She had an old
litter brought up out of the stables, and went to church.
The grey weather had been abnormal; the sun was back with
its accompaniment of dust, flies, and smells. Signs of
privation were everywhere: in the barred and bolted
taverns that had nothing to eat or drink, the pinched look
of the slum-women and their children, the angry faces of
the men who were ready to riot but so hungry they could
litter outside the Lateran cathedral, Adriana joined the
crowd flowing toward the fragrant darkness of the nave.
She passed into cool twilight; her eye traveled restfully
over old mosaics, gold on blue, dull red on gold. Clouds
of incense rose toward the high ceiling of the cathedral,
a soothing blend that suggested cinnamon and wild roses.
The great church, spared by the Vandals, was packed with
the plain people of Rome, as it always was in hard times:
people who believed in the Holy Trinity and the Evil Eye,
and made the sign of the cross before sorting out their
differences with knives.
tinkled; the altar-lights flickered. Antiphonal readings
and responses rolled up with the incense. The pope
delivered a sermon of fire and ice, rising twice from his
gilded throne to hurl his words at the bowed heads of the
people. The movements of the grand, white-haired figure
had a hypnotic effect on the worshipers. Hardly able to
understand Leoís cultured Latin, they were sure that
they were being improved by it.
catechumens were dismissed; the eucharistic liturgy began
in a cloud of incense. Adrianaís trance was completed by
the gigantic movement of the flabellum, like a huge
single-winged insect, over the Host. The sacred elements
were sweet on her tongue. Kneeling in the aromatic dusk,
she hardly heard the words of dismissal. The crowd bore
her up and out into the day. In the shocking sunlight she
found herself once again in a whirl of litters, her
bearers angling with difficulty toward the palace of the
palace had a massive, somber, antiquated look, though it
was no older than the time of Constantine. Clergy gathered
and dispersed at the palace doors, like flocks of pigeons.
A monk received Adriana with a bow, and tugged the string
of an unseen bell. She left her eunuchs and followed him
to the popeís study. The two stood shoulder to shoulder
in respectful silence, waiting. There were footsteps,
quick and light, in the corridor. The door swung open
silently; a heavy rustle of silk entered the room, with a
faint, dark aroma compounded of incense and masculine
in a white tunic, bowed slightly and smiled. Adriana knelt
and kissed the heavy ring he wore on his right forefinger.
regret this intrusion on your day, Your Holiness,"
always have time for my neighborís business," Leo
had the eagle features and long frame of a mountaineer.
His character baffled and enchanted Adriana. Leo was
rigid, generous, sympathetic, presumptuous, an indifferent
student of character, but a masterly judge of
circumstance. He was irritable and tender toward everyone.
He asked many questions and seemed not to hear the
answers, but days later he could quote the exact words to
the original speaker, who had forgotten them.
Adriana to a chair and took his seat at a broad table
covered with parchment rolls. Three bearded young monks,
witnesses to the interview, stood in a semicircle at the
popeís right elbow, like young blackbirds on a twig.
sure that Leo would speak first of her divorce. Instead,
the pope twisted in his chair, stabbed a lean forefinger
at one of the monks, then pointed to the study door. The
boyís face was a mask as he took up his new point of
observation just outside the room, but his beard quivered.
first order of business," Leo smiled, "is to
create privacy in circumstances that make no allowance for
it. Demetrius and Nicagoras here are part of the answer,
bless them. They speak only Greek. They monitor my virtue
without monitoring my affairs. Primus, on the other hand,
speaks only Latin. Heís required to stand in the
one ask why?"
a spy," Leo said lightly. "I keep him because
heís so wonderfully clumsy. Utterly transparent, easily
managed. Itís useful to have the devilís man under
your roof provided he doesnít know that you know.
Whatever I wish the devilís people to hear, I tell
Primus and warn him not to repeat it. Only the truth, mind
you. ĎCursed be he who does the Lordís work
deceitfully.í Will you have wine?"
at the Greeks, who produced a crater and a pair of silver
motherís serving set," the pope said. "I took
great pains to hide it from the Germans."
her thanks. Demetrius filled her goblet with a concise,
expert flourish. Adriana smiled at the uncomprehending
faces of the Greek monks, who seemed to radiate the bliss
of ignorance. The popeís wine, dark and hearty, rushed
to her cheeks and knees.
the second time in three years, all Rome thinks of Bishop
Leo as a fragment of Deity," she said, a little
rashly. Twice the pope had saved the City by the force of
his personality. Near Sirmio he had gone alone into
Attilaís camp, defenseless among Hunnish warriors
hysterical with pride and rage, and had extracted a
promise that Rome would be spared the fate of northern
Italy. Now he had won a similar concession from Geiseric.
does Your Holiness do these things?" Adriana asked.
"Do you have a formula for pacifying wild men?"
the work of Blessed Peter," the pope shrugged
modestly. "I open this big mouth, and the Apostle
speaks. Who knows what happens in the barbarian brain? I
suppose both Attila and Geiseric thought I was a superior
sort of magician."
little. King Geisericís lieutenants gloomed at me under
their helmets and cursed into their beards, but the old
sinner himself made them be quiet so I could speak. To the
extent that trust is possible between a servant of heaven
and a servant of hell, I suppose Geiseric and I trust each
spread his hands. "Itís a pity that the higher we
rise in this world, the fewer are the people we can
trustóuntil, when we reach a certain height, we can
trust hardly anyone except God Himself. That was Petronius
Maximusís trouble, poor man. He rose to the highest
heights, humanly speaking, but he couldnít rely on the
Most High because he himself was untrustworthy."
took a sip of wine, turned it on his tongue, and swallowed
told," he said, "that a pellet of ice high in
the Alps may roll down, gathering snow, until it becomes
an avalanche and crushes a village in the valley."
like that is happening to Rome," Leo continued.
"The death of old Aetius is the pellet of ice that
left the mountain-top. It has rolled and rolled ever
since, gaining in size and taking two emperors with it. A
man we both know is pushing it from behind. Others, myself
among them, are in the avalancheís track, trying to stop
it. In the valley below is the Roman Empire. Am I
one ask where you are on the mountainside, madam? Above or
below the avalanche?"
the valley, of course," Adriana answered. "My
sympathies are certainly with you, and with the others who
are trying to keep Rome out of the hands of the only
person currently eager to assume the diadem."
the only one," the pope sighed. "I find it hard
to love Faustinus. I confess it as a sin. He hates truth
the way a Hun hates bath water."
suppose one could do him the courtesy of imagining that
his motives are noble," Adriana said with heavy
sure they are," the pope grimaced. "All tyrants
have noble motives. Nero had noble motives. He murdered to
expression softened. He examined her face with a
we speak more of politics, I must touch on a personal
matter. Your news has preceded you, madam," he said
nodded with a grim expression, indicating that the worst
was true, and that she had been helpless to prevent it.
a shame," the pope said. "Quintus would have fit
the throne almost perfectly, apart from the domestic
turbulence Iíve been hearing about at third or fourth
hand. My dear, couldnít you have brought your troubles
to an old friend?"
was the original subject of my visit, but it wouldnít
have been easy," she said. "I find myself in a
position that God is said to disapprove."
came to that, then, as I was told?" the pope sighed.
"The divorce is a matter of mutual consent, bona
gratia, I trust, rather than repudium?"
was a matter of sin," Adriana answered bluntly.
"Iím the victim. The ladies of the court are hugely
pleased, Iím sure. Failure is the high road to
trust that reconciliation is possible?" the pope said
with such force that the question was in fact a statement.
"Let me be blunt. Thereís far more at issue here
than the sanctity of marriage. My political instinct tells
me that you, madam, will wear Eudoxiaís crown."
a horrible thought," Adriana burst out spontaneously.
sit on high like that poor woman, simmering under a crust
of gold and jewels, and listening to lies all day."
the throne may be the safest place in Rome for Your
Felicity to sit," the pope said, with a suggestive
rise of the eyebrows, "assuming we can get Quintus
back. Youíre aware that Faustinus has forbidden all
members of senatorial families to leave the city? His
purpose is to force the selection of a new emperor,
weíre meant to think. But whatís his real
elimination of his adversaries, surely," Adriana
said. "Collect them in one place and detach their
heads with a single stroke. My own head must be included,
as you suggest. And so, Your Holiness, weíve arrived
naturally at the matter Iíd like to discuss with
thoughts came together in a rush, aided by the popeís
good humor. He sat smiling in a warm aura of light from a
high window. Adriana raised her goblet and sipped
reflectively. Leo inclined his head.
years," she said, her cheeks warming with the wine,
"Iíve wondered how it might be to throw off my
matronly vocation the way I get rid of a jeweled wrap
after an evening of suffering on the Palatine. Since my
life under the current Antichrist wonít be worth a
copper anyway, I suppose I may spend it recklessly. So I
came to seek your patronage."
at the study door, caught the vulture look in Primusís
eyes, and smiled sweetly. The monkís face was a mask of
thinking of Quintus," she continued. "Not
because of the throne: you know how little appetite I have
for that sort of thing."
remember," she said thoughtfully, "I remember
the troubled dreams he used to have, about a mile-square
jumble of wax tablets containing idiotic orders and
pointless memoranda. I used to hold him in my arms when he
woke, sweating. And I remember curing his headaches with
my fingertips at his temples.
all his weaknesses, heís a generous man. I find myself
wanting to help himóeven if that would mean risking my
high station in life, and all the wonderful gluttony and
deceit that go with it, parading in the latest Byzantine
robes and wigs."
for breath. The pope nodded his interest. One of the
boy-monks coughed. The other cleared his throat.
idea came to me when I was looking over the wreckage of my
garden on Monday," Adriana said. "Itís an
absurd thought, of courseóbut what else can one expect
of a woman Ďwhose frail intelligence tosses lightly on a
tide of sin,í as the poet helpfully reminds us."
guffawed, bringing his hands together in a single clap.
a passage in Appianís civil-war historyódoes Your
Holiness recall it?óin which the wife of Rheginus
smuggles him out of Rome, disguised as a charcoal
ignorance is complete," Leo smiled. "The idea
wife was no doubt a person of frail intelligence,"
Adriana continued, "but she showed that one woman can
do more by the finger of God than a whole army without it.
Itís said that the Vandal army in Africa numbers fifteen
thousand at mostóthe proverbial fly on an elephantís
hindquarters. The coast north of Carthage can hardly be
patrolled effectively. I know that coast almost as well as
the Almighty does, if I may say so, and I know the
governorís palace like the shape of my face. If I were
to go quietly ashore on the cape north of the city, I
could reach the Byrsa on foot in a matter of hours. The
palace shouldnít be a problem. By all reports, security
is relaxed most of the time. Geisericís whole court
spends its days in bed and its nights in the wassail
sense the beginnings of an adventure," the pope said,
tapping his upper lip thoughtfully. "Iíve known you
since you were three hands tall, my dear. Youíve never
been afraid of an adventure. More wine?"
Your Charityís leave."
nearly reckless now. The adventure, as the pope called it,
flowered in her mind, an array of bright colors blending
into one another. Leo was smiling, but not with contempt.
have certain advantages," she said, counting them on
her fingertips. "Although I hardly remember the Punic
tongue, I speak the pidgin of the African cities well
enough to salute the sentries and to bargain for a sack of
dates and a bottle of water. Iím nearly the color of a
Berber; no one would question whether I belong in
Carthage. A little walnut-juice on my face and limbs might
help. I can wrap myself in a burnoose and enter the city
with the market crowd before dawn. The palace staff is
still largely Roman, by all reports. I know how to
approach them. Is my thinking clear so far?"
nodded from side to side, a conditional yes.
Iím unlikely to be taken for a spy. Getting into the
palace shouldnít be difficult. Some of its thousands of
servants should be known to me from the old times. There
are several possible routes: rutting soldiers, the slave
market, the stables, the kitchen, the kingís public
audiences, in which he poses as savior of the natives from
Roman tyranny. I think Iíd choose the kitchenógo in
with the vegetables, so to speak."
then?" the pope inquired.
retrace my steps with Quintus, lightly disguised. Iíd
leave the palace with the garbage, the city in a winecart,
the country in a fishing-smack after dark. Now, itís
possible that Quintus could arrange his own escape from
Geiseric, since the Germansí attention will be
concentrated on the empress and her suite. But the poor
man would be helpless in Carthage. He doesnít know the
palace or the city at all, and his ability to live by his
wits is so meager that heíd starve to death in a
strawberry patch. Are you laughing yet, Holiness? Iím
sure Iím a lunatic."
weíre all lunatics," the pope said softly.
"The only question is whether weíre lunatics for
Christ or for the devil."
his fingertips together and lost himself in thought.
Adriana waited for his words, her face heated with wine
do you defend yourself, madam?" the pope asked
not usually necessary," Adriana said, with a quiet
confidence that seemed to please him. "When a free
woman is alone in the street, everyone assumes that
sheís poor or demented. One would need a good reason to
bother her. But sometimes I carry a whip. Its chief value
is a certain theatric ambiguity, though I can take a fly
off a dogís nose if I need to. I carry a knife as
knife?" The pope held his forefingers a foot apart,
with an expression of amusement.
so clumsy. Itís a womanís knife, a thread of steel.
But itís Ďdippedí in the manner of the Berbers, and
it kills more efficiently than a sword half the length of
leaned back in his chair.
madam," he said, folding his hands and leaning back
toward his attending Greeks, "my own interest in this
sort of caprice is more political than sentimental, and
there are limits to the help I can offer you. But the idea
itself pleases me. Its simplicity and its small scale will
make it difficult for our adversary. A little water is
enough to drown a fool."
smiled briefly at his own proverb, and went on.
both know something of Faustinusís weaknesses. His
father was rarely candid, but once he told me something
instructive about the son. He said that when Faustinus was
a small boy, heíd never content himself with merely
swatting a fly. Heíd always pull the corpse to shreds
and grind the shreds into smaller ones. The senior
Faustinus told me that with fatherly pride. To me, it
illustrates that the son is incapable of distinguishing
between singleness of purpose and monomania. He has no
sense of proportion at all. Itís a fatal weakness. Do
means that heíll lead the palace guard himself, if
necessary, to bring you back to Rome." Leo rubbed his
hands together briskly. "And thatís exactly the
fish we can expect to catch with our thoroughly feminine
lureópardon me, madam. To diffuse an enemyís resources
is a fundamental principle of war."
pope had seized her initiative and was running with it;
his mind raced behind his eyes.
yes," Leo said, "Faustinus is one of those young
men who rise quickly in the world, up to a point. At that
point, they get hanged. Iíve spent a long life watching
ambitious young men come up and go down, up and down, as
predictably as the moon. Faustinus is according to
pattern, I assure you. Heís good-looking, cold, bright,
shallow, unscrupulous. Heíll ruin many on his way to
hell, but unless God himself intervenes, Faustinusís end
is sure as the death of sparrows. He lays the snares by
which heíll be caught, all the while congratulating
himself on the cleverness of their construction. Eheu!
The devilís children are always fools. There are no
Adriana cautioned, "fool or no, if Faustinus takes
the throne weíll see a run of blood that will make the
second Valentinianís purges look like a Sabbath
do everything we can to prevent it," the pope said.
"When a viper pokes its head out of a hole, one must
crush it at once, or the tail may be more than one can
Iíll send my servant Bassus on a conspicuous trip to
Sardinia," Adriana thought aloud, "to give
Faustinus a false trail, and myself a head start. Itíll
be easy enough for me to disappear. If Iím caught,
Iíll commit myself to the intercessory powers of Your
youíre dealing with a viper, itís best not to be
caught," the pope said quietly.
leave my household and finances in your care?"
confidence, madam." The pope made a wry face. "I
stand ready to prove that not all bishops are
raced ahead of itself in pursuit of details.
will expect me to go by sea; therefore Iíll go by land
at least part way," she said. "I may enjoy some
safety within a hundred miles of Rome. To hound me within
Quintusís jurisdiction would be an outrage. Not even
Faustinus would dare to do it, unless it could be done
secretly. But once Iím south of Capua, it may be hard
for me to survive alone."
the pope nodded. "The South is a terrible place:
rivers without water, goats without milk, men without
honor, women without modesty. Itíd be best, I think, if
I were to send a pair of holy women. Then you could travel
literally in the bosom of the Church."
instinct warned her to stay clear of the popeís offer,
however transparent its sincerity.
I have no need for pious company," she said. "A
servant or two of my own will be enough."
Leo graciously insisted, "itís a question of
propriety, donít you see? A lone woman on the road would
be conspicuously irregular. The company of one or two
Ďladies of charityí would silence all our potential
detractors. Perhaps I should say my detractors,
since Iím the one whoíll be accused of the
unscrupulous use of a noble woman if matters miscarry.
Weíll speak of all this again, surely. Right now I have
something important for you."
to one of the monks and gave instructions in Greek. The
boy left the room and returned with a signet-ring on a
silver platter, an intaglio of a rampant lion carrying a
cross, carved in jasper and set in gold.
is from God," the pope said, making the sign of the
cross above the ring, and slipping it over Adrianaís
right forefinger. "Every bishop between Rome and
Carthage will recognize that ring as mine, and will give
you what you need. Youíre a soldier of God now, and I
pray that his victory will go with you everywhere."
were wholly sane, I suppose Iíd stay home and pray
for victory," Adriana reflected. "The sea is
nearly impassable. The countryside is a shambles, full of
cutthroats and wild animals. But thereís really nothing
for me here. Most of what Iíve prized in life is gone.
Still, it wonít be easy. . . ."
will not," the pope agreed, "and life itself is
not. The trick is to turn your adversities into a lash for
the back of your adversary. Until youíve whipped the
devil unmercifully you donít know your own
corridor outside the study, clusters of priests had
gathered for the afternoonís orders, with assorted
presbyters, deacons, exorcists, and readers, talking in
whispers. The pope stood and spread his hands.
Iím besieged; I regret that I must ask your
rose and knelt, kissed the ring on Leoís right
forefinger, and turned to leave the room. A shaft of
sunlight drew her attention to an ivory statuette of
Christ by the door, a young shepherd embracing a lost lamb
found again. She thought of Quintus with a rush of
canít succeed, you know," she said, glancing back
at the pope with an ironic smile, "but perhaps this
is the best one can doófinish off oneís earthly life
with a chase through the countryside."
not the earthly end for you, dear Adriana," the pope
said with warm assurance, "not by any means. Rather,
a beginning. When youíre an old woman with grandchildren
to torment you and make your life worth living, youíll
look back with satisfaction on this Ďchaseí of yours
and wish you could repeat it."
like to be sure of that," Adriana said, making her
final bow, "but the diversion will be welcome in any
keep you, daughter," Leo said, making the sign of the
cross. "You have my thanks and my blessing."
Adriana, the pope raised one finger to his assembled
clergy, indicating the span of a moment, and closed the
door with his own hand. Alone, he went to the tiny garden
off the study and stood gazing at the painting on the far
wall, a detailed representation of the famous view from
the Lateran roof. Soon, a female agent of the Lateran
would cross that landscape in a haze of yellow dust, and
disappear through the cleft in the mountains on the
watched Primusís face during the interview: plainly, the
monk knew only enough to cause small trouble in return for
the Judas-money he was receiving. Successful or
unsuccessful, the good womanís mission to Carthage would
accomplish its purpose. It was one of a hundred ways to
distract and waste Satan in the person of Faustinus.
head brimming with plots and counterplots, the pope
pictured a fast two-wheeled carriage hurrying eastward
over the Roman plain, and smiled like a happy child.
elaborate signet of the Urban Vicar stood out among the
waxed tablets of the morningís correspondence two days
later. Adriana felt the disingenuous eyes of the spy
Primus watching her again, as she broke Faustinusís seal
and read the brief message scratched in the wax:
prudent. Do not try to overrule Fate. The Mamertine
Prison has not lost its taste for high-born flesh.
salutation, no attempt at graciousness; the pompous
rudeness was entirely characteristic of Faustinus when he
felt threatened but knew too little to mount an effective
the paired tablets in both hands, snapped them in half,
and threw the pieces on the floor. Her irritation faded
quickly; there was no time. She was thinking of the sparse
necessities that could be hidden in the barrels of a
single wine-cart, to be driven to Capua by a pair of
trusted servants, in place of the normal array of slaves,
mules, and luggage-vans. A large travel-train would be
assembled in the stableyard, as a decoy for Faustinusís
informants, and dismantled after Adriana had slipped away.
three days were a quiet, intense struggle. Adriana sat at
the high table in Quintusís study and directed a steady
flow of servants, some rehabilitating the house, others
setting up travel gear from materials that the Vandals had
found uninteresting. The details of the proconsulís
palace in Carthage repeated themselves in her mind like
nagging fragments of melody: the distance from the throne
room to the proconsulís apartments, now occupied by the
Vandal king; the distance from the proconsulís
apartments to the guardsmensí barracks; from the
barracks to the great central kitchen; from the kitchen to
the dormitory for the kitchen slaves; from the dormitory
to the semi-secret postern gate in the north wall of the
building, with its trick lock that enabled the younger
members of the household to enter the palace unnoticed
after a nightís carousing on the waterfront.
Saturday, a last detail of business remained before she
collapsed into bed. She dismissed her maids and eunuchs,
and stood alone at the streetside window of her
sitting-room. She waited, leaning her head against the
cool frame, letting herself be soothed by the intoxicating
scent of the Quirinal gardens in early summer.
before sunset she saw her friend the pious beggar-boy
limping up the hill from the Subura, sniffing the air,
singing a hymn, waiting for the Apocalypse. By custom he
finished his day under her window and often stayed after
dark. He was sure of her charity.
beggar squatted with his bowl. He looked up, saw Adriana
at her window, nodded respectfully, and made the sign of
She went to
her dressing table and took out a worn pouch, containing
small gold coins with which she complimented her maids.
The Germans had overlooked it. From the window she tossed
one bright disc with a practiced hand, landing it in the
dust between the boyís bare feet.
where you are," she commanded softly, projecting her
voice. "I must speak with you."
oil-lamp in her hand, she hurried down the dark shaft of a
servantsí stairwell. The boy was near a postern gate to
the garden. She swung the little door wide; the beggar
came to her.
family and I have been grateful for the ruby ring,
madam," he said, nodding his pleasant face from side
to side. "Is Your Charity unprotected?"
entirely," she said. "My eunuchs patrol the
house at night, but sometimes I escape them. Privately,
thenóare you willing to do an errand for me?"
will do it at onceóprivately."
have a better understanding of the Subura than I do. You
know the people face-to-face. You must know young men who
perform simple services for hire?"
especially in the Lordís service. There are many of us
who live on manna while we wait for the Lord to
explained what she wanted at dawn on Tuesday: a brief
scene of harmless mayhem at the Praenestine gate, arranged
in absolute secrecy.
certain that I can trust you."
because Iím Godís man, and also because your
physicians cured my little one when he was sick."
timing is vital," she exhorted him, handing over the
rest of the pouch of coins.
remember everything," he smiled, tapping his
forehead, and ran off into the twilight.
Sunday Mass, worked feverishly all day, and slept soundly.
Twice she woke and looked out all her windows in a stupor,
unsure whether she was in Italy or Africa. Down in the
stableyard, a smoky glow beyond the garden, her slaves
were working by torchlight to assemble mounds of equipment
that would never be used.
before dawn, she went to a little-used courtyard on the
side of the palace opposite the stables, and watched her
servants bring together a few necessary items to be
concealed under the false bottoms of empty wine-barrels: a
sparse assortment of cosmetics; elementary changes of
clothing; small weapons; a chest of new gold solidi
bearing the image of Petronius Maximus, almost all of
Adrianaís portable wealth, excavated from an obscure
corner of the wine-cellar. A wagon drawn by four gray
mules lumbered into the yard. Its empty casks were thrown
down; the loaded casks were hoisted into the wagon-bed.
The vehicle and its driver were too commonplace to be
stopped at the Appian gate; the luggage and the money
would be in Capua by the time Adriana overtook them.
next day she was followed closely by Salvia, clucking and
chirping, bobbing and scratching. Adriana had rashly let
her know the general direction of her trip.
you could go north, madam, why should you wish to go
south," the old woman complained, "where the sun
melts boulders and turns a womanís brain to vapor in her
head, and the people who donít have chilblains have the
itch? Surely Your Illustriousness will not do well without
servants on the road. Your safety. . . ."
know how to frighten the public," Adriana said.
"A woman on foot alone is presumed loose, destitute,
or insane. No one bothers her, at least during the
what if someone is overwhelmed by temptation?"
carry a whip. Iíll use it."
what of a scoundrel who takes pleasure in being
will gratify him," Adriana said, bringing her hands
together with a resounding crack.
madam," the old woman sighed, "thereís no
telling who youíll fall in with. There are spies and
unbelievers everywhere, and servants of false gods, and
evils seen and unseen, and a general hatred of holiness
Weíre wasting time," Adriana said sharply at last.
"If the farmer spends the morning putting on his
boots, what will the cows eat?"
assembled the clothes she would wear: no ornaments, the
plainest tunic and cloak she could find, borrowed from one
of her maidservants. From a chest in her bedroom she took
a glass vial, engraved with mysterious characters, and her
tiny stiletto in its sheath of leather. She examined her
fingers in lamplight to see that the skin was not
scratched. From the vial she poured a single drop of oil
on the razor-sharp stiletto blade, and spread it along the
cutting edge with a mahogany toothpick. The substance
the toothpick to a harmless stub in the flame of the lamp
and secured the little knife in its sheath. The effects
that she wore on her body would be at a minimum: her
purse, containing small coins and the popeís ring; her
jeweled cross; and the insignificant-looking weapon that
could lay out a horse and put a man on a slab.
All day she
was in a deep, cool sadness. She did her best to get away
from Salvia and the other servants, so she could steep
herself in the flavors of the house before she had to
leave. With her own hands she performed little tasks that
normally she would have assigned: stitched a few gold
coins into the lining of her tunic, assembled a satchel of
cheese and biscuit, filled a wineskin with a stout
unwatered vintage. The palace had always been Quintusís,
but she found herself sentimentally rooted to it. In the
moments of solitude that she could manage, she went
through the rooms touching familiar objects that the
servants had succeeded in hiding from the Germans: small
lamps that had fastened themselves to her heart, a
childís ivory chair from Quintusís boyhood, a votive
statue to the Virgin in the house-chapel.
She went to
the stables and rested awhile in the pungent darkness,
listening to her animals feed. She put her arms around
Feroxís neck, and kissed him on the forehead.
stay here," she said, "where youíll be out of
danger. God and the servants will take care of you."
herself to think that he nodded his head, a little sadly
but with understanding.
fitfully. Salvia woke her before dawn when the time had
come to leave. She tied up her hair in a bun and jammed a
shapeless felt hat down over it. Her maidís old tunic,
patched cloak, and light leather boots were her road gear.
In her attiring-room mirror she looked like a shepherd boy
who had never bathed in anything but sweat. By the time an
observer had decided that she was female, she would be
mercy, madam," Salvia stormed, wagging her triple
chin, "youíve had chests full of silks and furs and
Indian gauzes and all the tissues of the Orient, Damascus
crimson and shot gold from Constantinople and Lord knows
what all, and now you go riding in an unbleached sack!
Youíll starve, wonít you?"
are inns along the road, Salvia," Adriana said
patiently. "If not, there are weeds and
a shame that Your Radiance must leave home in this
condition," Salvia complained, trailing Adriana to
the stables. "Itís enough to irritate the Seven
Archangels. Everything is ready. God keep you, madam. The
air is like broth. Iím sure thereíll be a
thing more," Adriana said, and motioned to Salvia to
silent corridors she walked to the place where her soul
resided in Rome. It was too early to see the damaged
marbles and the wrecked laurel hedges where the
nightingales had nested. Just before dawn, the garden was
a silent green valley full of fragrance and shadow.
went back to the stableyard, kissed Salvia and the other
servants one by one on the cheek, and slipped out a
postern gate into the street.
northeast on the Quirinal, moving rapidly along the gloomy
avenue between the high faÁades of palaces and public
buildings, like sea-cliffs. She had little concern about
being alone in the city in the early morning. Hardly
anything in her appearance would attract attention. Among
those who were interested enough to speculate that she was
female, the assumption would be that she was a freedwoman
on an errand, too poor to keep slaves of her own, or a
prostitute out of her working-clothes. She would likely be
left alone in either case; most people still kept their
places as a matter of habit, though they dimly suspected
that the State was too feeble to control them. Meanwhile,
Adrianaís dagger in its sheath lay comfortingly against
southeast to cross the Viminal hill, the Cispian, the
Esquiline. Clenching her riding-whip, she moved quickly
through a section of tenements approaching the Praenestine
gate, a region of rags and squalor where children slept
six to a pallet and their parents died before becoming
grandparents. A beggar gummed a plea and held out a bowl.
Drunkards snored in corners; asses brayed; a city rooster
dawn-crowd milled at the double-arched gate: toothless
peasants with coarse voices, screaming drivers required to
be out of the city by sunrise, mules stamping and shaking
their bells, people attached to oxcarts, cheese-wagons,
charcoal-wagons. As Adriana expected, a timely brawl had
begun in the crush next to the customs shed. Officials
pushed against the crowds and were pushed in return. A
winecart had tangled with a peasantís wagon, strewing
empty barrels in the road. The drivers had turned from
lashing their mules to lashing each other. Someone had
pulled a knife. Dust was thick in the air. Adriana gave
thanks for it.
For a brief
moment, the face of her agent the beggar-boy stood out in
the crowd. She caught his eye; his glance was triumphant.
She nodded her thanks and moved toward the gate between
winecarts and empty hay-wagons, under the noses of mules
and barking cart-dogs. The chaos escalated; the guards
were occupied. She slipped out of the city unnoticed,
under cover of a black-bearded shepherd.
herself as she cleared the gate, passed under an arch of
the Claudian aqueduct, and entered the highway to her
right, the Via Labicana, bordered with ornate tombs,
stretching out of sight. The rising sun glowed beyond the
tombs. A dawn-breeze swept over the Roman plain, shivering
the poplar trees along the road.
black covinnus waited inconspicuously in the shadow
of a tomb. Its driver was asleep, or pretending. The mules
were Adrianaís own: decent, lively creatures bred for
speed, with more horse than donkey in their temperament.
The driver, a bold boy from her stables, made a sitting
bow as she jumped up beside him. She patted the bundled
provisions on the seat between them, the essential items
that would serve until she reached Capua.
eased the carriage onto the highway, ahead of the crush of
mules, carts, and peasants on foot, now pouring through
the Praenestine gate. Well beyond the city wall, where no
one could be interested in a change of drivers, she took
the reins herself and thanked her servant with a gold
tremissis. He jumped off the rig with a farewell salute.
"Way!" at the top of her lungs, and cracked her
whip furiously to clear a path through the foot-traffic,
and the little vehicle shot down the road in a billow of
quarter-hour she was beyond the tombs and the suburban
villas. The way broadened out into the Roman plain, with
ruined temples standing deserted in fields of ripe wheat,
and silver cattle grazing in green patches under the
She was in
high spirits. In Hadrianís time she would have been
posted in all the cities of Italy within twenty-four hours
after a warrant had been issued for her arrest. But
nowadays, as the pope was fond of saying, the devilís
house was divided against itself. By the time
Faustinusís men had learned enough to look for her in
Capua, she would be elsewhere.
eye she traced the slender ribbon of the Via Labicana to
the Alban hills at the edge of the plain, and estimated
the time it would take her to cross the intervening
distance. She whipped up the mules and trotted past ripe
fields, gray huts, silver cattle, dilapidated farm-wagons
driven by peasants with the same facial expression as
briefly in an unwalled field to rest the mules and let
them pasture. The animals fed and lay down next to their
tethers. She propped herself against a chestnut tree,
washed down some hard little biscuits with wine, and dozed
briefly in the shade. She woke; a flock of greasy
farm-children had gathered to stare at her. She threw a
biscuit at them, making them laugh.
through a sea of olive foliage, she entered the hilly
country north of Tusculum, alert to the changing scenery.
In her mind, the South had begun. She had a roughly
accurate notion of it: pockets of civilization in the
river-valleys, trackless forests on the heights, a
near-wilderness to which the rustic deities of Rome had
been banished by Christ, and where the country people
still humored the old gods with song and dance, votive
tablets, and offerings set in hedges and stone walls. She
had never been intimately familiar with the territory
south and east of Rome, but the rules for staying alive in
the open were the same everywhere: dress wounds promptly
with wine, bathe often, sleep on high ground, kill oneís
own meat, stay away from cities as much as possible,
remember which wild plants were good for stuffing a bed,
wiping the skin, making soup, killing odors.
left Rome at last. Once only, she looked back across the
golden plain to see the city shimmering in the distance.
It appeared, an immense array of rectangles behind
castellated walls, and vanished behind a spur of the Alban
hills. With a sense of finality she turned her back on the
tombs of the dead and the abominations of the living, and
set her face toward the southern mountains.