“But the guards, Nessus?”
“I have killed them,” Nessus said in a tone of indifference.
“But I am chained to them by the ankles.”
Nessus gave a little exclamation of impatience, and then in the darkness felt the irons to discover the nature of the fastenings. In a minute there was a sound of a dull crashing blow, then Nessus moved to the other side and the sound was repeated. With two blows of his short heavy sword the Arab had cut off the feet of the dead Romans at the ankle, and the chains were free.
“Put on the clothes of this man, my lord, and take his arms; I will take those of the other.”
As soon as this was done Nessus wrapped some folds of cloth round each of the chains to prevent their clanking, then passing a band through the ends he fastened them to Malchus’ waist.
“Quick, my lord,” he said as he finished the work; “daylight is beginning to break.”
They stepped over the dead sentry at the door of the tent and were going on when Malchus said:
“Best lift him inside, Nessus; it may be some little time before it is noticed that he is missing from his post.”
This was quickly done, and they then moved away quietly among the tents till they approached the rear of the camp. It was now light enough to enable them to see dimly the figures of the Roman sentries placed at short intervals round the camp.
“We cannot get through unseen,” Malchus said.
“No, my lord,” Nessus replied; “I have wasted too much time in finding you.”
“Then we had best lie down quietly here,” Malchus said; “in a short time the men will be moving about, and we can then pass through the sentries without remark.”
As the light spread over the sky sounds of movement were heard in the camp, and soon figures were moving about, some beginning to make fires, others to attend to their horses. The two Carthaginians moved about among the tents as if similarly occupied, secure that their attire as Roman soldiers would prevent any observation being directed towards them. They were anxious to be off, for they feared that at any moment they might hear the alarm raised on the discovery that the sentry was missing.
It was nearly broad daylight now, and when they saw two or three soldiers pass out between the sentries unquestioned they started at once to follow them. The morning was very cold, and the soldiers who were about were all wearing their military cloaks. Malchus had pulled the irons as high up as he could possibly force them, and they did not show below his cloak.
Walking carelessly along they passed through the sentries, whose duties, now that morning had dawned, related only to discovering an enemy approaching the camp, the soldiers being now free to enter or leave as they pleased.
“It is of no use to go far,” Malchus said; “the nearer we hide to the camp the better. We are less likely to be looked for there than at a distance, and it is impossible for me to travel at any speed until I get rid of these heavy irons. As soon as we get over that little brow ahead we shall be out of sight of the sentries, and will take to the first hiding place we see.”