side by side on the western edge of Sicily, watching the
sea. They had found a pleasant niche in a hillside, with
spring-watered grass. Sheep grazed the slopes above them;
the descent to the shore ended in a farmyard. The chatter
of farm boys floated up from the beach.
coastal towns they had spent furtive evenings at the
waterfront, looking for financially pinched fishermen who
would risk night voyages for a taste of the bishop of
Viboís gold. The gaunt seamen of the Sicilian coast went
long distances and took long risks for small sums.
port to port along the north coast of the island had been
safer, and hardly more tedious, than a tramp through the
starved hills of the interior. At Drepanum the fugitives
had bought provisions and headed south along the
shore-road to Lilybaeum, stopping at mid-morning to eat
their breakfast of fruit.
A roll of
parchment, crushed during its transit from Rome in the
satchel of the popeís courier, had lain at the bottom of
Adrianaís bundle since Vibo. She took it out and read it
Leo to the Lady Marcella Adriana: The Goths have made
Avitus our next sovereign; the Senate in Gaul has
ratified the choice. My courier from Toulouse rode two
horses to death getting the news to me. The public knows
nothing of the elevation, the public post being as it
is. If our Adversary knows, he will dismiss it as rumor
until the evidence cannot be ignored. Even the demons in
hell nourish themselves on hope. A sum of money will
reach you at the hands of my Brother in the Faith at
Vibo. My intelligence is that Faustinus will be on his
way to Africa, to enlist the Vandal kingís active
support for his dwindling cause. Pray that the cause
will fail. Be careful. Condescend, madam, to remember me
in your prayers.
the parchment and tucked it away. The throne was no longer
at issue; now she was merely an eccentric noblewoman
running from an unprincipled enemy.
wonder where he is now?" she mused.
Surely he understands that the game has gone against him.
The question is when heíll give up chasing the throne
and chasing me. A person of ordinary decency would let me
go. . . ."
Iíve asked you this before. Do you think the king will
intervene on his behalf?"
king cannot be predicted, Adriana. Faustinus has been
allowed to think that he is using the king. But that will
continue only so long as the king can use Faustinus."
Wolf shrugged. "I would not worry. The king despises
the people he uses. When their blood runs hot with
triumph, that is the moment of their greatest
sketched an outline of Sicily, dimly remembered, in the
dry earth before her.
she said, stabbing the location with her forefinger.
"Drepanum. Lilybaeum. Weíve lived through Sicily.
Now the trick is to get out of it alive."
watching the sea. Hardly disturbed by the hot faint
breeze, it was intensely blue in the mid-morning light,
dotted with white agnelli, the little sheep that
had sea-foam for wool and the breeze for a shepherd.
Farther out, the Mediterranean grew less blue and less
real, until it lost all color and melted into a sky-haze
that hid everything to the west except the lizard-like
outlines of the Aegates islands.
am I still running?" she said. "Itíd be easier
to give up."
would be unworthy of you, madam," Wolf said severely.
a little, soothed out of consciousness by the moist warmth
and salt fragrance of the seaside air. When Adriana woke
she was hungry again. She dug among her provisions and
brought out a pair of figs. She offered one to Wolf and
set her white teeth in the dark pulp of the other, smacked
her lips over the flavor, and drank a little cold wine.
a good place," she said, "without mosquitoes,
praise God. I wish I could enjoy it. Iíll feel like a
lizard in the mouth of a snake until Iím out of
going home," Wolf said warmly, hugging himself.
"I feel Carthage coming. I will be able to say ach
and yah without apology."
ten miles out of Lilybaeum, more or less," Adriana
said, reckoning southward with a squint, "and a night
and a day, possibly another night, from Carthage, provided
we can find a starving fish-captain."
fish-captain," Wolf repeated. "We will flash the
bishopís gold. In Sicily, the fishermen have hungry
have to hurry," she said, thinking of the African
fever as she rose to go. Southward, the brown thread of
the coastal road approached Lilybaeum through a lowland
where ominous mists would rise and drift after sunset.
Adrianaís sadness had returned, the sadness that had
come like a recurring ache ever since she had left the
Sila. The leaden sensation made her head and feet heavy.
long time ago I was fleeing the other way," she said
softly. "It was cold; we all had blue lips and runny
noses, and I was afraid Iíd never see Africa again. Now
Iím almost afraid to see it, afraid of the changes. . .
not so different," Wolf said, squeezing her.
"You will not be displeased. My father the king will
love you. You will be his favorite daughter, and Carthage
will belong to you all over again."
the place in a spirit of farewell, mentally saluting the
sheep on the heights and their shepherd, droning on his
bagpipes. The south-bound highway cut through vineyards
spotted with dark clumps of olive, no bigger than cabbages
in the lonely distance. Wolf was in high spirits, talking
enough for ten Germans, and swearing impartially by the
Virgin, Woden, Thor, the Twelve Apostles, and the Three
Sisters. Adriana envied his optimism. From time to time
she had the sensation that she was being watched, that
pairs of eyes on the eastern heights were taking note of
her movements for the benefit of Faustinus or the king.
again at a pagan shrine, near a spring that gushed out
over a white-sand beach. They swam, wary of sharks, ate
cheese and figs in the shade of a lonely olive, and napped
together in the sea-breeze. Clean after the swim and
refreshed by the rest, they doubled their speed down the
road to the old Phoenician city.
lowland was decently prosperous. Frogs croaked in the
ditches; cicadas shrilled in the fields. Determined to be
optimistic, Adriana sang. Wolf joined in, slapping his
belly for time. A passing shepherd, grinning, took up the
tune on his bagpipe. Goats in the fields pricked up their
ears and sneezed.
The sky was
burning low when the pair arrived at the city on its
fertile plain, where grapevines glowed against the
approached the gate.
help us, thereís an officer on duty in this
backwater," Adriana complained wearily. "If we
canít get past him, weíre dead. Itís that
customs-officer dozed with one eye open, against the
shadowed arch of the cityís north gate. He opened his
small weapons and the clothes on our backs," Adriana
answered, dreading that she would be recognized.
little money," the officer added with friendly irony,
as if acknowledging their poverty. "Lilybaeum will be
grateful for what you can spare. Enter in the name of God.
The church is just past the intersection of decumanus
and cardo, in case you canít afford the
honest man?" Wolf inquired, as they hurried past the
indifferent to Faustinus and responsive to beauty, more
likely," Adriana said, greatly relieved. "Iíd
rather believe it was my beauty than yours."
the coins in her purse.
can afford to rest in an inn and stay clear of the bishop,
who may be our enemyís friend," she said.
else they might have inflicted on it, the Vandals had not
depopulated the little city. The streets were full of
people; getting lost would be easy. The crowd was
grim-faced but harmless: troops of dirty boys tormenting
cartersí mules; knots of old men mumbling in frail
voices; women hurling vegetables at stray dogs and cats;
beggars exhibiting their sores to anyone whose eye they
could catch. Apparently the Germans had burned and
pillaged indifferently, perhaps in their eagerness to lay
hands on the larger spoils of Drepanum to the north. Only
the great houses toward the harbor were damaged by fire.
king seems to have ignored these people," Adriana
by design," Wolf said, shaking his head. "They
are being allowed to recover themselves since the last
sack. My father calls it Ďletting the sheepís wool
grow.í Soon the Ďshepherdsí will come and harvest
filthy," Adriana said, catching sight of a squat
building with large windows in its upper faÁade. "So
are you, barbarian. If Iím to die in the next day or
two, Iíd like to die clean."
out a few copper bits into his open palm, and an equal
number of coppers for herself. They parted company to
relax in the civic baths of Lilybaeum. Refreshed and a
little hungry, she met Wolf in the bathhouse vestibule and
went out to search for an inn. Each prospect seemed more
poisonous than the last. She motioned Wolf through a door
in the neighborhood of the forum.
hope for much," she cautioned. "Chances are they
know nothing except how to charge."
They took a
table in a dark corner of the inn and sat watching the
other patrons. The host pottered in the shadows. His
casualness irritated Adriana; it had the savor of a
you see a typically civilized Roman innkeeper," she
said fiercely. "He scrupulously avoids yawning and
shuffling, and never allows the flies to gather on his
head. He runs from table to table like the nimble stag; he
leaps like a trout in a pool. His speech is bright and
graceful. He gives change without being asked. One never
needs to hammer the table to attract his attention. His
memory is exhaustive; his honor is rigorous."
innkeeper came at last and made his lowest bow: the kind
of bow that would appear, under another name, in the bill.
He yawned and leaned down, presenting his ear to Wolf.
will give us," Adriana said, "the best room in
your inn, and the best supper that can be obtained in
have veal, Most Noble, in an exquisite sauce."
the veal. Bring the wine at once. And the bed?"
assured, Most Noble," the innkeeper said unctuously.
waited. A cup of red wine arrived. The veal did not
follow. Adriana took a sip of wine. It was like rainwater
flavored with wormwood. She was in a rising rage at the
menu, the innkeeper, the guests. She waved for service.
The innkeeper came at his leisure.
is the house-wine? I am sorry, it is poisonous," she
it," the innkeeper urged sweetly. "Itís good
for you. If God Himself does not send you death, you may
offer it to you," Adriana said with a benevolent
smile. "The Blessed Word urges us to share our
innkeeper bowed and removed the goblet. He did not return.
he drank it and died?" Wolf asked earnestly.
the innkeeper brought white wine and two shriveled scraps
of anatomy on a plate, swimming in grease.
examined the offering, and sniffed it.
is not veal," she said, recognizing the texture.
"It is mule. Moreover, it is rotten."
is a matter of opinion, madam," the innkeeper said.
"If everyone had the same opinion of rottenness, what
a dull world this would be."
innkeeper raised appealing eyes to heaven, spread out his
long fingers, and heaved his round shoulders. "What
can I do? I did not create rottenness. It is in the world
since Adam and Eve. We are all victims."
away, muttering strong words about selfishness and
offered greens to Wolf and ate some herself, soft and
clammy as cold boiled turnip-tops, apparently dressed with
the remains of the mule. She drank the rest of her wine
and made a face. The innkeeperís infested quarters
upstairs, she speculated, were by no means full for the
night; it was a buyerís market.
beds will have fleas," she said, wiping her chin.
"We shouldnít be in a hurry to sleep. Letís take
the night air and try again for a decent place to lie down
awhile before we go to the harbor."
She rose to
leave; the innkeeper materialized instantly.
mule," she said, "which you represented as veal:
you have a duty to take it off the bill. Will you now have
the kindness to take it off?"
the innkeeper hissed, turning purple. He seized his stylus
and scratched twenty coppers from the total on his tablet.
a small silver coin into the innkeeperís moist palm, and
said sweetly, "This hole is fit only for polecats and
swine, of whom you are one or both."
is an additional charge . . . ," the innkeeper began,
sensing that he had lost a night-guest.
the insects, perhaps?" Adriana said, and walked out
into the street, followed by a rolling storm of curses.
The heat of
the day had blown out to sea. The streets were full of
plain people escaping the closeness of their tenements.
Vendors were still abroad; a seductive odor of roasted
chestnuts passed under Adrianaís nose. She bought some
and shared them with Wolf. Around the forum, near the
waterfront, fashionable Lilybaeum was taking the air in
whatever finery it had managed to preserve from the
Vandals. Litters moved in a stately promenade, tinted with
the changing crimson and gold of the western sky. In an
hour, the waterfront lights would kindle the crescent of
the harbor and merge with the early stars. There was a
breath of late-summer flowers, and a touch of the smell of
people had gathered near the forum entrance, where a
frantic family of street musicians blew on double-flutes,
beat little drums, clashed cymbals, and made the air
hideous with songs in bastard Greek. Children slithered
among the legs of pedestrians, looking for purses to
snatch. They scored with a woman who cursed in a high,
whistling voice as she rummaged in her garments for the
missing pouch. The crowd seemed anxious, Vandal-ready,
mentally scanning the horizon for red sails against the
musicians danced. A young man sang as if he had a
toothache. There were somersaults, and faces meant to be
comic. An old woman with a red nose tortured a
double-flute. Dirty boys capered like shadows at the edge
of the performance, aping the musiciansí gestures. An
evil-eyed adolescent shot dried beans through a reed at
the old womanís red nose. At sunset the players cavorted
in a crimson haze. Lines of gold rippled on the roofs
above the dead stone rectangles of the forum. Down the
darkening streets, lamps began to glow in the upper
stories of the tenements.
something familiar, Adriana thought, about a lean,
youngish man in a military paludamentum, standing
with his back toward her.
musicians were suddenly silent. The lean man turned and
faced Adriana with a studied smile that never creased the
corners of the eyes, wide-set pale eyes, expressionless as
a field of snow.
At a signal
from Faustinus, a Gothic soldier emerged from the shadow
of a tenement and crept up on Wolf from the side. Before
Adriana could shout a warning, Wolf had struck the Goth in
the mouth with the flat of his axe, knocking him down and
scattering his teeth.
the crowd became a mob, screaming, cowering. A dozen
mercenaries converged on the spot and pushed against the
human tangle with their short-swords drawn. The injured
Goth flopped about like a dying rabbit, pressing bloody
hands to his mouth. Grim plebeians trampled him. One of
Faustinusís men cleared a path with the flat of his
short-sword and bore in on Adriana; his mocking eyes told
her that he expected an effortless triumph. She dropped
her bundle of provisions; her long knife was out, poised
in her right hand.
whipped at her wrist with his short-sword and howled in
astonishment at the gash she carved in his arm. Angrily he
lunged at her with the clumsiness of overconfidence,
grazing her shoulder and ripping her tunic in an ill-aimed
pass at her chest. He tripped headlong over the foot that
she put in front of him; his open mouth froze around a
curse as she drove her blade into his rib-cage, and he
wilted into a sudden puddle of blood.
about wildly for Wolf. The crowd milled against Faustinus,
hemming him in. Over their heads, she saw Wolf grappling
with an enormous Goth. He disengaged himself and sliced
through the manís leather shirt with a swift pass of his
axe. The Goth dropped like lead.
she bellowed. He followed her voice, scattering the crowd
like poultry. She ducked through the outer ranks of bodies
and headed toward the waterfront. Shouts pursued her above
the general uproar. The harbor! she gasped, and
they ran, following their instincts, dodging pedestrians
and beasts, grateful that the dusk was nearly dark. A
faint outcry reached them; Adriana looked back once, to
see dim shapes pouring down the street after her, but the
milling crowd had slowed Faustinusís men enough to give
her a serious advantage.
through the waterfront slum was a small Subura, a torchlit
bedlam. Dodging mule-carts, Adriana led the way down the
thoroughfare, over cabbage-leaves, fishheads, broken
crockery, and dung-plastered straw that formed a second
pavement above the underlying stones. She was grateful for
the chaos; it would slow her pursuers. Reflexively she
felt for her knife and remembered that she had left it in
the chest of Faustinusís mercenary.
eye on the middle distance, she tripped over a beggar and
fell, bruising her knees and elbows against the pavement.
The beggar cursed her in a deep voice. Wolf lifted her to
her feet. The pain crippled her momentarily. She groaned,
pressing her kneecaps with her hands until she could bear
the prospect of running again.
deserted her after the fall. The faster she tried to move,
the slower and more labored her steps became, held back by
drifts of garbage washed together with slops and urine.
Bruised and shaken, sweating like an overdriven horse, she
imagined how pleasant it would be to lie down in the
garbage and go to sleep. She struggled to organize her
thoughts. The top of her head felt disconnected from the
must find a willing fisherman, or a hiding place,"
she said with effort, hoping against all likelihood.
past the waterfront drinking-places, uncertain which one
to enter. The stench and dirt were uniform from place to
place. Down-street, a pair of red-capped sailors turned
into an alley with a rolling swagger.
maybe," she said to Wolf, and pursued her impulse,
following the sailors.
regretted the decision as soon as she had rounded the
corner. Wolf froze in mid-stride with a gasp in his
windpipe, as if a line of hostile steel had suddenly
threatened his belly. At the head of the street,
leather-shirted mercenaries walked toward the fugitives,
led by a pair of ice-blue eyes.
Adriana watched Faustinus move toward her, and the
pavement seemed to shift under her feet. The Goth-faces
waxed and waned; the armored bodies dissolved in a sudden
blur of tears without emotion. In her exhausted
imagination she heard hoofs pounding on dry earth, the
groaning of military carts, the heavy breathing of horses,
the terse speech of men on the hunt, the low wail of the
wind, the distant baying of hounds.
his axe out of his belt. He spoke to it urgently and
fingered its razor edge. Adriana shook her head to clear
it, and abruptly her mind was like a sea of cold fire.
she said, laying a hand on his wrist, "use your
brain. Youíre a son of the king."
He put the
weapon away and stood rigidly obedient, his jaw-muscles
day or two youíll see the devilís house divided
against itself," Adriana said.
without reflection; the words, as they came from her own
lips, astonished her.
shall I do if the Worm speaks to me?" Wolf asked,
grinding his syllables.
him the truth. I know how Faustinusís mind works.
Whatever you tell him, heíll assume itís a lie.
Therefore, tell him the truth. He wonít know what to do
with it, any more than a pig knows what to do with
squeezed his arm. "One caution: make no mention of
your father. On no account tell him that youíre
why? The king is the only one who can keep us alive."
I say," Adriana hissed.
distance closed between pursuers and fugitives. Faustinus
measured his stride for theatric effect. His clothing had
plainly been chosen to create an impression of action and
energy: a military cloak, a felt hat, a short-sword with a
plain hilt and a leather scabbard. He stopped, stroked his
chin, and looked at Adriana, his lips distorted in a
be no resistance, Gaius," Adriana said in a clear
voice. "Iím prepared to do as you please. May one
ask why weíve had the good fortune to meet you in this
none of your business, Adriana," Faustinus answered,
"but because Iím good-natured, Iíll satisfy your
curiosity. Please donít imagine for a moment that Iíve
given up my mission. I consider Lilybaeum a beachhead.
Many of my allies are here, and Iím close to Carthage. I
might have missed the pleasure of your company, but the
keeper of the north gate was kind enough to announce your
smiled complacently. Adriana glanced at his escort: blank
mercenary-faces, the faces of men who were damned and knew
it, and who intended to do as much evil as conveniently
possible before the devil dragged them into the Pit at
last. In their soulless eyes she saw Wolfís end, and her
his vanity, the voice of Avitus said, as clearly as if
her old friend had been standing at her elbow. Once more
her words seemed to take on a life of their own,
addressing the adolescent in Faustinus, with its proud
aversion to being anticipated.
tilted her head and returned Faustinusís smile.
have two basic options, as I see them," she said.
"You can kill us on the spot, or you can drag us back
to Rome. Either way, youíll have to reckon with the pope
and every bishop in southern Italy, saying nothing of the
eyes brightened. "But there are other options,
Adriana. I may as well turn a profit. You and your German
will make handsome gifts for the king."
thanked, she exulted silently.
turned and spoke to Wolf.
a pretty barbarian," he said scornfully. "A
statue with a bearded lady-face. Whatís your nation,
of the Asding Vandals," Wolf said quietly.
liar in any case," Faustinus smiled. "Iím a
military man, not easily deceived. Your weapons are
mercenary smiled impudently at Wolf. Bits of garlic were
stuck between his strong white teeth.
me the handle of that axe," Faustinus barked,
pointing at Scatter-brain. Adriana watched Wolfís face,
knowing well the effort of self-control that it cost him
to surrender the weapon.
hefted the polished instrument of death, made a lazy pass
through the salt air, and scowled at the blade.
isnít a Vandal weapon," he smiled at last.
"Youíre not a good liar. This axe is British work,
done for the Visigoths. The same," he pointed,
"is true of that knife at your waist. Take off your
belt and offer it to me."
and knife passed into Faustinusís hands. He drew the
knife, examined the hilt and the blade, and shook his
is Visigothic, too," he said, glancing at Wolfís
upper body. "You know, donít you, that the Vandals
tattoo their young? Where are your clan marks? I think you
arenít even a Visigoth. At Carthage theyíll be able to
enlighten my ignorance."
streetside beggars muttered to one another and shook their
heads as Wolf and Adriana moved away in the circle of
Faustinusís men. From where she walked, Adriana could
see the dark expanse of the waterfront, studded with
points of light, and the cityís harbor-gate, the door
that was to have opened on her freedom.
calm as the night sea, her mind numbering and weighing her
prospects like merchandise in a market-stall. The balance
of the game with Faustinus had become clear in the insight
of a moment. Now all that remained was to keep a steady
eye on the horizon of her life, and wait for the division
of the devilís house.