“By Jupiter, not I!” said Pertinax.
“He is sure to learn about this letter that has come.” said Galen. “If you, in fearful loyalty to Commodus, should instantly attempt to make a prisoner of Sextus; if, escaping, he is killed, and you bear witness— that would please Commodus almost as much as to see gladiators killed in the arena. If you wept over the death of Sextus, that would please him even more. He would enjoy your feelings. Do you remember how he picked two gladiators who were brothers twins they were—and when the slayer of his twin-brother saluted, Commodus got down into the arena and kissed him? You yourself must announce to him the news of Sextus’ death, and he will kiss you also!”
“Vale!” remarked Sextus. “I die willingly enough.”
“You are dead already,” Galen answered. “Didn’t Pertinax see some one’s body kicked into the bushes?”
There was silence. They all glanced at one another. Only Galen, sipping at his wine, seemed philosophically calm.
“I personally should not be an eye-witness,” Galen remarked. “I am a doctor, whose certificate of death not even Commodus would doubt. In the dark I might recognize Sextus’ garments, even though I could not see his features. And—” he added pointedly—“neither I nor any one can tell a beast’s blood from a man’s.”
“Daedalus!” said Pertinax with sudden resolution. “Get my purse. My slave has it. Sextus shall not go empty-handed.”
Sorbanus brought the skewbald stallion. Not far away a group of women danced around a dozen drunken men, who sang uproariously. Seen against the background of purple and dark-green gloom, with crimson torchlight flaring on the quiet water and the moon descending behind trees beyond them, they were mystically beautiful—seemed not to belong to earth, any more than the pan-pipe music did.
“Ride into their midst!” Norbanus urged, pointing. “Tickle the stallion thus.”
The Cappadocian lashed out savagely.
“Here is a bottle of goat’s blood. I will bring weapons, and I will join you as soon as possible after I have made sure that the temple priests, and all Daphne, are positive about your death. Now mount and ride!”
Sextus swung on to the stallion’s back as if a catapult had thrown him. Until then he had let others do the ordering; he had preferred to let them take their own precautions, form their own plans and subject himself to any course they wished, after which he should be free to face his destiny and fight it without feeling he had handicapped his friends by wilfulness. He had not even issued a direct command to Scylax, his own slave. That was characteristic of him. Nor was it at his suggestion that Norbanus volunteered to share his outlawry. But it was also characteristic that he made no gesture of dissent; he accepted Norbanus’ loyalty with a quiet smile that rather scorned words as unnecessary.