The Parthian commander approached the gates, flanked only by two other riders, and came to a halt just out of bowshot. There he waited, the only movement coming from the swishing tail of the exquisitely obedient horses.
“What do you think?” Quintillius asked Flaccus.
“It doesn’t look like a trap. They seem to be unarmed.”
“Maybe so, but with ten score mounted bowmen a short distance behind, they don’t lack protection.”
“I think they want to talk,” said Cominius.
Quintillius and Flaccus both turned a withering glance on the optio, who shrank back.
“I’ll go and parley,” said Quintillius.
“I should go, sir,” said Flaccus. “I’m more expendable.”
“Nonsense,” said Quintillius. “No one is expendable. Well.” He threw a sidelong glance at Cominius. “Almost no one.”
“Anyway, I’m in command, it’s my responsibility.”
“You aren’t going alone?”
“No. He has two escorts, I’ll take two. Not you, Flaccus, you take command if anything happens to me. Not the signifer either. We aren’t risking the standard. Cominius. You will come with me. And…” Quintillius looked around him, then spotted Oclatinius at his station on his guard tower. “You. Oclatinius,” he called. “You always seem to be in the middle of trouble. You can join me.”
Oclatinius looked at the guard on duty with him in the tower who gave him a sympathetic smile. He descended the ladder and hurried over to Quintillius. The centurion looked him up and down, then looked down at his own uniform.
“Not exactly Praetorians on parade are we? Well, a bit of dirt and grime never hurt a real soldier. Come one. Let’s see what these barbarians want.”