Both women were wailing and weeping. ‘We have done nothing wrong,’ Calpurnia said. ‘Nothing.’
The guards ignored her, instead urging them closer to us.
Your ‘crime’ was to show human decency, a quality lacking in the emperor, I thought bitterly.
The terrified pair came to a halt ten paces from the line of gladiators.
None of us moved.
‘See those women,’ I cried. ‘They spoke to me at the cena libera. They disagree with the fights today. They are good people, not like the rest of the scum in this amphitheatre.’
Pride filled me, because not a fighter moved a muscle.
Calpurnia’s face, meanwhile, filled with surprise as she recognised me.
I smiled at her, raging that I could not do more. Their fate, like ours, was sealed.
The lead guard, his face a mixture of fear and resentment, twisted around to regard the pulvinar.
An official angrily flicked his hand in a forward-moving gesture.
The guard muttered something under his breath, and turned back around. ‘Kill these women,’ he shouted at us.
No one moved.
He shoved Calpurnia, who tripped forward a step. With a cry, her daughter caught her arm and prevented her from falling to the burning sand.
‘Kill them, I say!’ repeated the guard.
‘Do it yourself, cunt,’ I said.
‘Gladiators do not butcher unarmed women,’ said Siccum proudly.
The guard pushed Calpurnia again. Half his weight, elderly, she could not stop herself from taking another pace towards us. Her anguished daughter stayed with her, even as she pleaded with the guard. ‘You do not have to do this. Please. Please.’
‘If I don’t do it, it will be me who is next,’ he growled. Eyeing Siccum, who was straight in front of the women, he said, ‘Finish these bitches, you sewer rat.’
‘I will not.’
Individual guards began to issue dire threats, and thrust their spears toward us, but still none of us moved.
Much of the crowd was silent, shocked no doubt by this latest horror, but sections of it were growing impatient. They yelled and whistled. Stamped their feet. Their mood was turning petulant, ugly, like a small child denied the pastry right in front of its eyes.
‘Iugula!’ shouted someone.
‘IUGULA!’ came the answering roar.
The lead guard looked nervously over his shoulder. Caligula had a face sour enough to curdle an egg, and the apoplectic official began to scream threats.
‘I am going to count to three,’ said the lead guard, turning back, ‘and then you are going to give these women iron. If you do not, my spear goes into the nearest gladiator.’ He issued an order, and the rest of the guards spread out along the line. ‘Each of my men will do the same. It is your choice. One.’
None of the guards were facing me, but there was one opposite Big Dog, and another in front of Siccum.
‘I’m going to fight,’ I muttered, preparing to lift my trident. With luck, I could stick the one who came for Big Dog.
‘And I,’ said Big Dog.
My heart squeezed.
Siccum had heard too; he also had had enough, it seemed. ‘Come any nearer, and you will regret it,’ he cried.
Never had I felt such comradeship.
‘Two,’ said the lead guard.
His men drew back their spears.