Italy, July 455]
bishopís driver, a young monk, cracked his whip with a
ferocity that seemed hardly Christian; the four-horse rheda
rattled away eastward, throwing clouds of debris into the
roadside moon-shadows. Adriana fell into a turbulent doze,
her chin on her chest, and slept soundly during a change
of horses at a roadside mansio. When she woke, the
carriage was rocking along the lonely road past Picentia
as if a demon were licking at its hubs. The dying city,
asleep behind its silvered walls, was the last outpost of
civilization on the eastbound highway.
back from the carriage, Adriana could still see the bay of
Salernum. Her eye traced the coastal highway southward,
toward the deserted Greek city of Paestum; she pictured
its ruined temples silvered under the dark arch of the
sky. Taurinus was somewhere on that road, looking for her
in the fever-stricken villages of the coastal plain.
the moment, she felt the gloom and loneliness of the
South. Disaster seemed to wait upon the land, with its
malarial seacoast and endless miles of deserted farmstead.
She could see nothing yet of its barren mountains to the
east, but she felt their menacing presence on the horizon.
you comfortable?" she asked Wolf, folded up in his
not uncomfortable, Adriana."
moving away from the sea, over flat farmlands seamed with
stony riverbeds. Not far from the town of Eburi the
carriage began to climb the long inclines of a deforested
mountain-flank, skirting unrepaired washes in the road.
At a high
point near Eburi, Adriana tapped the boy-monk on the
shoulder and made a sign. He pulled his horses to the edge
of the highway, above a stupendous array of mountains, dry
rivers, scrubby hillcrests.
prefer to enter the town unnoticed," she said.
"Unless, of course, youíd like to defy the bishop
and take us to Rhegium in your cart."
of Hercules!" the young monk swore at her jest,
forgetting his religion. "Iíd rather think about
death all day than go into those hills. Iíd rather offer
pepper to a cat. . . ."
grateful," she said, stepping down and motioning to
Wolf to follow her.
with God, madam," the monk said, handing down the
bishopís gift-basket of provisions and politely
declining the coin that Adriana offered.
carriage disappeared down the westward road with an
explosion of dust and a frantic clatter, the horses
throwing out their legs as if they were pursued by the
spirit of every horse in hell. The sound died away; the
night was peaceful. Among the silvered flowers along the
road Adriana recognized blue borage and field-pansies that
would burst into summer color during the day.
trust youíre getting used to starvation," she said,
appraising Wolf. His chiseled musculature seemed to be
taking on a look of scarcity. "Iím not quite
resigned to it myself. Letís find out what the Church
has sent with us."
moonlight she bent over the bishopís wicker basket and
excavated a large, moist cheese.
you thirsty?" she asked.
Adriana. I would not like to drink wine before the
journeyís end. One loses oneís interest in
find a spring," she said, looking back towards
Salernum for a final thirsty glimpse of the sea.
briskly down the slope towards Eburi, eating cheese,
watching for signs of fresh water in the parched
landscape. She expected a trickle of some sort at the base
of the hill. It appeared, close to the road, a creeklet
bubbling through a weedy cleft in the dry fields. Tracing
the rivulet a hundred paces from the highway, she found
the spring that fed it. She pushed aside the protective
greenery and drank deeply from her cupped hands.
she walked faster, tasting the cool morning. The eastern
horizon was rose-grey; the plaintive bawl of an ox went up
in the purple shadow of the hills. Larks hovered on the
wing, singing. Wild myrtles scented the rising
dawn-breeze. On a hill a mile away, the watch-towers of
Eburi glowed above the town wall.
mood expanded. She smiled at Wolf as they walked.
havenít had the chance to compliment you," she
said, "on how impressively you handled yourself at
Naples. I believe youíd have cut all their worthless
throats if I hadnít intervened."
were right to intervene, Adriana," Wolf said softly.
"I was berserk but I could not have slain
every able-bodied man in the city."
believe you could have," she said. "How is it
done among youóthe making of a boy-warrior? Romans had
the secret once."
boy is said to have drunk wolfís milk, Adriana. It
isóhow do you say?óin the blood. When my friends and I
were hardly old enough to ride wooden horses, we were
bragging that victory was better than a womanís love,
and death was best of all."
quickened her imagination. In the patterns of the dawn-sky
she saw the crude, terrible pageantry of the Vandal march
through Spain and Africa, an endless column of dust: giant
wagons rolling southward like oak-wheeled beasts; flocks
of stolen sheep, cargoes of stolen pigs; one-eyed,
thumbless, flay-faced, battle-scarred blond warriors,
armored in black metal; pregnant women in leather aprons;
herds of oxen driven by naked boys; troops of shaggy
horse; apple-cheeked virgins singing Arian hymns to the
music of trumpets and drums.
all planned to be warriors, but I was pious, unlike the
others. All my life I have been pious, like my
mother," Wolf said, with such gloom that Adriana had
to suppress a laugh.
with German earnestness of his year at an Arian monastery
on the Egyptian model. His active body had rebelled
against the discipline of cold marble and ritual prayer.
He had felt like a tiger scraping its hide against the
bars of a cage. Repeatedly, the abbot had punished him for
secret acts committed with the hand.
you were scattering your unborn children," Adriana
number is limitless, madam, and that is only a Greek
theory anyway," Wolf said with quiet dignity, his
ears turning pinker than the dawn.
no longer a monk."
day after my seventeenth birthday," Wolf said
patiently, "I was walking along the military wharf at
Carthage, meditating on the Word of God, when the kingís
highest-ranking naval officer came up and struck me on the
mouth. I turned my cheek to him, as Scripture says to
picked him up and threw him into the harbor. Scripture
does not say what to do after one has turned the
"The man was drunk; he sank like a stone. I could not
have saved him. The king was furious. I went into hiding
until my half-brothers could persuade him that the fault
was not mine. But my abbot convinced the king that I would
be a disgrace to our holy Arian faith, so at the kingís
Ďsuggestioní I enlisted under the Scarlet Banner and
went off to hunt Berbers and Catholics in the hills."
were distant as he remembered the African drylands. For a
German he spoke poetically: of scorched hills and white
dunes, and sunsets the color of fading bruises; of
fleeting cloud-mists and whirling sand, the howl of Berber
dogs, the fury of Berber drums; of homesickness and
woman-sickness, and the "beetle" that crawled in
a manís brain and made him frantic as a colt bitten by a
horsefly; of the pervasive dust and grit, collecting in
the spaces between oneís teeth, drifting on the
tent-floors, accumulating in mounds among the
perfume-bottles of sunburned officersí wives who sighed
all day for the distant joys of Carthage.
Wolf said, shaking his head, "sometimes makes heroes,
and sometimes imbeciles."
knows? I myself was both, I think. I used to drive away
the ghosts of desolation with wine, because I was young
and foolish. In the morning I felt as if the ghosts were
jumping on my grave."
both unwilling and eager to continue his confession.
Adriana listened without comment, setting herself at a
distance from the old pains quickened by his words.
quartered ourselves on the Berbers when we were on
campaign," he said. "We paid them with
suffering. Their best defense was the heat and stink of
their huts. I used to think the smell drove up the
temperature. Berbers, ach! I think they learned
their vices from the Egyptians and their household habits
from monkeys. We killed many of them. We did many other
things I could not take part in."
beaded his forehead as he spoke, confessing Vandal
atrocities in the province of Africa: Roman priests hung
over a fire and burned with red-hot irons; Roman altars
urinated on; horses stabled in Roman baptisteries; Roman
holy vessels used as chamber pots; Roman villages and
fields sent up in smoke; the Roman faithful set roving in
emaciated herds through the destroyed countryside. The
land had taken its own revenge on the blond heretics: some
were lost in sandstorms; some died in a raving horror of
thirst; one party was cornered by Berbers in a stand of
pine and burned alive.
breathing hard, but not from exertion.
glad I donít understand the need to do that sort of
thing," Adriana said gently.
not myself," Wolf said with quiet resolution.
"The men of the Scarlet Banner are virtuous, many of
them, but hunger and thirst do strange things to a man who
thinks he is civilized. On the march we were angry and
weary to death, the best and the worst of us. We were
white with dust, our feet were sore, our beards were
ragged, our hair smelled. Our stomachs were empty, like
our purses and our beds. That is how it was with us. So we
did terrible things. I myself tried to be Christian for
the honor of God and my mother, but I am not proud of
everything I did in the misery of those days."
pleasant to know that youíre pious," Adriana
smiled, steering the subject away from bloodshed,
"though somehow you donít really look
has faith in something," Wolf said solemnly, as if
repeating a truth half-understood.
and I are supposed to be religious enemies, because of our
different conception of Christ," she reflected,
"but I donít understand the reason. Iíve never
believed the parts of any religion that seem made for old
women. Long ago there was a bishop in Gaul who said that
God became man so we might become God. I believe
believe it," Wolf echoed resolutely.
the rest isóvah!"
light promised a hot, dry southern day, the sky gleaming
like hot metal, the summer smell of parched weeds making
the air difficult to breathe.
morning reminds me of Africa," Adriana said, watching
the movement of peasants and animals up the slope ahead.
"I remember our farm on the coast near Clupea as if
Iíd left it yesterday. I think I could remember the
names of our silver oxen if I thought hard. We kept them
in spotless stalls with their own names printed above
them, and the Five-Fingered Hand to preserve them from the
Evil Eye. Lord, the animals! Itís been a long time since
I thought of them. I had a friendly sheep-dog named Rufus,
who sometimes pounced on the green lizards in our villa
yard and swallowed them alive. I had a white donkey of my
own, too, and my own goat. They were both so intelligent
they seemed to speak without using words. Theyíre gone
now, of course."
sorry," Wolf murmured.
wasnít your doing," Adriana said, as they passed
into the shadow of the wall of Eburi.
rose; a scattering of tiny clouds turned from red to
silver as the dawn broadened over the world. The town was
low and shabby. There was a sleepy suggestion of brutality
about the place, and an abnormal wariness. Dozing with one
eye open, the beggars seemed ready to run, infirmities and
all, at the slightest threat of a kick. Women slunk down
the streets as if expecting an attack from an unknown
direction. Cats, slouching between the tiles of the roofs,
kept an eye peeled for dogs that were safely on the
ground. Only the shepherds seemed fearless: hard-eyed men
whose hair dripped grease on garments in which their
grandfathers must have sweated.
a strange city," Wolf said, returning the baleful
gaze of the passers-by. "Everyone seems to expect an
perhaps," Adriana speculated. "Here, the
brigands are the people, and the people are the
Wolfís arm and inserted herself into a file of carts,
getting in front of a brace of mules whose driver cursed
her, but whose whip was too short to reach her neck. The
procession carried her to the forum, where people with
little money had gathered to bump against vendors with
little to sell. The smells were atrocious. The
Greek-inflected noise was a blow to the ear.
wonít stay long in this jewel-box of civic virtue,"
Adriana said, reflexively touching her knife and her
coin-sack. "What do we need? Bread, dried figs, wine,
hard cheese, straw hats against the sun, a change of
tunics for you, a cloak for you to sleep in, flint and
iron, a pot to carry coals, and a small clay kettle to
cook in. New sandals can wait until Nerulum or so. Meat
and eggs can be bought on the road when the bishopís
supply runs out."
if there are no meat and eggs, a bow and arrows?"
Wolf suggested, blushing at his own boldness.
the price is right."
haggling at the stalls took less time than Adriana had
expected. She lingered the longest over a small wooden bow
with a Hunnish appearance and a collection of bedraggled
arrows, relics of the time of Alaric. She bought the
ensemble for a silver piece. Wolf watched the transaction
with trembling lips, and permitted himself a little whoop
of joy when it was finished.
bundled their provisions in their travel-cloaks, slung the
bundles over their shoulders, and edged toward the south
entrance of the forum, passing through the shadow of a
statue of Petronius Maximus. At its base, a cluster of
beggars threw dice for each otherís alms, grinding their
teeth, squinting with eyes like black diamonds at the spot
where the small, square pieces fell. A white-bearded
beggar fired off fives; the losers cursed.
On a rash
impulse Adriana slipped a copper out of her sack and
tossed it into the center of the circle. The chaos was
immediate. Six beggars dived for the coin. A hunchbacked
beggar kicked a blind beggar in the stomach. A one-armed
beggar brought a stick down on the hunchbackís hump. The
blind beggar wept without tears. A fingerless beggar
drummed excitedly with his stumps on the shoulders of a
fever-demented beggar, who stared open-mouthed at the
fracas. While the beggars struggled, an adolescent boy
leaned into the fray, snatched up the coin, and ran.
you had enough of Eburi?" Adriana asked, disgusted.
much. I would beat them like children if this were
coarse bread, they left the forum. On a ruined wall
outside, the boy who had run with Adrianaís coin sat
kicking his heels in the air, at the center of an assembly
of cats whose bleak expressions suggested they did not
quite dare to hope for alms.
inspected Adriana and Wolf, estimating their value in
copper. With an athletic shift of his shoulders he dropped
into the street, stood on his hands in front of Wolf,
somersaulted, bowed, grinned, and patted his mouth.
does the troll want?" Wolf asked.
Adriana answered, throwing the boy a chunk from her slab
as if he were a pup.
made an exaggerated leap to catch the bread, put it in his
mouth, turned a somersault, bowed with mock gravity, and
ran with the bread like a dog. In a moment he was back,
standing on his head.
do you want now?" Wolf said in a voice of thunder.
sir," the boy said, "I am very fond of
Wolf exclaimed, purple-cheeked. "Why does he say
he knows that nobody gives alms to a beggar who tells the
not your mother calling you?" Wolf asked fiercely.
have no mother."
it is the voice of your father I hear?"
have no father."
is something new," Adriana spoke to the urchin,
"a beggar who makes declarations of love. This man is
mine. Why do you love him?"
he will give me alms," the boy said winsomely.
why should he give you anything?"
the boy replied, spreading his hands and grinning
radiantly, "because, madam, he has a beautiful
give you a small copper," Adriana said, smiling in
spite of herself, "because you have the power to
out the coin; the boy snatched it and bowed.
he said, holding up a forefinger, "Your Charities are
passing through Eburi, I can offer you something better
what might that be?" Adriana asked, amused by his
rhetoric, incongruous with his crude little face.
the boy beamed, "and that magnificent beast
refreshing himself at the fountain."
expansively at a pair of long ears wagging above a nearby
you wonder how I recognized you as people with funds,
traveling south?" the urchin said, tapping his temple
wisely. "Itís because Iím keenly observant. I
watched you buy everything worth buying in the
chest expanded. "Iím worth five times the modest
wage youíll pay me. Iíll carry your bundles, because
itís undignified for Your Greatnesses to be burdened
with anything but a switch to make war on the flies.
Iíll sing to you, because I have the voice of a
Christian angel; and the donkey, he sings too, and he only
costs a nummus a day additional, which is of course
nothing. And if I may say so, madam, you donít speak
Latin well enough to defend yourself in these hills, where
youíll be among strangers. How will Your Innocence order
a meal? How will she know when sheís getting half of
what she pays for?"
was pleasingly ugly, with a soft fringe of mustache under
a nose too small for his bold brown eyes and heavy
eyebrows. His straw hat and tunic were full of holes. He
had a large red sore on one of his brown legs. Two
murderous-looking short knives framed his hips.
red sore," Adriana said, stooping down and plucking
it off the boyís leg, "is a fraud. You should be
ashamed, madam," he grinned, passing a grubby hand
over the place where the spurious wound had been.
"But my sisters are starving because theyíre too
young to beg for themselves, and I must do something to
create sympathy for myself so I can provide for
have no sisters," Adriana said. "What can you do
besides lie? We wonít stretch our rations to fatten a
fight," the urchin said. With great energy he
demonstrated the use of his knives: one, two,
both blades stuck in the belly of the emperorís man
before the regulation short-sword could be drawn from its
also a celebrated hunter. I know all about the beasts of
the field and forest. I can shoot an arrow straight as a
string, and make stones fly like birds. In dancing,
singing, and the knife I have no equal between Salernum
and Rhegium. I can make poetry in the Latin and Greek of
the hills. I captivate women by my good looks, with some
humor. They like my lovemaking because I have the fire of
Vesuvius in my loins but my kisses donít scratch."
son of an absent father."
do you come from?"
else can you do?" Adriana asked, bracing herself for
more of his charmingly unrestrained immodesty.
Iím told. I can cut wood and build fires, make tents of
skin, sniff out a trail, steal chickens and eggs both,
lift purses. . . ."
can keep brigands at bay, too, I presume?"
snap my fingers at them," Lucius said, snapping his
fingers. "I have powerful friends. Iíll lead you
straight down through the hills, and no one will dare
touch us. If some have missed the message, we can sleep
unseen by day and travel by night. And since Iím a
hunter, youíll always sleep with stomachs full of good
meat, like foxes in lambing time."
you take a beating?" Adriana inquired, raising her
Hercules, I believe you have," she laughed. "You
see my whip here? It makes veal-steak of unbaptized flesh.
Itís a terror to boys, this whip. Donít become
familiar with it."
does he do?" Lucius asked, gesturing at Wolf
with his thumb.
takes up where the whip leaves off. Youíll want to be
careful of him. Heís like a panther when provoked. He
bounds through the air and makes a boy into a mummy with
one squeeze and one crunch."
turned and whistled for the donkey, who had been drinking
from a public fountain. The creature came along with
petulant brays and a rebellious outthrowing of heels. He
was lean and loose in the ears, with a thoughtful face
that seemed to suggest a dim view of the future.
is the glorious beast?" Adriana asked.
glorious," Lucius echoed. "Heís beautiful and
wise, and has a voice of thunder. Thereís no one else
like him between Salernum and Rhegium. Heís called
ĎHis Grace,í after His Grace the bishop of Vibo."
let out a frantic bray.
hear? He speaks wisdom. He deserves a pulpit."
trash, will you make the trip for a gold tremissis a
week?" Adriana asked.
a backward handspring, went to his knees on the
cobblestones, and spread his arms in a gesture that
embraced the world.
Eburi, the reign of ruin began. The air seemed cooked in
the white forenoon. Everything slept but the flies,
rejoicing maliciously in the heat.
city gate, Adrianaís company trailed a half-dozen sullen
peasants in single file. They were armed to the teeth,
mounted sideways on tiny donkeys. His Grace followed
placidly behind the last donkey, as if he were a member of
the procession. The beast was worth the price of the boy,
carrying the partyís bundled travel-gear.
temple to Venus, abandoned to the elements for perhaps
fifty years, stood near the tombs of Eburi. Luciusís
hands jutted out suddenly, palms up, as the travelers
passed the vine-covered ruin. It was a salute to the god.
need to be brought up to date," Adriana chided him.
shot an insolent glance over his shoulder. "Why,
madam? They are the true gods, who give force to my slings
and arrows, and to my magnificent member as well."
on the shadeless, endless highway, from which the heat
burned back with double force. The countryside was
forbidding. The dry hills were like weedy mounds of
sawdust. The stunted olive-groves were coated with dust.
Mustard-colored oxen had taken refuge in their shade. They
lifted their dark muzzles toward the travelers, as if
amazed at the sight of straw-hatted people so foolish as
to be out on the road at noon.
dropped back to walk beside Adriana. He was reading her
face, his expression an odd mixture of sympathy and
calculation. He had a shepherdís long walk, springing
from the knee, flapping the tattered ends of his tunic
that hung low over his dusty calves.
you travel with Lucius, son of an absent father, no one
will come near you," Lucius said, taking a knife from
one of his boots, drawing a finger down the edge, and
glancing at Adriana with brief impressiveness.
believe itís true," Adriana smiled, pinching her
the boy chattered, the more she liked him. His
self-advertisement was so overstated that it carried no
hint of calculation. He was sixteen years old, more or
less. Somewhere he had learned half the vocabulary of a
gentleman. Nature had supplied him with the ethics of a
squirrel. He knew all the Christian priests, secret
pagans, rich widows, and prostitutes in the South. He was
a student of life at first hand and, by his own modest
admission, a great lover, who could not only point out the
prettiest girls in every town but call them by their
nicknames as well.
years, by his own account, he had been a slave, a beggar,
a horse-thief, a sheep-thief, a shepherd, a singer, and an
energetic maker of love. He could snare quail or rabbits
with equal ease, fish and shoot better than any outlaw in
the south of Italy, imitate a foxís bark, follow an
enemyís trail without leaving a trail of his own, make a
fire with flint and tinder, set a course in the wilds by
shadow and starlight, seduce serf-girls without annoying
their fathers, make whistles from willow-twigs and soup
always have a place to sleep when you travel with Lucius,
any night of the year," Lucius said with a grand
gesture at the landscape. "Fine houses stand empty in
these hills. Thereís always plenty to wear. If you
canít get a rag out of somebodyís garbage, the steward
of any estate will give you something to cover your
nakedness. Water gushes out of every hill. If you need
food, you can ask for it or run it down. How many pounds
of bread are thrown to the dogs in a week at Rome? Itís
the same here, if you know where to look."
need my luxuries, however," Adriana said, fingering
her back, where a stone had burrowed into it during a
continued to recite his own excellences. He could ride,
swim, dive in deep rivers and the sea, ply the whip, climb
trees, scale cliffs without a rope, bring down birds and
beasts with arrow and sling. He could sleep comfortably on
any rock, with or without a rug. He could live on lichens
and dovesí eggs, if necessary, or even on roots and the
inner bark of trees. Of course he could make endless love.
the soles of my feet," he said, raising each foot in
turn and slapping it on the bottom, "are like iron
from long walking, so I can tread on stones without
feeling them, and crush a scorpion without being stung,
and stamp a snakeís head flat without risk to
roadside stableyard a serf-dog ran after the travelers,
barking ominously, though there was nothing for him to
defend. His Grace stretched his neck, expanded his
nostrils, set his tail stiffly horizontal, and emitted
blast after blast that echoed from the yellow hills.
peace, Wise One," Lucius said, laying a consoling
hand on the donkeyís nose. The boy hiked up his tunic,
bent over, his head between his legs, and bayed, his face
upside down under his butt. The dog fled, its tail between
Grace is wise," Lucius said reverently. "He
expresses himself in a way even simple people can
understand. He also has wisdom beyond expression. A mere
man can only guess at it. He looks at you with kind eyes,
and nods, Ďyes, yes,í with his head, which is full of
grace and truth. Sometimes he rubs you with his nose.
Thatís because he regrets that people need to use words,
and canít express themselves in the language of pure
nodded, vaguely amused. Her eyes and thoughts strayed to
Wolf. He walked at the head of the little procession, his
face serene, his eyes fixed on something far away. He had
taken off his tunic and knotted it around his waist; he
was bare-legged and bare-chested, under the wide-brimmed
straw hat Adriana had bought for him in Eburum. His little
Hunnish bow had the appearance of a childís toy, slung
between his wide shoulders. He seemed to prosper in the
harsh sun; he lacked the pink, cancer-prone complexion of
most northerners. His smooth skin had a walnut undertone,
and it had been well browned under the African sky.
pleased her. He moved his legs with the confidence and
grace of a professional runner. He seemed to be dreaming
of good things to come, or cheerfully bearing a cross that
he had no intention of discussing.
was curiously deserted. A dry breeze stirred up eddies of
dust on the stones. Once the pavement had been crowded
with the retinues of emperors, senators, great ladies. Now
there was no grandeur, only an occasional bony horse, a
string of charcoal-bearing donkeys, mummified peasant
women carrying bundles of sticks on their heads.
passing of the Greeks, life in the South had been lived
with death looking over its shoulder. The remnants of law
and order were preserved by the bishops, the great
landowners with their small private armies, and the
pitifully undermanned garrisons of the duke of Lucania.
The common people lived like beasts in smoke and filth,
with their donkeys and pigs. In their barbarous songs the
character of the South seemed reduced to a dirge, of white
sun and parched earth, sour wine, earthquakes, early
pregnancy, early death, and never enough to eat.
did you learn such words as Ďthe language of pure
thoughtí?" Adriana asked Lucius, picking up the
thread of the conversation.
breath for a long answer.
the body-slave of Artemidorus the Greek, who taught my
lordís children. I let him bugger me, though the master
was against it, in return for teaching me to read and
write big words. Butóas you will have sensed,
AdrianaóIím a man for women. They love me as I love
them, because I am young and of a godlike beauty."
the smile was complacently self-affirming.
Iíd learned as much from Artemidorus as I wanted to
know, I refused to bend over for him. For spite he gave me
to some passing robbers, who tried to force from me the
details of my masterís defenses and the number of his
armed slaves, so they could break into his house. But
Iím a man of honor, Adriana, and I wouldnít tell them
puffed out his chest like a courting bird.
suffered manfully at their dog-hands. They heated nails
and poked my flesh with them, threatening my beauty, even
threatening to prod my manhood with those glowing
spikesómy manhood, which is big and fertile, like a
horseís. So I played dead, like a stinking polecat, and
when their wine put them to sleep, the god who gave me
beauty rose up in me and gave me strength. I burned my
bonds over a living coal without even scarring my wrists,
and ran away through the woods without tiring, like a stag
in the rutting season, when his stones are full of sap.
And I didnít stop until I was safe inside the town wall
of Consentia, where a rich woman offered that very day to
take me into her house and care for me."
of your beauty, perhaps?" Adriana suggested.
Adriana," Lucius admitted with a modest little smirk.
"I would not have accepted, because I am like the
rutting stag, who must run free or die, but my lady had
beautiful girls in her kitchen, and I felt, as I often do,
the need to become a father."
have children, little man?" Adriana smiled.
up three fingers proudly. "I had three kitchen-girls
swollen up in no time at all. The cook threatened me with
the loss of my man-stones, so I ran away to preserve them.
The babies are handsome, all boys. Iíve seen them in the
market-place at Consentia. No doubt there are other babies
elsewhere that I havenít seen. Yes, Adriana, the gods
who gave me beauty gave me strong sap as well."
looks after your bastards?" Adriana asked.
will care for them, maybe. Or maybe the Christian God will
care for them. Itís not my problem. Weíre near
the air. Wolf shook his head, but in a hundred paces the
three stood on a stone bridge over a clear creek flowing
out of a hillside to the west.
we all smell," Adriana said, "you included,
Vandal, Iím sorry to say. I feel as if Iíve worn the
same underwear for three years without a change. God has
granted us a bath to prevent us from suffocating one
them off the road. The spring-fed creek originated in a
series of clear pools overshadowed by willows, free of
weeds, though not entirely of mosquitoes. Stripping to his
loincloth, Wolf slid into a pool, his teeth chattering.
go too, unclean child," Adriana commanded Lucius.
"Your armpits smell like mutton soup."
a noble smell," Lucius complained.
she said, pointing at the creek with authority.
donít want to scrub myself in cold water like a
barbarian," Lucius said with dignity. "Besides,
I donít want to watch the German with his clothes off,
with yellow fur on his legs that it makes a Roman ill to
see. Moreover, Iím afraid."
the German wonít be able to resist my beauty,"
Lucius whispered, with a face of infinite impudence.
raised her whip. The boy scurried down the slope.
through brittle underbrush to the next pool upstream, laid
aside her clothes, and slipped into the water, hugging
herself against the cold. She scrubbed her armpits and
groin with handfuls of soft water-weeds, rinsed her tunic
and undercloth, wrung them out carefully, and laid them on
a hot boulder to dry in the sun.
drifted up the watercourse.
boys at war? she wondered. The question was
immediately complicated by a mildly curious impulse to
watch them. Smiling to herself, feeling rather too much
like Flavia, she waded through the vegetable muck on the
bottom of the pool to a place where she could peek
downstream without being seen.
were splashing amiably. Both of them apparently had the
capacity of the young for easy forgiveness. Lucius climbed
out of the water and dived deep, a brown streak in the
sunlight. Wolf stood poised on the bank, preparing to
dive, not to be outdone by the urchin. He swung his arms
back, crouched, and knifed into the water, his unfatted
body flexing and shadowing in flight, a rush of beauty
more impermanent than a sunrise, a hundred times as
moving, a thousand times too fast.
she thought of herself, with a little rush of shame. She
draped her damp clothes over herself and pushed her way
downstream through the bushes. The boys were dressed,
sitting on the bank, when she arrived.
heat is enough to burn up paving-stones," Lucius
commented, flailing at a cloud of insects and scratching
his legs, brown as walnuts.
in the bishopís basket for the holy manís private
mixture of olive oil and tart-smelling herbs. The three
the mosquitoes wonít eat us," Adriana said.
"Perhaps the natives will."