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 I COULD see the relief on Octavia’s face when summer finally came, and she could escape the plebian hostility for Capri. She’d said nothing to me about her charity in the Subura, but Vitruvius admitted that at some homes, people had begun to turn away her help, preferring to beg or steal for their food than receive it from a patrician.

As our ship sailed from Naples to the little island where Augustus’s Sea Palace rose from the rocks, Alexander turned to me. “I wonder if the Red Eagle is following us.”

I looked from the rails to Octavia and Vitruvius, who were sitting on the deck, shaded from the sun by a thin linen canopy. “Every home on Capri will be searched if he dares to post anything there again,” I told him.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if they have soldiers in disguise across the island, waiting for him to make a mistake.”

“It didn’t work in Rome.”

“Rome isn’t an island,” my brother said.

But after a week of sun-bleached days spent lounging in the Sea Palace, there was no sign of the rebel, and the men of the Praetorian Guard began to relax at their posts. They tossed dice, ate fish, and were willing to place bets on nearly anything, from the fastest-moving boats passing on the sea to the height of a palm tree.

Without Augustus or Livia to watch us, there was almost nothing we couldn’t do. Even Tiberius and Drusus enjoyed themselves a little, joining us on Marcellus’s daily boat trips into the Blue Grotto, where Roman patricians had turned the sea cave into their own bathing pool. The walls were painted with images of Neptune rising from the waves, and small statues of the bearded sea god rested in niches carved into the rock. Toward the end of the summer, when Claudia became adventurous enough to come along, both Agrippa and Juba paddled with us to the cave.

“What do you think makes the water so blue?” Claudia asked. It was as if something was lighting the sea from underneath, turning the water the brilliant shade of cornflowers.

“It’s the opening down there,” Juba said from the boat, pointing to a gap in the rock that was completely submerged. “That’s where the sunlight enters and lights the water from below.”

“First in!” Marcellus shouted, tearing off his tunic and diving into the water in his loincloth. Claudia immediately averted her gaze, but Tiberius and Drusus stripped off their tunics and dove overboard, too.

“Are you coming?” Drusus called to Vipsania.

She stood at the edge of the boat. “It looks a little cold.”

“Nonsense!” Lucius exclaimed. “Let’s go!” He pushed Julia and Vipsania from the boat before they had time to take off their clothes, and Alexander followed.

“Are you going in?” I asked Claudia, stowing my sandals in the prow of the little boat where they wouldn’t get wet.

“In my breastband and loincloth?”

“Why not?” I took off my tunic. “We come here every day.”

She looked uneasily at Agrippa and Juba, who were already swimming.

“Go,” I persisted. “Your husband doesn’t mind. Look at Vipsania. Do you think he would let his daughter do something dishonorable?”

Claudia hesitated, then took off her tunic and slowly, timidly dipped her foot into the water.

“What are you waiting for?” Marcellus cried, pulling her in.

“Marcellus!” she shrieked, but once she was completely wet, she giggled. “It’s warm in here. Like bathwater.”

“You see?” I told her. “It’s not so bad.” I slipped over the side of the boat and swam up to Marcellus. Immediately, Julia was at my side.

“Can you imagine being here at high tide?” Claudia asked worriedly. “The water would rise and we’d all be trapped.”

“It’s not high tide for another few hours,” Marcellus said.

“Besides,” Julia added, “there’s a secret path over there to the mountain.” She indicated the end of the cave, where a limestone platform led to a series of steps.

“Have you ever used it?”

Julia shook her head.

“Then how can you be sure it works?”

“Because we saw a goat come through it once!”

Claudia looked to her brother to confirm the story.

“It’s true,” Marcellus said. “Ask Agrippa if you don’t believe me.”

She swam away to her husband, and Julia said critically, “She’s so nervous.”

“Like all my sisters,” Marcellus said. “Why do you think Antonia and Tonia aren’t here?”

“Because your mother forbids it?” Julia guessed.

Marcellus shook his head. “So long as I’m with them, they’re welcome to come. But they’re afraid. They’d rather be playing their lyres or planting boxwood in the garden.”

Julia wrinkled her nose. “How boring.”

“They’re like my mother,” Marcellus observed. “They enjoy the simple, quiet pleasures.”

And there was something very endearing about their simplicity that evening while everyone played dice in the summer triclinium. Neither Antonia nor Tonia gambled, and Vipsania and Drusus were deemed too young to play. So the four of them sat together on a couch, quietly watching the roll of the dice. Only Alexander, Lucius, and Julia remained in the game. Marcellus whispered eager tips to Julia, and once in a while Juba or Agrippa would look up from their reading to see who was winning.

Julia rolled, and Lucius exclaimed, “Four Vultures!”

She groaned. “I’m finished.”

“But no one’s thrown a Venus,” Lucius protested. “The next roll could be yours.”

“It’s always the next roll with you two. You can keep my denarii in the pot.”

“Your loss,” my brother said temptingly, but she didn’t care. He and Lucius battled it out, and by the time Lucius won, I realized that Marcellus and Julia had disappeared.

I looked around the triclinium. “Where did Marcellus go?”

“With Julia,” Tonia said. “Out to the gardens. I think they’re sitting in the gazebo.”

“Which one?”

“Near the statue of Fortuna. Would you like me to show it to you?”

“Leave them alone,” Juba said, looking up from his reading. “They’ve gone there for a reason.”

“And how do you know?”

“I have eyes.”

I rose swiftly from my chair, and Tonia asked eagerly, “Would you like me to show you?”

“Yes,” I said stubbornly.

“You’re wasting your time.” Juba’s voice grew irritable. “If you think you’re in love with him, you’re no different from any of the girls at the roadside inns. Besides, it’s Julia he’s meant for.”

“So everyone says.”

“So Augustus says.” When Juba saw me pause, he added, “The letter came today. Octavia will probably announce it tomorrow.”

Tonia was still looking up at me; her small hand reached out toward mine. “Shall we go?”

For a moment, I didn’t answer. Then, when the mist finally cleared from my mind, I told her, “Just take me to the baths.”

Tonia chatted about silly things along the way—what color the flowers should be on her balcony and which food I liked better, thrush or quail. She wanted to know if I had ever seen the animal called a giraffe, and told me that I should visit her uncle’s zoo in Rome as soon as we returned. Nothing she talked about was of any importance. She spoke only about simple, insignificant things, and for that I couldn’t have been more thankful.

But when Octavia gathered us all in the triclinium the next morning and announced that she had wonderful news from Iberia, my heart sank in my chest, and I wished I could have as simple a life as Tonia. Instead, I had spent the night hoping that Juba had been wrong, that he had only told me such things to try and torment me. But now, Marcellus’s long-awaited marriage to Julia was going to be made a reality, and Augustus wanted Agrippa to take his place in the ceremony on the auspicious day of December twenty-fourth.

As soon as Octavia spoke the words, my brother looked at me, and Lucius patted my arm in an understanding gesture. For the next four months I would have to be cheerful and happy for Julia, and there would be a dozen things she would want me to help her with: tunics and cloaks, new sandals and bridal jewels. There was more news as well, but I hardly heard it. Marcellus was to be honored by being made an aedile, in charge of Rome’s public entertainments for an entire year, which would mean access to nearly unlimited funds in order to impress the plebs. When Tiberius heard this, he sat back in his seat and groaned. “I hope Augustus knows what he’s doing.”

But the final news made time stop entirely. In honor of his service to Rome, Juba, Prince of Numidia and unswerving friend of Augustus, was being made King of Mauretania. It would be a client kingship in which he served the purposes of Rome, but even so, Mauretania adjoined his ancestral land of Numidia, where his father and grandfather had ruled before him. I met my brother’s gaze across the table, and while everyone celebrated the happy news, Alexander seated himself next to me.

“You see,” I whispered in Parthian. “If it can happen for Juba, it can happen for us.”

“Yes, but he’s twenty-two and he’s spent his life being useful to Augustus, serving him, protecting him, fighting alongside him. What have I done?”

“Nothing. But you haven’t been given the chance!”

“At least you have your work with Vitruvius.”

I was quiet for a moment. “Perhaps that will be enough for us both.”

We looked across the triclinium at Juba, who was being congratulated by Agrippa and Claudia. “As soon as you’re comfortable in your new palace,” Agrippa was promising him, “we plan on making the journey south for a visit.”

But Juba laughed. “I don’t expect I’ll be leaving anytime soon. There’s the matter of a war in Cantabria to finish. I’m not sure how Augustus would feel about returning home to discover that I’d left him.”

Julia and Marcellus were by themselves on the farthest couch in the triclinium, and I could see that she was weeping. He kissed the tears of happiness from her cheeks in a way that made my heart ache, and I reminded myself sternly, It’s about continuing to study with Vitruvius so that Augustus will let me return to Egypt; it’s not about falling in love with a Roman—however winsome he is.

But it was difficult to remember what I had left to hope for as Julia dragged me to every shop in the Forum in search of the perfect bridal clothes. There had been a message from Iberia that whatever Julia wished for her wedding should be ordered, and that every senator in Rome would be invited to the celebration.

“Look at all this cloth,” Julia complained in November, with only a month left before her marriage. “Wool, linen, heavy winter silks. How can any of these be used for a veil?” We had gone to shop after shop looking for something suitable, but she’d found nothing. She sat down on the shopkeeper’s chair while the old man scurried around us, presenting us with options.

“There has to be something,” Lucius protested. “What about that red stuff over there?”

“It’s too thick.”

My brother held up a swath of red silk.

“Too shiny,” she ruled.

“There are no more shops,” Gallia reminded her. “What about inviting the merchants from Ostia to the Palatine?”

“She’s already done that,” I said dryly.

“Then how about choosing something from the one hundred shops we’ve already been to?” Marcellus suggested.

Julia’s eyes filled with tears. “You don’t care what I wear.” She stood angrily. “I could show up in a peasant’s palla and it wouldn’t matter at all!”

Marcellus exchanged a wearied look with me. “You’re right. It wouldn’t.” He went to her. “Because what matters to me isn’t the veil.” He lifted her chin tenderly. “It’s you.”

Alexander whispered in Parthian, “You have to feel a little sorry for him. This is what the rest of his life is going to be like.”

Julia calmed a little, but the crisis of the veil wasn’t resolved until eight days before the wedding, as we were bidding Magister Verrius farewell. Our days in the ludus were finished. Beginning with the new year, Alexander and Lucius were going to join Marcellus and Tiberius in a separate school for rhetoric, where they would learn how to speak in public and argue law cases. Julia would be in charge of her own house, a magnificent villa near Agrippa’s on the Palatine, and instead of studying Homer or Vergil, she would be holding her own salutatio, doing charity work, and commissioning buildings in her own name. Because school was finished for me as well, Vitruvius paid me the honor of asking whether I wished to study with him in the daytime and oversee some of the work on the theater, Agrippa’s Pantheon, and the new basilica being built in honor of Julia’s marriage. Only this time, when he asked, it was not because Octavia pressured him to.

The six of us waved good-bye to Magister Verrius, and though Julia was the one who had enjoyed the ludus least, she blinked back tears as we crossed the courtyard toward Juba and Gallia for the very last time. Though Juba was king of a foreign land now and could have left our security to the Praetorian Guard, it was a mark of his loyalty to Augustus that he remained as Marcellus’s personal protector. Julia sniffed loudly, and when Marcellus gave her his linen square, she used it to dab at her eyes. “You know what this means, don’t you?” she wailed.

“Our childhood has passed,” Alexander said quietly.

“Who cares about our childhood?” she said heatedly. “There are only eight days to find cloth for a veil!”

Marcellus gave Julia a desperate look. “Why don’t you go shopping with Selene,” he suggested. “Juba can take us back—”

“We’ve been to every store,” I interrupted. “There’s nowhere in Rome we haven’t gone.”

Julia’s look was miserable. Everything was ready. Her handsomely embroidered cloak of red and gold. A tunic woven from the finest silk. Her pearl-encrusted sandals, her bangles, her underclothes. Only the veil remained. Marcellus looked as if he were about to weep himself. And then I remembered.

“I think I have something. In the chest I brought from Alexandria—some swaths of red silk.”

Julia gasped. “Can we see them?”

I glanced at Marcellus, who smiled at me with the deepest gratitude, and I was forced to admit to myself that my revelation was not entirely altruistic. “Of course.”

Marcellus exhaled audibly. “I’ll bet Selene has something that would be absolutely perfect.”

Julia shot him a look, but when we returned to the Palatine and I opened the chest that had been locked for more than four years, she reached forward for the first swath of silk and exclaimed, “This is it!” It was the material left over from a chiton I had worn to my mother’s last feast. It had been the Feast of the Inseparable in Death, when my parents had invited everyone who had been close to them to dine one last time. I hesitated, wondering whether or not I should tell her.

“You probably don’t want that one,” I said finally.

But she had already draped it over her head. “Why not?”

“Because it was the cloth I wore to my mother’s last dinner.”

“The feast of a queen,” Julia whispered, regarding herself in the mirror. The red contrasted beautifully with her mass of black hair, and she didn’t care what the material had been for.

“It might bring you bad luck.”

“Nonsense,” she said. “That’s only superstition.”

“Your father wouldn’t think so.”

“And do I look like him?”

No. She looked like the most beautiful bride who would ever be carried across the threshold of a villa. Pearls imported from the Indian Sea gleamed on her dark neck, and in eight days, when her hair was dressed in similar ornaments, Marcellus would be the envy of every man in Rome. I let her take the silk, but as she was folding it into a neat square for her seamstress, she sat down on my bathing room chair, and tears began to well in her eyes.

“What’s the matter?” I exclaimed. “You have your veil. Everything is ready.”

She nodded, as if she knew it was foolish to cry. “I know.”

“Then what’s wrong?”

She looked up at me, and her dark eyes suddenly appeared enormous, as if they belonged to a child. “She won’t be there,” she whispered, and immediately I was ashamed of my resentment. No one in the world knew Julia better than Marcellus. Her father, her stepmother, even her stepbrother only cared what happened to her so long as it advanced their will. In a world of pretty silks and pearls where everything was theater, Marcellus was her only real happiness, and her mother wouldn’t even be able to meet him on the wedding day. I took a seat next to her and offered her my hand. There was nothing I could say, so instead we sat together in silence and I thought of how selfish a friend I had been.

The excitement of Julia’s wedding didn’t stop me from wallowing in my own misery in private. Though I put a smile on my face and helped Julia with everything a bride might need—packing her chests, choosing her perfume, finding the right silk tunic for her wedding night—I still felt an empty ache in my heart when Marcellus looked at me or I heard him laugh in his mother’s villa and knew it would be one of the last times I would ever have that sound wake me in the morning. Yet Marcellus was bursting with happiness. He was marrying a woman he loved, and who loved him back. There would be spectacles and entertainments to plan for an entire year, and before long Augustus would make him consul and officially name him the future emperor of Rome.

Two nights before the wedding, Marcellus crept into my chamber, where Alexander, Lucius, and I were whispering about the war in Cantabria and how it might be many years before we’d have to see Livia’s sour face again. Since the announcement of his wedding, he had stopped coming to us, and I presumed from the nightly creaking of his window that he was visiting Julia instead. But he took up his old position on the third couch, and my brother asked eagerly, “Well, what’s it like to be getting married?”

Marcellus smiled. “Wonderful. Frightening.”

“How can it be frightening?” I teased.

“Well, think of the responsibility,” he said. “Now, there will be a house to maintain, and slaves to buy, and—”

“You’re not really going to buy slaves?” I exclaimed.

“Of course he is,” Lucius said. “How else is his house going to run?”

I stared at Marcellus.

“I will treat them properly,” he promised swiftly. “I would never send them away for getting pregnant.”

“Or push them into an eel pool,” I added, “or whip them for broken dishes.”

“Certainly not!”

I crossed my arms over my chest. “Will you pay them?”

He hesitated. “I … well … sure. Why not? Every Saturnalia, they can all receive presents. Julia can take care of that.”

“Why can’t you?”

“Because I’ll be too busy planning the Games.” He grinned widely. “There’s the Ludi Plebei, the Ludi Apollinares, the Ludi Megalenses, and the Ludi Ceriales.” He looked at my brother. “And you’ll help me, won’t you?”

My brother couldn’t have been more pleased with any request. They spoke at length about horses, and floats for parades, and which animals from Augustus’s zoo would be the most likely to awe the plebs if they were used as part of the opening processions. Marcellus didn’t speak again about marriage, but before he left, he paused at the door one last time and looked back. “Lucius and the twins,” he said, his voice filled with regret, “I’ll miss our nights together.”

When he shut the door and Lucius left, I turned on my side and faced the wall. Alexander knew enough to simply blow out the oil lamp. Then he kissed my hair and whispered that it would be better in the morning.

But it wasn’t. It was the last day of Saturnalia, with all of the shops in the Forum closed, and a hundred different things still to be arranged. There was the matter of the food, and reminders had to be sent across Rome to the homes of butchers and bakers to ensure that the proper amounts would be delivered the next morning. Wine, honey, vinegar, and garum had to be available in considerable quantities, and despite the fact that it was a holiday, merchants arrived throughout the day with heavy chests and barrels. Nothing more important than this wedding would ever happen beneath Octavia’s roof, so the slaves rushed from room to room with wash-buckets and brooms, using feather dusters on the most delicate statues and ladders to reach the highest mosaics. Marcellus went to spend the day with Julia, and when Alexander asked whether I’d like to join him and Lucius at the odeum, I shook my head.

“What will you do, then? Sit out here on the portico and feel sorry for yourself? It’s cold,” he protested. “Come to the odeum. There’ll be warm beer and ofellae.”

“I’m fine. Besides, there’s work to be done in the theater.”

“Over Saturnalia? Even Vitruvius isn’t working.”

“There’s just a few things I’d like to see to,” I lied. “It’s important.”

But my brother knew me better. “Selene, you care more about that theater than Marcellus does. He’ll probably step inside it once.”

“That doesn’t matter!” I said angrily. “It’s my project. Vitruvius gave it to me, and I’ll see that it’s done right. Work doesn’t stop just because it’s a silly Roman festival.”

I convinced Octavia to let me go, and two Praetorians were sent with me to Marcellus’s theater. I took my book of sketches, although truthfully there was nothing I planned to sketch. I simply wanted a place away from the madness of preparations; a place where I could sit one last time to remember how simple life had been before engagements and weddings and bitter envy.

We crossed through the Forum Holitorium, where the vegetable stalls were shut for Saturnalia, and though the guards wanted to take the shortcut, I refused, thereby avoiding the Columna Lactaria, where Horatia’s daughter had been abandoned. This winter hadn’t brought any snow, but gray clouds curtained the sun, casting a pall over the city and darkening the streets. When we arrived, I could see that the guards were worried about rain. There was only one umbraculum between us, so they gave it to me and waited beneath the arches while I inspected the empty theater.

A great deal of work had been completed since the building’s conception: the cavea, where more than ten thousand spectators could sit; the stage, which would soon be covered in mosaic; and the three tiers of arches supported by columns in each of the Greek architectural styles, first Doric, then Ionic, and finally Corinthian. Every day for nearly a year I had come here, with either Vitruvius or the guards, and watched the men build. I had been allowed to choose the artwork and mosaics, and the workers knew better than to slight me, since Vitruvius had made it clear that I was as important to this theater as Marcellus himself.

I walked to the stage and ran my hand along its edge. The wood had been smoothed to perfection, and when I was sure that there were no splinters, I seated myself so that I looked out on the cavea. Years of hard labor would be required to complete the rest of the theater. Builders would grow from boys to men here, as I had grown from a girl to a woman in the time since it had started. I thought of my excitement when Marcellus first asked Augustus whether I could help in its creation. I’d believed it was Marcellus’s way of showing special favor to me, and it had been, only not the kind I’d imagined. He didn’t really care about this theater, and tomorrow he would take Julia as his bride. She would press her soft cheek against his chest as he carried her into their villa, and once he untied her girdle their new life would begin. I could feel the sting of tears beginning in my eyes. Then a figure appeared at the back of the theater, and I stood swiftly.

“What are you doing here?” I exclaimed.

Juba smiled as he advanced. “I saw the guards and thought there might be trouble inside. I didn’t realize you had come here to cry out your sorrows. But I suppose that every tragedy deserves a stage.”

“I’m not crying,” I said sternly.

Juba raised his brows. “My mistake.”

“I came here to make some final plans. This area,” I said unconvincingly “still needs a mosaic.” I stepped down and strode purposefully past him. And then it occurred to me. “I know why you’re here,” I gasped. “Augustus wants you to spy on me!”

Juba laughed at my foolishness. “Do you really imagine that I have so little to do with my time?”

“Then why aren’t you packing? Leaving for Mauretania on the next ship?”

Immediately, I regretted my words. He stepped back and said quietly, “Perhaps I still have business in Rome, like making sure my slaves have a place to go when I’m gone.” He moved to join the guards, and the three of them talked about the war in Cantabria, completely ignoring me. When I finally asked to be taken back to the Palatine, the four of us walked the short distance in silence.

It was a wedding that even the wealthiest merchants would be talking about for many years. Thousands of people filled the villa from the triclinium to the gardens, where charcoal braziers kept away the winter’s chill and lanterns lit the rose-trimmed paths. Between every column, swaths of the richest blue and gold silks fluttered in the breeze, and handsomely dressed slaves rushed between the senators offering them cups of the best Chian wine. When Marcellus slid a gold and emerald ring onto Julia’s finger, the thundering shouts of “Thalassa!” on the hilltop were probably heard all the way down by the Circus Maximus, and the feast that followed lasted into the third watch.

“It will be us next,” my brother said ominously as we rested in the triclinium. His hair had taken on a burnished sheen in the soft light of the oil lamps, and I saw Lucius staring at him from across the room.

“Perhaps Augustus will never return,” I said.

But my brother wasn’t so hopeful. “Then Livia will take care to arrange it from Iberia. She sends Octavia letters every week. And you know what happens in seven days.”

We would be turning fifteen. Alexander would prepare for his coming-of-age ceremony at the festival of Liberalia, and more men would be inquiring about my availability for marriage, since this was the age by which even the most restrictive fathers realized they would have to let their daughters go. I twisted my napkin nervously in my hands.

We both looked at Julia and Marcellus, laughing and happy in their newly wedded bliss. He had taken her up in his arms, and a long procession was forming to escort them into their new villa. As they passed our table, Julia’s gaze met mine and her smile faltered. I knew she was thinking about her mother. I stood up and pressed her hand. “Someday, when you are empress …” I whispered. Her face brightened, and as Marcellus carried her away, I made a silent prayer to both Isis and Serapis that Julia would always be this happy. Time and again she had been kind to me, and I had repaid that kindness with jealousy. She had been denied the love and affection of her mother; now, at least, she would have it from a husband.

“Do you want to go with them?” I asked Alexander.

“No. It will only be depressing,” he said.

Secretly, I was thankful. Although I was curious to see what her villa was like, I had no desire to watch Marcellus untie Julia’s girdle, then lay her down on his bridal couch while men sang lewd songs and made grunting noises. “I’m going to go to sleep, then,” I told him.

“Don’t wait up for me.”

“But it’s almost morning!”

My brother smiled. “And there’s still a few amphorae of the Chian left.”

When I awoke that afternoon and looked across the chamber, I saw that Alexander’s couch hadn’t been slept on.

It was three days before we saw Marcellus and Julia again. They remained in their villa enjoying each other and their sudden freedom, and Marcellus didn’t even attend school with the rhetor, which sent his mother into a rare fit of rage. She burst into the library while Vitruvius was showing me the formulas he had used to build the dome on the Pantheon.

“Three days!” she cried. “He hasn’t studied with the rhetor in three days!” We both looked up, and Octavia rubbed her temple. “If this is a sign of things to come—”

“He’s a newlywed,” Vitruvius pointed out calmly. “I’m sure it’s not a sign of anything but love.”

Octavia saw my face and mistook my pain for disapproval.

“You see?” she exclaimed. “Selene understands. That’s why she comes here with you every day when she could be shopping with Julia or studying Plato. I will warn him this evening.”

“At his first feast?” Vitruvius asked. “He’ll be playing the host.”

“He can play at whatever he’d like so long as he studies! Even from Iberia,” Octavia warned, “Livia keeps her eye on Rome. You think I don’t know what her slaves are writing? And if Augustus should discover what Marcellus has been doing—lying in bed, watching the races from his balcony—don’t think there aren’t plenty of other choices for heir.”

Vitruvius gave a hollow laugh. “Like who? Tiberius would rather be castrated.”

“And would Livia care? She would put him through the trials of Hercules if she thought it would bring him closer to power. When I’m finished speaking with Marcellus,” she demanded, “you must speak to him as well.” Only after Vitruvius nodded gravely did she look down at the scroll we were working on. “Is that the Pantheon?” she asked.

“Yes. Selene and I are about to oversee the installation of the gods, and by the time your brother returns, it will be finished.”

“Then there’s been news?” I asked swiftly. I looked at Vitruvius and Octavia, but neither of them seemed inclined to answer.

“Only half of Cantabria has been subdued,” Octavia said. “The war may take another six months, even though he promised to be here for the unveiling.”

“I can ask Agrippa whether he wishes to postpone it,” Vitruvius said uncertainly.

But Octavia shook her head. “No. It wouldn’t be right for such a great building to stand empty.”

“Come with us,” Vitruvius said imploringly. “You haven’t seen the construction in more than a year, and you can write to your brother about what’s been completed.”

“He’ll be jealous.” She smiled sadly. “Agrippa tells me it’s unlike anything that’s ever been built.”

Vitruvius offered her his arm. “You’ll have to judge that for yourself.”

Octavia invited Gallia to come with us, and when we arrived, their eyes were drawn upward to the pediment, where sculptors had inscribed: MARCUS AGRIPPA, SON OF LUCIUS, CONSUL FOR THE THIRD TIME, MADE THIS BUILDING. There was nothing unusual about the outside of the building. It was a colonnaded porch of simple concrete and brick. But as we passed through the great bronze doors into the Pantheon, I heard Gallia whisper something in her mother tongue.

Nothing in the world had ever equaled it in beauty or grandeur, not even in Alexandria. From the rich marble flooring to the internal colonnades, light and color worked together to create something that had never been done before. The dome was decorated with octagonal and hexagonal shapes, making it appear like a honeycomb to anyone who was standing beneath it. In the center was a large, perfectly round opening, an oculus, which let in the only light.

Gallia’s gaze traveled from niche to niche, where workers were using oiled polishing cloths to prepare them for the reception of the marble statues. When she repeated her amazed sentiments in Gaulish, Juba stepped from the shadows and replied, “It’s impressive, isn’t it?”

I looked at Vitruvius in surprise. He explained, “He has come to inspect the statues for flaws and authenticity. They only arrived this morning.”

Juba and Gallia spoke for a moment in her language, then he turned and greeted Octavia and Vitruvius. But when it came to me, his voice was not so merry. “I don’t believe there are any mosaics that need finishing.”

“I am here to make measurements for the statues,” I retorted.

He turned to Vitruvius. “What?” he asked with mock indignation. “You didn’t think I would consider that before buying them?”

Vitruvius looked genuinely apologetic, but Juba slapped his back good-naturedly.

“Of course.” Juba laughed. “There is no point in hauling a marble statue across the chamber if it’s only going to be returned.” He took Gallia and Octavia on a short tour of the building, and while they were busy I helped Vitruvius take the measurements. I hoped desperately that one of the statues would be too tall or too wide for its niche, but, frustratingly, Juba was right. They all fit.

“Well?” Juba stood over me when we were finished.

“They’re fine,” I said shortly, rising and dusting my hands on my tunic.

“A perfect job,” Vitruvius complimented. “And very handsome sculptures, Juba. Are they all Roman?”

“Only the Venus is Greek. For some reason, I was drawn to her face.”

I looked across the Pantheon to the statue of Venus. Perhaps it was my own vanity that made me think I recognized her. But the nose and possibly the light, painted eyes were similar to mine. Then Gallia dropped her voice and whispered, “She reminds me of Caesar’s mistress.”

“Terentilla.” Juba nodded. “Yes. Perhaps you’re right.”

That evening, I dressed more carefully than usual for Marcellus’s first feast. I put on my favorite tunic of blue silk and a belt of silver cloth to match my sandals. Then Gallia arranged my hair in a handsome bun on the top of my head, using long silver pins to hold it in place. The result in the mirror was extremely pleasing, and even Gallia was impressed. She sprayed me with a blend of violet and jasmine.

“You have turned into a real beauty,” she said. “Hera would be jealous if she had to compete with you.”

I laughed. “How do you know that story? It’s a Greek tale.”

“I read. And sometimes, Magister Verrius tells those tales to me.”

“Does he miss us?” I asked as we walked to the portico.

“What do you think? He has Drusus and Vipsania now for students. They do not study much.”

Poor Magister Verrius, I thought. He probably imagined that Julia and Marcellus were the laziest students he’d ever have to teach.

My brother and Lucius were already on the portico, gambling with dice. “Don’t you ever stop?” I teased.

My brother looked up, and a smile touched his lips. “Nice.” He rose to his feet. “Exceptionally nice,” though he gave me a warning look.

As we walked across the Palatine, I clenched and unclenched my hands. “So what do you think their villa will be like?” I asked.

Alexander smirked. “Without any slaves? A mess.”

“Octavia will have lent them some,” I said. “And I’m sure Julia took cooks from her father’s house.”

“We’ll see,” he said eagerly as we came to their doorstep. A young slave I had seen in Octavia’s villa answered.

“Salvete,” the girl said in greeting. The glow of the setting sun burnished the gold trim on her tunic, and I was certain it was a touch that Julia had added. She wanted even her servants to wear gold. “Please.” She stepped aside. “Come in.”

Our small party entered the vestibulum, and Claudia made noises of appreciation. The floor was made from white Carrara marble, and the elegant murals and stucco decorations had been polished to a shine. Although many people had been here on the night of the wedding, few had taken the time to study the architecture, and as the young girl led us through the atrium, I could see Vitruvius appraising every niche and alcove. The judgment he passed must have been favorable, since he looked at Octavia and smiled.

When we reached the triclinium, Marcellus and Julia rose from their couch, and Alexander whispered, “Look at the tables.” They were made from cedar wood and inlaid with both jasper and ivory.

“Welcome, Mother,” Marcellus said jubilantly. “So?” he asked eagerly. “How do you like it?”

“Beautiful,” she admitted. “All the marble and light. Especially in the atrium.”

“Julia’s going to buy the rest of her furniture tomorrow. We still need a lararium and couches for the guest rooms. Please, sit wherever you’d like.”

I had been worried about what the seating arrangements would be, but they were the same as for every other evening on the Palatine. Octavia sat with her daughter and son-in-law, and Vitruvius and Juba joined them. Drusus and Vipsania ate with Antonia and Tonia at their own small table, while the rest of us sat with Julia and Marcellus.

“Your own villa,” I said enviously. “So what is it like?”

“Wonderful,” Julia gushed. “No one to tell you what to do, or when to wake up, or where to go.”

“And the pool overlooks the Circus,” Marcellus added. “It’s too cold for it now, even though it’s heated, but in the spring, you’re all welcome to come.”

“It must be quiet in Augustus’s villa without me,” Julia said.

Tiberius raised his brows. “Yes. There’s no one to pick on now but the slaves.”

She laughed, and I thought, Already, marriage has changed her. She would never have let him have the last word before.

“And have you seen the upstairs?” Julia asked me.

“No, not yet.”

“There’s an entire room just for bathing, and a chamber that looks out over the Forum. Come!” She stood. “Let me show you around.”

“But what about your guests?”

She waved her hand dismissively. “They won’t miss me during the gustatio. Let them have a few drinks and some oysters.”

She took me up the stairs and pointed out the small details that she knew I would like: the onyx floor with its sleek fur rugs, the insets of blue and yellow marble on the ceilings. The tapestries, draperies, and awnings all looked new, and I asked her, “Who owned this villa before?”

“Some old man who died without children. My father bought it for me six months ago and had all of the tasteless furniture removed. You should have seen what was here. Only now, there are no tables and almost nothing to sleep on.”

I saw what she meant. In the bridal chamber, although the windows were beautiful and the floor had been polished, there was only a single couch.

Julia saw my look and crossed her arms over her chest. “It’s worse than my father’s villa, isn’t it? Even the Vestals live better than this!”

I was forced to agree with her.

“Come with me tomorrow,” she begged. “We’ll go shopping in the Forum.”

“I have to work with Vitruvius.”

“What? Every day? No one has a better eye for design than you.”

I hesitated.

“Please. He’ll understand. Just tell him your next project is going to be my villa!”

The next morning, we set out for the Forum. Alexander came with us, shadowed by two Praetorians, and Julia remarked, “I’m surprised you’re not with Lucius. I can’t remember the last time I saw the two of you apart.”

My brother wrapped himself tighter in his cloak. Although no rain had fallen yet, the wind was bitter. “He’s with his father. He wants to show him some things he’s written and ask for his opinion on finding a patron.” He looked at me. “Do you think there’s any hope?”

“I don’t see why not. It’s not as though Vitruvius doesn’t have a patron himself.”

“Yes, but it’s Octavia and he’s sleeping with her. We were hoping for a patron who’s content simply with art.”

“Has he tried Vergil?” Julia asked. “Or Horace?”

“They both have more than a dozen writers whom they help fund. And Maecenas is interested only in Ovid.”

“Then why can’t we be his patron?” Julia asked suddenly. “Marcellus and I are married, and now both of us have our own funds.”

My brother stopped walking. “Really?”

“Why not? Octavia has her writers, and it’s probably time that I have mine!”

My brother laughed. “Lucius will be absolutely beside himself.”

“There’s only one condition,” Julia stipulated. “In all of his work, I want to be young and pretty, even when I’m old and fat.”

“Eternally beautiful,” my brother said. “Duly noted.”

When we reached the shops along the Via Sacra, Julia wanted to go into them all. By the afternoon, we had chosen nearly everything she would ever need: chairs and chests made of citron wood, tripods with heavy bronze basins for incense and whose legs were decorated with gryphons’ heads and claws, tables made of rosewood, ivory-handled mirrors, hip baths in the shapes of sea-dragons and swans.

“Your villa’s going to be like the Royal Palace of Alexandria,” my brother promised.

“Really?” she asked eagerly.

“Prettier,” I said, though it disturbed me that I was beginning to forget what the rooms in the palace had looked like. Sometimes, when I took out my book of sketches and flipped through the pages, I was reminded of a chamber I’d forgotten entirely, or an alcove where Alexander and I had played as children. Sometimes I wondered how much Alexander remembered, but I was afraid of asking and upsetting him.

“All right,” Julia announced. “Just one more thing. A tapestry for the atrium.”

We followed her into a shop near the Senate, and Alexander nodded appreciatively. “Impressive.” On the walls hung tapestries and marble plaques depicting every sort of mythological scene. On one tapestry, Odysseus navigated his ship past the cliffs of Scylla. On another, Romulus and Remus fought about the walls of Rome. My brother stood immediately in front of a plaque depicting the Greek twins, the Gemini. “Like our mother used to call us,” he said quietly. “We should buy this for our room.”

“Absolutely not! It’s too expensive.”

“Then let me buy it for you,” Julia said. When I started to object, she shook her head sternly. “In three days, it’ll be your birthday, and this can be my gift.”

“Julia, this is too generous,” I protested.

“After all you did for me before my wedding? Nonsense,” she said, and snapped her fingers. The man behind the counter came over at once, and when Julia pointed to the marble plaque, his eyes went wide. “Have this sent to Octavia’s villa,” she instructed. “You know the place?”

“Of course, Domina.”

“And you see that tapestry of Venus and Vulcan? That should go to the house of Julia Augusti.”

“This is a very kind present,” my brother said. “Between this and Lucius’s patronage, I don’t see how we can ever leave Rome.”

She grinned. “Good. When Livia returns, I’ll need trustworthy friends on the Palatine.”

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