Jan 2001 IML Challenge - "Gladiator"

Bellicus studied them as he and his men pushed and prodded the two
new inmates into Menas Maxius' dungeon-prison. He loved new meat
and enjoyed proving who was the slave and who was master. These
two, with their smug confidence and ease of transition, would be a
challenge. They were outwardly tough but, as all slaves came to
know, they had weaknesses. Bellicus relished the thought of finding
what lay hidden underneath. He wanted to know their faults and
what it was that would not only make them squirm but break their

The little guy was no problem. Bellicus decided he could read him
easy. A smart mouthed pretty boy. He'd shut him up and spoil those
good looks in the process. His men, bullies all, would love every
minute of blondie's impending torture.

The big guy was harder. He couldn't read him quite as well. It didn't
matter. Bellicus knew he'd have him on his knees, a lash to that
brawny back, in no time. Rankus, his first lieutenant, would be
accepting bets on how long it'll take for a guy his size to pass out.

Gods, Bellicus loved his work!

Once again, with malice, Bellicus propelled Pretty Boy forward.

"You shove that thing in my back once more you'll end up wearing

When the opportunity presented itself Bellicus jumped into action.
His whip's stock crashed into the face of Pretty Boy, effectively
breaking his nose. Then a boot to his jaw sent the defenseless
prisoner into a their cell. He lay unconscious, flat on his back, on the
straw strewn floor.

Now the big guy ... An interesting expression there. He reacted but
held back. Suddenly, teeth gritted, he was wearing a mask and
throwing up barriers. Bellicus could sense the big guy was
*thinking*. Of what he didn't know. Part of him didn't care.

Hercules: "We'll have to discuss this later." he stated calmly.

Bellicus could see it in his eyes. Fear, anger ... No. *Rage*. It was
held in check. Smart boy. Maybe he wasn't as impulsive as the runt.
Perhaps this slave was learning already that no one escapes from the
prisons of Menas Maxius. Those who try end up hurt, even worse
than his friend.

But somehow Bellicus knew something was different here. He didn't
become captain of the penitentiary guards by taking everything he
saw at face value. Intuition was an important part of his job, as well
as being intimidation.

He watched as the big guy, shoved into the cell, turned -- purposely
not looking down at his injured companion. His face was stoic. Such
disinterest. It could only mean one thing. He was very worried, upset
and and ached to do the opposite. He wanted to go to Pretty Boy and
help him but feared that open sympathy to his pal's plight might
cause blondie more physical pain in the long run.

And he would be right,

Bellicus nearly grunted a laugh. He and his buddy would look great
battling each other to the death in the coliseum. Menas Maxius
would like the irony and so would his tart-wife, Postera. And, of
course, she'd end up bedding the winner. Maxius pretended not to
notice but everyone knew her penchants for men like these two
capable studs.

Bellicus moved away from the cell and thought about the the rock
quarry the following day. He'd do something to test his theory
further ... Maybe give one or the other a good whip to the back.
Personally, he wanted to see the big guy's reaction again. Then, if it
served his purpose, Bellicus would tell stories to his employers.


"Iolaus." Hercules knelt beside his partner and gently shook him.

He quickly glanced over his shoulder to make sure the prisoners
were still eating and the guards were looking the other way.

"Come on, buddy. Open those eyes."

Iolaus' pale eyelashes fluttered slightly and he suddenly groaned. A
hand moved immediately to his face, "Oh .... ouch." he grimaced.

With one hand, Hercules took his partner's arm and helped him up,
to sit on the lone cot their cell was furnished with. With his other
hand he rip a section of filthy fabric from a pillowcase, "Here."
Hercules passed it to Iolaus.

The hunter took the cloth and gently pressed it to his nose, sopping
up blood. He felt dizzy for a spilt second but it eventually passed. He
then focused on the worried demigod in front of him, "What
happened?" he muffled through the cloth.

Despite matters Hercules could not help a light hearted chide, "You
were being Iolaus again."


Again, Hercules looked over his shoulder, glancing at the other
slaves and the guards. You couldn't be too careful in a place like this.
"Iolaus, we have to keep our distance." Hercules murmured
seriously, "A place like this has eyes."

"Hunh?" Iolaus brow furrowed, "Eyes? What eyes?" He pulled the
cloth away and looked at his own blood. Yuck.

"We're going to be watched, Iolaus. I can see that. If we slip up, show
that we're more than casual friends ..."

Iolaus suddenly nodded. He understood. If they showed they loved
each other like brothers to the guards, or anyone in this place that
wanted to strike a good deal with Menas Maxius, they were doomed.
"I'll try hard not to be affectionate." Iolaus nearly smiled and, if it
wouldn't have hurt, might have laughed at Hercules double take.

"Seriously Iolaus, they'd like nothing better than to see us connect
swords. We can't let that happen ..."

" ... or we'll both end up dead. I *do* get it, Herc." Iolaus completed
his partner's thought."No problem." Then, "Hercules, why don't we
just find Gladius and bust our way out of here? We can take the
other prisoners with us."

"I thought of that but we don't know enough yet. Some of these men
may actually deserve to be here. We can't just take them out, set
them free and hope they won't murder a family when they reach the
next city." Hercules shook his head back and forth, "We need more
information so we're going to have to stay put until we're sure this
place is all Felicita said it was."

Iolaus gingerly dabbed at his nose, "You think she was lying?"

"No, but she wants her husband to see his son. She might have
stretched the truth to get our help." Then, a bit more thoughtful,
"And there's a lot more at stake here than even that. If these men are
being held against their will, having already served their time, it
becomes slavery and has to be stopped -- at every level."

Iolaus sighed. He'd thought as much. Like Iolaus, Hercules hated
anything to do with slavery. "You don't just want to stop it, you want
to cure it. How?"

"We'll worry about that later."

Hercules stood when he heard Bellicus reenter the prison area and
demand the prisoners stop stuffing their faces. Their dinner hour was
over. Eyeing Iolaus, Hercules moved to the opposite end of their cell.
It wasn't far but he felt more comfortable.

*Later, Iolaus*. he thought, *I promise I'll make this up to you

Iolaus seemed to sense what his friend was thinking and nodded
indulgently in his direction. *Forget it*, Iolaus said without words, *I
already have*.

Space separated them. The situation separated them. However, like
all true brothers, they would never be apart.


January 2001