“I insist on it!” he answered. He, too, pointed at the row of gibbets. “To be frightened will provide us with no armor against destiny! There was little I had to lose; lo, I have left that for the mice to nibble! Let us see what destiny can do to bold men! Lead on, Sextus!”
Dawn was sparkling on the mountain peaks; the misty violet of half-light crept into the passes and the sun already bathed the copper roofs of Antioch in gleaming gold above a miracle of greenery and marble. Like a sluggish, muddy stream with camel’s heads afloat in it, the south-bound caravan poured up against the city gate and spread itself to await inspection by the tax-gatherers, the governor’s representatives and the police. There was a tedious procedure of examination, hindered by the swarms of gossipers, the merchants’ agents, smugglers, and the men to whom the latest news meant livelihood, who streamed out of the city gate and mingled with the new-comers from Asia, Bythinia, Pontus, Pisidia, Galatia and Cappadocia.
The caravan guards piled their spears and breakfasted apart, their duty done. They had the air of men to whom the constantly repeated marches to and fro on the selfsame stage of a mountainous road had grown displeasing and devoid of all romance. Two were wounded. One, with a dent in the helmet that hung from his arm by the chin-strap, lay leaning against a rock; refused food, and slowly bled to death, his white face almost comically disappointed.
A military tribune, followed by a slave with tablets, and by a mounted trooper for the sake of his official dignity, rode out from the city and took the report from the guards’ decurion, a half-breed Dacian-Italian, black-bearded and taciturn, who dictated it to the slave in curt, staccato sentences, grudging the very gesture that he made toward the wounded men. The tribune glanced at the report, signed it, turned his horse and rode into the city, disregarding the decurion’s salute, his military cloak a splash of very bright red, seen against the limestone and above the predominant brown of the camels and coats of their owners. He cantered his horse when he passed through the gate, and there went up a clamor of newsy excitement behind him as group after group loosed tongues in competition of exaggeration.
Being bad, the news spread swiftly. The quadruple lines of columns all along the Corso, as the four-mile-long main thoroughfare was called, began to look like pier-piles in a flowing tide of men. Yellow, blue, red, striped and parti-colored costumes, restless as the flotsam on a mill-race, swirled into patterns, and broke, and reblended. The long portico of Caesar’s baths resounded to the hollow hum of voices. Streaming lines of slaves in the midst of the street were delayed by the crowd, and abused for obstructing