CHAPTER FOUR

ROME

 AS THE ship approached a harbor for the first time in weeks, Alexander and I rushed to the prow.

“Is this Rome?” I asked. There was no Museion gleaming in the afternoon light, and the villas that hugged the vast stretches of shore were plain, without columns or ornamentation. There was nothing to distinguish one squat white building from the next except the colors of their wind-beaten shutters.

My brother shook his head. “Brundisium. I heard it’s another ten days by litter to Rome.”

Hundreds of soldiers waited on shore, their red standards emblazoned with a tall, golden eagle and the letters SPQR, for Senatus Populusque Romanas. Brundisium’s port was large enough to berth fifty ships, but there was nothing like my mother’s thalamegos. I could see the soldiers’ reactions as the ship came near, her banks of ebony oars catching the sun as her purple sails snapped in the wind. The men shielded their eyes with their hands, and they shook their heads in wonder.

Agrippa appeared with Octavian on the prow. Both men were dressed as if for war. To remind Rome that they’ve returned as conquering heroes, I thought bitterly.

“Caesar’s carriages are waiting on the shore,” Agrippa told Alexander. “The pair of you will travel with his nephew, Marcellus.”

I tried to pick out Octavian’s nephew, but Agrippa remarked, “Don’t bother.” There were too many horses and soldiers.

“Do you have your sketches?” Alexander asked.

“Yes. And do you—?”

Alexander nodded. He had hidden books from our mother’s library in his bag—a last reminder of her before we left her thalamegos to the Romans at Brundisium. I looked one last time at the polished decks as the tinny sound of trumpets pierced the air. Three of her children had boarded her ship, but only two had reached her enemy’s shore.

Octavian was the first to disembark, followed by Agrippa and Juba. When it was our turn to walk the wooden steps, Alexander held out his hand. I shook my head. “I’m fine.” But we hadn’t felt land in more than three weeks, and suddenly my legs gave way beneath me.

“Alexander!”

But it wasn’t Alexander who caught me. Instead, it was a young image of Hercules.

“Be careful.” He laughed. He was tall and broad-shouldered, with hair the color of summer’s wheat. His eyes were lighter than Ptolemy’s had been, a turquoise made even brighter by the darkness of his skin. I felt my cheeks growing warm at the sight of him, and he smiled. “Now, don’t faint on me,” he warned. “I’m the one who’s supposed to take care of you.”

“You’re Marcellus?” Alexander asked.

“Yes. And there she is.” He indicated a horse-drawn carriage.

“But that’s a king’s carriage,” I replied.

Marcellus laughed. “I wouldn’t say that too loudly. My uncle likes to think of himself as consul. If the people should get the idea he wants to be king, there’ll be another mess on the Senate floor.”

“Romans don’t want kings?” my brother asked.

Marcellus led us from the docks, and his toga flapped at his heels. “There was a time. But it has passed, and all they can think of now is a republic. Of course, there’s been a hundred years of civil wars with their republic, and the first end in sight was Julius Caesar. They all want a vote, but they vote for their own clans, and nothing but bloodshed ever gets accomplished.” We had reached one of the carriages beyond the shoreline, and as Marcellus held open the door for us, he said warmly, “Prince Alexander, Princess Selene.”

Inside, I looked meaningfully at my brother. Why were we being treated so kindly? What had Octavian written to his family from Alexandria? We listened while Marcellus chatted genially with Juba and Agrippa outside, and his voice carried far beyond our carriage.

“And the Egyptian women?” he was asking.

I could hear Juba’s wry laughter. “They would have swooned at your presence,” he promised. “Falling into your arms like the princess Selene.”

When my brother looked over at me, I blushed.

“And the fighting?” Marcellus pressed.

“The gods were with us,” Agrippa replied.

“With us, or with you? They say the Egyptian fleet—” Marcellus cut himself off, and his voice grew serious. “I am glad to see you’ve returned safe, Uncle.”

“Marcellus,” I heard Octavian reply, “I hope you’ve been applying as much passion to your studies as you do to your gossiping.”

“Yes, Caesar,” he said quietly.

“Good. Then you may tell me what kind of ship this is.”

There was an uneasy silence, and I could imagine Marcellus’s extreme discomfort as he stood in front of Octavian. I pressed my mouth close to the window and whispered, “Thalamegos.”

“Selene!” Alexander mouthed, but Marcellus had heard and repeated the word.

“It’s the queen’s thalamegos, I believe.”

I could hear Octavian step back on the gravel. “He’s going to be your equal someday, Agrippa. A titan in the Senate and on the battlefield as well.”

I couldn’t see Agrippa’s face to know his reaction. But when Marcellus joined us in the carriage, he looked immensely relieved.

“I don’t know how I can thank you, Selene.” He took a seat across from me, next to Alexander. “I would have had to study ships all the way to Rome if you hadn’t come up with it.”

“Is he really so strict?”

“All he does is write letters and prepare speeches for the Senate. He wouldn’t leave Syracuse if not for his wife.”

Alexander frowned. “The city?”

“No. His study. He named it for Archimedes, the Greek mathematician who lived there.”

“But he doesn’t speak Greek,” I protested.

Although my brother glared at me, Marcellus only laughed. “It’s true. But everything is theater with my uncle. You’ll see.”

In front of our carriage, there was a confusion of voices. Then someone shouted and the crack of a whip set the long procession rolling. I looked at Marcellus and decided he wasn’t more than two or three years older than Alexander and me. He was dressed in an undistinguished white toga, but the fabric was superior to anything I’d seen Octavian wear. When he caught me looking at him, he smiled.

“So you are Marc Antony’s daughter, Selene,” he remarked. “Strange. There’s almost no resemblance between you and Tonia or Antonia.”

“Are those my father’s children with Caesar’s sister Octavia?”

Marcellus nodded. “Yes, with my mother.”

Alexander sat forward. “So you are our brother?”

“No. I’m Octavia’s son with Marcellus the Elder. It’s very confusing, I know. Prepare to be confused much of the time you are in my mother’s house.”

“We’re going to Octavia’s house?” I asked.

“Of course. You’re to live with us.” Marcellus saw the look I gave to Alexander, and shook his head. “I know what you’re thinking. Your father left my mother for yours. But don’t be nervous. My mother loves children. Of course, Livia won’t like you at all.”

“That’s Caesar’s wife?” Alexander asked.

“Yes. She doesn’t like anyone but her own sons, Tiberius and Drusus.”

I was confused. “I thought Caesar only had a daughter.”

“Yes. Julia, from his first wife. Then he divorced that wife and married Livia when she was pregnant with her second son.” When I inhaled sharply, Marcellus laughed. “It was a scandal. But now my uncle has two adopted sons.”

“Then they are his heirs?” Alexander asked, wondering whom we should be careful to impress.

Marcellus shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “Actually, I think he may be more partial to me. He hopes to make me a senator in ten years or so.”

“So is a senator a prince?”

“No!” Marcellus thought my question was wildly funny. “Didn’t your father tell you anything about the Senate?”

“Our mother forbade it. I don’t think she cared much for Roman politics,” Alexander remarked.

Marcellus sat back against the padded seat. “Well, the Senate is just a group of men from the most powerful clans in the Roman empire.” When I frowned, Marcellus said, “You know. Like the Julii and the Claudii. Or your father’s clan, the Antonii. They have to be at least ranked as equestrians first, and then there’s different types of senators. Quaestors, aediles, praetors, consuls. Of course, the consuls are the most powerful.”

I nodded, pretending to understand. “So what do they all do?”

“Meet in the Senate house. Argue about politics. Make decisions about taxes or free grain. My uncle pretends to be one of them, and they always vote for him as consul, or tribune, or censor. It doesn’t matter which. So long as the show continues and he’s still writing the script.” He began chatting merrily about what we would see in Rome, from the Temple of Venus Genetrix to Julius Caesar’s Forum, and for seven days, while the carriages rattled over the roads, he entertained us with stories. At night, when we stopped to sleep in the sprawling villas belonging to Octavian’s friends, I dreamt of Rome. I imagined how much larger it would be than Alexandria, and when the cry came up that we were in sight of the city walls, I threw back the curtains and held my breath. Alexander pressed his face next to mine in the window, then we both drew back.

“This is Rome?” Alexander asked uncertainly.

“The greatest city on earth!” Marcellus said proudly.

For as far as either of us could see, faded brick houses crowded together like cattle in their market-day pens. Posts, which Marcellus called “milestones,” indicated at every mile that Rome was just ahead, but there was no Museion rearing its marble head in the distance, no towering theater crowning any of the hills. A few marble tombs had been constructed on either side of the Appian Way, which seemed to be a favorite burial place for the Romans, but most of the markers were made from roughly hewn stone.

Marcellus saw my disappointment and explained, “Romans have been fighting one another for centuries. It wasn’t until Caesar that there were finally enough slaves and gold to rebuild. But there’s the tomb of Caecilia Metella.”

The tall, round building was perched on a hill, and though beautiful crenellations decorated its top, it, too, had been made of plain stone. There was a sharp twisting in my stomach, and I could see from Alexander’s face that he felt the same. This was the city whose army had conquered Alexandria. This was where Octavian had studied his Latin, and failed to learn Greek, but had amassed enough power to defeat my father and wipe the Ptolemies from Egypt.

“Someday,” Marcellus said, “everything you see will be marble. And those are Agrippa’s aqueducts.”

For the first time, Alexander and I sat forward, impressed. Arching across the horizon, so tall that the gods alone might have reached them, the aqueducts were the largest structures we had seen so far.

“What do they do?” Alexander asked.

“They carry water to the city. Agrippa has also built baths. There are more than two hundred of them now. My uncle thinks the only way he’ll remain in power is to give the people a better Rome.”

So while my father had been adorning himself with gold in Alexandria, drinking the best wines from my mother’s silver rhyta, Octavian had been working to improve his city. Was this why my father’s own people had turned against him? I could hear my father’s raucous laughter in my mind. His men in Egypt had loved him, adored him, even. There had been nothing he wouldn’t do for a soldier who’d fallen on desperate times. But the Romans he’d left behind hadn’t known this. They hadn’t known the man who could ride all day and still stay up until the early hours of the morning with me and Alexander on his lap, drinking and telling stories about his battles against the Parthians.

Our procession of carriages came to a sudden stop, and Alexander and I both looked to Marcellus. “Are we there?” I asked nervously.

Marcellus frowned. “We haven’t even passed the Servian Wall.”

“And then we’ll enter Rome?” my brother asked.

Marcellus nodded, then leaned out of the carriage. There was a commotion happening in front of us. I could hear the raised voices of Agrippa and Octavian.

“What’s happening?” Marcellus shouted. When no one answered, he opened the carriage door and I caught a glimpse of soldiers. “I’ll be right back,” he promised, shutting the door behind him.

“What do you think it is?” I asked Alexander.

“A broken carriage wheel. Or probably a dead horse.”

“But then why the soldiers?”

Marcellus returned and his look was grave. “You might as well get out and take in some fresh air. We won’t be going anywhere for a while.” He helped Alexander and me from the carriage, then explained, “Some sort of rebellion is going on inside the walls.”

“And now we can’t enter?” my brother exclaimed.

“Well, we could.” Marcellus ran a hand through his hair. “But it would be much more prudent not to. It’s a slave rebellion a few thousand strong.”

As word began to spread among the carriages that there would be no progress for several hours, doors swung open and tired-looking men stumbled out onto the cobblestones. We approached a group of soldiers who were explaining to Octavian how it had happened. Agrippa and Juba stood on either side of Octavian, listening intently as the prefect described the scene just inside the walls.

“Many of them are gladiators who escaped from the training arena—the Ludus Magnus. It began this morning, and since then, more slaves have joined the rebellion.”

“And who is leading them?” Octavian demanded.

“No one. They’ve been stirred up by”—the prefect hesitated—“by years of listening to the Red Eagle’s messages, and now…. Now they’ve taken to the streets,” he finished quickly. “It’s nothing to worry about, Caesar. The rebellion will be put down before sunset.”

The prefect remained at attention as Octavian turned to face Marcellus. “Was there any trouble when you left Rome sixteen days ago?”

“None,” Marcellus swore. “The streets were peaceful.”

“I doubt there would be rebellion if not for this Red Eagle,” Agrippa said. “When we find him—”

“We will crucify him,” Octavian finished. “I don’t care that he isn’t leading these men. His messages will breed the next Spartacus. And remember,” he said darkly, “a third of Rome’s population is enslaved.”

Alexander whispered to Marcellus, “Who’s Spartacus?”

“Another slave,” he answered quietly. “Almost fifty years ago, he led more than fifty thousand of them in a revolt against Rome. When they were crushed, six thousand were crucified. Crassus refused to have their bodies taken down, so for years their crosses lined this road.”

Octavian looked out from our perch on this same road to the Servian Wall. Along the road, a soldier was fast approaching. His horse’s hooves kicked up clouds of dust, and when the horse stopped before Octavian, the soldier slid off and saluted.

I was surprised to see Octavian smile. “Fidelius,” he said swiftly, “tell me the news.”

Fidelius was young, perhaps seventeen or eighteen, and he began eagerly, “A thousand slaves have already been killed. The ones who remain are trying to find more men to join them, but they haven’t had much success.”

“Yet,” Octavian warned.

But Fidelius shook his head. “They are penned in by the walls, Caesar. The gates have held strong and your men are slaughtering them by the hundreds.”

“Good. And the legions understand they are to take no one alive?”

“Of course.”

There was a moment’s hesitation before Octavian asked, “And your mother, Rufilla?”

Fidelius grinned. “Well. She sends you her love. And this.” He pulled a lightly wrapped package from the leather bag on his horse. It looked thin enough to be a portrait, and when he opened the linen wrapping, I saw that it was.

The color in Octavian’s cheeks rose slightly. “Very nice,” he said softly, studying the woman’s face inside the faience frame. She was pretty, with long black hair and a straight Roman nose. Octavian passed the image to Juba. “Put it away.”

Fidelius frowned. “My mother has missed you a great deal these months.”

“Has she?” Octavian raised his brows. “Well, send her my regards and let her know that I will be very busy in the coming days.”

“But you will see her, Caesar?”

“If I have the time,” Octavian snapped. “There is the matter of a rebellion and a Senate to placate first!”

Fidelius stepped back. “Yes … yes, I understand. The Senate has been tense while you’ve been gone.”

Octavian’s gaze intensified. “Really?” he said with rising interest. “And why is that?”

Fidelius hesitated, and I wondered if he had said more than he should have. “Well, the matter of the war. Not knowing who would win. You or Antony.”

“And?”

Fidelius glanced uneasily at Agrippa. “And the succession. No one knew what would happen if both you and Antony were killed. A few names were mentioned as possible successors.”

Octavian smiled disarmingly. “Such as?”

“Just … just a few men from patrician families. No one with any real power.” Fidelius laughed nervously.

“Well, if the Senate thought enough of them to mention them, perhaps those men can be useful to me somehow.”

Fidelius was surprised. “Really?”

“Why not? Which men did they think might be good replacements?”

“Oh, all sorts of people were mentioned. Even my name was brought up.”

The smile vanished from Octavian’s face.

“Of course, he’s too young,” Marcellus said swiftly. “And he could never lead an army. Who would follow him?”

Fidelius looked at Marcellus and realized what was happening. “That’s—that’s right. They only mentioned my name because of who my father was and how much wealth he left me. Marcellus can tell you. I—I would never want to be Caesar.”

“Of course. Come.” Octavian put his arm around Fidelius’s shoulders and passed a look to Agrippa. “Let’s take a walk. There are some things I’d like to speak about in private.”

Fidelius looked back at Marcellus, who tried to intervene, asking, “But can’t he stay here and play dice?”

Octavian’s glance rooted Marcellus in his place. “No.”

Agrippa joined Octavian and Fidelius, and the three wandered off back the way we had come.

My brother and I looked to Marcellus. “What will happen to him?” Alexander whispered.

Marcellus looked away, and I thought there might be tears in his eyes. “His mother will be told that her son died fighting the rebels.”

“They’re going to kill him?” I cried. “For what?”

Marcellus put a finger to his lips. “If the Senate thought Fidelius would make a good Caesar two months ago, then what stops them from thinking the same thing three years from now?”

“But he doesn’t want to be Caesar!” I protested.

There was a sharp cry at the rear of the wagons, then silence. Marcellus closed his eyes. “He was my closest friend as a child,” he whispered. “I looked up to him like a brother.”

“And your uncle doesn’t care about that?” I exclaimed.

“No. He cares more about the stability of Rome than about anyone’s life.” He opened his eyes and looked at both of us. “Be careful with him.”

The revolt was crushed before the sun had risen to its highest point in the sky. We were sitting by the side of the road rolling dice when Agrippa brought the news. “It’s time to leave,” he said shortly. “The rebellion is finished.”

“And all of them killed?”

Agrippa nodded in answer to Marcellus’s question. “Every last slave.”

“And Fidelius?”

Agrippa hesitated. “Unfortunately, his life was lost.”

We stepped into our carriage, and as it began to roll, Alexander tried to distract Marcellus from his sadness. “How old is the Servian Wall?”

Marcellus shrugged as we passed through the gates. There was no sign of any rebellion, and if the bodies of wounded slaves had littered the streets, they had since been taken away for Octavian’s arrival. “Extremely old,” he said.

“And the Seven Hills? What are their names?”

Marcellus pointed to the hill directly in front of us. “That’s the Quirinal.” He sighed. “Nothing special there. The one next to it’s the Viminal. It’s the smallest hill. But the Esquiline”—he indicated a hill to the right—“is where wealthy visitors lodge. The problem is getting to the inns at the top.”

“Why? Is the road steep?” I asked.

Marcellus smiled good-naturedly at my question. “No. It’s just filled with escaped slaves, and thieves. Men you don’t want to know,” he assured me. Then he pointed out the Caelian, capped with handsome villas. “To the right of that is the Aventine. Nothing there but pleb houses and merchants.”

“Pleb houses?” Alexander repeated.

“You know, houses for the plebeians. Men who aren’t equites and don’t own much land.”

“So Caesar is an equestrian?” I asked.

“Oh no.” Marcellus waved his hand. “Our family’s much higher than that. We’re patricians. We live on the Palatine, where Octavian is building the largest temple to Apollo.” He indicated a flat-topped hill where buildings of polished marble and porphyry gleamed. It wasn’t Alexandria, but there was some beauty in the way the buildings climbed the hillside and shone white against the pale blue sky.

The last of the Seven Hills was the Capitoline. “My father used to take me up there to see the Tarpeian Rock,” Marcellus recalled with a shiver. “That’s where criminals are thrown from if they’re not used in the Amphitheater.”

“And is your father still living?” I asked quietly.

“No. He died ten years ago. A few months later, Octavian arranged for my mother to marry Antony.” Even though our mother had already given birth to me and Alexander. I felt my cheeks warm, knowing that only five years after her marriage, Octavia had been abandoned. I wondered who had been a father to Marcellus.

“So your mother has three children,” I said.

“Five. She had two daughters from my father, but they were sent away when she remarried.”

I didn’t understand. “Why?”

“Because that’s what’s expected of a newly married woman.”

I stared at him. “That she give up her previous children?”

“If they are girls. This is why my mother won’t marry again.”

I thought of my father welcoming Octavia into his home but refusing the small girls who huddled fearfully behind her. Was that how it had been? Though he had never spent much time with me, my father had always been affectionate. Suddenly, I became afraid of Rome: afraid of her dirty streets, of her terrible punishments, and, most of all, of what it would be like to live with the woman my father had spurned.

We passed a forum where slaves were being sold by the thousands. Most of them were flaxen-haired and blue-eyed.

“Germans and Gallics.” Marcellus saw my look and shook his head. “It’s a sickening display.” As our procession of carriages rattled along, I could see the shame of the naked girls whose breasts were being squeezed by men who would buy them for work as well as pleasure, and my brother covered his mouth at the sight of grown men whose testicles had been removed.

“Eunuchs,” Marcellus said angrily. “Some men like them, and they go for a higher price. Don’t look,” he suggested, but there was nothing else to see on the streets but starving dogs, jostling merchants, and mosaics whose crude images depicted men in various positions with women. “This is the unsavory part of the city.” He twitched the curtain closed and sat back against his seat. “In a moment, we’ll be at the Temple of Jupiter. Then it’s a short ride to the top of the Palatine and we’ll be home.”

You’ll be home, I thought. We’ll be prisoners waiting for Caesar’s Triumph. My brother reached out and took my hand. Then there was a sudden clamor of voices outside our carriage, and Marcellus opened the curtain again. The road was filled with petitioners being told to step back, and Marcellus said proudly, “Almost there.”

My brother pointed to a strange structure peeking out from a grove of oaks. “What is that?”

“The Temple of Magna Mater.”

“How is that a temple?” I asked rudely. It was a simple altar bearing a heavy rock.

“The goddess came to earth in the shape of a stone, foretelling Rome’s victory over Hannibal.”

I wondered what foolish story the Romans would concoct for Octavian’s victory over Egypt. Marcellus indicated a crude hut whose muddy walls would never have withstood the first gale in Alexandria. “And that’s where Romulus lived,” he said. “Do you know that story?”

Alexander and I both shook our heads.

“Your father never taught it to you?” he exclaimed. “Romulus and Remus were twins. When their mother abandoned them, they were raised by a she-wolf. That doesn’t sound familiar?”

We shook our heads again.

“They founded Rome, and this hut was where the she-wolf raised them. It was Romulus who first built walls on the Palatine. And when Remus mocked his brother’s work, Romulus killed him. But there weren’t enough women in Romulus’s tribe, so he decided to steal them from the neighboring Sabines. He invited their men to a festival, and while the men were drinking and enjoying themselves, Romulus’s men carried off their wives.”

I gasped. “Is that what’s meant by the Rape of the Sabine Women?”

“Then you’ve heard of it?”

“Only the name.” It was an event my mother had always alluded to when talking about the barbarism of Rome.

“Well, the Sabine men wanted revenge. But their king could never defeat Romulus, and since the women didn’t want to see their husbands die, they begged for peace. It’s a disgusting tale,” Marcellus admitted, “but the beginning of Rome.” We had arrived at the top of the Palatine, and the carriage rolled to a stop. “Are you ready?”

He stepped outside, then held out his hand, first for Alexander, then for me. “Rome,” he announced, and beneath the Palatine spread the most disorganized city I had ever seen. Markets and temples crowded together while brick kilns belched smoke into the blazingly hot sky. People crushed one another on the narrow streets, rushing from one shop to the next. Although the Palatine was far above the stink of the urine used in the laundries, the pungent scent wafted upward on the breeze. Even Thebes, which had suffered destruction at the hands of Ptolemy IX, was far more beautiful than this. There was no organization, no city plan, and though buildings of rare beauty stood out among the brick tabernae and bathhouses, they were like gems in a quarry of jagged stone.

“So this is Rome,” I said, but only Alexander understood my meaning.

“And this is my mother’s villa.”

I turned, and a sprawling home filled the horizon above us. There were villas up and down the Palatine, but none of them commanded such a beautiful view or boasted such elaborate columns. The shutters were carefully painted the same earthy color as the tiled roof, and a pair of metal-studded wooden doors were thrown open onto a broad portico. A crowd had gathered on the steps, watching as the soldiers unloaded Egyptian statues and rare ebony chests filled with cinnamon and myrrh.

Octavian led the way, and I took Alexander’s arm. The group on the portico chattered excitedly, and when Octavian mounted the marble steps with Marcellus, one of the women stepped forward.

“That must be Caesar’s sister, Octavia,” I whispered to Alexander in Parthian.

The woman wore a silk stola of Tyrian purple, and though her clothes subtly suggested great wealth, her face conveyed simplicity. She had not painted her eyelids with malachite, or even lined them with antimony, as my mother would have done. Her light hair had been pulled back into a simple chignon, and when she spread her arms to embrace her brother, I saw that her only jewel was a thin golden bracelet.

“Salve, frater,” she said warmly, and for the first time since meeting him, I saw Octavian’s smile reach his eyes. “You look well. And only a little red this time. But I suppose that conquering the world is difficult work.”

“Not the world,” he said without a trace of irony. “Just Egypt.”

“Well, there will be a feast tonight. Your wife has arranged it.”

A woman appeared behind Octavia, and I felt my brother tense at my side. This was the woman Marcellus had warned us against.

“Livia,” Octavian said, and though he’d embraced his sister, he simply squeezed his wife’s hand.

“Mi Caesar.” There was nothing to distinguish her from any woman on the street, and if Octavia’s dress was simple, then Livia’s was austere. Her stola was made of simple white cotton, and her dark hair had been braided before being swept back into a tight bun. She was small, and while my mother’s build had been slight, at least her voice had been remarkable. There was nothing remarkable about Livia. Yet Octavian had wanted her, wooing her while she was still married to another man and pregnant. She looked up at him with wide-eyed adoration. “All of Rome is waiting for your Triumph,” she said breathlessly. “And while you’ve been gone, I’ve arranged it all.”

“You have the notes?”

She nodded eagerly. “You may look them over tonight. Or even sooner, if you wish. They’re right here.” She held up a scroll she’d been concealing in her stola.

Octavian unrolled it and skimmed the contents. “So the celebration will last for three days.”

“Your sister thought it should be longer, but I knew you wouldn’t want to appear like Antony, turning your victories into endless Triumphs.”

“I hardly think five days is an endless Triumph,” Octavia said sharply.

“Five days or three, it doesn’t matter,” Octavian ruled. “We will only be participating on the first day. The rest is just entertainment for the plebs, and since Livia has planned for three, that’s what it will be.”

Livia preened a little, smiling smugly at Octavia, and I thought that if she were my sister-in-law, I would want to slap her.

Octavian handed the scroll to Agrippa. “Look this over and prepare the soldiers. I’ll wish to see the final plans tomorrow.”

“And are these the children?” Octavia asked.

Octavian nodded. “Alexander and Selene.”

She blinked rapidly. “They are beautiful.”

Marcellus laughed. “What did you expect? A pair of Gorgons?”

Octavia walked down several steps so that we were standing on the same level. Instinctively, Alexander and I moved back, but there was no menace in her face. “I know you must have had a terrible voyage,” she said, “but welcome to Rome.” She smiled at us, then turned to her brother, whose face did not reflect the same tenderness. “Shall we?” she asked him, and the group followed Octavia onto the portico. Although Alexander and I were the last in the party, there was no doubting that we were of the most interest. The women craned their necks around Agrippa to see us, and Juba even stepped back so that a young girl could get a better view.

“Caesar’s daughter, Julia,” Alexander whispered. Although many of the girls on the portico were attractive, there was no one with the same dark beauty as Julia. Her mass of black hair shone in the sunlight, and her large dark eyes were framed by long lashes. Even her mouth was pretty, not small or thin-lipped like the rest of her family’s. Her gaze shifted from me to my brother. Then Marcellus went to her and whispered something in her ear so that she giggled. I felt a strange annoyance, but didn’t have time to understand why.

Octavian held up his arm and announced, “Since you are more interested in seeing the children of Kleopatra than me, I shall present them to you.” There were sharp denials from all around, but Octavian didn’t appear angry. “Prince Alexander Helios and Princess Kleopatra Selene.”

Dozens of faces turned in our direction. Many in the crowd were not much older than us. “Great Jupiter!” Julia cried. “What are they wearing?”

“Greek clothes,” Marcellus explained. “But,” he warned her, “they speak perfect Latin.” Color flooded her cheeks.

A handsome man in a crimson toga stepped forward. “Are they—?”

“Roman citizens,” Octavian said dryly.

“What a shame.” The man cooled himself with a fan. “They’re quite a pair. Especially the boy.”

“There are plenty of boys in the market, Maecenas.” Octavian looked around. “Now, who will make the introductions?”

Though Marcellus dutifully stepped forward, Livia pushed another young man toward Octavian. The boy shrugged off her hand, and I wondered if this was one of her sons. “What are you doing?” he demanded.

Livia’s lips grew even thinner. “Caesar has asked for someone to make the introductions.”

“And because Marcellus wants to do it, I should, too? Perhaps I should be more like Marcellus and gamble away Caesar’s allowance, as well.”

Marcellus laughed uneasily. “There’s nothing wrong with gambling.”

But Octavian glowered. “Not when it’s done in moderation.”

Everyone heard the implied criticism, and Marcellus colored a little. Then he introduced us to those gathered on the portico, beginning with Livia’s son Tiberius, who had shaken off his mother’s hand. His nine-year-old brother was Drusus, and each of them was the very image of Livia, with sharp noses and too-thin lips. Though I knew I would never remember so many names, Marcellus went on, pointing out our half sisters Antonia and Tonia, shy girls who clung to Octavia’s stola and had none of our father’s gregariousness. There was Vipsania, Agrippa’s little girl whose mother had perished in childbirth, and a cluster of old men whose names I had heard of in the Museion, Horace and Vergil among them.

When Marcellus was finished, Livia held out her arm for her husband. “Shall we prepare for your Feast of Welcome?”

“But I haven’t asked Marcellus about his journey,” Julia complained.

“Then you may ask him tonight,” Livia said tersely.

Julia looked for reversal from her father, but he gave her none, and they left with Agrippa and Juba, trailing a dozen slaves behind them.

When they were gone, Octavia said softly, “Marcellus, show Alexander and Selene to their chamber. When their chests have been brought, I will come myself to prepare them for Caesar’s feast.” She looked down at the small girls clinging to her legs. “Shall we pluck some roses for the dinner?” The little girls nodded eagerly, then chased each other to the end of the portico.

We followed Marcellus into a long hallway whose mosaic floor spelled out the word SALVE, welcoming visitors into Octavia’s home. “This is the vestibulum,” he said, leading us through it into another columned room he called the atrium. A beech-beamed opening overhead admitted sunlight, and terra-cotta gutters led into a marble pool. I asked Marcellus, “How often does it rain?”

“Well, in summer, almost never. But in winter the streets of Rome turn to mud.” He gestured toward several doors leading from the atrium. “Those are the guest rooms. And that is the tabulinum, where my mother keeps her desk.” He pointed to the far side of the room, and through the slightly open door I could see a long table of polished oak. “Over there is the lararium.”

“And what is that?”

Marcellus turned in surprise to Alexander. “Aren’t there lararia in Egypt?” he asked. “That’s where we greet the Lares every morning.” Alexander and I looked at the alcove, with its long granite altar and ancestral busts of the Julii. When Marcellus saw our expressions, he explained, “They’re the spirits of our ancestors. We give them a little wine and bread every morning.”

“And do they like it?” I asked curiously.

“Better ask the slaves.” Marcellus laughed. “They’re the ones who end up taking it.”

We crossed the atrium and reached another open-air space, the peristylum, where bronze sculptures peered from the shadows. There was a long garden in the center, and a fountain that channeled water through the mouths of marble lions. Several men reclined on benches, shaded by trellised vines and flowering shrubs. They raised their hands in quiet greeting, and Marcellus mumbled, “My mother’s builders.”

At the end of the portico was the triclinium, where the household ate, and across the hall, next to the baths, were more chambers. “This is my room,” Marcellus said. “This is my mother’s.” He indicated a wide door painted with a garden scene. “These are for my sisters. And this is for you.” He opened a wooden door, and I heard my brother Alexander breathe in sharply.

It was a magnificent chamber. Curtained windows opened out onto a balcony, where a variety of palms grew from painted urns. The room itself was unlike anything in Egypt, with three wide couches, instead of beds, and only one painting. But the furniture was unmistakably rich: four chairs inlaid with bone and ivory; a pair of lamps fashioned into triple-headed Cerberus, whose bronze serpent’s tail could be lit; a cedar folding stool; three tables; and three heavy chests. Everything had been prepared for three children, only Ptolemy had never made it to Rome. I blinked back my tears and tried not to think about Egypt. The northern wall had been painted with images from Homer’s epics, so that whenever we fell asleep our last thoughts would be on the greatest poet Greece had ever produced. I could pick out Agamemnon, Achilles, and even Odysseus among the painted men.

“I thought we were prisoners,” my brother said.

“In my mother’s house?” Marcellus sounded offended. “You are guests.”

“Caesar killed our brothers,” I reminded him sharply. “And tomorrow, we will be taken through the streets.”

Marcellus’s face became grim. “My uncle rids himself of anyone he thinks might be an enemy now or in the future. And he surrounds himself with useful people. He has a wife who is more like a secretary to him, and my mother advises him on matters of the Senate. He keeps Agrippa for his knowledge of war, and Juba for his knowledge of the people and for protection. Do you think he would have any interest in me if I weren’t my mother’s eldest son? I serve a practical purpose as well. But so long as you are here,” he said firmly, “you are guests.”

Several slaves appeared behind us with the ironbound chests we had taken from Egypt. But before we could look through them to see what we had been allowed to keep and what had been taken, Octavia entered the chamber.

“It’s time to prepare,” she said quickly. “Marcellus, take Alexander to your room and give him what’s been laid out on your couch. He may keep his diadem, but the chiton and the sandals must go.” As she turned to me, I noticed the strikingly beautiful woman standing behind her at the door. Her long hair was the color of honey, and Marcellus smiled winsomely as he passed.

“Salve, Gallia.”

She inclined her head slightly, and I guessed her age to be about twenty. “I am glad to see your safe return, Domine.” She used the word for master, which indicated her position as a slave, yet her tunic was embroidered with gold.

“Selene,” Octavia said, “this is my ornatrix, Gallia. We are going to prepare you for tonight, and give you clothes that will be suitable for Rome.”

“It is a pleasure to meet you, Domina.” When Gallia smiled, I noticed that she had the high cheekbones that artists in Alexandria loved to capture. She’s like a sculpture carved from marble, I thought, and wondered if she was one of the twenty thousand women Julius Caesar had brought back as slaves from his conquest of Gaul. She spoke Latin with an accent and pronounced her words with exaggerated care to make sure she was getting them right. “Why don’t you come with us into the bathing room?” she asked, indicating a room in the corner. Inside was a tub of heavy bronze. She turned a handle and a pipe that led from the ceiling released hot water into the bath. The mosaic floors depicted sea nymphs and mermaids, and a large mirror of polished brass hung on the wall. A small brazier was tucked away in the corner for colder nights when the chamber would need to be heated. Several stools were arranged before a long cedar table.

Octavia led me to one of these seats, then studied me carefully with her pale gray eyes. “What do you think?” she asked Gallia nervously.

“How old are you?” Gallia asked me.

“I turn twelve in January,” I replied.

Gallia stepped forward. “Almost twelve. Still, just a little bird.” No one had ever called me a “little bird,” and when I straightened indignantly, Gallia laughed. “No, it is good that you are so small.”

“We want you both to appear as young as possible tonight,” Octavia said, busying herself with Gallia’s basket. She took out vials of antimony and saffron, piling them on the long table along with hairnets and pins with ruby tips.

Not understanding, I looked at both women. “Why?”

“So that no one feels threatened by you,” Gallia said simply. She lit a fire in the brazier and plunged a metal rod into the burning charcoal.

“Do you wish to wear your diadem tonight?” she asked.

I touched the thin band of pearls in my hair, remembering the time my mother had given it to me. “Yes.”

“And your pearl necklace?”

“Of course.”

“Then they will stay. But the rest must go.”

I stood and slowly removed my chiton and loincloth. I was not yet so developed as to need a breastband. Then Gallia pointed me to the steaming bath.

“Inside. Do not wet your hair. It will never dry in time to curl it.”

“But I already have curls.”

“These will be smaller.”

I stepped into the bath as I was told, and let Gallia rub lavender oil into my back.

“Look at this, Domina!” Gallia turned to Octavia. “You can see the bones. What do they feed her in Alexandria?”

“She has been on a ship for weeks,” Octavia reminded her, “and has lost nearly every member of her family.”

“Domina will feed you well here,” she promised, motioning for me to stand. Then she started drying me with a long white linen cloth.

I didn’t reply, knowing that if I did I would only cry. From her basket, Gallia produced a silk tunic of the deepest green. I lifted my arms obediently. She slipped the tunic over my head and fastened it at the shoulders with golden pins. When Octavia passed her a belt of light olive, Gallia held it in front of her and frowned.

“Under the breasts, at the hips, or at the waist?” she considered.

The women studied me, and now I really felt like Gallia’s bird, being preened for a life in a cage.

“At the waist,” Gallia decided herself. “It’s simple.” She tied the sash above my hips, then slipped a pair of leather sandals on my feet. On my neck, she fastened a golden necklace with a disc that was hidden by my mother’s pearls. She didn’t have to tell me that it was a bulla. I had seen Roman children in Alexandria wearing the same protective amulet.

“What about her hair?” Octavia worried.

Gallia took the metal rod from the brazier and held it in front of me by its cool end. “Do you know what this is?”

We had them in Alexandria. “A hot iron,” I said.

“Yes. A calamistrum. If you will remove your diadem….”

I followed her instructions and seated myself on one of the chairs. When Gallia was finished, Octavia said eagerly, “Now her eyes.”

I had powdered the lids carefully with malachite, and lined them with antimony as Charmion had taught me. But Gallia wiped my eye makeup away with a cloth, and when she didn’t make any motion to replace it, I protested. “But I’ve never gone anywhere without paint.”

Gallia passed a look to Octavia. “Domina,” she said to me, “that is not proper in Rome.”

“But I wore it every day on the ship.”

“That was at sea. You must not look like a lupa in front of Caesar’s guests.”

“A what?”

“You know”—she gestured—“one of those women.”

“A whore,” Alexander said from behind us, and Octavia gasped. “Sorry,” he said quickly. But I knew that he wasn’t. He was smiling, and Gallia nodded at him.

“You look very handsome, Domine.”

I turned. “Handsome? You look like you’re wearing a bedsheet. How will you walk? It’s ridiculous.” I spoke in Parthian, but Alexander replied in Latin.

“It’s a toga praetexta. And,” he added indignantly, “it’s what Marcellus is wearing.” A red stripe ran along its border, but the material wasn’t nearly as beautiful as that of my tunic. Just then he noticed my red sandals, and whistled. “A Roman princess.” I glared at him, but he ignored my anger. “So nothing for your eyes, then?”

“We want to remind Rome that she is a girl,” Gallia repeated, “not a woman in some dirty lupanar.”

“That will do,” Octavia said sternly, and I imagined that a lupanar was a place where women sold their sexual favors.

But Gallia only smiled. “He asked.”

I went to Alexander and touched the golden disc at his throat. “So we really are Romans now,” I said darkly. My brother avoided my gaze. Then Marcellus appeared behind him, smiling in a way that made me forget we were prisoners masquerading as citizens. His freshly washed hair curled at the nape of his neck, and the color contrasted with the darkness of his skin.

“You’re a goddess in emerald, Selene. This must be the work of Gallia. She could stop Apollo in his chariot, if she wanted.”

“Very pretty, Domine.”

Octavia looked from my brother to me. “Are they ready?”

Gallia nodded. “They are as Roman now as Romulus himself.”

Alexander risked a glance at me. We followed Gallia through the halls and out to the portico, where Octavia’s youngest daughters sat patiently in the shade. I couldn’t recall ever sitting patiently anywhere as a child, but these children were all sweetness and gold. Like their mother, I thought, and stopped myself from thinking of my own mother lying cold in her sarcophagus next to my father.

As we followed the cobbled road to Caesar’s villa, Gallia explained, “When we reach the triclinium, a slave will ask you to take off your sandals.”

“To wash our feet?” Alexander asked.

“Yes. And then you’ll enter the chamber. A nomenclator will announce your arrival, and all of us will be taken to our assigned couches.”

“Romans eat on couches?” I asked.

“Don’t Egyptians?”

“No. We eat at tables. With chairs and stools.”

“Oh, there will be tables,” Gallia said easily. “But not stools, and chairs are only for old men.”

“But then how do we eat?” Alexander worried.

“While reclining.” Gallia saw our expressions and explained, “There will be a dozen tables with couches around them. Caesar’s couch is always at the back, and the place of honor is opposite the empty side of his table. Whoever sits there at Caesar’s right is his most important guest.”

“Which tonight,” Octavia predicted, “will be the both of you.”

“But we don’t know what to do!” I exclaimed.

“Oh, it’s nothing,” Marcellus promised. “Just recline on your left elbow, then eat with your right hand. And if they serve the Trojan pig,” he warned mischievously, “don’t eat it.”

“Marcellus!” Octavia said sharply.

“It’s true! Remember Pollio’s dinner party?”

“Pollio is a freedman without the sense to cook a chicken,” Octavia pronounced, and turned to us. “Here you may eat whatever is served.”

Behind her, Marcellus shook his head in warning, making the gesture of throwing up with his hands. Alexander snickered, and I suppressed a smile. But when we reached the wide bronze doors of Octavian’s villa, I pressed my nails into my palms. I could hear my mother’s voice in my head, scolding me to relax my hands.

“This is it,” Alexander said nervously. I took his arm, and as we crossed the threshold into the vestibulum, I was shocked by the room’s simplicity. There were no cedar tables inlaid with gems, or lavish chambers hung with Indian silks. A faded mosaic depicted a stage with tragedians, and on the wall an old mask from a comedy stared back at us with its sightless eyes and ghastly smile. As we passed through the atrium, there were candlelit busts of the Julii, but no great statues of Octavian or his family. Aside from the blue-veined marble of the floors, there was nothing to indicate that this was the home of a conquering hero.

“This could be a merchant’s villa,” I whispered.

“Or a peasant’s. Where is the furniture?” Alexander asked.

But as we reached the triclinium and a slave hurried out to wash our feet, I peered inside and realized what Octavian had done. In every room a visitor might frequent, the crudest furniture had been used. But inside the summer dining room, where only his most intimate friends ever gathered, the tables had been set with silver egg cups and matching bowls. Maroon silk covered the dining couches, and lavender water trickled from a marble fountain. Because one side of the room opened onto a garden, long linen curtains blew in the breeze, keeping out the glare of the setting sun.

“He wants the people to think he’s humble,” I said critically in Parthian.

“Meanwhile, his friends are dining like kings,” my brother added.

The nomenclator announced each person’s arrival, and when it was our turn, I noticed that every guest in the triclinium turned.

“Alexander Helios and Kleopatra Selene, Prince and Princess of Egypt.”

There was a murmur of surprise, then the guests turned to one another and began to chatter eagerly.

“Just follow me,” Octavia instructed softly, and Gallia departed to take her meal with the household slaves in the atrium. As we crossed the room, I saw Julia stand up from a table in the corner. She was Octavian’s only child, but she looked nothing like him, and I assumed she had inherited her looks from her mother.

“Marcellus!” She smiled. She was wearing a tunic of the palest blue, and her dark gaze, cool and appraising, flicked in my direction. “Come,” she told him, and led him away, putting her slender arm through his.

When I made to follow, Alexander pulled me back. “We’re not eating with them. We’re at the next table.” He indicated the couch where Caesar was scribbling something on a scroll. We would be sitting with Livia, Juba, and Agrippa.

“Your guests of honor,” Octavia said.

Her brother looked up, and a faint smile touched his lips. “Very nice.” He meant our clothes. He rose to a sitting position and the others around the table immediately did the same. “Almost Roman.”

“They are Roman,” Agrippa pointed out.

“Only half. The rest of them is Greek.”

“But a stunning combination,” Maecenas said approvingly.

Octavian rose, and the entire triclinium fell silent. “I present to you the children of Queen Kleopatra and Marc Antony,” he announced. “Selene and Alexander have journeyed from Egypt to take part in tomorrow’s Triple Triumph, a celebration of my success in Illyricum, my victory in the Battle of Actium, and the annexation of Egypt.”

There was tremendous applause, and I refused to let my lower lip tremble.

“And tonight,” Octavian continued, “there will be an auction for each of these prizes.” He snapped his fingers and a group of male slaves wheeled twenty covered statues into the triclinium. Some were very large, but others were no bigger than my hand. An excited murmur passed through the room. “Bidding, as always, will be blind.” He smiled briefly. “Enjoy your meal.”

He returned to the table, and Octavia motioned that it was time for us to recline on the couches. It was impossible to get comfortable, and Juba smiled across the table at me.

“Just like a Roman now,” he said. “And I must say, a tunic suits you much better than a chiton. You’ve even donned the bulla.”

I narrowed my eyes at him. “It belongs to Octavia.”

“But you wear it so well.”

Octavia smiled. “Alexander, Selene, I see you’ve met Juba. Perhaps you remember Maecenas as well.” Maecenas’s dark eyes hadn’t left my brother’s face since our arrival. “And this is Maecenas’s wife, Terentilla. A good friend of mine and a great patron of the theater.”

When Terentilla smiled at us, a pair of dimples appeared in her cheeks. “It is a pleasure.”

“And this is the poet Vergil, and the historian Livy.” That completed our table, and while women appeared with food in large silver bowls, Octavia whispered, “This is the gustatio.” I presumed that meant the first course. There was cabbage in vinegar, snails, endives, asparagus, clams, and large red crabs. Each person was expected to take what he or she wanted from the middle of the table, and just as in Egypt there were napkins, and spoons whose opposite end could be used as a knife. I chose several clams, and while I was wondering what to do with the empty shells, I saw Agrippa toss his to the floor. Alexander merrily followed his example, discarding his crab shells onto the tiles.

“Alexander,” I hissed.

“What? Everyone else is doing it,” he said guiltily.

“But who cleans it up?”

Alexander frowned. “The slaves.”

Even Octavia was dropping her shells onto the floor, wiping them away with a flick of her wrist as she asked Terentilla to help describe the plays Octavian had missed while he was gone. There was talk of a play in which female actors had actually undressed on stage, and one at which the entire audience rose and walked out because the actors had been so terrible.

When the second course came, Alexander said eagerly, “Look!” Slaves with large platters came to our table first, setting in front of us a variety of meats that would have contented even my father. There was roasted goose in white almond sauce, ostrich with Damascene prunes, and pheasants. There was even a peacock, served on a platter decorated with its own feathers. But when Alexander saw the thrushes in honeyed glaze, his eyes went wide.

“You’d think you’d never eaten before,” I said critically.

“I’m growing.”

“Into what? Remember what happened to our grandfather.” He had grown to the size of a bull by the time he died.

A slave came to fill our cups with wine, and Octavian whispered something into Terentilla’s ear. She giggled intimately, and his eyes lingered on hers. Perhaps this is why Livia has never given him a son, I thought.

“And would you like to see what I picked up along my travels?” I heard him ask. Her dimples appeared, and when she nodded, Octavian snapped his fingers. “The chest from Egypt,” he ordered one of his slaves. “Bring it here.” Though he had eaten only a few olives and some bread, it appeared that he was finished with his meal.

When the chest was placed on a table behind Octavian, Terentilla clapped her hands with joy. “Your treasures!” she exclaimed, and her long lashes fluttered on her cheeks.

“A few,” Octavian admitted, and I was curious to see what he had stolen from Egypt. The slave who had brought the chest to the table produced one curiosity at a time, and Octavian named each one and then passed it around.

“Shall I write down the names?” Livia asked eagerly. “In case you forget?”

“Yes,” Octavian said, and Livia produced a scroll and a reed pen from a hidden drawer in the table. “This is called the Eye of Horus,” he said, and his guests made the appropriate noises of delight. It was a faience amulet, something that would have impressed a peasant farmer outside of Alexandria but would never have found its way inside the palace. I wondered where he had taken it from. “And this is a statue of the war goddess Sekhmet.” Terentilla thought it was the most beautiful image she had ever seen. When the statuette came to her, she stroked the goddess’s leonine face and drew her finger over the breasts.

“Can you imagine worshipping a goddess with a lion’s head?” she asked Juba. “I’ve heard they have a goddess with a hippo’s head as well!”

“Tawaret,” I said through clenched teeth. “They are old gods, and today the people worship Isis, who is no different from your Venus.”

“I think what Selene is trying to say,” Juba interpreted, “is that the Ptolemies do not worship goddesses with animal heads anymore, but women with wings.”

“I believe your Cupid has wings as well,” I said sharply.

Alexander kicked my shin, but the men around the table laughed. “It’s true!” Vergil said, nodding sagely. Terentilla looked contrite, and I saw that she hadn’t meant any offense. But Octavian wasn’t interested in our banter. He had produced the sketch he’d taken from me on the ship, and Terentilla was the first to murmur her surprise.

“What is that?”

“An image of Alexandria by Kleopatra Selene,” Octavian replied, though when he looked at me there was no warmth in his eyes. “The princess appears to have great talent in art.”

My drawing was passed around the table, and even Juba seemed impressed, staring at the picture for a second time. Livia made several markings on her scroll, misspelling my name with a C in place of a K. I didn’t believe there was any person left in Rome who couldn’t spell my mother’s name or mine in Greek, and I knew she did it on purpose.

“The artist and the horseman,” Agrippa remarked. “A pair of very interesting siblings. I wonder—” His words were cut off by a commotion outside the doors of the triclinium. Guests sat upright on their couches; then the doors flew open and a soldier appeared.

“What is this?” Octavian demanded. When he stood, Juba and Agrippa rose as well.

“Forgive me, Caesar, but there is news I thought you might want to hear.”

“Has our illustrious traitor been caught?” Juba demanded.

“No, but one of the Red Eagle’s followers—”

“Are the soldiers now glorifying him as well?” Octavian shouted.

The soldier stepped back. “No. I—I meant to say the traitor. One of the traitor’s followers was discovered posting this on the Temple of Jupiter.” The soldier produced a scroll, and Octavian snatched it. “Another actum,” the soldier said. “And the symbol of the same red eagle at the bottom.”

“Has the man been tortured?” Octavian asked.

“Yes.”

“And what has he said?”

“That he was paid by a stranger in the Forum to nail it up.”

“And who was this stranger?”

The soldier shook his head. “He swears it was a farmer.”

Octavian’s look was murderous. “The man who produces this cannot be a farmer. He is literate and has access to the Palatine. He is a soldier, or a guard, or a very foolish senator. The man is lying!”

“Chop off his hand,” Livia said at once, “and nail it to the Senate door.”

The soldier looked for confirmation from Octavian.

“Yes. And if he still doesn’t remember who paid him to post this, then crucify the rest of him. Agrippa will make sure that it’s done.” When the soldier hesitated, Octavian said sharply, “Go!”

An uneasy silence had settled over the triclinium. Octavian looked to the harpist. “Keep playing!” he commanded. The girl placed her trembling hands on the strings, and when Octavian resumed his seat, the room filled with nervous conversation.

I turned and whispered to Octavia, “I don’t understand. Who is the Red Eagle?”

Octavia glanced uneasily at her brother, but he was giving instructions to Agrippa. “A man who wants to put an end to slavery.”

“Then he’s inspiring slaves to rebel?” I asked.

Octavia shifted uncomfortably. “No. The attempts to do that have already failed. Slaves have no weapons or organization.”

“So what does he want?” Alexander asked.

“For the patricians to rebel. He wants men with money and the power in the Senate to put an end to servitude.”

My brother made a face. “And he thinks that will happen?”

Octavia smiled sadly. “No. The most he can hope for is a leniency of the laws.”

“And if he thinks he will achieve even that, then he’s a fool,” Juba said darkly. “Rome will always have its slaves. Gauls, Germans—”

“Egyptians, Mauretanians. If not for an accident of Fortune,” I said hotly, “you and I might be slaves as well!”

Marcellus looked over from the table next to us, and I realized my voice had been louder than I intended.

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