It repeated, “Hello. I’m a prisoner here, like you.”
Tad looked around. The only prisoner here beside him was a giant tiger in the nearby cage. The beautiful beast sprawled on the floor in a thin slanted ray of sunlight coming from some crevice above.

“Yes, I’m a tiger,” said the voice. The big cat’s intelligent brown eyes met Tad’s for a moment. The man felt so small under the tiger’s gaze. He tried to imagine fighting that beast. He wouldn’t stand a chance.

“It’s so hot here,” the tiger complained.
“Yeah…” Tad sighed. “I had no idea tigers could talk, especially the way you do: with your thoughts.”
“I’m the last one,” said the tiger, his voice a sad melody in Kamirtad’s mind. “My name is Rayis.”
“It’s an honour to meet you, Rayis. I’m Kamirtad… just Tad for my friends,” the young gladiator fell silent, not knowing what else to say.
“So, Tad. I’m going to lose to you today.”
“I’m tired of living like this. It’s pointless… I want to leave this world. And you… live as long as you think it’s worth it, Kamirtad.”
“No matter what they throw at me, I’ll survive. And one day, I’ll escape!” Tad promised, passion in his voice.
“How brave! I admire that,” said the tiger, his sadness still as strong and melodic as before. “But no, you can’t escape. There’s a little demon in your throat. Didn’t you know they bind them to us gladiators? Well, they do. This thing has one job: to throttle you if you try to run away. There is no escape.”

Silence followed.

“Oh boy, say something…”
“Don’t give in to me, Rayis,” said Tad in a resolute tone. “I promise I won’t either. Yes, we are trapped and can’t escape but there, on the arena, we will be at least free to choose how to die. I want to die like a warrior.”
“True words, Kamirtad…” Rayis nodded. Something changed in his voice as he said that and in his eyes as well.

There were no turnkeys and gaolers here, only a hidden mechanism that opened the doors when someone was ready to enter the arena. When the time had come the rusty cogs clanked and creaked in the walls, rattling the chains and lifting the grates up, and a separate passage opened for each competitor.
“See you on the arena, my friend,” said Rayis as he headed towards his.

Tad walked his path with a heavy heart. It’s one thing to fight a wild beast, it’s a very different thing to fight a person, someone who shared his name with you, someone who is as intelligent and brave as you are. Tad wondered whether Rayis felt the same, whether they would be able to fight each other at all… But Rayis’s first jump shattered his doubts to a thousand smithereens.
Kamirtad’s armour didn’t help him much. The tiger broke his shield with the first hit, knocked the helm off his head with the second one, crushed his breastplate with the third.

Since Rayis was no mere wild beast but an intelligent creature he knew what a sword was and how to deal with it, so he acted accordingly. The giant tiger wasn’t just strong and fast, he was smart. Kamirtad stood no chance against such an opponent.

The fourth hit broke his ribs, the fifth set him flying. Tad fell on his back and couldn’t get up. In fact, he could barely breathe: the broken ribs hurt his lungs every time he tried to gasp for air; the world was a blur of red and blue - blood and sky - before his eyes; and faces, he glimpsed faces in the blur, faces of the friends he had lost in the war. He was dying.

Knowing this, Kamirtad stopped struggling; he closed his eyes, he let the world fade from his mind. He had almost been out of here, free of life and pain when he felt the pressure of someone else’s will. Rayis. He reached the dying man’s mind again. It was clear what for...

“Rayis, no! Don’t give in!” Tad thought as loud as he could for he was so weak he could not speak.
“What for? I am the last of my kind,” he heard the answer.

It lasted only a brief moment. The will of the dying man submitted, broken, he felt another mind, Rayis’s mind, giving him a command he could not disobey. Tad’s hand grabbed the hilt of the sword again and raised the bloody blade up, aiming at the white fur at Rayis’s chest.
With the last jump, the tiger fell on the blade and clenched his teeth on Tad’s throat.

“Free…” both warriors thought in unison. The unspoken word flashed and faded like a falling star.

He was free. The pain was no more and his body was as light as a feather. Tad felt himself raising in the air, in utter silence and saw the arena growing smaller and smaller below. His dead body was there, bloody, broken, crushed under the body of Rayis.

It was over. He had nothing else ahead of him but freedom, lightness, and serenity.

Tad wanted to see Rayis one last time, tell him something, even if it would be just a good-bye, but the tiger was nowhere to be seen.

“Don’t animals have souls?” thought Tad and the thought hurt him like no sword ever did. “No, of course, they do. They just don’t go the same way we go after we die…”

(July 16, 2003)

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English is not my native language.
If you see an error or a typo, please, tell me. I will fix it.