“Christian!” he shouted. “Is this Marcia’s doing? Is this Marcia’s expedient to keep me out of the arena? Too long have I endured that rabble! I will rid Rome of the brood! They kill the shadow—they shall feel the substance!”
Suddenly he turned on his attendants—pointed at the murderer and his victim:
“Throw those two into the sewer! Strip them—strip them now—let none identify them. Seize those spineless fools who let the murder happen. Tie them. You, Narcissus—march them back to the arena. Have them thrown into the lions’ cages. Stay there and see it done, then come and tell me.”
The courtiers backed away from him as far out of the circle of the lamplight as the tunnel-wall would let them. He had snatched the lamp from Tullius. He held it high.
“Two parts of me are dead; the shadow that was satisfied with eels for supper and the immortal Paulus whom an empire worshiped. Remains me—the third part—Commodus! You shall regret those two dead parts of me!”
He hurled the lighted lamp into the midst of them and smashed it, then, in darkness, strode along the tunnel muttering and cursing as he went— stark naked.
“He is in the bath,” said Marcia. She and Galen were alone with Pertinax, who looked splendid in his official toga. She was herself in disarray. Her woman had tried to dress her hair on the way in the litter; one long coil of it was tumbling on her shoulder. She looked almost drunken.
“Where is Flavia Titiana?” she demanded.
“Out,” said Pertinax and shut his lips. He never let himself discuss his wife’s activities. The peasant in him, and the orthodox grammarian, preferred less scandalous subjects.
Marcia stared long at him, her liquid, lazy eyes, suggesting banked fires in their depths, looking for signs of spirit that should rise to the occasion. But Pertinax preferred to choose his own occasions.
“Commodus is in the bath,” Marcia repeated. “He will stay there until night comes. He is sulking. He has his tablets with him—writes and writes, then scratches out. He has shown what he writes to nobody, but he has sent for Livius.”
“We should have killed that dog,” said Pertinax, which brought a sudden laugh from Galen.
“A dog’s death never saved an empire,” Galen volunteered. “If you had murdered Livius the crisis would have come a few days sooner, that is all.”
“It is the crisis. It has come,” said Marcia. “Commodus came storming into my apartment, and I thought he meant to kill me with his own hands. Usually I am not afraid of him. This time he turned my strength to water. He yelled ‘Christians!’ at me, ’Christians! You and your Christians!’ He was unbathed. He was half-naked. He was sweaty from his exercise. His hair was ruffled; he had torn out some of it. His scowl was frightful—it was freezing.”