Betrayed by her father and sold as payment of a Roman tax debt to fight in Londinium’s arena, gladiatrix-slave Rhyddes feels like a wild beast in a gilded cage. Celtic warrior blood flows in her veins, but Roman masters own her body. She clings to her vow that no man shall claim her soul, though Marcus Calpurnius Aquila, son of the Roman governor, makes her yearn for a love she believes impossible.
Groomed to follow in his father’s footsteps and trapped in a politically advantageous betrothal, Aquila prefers the purity of combat on the amphitheater sands to the sinister intrigues of imperial politics, and the raw power and athletic grace of the flame-haired Libertas to the adoring deference of Rome’s noblewomen.
When a plot to overthrow Caesar ensnares them as pawns in the dark design, Aquila must choose between the Celtic slave who has won his heart and the empire to which they both owe allegiance. Knowing the opposite of obedience is death, the only liberty offered to any slave, Rhyddes must embrace her arena name—and the love of a man willing to sacrifice everything to forge a future with her.
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Thank you for visiting us today. We understand that you have quite a tale to tell. Let’s start with a few questions about you, and then you can tell us about the book.
1. Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I am Rhyddes ferch Rudd, which in your tongue means Freedom daughter of Red. The blood of ancient Celtic warriors flows in my veins, though I am a farmer's daughter by the circumstance of my birth.
2. How did you first meet your writer?
My bones were discovered by some men and women of her era, almost two millennia after I was laid to rest. Because of the wealth of gladiator-themed grave goods buried with me, these people surmised that I must have been a popular gladiatrix. But it was Kim Headlee who unearthed the details of my story for all to read.
3. Do you sneak into your writer’s dreams?
Most certainly, though oftentimes I find the realm quite crowded with many other folk with whom I am not acquainted.
4. Did you ever think that your life would end up in a book?
What is a book?
5. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I would have a tighter rein upon my tongue, which often buys me more trouble than I can afford.
6. We’d love to hear about your setting. Where and when is it and what makes it special?
My life spans much of the reign of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, one of a very few men ever to claim that title who did not abuse his power for personal gain. When my lover Aquila came to me with news that this man was in danger, I could see the loyalty and respect—and concern—in Aquila's eyes, and for that reason alone I chose to help him protect his sovereign, even though I cared not who ruled and who died in that gods-cursed empire.
7. Tell us about your journey. What are your goals and what obstacles stand in your way?
More than anything—even more than my freedom—I yearn to be Aquila’s equal. As a foreign slave in an empire where citizenship stands paramount, where an arena fighter such as I can only be considered the equal of other gladiators, actors, undertakers, and whores, this goal seems impossibly remote. Aquila has declared that he would renounce his aristocratic status, wealth, and power for me, but I cannot in good conscience allow him to destroy himself on my account.
And yet the gods have granted the impossible to other mortals. I pray that I am worthy to receive such a boon from them, for surely divine assistance is the only way for Aquila and I to bridge the social chasm that separates us from a lasting future together.
8. Without revealing too much, what is your favorite scene in the book and why?
While fighting in the bowels underneath the massive Flavian Amphitheater, better known to you as the Colosseum in Rome, I chanced upon the bestiary. My odious owners were unfortunate enough to be there too. I am certain the tiger enjoyed the hunt, especially its conclusion, though I daresay I enjoyed it even more—even though it placed me in peril of my life. I shall leave it for you to imagine the details of what I witnessed in that dark, dank labyrinth and beyond.
9. Do you like the way the book ended?
Does a cygnet enjoy shedding its scruffy plumage to become a sleek adult swan? Of course it does; don’t be an asinus!
10. Would you be interested in a sequel, if your writer was so inclined?
If I understand your meaning correctly, you refer to the telling of another tale. My beloved brother Owen shall be the focus of such a tale, along with the woman whom he is destined to rescue, love, and marry—despite the fact that her people and ours are blood enemies.
11. Did you help your writer come up with the title or do you know how this title was chosen?
The title of my tale is Liberty, the word in your language that translates to the Latin word Libertas, my arena name, which I adopted since Rhyddes is too difficult for the Romans’ stiff tongues.
12. Thank you for stopping by and letting us get to know you.
And thank you for taking the time to converse with a lowly gladiatrix-slave. I earnestly pray the association shall not bode ill for the preservation of your social status.
Marcus Calpurnius Aquila sprawled on his belly across the cushioned and linen-draped marble massage table, his head, arms, shins, and feet jutting over the table’s padded edges. As the male slave worked eucalyptus-scented unguent into the aching muscles, Marcus could feel the tensions of combat seep away.
Too bad the man couldn’t work out the knots in Marcus’s relationship with his father, Sextus Calpurnius Agricola, governor of Britannia province.
Citing “official business” yet again, Agricola had declined to witness Marcus’s gladiatorial bout in Londinium’s amphitheater this afternoon. His opponent had fought well, causing Marcus in his scanty armor to work up a sweat that, judging by the reverberating high-pitched cheers, had all the women swooning with delight.
Never mind that Marcus, who fought under his cognomen, Aquila, the Eagle, remained a perennial favorite with the crowd. Agricola never missed an opportunity to point out that his arena exhibitions—and the resulting private liaisons with adoring female spectators—flirted with the precipice of social acceptability and could damage Marcus’s political aspirations.
Kim Headlee lives on a farm in southwestern Virginia with her family, cats, goats, and assorted wildlife. People & creatures come and go, but the cave and the 250-year-old house ruins—the latter having been occupied as recently as the mid-20th century—seem to be sticking around for a while yet.
Kim is a Seattle native (when she used to live in the Metro DC area, she loved telling people she was from "the other Washington") and a direct descendent of twentieth-century Russian nobility. Her grandmother was a childhood friend of the doomed Grand Duchess Anastasia, and the romantic yet tragic story of how Lydia escaped Communist Russia with the aid of her American husband will most certainly one day fuel one of Kim's novels. Another novel in the queue will involve her husband's ancestor, the seventh-century proto-Viking king of the Swedish colony in Russia.
For the time being, however, Kim has plenty of work to do in creating her projected 8-book Arthurian series, The Dragon's Dove Chronicles, and other novels under her new imprint, Pendragon Cove Press.