‘I am sorry.’
Not you too, Siccum, I wanted to scream. I glared at the surgeon, and said, ‘But if he beat the wounded murmillo, he should be alive!’
‘So he should.’ The surgeon’s voice was sad. With his eyes, he indicated that we were not alone, then whispered in my ear, ‘Caligula was in an evil mood. Most of the victors in the final contests were slain afterwards – executed. This one had not fought well enough. That one’s bow towards the pulvinar was too shallow. Another turned his back on the emperor when he had been summoned – the poor wretch had not seen Caligula beckon him, but that did not matter. Your friend the Samnite, I recall one of the guards saying, seemed reluctant to give iron to the murmillo.’
‘That is because they were friends,’ I spat.
‘There is seldom mercy on the sands of the arena,’ said the doctor, sighing. ‘And certainly not today. The emperor’s archers killed both your friends.’
I hoped their end had been quick at least. Guiltily, furiously, I thought also of the wager Siccum had placed for me, and how hard it would be to claim my winnings. Impossible, I decided. ‘Did any fighters from my ludus survive?’
‘Not a single one, apart from you of course.’ He gave me a sympathetic smile.
I could not smile back. A sense of desolation bathed me. They were all gone – every last man of them. I had hated some, disliked others, not known many, and been friends to a few. All, however, had been my comrades, my brothers-in-arms. I thought of Crixus then, and consumed by black amusement, I chuckled. Noticing the surgeon’s confusion, I explained, ‘I am not laughing at the deaths of my fellows, but rather the lanista.’
‘Aye. A vicious bastard, he is. Now, thanks to the gods, and,’ I added, ‘in no small part, the emperor, he is ruined. I am right glad. My new owner cannot be any worse than he.’ I pictured the senator who had been forced to buy me for an extortionate sum, and in the same moment, I thought of freedom. If the crowds had left the amphitheatre, and only the surgeon was down here in the bowels of the building…a better opportunity of escape might never come my way. The surgeon would have a key to the door, and he seemed the type who might, just, be persuaded to let me go. I hoped so. Old as he was, I had not the strength to overpower him.
The very thought, however, of rising from the table and trying to stand, let alone walk out of the treatment room, filled me with trepidation. My hip ached dreadfully, and stabbing pains emanated from various points on my chest, arms and legs – no doubt the stab wounds inflicted when the guards had tried to rouse me after Big Dog’s punch.
I had to try.
I thought of the green landscape of Hibernia, and imagined clambering out of an anchored ship, wading through the shallows onto the shingly beach near my home. I could smell fresh-cut grass, wilting in the sun to make hay, and hear the crackle of flame as the midsummer fires were lit. Music, and song, and dance, the whole night through – and the girls, all fluttering eyelashes and sidelong looks – the lusty, joyful memories gave me strength, and purpose.