Tristan Shane was covered in his opponents blood. And he was led back to his cell the adrenaline rush he often got from a successful battle for the crown’s entertainment was often rewarded with a visit from the queen of the States. Veronica was as devilish as she was beautiful and since life as a favored gladiator was something he’d come accustomed to he was looking forward to another reward. And like clockwork she arrived dressed in the finest of silks and jewelry with drink and food in tow.
Life as a gladiator wasn’t something he’d planned on. He doubted anyone in the prison, man or woman had planned on being violently separated from their families and imprisoned against their will and made to fight for the mob that the United States had become in the wake of economic collapse and the inability to come together. United we stand, divided the States had fallen to the greedy and the wealthy few. He had been a blue collar truck driver struggling to keep food on the table and a roof over his wife and children’s heads.
Kentucky had been one of the first states to fall victim to the inability to come together. And when the military came they had seen a strong man and weak woman. They had separated them. His children had been sent to labor camps. His wife had been raped and murdered in front of him. As a gladiator he only lived to fight. When Veronica came to him it was his only release. The queen, however, was not a kind hearted woman. She only lived to satiate her own wants and desires.
As the cell door opened she dismissed the guards and pushed the plate of food toward him. “My darling warrior you must keep up your strength. You have a long night in front of you.”
Tristan wasn’t one for the queen’s games. He knew the other gladiators she favored with her time did. Some of them fancied her lies. Like the one that if they just capitulated to her desires long enough they would attain theirs and their family’s freedom. Tristan knew, however, that was the biggest lie of all and simply didn’t care enough to play that particular game.
“What is it you want Veronica?”
She leaned in close and whispered breathily, “Why I only want you Tristan.”
He snatched her up by her throat and pinned her against the wall and kissed her passionately, brutally, and without forgiveness. When he pulled away she was smiling with a darkness that made him angry. She was a power hungry mongrel who played on her husband’s weaknesses and jealousies. Tristan hated her. And he hated himself for fucking her. But this was his life. He let go of her and walked away.
“Is my poor gladiator jealous? There’s really no need for that is there? You know you’re my favorite.”
“What is it you want Veronica?”
She came up behind him and removed his armor. He was covered in sweat and blood and he felt her shiver against his body. And as always there was a twinge of nausea that would proceed the raw, animal, aggression.
She turned him around. And as he looked at her there was no doubting, she was beautiful. But she was as poisonous as the rattlesnake she was behind those crystal green eyes and flaming red hair. Her father had promised peace and a return to normalcy and democracy in the wake of economic and nuclear disaster and instead this was what had come of the world. And she was no doubt always whispering in her father’s ear to continue her life in this fashion. He hated her. He loathed her. And every time he had sex with her his loathing for himself deepened a little bit more.
“My dear, sweet gladiator as much as I’d like to celebrate your victory with you tonight my husband wishes me to be in his bed tonight. But fear not I do have a consolation prize for you.”
His skin began to crawl. Veronica had a twisted way of looking at what was a consolation prize and it was usually just a groupie who wanted to see what the queen was usually doing with the rock stars of the former United States of America. And he usually did the dog and pony show. But sometimes Veronica wanted something to prove his loyalty to her. That was more complicated.
“What is it?” He asked stiffly.
She smiled. His response had given her the mistaken impression that he cared.
“The rebels have been restless. And it seems there is a young woman we have in our prison they want terribly. Well, as you can imagine they are fit to be tied. It is rumored she is the mythical Healer. The one meant to find her soulmate and they are to lead our nation out of the so called darkness it has plunged itself into.”
“And what do you want me to do?”
“Oh Tristan, why the need for defensiveness? I just want you to find out if she is the Healer and then report to me if she is.”
“And then what?”
“And then you let me handle it,” Veronica said sliding into the evil skin that was her natural state. “The rebels have no idea what it takes to run a country.”
The image of his wife being raped and murdered flooded him and it was difficult not to throttle the queen right then and there.
“So can I count on you to do this for me or do I need to find someone else who can?”
He was no one’s hero. But she said young woman. And he couldn’t just allow his wife’s fate to be visited upon some unsuspecting girl. “I’ll do what I can.”
Veronica tapped his cheek and whispered, “Good boy, Tristan,” she paused, “guard! She’ll be delivered before the night is over. I don’t know when I’ll be able to return but I expect that you’ll have had enough time to gain her trust by then.”
Tristan’s stomach churned. A healer? In the beginning there had been whispers of it. But he had never believed in such a thing. It had been years since the crown had feared anything. And now this? He said nothing as the queen was escorted away. Left to think about the young woman he would be forced to turn over in the end.