Quintillius actually laughed aloud at this. Oclatinius didn’t know if it was bravado, madness, or genuine hilarity, but Quintillius put his hands on his belly, tilted his head back to the sky and let out great guffaws. Phraates watched impassively, waiting for the seizure to pass.
Quintillius regained control of himself, shaking his head and wiping tears from his eyes.
“How stupid do you think we are, Parthian? Surrendering to you is death. We still remember how you treated Crassus and his legions.”
“Whether you live or die after your surrender will not be my decision, Roman. Though you are right that mercy may be in short supply after your actions in Parthia. Still, if your sentence is death, it will be swift if you have not prolonged this struggle unnecessarily.”
“If it is to be death, we would rather die like Romans, with swords in our hands. But I think you are getting ahead of yourselves. We are a full strength Roman century in a strong defensive position.”
Phraates sneered. “Full strength? Please, centurion. Don’t insult me. My men have been watching you. You are carrying cartloads of wounded soldiers.”
Wounded? Oclatinius realised they didn’t know about the sickness. Their scouts won’t have got close enough to realise what had afflicted so many of them, and would have assumed they were just the battle-injured who had been left behind by the main column. It was a small blessing. If the Parthians knew how weak they really were, they would be tempted into a full scale attack. They clearly felt that as things stood, that would be overly costly, even if probably successful.
“If you have no more to offer,” said Quintillius. “This parley is finished.” He turned on his heel abruptly and headed back to the town. Oclatinius and Cominius hurried to catch him up.