In The Wolf Girl peasant girl Leandra is sold into slavery by her family and finds herself struggling to survive in the hard life of a slave. By a series of twists she is cast into a gladiatorial arena where she survives. Gossin, her owner, and Olkrolji, Gossin’s gladiator trainer, begin to groom Leandra for life as a gladiator. But the life of a gladiator is even more desperate and complex than that of a slave.
Extracted from pages 58 & 59 –
Leandra glanced across the sand at her only surviving compatriot. He was walking again, and had reclaimed his sword and a shield as well. The pair found themselves on opposite sides of the arena with the hagwolf between them, backed up against the slave’s gateway. The two slaves began to trot towards the beast at the same time. Leandra definitely had a smile on her face this time. She was no longer playing the game alone now; to die together with someone else felt surprisingly good. As she and the swordsman built up speed rushing in, Leandra was pleased to be on the monster’s blind side again, although now the hagwolf swung its head from side to side, trying to keep sight of both attackers. She gathered her steps to slow her approach while keeping on the run, timing it so that the beast’s head would be looking away when she arrived. This would be a good tag, she told herself and she planned to get very close. Her timing was right and she flicked her hand out just at the moment she turned her steps to run back away. She felt her fingers grip the broken spear haft and the weapon tore free with a rush of fresh blood as she retreated. Leandra waved her spear in her hands like a trophy and the crowd’s response reached a new elation. They cheered and several of them cried out “Wolf Boy”, spontaneously dubbing her with a new title. Even Gossin leapt to his feet with the excitement of the crowd, becoming entangled in the silk awning over his head. He threw the annoying cloth off himself with a muttered curse in the direction of his house-slaves. As he did so he noticed Olkrolji waving and shouting something. He could not make out what it was over all the cheering.
Leandra’s compatriot did not fare as well as she. When he charged in he arrived first and it was he that the hagwolf met head on. Also, he did not try to escape quickly, as Leandra had, but rather had thought to take the beast on. He led with his sword and left a wicked slash across the hagwolf’s shoulder. The beast was not finished however and it swatted at the slave fighter with one of its huge paws. As the man staggered backwards, the hagwolf’s jaws locked about his shield arm. Although the shield took the damage from the long teeth, the hagwolf started to shake him violently and his shoulder dislocated with a loud crack. Before he could recover from the pain the hagwolf released its bite and then bit down again, this time seizing him about the neck and shoulders, slashing open his throat. Now only Leandra was alive in the arena with the wounded but still dangerous beast. The hagwolf began to circle about her, while she stood poised, facing the creature as it moved around.
This is the real test, she thought to herself. This was the game at its purest. They would soon see who played the best. She kept her recaptured spear close to her body and tried to hold it as her brother had told her, even though it was now far too short. For a time it seemed as though the beast might not attack and that thought surprised and disappointed Leandra. She had not suffered through all of this to not have her moment. All day people had been telling her to die with honour and now was the time for that. She lost patience with the beast and screamed at it.
“Come on you!” she cried and followed that with an inarticulate snarl. Her mad courage pleased the crowd most of all and they began chanting; “Wolf Boy! Wolf Boy!” With a bellow much less powerful than before, the hagwolf leapt at Leandra.
I’ll tag you first, was all that she could think as the beast barrelled towards her. It was no longer as strong as it had been and its leap did not carry it the whole distance. It landed badly on its wounded side and fell forward. For her part, Leandra did not move or dodge; she only held onto her broken, iron-headed weapon. The force of the hagwolf’s fall impaled its head on the little spear, the point thrusting deep into the brain pan, through the torn roof of the creature’s upper jaw. Leandra was knocked backwards, tumbling in a spray of sawdust. Red clumps of dirt and wood shavings, wet with recently shed blood, were sent flying by her sprawling limbs. For a moment the crowd stilled and everyone, Olkrolji and Gossin included, leaned forward to see if she was alive. When she stirred and finally pushed herself up to a sitting position, the crowd took up the chant again, “Wolf Boy! Wolf Boy!”
Olkrolji turned back to Gossin and tried to shout his message one last time. Gossin strove to hear, curious about his slave trainer’s excitement. A sudden shudder went through the hagwolf’s body and a low, dying growl came from its mouth. The crowd hushed in excitement, thinking that perhaps the battle was not yet over. At that very moment, in the unexpected quiet, Olkrolji’s voice rang out like a clarion.
“It’s not a boy; she’s a girl!”
The hush became total silence as the crowd stared at Leandra, sitting in the dust. They were trying to determine the truth of this shouted revelation. There was a moment of uncertainty and then from the crowd a voice cried, “Wolf Girl!” and the chant began anew.
“Wolf Girl! Wolf Girl!”
The chanting continued as the Prepators came onto the arena floor to collect the bodies and put sand and sawdust on the blood. One of them led Leandra by the hand, out of the sun and back into the Preparatory. She followed limply. Gossin stood up in his place and indicated to his attendants and to Olkrolji to follow him. Then he left the stands and went to reclaim the best investment he had made in years.
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