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Cleopatras daughter, p.7
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       Cleopatra's Daughter, p.7

           Michelle Moran

  The smile vanished from Octavian’s face.

  “Of course, he’s too young,” Marcellus said swiftly. “And he could never lead an army. Who would follow him?”

  Fidelius looked at Marcellus and realized what was happening. “That’s—that’s right. They only mentioned my name because of who my father was and how much wealth he left me. Marcellus can tell you. I—I would never want to be Caesar.”

  “Of course. Come.” Octavian put his arm around Fidelius’s shoulders and passed a look to Agrippa. “Let’s take a walk. There are some things I’d like to speak about in private.”

  Fidelius looked back at Marcellus, who tried to intervene, asking, “But can’t he stay here and play dice?”

  Octavian’s glance rooted Marcellus in his place. “No.”

  Agrippa joined Octavian and Fidelius, and the three wandered off back the way we had come.

  My brother and I looked to Marcellus. “What will happen to him?” Alexander whispered.

  Marcellus looked away, and I thought there might be tears in his eyes. “His mother will be told that her son died fighting the rebels.”

  “They’re going to kill him?” I cried. “For what?”

  Marcellus put a finger to his lips. “If the Senate thought Fidelius would make a good Caesar two months ago, then what stops them from thinking the same thing three years from now?”

  “But he doesn’t want to be Caesar!” I protested.

  There was a sharp cry at the rear of the wagons, then silence. Marcellus closed his eyes. “He was my closest friend as a child,” he whispered. “I looked up to him like a brother.”

  “And your uncle doesn’t care about that?” I exclaimed.

  “No. He cares more about the stability of Rome than about anyone’s life.” He opened his eyes and looked at both of us. “Be careful with him.”

  The revolt was crushed before the sun had risen to its highest point in the sky. We were sitting by the side of the road rolling dice when Agrippa brought the news. “It’s time to leave,” he said shortly. “The rebellion is finished.”

  “And all of them killed?”

  Agrippa nodded in answer to Marcellus’s question. “Every last slave.”

  “And Fidelius?”

  Agrippa hesitated. “Unfortunately, his life was lost.”

  We stepped into our carriage, and as it began to roll, Alexander tried to distract Marcellus from his sadness. “How old is the Servian Wall?”

  Marcellus shrugged as we passed through the gates. There was no sign of any rebellion, and if the bodies of wounded slaves had littered the streets, they had since been taken away for Octavian’s arrival. “Extremely old,” he said.

  “And the Seven Hills? What are their names?”

  Marcellus pointed to the hill directly in front of us. “That’s the Quirinal.” He sighed. “Nothing special there. The one next to it’s the Viminal. It’s the smallest hill. But the Esquiline”—he indicated a hill to the right—“is where wealthy visitors lodge. The problem is getting to the inns at the top.”

  “Why? Is the road steep?” I asked.

  Marcellus smiled good-naturedly at my question. “No. It’s just filled with escaped slaves, and thieves. Men you don’t want to know,” he assured me. Then he pointed out the Caelian, capped with handsome villas. “To the right of that is the Aventine. Nothing there but pleb houses and merchants.”

  “Pleb houses?” Alexander repeated.

  “You know, houses for the plebeians. Men who aren’t equites and don’t own much land.”

  “So Caesar is an equestrian?” I asked.

  “Oh no.” Marcellus waved his hand. “Our family’s much higher than that. We’re patricians. We live on the Palatine, where Octavian is building the largest temple to Apollo.” He indicated a flat-topped hill where buildings of polished marble and porphyry gleamed. It wasn’t Alexandria, but there was some beauty in the way the buildings climbed the hillside and shone white against the pale blue sky.

  The last of the Seven Hills was the Capitoline. “My father used to take me up there to see the Tarpeian Rock,” Marcellus recalled with a shiver. “That’s where criminals are thrown from if they’re not used in the Amphitheater.”

  “And is your father still living?” I asked quietly.

  “No. He died ten years ago. A few months later, Octavian arranged for my mother to marry Antony.” Even though our mother had already given birth to me and Alexander. I felt my cheeks warm, knowing that only five years after her marriage, Octavia had been abandoned. I wondered who had been a father to Marcellus.

  “So your mother has three children,” I said.

  “Five. She had two daughters from my father, but they were sent away when she remarried.”

  I didn’t understand. “Why?”

  “Because that’s what’s expected of a newly married woman.”

  I stared at him. “That she give up her previous children?”

  “If they are girls. This is why my mother won’t marry again.”

  I thought of my father welcoming Octavia into his home but refusing the small girls who huddled fearfully behind her. Was that how it had been? Though he had never spent much time with me, my father had always been affectionate. Suddenly, I became afraid of Rome: afraid of her dirty streets, of her terrible punishments, and, most of all, of what it would be like to live with the woman my father had spurned.

  We passed a forum where slaves were being sold by the thousands. Most of them were flaxen-haired and blue-eyed.

  “Germans and Gallics.” Marcellus saw my look and shook his head. “It’s a sickening display.” As our procession of carriages rattled along, I could see the shame of the naked girls whose breasts were being squeezed by men who would buy them for work as well as pleasure, and my brother covered his mouth at the sight of grown men whose testicles had been removed.

  “Eunuchs,” Marcellus said angrily. “Some men like them, and they go for a higher price. Don’t look,” he suggested, but there was nothing else to see on the streets but starving dogs, jostling merchants, and mosaics whose crude images depicted men in various positions with women. “This is the unsavory part of the city.” He twitched the curtain closed and sat back against his seat. “In a moment, we’ll be at the Temple of Jupiter. Then it’s a short ride to the top of the Palatine and we’ll be home.”

  You’ll be home, I thought. We’ll be prisoners waiting for Caesar’s Triumph. My brother reached out and took my hand. Then there was a sudden clamor of voices outside our carriage, and Marcellus opened the curtain again. The road was filled with petitioners being told to step back, and Marcellus said proudly, “Almost there.”

  My brother pointed to a strange structure peeking out from a grove of oaks. “What is that?”

  “The Temple of Magna Mater.”

  “How is that a temple?” I asked rudely. It was a simple altar bearing a heavy rock.

  “The goddess came to earth in the shape of a stone, foretelling Rome’s victory over Hannibal.”

  I wondered what foolish story the Romans would concoct for Octavian’s victory over Egypt. Marcellus indicated a crude hut whose muddy walls would never have withstood the first gale in Alexandria. “And that’s where Romulus lived,” he said. “Do you know that story?”

  Alexander and I both shook our heads.

  “Your father never taught it to you?” he exclaimed. “Romulus and Remus were twins. When their mother abandoned them, they were raised by a she-wolf. That doesn’t sound familiar?”

  We shook our heads again.

  “They founded Rome, and this hut was where the she-wolf raised them. It was Romulus who first built walls on the Palatine. And when Remus mocked his brother’s work, Romulus killed him. But there weren’t enough women in Romulus’s tribe, so he decided to steal them from the neighboring Sabines. He invited their men to a festival, and while the men were drinking and enjoying themselves, Romulus’s men carried off their wives.”

  I gasped. “Is that wh
at’s meant by the Rape of the Sabine Women?”

  “Then you’ve heard of it?”

  “Only the name.” It was an event my mother had always alluded to when talking about the barbarism of Rome.

  “Well, the Sabine men wanted revenge. But their king could never defeat Romulus, and since the women didn’t want to see their husbands die, they begged for peace. It’s a disgusting tale,” Marcellus admitted, “but the beginning of Rome.” We had arrived at the top of the Palatine, and the carriage rolled to a stop. “Are you ready?”

  He stepped outside, then held out his hand, first for Alexander, then for me. “Rome,” he announced, and beneath the Palatine spread the most disorganized city I had ever seen. Markets and temples crowded together while brick kilns belched smoke into the blazingly hot sky. People crushed one another on the narrow streets, rushing from one shop to the next. Although the Palatine was far above the stink of the urine used in the laundries, the pungent scent wafted upward on the breeze. Even Thebes, which had suffered destruction at the hands of Ptolemy IX, was far more beautiful than this. There was no organization, no city plan, and though buildings of rare beauty stood out among the brick tabernae and bathhouses, they were like gems in a quarry of jagged stone.

  “So this is Rome,” I said, but only Alexander understood my meaning.

  “And this is my mother’s villa.”

  I turned, and a sprawling home filled the horizon above us. There were villas up and down the Palatine, but none of them commanded such a beautiful view or boasted such elaborate columns. The shutters were carefully painted the same earthy color as the tiled roof, and a pair of metal-studded wooden doors were thrown open onto a broad portico. A crowd had gathered on the steps, watching as the soldiers unloaded Egyptian statues and rare ebony chests filled with cinnamon and myrrh.

  Octavian led the way, and I took Alexander’s arm. The group on the portico chattered excitedly, and when Octavian mounted the marble steps with Marcellus, one of the women stepped forward.

  “That must be Caesar’s sister, Octavia,” I whispered to Alexander in Parthian.

  The woman wore a silk stola of Tyrian purple, and though her clothes subtly suggested great wealth, her face conveyed simplicity. She had not painted her eyelids with malachite, or even lined them with antimony, as my mother would have done. Her light hair had been pulled back into a simple chignon, and when she spread her arms to embrace her brother, I saw that her only jewel was a thin golden bracelet.

  “Salve, frater,” she said warmly, and for the first time since meeting him, I saw Octavian’s smile reach his eyes. “You look well. And only a little red this time. But I suppose that conquering the world is difficult work.”

  “Not the world,” he said without a trace of irony. “Just Egypt.”

  “Well, there will be a feast tonight. Your wife has arranged it.”

  A woman appeared behind Octavia, and I felt my brother tense at my side. This was the woman Marcellus had warned us against.

  “Livia,” Octavian said, and though he’d embraced his sister, he simply squeezed his wife’s hand.

  “Mi Caesar.” There was nothing to distinguish her from any woman on the street, and if Octavia’s dress was simple, then Livia’s was austere. Her stola was made of simple white cotton, and her dark hair had been braided before being swept back into a tight bun. She was small, and while my mother’s build had been slight, at least her voice had been remarkable. There was nothing remarkable about Livia. Yet Octavian had wanted her, wooing her while she was still married to another man and pregnant. She looked up at him with wide-eyed adoration. “All of Rome is waiting for your Triumph,” she said breathlessly. “And while you’ve been gone, I’ve arranged it all.”

  “You have the notes?”

  She nodded eagerly. “You may look them over tonight. Or even sooner, if you wish. They’re right here.” She held up a scroll she’d been concealing in her stola.

  Octavian unrolled it and skimmed the contents. “So the celebration will last for three days.”

  “Your sister thought it should be longer, but I knew you wouldn’t want to appear like Antony, turning your victories into endless Triumphs.”

  “I hardly think five days is an endless Triumph,” Octavia said sharply.

  “Five days or three, it doesn’t matter,” Octavian ruled. “We will only be participating on the first day. The rest is just entertainment for the plebs, and since Livia has planned for three, that’s what it will be.”

  Livia preened a little, smiling smugly at Octavia, and I thought that if she were my sister-in-law, I would want to slap her.

  Octavian handed the scroll to Agrippa. “Look this over and prepare the soldiers. I’ll wish to see the final plans tomorrow.”

  “And are these the children?” Octavia asked.

  Octavian nodded. “Alexander and Selene.”

  She blinked rapidly. “They are beautiful.”

  Marcellus laughed. “What did you expect? A pair of Gorgons?”

  Octavia walked down several steps so that we were standing on the same level. Instinctively, Alexander and I moved back, but there was no menace in her face. “I know you must have had a terrible voyage,” she said, “but welcome to Rome.” She smiled at us, then turned to her brother, whose face did not reflect the same tenderness. “Shall we?” she asked him, and the group followed Octavia onto the portico. Although Alexander and I were the last in the party, there was no doubting that we were of the most interest. The women craned their necks around Agrippa to see us, and Juba even stepped back so that a young girl could get a better view.

  “Caesar’s daughter, Julia,” Alexander whispered. Although many of the girls on the portico were attractive, there was no one with the same dark beauty as Julia. Her mass of black hair shone in the sunlight, and her large dark eyes were framed by long lashes. Even her mouth was pretty, not small or thin-lipped like the rest of her family’s. Her gaze shifted from me to my brother. Then Marcellus went to her and whispered something in her ear so that she giggled. I felt a strange annoyance, but didn’t have time to understand why.

  Octavian held up his arm and announced, “Since you are more interested in seeing the children of Kleopatra than me, I shall present them to you.” There were sharp denials from all around, but Octavian didn’t appear angry. “Prince Alexander Helios and Princess Kleopatra Selene.”

  Dozens of faces turned in our direction. Many in the crowd were not much older than us. “Great Jupiter!” Julia cried. “What are they wearing?”

  “Greek clothes,” Marcellus explained. “But,” he warned her, “they speak perfect Latin.” Color flooded her cheeks.

  A handsome man in a crimson toga stepped forward. “Are they—?”

  “Roman citizens,” Octavian said dryly.

  “What a shame.” The man cooled himself with a fan. “They’re quite a pair. Especially the boy.”

  “There are plenty of boys in the market, Maecenas.” Octavian looked around. “Now, who will make the introductions?”

  Though Marcellus dutifully stepped forward, Livia pushed another young man toward Octavian. The boy shrugged off her hand, and I wondered if this was one of her sons. “What are you doing?” he demanded.

  Livia’s lips grew even thinner. “Caesar has asked for someone to make the introductions.”

  “And because Marcellus wants to do it, I should, too? Perhaps I should be more like Marcellus and gamble away Caesar’s allowance, as well.”

  Marcellus laughed uneasily. “There’s nothing wrong with gambling.”

  But Octavian glowered. “Not when it’s done in moderation.”

  Everyone heard the implied criticism, and Marcellus colored a little. Then he introduced us to those gathered on the portico, beginning with Livia’s son Tiberius, who had shaken off his mother’s hand. His nine-year-old brother was Drusus, and each of them was the very image of Livia, with sharp noses and too-thin lips. Though I knew I would never remember so many names, Marcellus went on
, pointing out our half sisters Antonia and Tonia, shy girls who clung to Octavia’s stola and had none of our father’s gregariousness. There was Vipsania, Agrippa’s little girl whose mother had perished in childbirth, and a cluster of old men whose names I had heard of in the Museion, Horace and Vergil among them.

  When Marcellus was finished, Livia held out her arm for her husband. “Shall we prepare for your Feast of Welcome?”

  “But I haven’t asked Marcellus about his journey,” Julia complained.

  “Then you may ask him tonight,” Livia said tersely.

  Julia looked for reversal from her father, but he gave her none, and they left with Agrippa and Juba, trailing a dozen slaves behind them.

  When they were gone, Octavia said softly, “Marcellus, show Alexander and Selene to their chamber. When their chests have been brought, I will come myself to prepare them for Caesar’s feast.” She looked down at the small girls clinging to her legs. “Shall we pluck some roses for the dinner?” The little girls nodded eagerly, then chased each other to the end of the portico.

  We followed Marcellus into a long hallway whose mosaic floor spelled out the word SALVE, welcoming visitors into Octavia’s home. “This is the vestibulum,” he said, leading us through it into another columned room he called the atrium. A beech-beamed opening overhead admitted sunlight, and terra-cotta gutters led into a marble pool. I asked Marcellus, “How often does it rain?”

  “Well, in summer, almost never. But in winter the streets of Rome turn to mud.” He gestured toward several doors leading from the atrium. “Those are the guest rooms. And that is the tabulinum, where my mother keeps her desk.” He pointed to the far side of the room, and through the slightly open door I could see a long table of polished oak. “Over there is the lararium.”

  “And what is that?”

  Marcellus turned in surprise to Alexander. “Aren’t there lararia in Egypt?” he asked. “That’s where we greet the Lares every morning.” Alexander and I looked at the alcove, with its long granite altar and ancestral busts of the Julii. When Marcellus saw our expressions, he explained, “They’re the spirits of our ancestors. We give them a little wine and bread every morning.”

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