BRON Part IV
The Scarlet Seal
Bron is now working in Rome but falls foul of her employers, a senator and his wife, and is unjustly dismissed. She then becomes entangled in blackmail, murder and an execution. Having met the emperor at the chariot races, she believes that he is the only person who can help her retrieve her two most precious possessions. But she cannot solve his problem, and when Rome is threatened by pagan incursions, decides to take her family home to Byden. First, though, she must find Aurelius Catus, whose legion is fighting in Illyricum, and try to persuade him to go back to Britannia with her.
The teams returned to the starting stalls and lined up ready, now in silent concentration, and the whole stadium quietened. After the raucous adulation, the hush was eerie, ominous, and Bron shivered.
The starter raised his flag, his arm fell, the race began and the crowd resumed its enthusiastic cacophony.
There followed the fiercest and most frenzied, bad-tempered and vicious spectacle of the day. Each man was out to win, no matter at what cost to his fellow competitors. The final result was in doubt as first one team and then another took the leading position and was jostled or slammed out of the way. At these times, it was purely the skill of the charioteers that kept the horses on their feet and their chariots upright even when bouncing along on two wheels.
As the race progressed, the horses began to tire and the men seemed more vulnerable to misjudgement. At the start of the final lap, the crowd was emotionally drained and their shouts died away. All that could be heard above the cries of damaged men and squeals of injured animals were the vitriolic curses of the remaining drivers, the crash of their colliding chariots and the pounding hooves of horses still in the race.
Red team won. For a few moments there was no recognition from the silent spectators, then a few people started clapping and soon the whole stadium was on its feet and applauding.
Bron, however, felt physically sick. She blinked, rubbed her eyes and blinked again, but could not shift the red mist through which she was seeing everything.
The winning charioteer swaggered across to the royal box, waving his scarlet scarf above his head, then arrogantly proffered it to the Emperor, who accepted it and draped it round his own neck. Four other competitors followed. A sixth was on his knees, trying to rise.