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Cleopatras daughter, p.21
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       Cleopatra's Daughter, p.21

           Michelle Moran
 
“No! No one said there would be leopards.”

  “What’s the matter?” Marcellus asked.

  “Those animals”—Alexander pointed wildly—“are sacred in Egypt. We don’t kill them for meat, and certainly not for entertainment!”

  “Oh, this is just the opening act,” Julia said. “There’s only seven. Then the real fights will begin.”

  Alexander glanced at me, and I could see the fear in his eyes. If our mother had been alive, she would never have forgiven us for watching this.

  “Do you think they’ve brought this to Egypt?” I asked coldly in Parthian.

  “Yes,” he said quitely. “And when we return, we’ll forbid it.”

  The announcer narrated the fight, and whenever the crowds cheered I closed my eyes and imagined that I was back in Alexandria, where the Museion towered over the gleaming city and philosophers went to the theater for entertainment.

  “It’s not that bad,” Julia said critically. “You can open your eyes. They’re nearly all dead.”

  “The leopards or the Telegenii?”

  “The leopards. Only two Telegenii have been killed.”

  I opened my eyes, but I refused to watch. Instead I turned and looked at Gallia, who was sitting behind us among the men of the Praetorian Guard. When she caught my gaze, she beckoned to me with her hand. I left my position on the couch next to Julia, and Gallia made space for me on hers.

  “Not enjoying the Games?”

  “No,” I admitted.

  “Oh, but you haven’t even seen the best part,” she said dryly. “When the gladiators are done being savaged, two men will come out and get them. One will be dressed as Hermes, the other as Charon.” The messenger god and the ferryman of the dead.

  “What do they do?”

  “Collect the bodies. But first, Hermes prods the gladiator with a hot iron, and if he moves, Charon takes a mallet and crushes his skull.”

  I covered my mouth with my hand. “So even if he could survive, he’s killed?”

  “Yes.” The trumpets blared for a second time, and Hermes made his appearance with Charon, just as she said.

  “They have all placed bets on this. Even Octavia. And Julia’s enjoying it.”

  Gallia nodded. “I know. But perhaps you judge Domina Julia too harshly.”

  I glanced up in surprise. “I don’t pass any judgment on Julia at all.”

  Gallia smiled as if she didn’t believe me. “She has not had it easy.”

  “She’s the daughter of Caesar!”

  “And what of her mother?”

  I didn’t know what to say.

  “Do you see the woman up there?” Gallia indicated a fine-featured matron several rows above us where the women of Rome were forced to sit apart from the men. The woman possessed a fascinating beauty, and she was watching Julia with attention that never wavered. “That is Scribonia, Domina Julia’s mother.”

  When Scribonia caught us staring at her, she smiled sadly. I turned to Gallia. “She’s beautiful. Why did Caesar divorce her?”

  “She was not obedient. Now she is only allowed to see her daughter from the upper seats of these games.”

  “Julia can’t visit her?”

  “Once a year, during Saturnalia, she may bring her mother a gift.”

  I gasped at the cruelty. It was no wonder Julia had been so interested in my mother. And now, all she had was Livia. Bitter, selfish, jealous Livia. “Do you think she ever visits Scribonia secretly?” I asked.

  Gallia gave a little smile. The men of the Praetorian Guard around us were cheering, ignoring us completely. “Of course,” she whispered. “But how can secret visits be enough for a mother? Or a daughter?”

  I looked around the amphitheater. “This place is filled with secrets.”

  “More than you know.”

  I hesitated. “Are there secrets about my father in here?”

  She gave me a long, searching look before answering. “Yes.”

  “Where?”

  She indicated a woman seated below Scribonia. Her eyes were painted with heavy shadow, and her long hair was dressed with small gems and pearls. Only actresses and lupae wore so much paint in Rome. Gallia said, “Domina Cytheris.”

  “Does she work in the theater?”

  “Not anymore. But when she did, she was your father’s mistress.” She studied my face to see my reaction, but I wasn’t surprised.

  “And who is she mistress to now?” I asked. The pearls in her hair and expensive jewels at her throat had not come free, and Charmion used to say that women who couldn’t keep their legs closed couldn’t keep their purses shut either.

  “Dominus Gallus. The prefect that Caesar has sent to govern Egypt.” I gave a small gasp, and Gallia placed her hand on mine. “I know it is not easy.”

  “So why isn’t she there with him?” I asked bitterly.

  “She has told him she prefers to entertain in Rome.”

  I thought of the irony that my father’s former lupa, an actress who had performed nude on the stage, now had the choice of living in Egypt’s palace. My mother had been forced to take her own life, and now a woman like Cytheris could sleep in her bed and paint her eyes with her kohl. But Cytheris had turned down the opportunity. Hadn’t she seen paintings of Alexandria? Didn’t she want to know what it would feel like to lie in the palace and listen to the waves crash against the rocks while the gulls called to one another on the shore?

  I touched the pearl diadem in my hair, and Gallia said tenderly, “This is why I do not like to tell you these things.”

  “It doesn’t bother me,” I lied. “What else?” I ignored the sound of metal on metal and the wild cheering of the crowd. “Is there anyone else here my father would have known?”

  Gallia indicated a young man seated below us, whose light hair and broad shoulders seemed strangely familiar. “That is your brother Dominus Jullus by your father’s third wife.”

  “He looks just like Antyllus!” Jullus and Antyllus had been brothers, but only Antyllus had made the terrible decision to follow my father to Alexandria. I watched as Jullus tilted his head back with laughter and the golden hair tumbled over his ears—just like Antyllus and Ptolemy. I felt an instant connection to him that I had never felt toward Antonia or her sister. Perhaps it was because I had never had sisters, only brothers. “I wish I could meet him.”

  “Not possible,” Gallia warned sternly. “You do not want Caesar to think the Antonii are rising again. Better to watch him from afar.”

  “Like Scribonia watches Julia?”

  Gallia nodded sadly. “Yes.”

  There was a great roar of disapproval from below, and then suddenly everyone was standing. “What’s happening?” I cried.

  A Praetorian turned to me. “One of the gladiators has been wounded.”

  “Many have been wounded,” Gallia remarked.

  “But this man is a favorite. He has survived combat for three days, and now Charon is coming with his mallet.”

  “They will kill a favorite even if he might live?”

  “He’s been wounded, Princess. His eyes are closed. It doesn’t matter to Charon if a physician might save him.”

  Although the amphitheater seats rose in tiers, I couldn’t see anything above the heads of the people in front of me. I was too small, and there were too many of them standing on their seats. Perhaps it was better. I could hear the crowd’s sharp intake of breath as the mallet shattered the gladiator’s skull, and Antonia’s shriek pierced the sudden silence that had descended over the amphitheater. Octavia rushed to calm her, but she wouldn’t be calmed. Her shrieking continued, until Marcellus placed his hand over her mouth. “Be quiet!”

  Octavian rose. “I am done for today.”

  “I’m sorry,” Octavia said. “She’s afraid.”

  “She should be,” he said angrily. “There will be no more of Hermes and Charon! Agrippa, you will inform them.”

  “Then how will the battles end?” Marcellus asked.

  “When on
e gladiator is too tired or too injured to fight.” Octavian turned to Antonia and held up her chin, wiping the tears from her eyes. “No more death,” he promised, though when the bet-maker returned with various winnings, I noticed that Octavian didn’t refuse to accept his.

  Inside Octavia’s villa, Alexander handed his heavy purse to me. “For your foundlings,” he said quietly.

  I placed the purse inside the metal chest Octavia had recently given to us, and Alexander locked the chest with the key he wore next to his bulla. Marcellus and Julia stood at the door, waiting for us to join them.

  “Come,” Marcellus urged. “We can watch the races from my uncle’s platform.”

  “But won’t he be angry?” Alexander asked. “He said he was done for the day.”

  “He was only upset that he will have to pay the lanistae three hundred denarii,” Julia said wryly.

  “What is a lanista?” Alexander asked.

  “You know,” Marcellus prompted, “one of the men who own the gladiators. When a gladiator dies, the sponsor of the event has to pay the lanistam for his loss. The Ludi Romani are always sponsored by Caesar, and popular gladiators are worth more.”

  “So that means my father will have to pay three hundred denarii just for one man. By banishing Hermes and Charon, he won’t have to pay the lanistae anything.” Julia smiled. “You didn’t think he did it for poor little Antonia, did you?”

  The Ludi went on for fourteen more days, and by September nineteenth, no one wanted to return to Magister Verrius and our studies. Marcellus pleaded with Octavia to let us have one more day, but her answer was firm.

  “Your uncle’s dies natalis is in six days, and there will be two days off for celebration. I believe that is enough.” Octavia walked us onto the portico, where Juba and Gallia were already waiting. “Do you celebrate birth days in Egypt?” she asked.

  “No,” Alexander replied. “But our father sometimes brought us presents.”

  Octavia pressed her lips together, perhaps thinking of the gifts her daughters had never received because their father was with us in Alexandria.

  “They were always small presents,” I added swiftly. “Of little importance.”

  “At least he remembered,” Octavia said quietly.

  I scowled at Alexander, who understood what he had done. “He never spent much time with us anyway,” he said. “Even if it was our dies natalis.”

  Octavia smiled, but it was bitter. I could feel her watching us as we disappeared down the Palatine. When we reached the Forum, Magister Verrius greeted us at the door of the ludus.

  “Enjoy yourselves,” Juba said merrily, and I imagine that Magister Verrius understood what we were feeling, since the next few days were full of games. There was a contest to see who could memorize the longest passage of Euripides, and a game testing our knowledge of the Muses—both of which I won. But Tiberius had memorized the longest passages of both Ennius and Terence, Romans whose works I couldn’t be bothered with. By the end of September, our games were over, and Magister Verrius was determined to introduce us to rhetoric, the art of public speaking. Marcellus sighed audibly, and Julia sank lower in her seat.

  “Today, I would like you to spend time outside the Senate, listening to the lawyers debate.” When Julia groaned, Magister Verrius ignored her. “You will follow a trial until its end, and you may not choose a trial that ends today.”

  “What a waste of time,” Julia said angrily as we walked toward the Campus Martius. Juba and Gallia remained several paces behind. She turned around and glared at them. “Do you think they might lie for us and pretend that we’ve gone?”

  “What?” Marcellus asked. “And we’d make up a trial?”

  “Well, when are we supposed to watch one?” she demanded.

  “We’re going to have to forget the Circus,” he said. “At least for a week.”

  “He didn’t say how long the trial had to be. We can choose one that ends tomorrow.”

  Marcellus gave Julia a long look. “And be told to do it all over again?”

  Julia turned to me. “I don’t know how you stand it. Working with Vitruvius from the break of dawn and studying Magister Verrius’s work all day.”

  “She likes it,” Tiberius responded on my behalf. “Some people actually enjoy learning.”

  “But why? All Vitruvius teaches you is measurements.”

  “Measurements to construct a building,” I replied. “He took me to the Temple of Apollo yesterday. It’s almost finished.”

  “Really?” Marcellus took a shortcut across the Campus Martius. “What’s inside?”

  “A library with gold and ivory paneling. And a statue of the god sculpted by Scopas.”

  “Did Juba find it?” Marcellus asked.

  I shrugged. “That’s what Vitruvius says.” In the distance, I could see Livia and Octavia on the shaded portico of the stables, both weaving on their wooden looms and sitting as far apart as decorum would allow. When we reached the portico, Octavia stood.

  “Juba.” She smiled. “Gallia. Thank you both for bringing them safely. Are all of my children behaving themselves?”

  “Aside from the complaining?” Juba said. “Yes.”

  “You would complain, too, if you had to go to school while everyone else was on vacation,” Marcellus grumbled.

  “Ah, the terrible price of being heir,” Juba said.

  “He is not heir yet,” Livia snapped.

  “Forgive me. Possible heir.”

  “We all know Octavian wants Marcellus,” Tiberius retorted. “So why keep pretending?”

  Livia looked at her husband, who was swimming with Agrippa while guards kept watch on the bank. “Octavian has told me he has not decided. There’s no reason not to make you heir.”

  “No reason in the world,” Marcellus returned sarcastically. “Come on, Alexander, I want to swim.”

  Marcellus and Alexander entered the stables, and Tiberius glowered at his mother. “Why can’t you just leave it alone?” he shouted.

  Livia stood swiftly and delivered a slap to his face.

  Tiberius turned red, and when he disappeared into the stables, Octavia warned, “He will come to resent you.”

  “How do you know what he will come to do? Are you an augur?”

  Julia kept her eyes on the wooden loom in front of her, and I didn’t look up from my sketches, in case Livia turned her wrath on me.

  “Get me more loom weights!” Livia shouted at Gallia.

  “Don’t move,” Octavia said. “If she wants more weights, she can get them herself. They’re inside.”

  Gallia hesitated, caught between obeying Octavia and angering Livia further. She met Livia’s fearsome gaze without blinking, and when it became clear that she wasn’t going to move, Livia stormed from her chair.

  Later, when the men returned from their swim, Julia whispered this story to Alexander and Marcellus. We were making our way back to the Forum to observe a trial when she said eagerly, “And then, Gallia simply refused to move!”

  Behind us, Gallia walked between Tiberius and Juba, the incident on the portico forgotten. But Marcellus shook his head. “My mother is creating trouble for Gallia. She shouldn’t have done that.”

  “Gallia isn’t Livia’s slave,” I said heatedly. “She shouldn’t be anyone’s slave.”

  “Well, she belongs to my mother,” Marcellus replied, “and my mother is putting her in danger. No one can afford to make an enemy of Livia.”

  “I understand why Octavia did it,” Julia said. “She’s tired of Livia thinking she owns all of Rome.”

  “She does,” Marcellus pointed out.

  “No, my father does! Livia’s just a whore with a good marriage.”

  Alexander snickered, and I covered my mouth to keep myself from laughing.

  Julia smiled naughtily at me. “Now let’s find the shortest trial and get this over with.”

  But there was only one trial happening in the Forum. A crowd was growing around the podium where a lawyer w
as addressing the seated judices, who would eventually return a verdict of guilt or innocence.

  “I can’t see,” Julia complained. “What’s going on?”

  “Two hundred slaves are on trial for the murder of their master, Gaius Fabius,” Juba said.

  Julia gasped. “Fabius?” She turned to me. “Don’t you remember him, Selene? He was the man you saw beating those boys at the temple!”

  “And all two hundred slaves helped murder him?” I exclaimed.

  “When one slave murders his master, all must be punished,” Juba said levelly.

  Suddenly, Julia was interested. “Do you think we can get a better view?”

  Juba raised his brows. “Certainly.” He took us behind the podium, where rows of slaves were chained together by the neck and we could watch the backs of the lawyers as they addressed both the judices and the crowds.

  “Look how young they are,” I whispered to Alexander. Some of the slaves were no more than five or six, and could never have taken part in any killing. I turned to Juba. “Will they really be put to death?”

  “Of course. If they are found guilty.”

  “How can you be so callous?” I demanded.

  “Because it’s not his problem,” Tiberius said. “What is he supposed to do about it?”

  The public lawyer for the slaves stopped talking, and was replaced at the podium by the lawyer for the dead Gaius Fabius. “You have heard,” he began in a thundering voice, “pitiful stories of slaves who could not have taken part in the killing. Women, children, old men who are nearly crippled and blind. But what did they see? What did they witness and keep silent about? Make no mistake,” the lawyer said angrily, “watching and participating are no different! We cannot know which among these dregs stood by while Gaius Fabius was strangled in his chamber, then knifed more than a dozen times.” There was a groan from the crowd, and at the front, seated on wooden benches, the judices shook their heads. “We must set an example,” he said at once. “Nearly thirty-five years ago, a similar trial ended in the death of four hundred slaves. That jury understood that a message must be sent. One that discourages any slave from killing his master for fear that everyone will be punished. We must stop this now,” he shouted, “or who will be next? You?” He pointed at an old man on the bench, whose neck was weighed down by heavy gold chains. “You?” he demanded, looking at a second young man in the toga of a judex. “Forget what you heard before this. Certainly, a few slave children will die. But are their lives more important than yours? More important than those of your wives and children?”

 
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