‘I don’t know,’ said Big Dog.
‘How long have I been here? How long have you?’
‘You were already on the table when I came down. Another retiarius had just gone out, facing one of our secutores. That ended a little while ago, and another fight started. Siccum could be in the arena, or he might still be in the cells.’
‘For all we know, the current bout is between two of the gladiators from Rome.’
‘Aye. Let’s hope they are to fight one another, not like it was for you.’
‘That is a faint hope. Caligula will not have brought them all the way to Capua to fight men they know.’
Big Dog gave me an unhappy look. ‘A slick lot, they will be, if that secutor you killed is anything to go by.’
He was right, I thought grimly. The day could come to an end with most of our fighters dead, the majority of the winners coming from the ludus in the capital.
A key in the lock. Big Dog’s head turned; his lips turned down. ‘Crixus,’ he whispered.
I tensed. Helpless on the table, unable to see the lanista, I waited with churning stomach to find out why he was here.
‘Dominus,’ said Big Dog, his tone neutral but respectful.
Crixus grunted. ‘How bad?’
I guessed he was pointing at Big Dog’s bandage.
‘The wound is clean, dominus, according to the surgeon. It went into the muscle, rather than across it, which is good. It did not need too many stitches either.’
‘How soon until you can train?’
‘A month for light training, dominus. Two months, he said, before I can fight again.’
Crixus’ grunt was not happy, but he did not argue. Only a fool would rush a gladiator back into the arena, and he knew it.
The tread of his feet came nearer, and I moved my head around. ‘Dominus,’ I muttered, hating that I had to say it.
‘Here he is, the killer of killers.’ The words dripped sarcasm.
‘Dominus.’ I met Crixus’ stony gaze with confusion. I thought he would have been pleased with my success.
‘I did not bet a single as on you.’
Understanding his anger in part, I struggled for any response that would not rile him further. ‘Dominus,’ I managed.
‘A hundred to one, the bet makers were giving – some were even offering a hundred to fifty to one!’ Little drops of spit showered down.
I exulted inside. If Siccum lived to see the sun go down, I would make a fortune, while Crixus would make nothing at all. The irony of it was beautiful. ‘I did not think I would survive, dominus,’ I said in an effort to calm him.
‘It would have been far better if you had died. Not only did I win nothing from your victory – I am no longer your owner.’ His fist thumped the table, close to my injured hip.
Trying not to wince at the threat – quite deliberate, I was sure – I feigned ignorance. ‘Why, dominus?’
‘The emperor, in his wisdom–’ His voice was full of false deference ‘–saw fit to buy you.’