Cleopatra's Daughter, p.15Michelle Moran
“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.
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.
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 stockpi
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?”
“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.
“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.
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.”
Cleopatra's Daughter by Michelle Moran / Romance & Love have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes