of Rome, June 455]
east of the Alban hills was largely deserted. The villages
became sparser and smaller, yellow-brown villages of mud
brick, apparently maintained for the benefit of crows and
pigs. The people stared after Adriana with grave eyes:
rustic folk, singers of dismal songs, earnestly devoted to
pig-keeping. The air took on a highland crispness. Adriana
dozed briefly under a chestnut tree; a passing herd of
pigs woke her, and she hurried away, leaving a dust-cloud
and several crushed lizards in her path.
into the walled yard of a decaying villa when the mules
needed rest again. With luck, the place would have a
working fountain, or at least rainwater in the peristyle
garden. The South had great forlorn villas wherever vines
and wheat had once been grown. Many were empty now; some
were inhabited by people who dried their infrequent wash
on the statues, people who threw slops off the balconies,
herded pigs in the ornamental pools, piled manure in the
porticoes, stabled donkeys in the dining-rooms.
the mules at the stableyard fountain, rubbed them down,
and let them rest in a patch of shade. By the sun she
judged that it was late in the day; she had already begun
to lose track of time. It was Tuesday, she assured
herself. On Saturday her servants had begun assembling
travel gear, the elaborate decoy that still cluttered her
stableyard in Rome. On Monday the popeís two nuns,
Adrianaís intended companions, had been sent out of town
by the Via Latina with only a vague idea of their mission,
and driven to Anagnia in a wide circle, spending two
nights on the road. Later on Monday, the trusty Bassus and
a companion had left for Capua by the Appian gate with
Adrianaís gold and her essential gear, driving their
mules at top speed southeastward through the swampy
lowland along the seacoast.
Tuesday, Adriana herself had slipped away. She had done
her best to leave contradictory trails everywhere.
Faustinusís face would have been pleasant to see, like
the face of a dog that had bitten into a wooden leg, when
his clumsy informants came back knowing less than when
they had left.
had to deal with the popeís women, waiting at Anagnia.
She knew nothing of either Sister Blanda or Sister Probina,
except that Probinaís father had been a mysteriously
influential presence in the Subura, reputedly a
rays were long; in the distant mountains, blue smoke
curled up from the camps of charcoal burners. Adriana
chose to spend the night rather than press on to the
roadside inns near Vitellia. The villa and its grounds had
attracted no other wayfarers; the ruined stables would be
comfortable enough. She ate the last of her hard-boiled
eggs and drank a little wine to make herself sleepy. At
nightfall she wrapped herself in her cloak and slept
soundly in a drift of hay, in a clean corner of the
roofless building, trusting the animals to wake her in an
harnessed the mules at the crack of dawn and whipped them
up into a brisk trot on the deserted highway. She felt
safer, less exposed, now that she was within galloping
distance of the mountains. Country roads, snaking over the
river-plain, furnished avenues of escape. One could
perhaps disappear into the olive groves that grew in smoky
ranks along the highway, or into the deserted farmsteads
that lay in the shadow of the heights.
Anagnia appeared on its hill a mile north of the highway,
a collection of red roofs enclosed by decayed walls. A
chaste brown cisium from the popeís stables
waited in the shadow of a villa wall near the road. The
popeís driver whisked flies away from his mules; his two
passengers, unmarried women loosely attached to the
Lateran convent, sat on either side of him, whisking flies
away from themselves.
Adriana scouted the neighborhood to be sure that her
enemies were not waiting in ambush. Satisfied, she reined
up her carriage in the shade. The popeís driver made a
sitting bow; the women ignored her until she introduced
be with you," they said crisply in unison.
also with you," Adriana said.
wore identical deep-blue tunics and mantles, and sat in
identical postures under identical parasols. Adriana
disliked and mistrusted Sister Probina instantly. The
woman had a carefully managed childlike air about her, as
if she could be made to believe that the Dog Days came in
January. In unguarded moments, however, she had the
expression of a libertine and a habitual liar, given
emphasis by the enormous mole on her left cheek. Sister
Blanda was much the larger woman. She had imperfectly dyed
hair above a moon-face with a mustache, and a pair of
large breasts that appeared to have been borrowed from
another sort of person altogether. Her voice was sermonic,
hoarse from complaint. It frequently trailed away into
small coughing that had only a rhetorical connection with
the dust of the day.
enlisted Decimus, the popeís boy, in attending to her
mules, rubbing them down, cleaning their feet, feeding
them a crude mash moistened with spring water. The beasts
ate eagerly. She set them out on a long tether to pick
away at the grass. Her favorite of the two, a black
saddle-mule with a lively gallop, put his nose in her
hand. She rubbed his long ears gently; the animal bent
down his head, pressed against her, and stretched his neck
carriage of yours," Sister Blanda spoke up, still
seated in the popeís rig, "appears to be something
of an heirloom."
of the moment," Adriana replied sweetly. "The
one I use ordinarily has much more snob appeal."
have not taken the Via Appia," Sister Blanda said in
a voice of injury, her mustache twitching discontentedly.
"My assumption was that we would take the Via Appia
was a possibility," Adriana said. "It is still a
possibility. Do you have a fondness for the Via Appia?"
not important," Sister Blanda said, in a tone that
suggested it was very important indeed.
down and have a biscuit," Adriana said consolingly.
"Itís pleasant country, isnít it?" She
gestured at the majestic hills and the fertile
river-plain, highly cultivated, dotted with serfs laboring
in the harvest-time heat.
shade of the villa wall, Adriana passed out biscuits.
Sister Blanda left no doubt as to the heat of the day. She
fanned herself with one hand and manipulated her parasol
with the other, and complained that the radiation from the
highway pricked her cheekbones and eyeballs like needles.
Years of whining had crippled her voice. It buckled and
dragged like a beggarís leg under the weight of her
offered her a wineskin.
you," Sister Blanda said, with the air of one
receiving her due, and swallowed half the contents. She
raised her eyes and her mustache to heaven.
an affliction, simply an affliction," she whispered,
apparently to the angels. "Never again will I leave
Rome, except to go to the mountains if I suffer too much
in the summer. Of course the city is so unsafe that one
expects to be murdered in oneís bed. Not that it matters
much to me. My life isnít so pleasant that Iíd cling
to it like a pagan. No, this life is largely a penance for
Your Piety can have no sins," Adriana said
yes," Sister Blanda said, "and many more when I
was young." She glared accusingly at Adriana.
"Yes," she continued, "Iím glad the Lord
made me unattractive to men. If he hadnít done so, Iíd
be in hell today."
and biscuits disappeared. When Blanda had secured
everyoneís attention by getting a crumb stuck in her
throat, she began to gather up remnants of biscuit from
the trampled grass.
must not despise these fragments of heavenís
mercy," she droned, popping them into her mouth,
"or weíll have to pick them all up with our
eyelashes in hell. Iíll ride with you, madam, to
distribute the burden equally among our mules, poor
carriages rolled out of the shade into the highway, and
eastward through the sunny river-plain of the Trerus. The
scenery was a pleasant diversion from Sister Blandaís
conversation: a succession of tidy olive-groves and villas
bowered in cypress.
you quite certain this is the road to Formiae?"
Sister Blanda demanded. "Iíve been told that the
Via Appia passes through lowlands and swamps, and that one
can see the sea. I have not seen the sea since we left
Rome. Nor have I seen a swamp."
are many roads south, Sister," Adriana said quietly.
"We choose our path according to our
up the mules so the wind would carry away Blandaís nasal
you have children?" Sister Blanda shouted with an
boys. They died."
yes. Bitter, bitter, is the pleasure of children, born in
pain and reared in sorrow. In this, as in so much else, we
women are the devilís gateway, unsealers of the
Forbidden Tree, each one of us an Eve, bearing Cains to
slaughter Abel. Eh! This is not the road to Formiae!"
brought the mules to a walk. The measured rhythm of their
hoofs gave point to her words.
once knew a jackass," she said evenly, "who
argued with his master. One day the ass was carrying a
load of hay down a very narrow street. He turned to his
master and said, ĎI donít want to go this way.í He
tried to turn around, and got stuck between two tenements.
His master was so angry that he broke the jackassís head
and had him dragged away. So he went down the narrow
street after all. Do I make myself clear?"
Blanda opened her mouth and snapped it shut like the lid
of a box. They rode in silence the rest of the way to
brown walls of the little city came into view, Adriana
cheered herself with the hope of a decent meal. She had
been in Frusino as a child, in October, making the rounds
of her maternal relativesí estates in the valleys of the
Trerus and the Liris. Her mother had been delighted to
find green figs, a dozen for a copper piece, and peaches
and melons almost without charge. In every working villa
in the neighborhood, brown boys, singing wildly, had been
treading the juice out of the grape-harvest. She thought
of the season with a rush of nostalgia: the dry cool
nights and mellow days, with their great golden distances
that melted into the highest hills, and the hills into the
sky, and the sky, as she thought then, into heaven itself.
Frusino stood for her bright childhood.
up to the inn through lengthening olive-shadows. It was
rickety but clean, with a roadside balcony that seemed
about to fall on the heads of the old men who leaned
against the wall below, drinking wine from a skin and
spitting into the highway. The stableyard was a congenial
shambles. Mules were champing barley with much noise;
naked children splashed in the fountain; dogs scratched;
weary travelers leaned against the wheels of lumbering rhedae
and scratched in rhythm with the dogs; a nervous horse
snuffed at each traveler in turn, as if looking for one
that was edible.
innkeeper himself greeted Adriana and directed the
stabling of the mules and carriages, with grand flourishes
and bellowed commands.
but itís filthy!" Sister Blanda exclaimed, her red
eyes traveling over the innyard.
of it as highly spiced," Adriana suggested.
the role of freedwoman, she made arrangements for the
night. The popeís boy would sleep in the stables. Blanda
insisted on a room of her own, in which to do penitential
rituals. Adriana took separate rooms for Probina and
herself as well.
it be impertinent to inquire," Blanda asked when the
arrangements were concluded, "when one may expect to
arrive in Formiae?"
not going to Formiae, Sister," Adriana answered with
icy sweetness. "Weíre going to Capua."
Blanda upper lip went white under her mustache.
To Capua. To the Mercury Inn, exactly."
expression changed dramatically. Blanda shivered and
dabbed at her brow, though it was dry.
believe I have a touch of fever, madam," she said,
sorry to hear it, Sister," Adriana said.
piteous wag of the head, Blanda speculated that she was
becoming illóyes, ill, Lord be thanked for his
meal and a nightís sleep will do wonders for your
health, Sister," Adriana said gently.
innkeeperís daughter, followed by three identical maids,
led the women to their three identical rooms, simple,
whitewashed, with a view of the mountains north of town.
After a brief tour of the baths, Adriana put on a clean
tunic and went to the stables to assure herself that the
mules were well cared for. All four stood in beds of soft
straw, champing grain. She returned to the inn, preparing
to listen to Blandaís complaints over supper.
our stomachs are going to be tried and tested,"
Sister Blanda said in a voice weakened by illness,
"like gold in the furnace. It has pleased God to give
me bad digestion."
women and the popeís driver sat down to do battle with
the flies, dust, and noise. The innkeeper waited on the
table himself. Ah, the dear people of Rome, how can one
love them enough? his grin seemed to say. He swooped
down with soup, a roasted pigís liver flavored with
myrtle smoke, and the hearty dark wine of the countryside.
He bustled about with dishes and bottles. He attacked the
children and old crones who whined for coppers at the
inn-windows, and chased two dogs, a cat, and a hen that
wandered through the dining-room inspecting the floor for
wine was none too tasty but full of spirit. It thickened
Adrianaís head, for which she was grateful, because it
took the edge off Sister Blandaís mournful conversation.
Sister Probina ate very little. She sat silently fingering
her winecup, watching the door, taking no part in the
conversation. Her white face was twisted with
apprehension, for reasons Adriana was too tired to
severely depleted voice, Sister Blanda expressed her
dissatisfaction with the meal. The liver had the texture
of boiled harness. The soup had been made from dead cats.
The wine set her wheezing. The noise in the innyard made
her skin prickle. One could cough for months and not do
justice to the smoke from the kitchen. The whole meal
reminded her of the Day of Doom, with brimstone.
a chastisement, sent from the Throne for our
improvement," Sister Blanda said weakly, with a face
of apocalyptic woe.
declined toward disaster. Her voice was almost gone. She
tested it from time to time with a careful little cough.
Her bowels were weak; the jostling had done them no good;
she was afraid of embarrassing herself. Her nerves were on
edge. She was, in fact, violently illóyes, ill, as the
Lord would have it, away from her own little room in Rome.
felt Sister Probinaís eyes on her. She turned to the
pale, silent woman, who quickly turned away. Was the
reality of Blandaís illness open to question? She was
unwilling to argue.
she said to the popeís boy, "in the morning you
must drive Sister Blanda back to the city."
In the glow
of a hand-lamp Adriana climbed a wooden staircase to her
room. Her bed was clean, uninfested, delicately scented
with lavender. She sank into it, aching pleasantly, and
watched a family of swallows dart to their nest under the
eaves that overhung her window. Waiting for her mind to
quiet itself into a doze, she heard the small clatter of a
night-travelerís preparations in the innyard, followed
by the landlordís sleepy "Heaven be with you,"
and the rhythm of hoofs and wheels fading westward on the
road to Rome.
asleep at last, saying her prayers: For good soup, and
sweet air from the hills, and a bed without fleas, and a
night away from the voice of Sister Blanda, Good Lord be
Adriana was wide awake, pleasantly starved. She dressed
and went to the stables. A few guests were already mounted
for the road, half asleep, bloat-faced and red-eyed,
leaning to and fro in their saddles. She picked her way
through a jumble of bales and assesí ears, looking for
her rig and the popeís. Her own was where the
stable-boys had put it. Her mules saw her and nodded with
presence was behind her, like a wet dog. She turned and
looked into the milky face of Sister Probina, with its
be with you," Probina intoned.
Your Piety have any idea," Adriana asked, "what
could have happened to the popeís boy, the popeís
carriage, and Sister Blanda?"
returned to Rome last night," Probina said gravely,
as if she were announcing a Mystery of the Church.
"She was so ill. ĎI must return to
Rome,í she said. ĎI will not be sick away from
my own little bed.í"
rather be sick on the highway than in a strange bed?"
in Probinaís attitude suggested the whorehouse rather
than the cloister. Was it her simper, or her settled
indifference to ideas, or the gaudy ring she wore on her
right forefinger and twisted incessantly?
was filling with flesh and noise. Dogs barked; mules
jingled their bells. Drivers bawled for the right of way;
asses brayed them down.
and I are to continue together, then?" Adriana asked,
hoping for a refusal.
Your Charity is willing."
sooner we leave, the better," Adriana said, irritated
by Blandaís wordless departure, glad that she was gone,
irritated that Probina had not gone with her.
boiled eggs, settled her account with the innkeeper,
tucked her meager effects into the cart, and harnessed the
mules herself. Probina was behind her at every step,
clinging, with her unctuous smile.
would be doubly dangerous, now that the party was halved.
Adrianaís stiletto was at hand, in a fold of her
underwear. As an afterthought, she excavated a larger
knife from her bundle and strapped it to her waist.
you use that?" Sister Probina wondered.
Sister, we have to do our own police work."
carriage moved out through shafts of early sunlight onto
the spacious river-plain. The long valley beyond Frusino
was warm with childhood associations for Adriana: her
motherís people had villas in the wooded foothills of
the mountains that rose north of the highway. All along
the road she was tempted to seek the comfort of her
relativesí hospitality, but she had made up her mind not
to drag them into her difficulties.
was consoling; the weather was perfect; the ride was
tedious. Sister Probina, it seemed, neither read Scripture
nor understood theology. Her answers to Adrianaís polite
questions were inane. She seemed to approach her calling
with the confident stupidity of a tame rabbit, its tiny
brain filled to the lid with a small amount of
foolishness. Adriana speculated that she nibbled carrots
in the privacy of her cell at Rome. The best that could be
said of Probina was that her conversation, most of it
carried away by the wind, was an improvement on Sister
Blandaís obsessive droning about her numerous weighty
crosses and her unworthiness to bear them.
Probina had crosses of her own, however. As soon as the
carriage left the innyard, she had begun murmuring about
the speed of the trip. The list of her anxieties and
disabilities grew by the hour, afflictions that had not
been apparent a day earlier. Her digestion was fouled by
the jarring of the cart; she could hardly breathe in the
rush of air; her eyeballs stung, her mouth was dry, her
buttocks were pulp. She had to urinate at every bend in
terrible pace gives me a headache," Sister Probina
said mildly, ten miles out of Frusino, looking back as if
she had dropped something irreplaceable on the roadstones.
we must be in Aquinum by nightfall," Adriana answered
patiently. "Neither of us is prepared to sleep in a
ditch. We can stop for biscuits after noon, if you like.
Thereís a clean spring of water in a mile or two, as I
appeared in a bower of roadside greenery. Adriana watered
the mules, tethered them, and spread a lunch. Probina
wolfed down biscuits and wine with astounding immodesty.
The womanís manner was all wrong somehow. The pious air
was as studied and unbelievable as Blandaís; the large
brown eyes had no more expression than the mole that
grateful," Probina said, cleaning her fingers with a
long pink tongue that had certain properties in common
with a monkeyís tail.
must hurry, Sister," Adriana said. She glanced at the
sun and brushed crumbs from her lap. "Thereíll be
plenty to eat when we get to Aquinum, eh? Grapes, figs,
walnuts, fried beans, little round cheesesóanything you
miles of Aquinum, Sister Probina, for the fiftieth time,
seemed to be numbering the hairs on Adrianaís head.
something troubling you, Sister," Adriana asked,
raising her voice above the breeze and the clatter of
me," Sister Probina said. "I must. . . ."
reined up the mules. The cart stood exposed at the crest
of a long rise in the road. Chestnut scrub framed the
highway on both sides. The rocky slopes dropped away
abruptly into a plain scarred by dry creek-beds. Sister
Probinaís deep-blue tunic floated away among the
roadside bushes. She did not return.
stamped; dust rose in little puffs under their hoofs. The
sun was sinking in earnest. Its long rays glorified the
land, which was familiar to Adriana from childhood: the
view would have been more realistic at noon. The youngest
of her motherís aunts lived in a small villa on the
heights north of the river-plain. Perhaps it would be
prudent to seek shelter at Aunt Laeliaís house, rather
than press on to Aquinum. Still, the loss of time. . . .
battering rhythm, the sound of many horses moving at a
brisk canter, seemed to impress itself on Adrianaís mind
rather than her ear. Her heart began to pound
unreasonably, so she could hardly listen. A rising wind,
sweeping across the plain, bore the faint sound away.
she said aloud to herself. "Itís an odd hour for a
caravan to be moving toward Capua at half a gallop."
her head, trying to trace Probinaís movements by the
crackle of dead matter in the roadside scrub. In a rush of
annoyance she braked the cart, coiled her whip, and
plunged into the woods, calling Probinaís name. When she
had clawed her way back to the road in despair, Sister
Probina was sitting primly in the cart.
felt luminous with rage, like a tree struck by lightning.
She was tempted to rake the end of her whip across the
womanís face. As she opened her mouth to berate the nun,
an extraordinary look of triumph pinched Sister
Probinaís lips and dilated her eyes, and the shifting
wind brought the staccato drumming of many hoofs on
of Sister Blandaís night-long gallop back to Rome was
clear as the first sound of mounted arms reached Adriana.
Glancing west, she could see the crimson mantles of
perhaps a dozen imperial guardsmen, the level sun gleaming
like fire on the tips of their spears. Sister Blanda had
timed her illness well.
with Sister Probinaís hateful eyes on her, Adriana
unharnessed the black saddle-mule, her favorite of the
two. Collecting her whip in her right hand, she stood
ready to mount with a standing jump. She raised her eyes
to meet Probinaís, which were lit with the fires of
aristocrats," the mole-face hissed, "so high in
your own esteem. . . ."
Adriana interrupted with a dark smile, "may your
master in hell receive you."
With a rush
of strength she slashed the whip across the harnessed
muleís haunches. The animal threw up its forelegs and
plunged ahead in a frantic lopsided gallop, kicking like a
donkey, dragging the carriage from one side of the highway
to the other. Adriana jumped on the black muleís back.
In the space of an eye-blink she saw a wheel fly off the
runaway covinnus, and the carriage dive over the
roadís edge. Probinaís mortal shriek and the
splintering crash of wood against rock were drowned in the
sudden clatter of the black muleís hoofs.
threw himself down the slope away from the road, in an
avalanche of loose rock. The surge of mule-flesh beneath
Adriana swept away her anger, sharpening the edge of her
concentration. Her travel-cloak flared out like a banner
against the sky. She yanked the clasp loose and let the
garment float away. Lighter now, she lay low against the
muleís neck as he rattled down a sheep-run, leaping over
boulders and dead trees nearly as well as a horse. She
urged him with her heels and knees. Once only she looked
back, and was nearly raked off his back by a bough.
precious moment Adrianaís uniformed hunters had followed
the runaway cart, expecting to find her in the wreckage.
She pounded along the sheep-run toward the sanctuary of
the northern hills, where the estate-houses were turning
deep orange in the fading sunlight. Clusters of trees and
boulders parted on either side of her, seeming to stare at
her like pedestrians at a runaway chariot. Stone walls and
patches of woods loomed ominously indistinct.
In a sudden
panic to reach the safety of her auntís villa, she
struck out cross-country. She knew well that a concealed
root or a badger-hole could martyr her in the popeís
cause. The black mule was tireless, his ears laid back,
his body flat, as he skimmed the rough ground. He gathered
himself to leap a wall that rose suddenly out of a long
against the wind, weightless, unconscious of the mule,
surprised that she did not fall. Then she fell, over and
down, pounded, bruised, twisted like a rope, as the dark
earth and the dusky sky whirled against her. She was on
fire; balls of flame danced before her eyes and turned to
faces grinning out of a blood-red mist. The muleís
scream reached her as a faint nightmare-sound.
still on her belly for a moment, grunting in pain,
mentally exploring her ribs for a possible break. Her arms
ached as if they would never move again. She moved them,
nevertheless, rising on her tortured elbows and rolling
herself up into a sitting position. Her hands were
scratched; her fingers worked. Her legs were unbroken. She
stood carefully and limped to the wrecked mule, hunched
grotesquely near the masonry that had brought him down. He
turned to her with miserable eyes. Blood trickled from his
forelegs, broken at the knee. The beaded sweat on his
shoulders and the quivering of his legs suggested that not
all his injuries were visible.
her long knife, giving thanks that she had not lost it in
Iím sorry," she choked, passing the blade into the
muleís chest, into his heart. The animal died with a
gasp. The straining neck relaxed; the head sloped down to
the dry grass.
daylight lingered over the plain. Night was creeping up
the furrowed slopes of the northern mountains; the
glittering red crest had dissolved into a series of black
shafts. A night-breeze stirred, with the sound of
numberless soft wings.
furiously, her arms close to her body, giving little
attention to where her boots touched ground. Boulders and
bushes seemed to race past her with an energy of their
own. She stopped once, breathing hard, to take her
bearings. There was no noise of pursuit; a filmy cloud of
dust rose a half-mile to the west, confirming that she had
thrown the cavalry off her trace. In her mindís eye she
could see them filing along dry washes and scattering over
the fields, stopping now and then to listen for the sound
of fugitive feet against gravel and stubble. But the night
breeze was from the mountains; it would carry no
information to pursuers from the west.
hesitated at the edge of an open wheatland bordering the
foothills. Aunt Laeliaís house was the easternmost villa
on the wooded rise beyond the river-plain. Adriana could
not reach it without leaving her cover, or without
exposing herself to a knot of farm-hands who had gathered
at the end of the dayís work, half-way across the
out across the open space, trusting her neutral clothes
and the gathering night to conceal her from Faustinusís
men. As she walked toward the peasants, she rehearsed the
questions she meant to ask. Perhaps the reapers could help
throw her pursuers further off her track.
to an older worker, ignoring the others.
people are you?" she asked.
are of the household of Caius Icarius."
is his house up there?" She pointed due north.
if it matters to Your Ladyship," the man answered,
with a show of blighted teeth. He appraised her body; she
would have to leave quickly.
me," she said with a flourish of her whip, pointing
along the heights toward a range of pillars on the western
edge. "Is that still the summer residence of Tiberius
lucky man if you are to be his guest. Donít you want to
be our guest?"
you," she said, yanking her garment away from the
cautious hand of a reaper who had reached out to take hold
peasantsí guffaws echoing in her ears, Adriana hurried
up the furrows toward Icariusís house. She forded a
sluggish creek that meandered at the base of the hills,
her sandals squelching in the mud, and climbed the wooded
rise on the opposite side, over gravel and snapping brush.
In the protective shadows of the trees on the crest, she
glanced back; the field-hands were walking home, absorbed
began to claim her; her legs were like animated logs,
moving without feeling. For fifty paces she moved west,
breaking twigs with her feet and making a stir in the
brush to let the serfs think that she was on her way to
Ephorusís villa on the western spur of the ridge. In a
grove of chestnuts she stopped, holding back her bursting
breath, and listened once again for the footfalls of
horses and men. Icariusís dogs were barking. She smiled
gratefully. In a moment, dogs were barking in every villa
on the heights.
back eastward, pushing as quietly as possible through the
brush that scratched at her arms. For a paralyzing moment
she thought she might be moving in a circle. Listening
hard, she heard the creek murmuring at the base of the
ridge. She walked in the same direction and was out of the
woods before dark, hurrying through the shadows of an
olive orchard. A suggestion of a footpath led her through
dry grass, skirting frequent tangles of maple-trees and
recognized the wooded fields as her great-auntís: the
old familiar pear trees, the occasional sheaves of cut
wheat leaning against one another under the maples and
walnuts. She had known since childhood how to get over the
villa wall. So far as she knew, the old lady kept no
unchained dogs. She knotted up her tunic and pulled
herself into the lower branches of an oak that had served
her well years before. The tree had grown to twice the
size she remembered. She urged herself onto a bough that
overhung the estate yard and dropped noiselessly to the
relief, a light shone in the tiny window of the
gatekeeperís lodge. She picked up a stone and tapped on
the window-grate. The gatekeeperís dog howled, joining
the chorus all over the heights. She saw the old man jump
up in senile alarm. In a moment he hobbled out of the
gate-house, half undressed and holding a lantern that
shook like a shipís light in a storm.
features softened when he saw her, though there was no
light of recognition in his eyes. She put a forefinger to
Marcella Adriana," she said, in a voice of fatigue.
"I couldnít use the bell. I must see my
Adriana! Glory to the saints! But Your Felicity is in
ruins, pardon me. Iíll call my lady."
The old man
hurried away, his sandals clapping weakly against the
walkway. In a cluster of maids with lamps, Aunt Laelia
emerged from the estate-house and floated toward the gate.
Her frailness and spun-silver hair softened her dignity. A
faint aroma of carnations surrounded her.
hardly believed the old chatterbox," Laelia
confessed, placing her delicate hands on Adrianaís
cheeks, and looking into her eyes with deep concern.
"Child, how is it with you? Who has chased you here,
thereís too much to say," Adriana said, passing a
hand over her weary eyes. "There are men in the
valley." She pointed toward the barred villa-gate.
"You can see their torches from upstairs."
imagination she saw them herself, tiny lights flickering
among the trees on the heights, leaping up and dying away,
spreading apart, drawing together.
be here soon," Adriana said. "I canít stay.
You remember the name Gaius Faustinus. . . ."
details, she followed Aunt Laelia up the yard and into the
house. She felt a stab of regret that her childhood
memories of the place would have to be renewed in the
sunlight of a better day: the roses that never seemed to
fade; the cool summer-house, a miniature palace of marble
lace; the grove of myrtles with resident nightingales; the
parrots, who terrorized Laeliaís cats and squawked
insults in Greek.
gave crisp orders for fruit, wine, cold meat, a foot-bath,
and presentable clothes, and cautioned the servants
against bright lights. With an oil-lamp she led Adriana
upstairs to a pleasant sitting-room overlooking the
western foothills and the river-plain. A trio of sleepy
maids followed with a jar of wine and a brazier full of
glowing coals. The solitary lamp was extinguished; the
women moved about in the glow of the brazier.
went to the window. The moon shone peacefully on the
wooded heights to the west. To her relief, each of the
villas along the crest glowed with lamplight at several
squinted out into the silver half-light, searching for
movement in the black landscape. The chill of the evening
air seemed to be coming through the walls. On the brow of
the ridge, she saw little dancing flames, first one, then
three, then several more, rising and falling almost
you see anything?" Aunt Laelia inquired anxiously.
took the old woman by the shoulders and brought her to the
window. Together they watched the distant line of torches.
It seemed to be moving away, from Caius Icariusís
neighborhood toward Ephorusís summer villa. Elsewhere in
the valley and on the heights there was no movement at
all, only a silent expanse of dark trees and moon-silvered
not leave here in the condition youíre in, soldiers or
no soldiers," Aunt Laelia said sternly. "Do you
shirtless and penniless, Aunt," Adriana confessed.
"Fool that I am, I let the Ďsistersí know Iíd
be going through Capua. My clothes and my money are there
now. Faustinusís men will be hot on the way. If I go to
Capua, the game is over."
A smell of
warm honeycakes and spiced wine entered the room.
must eat something," Aunt Laelia said. "Itís a
pity you canít sleep, just as you did when you were
little, after playing all day in my yard."
Adriana devoured the cakes while a pair of maids undressed
her and patted her scratches with warm, wet cloths.
girls," Aunt Laelia urged, waving her thin hands and
glancing nervously out the window. "I canít tell
where they are. Can you tell?"
guess is, theyíre at Ephorusís house by now,"
Adriana said without looking. "Theyíll be here in
half an hour, I expect."
dressed her in a fresh blue tunic and a pair of light
boots that seemed never to have been worn, and bundled her
effects in a blue riding-cloak. In spite of her agitation
she smiled with pleasure at her reflection in the dimly
Blanda would have insisted," she said, laughing
weakly, "that God doesnít approve of adulterous
dyes. If heíd wanted clothes to be blue, he would have
made blue sheep."
true," Aunt Laelia said with mock gravity. "But
at least you havenít dyed your hair a lust-inspiring
color, or imitated the painted eyelids of the
over and put her frail arms around Adriana. "Oh,
child," she said, weeping a little, "we used to
have good times, didnít we? Will you come again, when
youíre not roving up and down Italy like a
nodded, enjoying the warm pressure of Aunt Laeliaís dry
hands on her cheeks, then patted the old ladyís
it must be time to go," she said, stepping to the
On the dark
plain, a line of torches snaked toward the villa at a
distance of perhaps half a mile.
have a horse ready for you, dear," Aunt Laelia said.
kitchen-boy hurried into the room with dark bread,
snow-white cheese, red wine in a skin, and a leather
satchel. He bundled the provisions in Adrianaís
presence, bowed, and disappeared.
need at least one servant. Iíll send Callistus with you.
Heís a darling boy, no trouble at all, tough as oxhide.
Oh, Adriana! please donít refuse. . . ."
Iím going alone," she said firmly. "I canít
take responsibility for anyone but myself. I must move
very quickly. If I donít, Iíll never need servants
stables, then, dear," Aunt Laelia said, throwing up
her hands in resignation.
women, a pair of maids, and a dignified eunuch moved in
the light of a single hand-lamp, through the shadowy house
and down porticoes of white marble where the child Adriana
had dreamed in the sun years ago. By moonlight they
crossed the villa yard to the tart-smelling stables. A
stableboy met them with a roan pony, sleek and comfortably
spoke breathlessly, at the speed of her thought. "If
you decide to take the coast road, keep the horse. If you
need a carriage or anything else, go to Titus Gracchus the
shipper at the sign of the dolphin, near the center of the
wharf at Minturnae. Gracchus will cooperate; he owes me
several solidi and a great deal of gratitude besides. If
you rent a carriage with mules, Gracchus will see to the
return of my horse. Plumeus is a good, quiet horse. You
wonít have to worry that heíll betray you, whinnying
at nightbirds and polecats. When you reach Gracchusís,
greet him for me in the name of Christ. Heís not too
senile, I think, to see to all your needs. I have one more
thing for you. You will not refuse it."
Adrianaís hand, lifted it, and pressed a leather pouch
into the open palm. By the heft of the metal, the sum it
contained was more substantial than Aunt Laelia could
easily afford. From long experience Adriana knew better
than to argue.
In the pain
and awkwardness of the moment, the two women stood facing
each other in the half-light of the lamp, aware of the
rush of time, not knowing what to say.
noble of you to try to help Quintus, dear," Aunt
Laelia broke the silence. "In all the world,
thereís only one women created for each man, and vice
grant it," Adriana said. "But how do they find
each other? Itíd be hard enough if they were two
nightingales looking for each other in a world of
raised a forefinger. "Deity has its ways," she
said. "We think that God canít solve our problems
except by bringing history to a close. Not so! When all
the doors are barred, the Spirit leads us out through a
auntís warm, frail hands were on Adrianaís cheeks. The
women embraced. The stillness of the night was intense. A
soft breeze stirred noiselessly. Pushing back the absurd
tears of exhaustion, Adriana slung her bundles over
Plumeusís shoulders and mounted with a standing jump.
She looked down at the frail aristocrat standing anxiously
in the grass by a chestnut tree, her white knuckles
pressed to her lips.
bed, Auntie," she said gently. "Thank you with
all my heart for everything."
be with you, Adriana," the old lady quavered, making
the sign of the cross.
laid a hand on Plumeusís neck and encouraged the
sensible beast to a cautious walk. In thirty paces she had
cleared the woods that hid the south gate of Aunt
Laeliaís villa wall. She covered a mile in the shadow of
a long stand of chestnuts. Dismounting, she took the horse
by the bridle. He followed her quietly down to the
river-plain along a path that lay too low to be seen from
the north. She put a hand on his nostrils for silence and
walked him westward on the moonlit flats, feeling as
conspicuous as an ant on a wall.
five miles to travel, more or less, before she reached the
heights south of the Liris. Her confidence grew; there was
no noise of pursuit. As she mounted Plumeus and rode him
across the highway she had left earlier in the day, she
looked back, dreading to see Taurinusís riders, but the
river-plain was empty. Doubtless Aunt Laelia would
encourage Faustinusís men to inspect every corner of her
house. . . .
southern heights and their relative safety were less than
three miles away, Adriana allowed herself to be
optimistic. Plumeus was a dull color; Aunt Laeliaís gift
of blue clothing would be inconspicuous at night. The moon
was south of her; it would obscure her presence in the
in the lee of the coastal hills, had shrunk to its summer
proportions. Adriana forded the stream, clutching
Plumeusís mane. On the far bank she rode uphill, past
dark farmhouses and empty stableyards, climbing the
heights from which she would see the Tyrrhenian shore, a
long curve stretching from Minturnae to Caietae. On a bald
hill with a ruined watchtower of the sort that little boys
loved to play in, she tethered the horse and lay down in a
patch of dry grass. Plumeus came and lay beside her,
pressing his nose against her like a dog. From her
vantage-point she could see for miles to the south and
quietly and pulled her cloak up under her chin. Her nerves
settled slowly; she was aware of her abused body. Her legs
were pulpy and swollen from hanging astride the horse; her
scrapes and bruises still hurt in spite of Aunt Laeliaís
unguents. She closed her fingers around her little dagger
in its sheath, and took comfort from it. Plumeus was
and woke with a start as a passing cloud revealed the
brilliance of the moon. Apprehensively she listened for
the tramp of horses and the jingle of bit and spur, and
watched the valley for steel glittering in the moonlight.
Gradually the spacious calm of the night asserted itself,
and she was at peace. There were other beings in the world
worse-off than she. In Subura, women slept under the
rafters of a thousand ratty tenements, with only the
cracked roof-tiles and the midnight tomcats between
themselves and the stars.
moment is upon you, Avitus had instructed her as a
child, youíll know what to do. Every problem in life,
death excepted, comes with a solution attached. Sometimes
youíll fight, sometimes youíll flee, sometimes
youíll sit silently and wait for your deliverance to
come. The one rule you must always remember is not to
fear, because fear gives the game to your adversary.
Avitus!" she said aloud, imagining that he was there
on the hillside with her, and that she could curl up
before the hearth of his friendship and sleep safely the
whole night through.
was radiant. Her tunic was limp with dew. She shook out
her hair and sat in the early sunlight awhile, letting its
dry warmth soothe her lingering aches. Empty but not
hungry, she felt sleek and spare, like a dragonfly.
Plumeus grazed contentedly at the end of his tether. The
countryside was handsome in the early light: cultivated
hills, punctuated by the dark emerald of vines; an old
watermill on a grassy bank; winding, stony roads from
which a distant echo of mule-bells came; and over
everything a deep sense of coolness, restfulness,
the patient horse and rode toward the coast, satisfied
that she had thrown off her pursuers. By midday she stood
above the seaward slope of the mountains, with a wide
prospect of blue water between Caietae and Minturnae.
The air was
fragrant with late-June flowers; honeysuckle and clematis
grew wild along the path. Scrawny sheep grazed the slopes;
a shepherd dozed in the shade of an olive tree. The
neighborhood was a safe place to sit and think.
tethered the horse, brought out Aunt Laeliaís wine and
cheese, found herself a boulder, and sat on it to consider
her options. They were hardly numerous. Travel anywhere
near Capua or Rome was out of the question. She could take
a mule and a boy along the coastal highway and risk
apprehension in any of a dozen cities. A boat to Sardinia
could no doubt be found, but she might wait weeks for a
trader risking the voyage to Africa. She could flee to
Aunt Marcellaís seaside palace in Caietae, and take
refuge there until Faustinusís agents tired of the
search. She could skirt Capua and the Bay of Naples, and
ride south along the malarial coast or through the
mountains. An overland journey would keep her off the
pirate-infested sea, but the south of Italy was a gloomy
enigma, the haunt of unregenerate pagans and lawless
outcasts from the coastal towns.
alternatives, she descended the mountainside. The
Tyrrhenian sea widened out before her, beyond the coastal
olive-orchards and vineyards. The north gate of Minturnae
stood open, unattended. Plumeus trotted through with a
sharp echo; he seemed to know his way through the
neglected ill-smelling streets to the river-front, three
miles inland from the sea. The town wharf was quiet; sea
trade was cautious. There was a sprinkling of sailors and
prostitutes. A few oxcarts creaked in the thoroughfares,
hauling wine and oil. Pigs and seabirds foraged among the
decaying vegetables scattered against the warehouse walls.
the office of Titus Gracchus without trouble, its dolphin
sign cracked and faded with the constant breeze off the
seaside marshes. The place was threadbare but clean; it
seemed wordlessly eager to do business. A boy-servant of
Gracchus ushered her into the shipperís office. He was
poring over his accounts.
in the name of Christ from the Lady Celestia Laelia of
Aquinum," she said, with a small bow.
the fat man chuckled, with a little wink at Adrianaís
bosom. "Greetings to the ambassador of Her Piety
Celestia Laelia, in the name of the Triune Most
He was an
amiable old windbag in a wine-splashed tunic and filthy
sandals. She explained, as vaguely as she could, her need
of quick transportation.
madam!" Gracchus said with a magnificent flourish of
his fly-whisk. "If I were not bound by law to this
miserable place Iíd carry you on my own shoulders
wherever you wished to go." He made irresistible eyes
kind," Adriana responded politely. "Iíd be
satisfied with an ass and a boy."
have a superb little ass," Gracchus said, "one
siliqua per day, honest silver coin, including the boy.
How far will you take them?"
past Naples. Iíll find other transportation from
Felicity has options, not easy to come by in this
world," Gracchus observed. "Your Courage appears
to travel without servants? Considering the hazards to
which Your Pulchritude may be exposed on the road, Iím
able to offer the services of a coasting vessel departing
for Puteoli this very afternoon, and I encourage. . .
much for the boat," Adriana interrupted.
silver nummi, including provisions, since Your Efficiency
travels without provision or servants, eh?"
laid a small gold coin on the table. "A tremissis
will perhaps pay for the boat and the provisions, and
erase your memory of me?"
intensification of the old manís watery gaze let her
know that he understood.
madam!" he said. "Gold or no gold, if the whole
company of heaven should descend here on a shining cloud,
they could not extract from me the smallest particle of
information concerning your whereabouts or destination. I
have forgotten both myself."
grateful for the assurance," Adriana said, picking up
the dull yellow piece and putting it in the codgerís
whispered thanks and good-bye into Plumeusís ear,
delivered him into the hands of a stable-boy, and took a
siesta, sitting upright in a corner of Gracchusís office
until the coaster was ready to leave. With Gracchus
hovering at her elbow she eased herself along the
gangplank into the boat. The rowers were already seated,
rubbing their eyes between yawns. Gracchus handed
Adrianaís bundle to the captain; the two men bowed in
unison to each other, and in unison to Adriana. The little
merchant-galley creaked away from the wharf, its twenty
oars dipping and rising to a chant listing the glories of
Neptune and St. Peter.
goblet of the captainís black wine, she settled herself
on a rug in a tangle of ropes, sacks, and bales, and
toasted herself in the high sun, watching three long wakes
recede in the still water, a broad avenue of swirls behind
the stern, and two successions of dimples where the oars
had dipped. The sea-breeze stroked her hair. She closed
her eyes and nodded to the rhythmic chant of the boatmen,
who seemed to be making more noise than progress.
shipís cat, playing with the rigging, woke her from her
doze. She approached the captain, standing near the helm.
day tomorrow, by Neptune and the Prophet Jonah," he
said for her benefit, squinting at the horizon.
memory of Puteoli is out of date. Is there anything to be
aware of when oneís on foot there?" she asked.
shrugged. "What can I say, madam? The drains smell,
the houses are filthy, the streets are bumpy, the priests
are corrupt. The people cheat, the windows wonít shut,
the door-handles fall off, the pottery in the inns is
always cracked. Itís like anywhere else."
understand that a load of Vandals went down in a stolen
ship off this coast," Adriana commented. "I
heard the men speaking of it earlier."
they did, madam, and too few of them drowned," the
captain said. "The Blessed Apostles sent stormy
weather off Cumae. The ship was carrying statues from Rome
after the sack, I think. It went straight to the bottom.
There were broken timbers and Germans all over the shore
east of Puteoli, washed up like seaweed, after their
brothers from hell had sacked the city and left."
anchored for the night near the beach south of Liternum.
Adriana was sleepy but unable to sleep. She watched the
rose glow of the sunset, gradually sliding under the cover
of night. Mellow lights appeared in the old white villas
ranged along the beach. The stars came out; a meteor shot
across the heavens. A bright moon rose, and laid a silver
chain over the water that seemed to hold the ship in
on her sleeping-rug, away from the voices of sailors and
the glow of the deck-hearth, and faced the dark line of
the shore. The calm air pulsed with the sounds of
twilight: a girlís laughter down the beach, the sound of
a young manís singing, the uncertain call of birds not
yet asleep, the rumble of carts on the seaside road. The
night was faultless. Far off in the heliotrope darkness,
points of fire reddened where the fishermen of Liternum
cast their nets by torchlight.
deck-hearth glowed fainter; the rowers and sailors nodded
off where they sat. The moon was high; its white light
shadowed the rigging, tracing patterns on the deck. The
sea was almost noiseless. In the dusk of her imagination,
on a breezy couch in a summer-house, Adriana took Quintus
gently by the ears and drew him down to her, kissing his
forehead and his hair.
vanished as the gentle rocking of the ship put her to
sleep at last, and in her dreams she was a child again,
running through endless fields of blue cornflowers.