by Kim Headlee
They hailed her “Liberty,” but she was free only to obey—or die.
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.
Rudd shed his shock and sprinted for the living compound, calling his children by name to help him defend their home: Eoghan, Ian, Bloeddwyn, Arden, Dinas, Gwydion, Owen.
Every child except Rhyddes.
She ran to the wagon, unhitched the horse, found her pitchfork, scrambled onto the animal’s back, and kicked him into a jolting canter. The stench of smoke strengthened with each stride. Her mount pinned back his ears and wrestled her for control of the bit, but she bent the frightened horse to her will. She understood how he felt.
As they loped past the cow byre, a Pict leaped at them, knocking Rhyddes from the horse’s back. The ground jarred the pitchfork from her grasp. The horse galloped toward the pastures as Rhyddes fumbled for her dagger. Although her brothers had taught her how to wield it in a fight, until now she’d used it only to ease dying animals from this world.
But the accursed blade wouldn’t come free of the hilt.
Sword aloft, the Pict closed on her.
Time distorted, assaulting Rhyddes with her attacker’s every detail: lime-spiked hair, weird blue symbols smothering the face and arms, long sharp sword, ebony leather boots and leggings, breastplate tooled to fit female curves . . .
The warrior-woman’s sword began its descent.
Character interview of Rhyddes, heroine of LIBERTY:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
Kim Headlee lives on a farm in southwestern Virginia with her family, cats, goats, Great Pyrenees goat guards, and assorted wildlife. People and creatures come and go, but the cave and the 250-year-old house ruins—the latter having been occupied as recently as the mid-twentieth century—seem to be sticking around for a while yet. She has been an award-winning novelist since 1999 (Dawnflight 1st edition, Sonnet Books, Simon & Schuster) and has been studying the Arthurian Legends for nigh on half a century.