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Chapter 11

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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 Adriana’s spirit.

Hour by 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 the roadbed.

A half-dead 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.

"I’m used to city conveniences," she said. "We have an hour till dusk. It’s time to think of a place to spend the night."

The town 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 Adriana’s mental picture of highwaymen. At the edge of the sparse traffic a pleasant-faced old woman offered clay pots hanging along her donkey’s sides on strings.

"Pardon me, is there an inn with regular prices, and an innkeeper who knows the difference between his business and other business?" Adriana asked her.

"There’s no place to stay in Lymphaeum. Everyone’s afraid."

"Of whom?"

"Of everyone."

"Are there eggs here, perhaps?" Adriana asked.

"There’s 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."

"I suppose we could hunt."

"There’s little game. The wolves are said to be gaunt this year."

"Thanks, thanks," Adriana said with a feeling of dismay, producing a small silver piece and urging it into the crone’s palm.

"It’s no problem, the shortage of game," Lucius chimed in importantly, as the travelers moved toward Lymphaeum’s 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, we’ll 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."

She was 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.

"We’ll be safe up there," he said. "Our cookfire will be mistaken for a shepherd’s."

The 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.

Feeling the downward tug of exhaustion, she helped Wolf and Lucius undo the donkey’s 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.

"It’s time to fish," he said impressively, when the fire burned brightly.

Motionless 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 boy’s 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 his grasp.

"I cannot stand it," Wolf grumbled. With bow and arrow he shot the largest trout through the head. The others fled.

While the 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.

"Lord, I’m 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 goat’s ham, garnished with herbs from the emperor’s kitchen-garden?"

She dug in Nilus’s wicker basket and found a jar of honey from the bishop’s 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 of each.

"A 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."

She handed an amphora apiece to Wolf and Lucius. The bishop’s 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.

The day died quietly in the brown fields below the hill. Sweetened by distance, the melancholy tones of a shepherd’s 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.

"I’ll 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.

Far below 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.

"We 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, I’m 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 south—wine, 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 she’s like her mother."

The soft night closed around them; the breeze brought little suggestions of pine.

"A 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 husband’s 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."

"You would shiver all winter," Wolf said. "I myself have shivered in winter by a friendly fire of deadwood."

"There’s a good little chill in the air at that," she reflected, sniffing the breeze. "It makes me think of home in early October. You’d 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 silver mist."

"Tell me," Wolf said softly, "how it is to be in love at Rome."

"It’s the same everywhere, isn’t it?" Adriana said. "Such wonderful foolishness! One afternoon, the same October, Quntus and I took hayrides on the mule-carts of my grandfather’s 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.

"We 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.

"Well, 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 hasn’t been in love in autumn has only seen half the sun."

She smiled at the sky.

"We 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 we’d made love I went to my own bed, but I couldn’t 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 don’t think the world has ever seemed so beautiful to me as it did then."

He said nothing. She watched the workings of muscle in his cheek, shadowed in firelight.

"I talk too much," she said. "The bishop’s wine has made me loose-tongued."

"Do you love him still, the same way, Adriana?" Wolf asked in a neutral voice. Nothing could be inferred from his tone.

"Not the same way, I’m afraid," she said. "I think perhaps I pity him."

"Love is difficult," Wolf said quietly. "Ach. Why do we let it happen?"

"Who knows?" Adriana shrugged. "Why does the swallow nest over here instead of over there? We do it, that’s all."

The 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 bishop’s 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! Aren’t you glad that Adriana saved your hide? Don’t you wish to know more of her?

Her inner poise reasserted itself: He’s German, after all, and only a youngster; he wouldn’t understand.

"It’s time to sleep," she said to herself aloud. She gathered her effects near the fire, hung the pope’s 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.

She woke the urchin with a gentle slap on the head. "You must take the first watch, boy-man."

Obediently Lucius sat up, rubbing his eyes, watching her go back to the circle of firelight.

"Wake me when the moon’s 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 ants’ nest."

She stretched Wolf’s 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 Wolf’s the moment her eyelids stopped quivering.

Soon she 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 Faustinus’s.

She started awake with a cry lodged in her throat. Lucius was sitting on a stone near her head. In the moonlight she examined the boy’s 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.

"Wolves?" she asked, squinting at Lucius upside down.

"Yes," the boy nodded.

She shuddered. There was an answering howl from beyond the woods in the valley.

"You’re sure they’re not dogs?" she persisted.

"Wolf-dogs, maybe. They’re worse," he said.

"I see," she said.

"You’re lucky to have me," Lucius said with an insolent grin, coming round to squat before her. He was still a little drunk. "You’re in the South. You’ve fallen asleep on the lower lip of death. It’s true. And you’re lucky that I’ve repaid your trust. Almost anyone else would have pierced your windpipe and taken the great ring that you hide between your breasts."

"Dirty boy!" she spat, sitting up straight. "Did your mother teach you to spy between women’s breasts while they sleep?"

Lucius watched her intently. He pulled a shaft of grass, bit it, and blew out the amputated end.

"I’m 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 he’ll pull off your blankets and comb your hair with his claws. . . ."

"That’s enough," she said.

He eyed her shrewdly, and glanced at the sleeping Wolf. "I know that soon you’ll come to my bed. I’m patient."

"You’re irresistible to women, as I recall," Adriana mumbled sleepily.

"And I have good seed. I’ll give you a healthy boy-child who won’t lie coughing in his crib."

"You’re a strange person," she said, oddly consoled by the idiotic exchange, and fell asleep again.

*

Four days 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.

With Wolf at her side, Adriana matched Lucius’s 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.

Past the 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 donkey’s nasal bray echoed and reëchoed as if a hundred drunkards were hiccuping and bawling among the boulders.

"It’s 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 they’d captured and killed Alaric’s scouts. The young bastard sons of Alaric died here."

A lukewarm breeze, carrying an odd slaughterhouse smell, stirred among the rocks with a feeble moan, like that of men in their final agony.

"It’s full of spirits, this place," Lucius said.

"You’re a fool," Adriana said, in a cold sweat in spite of herself.

"I’ve seen them."

"Because you can’t distinguish between owls and dead Goths."

"Maybe, 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? I’ve seen their souls running up and down the road like blue flames in a brazier. If I’d 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."

"But you’re of the old religion; you don’t believe in the soul."

"The Christians believe," the boy said. "If enough people believe in something, it happens."

He announced a short cut. Adriana’s 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.

"My God, I don’t 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.

They took 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.

Phy! It’s stupid, she thought ruefully. When I see him, I see nothing else. After a decent night’s sleep, it’ll 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.

In time, 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 of granite.

"These are like the mountains in Spain, I think," Wolf said, turning to Adriana, "where my father killed his brother, the former king."

"Tell me," she said, curious.

"They 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 Geiseric’s 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.

"After 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.

"After that he went into a mystic mood, with visions and prophecies, and nights spent on his face in our bishop’s tent, and performing ‘miracles,’ as the people thought. He carried my uncle Gunderic’s brain with him everywhere in a stinking leather sack until the bishop convinced him to give it up, "

"Pardon me, what for?" Adriana asked, gagging.

"I think he hoped to absorb Gunderic’s genius for leadership, and maybe something of his beauty. The genius he has. Probably it was already his. The beauty—ach. If you could see my father’s beauty, you would understand why I am not eager to continue our male line."

"But it doesn’t seem to have affected you," Adriana said softly.

Wolf 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, Adriana’s 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 his shoulder-blades.

*

She forced 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.

She grew tired of resistance, and allowed herself to imagine frankly how pleasant it would be to put her forefingers on his hips as they moved—not her palms, just two matronly fingers—to 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 strong legs.

It’s 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.

"We’ll 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 shouldn’t be on this road after nightfall."

Adriana 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.

"It’s good," she said. "I’m tired enough to sleep on the doorstep of hell."

They struggled to reach the spot. If a track led through the scrub, Lucius alone could see it. Adriana’s feet complained; only the bishop’s 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.

"Where have you brought us, Lucius, you fool?" Adriana asked irritably.

"There’s water," he answered, gesturing at the runlet as if she had not seen it.

His Grace let out a volley of brays and kicks.

"What the devil is the matter with him?" Wolf asked.

The three 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.

Abruptly 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 cat’s 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 animal’s chest. The snaking form lay still.

"Breasts of Venus!" Lucius exploded. "Where did you learn to do that?"

"I practiced on Roman boys," Wolf answered, without the shadow of a smile.

*

By sundown they had pitched camp. Their cookfire would be taken for a shepherd’s. Lucius had unloaded His Grace’s burdens on the dry grass and turned the donkey loose to graze. The party’s 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.

The travelers rinsed themselves, modestly one by one, in a shallows where the sun’s warmth had made the water endurable.

"My God, I’m hungry, I’m wasted away with hunger, it’s 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.

"I 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 thinking, Adriana?"

He patted his flat belly.

"Of 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 cat’s 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.

"Marvelous 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, Lucius?"

"Not even the smell of more," the boy said. "There is bread."

She divided the meager crust three ways. Again she watched the play of muscle under Wolf’s blond beard-stubble as he crunched the miserable stuff with his white teeth.

"Health 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.

"Tomorrow we’ll have rabbit and cabbage," Lucius said. "Cabbage is good for the blood. Rabbit has much strength in it. You’re lucky to be in the care—"

"—of Lucania’s greatest hunter," Adriana said sleepily.

"The greatest," Lucius said stubbornly. "Diana of the Forests will send us a hare." 

The wildcat 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 Wolf’s face. He was listening to something far off in the dusk.

"They 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 evening breeze.

"Wolves," she said, feeling the blood drain from her cheeks. "But they’re not dangerous except in winter, are they?"

She remembered a winter’s 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 dream.

They listened.

"My grandfather used to say that wolves are as timid as rabbits," Adriana said, with hope.

"Perhaps, when wolves are few and deer are many," Lucius nodded, "but in lean times a wolf will eat a serf’s mules and the serf’s children too, if they’re left in the yard."

"Take the watch, Lucius," Adriana said, waving him off. "I wish to speak with my ‘husband’ before we sleep."

He went with a grin and a shrug.

"Well, 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 haven’t been murdered on the road."

The 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.

"What are you thinking of now, Adriana," Wolf said softly.

"I was thinking how you’ll look and act when you’re old. Will you live long enough to be old?"

"Probably not," he smiled.

"I was imagining," she went on, "how you’ll be when what’s left of your hair is silver, and you’re sleepy all the time, and your ninety-two blond grandchildren are all running berserk just as you did—although I can’t really conceive of you as a little boy. But I think your face will never be old. I can’t imagine you with a leathery face. Are you embarrassed by what I say?"

"A little, Adriana." He glanced at her softly, but the look was too fleeting to be interpreted.

"At least there’ll be a place for you," she mused. "I’m pitying myself today. I wonder if there’ll be a place for me in this world of fire and ice, when I’m old, if I live."

His look had become intensely serious.

"Maybe I’ll become a nun," she said lightly.

"Lord forbid," Wolf sighed, without humor.

"Yes, I’ll be a nun," she went on. "I’ll call myself Sister Probina, after a recently dead acquaintance, and men will run from me like mice from a barn on fire. Don’t you think ‘Sister Probina’ will suit me?"

"You are serious?"

"I am. I’ll 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 it."

"A nun," Wolf repeated gloomily. "That would be like setting a goddess to grind wheat between stones."

She laughed openly and slapped her knee.

"Have I offended?" he asked. "I have not yet mastered the Roman sense of humor."

He smiled 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 Geiseric’s dogs, and kick myself in the behind, wearing spurs; and all day I will crawl around the portico of Bishop Vadomar’s 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, 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 you’d be relieved to see me in a convent. You’d be free of a most troublesome woman."

"I do 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.

"Sleep," 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 civilization."

He curled 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.

What can I do? Adriana thought, letting her eyes travel over the sleeping Wolf. When I see him I see nothing else. Perhaps it’s because I saved his life. Are you glad Adriana saved your life, golden ox? What would you have done without her? . . .

She shook her shoulders, as if to rid herself of the disastrous emotion that had begun as a harmless titillation at Puteoli, when she had fingered Wolf’s head for wounds. Surely it’s 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 can’t be more to it.

Rolling 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 Vicar’s men.

She slept 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.

On his boulder Lucius sat motionless, wrapped in his blanket like a crouching mummy.

"Why have you let the fire die?" she asked in a half-whisper.

"The enemy is up there," he answered, pointing to a pin-prick of light on the northern horizon.

"It could be a shepherd’s fire," she said hopefully. "Our fire could be a shepherd’s fire."

"There are few shepherds or sheep left in these hills, Adriana. Mostly wolves and the sons of wolves."

Sleep fled for the night. Adriana sat up and raked out her hair.

"Lie down, Lucius. I’ll watch."

Gladly the boy came to the fire, sprawled beside it, and slept in a moment.

She took the watch until dawn, alert for the glint of starlight on steel. Once she heard a fox’s 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.

At sunrise 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.

"When His Wisdom is inspired to bray at sunrise, madam, I know that I’ll 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 Adriana’s face through the massive gateway, and rattled the vines on the empty gatehouse.

"When there’s an end to the world, it’ll be like this," she murmured, squinting down the north-south thoroughfare, where weeds grew thick among the stones.

The town 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.

At the 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.

"Pardon us, Father, is there a bishop in Nerulum?" she asked, hoping for a kindly response.

"No bishop, madam, and the church roof has holes," the ancient shrugged. "We have a priest, who lives like a monk."

"I 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.

"Go past the tombs. Leave the road when you can hardly see the city gate. There’s a great house in the mountains. Father Memorius lives there. He says it depresses him to live in Nerulum. He’s a strange man, but not unkind. God be with you."

He shook 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 travelers’ approach. No shepherd was in sight.

"We could . . . ," Lucius suggested, drawing a forefinger across his throat, "and eat heartily, and Your Delicacy could wrap her feet in the fleece at night."

Adriana 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.

Lucius ran up pink-cheeked. "There are no hares. I’ll climb a stone-pine and throw down cones, and we can pick out the nuts."

"Half a day’s work might feed a squirrel," Wolf grumbled.

Adriana looked back when she thought the ruined town would be only a shadow in the hazy of distance.

"The 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.

"Ah, there’s the Christian priest’s 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."

The 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.

Lucius stripped off His Grace’s 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.

"The priest-monk is a phantom, I think," Adriana said. "It would be interesting to hear him say Mass."

"Perhaps the jackals have gnawed his righteous bones," Wolf said gravely. "The jackals eat many monks in Africa."

The water 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 aliens’ presence.

Adriana took the pope’s signet out of her coin-sack and put it on Wolf’s right forefinger.

"If the ghost-priest materializes, show him that. Don’t lose it. Now, chastely take yourselves away, both of you, and don’t return until you’re called. The Lady Adriana is going to have a bath."

Dutifully, 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 spring.

She swished 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.

A fastidious little cough from the dark side of the laurel bush interrupted her daydreams.

"I beg Your Modesty’s 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. You’ll find us just past the south end of the portico, when you’re free to join us."

Long 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 slowly disintegrating.

Adriana 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.

"I’m 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.

"Did I remember the greens?" he asked, pointing to the table where they were in plain view, and motioning Adriana to seat herself.

Wolf and Lucius—the boys, as she thought of them—were 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 priest’s cold-bath. Somewhere Father Memorius had discovered a clean tunic for each of them. Their hair was neatly brushed.

"We’re grateful to you for receiving us," Adriana said. "I hope we haven’t frightened you. I trust you judged the pope’s ring authentic."

"The authenticity is in the eyes of your servants, madam," Father Memorius said, "and even if it were not, I’m impossible to frighten. I stand ready to leave this world at a moment’s notice. I presume that my hospitality was volunteered by Vettius, the ancient one at the south gate?"

She smiled.

"Yes," the priest said, "Vettius is everybody’s grandfather. He’s a great saint. No doubt he told you that I’m unsociable. I suppose I am. But I always enjoy the company of truth-tellers. Unhappily, most of the souls in Nerulum are liars."

Father 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 goat’s 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.

"I’m a poor cook, I’m 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."

His manner of speaking was almost apologetic; he seemed to be restraining a scholarly vocabulary for the benefit of the simple.

"Everything’s in tatters, as you see," he said, with a large sweep of the arm. "I’ve been blessed to be able to keep out the rain and the rats."

"The house has charm," Adriana said.

"Ruins are charming, madam, to those who don’t live in them. But I’m 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 it’s home."

With his hair brushed and his face scrubbed, Wolf glowed like an icon in his corner of the priest’s 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.

Tonight! something urged in a corner of her consciousness. She suppressed it ruthlessly, pretending she had no idea what it meant.

"Try the dark wine," Father Memorius said, filling her goblet. "A gift from the Widow Brutiana—the mother of brigands, unfortunately, but a decent woman in her way."

"Brigands," Adriana repeated. "Thank God we’ve had no trouble."

"Pardon me," Father Memorius said, with a sitting bow. "You’re 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?"

He presented them.

"There’s little wealth left in these mountains, as you’ve 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 they’re invading the towns, all of which are defenseless, or nearly so."

"It’s a pity that the dux is too weak to control them," Adriana said.

"Sacred innocence!" Father Memorius smiled. "The brigands are the people, and the people are the brigands. How does one control universal vice?"

The priest explained that he had laid pallets in the warmth of three small rooms near the hearth; the villa’s 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.

"I 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 I’ll bury the last of my flock and there’ll be no one left to preach to. There are few young left in Nerulum."

He bowed, and hesitated, as if reluctant to leave. "I’m pleased to have met you," he said, bowing again. "It’s always a pleasure to meet people with clean souls, like finding a cold spring in a desert."

Memorius 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 I’d go north to the dark forests beyond the Danube, and there I’d begin life again, away from Rome. Who knows? In the wilderness I might ‘bear much fruit,’ as God meant me to. Good night."

The priest’s gaunt figure dissolved into the shadows beyond the kitchen door.

"I’ll walk a little before dark," Adriana said, rising, a little depressed. "If I scream, I’ve met a brigand. Rescue me."

She 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.

Past the 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 Adriana’s 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 fireflies.

She heard Wolf’s 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.

"Here is warm wine," he said. "You should take some. You will catch fever."

She drank languidly and motioned to him to sit beside her.

"What is your thought?" Wolf said hesitantly, as if he were practicing a trick of Latin speech.

"Nothing 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 girls’ 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 priest’s flute. I can still smell the earth-smell on our way back to the farm, just before nightfall. I don’t know why this place reminds me of it. Maybe because Father Memorius’s words made me think I’ve seen the last of Rome."

Intensely melancholy, she leaned back into the hillside. "When I was very small, in Africa, I thought Rome would last forever. Even when I’d grown up and so many things had gone wrong, it still seemed to me that God would never let Rome pass away—that somehow he’d save us at the last possible moment. But now. . . ." She shrugged. "I sometimes think we’ve put ourselves beyond the power of God."

"Ach, 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 then—ach! 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."

"But there is peace between you and me, at least."

"There has always been peace between us, Adriana," Wolf said softly.

The 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? It’s said that women can scent love, as swallows scent the coming summer.

She turned 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.

"Tell me how you understand that message," she said, pointing to the peasant and his dog, dancing in the sunset. "Isn’t it that friendship is the best blessing of all—to find one being in this lonely world who’ll stand by you till death?"

"Is it possible to find such a being?" Wolf asked in a low voice.

"It must be possible," she said, with more force than conviction. "If not, how can there be joy in anything else?"

"We must hope," Wolf said softly. "If we find loyalty in ourselves, perhaps we can find it in another."

Silently 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.

"Does this place make you think of him, Adriana?" Wolf asked suddenly, in hardly more than a whisper.

Him.

Her heart pounded unreasonably. She drew breath and poised herself between candor and discretion.

"I think of him," she said, "but not because of the place. The journey was occasioned by Quintus’s need, and by my word to the pope."

"You are loyal to him," Wolf said dispassionately. "Surely, Adriana, you must love him greatly."

She sighed, a gust of wind that carried all the uncertainties and wearinesses of the journey, like a shower of wet leaves on a grey day.

"Now 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."

She glanced at Wolf. His face gave no clue to his thought.

"Forgive me, I must ask you this," she said. "Will you help me to get Quintus out of Carthage? It seems to me that he can’t be of any value to the king."

"I 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 their shyness.

The light of day was gone. Wistfully she watched the sky and identified stars she knew by name: Arcturus, Polaris, the Twins, the Pleiades.

"Look," 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."

He nodded. 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.

"Tomorrow, Muranum," Adriana said, rising. "There’s a clean room there for each of us."

He stood 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. . . .

A brazier glowed in each of three slave-cubicles across a narrow corridor from Father Memorius’s kitchen. The little spaces were well-ventilated and dry. Lucius still slept at the kitchen table, in the warm glow of the hearth.

"Vale," she said, turning to Wolf at the door of his room. "Sleep comfortably."

"Vale, Adriana."

She slept, dreamed, and woke. A night-wind had risen. It piped in the house’s 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. . . .

*

At dawn Adriana wandered the corridors of the ruined house to get her blood moving. In the kitchen, Father Memorius greeted her with a watery smile.

"You’ll find the day’s provisions in here," he said, patting a leather satchel on the table.

"Perhaps you’ll pardon a question, Father," she said, accepting his offer of a boiled egg.

He inclined his head.

"What is marriage?" she asked. "How do you read the intentions of God?"

"Whom God has brought together, let no one separate," the priest answered.

"Excuse me," she said, stopping him with a finger at his elbow.

"You’re thinking of the one called Wolf?" he asked, reading her eyes.

"Yes, though we’ve never shared a bed, in the ordinary sense."

"What do you wish?" he asked patiently.

She gathered her courage. "Give us a blessing, so in time God may bring us together."

The priest looked at her long and earnestly.

"I would never withhold a blessing," he said at last, raising his right hand and making the sign of the cross.

"Thank you."

"Serve God, both of you," Father Memorius said, with a sudden smile.

She murmured her gratitude and slipped away. An hour later, by the sundial in the villa garden, she was on the highway again.


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