‘Now, that was my Emperor’s last letter.’ (The children heard the parchment crackle as Parnesius returned it to its place.)

‘»I was mistaken,» said Amal. «The servants of such a man will sell nothing except over the sword. I am glad of it.» He held out his hand to me.

‘»But Maximus has given you your dismissal,» said an elder. «You are certainly free to serve—or to rule—whom you please. Join—do not follow—join us!»

‘»We thank you,» said Pertinax. «But Maximus tells us to give you such messages as—pardon me, but I use his words—your thick heads can understand.» He pointed through the door to the foot of a catapult wound up.

‘»We understand,» said an elder. «The Wall must be won at a price?»

‘»It grieves me,» said Pertinax, laughing, «but so it must be won,» and he gave them of our best Southern wine.

‘They drank, and wiped their yellow beards in silence till they rose to go.