of Carthage, March 457]
villa past Clupea was much as she remembered it from
childhood, a vision of olive-green hills and white flocks,
myrtle groves and fountains shadowed with soft fern,
purple-dark skies and a golden moon, and everywhere the
turquoise sea. The thickets of laurel had grown up in the
years since her mother had planted them; the gardens had
run wild. But the terraces and colonnades and the sea-wall
of white marble still glistened like salt. A little forest
of olive trees still screened the estate-house from the
farm-buildings. Nothing had happened to spoil the hidden
white beach where two lovers could swim as naked as gods
all creatures, she had stepped back through the window of
time and was a child again, with the sun in her eyes and
sand in her hair, moving in a waking dream down
rose-scented porticoes that still echoed with her
motherís voice. Wolf had presented her claim, after the
certification of their marriage. Geiseric had been
gracious; the absentee Vandal owner had been compensated
with a pair of estates west of Carthage.
had deteriorated since the German conquest. Hens nested in
the bedrooms; peacocks shredded the rose-beds and pebbled
the walkways with excrement; pigs slumbered in the
waterless pools of the garden; farm-dogs urinated on the
legs of the ancient statues. But the structure was still a
tangible connection with the age of Constantine; its
archaic beauty had somehow stayed intact after the fall of
Africa. It glowed with old gold and old glass, with
tapestries whose colors had been harmonized by time, and
with priceless furniture whose age was attested by tiny
cracks in the finish. Even the grey busts of Adrianaís
ancestors stood undamaged in the great, ghostly atrium,
perhaps spared by the Vandals for superstitious reasons.
servants, who barely remembered her, approached Adriana
shyly at first, as though fearing she would vanish if they
came too close. Reverently they laid their wrinkled
fingers on her shoulders; then they brought the hands that
had touched the goddess to their foreheads and lips.
Finally they crowed for joy, joining hands and dancing
around her with brittle elderly steps.
servants, a generation away from Roman civilization, were
a torment to her. At first she could imagine no hope for
their fondness for bad wine, their thievishness, their
absolute unreliability, their invincible resistance to
thrift, cleanliness, and common sense. They kept an
uncooperative distance from Wolf because he was seldom
drunk, he cursed in German, he bathed ridiculously often,
he drank milk, he never slept with the serf-girls, he
never kissed his mare on the forehead, and he rode in the
appalling German fashion with swing-like contraptions
holding up his feet. But something in the young dominaís
eye and manner took hold of their hearts, and eventually
they let Wolf into their hearts as well.
She set out
to reform them.
of you," Adriana said, "are like wild pigs. You
enjoy the swamp. You donít want to go to clean straw in
a stable. But some of you are not wild pigs, perhaps not
pigs at all."
She put the
best of them to work cleaning her house. A platoon of
servants on ladders, grimly purposeful, brought down
layers of webbed filth, with spiders struggling and
kicking in the wreckage. Every day she ordered her mare at
dawn and rode until late in the morning, observing,
judging, giving orders for the whitewashing of serfsí
cabins, the cutting down of half-dead olive trees, the
trenching of vineyards, the repair of ruined barns and
estateís great and small affairs passed through her
head, and were settled by her hand. She inquired daily
into the condition of every bloated ox and spavined horse,
every woman in childbed, every bone-factured plowman and
whooping infant in her serf-village. Nothing was too
trivial to merit her attention: the choice of an assistant
to the vilicus, the punishment of a drunken
swineherd, the design of a stone-cart, the mixing of honey
with the dinner-wine.
delivered babies and arranged marriages, summoned her
neighbors to the Vandal law-courts, ordered the dayís
meals herself and entertained the kingís officials at
them. In her study she sipped light wine while errant
serfs were brought before her for stealing and
drunkenness, and she fanned herself languidly while they
confessed and groveled and wept, and swore by their eyes
and their vital organs and the Mother of God that they
would mend their ways.
triumph was to overhaul the living conditions of her
people are Christians; they will live like
Christians," she said, summoning her steward.
"The village of my peasants belongs to me. It will be
Your Magnificence, how can it be clean when it is full of
pigs?" the astounded man asked.
will be no pigs in my streets. You will make a place to
keep the pigs."
Your Charity, it will be an apocalypse. Your Beatitude is
going against the habit of ages."
it be done. If I discover one pig in my village a week
from today, you will spend the rest of your life here as a
had finished her work, the animals, the serfs and slaves,
the manager, and even the slovenly old priest all
glistened like new-minted silver. The streets were clean,
the houses were repaired, the little Arian church had a
are Godís children; you will live like Godís
children," Adriana said to the little crowds of
people who gathered around her in the center of her
serf-hamlet. "When youíve been clean for a year,
youíll have no desire to be dirty again."
true," the old men of the village said, wagging their
heads wisely. "But who would have thought so? The
woman is from God."
escaped the city at last. Now the rhythms of her body and
brain shaped themselves to the rhythms of the countryside.
She rediscovered quiet sensations that she had forgotten
in the turmoil of her adult life: musty silences in
neglected corners of the farmhouse; the textures of old
scrolls, old furniture, old tapestries and plate; the
wood-smelling closeness of lofts; distinctive bird-calls
that surprised her city ears when she walked through the
olive groves; late-sleeping in a big bed with country
smells in the ticking; the unspoiled air that one could
breathe deeply in perfect trust; the slow, rough courtesy
of country people; touches of color in the house and
garden that could have been brought to life by her
motherís hand just yesterday instead of an age ago.
was March, her second spring in Africa. At her motherís
bedroom window, now her own, she waited for the sun to
rise over the dark sea. The morning was already warm. She
leaned against the casement and watched a great band of
saffron light grow beyond the water. There was nothing on
the shore to complicate her view of rock and sand,
stretching out of sight under a feathery border of palms,
and nothing in the clean sky except a few wisps of cloud.
at Nomentum, the winterís cold would be passing off the
land, and the damp fields would be drying, green with
wheat sprouts. Soon the lupins would give way to field
pansies on the grassy hillsides, and the pear trees would
throw out sprays of blossom. Once again, she had missed
the Roman spring.
nostalgia for the Roman countryside was perpetual, and
there were even times when she was nostalgic for the city,
for the murmur of numberless fountains, the myriad lights
at dayís end, the nightingales singing in the leafy
courtyards of churches. There were days when the limitless
blue of the Mediterranean outside her bedroom offered
nothing to compare with her memory of the golden Tiber at
daybreak. There were evenings when the curious brilliance
of the African sunsets, glorifying the hills behind the
villa, seemed no improvement on a plain orange sunset west
thought of Rome came to her with news of its afflictions.
After fifteen months as emperor, Avitus had died at the
hands of his enemies: utterly without fear, she was sure.
The throne stood empty; Count Majorian was said to crave
it. Adriana was grateful that her old friend had lived
fully all his life, that the inglorious end of his career
could do nothing to erase the glories that had gone
famine had overtaken the city. The poor were making soup
from weeds and boiled rats; the dogs and cats were long
gone; in a little while, the slaves would begin to follow
the rats, and salt flesh with a distinctive flavor would
once again change hands in dark corners of the Subura.
Anarchy would run blind in the streets, and then perhaps a
plague would follow, like the one that had come after
Alaric, mowing down people like a scythe through hay.
Aromatic logs would be burned under the windows of the
rich to overmaster the stench of corpses that penetrated
every corner of the city like a sick manís breath. The
survivors would be men who never spoke, women who never
laughed, children who never wept.
Faustinus had been to blame for it all.
she woke on a crisp night, hearing the wind-note of a
jackal on the hills, and she wondered in cold dread
whether Faustinusís damned spirit howled eternally in
the waste places to which it had surely gone. On such
nights she pressed close to Wolf in their great bed and
felt his clean breath against her cheek, and the thought
left her like a demon vanishing at the name of Christ.
too, the image of Flavia came to her, multiplying
bed-partners in her lonely palace at Rome, friendless
because she could not be a friend, unable to trust because
she could not be trusted, growing more wrinkled and bitter
every day, before a mirror whose company she sought more
and more often, and whose message she had more and more
reason to dread. Soon she would be the mere husk of a
once-handsome woman, thrown aside like a grape-skin after
all the juice had been crushed out, looking forward to the
ruin and horror of an eternal sabbath of devils.
the empireís end would have come without Faustinus and
Flavia. Among the voices from her childhood, Adriana
remembered that of a white-haired priest, weeping bitterly
in the pulpit at Nomentum: O Rome, if you would only
heed the Spirit! . . . At some point during the
disastrous years since Alaric, the decisive moment had
passed. Now the dusk had merged into darkness, and to turn
back was no longer possible.
There was a
knock; Adriana went to her door and smiled at the birdlike
murmurs of her maids as they delivered her sleeping baby
into her arms. The little boy was a miniature of his
father: serious, blond, perfectly shaped.
at the window as she nursed Adalo, taking pleasure in his
baby-noises of satisfaction. With her eye she traced the
peaceful shore northward until it disappeared in the
distance. The sun was up; in a hot breeze, the
Mediterranean glistened under a velvety sky like diamonds
displayed in a blue mist. At the edge of the picture stood
the tiny, lonely silhouette of a fisher-boy, halved by the
line between the infinite sky and the infinite sea.
a whiff of her motherís roses from the portico outside
her window, and nostalgia flooded her. Her old world was
passing away; her soul murmured its protest. But there was
consolation in knowing that the sky and the sea that gave
her pleasure would endure longer than the Senate and
People of Rome were on earth to number the passing years.
Adriana heard the soft gossip of her maids, coming for the
boy. She delivered him to the girls with a nod of thanks,
and took from their hands a goblet of spice-water to
freshen her mouth and her senses. She went to Wolf,
sleeping in a splendid curve that stretched past both ends
of the Roman bed.
again," she said to herself with a little laugh.
next to him and pressed her face against his yellow hair
that smelled of summer flowers; and with a soft motion of
the hand she woke him to the pleasure of the