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Chapter 6

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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 hardly stand.

Leaving her 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.

A bell 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.

The 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 pope.

The Lateran 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 perfume.

The pope, in a white tunic, bowed slightly and smiled. Adriana knelt and kissed the heavy ring he wore on his right forefinger.

"I regret this intrusion on your day, Your Holiness," she said.

"I always have time for my neighborís business," Leo smiled.

The pope 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.

He motioned 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.

She was 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.

"The 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 hall."

"May one ask why?"

"Heís 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?"

He gestured at the Greeks, who produced a crater and a pair of silver goblets.

"My motherís serving set," the pope said. "I took great pains to hide it from the Germans."

She nodded 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.

"For 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.

"How does Your Holiness do these things?" Adriana asked. "Do you have a formula for pacifying wild men?"

"Itís 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."

"No resistance?"

"A 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 other."

The pope 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."

The pope took a sip of wine, turned it on his tongue, and swallowed it thoughtfully.

"Iím 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."

"Yes, Holiness."

"Something 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 clear?"

"Entirely."

"May one ask where you are on the mountainside, madam? Above or below the avalanche?"

"In 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."

"Yes, 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."

"I suppose one could do him the courtesy of imagining that his motives are noble," Adriana said with heavy irony.

"Iím sure they are," the pope grimaced. "All tyrants have noble motives. Nero had noble motives. He murdered to serve them."

Leoís expression softened. He examined her face with a sympathetic smile.

"Before we speak more of politics, I must touch on a personal matter. Your news has preceded you, madam," he said quietly.

Adriana nodded with a grim expression, indicating that the worst was true, and that she had been helpless to prevent it.

"Itís 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?"

"That 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."

"It 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?"

"It 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 popularity."

"I 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."

"Itís a horrible thought," Adriana burst out spontaneously.

"Horrible, madam?"

"To sit on high like that poor woman, simmering under a crust of gold and jewels, and listening to lies all day."

"Nevertheless, 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 reason?"

"The 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 you."

Her 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.

"For 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."

She glanced at the study door, caught the vulture look in Primusís eyes, and smiled sweetly. The monkís face was a mask of thwarted curiosity.

"Iím thinking of Quintus," she continued. "Not because of the throne: you know how little appetite I have for that sort of thing."

She paused.

"But I 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.

"With 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."

She stopped for breath. The pope nodded his interest. One of the boy-monks coughed. The other cleared his throat.

"An 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."

The pope guffawed, bringing his hands together in a single clap.

"Thereís 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 dealer?"

"My ignorance is complete," Leo smiled. "The idea has charm."

"Rheginusís 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 bowl."

"I 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?"

"By Your Charityís leave."

She was 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.

"I 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?"

The pope nodded from side to side, a conditional yes.

"So 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."

"And then?" the pope inquired.

"Iíd 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."

"Oh, weíre all lunatics," the pope said softly. "The only question is whether weíre lunatics for Christ or for the devil."

Leo pressed his fingertips together and lost himself in thought. Adriana waited for his words, her face heated with wine and embarrassment.

"How do you defend yourself, madam?" the pope asked suddenly.

"Itís 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 well."

"A knife?" The pope held his forefingers a foot apart, with an expression of amusement.

"Nothing 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 a man."

The pope leaned back in his chair.

"Naturally, 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."

The pope smiled briefly at his own proverb, and went on.

"We 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 you agree?"

"Entirely."

"Which 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."

Clearly the pope had seized her initiative and was running with it; his mind raced behind his eyes.

"Yes, 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 exceptions."

"Nevertheless," 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 hunt."

"Letís 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 manage."

"Perhaps 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 Holiness."

"When youíre dealing with a viper, itís best not to be caught," the pope said quietly.

"May I leave my household and finances in your care?"

"With confidence, madam." The pope made a wry face. "I stand ready to prove that not all bishops are estate-eaters."

Her mind raced ahead of itself in pursuit of details.

"Faustinus 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."

"Impossible," 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."

Her instinct warned her to stay clear of the popeís offer, however transparent its sincerity.

"Holiness, I have no need for pious company," she said. "A servant or two of my own will be enough."

"But," 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."

He motioned 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.

"Victory 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."

"If I 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. . . ."

"It 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 strength."

In the 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.

"Madam, Iím besieged; I regret that I must ask your indulgence."

Adriana 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 tenderness.

"It 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."

"Itís 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."

"Iíd like to be sure of that," Adriana said, making her final bow, "but the diversion will be welcome in any case."

"God keep you, daughter," Leo said, making the sign of the cross. "You have my thanks and my blessing."

Following 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 horizon.

He had 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.

His white 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.

*

The 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:

Be prudent. Do not try to overrule Fate. The Mamertine Prison has not lost its taste for high-born flesh.

No 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 attack.

She gripped 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.

The next 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.

On 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.

An hour 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.

The young beggar squatted with his bowl. He looked up, saw Adriana at her window, nodded respectfully, and made the sign of the cross.

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.

"Stay where you are," she commanded softly, projecting her voice. "I must speak with you."

Cupping an 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.

"My 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?"

"Not 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?"

"I will do it at onceóprivately."

"You 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?"

"Yes, especially in the Lordís service. There are many of us who live on manna while we wait for the Lord to come."

She explained what she wanted at dawn on Tuesday: a brief scene of harmless mayhem at the Praenestine gate, arranged in absolute secrecy.

"Iím certain that I can trust you."

"Yes: because Iím Godís man, and also because your physicians cured my little one when he was sick."

"The timing is vital," she exhorted him, handing over the rest of the pouch of coins.

"I remember everything," he smiled, tapping his forehead, and ran off into the twilight.

She missed 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.

Two hours 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.

All the 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.

"When 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. . . ."

"I 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 day."

"But what if someone is overwhelmed by temptation?"

"I carry a whip. Iíll use it."

"But what of a scoundrel who takes pleasure in being whipped?"

"I will gratify him," Adriana said, bringing her hands together with a resounding crack.

"Oh, 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 and authority."

"Enough! Weíre wasting time," Adriana said sharply at last. "If the farmer spends the morning putting on his boots, what will the cows eat?"

She 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 dried quickly.

She burned 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.

"Youíll stay here," she said, "where youíll be out of danger. God and the servants will take care of you."

She allowed herself to think that he nodded his head, a little sadly but with understanding.

She slept 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 gone.

"Godís 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?"

"There are inns along the road, Salvia," Adriana said patiently. "If not, there are weeds and field-mice."

"Itís 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 thunderstorm."

"One thing more," Adriana said, and motioned to Salvia to stay behind.

Through 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.

"Good-bye," she said.

Then she 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.

*

She walked 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 her hip.

She turned 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 crowed.

The 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.

She crossed 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.

A little 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.

The boy 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.

She shouted "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 brown dust.

*

In a 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 aqueducts.

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.

With her 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 their oxen.

She stopped 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.

Clattering 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.

She had 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.


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