Spartacus - Swords & Ashes

Spartacus fans, lend us your ears! At the end of this month, the good folks at Starz will unleash the next chapter in the blood-soaked, mostly nude and dirty saga that is Spartacus. The show has moved on from the untimely death of star Andy Whitfield, who passed in September of last year due to Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Even though Whitfield is gone and dearly missed, the production did find a way to finish a second series, Spartacus: Vengeance, picking up right where Spartacus: Blood and Sand left off. And to celebrate this return, Titan Books is publishing a companion book, “Spartacus: Swords & Ashes.” They were so kind as to send us two exclusive excerpts from said book, so we thought we’d share them with you. It requires you to do a little extra reading, but it does include plenty of cursing.

About “Spartacus: Swords & Ashes”

Spartacus is the hit TV show which combines blood-soaked action, exotic  sexuality, villainy and heroism. This original novel from the world of Spartacus: Blood and Sand tells a brand new story of blood, sex and politics set in the uncompromising, visceral world of the arena. The gladiator Spartacus, the new Champion of Capua, fights at the graveside of a rich man who was brutally murdered by his own slaves. Seeing an opportunity, ambitious lanista Quintus Batiatus plots to seize the dead man’s estate. In the arena blood and death are primetime entertainment. But not all battles are fought upon the sands…

Read exclusive excerpt one:

The hillside was cloaked with cypress trees, old and young, reaching to the sky like tall, green fingers. Below, the streets and houses of Neapolis stretched toward the distant sea. Above, the slopes continued ever higher, as the hill became the dark, ashen mountain that loomed above Neapolis like a permanent shadow.

The scent of pine wafted. As the trees bowed in the wind, they sometimes revealed the bright white of stone memorials, glimpsed for the briefest of moments before the limbs sprung back into place.

Slaves placed cypress branches against the stack of dry wood, while others carefully slipped rolls of cinnamon or cassia wood into the gaps between the logs and straw. They set final, greener branches against the sides, putting the workmanlike bonfire kindling out of sight, creating the impression of a green, growing altar in the middle of the hillside forest. With each gust of wind, the branches shifted slightly, making it seem as if the altar could breathe.

The slaves turned to other activities. They swept the ground clear of pebbles. They fiddled with the line of lit torches, deliberately incongruous in the daylight, that stretched toward the road into Neapolis. And they studiously ignored the men who were picking through a pile of outsized, burnished armor.

“We are to be attired as warriors of the north, it seems. Cimbri, perhaps, or Teutones,” Varro said.

“And these warriors from the north, they wear helmets such as these?” Spartacus mused.

“I believe so.”

“Believe? No wonder the gods did not favor them.”

“Your meaning?” Varro asked.

Without warning, Spartacus leapt at the tall roman, grabbing his newly donned helmet by one of its prominent horns. Varro stumbled backward in surprise, but Spartacus had him in a firm grip, dragging his helmeted head down into the dust as if he were wrestling an ox.

Varro hit the ground with a whoosh of air, and did not even attempt to struggle from the hold, instead raising the two fingers of submission. The slaves with brushes and torches looked up momentarily from their labors, and then returned to work as if the fight had never happened.

“The horns serve no purpose,” Spartacus said coldly. “There is no way for you to employ them in combat, and even if you did, they are blunt to the point of futility. But to an opponent, they offer secure purchase. Absent the defence of your sword-arm from the front, these horns offer your foe a handle by which to drag you down.”

“Very well!” Varro protested in an anguished growl. “Your point is made. Let me go.”

Spartacus climbed nimbly to his feet, holding out a hand to help up his friend.

“The costumes are chosen for us,” Varro said. “I cannot choose my armor.”

“Indeed,” Spartacus agreed. “But you can choose how to wear it.”

He drew his sword from its scabbard and carefully began sawing through the leather chin strap.

“Have you lost mind?” Varro asked, scraping the worst of the black Neapolitan dirt from his frame.

“I do not wish to enter battle unprotected,” Spartacus said calmly. “But I can aid its removal if pulled with sufficient force.”

He held it up for Varro to see. A neat nick in the chinstrap left it only half as wide as it once was.

“I suggest you do the same,” Spartacus continued.

Varro nodded, unsmiling, with the calculation of a man in search of any advantage.

“You are cunning, Thracian,” he said. “No ordinary man would think to win victory by losing that which is to protect him.”

“My only thought, to stay alive,” Spartacus said.

Their fellow slaves from house Batiatus, the swarthy Galatian Cycnus and the jet-black Numidian Bebryx, watched their chatter sullenly.

“You would do well to listen to the champion of Capua,” Varro said to them quietly. “Or die with closed ears.”

Bebryx sucked thoughtfully on his teeth, peeling them back from his lips with a contemptuous smack. Cycnus also said nothing, fussing instead with the straps of his armor.

“Please yourselves,” Varro said with a shrug. “But mark well our opponents.”

He jerked his head across the clearing toward a second group of gladiators, picking through a pile of antique roman swords and shields. The others followed his direction.

“Why are there but three of them and four of us?” Cycnus asked.

“Their fourth marches in the procession itself,” Varro explained. “The freedman Timarchides, friend to the deceased.”

“Does this mark advantage?” Spartacus asked.

“A freedman will not seek true danger. He has too much to lose.”

“Strike him with flat of sword and see honor restored?” Cycnus suggested with a grin.

Bebryx sucked on his teeth again, and looked away at the trees warily, as if expecting the wood itself to come for him.

“But he is a freedman,” Spartacus said, “in a house of gladiators.”

“What is your meaning, Thracian?” Varro asked.

“He is not a weak-willed patrician, thinking of wine and the next banquet,” Spartacus said. “He is a gladiator so proficient that he received the wooden sword. We fight a man skilled enough to fight his way to freedom.”

“Oh,” Varro said quietly. “Fuck.”

Read exclusive excerpt two:

Spartacus and Varro stood back to back, the two of them still facing four opponents. At their feet, Bebryx moaned in pain, his hands grasping the blood-wet spear in his shoulder.

“The odds fall out of favor,” Varro muttered.

Spartacus said nothing for a few moments. He glared in turn at each of the men who faced him as he and Varro spun in small circles.

“I have won victory against worse,” Spartacus muttered. Cackling, Cycnus’s killer drew close to Spartacus, his sword arm outstretched, his other hand held far away from his body.

“Mark the others,” Spartacus said to Varro. “I am for this one.”

The man stopped laughing, but still drew near, his eyes staring deep into Spartacus’s own, his arms held wide, presenting a tantalizing target.

Spartacus feinted, watching his opponent’s left arm twitch in response to an attack that never came.

Spartacus smiled to himself, and lunged for real.

The man darted to the side, his left arm coming up to grab at the horn of Spartacus’s helmet, tugging savagely down as he had done to the luckless Cycnus. But the helmet came off clean in his hand, throwing him off balance, sending him tumbling back onto the grass, his arms crossed protectively over his body, warding against a blow that never came.

For Spartacus had immediately wheeled and plunged his sword into the neck of one of the other attackers, a man who had been too busy watching the scuffle to parry an unexpected blow. The crowd roared.

While Varro railed against the remaining two, keeping them at bay, Spartacus turned back to the fallen man, who was struggling to his feet.

Spartacus kicked away his sword arm, dropping to his knees on the man’s bicep, cracking the bone even as he lifted his sword to strike downward.

His victim tried to ward off the blow, shoving the stolen helmet in front of him. Spartacus’s sword glanced off its curves, missing the man’s face, but plunging deep into his chest.

The sword was stuck fast. Spartacus wasted no time wrenching it free, instead he snatched up his victim’s Roman sword—and that of the other fallen opponent.

Now it was two against two. His paired new swords threshing in an unstoppable onslaught, Spartacus cut and slashed against his remaining opponent, pushing him back under a hail of blows, forcing him perilously close to the mounting flames. The man stumbled against the edges of the pyre, pushing up a cloud of red embers that danced in the smoke around the fighters like angry flies. There were choking coughs from among the crowd of onlookers, but few dared to give up their place. Ilithyia retreated, one hand over her mouth, another clutching at her hair, but among the rest of the crowd, there was barely a rustle.

Varro was face to face with Timarchides. The two men shifted, each sizing up the other. Timarchides made to thrust with his sword, revealing it as a feint only at the last moment, as the edge of his shield shoved up toward Varro’s face. Varro darted to the side, spinning so as to wheel upon the Greek with the full force of his sword, wielded with two hands.

Beside the pyre, the heat of the flames stung Spartacus’s flesh. He saw his adversary struggle and shift as the warmth infested his armor plates. Sweat poured from their bodies as the two men labored against the heat like blacksmiths in a furnace. Spartacus’s opponent flinched, and the Thracian saw his moment, driving forward with both swords, shoving the other man back into the flames. Parallel, his twin swords rammed through the gaps in his rival’s shoulder armor into the vulnerable flesh, traveling straight through his body and sticking fast in the burning logs.

The flames leapt up, crackling along the hairs on Spartacus’s arms. he let go his grip on the two hilts, stumbling back from the shimmering heat as his opponent began to scream. Pinned to the heart of the fire, the man struggled to pull at the blades, even as the flames caught on his hair and in the padding beneath his armor.

“SET ME FREE!” the trapped gladiator yelled. “FREE ME!”

Backing away, his eyes still on his victim as though he was hypnotized by the grim sight, Spartacus tripped into a sitting position. He stared open-mouthed at the other gladiator’s dreadful torment. The man screamed for mercy, pleaded in vain for the gods to save him even as Vulcan claimed him.

“Finish him!” Verres shouted angrily.

Spartacus looked back at Verres, and saw him animatedly giving the signal for execution, even doomed man shrieked for merciful death.

The eagerly awaited new series of Spartacus, Vengeance, premieres January 27 2012


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