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Cleopatras daughter, p.35
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       Cleopatra's Daughter, p.35

           Michelle Moran
 

  The excitement of Julia’s wedding didn’t stop me from wallowing in my own misery in private. Though I put a smile on my face and helped Julia with everything a bride might need—packing her chests, choosing her perfume, finding the right silk tunic for her wedding night—I still felt an empty ache in my heart when Marcellus looked at me or I heard him laugh in his mother’s villa and knew it would be one of the last times I would ever have that sound wake me in the morning. Yet Marcellus was bursting with happiness. He was marrying a woman he loved, and who loved him back. There would be spectacles and entertainments to plan for an entire year, and before long Augustus would make him consul and officially name him the future emperor of Rome.

  Two nights before the wedding, Marcellus crept into my chamber, where Alexander, Lucius, and I were whispering about the war in Cantabria and how it might be many years before we’d have to see Livia’s sour face again. Since the announcement of his wedding, he had stopped coming to us, and I presumed from the nightly creaking of his window that he was visiting Julia instead. But he took up his old position on the third couch, and my brother asked eagerly, “Well, what’s it like to be getting married?”

  Marcellus smiled. “Wonderful. Frightening.”

  “How can it be frightening?” I teased.

  “Well, think of the responsibility,” he said. “Now, there will be a house to maintain, and slaves to buy, and—”

  “You’re not really going to buy slaves?” I exclaimed.

  “Of course he is,” Lucius said. “How else is his house going to run?”

  I stared at Marcellus.

  “I will treat them properly,” he promised swiftly. “I would never send them away for getting pregnant.”

  “Or push them into an eel pool,” I added, “or whip them for broken dishes.”

  “Certainly not!”

  I crossed my arms over my chest. “Will you pay them?”

  He hesitated. “I … well … sure. Why not? Every Saturnalia, they can all receive presents. Julia can take care of that.”

  “Why can’t you?”

  “Because I’ll be too busy planning the Games.” He grinned widely. “There’s the Ludi Plebei, the Ludi Apollinares, the Ludi Megalenses, and the Ludi Ceriales.” He looked at my brother. “And you’ll help me, won’t you?”

  My brother couldn’t have been more pleased with any request. They spoke at length about horses, and floats for parades, and which animals from Augustus’s zoo would be the most likely to awe the plebs if they were used as part of the opening processions. Marcellus didn’t speak again about marriage, but before he left, he paused at the door one last time and looked back. “Lucius and the twins,” he said, his voice filled with regret, “I’ll miss our nights together.”

  When he shut the door and Lucius left, I turned on my side and faced the wall. Alexander knew enough to simply blow out the oil lamp. Then he kissed my hair and whispered that it would be better in the morning.

  But it wasn’t. It was the last day of Saturnalia, with all of the shops in the Forum closed, and a hundred different things still to be arranged. There was the matter of the food, and reminders had to be sent across Rome to the homes of butchers and bakers to ensure that the proper amounts would be delivered the next morning. Wine, honey, vinegar, and garum had to be available in considerable quantities, and despite the fact that it was a holiday, merchants arrived throughout the day with heavy chests and barrels. Nothing more important than this wedding would ever happen beneath Octavia’s roof, so the slaves rushed from room to room with wash-buckets and brooms, using feather dusters on the most delicate statues and ladders to reach the highest mosaics. Marcellus went to spend the day with Julia, and when Alexander asked whether I’d like to join him and Lucius at the odeum, I shook my head.

  “What will you do, then? Sit out here on the portico and feel sorry for yourself? It’s cold,” he protested. “Come to the odeum. There’ll be warm beer and ofellae.”

  “I’m fine. Besides, there’s work to be done in the theater.”

  “Over Saturnalia? Even Vitruvius isn’t working.”

  “There’s just a few things I’d like to see to,” I lied. “It’s important.”

  But my brother knew me better. “Selene, you care more about that theater than Marcellus does. He’ll probably step inside it once.”

  “That doesn’t matter!” I said angrily. “It’s my project. Vitruvius gave it to me, and I’ll see that it’s done right. Work doesn’t stop just because it’s a silly Roman festival.”

  I convinced Octavia to let me go, and two Praetorians were sent with me to Marcellus’s theater. I took my book of sketches, although truthfully there was nothing I planned to sketch. I simply wanted a place away from the madness of preparations; a place where I could sit one last time to remember how simple life had been before engagements and weddings and bitter envy.

  We crossed through the Forum Holitorium, where the vegetable stalls were shut for Saturnalia, and though the guards wanted to take the shortcut, I refused, thereby avoiding the Columna Lactaria, where Horatia’s daughter had been abandoned. This winter hadn’t brought any snow, but gray clouds curtained the sun, casting a pall over the city and darkening the streets. When we arrived, I could see that the guards were worried about rain. There was only one umbraculum between us, so they gave it to me and waited beneath the arches while I inspected the empty theater.

  A great deal of work had been completed since the building’s conception: the cavea, where more than ten thousand spectators could sit; the stage, which would soon be covered in mosaic; and the three tiers of arches supported by columns in each of the Greek architectural styles, first Doric, then Ionic, and finally Corinthian. Every day for nearly a year I had come here, with either Vitruvius or the guards, and watched the men build. I had been allowed to choose the artwork and mosaics, and the workers knew better than to slight me, since Vitruvius had made it clear that I was as important to this theater as Marcellus himself.

  I walked to the stage and ran my hand along its edge. The wood had been smoothed to perfection, and when I was sure that there were no splinters, I seated myself so that I looked out on the cavea. Years of hard labor would be required to complete the rest of the theater. Builders would grow from boys to men here, as I had grown from a girl to a woman in the time since it had started. I thought of my excitement when Marcellus first asked Augustus whether I could help in its creation. I’d believed it was Marcellus’s way of showing special favor to me, and it had been, only not the kind I’d imagined. He didn’t really care about this theater, and tomorrow he would take Julia as his bride. She would press her soft cheek against his chest as he carried her into their villa, and once he untied her girdle their new life would begin. I could feel the sting of tears beginning in my eyes. Then a figure appeared at the back of the theater, and I stood swiftly.

  “What are you doing here?” I exclaimed.

  Juba smiled as he advanced. “I saw the guards and thought there might be trouble inside. I didn’t realize you had come here to cry out your sorrows. But I suppose that every tragedy deserves a stage.”

  “I’m not crying,” I said sternly.

  Juba raised his brows. “My mistake.”

  “I came here to make some final plans. This area,” I said unconvincingly “still needs a mosaic.” I stepped down and strode purposefully past him. And then it occurred to me. “I know why you’re here,” I gasped. “Augustus wants you to spy on me!”

  Juba laughed at my foolishness. “Do you really imagine that I have so little to do with my time?”

  “Then why aren’t you packing? Leaving for Mauretania on the next ship?”

  Immediately, I regretted my words. He stepped back and said quietly, “Perhaps I still have business in Rome, like making sure my slaves have a place to go when I’m gone.” He moved to join the guards, and the three of them talked about the war in Cantabria, completely ignoring me. When I finally asked to be taken back to the Palatine, the
four of us walked the short distance in silence.

  It was a wedding that even the wealthiest merchants would be talking about for many years. Thousands of people filled the villa from the triclinium to the gardens, where charcoal braziers kept away the winter’s chill and lanterns lit the rose-trimmed paths. Between every column, swaths of the richest blue and gold silks fluttered in the breeze, and handsomely dressed slaves rushed between the senators offering them cups of the best Chian wine. When Marcellus slid a gold and emerald ring onto Julia’s finger, the thundering shouts of “Thalassa!” on the hilltop were probably heard all the way down by the Circus Maximus, and the feast that followed lasted into the third watch.

  “It will be us next,” my brother said ominously as we rested in the triclinium. His hair had taken on a burnished sheen in the soft light of the oil lamps, and I saw Lucius staring at him from across the room.

  “Perhaps Augustus will never return,” I said.

  But my brother wasn’t so hopeful. “Then Livia will take care to arrange it from Iberia. She sends Octavia letters every week. And you know what happens in seven days.”

  We would be turning fifteen. Alexander would prepare for his coming-of-age ceremony at the festival of Liberalia, and more men would be inquiring about my availability for marriage, since this was the age by which even the most restrictive fathers realized they would have to let their daughters go. I twisted my napkin nervously in my hands.

  We both looked at Julia and Marcellus, laughing and happy in their newly wedded bliss. He had taken her up in his arms, and a long procession was forming to escort them into their new villa. As they passed our table, Julia’s gaze met mine and her smile faltered. I knew she was thinking about her mother. I stood up and pressed her hand. “Someday, when you are empress …” I whispered. Her face brightened, and as Marcellus carried her away, I made a silent prayer to both Isis and Serapis that Julia would always be this happy. Time and again she had been kind to me, and I had repaid that kindness with jealousy. She had been denied the love and affection of her mother; now, at least, she would have it from a husband.

  “Do you want to go with them?” I asked Alexander.

  “No. It will only be depressing,” he said.

  Secretly, I was thankful. Although I was curious to see what her villa was like, I had no desire to watch Marcellus untie Julia’s girdle, then lay her down on his bridal couch while men sang lewd songs and made grunting noises. “I’m going to go to sleep, then,” I told him.

  “Don’t wait up for me.”

  “But it’s almost morning!”

  My brother smiled. “And there’s still a few amphorae of the Chian left.”

  When I awoke that afternoon and looked across the chamber, I saw that Alexander’s couch hadn’t been slept on.

  It was three days before we saw Marcellus and Julia again. They remained in their villa enjoying each other and their sudden freedom, and Marcellus didn’t even attend school with the rhetor, which sent his mother into a rare fit of rage. She burst into the library while Vitruvius was showing me the formulas he had used to build the dome on the Pantheon.

  “Three days!” she cried. “He hasn’t studied with the rhetor in three days!” We both looked up, and Octavia rubbed her temple. “If this is a sign of things to come—”

  “He’s a newlywed,” Vitruvius pointed out calmly. “I’m sure it’s not a sign of anything but love.”

  Octavia saw my face and mistook my pain for disapproval.

  “You see?” she exclaimed. “Selene understands. That’s why she comes here with you every day when she could be shopping with Julia or studying Plato. I will warn him this evening.”

  “At his first feast?” Vitruvius asked. “He’ll be playing the host.”

  “He can play at whatever he’d like so long as he studies! Even from Iberia,” Octavia warned, “Livia keeps her eye on Rome. You think I don’t know what her slaves are writing? And if Augustus should discover what Marcellus has been doing—lying in bed, watching the races from his balcony—don’t think there aren’t plenty of other choices for heir.”

  Vitruvius gave a hollow laugh. “Like who? Tiberius would rather be castrated.”

  “And would Livia care? She would put him through the trials of Hercules if she thought it would bring him closer to power. When I’m finished speaking with Marcellus,” she demanded, “you must speak to him as well.” Only after Vitruvius nodded gravely did she look down at the scroll we were working on. “Is that the Pantheon?” she asked.

  “Yes. Selene and I are about to oversee the installation of the gods, and by the time your brother returns, it will be finished.”

  “Then there’s been news?” I asked swiftly. I looked at Vitruvius and Octavia, but neither of them seemed inclined to answer.

  “Only half of Cantabria has been subdued,” Octavia said. “The war may take another six months, even though he promised to be here for the unveiling.”

  “I can ask Agrippa whether he wishes to postpone it,” Vitruvius said uncertainly.

  But Octavia shook her head. “No. It wouldn’t be right for such a great building to stand empty.”

  “Come with us,” Vitruvius said imploringly. “You haven’t seen the construction in more than a year, and you can write to your brother about what’s been completed.”

  “He’ll be jealous.” She smiled sadly. “Agrippa tells me it’s unlike anything that’s ever been built.”

  Vitruvius offered her his arm. “You’ll have to judge that for yourself.”

  Octavia invited Gallia to come with us, and when we arrived, their eyes were drawn upward to the pediment, where sculptors had inscribed: MARCUS AGRIPPA, SON OF LUCIUS, CONSUL FOR THE THIRD TIME, MADE THIS BUILDING. There was nothing unusual about the outside of the building. It was a colonnaded porch of simple concrete and brick. But as we passed through the great bronze doors into the Pantheon, I heard Gallia whisper something in her mother tongue.

  Nothing in the world had ever equaled it in beauty or grandeur, not even in Alexandria. From the rich marble flooring to the internal colonnades, light and color worked together to create something that had never been done before. The dome was decorated with octagonal and hexagonal shapes, making it appear like a honeycomb to anyone who was standing beneath it. In the center was a large, perfectly round opening, an oculus, which let in the only light.

  Gallia’s gaze traveled from niche to niche, where workers were using oiled polishing cloths to prepare them for the reception of the marble statues. When she repeated her amazed sentiments in Gaulish, Juba stepped from the shadows and replied, “It’s impressive, isn’t it?”

  I looked at Vitruvius in surprise. He explained, “He has come to inspect the statues for flaws and authenticity. They only arrived this morning.”

  Juba and Gallia spoke for a moment in her language, then he turned and greeted Octavia and Vitruvius. But when it came to me, his voice was not so merry. “I don’t believe there are any mosaics that need finishing.”

  “I am here to make measurements for the statues,” I retorted.

  He turned to Vitruvius. “What?” he asked with mock indignation. “You didn’t think I would consider that before buying them?”

  Vitruvius looked genuinely apologetic, but Juba slapped his back good-naturedly.

  “Of course.” Juba laughed. “There is no point in hauling a marble statue across the chamber if it’s only going to be returned.” He took Gallia and Octavia on a short tour of the building, and while they were busy I helped Vitruvius take the measurements. I hoped desperately that one of the statues would be too tall or too wide for its niche, but, frustratingly, Juba was right. They all fit.

  “Well?” Juba stood over me when we were finished.

  “They’re fine,” I said shortly, rising and dusting my hands on my tunic.

  “A perfect job,” Vitruvius complimented. “And very handsome sculptures, Juba. Are they all Roman?”

  “Only the Venus is Greek. For some reason,
I was drawn to her face.”

  I looked across the Pantheon to the statue of Venus. Perhaps it was my own vanity that made me think I recognized her. But the nose and possibly the light, painted eyes were similar to mine. Then Gallia dropped her voice and whispered, “She reminds me of Caesar’s mistress.”

  “Terentilla.” Juba nodded. “Yes. Perhaps you’re right.”

  That evening, I dressed more carefully than usual for Marcellus’s first feast. I put on my favorite tunic of blue silk and a belt of silver cloth to match my sandals. Then Gallia arranged my hair in a handsome bun on the top of my head, using long silver pins to hold it in place. The result in the mirror was extremely pleasing, and even Gallia was impressed. She sprayed me with a blend of violet and jasmine.

  “You have turned into a real beauty,” she said. “Hera would be jealous if she had to compete with you.”

  I laughed. “How do you know that story? It’s a Greek tale.”

  “I read. And sometimes, Magister Verrius tells those tales to me.”

  “Does he miss us?” I asked as we walked to the portico.

  “What do you think? He has Drusus and Vipsania now for students. They do not study much.”

  Poor Magister Verrius, I thought. He probably imagined that Julia and Marcellus were the laziest students he’d ever have to teach.

  My brother and Lucius were already on the portico, gambling with dice. “Don’t you ever stop?” I teased.

  My brother looked up, and a smile touched his lips. “Nice.” He rose to his feet. “Exceptionally nice,” though he gave me a warning look.

 
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