Cleaning finished, the surgeon rebandaged my middle and gently helped me to lie back down.
‘Gratitude,’ I said, thinking, and not just for seeing to my injury again.
‘Try to keep from touching it,’ he replied.
‘Are you done?’ asked Crixus.
‘No. I have to clean my instruments. There’ll be another patient along soon too, I have no doubt,’ said the surgeon.
Thwarted – I had doubt that he wished to attack me again – Crixus paced to and fro, glowered at me and Big Dog, and then departed with his guard.
Barely had the noise of their sandals died away when the surgeon asked, ‘It was him who was at the bandage, wasn’t it?’
‘Aye,’ I muttered.
‘Why, because the emperor had forced him to sell you?’
‘That, and because he didn’t lay a bet on me for the fight.’
‘The odds must have been long indeed, but to try and hurt you so maliciously…your friend, did he try to stop him?’
‘He threatened me with crucifixion,’ said Big Dog.
The surgeon shook his head. ‘There are some right evil people in this world. You will be glad to see the back of him.’
‘I will, if he doesn’t come back when you are gone and try again,’ I said.
‘That I can do something about,’ said the surgeon.
He was as good as his word, staying until one of his orderlies turned up, and instructing him to stay with us until the end of the day. I clasped his hand, and told him he was a good man. Smiling, he took his leave.
The orderly brought word that Siccum had been victorious, delighting me in particular – I had high hopes now of receiving my winnings – but also Big Dog. Siccum was also unhurt, which was more good news. The next fight had already started, a contest between one of our Thracians and a highly fancied Gaul from the ludus in Rome. By the frequent shouts and thumping of feet from above, it was a dramatic spectacle, I thought.
Weakened further by the second treatment of my wound, secure for the moment from Crixus, I closed my eyes. The orderly was rolling fresh strips of bandage, and whistling to himself. Big Dog seemed content not to talk; the rest would do him good too, I thought, already drowsy. Sucked downward by the still effective poppy juice, I slept. Mercifully, I did not dream.
I was woken by screams some time later. It was a harsh wakeup call. My eyes opened, focusing on the roof of the treatment room. The smell of blood and acetum filled my nostrils.
‘It hurts, it hurts!’ wailed a voice I recognised. ‘Hades, make it stop!’
‘Hold him!’ The surgeon’s voice. ‘Get the poppy juice!’
I rolled over. Several men stood with their backs to me, restraining another on a table. One leg freed itself, and kicked up and down. His torso lifted and fell on the planking; I heard his head bang on it too. ‘It hurrrrrrrtttttts!’ he screamed.
‘Hold him, or the bleeding will start again. The bandage can only do so much,’ said the surgeon, who was standing at one end of the table, looking down at his patient. ‘Where is that cursed poppy juice?’
An orderly hurried over, cup in hand. ‘Here, dominus.’
The surgeon bent to speak in the yelling man’s ear. ‘You have to drink this. It will take away the pain.’