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Cleopatras daughter, p.30
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       Cleopatra's Daughter, p.30

           Michelle Moran
 

  “Perhaps he isn’t the Red Eagle,” I said hopefully.

  But Julia simply looked toward her father and didn’t reply.

  In the hour before dawn, shouting echoed in the atrium, then the sound of hobnailed boots filled the halls. For a moment, I was in Egypt again, huddled with my brothers on my mother’s bed on the day of her death.

  “Alexander!” I pushed away my covers.

  He jumped up. As we rushed to put on our cloaks, I could hear Marcellus’s raised voice in the hall. Alexander flung open the door. Octavia, Vitruvius, Marcellus, and his sisters were standing in a circle outside Marcellus’s chamber, watching the soldiers move in and out of the room. When Marcellus saw us, his face lost its color.

  Agrippa was there. “We found him at the Circus,” he said. “In the fornices.”

  Octavia covered her mouth with her hand.

  “It’s not what you think!” Marcellus protested.

  “So then what were you doing?” Octavian emerged from Marcellus’s chamber, and his look was violent. “Not writing acta, I hope.”

  Marcellus stepped back. “Is that what this is about? You think I’m the Red Eagle?” I could see he wanted to laugh, and might have if the accusation hadn’t been so serious. “Because I leave at night to visit a few lupae, you think I’m a traitor?”

  Octavia shrieked, “You were visiting dirty lupae?”

  Vitruvius put a calming hand on her arm. “Every boy has been there.”

  “Not the heir of Rome!” Octavian shouted.

  Juba appeared from Marcellus’s chamber, wiping his hands on his tunic.

  “What did you find?” Octavian demanded.

  “Just a few lewd paintings.”

  “I told you!” Marcellus cried. “You’ve seen my work in the ludus. Do you think I could really be responsible for the acta? I don’t have the patience!”

  Octavian considered this. “Perhaps you are too secure in the belief that you will be my heir. Remember, Marcellus, I loved Fidelius as well,” he said, reminding him of the young soldier he had killed outside the walls of Rome. Then he turned to his sister. “Keep a better watch on your child.”

  The halls emptied of soldiers, and when Octavian’s men were gone, Marcellus moved toward his mother.

  “I don’t want to see you!” she cried, pushing him away.

  “But it’s not what you think. Mother, just listen!” He leaned over and whispered something in her ear that made her step back and look at him anew. “Please don’t tell Octavian,” he begged.

  “Everyone back to your rooms,” Octavia ordered. “Go to sleep.”

  But the vestibulum was suddenly filled with a woman’s cries for help, and everyone froze.

  “It’s Gallia,” Marcellus said, recognizing her voice. “I’ll bet they’ve taken Magister Verrius!” He glared at his mother. “I guess any blond on the Palatine will do.”

  Gallia burst into the hall, looking as if she had run all the way from her house at the bottom of the Palatine. In a weeping tirade, she confirmed Marcellus’s fears. “What has he done? Was it something he taught?”

  “No,” Marcellus said angrily. “There’s information that the Red Eagle looks like a Gaul, but they haven’t found him yet. So now anyone with light hair is suspect.”

  Gallia looked to Octavia.

  “It’s true,” she said quietly. “My brother was here searching Marcellus’s chamber.”

  She gasped. “His own nephew?”

  Octavia raised her chin. “No one is above suspicion.”

  Gallia put her head in her hands. Even that night at Gaius’s villa she hadn’t wept. But the sobs that racked her body made everyone turn away. Her own pain hadn’t been enough to break her, but now that it was Magister Verrius….

  Octavia put her arm around Gallia’s shoulders and told Vitruvius to fetch some blankets. We followed her through the hall into the library. There would be no ludus in the morning, and there was no use telling us to go to sleep. A slave arrived to light the brazier, and we sat together around the fire, drinking warm wine and huddling in our cloaks. Marcellus looked the worse for his night.

  “He’s probably been taken to the Carcer,” Octavia guessed. “They’ll search his rooms, and when they don’t find anything to suggest he’s a traitor, they’ll set him free.” But she hesitated. “He isn’t a traitor, is he?”

  Gallia put down her cup more loudly than she probably intended. “I have lived with him for nearly a year. I think I would know if he was the Red Eagle!”

  Octavia nodded. “Then once they’re finished going through his scrolls—”

  “So let them read! I hope they enjoy Simonides and Homer!”

  The fire crackled in the brazier, and an uneasy silence settled over the library. Vitruvius returned with blankets and warm ofellae, but no one felt much like eating.

  As dawn broke over the sky, doing its best to lighten the leaden clouds, little Tonia put her head in her mother’s lap. “It’s time for ludus,” she said. “Why aren’t they going?”

  “Because there’s not going to be any ludus today. Antonia, take your sister back to your chamber.”

  Although I would certainly have argued with my own mother, Antonia rose quietly and did as she was told. The ensuing stillness in the room felt crushing.

  “Did you hear about the theater?” Octavia asked to fill the silence.

  Vitruvius nodded. “Caesar has approved of Selene’s help,” he said quietly. “I look forward to seeing her ideas.”

  The conversation lapsed into silence, and just as my eyes were becoming too heavy to keep open, a shadow darkened the doorway.

  “Verrius!” Gallia cried. She rushed from her seat and threw her arms around his neck, searching his face for signs of torture.

  “He wasn’t there long,” Juba assured her. “The soldiers searched his rooms and didn’t find anything.”

  “Of course they didn’t!” Gallia said harshly. “What did they do to you?” she asked tenderly.

  “Nothing. Juba arrived to get me out before they could even put me in chains.”

  Tears dampened Gallia’s cheeks. “Thank you, Juba—”

  “So nothing was found tonight,” Octavia cut in angrily. “Not here, not in the ludus, and not in Magister Verrius’s home.”

  Juba’s gaze did not waver. “Those were my orders.”

  “And what have you been ordered to do next?” she demanded.

  “Inform you that Octavian is resigning from office.”

  CHAPTER SIXTEEN

  27—26 BC

  BY THE next day, there was no one in Rome who hadn’t heard the news. Thousands of people flocked to the Senate, where Octavian had promised to relinquish his powers and resign his office in its entirety. Soldiers kept peace in the courtyard outside, where the men looked solemn and a few hysterical women were beating their chests. We stood around the open doors of the Senate, where a space had been cleared for us, and I heard Octavia say, “Make way!”

  Vitruvius appeared with a young man at his side, and for a terrible moment I wondered if he had taken a new apprentice.

  “Alexander, Selene. My son Lucius,” he said.

  Lucius gave me a dazzling smile. He was shorter than my brother, but, like Octavian, he had small heels on his bright golden sandals. When I extended my hand, his kiss lingered. “So you are the one who is bearing my burden,” he said gratefully. “Without you, I would be chained to ink drawings and cement.”

  I laughed. “It’s a pleasant burden,” I told him.

  “Well, with someone as pretty as you watching over them, the builders must be begging for more work.”

  Marcellus laughed at this empty flattery, but Lucius just turned his attention to my brother. “Alexander—”

  “There he is,” Marcellus interrupted, pointing through the open doors into the Senate. “He’s taken the podium!”

  Octavian was dressed in a plain white toga, and nothing on his person gave any indication that he was Caesar. He was fl
anked by Juba and Agrippa, and behind them stood the Praetorian Guard. Although Alexander and Lucius were whispering, everyone else in the courtyard was silent.

  I had asked Julia whether her father was doing this because of the Red Eagle, but she’d only laughed. “There’s nothing he does without planning it first. He’s probably considered this for months. Years.”

  “Then you don’t think he plans on giving up his power?”

  Julia had given me a wearied look. “No,” she’d said with practiced cynicism. “He would only be doing this if he thought it would increase it.”

  I didn’t see how resigning his office would make Octavian more powerful than he already was. But as he rose to speak, the senators began to revolt. They shouted for him to remain, citing the civil wars that had ripped Rome apart before he had taken power and swearing that this would happen again if he refused. Men pumped their fists in the air, cursing like sailors from Ostia. But Octavian raised his arms and the room fell silent.

  “It is time,” he shouted, “for me to give up the reins of power and return the Republic to the citizens of Rome.”

  “He can’t mean that!” Marcellus exclaimed.

  Octavia twisted her belt strings nervously in her hands. But Livia was smiling, and I thought, Julia’s right. He doesn’t mean that.

  “I believe we all remember my adoptive father, Gaius Julius Caesar, who stood before you only seventeen years ago in the purple robes of imperium, with a laurel wreath on his head. Notice that I come before you with none of the trappings of Caesar. I am a humble servant, one who remembers his history well.”

  “Then you remember the civil wars!” a senator shouted.

  “Yes,” Octavian conceded. “But I also remember my father,” he said harshly, “stabbed to death for attempting to build an empire!”

  There was pandemonium in the Senate. A young boy in the doorway repeated Octavian’s words for those standing in the courtyard, and the frenzy outside soon matched the turmoil within.

  Octavian raised his arms, and again the senators fell silent. “Having done what I can for Rome,” he went on, “I now lay down my office in its entirety. To you, the esteemed senators of Rome, I return authority over the army, the laws, and the provinces. You are free to govern not just those territories which you entrusted to me, but also those which I fought and won for you.”

  Seneca leapt violently from his seat. “This is not acceptable!” he cried. “You fought against Antony, you crushed the kingdom of Egypt, you rebuilt our city and sent forces to police our dangerous hills. You took a republic in chaos and made it into an empire, and we will never allow you to resign!”

  Vitruvius turned to Octavia. “Is he paying Seneca?”

  She shook her head. “I don’t know.”

  “He doesn’t have to pay him,” Livia snapped. “The senators don’t want a return to civil war. Without Octavian’s leadership, the clans will go back to fighting and tearing each other apart like wolves.”

  “Let us take a vote!” one of the senators shouted.

  There were hums of approval, and Octavian raised his hands. “Then I submit my departure to you,” he acquiesced.

  Seneca addressed the chamber. “We are voting on the future of Rome,” he said. “There is not a man here who doesn’t know what Octavian has done for this city, for this empire, for all of you! Do you want to return to the days of anarchy? The days of civil war?” he threatened. “Octavian is not another Julius Caesar. He is something different. This is something different. We can share power, and for the first time in the history of Rome, create a joint way of ruling. So let us give him a name in honor of his difference, of his victories, and his sacrifices to build a better Rome. Let us call Gaius Octavius … Augustus.”

  There was a roar of approval from the senators, and only a few men remained seated on the benches. From the platform, Octavian bent his head humbly.

  Livia looked toward the sky. “He’s done it,” she murmured. The gods seemed to have been watching over her. “He’s made himself emperor.”

  The senators resumed their seats, and only Seneca remained standing. “As for leaving office,” he continued, and a chorus of protests met the words, “we shall have a vote as to whether Augustus shall be allowed to resign.”

  It was a grand piece of theater, and when all of it was done, we watched as Octavian reluctantly accepted control over the provinces of Syria, Iberia, and Gaul for ten years. Egypt would still belong to him, and the command of more than twenty legions was his as well. But the rest of the provinces and their comparatively small legions would be governed by the Senate, and they would be allowed to choose which praetors would oversee them. The celebration in the streets that followed was as loud and wild as any military Triumph. It was as if Augustus were coming home again victorious from battle.

  In Octavia’s villa that afternoon, we prepared for a celebratory feast. Gallia arranged my curls into a loose bun and slipped pearl-tipped pins into my hair. I imagined how beautiful the pins would have looked with my mother’s necklace, then commanded myself not to think about it. Gallia’s freedom and happiness was worth any number of necklaces, and no necklace could bring my mother back. Gallia swept the slightest hint of malachite across my lids, then allowed me to wear a pair of pearl earrings Julia had given to me for Saturnalia. When Alexander saw me, he hummed with appreciation.

  “Be careful,” he teased. “All of those senators will be here tonight, and they’re probably tired of looking at Octavian.”

  “Did you even hear what was happening?” I asked critically. “Or did you spend the entire time talking with Lucius?”

  “Of course I heard! He’s kept his power for ten more years, and we’re all to call him Augustus.”

  I looked up at Gallia. “Is it true? Will even Octavia call him that?”

  “Yes. Romans are always changing their names.”

  I thought of the mausoleum that Vitruvius had already started to build, and all of the inscriptions that would have to be changed.

  “So do you think he planned this?” Alexander asked, seating himself next to me at the mirror while Gallia perfumed my neck.

  “Julia says he did.”

  “So does Lucius.”

  “And what does Lucius know?” I demanded. “He lives with his aunt.”

  My brother raised his brows. “Not anymore. He’s been talking to his father. Octavia has said he can come and live here.”

  “He’s quite the charmer.”

  We sat together in silence for a moment. Then I glanced in the mirror. “Do you really think I look pretty?”

  “Enough to turn every head in the triclinium,” he promised. “And me?”

  I laughed. “You’re always handsome. And what does it matter? There’s no one you have your eye on.”

  He smiled uneasily.

  “Is there?”

  “No,” he confirmed. “It would be foolish to begin anything. We don’t know what Octavian—Augustus—has in mind for us. He could give you to a senator as old as Zeus and me to a witch like Livia.”

  “Don’t say that,” I whispered.

  “It’s true. That’s why Lucius won’t stay with his aunt. She thinks she’s found a wife for him. Some horrible hag with a villa in Capri. And he’s only a year older than we are.”

  “When will he come here?” I asked.

  “This evening.”

  “So quickly?”

  “The more time he spends with her,” my brother said, “the more time she has to bring women home to meet him.”

  “But Vitruvius has to approve any marriage.”

  “Lucius says Vitruvius trusts his sister’s judgment.”

  “So does he think he’ll escape marriage by coming here?”

  “Perhaps. Not every man marries, you know. Maecenas didn’t have a wife for years. And Vergil’s in his forties and has never married.”

  “They are poets, Alexander. And probably Ganymedes.”

  But my brother didn’t seem both
ered by the reference to the handsome Trojan boy who was abducted to Olympus to become the lover of Zeus. He simply shrugged. “Maybe.”

  For the rest of the night, I studied Alexander. Even when Marcellus poured my wine and complimented me on my earrings, I watched the way my brother talked, how Julia laughed at everything he said, and how Alexander’s eyes never left Lucius. The only time their gazes were parted was when Augustus stood from his couch in the triclinium and declared that tomorrow, another startling announcement would be made.

  Julia shook her head. “If my father weren’t consul, he’d be an actor.”

  “Is there a difference?” Marcellus asked, and I detected a note of bitterness in his voice. He said he had forgiven his uncle for accusing him of treachery, but I wondered whether he could forgive him for sending guards to pull him out of the fornices.

  “What do you think he’ll announce?” I whispered. I looked to Julia and Marcellus, but it was Lucius who spoke.

  “War.” When everyone turned to him, he added, “My father says that Augustus wants a new triumphal arch. When he was asked what it was for, he said his continued battle against Gaul, and war in Asturias and Cantabria.”

  “Vitruvius never told this to me,” I said, hurt.

  “Augustus only asked for the arch this morning.”

  “There is rebellion in Gaul,” Marcellus conceded. “And the Asturians have gold, while the Cantabri have iron. They’d be valuable territories. Not to mention that Cantabria is the last independent nation in Iberia that isn’t Roman.”

  We all looked at Octavian, bundled in his warmest winter toga and fur-trimmed cloak despite the mildness of March’s weather.

  “If he goes to war,” Julia confided, “I only hope he takes Livia along with him.”

  On the Ides of April, Julia got her wish. Not only was Livia going to travel with Augustus on the campaign to put down the Gallic rebellion, so were Juba, Tiberius, and Marcellus.

  “You can’t go!” Julia said desperately, watching Marcellus pack for what might be two, even three years abroad.

 
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