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June, 28 BC

 GALLIA RETURNED before our summer progress to Octavian’s palace in Capri. With the entire villa in a state of upheaval, she appeared one morning at Octavia’s salutatio and asked whether she still had need of an ornatrix. Her blue silk tunic was sewn with seed pearls, and her long hair was swept back with a tortoiseshell band that gleamed in the bright light of the atrium. The bruises Gaius had left her with were long gone, and in their place shone healthy, pampered skin. As soon as Octavia saw her, she began to weep—tears of joy, and probably relief. She celebrated Gallia’s return that evening with roasted peacock from Samos and rare oysters from Tarentum.

“Does that mean you will be coming with us to Capri?” Marcellus asked. We were sitting together in the triclinium, where Gallia had never been allowed to eat with us before.

Gallia fanned herself with her hand. “You think I want to stay behind in this terrible heat?” she teased. Freedom suited Gallia: from the gilded ornaments in her hair to the expensive silk stola embroidered with gold. No one mentioned what had happened with Gaius, and Juba had not been punished for the killing.

But when Gallia and I were alone together on the morning of our departure, I asked her quietly, “Have you been well?”

She seated herself on my traveling chest, considering my question. “I have healed,” she said. “And, of course, it is good to be free. There is no one who can give me orders now,” she said firmly. “Only Caesar.”

“And does Octavia pay you?”

She smiled. “More than Magister Verrius makes at the ludus. And I no longer have to sneak away at night to see him. We are married.”

I was shocked. “Since when?”

“Since the week Octavia gave me my freedom.” But she put a finger to her lips. “It would not go well for his teaching if Livia discovered this. Caesar respects him, but Livia….” Her blue eyes narrowed into slits. “She does not approve of freedwomen marrying born citizens. I will try to keep it from her as long as possible.”

“And will Magister Verrius come to Capri?”

“Of course. Who would spend the summer here if he could escape it?”

We left the crushing heat of Rome on the first of July, and it occurred to me that only a year ago Ptolemy had been alive. I thought of his dimpled smile, and the way his cheeks used to look like little apples when he laughed. But thinking about him only brought me pain, and I tried not to remember. Instead, I focused on the journey. It would be a long ride to the shore of Naples. We were setting out at night so that a formal send-off wouldn’t be necessary. This way, Octavian could leave without drawing attention to the fact that while the plebeians were suffering in the searing heat, the wealthy were escaping to their cool villas by the sea. Agrippa and Juba rode on horses ahead of the Praetorian Guard, and the sleeping carriages that followed behind them bumped along the cobblestones. We were the only people using the actual road. Few horses were shod, and to save the unshod horses’ hooves, most carriages traveled on the grassy shoulder of the Appian Way.

Alexander and I shared a carriage with Marcellus and Julia. I watched with rising envy whenever Marcellus’s leg brushed against hers or he arranged a pillow behind her back. They played games with their eyes when they thought that no one was looking, and Julia smiled more than she ever did in Rome.

“Wait until you see Capri,” Marcellus said as we left the stagnant air of the city.

“Is it like the Palatine?” Alexander asked carefully. The last time Marcellus had been excited about a journey, we had arrived in Rome, where smoke belched from the cooking hearths and the temples were covered in graffiti. Now, I no longer noticed the crude drawings scrawled across the steps of the Senate.

“There’s no comparison,” Julia said. “On the Palatine, my father pretends to be the humble servant of Rome. In Capri, we actually live like the ruling family.”

“It’s my uncle’s Sea Palace,” Marcellus explained. “There’ll be a beach and horses, and we’ll take you to the Blue Grotto.”

“Are the buildings beautiful?” I asked eagerly.

“You’ll be sketching all day,” Marcellus promised. “Why do you think Vitruvius is coming?”

“Possibly for your mother.”

Marcellus laughed. “And for the beauty, too.”

It was three days by carriage, but at twelve years old, we thought the journey endless. We made up games to pass the time, but mostly we looked out the windows and watched the sleepy towns and roadside shrines go by. Several inns advertised bread, wine, and a girl for the night, all for one denarius, but we never stopped in any of those places. I tried to read some of the scrolls that I had packed. I chose The History of Naples and The Guidebook to Troy, but reading made me sick, and even the fresh sea air couldn’t quell my nausea.

When we finally arrived on the shore of Naples and stepped onto the ships that would take us to Capri, it was my turn to feel strong while the others held their stomachs and moaned. Alexander and I raised our faces to the crisp morning wind and closed our eyes.

“It feels like home, doesn’t it?” he said.

I sighed. “Yes.” The high calcareous cliffs with their lush vegetation plummeted into the sea, creating grottoes and bays where children were swimming or fishing along the rocks.

“Someday, when we return to Egypt,” my brother promised, “we’ll commission a new thalamegos and sail like this up and down the coast of Alexandria. I’ll never get enough of the water.”

Vitruvius came up behind us. “There it is,” he said, and I heard the love in his voice.

Perched on a promontory so high above the sea that even the spray couldn’t reach its gardens, the Sea Palace looked like an eagle carved from stone. Marcellus was right. It had nothing in common with Octavian’s squat villa on the Palatine.

“I don’t understand. Why doesn’t he rule Rome from here?”

“Because alienating the Senate didn’t work very well for Julius Caesar,” Vitruvius replied. “I don’t think he wishes to repeat that history.”

It was a shame. Slaves with bronze and ebony litters carried us to the palace, where terraced gardens looked out over the water, and the portico commanded a stunning view of sunlit vineyards and golden fields. I was the first from my litter, then Vitruvius.

“It renews your faith in architecture, doesn’t it?” he remarked. He ran his hand lovingly over a caryatid, pausing to rest it on the figure’s marble cheek.

“You built this, didn’t you?” I realized.

He grinned. “My first commission. And I know that school is done for the summer, but if you wish, I will continue to tutor you here. There’ll be no measurements to take or mosaic flooring to plan, but the inspiration—”

“Yes,” I said at once.

He laughed. “We can begin with a tour.”

Octavian stepped from his litter, announcing that dinner would be at sunset in the summer triclinium, and in the remaining time we could explore. Marcellus and Alexander wanted to go to the stables, and immediately Julia moved to go with them. Marcellus looked over his shoulder at me. “Aren’t you coming?”

I glanced at Vitruvius. “To the stables?” I hesitated, watching Julia take Marcellus’s arm. “No, I … I’m going with Vitruvius.”

“Then we’ll see you later,” Marcellus said easily. The pretty trio turned away, my handsome brother, Julia, and Marcellus.

Vitruvius saw my face and promised, “There’s an entire summer to spend with them.”

“And who wants to listen to Julia’s chattering anyway?” Tiberius demanded. I hadn’t seen him emerge from his litter, and I wondered whether he’d been hiding until his mother had gone inside. He looked to Vitruvius. “May I come on your tour?”

“I didn’t know you were interested in architecture.”

Tiberius shrugged sheepishly. “If Selene’s interested, I might be, too.”

We followed Vitruvius into the palace, where the entrance tesserae of colored limestone spelled out the Latin greeting AVE at our feet. The halls were frescoed with scenes from the Odyssey, mainly images of sailors and ships. Once we reached the atrium, Vitruvius stopped, letting me stand long enough to take it all in. Long white curtains fluttered in the breeze, brushing against blue mosaic floors. Everything had been painted in shades of the sea: cerulean blue, deep midnight, turquoise.

“It’s nothing like Rome,” I said wonderingly. The walls were ornamented with painted apses and niches. “And look at the marble edges on the pillars!”

“And the painted ceilings,” Vitruvius added.

“How were all of these made?” Tiberius asked.

“The frescoes? Selene can tell you.”

“By applying three coats of mortar and three coats of lime mixed with powdered marble. Then the artist painted on the wall while the mixture was still damp.”

“You’ve learned a lot about this,” Tiberius remarked.

“She’s a good student.”

He nodded thoughtfully. “I’m not surprised. She’s my only real competition at school.” Although he was unbearably arrogant, I couldn’t help being flattered. “You should show her the library,” he said to Vitruvius.

“That’s where we’re going.”

It was magnificent. Heavy wooden shelves from ceiling to floor were crammed with scrolls. Seabirds had been carved into the wood of the ceiling, and beautiful urns filled the niches. Vitruvius explained how the shelves had been built, then took us through the triclinium and the guest chambers, pointing out small features like fluted columns and barrel-vaulted spaces painted in sea green and gold. Every room we entered was richly furnished. There were marble-topped tables and couches faced with bronze. Even the chairs were inlaid with precious ivory. When we reached my chamber at the top of the stairs, I saw that I would still be sharing with Alexander, but the room was so large that it was impossible to see all of its corners from the doorway. Straw hats and feathered fans had been laid on our tables, and thick leather sandals for walking along the rocks had been left out for us as well. I stepped onto our balcony overlooking the sea.

“Is it as beautiful as Alexandria?” Tiberius asked earnestly from behind.

I didn’t lie. “Yes.” I turned to Vitruvius. “How long did all of this take?”

“My entire youth.”

“And the most difficult part?”

He indicated the immaculate gardens with their shady bowers and small marble temples.

“Can we see them?” I asked eagerly.

He led us down the stairs and through a pair of doors that opened onto a portico. There were gardens in every direction, some colonnaded, others terraced to the sea. Vines trailed from painted bowers, and, as we walked beneath them, he explained the difficulty.

“A garden is like an onion,” he said. “It takes layer after layer to make it whole. First the earth has to be cultivated, then the landscape rearranged.” He pointed to thickets of myrtle and boxwood, then showed me the orchards where peach trees grew among lemons and figs. “But it’s the small details that make it complete.”

Sea daffodils and lilies spilled from heavy urns. And where fountains bubbled merrily, Carystian marble gods raised their arms to the sun. As we reached the bottom of the garden, Vitruvius pointed to the heated bathing pool from which swimmers could look out over the sea. Even in Alexandria we had never had such pools. And there were many more things he showed me that afternoon that rivaled Egypt for beauty.

When we returned to the triclinium in time for the evening’s meal, I saw that Alexander had put on a new tunic, while I was still in my traveling clothes.

“So what did you do all day?” he asked.

“Looked at architecture with Vitruvius and Tiberius.”

Julia popped open an oyster. “That’s it?”

“There’s a great deal more to the palace than you know,” Tiberius retorted.

Marcellus raised his brows. “Such as?”

“The slaves’ chambers,” I said. “And have you seen the baths that they use?”

Julia laughed. “Who would want to do that?”

“You might,” I said sternly. “They are some of the most beautifully frescoed pools I’ve ever seen. And their rosewater is better than what you use in Rome.”

Julia wrinkled her nose. “Really? Why are the slaves living so well?”

“Because we only come here once a year,” Marcellus guessed. “The rest of the time they’re doing as they please. Your father doesn’t call this the Land of Do-Nothings without a reason.” He smiled at me. “I’d like to see their baths.”

“I’m sure Vitruvius will take you.”

“Or you can.”

Everyone at the table paused. My brother darted a look of warning at me. Then Julia said lightly, “You can take all of us. Tomorrow afternoon.”

Marcellus shook his head. “I heard your father say we’ll be visiting Pollio.”

Julia lowered the oyster in her hand. “What?”

“Pollio is always lending money to the treasury,” he explained. “And you know he comes to the sea every year—”

“So my father’s planning on spending the day with a murderer for a handful of denarii?” Julia cried.

Marcellus put his finger to his lips, but Octavian was busy talking about antiquities with Juba. “At least you’ll get to see Horatia,” he offered.

“And then what?” she hissed. “Ask if she’s enjoying the sea?” She pushed away her plate of food and stood. “I’m not in the mood for this anymore.”

She left the triclinium, and Marcellus was caught between going after her and remaining with us.

“Oh, just let her be,” Alexander suggested. “My sister can talk to her.”

“Why me?” I exclaimed.

“Because you’re a girl and understand these moods.” Since I had experienced my moon blood several months before, Alexander had suffered a few of my irrational tantrums.

“Yes,” Marcellus pleaded. “Better you than us.”

“And you wouldn’t rather go?” I asked temptingly.

Marcellus shook his head. “She’s vile when she’s angry.”

I suppressed a smile and stood. So long as we weren’t sitting at Octavian’s table, no one cared when we left the triclinium. I found Julia on the balcony of her chamber, illuminated by torchlight and watching the waves. “Marcellus?” she asked eagerly, and her shoulders sagged a little when she saw that it was me. “Selene.” Her pale tunic fluttered in the breeze, and I realized that her cheeks were wet.

“I’m sure your father isn’t doing this to hurt you,” I said.

“No.” She spun around. “Livia is. You think my father can’t borrow gold from a thousand other men? Why Pollio?” she demanded. “Why tomorrow, just as we’re free from the ludus and beginning to enjoy ourselves?” She stalked from the balcony, and I followed her into her chamber. Her eyes were brimming with tears. “I won’t go.”

“Don’t give Livia the satisfaction,” I told her. “She wants to see you alone and upset while all the rest of us are out together. And if you don’t go tomorrow, she’ll know she’s found a way of excluding you. She’ll only do it again.”

Julia sat on her couch. “You saw what she did to Gallia,” she said. “Without lifting a finger. If I go, she’ll only find another way to hurt me.”

“Then tell your father!” I seated myself on one of her chairs.

“Do you think he would listen?” She laughed scornfully. “I’m like one of his Setinum wines being aged to perfection. And when the time is right, he’ll sell me off to Marcellus.”

“But I thought you wanted to marry him?”

“Of course I do. But my father doesn’t care about that. I could loathe Marcellus, and we would still be married.” Her voice grew very still and frail. “You were lucky to have a mother,” she said. “Even if Gaia survived her first night at the Columna, she’ll never know her real mother. Just like me.”

“But your mother is alive—”

Her eyes flashed. “And banished from the Palatine! No one invites her to dinner for fear of displeasing my father. She has no friends, no husband. She doesn’t even have me. Do you know where she is right now?”

I shook my head.

“In Rome, suffering with the plebs. She doesn’t have the denarii to purchase a summer villa, and do you think my father cares? If I could, I would leave this island behind and sweat through the heat of Rome to be with her. Instead, I get to suffer here.”

When she bent her head and I realized she was crying, I moved from my chair and put my arm around her shoulders. There was nothing to say, no way of changing Rome or her father. I simply listened to her cry, and was thankful I had come instead of Marcellus.

Before we left for Pollio’s villa, an augur was summoned to determine whether the day would be auspicious for dining with a friend. We stood in the colonnaded garden beneath the increasing heat of the sun, waiting for a flock of birds to pass overhead so that the augur could divine from their pattern of flight whether this would be a dies fastus or a dies nefastus.

Tiberius sighed heavily, and Marcellus looked immensely bored with the whole procedure.

“Where are the damn birds?” Octavian swore.

The augur shifted nervously on his feet. “I am afraid the gods do not work on mortal schedules, Caesar.”

Livia pointed wildly to the north. “Blackbirds!” she exclaimed, and everyone turned to face the augur.

Julia closed her eyes, and I could almost hear her thoughts. Please proclaim it a dies nefastus.

The augur spread his arms. “There will be good fortune today!” he announced. “This is a fastus.”

Tiberius stood swiftly. “Good. Let’s go.”

I saw Juba smile wryly at him while Octavian gave his thanks to the augur. A dozen curtained litters were waiting for us outside the villa, and I shared mine with Julia.

“I was hoping he’d declare it a dies nefastus,” I admitted as the litter began to move.

“I knew he wouldn’t. All the augurs look at my father’s face before making a proclamation. If he doesn’t look as if he wants to go, then it’s a dies nefastus.”

“So your father doesn’t really believe in it?”

Julia’s eyes went wide. “Of course he does.”

“But how—?”

“He believes what he wants to. Just like you with your Isis.”

“And what does that mean?”

“Well, have you ever seen her?” Julia challenged. “Has she ever come to you in a moment of need?”

“Isis works her miracles unseen.”

Julia cocked her head and gave me a disbelieving look. “You believe what you want to.”

I refused to dignify her insult with a response. Instead, I pushed open the curtains and looked out at the blue expanse in front of us. Villas were strung along the rim of the sea like pearls, bright white and gleaming in the sun.

“You see that villa over there?” Julia asked. “That’s Pollio’s.”

I had intended to be angry with her, but instead I inhaled. “The one as large as a city?”

“Yes. And wait until we go inside,” she said resentfully. “It’s bigger than anything you’ve ever seen. Even the palace at Alexandria,” she promised.

Julia wasn’t lying. Although his villa in Rome had been sprawling, Pollio’s villa on Capri had been built to house more than three thousand people, most of them slaves. The walk was more than a mile from his handsomely frescoed portico to the gilded triclinium, where the stars in the ceiling were made from silver and the sun on the wall from beaten gold. And as Pollio escorted us through chamber after chamber, he pointed out his newest purchases.

“That is an authentic Myron,” he said, naming one of the most famous Greek sculptors in the world. “And that is my eel pool.”

“Eels?” Octavia made a noise in her throat. “What for?”

“Entertainment! Would you like to see them?” He didn’t wait for her answer before leading us to the far corner of the atrium to a vast pool large enough to fit a small boat. But no one would have attempted to sail on that lake. Beneath the murky waters, sharp-toothed fish writhed between the rocks. What sort of man kept eels for entertainment?

I didn’t step to the ledge, and I noticed that even Marcellus kept his distance. “Where do they come from?” he asked.

Pollio made a grand gesture with his arm. “All across Capri. I have my slaves find them for me.”

“That must be very dangerous,” Juba remarked.

Pollio smiled. “It is. Shall we see them feed?”

When no one objected, he ordered a slave-boy to bring him a handful of rotten meat from the kitchens. When the boy returned, he was careful not to step too close to the pool.

“Your meat, Domine.”

“Go ahead,” he ordered the child, “throw it.”

The boy trembled. “Me, Domine?”

“Yes! This is Caesar who’s waiting!”

The slave-boy moved timidly toward the ledge, then quickly tossed his handful of meat into the pool. Pollio watched proudly as the eels swarmed around the offering, snapping their jaws and attacking one another in order to get to the food. Their teeth gleamed like small razors in the lamplight, and Octavia suggested faintly, “Shall we continue?”

Pollio looked up. “Oh, yes. But did you see how they attack?” he asked Octavian eagerly. “They’re absolutely vicious creatures!”

We walked past elaborate partitions made from ivory and a wooden chair whose back was carved in the shape of an eagle. “Every piece in this villa has a story,” Pollio boasted. “That chair once belonged to a Gallic chieftain.”

“Vercingetorix?” I asked.

Pollio looked surprised, as if a bird had opened its beak to speak to him. “That’s right. And over there is my newest addition,” he said. “A second library for my collection.”

“What about a second triclinium?” Livia said shortly. “One that doesn’t require a litter to get there.”

Pollio laughed loudly at what was obviously meant to be a criticism. “I already have two triclinia. Can you imagine the first villa to have three? Of course, if Caesar were to suggest it, I would be more than happy—”

“My wife was joking,” Octavian snapped.

“Of course.” Pollio laughed nervously. “Who could afford three rooms for dining?”

We came to the summer triclinium, where Horatia was waiting patiently for her guests in an exquisite tunic of apricot and gold. Immediately, her eyes met Julia’s, and I could see that she wanted to speak privately with her, but she did her duty and politely escorted the guests to their couches. The tables overlooked the water, and the warm wind smelled of sea salt and wine.

“Just like Alexandria.” My brother sighed, patting down his hair.

“Did you spend your entire lives near the sea?” Marcellus asked. Julia and Tiberius seated themselves on opposite sides of him, while across the room, Pollio and Horatia would be eating with Octavian.

“Every day. Playing in the water, collecting seashells by the rocks….”

“I’d like to go to Egypt,” Julia said wistfully, and I wondered how many times a day she wished she were somewhere else.

“Someday,” Marcellus whispered, “if I become Caesar, we’ll return Alexander and Selene to their thrones, and in return they’ll show us Alexandria.”

Julia looked at her father. Now that winter was over, the color had returned to his cheeks, and he appeared strong. “That could be many years,” she said fearfully.

“Already wishing death on Caesar? That’s how treachery begins,” Tiberius warned.

“No one said anything about death,” Marcellus said.

But Tiberius grinned. “I know what she meant.”

“You don’t know anything,” Julia retorted angrily. “You smile and listen like a sickly cat hoping for a scrap of meat to run to my father with. You think I don’t know that you tell him everything we say?”

He snorted. “As if I cared enough to do that. Try Juba. He’s the spy.”

But Julia sat forward. “You hope that if you tell my father everything, he’ll trust you enough to send you to war alongside Agrippa. Maybe even make you a general, and you’ll never have to come back here.” She snorted. “But that’s never going to happen. My father will keep you here, dancing like his puppet until he’s gone. The heir.” She looked from Marcellus to Tiberius. “And the spare.”

There was a crash of crystal on the mosaic floor, and everyone turned.

“You stupid son of an ass!” Pollio shouted. He leapt from his chair, thundering toward the old man who cowered on the floor.

“Please, Domine, I didn’t mean—”

Pollio lashed out with his foot, kicking the slave squarely in the jaw. The old man fell back against the shattered glass, and Horatia rushed from her couch.

“Please, Pollio—”

“This is the finest crystal we own!” he shouted.

Julia and Tiberius exchanged glances; their own bickering was silenced.

“This asinus has broken one of my largest vessels. Octavia wanted to know why I have eels?” He turned to the guards at the door of the triclinium. “Take him to the pool!”

The old man clasped his hands before his bloodied face. “Please, Domine.” His voice became hysterical. “Please! Kill me here, but not the eels.”

I looked from Agrippa to Juba, desperate for one of them to do something. Then Octavian stood. He held his crystal goblet in front of him, dropping it on the floor and watching it shatter into a thousand pieces. No one spoke. No one even dared to breathe. Octavian proceeded to smash every piece of crystal on his table. The pieces scattered across the floor, and some of the children covered their ears at the terrible sound. At last, when there was nothing more to destroy, Octavian asked, “Will you be feeding me to the eels as well?”

“Of course not, Caesar,” Pollio said.

The old man had tears in his eyes.

“How many men have you killed this way?”

“Seven,” the old man whispered from the floor.

“And all of them deserved it!” Pollio challenged, his chins wagging with indignation.

“And this slave. Does he deserve it?” Octavian asked.

Pollio considered his answer before speaking. “Not with an example such as Caesar before him,” he said wisely. He was not as great a fool as he looked.

“You are generous, Domine,” the old man said. He trembled, and the sight was pitiful. Octavia turned away.

“Yes, Dominus Pollio is very generous,” Octavian said. “So generous, he will be freeing you tonight.”

Horatia gasped. But for the first time, Pollio had the sense to bow his head humbly and accept Octavian’s pronouncement.

The next morning, on every temple door in Capri, the Red Eagle posted his first actum in praise of Caesar.

It became the subject of every conversation for the next two weeks. Clearly the Red Eagle had come out of hiding now that enough time had passed since the kitchen boy’s crucifixion. But where was he residing on Capri, and how had he known what had happened in Pollio’s villa?

“Perhaps it’s one of Pollio’s clan,” Marcellus speculated, dangling his feet in the swimming pool. The four of us were drying off in the sun. Since we were no longer in Rome, Julia and I were allowed to swim, but only inside the villa where no one could see us in our breastbands and loincloths.

“Or it could be anyone who heard the news from Pollio’s villa,” my brother said. In the days after Pollio’s slave had been freed, people as far away as Pompeii came to know of what had happened. We watched as Vipsania splashed at the other end of the pool, completely naked. Both Julia and I, though, now had something to cover. I noticed Marcellus was watching us with new interest—Julia in particular, whose wet band of cloth pressed against her breasts. I had the unkind urge to get up and block his view.

“But if it’s someone who has visited Pollio,” Julia reasoned, “the person must be wealthy. Pollio doesn’t admit any other kind.”

“What about a slave in his house?” I asked. “Or one from this house who’s been there?”

But my brother frowned. “It wouldn’t be like a slave to compliment Octavian.”

The speculation continued throughout the summer, and everyone was suspect, even Juba and Agrippa. But there were no more acta on Capri, and the Praetorian guard stationed at every temple door idled their nights away rolling dice and watching owls hunt for prey. By the end of August, Octavian announced a reward of five thousand denarii to anyone with useful information on the Red Eagle.

“Who do you think it might be?” I asked Vitruvius. We sat in the library with the final plans for the Temple of Apollo. A grand staircase swept from Octavian’s home to the temple, where a vast library already housed his favorite literature. In a few days, when we returned to the oppressive heat of Rome, the last touches would be added, and the temple would be dedicated.

“If I knew,” Vitruvius said, “I would be five thousand denarii richer. Now find me the measurements for the landing.”

“Is there going to be a mosaic?” I asked eagerly.

Vitruvius smiled. “We will include the one you sketched.”

I gave a little cry of joy. After nearly a year of working with Vitruvius, this was the first design of mine he was going to use. I had sketched mosaics for Octavian’s mausoleum, and column designs for Agrippa’s Pantheon, but none of them had been included.

“Don’t grow too excited,” Vitruvius warned. “We have to finish by October. And you’re going to oversee the laying of the tiles.”

I didn’t care how much work it meant, or how many hours before the ludus I would have to rise to oversee the mosaicists’ work. When I told my brother, he stopped packing his trunk to look up at me. “And you want to do this?”

“Of course. Why wouldn’t I?”

“Because we’re about to return to the sweltering heat. How will you be able to work?”

“It will be morning. And I don’t suffer the way you do.”

“I’ll never understand it,” he said enviously, closing his trunk. “Only you and Octavian can endure it. Our mother would never have survived.”

Alexander seated himself next to me. Two years ago, our mother and father had been alive. Ptolemy had been running through the palace halls with Charmion chasing after him, threatening to pinch his ear. There had still been hope of saving Egypt then. But now it was lost, and there was no telling whether we would ever return. “What do you think will happen if Octavian determines not to send us back?”

“Exactly what we’ve thought all along. He’ll find us marriages and we’ll remain in Rome.”

“And doesn’t that frighten you?”

“Of course it does! But what can we do?”

I was quiet for a moment. “If Caesar died,” I whispered, “Marcellus would return us to Egypt.”

My brother’s gaze immediately went to the door. “Be careful, Selene. There’s no telling who’s listening in this villa. Marcellus thinks the Red Eagle is working with someone inside.”

“Like Gallia?”

“It’s possible.” He stood and opened the door. When he was sure there was no one outside, he closed it again and came back to my couch. “In five months Marcellus is going to have his toga virilis ceremony. Has he told you about this?”

I shook my head.

“At fifteen, every boy puts aside his bulla and becomes a man. Octavian will probably announce Marcellus’s official engagement to Julia, and if he does, it will be clear to everyone who his heir is intended to be. Octavian will want to catch the Red Eagle before this happens. He can’t afford to be embarrassed at such an important time. Be very careful what you say and to whom you say it.”

“Why? You don’t think he suspects us?”

“I don’t know. But even Agrippa’s and Juba’s chambers have been searched.”

I made a face.

“I know,” he said. “They’re desperate.”

“Has Gallia’s name ever been mentioned?”

“I don’t think so. But it’s impossible to know whom the Praetorian Guard are watching. Including Marcellus.”

I was quiet for a moment. “And what does Marcellus say about marriage?”

My brother gave me a long look. “Nothing you want to know about.”

“So he’s in love with Julia?” I exclaimed.

“I don’t know.”

“But what does he say?”

My brother hesitated. “That she is beautiful, and they have the same passion for the Circus.”

“But she doesn’t even care about the Circus! She only goes for him.”

“What do you want me to tell you, Selene? He’s mentioned that he thinks you’re pretty.”

“He has?”

“Many men think so,” he said dryly.

“But what else has he said?”

“That’s it. I’m sorry. You know whom he’s been promised to; you’re wasting your time thinking about him.”

That afternoon, ebony litters were arranged to carry us to the ship. No one was particularly happy about leaving, least of all Marcellus, who couldn’t bear the thought of returning to the steam bath that was Rome.

“If we had vacations like every other family,” he complained on the portico, “we’d be here until October.”

“I don’t believe we’re like every other family,” his mother reminded him.

“Yes,” Tiberius said mockingly. “There is the small matter of governing Rome.”

“That’s what the Senate is for.”

“So when you’re Caesar, is that what you plan to do?” Tiberius asked Marcellus. “Give the reins of government to the senators and sit back while they steer?”

Octavian appeared, and everyone fell into an uneasy silence. “Wave good-bye to the Do-Nothings,” he said as he crossed the threshold of his palace. “This is the happiest day of their year.”

Livia laughed, and Octavia smiled fleetingly at her brother’s strange sense of humor. But Marcellus crossed his arms over his chest.

“I’m tired of the ludus,” he grumbled, and he turned to find a sympathetic ear in Julia. “I don’t want to wait until I’m seventeen to leave school. I don’t think I can stand it for another two years. Especially not when we could be here.”

She patted his arm. “It’s better than hard labor,” she said teasingly. “Selene”—she turned to me—“why don’t you ride with your brother?” Julia climbed into a litter after Marcellus, and I watched their shadows on the curtain for a moment before my brother pulled me into a second litter.

“Don’t obsess about it,” he said sensibly. “Just be glad he doesn’t want you.”

I stared at him in amazement.

“Well, how would that turn out?” he demanded. “What do you think Julia would do?”

“Turn against me.”

He nodded. “She’s not all pretty tunics and jewels.”

“I notice you stare at her enough.”

My brother laughed. “I have no interest in Julia. Trust me.”

“Why? I thought you said she’s beautiful.”

“She is. She also belongs to Marcellus. And no matter how much we may wish otherwise,” he said darkly, “that’s not going to change.”

I thought of Julia and Marcellus laughing together in the litter next to ours, their shadows growing closer and closer, and tears of frustration blurred my vision. My brother put his arm around my shoulders, and I let my tears roll down my cheeks. Then I noticed I wasn’t the only one. My brother’s handsome cheeks were wet. But I was too absorbed in my own misery to ask why.

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