CHAPTER SEVEN

 ONLY A small party gathered in Octavian’s triclinium for the evening meal. Juba and Agrippa were both in attendance, and Maecenas was there with his attractive wife, Terentilla, but no one was in a particularly merry mood. Although we were at a separate table, Marcellus and Julia spoke softly, afraid their voices might arouse Octavian’s wrath.

“I don’t know why everyone’s whispering,” Tiberius said suddenly. “It’s not like this rebel hasn’t pulled pranks like this before. So he painted an awning.”

“On a day of Triumph,” Marcellus whispered. “And with another to go.”

“So what?” Tiberius asked arrogantly. “Tomorrow, Octavian will toss coins in the Circus, and the people will fight one another for them like animals and it will all be forgotten.”

We looked at Octavian, who was scribbling furiously on a scroll. The boiled capons in front of him had gone neglected, and he seemed to be eating a simple salad of rosemary flowers.

“What do you think he’s writing?” I asked nervously.

“His memoirs.”

I thought Tiberius was being sarcastic, but Marcellus nodded. “He records everything.”

“Why?” I asked.

“He thinks his heir will read his musings someday and become a better leader.”

Tiberius sniffed dismissively. “If he only knew.”

“What are you trying to say?” Marcellus demanded.

Tiberius smiled. “I think you know.”

Marcellus rose from his couch, and I was certain there were going to be blows, when a young boy rushed into the triclinium and everyone turned. With trembling hands, he held up a scroll, and Livia demanded, “What is it?”

The slave held out the missive. “Some builders found this while working on the Temple of Apollo, Domina. It’s addressed to Caesar, and has the stamp—”

Livia grabbed the scroll before the boy could finish. “Another one!” she shrieked. “Another actum!” She passed it to Octavian, and as he read, the color heightened in his cheeks. He looked at the slave, who was shaking in his sandals.

“So tell me,” he began with frightening calm, “were there witnesses to this deed?”

“No,” the boy squeaked. “When the workers arrived this afternoon, it was already nailed to the temple door.”

Octavian put down his reed pen, and the room fell silent. “Go,” he said, and the boy ran from the room as fast as his feet could carry him.

Octavian turned to Agrippa. “This man has access to the Palatine, and is someone who must not have aroused suspicion when he approached the Temple of Apollo.” He stood slowly. “So what shall we do about this, Agrippa?”

He handed the scroll to his general, who skimmed the contents. “He wants every slave in Rome to be freed.”

“That’s already been established!” Octavian shouted.

“But he must be a senator.” Agrippa read aloud from the scroll:

If you are so worried that Roman culture will change, then stop living off the backs of your slaves, and start doing work for yourselves. Or perhaps you prefer to keep watching wagon trains of a thousand Gauls roll in. Perhaps you would rather condone the slave traders with their pretty Greeks. In which case, you will soon have a Rome in which no one is Roman. You can force them to speak Latin, to wear tunics and sandals, but blood will out.

“Only someone in the Senate would have heard your speech.”

But Juba frowned. “Senators talk. It could have been anyone.”

“So why don’t we do something?” Livia demanded.

“And what should that be?” Juba raised his brows. “Stand at every temple door in Rome?”

“If that’s what needs to be done,” she cried. “Your job is to—”

“Enough!” Octavian shouted, and immediately Livia fell silent. “We have heard enough of this.” But a soldier appeared at the door, and the color rose on Octavian’s neck. “What is it?”

The soldier hesitated before crossing the triclinium. “There—there is news, Caesar. A stockpile of weapons has been discovered in the Forum Boarium. We believe they belong to a group of escaped slaves.”

Agrippa was on his feet at once. “What kind of weapons?”

“Javelins, swords, daggers, spears, bows, arrows. Plus infantry helmets, armor, and shields. And most of them new.”

Octavian looked from Juba to Agrippa. “They are planning rebellion.” He stood so quickly that his water spilled across the table. “I want every slave forbidden from purchasing weaponry anywhere in Rome!”

“But how will the merchants know—?”

“Proof of citizenship!” Octavian bellowed.

The soldier nodded quickly. “But if I may ask a question, Caesar. Where is the gold coming from for these weapons? Most of them were recently forged. If we can find the source—”

“A caravan on the way from Judea to the Temple of Saturn was attacked,” Agrippa said. “The gold must have been used to buy weaponry.”

Octavian put his hand to his forehead and rubbed his temples with his forefinger and thumb. The triclinium went silent. Even Livia held her tongue. “You are dismissed.” The soldier didn’t need to be told twice; like the boy who had brought in the actum, he swiftly disappeared. Octavian turned to Juba. “Take us to your villa. I want to see the new statues. This meal is finished,” he announced.

Juba stood up from his couch, and everyone rose, leaving their food whether or not they were finished. We followed him through the triclinium, and once we were outside he led us along the hill to a villa that was perched in a grove of ancient oaks. The shutters of his house were painted green, and the double doors were studded with bronze.

“Juba must be extremely wealthy,” I whispered.

Julia nodded. “He earned it himself.”

“Through his writing?”

“And antiques,” Marcellus added. “My mother pays him to find authentic statues from Greece, and he probably has other clients.”

Juba held open the doors for us, and inside, the flooring was opus signinum, made from small fragments of tiles and amphorae painstakingly embedded in clay. Wicker partitions divided some of the rooms, and as we walked through the villa I noticed that the couches were carved into fantastical shapes of every kind: gryphons and sea serpents, Gorgons and Sirens. It was the house of a man who had traveled extensively.

“Is that a Grecian Nike?” Tiberius asked as we passed through the atrium.

Juba smiled. “From the sculptor Phidias himself.”

Octavian paused at several niches to admire the statues that Juba had found. Each time, he ran his hand over the marble, caressing a hand, an arm, the curve of a shoulder. When we reached the library, slaves rushed to light the oil lamps placed in tall candelabra, and the soft glow cast nearly a hundred statues in a warm golden light.

“Magnificent,” Octavia murmured.

“Where does he get them all?” my brother asked Marcellus.

“I travel throughout Rome looking for sellers,” Juba replied, having overheard my brother’s question. “And if I can’t find the right statue, I will go to Greece.”

Each of the statues was numbered, and all of them had small bronze plates at the base giving their names and where they were discovered. Octavian busied himself on the other side of the room, showing Livia and Octavia his favorites.

“Look at this one!” Julia exclaimed, pointing to an image of the goddess Aphrodite.

“She looks like you,” Marcellus said. It was true. The sculptor had chosen a model with rich black hair and eyes as dark and soft as twilight. All of the statues were painted, and only a few, whose paint had rubbed off after years of neglect, were flawless white marble.

“Let’s find one that looks like you,” Julia said eagerly, taking his arm, and they visited half a dozen statues before Julia decided that Marcellus looked like Apollo.

“We should come here more often,” Julia exclaimed. “I enjoy Grecian statues.”

“Of course you do,” Tiberius said nastily. “They speak to your vanity.”

“Well, perhaps we should pick one that looks like you. How about this?” She pointed to a hideous statue of a Gorgon, and Marcellus laughed.

“I think you’re being too generous,” he said.

I snickered, and Tiberius shot me a withering look. “You lower yourself with them.”

Across the library, Octavian regarded a statue of Jupiter. The god’s symbol was an eagle, and the proud bird perched on his marble shoulder. Octavian traced its beak with his finger.

“We will find him,” I heard Juba promise sternly.

Octavian looked up into the bird’s black eyes. “I know. And when we do, we will crucify him.”

When we returned to Octavia’s villa, Alexander and I pressed our ears against the wall of our chamber, listening to Octavia interrogate Marcellus.

“I want to know where you were while everyone else in this villa was asleep this afternoon!”

“I went for a walk,” Marcellus swore. “Down the hill,” he added, “around the Temple of Apollo.”

“Exactly where the Red Eagle’s note was found.”

“Mother,” he implored, “all I did was walk.”

“Without an escort? Without telling anyone?” she challenged. “The temple priest says he’s certain he saw a flaxen-haired man post the actum. How many men on this hill have such light hair?”

“Your brother!” he cried. “And almost every slave!”

“And do they have access to a temple next to Caesar’s villa?”

“Perhaps they snuck in and left him the message. Or perhaps it’s one of the workers themselves. Mother,” he protested, “you don’t really believe—?”

“Why not? I see you with Gallia. She’s beautiful. Perhaps you feel sorry for her.”

“Of course I feel sorry. But to betray my uncle?”

There was silence in the next room, and when I went to speak, Alexander shook his head. Octavia’s reply was soft. “You are idealistic and rash. But I shall hope you are not so rash as that, Marcellus.”

“I promise you, Mother, I’m not the Red Eagle. Look at his writing.”

“Gallia can write. Perhaps you are posting her words.”

“And risking everything? Do you know what Octavian would do—?”

“I know exactly what he’d do, even if he discovered it was you. And there would be no mercy.”

“I wouldn’t need it. I know nothing about this. All I did was go for a walk.”

“Then that was your last walk alone,” she said darkly.

We heard the door open and scrambled away from the wall.

I looked at Alexander. “Do you really think it could be Marcellus?”

“You heard him. Why would he risk his position as Caesar’s heir? He could just as easily wait to become Caesar and change the laws, if that’s what he wanted.”

I sat against the back of my couch and drew up my knees. “Then Gallia?”

“It’s possible. She has every reason, and if Octavia already suspects her….”

The next morning, I watched Gallia as she carefully laid out a fresh tunic on my couch, and I wondered if those same delicate hands were responsible for crafting the rebellious acta. I noticed my brother watching her, too, moving more slowly than usual with his toga and sandals.

“What is this?” Gallia asked in frustration. “Do I have to dress the both of you myself? Domina, the architect is waiting for you!”

“It’s Selene and Alexander. Not Domini.”

When I shoved my diadem back on my brow, she moved to arrange it tenderly among my curls. “Thank you,” she said quietly.

“You are a princess as much as I am,” I replied.

“Not anymore.” She pressed her lips together.

I would have argued with her, but Octavia appeared in the doorway and waited with her hands on her hips while I fetched my book of sketches. “I’m coming,” I promised, and followed her into the atrium. “Do you think Vitruvius will agree to tutor me?”

“I don’t know,” she said truthfully. “He’s a very busy man who’s never taken a single apprentice. But we can try.” She guided me into the library, where neatly labeled scrolls rose to the ceiling on polished cedar shelves. The architect Vitruvius was already waiting, sitting behind a table with his hands folded in front of him, contemplating the drawing I had given to Octavian. When he heard us approach, his chin jerked up, and his eyes fixed on my book of sketches.

“So you are Selene,” he said, regarding me with his sharp, dark eyes. “And I hear you like to draw.” His tone was bemused.

“Just look at what she’s already done,” Octavia said. “She has talent. Even my brother thinks so.”

I looked at Vitruvius, with his lean face and angular jaw, and wondered what he was thinking.

“Let me see your sketches,” he said at last.

I gave him my book, and he quietly flipped through it. He studied each page with a critical gaze, pausing the longest over the drawing of my mother’s mausoleum. Slowly, he held it up to the light, then lowered it again so that he could question me. “Is this in Alexandria?”

“Yes. Near the Temple of Isis and Serapis.”

He nodded. “She can draw,” he said thoughtfully. “But so can many others. What exactly do you want me to do?”

“Tutor her,” Octavia replied.

“In what?”

“Architecture.”

“A girl?” I thought he was going to laugh, but he glanced at my face and asked soberly, “What does she need with architecture?”

“The same thing my mother needed with eight languages,” I replied boldly. “She commanded the best diplomats in the world, but she refused to leave anything to someone else that she could do better herself.”

“And what do you hope to do better yourself?” Vitruvius raised his brows.

“Build.”

He leaned back. “Where?”

I glanced at Octavia, who nodded encouragingly. “Thebes. It was my mother’s dream,” I explained. “I know what her plans were for it,” I said quickly. “The entire city was destroyed by Ptolemy IX. But if my brother ever returns to Egypt, I could go with him and build a new Thebes.”

Vitruvius looked at Octavia. “You know that Caesar will never allow it.”

“He may change his mind.”

But Vitruvius shook his head. “He will marry her off, and if she’s lucky, Livia will not have a say in it.”

“You mean, Livia may decide—?”

“She’s my brother’s wife,” Octavia cut me off. “Anything’s possible. Which is why you must train her, Vitruvius. Show my brother that she has use beyond being some old senator’s wife. You can make her your apprentice.”

Vitruvius laughed.

“Why not?” she exclaimed. “When Octavian showed you her sketch of Alexandria you said it was inspired.”

“It’s true. She has a gift. But what does she know about architecture?”

“You can teach me,” I said. “I already know every type of tool that’s used in building, and every architectural style from Egypt to Greece.”

Vitruvius shook his head. “Building sites are no place for a princess.”

“Then take me with you in the mornings when you leave to do your inspections.”

“Your son has no interest in architecture,” Octavia pointed out.

The color rose in Vitruvius’s cheeks. “Yes,” he said bitterly. “He wants to be a lover and a poet!”

“Then share your knowledge with me.”

Vitruvius sat forward in his chair, and Octavia said persuasively, “My brother wants a mausoleum like Queen Kleopatra’s. Selene has probably sketched it a dozen times. At least give her the chance to help you with this.”

Vitruvius regarded me in silence. Then finally he said, “Tomorrow at dawn. Meet me in this library.”

I clapped my hands.

“We will begin with Caesar’s mausoleum, and if I’m satisfied with your progress, I may teach you to build.”

“Thank you. Thank you!”

Octavia smiled. “Go. Or you’ll be late to the ludus.”

I met Alexander and Marcellus on the portico and told them what had happened. And when Julia and Tiberius met us on the road, Marcellus said proudly, “Did you hear? Vitruvius wants to train Selene as an architect.”

“Oh, I’m not sure he wants to,” I amended hastily. “It was Octavia’s idea. She pressured him.”

Julia stared at me. “Why would she do that for you?”

“To give me something to do,” I said awkwardly.

“It’s more than that,” Marcellus protested. “She likes you.” I saw Julia’s back straighten. “You’re the half sister to her daughters, after all.”

But it was strange to think of ten-year-old Antonia and seven-year-old Tonia as my siblings.

“They’re not much like us, are they?” Alexander asked. We followed Gallia through the crowded streets toward the Forum. It was the last day of Octavian’s Triumph.

“No, they’re quiet,” Marcellus reflected.

“And charitable,” Tiberius added.

“I’m charitable,” Marcellus protested. “I give in the Circus all the time.”

My brother laughed. “And the bet-makers are thankful for it. Will we go again today?”

“Of course.”

“Your mother had Gallia give me several denarii.” Alexander patted a small leather bag at his side.

“You didn’t tell me that!” I said.

Alexander looked sheepishly at me. “Because you were with Vitruvius.”

“And he really wants to teach you?” Julia asked suspiciously.

“Your father wants an Egyptian mausoleum. Octavia convinced him that maybe I can help.”

Julia was quiet for several moments, and I wondered whether she was jealous. “I’ve heard that Alexandria is beautiful,” she said at last.

“The most magnificent city in the world.”

“Greater than Rome?”

I hesitated. “It was three hundred years in the making,” I said carefully. “All marble buildings perched above the sea.”

“And your mother? Was she as beautiful as they say?”

I blinked rapidly, so that I wouldn’t cry as we approached the ludus. “She wasn’t a traditional beauty,” I explained. “It was her mind.” Julia frowned. She didn’t understand that a mind could be beautiful. “And her voice. It drew men from every corner of the world.”

“Like the Sirens,” Julia whispered. “I’ve seen her image in the Temple of Venus and wondered if that’s what she was really like.”

Alexander and I stopped walking.

“What image?” my brother asked.

“Her statue in Julius Caesar’s Forum.”

“And it’s still there?”

Julia regarded him with a puzzled expression. “Of course. Where else would it be?”

“But why didn’t your father tear it down?” I asked.

“The statue of a queen?” Julia was shocked. “Because she was loved by Julius.”

I glanced at my brother. “So all of Octavian’s rage against her was a lie,” I said in Parthian. “Just a piece of theater so that Rome would stand against her.”

He turned to Julia. “Do you think we can see it?”

“I don’t see why not. We can go after the exercises on the Campus.”

We studied Homer’s Odyssey that morning, reciting passages about Odysseus’s travels on the wine-dark sea guarded by gray-eyed Athena. When we were finished, Gallia took us back to the Campus Martius, deftly navigating through the excited masses who were waiting for the last victory parade. On the marble portico in front of the stables, Juba and Agrippa were seated next to Octavian, who was showing his sister his plans for a series of buildings. I took a chair next to Antonia, and Livia was silent when I reached for my sketches.

“These are the plans for the aqueduct in Naples,” Octavian was saying, “and this is the one for the Forum.”

Octavia smiled. “And did Vitruvius give you the plans for my building?” she asked.

Her brother unfurled a scroll at his side. “The restoration of the old Portico Metelli,” he said with relish, “now to be known as the Portico of Octavia, with three hundred new columns and two temples inside.”

“I want there to be a public library within, as well.”

Octavian took notes. “Good. Very good,” he added. “The plebs will like a library. What else?”

“Perhaps a schola.”

Livia’s cheeks grew flushed, and she put down her weaving. “Perhaps I should build a portico as well,” she said. “What do you think?”

“That would be a grand gesture,” Agrippa remarked, but it was Octavian’s approval that Livia wanted.

“Shall I fund my own building?” Livia asked him.

Octavian peered out from under his hat. “Rome would be grateful for your generosity. But do you have enough time—?”

“Of course,” she said swiftly. “For Rome, there is always time.”

Octavian regarded her with fondness. “I am lucky in the women who surround me,” he said quietly, and Julia rolled her eyes at me. “I will make the notes and Vitruvius will hire the men next month.” He stood, and everyone who was riding rushed to follow him into the stables.

When he was gone, Livia smiled. “A pair of porticoes,” she said to Octavia.

“How generous of you.”

She raised her brows. “The money has to go somewhere. In Gaul, your brother gave me copper mines. And in Judea, entire estates of palm groves. And do you know what he’s giving me in Egypt?”

“A temple?”

Livia narrowed her eyes. “Why would I want that? There’s no money to be made from a temple.”

“Of course.” Octavia smiled. “It’s all about money.”

Livia laughed. “Oh, I see your charity in the Subura. You think you aren’t paid for that with smiles, and respect, and women who scrape the floor to kiss your feet?”

“No one has ever kissed my mother’s feet!” Antonia exclaimed, and everyone looked at her in shock. Even Vipsania, who was always giggling, covered her mouth.

“It’s still payment,” Livia said icily. “I just like my payment to be worth something.”

“You are a crass woman,” Octavia said.

“A crass woman with papyrus marshes. Dozens of them.” She grinned. “And there’s nothing half as profitable in the east as papyrus. Octavian is giving me my choice of fields. Perhaps Selene will help me choose the most valuable.”

“That’s enough!” Octavia stood, and for a moment I wondered if she was going to strike her. “Gallia, you may take Julia and Selene shopping. Return here before the exercises are over.”

Julia rose swiftly, amazed at her good fortune.

“You may take Selene,” Livia said, “but Julia is not going.”

“Julia is my niece,” Octavia said. “She is no blood relative of yours, and if I say she may shop, then she will shop. And if you make her life difficult for this, or I hear that you’ve punished her for obeying me, then my brother will hear of it.”

Livia’s eyes flashed, but she didn’t move, and Julia took my arm. Gallia rushed us away from the Campus, and as soon as we were out of earshot, I whispered, “How do you live with her?”

“She’s too busy watching Terentilla to notice me,” Julia answered.

I looked at Gallia. “Thank you.”

“It was Domina’s wish,” she said humbly. “I am only your escort.”

“May we go by the Temple of Venus?” Julia asked. “Selene would like to see the statue of her mother.”

“It is more than fifteen years old,” Gallia warned.

“I’ll still recognize her,” I promised, but when we reached the end of Caesar’s Forum and entered the Temple of Venus Genetrix, Gallia saw my confusion and smiled.

“Can you find her?”

Inside the cool marble halls, priestesses stood guard over the temple’s works of art. There was a statue of Julius Caesar that was unmistakable, since Caesarion had looked so much like him, and a statue of Venus half-dressed in linen. I skipped the collection of sparkling gems, although this was what caught Julia’s eye, and I passed over a stunning metal breastplate adorned with pearls from Britannia. I went from statue to statue, and it was only by the Alexandrian diadem in her hair that I finally recognized her. “Is this it?” I gasped.

“Kleopatra of Egypt,” Gallia replied.

Julia came to my side and asked eagerly, “Is that what she looked like?”

I studied the woman’s heavy breasts, her long Roman nose, and her pointed chin, then shook my head sadly. “No.” I could see that Julia was disappointed. “My mother was much thinner,” I told her. “With hands that were even smaller than mine.”

“Really? What about her face?”

Although the lips were correct, and the rich amber hue of her eyes, everything else was wrong. “She was plainer,” I admitted. “And her nose …” I hesitated. “It was different.”

“So Caesar did love her for more than her beauty.”

I nodded. “She could speak many languages. Egyptian, Ethiopian, Hebrew, Aramaic, Syrian, Median, Parthian….”

“Latin,” Julia put in.

“Of course. And she lived very well.”

“Is it true, what they say about her drinking the pearl?”

I thought of the story my mother had often told to Alexander and me about her second meeting with our father. In an attempt to impress him with her wealth, she had promised him the most expensive feast ever consumed. When he arrived, there was a single goblet of wine on the table. She dropped her largest pearl into the goblet, and when the pearl dissolved she proceeded to drink the wine. I smiled sadly, remembering how my mother could be mischievous. “Yes. The pearl story was true.”

“I wish my mother were so well known.”

“Is she still alive?”

Julia tensed. “Somewhere,” she said curtly, and didn’t elaborate. “I heard that your mother showed you how to use eye paints. Do you think if Gallia takes us to the shops, you could show me, too?”

“Domina Livia would not like that,” Gallia warned.

“But we can do it in secret,” Julia promised. “Please,” she begged. “We never have any fun.”

Gallia hesitated, and in that moment she was lost.

“Come!” Julia exclaimed. “We’ll go to the street of the Etruscans.”

“Is that where Egyptian goods are?”

“That’s where everything is!”

Gallia dutifully led the way, and I wondered what the soldiers guarding us thought when they were forced to linger outside a shop for Egyptian aphrodisiacs and painted beads.

“These were what we used for our hair,” I explained. “But only on days when there were official ceremonies.”

Julia put her hands in the box of beads, enjoying the feel of the small faience trinkets as they ran though her fingers. “How many would we need?”

“For your hair? You’re not really going to use them?”

“Why not?” She grinned. “Tomorrow, we’re all going to the theater. Before we leave, I can come over, and you can put them in.”

“Livia will never allow it, and neither will Octavia.”

“Who cares what they think?” she asked merrily. “We’ll take them out before anyone can see.” When I hesitated, she gestured to the shopkeeper excitedly. “The entire box!”

“E-everything, Domina?” the old man stammered.

“Yes. Just hurry. You may send the bill to my father.”

He didn’t have to ask who her father was.

“Where shall we go next?” she asked eagerly, handing the purchase to Gallia. “I want to look just like a princess.”

“You are a princess.”

“A real one.” There was envy in her eyes. “With paints and silk tunics and all the things that women should wear if not for Livia. She’s just jealous, you know.” I followed her down the streets as she searched for an Egyptian cosmetics shop. “She wants everyone to be as plain and ugly as she is.”

I noticed that Gallia kept silent, though secretly I was sure she agreed. “What about this shop?” Gallia asked.

“Are there paints?”

“Of every color.”

We went inside, and Julia wanted a name for everything. Suddenly I knew how Marcellus must have felt when we were riding into Rome and my brother and I had asked him question after question.

Julia held up a jar of ochre.

“For the lips,” I said. “Sometimes for the cheeks.”

She placed the jar on the counter. “What about something for the eyes? Like Terentilla.”

“Domina!” Gallia gasped. “Terentilla is—”

“A whore? I know,” she said brightly.

“But she’s married to Maecenas,” I protested. “How could she be—?”

“She was an actress. And we all know there’s not much difference between an actress and a lupa. But my father arranged their marriage.”

“To one of his closest friends? How can he—?”

“Oh, Maecenas isn’t interested in women. But he needed a wife, and my father needed an excuse for her to be near him.”

“Then why not marry her himself?” I asked.

“Terentilla? Because she doesn’t have a clan.”

“None at all?”

“Oh, I’m sure she has some clan. But they have no power to speak of. So what would he gain? But she’s beautiful, isn’t she? What do you think she uses for her eyes?”

I glanced warily at Gallia, whose look was disapproving. “Malachite,” I said slowly, “with antimony to line them.”

Julia gathered her purchases on the counter, and when the old man gave a total, Gallia exclaimed, “Nonsense! You are trying to overcharge.”

“So what?” Julia said. “My father has plenty of denarii to give him.”

Outside the shop, Julia passed her purchases to Gallia, who shook her head with deep misgivings. “We should hurry, Domina. The exercises will be over soon.”

“But what about Selene?” She turned to me. “Isn’t there anything you want to shop for?”

“I can’t. Alexander has our money.”

She waved her hand in the air. “You can send the bill to my father. He’ll never know who bought it.”

I smiled. “Perhaps in a few weeks I’ll get some new reed pens and ink.”

“That’s it?” Julia wrinkled her nose, but even when she made such an unbecoming gesture, she was beautiful. A hundred women were walking around us, but men’s eyes still lingered hotly in her direction. “What about the theater?” she demanded. “What will you wear?”

“Whatever Octavia gives me.”

Julia shook her head. “Absolutely not. We both need new tunics.”

“Domina!” Gallia protested faintly. “There is no time for that.”

“Then we’ll just purchase the fabric! No fittings,” she promised, and disappeared into the next shop before Gallia could protest further. Inside, bolts of beautiful cloth shimmered in the afternoon light. Silks in peacock blue, celadon green, and pewter gray were laid out among plainer fabrics of every hue. Julia held up a swath of gold silk against my skin. “This would be beautiful.”

“Domina Livia will never accept it,” Gallia warned.

“Livia doesn’t accept anything.” She glanced wickedly at me. “Let’s get it anyway. What can she do once we buy it?”

“She’ll take it back! An entire tunic of gold is not for the theater. And if Domina Octavia is offended, it will be the end of your shopping trips,” Gallia advised.

Julia hesitated. “Fine. Then this one.” She chose a bolt of violet silk that would go nicely with her dark skin, and while she arranged with the shopkeeper where to send the bill, I studied the riot of colors on display. Perhaps I should begin to add color to my drawings, I thought. Jars of red ochre and dazzling azurite were sitting entirely useless in my chests. I wasn’t allowed to wear them on my face, so why not use them as additions to my sketches?

As we left the shop, Gallia said sternly, “This is it. No more shopping anywhere. Understand?”

“Yes,” Julia said with a hint of mockery. We followed Gallia through the Forum Holitorium, where vegetables were being sold in stalls along the Tiber, and Julia babbled gaily about how I was going to dress her hair, and which colors would go best with her eyes. “Violet,” she decided, “to match our new tunics. I’ll have our tailor make them tonight, and tomorrow, when I come over we can—”

I stopped.

Julia looked behind her. “What’s the matter?”

In front of a towering column of the Forum, painted with graffiti and splattered with birds’ droppings, dozens of infants were lying in baskets. Some of them were wailing pitifully, others were holding up their arms to mothers who would never come. “What are these children doing here?” I cried.

“They’re foundlings.” Julia made to keep walking, but I remained. “You know,” she said in exasperation, “children who aren’t wanted.”

I looked to Gallia, who nodded sadly.

“You mean, they’re just left here, to die?”

Julia shifted uneasily. “There are wet nurses,” she pointed out. “That’s why they call this the Columna Lactaria.”

“But only some of the children are being fed!”

“Of course. How many wet nurses do you think there are who have nothing better to do with their day?”

I stared at the tired women who were leaning in the shade and doing their best to feed the crying infants. “But what about the others?” I asked.

“They die. They aren’t wanted, Selene.”

Gallia saw my look of horror, and added, “Not all of them. Some are taken as slaves, and others will go to lupanaria.”

“So how is that any better than death?”

Gallia said quietly, “Even in the most wretched life, there’s hope.”

Nothing like the Columna Lactaria existed in Egypt. There were herbs for women who wanted to be rid of pregnancies that happened while their husbands were at sea, and there were childless couples who were willing to adopt from unmarried mothers. Gallia took my arm and steered me away, but that evening, I couldn’t stop thinking about the abandoned children.

“What’s the matter with you?” Alexander asked testily. “You’re supposed to be helping me with Homer.”

I put away my schoolwork and took out my sketch book. I wasn’t in the mood for the Iliad.

“Selene, how am I supposed to do this alone?”

“You’ll manage. It’s not like we haven’t read it all before in the Museion,” I said flatly.

My brother stared at me. “Is this about the foundlings? Julia told me—”

“What?” I snapped. “That she didn’t look twice in their direction?”

Alexander held up his hands in a gesture for peace. “I didn’t know.”

“Well, you should. It was terrible, Alexander.” I blinked back my tears.

“There were children in baskets?” he asked.

“Everywhere. Just left out to die.”

“Surely not all of them—?”

“No. Some of them become slaves. And the unlucky ones end up in a lupanar.”

“The Romans have strange laws, don’t they?” he whispered.

There was a knock on the door, and I said angrily, “Let’s just pretend we’re asleep.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. There are two oil lamps burning.” He rose from his couch and opened the door. “Antonia,” he said in surprise.

She looked down at her sandals. Even for a small girl, her feet were tiny. “May I come in?” she asked. When Alexander scanned the hall behind her, she explained, “My brother is not allowed to leave his room tonight.”

Alexander stepped aside, and Antonia entered and looked around our chamber.

“Not much like Egypt, is it?”

“Better than prison,” Alexander replied.

She smiled fleetingly, and her eyes came to rest on me. “I heard you saw the Columna Lactaria today.” When I frowned, Antonia went on. “Gallia told me. My mother and I go every day to help them. She pays new mothers to suckle the infants.”

“So that’s why they do it?” I left my couch and sat on one of the embroidered chairs, indicating that Antonia should do the same.

She seated herself and nodded. “Yes. Some do it out of pity because they’ve just lost children of their own. But most of the women have their own babies, and they do it for the denarii.” She looked at me, and I had the strange sensation that she was trying to read my face. “Was our father charitable?” she asked quietly.

I glanced at Alexander.

“If that means emptying the treasury for his friends,” he said wryly, seating himself across from her on a chair.

Antonia looked at me, and when I offered no reversal, she pressed, “So he didn’t help the poor?”

“Only if they were part of his army. But he built villas,” I said. “Spectacular villas along the coast.” I could see she wasn’t satisfied with this, and I added, “He was passionate. He loved to gamble, and race horses, and make friends.”

“So the two of you are more like him than I am,” she said, and there was the hint of resignation in her voice.

I cast around for something else to talk about. “So why don’t you study with us in the ludus?”

Antonia regarded me with her light eyes. “Because I study with my mother by doing charity work.”

“But what do you learn?”

“More than I would by shopping with Julia,” she said softly.

Alexander laughed, but I tensed at the rebuke.

“Oh, I’m not surprised.” Antonia waved her hand. “Everyone wants to be with her. She’s Caesar’s daughter. But my mother is as good a teacher as Magister Verrius. And when we aren’t reciting poetry together, we’re giving out bread in the Subura.”

My brother frowned. “And you like it?”

“Of course.”

“So why does Marcellus go to the ludus?” I asked.

“Because he will be Caesar’s heir. If he doesn’t ruin it for himself,” she added.

Alexander leaned forward. “You mean the Red Eagle?”

Antonia looked over her shoulder.

“We won’t say anything,” I promised readily.

Antonia hesitated. “Yes.”

“But do you really think he could be the rebel?” I exclaimed.

Antonia shook her head, and the ringlets that made her seem so young bounced over her shoulders. “No. He’s too rash. What interests him one day bores him the next. He doesn’t have the patience to make so many plans.”

“But you think he could be helping him,” my brother prompted.

Antonia looked down at her small, painted nails. “My mother says he is idealistic. Anything is possible. But even the mention of rebellion, and our uncle would send him to the island of Pandataria. If he was lucky.”

“Is that a punishment?” my brother asked.

She looked at him as though she couldn’t believe he’d never heard of it. “Yes. Hundreds of men—and women—have been sent to islands to starve, to scrape in the dirt or support themselves by diving for sponges. It’s better than being told to open your wrists,” she whispered, “and that’s what my mother says will happen to anyone who isn’t useful to my uncle. Men, women, senators, matrons. Look at your parents.”

“Our mother died with the bite of a cobra,” I said sternly.

“It’s still suicide. Livia’s father, my mother’s father, they were all forced to commit suicide. It’s how your life ends in Rome,” she said. “Unless you learn to be helpful in some way.”

“And how will you help?”

“I will marry who I’m told to for the good of Rome and be happy with it.”

“Even if you don’t love him?” I exclaimed.

“Of course.” Antonia watched us with her wide eyes, and when neither of us said anything, she added, “I hope you won’t repeat anything I’ve said.”

“Of course not.” Alexander’s voice was firm, and when Antonia stood to go, he asked quietly, “Is this a warning?”

I could see her cheeks redden even in the low light of our chamber. “I wasn’t sent by anyone.”

“But this is your way of warning us,” he said.

Her silence was as good as a yes.

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