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Julian's whole fortune was due to the skill of Spartacus, his gladiator. And yet it's a female slave who saves Spartacus when his master betrays him!

WHEN the guard had passed, a grimy hand picked up a stick and struck the stone wall three light blows. The reply came dully. There was a crack in the wall. Festered lips pressed there.

"Spartacus! Be ye well?"

"I hunger. I thirst. In time I shall perish," came the weak reply.

"Courage, Spartacus! We, too, hunger."

"Be there news?"

"Nay. Madness hast assuredly seized our master. Thou who art his greatest treasure lie rotting in a dungeon."

"And thou?"

"We, too, starve. The Nubian hast perished from the hundred lashes. Yet our master still buys slaves. Roman armies have conquered."

"Cursed be these Roman dogs!" said Spartacus in a savage voice.

"Today ten female slaves arrive. But caution! Be ready. A few crumbs I wilt blow through the crack. Food is precious. 'Tis all we can spare."

The man dusted crumbs into the crack and blew. On the other side, Spartacus caught them in his cupped hand. At the roof of the dungeon there was a tiny barred window in the wall. It admitted a faint light. Spartacus carried the crumbs to a hole at the base of the opposite wall. He piled them there.

Then he knelt to one side and picked up a stone. He crouched in statue-like immobility. Time passed. A half an hour. He did not move. An hour went by. His bones ached and his flesh was cold. Still he was motionless.

THEN there was a faint movement at the hole. A tiny, whiskered snout appeared. Spartacus tensed. A gray head appeared. Button black eyes surveyed the place. Assured, a huge rat stuck his head into the dungeon. Then its shoulders. A wet tongue began to lick up the crumbs. The stone fell. The rat perished.

With a knife-sharp stone, Spartacus gutted the beast and skinned it. Then he disjointed it and began to devour the still warm flesh. The meat was tough and bitter. But he wolfed it down. He cracked the skull and sucked out the brains. The eyes, too, he ate. His stomach threatened to revolt. He got up and paced the floor.

"I be a Spartan," he assured himself. "All the might of the Roman Empire canst not bend my will."

Strength swept through his body and his despair lightened. He returned to the remains of the rat, squeezed out the entrails and ground his teeth on the elastic tissue.

"Thirty and three days in this stinking dungeon," he muttered to himself. "New slaves, eh? And 'twas my skill that won them. Yet my bloated master Julian hast thrown me into this wretched dungeon. Patience, Spartacus! Suffering makes vengeance the sweeter." He laughed a trifle madly and hate blazed in his eyes. Then knowing the madness that might result from inactivity, he swept up the remains of the rat and hid them behind a loose stone in the wall. Three knocks echoed dismally throughout the dungeon. He went to the wall.

"Be warned, Spartacus! Many guards cross the yard."

But by the time tire guards reached the dungeons, the crack had been filled with mortar. The slaves, herded like cattle, were taken from the building and marched to the basement of the villa where hot baths awaited them.

"Our master Julian hast guests," whispered Joseph, the Judean, to Spartacus. "Again he displays his worldly goods."

The slaves bathed, were given clean loin cloths and, after their hands had been shackled, were escorted to the main room of the villa.

It was a huge room with luxurious couches forming a rectangle within the walls. Between each couch, and set on a waist-high pedestal of stone, were brass braziers filled with burning charcoal. They were about two feet in diameter and gave off a pleasant heat. Spartacus thought of the death chill of his dungeon and smiled. It was not a nice smile.

RECLINING on one of the couches, and with a female slave squatting on the floor at his head, Julian held a cup of wine in one hand. With the other he ruffled the red curls of the slave, who was viewing the male slaves with contempt. Behind Julian stood a handsome youth attired in the colorful cape of the Empress's own guard. Next to him stood a well-formed, not unhandsome woman some thirty years of age whose face bore the stamp of cruelty.

"These be my fighting slaves, sister," said Julian to the woman with a careless wave at the men before them.

"A well-scarred rabble, but one," said she. "Who be the scarless one? A fledgling?"

"Ho! Ho!" laughed Julian and his great belly rolled. "That man be Spartacus. The greatest gladiator in all the Empire. A hundred and ten men hast he slain."

"His eyes be gray and methinks hate simmers there," said the woman, but added: "Yet he is young and handsome. What be thy price?"

"To Julian, he be priceless," said the youth at her side. "But for Spartacus, Julian would have no riches."

Julian colored.

"Hold thy tongue, cousin Aristius!" he ordered. "Thou hatest me, that I know. But this be my household."

"Aye, Aristius," said the woman, "thou art a fool. Thou who believes in free men and maids."

"Sister," said Julian, "in five days Spartacus fights again. T...

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