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Was it strange, that he now almost enjoyed going to see gladiator games in the arena? Alexius used to be the one standing there. The crowd had cheered for him once, he had won so many times that they named him a champion. He had a reputation for killing and surviving, for putting on a good show and entertaining the crowd. And sometimes in the nights, he could be found entertaining men or women at the local taverns, when he went out to have a little fun of his own. Either they were brawls or a good lay. Or both.

But everything had changed since then and Alexius had too. He was a freedman and although he sometimes had considered returning the life of a gladiator, he hadn’t done it yet and now he had an actual job and a lovely mistress to care about. Was he falling in love? He wasn’t sure. But he knew he cared for her for more than just sex. He enjoyed spending time with her. And he grew jealous by the thought of her marrying someone else… even though he assumed it would happen anyway.

It wasn’t exactly the easiest relationship he had ever been in, but he admired her and how could he not? Alexius enjoyed more or less any woman who’d enjoy him, even the sweet and innocent damsels in distress... but he had always had a certain liking for strong and independent women. His first love, Achillia, had been such a woman. He hadn't seen her in years, but how could he forget such a gorgeous gladiatrix who could fend for herself?

Nowadays, there were still gladriatices. And he'd seen them and there was one especially who’d caught his gaze. Her name was Thessala and he’d not seen anyone like her in years! Man could she swing a blade and smirk afterwards with blood sprayed over her face in the most stunning way… he was curious about what she was like as a person and had decided he would meet her. Just because... well, he could! Alexius still had contacts in the world of gladiators and ludii, so one day after a fight in the arena, he was allowed back into the old and dark corridors underneath the arena. He only had to pay a few coins to be allowed, and it was more for show than anything else.

Thessala would have been shown to a room of her own, probably unaware of whom she would meet. Gladiators and their female counterparts were often sold to wealthy romans for fun – he’d been through all of that too, once. But that wasn’t why he would meet her. He simply wanted to meet a gladiatrix who knew what she was doing. The guard led him to the right door and unlocked it for him and Alexius was allowed in. There was a faint light in the room and he glanced around, wondering which corner she was hiding in. And by the gods, he hoped they'd paid attention to what he said and had not put her in chains. He never liked that. He doubted she did.

@Chevi

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Contrary to what people believed, a gladiator's performance did not begin and end at the arena's gates.

(Well, it did if they died. Obviously.)

On days when there way a fight, Thessala summoned up her witch self early, and walked into the arena ready for a show. Once that show was over, she knew she had other, more private but not less theatrical duties. Most gladiators did. She was valuable enough that hers usually were hand-picked and carefully monitored, but even if she got to choose a lot of her lovers in her free time, no one was going to let her forget that the Ludus owned her, and the Ludus was supported by generous patrons. Some just wanted to meet her. Many of them wanted other things. All of them wanted the Witch.

Thessala stood carefully poised in the corner of the room when the man walked in. He was easy on the eyes. The gladiatrix let out a low chuckle, taking a step towards him, making it obvious that her hands and clothes were still blood-stained (they did take the weapons, though). She tilted her head with a bird-like motion.

"Well well, look at you." she drawled, looking him shamelessly up and down "Enjoyed seeing me dance out there? Ever seen a Thessaly witch up close before?" she took another step, and now she had to look up at him "I wonder what you want... curse? Good luck charm? The secret to changing into someone else?..."

@Atrice

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Alexius was no wealthy and generous patron to the ludus; he was simply a former gladiator, who apparently couldn’t leave his old life behind still. Back then, he’d wanted freedom so badly, he’d fought well in the arena, he’d put on a good show and he had won and survived – only to gain the lost freedom. Then he gained it, saw the life of the ludus from the other side, tried to leave it entirely… and now more than ten years later, he was still drawn towards his old life. His days of glory. It’s one of those cases where you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.

That’s why he came to see the gladiators fight and even the females, of course. He’d love a gladtriatrix once. She was even going to give him a child… but then she lost it and they lost each other, maybe because of that. It was long gone in the past now, but that didn’t make the female gladiators any less interesting. And Thessala here was fascinating! She had her own style and she owned it so well.

The light in the room was faint, but then she came towards him. Not chained, which pleased him. Her hands and clothes were blood-stained, which was oddly alluring, when it was a gladtriatrix that looked like that. She looked him over in that certain way, coming closer and he inhaled a breath… you’re just here to meet her, Lexus. Just here to talk to her. That’s all, that’s the plan. But Gods… how does she do that?

“I admit I don’t think I’ve seen a Thessaly witch up close… not that I see a witch, but I know that’s what they want to see.” He gestured to the arena above them somewhere and tried to force himself to focus on her fighting skills rather than her seductive skills, although they were good, “You fight really well… it’s been a long while since I’ve seen anyone like you. I guess I just wanted to compliment you. On your fighting skills, of course. You must practice hard.” Gods, seriously, how did she do this to him? Every word that escaped his lips felt like they had two meanings. He didn't plan for them to have that, but they did, didn't they?

@Chevi

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The man looked at her with appreciation, although with a bit of surprise. It was always different, seeing a gladiator up close and personal, rather than in the arena from above.

“I admit I don’t think I’ve seen a Thessaly witch up close… not that I see a witch, but I know that’s what they want to see.”

Oh. Thessala chuckled, glancing up. He thought he was special. Like they shared a secret of her not being a real witch. While there were many people out there who believed her, or at least wanted to err on the side of caution, most of them at least suspected that she was not from Thessaly at all. 

“You fight really well… it’s been a long while since I’ve seen anyone like you. I guess I just wanted to compliment you. On your fighting skills, of course. You must practice hard.” 

Thessala chuckled again as he tripped over his own words. "Oh I practice very hard." she grinned, enjoying keeping him off balance like she did with her opponents. She absent-mindedly wiped some of the blood from her hand on her short tunic. "Fighting is not what I usually am first complimented on, however... not by men like you. Are you a soldier?"

@Atrice

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How could he not look at her with appreciation? Thessala was as glorious right now, as she was in the arena. He couldn’t say he wasn’t enjoying seeing her fight, both with her skills and her looks. Now that he saw her up close, that was a whole other experience though and he was realizing too late, that maybe he shouldn’t have done this. He knew himself by now, he knew how he was like. How he’d been ever since he learned about sex and pleasure and how good that felt.

She chuckled at his first words, looking up at him, and then he went on to compliment her fighting skills, but it all came out wrong. It seemed that only with Oriana was he good with words. Most of the time, he wasn’t. Alexius had always been a man of action, not a man of words. That’s what made him such a good gladiator and bodyguard now. That’s why the life of a lanista wasn’t quite what he was made for at all.

She told him she practiced very hard (of course she did) and then luckily, before he could reach out and touch her, she picked up on what he had been trying to start as a conversation. He had been following her hand that had wiped blood off in her tunica, and shortly considered what she looked like without the tunica… but now, she’d asked him a question, and he shook his head at it.

“Gods no, I’ve never been a soldier. Maybe if I hadn’t ended up here… but I did.” Alexius said, “I ended up here, in fact. I was a gladiator once. I know what it’s like. That’s why I said I don’t see a witch. I see a quite skilled gladiatrix. I definitely see why you’re so popular. Hopefully so popular you may be free one day.” Alexius, as a freed gladiator and slave, had discovered that he could give some hope to those still enslaved. Those who lost hope that they might one day experience freedom... and why wouldn't he want stunning Thessala here to hope?

@Chevi

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He used to be a gladiator.

The mask of the Thessaly witch dropped with an almost audible sound. Thessala slouched forward, letting out a loud sigh, and resting her hands on her knees.

"You used to be a gladiator?! Jupiter's ass, you should have led with that!" she look up at him with a mix of amusement and accusation. There was no need to keep up the charades in front of someone who knew the drill inside and out. Thessala straightened up, stretching her arms and popping her shoulders. The fight had ended in a bit of a brawl, which was good for the spectacle, but did a number on her muscles. "That last throw hurt like a bitch. Do you want some wine?"

@Atrice

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Thessala suddenly changed expression entirely. She let out a loud sigh and seemed to relax right in front of him, as if she became a different woman. And then she told him why - because now she knew he used to be a gladiator. Alexius couldn't help but chuckle when she said he should have told her right away, "Apparently I should... gods, you're good, I would not have guessed that was an act. Quite the temptress you are! I guess the patrons drop on their knees to worship you within a matter of moments?" He suggested, because well, if he hadn't had Oriana, that's what he could easily have done. If he'd been wealthier and had paid to see her because he desired her and not just because he wanted to have a chat with a skilled warrior. 

She seemed to relax, stretch a bit now in his company and then began talking about the fight and then mentioned wine. 

"I'd be stupid to say no to that." He said, how could he say no to wine, honestly? He'd always been quite fond of it... but honestly he was more curious about her than the wine, although he'd of course gladly have a drink or two with her, "It's kind of strange to be back here." He said, looking around in the simple looking chamber, "How long have you been fighting... how many years?" 

@Chevi

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Even dropping the act was kind of a part of the show, if the look on his face was any indication. Thessala chuckled. It was much better to spend time with someone who knew the Ludus than with some dumb rich man who wanted to grope a witch.

"Apparently I should... gods, you're good, I would not have guessed that was an act. Quite the temptress you are! I guess the patrons drop on their knees to worship you within a matter of moments?"

Thessala chuckled, moving over to a small table to pour some wine.

"Depends on the patron. Believe it or not, some actually come here to ask me to curse someone. Or give them back their... vigor." she rolled her eyes, filling two cups with wine that was only barely watered down. Fight like a barbarian, drink like a barbarian.

"I'd be stupid to say no to that. It's kind of strange to be back here."

"I bet" she grinned, handing him one of the cups "Did they sell you to rich patrons too, back in your day? I bet you were popular. What's your name again?"

"How long have you been fighting... how many years?" 

"Four, give or take." Thessala splashed some wine on the ground. Successful fights did not happen without being respectful to the gods. She drank the rest with efficient speed. "You?"

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She chuckled at his surprise, when she dropped her act of being a tempting witch rather than a woman who was skilled with swords – actual swords, that is. He commented on her act and wondered how the patrons treated her. She chuckled again and he found that he liked this Thessala even more, the one who was relaxed and able to be genuinely amused. She explained how they actually believed her as a witch and Alexius laughed too, “Well at least those you won’t have to fear so much.” And at least she had more in her than just being a good gladiatrix who’d be a good lay for the patrons afterwards.

He watched go to pour the wine, and soon enough she handed one to him. He commented on how it was strange to be back and Thessala wondered how it was like for him back in the day, “They did. Some things haven’t changed at all.” Alexius replied, “I’m Lucius Antonius Alexius now. Before I was freed, I was known as Lexus. It’s over a decade ago though.” He didn’t know if any current gladiators knew his name or was familiar with him. He’d been quite the fighter and survivor back then, he was famous for it and had quite the good reputation as a gladiator. But then he was freed.

He downed some wine too, while she explained how long she’d fought, “Well-spent four years then – you’re still alive.” He said with a wink, and added, “I was a gladiator for about ten years. And I fought hard, to survive … to live long enough to find freedom. Now I work as a bodyguard.”

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“Well at least those you won’t have to fear so much.” 

"I don't fear any of them" Thessala shrugged, raising her chin, and moving to refill her cup "But some of them are definitely disgusting."

He had to know, having once been where she was now. She wondered if it was better or worse, for men to be sold out like this after a fight. Sometimes she had female patrons visit her as well, usually for advice on the secrets of magic. Or men. Or both.

“They did. Some things haven’t changed at all. I’m Lucius Antonius Alexius now. Before I was freed, I was known as Lexus. It’s over a decade ago though.” 

"I might have heard that named mentioned before. You look good for a gladiator your age. Very... alive." Thessala grinned at him. She was taking her time with the second cup of wine.

“Well-spent four years then – you’re still alive. I was a gladiator for about ten years. And I fought hard, to survive … to live long enough to find freedom. Now I work as a bodyguard.”

There were various career options for the lucky few that made it out of the arena alive. Probably more for men than women, Thessala mused. She arched an eyebrow when the confessed he was working as a bodyguard now.

"Bodyguard? Quaint." she chuckled, finally taking a seat "Does it pay well? Are you guarding someone who actually gets attacked from time to time, or are you mostly for decoration?"

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He gave a smile, when she said she didn’t fear the men who came to see her and sleep with her – and she only found some of them to be disgusting, “As long as it is only some of them, you’re lucky.” He said. Alexius had most often been sold to men after the fights; men who had some desire to prove that they could conquer even a gladiator as great as Alexius had been. There had also been women and among those had been Gaia, whom he still adored to this day, but most of them weren’t that memorable. It was just a part of what he had to do, back then.

He explained to her his name now and then and she said she might have heard the name, which made him smile widely once more. And then she even went on to compliment him further, something he’d always liked, “Thank you, Thessala. You don’t look too bad yourself.” His tone was almost casual, friendly, but the playful wink gave him away. She definitely looked a lot better than bad! Alexius noticed how she drank fast and he used to like his drink as much as she did now. Sometimes getting drunk made it seem less bad to be a slave and forced to fight and forced to submit whenever their patrons pleased.

Alexius told her how long he’d fought for and that he now worked as a bodyguard. This caused her to comment on that of course, wondering about the pay and if he even got to guard the person he was with, “It pays well enough. And my current mistress gave me my own chamber and bed in her house. So I have a home and I get paid; it’s a good deal.” He explained. It wasn’t that often he slept in his bed though and he couldn’t say he was upset over that. Oriana's body was divine; she was divine. He went on answering her question though, “I haven’t had to really defend her before. Or, well, she wanted to test my skills in the beginning, so she paid some thugs to attack us. They fought well… but I didn’t know that it was all a plan, so I ended up killing the attackers. I like a good fight.” He said with a grin, he’d been so upset that night over her setting him up like that, but now it was just another memory and not all that bad, “She often moves in parts of Rome that are less safe though, so I’m there just in case something happens. You never know in this city.”

@Chevi

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“Thank you, Thessala. You don’t look too bad yourself.” 

Thessala smirked and tipped her glass to him. At least he knew how to be entertaining. Which probably went well with his current line of work.

“It pays well enough. And my current mistress gave me my own chamber and bed in her house. So I have a home and I get paid; it’s a good deal.”

"I bet it is" Thessala grinned. Mistress indeed. Some rich Roman matron got herself a sweet deal, hiring a handsome veteran gladiator to be at her beck and call. Many of these women never went anywhere near places where they would have needed actual protection, but who was she to deny them life's small luxuries?

“I haven’t had to really defend her before. Or, well, she wanted to test my skills in the beginning, so she paid some thugs to attack us. They fought well… but I didn’t know that it was all a plan, so I ended up killing the attackers. I like a good fight. She often moves in parts of Rome that are less safe though, so I’m there just in case something happens. You never know in this city.”

"Or women" Thessala added with a sage nod, only part sarcasm. "Sounds like you cost her quite the pretty sum. Smart woman, though, testing the bodyguard she hired." she crossed her legs, shaking her hair out from the ties that held it up "So how is freedom treating you? Ever miss the arena?"

@Atrice

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In fact working for Oriana was so much more than a good deal, but Thessala didn’t need to know that part. Alexius knew all too well that Oriana preferred to keep their affair and crush a secret and he wouldn’t betray her in that part. He’d promised her that she could trust him and he would do all he could to keep that promise. Instead he told Thessala some more about how he’d defended Oriana that one time, when she set him up. And he’d also been upset that night, when he found out that he didn’t have to kill those guys. But she never tried to stop him. And afterwards, it was a good fight. It felt like being back…

And then of course Thessala asked about that. She named Oriana smart and wondered if he missed the arena. Alexius had gone to lean against a wall close by where Thessala sat, so that he could watch her and relax like she did. He doubted any of the other guests she had here let her relax like this… but he wasn’t here to force her to please him. He was just here to talk. That was the plan. And she seemed to be pleased with that.

“Do I miss the arena? Why do you think I come here… to watch the fights and to meet you?” He asked and downed his wine and went to pour some more, “Do you know what it’s like to long for something most of your life… but then once you gain what you wanted, it wasn’t what you hoped it would be. At the moment I’m more satisfied with my life than I’ve been in a long time, but there has been times when I considered going back to the arena.” Alexius confessed. He’d never told Oriana this, but he also wasn’t sure if she would understand it… Thessala here however, surely she'd understand such things. So he continued, “And who knows, if life turns upside down again someday, maybe I will. Do you desire freedom?” He then wondered, he kind of assumed all slaves did, but there were those who were just fine in their position. Who didn’t expect freedom and didn’t hope for it.

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“Do I miss the arena? Why do you think I come here… to watch the fights and to meet you?... Do you know what it’s like to long for something most of your life… but then once you gain what you wanted, it wasn’t what you hoped it would be.”

"Can't say I do" Thessala smirked. She had been sold and then sold again; the ludus was the best place she'd ever been in, but it wasn't a dream she worked to achieve... it was just something that happened to her, by the grace of the gods. And now her new goal was to be famous for what she was good at. Apparently Alexius had other dreams, but he was not completely satisfied with them.

“At the moment I’m more satisfied with my life than I’ve been in a long time, but there has been times when I considered going back to the arena.And who knows, if life turns upside down again someday, maybe I will. Do you desire freedom?” 

Thessala tilted her head, sipping her wine as she thought about the question in earnest. 

"Yes. Kind of. On the one hand, I wouldn't have to do this anymore" she motioned at the small room "Not you, obviously. You are alright." she added with a chuckle "But to be honest, if someone gave me my freedom tomorrow, I would probably stay in the Ludus. I enjoy fighting. And I'm good at it. I could do with more freedom to... wander the city, though, if you know what I mean."

@Atrice

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His dreams had not been satisfied; that was an understatement. When he was first freed, he of course still worked for his former Dominus and was given the job of lanista at the same ludus he used to live in. And it hadn’t been a good thing. The gladiators didn’t like seeing him in such an elevated position and on top of that, numbers and words weren’t his strong things. Oh and being diplomatic and having a tongue of silk… no, that wasn’t Alexius. Germania wasn’t what he’d hoped for either and his marriage failed because of his too strong desire for pleasure.

It felt nice though, talking to Thessala, although she of course didn’t really know what he talked about. He wondered for how long she’d been a slave; since childhood, like he had been? But he didn’t know. Instead he shared that he had considered going back to the arena and then wondered if Thessala desired freedom.

She seemed thoughtful and then said she kind of desired it, but mostly because she wouldn’t be set up for meetings like this one anymore. Although she said he was alright and he grinned, “I’m glad you think so.” He replied and raised his cup to her and had a drink, while she continued. She enjoyed fighting more than she longed for being free, she thought.

“You’re not allowed out? You should make some deals… I went out quite often for a night on the town. Had my drinks, a bit of fun and maybe a brawl and usually a satisfying finish to the night.” He said with a wink, she’d understand what he meant, “It’s nice, to not be a slave. To not be owned… that part, I don’t miss. No one owns my body and no one has the control over whether I live or die. No one but me anyway.” Alexius said and downed his second cup, then looked up at her again, “Apologies if I’m too curious.”

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“You’re not allowed out? You should make some deals… I went out quite often for a night on the town. Had my drinks, a bit of fun and maybe a brawl and usually a satisfying finish to the night.”

Thessala smirked as he refilled his cup. It was nice to talk to someone honestly, especially at this part of the evening, when she usually had to put up with patrons gawking at her, or trying to grope her. She scooted over on the bench she was sitting on, allowing him space to sit as well.

"Oh, I am allowed out. Not as often as the men, but... well, I'm popular." she grinned "And it's easier to make those deals with the female patrons. Everyone's got their nerves all up a bunch about a gladiatrix getting pregnant, you see..."

“It’s nice, to not be a slave. To not be owned… that part, I don’t miss. No one owns my body and no one has the control over whether I live or die. No one but me anyway.”

That must have been a nice feeling.

"That's what it feels like in the arena, isn't it?" she nodded "In that moment, it's all up to me whether I survive or not. If I'm good enough, I do. If not..." she shrugged "I guess that's what soldiers feel like too."

@Atrice

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 He listened while Thessala explained how she wasn’t let out as often as the men, but she was still quite a popular woman. Of course she was. Alexius then saw how she scooted over on the bench, silently inviting him to sit, so he did and brought the jar of wine with him, setting it down on the ground between them. This really was nice! He took a sip of his wine again and then almost choked for a moment there, when she spoke about a gladiatrix getting pregnant… right…

“Yeah of course they do. Especially when the gladiatrix is as good as you are. I loved a gladiatrix once, actually… and I’m quite sure she carried my child…” He trailed off for a moment, “But she lost it too early.” But that was another long story for another time, unless of course they’d end up sitting here talking all night. Which he could honestly easily imagine. He mused a little about how it was like to not be a slave and what he at least didn’t miss. Thessala commented on it and how surviving or not was at least in her control.

“I’m not sure if soldiers feel the same. At least they chose that path in life. Gladiators don’t always, we don’t get to say that that is what we want, it’s just decided.” Alexius pointed out, “But you’re right. It is up to you whether you live or die.” He said and gave her a smile, “I hope you’ll continue to survive for a good long time.”

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“Yeah of course they do. Especially when the gladiatrix is as good as you are. I loved a gladiatrix once, actually… and I’m quite sure she carried my child… But she lost it too early.”

Thessala did not know what to say to that. A gladiatrix being pregnant was big trouble, especially if she was a slave (and not many free women stayed in the arena). She couldn't tell how deeply Alexius felt the loss, so she drank some more of the wine, and kept her mouth shut.

“I’m not sure if soldiers feel the same. At least they chose that path in life. Gladiators don’t always, we don’t get to say that that is what we want, it’s just decided. But you’re right. It is up to you whether you live or die. I hope you’ll continue to survive for a good long time.”

"You and me both" she smirked. She played with death every time she fought, but she was not ready to lose just yet. "And if you ever want to spar... you know where to find me. The lanistas are too scared to let me at any of the men in the arena..."

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He didn’t tell her everything; not yet. Thessala did seem very nice to talk to though and it was especially good to talk about gladiator and slave-related things here. He couldn’t really talk about that with anyone else, but Thessala seemed to understand and although they didn’t think exactly alike, they did still have some of the same mindset. Now they were talking about how important it was that at least in the arena, the gladiator was the one in control of what happened. At least sort of. It was still the free Romans who decided in the end, whether it was death or not to the loser of the fight, but for the most part… if you fought well, you’d live.

Alexius of course hoped she’d survive for a good long time to come, and of course she hoped so too. then she offered that he could come and spar with her if he wanted to. Alexius looked at her with an interested gaze.

“Has the lanistas ever actually seen you fight?” He said with a laugh, “You could easily match the men. I’ll come and spar with you. I’m sure I can find a day in the near future to come. And then I’ll tell your lanista that you have to come and get a drink with me after. Outside the ludus.” Alexius added, he felt bad for her not being allowed to leave so much. She deserved that, at least, even if she didn’t long for freedom. It was nice to just feel as if you were free, at least sometimes.

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“Has the lanistas ever actually seen you fight? You could easily match the men. I’ll come and spar with you. I’m sure I can find a day in the near future to come. And then I’ll tell your lanista that you have to come and get a drink with me after. Outside the ludus.”

Thessala laughed a little at his rhetorical question. Of course they had seen her fight. They knew she was good, too, otherwise she would not have had the privileges she enjoyed. Or the fame.

"Now sparring with you would be  anything but boring" she grinned at Alexius "Stop by sometime and let's see if you still have your skills with your... sword. And the loser pays for the drinking after.

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She laughed at his words, since he wondered why on Earth she wasn’t fighting men on a daily basis. She could easily best them, he was quite sure of that! So he promised he’d come and spar with her and take her out afterwards. Alexius was free, he could do that. The things he mostly spent coin on was wine, since he got everything else from his employer and mistress, so he had plenty of coin saved for now.

Thessala seemed to like the idea of sparring with him and then commented on his skills with the sword. Riiight… he shifted in his seat and drank a gulp of the wine. It really was that easy with him, wasn’t it? Good thing Thessala didn’t know him so well. Luckily she changed subject right after mentioning his sword-skills…

“That sounds like a deal I’ll enjoy no matter what.” He said with a grin, “I promise I won’t forget this plan of ours.” Alexius said, still smiling, “I’m glad I decided to come and meet you in person.”

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