‘I hope he paid a good price, dominus,’ I said.
‘Did he, Hades!’ A fresh shower of spittle rained down from Crixus’ lips. ‘You are worth a tidy sum after your bout, but I am to receive only the amount I paid for you in the slave market.’
Amused even more, I decided prudence was the best policy, and said nothing.
Crixus’ rant continued. ‘As if that wasn’t bad enough, I am given to understand that he sold you straightaway to a wide stripe by the name of Gaius Something or other, an ugly bastard with a brow you could rest a cup of wine on.’
The senator who had been talking with Caligula. Clearheaded enough to reflect on my fate, I decided it was a better one than remaining in the ludus at Capua. It was not just because I was to escape Crixus; I was now prized property. The senator Gaius would not be happy with the inflated price extracted from him by the emperor, but its size would probably mean I was treated well henceforth. There would be contests in the arena, but the chance of them being to the death would be relatively small from this point onward. A fierce spark kindled in my breast. It was not impossible that in a few years, I could earn the rudis and gain my freedom. Do not be hasty, I told myself. I would have to earn plenty of contests first, so Gaius recouped his outlay on me.
I realised that Crixus had asked me a question. ‘Your pardon, dominus. I am still lightheaded.’
‘It is an outrage, I said!’
‘Yes, dominus,’ I agreed, meek as a little child, while inside, I thought, screw you, you old bastard.
Behind Crixus, Big Dog was grinning from ear to ear, happy for me.
‘That is, if you can fight again,’ said Crixus, his expression growing calculating. ‘How bad is your wound? What did the surgeon say?’
‘I wasn’t conscious, when he treated me, dominus,’ I said truthfully. I went on, genuinely scared that he was about to do me injury. ‘The pain is terrible, dominus.’ It was not, but I did not know how else to convince him.
Crixus ran a finger under the edge of my bandage and lifted. ‘Did the blade slice any guts, I wonder?’
Ignoring me, he bent his head to sniff. ‘Smells clean,’ he said in a disappointed voice. He jabbed the cut, hard, and I cried out.
‘Dominus,’ said Big Dog.
Crixus poked me again, and I yelped louder. I lifted a hand, but his free one grabbed it and would not let go. I raised my other hand, and his eyes bored into mine. ‘Touch me and I will wring your filthy little neck.’
I laid my arm down on the table again.
He bent to his purpose now, rummaging at the bandage so he could reach the cut better.
If he opened the wound and shoved his fingers in, I thought with terror, he would introduce infection, from which I could easily die.