“He is quite mad,” Galen commented.
“I tried to make him understand this could not be a plot or I would certainly have heard of it,” Marcia went on with suppressed excitement. “I said it was the madness of one fanatic, that nobody could foresee. He wouldn’t listen. He out-roared me. He even raised his fist to strike. He swore it was another of my plans to keep him out of the arena. I began to think it might be wiser to admit that. Even in his worst moods he is sometimes softened by the thought that I take care of him and love him enough to risk his anger. But not this time! He flew into the worst passion I have ever seen. He returned to his first obsession, that the Christians plotted it and that I knew all about it. He swore he will butcher the Christians. He will rid Rome of them. He says, since he can not play Paulus any longer he will out-play Nero.”
“Where is Sextus?” Pertinax asked.
“Aye! Where is Sextus!”
Marcia glared at Galen.
“We have to thank you for Sextus! You persuaded Pertinax to shield Sextus. Pertinax persuaded me.”
“You did it!” Galen answered dryly. “It is what we do that matters. Squealing like a pig under a gate won’t remedy the matter. You foresaw the crisis long ago. Sextus has been very useful to you. He has kept you informed, so don’t lower yourself by turning on him now. What is the latest news about the other factions?”
Marcia restrained herself, biting her lip. She loved old Galen, but she did not relish being told the whole responsibility was hers, although she knew it.
“There is no news,” she answered. “Nobody has heard a word about the murder yet. Commodus has had the bodies thrown into the sewer. But there are spies in the palace—”
“To say nothing of Bultius Livius,” Pertinax added. He was clicking the rings on his fingers—symptom of irresolution that made Marcia grit her teeth.
“The other factions are watching one another,” Marcia went on. “They are irresolute because they have no leader near enough to Rome to strike without warning. Why are you irresolute?” She looked so hard at Pertinax that he got up and began to pace the floor. “Severus and his troops are in Pannonia. Pescennius Niger is in Syria. Clodius Albinus is in Britain. The senators are all so jealous and afraid for their own skins that they are as likely as not to betray one another to Commodus the minute they learn that a crisis exists. If they hear that Commodus is writing out proscription lists they will vie with one another to denounce their own pet enemies—including you—and me!” she added.
“There is one chance yet,” said Pertinax. “Bultius Livius may have enough wisdom to denounce the leaders of the other factions and to clear us. None of the others would be grateful to him. That Carthaginian Severus, for instance, is invariably spiteful to the men who do him favors. Bultius Livius may see that to protect us is his safest course, as well as best for Rome.”