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 THE CROWD that came to witness the fate of Gaius Fabius’s two hundred slaves filled the Forum all the way from the courtyard of the Carcer to the steps of the Temple of Castor and Pollux. We had been allowed to skip our time on the Campus Martius to hear the judices pronounce their verdict, and even Octavian came, with Livia and Agrippa.

“Where are your sisters?” I asked Marcellus. “And why isn’t your mother here?”

He stepped forward to get a better view. Although we were standing behind the raised wooden platform, hundreds of senators jostled around us. “Trials of this sort upset her,” he said. “And she’d never allow my sisters to come. They saw a man sentenced to death once and have never stopped talking about it.”

“So you think they’ll be found guilty?” I worried.

“Certainly the slave who killed Fabius. The others….” He hesitated. “I don’t know. It would be unfair to send them to their deaths.”

“And what could the children possibly have done?” my brother added.

“If the Red Eagle were here,” Marcellus whispered, “there would be acta on every temple door decrying this.”

“Perhaps he’s waiting,” I suggested, “to see what the judices do.”

Although Octavia had chosen not to come, the rest of Rome appeared to be in attendance. And because Octavian was with us, the lawyers spoke swiftly. Their last arguments were the most moving. Gaius Fabius’s lawyer pled for justice, pointing to Fabius’s wife in the crowd, who dabbed at her eyes. But the lawyer for the slaves begged for reason, reminding the judices of the children and old women who could not have taken part in a murder. I watched Octavian’s face as each judex stood to announce his verdict, and when all of them pronounced the slave boy guilty, he nodded, as if in agreement. There was a deafening cheer from the crowd, and the boy cast a fearful glance at his mother, who buried her face in her chained hands.

“This is it,” Julia said. “I wonder what they’ll do.” She brushed a stray black curl from her forehead and stood on tiptoe to see the faces of the judices.

The first judex stood and announced his verdict for the two hundred slaves. “Guilty,” he said, and I looked to Octavian, whose face was an expressionless mask. The second judex rose, and when he, too, pronounced a verdict of guilty, the people began to grow restless.

“Perhaps we should leave,” Juba suggested as the third and fourth judex announced their verdicts of guilty.

“Marcellus,” Octavian called sharply. “Tiberius. We’re leaving.”

“But we haven’t even heard the verdict,” Julia complained.

“Perhaps you would rather stay here and be killed?” Livia demanded.

The crowd was growing increasingly discontent, and as more judices pronounced their verdict of guilty, some of the freedmen began the chant of “Red Eagle.”

“Go!” Octavian shouted to us. “Go!”

The Praetorian cleared a path through the Forum, but as the last judex announced his verdict, the freedmen and slaves became uncontrollable. I could hear the sounds of rioting behind us: statues being shattered, and soldiers clashing with the people. A wave of angry men rushed toward us, and Livia cried shrilly, “It’s Spartacus all over again!” Octavian took her arm, then the guards surrounded us and began to run. The angry slaves didn’t need weapons. All they needed was fire and stones.

When we reached the Palatine, Octavia rushed from her portico. “What happened?” she cried.

“Guilty,” Gallia replied, and Octavia went pale.

“All two hundred will be put to death?” She looked at her brother.

“That was their verdict.”

“But don’t you think—?”

His look silenced her. We followed him to the platform he had built to watch the races and saw a column of smoke rising from the Forum.

“So the plebs are rioting again,” Tiberius remarked.

Octavian clenched his jaw. “This will not be tolerated.”

“It’s these slaves that are the problem,” Livia exclaimed. “They have to be controlled! Why not have them all wear one color. Or brand them?”

“A third of Rome’s population is in servitude,” Juba reminded her. “Do you really want three hundred thousand slaves able to identify one another in the streets?”

Octavian pursed his lips. “That’s right. They cannot be branded.”

I stole a glance at Gallia, but her face was impossible to read.

“What about a leniency in the laws?” Octavia asked.

“And that would make these slaves less violent?” her brother shouted.

Octavia stepped back. “Yes.” I could see that she was holding back tears. “If they feel that they have a place in court to challenge abusive masters, then perhaps it will.”

Octavian looked to Marcellus. “And what would you do?” he asked suddenly. It was a test, and Marcellus glanced uneasily at his mother.

“I would bring fewer slaves into Rome,” he said.

Tiberius snorted. “And who would till the fields? Romans aren’t having children. The men don’t want to spend the denarii and the women don’t want stretch marks.”

Marcellus laughed. “And how would you know that?”

Tiberius flushed. “I … I listen.”

“It’s true,” Octavia said quietly. Behind her, the thick column of smoke was widening. “Women don’t want the risk or the disfiguration.”

Octavian clenched his jaw. “Then perhaps they need incentives.”

“Such as what?” Tiberius asked under his breath. “A Festival of Fornication?” At Octavian’s look, he immediately fell silent.

“Monetary incentives,” Agrippa said.

“For having children?” Marcellus exclaimed.

“There will be dangerous times,” Octavian warned darkly, “when there are more slaves than Romans.”

“Then we should banish the Columna Lactaria,” Tiberius suggested. “Those children all become slaves. Imagine them all rising up—”

“And tomorrow will be the real test,” Agrippa warned. He didn’t explain further, but when Gallia and Juba escorted us to the ludus the next morning, I realized what he’d meant.

Julia covered her mouth with her hand, and Gallia made a poor attempt at suppressing a smile.

“I don’t believe it,” Tiberius said.

At every temple door, at every crossroads, crowds gathered to read the latest actum. Even on the doors of the Temple of Venus Genetrix, the Red Eagle and his men had nailed their pieces of papyrus. Juba clenched his jaw, and as soon as the plebs saw him approach, one of the acta was immediately torn down. The other one he ripped away himself.

“I don’t understand,” my brother said. “Why aren’t the priests taking them down?”

“They’re afraid to anger the plebs,” Julia whispered. “And even if the acta are taken down, people are probably copying them as we speak.”

When Juba returned with the crumpled actum, Marcellus asked eagerly, “What does it say?”

“Nothing you need to know about.”

“But we’re going to read it anyway,” Tiberius argued as we crossed the Forum. “If not now, then at some other point.”

“We just want to be aware of what’s happening in Rome,” Julia pleaded. “Magister Verrius is always telling us to pay attention.”

Juba smiled. “I doubt that reading treachery was what he meant.”

“But these are all over,” Marcellus argued. “There’s dozens of them. Do you want us to be the only people in Rome who don’t know what the Red Eagle is saying?”

“My father wouldn’t care,” Julia promised as we reached the ludus. “He never keeps these things from us.” It was true. In the triclinium, there was nothing Octavian wouldn’t discuss, from banishing lupanaria from Rome to prosecuting adulteresses. “This is how we learn.”

Juba handed the scroll to her. “I’ll be interested in hearing what this teaches you.”

Everyone gathered around Julia. There was no harm in reading, only in speaking, and the five of us read in low voices. It began with a stern warning against murder.

There are a thousand other ways to get revenge. While I cannot advocate stealing from your masters, thievery comes in many different forms. Your lives have been stolen from you. Why, then, should you break your backs attempting to meet the demands of your masters? If it’s a farm you work on, be slow with the wheat. If it’s a lender you work for, make your records faulty. You cannot be punished for stealing time, or for simple accidents with the reed pen. And if you fear death at the hands of your enslavers, remember, death can come even when you are innocent. Do not forget the two hundred slaves who will die tomorrow with no blood on their hands. Women, children, infants still too young to walk.

The actum went on to list the name of every slave who would be executed at dawn.

“This is terrible,” I whispered.

“How did he find out the name of every slave?” Alexander wondered.

“Are we finished?” Juba demanded. “Or would we like to go on discussing this in the open Forum?”

Inside the ludus, Magister Verrius was waiting at his desk. He didn’t stand to greet us, and he looked as though he’d had very little sleep.

“Did you hear about the Red Eagle?” Julia asked eagerly.

“Yes,” Magister Verrius said curtly. “And I presume he is the reason we’re all late this morning?”

“But we had to read it!” Marcellus protested.

Magister Verrius held up his hand. “I don’t want to know. Just take your seats and begin your work.”

Tiberius hesitated in front of his desk. “There’s not going to be a contest today?”

Magister Verrius shook his head firmly. “No.”

That evening, Octavian’s mood was sour as well.

“What’s the matter with everyone?” Julia asked.

Although a harpist’s music filled the triclinium, Marcellus lowered his voice. “What do you think? Tomorrow, two hundred innocent slaves are to be executed.”

She broke open an oyster and dipped it in garum sauce. “So how does that affect my father?”

Octavian had invited his favorite poets to entertain him. Livy and Maecenas dined next to Horace and Vergil, but even their humor couldn’t make him laugh. I saw Terentilla reach for a glass bowl, and when her hand brushed Octavian’s, he still didn’t smile.

“He thought he had crucified the Red Eagle,” Marcellus guessed, “and now that the rebel has returned, he’s nervous about what might happen tomorrow.”

“I don’t see how he can free them,” my brother said practically. “They’re chained inside the Carcer.”

“And they’ll be taken by more than a hundred soldiers to the Esquiline Gate for crucifixion,” Julia added. “There isn’t any hope.”

But Marcellus wasn’t sure. “He’s managed it before.”

“Without his own soldiers, he’ll never manage this,” my brother said.

At the table next to us, Livia rose and addressed the diners. “Shall we hear the first poem of the night? Horace, give us something triumphant.”

A balding man stood up from his couch and took his place in the center of the chamber. “Triumphant,” he said musingly. “But which one of Caesar’s many triumphs?”

“The Battle of Actium,” Livia said. “Or Kleopatra’s death.”

Horace smiled. “An ode, then, to Queen Kleopatra.”

Marcellus looked from me to Alexander.

“We should leave,” I said immediately, but Julia put her hand on my arm.

“Livia wants my father to be upset with you. Don’t risk it,” she whispered.

“His mood is already dark,” Marcellus warned quietly. “Just stay, and try not to listen.”

But it was impossible to ignore the lies that Horace twisted into a poem.

When Horace was finished, my brother looked at me. Although the poem had begun by portraying our mother as a “drugged” queen, the last three stanzas praised her as a warrior who accepted her death unflinchingly. Horace bowed his head respectfully in our direction, and Octavian stood up from his couch to applaud.

“Magnificent.” He looked at his wife. “What did you think?”

Livia smiled weakly. “The beginning had a great deal of promise. Unfortunately, I found the end dispensable.”

Octavian looked down at Terentilla. “Inspired,” she told him.

I turned to my brother. “I’m leaving,” I whispered.

“You can’t go by yourself!”

“If you don’t want to come, Gallia’s in the atrium. She’ll take me back.”

Alexander hesitated.

“I won’t hear another poem about Egypt,” I told him.

“But Octavian will think it’s a slight.”

“Then you stay.” I stood without finishing my meal, and when I reached the atrium, I searched among the seated slaves for Gallia.

A boy rose from his stool. “Is there someone you’re looking for, Domina?”

“Gallia,” I told him.

“She isn’t here,” he said quietly.

“Where did she go?”

He hesitated. “With a man.”

“Magister Verrius?”

He looked down at his sandals.

“I’m a friend,” I promised.

The boy looked deeply uncomfortable. “Yes. He brings her back here before Domina Octavia is ready to go home.”

“Thank you,” I said.

“You won’t tell her I told you?”

“Of course not.”

I walked the short distance to Octavia’s villa alone. Inside my chamber, I took out my sketchbook and studied the drawings. The foundling house was my favorite. It was just a plain villa, with a tiled floor and simple mosaics, but it was more important to me than Octavian’s mausoleum or the Temple of Apollo. There weren’t enough denarii from Alexander’s gambling to purchase the tiles for a single floor, and there would never be enough for the rest of a building, but with my finger I traced the balconies where I imagined the children would look out on the city. Some of the slaves who would be crucified at dawn might once have been foundlings. Perhaps they had even been daughters of wealthy patricians who hadn’t wanted to provide any more dowries, or sons of merchants who didn’t want to feed any more children. I imagined how different life would be for Alexander and me if we had been brought to Rome as slaves, and when Gallia returned with Octavia and the others, I didn’t mention her disappearance with Magister Verrius.

“You missed the best part,” Alexander exclaimed, bursting into our chamber with Marcellus.

“What? Another poem about Egypt?”

Marcellus collapsed on the third couch. “No. Maecenas mentioned the Red Eagle, and my uncle became enraged.”

“Really?” I put down my book. “What did he do?”

“He wants to set a trap for the rebel,” my brother said.

“But the Red Eagle’s unpredictable,” Marcellus added, “and never posts in the same place twice. So my uncle is going to have soldiers in plebeian clothes stationed across Rome.”

“And do you think it will work?” I asked.

“If the rebel tries to interfere tomorrow, it may.” Marcellus closed his eyes. “It’s terrible, isn’t it?”

“Terrible because you know who the Red Eagle is?” my brother asked.

Marcellus opened his eyes. “Why would you say such a thing?”

“Because we’ve heard you leave your room at night,” I said, and Marcellus grew suddenly pale. “And I saw a shadow move across the garden once. It looked very much like you.”

We both stared at him.

“I’m not the Red Eagle,” Marcellus said firmly. “How could I ever write such long acta? I can barely finish my work in the ludus.”

“But perhaps you know him.”

“Or her,” I suggested.

Marcellus looked from me to my brother. “Her? What are the two of you thinking?”

We were silent for a moment, then Alexander said, “Perhaps it’s Gallia, and you’re aiding her fight.”

“Against slavery?” Marcellus’s voice was incredulous. “Do you really think I’d be helping a rebel?”

“Where else could you have been going?” Alexander asked quietly, and Marcellus regained some of his color.

“To meet someone.”

“A woman?” I gasped.

He didn’t answer my question. “Sometimes I pay the guards. But surely you don’t think they’d cover for me if they suspected I was a traitor?”

Alexander and I were both silent. I crossed my arms over my chest, wondering which woman he could be meeting. A lupa? Julia? Some other pretty girl on the Palatine?

Marcellus leaned forward. “But do you really think it might be Gallia?”

“By herself?” my brother said. “It’s unlikely. But perhaps she knows someone with access to a great deal of ink and papyrus?”

Marcellus’s eyes widened, and I knew he was recalling the night his uncle had nearly been assassinated and Antonia had seen Gallia at the bottom of the hill. “Not Magister Verrius?”

My brother put his finger to his lips. “Who else has such resources?”

“Or access to the Palatine,” Marcellus realized. He looked at me. “Do you think it’s him?”

“You say you aren’t the Red Eagle. You haven’t told us where you’ve been going, but if we’re to believe you, who else could it be?”

Marcellus sat back against the couch, but didn’t rise to my bait. “It would make sense. But it could also be a hundred other people.”

“Which is why we can’t say anything,” Alexander said swiftly.

“You wouldn’t turn him in even if you knew, would you?” I asked.

Marcellus was thoughtful. “If I knew for certain who it was, and my uncle came to know….”

I looked to Alexander. We had been wrong to tell him about Gallia and Verrius.

“I won’t say anything,” Marcellus promised. “But it isn’t me.”

When he left, I studied Alexander in the lamplight. “Do you believe him?”

“I don’t know.”

I lay down on my couch and looked at the ceiling. “So do you think the Red Eagle will save them tomorrow?”

“No. He has every legionary in Rome looking for him. If I were the Red Eagle, I’d disappear for several months.”

I dressed in the darkness, then crept through the atrium to the dimly lit library before dawn broke across the sky. I could see Vitruvius silhouetted against the lamplight, and with his sharp profile he reminded me of a bird. He looked up from his desk.

“Have they been killed?” I asked him.

Vitruvius furrowed his bald brow. “Who?”

“The slaves being held in the Carcer!”

His face became suddenly tender. “Executions don’t begin until dawn, Selene, but you can be certain that they will die. Those were the orders.”

“From whom? A group of fifty judices, not one of whom has ever known slavery? How is that fair?”

Vitruvius nodded slowly. “Many things aren’t fair.”

“But isn’t that what Caesar is for? To make things right?”

“No. Caesar is here to keep the peace. And if two hundred slaves have to die in order to keep the peace in Rome, then he is willing to sacrifice them.”

I stared at him.

“I don’t mean to say that’s my belief,” he added, “but that is what Caesar is thinking.”

I took a seat on the opposite side of his desk, but I didn’t take out my book of sketches. “Do you think the Red Eagle will save them?”

“No. And I wouldn’t mention his name in this villa. What began as an annoyance has become a real threat. The boy who was crucified made his attempt in the name of the rebel. You may think this man is brave, Selene, you may even sympathize with those slaves, but do not speak his name around Caesar or his sister.”

I was disappointed that Vitruvius didn’t understand, and when I returned to my chamber an hour later so that Gallia could arrange my hair, I told her what he’d said.

“He’s right.”

I looked up at her in surprise.

“No one knows whether that boy was working for the Red Eagle.”

You do, I wanted to say, but kept my silence until I could know for certain. Besides, if she had wanted to confide in me, she would have. “And the two hundred slaves?”

She lowered her head. “They were crucified this morning.”

I gasped. “All of them?”

“The smallest children were poisoned.” She saw my look in the mirror and stepped in front of me. “There is no use in letting this consume you,” she warned. “You are free, and if you keep away from trouble, perhaps Caesar will return you to Egypt. Then think of the things you could change.”

I closed my eyes and willed myself not to cry. Instead, I vowed that I would be the most talented apprentice Vitruvius could ever want, and that by my twelfth birthday even Octavian would see that I was useful.

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