“Don’t be so sure, Maximus.” The old fighter creaked into a more comfortable position on his bench.
“These are your people. They will boo and cry out when I slice your flesh.” Maximus drew out the ‘boo’, as if he already heard that throng. “But make no mistake: tomorrow, I root my own flower.”
“Maybe defile it with the blood of a virgin or two,” Adi suggested.
“Or two. I like that. You’re a cocksure old mosquito, squeaking in my ear.”
“In seven decades, I have been defeated only once, and she was a merciful creature.”
“You let her win so you could double your kingdom.”
“Were she still living, Batari would cut you down for such remarks. As it is, I’ll have to do it for her.”
“In the morning, old man. Go away and let me speak to your bush.”
“I’m going,” said Adi. “But I have a few words of my own first.” He stood beside the kneeling Maximus and patted the younger man’s shoulder, at the place where his skin met his neck.
Maximus’s blood welled up under Adi’s fingers. “What did you do to me?” Maximus scrambled to cover the wound with his own hand.
“Listen to me,” Adi snarled. He spat on the ground at Maximus’s feet. “If I learned one thing from my wife in fifty years of marriage, it was this: never go unarmed into your enemy’s temple. When you write your last letter home tonight, tell your God-King to stop sending unworthy opponents to the Warriors of the Rose.”
Adi shoved lightly, and Maximus fell onto his side. “That’s poison!” Maximus’ shoulder spasmed.
Adi walked away. “Make peace with that rose. Tomorrow, your body nourishes its roots.”
“But…” now Maximus’s whole arm jerked and strained.
Adi did not turn around. “Boo,” he said, an unsympathetic crowd of one. “Booo.”