top of page


Though all roads led to Rome, when leaving the heart of the empire the roads became convoluted and sparse.  Leofric Lombards was a Rudiarius, a freedman gladiator.  His travel companion was an adopted younger brother, Erlwin.  Leofric spent many years as a Gallus-style gladiator; a prisoner of war from the Germanic forest of Marcynian.  As they traveled north, he celebrated his twentieth year and Erlwin his eleventh.  They had to keep off the main Roman roads.  Leofric had liberated the boy by killing the slave owner a Lanista, thus turning them into fugitives.

They finally entered the Gaulish territories as winter was beginning to set in.  the harsh cold would normally prevent travel, but Leofric pressed forward.  They both came from the same northern forest, and also held the same special gift.  Something unique to their special tribe, nearly exterminated by the Roman invasions.  Leofric believed it a blessing from the mighty got Odin.  In the north they were Ulfhedinn, the wolf skinned.

Night was closing on them now, they needed to set camp and hunt.  Neither had satiated their hunger in days.  The borders were heavily traveled by legionnaire soldiers.  Leofric had made a name for himself as a gladiator.  He was too well known.  At one time he was a popular fighter.  Because of this they had to be careful as they traveled so they weren’t recognized.

Now they were in a thick ancient forest.  A suitable location that brought back so many memories of his childhood.   His young ward was still so inexperienced, he had been captured stealing; because of his young age he was sold as a slave.  Leofric embraced his position as a mentor tutoring Erlwin in survival and combat.  The lessons he taught now in tracking and hunting were imperative to survival as they worked their way home.

“Use your senses, let the wind feed your nose with all the scents it carries.  Catch the subtle sounds that the trees attempt to hide.”  His deep husky voice a low growl so as not to give away their position to their prey.

Erlwin thrust his face into the cold breeze, it stung his eyes, yet he didn’t falter.  He grasped at every whisp the wind held in its embrace.  At first there was nothing; then like a building wave he smelt the musky countenance roll toward him.  as it grew in his nostrils, he was able to glean more, it was close, he could discern its direction now.  “Good, you smell it.  follow it, track it.  let it fill you.”  Said Leofric.

Erlwin needed no prompting, he was off at a sprint.  The scent was almost tangible.  As Erlwin followed the path, his body began to tingle, the anticipation of the hunt pumping the adrenaline through his veins.  The excitement threatened to overwhelm him.

Leofric followed close behind, he knew where the stag was; his experienced skills reigned in allowing the boy to make the kill.  Even though he wanted to forget the years tormented by the Romans he found the training had wormed its way into all aspects of his life.  He had a strong will, able to overcome the vast ocean of scents that flooded him.  this was probably only one of the few times he was thankful for the discipline.  Now he worked at teaching Erlwin the same self-control.

They crested a small hill, a subtle rise in the landscape.  Leofric became aware at the last moment.  Grabbing Erlwin roughly by the back of the neck he yanked hard pulling the boy off his feet.  “I nearly had him.”  Erlwin protested haughtily.

“Slowly move forward, see what you almost fell into.  The beast moved.”

Erlwin hadn’t understood.  Crawling forward he pushed past a thicket peering out he saw an expanse of sky.  Only a few feet separated him from a drop off.  He hazarded a look, nearly fifty feet below the landscape continued.  Then like a slap to the face, the stag’s scent assaulted Erlwin.  With no further preamble he was off, the chase once again a foot.  Leofric let him go, he took in the scene below him.   the valley spread out for miles.

He saw a small village nestled near a river not too far in the distance.  What concerned him was the fact he saw a small wooden amphitheater hugging the village’s outskirts.  The mere existence of this structure meant that this was a growing village.  An extension of the Roman empire.  They would have to avoid it.  He was sure there was a maniples unit, a mid-sized unit, of soldiers nearby.  A deep piercing howl shattered his concentration.

Leofric dashed off, it was easy to follow the boy’s path.  He had yet to learn to be more subtle.  It was like a bull had rampaged cutting a devastating swath of torn vegetation.  He couldn’t fault the child; it was easy to get caught up in the excitement.  Even for an adult it took a great amount of restraint.   He found Erlwin hunched over the stag, he had done a great deal of damage to the beast in his jubilant chase.

“Not everything must be done as an animal.  I will guard the kill, track back to our gear, get the pugio, so we can properly prepare our meal.”

Erlwin hesitated at first, his eyes feral, then he ran quickly out of sight.  Leofric could easily track his movements from the cacophony of sounds he left in his wake.  Once he returned it didn’t take long for them to settle in for the night.  Leofric laid back enjoying the brisk air that flowed over him.  the further north they migrated the happier he felt.

Erlwin was quiet.  Leofric knew the boy was thinking of being a gladiator, though he objected to it, his adolescent defiance tugged at him for the glory.  As long as they could get back to the forest the boy would be fine.  The Romans had no gladiator arenas up there.  He would reclaim his home from the Romans.  Then search for survivors of his tribe.

The next morning Erlwin woke early, Leofric still slept as the dawn’s light just crested over the horizon.  The morning dew gave a refreshing scent to the landscape.  Leofric had made good on freeing him.  he wanted to learn everything he could, he wanted to be just as powerful and resourceful as Leofric.  At most he wanted to be useful.  He still wondered about the gladiator battles though.

A thought crossed his mind, he felt he knew enough to find breakfast. He could surprise his guardian, show his ability to hunt without supervision. The forest was quiet, the morning just bringing the breath of life to the creatures that inhabit the daylight.  he was sure Leofric would be impressed with him.  Erlwin slipped from the area, wandering the forest.  He let the training he received thus far take over.  He shifted, letting the air caress his nostrils.  He let all the scents pass by, searching for the one that would catch his attention.  He moved fast over the land as he searched.

A sour odor struck him.  a smell he hadn’t smelt in nearly a year.  Man.  They weren’t alone out here.  Why were they in the wilderness?  Curiosity overwhelmed his caution.  He approached the men.  It was a small group of soldiers.  They were Roman Legionnaires.  Erlwin ducked into some bushes trying to conceal himself.  His reckless abandon played against him.  “Hey what is that?”  One of the men shouted, pointing in his direction.  He hadn’t concealed himself thoroughly enough.

Erlwin realized he had been discovered as he darted away, dashing between the trees.  He felt exuberant, he was confident they wouldn’t catch him.  he was so sure of himself he was completely caught off guard when the net sprung before him, snaring him.  he turned to find the soldiers pointing pilum heavy javelins at him.

In all the years that Calsius Malonius had been a Venator, an arena beast hunter, he had never seen the manner of creature before him.  it had all the features of a wolf; the muzzle, ears, even course fur, yet it resembled a man.  It stood on its hind legs, long sharp claws protruded from the tips of its fingers and toes of its human-like hands and feet.  “Cage it, I’m willing to bet it will fetch a nice price.”  The Venator told the soldiers.  He wasn’t from Gaul, originally, a Roman from birth.  He knew their folk tales though, could this be a fabled wariwulf as the Frankish called them?  If so, he would be rich.

As the soldiers dragged the netted man-beast it howled in anger.  He was just disappointed at its size.  Calsius would have expected it to be much larger.  The thought crossed his mind that he might have caught a pup.  The disappointment quickly vanished, replaced by pure greed.  He watched it growl and fight against its restraints. 

Leofric woke suddenly, sunlight glared at him through the foliage.  At first, he thought a forgotten nightmare had disturbed his slumber.  Then he noticed Erlwin was missing. And heard the anguished howl in the distance.  He ran on all fours to gain speed, his claws digging deeply into the earth propelling him forward.  Now was a time when he was grateful for the boy’s path of destruction.  Between his scent and marks he found the clearing quickly.  Signs of Roman soldiers evident but now gone.  He would have to track them.  Erlwin had wandered far from their camp site.

Erlwin fought them, but they overpowered him easily.  They beat him with the blunt ends of their pilum until he lost consciousness.  When he woke, he found himself in a cage, the horse pulling it moved uneasily.  It could smell him.  looking down on himself, he was thankful to find he was still shifted.  As a human boy he would have been even more prone for abuse.  They were entering a village; a river ran nearby.  He could smell the water, hear it running along its route though the valley.

The man who ordered the soldiers to capture him were talking to another man, constantly pointing in his direction.  He was beginning to feel insecure from the intense scrutiny.  Erlwin heard clinking metal in a leather pouch as the Venator took his pay.

It wasn’t long before Erlwin found himself in a cell in the corner of a large chamber under the amphitheater.  He was going to have to fight.  He now regretted wishing he could follow Leofric’s footsteps as he felt the sharps pains of anxiety.  There weren’t many gladiators here.  Two men, older than Leofric, and a fiery-haired woman.  Erlwin had never seen a gladiatrix before, but he had heard of them from Leofric.  Female fighters equal to the Amazon women of legend.

All of them had their own cells.  He missed Leofric, he held hope in his heart that his older brother would rescue him.  Erlwin remained curled in the corner, unsure of what to expect.  He fought off despair as best as he could.

In the arena the Lanista Aralius Gallsius, stood with the Quaestars, the Roman Magistrates responsible for sponsoring arena battles.  “It will be a great spectacle.  We use Bestiarii, the beast fighters, to battle gerulphus,” the Latin word for werewolf.  Said Aralius.

”Perhaps but you have only a gladiatrix and two damnati cestus,” condemned slave boxers.  “None of which are proficient as bestiarii” Countered the Quaestar.

“They are condemned, does it matter?”

“As long as they give a good show, it does not.  I will advertise the bout either way.”

Leofric almost fell into the same fate as Erlwin.  He had been tracking the boy.  The four Roman soldiers were busy setting a trap.  He had not noticed them.  They were smarter than most, by being downwind, they masked their presence. He watched from above, he had climbed over them gaining a good vantage point.  The leader was a Venator.  A warrior who used rope called a laquearius, set an intricate trap while a net fighter, known as a retiarius, set a second trap.  The fourth member was a simple legionnaire, armed with a pilum and caetra shield.

Leofric was certain this venator was the one who captured Erlwin.  He moved quietly, finding a pivotal position downwind.  Now he was certain, the scents were the same.  He was growing tired of dealing with these parasitic Romans.  Preceded by a deep guttural growl he launched off the tree, hitting the legionnaire like a missile.  The man had no time to bring the pilum to bare.  The impact folded him snapping his spine.  Leofric reacted quickly; breaking the pilum in half he threw the metal-tipped end at the venator.  It hit the man’s shoulder slamming him against a thick tree trunk, essentially pinning him to the tree.  The broken blunt end was first slammed against the retiariau’s head shattering his skull and then impaled into the laquearius’s chest.

Turning to face the whimpering man struggling feebly against the thick wooden shaft protruding from his shoulder.  Leofric stalked forward, using his appearance to affect the maximum amount of terror out of the venator.  As he loomed over the man, he said in his deep rumbling voice.  “Where is the boy?”

“What boy?”  He whimpered.

Leofric raked his claws mere inches over the man’s head leaving deep gouges in the tree trunk.  “You captured a boy, I have no patience for your feigned ignorance, where is he?”

“I-I captured no boy.  I captured a small beast.  I sold it to a Lanista in the village of Callium by the river.”

“You sold him.”  Leofric said holding back his anger.

“Wait, you can’t leave me, I’ll die here.”

Turning just his head he glared at the small man.  “That is the point.”  Leofric charged off heading to the village, he was sure it was the same one he had seen earlier.  He just prayed to Odin he wasn’t too late.

The Quaestor had sold out the arena for the next day.  Erlwin overheard the two men talking.  He was going to have to fight all three of the other gladiators simultaneously.  They had billed the battle with such high praise that most of the valley’s inhabitants were coming to witness it.  the fire-haired woman spoke very little, what she did say he didn’t understand, yet she seemed concerned for him.  the most he had gleaned was her name, Deoirdh.  so, he called her Dee.  Night rolled over the valley bringing an uneasy and restless sleep.

As the sun rose so did Erlwin’s anxiety.  He was convinced now that this was a punishment from the gods.  He would be thrust into battle soon, Leofric had forsaken him.  he had slept with the hope that his savior would be there taking him to freedom once again, so they could continue their journey to the forest.  Yet no rescue came.  He was forced to remain caged, watching his soon to be executioners put on their armor and choose their weapons.  They wore simple leather armor; one held a gladius short sword.  The other a hasta spear.  Even to Erlwin’s untrained eyes the men seemed clumsy with the weapons.  He was more interested in Dee.  Her lorica segmentate, a laminated strip cuirass armor was augmented by lorica hamata sleeves, a type of mail armor.  She slung an arcus composite bow over her shoulder, a quiver of sagitta arrows hung at her side.  To finish her preparations, she hefted a falx sickle sword.  She gave a deadly aura.  Erlwin felt his heart hammer in his chest.

A loud bellowing horn echoed through the chamber; the bars reverberated from it.  the two men passed his cell giving him harsh looks: murder in their eyes.  Pity emanated from Deoiridh as she passed him.  he figured it was his turn to prepare.  He had no idea how to wear any of the armor and he had never used any weapons besides his claws.  He was going to die today; he was sure of it.

A loud high-pitched voice resonated through the air, it spoke in Latin, so he understood much of it.  “Welcome, welcome, the Venatium Arena is pleased to bring you a special venationes, a beast hunt.  We have a gerulphus in today’s battle.  We bring you a Saxon Gladiatrix and two Damnati.  As Quaestors I will grant them each a rudis, a wooden sword representing a freedman, if they win today’s bout.”  The crowd cheered loudly.

He continued.  “Now, I present the beast!” 

Erlwin was marched out into the open arena by two soldiers, pilum jabbing his back.  He wasn’t allowed anything; he stood there only his claws for weaponry, dehumanized with no clothing to cover him, not even armor.  His nudity was only masked by the thick coarse hair covering his body.

He was overwhelmed by the thunderous crowd surrounding him.  it was nothing like the gigantic stone amphitheaters in Rome though this arena was no more than a story tall.  Rows of seats filled the stands in a horseshoe ending where he had entered.  Above that was the grandstand where the Lanista and Quaestors stood.  Heavy wooden double doors closed trapping him in the open dirt arena.  His opponents stood apart, surrounding him slowly.  The soldiers that had forced him here retreated back where they came.  Erlwin felt so utterly alone, defenseless.

Before the men could advance closer, Deoiridh charged quickly at Erlwin.  The last bit of hope faded from him, the one person he expected to help would in fact be his actual executioner.  With her sword raised she yelled like a banshee, her red hair flowing behind her as if she were propelled from hell.  Erlwin crouched, preparing to dodge her assault.  He would fight until his last breath.  But he didn’t need to.  She ran past him, swinging the falx in a wide arc at the damnati holding the gladius.  He tried to parry the strike but she had compensated by over swinging, severing his hand from his wrist.

As the man screamed, Erlwin smelt the sudden approach of the other man, his pilum pointed at him.  rolling he dodged recovering quickly.  The pilum’s weight made the damnati overextend.  Erlwin pounced jumping on the man’s back.  As if a rabid beast had possessed him, Erlwin clawed at the man, raking his claws against his neck, face, chest, and back.  He tried to sink his teeth into the damnati’s neck, but the man was wildly flailing his arms trying to shake Erlwin off.

Too busy brutalizing the damnati, Erlwin hadn’t seen Deoiridh approach.  She used the falx to decapitate the man.  Erlwin fell with the body riding it to the ground as the head rolled away.  Erlwin looked up into the woman’s eyes.  She was covered in blood, the falx still held, ready to attack.  Erlwin heard the hinges creak behind him, Deoiridh’s attention shifted beyond him.  turning he saw a phalanx of seven legionnaires charge into the arena.  All held hasta, the commander held a spatha long sword; they were all pointed in their direction.

”Seize them!”  he yelled.

As the six men charged forward an arrow appeared in one of their chests.  The force knocked him back.  Where had it come from?  Quickly looking at the woman he saw the bow in her hands, already another arrow nocked.  The loss of one of their comrades didn’t slow them.  Their training evident, they pressed forward but more cautiously.  They didn’t get a chance to get much closer.  A deep resonating baritone howl crested over the crowd’s cheers.  Creating a sudden hushed silence that dominated the tiny arena.  It was like time suddenly froze.  The soldiers stood there unsure what to do.  No one moved.  Erlwin recognized it immediately, Leofric was there, his big brother had come for him.

A scream among the spectators gave away Leofric’s position.  He was crouched on the edge of the back wall, looming over the audience like a gargoyle.  Ignoring the unarmed civilians, he jumped, his strong legs propelling him high over the people’s heads.  He pounced hard feet first into the legionnaire commander.  Multiple wet cracking sounds came from the cloud of dirt raised from their impact.  The soldiers moved back. Fear clouded their eyes.

As the dirt settled Leofric stood there, a mass of crumpled flesh and metal at his feet.  As he pounced on another soldier, an arrow took a different stunned soldier.  Not wanting to be left out Erlwin ran at a confused legionnaire jumping at him he used his claws to latch on to his armor bringing his teeth to deeply clamp on the exposed throat.  Another soldier went down with an arrow in his back as he attempted to flee.  The last one standing pounded on the wooden doors, screaming to be let in.

Leofric ignored him, he approached Erlwin.  In his gravely voice, barely discernible as a growl, he said.  “Come, follow me quickly.”

Instead of following he moved closer to Deoiridh.  “We need to take her, she saved me.”

Leofric was annoyed by the boy’s obstinance.  He assessed the warrior woman.  He had been impressed with her battle prowess; he watched briefly before alerting them to his presence.  It was evident Erlwin wouldn’t leave without her.  He growled, “follow if you can.”  Then he barreled at the double doors.  The soldier quickly dashing out of the way,

He didn’t have to look, he could hear Erlwin and the woman following.  They ran hard and fast deep into the forest.  They didn’t stop until the sun was over its zenith.  Surprisingly the woman was still with them.  While they rested Leofric pulled a small bundle from his back.  It was so tightly bound to him his long fur hid it.  it was the scant clothing that Erlwin and he had.  They both shifted then dressed.

The woman removed her armor only wearing her lorica segmentata.  “Thank you for your help, for protecting Winnie.  How can we repay you?”  he spoke in her tongue.  He had learned it during the many years in Rome as a gladiator.  There were always Saxons in his camp.

“You are garwalf/”  The Anglo-Saxon version of his kind.

“Yes we are.”

“Do you travel North?”

“We are going to our homeland.”

“I ask that you let me travel with you so that I may return to my home.”  Leofric accepted the condition.

Erlwin was enthusiastic about the prospect when Leofric told him.  the trio traveled together from that point growing closer as the days passed into months.  Deoiridh never went home, she remained with Leofric and Erlwin as they made their way to the forest.

bottom of page