warship of Gaius Faustinus, like a crab with fifty legs,
eased itself into the harbor of Salernum, a day and a half
from Rome. It was a dromon, a racer, the ship with
which Constantine the Great had annihilated his enemies on
the sea. Its swift movements were already spreading terror
as the nautical symbol of Faustinusís dictatorship.
was on permanent loan from Hypatius, the infinitely
pliable Master of Soldiers at Rome. It was a partial
return on large financial favors. The appointment of
Hypatius had not been the least of the dead emperorís
blunders. Apparently Maximus had never imagined that
Hypatius might be manipulated by anyone but himself. In
this, as in all other matters, Flaviaís indifference to
her grandfatherís fortune had been most opportune. Her
estates in Gaul and the north of Italy had been converted
into a river of gold, and the gold had flowed into the
purses of officials whose strategic importance ruled out
their imprisonment, confiscation, or murder.
the rest of Maximusís court had been dispersed. The
empress and her daughters, the Urban Prefect, the
Praetorian Prefect of Italy, and the Quaestor were
prisoners at Carthage. Majorian, Count of the Domestics,
had fled to Gaul. Benedictus, the Master of Offices, had
died mysteriously in his sleep, the day after Geisericís
departure from the city. The Count of the Sacred Bounty
had been torn to bits by his house-slaves, for uncertain
reasons. The Count of the Privy Purse had collapsed and
died at a mime-show; poison was rumored. The Provost of
the Sacred Bedchamber had opened his veins when Faustinus
publicly disclosed that the eunuch dabbled in magic.
imperial household out of the way, the Senate enfeebled by
dissension and apathy, the civil service terror-stricken,
and the military under flabby command, the throne seemed
well within Faustinusís grasp. The Emperor Marcian at
Constantinople was technically ruler of the West as well
as the East, but no troublesome embassy had yet arrived
from the eastern court. The Germanized army and the palace
guard were kept out of the way by Hypatius, who had
discovered a momentary coincidence of his own interests
with Faustinusís. That dependency would have to be
corrected soon, and permanently.
In the city
itself, power was balanced precariously between the pope
and the military. The trick would be to slip between them.
The pope, who could be deleted from the rolls of the
citizenry at the proper time, would keep matters in flux
while Faustinus was away. In the outer reaches of the
empire, Gaul was a threatening enigma. The feeble Senate
in Gaul took its instructions from the Visigothic king,
Theodoric. The king, therefore, would have to be wooed
away from his favorite candidate, Eparchius Avitus,
Military Master of Gaul by courtesy of the dead Maximus.
Old Avitus had shown himself remarkably resistant to
assassination. Could the Senate in Gaul be preŽmpted by
the Senate in Rome? Part of the answer lay in southern
Italy and Sicily.
It was thus
necessary, Faustinus concluded, to court the military dux
of the Province of Campania, at his ancestral estate in
the hills above Salernum. The duke, an old family friend,
controlled all real power in the most populous part of
Italy. Given the vacuum of leadership in the Military
Masterís office at Rome, it would be prudent, indeed
vital, to secure Tiberius Leontiusís explicit allegiance
before Faustinus moved to take the throne.
allegiance was owed. By Faustinusís intervention, the
properties of Leontius had been passed over by Geiseric,
the angel of death. Leontiusís ivory couches and
gold-encrusted litters bore no Vandal fingerprints.
Leontius had been made aware of the favor. Now he would be
given the opportunity to express his gratitude.
strolled the deck of the dromon, enjoying the salt
breeze and the sunshine. A couch with cushions had been
brought for his comfort, but he had spurned it. The day
was pleasant; gulls soared in the bright sky above the
city wharf. Faustinus generally enjoyed sea-travel, but it
would be pleasant to spend two nights away from the smell
of tar and the creaking of ropes, creaking of oars,
creaking of shipís timbers and soldiersí boots.
coastline at Salernum made him conscious of the southern
landscape; the landscape made him think of his fugitive
sister-in-law. Sextus Taurinusís dispatches by
carrier-pigeon suggested that the chase after Quintus
Jovinusís estranged wife would be pleasantly prolonged.
In his own memoranda, Faustinus had cautioned Taurinus to
curb the rapacity of his men, which could be a political
embarrassment. An inn had been pulled to pieces north of
Capua. Two Huns, Aetiusís odd little twins with Gothic
nicknames, had run out of control in a village near
Naples. They had burned a roadside tavern where Marcella
Adriana was thought to have spent the night, and they had
driven a spear through the landlordís temples to see, as
they said, whether the corpseís eyes would be crossed.
news of the Adrianaís escape from Nuceria had reached
Faustinus at Rome. His response had been sent in care of
the garrison commander at Salernum. If Taurinus had
followed orders, he would have taken the coastal roads to
Interamnium in the plain of Sybaris, and would be waiting
to pounce on the fugitive when she emerged from the
mountains. It amused Faustinus to think of her, diverted
from her foolish quest to save a fool, now rushing through
the barren highlands of the South to save her own
lifeówhich, of course, she would lose in the end anyway.
The light dromon
drew a shallow draft; it eased past heavy merchantmen
riding at sea and glided into the deserted military
harbor, where at least one boathouse with a stone ramp
would be in fit condition to dry the ship for two nights.
Apparently Leontius had posted a watch on the headlands
above Salernum. A train of litters and Leontius himself,
with a dozen clients and their slaves, were waiting on the
quay when Faustinusís ship entered the harbor.
family were newly rich and restless, like Faustinusís.
Leontiusís father had bought his way into the Senate,
and Leontius himself had mastered the sounds and rhythms
of intellectual distinction, though not the content. He
had an immaculately brushed mane of saffron-dyed hair,
piercing blue eyes, and splendid carriage. He cultivated
Old Roman pretensions, quoting Cicero and Seneca without
the slightest understanding of their minds. The great
majority of his acquaintances took him for a scholar and a
statesman. He was a ponderous ass, Faustinus thought, but
a useful one; and whatever Leontiusís intellectual
limitations might be, he was a good host. Faustinus could
look forward to superb food and drink, and to the chilly
ecstasy of humping Leontiusís daughters, one or both,
interchangeable in their marble magnificence.
Faustinus ascended the sea-stairs, Leontiusís bearers
stood smartly at attention, eight Persian boys chosen for
their uniform height and dark good looks.
Faustinus," Leontius said gravely, detaching himself
from his clients and coming forward.
The two men
kissed each other on the cheek.
is well, I trust?" Leontius asked.
She has the energy of a woman half her age."
between the two men, no more than an eyeblink, certified
the unspoken truths that underlay the visit: that half of
Maximusís administration were in exile and the rest
dead; that the pope was the chief obstacle to
Faustinusís enthronement; that the alliance between
Faustinus and Leontius would not outlast its benefits to
in time for supper," Leontius said, motioning
Faustinus toward the largest litter, an ornate structure
of ebony and gold-leaf. "Domitia and my daughters
will be overjoyed to see you."
daughters especially, I trust, Faustinus thought,
easing himself into the conveyance and feeling it rise to
the bearersí shoulders, an odd sensation, like driving a
fast cart up a sudden grade on a country road.
The two men
walked before dinner in the portico of Leontiusís garden
and then moved to a dining apartment, elegantly severe,
decorated with representations of rural gods, suitable to
Leontiusís Old Roman pretensions. Faustinus and his host
reclined opposite Leontiusísís two daughters and his
still-beautiful wife, all alike in their silvery laughter
and the chilly sensuality of their light-green eyes.
Faustinus had heard it often, that soft, cruel laughter of
great ladies, when chariots splintered or gladiators were
ripped by beasts.
emphasized shellfish and wild game, expertly marinated and
sauced. The wine was Tarentine, the conversation trivial.
Eusebia seemed abstracted. Palladia favored Faustinus
twice with a marble smile. It was clear which of the
sisters would undertake the not-unpleasant duty of making
love to Leontiusís guest.
have a special treat for you tomorrow," Leontius said
at the end of the meal, with a smile that expressed all
his easy cruelty. "Be ready for the hunt at dawn, if
you will. Weíre going to have some forbidden fun."
dismissed his own servants to the slave quarters. In the
spare, cool elegance of his room he threw off his clothes.
The door opened and shut; Palladia came to his bed,
dropping away a silk robe as she moved.
transaction was poised, mechanical, perfectly suited to
Faustinusís mood. Palladia permitted herself three
little cries and one gasp. Faustinus counted them. She
fell asleep immediately after he had discharged himself
into her, which annoyed him, because he would have
preferred to sleep alone. She emitted no odors, however,
and her breathing could be detected only by the soft
motion of her rib cage against his encircling arm.
had floated away when Faustinus woke before dawn. She was
the kind of woman he preferred above all others, utterly
unemotional, like the ghost of a statue. By lamplight, his
manservants strapped him into boots, a close-fitting
tunic, and a long knife. His appearance in hunting gear
pleased him. Before turning to go, he nodded to himself in
the mirror: Romeís best judge of wine, women, a horse, a
hound, and a useful fool.
briskly to Leontiusís kennels. In a featherweight cape
and light boots, Leontius stood in a circle of
hunt-slaves, giving instructions. Faustinus and Leontius
exchanged bows. The head hunt-slave explained that the
dayís human quarry had been stripped to his loin-wrap
and released moments earlier. Rando, the young German
serf, had run northeast in a frenzy for his life, his
white loin-rag bobbing in the moonlight like a buckís
the offense, if one may inquire?" Faustinus asked.
daughters . . . donít lock their doors," Leontius
said, choking on the words. It was clear to Faustinus that
the young fox had found his way into the sanctuary where
Leontiusís white doves were kept. The doves had blamed
the fox, of course, and the wretch was about to pay with
has always had a rebellious spirit," Leontius
continued as the two men turned toward the stables.
"Heís garbage, a troublemaker. Weíll use him for
bred hounds of great size and ferocity. Night-music at his
villa was a chorus of barking, with howls interspersed.
Faustinus walked gingerly past their cages. The dogs
watched with red eyes, eager for the chance to catch him
alone. They had been starved the day and night before, in
anticipation of a feast.
youíll see these beauties in action," Leontius
said. "Weíve had unexpected rain; the scent will
By dawn a
company of young men from neighboring villas had gathered
for the pursuit. Leontiusís dogs were brought yelping
and lunging from the kennels. They were familiarized with
the serfís scent, and released. The chase began. There
was an undisciplined blowing of horns by the young men,
who liked noise for its own sake. Rando had been cunning,
with the presence of mind to run past a pig-sty on his way
to the wilds. The stench confounded the dogs when the
party first rode out of the stableyard. Soon they were on
the scent again, and Faustinus and his companions galloped
after them into the hills, away from the sea, moving at
the best speed possible in rough country.
pressed eagerly into thick scrub; they seemed puzzled by
the dwindling scent. Fugitive serfs and slaves knew the
tricks one might play on a hound: crossing and re-crossing
their own tracks, drowning their scent in a running creek,
walking on fences or fallen trees. Leontius gnawed his
lower lip and cursed the dogs. Apparently they were losing
themselves in the wilderness of brush.
inspiration, Faustinus signaled to his attendant to stay
behind, detached himself from the company, and rode off to
the northeast, leaving the confusion of hounds, horses,
and men. A stiff ride on the flats along a creek-bed
exhilarated him and sharpened his bloodlust. If the serf
knew the uses of water in eluding a pack of hounds, he
would be on neither bank of the stream but moving
up-country at its center.
his hunch, Faustinus rode toward a sheer cliff on the
eastern boundary of Leontiusís estate, where a stand of
willows at the base suggested the presence of springs. On
the edge of the wood he tethered his horse, dismounted,
and pushed his way through thickets that resembled the
hedges of a long-deserted garden, keeping close track of
the sparse landmarks in the brown confusion of the
over a hillock and found himself face to face, at a
distance of several yards, with the fleeing serf.
the two men looked at each other. Something like
understanding passed between them. In the distance there
was a faint yodel of hounds. Rando was handsome under the
serf-crust. His clothes suggested muckraking and stables,
and his crude, sensual face was white as a fish-belly with
the fear of death.
drew a whistle from the folds of his clothing and blew it.
were hot on the trail now. Their trumpet-like baying came
steadily on the breeze, sometimes boldly, sometimes
faintly, always nearer, soon followed by the voices of men
and boys calling Catch! and Courage! to the
animals. The empty woods shouted in bodiless chorus; the
hideous blood-note of the hounds was close. The trapped
serfís eyes grew filmy and expressionless, like the eyes
of a dying rabbit.
flooded over a rise, sighted the fugitive, and raised a
chorus of deep bell-notes. The luckless serf jumped up and
ran fifty yards. Effortlessly the dogs overtook him. The
first sprang at his throat. Crouching, Rando struck
upwards with a sliver of shale and ripped the animalís
belly open, but the others were on him, rumbling and
snapping. The serf threw an arm up in front of his throat
and fell under the press of bodies. Grinning, the
kennel-slaves dragged the raging pack away from him.
the loss of a dog, Leontius bent over the bleeding serf
and shook his finger like a schoolmaster.
wrecked Fidelis," he said tensely. "Now, breaker
of the order of Nature, youíll find out what his
brothers have in store for you."
stumbling after him, a rope around his neck, Leontius rode
home ahead of his guests in single file. The captive was
covered with blood; the dogs had had a good taste of him.
An hour after midday, Leontiusís guests were assembled
in the miniature amphitheater that had served various
owners of the villa as a garden and others as an
exercise-ground. Leontiusís serfs were brought from the
row of kennels where they lived on refuse that the
Prodigal Son would have rejected. Silently they filed into
the sand-pit: scrawny, vacant-eyed draft animals, breeders
and sufferers, covered with rags, ignorant as the mobs of
Nineveh who could not tell their right hand from their
be good discipline for them, by the gods," Leontius
said, leaning toward Faustinus in his ponderous way.
"They must be shown that they may not breach the
boundaries set round them by Nature."
hunt-slaves dragged Rando into the little amphitheater
with a rope around his neck and a fork at his buttocks.
The serf-boyís handsome face was still smeared with
gore; the shreds of his bloody tunic dangled around his
waist. One of his arms hung useless, broken near the
shoulder. There was foam on his lips; his eyes were red.
His face showed his future; it vacillated between stark
terror and resignation.
grate in the garden wall, Leontiusís bellowing hounds
scratched with eager forepaws as they scented the
afternoonís quarry. The grates were lifted; the dogs
screamed, again and again. The dogs were dragged away.
There was a ripple of polite applause among the guests.
Faustinus, a ghastly smile on his face, seemed to be
weighing the possible applications of the principles
involved. Eusebia admired the gold reflections of the sun
on her fingernails. Palladia covered her nose with her
handkerchief and leaned over the pit-rail for a closer
inspection of the scarlet wreck.
Rando housed more demons than the Gadarene swine,"
she murmured, but her eyes were lit with a knowledge that
had not come from Scripture.
smiled and turned his pale eyes toward the hills south of
interesting diversion," he said, leaning to his host
and thoughtfully tapping his chin. "Iíve seldom
worked with hounds."
thinking, again, of the headstrong daughter of Plautius
and her absurd pilgrimage through the southern mountains.
through the sun-scorched hills between Nerulum and Muranum
lay under a half-centuryís debris. All day Adriana had
traveled on the edge of apprehension, listening northward
for the hue and cry that would mean an end to her freedom:
the hollow voices of Taurinusís hounds, the neigh of
Taurinusís horses, the quick tramp of footsoldiers in a
deadly hurry. She dreaded the necessity of coping with her
relatives, but she craved the security and comfort of the
fortified manor-house in which she had played as a child.
owed several nightsí hospitality by these difficult
people," she said to Wolf, "and I need to sleep
in a real bed. Youíll be amused and appalled by Cousin
Gallia in particular. According to my grandfather, the
peasants are sure sheís a witch, and that her husband is
a demon who eats young male flesh. I doubt that Firmus
eats boys, but I wouldnít be surprised if Gallia has the
ability to create earthquakes. I saw their only daughter
three years ago; I assume sheís grown into a monster. In
any case, steady yourself. The whole familyís
Wolf pointed to his head.
"Firmus is the best by far. He spent most of his
youth trying to breed a dog that can climb trees. Now he
collects weaponry from the time of Alaric. He doesnít
say much. Gallia determines his thoughts and expresses
them for him."
next wide curve in the road, the landscape became
familiar. Adriana recognized her cousinsí
well-maintained stone road, laid out and paved with
old-time precision during the reign of Caesar Augustus.
Shortly after leaving the highway, she could pick out the
hazy outlines of the great house on the height. Its
castellated brown walls and four towers stood guard over a
dry moat that could be flooded from the cisterns in case
of an attack. The hillsides below it had been cleared of
scrub, leaving no cover under which armed men could move
unnoticed. To protect his fields, Firmus had armed his
serfs, at some danger to himself, and the serfs in turn
were monitored by Firmusís private cavalry.
threw herself into the climb, imagining that arrows were
pointed at her from every clump of brush. The scorched
hill seemed to frown above her endlessly. The flies were
insufferable. In serf-hamlets near the road,
carnivorous-looking children crept out of their huts to
stare. The serf-women in the background seemed harder and
hairier than in the north, burnt brown by the sun,
wrinkled by the wind, bent from a lifetime of tending
animals whose hides were cleaner and whose breath was
sweeter than their own.
travelers passed into the shadow of the villa. It
resembled a monstrous insect crouched on the hilltop,
preparing to eat the rude huts on the slope. The fortified
gateway was designed so a handful of defenders could keep
the whole countryside at bay. Adriana stamped the dust
from her feet and pulled hard on the bell-cord at the
porterís wicket. An unkind-looking old man presented his
face behind the iron grate. He was in no hurry to speak.
will explain to Quartillus Firmus that his cousin, the
Lady Marcella Adriana, is waiting outside in the noon
sunshine," she said severely.
expression of acknowledgment the porter closed the wicket.
servants behaved that way, Iíd have them
smothered," Adriana fumed.
The sun beat down. A sudden pounding of hoofs made her
start, but a girlís voice rode the thunder. Firmusís
daughter galloped up the slope, dodging olive trees, on a
surefooted pony that seemed to know every rock in the
neighborhood. Two armored eunuchs reined up behind her,
their swords drawn. The girl was vigorous and brown,
rather like Adriana at puberty, though hardly so
comfortable on a horse. She jumped down and hugged Adriana
with emphasis but no warmth.
did you recognize me in these, Cousin Romana,"
Adriana asked, sweeping a hand over her rags.
your profile is unmistakable, Cousin Adriana, even
at a great distance."
jumped back, raked Wolf with her eyes, and licked her thin
lips. At fifteen, she had a decent figure, but rather
square, with large breasts that seemed to have been added
to her boxy trunk as an afterthought, and pointed teeth
that appeared to have been sharpened with a file.
Adriana!" she exclaimed a second time, fluttering her
eyelashes. "How thoughtful! Youíve brought me a
gift. Heís marvelous."
to Wolf with a terrible little smile.
wrestle," she purred.
now, Cousin Romana," Adriana said sharply. "My
companion is far too weary to wreatle. My servant Lucius
here, on the other hand. . . ." She gestured at the
grinning urchin; his nostrils were dilated with
excitement, no doubt at the thought of mounting Romana
like a donkey.
girlís rouge made her seem wine-flushed. She was, in
fact, a little drunk at midday. She had put on false
eyelashes before riding. The left one had blown off,
giving her square face the appearance of a hut with two
windows and one awning. She laughed. The outburst was
mirthless, strenuous, monotonous, like a crowís note.
waiting for our horrible old porter to function? Youíll
be out here all day." Romana pulled a whistle out of
her riding tunic and blew it. The gates creaked open; the
portcullis went up with a muted screech.
drive Baudio crazy making him raise that thing a hundred
times a day," Romana crowed. "I like to see him
stretch when he does it. He has such a gorgeous
body, and he wears only a loincloth. He wants to be a monk.
Mother said that if I try to seduce him. . . ." She
made a face. "Never mind."
her guests into the villa yard. In their remote hilltop
pile, Adrianaís relatives lived in the glory of the
past. The castellated walls enclosed a miniature dying
civilization: stables, slave-barracks, grape and olive
presses, a private chapel, barns, baths, and the sumptuous
mansion of the owners. Adriana watched the slaves and
serfs going about their business, a repertory of damaged
humanity, some blind in one eye, some with fingers
missing, a leg missing, an arm missing, all deformed in
one way or another by a lifetime of repetitive labor and
smirked. "What did you say your friendís name was?
Voth? NoóWolf. He certainly is gorgeous, arenít
you, Wolf? Can I borrow you for an evening? Iíll go find
Daddy, Adriana. He probably thinks youíre still at the
you impressed with that box of paints?" Adriana
muttered. "Her hair is the color of Faustinusís
party-boots." She felt a surge of resentment whose
nature she would not permit herself to consider.
is young, very young," Wolf said, evidently satisfied
with having said nothing.
a face," Adriana went on. "Entirely without
innocence. The problem with the rising generation is that
they know too much."
a pair of eunuchs, Cousin Firmus hurried toward Wolf and
Adriana from the garden gate, his arms extended in
greeting. He was a flabby, pleasant person whose face was
difficult to remember from one day to the next. As a youth
he had scandalized his family by studying medicine, and
had published at Rome, at great expense, a treatise on the
difficulty of belching while lying down. At twenty he had
married, settled on his fatherís estate, and begun the
waste of his life.
Adriana, acknowledged Wolfís bow with a nod, and smiled
German bodyguard, Wolf," Adriana said, gesturing at
Wolf, in answer to Firmusís gentle look of inquiry.
servant, Lucius," Adriana said, pointing at Lucius,
who opened his mouth to protest the characterization, and
clapped it shut again.
to the servant," Firmus instructed his attendants,
after hurriedly assessing Adrianaís abnormal
relationships. "Come with us, dear cousin,
walked, Firmus made an inclusive gesture at the villaís
live in a terrible age, in a terrible place,
Adriana," he said with a curiously apologetic smile.
"Graciousness is a thing of the past. Nothing is
given in this part of the world. One must skin the hare
twice and starve the rats, so to speak. Itís an
uncompromising country. It must be farmed with a spade in
one hand and a knife in the other. Things have gotten
worse since you were here as a girl. Now we shoot
marauders from the walls when they try to creep up the
slopes at night."
shivered, thinking that she had missed death by the margin
of an armed serfís judgment. Firmus ushered his guests
into the gloomy mansion. A sickly remnant of sunlight
filtered into the vestibule; in spite of its profusion of
marble furnishings, it appeared almost unused, with a
musty smell suggesting that the high windows were never
opened. A large yellow dog came out of the atrium, sniffed
at the guests, and growled.
two woebegone eunuchs, Cousin Gallia emerged from the
central hall with a fine show of white teeth. At a
distance, she still had a marvelous welcoming face; close
by, her complexion collapsed into hard lines and evil
little wrinkles that would turn to gullies in her old age.
Adriana!" she gushed, appraising Adrianaís tattered
figure. "How careless you are of your health!óto
run through these hills in heaven-knows-what currents of
air, and plunge through swamps, and challenge the night
dewsówhy, itís like knocking on the door of the
African fever and complaining when you find her at
embraced Adriana with a frigid smile, and waved at her
surroundings with a black fan, like a huge moth-wing
decorated in gold and silver.
remember this place from your girlhood, my dear. As you
see, itís still our mystic martyrdomóthe crudeness,
the suffocation. Nothing ever changes with us."
As a young
woman, Gallia had been a typical female of the ancient
Roman blood, coldly handsome and disdainful, with the
smooth elegance of an ivory carving, but not the charm.
Time and the South had coarsened her face and manner. Now
her skin had an unhealthy wine-flush, and her manner
suggested a life of terminal boredom.
introduced Wolf, who bowed with an embarrassed jerk.
delightful," Gallia said with acid clarity,
"that you should find time for us in your schedule of
entertainments, dear Adriana. I trust youíd like to
freshen up a bit? My maids are at your service. Vitus will
conduct you to your rooms. Please ask for anything of mine
that you might like. I suggest pink with your complexion. His
manservants," she gestured at her husband, "will
comfortable," Adriana said, turning to Wolf, whose
earnest face looked as it had on the slave-block. "Firmusís
manicurists and bath-servants are the best north of
watched him go, with a little Persian slave at each elbow.
She nodded crisp thanks to Gallia and went to the baths
with the eunuch Vitus and his twin: enormous, pale,
identical, like white seals with rouged eyelids.
on her back and daydreamed. She had a fragrant
recollection of a visit to the lonely estate-house years
before, in the brief time of peace before Attila, when the
memory of Alaric and his Goths had faded. There had been
morning hunts and musical evenings, with dancing. After
dark, Firmusís rich neighbors had gone home by
moonlight, a procession of litters and torchbearers
winding down the villa road, the lights absorbed at last
by the dark fields and woods, as the child Adriana watched
from her bedroom window upstairs.
of the place had come from Calvinus, her grandfatherís
younger brother, heir to several run-down estates on the
plain of Sybaris. The enterprising youngster had got
himself appointed military duke of Lucania and Bruttium.
All during the years when Geiseric ravaged the west coast
of Italy unhindered, the dukeís troops were busy
exterminating bandits in the hills above the dukeís
had died rich, the protector of innumerable sheep-farmers,
the scourge of Southern brigandry. Six years later, his
spineless son and malcontent daughter-in-law huddled in
the old manís fortified summer estate-house, afraid of
brigands, afraid of their own serfs, afraid to move down
to the steamy plains where the African fever had begun
again to stalk the summer nights after an absence of
smiling, watery-eyed Firmus seemed more like a house-pet
than lord of the estate. Real power belonged to Arbitio,
the savage-looking steward, apparently a law unto himself,
a monster who milked revenues out of the serfs, cut
throats and administered hangings in the villa yard,
issued directives from the tablinum of the
estate-house, and more or less candidly made love to
her part, was dying slowly in her lonely pile of stone.
The long summers oppressed her. She dressed opulently for
no audience except the serfs, the slaves, and Arbitio. She
yawned and fanned herself, and drank iced wine all during
the long hot days of summer, and was nearly always drunk
by nightfall. She fed her spirit on daily gossip; no other
nourishment was available to a woman who would neither
pray nor read.
left the delicious coolness of the pool. Tight-lipped
attendants in the dressing-room kneaded her until she
ached pleasantly. In a murmuring circle of maids, she
threaded her way to the suite of rooms that had been set
at her disposal. Her attiring-chamber was opulent, with
mirrors presenting themselves at every turn, and fresh
roses crowding the dressing-table. A luxurious array of
perfumes, ointments, tints, masking compounds, and
delicate little implements of ivory had been set out by
faced herself in the largest mirror: straggle-haired,
bronzed, athletic, composed of unwomanly planes and
angles. Even her eyes seemed bright and hard in the
imperfect reflection of the polished silver.
she exclaimed, surveying the damage.
we should begin by moistening the face," the
head-maid intoned, in the voice of a physician
administering a purge.
closed her eyes and imagined herself as a horse in a stall
while the maids attended to her skin, then to her nails
and teeth, with perfumed waters and spices. The mirror
delivered kindlier messages. Certainly she had become
indecently brown by the standards of the court, but twelve
daysí exposure to the elements seemed to have toned
rather than spoiled her complexion.
is a morsel for an emperor," the head-maid murmured.
cheeks warmed at the flattery.
did you say, dear?" she asked.
thinking," the woman said shyly, "that Your
Felicityís beauty must be a guardian angel to
heróthough itís true that beauty is sometimes a demon
in disguise, and if a woman trusts it and it deserts her,
may well be," Adriana said seriously.
must be strong as a soldier to have come such a distance
on foot," the maid marveled.
stronger than many soldiers," Adriana said, "and
they know it all the way from here to Rome."
pink dinner-robe, nearly weightless, had been brought for
her; a maid hovered over Adriana when she slipped into it,
brushing away imaginary particles of dust with a little
whisk. Cousin Gallia at least had the kindness to share
her wardrobe without making a fuss. Adriana refused the
pearl-studded headdress offered by the maid.
you, no," she said, "I couldnít think of
wearing more than a bare minimum of my hostessís
Your Felicity," the girl persisted, "my mistress
said youíd say so, and that you should wear the
headdress anyway, because it belonged to your
that case . . . ," Adriana began, feeling a wild and
inexplicable start of tears.
motioned to the girl, who positioned the rolled-silk
turban and circled Adrianaís neck with a jeweled collar.
The maid stood back, reflecting a little wistfully on the
dark smoothness of Adrianaís throat above the collar and
the flawless configuration of her breasts.
how pretty," she murmured. Her innocence seemed
reflected in the sparkle of the gems.
bad," Adriana said, reviewing herself in the mirror
and approving what she saw. She spent the balance of the
afternoon walking the porticoes of the great house with
her hosts. Wolf walked beside her at a safe distance from
Romana. By the wagging of the girlís square buttocks and
the blinking of her false eyelashes, her project for him
was clear. Adriana smiled in spite of her annoyance. How
would he handle himself? It would be instructive to see.
starvation was complete when the furry note of the
dinner-gong reverberated through the marble corridors of
the mansion. Cousin Gallia had decided to accord Wolf the
standing of a foreign ambassador, and invited him to
recline with the family at supper. Lucius, on the other
hand, would be fed and bedded with the house-servants.
alcove outside the banquet-chambers Adriana sat gravely
next to Wolf, while a pair of attendants washed and
perfumed their feet.
stomach is kissing my backbone," she whispered.
"Iíd be satisfied with a bowl of grass."
followed an usher into an intimate dining apartment kept
for a small number of guests. In mellow light she bowed to
Firmus, Gallia, Romana, and a guest introduced as Marius
Tullianus. She took the couch indicated by the usherís
wand. The old, familiar, dreadful atmosphere of an
imperial banquet hovered over the room. The air was close
and suffocatingly perfumed. The fruity odor seemed to
emanate from Cousin Gallia, who looked, in the uncertain
light, like a fallen angel. In a headdress heavy with
jewels and a gold-embroidered robe, she considerably
outshone Adriana. Romana, overdressed and overpainted, had
been allowed to recline at table with the adults.
Stretched out seductively on her cushion at Wolfís right
elbow, she resembled an asp in greenery.
light showed Wolf at his best, remade by Firmusís
body-servants into a model of young male elegance. He was
clean-shaven; his hair was close-trimmed, soft from the
baths, and brushed forward. Firmusís wardrobe had
supplied him with a handsome dinner-robe of blue silk and
gold bracelets inlaid with sapphires. Firmus himself was
dressed elegantly in violet silk. Marius Tullianus, a
widower with splendid ancestors, filled the place of honor
next to Firmus. He was nearsighted and taciturn; he
watched his neighbors silently, like a brilliantly
feathered owl of great size.
servants brought appetizers: dressed eggs, tiny sausages,
little white beets. Snipping at her morsels with
dangerous-looking little teeth, Gallia dominated the
conversation. A small amount of wine did away with her
slight pretense to charity. She had left Rome as a young
wife of twenty, rich, good-looking, happy as a woman might
be with a grasping and slanderous character, and she was
hungry for current news of her old rivals in the city:
Lady Optima, who had borne a dark child to an Ethiopian
acrobat; Lady Nestoria, lonely and miserable with her
Persian eunuchs and several hundred Egyptian cats in a
decaying palace on the Aventine; Lady Castina, whose rich
husband resembled a tuna; Lady Aprilica, whose aging
platter-face looked more and more as if an absent-minded
nurse had sat on her in her infancy; Lady Principia, who
had the poisonous breath of a fasting monk and looked like
a silk-clad, gold-dusted camel.
remember her mother, too, donít you, dearest,"
Gallia said, leaning toward Adriana, "one part Helen
of Troy and two parts common bitch? One could never have
predicted the granddaughter: such a tedious little
innocent, a handsome mouse raised by alley cats. I suppose
her fool of a husband was excited by that air of naÔvetť,
but sheíll bore him to death after heís put an end to
her innocence. Have you seen the pearls he hangs on her?
Theyíre bigger than mine. Good Lord! Some men like
children, I suppose, the way boys like green apples."
the choice is between green apples and painted
apples," Adriana smiled.
charm of forbidden fruit, in any case," Gallia said
conclusively, and pursued the next object of her concern,
a husband worthy of Romana. Such a man would be hard
enough to find at Rome, let alone in the South.
course, thereís always Bassus across the road, who has a
son in heat. The boy snuffles all round Romana whenever he
comes here with his father, but he has no connections at
all, and his teeth are bad."
dearest," Firmus said, with a wounded expression,
while Romana smiled dangerously at Wolf.
of this matters, of course, to my husband," Gallia
said, glaring at him. "He lives like a hedgehog under
a pile of dead leaves."
hospitable lamplight Adriana worked at her meal, curing
herself of starvation, squeezing the excellent pork
between her teeth, savoring the Tarentine wine, enjoying
the capon in cream sauce, the spotless napkins, the
snow-chilled perfumed water in which she rinsed her
fingers. Firmus and Romana picked at their suppers while
Gallia talked. Marius Tullianus dug at his meal with
senile concentration, like a pig in pursuit of truffles.
Adriana diverted herself by watching Wolf eat with his
big, careful fingers.
servants brought meatballs in wine sauce.
donít like meatballs," Romana whined, with an
irritable gesture of distaste. She had been drinking
greedily, devouring Wolfís face across the rim of her
donít like meatballs," she said again, picking at
them. "They taste like mouse-droppings in glue."
you do like them," Gallia protested.
"Just the other day we had them, and you raved. The
bishop recommends them. Theyíll give you strength. Bappo,"
she waved at the headwaiter, "bring her a plate of
think Iíll dance now," Romana said, rising from her
couch a little unsteadily, all nipples and teeth.
Child has agreed to dance her Nature Dance for us,"
Firmus announced with a little smile of pride.
disappeared behind a marble screen and exchanged her
dinner-robe for a skimpy light-green tunic. A concealed
flute-player warbled a seductive Spanish melody. Romana
bowed and took flight. She was a boxy caricature of the
infamous ChloŽ, Adriana thought, a professional dancer
who did disreputable things with geese on the stage at
Constantinople. The girlís Nature Dance seemed to
represent Diana the Huntress, Ceres the goddess of green
things, and a doe in heat. She made sidelong glances of
purest witchery at Wolf. He blinked his long eyelashes and
young and so talentedónot yet sixteen," Firmus
marveled, shaking his head.
whirled faster, encouraging herself with croons and yelps.
Her thick waist and flat feet made her look, Adriana
thought, like a dancing asparagus. Sweat made rivulets in
the rouge on her face. She tossed her garland away, in a
gesture meant to be magnificent. It snagged on a lampstand
and began to smoke; a servant removed it between thumb and
forefinger. Firmus was ecstatic, shaking his head and
making feathery applause with his small hands. A tear
crept down his cheek.
swooping in close circles now, like a vulture with wings
of unequal length. She smiled dangerously at Wolf, showing
her pointed teeth. Little flames of passion shot from her
eyes. Finishing the dance with an uncontrolled bird-flight
that threatened to carry her out of the room, she made a
dumpy bow and returned to her couch.
was she not?" Firmus choked, wiping tears from his
stunning," Adriana agreed.
at Wolf. He seemed more tormented than provoked. His
eyelashes fluttered; his hands were tense, cupped, as if
he wished to put them over his eyes. What was the matter?
Were not all young men ravenous for all young women?
Adriana felt a guilty rush of pleasure in his apparent
indifference to the bouncing tart.
how are your affairs at Rome?" Gallia asked
perfunctorily, plugging a large hole in the conversation.
nothing left for me there, Cousin," Adriana said with
a shrug. "Quintus is gone. The house is a shambles; I
never liked it much anyway, except the garden. I have no
friends at court. If Iíd been taken to Carthage and sold
on the slave-block, the court-ladies would have been
the dinners, the lights. . . ."
dinners were like a martyrdom for me," Adriana said,
"having to watch Lady Dalmatia gum her appetizers and
listen to Senator Gratus bray about his youth as a tribune
in Gaul. Especially I donít miss the great ladies and
their artificialities that kill oneís appetite for
living. At Rome one is dragged through life by custom,
like a wretched thread going endlessly through a
needleís eyeódonít you think?"
simply to leave it allóto walk away without
servants?" Cousin Gallia furrowed her brows.
be afraid of dying," Romana interjected, blinking her
painted eyelids. "Arenít you afraid of dying?"
remarkable, Cousin Adriana," Firmus said, rousing
himself to contribute to the conversation, "that
youíve come this far without incident. You must be
traveling under a charm."
look poor. Wolf looks dangerous. Lucius, the boy, has
connections," Adriana smiled.
arenít you afraid of dying?" Romana
ago I made up my mind not to be like my father,"
Adriana answered softly. "My father was afraid of his
own mortality. He feared loss, and he feared death. So it
was in the shape of great losses that death came to him by
slow degrees. You remember how he was, donít you, Cousin
Firmus?ólike Job, when all the estates in Africa were
gone. The slaves used to say his heart was breaking. My
mother shook her head at that. She told us his heart was
too full, that it wouldnít break, and thatís what the
trouble was. But as for me, I think it was the fear, not
the loss, that killed him."
eveningís wine had crept up on her, making her both
melancholy and talkative; the entertainment had made her
careless. Her imagination escaped to the Tiber-side farm,
the only thing at Rome that held her affection.
hardly remember my fatherís face," she said,
"but I remember his death as if it were yesterday. I
hadnít been close to him, but his absence left a vacancy
as painful as if someone had taken away my stomach. It was
an empty spring. I spent long hours on the hilltops, with
only the pines between myself and the sky, stupidly
waiting for my misery to lift.
by the Tiber one day, when Avitus was visiting our house
from Gaul. It was in April, I think: the dragonfly nymphs
were molting by the river. I heard Avitus chuckle behind
me. He slid down the bank in a spray of pebbles and sat
beside me on my log. He didnít speak for a long time,
and I myself was too sad to speak.
little while he said, as if Iíd asked a question,
ĎEverything youíve loved is kept for you in heaven,
cried, of course, and when I stopped, he put his hand on
my shoulder and pointed at the dragonfly nymphs, poised on
the tips of the swamp-grass, and said, ĎLook at
Her audience had drifted. Firmus smiled politely. Gallia
coughed discreetly. Romana stifled a yawn. Wolf was
intensely, astonishingly, absorbed in her words, his lips
moving in silent accompaniment to hers.
his eyes, and spoke to him alone.
watched the dragonflies molt, Avitus and I together,
because it was that time of year," she said.
"Some were struggling to break out of their
underwater bodies; some were shuddering on the grass-tips,
drying their wings. The ones that were fully dry were
they bite?í I wondered, touching one of the insects.
Lioness,í Avitus said, Ďthey dry their wings and fly
off into worlds they never dreamed of under water.
Thatís how it is when we die.í
insect I was watching flexed its crystal wings and flew
off into the blue distance. ĎThatís what my father has
done, isnít it?í I said to Avitus, realizing suddenly.
he nodded. ĎNow you know, and youíll never again be
afraid of death. When you can smile gently at death,
Adriana, youíre ready for life.í"
eyes were glazed. Gallia and Romana were looking at the
ceiling. A light snore issued from the owl-face of Marius
Tullianus. He had rolled over on his fat back and fallen
suffocating ambience of her cousinsí hospitality she had
felt like a bird in an oven, being sauced by a pair of
incompetent cooks. She dismissed her maid with a smile of
thanks and undressed herself, pulling off her
great-grandmotherís headdress and laying it next to a
tray that held spiced wine in a crater.
herself a goblet and drank it greedily. She felt old,
older than Rome, certain that the rest of her life would
be a succession of disasters, with boredom and heartache
in the spaces between.
herself in a loose robe of silk and stepped to the paired
windows in the corner of her room, to watch the evening
sky. The tedium of the evening had eroded her
self-possession. Her eyes and thoughts had strayed
involuntarily to Wolf again and again, the only living
being at a gathering of dead souls. If he were
accessible, would I have the strength to resist? The
question presented itself out of nowhere, and was followed
immediately by another. What, after all, would be the
point of resistance?
been contemptuous of Romana at the dinner, despising the
girlís assertiveness, yet envying her lack of paralyzing
reserve. Iím jealous, Adriana thought, and her
cheeks burned with embarrassment. She shook herself
angrily, drained her goblet, and poured herself another.
The wine seemed to sharpen her yearning rather than blunt
out into the night, forcing herself to concentrate on the
day to come. Firmusís estate was perhaps three miles out
of Muranum, the last town of any consequence north of the
plain of Sybaris. Tomorrow she would descend with her
companions into the malarial lowlands. The next day, God
willing, she would be in the mountains of Bruttium, the
toe of Italy. The problem there would be to arrive in good
health at the house of the bishop of Consentia, a
mysterious person of whom the pope knew little.
of the coming dayís difficulties restored her
self-possession. In the mellow light of a cluster of
lamps, her bed beckoned in its cozy corner, presided over
by a handsome statue of Cupid. She crossed the marble
floor, picked up the decorative lyre that lay on the bed,
tuned it, and struck a few chords softly. The instrument
was decent; the sound gave her pleasure. She plucked a
strain remembered from childhood, trying to make as little
noise as possible, but in a moment she had lost herself in
the music and was singing to her own full accompaniment, a
song about dead soldiers and virgins forlorn, and the
inescapable bitter-sweetness of memory.
last, she locked her door, blew out the lamps, and
stretched herself between the silk sheets of the luxurious
bed. There was a fall of sandals in the corridor. A female
voice, in tears, approached Adrianaís door from the
south, and dissolved northward in a staccato outburst of
grunts and sniffles. Adriana shrugged, mentally, and
prepared to sleep. A male voice vibrated at the door.
relaxed and still a little drunk, she went to the door.
Wolf was alone, a lighted taper in his hand, his face
showing white and strained in the glow. She thought how
vulnerable he looked in his too-small tunic, like an
was aware of the secret understanding that had connected
them at the end of the dinner, though she could not yet
put a name to it. Now, in the comfortable strangeness of
her guest-quarters, she felt as if the mysterious bond had
drawn her out of her old world into a new one, rich with
danger and promise.
the trouble?" she asked.
your cousin," Wolf whispered stiffly, working the
muscles of his jaw.
wishes to sleep with me."
why not take her?" Adriana asked, in a sudden rage at
the girl. "Youíre a soldier. Soldiers always take
whatever flesh theyíre offered, and a great deal more
cannot, madam," Wolf said mournfully. His lips were
trembling. His big hands tugged at his tunic.
question hurt him; that was clear in his eyes. But what
was the offense?
. . . you. . . ."
were fiery red. He choked on the rest of his sentence and
held up his hands in a gesture of hopelessness.
at Romana died abruptly.
a boy. Come in here," she said gently, taking him by
the right hand.
She lit two
lamps from his candle. They sent up a fragrance of sweet
oil and illuminated the soft wall-paintings of pagan
heroes and gods.
she said, pointing at a wicker chair, and taking another
herself. "Iíve offended you, and I regret it,
believe me. Whenever I try to play conversational games
with men, I get in trouble. Itís just that the damned
girl annoys me to the point of a seizure."
sing well," Wolf said gravely, after a silence.
"I did not know that you could."
room had Galliaís chill on it when I came. I was trying
to drive it away."
shrugged, careless with wine, and picked up the lyre.
rolled out of her, caressed the frescoed walls, mingled
with the aroma of the lamps. The words were of simple
love; the tune spoke of country air sweetened with
stone-pine and myrtle, of country roads among olive
groves, and ripening wheat laced with red poppies, and a
fresh wind from the sea.
be praised," Wolf breathed at the end.
sudden silence, she remembered an ecstasy of anticipation
that had drawn her out of the villa at Nomentum on a
spring night; she remembered her child-self darting down
the furrows between rows of green wheat, with the
fireflies sparkling round her feet, and the coarse kisses
of Senator Calvusís boys, who tugged at her clothes
while she longed with sudden urgency to be back in the
dark house where her mother and grandfather slept.
of Quintus, of her strange mission to Carthage, the
too-recent dissolution of her marriage, the triumphant
cackle of Flavia on being told the news of her passion for
a barbarian, the soulless face and crippled body of the
Vandal king looming in the background like a figure on a
will not deny . . . ," she said, laying her lyre on
the table beside her. "It would be false to maintain.
. . ."
smiling helplessly now, against her will, undermining her
own dignity, betraying her own weakness.
wish to say . . . ," Wolf began, in an accent thicker
than usual, and gulped like an adolescent. "I wish to
say . . . that I would have been happy if we could have
belonged to one another."
trembled a little; his cheeks glowed with mortification at
the clumsiness of his words. In the melting lamplight she
could see the deliberate workings of his jaw-muscles as he
watched her with a strange mixture of hunger and dignity.
Her heart battered against her breastbone.
she said quietly, "we must be for each other."
He nodded gravely. "But there are no witnesses."
will witness," she said. "Thereís no notary,
will notarize. That is how it is said?"
rose, and took him by his big hands, softened by the baths
and Firmusís manicurists. The palms were warm; the
fingers trembled a little. Lightly she laid her cheek
against his chest. His strong arms took her in, gathering
her into the fatless curves of his body. There was a
clean, masculine scent to his hair that reminded her of
field-flowers. The statue of Cupid by her bed seemed to
smile at her in the fragrant twilight.
Wolf knelt on the cold floor by the bed, and she knelt
beside him. He crossed himself. Adriana covered her eyes
with her hands. Wolf whispered an Our Father and began to
pray from the heart, in words that seemed to reach her
through a sense other than her hearing: We ask you to
witness our marriage Yourself, you who are Love, and who
love us more than we love each other. If we sin, we ask
you to forgive us, because it is not for love of sinning,
but for love itself. Amen.
have no ring but the popeís," Wolf said.
rings. At Nomentum, we seal a promise with fire," she
said, and he nodded.
her right thumb and forefinger together and passed them
through the smoking flame of a bedside lamp.
this light, the good gift of God, I will always be
yours," she whispered.
this light, the good gift of God, I will always be
yours," Wolf echoed, passing thumb and forefinger
through the flame.
were light on the shoulders of her robe. She raised her
arms and he slipped the garment up over her head.
me," she whispered urgently.
down and held his arms out awkwardly while she undid the
string at his waist and stripped his tunic away, letting
it fall lightly at his heels. He stepped out of his
sandals and put his hands around her slender waist. The
fingers nearly met. Lifting her like a child, he laid her
on the bed and stretched out naked beside her, her head
against his shoulder, her belly feeling the pressure of
his fine erection like a tree-trunk rising out of flaxen
He took her
face between his hands and kissed her on both eyes, her
forehead, her mouth.
Adriana," he said again and again, between a groan
and a whisper, pressing his lips against her eyes and
ears, laying his soft, cool hair against her neck, burying
his face between her breasts.
her gravely, his urgency surfacing in staccato gasps. The
movement of his slender hips was measured, considerate, as
if the rigid immensity below his belly existed for her
pleasure and not his own.
out a little, and ran the soles of her feet up along his
carpeted calves. She whimpered into the hollow of his neck
and pressed her forehead against his cheek. She clung to
his wide shoulders and rode his hips until he crested and
poured himself into her. The flow seemed endless, as if
soldierly self-denial had given him a need past
satisfaction. She slept without dreams, in an enveloping
presence of muscle and warm dry skin, the presence of
maleness that she had missed with a sense of loss so deep
that she had hardly been aware of it.
She did not
recognize her surroundings immediately, but she was
conscious of waking to a great joy. She lay for a while
with her dark hair spread out over her pillow, looking at
the frescoed ceiling, tantalizing herself with the
prospect of turning to the yellow-haired god at her side,
still sleeping peacefully.
aroma drifted through the room, of sun-warmed roses and
distant incense. In the luxurious contentment of the
moment, memory and expectation were deliciously mingled.
The fragrances were familiar; the sense of perfect peace
was new. She had never felt it with Quintus, and it made
her think she had never known happiness before, only
She got up
once to make sure the door was locked against intruding
servants, curled up again in the dry warmth of Wolfís
body, and listened to his untroubled breathing. A crisp
breeze seemed to be blowing the morning light into the
room. A solitary thrush sang in the villa garden.
retrieved her goblet of spiced wine from under the bed and
took a tepid mouthful. Wolf woke and looked at her with
one eye open, then the other. She passed the goblet to
him; he drained it.
him by the ears, kissed him on the mouth, and pressed her
head against his. His long eyelashes brushed her cheek.
she murmured, smiling, and he pressed into her, strong as
a young horse, his breathing shallow and urgent, choked
her own pleasure as he rolled to one side of her, and
imagined herself once again in the island villa where her
adult life had begun: a small, simple white villa open to
the sun, with fragrant thickets of laurel, and air that
spoke more of the mountains than of the sea; and the male
presence that walked beside her in the garden of her
imagination was no longer Quintus, but Wolf.
could not have learned to make love in the
monastery," she whispered, teasing him with a
forefinger under the chin.
sometimes thought about making love when I was
there," he said, and blushed.
but you visited the Carthage cat-houses, too, Iíll
wager, when you were in the kingís service."
twice, madam, when I was drunk, and the women were both
He put his
hands behind his head and stretched. Complex details
sprang into relief on his rib-cage. She touched him, to
see the muscles of his belly rise like square bread-loaves
under the smooth skin; she traced with her forefinger the
grassy trail of wisps descending from his navel.
on his side and laid his head between her shoulder and
cheek. It was heavy and sweet-smelling, like a ripe fruit.
His breath stirred at soft intervals against her breasts.
are an empress," he said gravely.
empress in exile," Adriana smiled.
wish I had a ripe peach," she said, tousling Wolfís
hair. "The best time to eat fruit is early morning,
with the birds. Only humans would eat eggs for breakfast
and drink wine, which spoils the palate."
we get to Africa," Wolf said, turning again to look
at his big feet past the end of the bed, "I will buy
you an orchard of peaches, and a big bed, too, big as a
kitchen garden, suitable for Germans. We will lie there
all day and do as we please, until it pleases God and us
to get up."
time to do that," she said regretfully, patting him
on the belly, sliding out of bed, and going to the window.
Wolf lay with his hands behind his head, his alert blue
eyes following her. She stood at the casement and leaned
out to inhale the mountain breeze, carrying its clean
aroma of balsam-scented trees. She could see into the
villa-yard; Cousin Firmus was in the formal garden,
strolling around the marble pond, evidently content to be
alone. Cousin Gallia commonly slept away the morning.
were that house-cat Faustinus," Adriana thought
aloud, "instead of chasing my rodent through the
woodwork Iíd wait for him at a hole in the wall. Weíll
be leaving the mountains today, going down into the plain
of Sybaris. Weíll be in great danger, I think."
at Wolf. He was sitting on the bed, straddling it entirely
with his strong legs. A different enthusiasm had come into
his eyes, the battle-lust that was in the blood of
if I had my axe, which is at home . . . ," he said,
making a magnificent sweep with his right arm, and a dozen
imaginary heads fell to the floor.
it would be better to go down fighting, if it came to
that," Adriana said, "but with rusty knives and
a stiletto?" She tapped her lips with a forefinger.
"Maybe Firmus can help us. Heís a collector, and
herself, waved off the sleepy maid who waited at the door,
and walked to the garden alone. The morning air was still
fresh, not yet saturated with summer perfume. Firmusís
tidy flower-beds were a riot of July roses, brilliant
against the sculptured ilex hedges. Firmus, always
cheerful and receptive in the absence of Gallia, greeted
Adriana with a smile and a little bow, and walked beside
her, his hands clasped behind his back.
uncommonly quiet," Adriana said, listening to the
Romana enjoys the morning with me," Firmus said, as
if her absence accounted for the morningís peace,
"but today she seems to have slept late."
to Adrianaís hesitant request, and nodded.
you like, except the armor thatís said to have been
Alaricís personal suit. It all just sits there; we might
as well get some use out of it."
to her room, she roused Wolf. The two broke their fast in
a corner of the villa kitchen and followed their host to a
distant part of the house, a whitewashed room with
cabinets against the walls and a plain table in the middle
of the carpetless floor. Firmus opened one of his
displays. The massed instruments of death spoke again of
the cold eyes and cold steel of Alaricís blood-drunk
men. There were shields, headpieces, spears long and
short, blades capable of cutting through a floating
feather or striking off the ears of senators; heavy
daggers that could split a manís breastbone; clubs that
had crushed Roman helmets; terrible northern axes that
could take off an arm or a head with small effort, each
gleaming blade bearing an engraved record of the heads and
limbs it had removed.
room," Firmus said, "is the one thing on the
farm thatís mine alone. As you see, itís overflowing.
Youíll do me a favor to go out heavily armed. Try
a shirt of chain-mail, the product of a sophisticated
metalworker: very light, formed so perfectly that it
collapsed without pressure into an area the width of a
of Britain," Firmus said with satisfaction. "A
sword will bounce off these links, and no spear can pierce
it, though the point may nick you underneath. But itís
light; itíll fit under any disguise you choose. Try
himself into the metal shirt.
perfect fit, by Vulcan. Is it comfortable?"
not uncomfortable," Wolf said doubtfully, writhing a
yours. Hereís a leather liner to wear under it, if you
like. Itís supposed to carry a charge of magic, which
neither sword nor spear can penetrate. Take off the
chain-mail and lay it on the floor, and Iíll show you
fairly wiggling with pleasure, Firmus held a glittering
blade out to Wolf, holding it gingerly by the hilt and
is the sword that came with it. The blade must be British
in workmanship; the steel is far too good to be from
anywhere else. Try it on the shirt."
lay well in Wolfís big hand. He tested the point on his
thumb, lifted the blade high, and with a quick play of
muscle brought it down on the links of the mail shirt. The
weapon sprang aside, leaving no mark on the blade or the
shining links of steel.
it," Firmus said.
grateful," Wolf said. His eyes were fixed longingly
on an excellent axe, gleaming as if it had been polished
yesterday. Firmus caught the look. He lifted the axe from
its black cloth and put it in Wolfís hands. The blade
shone blue in the reflection of Adrianaís tunic. Wolf
examined it reverently in several lights. He laid it out
on his arm like an infant, and spoke to it caressingly,
running his thumb along the razor edge.
beautiful thing," he said, as if he had no audience.
"It is you who should be made emperor, because you
have good sense, and you would look well in a purple
He held the
axe up for Adriana to see, and made it bow like a puppet
in his hands.
should use it, not coddle it," Firmus asserted.
He walked to a corner of the room, fetched a thick staff
of oak, and held it out in front of himself.
strike," he commanded.
The glittering blade made an arc like a shooting star and
halved the oak cleanly against the grain. Both pieces
clattered to the floor.
Wolf breathed reverently, raising the shining axe-head to
the light and examining the runes carved in the metal.
the message?" Adriana asked.
not skilled in the Old Tongue. Let me see: Scatter-brain
am I named, by a wolf shall I be tamed."
something to add to your fund of superstitions," Adriana
called Scatter-brain," Wolf repeated fiercely, and
made a lightning slash through the air that threatened the
gold tracery on Firmusís sleeve.
herself, Adriana accepted a light short-sword and a
throwing-knife. She bowed her thanks to her cousin and
went to her room. A pair of maids dressed her in a tunic
of white silk, Galliaís gift, dangerously luxurious for
the road. In silence she ate a late snack with Wolf,
sitting on hard chairs in the villa kitchen. Wolf, fully
armed, laid his axe on the table; Gallia glared at it and
coughed. Romana, rumpled and red-eyed, glared at both Wolf
and Adriana. The family gathered at the villa gate to bid
their guests farewell.
Adriana!" Gallia bubbled, "such an adventuress.
I do hope you wonít have to dig roots for your supper.
Itís so injurious to the fingernails. Oh, Iíve never
seen such calm in the face of death!"
the moon on the fountains of Tibur," Adriana smiled,
and waved herself away.