Qui cum canibus concumbunt cum pulicibus surgent. (He who lies down with dogs will get up with fleas.)
"Would you give him house-room?"
"I expect so," said Uncle Aquila. "Though I am somewhat at a loss to understand why you should wish to keep a tame gladiator. Why not try a wolf instead?"
"That is a start," said Aquila, after hearing the message Stephanos had brought back from Beppo the circus-master, his answer to the offer Marcus had made for the gladiator who had fallen in the arena the day before. In truth it was a good price, but one did not accept the first counter-offer. "Offer him nine hundred."
"I can pay the twelve," said Marcus quickly.
"You will pay eleven, which is what he will ask for after Stephanos offers nine." He looked at Stephanos, who no doubt would have preferred that they had agreed to twelve, so as to save him another round of the journey – or better yet, that Aquila had not given his approval for this strange purchase – but Stephanos dipped his head and left for the arena once more.
"One hundred sesterces more or less matters little to me."
"No," Aquila agreed. "But the circus-master will take whatever he can get to wash his hands of a defeated gladiator, and be glad of it, so you should not be so eager to give him your coin." The set of Marcus's jaw reminded him suddenly of his brother, and he had to look away lest a tell-tale moistness spring to his eyes. He sighed. "But it is your coin to spend, nephew, and if it is a gladiator you wish for a body-slave, you may spend it on him. For myself, I think the coin of my time is better spent on my research, so if you will excuse me, I shall retire to my study." He whistled for Procyon, who rose from his warm spot by the fire and padded upstairs after him.
The history of siege warfare absorbed him for a time. Dimly he heard Stephanos return, and the sounds although not the words of his conversation with Marcus. Doubtless the circus-master had done as expected and had countered the offer of nine hundred sesterces with eleven, or ten and fifty, or perhaps even only ten. Stephanos could fetch the new slave after dinner.
Soon Procyon whined and butted against Aquila's leg. Perhaps it was even now close to dinner-time. Often he forgot to note the passage of time while he worked. Yes, it was growing dark outside; Procyon was right, it was time to go down to dinner.
They did not talk of the slave at the table. Marcus asked about the progress on his book, and Aquila was happy to ramble on a subject dear to his heart. Marcus nodded, and asked sensible questions, but after a few minutes his eyes became hooded and sad, and gently Aquila steered the conversation to other things. Clearly it was not that the young man was not interested in the tactics of war; it was that he wished he were still out there in Isca Dumnoniorum.
Afterwards Aquila retreated again to the tower room, Procyon at his heels, but this time he did not settle easily into his work. It came to his mind, as he considered strategies for defending a besieged village, that it was paramount not to allow even a single enemy to slip past the gates; but that was what they were about to do, with the purchase of the young gladiator. The tribes had no great love for Rome.
"Perhaps I was foolish to agree so quickly to Marcus's whim," he told Procyon. The old hound whuffled at him and nosed at his knee, and Aquila put down his stylus and wax tablet and reached down to rub his head. This would certainly affect the household; Stephanos had looked at him oddly when Aquila had directed him to the arena, and he supposed the other slaves would not sleep easy. "Ah, well," he said, scratching Procyon on the spot behind the ears where he liked it the best, "You'll protect us, won't you?"
Procyon settled in against his legs, closing his eyes as if to remind Aquila that his guard-dog days were long past. But how could Aquila deny Marcus this? In the two months he'd been in Calleva, Marcus had been gloomy and sullen as the winter skies above. And no wonder: he'd been a Centurion, and he'd led his Legion into battle; he'd won a military bracelet, and his Cohort its first laurels. Now he mouldered in a quiet villa with his old uncle, and his old uncle's old slaves. "And his old dog," he added aloud to Procyon. This gladiator was the first thing in which Marcus had taken any interest.
Thoughtfully Aquila stroked Procyon's head. When Julia died in Glevum, he had not been much older than Marcus. It had felt to him as though the world had come to an end. A friend's wolfhound bitch had just whelped, and he'd given Aquila one of the pups. That had been Margarita, Procyon's long-ago forebear. She had comforted Aquila, had given him something to care about other than his own grieving heart. Perhaps this wolf of a gladiator would do the same for Marcus.
Assuming, of course, that he did not slit his throat in the night; but despite his jest to Marcus about sleeping with a knife under his pillow, Aquila did not really believe his nephew to be in danger. Despite what many Romans believed, the tribesmen were not without honour. To his mind, the young Briton had carried himself in the manner of an honourable man. Such a man would consider that Marcus had caused his life to be spared in the arena, and thus grant him the same courtesy.
Noises floated up to the tower room; Stephanos had returned with the new slave. Aquila wondered what Marcus thought of his casual decision now that it had become a man in the flesh. He opened the window on the side facing the atrium, so as to hear more clearly.
"And now?" It was his nephew's voice, calm and strong.
The reply was a moment in coming, in lightly accented Latin. "I am the Centurion's hound, to lie at the Centurion's feet."
So, thought Aquila, closing the window. Even the slave knows his purpose here. For some reason – perhaps it was the slave's words, or because he had been thinking of Julia – the words of her father, his old Camp Commandant, came to him. "He who lies down with dogs will rise with fleas," he murmured aloud. The Centurion Tubero had been speaking of their uneasy dealings with the Silures; it seemed oddly applicable now.
Though for all he named himself the Centurion's hound, the new slave was yet a wolf. What did one get, Aquila wondered, when one lay down with wolves?
He had his answer in the early days of spring, when the slave Esca joined the wolf hunt and returned with a tiny grey wolf-cub. Of course, thought Aquila: lie down with wolves, rise with a wolf-cub. It did not bother him particularly, for what was one more wolf in the house? He retreated to his study to consider the siege of Jerusalem, and let the members of the household sort things out each in his own way.
"I see you have a new companion," said Aquila to his nephew a few days later, as they sat together in the garden among the new buds and early growth. The air had the fresh green scent of wet earth, and birds called to one another from their perches on the walls and branches. The weak March sunshine did not warm them so much as it promised warmth to come, but after weeks of bitter wind and grey skies it was a fine thing to sit out of doors once more.
"He is a fierce one," said Marcus with a smile. "See, he has already shown me his teeth." He held out his hand to show a scabbed-over scratch.
"You are brave, to take a wolf to your breast."
Marcus looked at him sharply. Not a fool, that boy. "I find that creatures respond to the manner in which they are treated."
That was true. From the first day Marcus had treated his body-slave nearly as an equal, and although for his part Esca showed him deference, he was neither obsequious nor defiant, neither dog nor wolf.
"That is a lesson that more men would do well to learn," Aquila observed. "It takes more bravery to nurse a cub than to kill it." What a pity, he thought, that Marcus was no longer Cohort Centurion. It was a leader's skill, to treat men as they ought to be treated, and one that was to his mind far too rare.
"You do not mind, then?"
"And if I did, would that matter? Stephanos has already told me that Sassticca will not hear anything against Cub, and I dare not go against her word!" He shook his head. "No, of course not, now that Procyon has decided the creature is enough like a hound puppy to share his house." The two of them had not yet become close friends, it was true; but they had reached an agreement of sorts, the wolfhound and the wolf cub. Now they each lay curled in their own spot of sun, not far from their masters' feet.
"Esca told me his people often brought home wolf-pups when they killed a she-wolf in milk. He had one as a child that his brothers gave him after a hunt. He raised the pup by his own hand and swore he was as tame as any hound."
"We shall see if you are as successful with your own," said Aquila. He expected that Marcus would tame Cub the same way he'd tamed Esca, with kindness and honesty. He would deal with the wolf-pup as he would with any hound, just as he dealt with Esca as he would with any man. And just as Esca had not entirely become the dog, Cub, he suspected, would always have some wolf to him; and both of these, he thought, were not at all bad things.
"Uncle, Claudius Hieronimianus?"
Aquila looked up. Marcus stood in the doorway of the atrium. Something pale was clutched tightly in his hand. "May I trouble you both for a small service?"
"Of course." It was just the two of them in the atrium now, as the Tribune had excused himself earlier, leaving the two old men to what he no doubt thought was a conversation of exceeding dullness. "I assume this is in regards to your…expedition?" Carefully he kept his voice neutral; Marcus would go, whether Aquila liked it or not. Sheer lunacy, he had called it, when Marcus had proposed it, although he had to concede that Marcus had thought the plan out well; that he was no green boy but a blooded Centurion who would be prepared for the dangers he would certainly face; and that he, more than anyone else, had the right to follow the trail of his own father's Legion, whether it led to glory or to death. It was his right, and Aquila readily admitted this; but he didn't like it.
"In a way, yes," said Marcus, stepping forward. "The Tribune Servius Placidus put it in my mind that I ought to free Esca, and so I have written out his manumission, and I would have you witness that I sign it." He opened his hand; the pale thing was revealed as a papyrus scroll, no doubt taken from Aquila's own study along with the writing-tools Marcus also held.
Claudius leaned forward, frowning. "Your slave? I thought he was to accompany you."
"He will, or he will not, as he chooses. But I think he will."
Aquila heard the emphasis in Marcus's voice, and smiled. Of course Marcus would feel honour-bound to give Esca a choice; and of course Esca would choose to accompany him. None of this surprised him. Perhaps he was only surprised that it had taken so long.
He rubbed his hands together. "It is a thing well done, nephew. I shall forgive that you have taken my fine papyrus for the deed, and serve as witness. No, no," he added at Marcus's stricken look, "I can think of no better use for it. Bring it here and make your signature."
"I shall be pleased to serve as witness as well," said Claudius.
"Thank you," said Marcus, and he unrolled the scroll and laid it beside the lamp on the table, so they could read what they were to witness.
Aquila read over the words. "It is a thing well done," he repeated softly, nodding to himself as he read. It was true that he did not fully approve of the journey that Marcus and Esca would undertake; but this he approved with his whole heart.
When Marcus had first bought Esca as body-slave, the dark thought had come to Aquila that his nephew had got himself a wolf; but the wolf had named himself hound, and had been a true and faithful companion to him. They had become friends, that was easy enough to see, and as friends they were equals. The dog had become a man; or perhaps, thought Aquila, a smile playing at the edges of his mouth, the man had shed his stiffness and sadness and gained some of the dog's ability to find joy in the simple pleasures that leavened the difficulties of life. Yes, he could easily imagine them as a matched pair of hunting hounds about to give chase.
And two hounds could better run down a quarry than one; Marcus had his soldier's training, and Esca his native knowledge of the land and of the Northern Tribes. If it could be done, it would be done by these two, he thought, and he dipped the quill in the ink and signed his name.
Marcus had chosen to lie down with wolves; perhaps, if the gods were kind, he would rise with an Eagle.