The noise from beyond the town defences was muted, and he could hear no urgent shouts, yells or screams from his comrades on guard, so after refilling his water flask, Oclatinius wandered wearily over to the hospital area to check in on Bricius.
“You look dreadful,” he said, when he saw his friend propped up on one elbow, face pale and sweating profusely.
“How many women have you talked into bed with that sweet tongue of yours?” muttered Bricius.
Oclatinius laughed. If his friend’s dour sense of humour was returning, that was surely a good sign. Then his attention was caught by two glum looking legionaries carrying a stretcher. Fulvius yelled to them, beckoned them over, then directed them to one of the sickly patients lying in an orderly row. The legionaries picked the soldier up by his hands and feet and dumped him heavily on the stretcher. Oclatinius winced at how roughly they treated him, until he saw the head loll to one side and stare at him, sightless eyes looking out from a pustulent, blistered, fly-covered face.
He was dead. All the soldiers, maybe half a dozen in that row, were dead. Oclatinius suddenly felt as cold as when he had jumped into the Euphrates, despite the fierce sun.
Fulvius caught him looking but he had no words. He just shook his head, and continued with his work, squatting down by a man with nose haemorrhaging and blood-stained saliva drooling from the corner of his mouth. He offered him water, but the clearly dying man didn’t even respond.
Shouts rang out from the direction of the main gate. Oclatinius looked towards the noise and saw arrows flying again, some flaming. He cursed, patted Bricius gently on the shoulder, and ran back towards the affray. And as he charged towards the battle, he wondered what would kill them all first. The Parthians, or the sickness.