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CHAPTER TEN

 ON THE seventh day without the dole, there were riots in the Subura. Although it came as no surprise to anyone but Octavia, the people began breaking into shops, stealing food from vendors in the streets, and setting fire to taverns that refused to defer charges. As we sat in the triclinium eating oysters and thrushes, listening to sweet tones played by a slave girl on the harp, the Subura tore at itself like a rabid wolf. The hungry masses devoured anything that crossed their path—chickens, dogs, even cats. On the eighth night, when a soldier interrupted our meal to announce that a pleb had given up the bowman from the theater, I caught the triumphant look in Octavian’s eyes.

“Reinstate the dole tomorrow,” he said. “Remind the people that I am paying for their grain with my own denarii, and tell them I have sold my statues to buy them food.”

The soldier smiled. “Certainly, Caesar.”

“And the criminal?” he asked, almost as though it were an afterthought.

“One of your slaves. A kitchen boy, I believe.”

Octavian grew very still. “Kitchen boy, or a man?”

“Sixteen.”

“And you are sure that it’s him?”

“He escaped from the Palatine three weeks ago, and the plebs seem very certain. Even if it wasn’t, he’s still a runaway.”

Agrippa rose angrily. “Well is it him, or isn’t it?”

“It is,” the soldier said with more confidence. Octavian’s decree that slaves could not purchase weapons hadn’t mattered. There would always be dealers willing to sell anything for the right price.

“Whip him through the streets,” Octavian said. “And tomorrow, crucify him next to the Forum.”

Octavia gasped, pressing her silk napkin delicately to her lips, only this time she didn’t protest.

“But how do they know the plebs aren’t lying, hoping he’ll bring back the dole?” I whispered.

Marcellus’s usually bright cheeks had grown pale. “It’s possible.”

“And if they tortured him,” Julia pointed out, “he might confess to anything.”

Octavian didn’t appear concerned. He reclined on his couch and continued making notes for his next speech in the Senate. But I couldn’t stop thinking of the kitchen boy who’d been condemned to death, and the next day, after our time on the Campus Martius, I persuaded Juba to allow us to go to the Forum.

“To see a dead man?” Julia complained as we made our way there. “What’s the purpose?”

“I want to know if it’s really him,” I said.

“And if it isn’t?”

“She just wants to know,” Marcellus said. “I’d like to know as well.”

“There will be no interfering with justice,” Juba warned darkly. He was speaking to all of us, but he looked at me when he said it.

“We understand,” Marcellus replied. “We just want to go and see.”

Julia sighed heavily, and we walked the remaining distance to the Forum in silence, trailed by Juba and Gallia. When we arrived, there was no mistaking what was about to happen. Hundreds of Roman soldiers stood outside the Senate, shields at the ready and armed with swords. The red plumes of their helmets drooped in the sun, and I imagined how hot the men must be beneath their armor. But none of them moved. Only their eyes roamed the Forum, searching for possible rebels in the crowd.

“All of this, for an execution?” Alexander exclaimed.

“The rebel’s supporters might try to save him,” Marcellus explained. “Or at least give him an easy death.”

“Do you think that will happen?” Julia asked eagerly, glancing around the Forum.

“I wouldn’t bet on it,” Juba said curtly.

No one was allowed near the wooden cross, or the boy who would be bound to it. Juba led us to the steps of the Senate, where guards immediately cleared a space for distinguished witnesses. I felt a tightening in my stomach.

“Is it him?” Alexander whispered at my side.

The soldiers had whipped the kitchen boy through the streets, and his bare back was a bloodied mess. But even without shading my eyes from the sun, I could see that the slave had the same height and build as the masked bowman from the theater. “I don’t know. It might be.” I looked at Julia, who had purchased an ofella and was munching contentedly. “How can you bear to watch this and eat?” I demanded.

“It’s just an execution. Most are done at the Esquiline Gate. This is the only one I’ve seen in the Forum.”

“A rare treat,” Juba remarked.

“I wonder why more aren’t done near the Senate,” she said.

“Possibly because the Forum is a place of business, not torture,” he snapped.

She popped a last piece of ofella into her mouth. “You’re probably right.” She turned to me. “My gods, just look at these people. All of this for a slave.”

It didn’t occur to her that we were part of these people, watching as the accused assassin’s wrists and ankles were bound to the cross with rope, and listening to his shrieks of pain as he was hoisted into the air. When I buried my face in Alexander’s shoulder, Juba remarked, “What’s the matter? I thought you wanted to see this.”

“I wanted to see if he was the bowman!”

“And?”

I nodded, unable to speak. He wouldn’t have heard me anyway. The boy’s screams were too loud, and as the cross was raised his body sank down on the sedile, a crude wooden seat that took the pressure from his wrists.

Finally, even Julia had had enough. “We should go,” she said. “I don’t want to see this anymore.”

Marcellus agreed. There was no sign of the Red Eagle. No indication that the kitchen boy’s death would be swift.

“Imagine if he had tried to assassinate our father,” Alexander reminded me quietly as we left. “We would want him dead.”

But Octavian wasn’t our father, and I couldn’t stop wondering what might have happened if I had simply held my tongue.

There was no more talk of the Red Eagle on the Palatine, but Octavian gave a special address to the Senate and requested a force of soldiers whose sole duty would be to protect him. The Senate agreed, assembling a professional body of men that Octavian called his Praetorian Guard. But after several weeks without any new acta posted in Rome, everyone began to wonder whether the Red Eagle might have gone into hiding.

“Why else would he be silent?” Julia asked on the way to the Ludi Romani. The streets were swollen with people carrying circus padding to the amphitheater for the start of the Games, and our litter swayed dangerously as the bearers tried to avoid a collision.

“Perhaps he wants to distance himself from the kitchen boy,” I suggested, holding onto the wooden sides.

There was a sudden stop, and Julia jerked forward, steadying herself with her hand. “Be careful!” she screamed, tearing open the delicate curtains and swearing at the hapless bearers. When she’d twitched the curtains shut, she turned to me. “For three years now, the Red Eagle has appeared at the Ludi.”

I gasped. “In person?”

“No. He goes by night and posts acta on the Circus doors. Last year,” she whispered, “he freed the gladiators who were going to fight in the arena!”

“So you think that there should be an end to slavery?”

Julia looked at me with alarm. “Of course not! But imagine a man daring enough to free gladiators from their cells.” She sighed. “Spartacus was courageous. But the Red Eagle,” she whispered eagerly, “could be anyone. He might not even be a slave.”

I recalled Gallia’s meeting with Magister Verrius. Since then, I’d tried several times to speak with her about the Red Eagle, and every time, she’d dismissed me with a wave. “It would be dangerous to fall in love with a rebel,” I warned.

Julia laughed. “Plenty of women fall in love with gladiators, and most of the gladiators are criminals.” She opened the curtain and pointed to the merchants on the side of the road. “You see what they’re selling?”

“Ofellae?”

“No.” She made a face. “Look closer.”

“Are those—?” I clapped my hand over my mouth.

Julia giggled. The shopkeepers were selling statuettes of gladiators with erect penises. “Everyone knows that women lust after them.” She let the curtain fall back into place. “Even Horatia has had one,” she confessed.

I leaned forward. “Without her husband knowing?”

“Pollio has taken half a dozen of her slave girls. She deserves some happiness.”

“But what if he catches her?”

“It was only once. And he’ll never divorce her.”

“How do you know?”

“Because he told my father that he never wants anything but fourteen-year-old girls.”

“And what does he think? She won’t ever grow old?”

“Sure. But she will always be small. Like you.” I shuddered at the thought of a man like Pollio taking me to his couch and pressing his naked stomach against mine, just like the man on the Palatine. I will never let that happen to me again. I will follow my mother to the grave before I’m subjected to that. I suspected that Julia could read the disgust on my face, because she added, “Horatia swore that she’d open her wrists before she wed Pollio.”

There was a shrill scream on the other side of the curtain, and Julia rushed to open it again. On the steps of a temple, an old man was thrashing two boys with a whip. They knelt on the steps of the temple and cowered, covering their heads with their arms.

“Why don’t they run?” I cried.

“They’re slaves.” Julia leaned forward to get a better view. “In fact, they’re Fabius’s slaves!”

“You recognize him?”

She threw a look over her shoulder. “He’s one of the richest men in Rome.”

The cries of the two boys were terrible to hear. I covered my ears with my hands. “But what could they have done?”

“To Fabius? I’ve heard it doesn’t take much more than rebuffing his advances.”

“To boys?”

“And girls. And widows. And matrons. Disgusting,” she said, and let the curtain fall into place.

When we arrived, Agrippa made certain that Caesar’s box was ready, then returned to help us from our litters.

“This is the new amphitheater,” Julia said eagerly. “I wonder what our seats will be like.”

Members of Octavian’s Praetorian Guard escorted us through the crowd. Armed soldiers cleared away the plebs, but I noticed that Octavian still walked between Juba and Agrippa.

“So what do you think?” a familiar voice asked, and when I turned, Vitruvius was standing with Octavia. He smiled. “Brand-new. Built by Consul Titus Statilius Taurus.”

“It’s very handsome,” I said cautiously. The amphitheater towered above the Campus Martius, and even though it was swarming with people, its elegance was undisturbed. The ground floor was occupied by shops tucked neatly between the painted arches, and large columns had been carved like friezes into the sides.

“But?” Vitruvius asked.

“But I would have chosen red granite instead of limestone. The limestone will look dirty in a few years’ time.”

Vitruvius smiled. “I would have to agree with you.”

“Vitruvius tells me you have a strong understanding of geometry,” Octavia said, taking his arm, “and that he is exceptionally impressed by your designs for my brother’s mausoleum.”

When I looked to Vitruvius in surprise, Octavia laughed.

“Oh, he is sparing with his praise. But he’s shown me your work.”

“I’d like to see it,” Marcellus said.

“Her sketches are in the library,” Vitruvius replied.

Julia was silent. When we reached Caesar’s box with its wine-colored awnings and wide silk couches, she purposefully sat between me and Marcellus, turning her back to me to ask him, “So who will you bet on?”

“We can place bets on gladiators?” Alexander asked.

“Sure,” Marcellus said. Then he amended, “Of course, there’s no method to it. Not like what you’ve shown me with the horses. You simply pick a number—fifty, thirty-three—and if that gladiator survives, you win.”

“Are there odds?”

“Alexander!” I said sharply. “You can’t bet on men’s lives.”

“I bet on them in the Circus.”

“Those are just chariots.”

Alexander looked abashed. “Come on, Selene. If I win, I’ll give you the winnings for your home.”

“What home?” Julia asked.

“Her foundling home,” Marcellus replied, but not so loudly that Octavian, on the couch next to us, could hear.

Julia stared at me. “I didn’t know about this.”

“It’s nothing,” I said quickly.

“Marcellus knows about it.”

“Because he saw the sketch. It’s just a place I imagined.”

“For foundlings,” Marcellus explained. “She’s interested in charity, like my mother.”

“How nice,” Julia said, but her tone implied otherwise.

“It probably won’t come to anything,” I said.

Julia folded her arms across her chest. “Why not?”

“Because who would build a home for foundlings? And why would anyone listen to me?”

“I might,” she said pointedly, and most likely for Marcellus’s benefit, “if I were Caesar’s wife.”

I was silent.

“You have such a very kind heart, Selene. I wish I were so good.” But I could see that she didn’t. She was content to eat ofellae during executions and step over wailing infants so long as Marcellus didn’t think she was callous. And although Marcellus would never criticize her, she couldn’t bear it when he praised me. “So are you betting?” she asked.

I shook my head. “If Alexander wishes to bet on death, then he can.”

“Really?” My brother leaned back on the couch so he could see around Marcellus and Julia. “You won’t be upset?”

I refused to answer him.

“Oh, they’re going to die anyway,” Julia said.

“And betting on it won’t make a difference,” Alexander pointed out.

The bet-maker appeared, and from her couch in front of us, Livia said gleefully, “Twenty denarii on the first gladiator.”

“To live or die, Domina?”

“Die,” she said, and next to her, Octavian passed the man a heavy purse.

“And for you, Domina?”

Octavia considered. “The first five gladiators.”

“Living or dead?”

“Living,” Octavia said pointedly, and her brother smiled.

When the bet-maker came to Alexander, I turned my face away.

“It’s not nice, is it?” Antonia asked. She shared a couch with her sister and Vipsania. On the other side of them, Tiberius and his younger brother, Drusus, were rolling dice. “I try not to watch whenever the men die.”

“Are they all condemned criminals?”

“No. Some are slaves who were purchased for fighting. Aren’t there gladiatorial events in Egypt?”

“No. We don’t kill men for sport.”

“Oh, there’s women, too,” she said sadly. “And animals.”

“Here?”

“Sure. Look.”

The trumpets sounded, and as the gates of the arena were pulled up, a group of sword-carrying men entered from beneath the amphitheater. They wore strange sandals laced up to the knee and short tunics, and I realized with a start that some were mere boys.

“Who are they?”

“Telegenii,” Antonia said. “The consul who built this amphitheater found them south of Carthage and brought them here to fight.”

There was a loud gasp from the crowd in the arena as seven leopards were set loose.

“They’re not going to kill the cats?” I exclaimed.

“Certainly. Or they’ll be killed themselves.”

I sat forward. “Is this what you bet on?” I shouted at Alexander.

“No! No one said there would be leopards.”

“What’s the matter?” Marcellus asked.

“Those animals”—Alexander pointed wildly—“are sacred in Egypt. We don’t kill them for meat, and certainly not for entertainment!”

“Oh, this is just the opening act,” Julia said. “There’s only seven. Then the real fights will begin.”

Alexander glanced at me, and I could see the fear in his eyes. If our mother had been alive, she would never have forgiven us for watching this.

“Do you think they’ve brought this to Egypt?” I asked coldly in Parthian.

“Yes,” he said quitely. “And when we return, we’ll forbid it.”

The announcer narrated the fight, and whenever the crowds cheered I closed my eyes and imagined that I was back in Alexandria, where the Museion towered over the gleaming city and philosophers went to the theater for entertainment.

“It’s not that bad,” Julia said critically. “You can open your eyes. They’re nearly all dead.”

“The leopards or the Telegenii?”

“The leopards. Only two Telegenii have been killed.”

I opened my eyes, but I refused to watch. Instead I turned and looked at Gallia, who was sitting behind us among the men of the Praetorian Guard. When she caught my gaze, she beckoned to me with her hand. I left my position on the couch next to Julia, and Gallia made space for me on hers.

“Not enjoying the Games?”

“No,” I admitted.

“Oh, but you haven’t even seen the best part,” she said dryly. “When the gladiators are done being savaged, two men will come out and get them. One will be dressed as Hermes, the other as Charon.” The messenger god and the ferryman of the dead.

“What do they do?”

“Collect the bodies. But first, Hermes prods the gladiator with a hot iron, and if he moves, Charon takes a mallet and crushes his skull.”

I covered my mouth with my hand. “So even if he could survive, he’s killed?”

“Yes.” The trumpets blared for a second time, and Hermes made his appearance with Charon, just as she said.

“They have all placed bets on this. Even Octavia. And Julia’s enjoying it.”

Gallia nodded. “I know. But perhaps you judge Domina Julia too harshly.”

I glanced up in surprise. “I don’t pass any judgment on Julia at all.”

Gallia smiled as if she didn’t believe me. “She has not had it easy.”

“She’s the daughter of Caesar!”

“And what of her mother?”

I didn’t know what to say.

“Do you see the woman up there?” Gallia indicated a fine-featured matron several rows above us where the women of Rome were forced to sit apart from the men. The woman possessed a fascinating beauty, and she was watching Julia with attention that never wavered. “That is Scribonia, Domina Julia’s mother.”

When Scribonia caught us staring at her, she smiled sadly. I turned to Gallia. “She’s beautiful. Why did Caesar divorce her?”

“She was not obedient. Now she is only allowed to see her daughter from the upper seats of these games.”

“Julia can’t visit her?”

“Once a year, during Saturnalia, she may bring her mother a gift.”

I gasped at the cruelty. It was no wonder Julia had been so interested in my mother. And now, all she had was Livia. Bitter, selfish, jealous Livia. “Do you think she ever visits Scribonia secretly?” I asked.

Gallia gave a little smile. The men of the Praetorian Guard around us were cheering, ignoring us completely. “Of course,” she whispered. “But how can secret visits be enough for a mother? Or a daughter?”

I looked around the amphitheater. “This place is filled with secrets.”

“More than you know.”

I hesitated. “Are there secrets about my father in here?”

She gave me a long, searching look before answering. “Yes.”

“Where?”

She indicated a woman seated below Scribonia. Her eyes were painted with heavy shadow, and her long hair was dressed with small gems and pearls. Only actresses and lupae wore so much paint in Rome. Gallia said, “Domina Cytheris.”

“Does she work in the theater?”

“Not anymore. But when she did, she was your father’s mistress.” She studied my face to see my reaction, but I wasn’t surprised.

“And who is she mistress to now?” I asked. The pearls in her hair and expensive jewels at her throat had not come free, and Charmion used to say that women who couldn’t keep their legs closed couldn’t keep their purses shut either.

“Dominus Gallus. The prefect that Caesar has sent to govern Egypt.” I gave a small gasp, and Gallia placed her hand on mine. “I know it is not easy.”

“So why isn’t she there with him?” I asked bitterly.

“She has told him she prefers to entertain in Rome.”

I thought of the irony that my father’s former lupa, an actress who had performed nude on the stage, now had the choice of living in Egypt’s palace. My mother had been forced to take her own life, and now a woman like Cytheris could sleep in her bed and paint her eyes with her kohl. But Cytheris had turned down the opportunity. Hadn’t she seen paintings of Alexandria? Didn’t she want to know what it would feel like to lie in the palace and listen to the waves crash against the rocks while the gulls called to one another on the shore?

I touched the pearl diadem in my hair, and Gallia said tenderly, “This is why I do not like to tell you these things.”

“It doesn’t bother me,” I lied. “What else?” I ignored the sound of metal on metal and the wild cheering of the crowd. “Is there anyone else here my father would have known?”

Gallia indicated a young man seated below us, whose light hair and broad shoulders seemed strangely familiar. “That is your brother Dominus Jullus by your father’s third wife.”

“He looks just like Antyllus!” Jullus and Antyllus had been brothers, but only Antyllus had made the terrible decision to follow my father to Alexandria. I watched as Jullus tilted his head back with laughter and the golden hair tumbled over his ears—just like Antyllus and Ptolemy. I felt an instant connection to him that I had never felt toward Antonia or her sister. Perhaps it was because I had never had sisters, only brothers. “I wish I could meet him.”

“Not possible,” Gallia warned sternly. “You do not want Caesar to think the Antonii are rising again. Better to watch him from afar.”

“Like Scribonia watches Julia?”

Gallia nodded sadly. “Yes.”

There was a great roar of disapproval from below, and then suddenly everyone was standing. “What’s happening?” I cried.

A Praetorian turned to me. “One of the gladiators has been wounded.”

“Many have been wounded,” Gallia remarked.

“But this man is a favorite. He has survived combat for three days, and now Charon is coming with his mallet.”

“They will kill a favorite even if he might live?”

“He’s been wounded, Princess. His eyes are closed. It doesn’t matter to Charon if a physician might save him.”

Although the amphitheater seats rose in tiers, I couldn’t see anything above the heads of the people in front of me. I was too small, and there were too many of them standing on their seats. Perhaps it was better. I could hear the crowd’s sharp intake of breath as the mallet shattered the gladiator’s skull, and Antonia’s shriek pierced the sudden silence that had descended over the amphitheater. Octavia rushed to calm her, but she wouldn’t be calmed. Her shrieking continued, until Marcellus placed his hand over her mouth. “Be quiet!”

Octavian rose. “I am done for today.”

“I’m sorry,” Octavia said. “She’s afraid.”

“She should be,” he said angrily. “There will be no more of Hermes and Charon! Agrippa, you will inform them.”

“Then how will the battles end?” Marcellus asked.

“When one gladiator is too tired or too injured to fight.” Octavian turned to Antonia and held up her chin, wiping the tears from her eyes. “No more death,” he promised, though when the bet-maker returned with various winnings, I noticed that Octavian didn’t refuse to accept his.

Inside Octavia’s villa, Alexander handed his heavy purse to me. “For your foundlings,” he said quietly.

I placed the purse inside the metal chest Octavia had recently given to us, and Alexander locked the chest with the key he wore next to his bulla. Marcellus and Julia stood at the door, waiting for us to join them.

“Come,” Marcellus urged. “We can watch the races from my uncle’s platform.”

“But won’t he be angry?” Alexander asked. “He said he was done for the day.”

“He was only upset that he will have to pay the lanistae three hundred denarii,” Julia said wryly.

“What is a lanista?” Alexander asked.

“You know,” Marcellus prompted, “one of the men who own the gladiators. When a gladiator dies, the sponsor of the event has to pay the lanistam for his loss. The Ludi Romani are always sponsored by Caesar, and popular gladiators are worth more.”

“So that means my father will have to pay three hundred denarii just for one man. By banishing Hermes and Charon, he won’t have to pay the lanistae anything.” Julia smiled. “You didn’t think he did it for poor little Antonia, did you?”

The Ludi went on for fourteen more days, and by September nineteenth, no one wanted to return to Magister Verrius and our studies. Marcellus pleaded with Octavia to let us have one more day, but her answer was firm.

“Your uncle’s dies natalis is in six days, and there will be two days off for celebration. I believe that is enough.” Octavia walked us onto the portico, where Juba and Gallia were already waiting. “Do you celebrate birth days in Egypt?” she asked.

“No,” Alexander replied. “But our father sometimes brought us presents.”

Octavia pressed her lips together, perhaps thinking of the gifts her daughters had never received because their father was with us in Alexandria.

“They were always small presents,” I added swiftly. “Of little importance.”

“At least he remembered,” Octavia said quietly.

I scowled at Alexander, who understood what he had done. “He never spent much time with us anyway,” he said. “Even if it was our dies natalis.”

Octavia smiled, but it was bitter. I could feel her watching us as we disappeared down the Palatine. When we reached the Forum, Magister Verrius greeted us at the door of the ludus.

“Enjoy yourselves,” Juba said merrily, and I imagine that Magister Verrius understood what we were feeling, since the next few days were full of games. There was a contest to see who could memorize the longest passage of Euripides, and a game testing our knowledge of the Muses—both of which I won. But Tiberius had memorized the longest passages of both Ennius and Terence, Romans whose works I couldn’t be bothered with. By the end of September, our games were over, and Magister Verrius was determined to introduce us to rhetoric, the art of public speaking. Marcellus sighed audibly, and Julia sank lower in her seat.

“Today, I would like you to spend time outside the Senate, listening to the lawyers debate.” When Julia groaned, Magister Verrius ignored her. “You will follow a trial until its end, and you may not choose a trial that ends today.”

“What a waste of time,” Julia said angrily as we walked toward the Campus Martius. Juba and Gallia remained several paces behind. She turned around and glared at them. “Do you think they might lie for us and pretend that we’ve gone?”

“What?” Marcellus asked. “And we’d make up a trial?”

“Well, when are we supposed to watch one?” she demanded.

“We’re going to have to forget the Circus,” he said. “At least for a week.”

“He didn’t say how long the trial had to be. We can choose one that ends tomorrow.”

Marcellus gave Julia a long look. “And be told to do it all over again?”

Julia turned to me. “I don’t know how you stand it. Working with Vitruvius from the break of dawn and studying Magister Verrius’s work all day.”

“She likes it,” Tiberius responded on my behalf. “Some people actually enjoy learning.”

“But why? All Vitruvius teaches you is measurements.”

“Measurements to construct a building,” I replied. “He took me to the Temple of Apollo yesterday. It’s almost finished.”

“Really?” Marcellus took a shortcut across the Campus Martius. “What’s inside?”

“A library with gold and ivory paneling. And a statue of the god sculpted by Scopas.”

“Did Juba find it?” Marcellus asked.

I shrugged. “That’s what Vitruvius says.” In the distance, I could see Livia and Octavia on the shaded portico of the stables, both weaving on their wooden looms and sitting as far apart as decorum would allow. When we reached the portico, Octavia stood.

“Juba.” She smiled. “Gallia. Thank you both for bringing them safely. Are all of my children behaving themselves?”

“Aside from the complaining?” Juba said. “Yes.”

“You would complain, too, if you had to go to school while everyone else was on vacation,” Marcellus grumbled.

“Ah, the terrible price of being heir,” Juba said.

“He is not heir yet,” Livia snapped.

“Forgive me. Possible heir.”

“We all know Octavian wants Marcellus,” Tiberius retorted. “So why keep pretending?”

Livia looked at her husband, who was swimming with Agrippa while guards kept watch on the bank. “Octavian has told me he has not decided. There’s no reason not to make you heir.”

“No reason in the world,” Marcellus returned sarcastically. “Come on, Alexander, I want to swim.”

Marcellus and Alexander entered the stables, and Tiberius glowered at his mother. “Why can’t you just leave it alone?” he shouted.

Livia stood swiftly and delivered a slap to his face.

Tiberius turned red, and when he disappeared into the stables, Octavia warned, “He will come to resent you.”

“How do you know what he will come to do? Are you an augur?”

Julia kept her eyes on the wooden loom in front of her, and I didn’t look up from my sketches, in case Livia turned her wrath on me.

“Get me more loom weights!” Livia shouted at Gallia.

“Don’t move,” Octavia said. “If she wants more weights, she can get them herself. They’re inside.”

Gallia hesitated, caught between obeying Octavia and angering Livia further. She met Livia’s fearsome gaze without blinking, and when it became clear that she wasn’t going to move, Livia stormed from her chair.

Later, when the men returned from their swim, Julia whispered this story to Alexander and Marcellus. We were making our way back to the Forum to observe a trial when she said eagerly, “And then, Gallia simply refused to move!”

Behind us, Gallia walked between Tiberius and Juba, the incident on the portico forgotten. But Marcellus shook his head. “My mother is creating trouble for Gallia. She shouldn’t have done that.”

“Gallia isn’t Livia’s slave,” I said heatedly. “She shouldn’t be anyone’s slave.”

“Well, she belongs to my mother,” Marcellus replied, “and my mother is putting her in danger. No one can afford to make an enemy of Livia.”

“I understand why Octavia did it,” Julia said. “She’s tired of Livia thinking she owns all of Rome.”

“She does,” Marcellus pointed out.

“No, my father does! Livia’s just a whore with a good marriage.”

Alexander snickered, and I covered my mouth to keep myself from laughing.

Julia smiled naughtily at me. “Now let’s find the shortest trial and get this over with.”

But there was only one trial happening in the Forum. A crowd was growing around the podium where a lawyer was addressing the seated judices, who would eventually return a verdict of guilt or innocence.

“I can’t see,” Julia complained. “What’s going on?”

“Two hundred slaves are on trial for the murder of their master, Gaius Fabius,” Juba said.

Julia gasped. “Fabius?” She turned to me. “Don’t you remember him, Selene? He was the man you saw beating those boys at the temple!”

“And all two hundred slaves helped murder him?” I exclaimed.

“When one slave murders his master, all must be punished,” Juba said levelly.

Suddenly, Julia was interested. “Do you think we can get a better view?”

Juba raised his brows. “Certainly.” He took us behind the podium, where rows of slaves were chained together by the neck and we could watch the backs of the lawyers as they addressed both the judices and the crowds.

“Look how young they are,” I whispered to Alexander. Some of the slaves were no more than five or six, and could never have taken part in any killing. I turned to Juba. “Will they really be put to death?”

“Of course. If they are found guilty.”

“How can you be so callous?” I demanded.

“Because it’s not his problem,” Tiberius said. “What is he supposed to do about it?”

The public lawyer for the slaves stopped talking, and was replaced at the podium by the lawyer for the dead Gaius Fabius. “You have heard,” he began in a thundering voice, “pitiful stories of slaves who could not have taken part in the killing. Women, children, old men who are nearly crippled and blind. But what did they see? What did they witness and keep silent about? Make no mistake,” the lawyer said angrily, “watching and participating are no different! We cannot know which among these dregs stood by while Gaius Fabius was strangled in his chamber, then knifed more than a dozen times.” There was a groan from the crowd, and at the front, seated on wooden benches, the judices shook their heads. “We must set an example,” he said at once. “Nearly thirty-five years ago, a similar trial ended in the death of four hundred slaves. That jury understood that a message must be sent. One that discourages any slave from killing his master for fear that everyone will be punished. We must stop this now,” he shouted, “or who will be next? You?” He pointed at an old man on the bench, whose neck was weighed down by heavy gold chains. “You?” he demanded, looking at a second young man in the toga of a judex. “Forget what you heard before this. Certainly, a few slave children will die. But are their lives more important than yours? More important than those of your wives and children?”

He stepped down from the podium, and Julia watched with wide-eyed fascination. “What happens now?” she whispered.

“That’s it,” Tiberius said.

“What? No more arguing?” Marcellus asked.

The crowd began to disperse, and Juba started walking. “No more until tomorrow.”

“But how many days will it go on?” Julia asked.

“As many as it takes.”

She regarded Juba crossly. “But that could be a month. Even two months.”

“It can’t be two months,” Tiberius retorted. “Courts shut down in November and December.”

“So who decides when it’s over?” I asked.

“The judices,” Gallia replied. Until then, she had been silent. Now she added quietly, “Those poor little children.”

The next day, no one complained about going to the Forum. Even my brother and Julia were more interested in the fate of the two hundred slaves than in the races at the Circus Maximus. I could hear the people on the streets talking about Gaius Fabius’s slaves, and there seemed to be outrage, not at his murder, but at the trial. “Fifty-three children,” a woman said in the crowd. “It isn’t right.” Though we had arrived at the same time we had before, word had spread throughout Rome and more than a thousand people swelled around the podium and the judices’ seats.

“Look how angry the people are! The judices have to set them free!” I exclaimed.

“They don’t have to do anything,” Juba replied, leading us to the space behind the podium reserved for honored guests. This time, several senators were already there, watching the lawyers arguing. “The judices will make their decisions based on the principles of justice as they see them, not on the wishes of an angry mob.”

“Then you agree with this?” I exclaimed.

Juba looked at the miserable chain of slaves fettered by heavy iron shackles. Among them was a little brown-haired girl, who smiled when Juba met her gaze. “I agree with justice.”

The lawyer for Gaius Fabius was at the podium, banging his fist against the wood. “Would you like to see the murderer?” he demanded, and the crowds cheered. “Bring him forth!”

The guards stepped forward with a slave who was being held separately, and I whispered to Julia, “Is that one of the boys Fabius was beating at the temple?”

“Who knows? All Gauls look the same.”

I noticed Gallia shaking her head.

Fabius’s lawyer pumped his fist in the air. “This is the slave responsible for the murder, and he doesn’t even deny it!” he cried. “Which of you thinks that a boy of fourteen could have done it on his own? Strangled his master, stabbed his master, then dumped his master’s body into the atrium pool?” There was a general shaking of heads, and the slave looked down at his feet. Like the kitchen boy, he knew he was lost. Then the lawyer inhaled, dramatically. “Who here believes that slaves are blind?” A few members of the crowd laughed, and I felt a familiar twisting in my stomach. “Then no one here believes that a murder could take place without anyone hearing. Without anyone suspecting. Without anyone ever seeing this filius nullius drag his master’s body away from his chamber! There are accomplices,” he promised. “And we must teach them Roman justice!” He strode away from the podium with the air of a man who knows he has won.

The lawyer for Fabius’s slaves looked beaten before he even opened his mouth. His thin shoulders were hunched in his heavy toga, and he looked as if the heat of the day was draining him of color.

“There is no knowing,” he began, “who saw or heard Gaius Fabius die. There is no one in this crowd who can tell me which of these slaves is an accomplice. Perhaps it was early morning, and while the elder slaves worked, it was the children who witnessed this terrible crime. I do not deny that this slave is responsible.” He flicked his wrist, and the guards took the boy away, holding him near the other slaves. I saw the boy look at an older woman, and felt certain from her tears that this was his mother.

“But who here wishes to punish the innocent?” the lawyer went on. “The children who have never learned right from wrong?” There was an uneasy shuffling in the crowd, and the men who had laughed wore serious faces now. “It’s true that if you allow these slaves to be put to death, you are sending a message across Rome. But the message is that we are no different from barbarians!” I could see that he had been arguing all afternoon, and the strain was beginning to show. “Look at these faces,” he implored. “This one.” He stepped back and held up the chin of the beautiful girl who had smiled at Juba. “She can’t be more than six years old. What has she done to deserve death? She hasn’t even lived life!”

I saw Gallia blinking back tears.

“And this child,” the lawyer said. He touched the shoulder of a boy who was not more than ten. “What might he become if we let him live? He might serve another master well, he might buy his freedom. He might become as wealthy and powerful and useful as Caesar’s consul Agrippa!” There was an eager murmur in the crowd, and the lawyer fixed his gaze on the seven rows of judices. “Have pity,” he demanded. “Place blame on the shoulders it should rest on. Not upon the innocent!” He left the podium, and for several moments no one said anything.

“Do you think a decision will be made tomorrow?” Marcellus asked.

“It appears that way,” Juba said quietly, and I wondered whether he had been moved by the public lawyer’s plea.

As we walked through the Forum, Julia said brightly, “Who would have thought a trial could be so interesting? Perhaps we should place bets.”

For the first time, I saw Marcellus recoil in disgust.

“What?” she said. “It’s no different from the arena.”

“Perhaps I should not have bet there, either,” he said shortly, and Julia gave me a puzzled look.

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