‘Ah, he is back with us. Welcome, Midir.’ The voice was familiar, and not that of the surgeon or the upside-down-faced man.
My head twisted. There on another table, sitting rather than lying, was Big Dog. Heavy strapping covered his left thigh, but otherwise he seemed whole.
‘You’re alive!’ I said, delighted.
A wry smile. ‘It appears so. You are here too, although quite how, I do not know. One tough bastard, you are, Midir, and no mistake.’
‘I don’t know about that,’ I said, awkward, but thrilled with the real respect on his face.
He eased down to the floor, and gingerly lifted a jug and cup from the floor beside his table. Filling one from the other, he limped over to me and held the cup for me as I drank thirstily. ‘Do not sell yourself short. You slew two secutores. I did not see the first one, but I was under the arch for your fight with Sextus. It was an incredible display.’
Laying my head back down, I said nothing. Cutting Rust Spot’s throat I could live with, but I did not like to think of Sextus.
‘You had to kill him. It was that or your own life.’
‘Aye.’ The realisation did not ease my guilt.
‘Dis Manibus,’ said Big Dog, the familiar invocation.
I echoed it, and sent after it a prayer to my own gods, that Sextus and even Rust Spot, would reach the underworld safely. ‘Who did you face?’ I asked, hoping it had not been Siccum. I had just remembered the wagers he had made, including the one on my behalf. I stood to win a huge sum of money – but only as long as Siccum was there to collect it. The bet takers would laugh in my face if I attempted to claim his winnings.
‘The Greek – the one from Asia Minor who came in with Mattheus.’
‘I guess that would have been an easy contest for you.’
His lips worked. ‘I tried to drag it out a little, so it didn’t end too fast, and displease the crowd – or Caligula. But the prick stuck me good and proper when I let down my guard too obviously.’ He indicated the bandage on his thigh. ‘I decided to finish him quickly then, before my strength left me. I battered him good and proper, so much so that there was a little booing by the time I knocked the sword from his hand. I thought I had overdone it, and worried that the emperor might turn on me, but most of the audience pointed their thumbs in the right direction. I marched the Greek over to the pulvinar – they loved that – and gave him iron right in front of Caligula.’
‘I am glad you won.’ The Greek had not been my enemy, but Big Dog was my friend.
A chuckle. ‘I am too.’
Above us, the crowd erupted. Feet pounded in their tens of thousands. ‘IUGULA!’
Sudden concern tugged at me. ‘Siccum?’