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Cleopatras daughter, p.14
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       Cleopatra's Daughter, p.14

           Michelle Moran
 

  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 s
hips 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.

  “What?”

  “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.”

 
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