‘It rains almost every day, imperator,’ I ventured. ‘A month can go by without seeing the sun.’
Caligula’s lips thinned. ‘Weather does not stop the legions.’
‘No, imperator.’ Wary of his fluctuating mood, I bent my head again. How long was he going to toy with me, I wondered. How long would it be before I lost consciousness? The black dots had returned, bobbing up and down across my vision, and I felt as if I were not really within my own body, but outside it.
‘We shall see. Once Britannia is conquered, and I have visited, I shall consider whether Hibernia is worth attacking.’
‘Of course, imperator. Whatever your desire, it shall be fulfilled.’ The voice of the heavy-browed man.
I prayed that his invasion of Britannia came to nothing, and that he forgot all about Hibernia.
‘Waging war is an expensive business.’ Again Caligula seemed to speaking to himself. ‘And the treasury’s coffers are in a poor state.’
No one said a word.
But even I, a lowly gladiator, knew why this was. A month before the area had witnessed the most extravagant bringing to life of the emperor’s whims and desires. A marvel of engineering, a two-mile long bridge from Bauli to Puteoli in the nearby Bay of Neapolis, it had been constructed from requisitioned merchant vessels and ships constructed on the spot. A road was built on top, and resting places and lodges erected at various points along its length. Crixus had gone to see it with his own eyes; I had heard him talking in marvelling tones that evening of how the emperor had ridden across it wearing the breastplate of someone called Alexander. The day after, he had driven back the other way in a four-horse chariot.
‘This retiarius has shown himself to be a good fighter,’ said Caligula.
Loud voices of agreement in the pulvinar.
‘Perhaps I shall buy him from the lanista.’
He does not mean to kill me, I thought with a rush of relief. Uncertainty swept in at once, for I had no idea what would it mean to be the personal property of the emperor. My left knee buckled. With an effort, I straightened it, but my strength was almost gone.
‘You would buy him from me afterwards, eh, Gaius?’
I looked up to see the heavy-browed man’s face register surprise. It was masked fast. He smiled broadly. ‘It would be an honour, if that was your wish, imperator.’
‘I would not mark up the price too much. Ten times what I paid the lanista, perhaps. No more than fifteen.’
Gaius’ smile grew even more fixed. ‘The sum would be yours to name, imperator.’
‘I know.’ This was said with a petulant, self-satisfied viciousness.
Caligula would probably force Crixus to sell at rock bottom price, I decided, and pretend to Gaius that he had paid a fortune, thereby increasing his profit even more.
It was the last thought I had, for blackness took me, and I fell.
[AUTHOR’S NOTE: The two-mile bridge built in the Bay of Naples in the summer of AD 39 was the most decadent of Caligula’s spectacles. To replenish the gaping hole left in his treasury thanks to his profligate lifestyle, he introduced measures such as selling gladiators to senators at grossly inflated prices.]