Why does Esca draw his knife in chapter 18–19 of The Eagle of the Ninth?

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Written by English author Rosemary Sutcliff, The Eagle of the Ninth is a historical children’s adventure story set in Roman Britain around 127 AD. It was published in 1954.

The novel tells the story of a nineteen-year-old former Roman Centurion Marcus Flavius Aquila. Discharged from the army due to injury, Marcus, together with his friend and freed slave Esca, set off to discover the truth about his father’s lost legion the "Unlucky Ninth." The pair also plan to rescue the lost legion’s totem, a bronze eagle, which represented the legion’s honor. As the First Cohort Commander of the legion, Marcus’s father had been accountable for preserving the eagle.

In chapters 18 and 19, Marcus and Esca are being closely followed by a group of horsemen. The pair decide to hide out in an old Roman signal tower. But, as they enter the tower they scare a large bird that flies out and up. The horsemen see the bird and are alerted to where Marcus and Esca are hiding. Esca draws his knife in order to kill the men. However, Marcus does not want them killed. Instead, they surprise them as they approach and are able to overwhelm and capture them.

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