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Cleopatras daughter, p.19
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       Cleopatra's Daughter, p.19

           Michelle Moran
 

  My heart sank. I would have happily gone anywhere in Rome. But why did it have to be to Juba’s villa? There were a hundred slaves who might have delivered this gift for her, even Gallia, once she returned, and I wondered why Octavia was choosing me. She placed the marble bust in my arms, and because it was smaller than all of the others, it wasn’t heavy. She guided me to the door. Although it was dark, the road was lit by hundreds of torches as soldiers patrolled up and down the hill. When I hesitated, she explained, “My brother’s men are everywhere. The Palatine is safe.”

  A few of the soldiers nodded in my direction, and I recognized some of them as the guards who followed us to the ludus and back every morning. When I knocked on the door of Juba’s villa, the slave who answered glared down at me. He was an older man, with thick hair that had completely silvered, and his face was distinguished.

  “Yes?” he demanded.

  “I have come with a gift.”

  “Dominus does not wish to see anyone right now.”

  “But I come from Octavia.” I craned my neck to see inside, and when I tried to step around him, he moved to block my entry.

  “No one enters this house tonight.”

  “I am coming from Octavia with a bust of Juba’s father! What’s the matter with you?”

  Suddenly, Juba appeared behind him, and the man shook his head in frustration. “She will not listen, Domine.”

  “I’m not surprised, Sergius. She rarely listens to anyone,” Juba replied.

  Sergius pursed his lips, as if he was personally offended by this, and I purposefully stepped around him. “I have come with a gift.” I raised my chin.

  “So I see. And who am I to thank for this?” Juba asked, taking the bust of his father and passing it carelessly to Sergius.

  “Octavia,” I said, “and she did not give this lightly. Aren’t you even going to look at it?”

  “I know what it is. A marble of Juba I, King of Numidia.”

  “And aren’t you grateful to have a portrait of your father?”

  Juba smiled. “Exceptionally grateful. Please relay all of the thanks you so clearly feel on my behalf.” He motioned to the slave to shut the door, but as he stepped away I looked across the atrium, and through the open doors of the library I could see tables upon tables covered in scrolls.

  “What are those?” I whispered.

  Juba looked behind him, and I was sure I saw his face grow a little pale.

  I stepped inside, and this time, neither man made to block my way. “Perhaps you aren’t thankful because you have something to hide.”

  “Nonsense!” Sergius said angrily, but Juba raised his brows.

  “Wait. Let’s hear what she thinks I am hiding.”

  The two men looked down at me. One was a prince, the other a slave, but both of them were larger, much more powerful than I. “Nothing,” I said hastily.

  But Juba held out his arm so that I couldn’t move, and his black eyes held mine in a piercing glare. “You looked into my library and announced that I was hiding something. Sergius, why don’t you show the princess inside?”

  Sergius sighed audibly, then took my arm and guided me across the atrium. In the library, the tables were filled with scrolls, just as I had seen, but on every table was a different colored map. “Dominus is writing a history of the world,” he said. “Are you happy now?”

  Juba stood behind me, and I could feel his eyes boring into my back. “There it is. All of my secrets laid out before you. What’s the matter, Selene? Were you expecting something else?”

  “Not at all,” I lied, and my gaze fell upon a map of Egypt. “I’m simply wondering why you’ve added a temple next to the theater of Alexandria when there isn’t any,” I said smugly.

  But Juba smiled. “Perhaps there wasn’t one before, but there’s going to be one now.”

  I glanced back at the map. “Next to the theater?” I cried.

  “That is Caesar’s wish. Now, if you’ll excuse me,” he said, “I have secrets to attend to.”

  When I returned to the villa, I didn’t see Octavia, but Marcellus and Alexander rose from their chairs as soon as I entered my chamber. I was surprised to see they were both still up.

  “Where have you been?” Alexander exclaimed, and the oil lamps flickered in his wake.

  “Octavia wanted me to deliver a statue.”

  “To Juba?” Marcellus guessed. “She’s been meaning to give him his father’s bust for years, but she couldn’t part with it. It’s a very rare statue, by a sculptor who made very few pieces in his life.”

  “And it belonged to Juba?”

  Marcellus nodded. “He was brought to Rome when he was two or three. So up until then, I suppose it was his.”

  “But why would Octavia send you?” Alexander asked.

  “I don’t know,” I said defensively, sitting down on my couch and opening my book to an empty page. “Perhaps it was a punishment.”

  Marcellus laughed. “After tonight? I doubt it. Why? Was he in a foul mood?”

  “Isn’t he always? He was working on his history of the world.”

  “He wants to create a complete history of every kingdom,” Marcellus explained. “Chart their lands, record their languages, study their people. Perhaps she sent you because she thought it would mean more.”

  I drew up my knees and blushed at the thought that I’d been willing to believe that Juba was the Red Eagle. Everything belongs to Caesar, he’d told me. Especially him. He would be the last person on the Palatine to betray Rome. Even Agrippa would defy Octavian before Juba would. But I didn’t want to think about him anymore. While Marcellus and Alexander whispered over candelight about what had happened in the theater, I took out my ink and stylus and sketched a two-storied building instead. I added frescoed walls and mosaic flooring, and enough rooms to shelter more than three hundred children. When Marcellus stood up to go, he leaned over my shoulder.

  “What are you drawing?”

  “A building.”

  “May I see?”

  I held out my sketch. From the outside, it was just like any other building. But the images I had drawn for the chambers inside should have made it clear what it was supposed to be.

  “An inn?” he asked uncertainly. “But why would an inn need so many beds?”

  Alexander peered over his shoulder and asked, “Is this for the foundlings?”

  I took my sketch from Marcellus’s hands. “They can’t just be left beneath the Columna Lactaria! Think how many must die of exposure. It’s a terrible practice.”

  “It is.” Marcellus nodded. “But how would it help to shelter them in a building?”

  “Adoptions could be arranged.”

  “And the ones who aren’t adopted?” he asked.

  “Then they can be given to the temples and raised as akolouthoi.”

  Marcellus frowned.

  “Helpers,” my brother said.

  “And eventually priests and priestesses,” I added.

  Marcellus studied me, and the tenderness in his eyes made my heart beat faster. “It’s a wonderful idea, Selene. And if I ever become Caesar, I will see that it’s done.”

  “Really?”

  “Why not? You’re like my mother,” he said. “You only want what’s best for people.” He opened the door to leave, and I was surprised that Octavia hadn’t already come in and sent us to bed. Perhaps she was with her brother or Vitruvius.

  When Marcellus left, Alexander looked sternly at me. “Don’t think it. He’s meant for Julia, Selene.”

  “I’m not thinking anything!”

  “Yes, you were. And you might as well stop it.”

  He blew out the lamp and fell asleep. But I was still awake when a window slowly opened next door. There was a dull thud as something hit the ground outside. I raced to our balcony and threw back the curtains in time to see Marcellus disappearing into the darkness. What could he be thinking, with so many of his father’s guards outside? Perhaps they were in his pay. So far as I kn
ew, word had never reached Octavian about our trip to the Temple of Isis or what Marcellus had told the centurion. But I wondered where he could be going that was worth the risk.

  When I entered the library the next morning, Vitruvius studied me with an interested gaze.

  “I hear you saved Caesar’s life yesterday.”

  Heat crept into my cheeks. “It was Juba who saved him.”

  “But you sounded the alarm. You are very quick. And that’s why someone as sharp as you will be able to understand this.” He unfurled a long scroll and laid it on the table in front of me.

  “Octavian’s mausoleum,” I said.

  Vitruvius nodded.

  Octavian had wanted something as impressive as my mother’s tomb in Alexandria, with tall marble columns and a towering dome. But even though the sketch had a similar dome and the mausoleum was surrounded by a round columned portico, the building lacked the grandness of my mother’s mausoleum. It was raised above the ground on a circular platform that would probably be made of limestone, with a flight of steps sweeping from the bottom to the top. The stairs were flanked by a pair of red granite obelisks, and although there was simple elegance to it, no one would ever stop in amazement as people had done in Alexandria. I looked up from the sketch to Vitruvius and guessed, “You have made something simple that won’t insult the plebs. Because right now he’s afraid of assassination, and of appearing too powerful, like Julius Caesar.”

  Vitruvius smiled. “Indeed. Perhaps last night was the work of a lone man, or perhaps the assassin was really with this traitor the freedmen have taken to calling the Red Eagle. Either way, the people are angry.”

  “What will Caesar do?”

  “What can he do?” Vitruvius rolled up the scroll. “Enough attempts and the plebs will begin to believe that Caesar is a tyrant. He can build the grandest stadia and baths in Rome, but for himself, it must be something simple.”

  “But will he like it?”

  “He appeared to like it very much when I showed it to him this morning.”

  “He was up?”

  “He is always up. Pacing, writing, preparing speeches for the Senate.”

  “And will you show me how you executed this?” There were measurements next to every wall shown in the sketch, and near the stairs there were equations I couldn’t understand.

  “I’m afraid I don’t have time for a lesson today.” When he saw my disappointment, he added, “But in a few days I shall. Until then, these are the chambers inside the mausoleum.” He handed me a scroll on which he’d drawn empty rooms, labeling each one with its dimensions next to it. “Furnish them,” he said simply. “Add mosaics, caryatids, fountains. The plebs will only see the outside, so the furnishings can be as lavish as you want. And if I like what you’ve drawn, I may incorporate it in the final construction.”

  I was shocked by the trust Vitruvius was placing in me. “Thank you,” I said, and Vitruvius smiled. “These will be my best sketches,” I promised him. I rolled the scroll carefully.

  As I was leaving, Vitruvius added, “Rome is proud of you. Caesar will not forget what you’ve done.”

  I turned. “Do you think it means that Alexander and I will be sent back to Egypt?”

  Vitruvius hesitated. “Caesar has sent a prefect to rule Egypt in his place.”

  “But he could be recalled.”

  “He could.” His voice didn’t offer much hope. “But before that would ever happen, Caesar will want to arrange your marriages. You must be very careful these next few years, Selene. You have seen Caesar at his most merciful,” he said quietly. “But when they find this bowman, he will be crucified. And whoever helped him to get on stage, even if it was Terentilla herself, will die with him.”

  I nodded. “I’ll be careful,” I promised.

  “And watchful.”

  I began by being watchful in the ludus. When Magister Verrius read passages from the Iliad, I noticed how he lingered on the passages that described Hector’s wife and children, who were sold into slavery. He described Hector’s fight as heroic, his death as valiant, and the sacking of his city as the greatest tragedy, since its inhabitants would lose, if not their lives, then their freedom. The longer he spoke about the bitterness of slavery, the more convinced I became that he could be the Red Eagle and that Marcellus was helping him.

  Antonia had seen him with Gallia on the Palatine, and while it was possible that Gallia was writing the acta alone, it seemed far more probable that someone with access to supplies of papyrus and ink was behind them; someone whose presence on the Palatine would never be questioned, who had a quick wit and a reason to be angry. And if Verrius and Gallia were lovers, wouldn’t that be reason enough to rebel against slavery? Slaves were not allowed to marry unless freed, and on a magister’s salary, he could never afford a Gallic princess’s freedom.

  That afternoon, I studied Gallia as she mended a tunic on the portico at the Campus Martius. She didn’t appear worried that someone might approach her with evidence of treachery. Although, when Marcellus announced that it was time for us to go to the Circus Maximus and Juba suddenly appeared at her side, I could see she was surprised. “Are you coming with us?” she asked Juba.

  “Those are Caesar’s orders.”

  “But we already have guards,” Julia complained. “Why do we need more?”

  “Perhaps you would rather stay at home,” Juba suggested. “There’s nowhere as safe as your own chamber.”

  Julia narrowed her eyes, and as we made our way to the Circus she grumbled, “Now we can’t do anything.”

  “What do you mean?”

  “Juba is here. My father and he are like Romulus and Remus.”

  “Didn’t Romulus kill Remus?” Alexander asked warily.

  “You know what I mean!” Julia said irritably. Behind us, Gallia and Juba were walking together, their heads bent in quiet conversation. “Everything we do will get back to him now. At least Gallia is a slave and knows enough to keep silent.”

  I glanced behind me, hoping Gallia hadn’t heard what she’d said. “And what about the guards who always follow us?” I asked. “Don’t they report back to your father?”

  “Of course not,” Marcellus answered. “We pay them.”

  “You mean bribery?” my brother exclaimed.

  “Just a few denarii. And only when I’ve gambled too much, or visited a place I shouldn’t have.” He winked at my brother, and I wondered if he could mean a lupanar.

  When we approached the Circus, a large crowd was gathered around the entrance, and Juba said sternly, “What is this?” He pushed his way to the front and the people fell away from him. “Another actum?” he shouted. “Who did this?” Suddenly, no one was interested anymore, and Juba grabbed the closest man by the arm. “When was this placed on the door?”

  The man shook his head. “I don’t know.” He trembled. “I saw it here this morning after we opened.”

  “And no one took it down? Do you understand the penalty for supporting a rebel?”

  “It—it isn’t support,” he stammered. “I certainly don’t support it.”

  “Then why is it up here?”

  “I don’t know. I just place bets. I don’t patrol the gates.”

  Juba ripped down the scroll, and Marcellus stepped forward tentatively.

  “May I see it?”

  I thought that Juba would refuse, but he shoved the scroll at Marcellus, and we all gathered around. It was written in the same neat handwriting as the previous actum I’d seen, only this time the writer was denouncing the attempted assassination of Octavian, warning that bloodshed would only result in further bloodshed, and that rulers had as much right to a long life as slaves. He reminded his readers that Spartacus had failed, and that no rebellion could ever hope to achieve what votes of conscience by senators could. Then he went on to deride Octavian’s punishment of the plebs, promising riots in the Subura once the people began to starve. And there was more—something about helping slaves across the Mare Superu
m to their homelands. But Juba took back the scroll.

  “That’s enough. You came here to watch the races. So let’s watch them.” He handed the crumpled actum to Gallia, who made it disappear into a beautifully embroidered bag at her side. I was always fascinated to see her clothing, including the embellished bags that no other slave ever carried. But Gallia was Octavia’s favorite.

  We climbed to the seats reserved for Caesar’s family, and when Juba had settled into conversation with Gallia, Marcellus whispered, “I wonder why this rebel is willing to criticize my uncle, but opposes assassination?”

  “Probably because if your uncle died, it wouldn’t be the patricians who’d suffer most, but the plebs,” I guessed. “The rich will always find something to eat. It’s the slaves and freedmen who would starve.”

  “Do you really think there will be riots?” Julia asked.

  “I should think so,” Marcellus replied, keeping his eye on the betmaker below us. When the man looked in our direction, Marcellus waved him over, taking out a purse full of denarii. “But they won’t be for long. Just as the freedmen are regretting their support of the Red Eagle and feeling hungry, the Ludi Romani will be here to distract them.”

  “So you agree with their punishment?” I exclaimed.

  “Of course not. But that’s what my uncle is thinking.” Marcellus passed the bet-maker his purse and said shrewdly, “The Greens. I hear they have purchased new horses.”

  “That’s right. Twenty new stallions. All from Arabia.”

  Alexander smiled, and I knew at once that he’d been the one to procure this information. “The Greens,” he said as well, and I gasped at the size of his purse. “I’ve been winning,” he explained. “So what are the Ludi Romani?”

  “You haven’t heard about the Ludi?” Julia cried. “They’re only the biggest games on earth.”

  “We had our own games,” I said tersely.

  “Well, the Ludi Romani go on for fifteen days. Chariot races, gladiatorial events, theatrical performances….” She glanced uneasily at Juba. “Perhaps we won’t be going to those.”

 
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