As the valley
of the Tanager curved to the south, the countryside grew
wilder. The hills rose into peaks, fringed with dark
clusters of pine. Between stretches of exhausted farmland
the empty highway unrolled, rising until it mingled with
the sharp light of the sky and vanished into the horizon.
The desolation of the landscape was a weight on
hour, she knew, the mentality of a fugitive was being
perfected in her. On the river-plain she felt as
vulnerable as a rabbit in a stubblefield, visible from
everywhere. Her eyes habitually scanned the thickets and
hollows for the glimmer of brass and steel. The shadows of
moving clouds made her heart beat quicker. In the windless
summer day, any sound brought her senses to the alert: the
snort of a famished ox, the cry of a lone shepherd on the
hills, the rustle of small creatures in the thickets along
town lay in her path, in the shadow of the Alburnus
mountains. The north gate stood unguarded between two
wrecked towers, past rows of tombs that shivered in the
heat. In the roadside dust Adriana drew a circle with a
straight willow wand and stuck the wand upright in the
center, making a rough sundial.
used to city conveniences," she said. "We have
an hour till dusk. Itís time to think of a place to
spend the night."
was low and shabby. In the doorways of ancient buildings,
a few crones yawned and scratched. The rubbish-littered
forum was populated by wolf-eyed shepherds in conical
hats, exactly matching Adrianaís mental picture of
highwaymen. At the edge of the sparse traffic a
pleasant-faced old woman offered clay pots hanging along
her donkeyís sides on strings.
me, is there an inn with regular prices, and an innkeeper
who knows the difference between his business and other
business?" Adriana asked her.
no place to stay in Lymphaeum. Everyoneís afraid."
there eggs here, perhaps?" Adriana asked.
little enough of anything to buy," the woman said.
"The harvests have been bad for years. A nummus would
buy an egg, if you could find one."
suppose we could hunt."
little game. The wolves are said to be gaunt this
thanks," Adriana said with a feeling of dismay,
producing a small silver piece and urging it into the
no problem, the shortage of game," Lucius chimed in
importantly, as the travelers moved toward Lymphaeumís
south gate. "I know the neighborhood. Past this gate,
a creek joins the Tanager. If we ford the river and follow
the creek into the shadow of the mountains, weíll find
pools with trout the size of dolphins. Come, Adriana; see
trout tickled by an expert. Bring your German, too, if you
can get him to lose interest in the road."
glad to escape the poverty of the place. Just beyond the
suburban avenue of crumbling tombs, a clear creek joined
the half-dry Tanager near the highway. Lucius pointed to a
green hollow in the western hills, the source of the flow.
be safe up there," he said. "Our cookfire will
be mistaken for a shepherdís."
travelers forded the river and climbed the winding
creekbed. The little oasis was fragrant with scrub pine.
Shepherds had been there often, sheltered by a ruined wall
that bore the marks of many fires. A cookfire would
attract no attention. The viewpoint was good. The late
afternoon air on the heights was a cool blessing. Clear
water, cold as melted ice, trickled out under a ledge of
rock and puddled in a basin of moss and fern. On all
fours, Adriana drank as much from the spring as she dared.
downward tug of exhaustion, she helped Wolf and Lucius
undo the donkeyís pack-cords and collect dry wood for a
fire. His Grace rolled in the soft grass and ate a
bellyful of it. Under the wall, Lucius laid short twigs
and dry grass, produced a tiny smudge with flint and
tinder, and blew on it until it popped into flame.
time to fish," he said impressively, when the fire
as the gray rock on which he lay, Lucius lowered a brown
arm into the basin. Below him, dark shapes, hardly in
motion, flashed silver against brown stone. The boyís
fingers moved under water, beckoning the trout,
fascinating them. The largest fish drifted toward his
hand. The fingers were poised to grab the fish. It darted
away laughing, throwing up a few grains of sand from the
cloudless bottom. All the fish seemed to understand the
game. They bumped each other with their snouts, glanced
impudently up at Lucius, and swam in lazy circles beyond
cannot stand it," Wolf grumbled. With bow and arrow
he shot the largest trout through the head. The others
fish sizzled, Wolf and Adriana gathered weeds to make beds
for themselves and Lucius, and spread their cloaks over
the tangled herbage. A golden glow faded over the
campsite. Away from the fire, a resinous smell of pine
hung in the warm air, left over from the day.
Iím hungry," Adriana said, smelling the fish.
"What do you think the bishop sent us? How about
oysters from the Sea of Tarentum, with lappered cream,
colder than the fountains of Tibur, and cured goatís
ham, garnished with herbs from the emperorís
She dug in
Nilusís wicker basket and found a jar of honey from the
bishopís own bees, hard-boiled eggs in a nest of
lavender-scented napkins, an amphora of red wine, and one
of white. Gently she pulled the stoppers, wiped the lips
of the vessels with the hem of her tunic, and drank deeply
drop of comfort is good for the temper," she said.
"My mother used to take strong waters on the sly. She
said they made her more religious."
an amphora apiece to Wolf and Lucius. The bishopís wine
was potent. It rose to the head. Adriana became less
vocal. Wolf and Lucius were suddenly the best of friends.
In loud tones they migrated from subject to subject: from
the technique of archery to the immortality of the soul,
from the laws of Theodosius to the music of the double
flute, from the flavor of uncooked cabbage to the causes
of sexual heat. Wolf had bursts of uncharacteristic
eloquence. Lucius was abnormally reflective. Adriana
giggled and poked the men in the ribs. The fire died to
coals. Abruptly they were all depressed, and sat without
words for a time.
died quietly in the brown fields below the hill. Sweetened
by distance, the melancholy tones of a shepherdís
bagpipe drifted on the breeze. Adriana sat watching the
crisp twinkle of early stars beyond the red glow of the
fallen fire, and saw the windows light up in the peasant
cottages in the valley. Memories started up: wars and
rumors of wars, the flight from Carthage, strange cities
and high seas, storms in summer and winter, births and
deaths, the seaside villa at Ischia in the delicious
springtime of her life which would never come again,
except perhaps in heaven.
play my flute to keep the unclean spirits far from this
place, and to give Your Excellencies good dreams,"
Lucius said, with a sleepy roll of the eyes, and went off
to lean against a hillock on the edge of the firelight.
The melancholy soughing of a cane-flute rose on the night
breeze. Soon it dwindled, like an exhausted bagpipe. The
boy snored. His Grace had collapsed earlier.
the hill, a white mist crept in the hollows. A distant
oxcart squealed to a halt; a far-off male voice, singing,
went silent. In the aromatic dusk, Adriana and Wolf moved
closer to the fire. Speechless, they watched the last
daylight fade from the valley.
have one certainty of a real bath and clean clothes
between here and Vibo Valentia," she said, breaking
the silence. "The circumstances will be trying, Iím
afraid. My cousin Firmus and his wife Gallia, the most
ill-content woman in the empire next to my sister Flavia,
inherited some of the largest working estates in the
southówine, olives, that sort of thing, for the coastal
towns along the Ionian sea. Gallia spends her life
complaining about her good fortune. Her husband lives in
another world. I rather like him. I hardly remember their
only daughter. I assume sheís like her mother."
night closed around them; the breeze brought little
suggestions of pine.
taste of civilization would be welcome right now. I used
to want to live like this," Adriana smiled,
"when I was back in Rome, all matronly in my crimson
silks, trying not to yawn for my husbandís sake, while
old Senator Bibulus expounded Plato over dinner. I used to
think all I needed in life was enough rocks to build four
walls and enough brambles to lay a roof, and a friendly
fire of deadwood in winter."
would shiver all winter," Wolf said. "I myself
have shivered in winter by a friendly fire of
a good little chill in the air at that," she
reflected, sniffing the breeze. "It makes me think of
home in early October. Youíd love my farm then, when
everything is scarlet and purple and gold and brown,
except the deep green of the ilex. We have wine festivals
then, with songs around the vats, and all the children get
a little drunk while they play among the fallen leaves. I
remember especially the October after I was married. I was
in love. I think it must have been love, because Quintus
and I were so childish, and everything seemed framed in a
me," Wolf said softly, "how it is to be in love
the same everywhere, isnít it?" Adriana said.
"Such wonderful foolishness! One afternoon, the same
October, Quntus and I took hayrides on the mule-carts of
my grandfatherís serfs. We laughed at everything and
nothing, and the hay seemed to me like the couch of an
empress. Afterwards we walked up a dusty road together. It
seemed to me like a palace floor, strewn with roses and
powdered gold. In the stillness we could hear goats
browsing under the stripped vines. Somebody must have been
pressing wine nearby, because we could smell the juice of
the grapes; and somewhere on a hillside, a shepherd was
playing the double-flute.
stopped at a place where cypresses swayed in the breeze.
Maybe that was bad luck for us. It was a beautiful spot,
with wild roses blowing, and a spring welling up in a
marble shell that must have belonged to a villa garden
long ago, and there were clusters of yellow grapes hanging
around a statue of Hyacinthus. We stood close together,
saying nothing, and watched the stars come out above us,
and enjoyed the scent of crushed grapes and fallen leaves
on the night air, which was getting crisp.
you know how these things go. He touched my hands with his
lips, then my cheeks and my throat. Pardon me; I remember
it so well. We have a saying that a woman who hasnít
been in love in autumn has only seen half the sun."
at the sky.
walked down from the hills in the sunset. The moon had
come up by the time we were home. I remember how the
lights of our house glowed in the dusk. They seemed to me
like the jewels that stud the gates of heaven. After
weíd made love I went to my own bed, but I couldnít
sleep, though I was full of dreams. I watched Orion in the
black sky, and I watched a falling star that I thought
would come right through my window. I donít think the
world has ever seemed so beautiful to me as it did
nothing. She watched the workings of muscle in his cheek,
shadowed in firelight.
talk too much," she said. "The bishopís wine
has made me loose-tongued."
you love him still, the same way, Adriana?" Wolf
asked in a neutral voice. Nothing could be inferred from
the same way, Iím afraid," she said. "I think
perhaps I pity him."
is difficult," Wolf said quietly. "Ach.
Why do we let it happen?"
knows?" Adriana shrugged. "Why does the swallow
nest over here instead of over there? We do it, thatís
conversation dwindled. Wolf had fallen into a sitting
doze. Adriana sat watching the glow of the dying fire and
the golden twinkle of summer stars. Tired in every muscle,
she was still wide awake, her cheeks warm with the
bishopís wine, her thoughts a jumble of sentimental
regrets and imaginings. Loneliness and exhaustion were
taking their toll of her self-possession. For an abandoned
moment she allowed herself to think how pleasant it would
be to take Wolf by the ears and kiss his mouth, and
whisper: Great blond ox! Arenít you glad that Adriana
saved your hide? Donít you wish to know more of her?
poise reasserted itself: Heís German, after all, and
only a youngster; he wouldnít understand.
time to sleep," she said to herself aloud. She
gathered her effects near the fire, hung the popeís ring
around her neck on a strip of rag, and tucked her
coin-sack under her tunic. Getting to her feet, she
climbed the dark hillock where Lucius snored with his head
on his arms.
the urchin with a gentle slap on the head. "You must
take the first watch, boy-man."
Lucius sat up, rubbing his eyes, watching her go back to
the circle of firelight.
me when the moonís down," she yawned, shaking a
forefinger at him. "If you fall asleep, the German
will scrape your skin off with flat stones and peg you
down on an antsí nest."
stretched Wolfís cloak over him; he had toppled over and
fallen asleep where he lay. She lay down not far from him,
facing the dying fire, and pulled her own cloak up around
her ears. Briefly she lay awake with closed eyes, wary of
the pagan Lucius, knowing that he could calmly slit her
throat and Wolfís the moment her eyelids stopped
slept, and dreamed of a standing male nude, its hips
draped with a scrap of loincloth, its face hidden in
shadow. Suddenly the shadow lifted, and the face was
awake with a cry lodged in her throat. Lucius was sitting
on a stone near her head. In the moonlight she examined
the boyís upside-down face, unable to interpret its
expression. An animal howled on a far hill, something like
the baying of a dog but deeper and wilder, a sound that
made her wish she had a door to lock.
she asked, squinting at Lucius upside down.
the boy nodded.
shuddered. There was an answering howl from beyond the
woods in the valley.
sure theyíre not dogs?" she persisted.
maybe. Theyíre worse," he said.
see," she said.
lucky to have me," Lucius said with an insolent grin,
coming round to squat before her. He was still a little
drunk. "Youíre in the South. Youíve fallen asleep
on the lower lip of death. Itís true. And youíre lucky
that Iíve repaid your trust. Almost anyone else would
have pierced your windpipe and taken the great ring that
you hide between your breasts."
boy!" she spat, sitting up straight. "Did your
mother teach you to spy between womenís breasts while
watched her intently. He pulled a shaft of grass, bit it,
and blew out the amputated end.
civilized, Adriana," he said, "unlike that
barbarian next to you. Why do you need him? When you lie
down with a panther, you ruin your sleep wondering when
heíll pull off your blankets and comb your hair with his
claws. . . ."
enough," she said.
He eyed her
shrewdly, and glanced at the sleeping Wolf. "I know
that soon youíll come to my bed. Iím patient."
irresistible to women, as I recall," Adriana mumbled
have good seed. Iíll give you a healthy boy-child who
wonít lie coughing in his crib."
a strange person," she said, oddly consoled by the
idiotic exchange, and fell asleep again.
out of Eburi, the valley of the Tanager had degenerated
into a ribbon of semi-civilization between two high
reaches of barbarism. A stranger might cross those
heights, if the mountaineers allowed him to live, by way
of stony paths too dangerous for goats. Travelers,
therefore, rarely left the highway.
at her side, Adriana matched Luciusís pace, a steady,
long-legged stride. They swept up and down shadowed
hillsides and across sun-stricken valleys, pressing toward
the dark mountains on the southern horizon. The emptiness
of the landscape was oppressive. The season had been dry;
the red deer were gone from the hills, and the wolves had
come down to the valleys. The lonely shepherds seemed
gaunter and more threadbare than in the north; their dogs,
with great jaws and little red ferret-eyes, seemed to
watch the sheep more closely.
deserted town of Vertinae, the highway rose through wild,
abrupt territory where vegetation struggled with rock. In
a pass between two bald peaks, His Grace shied at the
skeleton of a horse that had been picked clean by ghoulish
birds. The donkeyís nasal bray echoed and reŽchoed as
if a hundred drunkards were hiccuping and bawling among
a famous place for ghosts," Lucius said, passing a
hand across his eyes. "Even the glorious beast is
afraid. Goths died here when Alaric passed through. The
people of the hills covered one end of the gorge with
flaming arrows and drove a herd of cattle through the
other, after theyíd captured and killed Alaricís
scouts. The young bastard sons of Alaric died here."
breeze, carrying an odd slaughterhouse smell, stirred
among the rocks with a feeble moan, like that of men in
their final agony.
full of spirits, this place," Lucius said.
a fool," Adriana said, in a cold sweat in spite of
you canít distinguish between owls and dead Goths."
Adriana," the boy whispered, as a distant wolf
howled, "but why do the owls look like Germans, and
walk on air as high as my chin is from the ground? Iíve
seen their souls running up and down the road like blue
flames in a brazier. If Iíd waited, I would have seen
their bodies, too, but I ran. Bones of my mother! I was
frightened, the only time in my life. Hercules helped me
run. Once I looked back and I could see the souls jumping
up and down on the pavement. When the dead dance, the
living go home."
youíre of the old religion; you donít believe in the
Christians believe," the boy said. "If enough
people believe in something, it happens."
announced a short cut. Adrianaís heart carried her
forward, under rock ledges where a false step would have
thrown her a hundred feet into a nest of shale. She was
raked by brambles, stung by nettles, nudged off the track
by the tortured boughs of scrub pine, threatened by crows
fluttering from pinnacle to pinnacle, fearful for their
children. When she put her feet on the highway again, she
thanked her guardian angel for her preservation.
God, I donít remember the taste of water," she
said, but in a moment His Grace broke into a sudden
gallop, hinnying loudly, and left the road again. The
three followed him with blessings and curses; like Lucius,
the beast could scent a puddle as far as a wolf could
scent a carcass.
their midday meal by an icy spring, in the shadow of
boulders that might have crushed whole neighborhoods in
Rome. Adriana unwrapped boiled mutton from a cabbage leaf
and distributed it to Wolf and Lucius. They ate in
silence. After the meal she rinsed the leaf and lay down
with it over her face, and meditated while she dozed. She
offered special thanks for the well-made sandals that
Bishop Nilus had given her. In more than fifteen miles a
day, not half the leather was spent and her feet had not
yet suffered seriously. She thought of other things to be
thankful for, trying to press out of her mind the
troublesome stirrings of an infatuation with Wolf that she
had felt all morning.
Itís stupid, she thought ruefully. When I see
him, I see nothing else. After a decent nightís sleep,
itíll be gone. But the obsession seemed to be
putting down new roots by the hour. When Wolf left the
road to look for game or to relieve himself, Adriana felt
an absurd sense of loss. When he strode ahead of the party
again, his strong legs and shoulders in effortless motion,
sending their unintended messages, she was happy.
the hellish landscape of the high South lost its fearful
interest for Adriana and became monotonous, a distance to
be covered with a minimum of pain. The highway entered a
stony wilderness dotted with wind-tortured trees. No signs
of human life were in sight. Great fleecy clouds, floating
across the azure sky, sent purplish shadows wandering in
the valleys over which the road lay like a fragile ribbon
are like the mountains in Spain, I think," Wolf said,
turning to Adriana, "where my father killed his
brother, the former king."
me," she said, curious.
quarreled. King Gunderic chased my father into mountains
like these, very high, where the clouds are like souls
crowded under the peaks. Among the boulders my father and
his brother circled each other like two cats on a roof.
Geiseric was quicker in spite of being lame. Gunderic lost
sight of him altogether. He raised his head above a
boulder and looked at Geisericís axe, and then there was
no head on his neck. My father came down from that place
king of the Vandals."
Wolf gave a
whispered groan, as if he labored under a weight that he
could not shake off.
that, my father grew odd. He bellowed in his sleep. In the
morning he claimed that rats had swarmed over him all
night, kissing him with their cold lips and whispering
foul secrets into his ears. When he could not sleep at
all, he rode his horse. The Roman peasants said they saw a
naked man on a coal-black horse, galloping over the
mountains where a goat could not stand on four feet,
making the darkness ring with his blasphemies.
that he went into a mystic mood, with visions and
prophecies, and nights spent on his face in our bishopís
tent, and performing Ďmiracles,í as the people
thought. He carried my uncle Gundericís brain with him
everywhere in a stinking leather sack until the bishop
convinced him to give it up, "
me, what for?" Adriana asked, gagging.
think he hoped to absorb Gundericís genius for
leadership, and maybe something of his beauty. The genius
he has. Probably it was already his. The beautyóach.
If you could see my fatherís beauty, you would
understand why I am not eager to continue our male
it doesnít seem to have affected you," Adriana said
blushed. "I do not know. There are few mirrors in the
palace at Carthage, as you will understand."
She felt a
chill of dread. The Africa she hoped to reach belonged to
the King of Terrors now, the poisonous cripple before whom
the Roman aristocracy in Spain had dragged themselves over
the barren mountains like wounded birds. But
paradoxically, in her exhaustion, Adrianaís fear and
loathing of Geiseric seemed to increase her interest in
his golden bastard as he flowed down the highway ahead of
her, comfortable as a cat, his straw hat shadowing his
broad shoulders, his bow shifting in lazy rhythm between
herself to think of Quintus, and was disturbed to find
herself annoyed at him, annoyed by his lingering claim on
her, as if he had invited himself into her thoughts. She
abstracted herself from her inconvenient desire; she set
herself at a distance from it and inspected it, as if it
were a fungus of the spirit, asserting itself without
permission. Soon it asserted itself in force; again she
watched Wolf, and her touch clamored to follow her eyes.
tired of resistance, and allowed herself to imagine
frankly how pleasant it would be to put her forefingers on
his hips as they movedónot her palms, just two matronly
fingersóto feel the subtle play of bone and muscle as he
walked, to trace his small buttocks and feel their cool
roundness, shifting above the forceful movements of his
nothing but starvation and exhaustion, she insisted to
herself, waving away the hunger that came like a craving
for wine whenever she forgot to guard against it.
sleep up there," Lucius said, halting suddenly and
pointing into the wilderness. "We have an hour before
sunset. We must allow time to rest His Grace, and to eat.
We shouldnít be on this road after nightfall."
squinted along his arm and forefinger. A splash of green
showed in the cleft between two brown hillsides,
representing a patch of scrub-willow circling a spring.
good," she said. "Iím tired enough to sleep on
the doorstep of hell."
struggled to reach the spot. If a track led through the
scrub, Lucius alone could see it. Adrianaís feet
complained; only the bishopís fine boots had spared her
many blisters. The hem of her tunic was in rags. Scratched
and sweating, she arrived at the high oasis where cool
water flowed between rocks still hot from the declining
sun. The green spot was a natural fortress from which an
enormous area could be seen in panorama. A few oaks gave
decent cover. There were no deer, quail, or rabbits, not
even a wolf track in the warm mud beside the creek.
have you brought us, Lucius, you fool?" Adriana asked
water," he answered, gesturing at the runlet as if
she had not seen it.
let out a volley of brays and kicks.
the devil is the matter with him?" Wolf asked.
peered into the surrounding scrub. A wildcat, big for its
kind, crouched on the bough of an oak twenty paces from
where they stood, silently licking its whiskers. The
branch swayed gently under its weight.
Wolf was in motion. His left arm whipped back and forward
like the sprung limb of a catapult; his arrow shot through
the air with a barely audible whisper and buried itself in
the catís shoulder. The creature fell to the ground like
a sack of turnips, writhing and spitting. With a quick
surge of his upper body Wolf hurled his knife into the
animalís chest. The snaking form lay still.
of Venus!" Lucius exploded. "Where did you learn
to do that?"
practiced on Roman boys," Wolf answered, without the
shadow of a smile.
they had pitched camp. Their cookfire would be taken for a
shepherdís. Lucius had unloaded His Graceís burdens on
the dry grass and turned the donkey loose to graze. The
partyís weapons leaned against the trunk of an oak. The
pot of coals from the previous day was kindled into a
strong hardwood flame. Forked sticks suspended the clay
kettle from Eburi. Into the kettle Lucius threw herbs,
beans, and the gutted and headless wildcat.
travelers rinsed themselves, modestly one by one, in a
shallows where the sunís warmth had made the water
God, Iím hungry, Iím wasted away with hunger, itís a
mystery I cast any shadow," Adriana groaned, lying in
a patch of soft grass near the fire. The smell of beans
excited her like an aroma of chicken in wine-sauce.
have been thinking of milk and fresh meat," Wolf said
with mournful precision. "How shall I stop thinking
of them? They are like a song sung by a beautiful woman
that goes round and round in the brain. Of what are you
his flat belly.
half a chicken," she answered, and swallowed hard.
"Of truffles in wine sauce, and stuffed lamb, and
sauced veal with onions, and spiced mulsum, and
crab croquettes, and field herbs with oil and vinegar, and
honeycakes with fresh cherries."
The cat was
past its prime, even for catflesh; the flavor and texture
reminded Adriana of the roof on her sedan-chair. The three
ate voraciously, leaving nothing but bones and the catís
head, and a heap of intestines for the crows that had
begun to circle overhead. She watched Wolf with pleasure
as he chewed, his jaw muscles thrown into relief by the
light of the cookfire.
brown beans," she said. "Fit for the banquet of
the Eternal Son. May God bless the brown bean forever.
Much better in this heat than white beans. Are there more,
even the smell of more," the boy said. "There is
the meager crust three ways. Again she watched the play of
muscle under Wolfís blond beard-stubble as he crunched
the miserable stuff with his white teeth.
to you, Vandal," she said, breaking her own piece
into large crumbs and laying them on her tongue. She
washed down the small gob of starch with a draft of spring
water, grateful that her stomach would be pacified for an
hour, long enough for sleep to come.
weíll have rabbit and cabbage," Lucius said.
"Cabbage is good for the blood. Rabbit has much
strength in it. Youíre lucky to be in the careó"
Lucaniaís greatest hunter," Adriana said sleepily.
greatest," Lucius said stubbornly. "Diana of the
Forests will send us a hare."
had formed an unsatisfying lump in her stomach. She leaned
on her elbow, feeling as if she had eaten pebbles, and
watched the play of thoughts on Wolfís face. He was
listening to something far off in the dusk.
smell the meat," he said. "Do you hear?"
A dead limb
creaked above her. Frogs croaked complacently in the
creekbed. A distant howl rose high and light on the
she said, feeling the blood drain from her cheeks.
"But theyíre not dangerous except in winter, are
remembered a winterís night in Tuscany, and a
fast-moving farm dog with a bleeding ear, running through
the moonlit snow below her guest-room window. The whole
house had been asleep while she watched, high in the villa
wall. The wolves had followed like a grey tide, with
grinning heads and hasty feet, churning up the
blood-flecked snow. The chase had ended somewhere out of
sight, in a silence more ominous than a chorus of howls.
In the morning, her mother had dismissed it all as an evil
grandfather used to say that wolves are as timid as
rabbits," Adriana said, with hope.
when wolves are few and deer are many," Lucius
nodded, "but in lean times a wolf will eat a serfís
mules and the serfís children too, if theyíre left in
the watch, Lucius," Adriana said, waving him off.
"I wish to speak with my Ďhusbandí before we
with a grin and a shrug.
here we have it all," she said, turning to Wolf
wearily, "the stuff of the common life: an empty pot,
a bed of dry leaves, and soon a fireless hearth. At least
we havenít been murdered on the road."
gathering night had a touch of autumn in it that made her
feel suddenly old. In imagination she walked in her garden
at Rome, a stately old woman with a stately old man at her
side, threading the rose-beds at sundown. Quintus was at
her elbow, still trim and handsome at a great age; then an
elderly Wolf took his place in her fantasy, and the image
upset and tantalized her.
are you thinking of now, Adriana," Wolf said softly.
thinking how youíll look and act when youíre old. Will
you live long enough to be old?"
not," he smiled.
imagining," she went on, "how youíll be when
whatís left of your hair is silver, and youíre sleepy
all the time, and your ninety-two blond grandchildren are
all running berserk just as you didóalthough I
canít really conceive of you as a little boy. But I
think your face will never be old. I canít imagine you
with a leathery face. Are you embarrassed by what I
little, Adriana." He glanced at her softly, but the
look was too fleeting to be interpreted.
least thereíll be a place for you," she mused.
"Iím pitying myself today. I wonder if thereíll
be a place for me in this world of fire and ice, when
Iím old, if I live."
had become intensely serious.
Iíll become a nun," she said lightly.
forbid," Wolf sighed, without humor.
Iíll be a nun," she went on. "Iíll call
myself Sister Probina, after a recently dead acquaintance,
and men will run from me like mice from a barn on fire.
Donít you think ĎSister Probinaí will suit me?"
Iíll shut myself up in a convent, and wear coarse cloth,
and feed sick babies, and eat cabbage. The Church will
live my life for me, and people will loudly admire my
piety while going to great lengths not to imitate
nun," Wolf repeated gloomily. "That would be
like setting a goddess to grind wheat between
openly and slapped her knee.
I offended?" he asked. "I have not yet mastered
the Roman sense of humor."
suddenly. "If you become a nun, madam, can a follower
of Arius do less? I will go back to the religious life,
and throw away my boots, and whip myself with the leashes
of King Geisericís dogs, and kick myself in the behind,
wearing spurs; and all day I will crawl around the portico
of Bishop Vadomarís church, making the sign of the cross
with my tongue on the stones. Perhaps I will become a
eunuch for the sake of heaven."
no, not that," she protested, putting up her hands.
"Anything but that. The rest belongs to God, but that
belongs to womankind. But in truth I should think youíd
be relieved to see me in a convent. Youíd be free of a
most troublesome woman."
not wish to be free," he said quietly, staring off at
a cloud-bank that resembled a cluster of gossiping angels.
Perhaps, she thought, he wondered how to divert the
conversation before it became dangerous.
she said, rescuing him. "We have a long walk ahead of
us tomorrow, and another the next day; and then maybe my
depressing relatives will treat us to a little
up and was asleep almost at once, his right hand resting
on his knife. She made a pillow of her cloak and laid her
own knife under it with the haft sticking out below her
chin. Lucius was humming quietly on his boulder.
I do? Adriana thought, letting her eyes travel over
the sleeping Wolf. When I see him I see nothing else.
Perhaps itís because I saved his life. Are you glad
Adriana saved your life, golden ox? What would you have
done without her? . . .
her shoulders, as if to rid herself of the disastrous
emotion that had begun as a harmless titillation at
Puteoli, when she had fingered Wolfís head for wounds. Surely
itís a fugitive thing, a scarlet bird that flies in one
window and out another. Mentally she stood at a
distance from herself and tried to be amused by what she
saw. Exhaustion, hunger, lust: the reasons why peasants
produce too many children. Surely there canít be more to
over on her back with her feet to the dying fire, she
watched the play of light among the beech leaves overhead,
forming grotesque masks and scowling faces, the
unscrupulous faces of the Urban Vicarís men.
badly. In the middle of the night she woke, chilled, full
of nameless apprehension. The darkness was acute. A few
stars glittered coldly in the rifts between the clouds.
The fire had died to a circular patch of char, like a
spectral face. A chill breeze from the mountain gorges
stirred the ashes; a red coal appeared and disappeared in
the grey face, like the winking of a fiery eye.
boulder Lucius sat motionless, wrapped in his blanket like
a crouching mummy.
have you let the fire die?" she asked in a
enemy is up there," he answered, pointing to a
pin-prick of light on the northern horizon.
could be a shepherdís fire," she said hopefully.
"Our fire could be a shepherdís fire."
are few shepherds or sheep left in these hills, Adriana.
Mostly wolves and the sons of wolves."
for the night. Adriana sat up and raked out her hair.
down, Lucius. Iíll watch."
boy came to the fire, sprawled beside it, and slept in a
the watch until dawn, alert for the glint of starlight on
steel. Once she heard a foxís night-cry, like the shriek
of a child in torment. Near sunrise, the surrounding
heights were blacker against the stars. The dawn-sky
melted into rose; the morning-birds whistled sleepily.
His Grace welcomed the day with thunderous brays that
echoed from the cliffs surrounding the campsite. Shaking
themselves awake, Wolf and Adriana followed Lucius
downhill in the first rays of the sun, after bathing their
faces and feet in the spring.
His Wisdom is inspired to bray at sunrise, madam, I know
that Iíll have a lucky day," Lucius proclaimed,
swaggering down the road, alive with the brainless good
humor of the very young.
The town of
Nerulum was a time-stained ruin that seemed forgotten by
God. The gates hung open; the crumbling walls and towers
were like a mouthful of decayed teeth. A puff of wind blew
dust in Adrianaís face through the massive gateway, and
rattled the vines on the empty gatehouse.
thereís an end to the world, itíll be like this,"
she murmured, squinting down the north-south thoroughfare,
where weeds grew thick among the stones.
was not entirely deserted. A crone sat and spun on her
doorstep; a drunkard slept in a dry fountain. His Grace
led the procession toward the forum. The general silence
amplified the click of his hoofs. Empty mansions of the
departed rich lined the streets, shutters falling away
from their upper windows, holes in their roofs, their
elegant vestibules thrown open to the weather. A tavern
sign, complaining on rusty hinges, seemed to cry
"Dead! All dead!" in a small metallic voice.
entrance to the deserted forum, a white-bearded old man
sat on a fallen column, watching Adriana with sympathetic
eyes and the ghost of a smile.
us, Father, is there a bishop in Nerulum?" she asked,
hoping for a kindly response.
bishop, madam, and the church roof has holes," the
ancient shrugged. "We have a priest, who lives like a
wish to speak with this priest," Adriana said.
The old man
stretched an arm toward the gap in the town wall where the
south gate had once stood.
past the tombs. Leave the road when you can hardly see the
city gate. Thereís a great house in the mountains.
Father Memorius lives there. He says it depresses him to
live in Nerulum. Heís a strange man, but not unkind. God
be with you."
his white head and put up his hands, as if anticipating
and rejecting an offer of money. Adriana bowed her thanks.
She led the
others out of town. Past the tombs, the countryside was
deserted but not barren. Patches of greenery suggested a
decent climate. There were seasonal garden-patches and
dignified stands of cypress. A half-dozen scrawny sheep
blatted at the travelersí approach. No shepherd was in
could . . . ," Lucius suggested, drawing a forefinger
across his throat, "and eat heartily, and Your
Delicacy could wrap her feet in the fleece at night."
shook her head. "We want no outraged shepherds
calling attention to our presence here. Take your sling
and kill us a hare."
The boy ran
into the fields between rows of beans. In her depression
at Nerulum Adriana had forgotten her stomach. Now its
clamor was intense, and her legs ached. How pleasant it
would be if her own litter-bearers were to emerge, bowing
and smiling, from behind a cluster of stone-pine, with a
boy-servant on foot, carrying wine and cheese in a basket.
How pleasant it would be to enjoy a cool bath, clean
clothes, and a breeze through her bedroom window.
up pink-cheeked. "There are no hares. Iíll climb a
stone-pine and throw down cones, and we can pick out the
a dayís work might feed a squirrel," Wolf grumbled.
looked back when she thought the ruined town would be only
a shadow in the hazy of distance.
house must be up there," she said, pointing to a pair
of ruts that disappeared into the wooded heights. His
Grace brayed once, sensing an end to the day, and cantered
up the grassy slope ahead of everyone else, his hoofs
clattering against the remains of a once-elegant stone
pavement. A quarter-mile from the highway, Adriana could
trace the outlines of an enormous ruin in the high woods,
a mass of masonry covered with vines and lichens. The
approach was attractive, winding between deserted
serf-huts overgrown with vines.
thereís the Christian priestís house," Lucius
said, pointing. "I wonder if the holy man drinks
anything stronger than water. My throat is like the
Christian hell, where the fires burn without wood and the
worms gnaw without teeth."
abandoned mansion rose from the brow of the hill, staring
bleakly from empty eyes. It lay silent in dust and shadow.
Two centuries must have passed since the litters of the
rich had last thronged the entrance, and silks had rustled
in the splendid colonnades.
stripped off His Graceís burdens in the meadow bordering
the house, and put the donkey on a long tether. The
creature brayed, kicked out his heels, and set to grazing
with ferocious concentration. Adriana led the others to
the once-formal garden, where late sunlight glowed in the
littered porticoes. There was no human sound.
priest-monk is a phantom, I think," Adriana said.
"It would be interesting to hear him say Mass."
the jackals have gnawed his righteous bones," Wolf
said gravely. "The jackals eat many monks in
in the garden pond was clear. Handsome marble inlays shone
through the muck on the bottom. A family of frogs croaked
among the lilypads on the far end, and fell silent in the
took the popeís signet out of her coin-sack and put it
on Wolfís right forefinger.
the ghost-priest materializes, show him that. Donít lose
it. Now, chastely take yourselves away, both of you, and
donít return until youíre called. The Lady Adriana is
going to have a bath."
Wolf and Lucius vanished down the garden portico. Behind a
laurel bush, Adriana stripped and lowered herself into the
water. It was sun-warmed, with icy currents from an unseen
her rags around. They released an appalling quantity of
dirt. She wrung them out and arrayed them on the edge of
the pool. In the water she lay on her back and paddled.
She imagined herself back on the shore of the Tiber. When
she tired of swimming she sat on the edge of the pool and
waited for her clothes to dry.
fastidious little cough from the dark side of the laurel
bush interrupted her daydreams.
Your Modestyís pardon," a priestly voice said, with
no hint of irony. "The German gentleman and the boy
are in my bath, and will soon be in my kitchen, taking
refreshment. Youíll find us just past the south end of
the portico, when youíre free to join us."
footfalls receded behind the bush before she had a chance
to reply. She hurried into her damp clothes and entered
the villa at the south end of the garden. The house had
been superb; the floors were marble under the dirt and
fallen leaves, and the brilliantly executed frescoes still
held their color, though they were weather-swept and
followed her nose. Apparently the priest lived in a snug
corner of the dining suite, leaving the rest of the
building to the elements. A supper had been spread in the
kitchen. Coals glowed on the hearth. There was a spray of
summer flowers on the marble-topped table, and a bronze
lamp in a lampstand, casting a mellow glow over the meal.
Father Memorius," the priest-monk said with a little
bow. He was tall and watery-eyed, with a kindly expression
that spoke of other-worldly concerns. He had been speaking
to the boys, sculpturing the air with his long fingers, as
if he were adding details to the kingdom of heaven. His
abrupt movements suggested perpetual afterthought.
remember the greens?" he asked, pointing to the table
where they were in plain view, and motioning Adriana to
Luciusóthe boys, as she thought of themówere silent,
on their best behavior, apparently resisting the urge to
lick their lips at the smell of the goat-flesh that
sputtered on the hearth. They had availed themselves of
the priestís cold-bath. Somewhere Father Memorius had
discovered a clean tunic for each of them. Their hair was
grateful to you for receiving us," Adriana said.
"I hope we havenít frightened you. I trust you
judged the popeís ring authentic."
authenticity is in the eyes of your servants, madam,"
Father Memorius said, "and even if it were not, Iím
impossible to frighten. I stand ready to leave this world
at a momentís notice. I presume that my hospitality was
volunteered by Vettius, the ancient one at the south
the priest said, "Vettius is everybodyís
grandfather. Heís a great saint. No doubt he told you
that Iím unsociable. I suppose I am. But I always enjoy
the company of truth-tellers. Unhappily, most of the souls
in Nerulum are liars."
Memorius spoke without rancor, as if the low character of
his parishioners were something to be expected. He blessed
the meal in the Names of the Trinity and motioned to his
guests to begin: steaming collops of goatís meat,
cheese, fresh bread, fresh strawberries, wines of the
country, a porridge full of herbal flavors traceable to
the unkempt villa garden. The boys ate with animal
earnestness. Adriana made a half-hearted attempt at
delicacy, chewing slowly, admiring the kitchen walls which
had once been elegantly frescoed with pagan scenes.
a poor cook, Iím afraid," the priest said with a
modest smile. "One gets used to mortifying the flesh.
The materials are good, however. I raise a few goats. The
owners of this place left me plenty of olives and vines
and vegetables. I have ripe figs once a year and dried
figs the other eleven months. There are wild berries in
the hills. God is good. I have more than enough here for
myself and my occasional guests, and the worst-off people
in Nerulum as well."
of speaking was almost apologetic; he seemed to be
restraining a scholarly vocabulary for the benefit of the
in tatters, as you see," he said, with a large sweep
of the arm. "Iíve been blessed to be able to keep
out the rain and the rats."
house has charm," Adriana said.
are charming, madam, to those who donít live in them.
But Iím glad my circumstances please you, and that I can
still enjoy the sunshine of heaven, if not of fortune.
There are, of course, many godless distractions." He
gestured at the wall-paintings. "And the frescoes are
cracked, the wood is chewed to pieces by the weather, the
moth and the worm have everything else. But itís
hair brushed and his face scrubbed, Wolf glowed like an
icon in his corner of the priestís kitchen. Adriana
watched him, watched the shift of muscle under his soft
beard-stubble as he chewed, the flash of his white teeth
when Father Memorius said something amusing, the shift of
his strong legs under the apron of his tunic when his
chair grew hard.
something urged in a corner of her consciousness. She
suppressed it ruthlessly, pretending she had no idea what
the dark wine," Father Memorius said, filling her
goblet. "A gift from the Widow Brutianaóthe mother
of brigands, unfortunately, but a decent woman in her
Adriana repeated. "Thank God weíve had no
me," Father Memorius said, with a sitting bow.
"Youíre likely to have it, nevertheless. Your
Courage hides her riches with unusual skill, but her
speech betrays her. It indicates breeding, and breeding
indicates wealth. Would you care for honeycakes?"
little wealth left in these mountains, as youíve
seen," he continued, "and this has been a
particularly barren season. Like the wolves, the brigands
are working the valleys this year; and like the wolves
theyíre invading the towns, all of which are
defenseless, or nearly so."
a pity that the dux is too weak to control
them," Adriana said.
innocence!" Father Memorius smiled. "The
brigands are the people, and the people are the brigands.
How does one control universal vice?"
explained that he had laid pallets in the warmth of three
small rooms near the hearth; the villaís deserted
bedrooms were cold, filthy, and unusable. Rising, he
touched his napkin to his lips and fingers, and made the
sign of the cross over Wolf, Adriana, and Lucius in turn.
must ask you to excuse my imperfections as a host. I have
to bury one of my parishioners at dawn. My life consists
of sermons and burials. One of these days Iíll bury the
last of my flock and thereíll be no one left to preach
to. There are few young left in Nerulum."
and hesitated, as if reluctant to leave. "Iím
pleased to have met you," he said, bowing again.
"Itís always a pleasure to meet people with clean
souls, like finding a cold spring in a desert."
sighed, as if for the sins of the world, without a trace
of self-pity. "As a matter of common sense, if I were
a young man Iíd go north to the dark forests beyond the
Danube, and there Iíd begin life again, away from Rome.
Who knows? In the wilderness I might Ďbear much
fruit,í as God meant me to. Good night."
priestís gaunt figure dissolved into the shadows beyond
the kitchen door.
walk a little before dark," Adriana said, rising, a
little depressed. "If I scream, Iíve met a brigand.
wandered in the villa garden, and out into the gathering
dusk on the hillside. She stopped in a half-lit grove of
pine, silent except for the murmur of wind in the treetops
and the far-off cry of a jay. In a needle-carpeted hollow
she sat with her elbows on her knees and her chin in her
hands, and stared out over the valley that she had crossed
in the afternoon.
dark bulk of the villa, the stubblefields bordering the
highway were tinted a soft rose-yellow in the sunset. A
solitary peasant-boy wandered in the glowing fields,
whistling for his dog. As the sun died, the distant hills
turned to crimson under wisps of pink cloud. The thought
of her rustic garden at Nomentum brought a sudden swelling
to Adrianaís throat. It would be time, now, to walk
among the oleanders that bloomed along the river path,
time to walk through a field of daisies and stir up the
Wolfís long stride on the pine-needles. She turned to
smile. In the half-light he looked like an animated
statue. He knelt beside her and handed her a goblet.
is warm wine," he said. "You should take some.
You will catch fever."
languidly and motioned to him to sit beside her.
is your thought?" Wolf said hesitantly, as if he were
practicing a trick of Latin speech.
important," she shrugged. "When I was little, my
family and our neighbors used to ride out to a little
church on the Nomentum road, to hear Mass and receive Holy
Communion on the second Feast of Pentecost. After Mass the
priest twined blessed roses in all the little girlsí
hair with his own hands. We spread our noon meal on the
grass under some old oaks near the church. Even the
children drank ruby-colored wine, and danced to the music
of the priestís flute. I can still smell the earth-smell
on our way back to the farm, just before nightfall. I
donít know why this place reminds me of it. Maybe
because Father Memoriusís words made me think Iíve
seen the last of Rome."
melancholy, she leaned back into the hillside. "When
I was very small, in Africa, I thought Rome would last
forever. Even when Iíd grown up and so many things had
gone wrong, it still seemed to me that God would never let
Rome pass awayóthat somehow heíd save us at the last
possible moment. But now. . . ." She shrugged.
"I sometimes think weíve put ourselves beyond the
power of God."
it is bad, Adriana," Wolf said after a silence,
shaking his head. "I feel I am to blame. My people
have done this. I am told that our people were not enemies
until Valens the emperor abused the Goths when our
great-grandfathers were young. Since thenóach! The
grave-worm yawns, the wolf howls at the door, trolls dance
on the threshold. The whole world lies in a shroud with
hell-shoes on its feet." He shook his head.
"There will never be peace."
there is peace between you and me, at least."
has always been peace between us, Adriana," Wolf said
tiresome craving asserted itself again. She wondered if it
showed in her face. Your eyes, madam, an adulterous
courtier had once said to her, are like the hilltops
when the mists of rain are on them. Can it be that you
feel the intensity of my passion? Itís said that women
can scent love, as swallows scent the coming summer.
her eyes to the valley. The farm-boy had found his dog.
They raced along the dry bed of a myrtle-fringed creek.
The dog barked; the boy laughed and laughed.
me how you understand that message," she said,
pointing to the peasant and his dog, dancing in the
sunset. "Isnít it that friendship is the best
blessing of allóto find one being in this lonely world
whoíll stand by you till death?"
possible to find such a being?" Wolf asked in a low
must be possible," she said, with more force than
conviction. "If not, how can there be joy in anything
must hope," Wolf said softly. "If we find
loyalty in ourselves, perhaps we can find it in
they watched the orange light fade in the valley.
Fireflies had begun to sparkle in the lower woods;
glowworms shone softly in the grass all along the
hillside. The gathering night brought the sky and the
mountains close, compressing the distances into something
felt rather than seen.
this place make you think of him, Adriana?"
Wolf asked suddenly, in hardly more than a whisper.
pounded unreasonably. She drew breath and poised herself
between candor and discretion.
think of him," she said, "but not because of the
place. The journey was occasioned by Quintusís need, and
by my word to the pope."
are loyal to him," Wolf said dispassionately.
"Surely, Adriana, you must love him greatly."
a gust of wind that carried all the uncertainties and
wearinesses of the journey, like a shower of wet leaves on
a grey day.
and then I ask myself if I still love Quintus," she
said. "There was a time when I loved him. Later,
there was a time when I felt the obligation to love him.
Now I feel only the need to do what I promised myself and
Bishop Leo when I left Rome."
at Wolf. His face gave no clue to his thought.
me, I must ask you this," she said. "Will you
help me to get Quintus out of Carthage? It seems to me
that he canít be of any value to the king."
will help you, Adriana." The quiet warmth of his
voice was like a consoling hand laid against her cheek.
The expression of his lips and eyes radiated goodwill, but
was otherwise opaque. He had the curious ability of
northern people to hide everything about themselves except
of day was gone. Wistfully she watched the sky and
identified stars she knew by name: Arcturus, Polaris, the
Twins, the Pleiades.
she said, "how beautiful the night is. My old nurse
used to say that all the stars were good persons in life
and that one of them watches over each of us."
For a long while they sat not speaking. His presence next
to her was a complete satisfaction, like a mulsum
of warm wine and honey. Not yet! said the voice
that had spoken to her earlier, and she was content to
heed it. It seemed to her that in the deepest sense of
all, the perfection of trust, they belonged to each other
already, without touching. Whatever might follow could be
no more than a celebration of what was already theirs.
Muranum," Adriana said, rising. "Thereís a
clean room there for each of us."
after her, a surge of controlled energy, his handsome head
passing within an inch of her face. He brushed
pine-needles from his tunic, stretched splendidly in the
moonlight, and followed her to the house. The moon cast
cool patterns on the forest floor at her feet, and bathed
the eastern wheatfields and mountains in silver. She
watched the evening star as she drew toward the silent
ruin, mysteriously shadowed and silvered. An old Greek
poet whispered in her mind: Hesperus, evening star,
golden lamp of the daughter of the foam! Hesperus, sacred
jewel of the deep-blue night! Hail, friend; give me your
light: not for impious theft, or to waylay the
night-traveler, but because I love. . . .
glowed in each of three slave-cubicles across a narrow
corridor from Father Memoriusís kitchen. The little
spaces were well-ventilated and dry. Lucius still slept at
the kitchen table, in the warm glow of the hearth.
she said, turning to Wolf at the door of his room.
dreamed, and woke. A night-wind had risen. It piped in the
houseís decaying casements and eaves, and rolled acorns
down the corridors above her head. A tile slid off the
roof and smashed in the garden. Dead leaves stirred in the
passage outside the kitchen. Dozing, she imagined how it
would be to draw close to Wolf, to take comfort from the
steady rise and fall of his chest, the easy confidence of
his breathing. If only one could sleep like such a great
child. . . .
Adriana wandered the corridors of the ruined house to get
her blood moving. In the kitchen, Father Memorius greeted
her with a watery smile.
find the dayís provisions in here," he said,
patting a leather satchel on the table.
youíll pardon a question, Father," she said,
accepting his offer of a boiled egg.
is marriage?" she asked. "How do you read the
intentions of God?"
God has brought together, let no one separate," the
me," she said, stopping him with a finger at his
thinking of the one called Wolf?" he asked, reading
though weíve never shared a bed, in the ordinary
do you wish?" he asked patiently.
gathered her courage. "Give us a blessing, so in time
God may bring us together."
looked at her long and earnestly.
would never withhold a blessing," he said at last,
raising his right hand and making the sign of the cross.
God, both of you," Father Memorius said, with a
murmured her gratitude and slipped away. An hour later, by
the sundial in the villa garden, she was on the highway