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Cleopatras daughter, p.12
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       Cleopatra's Daughter, p.12

           Michelle Moran
 

  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.

  “Why?”

  “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 q
uestions 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.”

 
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