WE WERE given time to prepare ourselves before the Feast of Triumph, but I didn’t show Alexander what I had received. Instead, I slipped the secret message into my book of sketches. Then, while Gallia brushed my wig and laid out a fresh tunic, I took the book with me into the bathing room and read the note.

There is hope in the Temple of Isis. Egypt is lost only so long as the Sun and Moon are imprisoned. I wish for the Sun to come, and we shall prepare for a time when the Moon may rise again.

It was written in hieroglyphics, and even if the message was short, its meaning was clear. If I could make my way to the Temple of Isis, the High Priest would find a way to return us to Alexandria. I thought of the madness in the Temple of Jupiter, where a thousand senators had crowded together, laughing and drinking and chanting “Io Triumphe!” Those same senators would be invited to Octavian’s villa, and I was certain I could slip away unnoticed. Of course, Alexander couldn’t come. If both of us disappeared, the alarm would be raised, and there would be no time to meet with the High Priest. Besides, if I told Alexander what I was doing, he would argue against it. I closed my book of sketches, and when Gallia returned, I asked casually, “Do you know of a temple to Isis in Rome?”

She gave me a long look before sweeping my hair into a knot and fitting the wig over my head. “There is a temple to Isis on the Campus Martius. It is outside the boundary of the city,” she said. “But I would not think of asking to go there,” she warned. “Domina will not like it.”


Gallia gave an elegant shrug. “Domina worships Roman gods. She does not believe in the gods of other nations.”

“So when you came to Rome,” I asked quietly, “did you lose your gods as well?”

She laughed sharply. “The gods cannot be lost. These Romans can shatter our statues,” she whispered, “and replace them with images of Jupiter and Apollo, but the gods remain here.” She touched my chest briefly. “And here.” She indicated the space above us. “Artio still watches over me.”

Octavia entered the chamber behind us, followed by Alexander and Marcellus, who were dressed in matching kilts and pharaonic crowns. They poked their heads into the bathing room and Marcellus asked, “So? Could I pass for an Egyptian?”

I rose from my chair. “Where did you get that?” I exclaimed. A golden collar gleamed from his neck, as bright as newly minted coins.

“My uncle had it made for me and sent from Alexandria.”

I studied the collar closely. The hieroglyphics were etched in silver, and the name of a nineteenth-dynasty Pharaoh was written on the side. “Are you sure you’re not wearing the possessions of the dead?”

Octavia covered her mouth in horror. “If that is something from one of the tombs—”

“Your brother would never steal anything from a tomb. He’s afraid of lightning,” Marcellus reminded her, “and his entire chamber is filled with amulets. Do you really think he would go digging in cursed sands?”

“No,” she agreed.

But I wasn’t so sure. Perhaps one of Octavian’s soldiers had thought it was easier to steal than to create. After all, Octavian himself had stolen the ring from the body of Alexander the Great.

“Besides,” Marcellus added mischievously, “this is far too nice to have been made a thousand years ago. Ready?” He took my arm, and Alexander fell into step beside us.

“Is this how Romans see Egyptians?” I asked. “In kilts and pectorals?”

“And crowns and gold cuffs,” Marcellus added.

Alexander held up the linen flap of his blue-and-gold-striped headdress. “No one has worn this in three hundred years.”

“Well, prepare for a resurgence,” Marcellus warned, and in Octavian’s villa hundreds of senators were dressed in similar crowns, with thick bands of gold encircling their wrists. The women wore golden snakes on their arms, and their short black wigs were cut sharply to the chin. Despite the proclamation that Romans must dress like Romans, the senators and their wives were happy enough to try and look like Egyptians so long as it was in mockery and in celebration of Octavian’s triumph. “Julia!” Marcellus called excitedly, and when she crossed the garden where dining tables and couches had been arranged, I heard Marcellus draw in his breath. Julia’s long white sheath was completely transparent when her back was to the sun. I wondered pettily if her father had seen her dressed like that. “You look like an Egyptian princess,” Marcellus swore. “Doesn’t she, Selene?”

Julia fixed me with her dark-eyed glare.

“Yes. Just like an Egyptian,” I lied.

Julia turned to Marcellus. “Did you hear what my father plans to build?” She snapped her fingers at a passing slave who was balancing a platter on his palm. He held out the tray and Julia handed the largest cup of wine to Marcellus, leaving Alexander and me to take our own. “He is going to begin his mausoleum,” she said merrily.

“Excuse me,” I said. “I think I will go and sit with Octavia.”

Alexander grabbed my arm before I could leave. “Where are you going?” he whispered in Parthian.

“Where I won’t have to hear about Octavian’s mausoleum!” When he moved to come with me, I shook my head. “Stay here with Marcellus,” I told him. As I left, I looked behind me to make sure he wasn’t following. The sun had disappeared beneath the hills and the gardens were illuminated now by hanging lanterns. As I made my way through the crowded villa, I saw Octavian in his formal tunica Jovis standing with Terentilla in a corner of the triclinium. She was tracing the palm leaves on his tunic with her finger, and the two of them were laughing intimately. Neither of them looked in my direction, and it wasn’t difficult to make my way to the vestibulum and out the front doors into the dusk.

I was surprised there was no one following me. Perhaps Octavian couldn’t imagine a scenario in which Alexander and I might try to escape, or perhaps we had simply finished being useful to him, and if we were foolish enough to run away, then our punishment would be of little consequence. I wondered what that punishment might be, and decided that whatever it was, I was willing to take the risk. My mother would want this, I told myself, making my way down the Palatine Hill. And if anyone sees me, they’ll simply think I’m another senator’s daughter.

The sky was the color of blooming hibiscus, a red that turned to purple and gradually black. I didn’t know where I might find the Campus Martius, but I was determined to ask the priest in the small temple to Jupiter at the base of the hill. The noise of the festivities drifted down from above, and the sharp laughter of women made my heart race. Would one of them want to speak with me and find that I was gone? I walked as quickly as the steep incline would allow, being careful not to trip over my sandals.

Bands of drunken men lumbered up the road, singing about Bacchus and inviting me to drink with them. “Come here, my pretty Egyptian queen. There’s a thing or two I’d like to teach you about Rome.” But I had seen enough leering drunks with my father to know that I must simply avoid their gaze. I made my way around several groups of men, but when one of them reached out to grab me, I was too slow.

“Get off of me!”

“What’s the matter?” His friends began to laugh, and he pushed his lips roughly against mine. “You’re not too young for paint.”

He dragged me toward a copse of trees, and when I screamed, the laughter of his friends grew more distant. They’re leaving me with him to be violated, I realized. I kicked at his shins, but he wrestled me to the ground. His heavy stomach pushed against the front of my body, and I could feel his desire beneath his kilt. I turned my head to scream, but as his hand reached down to lift my tunic a shadow loomed behind him. There was the flash of a knife and suddenly my attacker grew still. I didn’t wait to see who the shadow was. I crawled through the darkness to the cobbled road, then ran the rest of the way down the hill. When I placed my sandal on the first step of the temple, a hand grabbed my arm and I cried out.

“What do you think you’re doing?”

Frightened, I turned around, and Juba shook me with both hands.

“What are you doing out here?” he shouted.


“Think carefully before you lie.” I didn’t say anything, so he guessed. “You were going to the Temple of Isis.”

My eyes must have given me away, because he took my arm and wrenched me up the hill.

“You’re hurting me!” I cried.

“You were prepared to risk worse.”

“Where are you taking me?” I was ashamed that my voice trembled. When he didn’t answer, I asked quietly, “Did you kill that man?”

“Would you rather he lived?”

We kept walking, and his grip on my arm was hurting. “You have no right to touch me.” I tried to pull away. “I’m a princess of Egypt!”

“And what do you think makes a princess?” he demanded.

I raised my chin. “Her education.”

He laughed mockingly. “Her gold! Did you really think the High Priest was going to help you return to Egypt out of kindness? I saw what he gave you in the Temple of Jupiter, and there’s only one reason he would contact you. He wanted payment. Of one kind”—his eyes lingered on my diadem—“or another.” He made a point of studying the rip in my tunic.

“No.” I shook my head. “Not a high priest of Isis.”

“Oh no. And not a citizen of Rome. Do you understand what that man would have done to you?”

“Of course!”

“Then understand this.” He stopped walking, and his face was so close to mine that I could see the muscles of his jaw working angrily. “Women who walk the streets by themselves are kidnapped by men and sold as slaves. So far, Fortuna has smiled on you, although I have no idea why she wastes her time on such a pampered little girl. You have your brother in Rome, a tidy sum in the Temple of Saturn for whatever you need—”

“I don’t have any sum.”

“Of course you do,” he said bitterly. “I know because I transferred it there myself. So unlike some of us who were captured at war, Your Highness will never have to dirty her fingers to make her way in Rome. Octavia may want to see you survive, but I can promise you this. Fortuna’s smiles don’t last forever. And if I ever hear of escape or rebellion associated with your name, I will not bother to knife the next man in the back.”

He released my arm and I staggered backward. “You’re Octavian’s man through and through,” I said, intending to insult him. But he only smiled.

“That’s right. Everything belongs to Caesar.”

“Not me!”

“Yes, even you, Princess.”

A group of men dressed as Egyptian pharaohs passed us by, but none of them looked in my direction. They all eyed Juba warily and then moved away. He caught my arm and we continued walking up the Palatine.

“Where are you taking me?”

“Back where you belong,” he said.

In the vestibulum of Octavia’s villa, I heard footsteps coming toward us and held my breath.

“Selene!” Octavia put her hand on her chest. I could see the shadows of Marcellus and Alexander behind her. “We couldn’t find you anywhere!” she exclaimed. “We thought you were—” She looked from me to Juba, and her expression grew wary. “You weren’t planning on running away?”

“No,” he said. “I found her near the Temple of Jupiter. I think she was planning on making an offering.”

Octavia studied me with her soft eyes, refusing to admonish me for what she must have known I’d attempted.

When everyone had left, Alexander kept staring at me. “You didn’t really—?”

I turned from him and stalked into our chamber. “I had a message from Egypt.”

“What do you mean?” He slammed the door.

“In the Temple of Jupiter, the High Priest of Isis and Serapis gave me a message.”

In the lamplight, Alexander watched me, aghast. “And you thought you would travel across Rome to visit him? Without telling me?”

“You would have said no!”

“Of course I would have! Gods, Selene. How could you be so foolish? Ptolemaic rule of Egypt is finished.”

“It will never be finished!” I ripped off my wig, too tired to bother with my paint and tunic. “As long as we are alive—”

There was a sound outside our door, then a soft knock. Alexander glanced uneasily at me. “Come in,” he said. We both rushed to our couches and pulled the linens over our chests.

Octavia appeared, and I was certain that she had come to reprimand me. She placed her lamp next to Alexander, then sat on the edge of his couch so that she could look at both of us. I held my breath.

“Tomorrow, school will begin,” she said softly. “Gallia will take you to the Forum, where you will meet Magister Verrius near the Temple of Venus Genetrix. He will be the one to instruct you over these next few years.” When we didn’t say anything, she added, “Marcellus will be there, as well as Tiberius and Julia.” When there was still nothing either of us felt we could say, she asked awkwardly, “Did both of you enjoy the feast?”

Alexander nodded against his pillow. “Caesar’s villa is magnificent,” he replied. But I knew he was lying. My mother’s guest houses had been larger than Octavian’s villa, and all of the lanterns in Rome could not have illuminated the smallest palace garden in Alexandria.

But Octavia was pleased. “My brother is turning Rome from a city of clay into a city of marble. He and Agrippa have great plans.” She placed her hand tenderly on Alexander’s forehead, and I saw him flinch. “Sleep well.” She stood, then gazed down at me in a way that only Charmion ever had. “Valete,” she said softly. When she opened the door, I could see the figure of a thin, balding man waiting near her chamber. He wrapped his arm around her waist, and as the door swung shut, I sat up and looked at Alexander.

“The architect Vitruvius,” he said.

“The one who wrote De architectura?” He was the only Roman architect we’d ever studied in the Museion. “Are they—?”

“Lovers? I guess. He came here to see your sketches, but you had disappeared. You should be thankful she isn’t going to tell Octavian. Instead, she came in here and wished us happy dreams. You have no idea how fortunate we are—”

“And how is losing your kingdom fortunate? How is losing our brothers, our mother, our father, even Charmion and Iras, fortunate?”

“Because we could be dead!” Alexander sat up. I heard the sound of a window opening in the chamber next door. I imagined it was Marcellus letting in the fresh air, and suddenly I felt hot. “We could be prisoners,” he went on, “or slaves like Gallia. You’re just lucky that Juba found you before someone else did!”

My brother blew out the lamps, but in the darkness I could still see Juba’s eyes, full of anger and resentment.

Gallia woke us while the sun was still rising. She placed a pitcher of water on our table, and two slaves brought in bowls of olives and cheese. But even the fresh bread, which smelled deliciously of herbs, couldn’t tempt me to move.

“Up with the sun!” Gallia said forcefully. “Domina has clients waiting for her in the atrium, and her morning salutatio has already begun. Take off your tunics and put on your togas!”

I opened one eye and saw that Alexander had placed a pillow over his head. “What is a salutatio?” I groaned.

Gallia clapped her hands so loudly that Alexander jumped. “It is when clients come to the villa to ask for the money they are owed, or, more likely, favors. Every Roman with a few denarii to rub together has a salutatio in the morning. How else do the baker and the toga maker get paid?”

Alexander sat up and eyed the food warily. “Olives and cheese?”

“And bread. Come,” I said wearily, “I can already hear Marcellus.” He was singing in the hall, possibly something crass about the priestesses of Bacchus.

“What are you doing?” Gallia exclaimed. “Up! Get up!”

We both rose, and I looked at Alexander. “Our first day at school,” I said mockingly. “I wonder who will be more cheerful, Julia or Tiberius?”

“Well, you know why she dislikes you.”

“Who says Julia dislikes me?”

My brother gave me a long look, and I followed him into the bathing room. “She’s already been engaged twice,” he said, washing his face in a bowl of lavender water. “Once to Antyllus, another time to Cotiso, the king of the Getae. But Octavian can’t betroth her to a foreign king, because now he needs an heir. So he’s hoping to marry her to Marcellus. She’s jealous that you get to live here with him.”

“How do you know this?”

He glared at me. “She told me last night. While you were at the bottom of the Palatine.”

I looked at Gallia and asked if it was true. “Is Julia really engaged to Marcellus?”

“Yes,” she said cautiously, and I put my face above the bowl of water so that no one could see my disappointment. “But engagements among Romans are like the wind,” she added. “They come and go.” She passed me a square of linen.


“That is simply how it is,” she explained while I dried my face. “Most women are married four and five times.”

She handed me a small jar of toothpaste, and I paused to look at her. “But how can a woman love so many men?”

“Your mother loved many men,” she pointed out.

“My mother had two men,” I said sternly. “Julius Caesar and Marc Antony. That was it.”

When Gallia looked disbelieving, my brother added, “It’s true. Whatever the gossip may be here in Rome, she had only two men, and she was loyal to our father until his death.”

“Like a univira,” Gallia said reverently.

I frowned.

“A one-husband woman,” she explained. “Well, you will not find many of those in Rome. A woman may be married for fifteen years, but if her father decides on a better match….” She snapped her fingers and I understood that to mean the marriage would be over. “It is also expected that a woman will remarry if her husband dies, even if she is fifty years old.”

“And who expects this?” I asked with distaste. I began to scrub my teeth.

Gallia held up her palms. “Romans. Men. It is the fathers and brothers who arrange these things. Domina Octavia is very fortunate not to have to remarry. Caesar has granted her special dispensation, and now she may keep her own house by herself.”

She led us back into our chamber, and while Alexander and I put on freshly washed clothes, I thought of Juba’s angry accusation that I would never have to dirty my fingers in Rome. Perhaps not, but I would be expected to marry and then remarry at Caesar’s whim. And Alexander. … If Octavian kept Alexander alive once he turned fifteen, who knew what would happen to him? We would be a pair of dice, thrown anywhere across the board so long as it pleased him, then picked up and thrown again and again.

Gallia tied the belt of my tunic, and I asked her quietly, “Are women of so little value in Rome?”

“When a girl is born,” Gallia replied, “a period of mourning is begun. She is invisa, unwanted, valueless. She has no rights but what her father gives her.”

“Was it that way in Gaul?”

“No. But now we are worse than invisae. Worse even than thieves. My father was a king, but Caesar defeated him and brought so many of our people to Rome that slaves are worth only five hundred denarii now. Even a baker can afford to keep a girl to pleasure him.” I winced, and Gallia spoke solemnly. “Become useful to Caesar. Do not let him hear you wish to run away, because there is nowhere you can go,” she warned. “Find a skill.” She turned to my brother, whose toga was immaculate. If not for the white diadem in his hair, he might have been a Roman. “Let him see that you are both worth something to Rome.”

“Why?” I asked bitterly. “So that I can be married off to a senator, and Alexander can be married to some fifty-year-old matron?”

“No. So that you can return to Egypt,” she said firmly, and her voice became a whisper. “Why do you think that Dominus Juba keeps company with Caesar? He hopes to be made prefect of his father’s old kingdom.”

“And Caesar would do that?” Alexander broke in.

“I do not know. Not even Dominus Juba knows. There is nothing left of my kingdom.” Her eyes grew distant, and I knew she was seeing some faraway horror. “But yours remains, and if you are obedient—”

There was a sharp knock on our door, then Marcellus bounded in. “Are we ready?” He smiled.

Gallia put her hands on her hips. “What is the purpose of knocking, Domine, if you are not going to even wait for an answer?”

Marcellus looked from my brother to me. “But I heard voices,” he said guiltily. “And how long could it take to put on a tunic?” His eyes swept over the pretty blue silk one that Octavia must have found for me, and he added, “A very pretty tunic.” My cheeks grew warm, and he offered me his arm. “To the Forum,” he said. “Of course, I don’t know what Magister Verrius thinks we’ll do today. The streets will be filled with so much noise he’ll have to shout over it just to be heard. But my mother insists.”

“Doesn’t she want you to be a part of the celebrations?” my brother asked.

“And miss school?” Marcellus asked sarcastically. “No. Besides, my uncle thinks one day of celebration is more than enough. He doesn’t want us to get used to so much excitement.”

We followed Gallia through the villa, and as we crossed the atrium, I saw that Octavia’s clients filled every available bench.

“Will her salutatio last all day?” I asked.

Marcellus shook his head. “Just another few hours. Then she’ll do her charity work in the Subura. She would feed all of Rome if she had enough grain.”

“Will we be doing charity work with her?”

Marcellus laughed at Alexander’s question. “Gods, no. After school, we’ll be in the Circus Maximus. I brought a few denarii so we can all place bets.”

Julia and Tiberius appeared on the portico, and at once I withdrew my hand from Marcellus’s arm.

Tiberius saw the gesture and laughed. “Don’t bother,” he said. “Julia has already seen you together and is working herself into a jealous frenzy as we speak.”

Julia smiled sweetly at Marcellus. “Don’t pay any attention to him. Selene and I are going to be great friends.” She made a show of taking my arm.

“Will your father be sending soldiers to escort us?” I asked.

“Who needs soldiers?” she replied. “Gallia was a warrior in her tribe.”

I looked at Gallia. With her wheat-colored hair and proud Gallic chin, she was the image of a queen, but as the sun filtered through her tunic I saw the outline of a leather sheath on her thigh. It was a companion to the knife she wore openly at her waist, and I blinked in surprise. “You fought?”

“When the men are all gone, or have been killed, it is up to the women. But I cannot fight off a mob if their intent is evil. That is what they are for.” She gestured behind her to a group of men. If not for the short swords at their sides and chain mail beneath their togas, they might have been senators or wealthy patricians.

“Have they been following us all along?” I asked.

Julia sighed loudly. “Every day. From the moment we leave our villas.”

Gallia led us down the Palatine, and as the silence grew heavier between me and Julia, I said quietly, “You know, there is nothing to be jealous of. Marcellus has been treating me like a sister.”

She stared ahead at the figure of Marcellus, who was leaning on Alexander’s shoulder and laughing. I guessed the pair of them were talking about gambling. Tiberius, meanwhile, lagged several steps behind, his long nose buried in a scroll. “That may be,” Julia began, “but you aren’t his sister, are you? And it’s hard to resist such a pretty smile.”

“I wouldn’t know.”

“You don’t think about him?” she demanded.

“I think about Egypt, and returning to the land of my birth.”

Her grip on my arm relaxed, and for the first time, her smile was genuine. “You know, I’m engaged to be married to him.”

“At eleven?”

“I was engaged when I was two,” she said crossly. “So why not now, when I’m nearly twelve? And when we marry, everyone in Rome will see who my father’s heir is intended to be. Then Tiberius can finally disappear into the army, and we can all stop pretending he’s of any importance.”

“Is that what he wants to do?”

“Who knows what Tiberius wants to do?” she asked nastily, glancing back at him. “And I doubt if anyone cares but his mother.” Her voice grew low. “You know, she has two thousand slaves on the Palatine.” When I gasped, she nodded, and a curl escaped from the golden band nestled in her dark hair. “They live on the western end of the hill.”

“But I haven’t seen them.”

“Of course not. That’s because there are underground passages. We don’t want them crowding up our roads. But you would think she did all of the work herself, with the way she complains about needing more slaves. And she sells any girl who falls pregnant.”

“Because she can’t get pregnant with Octavian’s heir?”

Julia raised her brows at my astuteness. “My father said you were clever.” She studied me with her dark, intense gaze, as if trying to determine whether she liked this or not. “Yes. She punishes the girls by selling them to farms, where the labor will break them and there’s no chance of ever seeing the man who made them pregnant. And if she finds the one who did it …” Julia shook her head.

“And your father loves her?” I asked hesitantly.

“Oh, I doubt it. But Romans don’t marry for love. Of course,” she added brightly, “I will. And when Marcellus becomes Caesar, the laws will change.”

“What about Agrippa?”

“He’ll watch over the army.”

“And he’s content with that?”

“He’ll do whatever my father wants. If my father tells him to serve Marcellus, he’ll do that as well. They are very old friends, and my father only keeps loyal men around him.”

We had come to the place on the Palatine where Juba had killed the man who was assaulting me. I searched for the body, but someone had taken it. I shivered anyway. “So is that why he keeps Livia as a wife?”

Julia looked at me, and I could see that this had never occurred to her before. “Yes. It probably is. It’s certainly not for children.”

“But she birthed Tiberius and Drusus.”

“With her first husband,” she said coldly. “Not with my father. And no one can say it’s my father’s fault, when he had me with his first wife. Which makes it obvious, doesn’t it?”

I frowned.

“Their marriage is cursed! My father left my mother the day I was born to take up with Livia, who was already married and pregnant. When Livia was granted a divorce, her previous husband appeared at the wedding and gave her away. Imagine!” she said, scandalously, and I could almost believe she was talking about someone other than her own father. “Of course, it’s no surprise why he wanted her. Your father used to taunt mine in the Senate, saying he was ignobilis and the grandson of a pleb.”

I could imagine my father saying those things, enjoying the anger it would have aroused in Octavian, and secretly I was proud.

“My father had all the power he needed, but he lacked nobilitas. And Livia comes from a long line of Claudii. But do you know what happened the year they were married?” I shook my head. The sun bathed the Temple of Jupiter in its rosy glow, which also fell like a soft blush across Julia’s skin. I didn’t think there was a more beautiful girl in Rome. “The hut of Romulus burned down, and a statue of Virtus fell on its face. Then Livia produced a stillborn, and that’s been it. Not another child.”

A stillborn after two healthy sons. It did seem like a curse. “And Terentilla?”

“He will never marry her,” she said quickly. “Livia will make sure of it by weaving his togas and brewing his tonics.”

“Doesn’t he have slaves for that?”

She smiled. “Of course. But there’s no slave in the world he could trust the way he trusts Livia. And what is Terentilla?” she asked with brutal frankness. “Just a pretty actress who can talk about the theater.”

We reached a wooden door inside the Forum, and Gallia led the four of us into a small chamber.

“Is this it?” I asked nervously.

Julia sighed. “The ludus.”

When my eyes adjusted to the dimness, I saw a man in a neatly arranged toga behind a desk. I had imagined he would be much older than Gallia, but he was no more than thirty, with the same light hair as Marcellus, though darker eyes. As soon as he saw Gallia, he rose.

“Magister Verrius.” She smiled, and when he crossed the room and took her hand in his, I noticed that his kiss lingered longer than it needed to.

“Good morning, Gallia. And this must be the Prince and Princess of Egypt,” he said in Greek.

“Yes. Dominus Alexander and Domina Selene.” I was shocked when Gallia replied in Greek. “They have been educated in the Museion, and Domina Octavia tells me that the princess is gifted in art.”

Magister Verrius looked at me. “What kind?”

“I’m interested in architecture,” I replied. “Buildings and cities.”

“And Prince Alexander?”

When I hesitated, Marcellus laughed. “Alexander races horses,” he offered in Greek. “He’s also exceptional at dice.”

A small frown appeared between the Magister’s brows, and Julia giggled.

“Squandering time isn’t funny,” Tiberius said sharply.

“And neither is arrogance.” Julia smiled, and a deep flush crept from Tiberius’s neck into his pale cheeks.

Magister Verrius ignored them both. “I assume you studied Vergil in the Museion?” he asked me.

“And Homer, and the Athenian dramatists.”

Magister Verrius looked immensely pleased. “Then you will be very welcome additions to this ludus.” He glanced briefly at Marcellus and Julia, and I wondered how welcome they would be if not for their positions on the Palatine. He pointed us to separate tables, each with its own wax tablet and stylus, and Gallia left.

“Will all of our schooling be conducted in Greek?” my brother asked.

“As Cicero said, we must apply to our fellow countrymen for virtue, but for our culture we must look to the Greeks.”

I met Alexander’s gaze and saw the smile at the corners of his mouth. There would be almost nothing required of us if all we were expected to do was learn the language of our ancestors.

For the rest of the morning we read Athenian plays. If the lessons weren’t difficult, at least they were interesting, and Magister Verrius held a contest to see who could answer his questions first. For every correct answer he gave out a small token, and by the end of the class, it had become a competition between Tiberius and me. Alexander had seven tokens on his desk, Julia three, and Marcellus one. But Tiberius and I had each answered eleven questions correctly. I didn’t know what we were competing for, but I was determined to win.

At the front of the room, Magister Verrius smiled broadly. “The last question.”

I looked at Tiberius, whose thin lips were pursed with determination.

“Aside from Sophocles,” Magister Verrius said, “which dramatist also wrote a play called Antigone?”

“Euripides!” I exclaimed.

Tiberius sat back in defeat. He studied me, and I could see the warring emotions of respect and jealousy on his face. “Finally,” he said at last, “another student worthy of Magister Verrius’s teaching.”

The Magister came to my table and presented me with a scroll. “For you. Sophocles’ Antigone.”

I looked up. “To keep?” It would be my first real possession in Rome.

“Of course. What else?”

When I had thanked him and returned the tokens to his desk, he dismissed us with a wave of his hand. “To the Campus Martius for your exercise,” he said.

Marcellus turned to me. “How do you know so much?”

“All she does is read and draw,” Alexander commented, but I could see that he was proud.

“Well, you’ll have your own library soon,” Julia predicted. “It’s about time someone put Tiberius in his place.”

I glanced at Tiberius, whose jaw clenched angrily, but he didn’t say anything.

Outside, Gallia was waiting for us, shielded from the intense summer’s heat by a leather umbraculum. “Well, Domina Selene, Domine Alexander. How was it?”

I held out my scroll, and she grinned.

“I knew Magister Verrius would be happy to have you! Let me guess—you snatched it from the hands of Tiberius.”

Tiberius shrugged. “She’s a worthy opponent,” he said to Gallia. “Not a useless stone weighing down another chair. But we’ll see how much she knows when it comes to Sallust.”

I looked from Tiberius to Gallia. “Who’s that?”

Tiberius looked pleased with my ignorance. ”Who’s Sallust?” he repeated. “Only the greatest writer of Rome’s military history. Haven’t you read his Jugurthine War? or The Conspiracy of Catiline?”

“No one’s interested in those boring works but you,” Marcellus said.

Gallia cleared her throat before the argument could continue. “To the Campus,” she said.

“If we make it there,” Julia grumbled. “Look at these people. They’re everywhere.”

It was the second day of Octavian’s Triumph, and a parade had just passed by the Forum, where thousands of spectators had come for the entertainment. Children, chased by screeching sisters and brothers, ran between the columns, while mothers scolded and fathers laughed. There was no breeze as there had been in Alexandria, so the scent of incense from the Temple of Venus Genetrix lingered in the air along with the scent of ofellae, round pieces of baked dough topped with melted cheese. Men and women from every corner of the world were crowded together, and I recognized German and Gallic men from their height and flaxen-colored hair. Dark women from the southern parts of Egypt, balancing colorful baskets on their heads, wove lithely between groups of drunken men and Assyrian shopkeepers.

“This way,” Gallia said, pushing back the strands that had escaped from her long braid. The sun was at its highest point, baking the stones beneath our feet so that even through the leather of our sandals we could feel the rising heat.

“So what kind of exercise do we do?” I asked Julia.

She sniffed dismissively. “It’s the men who exercise. And while they get to practice their sword fighting and horse riding, we get to sit with Livia and weave. Gallia will stay with us, and Octavia will be there with her girls, and Vipsania.”

“But I don’t know how to weave!”

“At all?”

“Of course not.”

“But what did you do while your brother exercised?”

“I swam with him.”

“In the river?” she exlaimed.

“No. In the pools. Why would anyone want to weave?”

“They wouldn’t,” she said grimly. “But Livia thinks it will keep us modest.”

“Perhaps I can draw,” I said feebly, and indicated the leather bag at my side with my book of sketches and Magister Verrius’s scroll.

But Julia warned, “She will teach you to weave even if your fingers bleed.” She looked up and sighed. “Here we are.”

As the Campus Martius came into view, Alexander looked at me in surprise. Hundreds of buildings filled the horizon, jostling for space outside the walls of Rome. Marble baths nestled against the concrete walls of theaters, and giant arches competed for attention next to bustling forums.

“Have you ever seen so many buildings?” my brother asked.

“Not all in one place,” I said disapprovingly. We walked past the strangest jumble of shops—built without uniformity or any attention to design. From sweaty bakeries, men tried to tempt us with sows’ udders and crab cakes, while on the polished steps of the marble baths, merchants hawked Egyptian linen and scented oils.

“That will be the site for Agrippa’s Pantheon,” Marcellus said, indicating a field strewn with broken columns and abandoned carts.

“That will be a temple?” I confirmed.

He laughed. “It doesn’t look like much now, but once my mother’s architect lays his hands on it….”

I searched the streets for the Temple of Isis, but too many buildings were crowded together to tell them apart. “And what about the Egyptian temple?” I asked.

“It’s just a few streets away,” Marcellus said eagerly. “Would you like to go?”

“Absolutely not!” Gallia said sternly, giving me a dark look. “Caesar is waiting.”

“But it’s on the way,” Marcellus protested.

“So is the lupanar,” she said angrily. “Would you like to go there, too?”

“I’ve never been inside the Temple of Isis,” Tiberius said suddenly, and everyone looked at him. “I think we should go.”

“You see?” Marcellus said. “Even Tiberius thinks it’s a good idea. We’ll be quick,” he promised. “Alexander and Selene could show us what all of the strange paintings mean.”

“And those masks,” Julia added. “Haven’t you ever wanted to go inside?”

It was five against one. Gallia glanced at the guards.

“Don’t worry about them,” Marcellus swore. “They won’t say anything.”

“Really?” I asked. “How do you know?”

He turned to me and grinned. “Trust me.”

Gallia looked at Tiberius. I suspected that if anyone would go running to Octavian, it would be him.

“I’d like to go,” he said simply. “No one will find out. And if they do, you can just blame it on Selene and say that she took off running. That wouldn’t be so unlikely, would it?” he asked pointedly.

Marcellus saw my discomfort and interjected, “Come on!”

We walked briskly down several crowded streets, and I tried not to show my excitement. Despite Gallia’s misgivings and Juba’s anger, I would be meeting with the High Priest of Isis and Serapis.

“Do you think this is a wise idea?” my brother asked in Parthian.

“Of course it is.”

“If Octavian finds out, he might banish the Temple of Isis from Rome altogether.”

“We have to meet the High Priest, Alexander. If he can’t help us return to Egypt, then perhaps he knows someone who can.”

“What?” my brother exclaimed. “Are you mad?” Marcellus and Julia both looked in our direction. My brother lowered his voice. “It will never work. Don’t even think it. You’ve caused enough trouble.”

“For you!”

He flinched.

“Don’t you want to return?”

“Of course. I’m the rightful King of Egypt.”

“Well, you heard Octavian as well as I did. He plans to marry me off and keep you alive only so long as it seems merciful.”

“He … he might change his mind.”

“And if he doesn’t? Don’t you think we should have a plan for that?” I could already smell the strong scent of kyphi, just like in Alexandria. “I would rather risk my life trying to escape,” I said firmly, “than wait for Octavian to cut you down like Antyllus or Caesarion.”

My brother didn’t say anything, but as we approached the temple, he hesitated. On the steps, a group of soldiers had surrounded a young man and woman.

“Domine, this is not a good idea!” Gallia exclaimed.

“Why? What’s the harm in a few soldiers?” Marcellus asked. “They’re probably just hassling a beggar.” He pushed his way through the crowd of onlookers, while Tiberius snapped, “Stand back.”

“Domine, do not interfere!”

“What’s happening?” Marcellus demanded.

A gray-haired centurion at the edge of the circle studied Marcellus. “Who are you?”

“Son of Caesar,” Tiberius announced proudly.

The centurion looked at Octavian’s guards, who stood behind us. “And what are you doing here?”

“That’s none of your business,” Tiberius snapped.

“Who is the woman?” Marcellus asked.

The centurion narrowed his eyes. “A slave. Claims this man is her husband and that the pair of them were freed.” He held up a small leather bag and shook it up and down. Coins clinked against each other. “Obviously stolen gold, probably from Caesar’s caravan.”

“The one that was attacked last week on its way to the Temple of Saturn?” Tiberius demanded.

The centurion grinned. “Very good.”

“And she attacked it?” Marcellus challenged. He looked at the young woman, who made a pitiful sight in her ragged tunic and broken sandals.

The centurion made a noise in his throat. “If not her, then him. And we have reason to suspect they were working for the rebel the plebs like to call the Red Eagle.”

“May I see the bag?” Marcellus held out his hand.

“What are you doing?” Julia whispered. “You’ll get us all in trouble!”

The centurion hesitated, then passed him the gold.

Marcellus made a show of inspecting the leather. “She isn’t lying,” he said suddenly. “The gold belongs to her.”

The soldiers raised their voices in protest, but Marcellus was louder. “This comes from the House of Octavia.”

The centurion’s jaw tightened. “I believe if you take a better look, you will discover that you are wrong.”

“No. I’m not.”

“Are you saying,” the centurion’s voice rose angrily, “that the sister of Caesar gives so freely of her gold?”

“No, I do.”

The soldier looked at Gallia, whose face had gone pale, then at Tiberius, who maintained a careful silence. Suddenly, he waved his hand. “Fine. Less work for us,” he announced grandly. “Let them go.”

The man and woman rushed to thank Marcellus, but he shoved the bag at them and said forcefully, “Get out of here.”

The group of soldiers dispersed, though I noticed that the centurion cast a suspicious look over his shoulder before leaving. The four of us watched Marcellus, and I suspected that behind us even the guards were passing questioning glances among themselves. It was Tiberius who broke the silence.

“Well done. Perhaps if we make a visit to the Carcer you can free the rest of the slaves who are imprisoned.”

“That was incredibly foolish,” Julia said. “Who cares what happens to a pair of runaway slaves? They were thieves.”

“No. They were a husband and wife who wanted to be free,” I replied, and Marcellus’s light eyes met mine. “I think it was kind.”

Julia looked from me to Marcellus and said hotly, “Are we going to the temple or not?” She marched up the remaining steps and Marcellus smiled at me.

“Thank you,” he mouthed.

“This must be quick,” Gallia cautioned. “One look inside and that is all. Caesar is waiting on the Campus Martius.”

We hurried up the steps behind Julia, and as we passed beneath the arch, I blinked back tears. It was just like the temple in Alexandria. The cool interior was painted with the familiar images of Isis and Serapis, and bald-headed priests dressed in long linen robes were dispensing incense from gilded balls. A statue of the Mother Goddess, with eyes of sapphire and necklaces of gold, rose at the opposite end of the temple. Marcellus gave a low whistle.

“Welcome home.” A tall man emerged from the shadows, and I saw Gallia tense.

“The High Priest,” my brother said swiftly in Parthian. “Is that the one—?”

I nodded.

“Prince Alexander and Princess Selene.” The High Priest opened his arms in a gesture of welcome. “And you’ve brought your distinguished friends.”

“How does he know you?” Tiberius was immediately suspicious.

“He must have seen us in the Triumph,” my brother said levelly.

The High Priest stepped forward. “Have you come to see Isis and Serapis?”

“Yes,” I replied, and I struggled to ignore the overwhelming feeling of homesickness. The towering granite statues and pink-veined marble had all been shipped from Egypt. Even the statues in the cleansing pool had probably been sculpted by Egyptian hands. “Shepsit!” The High Priest snapped his fingers and a young woman appeared at his side. “Show our new friends around the temple.”

The girl inclined her head dutifully. While everyone followed her, I remained with the High Priest.

“Aren’t you coming?” Alexander called.

“I want to place an offering. I’ll join you in a moment.” I saw the hesitation in his face, then Julia took his arm and he was gone.

The High Priest looked down at me. “You read my note?”

“Yes. That’s why I came.”

“Then you understand what Caesar plans for you,” he said, directing me toward a room behind a beaded curtain. Baskets and chests filled the little chamber, and I tried not to think of how similar baskets had adorned our palace in Alexandria. “How long do you think it will be until Caesar decides to do away with the last of Kleopatra’s children?”

“I—I don’t know. That’s why I’ve come to you. For help.”

He smiled. “You want to return to Egypt?”

“If our lives are in danger.”

“Of course they are!” He moved closer to me. “What happened to your mother? Your father? Your brothers? What happened to the priests of Isis and Serapis in Alexandria?”

I pressed my back against the marble wall. “They’re gone,” I whispered.

“That’s right.” He stopped walking. “But I can help you escape.”

I glanced at the beaded curtain. “To Egypt?”

“Or India, or any place you wish.”

“And how long would we be in hiding?”

“Until your brother is old enough to raise an army and challenge Caesar.”

“My father failed and he had half of Rome’s legions! What makes you think my brother would succeed?”

The High Priest narrowed his eyes. “He might not. Perhaps in the very first battle he’ll be crushed along with all of his men. But what do you think Caesar will do if he remains here?”

“He’s kept my father’s sons by Fulvia alive. I have older brothers—”

“Who are not the sons of an Egyptian queen!”

We watched each other in tense silence. Even amid so much incense, I could smell his fetid breath. Men with rotten teeth often smelled this way.

“Do you value your life?”

“Of course.”

“Then escape is your only option.”

I searched his face. “And who would help us?”

He reached out and trailed a bony finger along my necklace. “People who would do anything for the right price.”

My necklace could keep a man fed for the rest of his life. It might very well buy a passage to India. But I could never give away my mother’s pearls. “And if I don’t want to pay the price?”

The High Priest grabbed my wrist. “Everyone pays something.”

“Take your hands off of me!”

“Just give me the pearls,” he hissed. “I’ll have you free of Rome for the rest of your life.”

“Step away from her!” Marcellus parted the beaded curtain. Julia stood behind him with four stone-faced guards.

The High Priest dropped my arm and smiled blandly. “Did you enjoy your tour?”

Marcellus glanced at me. “Has he hurt you?”


He met the High Priest’s gaze. “Isis is not so beloved in Rome that her priests can afford to abuse Caesar’s guests.”

“Is that what she is?” His smile widened. “A guest?”

“Yes,” Marcellus said forcefully. He held out his arm, and I hurried past the High Priest.

“Think about what I said,” the High Priest warned darkly. “It’s a small exchange for the protection of Isis.”

Although the priestesses were shaking their gilded sistri in the courtyard outside, all I could hear was Juba’s voice in my head.

“So was that part of the offering?” Julia asked archly when we reached the steps of the temple.

My brother gave me a disapproving look, and I said angrily, “Don’t say it!”

“It might have happened to anyone,” Marcellus said. “You just happen to have a queen’s ransom around your neck. Priests of every goddess are greedy.”

I tried a smile, but it didn’t come out right.

“Here,” he said compassionately, and offered me a small square of linen. As I dabbed at my eyes I could smell his scent on the cloth, and wanted nothing more than to weep into his shoulder. But Julia was there. And Tiberius.

“You see what happens, going into strange places?” Gallia demanded.

“I thought it was beautiful,” Julia said to be contrary.

“If you enjoy men dressed as jackals,” Tiberius said.

“You liked the women well enough,” she challenged.

Color tinged Tiberius’s cheeks, but no one mentioned the High Priest again, and when we reached the Campus Martius, even my brother forgot his anger at me. “Look at this!” he exclaimed.

It was hundreds of acres of low-lying plains bordered on the west by the Tiber River, and on the east by the Quirinal hill. There was a space for horses and chariot races, a place where marathon runners practiced, and in a series of grassy fields hundreds of soldiers wrestled, and boxed, and played games with leather balls. I saw men who were oiled and sweaty from their exertions jump into the Tiber, and I thought, They must be brave not to have any fear of the crocodiles.

“What are those buildings?” my brother asked. He pointed to a number of domed structures dotting the plains.

“Stables,” Marcellus replied. “The Campus is where wealthy men keep their horses. There are baths inside them as well, for washing and changing. Those are my uncle’s stables.” He pointed to a large building near the river.

As we drew closer, I could see that Octavia and Livia were already seated in the cool shade of the portico, working on their looms. The younger children were there as well; Antonia and Tonia patiently following their mother’s instructions while Drusus and Vipsania giggled. Octavian stood between Juba and Agrippa; all three men were dressed in short tunics, with thin linen belts around their waists and sandals whose laces crisscrossed up their muscled calves. But only Octavian wore a broad-brimmed hat in anticipation of an afternoon in the sun.

“Alexander,” Agrippa said in greeting. “Since you are a horseman, we’ve decided on riding. Go and change with Marcellus and Tiberius. They’ll show you where the tunics are, and they’ll find you a sword.”

But Alexander looked back at me. “What about Selene?”

“Selene will be enjoying her time weaving,” Juba said.

“But she doesn’t know how.”

“What girl doesn’t know how to weave?” Livia demanded.

“She’s a princess of Egypt,” Octavia replied. “Her mother taught her languages, not how to work the loom.”

“Then perhaps her mother should have taught her some modesty so she doesn’t end up clutching a cobra to her neck.”

I saw my brother tense, but Marcellus stepped forward. “Come on.”

Alexander looked back at me, and I nodded. “Go. There is riding to be done.” I smiled bravely, then watched the men disappear into the stables. I turned back to Octavia. “I could study instead of weaving, if that would please you. Or perhaps I could draw—”

But Livia snapped, “You will weave like the rest of us!”

I seated myself between Julia and Octavia, and Julia whispered, “Just do as she says.”

“Why should she?” Octavia asked suddenly, and her girls looked up from their looms with wide eyes. Vipsania, Agrippa’s seven-year-old daughter, gasped. “There’s no point in teaching Selene how to weave, and even less of a point in teaching her how to spin. When will she ever use those skills?”

“For her husband,” Livia retorted angrily.

“Very few men prefer homespun tunics. And I doubt that her future husband will be one of them. I don’t see any reason not to let Selene sketch.”

Livia dropped the wooden shuttle onto her lap. “What? Silly buildings and painted urns? For what purpose?”

“Well, if everything must have a purpose, then Vitruvius can train her as an architect.”

Livia sat forward. “You think he would train a girl?”

“Why not?”

“Your brother would never allow it!” she swore. But when Octavian appeared with Agrippa and Juba, I noticed that Livia was silent.

Swiftly, I took out my sketches, and Julia regarded me with quiet fascination. I knew she was wondering why Octavia would choose to fight for me this way. But I thought I understood. It was her chance to anger the petty, jealous woman her brother had chosen for a wife.

When my brother emerged with Marcellus and Tiberius, I didn’t dare say anything, even when Tiberius boasted that he was going to teach Alexander how to ride. After they’d left, there was an uncomfortable silence until midafternoon. No one spoke, and when I looked up to make a comment to Julia, she shook her head sternly.

When Marcellus and Alexander finally came galloping toward us, followed by the others, Julia rose. “They’re back!”

“Sit down,” Livia commanded, and I saw Octavia pass her niece a sympathetic look.

Alexander reined in his horse at the edge of the portico. With Marcellus beside him, he looked triumphant. The pair were the first to dismount.

“Your brother is a fine horseman,” Marcellus announced.

I looked from Alexander to Tiberius. “Where did you go?”

“To the tracks, where the horses raced around poles. It was better than anything in Alexandria, Selene.”

Juba slid easily off his horse. “There’s something in Rome that’s better than Alexandria?”

Octavian smiled at Juba’s humor. “He’s an exemplary horseman,” he said matter-of-factly, walking toward us. “Finer than Marcellus and possibly even as good as Tiberius.”

“Yes, but what does he know about tactics on the battlefield?” Tiberius demanded. “You said so yourself. Anyone who hasn’t read Sallust shouldn’t be on a horse.”

“Well, there’s always time to remedy that,” Agrippa said.

Tiberius laughed sharply. “You really think he’ll be as good a scholar as I am?”

Agrippa studied my brother. “You never know.”

Juba placed his hand on Tiberius’s shoulder. “Come into the Tiber and cool off,” he suggested. “It doesn’t matter who did better today.” But when he moved to lead Tiberius away, I stood.

“Don’t follow him!”

Juba and Tiberius turned.

“You shouldn’t go into the river,” I said. “You don’t know what’s in there.”

Juba laughed. “What, are there sea serpents lurking beneath the waters?”

“Of course not,” I said angrily. “There are crocodiles.”

Juba grinned. “I am sorry to be the one who must tell you this, Princess, but there are no crocodiles swimming in the Tiber.”

I looked to Tiberius, who smiled arrogantly. “I guess you don’t know everything.”

Octavian and Agrippa followed them to the river bank, and when I returned to my seat, Julia suggested, “Just ignore him.”

“But what happened to the crocodiles? Have they all been killed?”

“There have never been crocodiles,” Octavia replied, putting down her spindle. “There are only fish. And all of them are harmless.”

I wondered what it would be like to swim in a river, and as we watched Marcellus and Alexander strip down to their loincloths, I asked Octavia, “Will we be swimming, too?”

“What? In a loincloth?” Livia exclaimed.

“And a breastband,” I offered, but Vipsania giggled.

“Perhaps you would like to parade naked as well!” Livia added.

“She almost did,” Octavia remarked pointedly, reminding her of the Triumph and the beaded dress that Livia had chosen for me.

Livia sat forward and fixed me in her gaze. “My father committed suicide because of your father. And now your father has killed himself because of my husband. It’s a strange little world, isn’t it, Selene? And I imagine that when your mother came to Rome, she thought it would be only a matter of time before she stood in the Senate and declared herself queen. But Romans don’t accept women who paint their faces, or dress themselves in beads, or swim in rivers. And they won’t accept a little whore from Alexandria who thinks she can come here and take her mother’s place. I know what you want.” She laughed bitterly. “You think my husband is going to send you back to Egypt, but the Greeks will be settling their debts on the Kalends before that ever happens!” In Rome, the Kalends was the first day of every month, but the Greeks had no such day.

When Livia sat back, Octavia smiled. “Charming as always, Livia. And every afternoon a sweet reminder of why my brother chose you for his wife.”

I risked a glance at Julia, but her eyes were fixed on the wooden loom in front of her, and for the next hour we worked in silence while the men enjoyed themselves in the river. As the heat rose and it became unbearable even in the shade, no one moved. Octavia wiped the sweat from her brow with a small square of white linen. Julia’s hair had gone limp in the heat. I thought of my brother pushing through the cool waters of the Tiber and felt a mounting anger. My mother had always given the two of us the same opportunities. If Alexander was allowed to swim, then so was I. If he had lessons in the Museion, I went with him. Nothing had ever been forbidden to me simply because I was a girl.

When the men returned, my brother had the good sense not to look too pleased. Instead, he saw me suffering in the heat and asked uneasily, “So how was the drawing?”

“Hot,” I said curtly in Parthian. “And your swim?”

“It was all right.”

I glowered at him. “I’ll bet it was better than sitting here with the Gorgon.”

“I’m sorry.” He hesitated. “I won’t go next time—”

“That’s not what I want,” I said petulantly.

He looked at Livia. “She really is a monster, isn’t she?”

“Can you imagine if we were living with her?”

My brother shivered. “Come.” He held out his hand. “Gallia’s taking us to the Circus Maximus.”

“And will I have to stand outside and watch through the arches?”

My brother chuckled. “Marcellus says anyone can go.”

“I guess women’s money is just as good as men’s.”

Julia watched us, trying to follow our conversation, and when my brother went inside the stables to change, she asked me, “How many languages can you speak?”

“Four. Plus a little Hebrew.”

“But how did you learn them?”

“I was raised with them. Like you were raised with Latin.”

“And did you study them in school?”

“Six days a week.”

Julia was thoughtful. Then she said quietly, “Sometimes, I wonder how it would be if your father’s ships had won at Actium.”

“He probably would have had you killed,” I said honestly.

“Or perhaps I would have come to Alexandria and studied in the Museion with you.”

When the men returned from the changing rooms, Octavia instructed Gallia to bring us home well before the sun set. “I want them in the villa in time to have a rest and take a bath. And don’t let Marcellus spend every last denarius, even if he’s being charitable to his guards.”

“Are you coming?” Marcellus asked Tiberius.

“To the Circus? No, thank you.”

“What?” Marcellus laughed. “You have something better to do?”

“Drusus and I are studying with Agrippa.”

“More Sallust?” I questioned.

“We finished Sallust two years ago. We’re studying Rome’s greatest generals now. My brother knows the entire history of Catiline from his career with Pompey to his revolt against the Republic.”

“So why doesn’t he study with us in the ludus?” I asked.

“He’s only nine. But even he knows that watching horses run around in a circle is a waste of time.”

As we started to walk, Julia demanded, “Why do you invite him when he’s so nasty?”

“I feel sorry for him,” Marcellus admitted.

“Well, you shouldn’t,” she said. “He’s just like his mother.”

“Only because she bullies him.”

“So what?” she exclaimed as Gallia led the way. “He allows it!”

“And what other choice does he have?”

“He can be silent.”

Marcellus made a face. “Tiberius will never be silent. His dying breath will be a complaint.”

“But why does Livia stand for it?” my brother asked. “She doesn’t stand for anything else.”

Julia and Marcellus exchanged meaningful looks.

“Because he’s her greatest hope,” Marcellus said. “She wants to see Tiberius as ruler of Rome. Even though he’d rather join the army and go off fighting the Gauls.”

“But you’re Octavian’s heir!” Alexander exclaimed. “Not Tiberius!”

“For now. But what if something should happen to me? What if I’m wounded in battle, or I fall from my horse—”

“Marcellus!” Julia cried.


“From your lips to Juno’s ear,” she reminded him. “You shouldn’t say such things.”

“Why?” He laughed dismissively. “Do you think the gods really care what we say?”

“My father says so.”

“Because that’s what he wants the plebs to think. A religious people is a people with purpose. So if the grain fails, or the aqueducts turn muddy, it can be Jupiter’s fault, not his.”

Julia hesitated. “I could believe it. Everything with my father is a show. And that’s why he’ll make you his heir, and not Tiberius. You’re willing to act.”

“You mean I’m willing to be his puppet.” When he saw that Julia was going to protest, he smiled. “I don’t mind. But it’s Alexander and Selene who need to be careful.”

We followed the Tiber past the Forum Boarium, a cattle market whose stench must have reached up to Elysium itself. Julia took a small wooden ball from her bag, pressing it to her nose and inhaling. “Here,” she said to me.

I inhaled. “What is this?”

“An amber ball. All the women use them.”

I inhaled deeply, then held my breath so that the earthy scent from inside the ball would stay with me for as long as possible. But eventually, when I had to breathe again, I coughed.

“It’s terrible, isn’t it?” Marcellus asked. “If I were Caesar, I’d move the Forum Boarium to the other side of the Tiber.”

“Is it always this crowded?” Alexander complained.

We passed a bull with pads of hay tied on its horns, and Marcellus jumped back to avoid being trampled. “Always. Even on days when there isn’t a Triumph.”

When we reached the Circus Maximus, Marcellus and Gallia paused, allowing us to look up at the concrete megalith adorned with arches and marble statuary. I had seen the Circus from the Palatine, where Octavian had built a long wooden platform on which he could overlook the games from the privacy of his villa, but I hadn’t understood just how truly great an accomplishment it was until we stood beneath the steps.

“This is one for your book of sketches,” Alexander said.

I could hear the wild excitement of the crowds inside, cheering as the chariots made their laps. Gallia fought against the heavy tide of people until we stood in front of the western gates. A man in a toga waved us through, shouting a greeting that we couldn’t make out, and we climbed a flight of narrow stairs toward Caesar’s box.

“Be careful,” Gallia warned us loudly. “There are men who crack their necks here every day.”

“Usually because they’re drunk,” Julia added.

“Or racing into the arms of one of their lupae.” Marcellus laughed, but I noticed that this time Gallia didn’t smile.

“Was that what those cubicles were for?” my brother asked. “Beneath the arches?”

Julia giggled. “The fornices. And they’re always crowded, night or day.”

When we reached the top of the stairs, the Circus Maximus slumbered beneath us like a giant in the sun. The track extended from the slopes of the Aventine to the Palatine, and all around it the seats rose in three tiers.

As soon as we reached Caesar’s box, a portly man appeared below us asking for bets.

“Over here!” Marcellus shouted, waving the bet-maker toward us.

The man puffed his way up the stairs, and I wondered how he could have such a stomach when his job demanded so much rigorous activity.

“I have seventy-five denarii,” Marcellus said.

Gallia sucked in her breath. “Domine!”

“What? It’s for Alexander and Selene as well. And Julia, if she doesn’t have any.”

But Julia tipped a handful of coins from her bag onto her palm. “I want twenty denarii on the Whites,” she said, handing them over.

“It won’t be until the next race,” the bet-maker warned.

She made a small gesture of indifference with her hand. “Doesn’t matter.”

“And for you?” The man looked at Marcellus.

“What will it be?” Marcellus turned to us. “Each team has three chariots in every race, and there’s four different teams. The Reds, the Whites, the Blues, and the Greens.”

“Which are your favorite?” Alexander asked carefully, his eyes on the horses.

“The Whites.”

“Are they better?”

Marcellus frowned. “Who knows? I always bet on the Whites.”

“But shouldn’t you bet on which drivers are most capable? Or which horses have won in previous races?”

“Who thinks of those things?” Marcellus exclaimed.

“You should, if you want to win! Look at the rider in red,” my brother said. “He’s the only one left on his team because he’s light. His horses don’t have to pull such a heavy burden, so the chariot goes faster.”

Marcellus and Julia both stared at him. “So you favor the Reds?” Marcellus asked hesitantly.

“I don’t know. I’d have to watch the races for several days to see.”

“Well, you don’t have several days,” the bet-maker said sourly. “I have other customers, so place your bets.”

“The Reds, then,” Alexander said firmly.

When Marcellus turned to me, I said, “My brother wouldn’t waste his time drawing a portico, and I won’t waste my time pretending I know horses. Whatever he says.”

“ Twenty-five on the Whites, and fifty on the Reds.” Marcellus handed a bag full of coins to the man, and I saw Gallia flinch at the sum. It was probably a hefty percentage of what she would need to purchase her freedom, if Octavia allowed it, and half of what Magister Verrius made in a year as a teacher at the ludus. But she didn’t say anything, and Marcellus went on. “I come here every day,” he said cheerfully, “and Gallia is good enough to put up with it.” She gave a weary smile, and even when she looked hot and bored, she was beautiful. “We will have to ask my mother to go to the Temple of Saturn and withdraw several bags of denarii for you both.”

“Then we will go shopping,” Julia promised me. “I’ll take you to the markets and we’ll pick out something we can wear to the theater. When my father’s here, we go once a month.” The sound of trumpets echoed in the Circus, and Julia became distracted. “The Reds are out in front, just as Alexander said!” She stood up, and while she and Marcellus shouted for the Whites to hurry, I took out my book of sketches. She looked back at me. “You’re not going to draw right now?” she exclaimed.

“Why not? There is nothing like this in Alexandria.”

“No stadia?” she shouted over the jubilation of the crowds. The charioteers were on their final lap.

“Certainly, but nothing this large.”

When the Reds won, Marcellus sat down and clapped Alexander on the back. “You know your horses, don’t you? But you think they’ll really win a second time?”

“If the Reds have the same kind of riders, I don’t see why not.” Below, the track was being cleared, and the body of a charioteer who’d fallen under the hooves of an opponent’s horses was being dragged away. A troupe of musicians appeared to entertain the crowds while the track was being smoothed, and slaves clambered toward us to pull an awning over the western section of the Circus, where the wealthy had their seats.

Julia watched as I began my sketch by drawing the long spina in the center of the track. Unlike the stadium in Alexandria, where the spina had been a plain stone barrier, the Circus had two rectangular basins filled with water. In each basin were seven bronze dolphins spouting water from their mouths, and with every completed lap, an official turned a dolphin in the opposite direction. And for those whose eyes weren’t good enough to see whether the dolphins were facing north or south, there were seven bronze eggs and a second official to take one down for every lap.

“Those were built by Agrippa,” Julia explained.

“How much has he constructed?” I asked. “It seems to be half of Rome.”

She laughed. “That’s because he’s my father’s greatest builder.”

“So he does it himself?”

“He just comes up with the ideas and the denarii. I suppose the architect Vitruvius does the drawing. Have you seen him?” she asked. “You know, he’s Octavia’s lover.”

“I saw him in the villa. How long have they been living together?”

“Since your father announced he was going to divorce her. She’d already been alone for several years.”

“Do you think she loved him?”

Julia looked at me askance. “Your father? Of course! Why do you think she raised all those legions for his eastern campaigns?”

My response was cut off by the sudden clamor of people below us. Thousands of spectators were on their feet, looking in our direction and pointing above us. “The Red Eagle!” someone next to us cried, and when I looked up, I saw that the vast gold awning that the slaves had fastened above the western end of the Circus had been painted with a bird. Its wings were spread and from its outstretched talons a pair of children were struggling to be free. I didn’t have to see the Egyptian wigs or the white diadems to know who they were supposed to be.

“That’s you,” Julia whispered, aghast.

Immediately, Gallia rose to her feet. “Go!” she shouted, and then we were moving.

“What about our bets?” Marcellus cried.

Gallia spun around. “Caesar is watching these races right now, and what do you think he’s seeing from the Palatine?”

“But how did he do it?” Marcellus marveled. He looked up at the red eagle. It was beautifully painted and had been completely hidden from view until the awning was opened.

Alexander shook his head. “He must have come during the night.”

Julia held on to my arm as we descended into the chaos. Men and women with the best seats in the Circus were rushing toward the gates before they could be accused of bearing witness to treachery. But slaves were taking up the chant of “Red Eagle,” which could be heard over the water horns of the musicians, and those who wanted the races to go on began throwing their food at the canopy.

“Hurry!” Gallia exclaimed. “Before there’s a riot and we can’t get out!” She pressed forward in the madness, and we shoved our way down the stairs onto the street. As we reached the gates, I felt someone’s hand on the bag at my side, and when I turned, the young boy who was going to steal from me held up his hands in innocent protest.

“Do it again and I’ll knife you,” I swore. He leered, and I wondered if he knew that I was bluffing.

In the streets, we could finally breathe again, but Gallia didn’t stop. Although it would have been undignified to run, that is nearly what we did all the way to the Palatine.

“Look!” Marcellus pointed. A crowd was gathering around the doors to the Temple of Jupiter, and the people stepped back when they recognized Marcellus.

“Another actum from the Red Eagle!” Julia pushed forward, despite Gallia’s objections, and read the actum aloud to us. “He’s complaining about the Triumphs,” she said, quickly reading the papyrus. “And look at this! He’s freed a hundred and fifty slaves coming from Greece.” Three sheets with the same content had been posted, and the crowd regarded them silently. “He’s also purchased the freedom of twenty children and returned them to their parents in Gaul.”

She read a short list of names, and I wondered whether it was possible that he might help me and Alexander next. He had risked his life to paint our image above the Circus, and his message had been clear. Our fate was to be the same as that of any slave who could be killed on his master’s whim. If he knew that Octavian planned to kill us, surely he would help us escape from Rome. But that would be costly. “He must be wealthy,” I observed.

“He must be brave.” Julia sighed.

A priest emerged from the temple to see what was happening and shouted angrily, “Get out of here or Caesar will hear of this!” He tore the three sheets of papyrus from his temple doors and flung them to the ground.

If you find an error or have any questions, please email us at Thank you!