From “The Mark of the Horse Lord”, Rosemary Sutcliff

At first he had been wild with loathing of his new life, but in four years it had become part of him, so that whether he hated or loved it no longer mattered. It ran in his veins like the fiery barley-spirit that the tribesmen brewed: the roar of the crowd that set one’s pulses jumping, the warmth of sunlight and the sweetness of cheap wine and the fierce pleasure in one’s own strength and skill, all heightened by the knowledge that tomorrow, next week, in an hour’s time, it might all end on the squared point of a comrade’s sword.

Four years. Not many lasted so long at the deadly trade. If he could last another year or so, they might give him his wooden foil with the silver guard, and he would be free. But his mind never got beyond the first triumphant moment of gaining his freedom, any more than it got beyond the sting of the deathblow, because he had been born a slave and knew no more of what it would be like to be free than he knew of what it would be like to die.

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