Lying against my side – the one he could not see – my right fist bunched. I was as weak as a kitten, and lying down with him standing over me, but if I did not fight back, I was a dead man.
‘Big Dog,’ I said.
I sensed him take a step towards us.
‘Move another muscle, and I will see you on a cross,’ snarled Crixus. ‘Get in here,’ he ordered. One of his men, who had been outside, waited as the door was opened for him, and padded in. ‘Watch that fool,’ said Crixus.
Big Dog did not come any closer.
With a little exclamation of satisfaction, Crixus pulled back the bandage entirely.
Footsteps in the corridor outside. ‘Ah, lanista,’ said a loud voice. ‘Come to check on your men?’
Crixus tugged the bandage back into place as best he could while meeting the gaze of the newcomer. ‘Aye. One of them only is mine. The retiarius here–’ His finger, marked with my blood, pointed at me ‘–now belongs to a senator sitting by Caligula in the pulvinar.’
‘Ah, one of the emperor’s little get-rich-quick schemes. I have heard of them.’
‘I had not, until just now,’ grumbled Crixus.
Again the door creaked open and shut, and was locked again.
‘They are common in Rome, I believe.’ A pleased note entered the voice. ‘Ah, the retiarius has come to.’
I realised that the man who had entered was probably the surgeon. Even more grateful that it was he who had interrupted Crixus, I managed to rise up onto my right elbow.
‘Ah, the dead arise.’ The surgeon came over to the table. He was short with close-cut grey hair – the same person I remembered bent over me. ‘How are you feeling?’
Crixus did not move, but stood protectively by – trying to hide the clearly-interfered-with bandage.
‘I have been better.’
The surgeon gestured with his hands at Crixus. ‘Excuse me, could you–’ His gaze fell on the linen wrap around my middle. ‘Hades, what has happened here?’
Even as he stepped back, Crixus’ eyes were heavy on me.
I could have revealed what he had done, but I did nothing of the kind. He would deny all knowledge. It would be my word, that of a slave gladiator, against his, a Roman citizen. The surgeon had no power over him either; there was no point. ‘That must have been me, when I was still unconscious,’ I said.
Tutting, but making no further comment, the surgeon asked, ‘Can you sit up?’
Taking his outstretched hand, I eased up, wincing.
He untied the bandage and worked around my middle, rolling it back onto itself. All the while, Crixus watched, his gaze full of malevolence. I glanced at Big Dog, who was in turn staring at the lanista with pure hatred.
The last of the wrapping came away, and the surgeon examined the cut Sextus had given me. ‘The stitches are still in place. That is something, but it looks as if you got your fingers under the bandage. Hand me that bowl and sponge, will you?’ The question was directed at Crixus.
With poor grace, he obeyed.
‘This will sting,’ said the surgeon. ‘It is acetum, to clean the wound again.’
As the pain began, I tried to feel glad that Crixus had done me no serious harm, but I was not out of danger yet. He might try again when the surgeon left, and if my new owner did not take possession of me by the day’s end, I would be returned to the ludus. There I would be entirely at Crixus’ mercy.