Book: Fortune's Favorites



Colleen McCullough - Rome 3 - Fortune’s Favorites



For Lieutenant Colonel the Reverend A. Rebecca West Femina Optima Maxima The world's greatest woman




SYNOPSES



It is my intention that Fortune's Favorites be read with full enjoyment as a complete, free-standing novel, without the necessity of having previously read The Grass Crown or The First Man in Rome. The synopses below provide a brief summary of those two books for the reader's convenience and enhanced enjoyment.



EVENTS CHRONICLED IN THE FIRST MAN IN ROME



The year is 110 B.C. More by accident than design, the Republic of Rome has begun to acquire her territorial empire, a process of expansion that has placed increasingly intolerable strains upon an antique constitution. This constitution had been designed to regulate the affairs of a small city-state and protect the interests of its ruling class, embodied still in 110 B.C. by the Senate.



The true profession of Rome was war, which she conducted superbly and had come to rely upon in order to maintain growth and a thriving economy; she also kept the various other nations within Italy in a subordinate position by denying their peoples the Roman citizenship and parity in commerce.



But the voice of the People had become louder, and a series of political demagogues like the Brothers Gracchi had arisen with the avowed intention of depriving the Senate of its power. Power was to be transferred to the People in the persons of a slightly lower echelon of Roman citizens, the knights, who were primarily wealthy businessmen. (Agitation for social change in the ancient world was never undertaken on behalf of the poor, but rather took the form of a struggle between the landed aristocracy and the commercial plutocracy.)



In 110 B.C. the forty-seven-year-old Gaius Marius was a relative nobody from the little Latin district of Arpinum. Thanks to his superlative military ability, he had managed to rise as far as the second-most-important position in elected government, the praetorship, and had accumulated vast riches. But Marius hungered to be consul (the top office), though he knew that his obscure birth and ancestry would not permit of his rising so high. The consulship belonged to the landed aristocrats of ancient family who had never grubbied their hands with making money in a commercial marketplace.



Then a chance meeting with an impoverished patrician (the most august class of these aristocrats) senator, Gaius Julius Caesar (grandfather of the great Caesar), enabled Marius to improve his chances of attaining the consulship. In return for funding the careers of old Caesar's two sons and providing a dowry for the younger of old Caesar's two daughters, Marius was given the elder daughter, Julia, in marriage. Thus ennobling Marius's family and greatly enhancing his electoral image.



Now married to Julia, in 109 B.C. Marius and his letter-writing friend Publius Rutilius Rufus went off to wage war against King Jugurtha of Numidia. But Marius was not the commander-in-chief; this position had gone to the aristocrat Metellus (who would later call himself Metellus Numidicus to commemorate his war against Numidia, but whom Marius called by a far more derogatory name, Piggle-wiggle). With Metellus Numidicus was his twenty-year-old son, Metellus Pius the Piglet.



The war in Africa went slowly, as Metellus Numidicus was not a very effective general. In 108 B.C. Marius asked to be released from his post as senior legate so that he could return to Rome to run for election as one of the two consuls for 107 B.C. Metellus Numidicus refused to let him go, so Marius through letters waged a campaign of complaint and criticism in Rome against his superior's conduct of the war. Eventually his campaign was successful, and Metellus Numidicus was forced to release Marius from service in Africa.



However, before Marius left Africa, the Syrian prophetess Martha foretold that Marius would be consul of Rome an unprecedented seven times and would be called the Third Founder of Rome; but she also told him that his wife's nephew named Gaius would be the greatest Roman of all time. This child was as yet unborn. Marius believed in the prophecy implicitly.



Returned to Rome, Marius was elected the junior of the two consuls for 107 B.C. He then used the legislative body called the Plebeian Assembly to pass a law stripping command of the war against Jugurtha of Numidia from Metellus Numidicus Piggle-wiggle; that same command was given to him instead.



However, his chief problem was a source of troops. The six legions Metellus Numidicus had commanded in Africa were now earmarked for the use of the other consul of 107 B.C. Italy was literally without recruitable men to serve in Rome's armies: too many men had died uselessly in battle over the preceding fifteen years, thanks to a series of utterly incompetent generals of impeccably aristocratic background. And the important friends of Metellus Numidicus, outraged at Marius's taking the war against Jugurtha away from him, now ganged up to prevent Marius's finding new soldiers.



But Marius, an iconoclastic thinker, knew of a source of troops as yet untapped-the capite censi or Head Count, which was the propertyless lowest class of Roman citizens- and resolved to find his army among the Head Count. A revolutionary concept!



Rome's soldiers had always been required to own land and have sufficient wealth to fund their armaments and gear out of their own purses; it was this class of fairly prosperous farmers that had supplied Rome with her soldiers for centuries. Now these men had almost ceased to exist, and their smallholdings had come into the ownership of men in the Senate or the top ranks of knight-businessmen. Vast ranches called latifundia which ran on slave labor had come into being, thus depriving free men of employment.



When Marius said he was going to recruit his soldiers from the Head Count, the furor was unimaginable. Fought every inch of the way by the senatorial aristocrats and many of the knight-businessmen as well, Marius went ahead and got his way through the Plebeian Assembly, then passed a further law in that body obliging the Treasury of Rome to fund the arming and equipping of his pauper legionaries.



When Marius sailed back to Africa he took with him six full legions of pauper troops the Senate deemed incapable of valor or loyalty. Also with him was his quaestor (a junior magistrate responsible for finances), one Lucius Cornelius Sulla. Sulla had just married Julilla, the younger daughter of old Caesar, and was therefore Marius's brother-in-law.



Sulla was almost the complete opposite of Marius. A handsome aristocrat of irreproachably patrician ancestry, he had been disqualified from entry into the Senate because of his extreme poverty-until a series of cunning murders enabled him to inherit the estates of his mistress, Nicopolis, and his stepmother, Clitumna. Ambitious and utterly ruthless, Sulla too believed in his destiny. But his first thirty-three years had been spent in a most ignoble world of theatrical riffraff, and had left Sulla possessed of a dangerous secret; in a Rome whose citizens were adamantly opposed to homosexuality, Sulla now began to claw his way upward suppressing his love for a Greek actor, Metrobius, at this time still an adolescent.



It took Marius almost three years to beat Jugurtha of Numidia, though the actual capture of the King was effected by Sulla, now one of Marius's legates and his most trusted right-hand man. So different in their natures and backgrounds, the two men nonetheless got along together very well. Marius's Head Count army distinguished itself in battle, thus leaving its senatorial critics with nothing to say.



While Marius and Sulla were engaged in the African war, a new threat to Rome had come upon the scene. A vast collection of Germanic peoples (the Cimbri, the Teutones and the Cherusci/Marcomanni/Tigurini) had migrated to Gaul (modern France) and inflicted several disastrous defeats upon Rome's armies, led by aristocratic incompetents who refused to cooperate with men they considered beneath them.



Without his knowledge, Marius was elected consul for the second time and given command of the war against the Germans; despite the opposition of Metellus Numidicus and Marcus Aemilius Scaurus Princeps Senatus (the Leader of the House), everyone in Rome had come to believe that Marius was the only man capable of defeating the Germans, hence this extraordinary and completely unsought second consulship.



Accompanied by Sulla and the seventeen-year-old Quintus Sertorius (a cousin of Marius's), in 104 B.C. Marius led his men of the Head Count-now seasoned veterans-to Gaul-across-the-Alps, there to await the coming of the Germans.



But the Germans didn't come. While Marius occupied his troops in public works, Sulla and Sertorius disguised themselves as Gauls and went off to discover what the Germans meant to do. In 103 B.C. Marius was again elected consul. And due to the efforts of a tribune of the plebs, Lucius Appuleius Saturninus, Marius was elected consul for the fourth time in 102 B.C. It was in that year the Germans came-and just in time. Marius's senatorial enemies were preparing to oust him for good.



Thanks to some successful spying by Sulla and Sertorius, Marius had been warned of a startling German strategy, for the Germans had produced a thinking leader, King Boiorix. He split his colossal mass of people into three divisions and embarked upon a three-pronged invasion of Italy. One division, the Teutones, was to journey down the river Rhodanus (the Rhone) and enter Italy across the western Alps; another division, the Cimbri (led by Boiorix himself), was to invade central northern Italy through the alpine pass now known as the Brenner; the third division, motley in composition, was to cross the eastern Alps into Italy and advance toward modern Venice. Then all three divisions would unite to invade the Italian peninsula and conquer Rome.



Marius's consular colleague in the year 102 B.C. belonged by blood to the Caesars; his name was Quintus Lutatius Catulus Caesar, and he was a haughty aristocrat with an inflated idea of his own ability but no real military talent, as Marius knew.



Electing to remain where he was in the neighborhood of modern Aix-en-Provence to intercept the German Teutones, Marius was obliged to leave interception of the German Cimbri to Catulus Caesar (the third division of Germans gave up and went back to Germania long before they were due to cross the eastern Alps). Endowed with an army of twenty-four thousand men, Catulus Caesar was ordered by the Senate to march north to intercept the Cimbri. But Marius, not trusting him, sent Sulla to him to be his second-in-command; Sulla's orders were to do everything in his power to keep Catulus Caesar's precious troops alive despite the worst blunders Catulus Caesar might make.



In late summer of 102 B.C. the Teutones, fielding over one hundred thousand men, reached Marius's position; the strength of his army was about thirty-seven thousand men. In a battle conducted with genius, Marius slaughtered the undisciplined and unsophisticated Teutones; the survivors scattered and the threat to Italy from the west was no more.



However, at about the same moment as Marius was extirpating the Teutones, Catulus Caesar, Sulla and their small army had penetrated up the alpine valley of the Athesis (now the Adige) River. There they encountered the Cimbri, just emerged from the Brenner Pass. Because there was no room to maneuver the legions, Sulla insisted that Catulus Caesar retreat; Catulus Caesar adamantly refused. So Sulla instigated a mutiny and brought the army safely into the Po Valley, quartering it in Placentia (now Piacenza) while the two hundred thousand men of the Cimbri-together with their women, children and animals-overran the eastern Po Valley.



Elected consul for the fifth time thanks to his resounding victory over the Teutones, in 101 B.C. Marius brought the bulk of his army to northern Italy and combined it with the army of Catulus Caesar; the force now numbered fifty-four thousand men. And at the height of summer the final battle against the Germans was fought on the field of Vercellae near the foot of the western Alps. Boiorix was killed and the Cimbri annihilated. Marius had saved Italy and Rome from the Germans, who were to remain an utterly spent force for the next fifty years.



However, Metellus Numidicus, Scaurus Princeps Senatus, Catulus Caesar and the rest of Marius's enemies were no less his enemies because Marius was now being hailed the Third Founder of Rome and was able to get himself elected consul for the sixth time, in 100 B.C.



That year saw the turmoil shift from the battlefield to the Forum Romanum, which became the scene of bloody riots and frenzied political demagoguery. Marius's adherent Saturninus had managed (with the aid of his confederate Glaucia and the murder of a tribune of the plebs) to be elected a tribune of the plebs for the second time, and through this office (famous for its radicals and demagogues) sought to secure land grants for Marius's veteran soldiers of the Head Count.



This was the one bad thing about enlisting propertyless men in the legions; owning nothing and receiving little by way of pay, these men when Rome had finished with their military talents had to be rewarded. Marius had promised them grants of land-but not in Italy. His aim was to spread Roman culture and habits throughout the mushrooming empire of provinces (in which Rome owned great tracts of public land) by settling his Head Count soldier veterans abroad. In fact, the vexed question of granting Rome's public lands to veterans of the lower classes was ultimately to contribute enormously to the downfall of the Republic of Rome, for the Senate, shortsighted and antipathetic, consistently refused to co-operate with Rome's generals by willingly granting land. This meant that as time went on, these veterans of the Head Count were to find it expedient to adhere first to their generals (because their generals wanted to give them land) and only after that to Rome (because, embodied in the person of the Senate, Rome was reluctant to give them land).



Senatorial opposition to Saturninus's two land bills was obdurate and violent, though he did not entirely lack support among the upper classes. The first land bill succeeded, but the second land bill was passed only after Marius forced the members of the Senate to swear an oath to uphold it. Metellus Numidicus could not be persuaded to take this oath, and voluntarily went into exile after paying a huge fine-the penalty for not swearing.



But Scaurus Princeps Senatus had tricked the politically less talented Marius during the debates about the second land bill by making Marius admit there was a possibility that both of Saturninus's land bills were invalid. Until that moment totally loyal to Marius, Saturninus now turned against Marius as well as against the Senate, and began to plot the downfall of both.



Unfortunately for Marius, his health chose this moment to break down; a small stroke forced him to retire from political life for some months, during which Saturninus intrigued. The harvest was due to arrive in Rome in the autumn, but a Mediterranean-wide drought blighted it. For the fourth year in a row Rome's populace faced high grain prices and an acute lack of grain. This gave Saturninus his chance. He decided to become the First Man in Rome: not as consul but as tribune of the plebs, in which position he could control the huge masses of people who now gathered each day in the Forum Romanum to protest against the coming winter's privation. It was not the lowest classes Saturninus was wooing when he introduced his grain law to provide State-funded grain; he was actually wooing the merchants and trade guilds whose businesses were threatened because the lowest classes would not eat well. The votes of the lowest classes were worthless, but the votes of the merchants and trade guilds carried enough weight for him-with their support-to overthrow both the Senate and Gaius Marius.



More or less recovered from his stroke, Marius called a meeting of the Senate for the first day of December of 100 B.C. to see what could be done to stop Saturninus, who now planned to run for a third term as a tribune of the plebs, while his friend Glaucia ran for consul. Neither candidacy was precisely illegal, but both were highly disapproved of because they flouted custom.



Matters came to a head during the consular elections when Glaucia murdered another candidate. Marius convened the Senate, which passed its Ultimate Decree (a form of martial law); the Senate and its supporters went home to get their arms, and battle was joined in the Forum Romanum. Saturninus and Glaucia had thought that the lowest classes, threatened with starvation, would rise up in revolt. But the lowest classes were not willing to do so. Quietly they went home instead. Using Sulla as his right-hand man, Marius defeated the consequently limited forces Saturninus had at his disposal. Saturninus sought asylum in the temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus, but was forced to surrender when Sulla cut off the water supply to the Capitol.



Glaucia committed suicide, but Saturninus and the rest of his close friends were imprisoned in the Senate House until they could be tried for treason-a trial everybody in the Senate knew would fracture Rome's already tottering constitutional framework. Sulla solved the problem by secretly leading a small band of young aristocrats onto the roof of the Senate House, from which vantage point they killed Saturninus and his friends by bombarding them with tiles torn from the roof. Saturninus's grain law was repealed, but Marius-now fifty-seven years old-had to face the fact that his political career had ground to a halt. Consul six times, it seemed he would never fulfill the prophecy by being consul a seventh time. But Sulla hoped to be elected praetor in a year's time. He decided he would therefore have to withdraw from Marius, now politically odious, in order to preserve his own career.



During these ten years, the private lives and loves of Marius and Sulla fared differently.



Marius's marriage to Julia prospered. They had a son born in 109 B.C., their only child, who was called Young Marius. Old Caesar died, but not before he saw both his sons firmly placed for future political and military eminence. His younger son, Gaius, married a rich and beautiful daughter of the Famous Family Aurelius Cotta, one Aurelia, and sensibly the young couple took up residence in Aurelia's apartment house in the Subura, a district of Rome in evil repute. They had two girls, and finally in 100 B.C. a son (the great Caesar) who was of course, as Marius immediately recognized, the child of the prophecy-the greatest Roman of all time. Marius resolved that he would try to foil this part of his cherished foretelling.



Sulla's marriage to old Caesar's younger girl, Julilla, was not a happy one, mostly due to Julilla's febrile and overly dramatic nature. Two children were born of it, a daughter and a son. Loving Sulla obsessively, Julilla was aware she did not hold all of Sulla's heart, though she had no idea of his true sexual inclinations. Unhappiness prompted her to drink, and as time went on she became completely dependent upon her wine.



Then a rare event took place; the young Greek actor Metrobius came to visit Sulla in his house. Sight of Metrobius broke down Sulla's resolve never again to become physically involved with him. Unbeknownst to them, Julilla witnessed their lovemaking. And immediately committed suicide. Later on Sulla married a charming and childless widow of excellent family, one Aelia, to provide his children with a mother.



Scaurus Princeps Senatus had a son who was guilty of cowardice while serving with the army of Catulus Caesar in northern Italy. Disgusted, Scaurus disowned the young man, who committed suicide. Whereupon Scaurus, now close to sixty years of age, promptly married his son's fiancée, the seventeen-year-old daughter of Metellus Numidicus's older brother; she was known as Dalmatica. No one asked her what she thought of this union.



And young Marcus Livius Drusus, eminently aristocratic son of a famous man, in 105 B.C. arranged a double wedding; he married the sister of his best friend, the patrician Quintus Servilius Caepio, while Caepio married Drusus's sister, Livia Drusa. Drusus's union was childless, but Caepio and Livia Drusa produced two girls, the elder of whom, Servilia, was to grow up to be the mother of Brutus and the mistress of the great Caesar.



EVENTS CHRONICLED IN THE GRASS CROWN



The year is 98 B.C., almost two years after the events which closed The First Man in Rome-but two years of relative uneventfulness.



Sulla was absolutely bored by the charm and goodness of his second wife, Aelia, and plagued by his hunger for two other people-the young Greek actor Metrobius and the nineteen-year-old wife of Marcus Aemilius Scaurus Princeps Senatus, Dalmatica. But as ambition and a sense of destiny still ruled every other passion in Sulla, he steadfastly refused to see Metrobius or to begin an affair with Dalmatica.



Unfortunately Dalmatica was not so self-disciplined, and made a public spectacle of herself by advertising her unrequited love for Sulla. Scaurus, humiliated, demanded that Sulla quit Rome to stop the gossip, but deeming himself guiltless and Scaurus unreasonable, Sulla refused. He intended to seek election as praetor, which meant he had to stay in Rome. Well aware Sulla was innocent, old Scaurus nonetheless blocked his election as a praetor-and confined Dalmatica to her house.



Thwarted in his political career, Sulla decided to go to Nearer Spain as the legate of its warlike governor, Titus Didius. Scaurus had won. Before he left, Sulla made advances to Aurelia, wife of Gaius Julius Caesar, and was rejected; furious, he went to see Metellus Numidicus (just returned from exile) and murdered him. Far from blaming Sulla for his father's death, Metellus Pius the Piglet continued to admire and trust him.



The family Caesar was prospering. Both of old Caesar's sons, Sextus and Gaius, had advanced under Marius's patronage, though this meant Gaius was away from home most of the time. His wife, Aurelia, managed her apartment house and efficiently saw to the welfare and education of her two daughters and her precious little son, Young Caesar, who from a very early age demonstrated startling intelligence and ability. The one aspect of Aurelia which caused misgivings in all her relatives and friends was her liking for Sulla, who visited her because he admired her.



Still in political eclipse, Gaius Marius took his wife, Julia, and his son, Young Marius, on a long holiday to the east, there to visit various parts of Anatolia.



Having reached Cilician Tarsus, Marius learned that King Mithridates of Pontus had invaded Cappadocia, murdered its young monarch, and put one of his own many sons on its throne. Leaving wife and son in the care of nomads, Marius rode virtually alone for the Cappadocian capital, where fearlessly he confronted King Mithridates of Pontus.



Captious and cunning, Mithridates was a curious mixture of coward and hero, braggart and mouse; he commanded vast forces and had expanded his kingdom mightily at the expense of all his neighbors save Rome. By forging a marital alliance, Mithridates had arrived at complete agreement with Tigranes, the King of Armenia; the two kings planned to unite, defeat Rome, and end in ruling the world between them.



All of these vaunting plans disintegrated when Mithridates met Marius, a solitary figure who yet had the confidence to order the King of Pontus out of Cappadocia. Though he could have had Marius killed, instead Mithridates clipped his tail between his legs and took his army back to Pontus, while Marius rejoined his wife and son and resumed his holiday.



Matters in Italy were coming to a head. Rome was suzerain over the various semi-independent nations which made up the checkerboard of peninsular Italy. Her Italian Allies, as they were called, had long existed in an unequal partnership with Rome, and were well aware Rome considered them inferiors. They were called upon to provide and pay for soldiers whom Rome used in her foreign wars, yet Rome had ceased to reward the Italian Allies with gifts of the Roman citizenship, and denied Italians parity in trade, commerce, and all the other benefits accruing to full Roman citizens. The leaders of the various Italian peoples were now clamoring with increasing vigor and resolution for equal status with Rome.



Marcus Livius Drusus had a friend, Quintus Poppaedius Silo, who was an Italian of high estate; the leader of his people, the Marsi, Silo was determined to see all the Marsi become full Roman citizens. And Drusus sympathized with him. A great Roman aristocrat of enormous wealth and political clout, Drusus was sure that with his assistance the Italians would gain the longed-for franchise and equality.



But matters within Drusus's own family were to undermine Drusus's resolve. His sister, Livia Drusa, was unhappily married to Drusus's best friend, Quintus Servilius Caepio (Caepio had taken to physically abusing her); then she met Marcus Porcius Cato, fell in love with him, and began an affair. Already the mother of two girls, Livia Drusa became pregnant by Cato and bore a son who she managed to convince Caepio was his child. Then her eldest girl, Servilia, accused Livia Drusa of infidelity with Cato, and precipitated a family crisis. Caepio divorced Livia Drusa and disowned all three children; Drusus and his wife stood by her. Livia Drusa then married Cato and gave him two more children, Porcia and Young Cato (the future Cato Uticensis). While all this was going on, Drusus had struggled to convince the Senate of the justice of Italian claims to the citizenship, but after Livia Drusa's scandal he found his task far more difficult, thanks to Caepio's sudden and bitter enmity.



In 96 B.C. Drusus's wife died. In 93 B.C. Livia Drusa died. Her five children passed fully into Drusus's care. In 92 B.C. Cato died. Only the estranged Caepio and Drusus were left.



Though considered too old for the office, Drusus decided the only way to obtain equality for the Italians was to become a tribune of the plebs and coax the Plebeian Assembly into granting the franchise against obdurate opposition from the Senate. An impressively patient and intelligent man, he did very well. But some of the senatorial diehards (including Scaurus, Catulus Caesar and Caepio) were absolutely determined he would not succeed. On the very eve of victory, Drusus was assassinated in the atrium of his own house. The time was late in 91 B.C.



The five children of Livia Drusa plus his own adopted son, Drusus Nero, witnessed the horror of his lingering death. Only Caepio was left to those young people, but Caepio refused to have anything to do with them. So they passed into the care of Drusus's mother and his younger brother, Mamercus Aemilius Lepidus Livianus. In 90 B.C. Caepio died, and in 89 B.C. Drusus's mother died. Now only Mamercus remained. When his wife refused to shelter the children Mamercus was forced to leave them to grow up in Drusus's house. He put them in the charge of a spinster relative and her formidable mother.



Sulla had returned from Nearer Spain in time to be elected urban praetor for 93 B.C. In 92 B.C. (while Drusus struggled to bring about the franchise for all of Italy) Sulla was sent to the east to govern Cilicia. There he discovered that Mithridates, emboldened by five years of Roman inertia, had once again invaded Cappadocia. Sulla led his two legions of Cilician troops into Cappadocia, ensconced them inside a superbly fortified camp, and proceeded to run military rings around Mithridates, despite the King's overwhelming superiority in numbers. For the second time Mithridates was forced to look a solitary Roman in the eye and hear himself curtly ordered to go home. For the second time Mithridates clipped his tail between his legs and took his army back to Pontus.



But the son-in-law of Mithridates, King Tigranes of Armenia, was still at large and intent upon war. Sulla led his two legions to Armenia, becoming the first Roman to cross the Euphrates on a military mission. On the Tigris near Amida, Sulla found and warned Tigranes; then on the Euphrates at Zeugma he hosted a conference between himself, Tigranes and ambassadors from the King of the Parthians. A treaty was concluded whereby everything to the east of the Euphrates was to remain the concern of the Parthians and everything to the west of the Euphrates was to become the concern of Rome. Sulla was also the subject of a prophecy by a famous Chaldaean seer: he would be the greatest man between Oceanus Atlanticus and the Indus River, and would die at the height of his fame and prosperity.



With Sulla was his son by the dead Julilla. This boy- in his middle teens-was the light of Sulla's life. But after Sulla's return to Rome (where he found the Senate indifferent to his deeds and to his magnificent treaty), Young Sulla died tragically. The loss of the boy was a terrible blow to Sulla, who severed the last vestige of his relationship with the Caesars, except for his sporadic visits to Aurelia. On these visits he now encountered her son, Young Caesar, who impressed Sulla.



The Italian War broke out with a series of shattering defeats for Rome. At the beginning of 90 B.C. the consul Lucius Caesar took over the southern theater of war (in Campania), with Sulla as his senior legate. The northern theater (in Picenum and Etruria) was commanded by several men in turn, all of whom proved to be woefully inadequate.



Gaius Marius hungered to command the northern theater, but his enemies in the Senate were still too strong. He was forced to serve as a mere legate, and to suffer many indignities at the hands of his commanders. But one by one these commanders went down in defeat (and, as in the case of Caepio, died), while Marius plodded on training the troops, very raw and timorous. Waiting his chance. When it came he seized it immediately, and in association with Sulla (loaned to him) won for Rome the first significant victory of the war. Then on the day following this victory Marius suffered his second stroke-far worse than his first-and was forced to withdraw from the conflict. This rather pleased Sulla, for Marius refused to take Sulla seriously as a general, though Sulla generaled all the victories in the southern theater-always in the name of someone else.





In 89 B.C. the war took a better turn for Rome, especially in the southern theater. Sulla was awarded Rome's highest military decoration, the Grass Crown, by his troops before the city of Nola, and most of Campania and Apulia were subjugated. The two consuls of 89 B.C., Pompey Strabo and a Cato, fared very differently. Cato the Consul was murdered by Young Marius to avoid a military defeat; Marius procured his son's freedom by bribing the commander left in charge, Lucius Cornelius Cinna. Cinna, an honorable man despite this bribe, was to remain Marius's adherent ever after-and Sulla's enemy.



The senior consul of 89 B.C., Pompey Strabo, had a seventeen-year-old son, Pompey, who adored his father and insisted on fighting at his side. In 90 B.C. they had besieged the city of Asculum Picentum, wherein the first atrocity of the Italian War had taken place. With them was the seventeen-year-old Marcus Tullius Cicero, a most inept and unwilling warrior whom Pompey sheltered from his father's wrath-and contempt. Cicero was never afterward to forget Pompey's kindness, which dictated much of his political orientation. When Asculum Picentum fell in 89 B.C., Pompey Strabo executed every male inhabitant and banished every female and child with no more than the clothes they wore on their backs; the incident stood out in the annals of a terrible war.



But by 88 B.C., when Sulla was finally elected consul with a Quintus Pompeius Rufus as his colleague, Rome was victorious in the war against her Italian Allies. Not without yielding much she had gone to war to prevent: the Italians were-in name at least-given the full Roman franchise.



Sulla's daughter by Julilla, Cornelia Sulla, was very much in love with her cousin Young Marius, but Sulla forced her to marry the son of his colleague in the consulship; she bore this young man a girl, Pompeia (later the second wife of the great Caesar), and a boy.



Now ten years old, Young Caesar was sent by his mother to help his Uncle Marius recover from the effects of that maiming second stroke, and eagerly learned whatever he could from Marius about the art of war. Well aware of the prophecy, Marius's exposure to the boy only reinforced his determination to curtail Young Caesar's future military and political career.



Angered by an innocuous remark made by his boring wife Aelia, Sulla suddenly divorced her–for barrenness. Old Scaurus had died, so Sulla then married his widow, Dalmatica. Most of Rome censured Sulla for his conduct toward Aelia (who was much admired), but Sulla didn't care.



Knowing that Rome was fully occupied in her war against the Italian Allies, King Mithridates of Pontus invaded the Roman province of Asia in 88 B.C. and murdered every Roman and Italian man, woman and child living there. The death toll was eighty thousand, plus seventy thousand of their slaves.



When Rome heard the news of this mass slaughter, the Senate met to discuss who would lead an army to the east to deal with King Mithridates. Deeming himself recovered from his stroke, Marius shouted that the command against Mithridates must be given to him. A peremptory demand which the Senate wisely ignored. Instead, that body awarded the command to the senior consul, Sulla. An affront Marius did not forgive; Sulla now joined the list of his declared enemies.



Understanding that he was capable of defeating Mithridates, Sulla accepted the command with great content, and prepared to leave Italy. But the Treasury was empty and Sulla's funds far too slender, even after much public land around the Forum Romanum had been sold to pay for his army; the wealth Sulla needed to pay for his war was to come from plundering the temples of Greece and Epirus. Sulla's army was relatively tiny.



In that same year, 88 B.C., another tribune of the plebs of enduring fame arose-Sulpicius. A conservative man, he turned radical only after the King of Pontus slaughtered the inhabitants of Asia Province-because he realized that a foreign king had not made any distinction between a Roman and an Italian-he had killed both. Sulpicius decided the Senate was to blame for Rome's unwillingness to grant the full citizenship to all Italians, and decided the Senate would have to go. There could be no difference between a Roman and an Italian if a foreign king could find no difference. So Sulpicius proceeded to pass laws in the Plebeian Assembly which expelled so many men from the Senate that it could no longer form a quorum. With the Senate rendered impotent, Sulpicius then proceeded to boost the electoral and political power of the new Italian citizens. But all this took place amid bloody riots in the Forum Romanum, and the young husband of Sulla's daughter, Cornelia Sulla, was killed.



Riding high, Sulpicius then allied himself with Marius and got the Plebeian Assembly to pass another law-a law stripping the command in the war against Mithridates from Sulla and awarding it to Marius instead. Almost seventy years old and crippled by disease he might be, but Marius was not about to let anyone else go to war against Mithridates-especially Sulla.



Sulla was in Campania organizing his army when he heard of the new legislation and his own disqualification. He then made a momentous decision: he would march on Rome. Never in her six hundred years of existence had any Roman done that. But Sulla would. His officers refused to support him except for his loyal quaestor, Lucius Licinius Lucullus, but his soldiers were fervently on his side.



In Rome no one believed Sulla would dare to make war upon his own homeland, so when Sulla and his army arrived outside the city walls, panic ensued. Unable to lay their hands on professional soldiers, Marius and Sulpicius were forced to arm ex-gladiators and slaves to resist Sulla. Who entered the city, trounced the motley opposition, took over Rome, and drove Marius, Sulpicius, Old Brutus and a few other men into flight. Sulpicius was caught before he could leave Italy and beheaded. Marius, after a terrible ordeal in the town of Minturnae, succeeded with Young Marius and the others in reaching Africa, where after many adventures they sheltered among the veterans Marius had settled on Cercina.



As virtual owner of Rome, Sulla's worst act was to fix the head of Sulpicius on the rostra in the Forum Romanum in order to terrify (among others) Cinna into obedience. He repealed all of Sulpicius's laws and put laws of his own into effect. These laws were ultra-conservative, aimed at fully restoring the Senate and discouraging future tribunes of the plebs with radical ideas. Satisfied that he had done what he could to shore up traditional Republican government, Sulla finally departed for the east and the war against Mithridates in 87 B.C. But not before marrying his widowed daughter to Mamercus, brother of the dead Drusus and custodian of the orphaned children.



The exile of Marius, Young Marius, Old Brutus and their companions lasted about a year. Sulla had attempted one final measure to shore up his hastily drafted emergency constitution-he tried to have men loyal to himself elected consuls for 87 B.C. In the case of the senior consul, Gnaeus Octavius Ruso, he did succeed; but the pernickety electors returned Cinna as the junior consul, and Sulla knew this man belonged to Marius. So he tried to secure Cinna's loyalty to the new constitution by making him swear a sacred oath to uphold it- an oath Cinna nullified as he swore it by holding a stone in his hand.



As soon as Sulla had sailed for the east in spring of 87 B.C., strife broke out in Rome. Cinna abrogated his worthless oath and openly opposed Gnaeus Octavius and his ultra-conservative backers-men like Catulus Caesar, Publius Crassus, Lucius Caesar. Cinna was ejected from Rome and outlawed, but the ultra-conservatives failed to make military preparations. Cinna did not; he raised an army and laid siege to the city. Marius promptly returned from exile and landed in Etruria, where he too raised an army and marched to the aid of Cinna and his confederates Quintus Sertorius and Gnaeus Papirius Carbo.



The ultra-conservatives, desperate, sent to Pompey Strabo in Picenum and begged that he come to their rescue, as he had not disbanded his army of loyal vassals. Accompanied by his son Pompey, Pompey Strabo marched to Rome. But once he arrived there he did nothing to bring on a battle against Cinna, Marius, Carbo and Sertorius. All he did was to sit in a huge, insanitary camp outside the Colline Gate and antagonize the inhabitants of Rome's northern hills by polluting their water and causing a frightful epidemic of enteric fever.



The Siege of Rome ground on for some time, but eventually a battle took place between Pompey Strabo and Sertorius. It came to no conclusion, for Pompey Strabo fell ill with enteric fever and collapsed. Shortly afterward he died. Aided by his friend Cicero, young Pompey prepared to bury his father; but the people of the devastated northern hills of Rome stole the body, stripped it naked, tethered it behind an ass, and dragged it through their streets. After a frantic search Pompey and Cicero found it. The outraged Pompey then quit Rome to take his father's body and army back to Picenum.



Bereft of Pompey Strabo's army, Rome was incapable of further resistance, and surrendered to Cinna and Marius. Cinna entered the city at once. Whereas Marius refused to do so, stating that he was still officially an outlaw and would not move from the protection of his camp and soldiers until Cinna had not only repealed the decree of outlawry, but had succeeded in having Marius elected consul for the prophesied seventh time. Sertorius also refused to enter the city, but not because of events; the cousin of Marius, he had realized that Marius was mad, his brain eroded by that second stroke.



Understanding that every soldier would if pushed serve Marius ahead of himself, Cinna had no choice other than to see himself and Marius "elected" consuls for the year 86 B.C., now only days away. And on New Year's Day Marius entered Rome as consul for the seventh time; the prophecy was fulfilled. With him he brought five thousand ex-slaves fanatically devoted to his cause.



A bloodbath ensued, the like of which Rome had never seen. Quite demented, Marius ordered his ex-slaves to slaughter all his enemies and many of his friends; the rostra bristled with heads, including those of Catulus Caesar, Lucius Caesar, Caesar Strabo, Publius Crassus, and Gnaeus Octavius Ruso.



Gaius Julius Caesar, father of Young Caesar, returned to Rome in the midst of the carnage to find himself summoned to see Marius in the Forum Romanum. There he was informed by Marius that his thirteen-year-old son was to be made the flamen Dialis, the special priest of Jupiter Optimus Maximus, principal deity of Rome. For the crazed old man had found the perfect way to prevent Young Caesar from enjoying a political or military career. Young Caesar would never now surpass Gaius Marius in the annals of Rome. The flamen Dialis was forbidden to touch iron, ride a horse, handle a weapon or see the moment of death (as well as a host of other taboos); he could never fight on a battlefield or stand for election to curule executive office. Because at the moment of inauguration and consecration the flamen Dialis had to be married to another patrician, Marius ordered Cinna (a patrician) to give his seven-year-old younger daughter, Cinnilla, to Young Caesar as his wife. The two children were immediately married, after which Young Caesar was formally made flamen Dialis, and his wife Cinnilla flaminica Dialis.



Scant days into his seventh consulship, Gaius Marius was felled by a third and terminal stroke. He died on the thirteenth day of January. His cousin Sertorius then killed the huge band of ex-slaves, and the bloodbath was over. Cinna took a Valerius Flaccus as his consular colleague to replace Marius, and began the process of soothing a shaken Rome. Now flamen Dialis and a married boy, Young Caesar contemplated a dreary and disappointing future as the lifelong servant of Jupiter Optimus Maximus.



A CHRONICLE OF EVENTS BETWEEN 86 B.C. AND 83 B.C.



Finding his feet, Cinna took control of a much-reduced Senate; while he repealed some of Sulla's laws, he did not repeal all, and the Senate was allowed to continue to exist. Under his aegis, the Senate formally stripped the absent Sulla of his command against King Mithridates and authorized the other consul, Flaccus, to take four legions to the east and relieve Sulla. Flaccus's senior legate in this enterprise was Fimbria, a savage and undisciplined man who yet inspired affection in his soldiers.



But when Flaccus and Fimbria reached central Macedonia they decided not to turn south into Greece (where Sulla was lying with his army); instead they continued to march across Macedonia toward the Hellespont and Asia Minor. Quite unable to control Fimbria, Flaccus found himself subordinate to his subordinate. Quarreling and disaffected, they reached Byzantium, where the final and fatal falling-out took place. Flaccus was murdered and Fimbria assumed the command. He crossed into Asia Minor and commenced-very successfully-to war against King Mithridates.



Sulla had become bogged down in Greece, which had welcomed the generals and armies of Mithridates and now hosted a huge Mithridatic force. The city of Athens had defected, so Sulla besieged it; after bitter resistance it fell. Sulla then won two stunning victories around Lake Orchomenus in Boeotia.



His legate Lucullus had assembled a fleet and also inflicted defeats upon Pontus. Then Fimbria trapped Mithridates in Pitane and sent to Lucullus to help him capture the King by blockading the harbor. Haughtily Lucullus refused to work with a Roman he considered not legally appointed. The result was that Mithridates escaped via the sea.



By the summer of 85 B.C. Sulla had expelled the Pontic armies from Europe, and himself crossed into Asia Minor. On August (Sextilis) 5, the King of Pontus agreed to the Treaty of Dardanus, which required that he retire inside his own borders and stay there. Sulla also dealt with Fimbria, whom he pursued until Fimbria in despair committed suicide; forbidding Fimbria's troops ever to return to Italy, Sulla incorporated them into a standing army for use in Asia Province and Cilicia.



Sulla was very well aware that King Mithridates was by no means a spent force when he tendered the Treaty of Dardanus and obliged the King to retire. However, he was also aware that if he remained in the east much longer, he would lose all chance of regaining what he considered as his rightful position in Rome. His wife Dalmatica and his daughter Cornelia Sulla had been forced to flee to join him under the escort of Mamercus; his house had been looted and burned down; his property had been confiscated (except that Mamercus had managed to conceal most of it); and his status was now that of an outlaw stripped of Roman citizenship and under interdiction. As was true of his followers; many of the members of the Senate had also fled to join him, unwilling to live under Cinna's administration. Among the refugees were Appius Claudius Pulcher, Publius Servilius Vatia, and Marcus Licinius Crassus, the latter from Spain.



Thus Sulla had no choice but to turn his back on Mithridates and return to Rome; this he planned to do in 84 B.C., but a very serious illness compelled him to linger in Greece for a further year, fretting because his extended absence gave Cinna and his confederates more time to prepare for war. War there was bound to be-Italy was not big enough to contain two factions so obdurately opposed to each other-and so unwilling to forgive and forget for the sake of peace.



...



So too did Cinna and Cinna's Rome understand that war with Sulla on his return was inevitable. When Cinna learned of the death of his consular colleague, Flaccus, he took a new and much stronger man as junior consul, Gnaeus Papirius Carbo. Together with their pliant Senate, they decided that Sulla must be opposed before he reached Italy, still exhausted from the Italian War. With the object of stopping Sulla in western Macedonia before he could cross the Adriatic Sea, Cinna and Carbo began to recruit a huge army which they shipped to Illyricum, just to the north of western Macedonia.



But recruitment was slow, especially in the fief of the dead Pompey Strabo, Picenum. Thinking his personal attendance would attract more volunteers, Cinna himself journeyed to Ancona to supervise the enlistments. There Pompey Strabo's son Pompey paid Cinna a visit, apparently toying with the idea of joining up. However, he did not. Shortly afterward Cinna died in Ancona in circumstances shrouded with mystery. Carbo took over Rome and control of the Senate, but decided that Sulla would have to be allowed to land in Italy. The war against him would have to be fought on Italian soil after all. Back came the troops from Illyricum, and Carbo laid his plans. After securing the election of two tame consuls, Scipio Asiagenus and Gaius Norbanus, Carbo went to govern Italian Gaul, and placed himself and his section of the army in the port city of Ariminum.



The stage was set. Now read on....



Fortune’s Favorites



PART I



from APRIL 83 B.C. until DECEMBER 82 B.C.



1



Though the steward held his five-flamed lamp high enough to illuminate the two recumbent figures in the bed, he knew its light had not the power to waken Pompey. For this, he would need Pompey's wife. She stirred, frowned, turned her head away in an effort to remain asleep, but the vast house was murmuring beyond the open door, and the steward was calling her.



“Domina! Domina!



Even in confusion modest–servants did not make a habit of invading Pompey's bedchamber–Antistia made sure she was decently covered before she sat up.



"What is it? What's the matter?"



"An urgent message for the master. Wake him and tell him to come to the atrium," barked the steward rudely. The lamp flames dipped and smoked as he swung on his heel and left; the door closed, plunging her into darkness.



Oh, that vile man! He had done it deliberately! But she knew where her shift lay across the foot of the bed, drew it on, and shouted for a light.



Nothing woke Pompey. Provided with a lamp and a warm wrap, Antistia finally turned back to the bed to discover him slumbering still. Nor did he seem to feel the cold, lying on his back uncovered to the waist.



She had tried on other occasions-and for other reasons-to kiss him awake, but never could. Shakes and pummels it would have to be.



"What?" he asked, sitting up and running his hands through his thick yellow thatch; the quiff above his peaked hairline stood up alertly. So too were the blue eyes surveying her alert. That was Pompey: apparently dead one moment, wide awake the next. Both soldiers' habits. "What?" he asked again.



"There's an urgent message for you in the atrium."



But she hadn't managed to finish the sentence before he was on his feet and his feet were shoved into backless slippers and a tunic was falling carelessly off one freckled shoulder. Then he was gone, the door gaping behind him.



For a moment Antistia stood where she was, undecided. Her husband hadn't taken the lamp-he could see in the dark as well as any cat-so there was nothing to stop her following save her own knowledge that probably he wouldn't like it. Well, bother that! Wives were surely entitled to share news important enough to invade the master's sleep! So off she went with her little lamp barely showing her the way down that huge corridor flagged and walled with bare stone blocks. A turn here-a flight of steps there-and suddenly she was out of the forbidding Gallic fortress and into the civilized Roman villa, all pretty paint and plaster.



Lights blazed everywhere; the servants had busied themselves to some effect. And there was Pompey clad in no more than a tunic yet looking like the personification of Mars-oh, he was wonderful!



He might even have confided in her, for his eyes did take her presence in. But at the same moment Varro arrived in startled haste, and Antistia's chance to share personally in whatever was causing the excitement vanished.



"Varro, Varro!" Pompey shouted. Then he whooped, a shrill and eldritch sound with nothing Roman in it; just so had long-dead Gauls whooped as they spilled over the Alps and took whole chunks of Italy for their own, including Pompey's Picenum.



Antistia jumped, shivered. So, she noticed, did Varro.



"What is it?"



"Sulla has landed in Brundisium!"



"Brundisium! How do you know?"



"What does that matter?" demanded Pompey, crossing the mosaic floor to seize little Varro by both shoulders and shake him. "It's here, Varro! The adventure has begun!"



"Adventure?" Varro gaped. "Oh, Magnus, grow up! It's not an adventure, it's a civil war-and on Italian soil yet again!"



"I don't care!" cried Pompey. "To me, it's an adventure. If you only knew how much I've longed for this news, Varro! Since Sulla left, Italy has been as tame as a Vestal Virgin's lapdog!"



“What about the Siege of Rome?'' asked Varro through a yawn.



The happy excitement fled from Pompey's face, his hands fell; he stepped back and looked at Varro darkly. "I would prefer to forget the Siege of Rome!" he snapped. "They dragged my father's naked body tied to an ass through their wretched streets!"



Poor Varro flushed so deeply the color flooded into his balding pate. "Oh, Magnus, I do beg your pardon! I did not-I would not-I am your guest-please forgive me!"



But the mood was gone. Pompey laughed, clapped Varro on the back. "Oh, it wasn't your doing, I know that!"



The huge room was piercingly cold; Varro clasped his arms about his body. "I had better start for Rome at once."



Pompey stared. "Rome? You're not going to Rome, you're coming with me! What do you think will happen in Rome? A lot of sheep running around bleating, the old women in the Senate arguing for days-come with me, it will be much more fun!"



"And where do you think you're going?"



"To join Sulla, of course."



"You don't need me for that, Magnus. Climb on your horse and ride off. Sulla will be glad to find you a place among his junior military tribunes, I'm sure. You've seen a lot of action."



"Oh, Varro!" Flapping hands betrayed Pompey's exasperation. "I'm not going to join Sulla as a junior military tribune! I'm going to bring him three more legions! I, Sulla's lackey! Never! I intend to be his full partner in this enterprise."



This astounding announcement broke upon Pompey's wife as upon Pompey's friend and houseguest; aware that she had gasped, almost voiced her shock aloud, Antistia moved quickly to a place where Pompey's eyes would not encounter her. He had quite forgotten her presence and she wanted to hear. Needed to hear.



In the two and a half years she had been his wife, Pompey had left her side for more than a day on only one occasion. Oh, the loveliness of that! To enjoy his undivided attention! Tickled, chided, rumpled, ruffled, hugged, bitten, bruised, tumbled... Like a dream. Who could ever have imagined it? She, the daughter of a senator of mere middle rank and barely sufficient fortune, to find herself given in marriage to Gnaeus Pompeius who called himself Magnus! Rich enough to marry anyone, the lord of half Umbria and Picenum, so fair and handsome everyone thought he looked like a reincarnation of Alexander the Great-what a husband her father had found for her! And after several years of despairing that she would never find a suitable husband, so small was her dowry.



Naturally she had known why Pompey had married her; he had needed a great service from her father. Who happened to be the judge at Pompey's trial. That had been a trumped-up affair, of course-all of Rome had known it. But Cinna had desperately needed vast sums to fund his recruitment campaign, and young Pompey's wealth was going to provide those vast sums. For which reason had young Pompey been indicted upon charges more correctly directed at his dead father, Pompey Strabo-that he had illegally appropriated some of the spoils from the city of Asculum Picentum. Namely, one hunting net and some buckets of books. Trifling. The catch lay not in the magnitude of the offense, but in the fine; were Pompey to be convicted, Cinna's minions empaneled to decide the size of the penalty were at perfect liberty to fine him his entire fortune.



A more Roman man would have settled to fight the case in court and if necessary bribe the jury; but Pompey-whose very face proclaimed the Gaul in him-had preferred to marry the judge's daughter. The time of year had been October, so while November and December wore themselves away, Antistia's father had conducted his court with masterly inaction. The trial of his new son-in-law never really eventuated, delayed by inauspicious omens, accusations of corrupt jurors, meetings of the Senate, agues and plagues. With the result that in January, the consul Carbo had persuaded Cinna to look elsewhere for the money they so desperately needed. The threat to Pompey's fortune was no more.



Barely eighteen, Antistia had accompanied her dazzling marital prize to his estates in the northeast of the Italian peninsula, and there in the daunting black stone pile of the Pompey stronghold had plunged wholeheartedly into the delights of being Pompey's bride. Luckily she was a pretty little girl stuffed with dimples and curves, and just ripe for bed, so her happiness had been undiluted for quite a long time. And when the twinges of disquiet began to intrude, they came not from her adored Magnus but from his faithful retainers, servants and minor squires who not only looked down on her, but actually seemed to feel free to let her know they looked down on her. Not a great burden-as long as Pompey was close enough to come home at night. But now he was talking of going off to war, of raising legions and enlisting in Sulla's cause! Oh, what would she do without her adored Magnus to shield her from the slights of his people?



He was still trying to convince Varro that the only proper alternative was to go with him to join Sulla, but that prim and pedantic little fellow-so elderly in mind for one who had not been in the Senate more than two years!-was still resisting.



"How many troops has Sulla got?" Varro was asking.



"Five veteran legions, six thousand cavalry, a few volunteers from Macedonia and the Peloponnese, and five cohorts of Spaniards belonging to that dirty swindler, Marcus Crassus. About thirty-nine thousand altogether."



An answer which had Varro clawing at the air. "I say again, Magnus, grow up!" he cried. "I've just come from Ariminum, where Carbo is sitting with eight legions and a huge force of cavalry-and that is just the beginning! In Campania alone there are sixteen other legions! For three years Cinna and Carbo gathered troops-there are one hundred and fifty thousand men under arms in Italy and Italian Gaul! How can Sulla cope with such numbers?"



"Sulla will eat them," said Pompey, unimpressed. "Besides, I'm going to bring him three legions of my father's hardened veterans. Carbo's soldiers are milk-smeared recruits."



"You really are going to raise your own army?"



"I really am."



"Magnus, you're only twenty-two years old! You can't expect your father's veterans to enlist for you!"



"Why not?" asked Pompey, genuinely puzzled.



"For one thing, you're eight years too young to qualify for the Senate. You're twenty years away from the consulship. And even if your father's men would enlist under you, to ask them to do so is absolutely illegal. You're a private citizen, and private citizens don't raise armies."



"For over three years Rome's government has been illegal," Pompey countered. "Cinna consul four times, Carbo twice, Marcus Gratidianus twice the urban praetor, almost half the Senate outlawed, Appius Claudius banished with his imperium intact, Fimbria running round Asia Minor making deals with King Mithridates-the whole thing is a joke!"



Varro managed to look like a pompous mule-not so very difficult for a Sabine of the rosea rura, where mules abounded. "The matter must be solved constitutionally," he said.



That provoked Pompey to outright laughter. "Oh, Varro! I do indeed like you, but you are hopelessly unrealistic! If this matter could be solved constitutionally, why are there one hundred and fifty thousand soldiers in Italy and Italian Gaul?"



Again Varro clawed the air, but this time in defeat. "Oh, very well, then! I'll come with you."



Pompey beamed, threw his arm around Varro's shoulders and guided him in the direction of the corridor which led to his rooms. "Splendid, splendid! You'll be able to write the history of my first campaigns-you're a better stylist than your friend Sisenna. I am the most important man of our age, I deserve to have my own historian at my side."



But Varro had the last word. "You must be important! Why else would you have the gall-good pun, that!-to call yourself Magnus?" He snorted. "The Great! At twenty-two, The Great! The best your father could do was to call himself after his cross-eyes!"



A sally Pompey ignored, busy now with steward and armorer, issuing a stream of instructions.



And then finally the vividly painted and gilded atrium was empty save for Pompey. And Antistia. He came across to her.



"Silly little kitten, you'll catch a chill," he scolded, and kissed her fondly. "Back to bed, my honey cake."



"Can't I help you pack?" she asked, sounding desolate.



"My men will do that for me, but you can watch."



This time the way was lit by a servant bearing a massive chandelier; fitting herself into Pompey's side, Antistia (still clutching her own little lamp) walked with him to the room where all his war gear was stored. An imposing collection. Fully ten different cuirasses hung from T-shaped poles-gold, silver, steel, leather strapped with phalerae-and swords and helmets hung from pegs on the walls, as did kilts of leather straps and various kinds of padded underpinnings.



"Now stay there and be an absolutely darling little mouse," Pompey said as he lifted his wife like a feather and put her atop a couple of big chests, her feet dangling clear of the floor.





Where she was forgotten. Pompey and his menservants went through every item one by one-would it be useful, was it going to be necessary? Then when Pompey had ransacked the other trunks scattered around the room, he carelessly transferred his wife to a different perch in order to ransack her original seat, tossing this and that to the waiting slaves, talking away to himself so happily that Antistia could cherish no illusions he was going to miss his wife, his home, or civilian life. Of course she had always known that he regarded himself first and foremost as a soldier, that he despised the more customary pursuits of his peers-rhetoric, law, government, assemblies, the plots and ploys of politics. How many times had she heard him say he would vault himself into the consul's ivory chair on his spear, not on fine words and empty phrases? Now here he was putting his boast into practice, the soldier son of a soldier father going off to war.



The moment the last of the slaves had staggered away under armloads of equipment, Antistia slid off her trunk and went to stand in front of her husband.



"Before you go, Magnus, I must speak to you," she said.



Clearly this he regarded as a waste of his precious time, but he did pause. "Well, what is it?"



"How long are you going to be away?"



"Haven't the slightest idea," he said cheerfully.



"Months? A year?"



"Months, probably. Sulla will eat Carbo."



"Then I would like to return to Rome and live in my father's house while you're gone."



But he shook his head, clearly astonished at her proposal. "Not a chance!" he said. "I'm not having my wife running round Carbo's Rome while I'm with Sulla in the field against the selfsame Carbo. You'll stay here."



"Your servants and other people don't like me. If you're not here, it will go hard for me."



"Rubbish!" he said, turning away.



She detained him by stepping in front of him once more. "Oh, please, husband, spare me just a few moments of your time! I know it's a valuable commodity, but I am your wife."



He sighed. "All right, all right! But quickly, Antistia!"



"I can't stay here!"



"You can and you will." He moved from one foot to the other.



"When you're absent, Magnus-even for a few hours- your people are not kind to me. I have never complained because you are always kind to me, and you've been here except for the time you went to Ancona to see Cinna. But now- there is no other woman in your house, I will be utterly alone. It would be better if I returned to my father's house until the war is over, truly."



"Out of the question. Your father is Carbo's man."



"No, he is not. He is his own man."



Never before had she opposed him, or even stood up to him; Pompey's patience began to fray. "Look, Antistia, I have better things to do than stay here arguing with you. You're my wife, and that means you'll stay in my house."



"Where your steward sneers at me and leaves me in the dark, where I have no servants of my own and no one to keep me company," she said, trying to appear calm and reasonable, but beginning to panic underneath.



"That's absolute rubbish!"



"It is not, Magnus. It is not! I don't know why everyone looks down on me, but everyone does."



"Well, of course they do!" he said, surprised at her denseness.



Her eyes widened. "Of course they look down on me? What do you mean, of course?"



He shrugged. "My mother was a Lucilia. So was my grandmother. And what are you?"



"That is a very good question. What am I?"



He could see she was angry, and it angered him. Women! Here he was with his first big war on his hands, and this creature of no significance was determined to stage her own drama! Did women have no sense at all? "You're my first wife," he said.



"First wife?"



"A temporary measure."



"Oh, I see!" She looked thoughtful. "A temporary measure. The judge's daughter, I suppose you mean."



"Well, you've always known that."



"But it was a long time ago, I thought it had passed, I thought you loved me. My family is senatorial, I'm not inappropriate."



"For an ordinary man, no. But you're not good enough for me.''



"Oh, Magnus, where do you get your conceit from? Is that why you have never once finished yourself inside me? Because I'm not good enough to bear your children?"



"Yes!" he shouted, starting to leave the room.



She followed him with her little lamp, too angry now to care who heard. "I was good enough to get you off when Cinna was after your money!"



"We've already established that," he said, hurrying.



"How convenient for you then, that Cinna is dead!"



"Convenient for Rome and all good Romans."



"You had Cinna murdered!"



The words echoed down the stone corridor that was big enough to allow the passage of an army; Pompey stopped.



"Cinna died in a drunken brawl with some reluctant recruits."



"In Ancona-your town, Magnus! Your town! And right after you had been there to see him!" she cried.



One moment she was standing in possession of herself, the next she was pinned against the wall with Pompey's hands about her throat. Not squeezing. Just about her throat.



"Never say that again, woman," he said softly.



"It's what my father says!" she managed, mouth dry.



The hands tightened ever so slightly. "Your father didn't like Cinna much. But he doesn't mind Carbo in the least, which is why it would give me great pleasure to kill him. But it won't give me any pleasure to kill you. I don't kill women. Keep your tongue behind your teeth, Antistia. Cinna's death had nothing to do with me, it was a simple accident."



"I want to go to my father and mother in Rome!"



Pompey released her, gave her a shove. "The answer is no. Now leave me alone!"



He was gone, calling for the steward; in the distance she could hear him telling that abominable man that she was not to be allowed to leave the precincts of the Pompey fortress once he was off to his war. Trembling, Antistia returned slowly to the bedroom she had shared with Pompey for two and a half years as his first wife-a temporary expedient. Not good enough to bear his children. Why hadn't she guessed that, when she had wondered many times why he always withdrew, always left a slimy puddle for her to clean off her belly?



The tears were beginning to gather. Soon they would fall, and once they did she would not be able to stop them for hours. Disillusionment before love has lost its keenest edge is terrible.



There came another of those chilling barbarian whoops, and faintly Pompey's voice: "I'm off to war, I'm off to war! Sulla has landed in Italy, and it's war!"



2



Dawn had scarcely broken when Pompey, clad in glittering silver armor and flanked by his eighteen-year-old brother and by Varro, led a little party of clerks and scribes into the marketplace of Auximum. There he planted his father's standard in the middle of its open space and waited with ill-concealed impatience until his secretariat had assembled itself behind a series of trestle tables, sheets of paper at the ready, reed pens sharpened, cakes of ink dissolved in heavy stone wells.



By the time all this was done, the crowd had gathered so thickly that it spilled out of the square into the streets and lanes converging upon it. Light and lithe, Pompey leaped onto a makeshift podium beneath Pompey Strabo's woodpecker standard.



"Well, it's come!" he shouted. "Lucius Cornelius Sulla has landed in Brundisium to claim what is rightfully his-an uninterrupted imperium, a triumph, the privilege of depositing his laurels at the feet of Jupiter Optimus Maximus inside the Capitol of Rome! At just about this time last year, the other Lucius Cornelius-he cognominated Cinna-was not far away from here trying to enlist my father's veterans in his cause. He did not succeed. Instead, he died. Today you see me. And today I see many of my father's veterans standing before me. I am my father's heir! His men are my men. His past is my future. I am going to Brundisium to fight for Sulla, for he is in the right of it. How many of you will come with me?''



Short and simple, thought Varro, lost in admiration. Maybe the young man was correct about vaulting into the consul's curule chair on his spear rather than on a wave of words. Certainly no face he could discern in that crowd seemed to find Pompey's speech lacking. No sooner had he finished than the women began to drift away clucking about the imminent absence of husbands and sons, some wringing their hands at the thought, some already engrossed in the practicalities of filling kit bags with spare tunics and socks, some looking studiously at the ground to hide sly smiles. Pushing excited children out of the way with mock slaps and kicks, the men shoved forward to cluster about those trestle tables. Within moments, Pompey's clerks were scribbling strenuously.



From a nice vantage spot high on the steps of Auximum's old temple of Picus, Varro sat and watched the activity. Had they ever volunteered so lightheartedly for cross-eyed Pompey Strabo's campaigns? he wondered. Probably not. That one had been the lord, a hard man but a fine commander; they would have served him with goodwill but sober faces. For the son, it was clearly different. I am looking at a phenomenon, Varro thought. The Myrmidons could not have gone more happily to fight for Achilles, nor the Macedonians for Alexander the Great. They love him! He's their darling, their mascot, their child as much as their father.



A vast bulk deposited itself on the step next to him, and Varro turned his head to see a red face topped by red hair; a pair of intelligent blue eyes were busy assessing him, the only stranger present.



"And who might you be?" asked the ruddy giant.



"My name is Marcus Terentius Varro, and I'm a Sabine."



"Like us, eh? Well, a long time ago, at any rate." A horny paw waved in the direction of Pompey. “Look at him, will you? Oh, we've been waiting for this day, Marcus Terentius Varro the Sabine! Be he not the Goddess's honeypot?"



Varro smiled. "I'm not sure I'd choose that way of putting it, but I do see what you mean."



"Ah! You're not only a gentleman with three names, you're a learned gentleman! A friend of his, might you be?"



"I might be."



"And what might you do for a crust, eh?"



"In Rome, I'm a senator. But in Reate, I breed mares."



"What, not mules?"



"It's better to breed the mares than their mule offspring. I have a little bit of the rosea rura, and a few stud donkeys too.''



“How old might you be?''



"Thirty-two," said Varro, enjoying himself immensely.



But suddenly the questions ceased; Varro's interlocutor disposed himself more comfortably by resting one elbow on the step above him and stretching out a Herculean pair of legs to cross his ankles. Fascinated, the diminutive Varro eyed grubby toes almost as large as his own fingers.



"And what might your name be?" he asked, falling into the local vernacular quite naturally.



"Quintus Scaptius."



"Might you have enlisted?"



"All Hannibal's elephants couldn't stop me!"



"Might you be a veteran?"



"Joined his daddy's army when I was seventeen. That was eight years ago, but I've already served in twelve campaigns, so I don't have to join up anymore unless I might want to," said Quintus Scaptius.



"But you did want to."



"Hannibal's elephants, Marcus Terentius, Hannibal's elephants!"



“Might you be of centurion rank?''



"I might be for this campaign."



While they talked, Varro and Scaptius kept their eyes on Pompey, who stood just in front of the middle table joyfully hailing this man or that among the throng.



"He says he'll march before this moon has run her course," Varro observed, "but I fail to see how. I admit none of these men here today will need much if any training, but where's he going to get enough arms and armor? Or pack animals? Or wagons and oxen? Or food? And what will he do for money to keep his great enterprise going?''



Scaptius grunted, apparently an indication of amusement. "He does not need to worry about any of that! His daddy gave each of us our arms and armor at the start of the war against the Italians; then after his daddy died, the boy told us to hang on to them. We each got a mule, and the centurions got the carts and oxen. So we'd be ready against the day. You'll never catch the Pompeii napping! There's wheat enough in our granaries and lots of other food in our storehouses. Our women and children won't go hungry because we're eating well on campaign."



"And what about money?" asked Varro gently.



"Money?" Scaptius dismissed this necessity with a sniff of contempt. "We served his daddy without seeing much of it, and that's the truth. Wasn't any to be had in those days. When he's got it, he'll give it to us. When he hasn't got it, we'll do without. He's a good master."



"So I see."



Lapsing into silence, Varro studied Pompey with fresh interest. Everyone told tales about the legendary independence of Pompey Strabo during the Italian War: how he had kept his legions together long after he was ordered to disband them, and how he had directly altered the course of events in Rome because he had not disbanded them. No massive wage bills had ever turned up on the Treasury's books when Cinna had them audited after the death of Gaius Marius; now Varro knew why. Pompey Strabo hadn't bothered to pay his troops. Why should he, when he virtually owned them?



At this moment Pompey left his post to stroll across to Picus's temple steps.



"I'm off to find a campsite," he said to Varro, then gave the Hercules sitting next to Varro a huge grin. "Got in early, I see, Scaptius."



Scaptius lumbered to his feet. "Yes, Magnus. I'd best be getting home to dig out my gear, eh?"



So everyone called him Magnus! Varro too rose. "I'll ride with you, Magnus."



The crowd was dwindling, and women were beginning to come back into the marketplace; a few merchants, hitherto thwarted, were busy putting up their booths, slaves rushing to stock them. Loads of dirty washing were dropped on the paving around the big fountain in front of the local shrine to the Lares, and one or two girls hitched up their skirts to climb into the shallow water. How typical this town is, thought Varro, walking a little behind Pompey: sunshine and dust, a few good shady trees, the purr of insects, a sense of timeless purpose, wrinkled winter apples, busy folk who all know far too much about each other. There are no secrets here in Auximum!



"These men are a fierce lot," he said to Pompey as they left the marketplace to find their horses.



"They're Sabines, Varro, just like you," said Pompey, "even if they did come east of the Apennines centuries ago."



"Not quite like me!" Varro allowed himself to be tossed into the saddle by one of Pompey's grooms. "I may be a Sabine, but I'm not by nature or training a soldier."



"You did your stint in the Italian War, surely."



"Yes, of course. And served in my ten campaigns. How quickly they mounted up during that conflagration! But I haven't thought of a sword or a suit of chain mail since it ended.''



Pompey laughed. "You sound like my friend Cicero."



"Marcus Tullius Cicero? The legal prodigy?"



"That's him, yes. Hated war. Didn't have the stomach for it, which my father didn't understand. But he was a good fellow all the same, liked to do what I didn't like to do. So between us we kept my father mighty pleased without telling him too much." Pompey sighed. "After Asculum Picentum fell he insisted on going off to serve under Sulla in Campania. I missed him!"



In two market intervals of eight days each Pompey had his three legions of veteran volunteers camped inside well-fortified ramparts some five miles from Auximum on the banks of a tributary of the Aesis River. His sanitary dispositions within his camp were faultless, and care of them rigidly policed. Pompey Strabo had been a more typical product of his rural origins, had known only one way to deal with wells, cesspits, latrines, rubbish disposal, drainage: when the stink became unbearable, move on. Which was why he had died of fever outside Rome's Colline Gate, and why the people of the Quirinal and Viminal, their springs polluted from his wastes, had done such insult to his body.



Growing ever more fascinated, Varro watched the evolution of his young friend's army, and marveled at the absolute genius Pompey showed for organization, logistics. No detail, regardless how minute, was overlooked; yet at the same time the enormous undertakings were executed with the speed only superb efficiency permitted. I have been absorbed into the very small private circle of a true phenomenon, he thought: he will change the way our world is, he will change the way we see our world. There is not one single iota of fear in him, nor one hairline crack in his self-confidence.



However, Varro reminded himself, others too have shaped equally well before the turmoil begins. What will he be like when he has his enterprise running, when opposition crowds him round, when he faces-no, not Carbo or Sertorius-when he faces Sulla? That will be the real test! Same side or not, the relationship between the old bull and the young bull will decide the young bull's future. Will he bend? Can he bend? Oh, what does the future hold for someone so young, so sure of himself? Is there any force or man in the world capable of breaking him?



Definitely Pompey did not think there was. Though he was not mystical, he had created a spiritual environment for himself that fitted certain instincts he cherished about his nature. For instance, there were qualities he knew he owned rather than possessed-invincibility, invulnerability, inviolability-for since they were outside him as much as inside, ownership seemed more correct than possession. It was just as if, while some godly ichor coursed through him, some godly miasma wrapped him round as well. Almost from infancy he had lived within the most colossal daydreams; in his mind he had generated ten thousand battles, ridden in the antique victor's chariot of a hundred triumphs, stood time and time again like Jupiter come to earth while Rome bowed down to worship him, the greatest man who had ever lived.



Where Pompey the dreamer differed from all others of that sort was in the quality of his contact with reality-he saw the actual world with hard and sharp acuity, never missed possibility or probability, fastened his mind leechlike upon facts the size of mountains, facts as diminutive as one drop of clearest water. Thus the colossal daydreams were a mental anvil upon which he hammered out the shape of the real days, tempered and annealed them into the exact framework of his actual life.



So he got his men into their centuries, their cohorts, their legions; he drilled them and inspected their accoutrements; he culled the too elderly from his pack animals and sounded blows on the axles of his wagons, rocked them, had them driven fast through the rough ford below his camp. Everything would be perfect because nothing could be allowed to happen that would show him up as less than perfect himself.



Twelve days after Pompey had begun to assemble his troops, word came from Brundisium. Sulla was marching up the Via Appia amid scenes of hysterical welcome in every hamlet, village, town, city. But before Sulla left, the messenger told Pompey, he had called his army together and asked it to swear an oath of personal allegiance to him. If those in Rome had ever doubted Sulla's determination to extricate himself from any threat of future prosecutions for high treason, the fact that his army swore to uphold him-even against the government of Rome-told all men that war was now inevitable.



And then, Pompey's messenger had gone on to say, Sulla's soldiers had come to him and offered him all their money so that he could pay for every grain of wheat and leaf of vegetable and seed of fruit as he moved through the heartland of Calabria and Apulia; they would have no dark looks to spoil their general's luck, they would have no trampled fields, dead shepherds, violated women, starving children. All would be as Sulla wanted it; he could pay them back later, when he was master of the whole of Italy as well as Rome.



The news that the southern parts of the peninsula were very glad to welcome Sulla did not quite please Pompey, who had hoped that by the time he reached Sulla with his three legions of hardened veterans, Sulla would be in sufficient trouble to need him. However, that was clearly not to be; Pompey shrugged and adapted his plans to the situation as it had been reported to him.



"We'll march down our coast to Buca, then head inland for Beneventum," he said to his three chief centurions, who were commanding his three legions. By rights these jobs should have gone to high-born military tribunes, whom he could have found had he tried. But high-born military tribunes would have questioned Pompey's right to general his army, so Pompey had preferred to choose his subordinates from among his own people, much though certain high-born Romans might have deplored it had they known.



"When do we move?" asked Varro, since no one else would.



"Eight days before the end of April," said Pompey.



Then Carbo entered the scene, and Pompey had to change his plans yet again.



From the western Alps the straight line of the Via Aemilia bisected Italian Gaul all the way to the Adriatic Sea at Ariminum; from Ariminum another excellent road skirted the coast to Fanum Fortunae, where began the Via Flaminia to Rome. This gave Ariminum a strategic importance only equaled by Arretium, which dominated access to Rome west of the Apennines.



It was therefore logical that Gnaeus Papirius Carbo- twice consul of Rome and now governor of Italian Gaul- should put himself, his eight legions and his cavalry into camp on the fringes of Ariminum. From this base he could move in three directions: along the Via Aemilia through Italian Gaul toward the western Alps; along the Adriatic coast in the direction of Brundisium; and along the Via Flaminia to Rome.



For eighteen months he had known Sulla would come, and that of course would be Brundisium. But too many men still lingered in Rome who might when the time came side with Sulla, though they declared themselves completely neutral; they were all men with the political clout to overthrow the present government, which made Rome a necessary target. And Carbo also knew that Metellus Pius the Piglet had gone to earth in Liguria, bordering the western Alps of Italian Gaul; with Metellus Pius were two good legions he had taken with him out of Africa Province after Carbo's adherents had ejected him from Africa. The moment the Piglet heard that Sulla had landed, Carbo was certain he would march to join Sulla, and that made Italian Gaul vulnerable too.



Of course there were the sixteen legions sitting in Campania, and these were much closer to Brundisium than Carbo in Ariminum; but how reliable were the consuls of this year, Norbanus and Scipio Asiagenus? Carbo couldn't be sure, with his own iron will removed from Rome herself. At the end of last year he had been convinced of two things: that Sulla would come in the spring, and that Rome would be more inclined to oppose Sulla if Carbo himself were absent from Rome. So he had ensured the election of two staunch followers in Norbanus and Scipio Asiagenus and then given himself the governorship of Italian Gaul in order to keep an eye on things and be in a position to act the moment it became necessary. His choice of consuls had been-in theory anyway-good, for neither Norbanus nor Scipio Asiagenus could hope for mercy from Sulla. Norbanus was a client of Gaius Marius's, and Scipio Asiagenus had disguised himself as a slave to escape from Aesernia during the Italian War, an action which had disgusted Sulla. Yet were they strong enough? Would they use their sixteen legions like born generals, or would they miss their chances? Carbo just didn't know.




On one thing he had not counted. That Pompey Strabo's heir, mere boy that he was, would have the audacity to raise three full legions of his father's veterans and march them to join Sulla! Not that Carbo took the young man seriously. It was those three legions of veterans that worried Carbo. Once they reached Sulla, Sulla would use them brilliantly.



It was Carbo's quaestor, the excellent Gaius Verres, who had brought the news to Carbo of Pompey's projected expedition.



"The boy will have to be stopped before he can start," said Carbo, frowning. "Oh, what a nuisance! I'll just have to hope that Metellus Pius doesn't move out of Liguria while I'm dealing with young Pompeius, and that the consuls can cope with Sulla."



"It won't take long to deal with young Pompeius," said Gaius Verres, tone confident.



"I agree, but that doesn't make him less of a nuisance," said Carbo. "Send my legates to me now, would you?"



Carbo's legates proved difficult to locate; Verres chased from one part of the gigantic camp to another for a length of time he knew would not please Carbo. Many things occupied his mind while he searched, none of them related to the activities of Pompey Strabo's heir, young Pompeius. No, what preyed upon the mind of Gaius Verres was Sulla. Though he had never met Sulla (there was no reason why he ought, since his father was a humble backbencher senator, and his own service during the Italian War had been with Gaius Marius and then Cinna), he remembered the look of Sulla as he had walked in the procession going to his inauguration as consul, and had been profoundly impressed. As he was not martial by nature, it had never occurred to Verres to join Sulla's expedition to the east, nor had he found the Rome of Cinna and Carbo an unendurable place. Verres liked to be where the money was, for he had expensive tastes in art and very high ambitions. Yet now, as he chased Carbo's senior legates, he was beginning to wonder if it might not be time to change sides.



Strictly speaking, Gaius Verres was proquaestor rather than quaestor; his official stint as quaestor had ended with the old year. That he was still in the job was due to Carbo, whose personal appointee he had been, and who declared himself so well satisfied that he wanted Verres with him when he went to govern Italian Gaul. And as the quaestor's function was to handle his superior's money and accounts, Gaius Verres had applied to the Treasury and received on Carbo's behalf the sum of 2,235,417 sesterces; this stipend, totted up with due attention to every last sestertius (witness those 417 of them!), was intended to cover Carbo's expenses-to pay his legions, victual his legions, assure a proper life-style for himself, his legates, his servants and his quaestor, and defray the cost of a thousand and one minor items not able to be classified under any of the above.



Though April was not yet done, something over a million and a half sesterces had already been swallowed up, which meant that Carbo would have to ask the Treasury for more before too long. His legates lived extremely well, and Carbo himself had long grown used to having Rome's public resources at his fingertips. Not to mention Gaius Verres; he too had stickied his hands in a pot of honey before dipping them deeply into the moneybags. Until now he had kept his peculations unobtrusive, but, he decided with fresh insight into his present position, there was no point in being subtle any longer! As soon as Carbo's back was turned to deal with Pompey's three legions, Gaius Verres would be gone. Time to change sides.



And so indeed Gaius Verres went. Carbo took four of his legions-but no cavalry-the following dawn to deal with Pompey Strabo's heir, and the sun was not very high when Gaius Verres too departed. He was quite alone save for his own servants, and he did not follow Carbo south; he went to Ariminum, where Carbo's funds lay in the vaults of a local banker. Only two persons had the authority to withdraw it: the governor, Carbo, and his quaestor, Verres. Having hired twelve mules, Verres removed a total of forty-eight half-talent leather bags of Carbo's money from the banker's custody, and loaded them upon his mules. He did not even have to offer an excuse; word of Sulla's landing had already flown around Ariminum faster than a summer storm, and the banker knew Carbo was on the march with half his infantry.



Long before noon, Gaius Verres had escaped the neighborhood with six hundred thousand sesterces of Carbo's official allowance, bound via the back roads first for his own estates in the upper Tiber valley, and then-the lighter of twenty-four talents of silver coins-for wherever he might find Sulla.



Oblivious to the fact that his quaestor had decamped, Carbo himself went down the Adriatic coast toward Pompey's position near the Aesis. His mood was so sanguine that he did not move with speed, nor did he take special precautions to conceal his advent. This was going to be a good exercise for his largely unblooded troops, nothing more. No matter how formidable three legions of Pompey Strabo's veterans might sound, Carbo was quite experienced enough to understand that no army can do better than its general permits it to. Their general was a kid! To deal with them would therefore be child's play.



When word of Carbo's approach was brought to him, Pompey whooped with joy and assembled his soldiers at once.



"We don't even have to move from our own lands to fight our first battle!" he shouted to them. "Carbo himself is coming down from Ariminum to deal with us, and he's already lost the fight! Why? Because he knows I'm in command! You, he respects. Me, he doesn't. You'd think he'd realize The Butcher's son would know how to chop up bones and slice meat, but Carbo is a fool! He thinks The Butcher's son is too pretty and precious to bloody his hands at his father's trade! Well, he's wrong! You know that, and I know that. So let's teach it to Carbo!"



Teach it to Carbo they did. His four legions came down to the Aesis in a fashion orderly enough, and waited in disciplined ranks for the scouts to test the river crossing, swollen from the spring thaw in the Apennines. Not far beyond the ford, Carbo knew Pompey still lay in his camp, but such was his contempt that it never occurred to him Pompey might be in his own vicinity.



Having split his forces and sent half across the Aesis well before Carbo arrived, Pompey fell on Carbo at the moment when two of his legions had made the crossing, and two were about to do so. Both jaws of his pincer attacked simultaneously from out of some trees on either bank, and carried all before them. They fought to prove a point-that The Butcher's son knew his trade even better than his father had. Doomed by his role as the general to remain on the south bank of the river, Pompey couldn't do what he most yearned to do-go after Carbo in person. Generals, his father had told him many times, must never put the base camp out of reach in case the battle didn't develop as planned and a swift retreat became necessary. So Pompey had to watch Carbo and his legate Lucius Quinctius rally the two legions left on their bank of the Aesis, and flee back toward Ariminum. Of those on Pompey's bank, none survived. The Butcher's son did indeed know the family trade, and crowed jubilantly.



Now it was time to march for Sulla!



Two days later, riding a big white horse which he said was the Pompeius family's Public Horse–so called because the State provided it-Pompey led his three legions into lands fiercely anti-Rome a few short years earlier. Picentines of the south, Vestini, Marrucini, Frentani, all peoples who had struggled to free the Italian Allied states from their long subjection to Rome. That they had lost was largely due to the man Pompey marched to join-Lucius Cornelius Sulla. Yet no one tried to impede the army's progress, and some in fact came asking to enlist. Word of his defeat of Carbo had outstripped Pompey, and they were martial peoples. If the fight for Italia was lost, there were other causes; the general feeling seemed to be that it was better to side with Sulla than with Carbo.



Everyone's spirits were high as the little army left the coast at Buca and headed on a fairly good road for Larinum in central Apulia. Two eight-day market intervals had gone by when Pompey's eighteen thousand veteran soldiers reached it, a thriving small city in the midst of rich agricultural and pastoral country; no one of importance in Larinum was missing from the delegation which welcomed Pompey-and sped him onward with subtle pressure.



His next battle lay not three miles beyond the town. Carbo had wasted no time in sending a warning to Rome about The Butcher's son and his three legions of veterans, and Rome had wasted no time in seeking to prevent amalgamation between Pompey and Sulla. Two of the Campanian legions under the command of Gaius Albius Carrinas were dispatched to block Pompey's progress, and encountered Pompey while both sides were on the march. The engagement was sharp, vicious, and quite decisive; Carrinas stayed only long enough to see that he stood no chance to win, then beat a hasty retreat with his men reasonably intact-and greater respect for The Butcher's son.



By this time Pompey's soldiers were so settled and secure that the miles swung by under their hobnailed, thick-soled caligae as if no effort was involved; they had passed into their third hundred of these miles with no more than a mouthful or two of sour weak wine to mark the event. Saepinum was reached, a smaller place than Larinum, and Pompey had news that Sulla was now not far away, camped outside Beneventum on the Via Appia.



But first another battle had to be fought. Lucius Junius Brutus Damasippus, brother of Pompey Strabo's old friend and senior legate, tried to ambush the son in a small section of rugged country between Saepinum and Sirpium. Pompey's overweening confidence in his ability seemed not to be misplaced; his scouts discovered where Brutus Damasippus and his two legions were concealed, and it was Pompey who fell upon Brutus Damasippus without warning. Several hundred of Brutus Damasippus's men died before he managed to extricate himself from a difficult position, and fled in the direction of Bovianum.



After none of his three battles had Pompey attempted to pursue his foes, but not for the reasons men like Varro and the three primus pilus centurions assumed; the facts that he didn't know the lay of the land, nor could be sure that these were not diversions aimed at luring him into the arms of a far bigger force, did not so much as intrude into Pompey's thoughts. For Pompey's mind was obsessed to the exclusion of all else with the coming meeting between himself and Lucius Cornelius Sulla.



Visions of it unrolled before his sightless dreaming eyes like a moving pageant-two godlike men with hair of flame and faces both strong and beautiful uncoiled from their saddles with the grace and power of giant cats and walked with measured stately steps toward each other down the middle of an empty road, its sides thronged with every traveler and every last inhabitant of the countryside, an army behind each of these magnificent men, and every pair of eyes riveted upon them. Zeus striding to meet Jupiter. Ares striding to meet Mars. Hercules striding to meet Milo. Achilles striding to meet Hector. Yes, it would be hymned down the ages so loudly that it would put Aeneas and Turnus to shame! The first encounter between the two colossi of this world, the two suns in its sky-and while the setting sun was still hot and still strong, its course was nearing an end. Ah! But the rising sun! Hot and strong already, yet with all the soaring vault before it in which to grow ever hotter, ever stronger. Thought Pompey exultantly, Sulla's sun is westering! Whereas mine is barely above the eastern horizon.



He sent Varro ahead to present his compliments to Sulla and to give Sulla an account of his progress from Auximum, the tally of those he had killed, the names of the generals he had defeated. And to ask that Sulla himself venture down the road to meet him so that everyone could witness his coming in peace to offer himself and his troops to the greatest man of this age. He didn't ask Varro to add, "or of any other age"- that he was not prepared to admit, even in a flowery greeting.



Every detail of this meeting had been fantasized a thousand times, even down to what Pompey felt he ought to wear. In the first few hundred passes he had seen himself clad from head to foot in gold plate; then doubt began to gnaw, and he decided golden armor was too ostentatious, might be labeled crass. So for the next few hundred passes he saw himself clad in a plain white toga, shorn of all military connotations and with the narrow purple stripe of the knight slicing down the right shoulder of his tunic; then doubt gnawed again, and he worried that the white toga would merge into the white horse to produce an amorphous blob. The final few hundred passes saw him in the silver armor his father had presented to him after the siege of Asculum Picentum had concluded; doubt did not gnaw at all, so he liked that image of self best.



Yet when his groom assisted him into the saddle of his big white Public Horse, Gnaeus Pompeius (Magnus) was wearing the very plainest of steel cuirasses, the leather straps of his kilt were unadorned by bosses or fringes, and the helmet on his head was standard issue to the ranks. It was his horse he bedizened, for he was a knight of the eighteen original centuries of the First Class, and his family had held the Public Horse for generations. So the horse wore every conceivable knightly trapping of silver buttons and medallions, silver-encrusted scarlet leather harness, an embroidered blanket beneath a wrought and ornamented saddle, a clinking medley of silver pendants. He looked, Pompey congratulated himself as he set off down the middle of the empty road with his army in rank and file behind him, like a genuine no-nonsense soldier-a workman, a professional. Let the horse proclaim his glory!



Beneventum lay on the far side of the Calor River, where the Via Appia made junction with the Via Minucia from coastal Apulia and Calabria. The sun was directly overhead when Pompey and his legions came over the brow of a slight hill and looked down to the Calor crossing. And there on this side of it, waiting in the middle of the road upon an unutterably weary mule, was Lucius Cornelius Sulla. Attended only by Varro. The local populace!-where were they? Where were Sulla's legates, his troops? Where the travelers?



Some instinct made Pompey turn his head and bark to the standard-bearer of his leading legion that the soldiers would halt, remain where they were. Then, hideously alone, he rode down the slope toward Sulla, his face set into a mask so solid he felt as if he had dipped it in plaster. When he came within a hundred paces of the mule, Sulla more or less fell off it, though he kept his feet because he threw one arm around the mule's neck and fastened his other hand upon the mule's long bedraggled ear. Righting himself, he began to walk down the middle of the empty road, his gait as wide-based as any sailor's.



Down from his clinking Public Horse leaped Pompey, not sure if his legs would hold him; but they did. Let one of us at least do this properly, he thought, and strode out.



Even at a distance he had realized that this Sulla bore absolutely no resemblance to the Sulla he remembered, but as he drew ever closer, Pompey began to discern the ravages of time and awful malaise. Not with sympathy or pity, but with stupefied horror, a physical reaction so profound that for a moment he thought he would vomit.



For one thing, Sulla was drunk. That, Pompey might have been able to forgive, had this Sulla been the Sulla he remembered on the day of his inauguration as consul. But of that beautiful and fascinating man nothing was left, not even the dignity of a thatch of greyed or whitened hair. This Sulla wore a wig to cover his hairless skull, a hideous ginger-red affair of tight little curls below which two straight silver tongues of his own hair grew in front of his ears. His teeth were gone, and their going had lengthened his dented chin, made the mouth into a puckered gash below that unmistakable nose with the slight crease in its tip. The skin of his face looked as if it had been partially flayed, most of it a raw and bloody crimson, some few places still showing their original whiteness. And though he was thin to the point of scrawniness, at some time in the not too distant past he must have grown enormously fat, for the flesh of his face had fallen into crevices, and vast hollow wattles transformed his neck into a vulturine travesty.



Oh, how can I shine against the backdrop of this mangled piece of human wreckage? wailed Pompey to himself, battling to stem the scorching tears of disappointment.



They were almost upon each other. Pompey stretched out his right hand, fingers spread, palm vertical.



"Imperator!" he cried.



Sulla giggled, made a huge effort, stretched out his own hand in the general's salute. "Imperator!" he shouted in a rush, then fell against Pompey, his damp and stained leather cuirass stinking foully of waterbrash and wine.



Varro was suddenly there on Sulla's other side; together he and Pompey helped Lucius Cornelius Sulla back to his inglorious mule and shouldered him up until he sprawled upon its bare and dirty hide.



"He would insist on riding out to meet you as you asked," Varro said, low-voiced. "Nothing I could say would stop him."



Mounted on his Public Horse, Pompey turned, beckoned his troops to march, then ranged himself on the far side of Sulla's mule from Varro, and rode on into Beneventum.



"I don't believe it!" he cried to Varro after they had handed the almost insensible Sulla over to his keepers.



"He had a particularly bad night last night," Varro said, unable to gauge the nature of Pompey's emotions because he had never been privy to Pompey's fantasies.



"A bad night? What do you mean?"



"It's his skin, poor man. When he became so ill his doctors despaired of his life, they sent him to Aedepsus–a small spa some distance from Euboean Chalcis. The temple physicians there are said to be the finest in all Greece. And they saved him, it's true! No ripe fruit, no honey, no bread, no cakes, no wine. But when they put him to soak in the spa waters, something in the skin of his face broke down. Ever since the early days at Aedepsus, he has suffered attacks of the most dreadful itching, and rips his face to raw and bleeding meat. He still eats no ripe fruit, no honey, no bread, no cakes. But wine gives him relief from the itching, so he drinks." Varro sighed. "He drinks far too much."



"Why his face? Why not his arms or legs?" Pompey asked, only half believing this tale.



"He had a bad sunburn on his face-don't you remember how he always wore a shady hat whenever he was in the sun? But there had been some local ceremony to welcome him, he insisted on going through with-it despite his illness, and his vanity prompted him to wear a helmet instead of his hat. I presume it was the sunburn predisposed the skin of his face to break down," said Varro, who was as fascinated as Pompey was revolted. “His whole head looks like a mulberry sprinkled with meal! Quite extraordinary!"



"You sound exactly like an unctuous Greek physician," said Pompey, feeling his own face emerge from its plaster mask at last. “Where are we housed? Is it far? And what about my men?"



“I believe that Metellus Pius has gone to guide your men to their camp. We're in a nice house not far down this street. If you come and break your fast now, we can ride out afterward and find your men." Varro put his hand kindly on Pompey's strong freckled arm, at a loss to know what was really wrong. There was no pity in Pompey's nature, so much he had come to understand; why therefore was Pompey consumed with grief?



That night Sulla entertained the two new arrivals at a big dinner in his general's house, its object to allow them to meet the other legates. Word had flown around Beneventum of Pompey's advent-his youth, his beauty, his adoring troops. And Sulla's legates were very put out, thought Varro in some amusement as he eyed their faces. They all looked as if their nursemaids had cruelly snatched a delicious honeycomb from their mouths, and when Sulla showed Pompey to the locus consularis on his own couch, then put no other man between them, the looks spoke murder. Not that Pompey cared! He made himself comfortable with unabashed pleasure and proceeded to talk to Sulla as if no one else was present.



Sulla was sober, and apparently not itching. His face had crusted over a little since the morning, he was calm and friendly, and obviously quite entranced with Pompey. I can't be wrong about Pompey if Sulla sees it too, thought Varro.



Deeming it wiser at first to keep his gaze concentrated within his immediate vicinity rather than to inspect each man in the room in turn, Varro smiled at his couch companion, Appius Claudius Pulcher. A man he liked and esteemed. "Is Sulla still capable of leading us?" he asked.



"He's as brilliant as he ever was," said Appius Claudius. "If we can keep him sober he'll eat Carbo, no matter how many troops Carbo can field." Appius Claudius shivered, grimaced. "Can you feel the evil presences in this room, Varro?"



"Very definitely," said Varro, though he didn't think the kind of atmosphere he felt was what Appius Claudius meant.



"I've been studying the subject a little," Appius Claudius proceeded to explain, "among the minor temples and cults at Delphi. There are fingers of power all around us-quite invisible, of course. Most people aren't aware of them, but men like you and me, Varro, are hypersensitive to emanations from other places."



"What other places?" asked Varro, startled.



"Underneath us. Above us. On all sides of us," said Appius Claudius in sepulchral tones. "Fingers of power! I don't know how else to explain what I mean. How can anyone describe invisible somethings only the hypersensitive can feel touching them? I'm not talking about the gods, or Olympus, or even numina...."



But the others in the room had lured Varro's attention away from poor Appius Claudius, who continued to drone on happily while Varro assessed the quality of Sulla's legates.



Philippus and Cethegus, the great tergiversators. Every time Fortune favored a new set of men, Philippus and Cethegus turned their togas inside out or back to the right side again, eager to serve the new masters of Rome; each of them had been doing it for thirty years. Philippus was the more straightforward of the two, had been consul after several fruitless tries and even became censor under Cinna and Carbo, the zenith of a man's political career. Whereas Cethegus-a patrician Cornelius remotely related to Sulla-had remained in the background, preferring to wield his power by manipulating his fellow backbenchers in the Senate. They lay together talking loudly and ignoring everybody else.



Three young ones also lay together ignoring everybody else-what a lovely trio! Verres, Catilina and Ofella. Villains all, Varro was sure of it, though Ofella was more concerned about his dignitas than any future pickings. Of Verres and of Catilina there could be no doubt; the future pickings ruled them absolutely.



Another couch held three estimable, upright men- Mamercus, Metellus Pius and Varro Lucullus (an adopted Varro, actually the brother of Sulla's loyalest follower, Lucullus). They patently disapproved of Pompey, and made no attempt to conceal it.



Mamercus was Sulla's son-in-law, a quiet and steady man who had salvaged Sulla's fortune and got his family safely to Greece.



Metellus Pius the Piglet and his quaestor Varro Lucullus had sailed from Liguria to Puteoli midway through April, and marched across Campania to join Sulla just before Carbo's Senate mobilized the troops who might otherwise have stopped them. Until Pompey had appeared today, they had basked in the full radiance of Sulla's grateful approval, for they had brought him two legions of battle-hardened soldiers. However, most of their attitude was founded in the who of Pompey, rather than in the what or even in the why. A Pompeius from northern Picenum? An upstart, a parvenu. A non-Roman! His father, nicknamed The Butcher because of the way he conducted his wars, might have achieved the consulship and great political power, but nothing could reconcile him and his to Metellus Pius or Varro Lucullus. No genuine Roman, of senatorial family or not, would have, at the age of twenty-two, taken it upon himself-absolutely illegally!-to bring the great patrician aristocrat Lucius Cornelius Sulla an army, and then demand to become, in effect, Sulla's partner. The army which Metellus Pius and Varro Lucullus had brought Sulla automatically became his, to do with as he willed; had Sulla accepted it with thanks and then dismissed Metellus Pius and Varro Lucullus, they would perhaps have been angered, but they would have gone at once. Punctilious sticklers, both of them, thought Varro. So now they lay on the same couch glaring at Pompey because he had used the troops he had brought Sulla to elicit a top command neither his age nor his antecedents permitted. He had held Sulla to ransom.



Of all of them, however, by far the most intriguing to Varro was Marcus Licinius Crassus. In the autumn of the previous year he had arrived in Greece to offer Sulla two and a half thousand good Spanish soldiers, only to find his reception little warmer than the one he had received from Metellus Pius in Africa during the summer.



Most of the chilly welcome was due to the dramatic failure of a get-rich-quick scheme he and his friend the younger Titus Pomponius had engineered among investors in Cinna's Rome. It had happened toward the end of the first year, which saw Cinna joined with Carbo in the consulship, when money was beginning rather coyly to appear again; news had come that the menace of King Mithridates was no more, that Sulla had negotiated the Treaty of Dardanus with him. Taking advantage of a sudden surge of optimism, Crassus and Titus Pomponius had offered shares in a new Asian speculation. The crash occurred when word came that Sulla had completely reorganized the finances of the Roman province of Asia, that there would be no tax-gathering bonanza after all.



Rather than stay in Rome to face hordes of irate creditors, both Crassus and Titus Pomponius had decamped. There was really only one place to go, one man to conciliate: Sulla. Titus Pomponius had seen this immediately, and gone to Athens with his huge fortune intact. Educated, urbane, something of a literary dilettante, personally charming, and just a trifle too fond of little boys, Titus Pomponius had soon come to an understanding with Sulla; but finding that he adored the atmosphere and style of life in Athens, he had chosen to remain there, given himself the cognomen of Atticus–Man of Athens.



Crassus was not so sure of himself, and had not seen that Sulla was his only alternative until much later than Atticus.



Circumstances had conspired to leave Marcus Licinius Crassus head of his family-and impoverished. The only money left belonged to Axia, the widow not only of his eldest brother, but also the widow of his middle brother. The size of her dowry had not been her sole attraction; she was pretty, vivacious, kindhearted and loving. Like Crassus's mother, Vinuleia, she was a Sabine from Reate, and fairly closely related to Vinuleia at that. Her wealth came from the rosea rura, best pasture in all of Italy and breeding ground of fabulous stud donkeys which sold for enormous sums-sixty thousand sesterces was not an uncommon price for one such beast, potential sire of many sturdy army mules.



When Axia's husband, the eldest Crassus son, Publius, was killed outside Grumentum during the Italian War, she was left a widow-and pregnant. In that tightly knit and frugal family, there seemed only one answer; after her ten months of mourning were over, Axia married Lucius, the second Crassus son. By whom she had no children. When he was murdered by Fimbria in the street outside his door, she was widowed again. As was Vinuleia, for Crassus the father, seeing his son cut down and knowing what his fate would be, killed himself on the spot.



At the time Marcus, the youngest Crassus son, was twenty-nine years old, the one whom his father (consul and censor in his day) had elected to keep at home in order to safeguard his name and bloodline. All the Crassus property was confiscated, including Vinuleia's. But Axia's family stood on excellent terms with Cinna, so her dowry wasn't touched. And when her second ten-month period of mourning was over, Marcus Licinius Crassus married her and took her little son, his nephew Publius, as his own. Three times married to each of three brothers, Axia was known ever after as Tertulla- Little Three. The change in her name was her own suggestion; Axia had a harsh un-Latin ring to it, whereas Tertulla tripped off the tongue.



The glorious scheme Crassus and Atticus had concocted-which would have been a resounding success had Sulla not done the unexpected regarding the finances of Asia Province-shattered just as Crassus was beginning to see the family wealth increase again. And caused him to flee with a pittance in his purse, all his hopes destroyed. Behind him he left two women without a male protector, his mother and his wife. Tertulla bore his own son, Marcus, two months after he had gone.



But where to go? Spain, decided Crassus. In Spain lay a relic of past Crassus wealth. Years before, Crassus's father had sailed to the Tin Isles, the Cassiterides, and negotiated an exclusive contract for himself to convey tin from the Cassiterides across northern Spain to the shores of the Middle Sea. Civil war in Italy had destroyed that, but Crassus had nothing left to lose; he fled to Nearer Spain, where a client of his father's, one Vibius Paecianus, hid him in a cave until Crassus was sure that the consequences of his fiscal philandering were not going to follow him as far as Spain. He then emerged and began to knit his tin monopoly together again, after which he acquired some interests in the silver-lead mines of southern Spain.



All very well, but these activities could only prosper if the financial institutions and trading companies of Rome were made available to him again. Which meant he needed an ally more powerful than anyone he knew personally: he needed Sulla. But in order to woo Sulla (since he lacked the charm and the erudition possessed so plentifully by Titus Pomponius Atticus) he would have to bring Sulla a gift. And the only gift he could possibly offer was an army. This he raised among his father's old clients; a mere five cohorts, but five well-trained and well-equipped cohorts.



His first port of call after he left Spain was Utica, in Africa Province, where he had heard Quintus Caecilius Metellus Pius, he whom Gaius Marius had called the Piglet, was still trying to hold on to his position as governor. He arrived early in the summer of the previous year, only to find that the Piglet-a pillar of Roman rectitude-was not amused by his commercial activities. Leaving the Piglet to make his own dispositions when his government fell, Crassus went on to Greece, and Sulla, who had accepted his gift of five Spanish cohorts, then proceeded to treat him coldly. :



Now he sat with his small grey eyes fixed painfully upon Sulla, waiting for the slightest sign of approval, and obviously most put out to see Sulla interested only in Pompey. The cognomen of Crassus had been in the Famous Family of Licinius for many generations, but they still managed to breed true to it, Varro noted; it meant thickset (or perhaps, in the case of the first Licinius to be called Crassus, it might have meant intellectually dense?). Taller by far than he looked, Crassus was built on the massive lines of an ox, and had some of that animal's impassive placidity in his rather expressionless face.



Varro gave the assembled men a final glance, and sighed. Yes, he had been right to spend most of his thoughts upon Crassus. They were all ambitious, most of them were probably capable, some of them were as ruthless as they were amoral, but-leaving Pompey and Sulla out of it, of course-Marcus Crassus was the man to watch in the future.



Walking back to their own house alongside a completely sober Pompey, Varro found himself very glad that he had yielded to Pompey's exhortations and attached himself at first hand to this coming campaign.



"What did you and Sulla talk about?" he asked.



"Nothing earthshaking," said Pompey.



"You kept your voices low enough." '



"Yes, didn't we?" Varro felt rather than saw Pompey's grin. "He's no fool, Sulla, even if he isn't the man he used to be. If the rest of that sulky assemblage couldn't hear what we said, how do they know we didn't talk about them?"



"Did Sulla agree to be your partner in this enterprise?"



“I got to keep command of my own legions, which is all I wanted. He knows I haven't given them to him, even on loan."



“Was it discussed openly?''



"I told you, the man is no fool," said Pompey laconically. "Nothing much was said. That way, there is no agreement between us, and he is not bound."



"You're content with that?"



"Of course! He also knows he needs me," said Pompey.



Sulla was up by dawn the next morning, and an hour later had his army on the march in the direction of Capua. By now he had accustomed himself to spurts of activity that coincided with the state of his face, for the itching was not perpetually there; rather, it tended to be cyclic. Having just emerged from a bout and its concomitant intake of wine, he knew that for some days he would have a little peace-provided he did absolutely nothing to trigger another cycle. This required a rigid policing of his hands, which could not be permitted to touch his face for any reason. Not until a man found himself in this predicament did he understand how many times his hands would go to his face without volition, without any awareness. And here he was with the weeping vesicles growing harder as they struggled to heal, and all the tickles, tingles, tiny movements of the skin that healing process involved. It was easiest on the first day, which was today, but as the days went on he would tend to forget, would reach up to scratch a perfectly natural itch of nose or cheek-and the whole ghastly business could start again. Would start again. So he had disciplined himself to get as much done as possible before the next outbreak, and then to drink himself insensible until it passed.



Oh, but it was difficult! So much to do, so much that had to be done, and he a shadow of the man he had been. Nothing had he accomplished without overcoming gigantic obstacles, but since the onset of that illness in Greece over a year ago he constantly found himself wondering why he bothered to continue. As Pompey had so obviously remarked, Sulla was no fool; he knew he had only a certain time left to live.



On a day like today, of course, just emerging from a bout of itching, he did understand why he bothered to continue: because he was the greatest man in a world unwilling to admit that. The Nabopolassar had seen it in him on the banks of the river Euphrates, and not even the gods could delude a Chaldaean seer. To be great beyond all other men, he understood on a day like today, meant a far greater degree of suffering too. He tried not to smile (a smile might disturb the healing process), thinking of his couch companion on the previous evening; now there was one who didn't even begin to comprehend the nature of greatness!



Pompey the Great. Trust Sulla to have discovered already by what name he was known among his own people. A young man who actually thought that greatness did not have to be worked at, that greatness had been given him at birth and would never not be there. I wish with all my heart, Pompeius Magnus, thought Sulla, that I could live long enough to see who and what will bring you crashing down! A fascinating fellow, however. Most definitely a prodigy of some sort. He was not the stuff of a loyal subordinate, so much was sure. No, Pompey the Great was a rival. And saw himself as a rival. Already. At twenty-two. The veteran troops he had brought with him Sulla knew how to use; but how best to use Pompey the Great? Give him plenty of free rein to run with, certainly. Make sure he was not given a task he couldn't do. Flatter him, exalt him, never prick his monumental conceit. Give him to understand that he is the user, and never let him see that he is the one being used. I will be dead long before he is brought crashing down, because while I am alive, I will make sure no one does that to him. He's far too useful. Too... Valuable.



The mule upon which Sulla rode squealed, tossed its head in agreement. But, ever mindful of his face, Sulla did not smile at the mule's sagacity. He was waiting. Waiting for a jar of ointment and a recipe from which to make further jars of ointment. Almost ten years ago he had first experienced this skin disease, on his way back from the Euphrates. How satisfying that expedition had been!



His son had come along, Julilla's son who in his adolescence had turned out to be the friend and confidant Sulla had never owned before. The perfect participant in a perfect relationship. How they had talked! About anything and everything. The boy had been able to forgive his father so many things Sulla had never been able to forgive himself-oh, not murders and other necessary practicalities, they were just the things a man's life forced him to do. But emotional mistakes, weaknesses of the mind dictated by longings and inclinations reason shouted were stupid, futile. How gravely Young Sulla had listened, how completely had he, so short in years, understood. Comforted. Produced excuses which at the time had even seemed to hold water. And Sulla's rather barren world had glowed, expanded, promised a depth and dimension only this beloved son could give it. Then, safely home from the journey beyond the Euphrates and Roman experience, Young Sulla had died. Just like that. Over and done with in two tiny little insignificant days. Gone the friend, gone the confidant. Gone the beloved son.



The tears stung, welled up-no! No! He could not weep, must not weep! Let one drop trickle down his cheek, and the itchy torment would begin. Ointment. He must concentrate upon the idea of the ointment. Morsimus had found it in some forgotten village somewhere near the Pyramus River of Cilicia Pedia, and it had soothed, healed him.



Six months ago he had sent to Morsimus, now an ethnarch in Tarsus, and begged him to find that ointment, even if he had to search every settlement in Cilicia Pedia. Could he but find it again-and, more importantly, its recipe-his skin would return to normal. And in the meantime, he waited. Suffered. Became ever greater. Do you hear that, Pompey the Great?



He turned in his saddle and beckoned to where behind him rode Metellus Pius the Piglet and Marcus Crassus (Pompey the Great was bringing up the rear at the head of his three legions).



"I have a problem," he said when Metellus Pius and Crassus drew level with him.



"Who?" asked the Piglet shrewdly.



"Oh, very good! Our esteemed Philippus," said Sulla, no expression creasing his face.



"Well, even if we didn't have Appius Claudius along, Lucius Philippus would present a problem," said Crassus, the abacus of his mind clicking from unum to duo, "but there's no denying Appius Claudius makes it worse. You'd think the fact that Appius Claudius is Philippus's uncle would have kept him from expelling Appius Claudius from the Senate, but it didn't."



“Probably because nephew Philippus is some years older than uncle Appius Claudius," said Sulla, entertained by this opinion.



"What exactly do you want to do with the problem?" asked Metellus Pius, unwilling to let his companions drift off into the complexities of Roman upper-class blood relationships.



"I know what I'd like to do, but whether or not it's even possible rests with you, Crassus," said Sulla.



Crassus blinked. "How could it affect me?"



Tipping back his shady straw hat, Sulla looked at his legate with a little more warmth in his eyes than of yore; and Crassus, in spite of himself, felt an uplift in the region of his breast. Sulla was deferring to him!



"It's all very well to be marching along buying grain and foodstuffs from the local farmers," Sulla began, his words a trifle slurred these days because of his lack of teeth, “but by the end of summer we will need a harvest I can ship from one place. It doesn't have to be a harvest the size of Sicily's or Africa's, but it does have to provide the staple for my army. And I am confident that my army will increase in size as time goes on."



"Surely," said Metellus Pius carefully, "by the autumn we'll have all the grain we need from Sicily and Africa. By the autumn we will have taken Rome."



"I doubt that."



"But why? Rome's rotting from within!"



Sulla sighed, his lips flapping. "Piglet dear, if I am to help Rome recover, then I have to give Rome a chance to decide in my favor peacefully. Now that is not going to happen by the autumn. So I can't appear too threatening, I can't march at the double up the Via Latina and attack Rome the way Cinna and Marius descended upon her after I left for the east. When I marched on Rome the first time, I had surprise on my side. No one believed I would. So no one opposed me except a few slaves and mercenaries belonging to Gaius Marius. But this time is different. Everyone expects me to march on Rome. If I do that too quickly, I'll never win. Oh, Rome would fall! But every nest of insurgents, every school of opposition would harden. It would take me longer than I have left to live to put resistance down. I can't afford the time or the effort. So I'll go very slowly toward Rome."



Metellus Pius digested this, and saw the sense of it. With a gladness he couldn't quite conceal from those glacial eyes in their sore sockets. Wisdom was not a quality he associated with any Roman nobleman; Roman noblemen were too political in their thinking to be wise. Everything was of the moment, seen in the short term. Even Scaurus Princeps Senatus, for all his experience and his vast auctoritas, had not been wise. Any more than had the Piglet's own father, Metellus Numidicus. Brave. Fearless. Determined. Unyielding of principle. But never wise. So it cheered the Piglet immensely to know that he rode down the long road to Rome with a wise man, for he was a Caecilius Metellus and he had a foot in both camps, despite his personal choice of Sulla. If there was any aspect of this undertaking from which he shrank, it was the knowledge that-try though he might to avoid it-he would inevitably end in ruining a good proportion of his blood or marital relations. Therefore he appreciated the wisdom of advancing slowly upon Rome; some of the Caecilii Metelli who at the moment supported Carbo might see the error of their ways before it was too late.



Of course Sulla knew exactly how the Piglet's mind was working, and let him finish his thoughts in peace. His own thoughts were upon his task as he stared between the mournful flops of his mule's ears. I am back in Italy and soon Campania, that cornucopia of all the good things from the earth, will loom in the distance-green, rolling, soft of mountain, sweet of water. And if I deliberately exclude Rome from my inner gaze, Rome will not eat at me the way this itching does. Rome will be mine. But, though my crimes have been many and my contrition none, I have never liked so much as the idea of rape. Better by far that Rome comes to me consenting, than that I am forced to rape her....



“You may have noticed that ever since I landed in Brundisium I have been sending written letters to all the leaders of the old Italian Allies, promising them that I will see every last Italian properly enrolled as a citizen of Rome according to the laws and treaties negotiated at the end of the Italian War. I will even see them distributed across the full gamut of the thirty-five tribes. Believe me, Piglet, I will bend like a strand of spider's web in the wind before I attack Rome!"



"What have the Italians to do with Rome?" asked Metellus Pius, who had never been in favor of granting the full Roman citizenship to the Italians, and had secretly applauded Philippus as censor because Philippus and his fellow censor, Perperna, had avoided enrolling the Italians as Roman citizens.



"Between Pompeius and me, we've marched through much of the territory which fought against Rome without encountering anything beyond welcome-and perhaps hope that I will change the situation in Rome concerning their citizenships. Italian support will be a help to me in persuading Rome to yield peacefully."



"I doubt it," said Metellus Pius stiffly, "but I daresay you know what you're doing. Let's get back to the subject of Philippus, who is a problem."



"Certainly!" said Sulla, eyes dancing.



"What has Philippus to do with me?" asked Crassus, deeming it high time he intruded himself into what had become a duet.



“I have to get rid of him, Marcus Crassus. But as painlessly as possible, given the fact that somehow he has managed to turn himself into a hallowed Roman institution."



"That's because he has become everybody's ideal of the dedicated political contortionist," said the Piglet, grinning.



"Not a bad description," said Sulla, nodding instead of trying to smile. "Now, my big and ostensibly placid friend Marcus Crassus, I am going to ask you a question. I require an honest answer. Given your sad reputation, are you capable of giving me an honest answer?''



This sally did not appear even to dent Crassus's oxlike composure. "I will do my best, Lucius Cornelius."



"Are you passionately attached to your Spanish troops?"



"Considering that you keep making me find provisions for them, no, I am not," said Crassus.



"Good! Would you part with them?"



"If you think we can do without them, yes."



"Good! Then with your splendidly phlegmatic consent, my dear Marcus, I'll bring down several quarry with the same arrow. It is my intention to give your Spaniards to Philippus- he can take and hold Sardinia for me. When the Sardinian harvest comes in, he will send all of it to me," said Sulla. He reached for the hide flask of pale sour wine tied to one horn of his saddle, lifted it, and squirted liquid expertly into his gummy mouth; not a drop fell on his face.



"Philippus will refuse to go," said Metellus Pius flatly.



"No, he won't. He'll love the commission," said Sulla, capping the birdlike neck of his wineskin. "He'll be the full and undisputed master of all he surveys, and the Sardinian brigands will greet him like a brother. He makes every last one of them look virtuous."



Doubt began to gnaw at Crassus, who rumbled deeply in his throat, but said no word.



"Wondering what you'll do without troops to command?"



"Something like that," said Crassus cautiously.



"You could make yourself very useful to me," said Sulla in casual tones.



"How?"



"Your mother and your wife are both from prominent Sabine families. How about going to Reate and starting to recruit for me? You could commence there, and finish among the Marsi." Out went Sulla's hand, clasped the heavy wrist of Crassus. "Believe me, Marcus Crassus, in the spring of next year there will be much military work for you to do, and good troops-Italian, if not Roman-for you to command."



"That suits me," said Crassus. "It's a deal."



"Oh, if only everything could be solved so easily and so well!" cried Sulla, reaching once more for his wineskin.



Crassus and Metellus Pius exchanged glances across the bent head of silly artificial curls; he might say he drank to ease the itching, but the truth appeared more to be that nowadays Sulla couldn't go for very long without wetting his whistle. Somewhere down the nightmare alley of his physical torments, he had embraced his palliative with a permanent and enduring love. But did he know it? Or did he not?



Had they found the courage to ask him, Sulla would have told them readily. Yes, he knew it. Nor did he care who else knew it, including the fact that his deceptively weak-looking vintage was actually strongly fortified. Forbidden bread, honey, fruit and cakes, little in his diet did he truly like. The physicians of Aedepsus had been right to remove all those tasty things from his food intake, of that he had no doubt. When he had come to them, he knew he was dying. First he had endured an insatiable craving for sweet and starchy things, and put on so much weight that even his mule had complained about the burden of carrying him; then he began to experience numbness and tingling in both feet, burnings and pains too as time went on, so that the moment he lay down to sleep, his wretched feet refused to let him. The sensations crept into his ankles and lower legs, sleep became harder and harder to find. So he added a heavy; very sweet and fortified wine to his customary fare, and used it to drug himself into sleeping. Until the day when he had found himself sweating, gasping-and losing weight so quickly that he could almost see himself disappearing. He drank flagons of water one after the other, yet still was thirsty. And-most terrifying of all!-his eyes began to fail.



Most of that had disappeared or greatly eased after he went to Aedepsus. Of his face he wouldn't think, he who had been so beautiful in his youth that men had made absolute fools of themselves, so beautiful after he attained maturity that women had made absolute fools of themselves. But one thing which had not disappeared was his need to drink wine. Yielding to the inevitable, the priest-physicians of Aedepsus had persuaded him to exchange his sweet fortified wine for the sourest vintages available, and over the months since, he had come to prefer his wine so dry it made him grimace. When the itch was not upon him he kept the amount he drank under some sort of control, in that he didn't let it interfere with his thought processes. He just drank enough to improve them-or so he told himself.



"I'll keep Ofella and Catilina with me," he said to Crassus and Metellus Pius, stoppering up the flask again. "However, Verres is the epitome of his name-an insatiably greedy boar. I think I will send him back to Beneventum, for the time being at least. He can organize supplies and keep an eye on our rear."



The Piglet giggled. "He might like that, the honey-boy!"



This provoked a brief grin in Crassus. “What about yon Cethegus?" he asked, legs aching from hanging down limply; they were very heavy legs. He shifted his weight a little.



"Cethegus I shall retain for the moment," said Sulla. His hand strayed toward the wine, then was snatched away. "He can look after things in Campania."



Just before his army crossed the river Volturnus near the town of Casilinum, Sulla sent six envoys to negotiate with Gaius Norbanus, the more capable of Carbo's two tame consuls. Norbanus had taken eight legions and drawn himself up to defend Capua, but when Sulla's envoys appeared carrying a flag of truce, he arrested them without a hearing. He then marched his eight legions out onto the Capuan plain right beneath the slopes of Mount Tifata. Irritated by the unethical treatment meted out to his envoys, Sulla proceeded to teach Norbanus a lesson he would not forget. Down the flank of Mount Tifata Sulla led his troops at a run, hurled them on the unsuspecting Norbanus. Defeated before the battle had really begun, Norbanus retreated inside Capua, where he sorted out his panicked men, sent two legions to hold the port of Neapolis for Carbo's Rome, and prepared himself to withstand a siege.



Thanks to the cleverness of a tribune of the plebs, Marcus Junius Brutus, Capua was very much disposed to like the present government in Rome; earlier in the year, Brutus had brought in a law giving Capua the status of a Roman city, and this, after centuries of being punished by Rome for various insurrections, had pleased Capua mightily. Norbanus had therefore no need to worry that Capua might grow tired of playing host to him and his army. Capua was used to playing host to Roman legions.



"We have Puteoli, so we don't need Neapolis," said Sulla to Pompey and Metellus Pius as they rode toward Teanum Sidicinum, "and we can do without Capua because we hold Beneventum. I must have had a feeling when I left Gaius Verres there." He stopped for a moment, thought about something, nodded as if to answer his thought. “Cethegus can have a new job. Legate in charge of all my supply columns. That will tax his diplomacy!"



"This," said Pompey in disgruntled tones, "is a very slow kind of war. Why aren't we marching on Rome?"



The face Sulla turned to him was, given its limitations, a kind one. "Patience, Pompeius! In martial skills you need no tuition, but your political skills are nonexistent. If the rest of this year teaches you nothing else, it will serve as a lesson on political manipulation. Before ever we contemplate marching on Rome, we have first to show Rome that she cannot win under her present government. Then, if she proves to be a sensible lady, she will come to us and offer herself to us freely."



"What if she doesn't?" asked Pompey, unaware that Sulla had already been through this with Metellus Pius and Crassus.



"Time will tell" was all Sulla would say.



They had bypassed Capua as if Norbanus inside it did not exist, and rolled on toward the second of Rome's consular armies, under the command of Scipio Asiagenus and his senior legate, Quintus Sertorius. The little and very prosperous Campanian towns around Sulla did not so much capitulate as greet him with open arms, for they knew him well; Sulla had commanded Rome's armies in this part of Italy for most of the duration of the Italian War.



Scipio Asiagenus was camped between Teanum Sidicinum and Cales, where a small tributary of the Volturnus, fed by springs, provided a great deal of slightly effervescent water; even in summer its mild warmth was delightful.



"This," said Sulla, "will be an excellent winter camp!" And sat himself and his army down on the opposite bank of the streamlet from his adversary. The cavalry were sent back to Beneventum under the charge of Cethegus, while Sulla himself gave a new party of envoys explicit instructions on how to proceed in negotiating a truce with Scipio Asiagenus.



"He's not an old client of Gaius Marius's, so he'll be much easier to deal with than Norbanus," said Sulla to Metellus Pius and Pompey. His face was still in remission and his intake of wine was somewhat less than on the journey from Beneventum, which meant that his mood was cheerful and his mind very clear.



"Maybe," said the Piglet, looking doubtful. "If it were only Scipio, I'd agree wholeheartedly. But he has Quintus Sertorius with him, and you know what that means, Lucius Cornelius."



"Trouble," said Sulla, sounding unworried.



"Ought you not be thinking how to render Sertorius impotent?"



"I won't need to do that, Piglet dear. Scipio will do it for me." He pointed with a stick toward the place where a sharp bend in the little river drew his camp's boundary very close to the boundary of Scipio's camp on the far shore. "Can your veterans dig, Gnaeus Pompeius?"



Pompey blinked. "With the best!"



"Good. Then while the rest are finishing off the winter fortifications, your fellows can excavate the bank outside our wall, and make a great big swimming pool," said Sulla blandly.



"What a terrific idea!" said Pompey with equal sangfroid, and smiled. "I'll get them onto it straightaway." He paused, took the stick from Sulla and pointed it at the far bank. "If it's all right with you, General, I'll break down the bank and concentrate on widening the river, rather than make a separate swimming hole. And I think it would be very nice for our chaps if I roofed at least a part of it over-less chilly later on."



"Good thinking! Do that," said Sulla cordially, and stood watching Pompey stride purposefully away.



“What was all that about?'' asked Metellus Pius, frowning; he hated to see Sulla so affable to that conceited young prig!



"He knew," said Sulla cryptically.



"Well, I don't!" said the Piglet crossly. "Enlighten me!"



"Fraternization, Piglet dear! Do you think Scipio's men are going to be able to resist Pompeius's winter spa? Even in summer? After all, our men are Roman soldiers too. There is nothing like a truly pleasurable activity shared in common to breed friendship. The moment Pompeius's pool is finished, there will be as many of Scipio's men enjoying it as ours. And they'll all get chatty in no time-same jokes, same complaints, same sort of life. It's my bet we won't have to fight a battle."



"And he understood that from the little you said?"



"Absolutely."



"I'm surprised he agreed to help! He's after a battle."



"True. But he's got my measure, Pius, and he knows he will not get a battle this side of spring. It's no part of Pompeius's strategy to annoy me, you know. He needs me just as much as I need him," said Sulla, and laughed softly without moving his face.



“He strikes me as the sort who might prematurely decide that he doesn't need you."



"Then you mistake him."



Three days later, Sulla and Scipio Asiagenus parleyed on the road between Teanum and Cales, and agreed to an armistice. About this moment Pompey finished his swimming hole, and-typically methodical-after publishing a roster for its use that allowed sufficient space for invaders from across the river, threw it open for troop recreation. Within two more days the coming and going between the two camps was so great that,



"We may as well abandon any pretense that we're on opposite sides," said Quintus Sertorius to his commander.



Scipio Asiagenus looked surprised. "What harm does it do?" he asked gently.



The one eye Sertorius was left with rolled toward the sky. Always a big man, his physique had set with the coming of his middle thirties into its final mold-thick-necked, bull-like, formidable. And in some ways this was a pity, for it endowed Sertorius with a bovine look entirely at variance with the power and quality of his mind. He was Gaius Marius's cousin, and had inherited far more of Marius's personal and military brilliance than had, for instance, Marius's son. The eye had been obliterated in a skirmish just before the Siege of Rome, but as it was his left one and he was right-handed, its loss had not slowed him down as a fighter. Scar tissue had turned his pleasant face into something of a caricature, in that its right side was still most pleasant while its left leered a horrible contradiction.



So it was that Scipio underestimated him, did not respect or understand him. And looked at him now in surprise.



Sertorius tried. "Asiagenus, think! How well do you feel our men will fight for us if they're allowed to get too friendly with the enemy?"



"They'll fight because they're ordered to fight."



"I don't agree. Why do you think Sulla built his swimming hole, if not to suborn our troops? He didn't do it for the sake of his own men! It's a trap, and you're falling into it!"



"We are under a truce, and the other side is as Roman as we are," said Scipio Asiagenus stubbornly.



"The other side is led by a man you ought to fear as if he and his army had been sown from the dragon's teeth! You can't give him one single little inch, Asiagenus. If you do, he will end in taking all the miles between here and Rome."



"You exaggerate," said Scipio stiffly.



"You're a fool!" snarled Sertorius, unable not to say it.



But Scipio was not impressed by the display of temper either. He yawned, scratched his chin, looked down at his beautifully manicured nails. Then he looked up at Sertorius looming over him, and smiled sweetly. "Do go away!" he said.



"I will that! Right away!" Sertorius snapped. "Maybe Gaius Norbanus can make you see sense!"



"Give him my regards," Scipio called after him, then went back to studying his nails.



So Quintus Sertorius rode for Capua at the gallop, and there found a man more to his taste than Scipio Asiagenus. The loyalest of Marians, Norbanus was no fanatical adherent of Carbo's; after the death of Cinna, he had only persisted in his allegiance because he loathed Sulla far more than he did Carbo.



“You mean that chinless wonder of an aristocrat actually has concluded an armistice with Sulla?” asked Norbanus, voice squeaking as it uttered that detested name.



"He certainly has. And he's permitting his men to fraternize with the enemy," said Sertorius steadily.



"Why did I have to be saddled with a colleague as stupid as Asiagenus?" wailed Norbanus, then shrugged. "Well, that is what our Rome is reduced to, Quintus Sertorius. I'll send him a nasty message which he will ignore, but I suggest you don't return to him. I hate to think of you as a captive of Sulla's-he'd find a way to murder you. Find something to do that will annoy Sulla."



"Eminent good sense," said Sertorius, sighing. "I'll stir up trouble for Sulla among the towns of Campania. The townspeople all declared for Sulla, but there are plenty of men who aren't happy about it." He looked disgusted. "Women, Gaius Norbanus! Women! They only have to hear Sulla's name and they go limp with ecstasy. It's the women decided which side these Campanian towns chose, not the men."



"Then they ought to set eyes on him," said Norbanus, and grimaced. "I believe he looks like nothing human."



"Worse than me?"



"A lot worse, so they say."



Sertorius frowned. "I'd heard something of it, but Scipio wouldn't include me in the treating party, so I didn't see him, and Scipio made no reference to his appearance." He laughed grimly. "Oh, I'll bet that hurts him, the pretty mentula! He was so vain! Like a woman."



Norbanus grinned. "Don't like the sex much, do you?" "They're all right for a poke. But I'll have none to wife! My mother is the only woman I have any time for at all. Now she is what a woman ought to be! Doesn't stick her nose into men's affairs, doesn't try to rule the roost, doesn't use her cunnus like a weapon." He picked up his helmet and clapped it on his head. "I'll be off, Gaius. Good luck convincing Scipio that he is wrong. Verpa!"



After some thought, Sertorius decided to ride from Capua toward the Campanian coast, where the pretty little town of Sinuessa Aurunca might just be ripe for a declaration against Sulla. The roads everywhere in Campania were free enough from trouble; Sulla had not attempted any blockades aside from a formal investment of Neapolis. No doubt he would shortly put a force outside Capua to keep Norbanus in, but there had been no sign of it when Sertorius visited. Even so, Sertorius felt it advisable to stay off the main roads. He liked the sensation of a fugitive existence; it carried an extra dimension of real life with it, and reminded him slightly of the days when he had posed as a Celtiberian warrior of some outlandish tribe in order to go spying among the Germans. Ah, that had been the life! No chinless wonders of Roman aristocrats to placate and defer to! Constant action, women who knew their place. He had even had a German wife, sired a son by her without once ever feeling that she or the boy hampered him. They lived in Nearer Spain now, up in the mountain stronghold of Osca, and the boy would be-how time flew!-almost a man. Not that Quintus Sertorius missed them, or hankered to set eyes upon this only child. What he missed was the life. The freedom, the sole ruling excellence, which was how a man acquitted himself as a warrior. Yes, those were the days....



As was his invariable habit, he traveled without any kind of escort, even a slave; like his cousin, dear old Gaius Marius, he believed that a soldier ought to be able to care for himself completely. Of course his kit was back in Scipio Asiagenus's camp and he would not go back for it-or would he? Come to think of it, there were a few items he would sorely miss: the sword he normally used, a shirt of chain mail he had picked up in Further Gaul of a lightness and workmanship no smith in Italy could match, his winter boots from Liguria. Yes, he would go back. Some days would elapse before Scipio would fall.



So he turned his horse around and headed back toward the northeast, intending to swing beyond Sulla's camp on its far side. And discovered that some distance in his rear a small party was proceeding along the rutted track. Four men and three women. Oh, women! Almost he reversed direction once more, then resolved to pick up speed and hasten by them. After all, they were heading seaward, he was now going back toward the mountains.



But as they loomed larger he frowned. Surely the man in their lead was familiar? A veritable giant, flaxen-haired and massive of thews, just like thousands more German men he had known-Burgundus! Ye gods, it was! Burgundus! And behind him rode Lucius Decumius and his two sons!



Burgundus had recognized him; each man kicked his horse in the ribs and rode to a meeting, with little Lucius Decumius flogging his beast to catch up. Trust Lucius Decumius not to miss a word of any conversation!



"What on earth are you doing here?" Sertorius asked after the handshakes and the backslappings were over.



"We're lost, that's what we're doing here," said Lucius Decumius, glaring at Burgundus balefully. "That heap of German rubbish swore he knew the way! But do he? No, he do not!"



Years of exposure to Lucius Decumius's never-ending spate of (quite well meant) insults had inured Burgundus to them, so he bore them now with his usual patience, merely eyeing the small Roman the way a bull eyed a gnat.



"We're trying to find the lands of Quintus Pedius," said Burgundus in his slow Latin, smiling at Sertorius with a liking he felt for few men. "The lady Aurelia is going to fetch her daughter to Rome."



And there she was, plodding along upon a stout mule and sitting absolutely straight, not a hair out of place nor a single smear of dust upon her fawn traveling robe. With her was her huge Gallic serving maid, Cardixa, and another female servant Sertorius did not know.



"Quintus Sertorius," she said, joining them and somehow assuming command.



Now she was a woman! Sertorius had said to Norbanus that he prized only one of the breed, his mother, but he had quite forgotten Aurelia. How she managed to be beautiful as well as sensible he didn't know; what he did know was that she was the only woman in the entire world who was both. Added to which, she was as honorable as any man, she didn't lie, she didn't moan or complain, she worked hard, and she minded her own business. They were almost exactly the same age-forty-and had known each other since Aurelia had married Gaius Julius Caesar over twenty years earlier.



"Have you seen my mother?" Sertorius asked as she prodded her mule to lead them slightly apart from the rest of her party.



"Not since last year's ludi Romani, so you would have seen her yourself since I have. But she'll be down to stay with us again this year for the games. It's become a regular habit."



"Old horror, she never will stay in my house," he said.



"She's lonely, Quintus Sertorius, and your house is such a lonely place. If she stays with us she's in the midst of a bustle, and she likes that. I don't say she'd like it for longer than the games last, but it's good for her once a year."



Satisfied on the subject of his mother, whom he loved very much, he turned his mind to the present predicament.



"Are you really lost?" he asked.



Aurelia nodded, sighed. "I fear we are. Wait until my son hears about it! He'll never let me live it down. But he cannot leave Rome, being flamen Dialis, so I had to trust in Burgundus." She looked rueful. "Cardixa says he can lose himself between the Forum and the Subura, but I confess I thought she was being pessimistic. Now I see she didn't exaggerate in the slightest!"



"And Lucius Decumius and his boys are useless too."



"Outside the city walls, completely. However," she said loyally, "I could not ask for more caring and protective escorts, and now that we've met you, I'm sure we'll arrive at Quintus Pedius's in no time."



"Not quite in no time, but certainly I can put you on your way." His one good eye studied her thoughtfully. "Come to fetch your chick home, Aurelia?"



She flushed. "Not exactly. Quintus Pedius wrote to me and asked me to come. Apparently both Scipio and Sulla are camped on the borders of his land, and he felt Lia would be safer elsewhere. But she refused to leave!"



"A typical Caesar," said Sertorius, smiling. "Stubborn."



"How right you are! It really ought to have been her brother come-when he tells them to do this or do that, both his sisters jump! But Quintus Pedius seems to think I will do. My job is not so much to fetch my chick home, as to persuade my chick to come home."



"You'll succeed. The Caesars may be stubborn, but it isn't from the Caesars that your son gets his air of command. That he gets from you, Aurelia," said Sertorius. He looked suddenly brisk. "You'll understand when I tell you that I'm in a bit of a hurry. I'm going your way for a part of your journey, but I won't be able to escort you to Quintus Pedius's door, unfortunately. For that you'll have to apply to Sulla. He's camped squarely between where we are at the moment and Quintus Pedius's door."



"Whereas you are on your way to Scipio," she said, nodding.



"I wasn't," he said frankly, "until I realized I had too much gear back in his camp that I didn't want to part with."



The large purple eyes surveyed him tranquilly. "Oh, I see! Scipio doesn't meet the test."



"Did you think he could?"



"No, never."



A small silence fell; they were riding now back the way both had come, and the rest of Aurelia's party had fallen in behind them without a word.



"What will you do, Quintus Sertorius?"



"Make as much trouble for Sulla as I can. In Sinuessa, I think. But after I fetch my gear from Scipio's camp." He cleared his throat. "I can take you all the way to Sulla. He'd never try to detain me if I came on business like this."



“No, just take us as far as some spot from which we can find his camp without getting lost." Aurelia heaved a small and pleasurable sigh. "How nice it will be to see Lucius Cornelius again! It is four years since he was last in Rome. He always visited me just after he arrived, and just before he left. A kind of tradition. Now I have to break it, and all because of one stubborn daughter. Still, it doesn't matter. The important thing is that Lucius Cornelius and I will set eyes upon each other again. I have missed his visits dreadfully."



Almost Sertorius opened his mouth to warn her, but in the end he didn't. What he knew about Sulla's condition was hearsay, and what he knew about Aurelia was hard fact. She would prefer to make her own discoveries, of that he was sure.



So when the earth-and-timber ramparts of Sulla's camp began to trace lines across the rolling Campanian horizon, Quintus Sertorius bade his cousin-in-law a grave goodbye, geed up his horse and departed.



A new road led across the fields toward the ramparts, worn already by a ceaseless progress of supply carts and shod hooves; there could be no excuse for getting lost.



"We must have passed right by it," said Lucius Decumius, scowling. "Hid from view by the size of your arse, Burgundus!"



"Now, now," said Aurelia calmly, "stop quarreling, do!"



And that was the end of the conversation. An hour later the little band of riders paused before the gate while Lucius Decumius demanded to see the general, then entered a world very strange and new to Aurelia, who had never been anywhere near an army camp in her entire life. Many were the glances she received as they paced down the broad high street which led as straight as a spear shaft toward the tiny aperture of another gate in the far distance. Perhaps three miles lay between, she realized, amazed.



Halfway along the Via Principalis there reared the only piece of raised ground within the camp; an obviously artificial knoll upon which stood a large stone house. The big red general's flag was flying to indicate that the general was in, and the red-haired duty officer seated at his table under an awning stood up awkwardly when he saw that the general's visitor was a woman. Lucius Decumius, his sons, Burgundus, Cardixa and the other female servant remained by the horses as Aurelia walked sedately up the path toward the duty officer and the sentries who flanked him.



Because she was completely wrapped in voluminous fine fawn wool, all young Marcus Valerius Messala Rufus the duty officer could see was her face. But that, he thought, catching his breath, was quite enough. As old as his mother, yet the most beautiful woman! Helen of Troy hadn't been young either. For the years had not dimmed Aurelia's magic; she still turned all heads whenever she appeared outside her own apartment.



"I would like to see Lucius Cornelius Sulla, please."



Messala Rufus neither asked for her name nor thought to warn Sulla of her advent; he simply bowed to her and gestured with his hand toward the open door. Aurelia entered, smiling her thanks.



Though the shutters were wide to let in air, the room was shadow-filled, especially in the far corner where a man was bent over his desk writing busily by the light of a big lamp.



Her voice could be no one else's: "Lucius Cornelius?"



Something happened. The bowed shoulders stiffened, hunched up as if to ward off some frightful blow, and the pen and paper skittled across the surface of the table, so violently were they thrust away. But after that he sat without moving, back to her.



She advanced a few paces. "Lucius Cornelius?"



Still nothing, but her eyes were becoming used to the gloom and took in the sight of a head of hair which did not belong to Lucius Cornelius Sulla. Little ginger-red curls, quite ridiculous.



Then he heaved himself around as if convulsing, and she knew it was Lucius Cornelius Sulla only because he looked at her out of Lucius Cornelius Sulla's eyes. Unmistakably his eyes.



Ye gods, how could I do this to him? But I didn't know! If I had known, a siege tower could not have dragged me here! What is my face saying? What does he see in my expression?



"Oh, Lucius Cornelius, how good to see you!" she said in exactly the right tones, covered the rest of the distance to his desk, and kissed him on both poor scarred cheeks. Then she sat down on a folding chair close by, tucked her hands in her lap, gave him an unselfconscious smile, and waited.



"I didn't intend ever to see you again, Aurelia," he said, not taking his eyes from hers. "Couldn't you wait until I got to Rome? This is a departure from our normal habit I didn't expect."



"Rome seems to be the hard way for you-an army at your back. Or perhaps I sensed this would be the first time you did not come to visit. But no, dear Lucius Cornelius, I'm not here for any guessable reason. I'm here because I'm lost."



"Lost?"



"Yes. I'm trying to find Quintus Pedius. My silly daughter won't come to Rome and Quintus Pedius-he's her second husband, which you won't know-doesn't want her anywhere near two firmly encamped armies." It came out quite cheerfully and convincingly, she thought. It ought to reassure him.



But he was Sulla, so he said, "Gave you a shock, didn't I?"



She did not attempt to dissemble. "In some ways, yes. The hair, principally. Yours is gone, I presume."



"Along with my teeth." He bared his gums like an ape.



"Well, we all come to it if we live long enough."



"Wouldn't want me to kiss you now the way I did a few years ago, would you?"



Aurelia put her head to one side, smiled. "I didn't want you to kiss me that way even then, though I did enjoy it. Far too much for my own peace of mind. How you hated me!"



"What did you expect? You turned me down. I don't like women turning me down."



"I do remember that!"



"I remember the grapes."



"So do I."



He drew a deep breath, squeezed his eyelids together. "I wish I could weep!"



"I am glad you can't, dear friend," she said tenderly.



"You wept for me then."



"Yes, I did. But I won't weep for you now. That would be to mourn for a vanished reflection gone a long way down the river. You're here. I rejoice at that."



He got up at last, an old tired man. “A cup of wine?''



"Yes, indeed."



He poured, she noticed, from two separate flagons. "You wouldn't like the urine I'm forced to drink these days. As dry and sour as I am."



"I'm pretty dry and sour myself, but I won't insist upon tasting your choice if you don't recommend that I do." She took the simple cup he handed her and sipped gratefully.



"Thank you, it's good. We've had a long day looking for Quintus Pedius."



"What's your husband about, to leave you to do his job? Is he away yet again?" asked Sulla, sitting down with more ease.



The luminous eyes grew glassily stern. "I have been a widow for two years, Lucius Cornelius."



That astonished him. "Gaius Julius, dead? He was as fit as a boy! Was he killed in battle?"



"No. He just died-suddenly."



"Yet here I am, a thousand years older than Gaius Julius, still hanging on to life." It came out sounding bitter.



"You're the October Horse, he was just the middle of the field. A good man, and I liked being married to him. But I never thought him a man who needed to hang on to life," said Aurelia.



"Just as well perhaps that he didn't. If I take Rome, it would have gone hard for him. I presume he would have elected to follow Carbo."



"He followed Cinna, for Gaius Marius's sake. But Carbo? That I do not know." She changed the subject, growing used now to the way he looked, who had been as beautiful as Apollo. "Is your wife well, Lucius Cornelius?"



"When I last heard. She's still in Athens. Gave me twins last year, a boy and a girl." He chuckled. "She's afraid they're going to grow up to look like her Uncle Piggle-wiggle."



"Oh, poor little things! But that's nice, to have children. Do you ever wonder about your other twins, the boys your German wife had? They'd be young men now."



"Young Cherusci! Taking scalps and burning Romans alive in wicker cages."



It was going to be all right. He was calmer, less tormented. Of all the fates she had imagined might have been lying in wait for Lucius Cornelius Sulla, the loss of his special and unique attraction had not been among them. And yet he was still Sulla. His wife, she thought, probably loved him just as much as she ever had when he looked like Apollo.



For some time they talked on, slipping back through the rolling years as they exchanged information about this one and that one; he, she noticed, liked to talk about his protégé, Lucullus, and she, he noticed, liked to talk about her only son, who was now called Caesar.



"As I remember, young Caesar was scholarly. Being flamen Dialis ought to suit him," said Sulla.



Aurelia hesitated, seemed about to say something, then apparently said a different something: "He has made a tremendous effort to be a good priest, Lucius Cornelius."



Frowning, Sulla glanced at the window nearest to him. "I see the sun is westering, that's why it's so dim in here. Time to get you on your way. I'll have some cadets act as guides-Quintus Pedius is not far beyond my camp. And you may tell your daughter that if she stays, she's a fool. My men are not ravening beasts, but if she's a true Julia she'll be a sore temptation, and one cannot forbid the troops to drink wine when they're in a permanent camp in Campania. Take her to Rome at once. I'll provide an escort for you as far as Ferentinum on the day after tomorrow. That will see you safely out of the clutches of both the armies encamped hereabouts."



She rose. "I have Burgundus and Lucius Decumius, and dear Lucius Decumius's sons as well. But I would appreciate an escort if you can truly spare the men. Is there no battle imminent between you and Scipio?"



Oh, how sad, never to see that wonderful Sullan smile again! The best he could do these days was a grunt that didn't disturb the scabs and scars of his face. "That idiot? No, I don't foresee a battle," he said, standing in his doorway. He gave her a little push. "Now go, Aurelia. And don't expect me to visit you in Rome."



Off she went to join her waiting escort, while Sulla began to issue instructions to Messala Rufus. And in no time, it seemed, they were riding down the Via Praetoria toward yet another one of the four gates into Sulla's enormous camp.



One look at her face had not encouraged any of her companions to speak to her, so Aurelia was accorded the much-needed peace of finishing her journey inside her own thoughts.



I have always liked him, even though he became our enemy. Even though he is not a good person. My husband was a genuinely good person, and I loved him, and was faithful to him with my mind and my body. Yet-I know it now, though I did not until now-some little bit of me did I give to Lucius Cornelius Sulla. The bit my husband did not want, would not have known what to do with. We only kissed that once, Lucius Cornelius and I. But it was as beautiful as it was black. A passionate and engulfing mire. I did not yield. But ye gods, how I wanted to! I won a victory of sorts. Yet-did I perhaps lose a war?



Whenever he walked into my comfortable little world, a gale blew in around him; if he was Apollo, he was also Aeolus, and ruled the winds of my spirit, so that the lyre at my core hummed a melody my husband never, never heard.... Oh, this is worse than the grief of death and utter parting! I have looked upon the wreckage of a dream that was as much mine as his, and he knows it, poor Lucius Cornelius. But what courage! A lesser man would have fallen upon his sword. His pain, his pain! Why am I feeling this? I am busy, practical, unimaginative. My life is sifted out and very satisfying. But now I understand what bit of myself has always belonged to him; the bird bit, that might have lifted in soaring spirals singing its heart out while all the earth below burned away to an unimportant nothing. And no, I am not sorry I kept my feet upon the earth, never soared. It suits the way I am. He and I would never have known a moment's peace. Oh, I bleed for him! I weep for him!



And because she rode in front of all save the party of Roman officers, who led the way, her people did not see Aurelia's tears any more than they had seen Lucius Cornelius Sulla, the wreckage of a dream.



The patient and protesting letter Gaius Norbanus sent to Scipio Asiagenus did nothing to avert Scipio's self-inflicted disaster; yet no one was more astonished than Scipio Asiagenus when, having decided after all to give battle, he discovered that his troops would not fight for him. Instead, his eight legions deserted en masse to Sulla.



In fact, even when Sulla stripped him of his consular insignia of office and sent him packing under the escort of a squadron of cavalry, Scipio Asiagenus was still incapable of appreciating Rome's predicament. Quite tranquilly and complacently he went off to Etruria and began to recruit another army from among the enormous number of Gaius Marius's clients who lived there. Gaius Marius might be dead, but his memory would never fade. Whereas Scipio Asiagenus was merely a passing presence.



"He doesn't even understand that he broke a solemn truce," said Sulla, looking puzzled. "I know the Scipiones are on the way down, but that one-! He's not worthy of the name Cornelius Scipio. If I take Rome, I'll execute him."



"You should have executed him when you had him," said the Piglet, a little waspishly. "He's living to be a nuisance. ''



"No, he's the poultice I'm applying to Etruria's boil," said Sulla. "Draw the poison out, Pius, while there's only one head to deal with. Don't leave it to become a carbuncle."



More wisdom, of course; Metellus Pius grinned. “What a wonderful metaphor!"



Though the month was still Quinctilis and summer not yet over, Sulla moved no more that year. With Scipio's departure the two camps were joined cozily together, and Sulla's hoary centurions began working upon the young and inexperienced troops who had belonged to Carbo's Rome. Fear of Sulla's veterans had operated upon them more powerfully than had the more friendly aspects of fraternization; the slight exposure of scant days had revealed to them a kind of soldier they didn't know-hardbitten, weathered, completely professional. Definitely not the sort of men any raw recruit could confidently face on a field of battle. Desertion had seemed the better alternative.



The defection of Sinuessa Aurunca under the influence of Quintus Sertorius could be no more than a pinprick; Sulla did invest it, but only to use it as a training ground for Scipio's army, not to starve it out or storm its forbidding ramparts. He was not interested in any task which caused mass loss of life that year. Sinuessa's most useful purpose was to contain the extremely able Quintus Sertorius. Holed up there, he was useless to Carbo, who could indeed have used him to better purpose.



Word came from Sardinia that Philippus and his Spanish cohorts had seized power easily. He would be able to send the entire harvest of Sardinia: and in due time the grain ships arrived in Puteoli, there to unload for Sulla's benefit, having encountered no war galleys or pirates en route.



Then winter came early, and was an unusually severe one. To split the size of his more than doubled forces, Sulla sent some cohorts off to invest Capua as well as Sinuessa and Neapolis, thus compelling other parts of Campania than Teanum to help feed his troops. Verres and Cethegus proved capable victuallers, even devised a method of storing fish caught in the Adriatic in bins of packed-down snow; fish lovers who could never get enough of it fresh, Sulla's soldiers reveled in this unexpected treat, and the army surgeons found themselves coping with case after case of bone-in-the-throat.



All of which was of no importance to Sulla, who had picked at some of the scabs on his healed face, and started the itching again. Everyone who came into contact with him had begged him to let them fall off naturally, but that restless temperament couldn't wait; when they began to lift and dangle, he picked.



The outbreak was a very bad one, and (perhaps because of the cold? wondered Varro, pressed into service because he had revealed a scientific curiosity) raged without let for three full months. Three months of a sodden, genuinely lunatic Sulla, who moaned and scratched, screamed and drank. At one stage Varro bound his hands to his sides to keep them from his face, and though-like Ulysses tied to the mast while the Sirens sang-he was willing enough to endure this confinement, at the same time he implored to be freed. And of course succeeded eventually in freeing himself. To scratch again.



It was at the turn of the year that Varro despaired, went to warn Metellus Pius and Pompey that he doubted whether Sulla would recover by the spring.



"There's a letter for him from Tarsus," said Metellus Pius, who was resigned to keeping Pompey company through the winter; Crassus was among the Marsi, and Appius Claudius and Mamercus were in charge of siege operations elsewhere.



Varro looked alert. "Tarsus?"



"That's right. From the ethnarch Morsimus."



“Is there a jar?''



"No, just a letter. Can he read it?"



"Definitely not."



"Then you'd better read it, Varro," said Pompey.



Metellus Pius looked scandalized. "Really, Pompeius!"



"Oh, Piglet, stop being so sanctimonious!" said Pompey wearily. "We know he's been hoping for some magic salve or other, and we know he'd charged Morsimus with finding it. Now there's news of some sort, but he can't read. Don't you think-for his sake, if for no one else's-that Varro ought to see what Morsimus has to say?"



So Varro was allowed to see what Morsimus had to say.



Here is the recipe, which is the most I can do for you, dear Lucius Cornelius, my friend and patron. It seems the salve has to be freshly prepared more often than the length of a journey from the Pyramus of Cilicia Pedia all the way to Rome would permit. So you must seek out the ingredients and make it for yourself. Luckily none of the ingredients is exotic, though many of them apparently are hard to extract.



The cure has to come from a sheep, or sheep. First you take a fleece of absolutely raw wool, and set someone to scraping the fibers with an instrument sharp enough to crush them, yet not sharp enough to cut them through. You will find that on the edge of your strigilis a substance builds up-rather oily, but having the consistency of cheese curds. You must scrape until you have a great mound of this- many fleeces, was how my source put it. Then you soak the substance in warm water-warm, not hot!-though it cannot be too cool either. The best test is a fingertip in the water-it should feel hot, but by no means unbearable. The substance will partially melt into a layer which floats on top. That layer is the part you want, in measure a full beaker.



Then you take a fleece with its hide attached, making sure some fat adheres to the back of the hide-the animal must have been freshly slaughtered, as indeed all must have been-and you boil it. The fat you obtain from this you must render twice over, and then you must reserve a full beaker of it.



The fat of a sheep, so said my source, needs some special fat from inside the beast also, for sheep fat is very hard, even in a warm room. My source- the smelliest and most detestable of crones, not to mention the most rapacious of creatures!-said this internal fat must be plucked from amid the harder fat on top of the sheep's kidneys, and mashed. Then it must be melted in warm water, as with the scrapings from the wool. You must lift off the layer which forms on top of the water, in the amount of two thirds of a beaker. To this, add one third of a beaker of bile freshly drawn from the sheep's gallbladder immediately after its slaughtering.



After which, you mix all the ingredients together gently, but thoroughly. The ointment is rather hard, but not as hard as the rendered fat on its own. Smear it on at least four times a day. I warn you, dear Lucius Cornelius, that it stinks disgustingly. But my source insists that it be used without the addition of perfumes or spices or resins.



Please let me know if it works! The vile old crone swears it was she who made that original jar you used with such success, though I myself am in some doubt.



Vale from Morsimus.



Off went Varro to marshal a small army of slaves, and set the slaves to find a flock of sheep. After which, in a little house close by the more solid building in which Sulla lived, he hovered anxiously between cauldrons and toiling scrapers, insisting upon personally inspecting every carcass and every kidney, insisting that he personally test the temperature of all the water, measuring meticulously and driving the servants to the point of exasperation with his fusses and clucks and tches. For perhaps an hour before his ointment factory commenced work he fretted and fumed over the size of the beaker; and then, at the end of the hour, he saw the truth, and laughed until he cried. Provided his beakers were all the same size, what did size matter?



One hundred sheep later (the bile and the rendered-down fat came from only two sheep, but the little bit of fat on top of the kidneys and the scrapings from the wool were painfully slow in accumulating), Varro found himself with a fairly large porphyry jar of ointment. As for the exhausted slaves, they found themselves with a hundred largely untouched carcasses of delicious mutton, and counted their labors well done for the chance of a full belly of roasted meat.



The hour was late, and Sulla, so his attendant whispered, was asleep on a couch in his dining room.



"Drunk," nodded Varro.



"Yes, Marcus Terentius."



"Well, I think that's probably good."



In he went on tiptoe, and stood for a moment looking down at the poor tortured creature Sulla had become. The wig had fallen off and lay with its gauze interior gaping; many thousands of hairs had gone into its manufacture, each one painstakingly knotted onto that base of gauze. To think that it took longer to make than my ointment! Varro thought, and sighed, shook his head. Then, very delicately, he applied his salve-caked fingers to the bleeding mess of Sulla's face.



The eyes snapped open at once, pain and terror shrieking from beneath their wine-blinded glaze; the mouth opened, the lips stretched to show gums and tongue. Yet no sound did he emit.



"It is the ointment, Lucius Cornelius," Varro whispered. "I have made it to the exact recipe. Can you bear it if I try to smear some on?"



Tears welled, pooled in the sockets of Sulla's eyes because he lay flat on his back. Before they could overflow from each outer corner, Varro had dabbed them away with a piece of softest cloth. Still they welled. Still Varro dabbed.



"You mustn't weep, Lucius Cornelius. The salve has to be applied to dry skin. Now lie quietly, and close your eyes."



So Sulla lay quietly, eyes closed. After a few reflexive jerks because his face was being touched, he made no other protest, and slowly the tension oozed out of him.



Varro finished, took a lamp with five flames and held it up to view his handiwork. A clear, watery fluid was popping up in beads wherever the skin had broken down, but the layer of ointment seemed to have tamed the bleeding.



"You must try not to scratch. Does it itch?" Varro asked.



The eyes remained closed. "Yes, it itches. But I've known it to itch far worse. Tie my hands to my sides."



Varro did that. "I'll come back toward dawn and smear some more on. Who knows, Lucius Cornelius? Perhaps by dawn the itching will have gone away." Then he tiptoed out.



At dawn the itch was still present, but to Varro's clinically detached gaze Sulla's skin looked-what was the word?-calmer. On went more ointment; Sulla asked that his hands remain tied. But by nightfall, three applications later, he announced that he thought he could refrain from scratching if Varro loosed his bonds. And four days after that, he told Varro that the itching was gone.



"The stuff works!" cried Varro to Pompey and the Piglet, afire with the satisfaction of a vindicated physician, for all that he was no physician, nor wanted to be.



“Will he able to command in the spring?'' asked Pompey.



“Provided that the stuff continues to work, probably well before the spring," said Varro, and bustled off with his porphyry jar to embed it in the snow. Kept cold, it would last longer, though Varro's hands stank of what he suspected was the rancid version of it. "Truly he is felix!" said Varro to himself; he meant, of course, that Sulla had luck.



3



When the onset of that cold and early winter brought snow to Rome, many of those who lived there saw the freeze as an ill omen. Neither Norbanus nor Scipio Asiagenus had returned after their respective defeats, nor did cheering news come of their subsequent activities; Norbanus was now under halfhearted siege in Capua, while Scipio drifted around Etruria recruiting.



Toward the end of the year, the Senate thought about convening to debate what its-and Rome's-future held. Numbers were down to about a third of Sulla's original fairly plump body of men, between those who had streamed to join Sulla in Greece, and this latest outpouring anxious to align itself with Sulla now he was back in Italy. For despite the protestations of a group of senators who insisted upon calling themselves neutral, everyone in Rome from highest to lowest knew very well that the lines were drawn. All of Italy and Italian Gaul were not large enough to accommodate Sulla and Carbo in peaceful coexistence; they stood for opposite values, systems of government, ideas of where Rome ought to go.



Sulla stood for the mos maiorum, the centuries-old customs and traditions which embodied the landed aristocrats as leaders in peace and war, whereas Carbo stood for the commercial and business leaders-the knights and the tribuni aerarii. As neither group would agree to share an equal dominance, one or the other would have to win dominance by means of another civil war.



That the Senate even toyed with the idea of meeting was due only to the return of Carbo from Italian Gaul, summoned from Ariminum by the tribune of the plebs Marcus Junius Brutus, he who had legislated the status of a fully Roman city for Capua. They met in Brutus's house on the Palatine, a place with which Gnaeus Papirius Carbo was very familiar; he and Brutus had been friends for many years. It was besides a discreeter location than Carbo's house, where (so rumor had it) even the boy who cleaned out the chamber pots was taking bribes from several people interested in knowing what Carbo was thinking of doing next.



That Brutus's house was free from corrupt servants was entirely thanks to Brutus's wife, Servilia, who ran her establishment more stringently by far than Scipio Asiagenus had his army. She tolerated no kind of misbehavior, seemed to have as many eyes in her head as Argus, and as many ears as a colony of bats. The servant who could outwit or outgeneral her did not exist, and the servant who was not afraid of her lasted scant days.



So it was that Brutus and Carbo could settle to their very private conversation in complete security. Except, of course, for Servilia herself. Nothing happened or was said in her house that she did not know about, and this very private conversation was not conducted out of her hearing, she made sure of that. The two men were inside Brutus's study with the doors shut, and Servilia crouched outside on the colonnade beneath the one open window. A cold and uncomfortable place for an eavesdropper, but Servilia thought that of little consequence compared to what might be said inside the cozy room.



They began with pleasantries.



"How is my father?" asked Brutus.



"He's well, sends you his regards."



"I'm surprised you can put up with him!" burst from Brutus, who stopped, obviously shocked at what he had said. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to sound angry. I'm really not angry."



"Just somewhat bewildered that I can put up with him?"



"Yes."



"He's your father," said Carbo in tones of comfort, "and he's an old man. I understand why you might find him a trouble. However, he isn't to me. It's as simple as that. After Verres absconded with what was left of my governor's allowance, I had to find a replacement quaestor anyway. Your dad and I have been friends ever since he returned with Marius from exile, as you well know." Carbo paused, probably to pat Brutus on the arm, thought the eavesdropper cynically; she knew how Carbo handled her husband. He then went on. "When you married, he bought you this house so he wouldn't be underfoot. What he didn't count on was the loneliness of living by himself after you and he had been-well, bachelors together might be the best way to put it-for so long. I imagine he made a nuisance of himself, and may have annoyed your wife. So when I wrote and asked him to be my new proquaestor, he accepted with alacrity. I see no need for guilt in you, Brutus. He's happy where he is."



"Thank you," said Brutus with a sigh.



"Now what's so urgent I had to come in person?"



"The elections. Since the desertion of everyone's friend, Philippus, morale in Rome has plummeted. No one will lead, no one has the courage to lead. That's why I felt you had to come to Rome, at least until after the elections. I can find no one well qualified who wants to be consul! No one qualified wants to hold any position of importance, for that matter," said Brutus nervously; he was a nervous man.



“What about Sertorius?''



"He's a stickler, you know that. I wrote to him in Sinuessa and begged him to stand for the consulship, but he declined. For two reasons, though I had expected only one-that he is still a praetor, and ought to wait the customary two years before being consul. I had hoped to talk him over that hurdle, and might have, had it been his only reason. The second reason I found impossible."



"What was his second reason?"



"He said Rome was finished, that he refused to be consul in a place full of cowards and opportunists."



"Elegantly put!"



"He would be governor of Nearer Spain, he said, and take himself right away."



"Fellator!" snarled Carbo.



Brutus, who did not like strong language, said nothing to this, and apparently had nothing further to say on any subject, as nothing was said for some time.



Exasperated, the listener on the colonnade applied her eye to the ornate lattice of the shutter, and saw Carbo and her husband sitting one on either side of Brutus's desk. They might, she thought idly, have been brothers-both very dark, both rather homely of features, and neither particularly tall nor particularly well built.



Why, she had asked herself often, had Fortune not favored her with a more impressive-looking husband, one she could be sure would shine politically? Of a military career for Brutus she had abandoned hope early, so politics it must be. But the best Brutus could think of was to legislate to give Capua the status of a Roman city. Not a bad idea-and certainly it had saved his tribunate of the plebs from utter banality!-but he would never be remembered as one of the great tribunes of the plebs, like her Uncle Drusus.



Brutus had been Uncle Mamercus's choice, though in himself Uncle Mamercus was mind and body Sulla's man, and had been in Greece with Sulla at the time it became necessary to find a husband for the eldest of his six wards, Servilia. They were all still living in Rome under the chaperonage of a poor relation, Gnaea, and her mother, Porcia Liciniana-a terrifying woman! Any guardian, no matter how geographically removed from his wards he might happen to be, need have no worry about the virtue and moral status of a child living under the thumb of Porcia Liciniana! Even her daughter, Gnaea, just grew plainer and more spinsterish as the years passed.



Thus it had been Porcia Liciniana who had received the suitors for Servilia's hand in marriage as her eighteenth birthday approached, and Porcia Liciniana who had transmitted relevant information about the various suitors to Uncle Mamercus in the east. Together with penetrating remarks about virtue, morality, prudence, temperance, and all the other qualities she considered desirable in a husband. And though Porcia Liciniana had never once committed the gross solecism of expressing an outright preference for one suitor above any other, those penetrating remarks of hers did sink into Uncle Mamercus's mind. After all, Servilia had a huge dowry and the felicitude of a splendid old patrician name, and was, Uncle Mamercus had been assured by Porcia Liciniana, not unattractive in her person besides.



So Uncle Mamercus took the easy way out; he chose the man Porcia Liciniana had hinted about most heavily. Marcus Junius Brutus. Since he was a senator in his early thirties, he was deemed old enough to be beyond youthful follies and indiscretions; he would be the head of his branch of the family when Old Brutus died (which could not be too far away, said Porcia Liciniana); and he was a wealthy man of impeccable (if plebeian) ancestry.



Servilia herself did not know him, and even after Porcia Liciniana informed her of her impending marriage, she was not allowed to meet Brutus until their wedding day arrived. That this antique custom was levied upon her was not due to the daunting Porcia Liciniana; it was rather the direct outcome of a childhood punishment. Because she had served as her estranged father's spy in the household of her Uncle Drusus, her Uncle Drusus had sentenced her to a form of domestic imprisonment: she was never to be allowed to have her own room or any vestige of privacy within his house, and never to be allowed to leave that house unless accompanied by people who would police her smallest step or expression. And all that had been years and years before she reached marriageable age, and every adult in her life at that time-mother, father, aunt, uncle, grandmother, stepfather-was long dead. But still the rule continued to be enforced.



No exaggeration then to say that Servilia was so anxious to marry and be gone from Uncle Drusus's house that she would hardly have cared who her husband was. To her, he had come to represent liberation from a detested regimen. But on learning his name, she had closed her eyes in profound relief. A man of her own class and background rather than the country squire she had expected-the country squire her Uncle Drusus during his lifetime had more than once threatened would be her husband when she grew up. Luckily Uncle Mamercus could see no advantage in marrying his niece below her station-nor could Porcia Liciniana.



Off to the house of Marcus Junius Brutus she went, a new and very thankful bride, and with her went her enormous dowry of two hundred talents-five million sesterces. What was more, it would remain hers. Uncle Mamercus had invested it well enough to ensure her a good income of her own, and directed that upon her death it should go to her female children. As her new husband, Brutus, had plenty of money of his own, the arrangement concerning her dowry did not disappoint him. Indeed, it meant that he had acquired a wife of the highest patrician aristocracy who would always be able to pay for her own upkeep-be it slaves, wages for slaves, clothing, jewelry, houses, or other expenses she incurred, she would have to pay for them herself. His money was safely his!



Aside from freedom to go where she pleased and see whomever she pleased, marriage for Servilia turned out to be a singularly joyless affair. Her husband had been a bachelor too long, no mother or other woman in his house; his ways were set, and did not include a wife. He shared nothing with her-even, she felt, his body. If he asked friends to dinner, she was told to absent herself from the dining room; his study was forbidden to her at all times; he never sought her out to discuss anything of any kind with her; he never showed her anything he bought or acquired; he never requested her company when he visited any of his country villas. As for his body--well, it was just a thing which from time to time visited her room and excited her not at all. Of privacy, she suddenly found she had far more than the long years without privacy now made comfortable or welcome. As her husband liked to sleep alone, she didn't even have someone else in the cubicle where she slept, and found the silence horrifying.



So it was that marriage turned out to be merely a variation on the theme which had dogged her almost from infancy: she was important to no one, she mattered to no one. The only way she had managed to matter was by being nasty, spiteful, vicious, and this side of herself every servant in the house knew to his or her cost. But to her husband she never showed this side of herself, for she knew he did not love her, and that therefore divorce was never far away. To Brutus, she was unfailingly pleasant. To the servants, she was unfailingly hard.



Brutus did his duty, however. Two years a wife, Servilia fell pregnant. Like her mother, she was properly formed for bearing children, and suffered not a bit. Even labor was not the nightmare agony she had been led to believe; she brought forth her son within seven hours on an icy March night, and was able to revel in him when he was given to her, washed and sweet.



Little wonder then that baby Brutus expanded to fill every vacant corner of his mother's love-starved life-that she would not let any other woman give him milk, and cared for him entirely herself, and put his crib in her own sleeping cubicle, and from his birth was wrapped in him to the exclusion of all else.



Why then did Servilia bother to listen outside the study on that freezing day late in November of the year Sulla landed in Italy? Certainly not because her husband's political activities interested her for his sake. She listened because he was the father of her beloved son, and she had made a vow that she would safeguard her son's inheritances, reputation, future welfare. It meant she had to keep herself informed about everything. Nothing must escape her! Especially her husband's political activities.



Servilia didn't care for Carbo, though she acknowledged that he was no lightweight. But she had correctly assessed him as one who would look after his own interests ahead of Rome's; and she wasn't sure that Brutus was clearheaded enough to see Carbo's deficiencies. The presence of Sulla in Italy worried her deeply, for she was possessed of a genuinely political mind, and could see the pattern of future events more acutely than most men who had spent half a lifetime in the Senate. Of one thing she was sure; that Carbo didn't have sufficient strength in him to hold Rome together in the teeth of a man like Sulla.



She took her eye away, presented her ear to the lattice instead, and sank to her knees on the painfully cold terrazzo floor. It was beginning to snow again-a boon! The flakes formed a veil between her muffled body and the hive of domestic activity at the far end of the peristyle garden, where the kitchens were, and servants pattered back and forth. Not that fear of detection concerned her; Brutus's household would never have dared question her right to be anywhere she liked in any kind of posture. It was more that she liked to appear to Brutus's household in the light of a superior being, and superior beings did not kneel outside a husband's window to eavesdrop.



Suddenly she tensed, pressed her ear closer. Carbo and her husband were talking again!



"There are some good men among those eligible to run for praetor," Brutus was saying. "Carrinas and Damasippus are as capable as they are popular."



"Huh!" from Carbo. "Like me, they let a hairless youth beat them in battle-but unlike me, they at least had been warned that Pompeius is as ruthless as his father, and ten times as crafty. If Pompeius stood for praetor, he'd win more votes than Carrinas and Damasippus put together."



"Pompeius's veterans carried the day," said Brutus in a reasonable tone.



"Maybe. But if so, then Pompeius let them do their job without interference." Impatient, it seemed, to leap into the future, Carbo now changed the subject. “Praetors are not what concern me, Brutus. I'm worried about the consulship-thanks to your predictions of gloom! If necessary, I'll stand for consul myself. But whom can I take for a colleague? Who in this wretched city is capable of shoring me up rather than dragging me down? There will be war in the spring, nothing is surer. Sulla's not been well, but my intelligence sources say he'll face the next campaigning season in high fettle."



"Illness was not his only reason for hanging back this past year," said Brutus. "We've heard rumors that he's stayed inert to give Rome the chance to capitulate without a war."



"Then he stayed inert in vain!" said Carbo savagely. "Oh, enough of these speculations! Whom can I take as my fellow consul?"



"Have you no ideas?" asked Brutus.



"Not a one. I need someone capable of firing people's spirits-someone who will inspire the young men to enlist, and the old men to wish they could enlist. A man like Sertorius. But you say flatly that he won't consent."



"What about Marcus Marius Gratidianus, then?"



"He's a Marius by adoption, and that's not good enough. I wanted Sertorius because he's a Marius by blood."



There was a pause, but not of a helpless kind; hearing an indrawn breath from her husband, the listener outside the window stiffened to absolute stillness, determined not to miss a single word of what was coming.



"If it's a Marius you want," said Brutus slowly, "why not Young Marius?"



Another pause ensued, of the thunderstruck variety. Then Carbo said, "That's not possible! Edepol, Brutus, he's not much more than twenty years old!"



"Twenty-six, actually."



"He's four years too young for the Senate!"



"There's no constitutionally official age, in spite of the lex Villia annalis. Custom rules. So I suggest you have Perperna appoint him to the Senate at once."



"He's not his father's bootlace!" cried Carbo.



"Does that matter? Does it, Gnaeus Papirius? Really? I admit that in Sertorius you would have found your ideal member of the Marii-no one in Rome commands soldiers better, or is more respected by them. But he won't consent. So who else is there except Young Marius?"



"They'd certainly flock to enlist," said Carbo softly.



"And fight for him like the Spartans for Leonidas."



“Do you think he could do it?''



"I think he'd like to try."



"You mean he's already expressed a wish to be consul?"



Brutus laughed, something he was not prone to do. "No, Carbo, of course not! Though he's a conceited sort of fellow, he's not actually very ambitious. I simply mean that I think if you went to him and offered him the chance, he'd jump at it. Nothing so far in his life has presented him with any opportunity to emulate his father. And in one respect at least, this will give him the opportunity to surpass his father. Gaius Marius came late into office. Young Marius will be consul at a younger age even than Scipio Africanus. No matter how he fares, there's fame in that for him."



“If he fares half as well as Scipio Africanus, Rome stands in no danger from Sulla."



"Don't hope for a Scipio Africanus in Young Marius," warned Brutus. "The only way he could prevent Cato the Consul from losing a battle was to stab him in the back."



Carbo laughed, something he did often. "Well, that was a bit of luck for Cinna at least! Old Marius paid him a fortune not to press a charge of murder."



"Yes," said Brutus, sounding very serious, "but that episode should point out to you some of the difficulties you'll face with Young Marius as your colleague in the consulship."



"Don't turn my back?"



"Don't turn your best troops over to him. Let him prove he can general troops before you do that."



There came the noise of chair legs scraping; Servilia got to her feet and fled to the warmth of her workroom, where the young girl who did the nursery laundry was enjoying a rare chance to cuddle baby Brutus.



The flare of scorching jealousy leaped inside Servilia before she could control it; her hand flashed out, cracked so hard against the girl's cheek that she fell from her perch on the crib, and in so doing, dropped the baby. Who didn't reach the floor because his mother swooped to catch him. Then, clasping him fiercely to her breast, Servilia literally kicked the girl from the room.



"Tomorrow you'll be sold!" she shrieked down the length of the colonnade enclosing the peristyle garden. Her voice changed, she merely shouted now: "Ditus! Ditus!"



The steward, whose flowery name was Epaphroditus but was usually addressed as Ditus, came at the run. "Yes, domina?”



"That girl-the Gaul you gave me to wash Baby's things-flog her and sell her as a bad slave."



The steward gaped. "But domina, she's excellent! Not only does she wash well, she's absolutely devoted to Baby!"



Servilia slapped Epaphroditus quite as hard as she had the girl, then demonstrated that she knew how to use a choice obscenity. “Now listen to me, you pampered, over-fed Greek fellator! When I give you an order you'll obey it without a word, let alone an argument! I don't care whose property you are, so don't go whining to the master, or you'll rue it! Now fetch the girl to your office and wait for me. You like her, so you won't flog her hard enough unless I'm there to see it."



The crimson mark of her hand standing out on his face was complete to its fingers, but it didn't provoke the terror in him that her words did. Epaphroditus bolted.



Servilia didn't ask for another maid; instead, she herself wrapped baby Brutus warmly in a fine wool shawl, and carried him down to the steward's office. The girl was tied down and a weeping Epaphroditus forced, under the basilisk glare of his mistress, to flog her until her back turned to bright red jelly and gobbets of her flesh flew everywhere. Incessant screams erupted from the room into the snow-muffled air, but the snow could not muffle those screams. Nor did the master appear to demand what was going on, for Brutus had gone with Carbo to see Young Marius, as Servilia had guessed.



Finally Servilia nodded. The steward's arm fell. She walked up to inspect his handiwork closely, and looked satisfied. "Yes, good! She'll never grow skin back on that mess again. No point in offering her for sale, she wouldn't fetch a single sestertius. Crucify her. Out there in the peristyle. She'll serve as a warning to the rest of you. And don't break her legs! Let her die slowly."



Back to her workroom Servilia marched, there to unwrap her son and change his linen diaper. After which she sat him on her lap and held him out at arm's length to adore him, leaning forward occasionally to kiss him tenderly and talk to him in a soft, slightly growling voice.



They made a sufficiently pretty picture, the small dark child upon his small dark mother's knee. She was a beautiful woman, Servilia, endowed with a firmly voluptuous figure and one of those little pointed faces which have an air of many secrets in a stilly folded mouth and thickly lidded, hooded eyes. The child however, owned only his infant's beauty, for in truth he was plain and rather torpid-what people called a "good baby" in that he cried hardly at all and made no fusses.



And so when he came home from the house of Young Marius did Brutus find them, and listened without comment to the coldly narrated story of the negligent laundress and her punishment. As he would never have dared to interfere with Servilia's smoothly efficient domestic arrangements (his house had never run as well before he married her, so much was sure), he made no alterations to his wife's sentence, and when his steward came to him later at his summons, did not remark upon the snow-smothered figure tied lolling to a cross in the garden.



"Caesar! Where are you, Caesar?" He came strolling barefooted out of what used to be his father's study, a pen in one hand and a roll of paper in the other, wearing no more than a thin tunic. Frowning, because his mother's voice had interrupted his train of thought.



But she, swaddled in layer upon layer of exquisitely fine home-woven woolen fabric, was more concerned with the welfare of his body than the output of his mind, and said testily, "Oh, why will you ignore the cold? You do, you know! And no slippers either! Caesar, your horoscope suggests that you will suffer a terrible illness at about this time in your life, and you're aware it does. Why do you tempt the lady Fortune to touch the line of that evil aspect and bring it into being? Horoscopes are commissioned at birth to ensure that potential risks can be prevented from becoming real. Be good!"



Her perturbation was absolutely genuine-and he knew it-so he gave her the smile for which he was already famous, a kind of unspoken apology that did not threaten his pride.



"What is it?" he asked, resigned the moment he set eyes on her to the fact that his work would have to wait; she was clad for going out.



"We've been sent for to your Aunt Julia's."



“At this time of day? In this weather?''



"I'm glad you've noticed the weather! Not that it prompts you to dress sensibly," said Aurelia.



"I do have a brazier, Mater. In fact, I have two."



"Then go into the warmth and change," she said. "It is freezing in here, with the wind whistling down the light well." Before he turned to go, she added, "Best find Lucius Decumius. We're all asked."



That meant both his sisters, which surprised him-it must be a very important family conference! Almost he opened his mouth to assure his mother that he didn't need Lucius Decumius, that a hundred women would be safe under his protection; then he shut it. He wouldn't win, so why try? Aurelia always knew how she wanted things done.



When he emerged from his rooms he was wearing the regalia of the flamen Dialis, though in weather like this he wore three tunics beneath it, woolen breeches to below his knees, and thick socks inside a pair of baggy boots without straps or laces. His priest's laena took the place of another man's toga; this clumsy double-layered garment was cut on the full circle, contained a hole in its middle through which he poked his head, and was richly colored in broad stripes of alternating scarlet and purple. It reached to his knees and completely concealed his arms and hands, which meant, he thought ruefully (trying to find some virtue in his detested laena), that he did not need to wear mittens in this icy storm. Atop his head sat the apex, a close-fitting ivory helmet surmounted by a spike upon which was impaled a thick disc of wool.



Since officially becoming a man, Caesar had adhered to the taboos which hedged the flamen Dialis around; he had abandoned military practice on the Campus Martius, he allowed no iron to touch his person, he wore no knots or buckles, said hello to no dog, had his footwear made from the leather of an animal killed accidentally, and ate only those things his role as flamen Dialis permitted. That his chin displayed no beard was because he shaved with a bronze razor; that he had managed to wear boots when his priestly clogs were impractical was only because he had personally designed a style of boot to fit well without using the normal devices which made it snug around ankle and calf.



Not even his mother knew how deeply he loathed his lifelong sentence as Priest of Jupiter. When he had become a man at half-past fifteen, he had assumed the senseless shibboleths of his flaminate without a murmur or a look, and Aurelia had heaved a sigh of relief. The early rebellion had not lasted. What she couldn't know was his true reason for obeying: he was a Roman to his core, which meant he was committed absolutely to the customs of his country, and he was inordinately superstitious. He had to obey! If he did not, he would never obtain the favor of Fortune. She would not smile upon him or his endeavors, he would have no luck. For despite this hideous lifelong sentence, he still believed Fortune would find a way out for him-if he did his best to serve Jupiter Optimus Maximus as his special priest.



Thus obedience did not mean reconciliation, as Aurelia thought it did. Obedience only meant that with every passing day he hated being flamen Dialis more. And hated it most because under the law there could be no escape. Old Gaius Marius had succeeded in shackling him forever. Unless Fortune rescued him.



Caesar was seventeen, would not be eighteen until another seven months had elapsed; but he looked older, and he carried himself like a consular who had also been censor. The height and the broad shoulders helped, of course, allied as they were to a gracefully muscular frame. His father had been dead for two and a half years, which meant he had come very early into his title of paterfamilias, and now wore it naturally. The extreme good looks of his boyhood had not faded, though they had become more manly-his nose, thank all the gods, had lengthened to a form properly, bumpily Roman, and saved him from a prettiness which would have been a great burden to one who so ardently desired to be everything a man should be-soldier, statesman, lover of women without suspicion that he was also a lover of men.



His family was assembled in the reception room, garbed for a long, cold walk. Except, that is, for his wife, Cinnilla. At eleven years of age she was not considered adult enough to attend these rare gatherings of the clan. However, she was present, the only small and dark member of the house; when Caesar entered, her pansy-black eyes flew to his face just as they always did. He adored her, moved to her now and swept her off her feet to hold her in his arms, kissing her soft pink cheek with his eyes closed the better to inhale the exquisite perfume of a child kept clean and balmed by his mother.



"Doomed to stay home?" he asked, kissing her cheek again.



"One day I'll be big enough," she said, showing dimples in her enchanting smile.



"Indeed you will! And then you'll be more important than Mater, because you'll be the mistress of the house." He put the child down, smoothed his hand over her mass of waving black hair, and winked at Aurelia.



"I won't be the mistress of this house," she said solemnly. "I'll be the flaminica Dialis, and mistress of a State house."



"True," he said lightly. "How could I have forgotten?"



Out into the driving snow he went, up past the shops which nestled in the outer wall of Aurelia's apartment house, to the rounded apex of that triangular building. Here was located what appeared to be a tavern, yet was not; it was the headquarters of the College of Crossroads Brethren who supervised the well-being and spiritual life of the crossroads outside its double doors, especially the towerlike shrine to the Lares and the big fountain, which now flowed sluggishly amid a tumble of ethereally blue icicles, so cold was this winter.



Lucius Decumius was in residence at his usual table in the back left-hand corner of the huge, clean room. Grizzled these days but face as unlined as ever, he had recently admitted his two sons to membership, and was training them in all the multifarious activities of his college. So they sat one on either side of him like the two lions which always flanked a statue of Magna Mater-grave, tawny, thick-maned, yellow-eyed, claws furled. Not that Lucius Decumius in any way resembled Magna Mater! He was little, skinny, and anonymous-looking; his sons took after their mother, who was a large Celtic lady from the Ager Gallicus. To no one unacquainted with him did he seem what he actually was-brave, tortuously subtle, amoral, enormously intelligent, loyal.



The three Decumii brightened when Caesar walked through the door, but only Lucius Decumius rose. Threading his way between the tables and benches, he reached Caesar, stood on tiptoe and kissed the young man on the lips more fondly than he did either of his sons. It was the kiss of a father, though it was given to someone whose only connection with him lay tangled amid the cords of his not inconsiderable heart.



"My boy!" he crowed, and took Caesar's hand.



"Hello, dad," Caesar answered with a smile, lifted Lucius Decumius's fingers and pressed them against his cold cheek.



"Been sweeping out some dead man's house?" asked Lucius Decumius, in reference to Caesar's priestly regalia. "Nasty weather for dying! Have a cup of wine to warm you, eh?"



Caesar grimaced. He had never managed to cultivate a real liking for wine, try though Lucius Decumius and his brethren had to instill it in him. "No time, dad. I'm here to borrow a couple of the brethren. I have to take my mother and sisters to the house of Gaius Marius, and she doesn't trust me to do it on my own, of course."



"Wise woman, your mother," said Lucius Decumius with a look of wicked glee. He beckoned to his sons, who rose at once and came to join him. "Togs on, lads! We're going to take the ladies to the house of Gaius Marius."



No resentment of their father's obvious preference for Gaius Julius Caesar colored the emotions of Lucius Decumius Junior or young Marcus Decumius; they simply nodded, clapped Caesar on the back in great affection, and went off to find their warmest clothing.



"Don't come, dad," said Caesar. "Stay here out of the cold."



But that didn't suit Lucius Decumius, who allowed his sons to dress him much as a doting mother might have dressed her toddling offspring. "Where's that oaf Burgundus?" he asked as they spilled out into the swirling snow.



Caesar chuckled. "No use to anyone at the moment! Mater sent him down to Bovillae with Cardixa. She might have started breeding late, but she's produced one baby giant every year since she first set eyes on Burgundus. This will be number four, as you well know."



"You'll never be short of bodyguards when you're consul."



Caesar shivered, but not from the cold. "I'll never be consul," he said harshly, then lifted his shoulders and tried to be pleasant. "My mother says it's like feeding a tribe of Titans. Ye gods, they can eat!"



"Good people, but."



"Yes, good people," said Caesar.



By this time they had reached the outer door of Aurelia's apartment, and collected the womenfolk. Other aristocratic ladies might have elected to ride in litters, especially in such weather, but not the Julian ladies. They walked, their progress down the Fauces Suburae somewhat eased by the Decumius sons, who shuffled ahead to blaze a path through the accumulating snow.



The Forum Romanum was utterly deserted, and looked odd bled of its vividly colored columns and walls and roofs and statues; everything was marble-white, seemed sunk in a deep and dreamless sleep. And the imposing statue of Gaius Marius near the rostra had a bank of snow perched on either bushy eyebrow, masking the normally fierce glare of his dark eyes.



Up the Hill of the Bankers they toiled, through the vast portals of the Fontinalis Gate, and so to the door of Gaius Marius's house. As its peristyle garden lay at the back of the mansion, they entered straight into the foyer, and there peeled off outer garments (save for Caesar, doomed to wear his regalia). Lucius Decumius and his sons were taken away by the steward, Strophantes, to sample some excellent food and wine, while Caesar and the women entered the atrium.



Had the weather been less unnaturally cold, they might have remained there, since it was well past dinnertime, but the open rectangle of the compluvium in the roof was acting like a vortex, and the pool below it was a twinkling crust of rapidly melting snowflakes.



Young Marius appeared then to welcome them and usher them through into the dining room, which would be warmer, he said. He looked, thought Caesar warily, almost afire with happiness, and the emotion suited him. As tall as Caesar (who was his first cousin), he was more heavily built, fair of hair and grey of eye, handsome, impressive. Physically far more attractive than his father, he yet lacked that vital something which had made of Gaius Marius one of the Roman immortals. Many generations would go by, Caesar reflected, before every schoolchild ceased to learn about the exploits of Gaius Marius. Such would not be the lot of his son, Young Marius.



This was a house Caesar loathed visiting; too much had happened to him here. While other boys of his age had been heedlessly frittering away their time playing on the Campus Martius, he had been required to report here every day to act as nurse/companion to the aged and vindictive Gaius Marius. And though he had swept strenuously with his sacred broom after Marius died here, that malign presence still lingered. Or so Caesar thought. Once he had admired and loved Gaius Marius. But then Gaius Marius had appointed him the special priest of Jupiter, and in that one stroke had rendered it impossible for Caesar ever to rival him. No iron, no weapons, no sight of death-no military career for the flamen Dialis! An automatic membership in the Senate without the right to stand for election as a magistrate-no political career for the flamen Dialis! It was Caesar's fate to be honored without earning that honor, revered without earning that reverence. The flamen Dialis was a creature belonging to the State, housed and paid and fed by the State, a prisoner of the mos maiorum, the established practices of custom and tradition.



But of course Caesar's revulsion could never endure past the moment in which he set eyes upon his Aunt Julia. His father's sister, the widow of Gaius Marius. And, differently from his mother, the person in the world he loved the most. Indeed, he loved her more than he did his mother, if love could be classified as a simple rush of sheer emotion. His mother was permanently grafted to his intellect because she was adversary, adherent, critic, companion, equal. Whereas Aunt Julia enfolded him in her arms and kissed him on the lips, beamed at him with her soft grey eyes innocent of the faintest condemnation. Life for him without either one was unthinkable.



Julia and Aurelia elected to sit side by side on the same couch, ill at ease because they were women, and women did not recline on couches. Forbidden by custom to lie comfortably, they perched on the edge with their feet dangling clear of the floor and their backs unsupported.



"Can't you give the women chairs?" asked Caesar of Young Marius as he shoved bolsters behind his mother and his aunt.



"Thank you, nephew, we'll manage now you've propped us up," said Julia, always the peacemaker. "I don't think the house has enough chairs for all of us! This is a conference of women."



An inalienable truth, acknowledged Caesar ruefully. The male element of this family was reduced to two men: Young Marius and Caesar. Both only sons of dead fathers.



Of women, there were more. Had Rome been present to see Julia and Aurelia side by side, Rome would have enjoyed the spectacle of two of her most beautiful women encompassed in one glance. Though both were tall and slim, Julia owned the innate grace of the Caesars, whereas Aurelia moved with brisk, no-nonsense economy. One, Julia, had softly waving blonde hair and widely opened grey eyes, and might have posed for the statue of Cloelia in the upper Forum Romanum. The other, Aurelia, had ice-brown hair and a quality of beauty which had, in her youth, caused her to be likened to Helen of Troy. Dark brows and lashes, a pair of deeply set eyes many of the men who had tried to marry her had insisted were purple, and the profile of a Greek goddess.



Julia was now forty-five years old to Aurelia's forty. Both had been widowed in distressing though very different circumstances.



Gaius Marius had died of his third and most massive stroke, but only after launching and pursuing an orgy of murder no one in Rome would ever forget. All his enemies had died-and some of his friends-and the rostra had bristled with the heads as thickly as pins in a cushion. With this sorrow, Julia lived.



Aurelia's husband, loyal to Cinna after the death of Marius-as was only fitting in one whose son was married to Cinna's younger daughter-had gone to Etruria to recruit troops. One summer morning in Pisae he had bent over to lace up his boot, and died. A ruptured blood vessel in his brain was the conclusion reached at postmortem; he was burned on a pyre without a single member of his family present, and his ashes were then sent home to his wife. Who did not even know her husband was dead when Cinna's messenger came to present her with the funerary urn. How she felt, what she thought, no one knew. Even her son, made head of his family a month short of his fifteenth birthday. No tear had she shed that anyone had seen, and the look on her face had not changed. For she was Aurelia, fastened up inside herself, apparently more attached to her work as landlady of a busy insula than to any human being save for her son.



Young Marius had no sisters, but Caesar had two older than himself. Both of them looked like their Aunt Julia; there were strong echoes of Aurelia in Caesar's face, but not in either of his sisters'.



Julia Major, called Lia, was now twenty-one years old, and carried the faintest suggestion of something careworn in her expression. Not without reason. Her first husband, a penniless patrician by name of Lucius Pinarius, had been the love of her heart, so she had been allowed-albeit reluctantly-to marry him. A son had arrived less than a year later, and shortly after that happy event (which did not turn out to have the hoped-for sobering effect on Lucius Pinarius's character or behavior), Lucius Pinarius died in mysterious circumstances. Murder by a confederate was thought likely, but no proof could be found. So Lia, aged nineteen, found herself a widow in such an impoverished state that she had been obliged to return to live under her mother's roof. But between her marriage and her widowhood the identity of the paterfamilias had changed, and she now discovered that her young brother was not nearly as softhearted or malleable as her father had been.



She must marry again, said Caesar-but a man of his choosing, for, "It is clear to me," he said to her dispassionately, "that, left to your own devices, you will pick another idiot."



Quite how or where Caesar had found Quintus Pedius, no one knew (though some suspected a collaboration with Lucius Decumius, who might be a seedy little man of the Fourth Class, but who had remarkable contacts), but home he came with Quintus Pedius, and betrothed his widowed oldest sister to this stolid, upright Campanian knight of good but not noble family. He was not handsome. He was not dashing. At forty, he was not even very young. But he was colossally rich and almost pathetically grateful for the chance to marry a lovely and youthful woman of the most exalted patrician nobility. Lia had swallowed, looked at her fifteen-year-old brother, and graciously accepted; even at that age, Caesar could put something into his face and eyes that killed argument before it was born.



Luckily the marriage had turned out well. Lucius Pinarius might have been handsome and dashing and young, but as a husband he had been disappointing. Now Lia discovered that there were many compensations in being the darling of a rich man twice her age, and as time went on she grew very fond of her uninspiring second husband. She bore him a son, and was so settled into her delightfully luxurious life on her husband's estates outside Teanum Sidicinum that when Scipio Asiagenus and then Sulla had established camps in the neighborhood, she flatly refused to go home to her mother, who would, she knew, regulate her exercise, her diet, her sons and her life to suit her own austere ideas. Of course Aurelia had arrived in person (after, it seemed, an unexpected meeting with Sulla-a meeting about which she had said little beyond mentioning it), and Lia had been bundled to Rome. Without her sons, alas; Quintus Pedius had preferred to keep them with him in Teanum.



Julia Minor, called Ju-Ju, had been married in the early part of this year, not long after her eighteenth birthday. No chance that she would be allowed to pick someone unsuitable! Caesar did the picking, though she had railed against his highhanded usurpation of a task she felt herself fully able to perform. Of course he won. Home he came with another colossally rich suitor, this time of an old senatorial family, and himself a backbencher senator content to stay on the back benches. He hailed from Aricia, just down the Via Appia from the Caesar lands at Bovillae, and that fact made him Latin, which was one cut above mere Campanian. After setting eyes on Marcus Atius Balbus, Ju-Ju had married him without a murmur; compared to Quintus Pedius he was quite reasonable, being a mere thirty-seven, and actually handsome for such an advanced age.



Because Marcus Atius Balbus was a senator, he owned a domus in Rome as well as enormous estates at Aricia, so Ju-Ju could congratulate herself on yet one more advantage over her elder sister; she at least lived more or less permanently in Rome! On that late afternoon when all the family was summoned to the house of Gaius Marius, she was beginning to be heavy with child. Not that her pregnancy had prevented her mother from making her walk!



"It isn't good for pregnant women to coddle themselves," said Aurelia. "That's why so many of them die in childbirth."



"I thought you said they died because they ate nothing but fava beans," Ju-Ju had countered, wistfully eyeing the litter in which she had made the journey from her husband's house on the Carinae to her mother's apartment building in the Subura.



"Those too. Pythagorean physicians are a menace."



One more woman was present, though by blood she was not related to any of the others-or at least, not closely related. Her name was Mucia Tertia, and she was Young Marius's wife. The only daughter of Scaevola Pontifex Maximus, she had been called Mucia Tertia to distinguish her from her two famous cousins, the daughters of Scaevola the Augur.



Though she wasn't precisely beautiful, Mucia Tertia had disturbed many a man's sleep. A muddy green in color, her eyes were abnormally far apart and thickly fringed by black lashes which were longer at the outer corners of her eyes, thereby accentuating the distance between them; though she never said so, she deliberately trimmed her lashes shorter at the inner corners of her eyes with a tiny pair of ivory scissors from Old Egypt. Mucia Tertia was well aware of the nature of her unusual attractions. Her long, straight nose somehow managed not to be a disadvantage, even if the purists did think there ought to be some sort of bump or break in it. Again, her mouth was far from the Roman ideal of beauty, being very wide; when she smiled, she showed what seemed like a hundred perfect teeth. But her lips were full and sensuous, and she had a thick, creamy skin which went well with her dark red hair.



Caesar for one found her alluring, and at half-past seventeen was already highly experienced in sexual matters. Every female in the Subura had indicated willingness to help such a lovely young man find his amatory feet, and few were deterred when they discovered Caesar insisted they be bathed and clean; the word had gone out very quickly that young Caesar was equipped with a couple of mighty weapons, and knew how best to use them.



Most of the reason Mucia Tertia interested Caesar lay in a certain quality of enigma she owned; try as he might, she was one person he couldn't see to the bottom of. She smiled readily to display those hundred perfect teeth, yet the smile never originated in her extraordinary eyes, and she gave off no clues of gesture or expression as to what she really thought.



She had been married for four years of apparent indifference, as much on Young Marius's side as on hers. Their conversation together was pleasantly chatty but quite formal; they never exchanged those glances of secret understanding most married couples did; no move did either make to touch the other, even when no one was looking; and they had no children. If the union was genuinely devoid of feeling, Young Marius for one certainly did not suffer; his philanderings were common knowledge. But what about Mucia Tertia, of whom no whisper had ever circulated concerning indiscretion, let alone infidelity? Was Mucia Tertia happy? Did she love Young Marius? Or did she hate him? Impossible to tell, and yet-and yet-Caesar's instincts said she was desperately unhappy.



The group had settled down, and every eye was now fixed on Young Marius, who perversely had elected to sit upon a chair. Not to be outdone, Caesar too drew up a chair, but far removed from where Young Marius sat in the hollow of the U formed by the three dining couches; he sat behind his mother's shoulder, on the outside of the U, and so could not see the faces of his most beloved women. To him, it seemed more important by far to look at Young Marius, Mucia Tertia, and the steward Strophantes, who had been asked to attend and who stood near the doorway, having quietly refused Young Marius's invitation to seat himself.



Wetting his lips-an unusual sign of nervousness-Young Marius began to speak. "Earlier this afternoon, I had a visit from Gnaeus Papirius Carbo and Marcus Junius Brutus."



"That's an odd combination," said Caesar, who didn't want his cousin to flow on without interruption; he wanted Young Marius a little flustered.



The look Young Marius flashed him was angry, but not angry enough to fluster his thinking. A start only.



Then Caesar found his ploy foiled. Said Young Marius, “They came to ask me if I would stand for the consulship in conjunction with Gnaeus Carbo. I said I would."



The stir was general. Caesar saw amazement on the faces of his sisters, a sudden spasm in his aunt's spine, a peculiar but unfathomable look in Mucia Tertia's remarkable eyes.



"My son, you're not even in the Senate," said Julia.



"I will be tomorrow, when Perperna puts me on the rolls."



"You haven't been quaestor, let alone praetor."



"The Senate is willing to waive the usual requirements."



"You don't have the experience or the knowledge!" Julia persisted, her voice despairing.



"My father was consul seven times. I grew up surrounded by consulars. Besides, you can't call Carbo inexperienced."



Asked Aurelia, "Why are we here?"



Young Marius shifted his earnest and appealing gaze from his mother to his aunt. “To talk the matter over between us, of course!" he said, a little blankly.



"Rubbish!" said Aurelia bluntly. "Not only have you made up your mind already, but you've also told Carbo you'll run as his colleague. It seems to me that you've dragged us out of our warm house just to listen to news the city gossip 'would have brought to our ears almost as quickly."



"That's not so, Aunt Aurelia!"



"Of course it's so!" snapped Aurelia.



Skin bright red, Young Marius turned back to his mother, a hand extended to her in appeal. "Mama, it's not so! I know I told Carbo I'd stand, but-but I always intended to listen to what my family had to say, truly! I can change my mind!"



"Hah! You won't change your mind," said Aurelia.



Julia's fingers fastened upon Aurelia's wrist. "Be quiet, Aurelia! I want no anger in this room."



"You're right, Aunt Julia-anger is the last emotion we want," said Caesar, inserting himself between his mother and his aunt. From this new vantage spot he stared at his first cousin intently. "Why did you say yes to Carbo?" he asked.



A question which didn't fool Young Marius for a moment. "Oh, give me credit for more intelligence than that, Caesar!" he said scornfully. "I said yes for the same reason you would have, if you didn't wear a laena and an apex."



"I can see why you'd think I would have said yes, but in actual fact I never would have. In suo anno is the best way."



"It's illegal," said Mucia Tertia unexpectedly.



"No," said Caesar before Young Marius could answer. "It's against the established custom and even against the lex Villia annalis, but it's not exactly illegal. It could only become prosecutably illegal if your husband usurped the position against the will of Senate and People. Senate and People can legislate to nullify the lex Villia. And that is what will happen. Senate and People will procure the necessary legislation, which means the only one who will declare it illegal is Sulla."



A silence fell. "That is the worst of it," said Julia, voice faltering. "You'll be in the field against Sulla."



"I would have been in the field against Sulla anyway, Mama," said Young Marius.



“But not as the inaugurated representative of Senate and People. To be consul is to accept ultimate responsibility. You will be leading Rome's armies." A tear trickled down Julia's cheek. "You'll be the focus of Sulla's thoughts, and he is the most formidable man! I don't know him as well as your Aunt Aurelia does, Gaius, but I know him quite well enough. I've even liked him, in the days when he used to take care of your father-he did, you know. He used to smooth over the little awkwardnesses which always seemed to happen around your father. A more patient and perceptive man than your father. A man of some honor too. But your father and Lucius Cornelius share one very important factor in common-when all else fails, from constitution to popular support, they are-or should that be were?-both capable of going to whatever lengths are necessary to achieve their aims. That's why both of them have marched on Rome in the past. And that is why Lucius Cornelius will march on Rome again if Rome takes this course, elects you consul. The very fact of your election will tell him that Rome intends to fight him to the end, that there can be no peaceful resolution." She sighed, wiped the tear away. "Sulla is why I wish you'd change your mind, dear Gaius. If you had his years and background, you might possibly win. But you do not. You cannot win. And I will lose my one and only child."



It was the plea of a reasonable and mature adult; Young Marius was neither, and his face as he listened to this heartfelt speech only set. His lips parted to answer.



"Well, Mater," said Caesar, getting in first, "as Aunt Julia says, you know Sulla better than any of the rest of us! How do you feel about it?"



Little discomposed Aurelia, and she had no intention of telling them the details of her last discomposure: that awful, tragic encounter with Sulla in his camp. "It is true, I do know Sulla well. I've even seen him within the last six months, as all of you know. But in the old days I was always the last person he saw before he left Rome, and the first person he saw when he came back. Between his goings and his comings, I hardly saw him at all. That is typical of Sulla. At heart he's an actor. He can't live without drama. And he knew how to make an otherwise innocuous situation pregnant with meaning. That's why he chose to see me at the moments he did. It invested my presence in his life with more color, more significance. Instead of a simple visit to a lady with whom he liked to talk of relatively unimportant things, each visit became a farewell or a reunion. He endowed me with portent, I think it would be fair to say that."



Caesar smiled at her. "You haven't answered my question, Mater," he said gently.



"Nor I have," said that extraordinary woman without alarm or guilt. "I will proceed to do so." She looked at Young Marius sternly. “What you must understand is that if you face Sulla as the inaugurated representative of the Senate and People-that is, as consul-you will endow yourself with portent as far as Sulla is concerned. Your age combined with the identity of your father Sulla will use to heighten the drama of his struggle to achieve dominance in Rome. All of which is scant comfort to your mother, nephew. For her sake, give up this idea! Face Sulla on the field as just another military tribune."



"How do you feel?" asked Young Marius of Caesar.



"I say-do it, cousin. Be consul ahead of your year."



"Lia?"



She turned troubled eyes toward her Aunt Julia and said, "Please don't do it, cousin!"



"Ju-Ju?"



"I agree with my sister."



"Wife?"



"You must go with your fortune."



"Strophantes?"



The old steward sighed. "Domine, do not do it!"



With nods that rocked his upper body gently, Young Marius sat back on his chair and flung an arm along its tall back. He pursed his mouth, blew through his nostrils softly. "Well, no surprises, at any rate," he said. "My female relatives and my steward exhort me not to step out of my time and status and imperil my person. Perhaps my aunt is trying to say that I will also imperil my reputation. My wife puts it all on the lap of Fortune-am I one of Fortune's favorites? And my cousin says I must go ahead."



He got to his feet, a not unimposing presence. "I will not go back on my word to Gnaeus Papirius Carbo and Marcus Junius Brutus. If Marcus Perperna agrees to enroll me in the Senate, and the Senate agrees to procure the necessary legislation, I will declare myself a candidate for the consulship."



"You haven't really told us why," said Aurelia.



"I would have thought that was obvious. Rome is desperate. Carbo can find no suitable colleague. So where did he turn? To the son of Gaius Marius. Rome loves me! Rome needs me! That is why," said the young man.



Only the oldest and loyalest of retainers would have found the courage to say what Strophantes did, speaking not only for the stricken mother, but for the father who was dead: "It is your father Rome loves, domine. Rome turns to you because of your father. Rome doesn't know you, except that you are the son of the man who saved her from the Germans, who won the first victories in the war against the Italians, and who was consul seven times. If you do this thing, it will be because you are your father's son, not because you are yourself."



Young Marius loved Strophantes, as the steward well knew; considering its implications, he took the steward's speech very well. His lips tightened, that was all. When Strophantes was done, he merely said, "I know. It is up to me to show Rome that Young Marius is the equal of his dear old dad."



Caesar looked at the floor, said nothing. Why, he was asking himself, didn't the crazy old man give the laena and apex of the flamen Dialis to someone else? I could do it. But Young Marius never will.



And so toward the end of December the electors in their Centuries met upon the Campus Martius in the place called after a sheepfold, and voted in Young Marius as senior consul, with Gnaeus Papirius Carbo as his junior colleague. The very fact that Young Marius polled far higher than did Carbo was an indication of Rome's desperation, her fears as well as her doubts. However, many who voted genuinely felt that something of Gaius Marius must have rubbed off on his son, and that under Young Marius victory against Sulla was a strong possibility.



In one respect the electoral results had highly gratifying consequences; recruitment, especially in Etruria and Umbria, accelerated at once. The sons and grandsons of Gaius Marius's clients flocked to join the son's legions, suddenly much lighter of heart, full of new confidence. And when Young Marius visited the enormous estates of his father, he was hailed as a savior, feted, adored.



Rome turned out in festive mood to see the new consuls inaugurated on the first day of January, and was not disappointed. Young Marius went through the ceremonies displaying a transparent happiness which endeared him to the hearts of all who watched; he looked magnificent, he smiled, he waved, he called out greetings to familiar faces in the crowd. And, since everybody knew where his mother was standing (beneath the stern statue of her late husband near the rostra), everybody saw the new senior consul leave his place in the procession in order to kiss her hands and her lips. And gesture a brave salute to his father.



Perhaps, thought Carbo cynically, the people of Rome needed to have Youth in power at this critical moment. Certainly it was many years since a crowd had given full-throated approval to a consul on his first day in office. Today it did. And by all the gods, Carbo finished his thought, hope that Rome did not come to regret her electoral bargain! For so far Young Marius's attitude had been cavalier; he seemed to assume as a matter of course that everything would just fall into his lap, that he would not need to work, that all the battles of the future were already safely won.



The omens were not good, though nothing untoward had been witnessed by the new consuls during their night watch atop the Capitol. What boded ill was an absence-an absence of such moment that no one could forget or ignore it. Where the great temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus had reared on the highest point of the Capitoline Hill for five hundred years, there now existed only a heap of blackened, unrecognizable detritus. On the sixth day of Quinctilis of the year just ended, a fire had begun inside the Great God's house, and burned for seven long days. Nothing was left. Nothing. For the temple had been so old that no part of it save its podium was made of stone; the massive drums of its plain Doric columns were as wooden as its walls, its rafters, its interior paneling. Only its great size and solidity, rare and costly colors of paint, glorious murals and plenteous gilding had served to make it look a fitting abode for Jupiter Best and Greatest, who lived only in this one place; the idea of Principal Jupiter setting up house on top of the highest mountain-as Greek Zeus had done- was quite unacceptable to any Roman or Italian.



When the ashes had cooled sufficiently for the priests to inspect the site, disaster had piled on top of disaster. Of the gigantic terracotta statue of the God made by the Etruscan sculptor Vulca during Old Tarquin's reign as King of Rome, there was no trace. The ivory statues of Jupiter's wife, Juno, and his daughter Minerva had vanished too; as had the temple's eerie squatters, Terminus the Boundary and Juventas of Youth, who had refused to move out when King Tarquin had commenced the building of Jupiter Optimus Maximus's home. Law tablets and records of unparalleled antiquity had gone, as had the Sibylline Books and many other prophetic documents upon which Rome relied for godly guidance in times of crisis. Innumerable treasures made of gold and silver had melted, even the solid gold statue of Victory given by Hiero of Syracuse after Trasimene, and another massive statue in gilded bronze of Victory driving a biga-a two-horsed chariot. The tortured lumps of admixed metals found among the detritus had been gathered up and given to the smiths for refining, but the ingots the smiths had smelted (which went into the Treasury beneath the temple of Saturn against the time when they would be given to artisans to make new works) could not replace the immortal names of the original sculptors-Praxiteles and Myron, Strongylion and Polyclitus, Scopas and Lysippus. Art and History had gone up in the same flames as the earthly home of Jupiter Optimus Maximus.



Adjacent temples had also suffered, particularly that of Ops, who was the mysterious guardian of Rome's public wealth and had no face or person; the temple would have to be rebuilt and rededicated, so great had been the damage. The temple of Fides Publica was badly hurt. too. The heat of the nearby fire had charred all the treaties and pacts fixed to its inside walls, as well as the linen swaddle around the right hand of an ancient statue thought-only thought!-to be Fides Publica herself. The other building which suffered was new and made of marble, and therefore required little beyond fresh paint; this was the temple to Honor and Virtue erected by Gaius Marius to house his trophies of war, his military decorations and his gifts to Rome. What perturbed every Roman was the significance of the distribution of the damage: Jupiter Optimus Maximus was the guiding spirit of Rome; Ops was Rome's public prosperity; Fides Publica was the spirit of good faith between Romans and their gods; and Honor and Virtue were the two principal characteristics of Rome's military glory. Thus every Roman asked himself and herself: was the fire a sign that Rome's days of ascendancy were over? Was the fire a sign that Rome was finished?



So it was that on this New Year's Day the consuls were the first ever to enter office unhallowed by the shelter of Jupiter Best and Greatest. A temporary shrine had been erected beneath a canopy at the foot of the blackened old stone podium upon which the temple used to stand, and here the new consuls made their offerings, swore their oaths of office.



Bright hair hidden by his close-fitting ivory helmet, body hidden by the suffocating folds of his circular laena, Caesar the flamen Dialis attended the rites in his official capacity, though he had no active role to play; the ceremonies were conducted by the chief priest of the Republic, the Pontifex Maximus, Quintus Mucius Scaevola, father of Young Marius's wife.



Caesar stood there experiencing two separate and conflicting foci of pain: one, that the destruction of the Great Temple rendered the special priest of Jupiter religiously homeless, and the other, that he himself would never stand in purple-bordered toga to take office as consul. But he had learned to deal with pain, and throughout the rituals disciplined himself to stand straight, tall, devoid of expression.



The meeting of the Senate and the feast held afterward had been shifted from Jupiter Optimus Maximus to the Curia Hostilia, home of the Senate and a properly inaugurated temple. Though by age Caesar was disbarred from the interior of the Curia Hostilia, as flamen Dialis he was automatically a member of the Senate, so no one tried to stop his entering, and he listened impassively to the short, formal proceedings which Young Marius as senior consul got under way quite creditably. The governorships to commence in twelve months' time were apportioned out by lot to this year's praetors and both the consuls, the date of the feast of Jupiter Latiaris on the Alban Mount was determined, and other movable days of public or religious nature were also fixed.



As there was little the flamen Dialis could eat among the bountiful and expensive food offered after the meeting concluded, Caesar found an inconspicuous spot and set himself to listen to whatever conversations drifted past him as men sorted out their preferred couches. Rank dictated the positions of some, like those holding magistracies, priesthoods, augurships, but the bulk of the senators were at liberty to distribute themselves among cronies and settle to partake of viands the bottomless purse of Young Marius had provided.



It was a thin gathering, perhaps no more than a hundred strong, so many senators had fled to join Sulla, and by no means all of those present to witness the inauguration of the consuls were partial to the consuls or their plans. Quintus Lutatius Catulus was there, but no lover of Carbo's cause; his father, Catulus Caesar (who died during Marius's bloodbath) had been an implacable enemy of Marius's, and the son was cut from the same cloth, though not as gifted or educated. That, reflected the watching Caesar, was because his father's Julian blood had been diluted in the son by his mother, a Domitia of the Domitii Ahenobarbi-Famous Family stock, but not famous for intellect. Caesar didn't like him, a prejudice of looks; Catulus was weedy and undersized, and had his mother's Domitian red hair as well as her freckles. He was married to the sister of the man who reclined next to him on the same couch, Quintus Hortensius, and Quintus Hortensius (another noble stay-in-Rome neutral) was married to Catulus's sister, Lutatia. Still in his early thirties, Quintus Hortensius had become Rome's leading advocate under the rule of Cinna and Carbo, and was held by some to be the best legal mind Rome had ever produced. He was quite a handsome man, his taste for life's little luxuries was betrayed by a sensuous lower lip, and his taste for beautiful boys by the expression in his eyes as they rested upon Caesar. A veteran of such looks, Caesar extirpated any ideas Hortensius might have been forming by sucking his mouth in ridiculously and crossing his eyes; Hortensius flushed and turned his head immediately to look at Catulus.



At that moment a servant came to whisper to Caesar that his cousin demanded his presence at the far end of the room. Rising from the bottom-tier step where he had huddled himself to look, Caesar slopped in his backless clogs to where Young Marius and Carbo lay, kissed his cousin on the cheek, then perched himself on the edge of the curule podium behind the couch.



"Not eating?" asked Young Marius.



"There's not much I can eat."



"S'right, I forgot," mumbled Young Marius through a mouthful of fish. He swallowed it, and pointed to the huge platter laid out on the table in front of his couch. "There's nothing to stop you having some of that," he said.



Caesar eyed the partially dismembered carcass with distinct lack of enthusiasm; it was a licker-fish of the Tiber. "Thank you," he said, "but 1 never could see any virtue in eating shit."



That provoked a chuckle from Young Marius, but couldn't destroy his enjoyment in consuming a creature which thrived upon the excrement flowing out of Rome's vast sewers; Carbo, Caesar noted with amusement, was not so strong-stomached, for his hand, which had been in the act of reaching out to tear off a chunk of licker-fish, suddenly grabbed at a tiny roast chicken instead.



Of course here Caesar was more noticeable, but prominence carried considerable reward; he could see many more faces. While he exchanged idle badinage with Young Marius, his eyes were very busy skipping from man to man. Rome, he thought, might be pleased enough at the election of a twenty-six-year-old senior consul, but some of the men present at this feast were not pleased at all. Especially Carbo's minions-Brutus Damasippus, Carrinas, Marcus Fannius, Censorinus, Publius Burrienus, Publius Albinovanus the Lucanian... Of course there were some who were highly delighted, like Marcus Marius Gratidianus and Scaevola Pontifex Maximus- but they were both related to Young Marius, and had, so to speak, a vested interest in seeing the new senior consul do well.



The younger Marcus Junius Brutus appeared behind Carbo's end of the couch. He was greeted, Caesar noticed, with unusual fervor; Carbo did not normally indulge in rapturous welcomes. Seeing it, Young Marius weaved away in search of more convivial company, leaving Brutus to take his place. Brutus nodded in passing to Caesar, without displaying any interest in him. That was the best thing about being flamen Dialis; he interested nobody because he was so politically insignificant. Carbo and Brutus proceeded to talk openly.



"I think we can congratulate ourselves on an excellent ploy," said Brutus, digging his fingers into the disintegrating carcass of the licker-fish.



"Huh." The chicken, barely nibbled, was thrown down with a grimace of distaste; Carbo took bread.



"Oh, come now! You ought to be elated."



"About what? Him? Brutus, he's as hollow as a sucked egg! I've seen enough of him during the past month to know that, I do assure you. He may hold the fasces for the month of January, but it's I who will have to do all the work."



"You didn't expect that to be different, surely?"



Carbo shrugged, tossed the bread away; since Caesar's remark about eating shit, his appetite had vanished. "Oh, I don't know.... Maybe I'd hoped to see him grow a little sense. After all, he is Marius's son, and his mother is a Julian. You'd think those facts would be worth something."



"They're not, I take it."



"Not your granny's used handkerchief. The most I can say about him is that he's a useful ornament-he makes us look very pretty, and he sucks in the recruits."



"He might command troops well," said Brutus, wiping his greasy hands on the linen napkin a slave passed to him.



"He might. My guess is he won't. I intend to take your advice in that area, certainly."



"What advice?"



"To make sure he isn't given the best soldiers."



"Oh." Brutus flipped the napkin into the air without bothering to see whether the silent servant hovering near Caesar managed to catch it. "Quintus Sertorius isn't here today. I had at least hoped he'd come to Rome for this occasion. After all, Young Marius is his cousin."



Carbo laughed, not a happy sound. "Sertorius, my dear Brutus, has abandoned our cause. He left Sinuessa to its fate, made off to Telamon, enlisted a legion of Etrurian clients of Gaius Marius's, and sailed on the winter winds for Tarraco. In other words, he's taken up his governorship of Nearer Spain very early. No doubt he hopes that by the time his term is over, there will be a decision in Italy."



"He's a coward!" said Brutus indignantly.



Carbo made a rude noise. "Not that one! I'd rather call him strange. He's got no friends, haven't you ever noticed it? Nor a wife. But he doesn't have Gaius Marius's ambition, for which we all ought to thank our lucky stars. If he did, Brutus, he'd be senior consul."



"Well, I think it's a pity he's left us in the lurch. His presence on the battlefield would have made all the difference. Aside from anything else, he knows how Sulla fights."



Carbo belched, pressed his belly. “I think I'm going to retire and take an emetic. The young cub's prodigious assortment of food is too rich for my stomach."



Brutus assisted the junior consul from the couch and led him off toward a screened corner of the hall behind the podium, where several servants tended an array of chamber pots and bowls for those in need.



Flicking a scornful glance at Carbo's back, Caesar decided he had heard the most important conversation likely to take place at this consular inaugural feast. He kicked off his clogs, picked them up, and quietly stole away.



Lucius Decumius was lurking in a sheltered corner of the Senate House vestibule, and appeared at Caesar's side the moment he had fully emerged from the doorway. His arms were full of more sensible garments-decent boots, a hooded cloak, socks, a pair of woolen breeches. Off came the regalia of the flamen Dialis. Behind Lucius Decumius loomed an awesome personage who took apex, laena and clogs from Lucius Decumius and stuffed them into a drawstringed leather bag.



“What, back from Bovillae, Burgundus?'' asked Caesar, gasping with the cold as he struggled to pull on a laceless boot.



"Yes, Caesar."



"How goes it? All well with Cardixa?"



"I am the father of another son."



Lucius Decumius giggled. "I told you, Pavo my peacock! He will have given you a whole bodyguard by the time you're the consul!"



"I will never be consul," said Caesar, and looked out at the shrouded end of the Basilica Aemilia, swallowing painfully.



"Rubbish! Of course you'll get there," said Lucius Decumius, and reached up his mittened hands to cup Caesar's face. "Now you just stop all that gloomy business! There's not nothing in the whole world will stop you once you make up your mind to it, hear me?'' Down came the hands, one of them gesturing impatiently at Burgundus. "Go on, you great German lump! Clear a path for the master!"



It went on as it had begun, that terrible winter, and seemed as if it would never end. The seasons were in fair company to the calendar after some years of Scaevola as Pontifex Maximus; he, like Metellus Dalmaticus, believed in keeping date and season in harmony, though the Pontifex Maximus between them, Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus, had allowed the calendar to gallop ahead-it was ten days shorter than the solar year-because he despised finicky Greek habits, he had said.



But finally in March the thaw set in, and Italy began to believe that warmth would return to countryside and house. Asleep since October, the legions stirred, woke into activity. Braving the deep snow of early March, Gaius Norbanus issued out of Capua with six of his eight legions and marched to join Carbo, who was back in Ariminum. He went straight past Sulla, who chose to ignore him; on the Via Latina and then the Via Flaminia, Norbanus could manage to move despite the snow, and soon reached Ariminum. His arrival plumped out Carbo's forces there to thirty legions and several thousand cavalry, an enormous burden for Rome-and the Ager Gallicus-to carry.



But before leaving for Ariminum, Carbo had solved his most pressing problem: where the money to keep all these troops under arms would come from. Perhaps it was the melted gold and silver from the burned temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus stored as ingots in the Treasury gave him the idea, for certainly he commenced by seizing them, leaving in their stead a promissory note that Rome owed her Great God so many talents of gold and so many talents of silver. A large number of Rome's temples were rich in their own right, and since religion was. a part of the State and run by the State, Carbo and Young Marius took it upon themselves to "borrow" the money held in Rome's temples. In theory this was not unconstitutional, but in practice it was abhorrent, a solution to financial crises which was never put into effect. But out of the temple strong rooms came chest after chest after chest of coins: the single sestertius which was given at the birth of a Roman citizen's male or female child to Juno Lucina; the single denarius which was given upon maturation of a Roman citizen male child to Juventas; the many denarii donated to Mercury after a businessman wetted his laurel bough at the sacred fountain; the single sestertius which was given at the death of a Roman citizen to 'Venus Libitina; the sesterces which were donated by successful prostitutes to Venus Erucina–all this money and much more was commandeered to fund Carbo's war machine. Bullion too was taken, and any gold or silver temple gift not felt to be an artistic loss was melted down.



The stammering praetor Quintus Antonius Balbus-not one of the noble Antonii-was given the job of minting new coins and sorting out the old. Sacrilegious many may have deemed it, but the value of the haul was staggering. Carbo was able to leave Young Marius in charge of Rome and the campaign in the south, and journey to Ariminum with an easy mind.



Though neither camp was aware it shared something in common, both Sulla and Carbo had made a similar resolution-that this was one civil war would not wreck Italy, that every mouthful of provender for man and beast involved in the hostilities must be paid for in hard cash, that the amount of land ruined by army maneuvers must be kept to an absolute minimum. The Italian War had brought the whole country to the brink of extinction; the country could not afford another war like it, especially so soon. And this, both Sulla and Carbo knew.



They were also aware that the war between them lacked in the eyes of ordinary people the nobility of purpose and ironclad reason which the Italian War had possessed in abundance. That had been a struggle between Italian states which wanted to be independent of Rome, and Rome which wanted the Italian states kept in a certain degree of vassalage. But what was this new conflict really all about? Simply, which camp would end in ruling and owning Rome. It was a struggle for ascendancy between two men, Sulla and Carbo, and no amount of propaganda either camp put out could really disguise that fact. Nor were the ordinary people of Rome and Italy fooled. Therefore the country could not be subjected to extreme hardship, nor the economic well-being of the Roman and Italian communities diminished.



Sulla was borrowing from his soldiers, but the only ones Carbo could borrow from were the gods. And always at the back of each man's mind there loomed an awful dilemma: how, when the struggle was over, could the debt be paid back?



None of this impinged upon the thoughts of Young Marius, the son of a fabulously wealthy man never brought up to care about money, be it the money to pay for some expensive personal trifle, or the money to pay the legions. If old Gaius Marius had talked to anyone about the fiscal side of war, it had been to Caesar during those months when Caesar had helped him recover from his second stroke. To his son, he had hardly talked at all. For by the time he had needed his son, Young Marius was of an age to be seduced more by the charms of Rome than by his father. To Caesar-nine years younger than his cousin-fell the lot of Gaius Marius's reminiscences. And Caesar had listened avidly to much the arrival of his priesthood had rendered worse than useless.



When the thaw set in after the middle of March, Young Marius and his staff of legates moved from Rome to a camp outside the little town of Ad Pictas on the Via Labicana, a diverticulum which avoided the Alban Hills and rejoined the Via Latina at a place called Sacriportus. Here on a flat alluvial plain eight legions of Etrurian and Umbrian volunteers had been encamped since early winter, under as strict and intensive a training program as the cold made possible. Their centurions were all Marian veterans, and good at training, but when Young Marius arrived toward the end of March, the troops were still very green. Not that Young Marius cared; he genuinely believed that the greenest recruit would fight for him the way hardened soldiers had fought for his father. And he faced the task of stopping Sulla with unimpaired confidence.



There were men in his camp who understood far better than Young Marius the enormity of that task, but not one of them tried to enlighten their consul-commander. If taxed for a reason why, each one would probably have answered that beneath all his bluster, Young Marius did not have the internal resources to cope with so much truth. The figurehead, Young Marius must be cherished and protected, kept together.



When intelligence reports arrived to inform him that Sulla was preparing to move, Young Marius cheered. For Sulla it seemed had detached eleven of his eighteen legions along with all save a few squadrons of cavalry, and sent this big force under the command of Metellus Pius the Piglet toward the Adriatic coast and Carbo in Ariminum. Which left Sulla with seven legions only, a smaller force than Young Marius owned.



"I can beat him!" he said to his senior legate, Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus.



Married to Cinna's elder girl, Ahenobarbus was committed to Carbo's side despite a natural inclination in Sulla's direction; he was very much in love with his beautiful red-haired wife, and sufficiently under her thumb to do whatever she wished. The fact that most of his close relatives were either sternly neutral or with Sulla he contrived to ignore.



Now he listened to Young Marius in jubilant mood, and felt a much greater degree of unease; perhaps he ought to start thinking of how and where to flee if Young Marius didn't make good his boast and beat the old red fox, Sulla.



On the first day of April, Young Marius in high fettle moved his army out of camp and marched through the ancient pylons at Sacriportus onto the Via Latina, heading southeast toward Campania and Sulla. He wasted no time, for there were two bridges to cross within five miles of each other, and he wanted to be clear of them before he encountered the enemy. No one offered him any advice as to the prudence of marching to meet Sulla rather than remaining where he was, and though he had traveled the Via Latina dozens of times, Young Marius did not have the kind of mind which remembered terrain or saw terrain in military terms.



At the first bridge-spanning the Veregis he remained behind while his troops marched across in high spirits, and suddenly realized that the ground was better for fighting around the pylons of Sacriportus than in the direction he was going. But he didn't stop. At the second bridge–across the bigger, more torrential stream of the Tolerus–it finally dawned on him that he was steadily moving into country where his legions would find it difficult to maneuver. His scouts arrived to tell him that Sulla was ten miles down the road and rapidly passing the town of Ferentinum, whereupon Young Marius panicked.



"I think we'd better go back to Sacriportus," he said to Ahenobarbus. "I can't hope to deploy the way I want to in this country, and I can't get past Sulla to more open ground. So we'll face him at Sacriportus. Don't you think that's best?"



"If you think so," said Ahenobarbus, who was well aware of the effect an order to face about and retreat would have on these green troops, but decided not to say a word. "I'll give the command. Back to Sacriportus."



"At the double!" cried Young Marius, his confidence oozing away moment by moment, and his sense of panic increasing.



Ahenobarbus looked at him, astonished, but again elected to say nothing. If Young Marius wanted his army exhausted by some miles of run-trot-walk retreat, why should he argue? They couldn't win anyway.



So back to Sacriportus the eight legions proceeded at the double, the thousands of young soldiers growing more bewildered as their centurions exhorted them to pick up their heels and move! Young Marius too became infected with this desperate hurrying, and rode among the ranks urging them on- without once thinking to inform them that they were not in retreat, merely moving to better ground on which to fight. The result was that both troops and commander arrived on that better ground in no mental or physical condition to make proper use of it.



Like all his peers, Young Marius was tutored as to how to fight a battle, but until now he had simply assumed his father's acumen and skill would automatically swirl into his mind; but at Sacriportus, with legates and military tribunes all clustered about him looking at him to receive orders, he couldn't think, he couldn't find one single iota of his father's acumen and skill.



"Oh," he said finally, "deploy the legions in checkered square-eight men deep on each side of each square, and keep two legions in line behind to serve as reinforcements."



They were not adequate orders, but no one tried to force better orders out of him, and his thirsty, panting troops did not find their flagging spirits cheered by an address from Young Marius; instead of attempting to speak to them, he rode off to one side of the field and sat upon his horse with his shoulders hunched and his face betraying the depth of his dilemma.



Discerning Young Marius's unadventurous battle plan from the top of a ridge between the Tolerus and Sacriportus, Sulla sighed, shrugged, and sent his five legions of veterans into action under the elder Dolabella and Servilius Vatia. The two best legions from Scipio Asiagenus's old army he held in reserve under Lucius Manlius Torquatus, while he himself remained on the ridge, attended by a squadron of cavalry deputed to form a messenger corps and carry the general's instructions to the battlefield at the gallop if a change in tactics should become necessary. With him was none other than old Lucius Valerius Flaccus Princeps Senatus, the Leader of the House; Flaccus had made up his mind during the worst of the winter, and quit Rome for Sulla halfway through February.



...



When he saw Sulla's army approaching, Young Marius underwent a return of his calm, though not of his optimism, and assumed personal command of his left wing without having any real idea of what he was doing or what he ought to do. The two armies met in midafternoon of that shortish day, and before the first hour was over the Etrurian and Umbrian farm boys who had enlisted so enthusiastically for Young Marius were fleeing the field in all directions away from where Sulla's veterans were chopping them into pieces with effortless ease. One of the two legions Young Marius had kept in reserve deserted en masse to Servilius Vatia, and stood quietly while the slaughter of their confederates went on scant paces away.



It was the sight of that defected legion that finished Young Marius. Remembering that the formidable fortress town of Praeneste lay not far to the east of Sacriportus, he ordered a retreat into Praeneste. With something tangible to do, he fared better, and contrived to evacuate the troops of his left wing in reasonable order. Commanding Sulla's right, Ofella took after Young Marius with a swiftness and savagery Sulla, watching from his ridge, applauded heartily. For ten miles Ofella harried and harassed, cut off stragglers and cut them up, while Young Marius endeavored to save as many as he could. But when at last the enormous gates of Praeneste closed behind him, only seven thousand of his men had managed to stay with him.



Young Marius's center had perished on the field almost to the last man, but his right wing, led by Ahenobarbus, succeeded in breaking off hostilities and making a run for Norba. This ancient stronghold of the Volsci, fanatically loyal to Carbo's cause, stood atop a mountain twenty miles to the southwest, and gladly opened the gates in its impregnable walls to receive Ahenobarbus's ten thousand men. But not to receive Ahenobarbus! Wishing his devastated soldiers the best of luck for the future, Ahenobarbus continued on for the coast at Tarracina and there took ship for Africa, the farthest place from Italy he could bear to think of with equanimity.



Unaware that his senior legate had slipped away, Young Marius was satisfied with his Praenestian shelter; from this city Sulla would find it extremely difficult-if not impossible-to dislodge him. Some twenty-three miles from Rome, Praeneste occupied the heights of a spur of the Apennines, a site which had enabled it to withstand many assaults on its frowning walls through the centuries before Young Marius availed himself of its defenses. No army could take it from behind, where the outcrop on which it stood joined higher, more precipitous mountains; yet it could be provisioned from this direction, which made it impossible to starve out. Of springs there were aplenty within the citadel, and in vast caverns below the mighty shrine to Fortuna Primigenia for which Praeneste was most famous, there lay many medimni of wheat and oil and wine, other imperishable foods like hard cheeses and raisins, as well as apples and pears from the previous autumn's picking.



Though its roots were Latin enough and its version of that language proudly held by its citizens to be the oldest and purest, Praeneste had never allied itself with Rome. It fought on the side of the Italian Allies during the Italian War, and still held defiantly that its citizenship was superior to Rome's-Rome was a parvenu place! Its fervent espousal of Young Marius was therefore logical enough; he seemed to the people of Praeneste the underdog facing Sulla's vengeful might, and being his father's son besides, was warmly welcomed. As thanks, he pressed his soldiers into forming forage parties and sent them out along the snake-paths behind the citadel to procure as much food as possible. Praeneste now had many extra mouths.



"By summer Sulla will have moved on from sheer necessity, and then you can leave," said the city's chief magistrate.



A prophecy not to bear fruit; less than a market interval after the battle of Sacriportus, Young Marius and the inhabitants of Praeneste witnessed the beginnings of a siege investment too monumental to be anything less than iron determination to see Praeneste fall. The tributaries which ran off the spur in the direction of Rome all entered the Anio River, whereas those which ran off the spur in the opposite direction all eventually entered the Tolerus River: Praeneste was a watershed. And now, with a speed the imprisoned onlookers found incredible, a great wall and ditch began to grow from the Anio side of the spur all the way around to the Tolerus side. When these siegeworks were completed, the only way in or out of Praeneste would be the snake-paths through the mountains behind. Provided, that is, that they were left unguarded.



The news of Sacriportus flew to Rome before the sun had set upon that fatal day-but very secretly. General dissemination would have to wait upon hearsay. It came by special courier from Young Marius himself, for the moment he was inside Praeneste he dictated a hasty letter to Rome's urban praetor, Lucius Junius Brutus Damasippus. It said:



All is lost south of Rome. We must hope that Carbo in Ariminum wages the sort of war Sulla will not be able to deal with, if only because he grossly lacks Carbo's numbers. Carbo's troops are far better than mine were. Mine's lack of proper training and experience unsettled them so much they could not hold for an hour against Sulla's old retainers.



I suggest you try to prepare Rome for a siege, though that may be impossible in a place so huge and so divided in its loyalties. If you think Rome will refuse to undergo siege, then you must expect Sulla within the next market interval, for there are no troops to oppose him between here and Rome. Whether he intends to occupy Rome, I do not know. What I hope is that he intends to bypass it in favor of attacking Carbo. From what I have heard my father say about Sulla, it would be like him to be forming a pincer to crush Carbo, using Metellus Pius as his other jaw. I wish I knew. I do not know. Except that it would be premature for Sulla to occupy Rome at this time, and I do not see Sulla making that mistake.



It may be some time before I can leave Praeneste, which has taken me in willingly-its people have a great affection for Gaius Marius, and have not refused to succor his son. Rest assured that as soon as Sulla moves on to deal with Carbo, I will break out and come to Rome's aid. Perhaps if I am in Rome myself, her people will agree to withstand siege.



Further to that, it occurs to me that the time has come to destroy every last nest of Sullan vipers within our beloved city. Kill them all, Damasippus! Do not allow sentiment to soften your resolve. Living men who might decide to support Sulla will make it impossible for Rome to resist him. But if the great ones who might make trouble for us are dead, then all the little ones will knuckle under without demur. Every man who might be of military help to Carbo must leave Rome now. That includes you, Damasippus.



Here follow a very few names of Sullan vipers which spring to mind. I know I have missed dozens, so think of them all! Our Pontifex Maximus. The elder Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus. Carbo Arvina. Publius Antistius Vetus.



Brutus Damasippus followed orders. During the shortlived but comprehensive program of murder old Gaius Marius had perpetrated before he died, Quintus Mucius Scaevola the Pontifex Maximus had been stabbed, for no good reason anyone could discover. His would-be assassin (that Fimbria who had gone off with Flaccus the suffect consul to relieve Sulla of his command against King Mithridates, then murdered Flaccus) could produce no better excuse at the time than to laugh that Scaevola deserved to die. But Scaevola had not died, though the wound was severe. Tough and doughty, the Pontifex Maximus was back on his feet and about his public duties within two months. Now, however, there was to be no escape. Father-in-law of Young Marius though he was, he was cut down as he tried to seek asylum in the temple of Vesta. Of treachery to Young Marius he was quite innocent.



The elder Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus, consul not long after his brother the reforming Pontifex Maximus, was executed in his home. And no doubt Pompey the Great would have beamed his full approval had he known that his father-in-law's blood need not now stain his own hands; Publius Antistius was murdered too, and his wife, demented with grief, took her own life. By the time Brutus Damasippus had worked his way through those he considered might endanger Carbo's Rome, some thirty heads adorned the rostra in the lower Forum Romanum; men who called themselves neutral (like Catulus, Lepidus and Hortensius) bolted the doors of their houses and refused to venture out in case one of Brutus Damasippus's minions decided they must die too.



His work done, Brutus Damasippus fled from Rome, as did his fellow praetor Gaius Albius Carrinas. Both of them joined Carbo. The minting praetor, Quintus Antonius Balbus, also left Rome at this time, but commanding a legion of troops; his task was to go to Sardinia and wrest that island off Philippus.



Strangest defection of all, however, was that of the tribune of the plebs Quintus Valerius Soranus. A great scholar and a known humanitarian, he found himself unable to condone this slaughter of men not even proven to be affiliated in any way with Sulla. But how to make a public protest which would impress the whole city? And how could one man destroy Rome? For Quintus Valerius Soranus had come to the conclusion that the world would be a better place if Rome ceased to exist. After some thought, he arrived at his solution. He went to the rostra, climbed upon it, and there, surrounded by the dripping trophies of Brutus Damasippus, he screamed aloud the secret name of Rome.



“AMOR!'' he cried, again and again.



Those who heard and understood ran with hands clapped over their ears away from his voice. Rome's secret name could never be uttered aloud! Rome and all she stood for would fall down like a shoddy building in an earthquake. Quintus Valerius Soranus himself believed that implicitly. So having told air and birds and horrified men Rome's secret name, Soranus fled to Ostia wondering why Rome still stood upon her seven hills. From Ostia he sailed for Sicily, a marked man to both sides.



Virtually bereft of government, the city did not fall down or fall apart. People went about their affairs as they always did; the neutral noblemen popped their heads from out of their front doors, sniffed the air, sallied out, said nothing. Rome waited to see what Sulla would do.



Sulla did enter Rome, but quietly, and without his army at his back to protect him.



There was no compelling reason why he should not enter Rome, but very many compelling reasons why he should. Matters like his imperium-and whether or not he relinquished it in the moment he crossed the sacred boundary of the pomerium into the city-he cared little about. Who was there in this rudderless Rome to gainsay him, or accuse him of illegalities, or religiously impugn him? If he came back to Rome it would be as Rome's conqueror and master, with whatever powers he needed to make all right concerning his past career. So he stepped across the pomerium without a qualm, and proceeded to give the city back some semblance of government.



The most senior magistrate left in Rome was one of the two brothers Magius from Aeclanum, a praetor; him Sulla put in charge, with the aediles Publius Furius Crassipes and Marcus Pomponius to assist him. When he heard about Soranus's uttering the secret name of Rome aloud he frowned direfully and shuddered, though the bristling fence of speared heads around the rostra he eyed with perfect equanimity, only ordering that they be taken down and given the proper rites. He made no speeches to the people, and called no meeting of the Senate. Less than a full day after he entered he was gone again, back to Praeneste. But behind him he left two squadrons of cavalry under the command of Torquatus-to assist the magistrates to maintain order, he said blandly.



He made no attempt to see Aurelia, who had wondered; when she heard that he was gone again she presented an indifferent front to her family, especially to Caesar, who knew his mother's meeting with Sulla outside Teanum had been fraught with all kinds of significance, but knew she wasn't going to enlighten him.



The legate in charge of the investment of Praeneste was the defector Quintus Lucretius Ofella, whose orders had come directly from Sulla.



"I want Young Marius penned up in Praeneste for the rest of his days," Sulla had said to Ofella. "You'll build a wall thirty feet high all the way from the mountains behind on the Anio side to the mountains behind on the Tolerus side. The wall will contain a sixty-foot fortified tower every two hundred paces. Between the wall and the town you will dig a ditch twenty feet deep and twenty feet wide, and you will fix stimuli in its bottom as thick as reeds in the shallows of the Fucine Lake. When the investment is completed, you will station camps of men to guard every little track which leads from behind Praeneste across the high Apennines. No one will get in, and no one will get out. I want that arrogant pup to understand that Praeneste is now his home for as long as he has left to live." A sour smile twisted the corners of Sulla's mouth, a smile which would have displayed those ferally long canines in the days when he had had teeth; it was still not a pretty phenomenon. "I also want the people of Praeneste to know that they have Young Marius for the rest of his life, so you will have heralds inform them of that fact six times a day. It is one thing to succor a lovely young man with a famous name, but quite another to realize that the lovely young man with the famous name has brought death and suffering into Praeneste with him."



When Sulla moved on to Veii to the north of Rome, he left Ofella behind with two legions to carry out the work. And work they did. Luckily the area was rich in volcanic tufa, a curious stone which cut as easily as cheese, yet hardened to the consistency of rock after it was exposed to the air. With this to quarry, the wall went up at mushroom pace, and the ditch between it and Praeneste deepened daily. Earth from the ditch was piled into a second wall, and in the large No Man's Land which existed inside these siegeworks no tree or object tall enough to serve as a battering ram was left standing. On the mountains behind the town, every tree was also felled between the back walls and the camps of men who now guarded the snake-paths and prevented the Praenestians foraging.



Ofella was a hard taskmaster; he had a reputation to make with Sulla, and this was his chance. Thus no one paused to rest, or so much as had the time to complain about a sore back or aching muscles. Besides, the men too had a reputation to make with Sulla; one of the legions was the one which had deserted Young Marius at Sacriportus, and the other had belonged to Scipio Asiagenus. Loyalty was suspect, so a well-built wall and well-excavated ditch would show Sulla they were worthy. All they had to work with were their hands and their legionary's digging tools; but there were over ten thousand pairs of hands and more than sufficient tools, and their centurions taught them the shortcuts and knacks in building siegeworks. To organize a task of such monumental size was no great trouble to Ofella, a typical Roman when it came to methodical execution.



In two months the wall and ditch were finished. They were over eight miles in length and bisected both the Via Praenestina and the Via Labicana in two places, thereby interrupting traffic on both these roads and rendering them useless beyond Tusculum and Bola. Those Roman knights and senators whose estates were affected by the fortifications could do nothing save glumly wait for the siege to be over-and curse Young Marius. On the other hand, the smallholders of the region rejoiced as they eyed the tufa blocks; when the siege was over the wall would come down and they would have an inexhaustible supply of material for field fences, buildings, barns, byres.



At Norba the same sort of exercise went on, though Norba did not require such massive siegeworks. Mamercus had been sent there with a legion of new recruits (dispatched from Sabine country by Marcus Crassus) to reduce it, and settled to his task with the dour and understated efficiency which had successfully carried him through many a perilous situation.



As for Sulla, at Veii he divided the five legions he had left between himself and Publius Servilius Vatia. Vatia was to take two of them and march into coastal Etruria, while Sulla and the elder Dolabella took the other three up the Via Cassia toward Clusium, further inland. It was now the beginning of May, and Sulla was very well pleased with his progress. If Metellus Pius and his larger section of the army acquitted themselves equally well, by autumn Sulla stood an excellent chance of owning all of Italy and all of Italian Gaul.



And how were Metellus Pius and his forces doing? Sulla had heard little about their progress at the time he himself started up the Via Cassia toward Clusium, but he had a great deal of faith in this loyalest of adherents-as well as a lively curiosity as to how Pompey the Great would fare. He had quite deliberately given Metellus Pius the larger army, and deliberate too were his instructions that Pompey the Great should have the command of five thousand cavalry he knew he would not need in his own maneuvers through more settled and hillier terrain.



4



Metellus Pius had marched for the Adriatic coast with his own two legions (under the command of his legate Varro Lucullus), six legions which had belonged to Scipio, the three legions which belonged to Pompey, and those five thousand horse troopers Sulla had given to Pompey.



Of course Varro the Sabine traveled with Pompey, a ready and sympathetic ear (not to mention a ready and sympathetic pen!) tuned to receive Pompey's thoughts.



"I must put myself on better terms with Crassus," said Pompey to him as they moved through Picenum. "Metellus Pius and Varro Lucullus are easy-and anyway, I quite like them. But Crassus is a surly brute. More formidable by far. I need him on my side."



Astride a pony, Varro looked a long way up to Pompey on his big white Public Horse. "I do believe you've learned something during the course of a winter spent with Sulla!" he said, genuinely amazed. "I never thought to hear you speak of conciliating any man-with the exception of Sulla, naturally."



"Yes, I have learned," admitted Pompey magnanimously. His beautiful white teeth flashed in a smile of pure affection. "Come now, Varro! I know I'm well on my way to becoming Sulla's most valued helper, but I am capable of understanding that Sulla needs other men than me! Though you may be right," he went on thoughtfully. "This is the first time in my life that I've dealt with any other commander-in-chief than my father. I think my father was a very great soldier. But he cared for nothing aside from his lands. Sulla is different."



"In what way?" asked Varro curiously.



"He cares nothing for most things-including all of us he calls his legates, or colleagues, or whatever name he considers judicious at the time. I don't know that he even cares for Rome. Whatever he does care for, it isn't material. Money, lands-even the size of his auctoritas or the quality of his public reputation. No, they don't matter to Sulla."



“Then what does?'' Varro asked, fascinated with the phenomenon of a Pompey who could see further than himself.



"Perhaps his dignitas alone," Pompey answered.



Varro turned this over carefully. Could Pompey be right?



Dignitas! The most intangible of all a Roman nobleman's possessions, that was dignitas. His auctoritas was his clout, his measure of public influence, his ability to sway public opinion and public bodies from Senate to priests to the Treasury.



Dignitas was different. It was intensely personal and very private, yet it extended into all parameters of a man's public life. So hard to define! That, of course, was why there was a word for it. Dignitas was... a man's personal degree of impressiveness... of glory? Dignitas summed up what a man was, as a man and as a leader of his society. It was the total of his pride, his integrity, his word, his intelligence, his deeds, his ability, his knowledge, his standing, his worth as a man.... Dignitas survived a man's death, it was the only way he could triumph over death. Yes, that was the best definition. Dignitas was a man's triumph over the extinction of his physical being. And seen in that light, Varro thought Pompey absolutely correct. If anything mattered to Sulla, it was his dignitas. He had said he would beat Mithridates. He had said he would come back to Italy and secure his vindication. He had said that he would restore the Republic in its old, traditional form. And having said these things, he would do them. Did he not, his dignitas would be diminished; in outlawry and official odium there could be no dignitas. So from out of himself he would find the strength to make his word good. When he had made his word good, he would be satisfied. Until he had, Sulla could not rest. Would not rest.



"In saying that," Varro said, "you have awarded Sulla the ultimate accolade."



The bright blue eyes went blank. "Huh?"



"I mean," said Varro patiently, "that you have demonstrated to me that Sulla cannot lose. He's fighting for something Carbo doesn't even understand."



"Oh, yes! Yes, definitely!" said Pompey cheerfully.



They were almost to the river Aesis, in the heart of Pompey's own fief again. The brash youth of last year had not vanished, but sat now amid a branching superstructure of fresh, stimulating experiences; in other words, Pompey had grown. In fact, he grew a little more each day. Sulla's gift of cavalry command had interested Pompey in a type of military activity he had never before seriously considered. That of course was Roman. Romans believed in the foot soldier, and to some extent had come to believe the horse soldier was more decorative than useful, more a nuisance than an asset. Varro was convinced that the only reason Romans employed cavalry was because the enemy did.



Once upon a time, in the days of the Kings of Rome and in the very early years of the Republic, the horse soldier had formed the military elite, was the spearhead of a Roman army. Out of this had grown the class of knights-the Ordo Equester, as Gaius Gracchus had called it. Horses had been hugely expensive-too expensive for many men to buy privately. Out of that had grown the custom of the Public Horse, the knight's mount bought and paid for by the State.



Now, a long way down the road from those days, the Roman horse soldier had ceased to exist except in social and economic terms. The knight-businessman or landowner that he was, member of the First Class of the Centuries-was the horse soldier's Roman relic. And still to this day, the State bought the eighteen hundred most senior knights their horses.



Addicted to exploring the winding lanes of thought, Varro saw that he was losing the point of his original reflection, and drew himself resolutely back onto thought's main road. Pompey and his interest in the cavalry. Not Roman in manpower anymore. These were Sulla's troopers he had brought from Greece with him, and therefore contained no Gauls; had they been recruited in Italy, they would have been almost entirely Gallic, drawn from the rolling pastures on the far side of the Padus in Italian Gaul, or from the great valley of the Rhodanus in Gaul-across-the-Alps. As it was, Sulla's men were mostly Thracians, admixed with a few hundred Galatians. Good fighters, and as loyal as could be expected of men who were not themselves Roman. In the Roman army they had auxiliary status, and some of them might be rewarded at the end of a hard-won campaign with the full Roman citizenship, or a piece of land.



All the way from Teanum Sidicinum, Pompey had busied himself going among these men in their leather trousers and leather jerkins, with their little round shields and their long lances; their long swords were more suitable for slashing from the height of a horse's back than the short sword of the infantryman. At least Pompey had the capacity to think, Varro told himself as they rode steadily toward the Aesis. He was discovering the qualities of horsemen-soldiers and turning over the possibilities. Planning. Seeing if there was any way their performance or equipage might be improved. They were formed into regiments of five hundred men, each regiment consisting of ten squadrons of fifty men, and they were led by their own officers; the only Roman who commanded them was the overall general of cavalry. In this case, Pompey. Very much involved, very fascinated-and very determined to lead them with a flair and competence not usually present in a Roman. If Varro privately thought that a part of Pompey's interest stemmed from his large dollop of Gallic blood, he was wise enough never to indicate to Pompey that such was his theory.



How extraordinary! Here they were, the Aesis in sight, and Pompey's old camp before them. Back where they had begun, as if all the miles between had been nothing. A journey to see an old man with no teeth and no hair, distinguished only by a couple of minor battles and a lot of marching.



"I wonder," said Varro, musing, "if the men ever ask themselves what it's all about?"



Pompey blinked, turned his head sideways. "What a strange question! Why should they ask themselves anything? It's all done for them. I do it all for them! All they have to do is as they're told." And he grimaced at the revolutionary thought that so many as one of Pompey Strabo's veterans might think.



But Varro was not to be put off. "Come now, Magnus! They are men-like us in that respect, if in no other. And being men, they are endowed with thought. Even if a lot of them can't read or write. It's one thing never to question orders, quite another not to ask what it's all about."



"I don't see that," said Pompey, who genuinely didn't.



"Magnus, I call the phenomenon human curiosity! It is in a man's nature to ask himself the reason why! Even if he is a Picentine ranker who has never been to Rome and doesn't understand the difference between Rome and Italy. We have just been to Teanum and back. There's our old camp down there. Don't you think that some of them at least must be asking themselves what we went to Teanum for, and why we've come back in less than a year?"



"Oh, they know that!" said Pompey impatiently. "Besides, they're veterans. If they had a thousand sesterces for every mile they've marched during the past ten years, they'd be able to live on the Palatine and breed pretty fish. Even if they did piss in the fountain and shit in the cook's herb garden! Varro, you are such an original! You never cease to amaze me-the things that chew at you!" Pompey kicked his Public Horse in the ribs and began to gallop down the last slope. Suddenly he laughed uproariously, waved his hands in the air; his words floated back quite clearly. "Last one in's a rotten egg!"



Oh, you child! said Varro to himself. What am I doing here? What use can I possibly be? It's all a game, a grand and magnificent adventure.



Perhaps it was, but late that night Metellus Pius called a meeting with his three legates, and Varro as always accompanied Pompey. The atmosphere was excited: there had been news.



"Carbo isn't far away," said the Piglet. He paused to consider what he had said, and modified it. "At least, Carrinas is, and Censorinus is rapidly catching him up. Apparently Carbo thought eight legions would be enough to halt our progress, then he discovered the size of our army, and sent Censorinus with another four legions. They'll reach the Aesis ahead of us, and it's there we'll have to meet them."



"Where's Carbo himself?" asked Marcus Crassus.



"Still in Ariminum. I imagine he's waiting to see what Sulla intends to do."



"And how Young Marius will fare," said Pompey.



"True," agreed the Piglet, raising his brows. "However, it isn't our job to worry about that. Our job is to make Carbo hop. Pompeius, this is your purlieu. Should we bring Carrinas across the river, or keep him on the far side?"



"It doesn't really matter," said Pompey coolly. "The banks are much the same. Plenty of room to deploy, some tree cover, good level ground for an all-out contest if we can bring it on." He looked angelic, and said sweetly, "The decision belongs to you, Pius. I'm only your legate."



"Well, since we're trying to get to Ariminum, it makes more sense to get our men to the far side," said Metellus Pius, quite unruffled. "If we do force Carrinas to retreat, we don't want to have to cross the Aesis in pursuit. The report indicates that we have a huge advantage in cavalry. Provided that you think the terrain and the river will allow it, Pompeius, I would like you to spearhead the crossing and keep your horse-troopers between the enemy and our infantry. Then I'll wheel our infantry on the far bank, you peel your cavalry back out of the way, and we'll attack. There's not much we can do in terms of subterfuge. It will be a straight battle. However, if you can swing your cavalry around behind the enemy after I've engaged him from the front, we'll roll Carrinas and Censorinus up."



No one objected to this strategy, which was sufficiently loose to indicate that Metellus Pius had some talent as a general. When it was suggested that Varro Lucullus should command Pompey's three legions of veterans, thereby allowing Pompey full license with his cavalry, Pompey agreed without a qualm.



"I'll lead the center," said Metellus Pius in conclusion, "with Crassus leading the right, and Varro Lucullus the left."



Since the day was fine and the ground was not too wet, things went very much as Metellus Pius had planned. Pompey held the crossing easily, and the infantry engagement which followed demonstrated the great advantage veteran troops bestowed upon a general in battle. Though Scipio's legions were raw enough, Varro Lucullus and Crassus led the five veteran legions superbly, and their confidence spilled over onto Scipio's men. Carrinas and Censorinus had no veteran troops, and went down without extending Metellus Pius too severely. The end result would have been a rout had Pompey managed to fall upon the enemy rear, but as he skirted the field to do so, he encountered a new factor. Carbo had arrived with six more legions-and three thousand horse to contest Pompey's progress.



Carrinas and Censorinus managed to draw off without losing more than three or four thousand men, then camped next to Carbo a scant mile beyond the battlefield. The advance of Metellus Pius and his legates ground to a halt.



"We will go back to your original camp south of the river," said Metellus Pius with crisp decision. "I would rather they think us too cautious to proceed, and I also think it behooves us to keep a fair distance between us and them."



Despite the disappointing outcome of the day's conflict, spirits were high among the men, and quite high in the command tent when Pompey, Crassus and Varro Lucullus met their general at dusk. The table was covered with maps, a slight disorder indicating that the Piglet had been poring over them closely.



"All right," he said, standing behind the table, "I want you to look at this, and see how best we can outflank Carbo."



They clustered around, Varro Lucullus holding a five-flamed lamp above the carefully inked sheepskin. The map displayed the Adriatic coastline between Ancona and Ravenna, together with inland territory extending beyond the crest of the Apennines.



"We're here," said the Piglet, finger on a spot below the Aesis. "The next big river onward is the Metaurus, a treacherous crossing. All this land is Ager Gallicus-here-and here-Ariminum at the northward end of it-some rivers, but none according to this difficult to ford. Until we come to this one-between Ariminum and Ravenna, see? The Rubico, our natural border with Italian Gaul." All these features were lightly touched; the Piglet was methodical. "It's fairly obvious why Carbo has put himself in Ariminum. He can move up the Via Aemilia into Italian Gaul proper-he can go down the Sapis road to the Via Cassia at Arretium and threaten Rome from the upper Tiber valley-he can reach the Via Flaminia and Rome that way-he can march down the Adriatic into Picenum, and if necessary into Campania through Apulia and Samnium."



"Then we have to dislodge him," said Crassus, stating the obvious. "It's possible."



"But there is a hitch," said Metellus Pius, frowning. "It seems Carbo is not entirely confined to Ariminum anymore. He's done something very shrewd by sending eight legions under Gaius Norbanus up the Via Aemilia to Forum Cornelii-see? Not far beyond Faventia. Now that is not a great distance from Ariminum-perhaps forty miles."



"Which means he could get those eight legions back to Ariminum in one hard day's march if he had to," said Pompey.




"Yes. Or get them to Arretium or Placentia in two or three days," said Varro Lucullus, who never lost sight of the overall concept. “We have Carbo himself sitting on the other side of the Aesis with Carrinas and Censorinus-and eighteen legions plus three thousand cavalry. There are eight more legions in Forum Cornelii with Norbanus, and another four garrisoning Ariminum in company with several thousand more cavalry."



"I need a grand strategy before I go one more inch," said Metellus Pius, looking at his legates.



"The grand strategy is easy," said Crassus, the abacus clicking away inside his mind. "We have to prevent Carbo's recombining with Norbanus, separate Carbo from Carrinas and Censorinus, and Carrinas from Censorinus. Prevent every one of them from recombining. Just as Sulla said. Fragmentation."



"One of us-probably me-will have to get five legions to the far side of Ariminum, then cut Norbanus off and make a bid to take Italian Gaul," said Metellus Pius, frowning. "Not an easy thing to do."



"It is easy," said Pompey eagerly. "Look-here's Ancona, the second-best harbor on the Adriatic. At this time of year it's full of ships waiting on the westerlies to sail for the east and a summer's trading. If you took your five legions to Ancona, Pius, you could embark them on those ships and sail to Ravenna. It's a sweet voyage, you'd never need to be out of sight of land, and there won't be any storms. It's no more than a hundred miles-you'll do it in eight or nine days, even if you have to row. If you get a following wind-not unlikely at this time of year-you'll do it in four days." His hand stabbed at the map. "A quick march from Ravenna to Faventia, and you'll cut Norbanus off from Ariminum permanently."



"It will have to be done in secret," said the Piglet, eyes shining. "Oh, yes, Pompeius, it will work! They won't dream of our moving troops between here and Ancona-their scouts will all be to the north of the Aesis. Pompeius, Crassus, you'll have to sit right where we are at the moment pretending to be five legions stronger until Varro Lucullus and I have sailed from Ancona. Then you move. Try to catch up to Carrinas, and make it look serious. If possible, tie him down-and Censorinus as well. Carbo will be with them at first, but when he hears I've landed at Ravenna, he'll march to relieve Norbanus. Of course, he may elect to stay in this neighborhood himself, send Carrinas or Censorinus to relieve Norbanus. But I don't think so. Carbo needs to be centrally located."



"Oh, this is going to be tremendous fun!" cried Pompey.



And such was the contentment in the command tent that no one found this statement too flippant; even Marcus Terentius Varro, sitting quietly in a corner taking notes.



The strategy worked. While Metellus Pius hustled himself, Varro Lucullus and five legions to Ancona, the other six plus the cavalry pretended to be eleven. Then Pompey and Crassus moved out of the camp and crossed the Aesis without opposition; Carbo had decided, it seemed, to lure them toward Ariminum, no doubt planning a decisive battle on ground more familiar to him.



Pompey led the way with his cavalry, hard on the heels of Carbo's rear guard, cavalry commanded by Censorinus, and nipped those heels with satisfying regularity. These tactics irritated Censorinus, never a patient man; near the town of Sena Gallica he turned and fought, cavalry against cavalry. Pompey won; he was developing a talent for commanding horse. Into Sena Gallica the smarting Censorinus retreated with infantry and cavalry both-but not for long. Pompey stormed its modest fortifications.



Censorinus then did the sensible thing. He sacrificed his horse, made off through the back gate of Sena Gallica with eight legions of infantry, and headed for the Via Flaminia.



By this time Carbo had learned of the unwelcome presence of the Piglet and his army in Faventia; Norbanus was now cut off from Ariminum. So Carbo marched for Faventia, leaving Carrinas to follow him with eight more legions; Censorinus, he decided, would have to fend for himself.



But then came Brutus Damasippus to find Carbo as he marched, and gave him the news that Sulla had annihilated the army of Young Marius at Sacriportus. Sulla was now heading up the Via Cassia toward the border of Italian Gaul at Arretium, though all the troops he had were three legions. In that instant, Carbo changed his plans. Only one thing could be done. Norbanus would have to hold Italian Gaul unaided against Metellus Pius; Carbo and his legates must halt Sulla at Arretium, not a difficult thing to do when Sulla had but three legions.



...



Pompey and Crassus got the news of Sulla's victory over Young Marius at just about the same time as Carbo did, and hailed it with great jubilation. They turned westward to follow Carrinas and Censorinus, each now bringing eight legions to Carbo at Arretium on the Via Cassia. The pace was furious, the pursuit determined. And this, decided Pompey as he headed with Crassus for the Via Flaminia, was no campaign for cavalry; they were heading into the mountains. Back to the Aesis he sent his horse-troopers, and resumed command of his father's veterans. Crassus, he had discovered, seemed content to follow his lead as long as what Pompey suggested added up to the right answers inside that hard round Crassus head.



Again it was the presence of so many veterans made the real difference; Pompey and Crassus caught up to Censorinus on a diverticulum of the Via Flaminia between Fulginum and Spoletium, and didn't even need to fight a battle. Exhausted, hungry, and very afraid, the troops of Censorinus disintegrated. All Censorinus managed to retain were three of his eight legions, and these precious soldiers he determined must be saved. He marched them off the road and cut across country to Arretium and Carbo. The men of his other five legions had scattered so completely that none of them afterward were ever successfully amalgamated into new units.



Three days later Pompey and Crassus apprehended Carrinas outside the big and well-fortified town of Spoletium. This time a battle did take place, but Carrinas fared so poorly that he was forced to shut himself up inside Spoletium with three of his eight legions; three more of his legions fled to Tuder and went to earth there; and the last two disappeared, never to be found.



"Oh, wonderful!" whooped Pompey to Varro. "I see how I can say bye-bye to stolid old Crassus!"



This he did by hinting to Crassus that he should take his three legions to Tuder and besiege it, leaving Pompey to bring his own men to bear on Spoletium. Off went Crassus to Tuder, very happy at the thought of conducting his own campaign. And Pompey sat down before Spoletium in high fettle, aware that whoever sat down before Spoletium would collect most of the glory because this was where General Carrinas himself had taken refuge. Alas, things didn't work out as Pompey had envisaged! Astute and daring, Carrinas sneaked out of Spoletium during a nocturnal thunderstorm and stole away to join Carbo with all three of his legions intact.



Pompey took Carrinas's defection very personally; fascinated, Varro learned what a Pompeian temper tantrum looked like, complete with tears, gnawed knuckles, plucked tufts of hair, drumming of heels and fists on the floor, broken cups and plates, mangled furniture. But then, like the nocturnal thunderstorm so beneficial to Carrinas, Pompey's thwarted rage rolled away.



"We're off to Sulla at Clusium," he announced. "Up with you, Varro! Don't dawdle so!"



Shaking his head, Varro tried not to dawdle.



It was early in June when Pompey and his veterans marched into Sulla's camp on the Clanis River, there to find the commander-in-chief a trifle sore and battered of spirit. Things had not gone very well for him when Carbo had come down from Arretium toward Clusium, for Carbo had nearly won the battle which developed out of a chance encounter, and therefore could not be planned. Only Sulla's presence of mind in breaking off hostilities and retiring into a very strong camp had saved the day.



"Not that it matters," said Sulla, looking greatly cheered. "You're here now, Pompeius, and Crassus isn't far away. Having both of you will make all the difference. Carbo is finished."



"How did Metellus Pius get on?" Pompey asked, not pleased to hear Sulla mention Crassus in the same breath.



"He's secured Italian Gaul. Brought Norbanus to battle outside Faventia, while Varro Lucullus-he'd had to go all the way to Placentia to find asylum-took on Lucius Quinctius and Publius Albinovanus near Fidentia. All went splendidly. The enemy is scattered or dead."



"What about Norbanus himself?"



Sulla shrugged; he never cared very much what happened to his military foes once they were beaten, and Norbanus had not been a personal enemy. "I imagine he went to Ariminum," he said, and turned away to issue instructions about Pompey's camp.



Sure enough, Crassus arrived the following day from Tuder at the head of three rather surly and disgruntled legions; rumor was rife among their ranks that after Tuder fell, Crassus had found a fortune in gold and kept the lot.



"Is it true?" demanded Sulla, the deep folds of his face grown deeper, his mouth set so hard its lips had disappeared.



But nothing could dent that bovine composure. Crassus's mild grey eyes widened, he looked puzzled but unconcerned. "No."



"You're sure?"



“There was nothing to be had in Tuder beyond a few old women, and I didn't fancy a one."



Sulla shot him a suspicious glance, wondering if Crassus was being intentionally insolent; but if so, he couldn't tell. "You are as deep as you are devious, Marcus Crassus," he said at last. “I will accord you the dispensations of your family and your standing, and elect to believe you. But take fair warning! If ever I discover that you have profited at the expense of the State out of my aims and endeavors, I will never see you again."



"Fair enough," said Crassus, nodding, and ambled off.



Publius Servilius Vatia had listened to this exchange, and smiled now at Sulla. "One cannot like him," he said.



"There are few men this one does like," said Sulla, throwing his arm around Vatia's shoulders. "Aren't you lucky, Vatia?"



"Why?"



"I happen to like you. You're a good fellow-never exceed your authority and never give me an argument. Whatever I ask you to do, you do." He yawned until his eyes watered. "I'm dry. A cup of wine, that's what I need!"



A slender and attractive man of medium coloring, Vatia was not one of the patrician Servilii; his family, however, was more than ancient enough to pass the most rigorous of social examinations, and his mother was one of the most august Caecilii Metelli, the daughter of Metellus Macedonicus-which meant he was related to everybody who mattered. Including, by marriage, Sulla. So he felt comfortable with that heavy arm across his back, and turned within Sulla's embrace to walk beside him to the command tent; Sulla had been imbibing freely that day, needed a little steadying.



"What will we do with these people when Rome is mine?'' asked Sulla as Vatia helped him to a full goblet of his special wine; Vatia took his own wine from a different flagon, and made sure it was well watered.



"Which people? Crassus, you mean?"



"Yes, Crassus. And Pompeius Magnus." Sulla's lip curled up to show his gum. "I ask you, Vatia! Magnus! At his age!"



Vatia smiled, sat on a folding chair. "Well, if he's too young, I'm too old. I should have been consul six years ago. Now, I suppose I never will be."



"If I win, you'll be consul. Never doubt it. I am a bad enemy, Vatia, but a stout friend."



"I know, Lucius Cornelius," said Vatia tenderly.



"What do I do with them?" Sulla asked again.



"With Pompeius, I can see your difficulty. I cannot imagine him settling back into inertia once the fighting is over, and how do you keep him from aspiring to offices ahead of his time?"



Sulla laughed. "He's not after office! He's after military glory. And I think I will try to give it to him. He might come in quite handy." The empty cup was extended to be refilled. "And Crassus? What do I do with Crassus?"



"Oh, he'll look after himself," said Vatia, pouring. "He will make money. I can understand that. When his father and his brother Lucius died, he should have inherited more than just a rich widow. The Licinius Crassus fortune was worth three hundred talents. But of course it was confiscated. Trust Cinna! He grabbed everything. And poor Crassus didn't have anything like Catulus's clout."



Sulla snorted. "Poor Crassus, indeed! He stole that gold from Tuder, I know he did."



"Probably," said Vatia, unruffled. "However, you can't pursue it at the moment. You need the man! And he knows you do. This is a desperate venture."



The arrival of Pompey and Crassus to swell Sulla's army was made known to Carbo immediately. To his legates he turned a calm face, and made no mention of relocating himself or his forces. He still outnumbered Sulla heavily, which meant Sulla showed no sign of breaking out of his camp to invite another battle. And while Carbo waited for events to shape themselves, tell him what he must do, news came first from Italian Gaul that Norbanus and his legates Quinctius and Albinovanus were beaten, that Metellus Pius and Varro Lucullus held Italian Gaul for Sulla. The second lot of news from Italian Gaul was more depressing, if not as important. The Lucanian legate Publius Albinovanus had lured Norbanus and the rest of his high command to a conference in Ariminum, then murdered all save Norbanus himself before surrendering Ariminum to Metellus Pius in exchange for a pardon. Having expressed a wish to live in exile somewhere in the east, Norbanus had been allowed to board a ship. The only legate who escaped was Lucius Quinctius, who was in Varro Lucullus's custody when the murders happened.



A tangible gloom descended upon Carbo's camp; restless men like Censorinus began to pace and fume. But still Sulla would not offer battle. In desperation, Carbo gave Censorinus something to do; he was to take eight legions to Praeneste and relieve the siege of Young Marius. Ten days after departing, Censorinus was back. It was impossible to relieve Young Marius, he said-the fortifications Ofella had built were impregnable. Carbo sent a second expedition to Praeneste, but only succeeded in losing two thousand good men when Sulla ambushed them. A third force set off under Brutus Damasippus to find a road over the mountains and break into Praeneste along the snake-paths behind it. That too failed; Brutus Damasippus looked, abandoned all hope, and returned to Clusium and Carbo.



Even the news that the paralyzed Samnite leader Gaius Papius Mutilus had assembled forty thousand men in Aesernia and was going to send them to relieve Praeneste had no power now to lift Carbo's spirits; his depression deepened every day. Nor did his attitude of mind improve when Mutilus sent him a letter saying his force would be seventy thousand, not forty thousand, as Lucania and Marcus Lamponius were sending him twenty thousand men, and Capua and Tiberius Gutta another ten thousand.



There was only one man Carbo really trusted, old Marcus Junius Brutus, his proquaestor. And so to Old Brutus he went as June turned into Quinctilis, and still no decision had come to him capable of easing his mind.



"If Albinovanus would stoop to murdering men he'd laughed and eaten with for months, how can I possibly be sure of any of my own legates?'' he asked.



They were strolling down the three-mile length of the Via Principalis, one of the two main avenues within the camp, and wide enough to ensure their conversation was private.



Blinking slowly in the sunlight, the old man with the blued lips made no quick, reassuring answer; instead, he turned the question over in his mind, and when he did reply, said very soberly, "I do not think you can be sure, Gnaeus Papirius."



Carbo's breath hissed between his teeth; he trembled. "Ye gods, Marcus, what am I to do?"



"For the moment, nothing. But I think you must abandon this sad business before murder becomes a desirable alternative to one or more of your legates."



“Abandon ?''



"Yes, abandon," said Old Brutus steadily.



"They wouldn't let me leave!" Carbo cried, shaking now.



"Probably not. But they don't need to know. I'll start making our preparations, while you look as if the only thing worrying you is the fate of the Samnite army." Old Brutus put his hand on Carbo's arm, patted it. "Don't despair. All will be well in the end."



By the middle of Quinctilis, Old Brutus had finished his preparations. Very quietly in the middle of the night he and Carbo stole away without baggage or attendants save for a mule loaded down with gold ingots innocently sheathed in a layer of lead, and a large purse of denarii for traveling expenses. Looking like a tired pair of merchants, they made their way to the Etrurian coast at Telamon, and there took ship for Africa. No one molested them, no one was the slightest bit interested in the laboring mule or in what it had in its panniers. Fortune, thought Carbo as the ship slipped anchor, was favoring him!



Because he was paralyzed from the waist down, Gaius Papius Mutilus could not lead the Samnite/Lucanian/Capuan host himself, though he did travel with the Samnite segment of it from its training ground at Aesernia as far as Teanum Sidicinum, where the whole host occupied Sulla's and Scipio's old camps, and Mutilus went to stay in his own house.



His fortunes had prospered since the Italian War; now he owned villas in half a dozen places throughout Samnium and Campania, and was wealthier than he had ever been: an ironic compensation, he sometimes thought, for the loss of all power and feeling below the waist.



Aesernia and Bovianum were his two favorite towns, but his wife, Bastia, preferred to live in Teanum-she was from the district. That Mutilus had not objected to this almost constant separation was due to his injury; as a husband he was of little use, and if understandably his wife needed to avail herself of physical solace, better she did so where he was not. However, no scandalous tidbits about her behavior had percolated back to him in Aesernia, which meant either she was voluntarily as continent as his injury obliged him to be, or her discretion was exemplary. So when Mutilus arrived at his house in Teanum, he found himself quite looking forward to Bastia's company.



"I didn't expect to see you," she said with perfect ease.



"There's no reason why you should have expected me, since I didn't write," he said in an agreeable way. "You look well."



"I feel well."



"Given my limitations, I'm in pretty good health myself," he went on, finding the reunion more awkward than he had hoped; she was distant, too courteous.



"What brings you to Teanum?" she asked.



"I've an army outside town. We're going to war against Sulla. Or at least, my army is. I shall stay here with you."



"For how long?" she enquired politely.



"Until the business is over one way or the other."



"I see." She leaned back in her chair, a magnificent woman of some thirty summers, and looked at him without an atom of the blazing desire he used to see in her eyes when they were first married-and he had been all a man. "How may I see to your comfort, husband? Is there any special thing you'll need?"



"I have my body servant. He knows what to do."



Disposing the clouds of expensive gauze about her splendid body more artistically, she continued to gaze at him out of those orbs large and dark enough to have earned her an Homeric compliment: Lady Ox-eyes. "Just you to dinner?" she asked.



"No, three others. My legates. Is that a problem?"



“Certainly not. The menu will do you honor, Gaius Papius."



The menu did. Bastia was an excellent housekeeper. She knew two of the three men who came to eat with their stricken commander, Pontius Telesinus and Marcus Lamponius. Telesinus was a Samnite of very old family who had been a little too young to be numbered among the Samnite greats of the Italian War. Now thirty-two, he was a fine-looking man, and bold enough to eye his hostess with an appreciation only she divined. That she ignored it was good sense; Telesinus was a Samnite, and that meant he hated Romans more than he could possibly admire women.



Marcus Lamponius was the paramount chieftain from Lucania, and had been a formidable enemy to Rome during the Italian War. Now into his fifties, he was still warlike, still thirsted to let Roman blood flow. They never change, these non-Roman Italians, she thought; destroying Rome means more to them than life or prosperity or peace. More even than children.



The one among the three Bastia had never met before was a Campanian like herself, the chief citizen of Capua. His name was Tiberius Gutta, and he was fat, brutish, egotistical, as fanatically dedicated to shedding Roman blood as the others.



She absented herself from the triclinium as soon as her husband gave her permission to retire, burning with an anger she had most carefully concealed. It wasn't fair! Things were just beginning to run so smoothly that the Italian War might not have happened, when here it was, starting all over again. She had wanted to cry out that nothing would change, that Rome would grind their faces and their fortunes into the dust yet again; but self-control had kept her tongue still. Even if they had been brought to believe her, patriotism and pride would dictate that they go ahead anyway.



The anger ate at her, refused to die away. Up and down the marble floor of her sitting room she paced, wanting to strike out at them, those stupid, pigheaded men. Especially her own husband, leader of his nation, the one to whom all other Samnites looked for guidance. And what.sort of guidance was he giving them? War against Rome. Ruination. Did he care that when he fell, everyone attached to him would also fall? Of course he did not! He was all a man, with all a man's idiocies of nationalism and revenge. All a man, yet only half a man. And the half of him left was no use to her, no use for procreating or recreating.



She stopped, feeling the heat at the core of her all this anger had caused to boil up. Her lips were bitten, she could taste a little bead of blood. On fire. On fire.



There was a slave.... One of those Greeks from Samothrace with hair so black it shone blue in the light, brows which met across the bridge of his nose in unashamed luxuriance, and eyes the color of a mountain lake... Skin so fine it begged to be kissed... Bastia clapped her hands.



When the steward came, she looked at him with her chin up and her bitten lips as plump and red as strawberries. “Are the gentlemen in the dining room content?"



"Yes, domina."



"Good. Continue to look after them, please. And send Hippolytus to me here. I've thought of something he can do for me," she said.



The steward's face remained expressionless; as his master Mutilus did not care to live in Teanum Sidicinum, whereas his mistress Bastia did, his mistress Bastia mattered more to him. She must be kept happy. He bowed. "I will send Hippolytus to you at once, domina," he said, and did many obeisances as he extricated himself carefully from her room.



In the triclinium Bastia had been forgotten the moment she departed for her own quarters.



"Carbo assures me that he has Sulla tied down at Clusium," Mutilus said to his legates.



"Do you believe that?" asked Lamponius.



Mutilus frowned. "I have no reason to think otherwise, but I can't be absolutely sure, of course. Do you have any reason to think otherwise?"



"No, except that Carbo's a Roman."



"Hear, hear!" cried Pontius Telesinus.



"Fortunes change," said Tiberius Gutta of Capua, face shining from the grease of a capon roasted with chestnut stuffing and a skin-crisping glaze of oil. "For the moment, we fight on Carbo's side. After Sulla is defeated, we can turn on Carbo and every other Roman and rend them."



"Absolutely," agreed Mutilus, smiling.



"We should move on Praeneste at once," said Lamponius.



"Tomorrow, in fact," said Telesinus quickly.



But Mutilus shook his head emphatically. “No. We rest the men here for five more days. They've had a hard march, and they still have to cover the length of the Via Latina. When they get to Ofella's siegeworks, they must be fresh."



These things decided-and given the prospect of relative leisure for the next five days-the dinner party broke up far earlier than Mutilus's steward had anticipated. Busy among the kitchen servants, he saw nothing, heard nothing. And was not there when the master of the house ordered his massive German attendant to carry him to the mistress's room.



She was kneeling naked upon the pillows of her couch, legs spread wide apart, and between her glistening thighs a blue-black head of hair was buried; the compact and muscular body which belonged to the head was stretched across the couch in an abandonment so complete it looked as if it belonged to a sleeping cat. In no other place than where the head was buried did the two bodies touch; Bastia's arms were extended behind her, their hands kneading the pillows, and his arms lolled alongside the rest of him.



The door had opened quietly; the German slave stood with his master in his hold like a bride being carried across the threshold of her new home, and waited for his next instructions with all the dumb endurance of such fellows, far from home, almost devoid of Latin or Greek, permanently transfixed with the pain of loss, unable to express that pain.



The eyes of husband and wife met. In hers there flashed a shout of triumph, of jubilation; in his an amazement without the dulling anodyne of shock. Of its own volition his gaze fell to rest upon her glorious breasts, the sleekness of her belly, and was blurred by a sudden rush of tears.



The young Greek's utter absorption in what he was doing now caught a change, a tension in the woman having nothing to do with him; he began to lift his head. Like two striking snakes her hands locked in the blue-black hair, pressed the head down and held it there.



“Don't stop!'' she cried.



Unable to look away, Mutilus watched the blood-gorged tissue in her nipples begin to swell them to bursting; her hips were moving, the head riding upon them. And then, beneath her husband's eyes, Bastia screeched and moaned the power of her massive orgasm. It seemed to Mutilus to last an eternity.



Done, she released the head and slapped the young Greek, who rolled over and lay faceup; his terror was so profound that he seemed not to breathe.



"You can't do anything with that," said Bastia, pointing to the slave's diminishing erection, "but there's nothing wrong with your tongue, Mutilus."



"You're right, there isn't," he said, every last tear dried. "It can still taste and feel. But it isn't interested in carrion."



The German got him out of the room, carried him to his own sleeping cubicle, and deposited him with care upon his bed. Then after he had completed his various duties he left Gaius Papius Mutilus alone. No comment, no sympathy, no acknowledgment. And that, reflected Mutilus as he turned his face into his pillow, was a greater mercy than all else. Still in his mind's eye the image of his wife's body burned, the breasts with their nipples popping out, and that head-that head! That head... Below his waist nothing stirred, could never stir again. But the rest of him knew torments and dreams, and longed for every aspect of love. Every aspect!



"I am not dead," he said into the pillow, and felt the tears come. "I am not dead! But oh, by all the gods, I wish I were!"



At the end of June, Sulla left Clusium. With him he took his own five legions and three of Scipio's; he left Pompey in command, a decision which hadn't impressed his other legates at all. But, since Sulla was Sulla and no one actively argued with him, Pompey it was.



"Clean this lot up," he said to Pompey. "They outnumber you, but they're demoralized. However, when they discover that I'm gone for good, they'll offer battle. Watch Damasippus, he is the most competent among them. Crassus will cope with Marcus Censorinus, and Torquatus ought to manage against Carrinas."



“What about Carbo?'' asked Pompey.



"Carbo is a cipher. He lets his legates do his generaling. But don't fiddle, Pompeius! I have other work for you."



No surprise then that Sulla took the more senior of his legates with him; neither Vatia nor the elder Dolabella could have stomached the humiliation of having to ask a twenty-three-year-old for orders. His departure came on the heels of news about the Samnites, and made Sulla's need to reach the general area around Praeneste urgent; dispositions would have to be finished before the Samnite host drew too near.



Having scouted the whole region on that side of Rome with extreme thoroughness, Sulla knew exactly what he intended to do. The Via Praenestina and the Via Labicana were now unnegotiable thanks to Ofella's wall and ditch, but the Via Latina and the Via Appia were still open, still connected Rome and the north with Campania and the south. If the war was to be won, it was vital that all military access between Rome and the south belong to Sulla; Etruria was exhausted, but Samnium and Lucania had scarcely been tapped of manpower or food resources.



The countryside between Rome and Campania was not easy. On the coast it deteriorated into the Pomptine Marshes, through which from Campania the Via Appia traveled a mosquito-ridden straight line until near Rome it ran up against the flank of the Alban Hills. These were not hills at all, but quite formidable mountains based upon the outpourings of an old volcano which had cut up and elevated the original alluvial Latin plain. The Alban Mount itself, center of that ancient subterranean disturbance, reared between the Via Appia and the other, more inland road, the Via Latina. South of the Alban Hills another high ridge continued to separate the Via Appia from the Via Latina, thus preventing interconnection between these two major arteries all the way from Campania to a point very near Rome. For military travel the more inland Via Latina was always preferred over the Via Appia; men got sick when they marched the Via Appia.



It was therefore preferable that Sulla station himself on the Via Latina-but at a place where he could, if necessary, transfer his forces rapidly across to the Via Appia. Both roads traversed the outer flanks of the Alban Hills, but the Via Latina did so through a defile which chopped a gap in the eastern escarpment of the ridge and allowed the road to travel onward to Rome in the flatter space between this high ground and the Alban Mount itself. At the point where the defile opened out toward the Alban Mount, a small road curved westward round this central peak, and joined the Via Appia quite close to the sacred lake of Nemi and its temple precinct.



Here in the defile Sulla sat himself down and proceeded to build immense fortified walls of tufa blocks at each end of the gorge, enclosing the side road which led to Lake Nemi and the Via Appia within his battlements. He now occupied the only place on the Via Latina at which all progress could be stopped from both directions. And, his fortifications completed within a very short time, he posted a series of watches on the Via Appia to make sure no enemy tried to outflank him by this route, from Rome as well as from Campania. All his provisions were brought along the side road from the Via Appia.



By the time the Samnite/Lucanian/Capuan host reached the site of Sacriportus, everyone was calling this army "the Samnites" despite its composite nature (enhanced because remnants' of the legions scattered by Pompey and Crassus had tacked themselves on to such a strong, well-led force). At Sacriportus the host chose the Via Labicana, only to discover that Ofella had by now contained himself within a second line of fortifications, and could not be dislodged. Shining from its heights with a myriad colors, Praeneste might as well have been as far away as the Garden of the Hesperides. After riding along every inch of Ofella's walls, Pontius Telesinus, Marcus Lamponius and Tiberius Gutta could discern no weakness, and a cross-country march by seventy thousand men with nowhere positive to go was impossible. A war council resulted in a change of strategy; the only way to draw Ofella off was to attack Rome herself. So to Rome on the Via Latina the Samnite army would go.



Back they marched to Sacriportus, and turned onto the Via Latina in the direction of Rome. Only to find Sulla sitting behind his enormous ramparts in complete control of the road. To storm his position seemed far easier than storming Ofella's walls, so the Samnite host attacked. When they failed, they tried again. And again. Only to hear Sulla laughing at them as loudly as had Ofella.




Then came news at once cheering and depressing; those left at Clusium had sallied out and engaged Pompey. That they had gone down in utter defeat was depressing, yet seemed not to matter when compared to the message that the survivors, some twenty thousand strong, were marching south under Censorinus, Carrinas and Brutus Damasippus. Carbo himself had vanished, but the fight, swore Brutus Damasippus in his letter to Pontius Telesinus, would go on. If Sulla's position were stormed from both sides at once at the exact same moment, he would crumble. Had to crumble!



"Rubbish, of course," said Sulla to Pompey, whom he had summoned to his defile for a conference as soon as he had been notified of Pompey's victory at Clusium. "They can pile Pelion on top of Ossa if they so choose, but they won't dislodge me. This place was made for defense! Impregnable and unassailable."



"If you're so confident, what need can you have for me?" the young man asked, his pride at being summoned evaporating.



The campaign at Clusium had been short, grim, decisive; many of the enemy had died, many were taken prisoner, and those who got away were chiefly distinguished for the quality of the men who led their retreat; there had been no senior legates in the ranks of those who surrendered, a great disappointment. The defection of Carbo himself had not been known to Pompey until after the battle was over, when the story of his nocturnal flight was told with tears and bitterness to Pompey's men by tribunes, centurions and soldiers alike. A great betrayal.



Hard on the heels of this had come Sulla's summons, which Pompey had received with huge delight. His instructions were to bring six legions and two thousand horse with him; that Varro would tag along, he took for granted, whereas Crassus and Torquatus were to remain at Clusium. But what need had Sulla for more troops in a camp already bursting at the seams? Indeed, Pompey's army had been directed into a camp on the shores of Lake Nemi and therefore adjacent to the Via Appia!



"Oh, I don't need you here," said Sulla, leaning his arms on the parapet of an observation tower atop his walls and peering vainly in the direction of Rome; his vision had deteriorated badly since that illness in Greece, though he disliked owning up to it. "I'm getting closer, Pompeius! Closer and closer."



Not normally bashful, Pompey found himself unable to ask the question he burned to ask: what did Sulla intend when the war was over? How could he retain his authority, how could he possibly protect himself from future reprisals? He couldn't keep his army with him forever, but the moment he disbanded it he would be at the mercy of anyone with the strength and the clout to call him to account. And that might be someone who at the present moment called himself a loyal follower, Sulla's man to the death. Who knew what men like Vatia and the elder Dolabella really thought? Both of them were of consular age, even if circumstances had conspired to prevent their becoming consul. How could Sulla insulate himself? A great man's enemies were like the Hydra-no matter how many heads he succeeded in cutting off, there were always more busily growing, and always sporting bigger and better teeth.



"If you don't need me here, Sulla, where do you need me?" Pompey asked, bewildered.



"It is the beginning of Sextilis," said Sulla, and turned to lead the way down the many stairs.



Nothing more was said until they emerged at the bottom into the controlled chaos beneath the walls, where men busied themselves in carrying loads of rocks, oil for burning and throwing down upon the hapless heads of those trying to scale ladders, missiles for the onagers and catapults already bristling atop the walls, stocks of spears and arrows and shields.



“It is the beginning of Sextilis?'' Pompey prompted once they were out of the activity and had begun to stroll down the side road toward Lake Nemi.



"So it is!" said Sulla in tones of surprise, and fell about laughing at the look on Pompey's face.



Obviously he was expected to laugh too; Pompey laughed too. "Yes, it is," he said, and added, "the beginning of Sextilis."



Controlling himself with an effort, Sulla decided he had had his fun. Best put the young would-be Alexander out of his misery by telling him.



"I have a special command for you, Pompeius," he said curtly. "The rest will have to know about it-but not yet. I want you well away before the storm of protest breaks-for break, it will! You see, what I want you to do is something I ought not to ask of any man who has not been at the very least a praetor."



Excitement growing, Pompey stopped walking, put his hand on Sulla's arm and turned him so that his face was fully visible; bright blue eyes stared into white-blue eyes. They were now standing in a rather pretty dell to one side of the unsealed road, and the noise of so much industry to front and back was muted by great flowering banks of summer brambles, roses and blackberries.



"Then why have you chosen me, Lucius Cornelius?" Pompey asked, tones wondering. "You have many legates who fit that description-Vatia, Appius Claudius, Dolabella- even men like Mamercus and Crassus would seem more appropriate! So why me?"



"Don't die from curiosity, Pompeius, I will tell you! But first, I must tell you exactly what it is I want you to do."



"I am listening," said Pompey with a great show of calm.



"I told you to bring six legions and two thousand cavalry. That's a respectable army. You are going to take it at once to Sicily, and secure the coming harvest for me. It's Sextilis, the harvest will begin very soon. And sitting for the most part in Puteoli harbor is the grain fleet. Hundreds upon hundreds of empty vessels. Ready-made transports, Pompeius! Tomorrow you will take the Via Appia and march for Puteoli before the grain fleet can sail. You will bear my mandate and have sufficient money to pay for the hiring of the ships, and you will have a propraetorian imperium. Post your cavalry to Ostia, there's a smaller fleet there. I've already sent out messengers to ports like Tarracina and Antium, and told all the little shipowners to gather in Puteoli if they want to be paid for what would under normal circumstances be an empty voyage out. You'll have more than enough ships, I guarantee you."



Had he once dreamed of a meeting between himself and an equally godlike man called Lucius Cornelius Sulla? And been crushed to abject misery because he had found a satyr, not a god? But what did the look of a man matter, when he held in both hands such a store of dreams? The scarred and drunken old man whose eyes were not even good enough to see Rome in the distance was offering him the whole conduct of a war! A war far away from interference, against an enemy he would have all to himself... Pompey gasped, held out his freckled hand with its short and slightly crooked fingers, and clasped Sulla's beautiful hand.



"Lucius Cornelius, that's wonderful! Wonderful! Oh, you can count on me! I'll drive Perperna Veiento out of Sicily and give you more wheat than ten armies could eat!"



"I'm going to need more wheat than ten armies could eat," said Sulla, releasing his hand; despite his youth and undeniable attractions, Pompey was not a type who appealed to Sulla physically, and he never liked to touch men or women who didn't appeal to him physically. "By the end of this year, Rome will be mine. And if I want Rome to lie down for me, then I'll have to make sure she's not hungry. That means the Sicilian grain harvest, the Sardinian grain harvest-and, if possible, the African grain harvest too. So when you've secured Sicily, you'll have to move on to Africa Province and do what you can there. You won't be in time to catch the loaded fleets from Utica and Hadrumetum-I imagine you'll be many months in Sicily before you can hope to deal with Africa. But Africa must be subdued before you can come home to Italy. I hear that Fabius Hadrianus was burned to death in the governor's palace during an uprising in Utica, but that Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus-having escaped from Sacriportus!-has taken over and is holding Africa for the enemy. If you're in western Sicily, it's a short distance from Lilybaeum to Utica by sea. You ought to be able to wrap up Africa. Somehow you don't have the look of a failure about you."



Pompey was literally shivering in excitement; he smiled, gasped. "I won't fail you, Lucius Cornelius! I promise I will never fail you!"



"I believe you, Pompeius." Sulla sat down on a log, licked his lips. "What are we doing here? I need wine!"



"Here is a good place, there's no one to see us or listen to us," said Pompey soothingly. "Wait, Lucius Cornelius. I'll fetch you wine. Just sit there and wait."



As it was a shady spot, Sulla did as he was told, smiling at some secret joke. Oh, what a lovely day it was!



Back came Pompey at a run, yet breathing as if he hadn't run at all. Sulla grabbed at the wineskin, squirted liquid into his mouth with great expertise, actually managing to swallow and take in air at the same time. Some moments elapsed before he ceased to squeeze, put the skin down.



"Oh, that's better! Where was I?"



"You may fool some people, Lucius Cornelius, but not me. You know precisely where you were," said Pompey coolly, and sat himself on the grass directly in front of Sulla's log.



"Very good! Pompeius, you're as rare as an ocean pearl the size of a pigeon's egg! And I can truly say that I am very glad I'll be dead long before you become a Roman headache." He picked up the wineskin again, drank again.



"I'll never be a Roman headache," said Pompey innocently. "I will just be the First Man in Rome-and not by mouthing a lot of pretentious rubbish in the Forum or the Senate, either."



"How then, boy, if not through stirring speeches?"



"By doing what you're sending me off to do. By beating Rome's enemies in battle."



"Not a novel approach," said Sulla. "That's the way I've done it. That's the way Gaius Marius did it too."



"Yes, but I'm not going to need to snatch my commissions," said Pompey. "Rome is going to give me every last one on her very knees!"



Sulla might have interpreted that statement as a reproach, or even as an outright criticism; but he knew his Pompey by this, and understood that most of what the young man said arose out of egotism, that Pompey as yet had no idea how difficult it might be to make that statement come true. So all Sulla did was to sigh and say, "Strictly speaking, I can't give you any sort of imperium. I'm not consul, and I don't have the Senate or the People behind me to pass my laws. You'll just have to accept that I will make it possible for you to come back and be confirmed with a praetor's imperium."



"I don't doubt that."



"Do you doubt anything?"



"Not if it concerns me directly. I can influence events."



"May you never change!" Sulla leaned forward, clasped his hands between his knees. "All right, Pompeius, the compliments are over. Listen to me very carefully. There are two more things I have to tell you. The first concerns Carbo."



"I'm listening," said Pompey.



"He sailed from Telamon with Old Brutus. Now it's possible that he headed for Spain, or even for Massilia. But at this time of year, his destination was more likely Sicily or Africa. While ever he's at large, he is the consul. The elected consul. That means he can override the imperium of a governor, commandeer the governor's soldiers or militia, call up auxiliaries, and generally make a thorough nuisance of himself until his term as consul runs out. Which is some months off. I am not going to tell you exactly what I plan to do after Rome is mine, but I will tell you this-it is vital to my plans that Carbo be dead well before the end of his year in office. And it is vital that I know Carbo is dead! Your job is to track Carbo down and kill him. Very quietly and inconspicuously- I would like his death to seem an accident. Will you undertake to do this?"



"Yes," said Pompey without hesitation.



"Good! Good!" Sulla turned his hands over and inspected them as if they belonged to someone else. "Now I come to my last point, which concerns the reason why I am entrusting this overseas campaign to you rather than to one of my senior legates." He peered at the young man intently. “Can you see why for yourself, Pompeius?''



Pompey thought, shrugged. “I have some ideas, perhaps, but without knowing what you plan to do after Rome is yours, I am mostly likely wrong. Tell me why."



"Pompeius, you are the only one I can entrust with this commission! If I give six legions and two thousand horse to a man as senior as Vatia or Dolabella and send that man off to Sicily and Africa, what's to stop his coming back with the intention of supplanting me? All he has to do is to remain away long enough for me to be obliged to disband my own army, then return and supplant me. Sicily and Africa are not campaigns likely to be finished in six months, so it's very likely that I will have had to disband my own army before whoever I send comes home. I cannot keep a permanent standing army in Italy. There's neither the money nor the room for it. And the Senate and People of Rome would never consent. Therefore I must keep every man senior enough to be my rival under my eye. Therefore it is you I am sending off to secure the harvest and make it possible for me to feed ungrateful Rome."



Pompey drew a breath, linked his arms around his knees and looked at Sulla very directly. "And what's to stop me doing all of that, Lucius Cornelius? If I'm capable of running a campaign, am I not capable of thinking I can supplant you?"



A question which plainly didn't send a single shiver down Sulla's spine; he laughed heartily. "Oh, you can think it all you like, Pompeius! But Rome would never wear you! Not for a single moment. She'd wear Vatia or Dolabella. They have the years, the relations, the ancestors, the clout, the clients. But a twenty-three-year-old from Picenum that Rome doesn't know? Not a chance!"



And so they left the matter, walked off in opposite directions. When Pompey encountered Varro he said very little, just told that indefatigable observer of life and nature that he was to go to Sicily to secure the harvest. Of imperium, older men, the death of Carbo and much else, he said nothing at all. Of Sulla he asked only one favor-that he might be allowed to take his brother-in-law, Gaius Memmius, as his chief legate. Memmius, several years older than Pompey but not yet a quaestor, had been serving in the legions of Sulla.



"You're absolutely right, Pompeius," said Sulla with a smile. "An excellent choice! Keep your venture in the family."



The simultaneous attack on Sulla's fortifications from north and south came to pass two days after Pompey had departed with his army for Puteoli and the grain fleet. A wave of men broke on either wall, but the waves ebbed and died away harmlessly. Sulla still owned the Via Latina, and those attacking from the north could find no way to join up with those attacking on the south. At dawn on the second morning after the attack, the watchers in the towers on either wall could see no enemy; they had packed up and stolen off in the night. Reports came in all through that day that the twenty thousand men belonging to Censorinus, Carrinas and Brutus Damasippus were marching down the Via Appia toward Campania, and that the Samnite host was marching down the Via Latina in the same direction.



"Let them go," said Sulla indifferently. "Eventually I suppose they'll come back-united. And when they do come back it will be on the Via Appia. Where I will be waiting for them."



By the end of Sextilis, the Samnites and the remnants of Carbo's army had joined forces at Fregellae, and there moved off the Via Latina eastward through the Melfa Gorge.



"They're going to Aesernia to think again," said Sulla, and did not instruct that they be followed further. "It's enough to post lookouts on the Via Latina at Ferentinum, and the Via Appia at Tres Tabernae. I don't need more warning than that, and I'm not going to waste my scouts sending them to sneak around Samnites in Samnite territory like Aesernia."



The action shifted abruptly to Praeneste, where Young Marius, restless and growing steadily more unpopular within the town, emerged from the gates and ventured out into No Man's Land. At the westernmost point of the ridge, where the watershed divided Tolerus streams from Anio streams, he began to build a massive siege tower, having judged that at this point Ofella's wall was weakest. No tree had been left standing to furnish materials for this work anywhere within reach of those defending Praeneste; it was houses and temples yielded up the timber, precious nails and bolts, blocks and panels and tiles.



The most dangerous work was to make a smooth roadway for the tower to be moved upon between the spot where it was being built and the edge of Ofella's ditch, for these laborers were at the mercy of marksmen atop Ofella's walls; Young Marius chose the youngest and swiftest among his helpers to do this, and gave them a makeshift roof under which to shelter. Out of harm's reach another team toiled with pieces of timber too small to use in constructing the tower, and made a bridge of laminated planking to throw across the ditch when it came time to push the tower right up against Ofella's wall. Once work upon the tower had progressed enough to create a shelter inside it for those who labored upon building it, the thing seemed to grow from within, up and up and up, out and out and out.



In a month it was ready, and so were the causeway and the bridge along which a thousand pairs of hands would propel it. But Ofella too was ready, having had plenty of time to prepare his defenses. The bridge was put across the ditch in the darkest hours of night, the tower rolled heaving and groaning upon a slipway of sheep's fat mixed with oil; dawn saw the tower, twenty feet higher than the top of Ofella's wall, in position. Deep in its bowels there hung upon ropes toughened with pitch a mighty battering ram made from the single beam which had spanned the Goddess's cella in the temple of Fortuna Primigenia, who was the firstborn daughter of Jupiter, and talisman of Italian luck.



But it was many a year before tufa stone hardened to real brittleness, so the ram when brought to bear on Ofella's wall roared and boomed and pounded in vain; the elastic tufa blocks shook, even trembled and vibrated, but they held until Ofella's catapults firing blazing missiles had set the tower on fire, and driven the attackers hurling spears and arrows fleeing with hair in flames. By nightfall the tower was a twisted ruin collapsed in the ditch, and those who had tried to break out were either dead or back within Praeneste.



Several times during October, Young Marius tried to use the bridged ditch filled with the wreckage of his tower as a base; he roofed a section between Ofella's wall and the ditch to keep his men safe and tried to mine his way beneath the wall, then tried to cut his way through the wall, and finally tried to scale the wall. But nothing worked. Winter was close at hand, seemed to promise the same kind of bitter cold as the last one; Praeneste knew itself short of food, and rued the day it had opened its gates to the son of Gaius Marius.



The Samnite host had not gone to Aesernia at all. Ninety thousand strong, it sat itself down in the awesome mountains to the south of the Fucine Lake and whiled away almost two months in drills, foraging parties, more drills. Pontius Telesinus and Brutus Damasippus had journeyed to see Mutilus in Teanum, come away armed with a plan to take Rome by surprise-and without Sulla's knowledge. For, said Mutilus, Young Marius would have to be left to his fate. The only chance left for all right-thinking men was to capture Rome and draw both Sulla and Ofella into a siege which would be prolonged and filled with a terrible doubt-would those inside Rome elect to join the Samnite cause?



There was a way across the mountains between the Melfa Gorge and the Via Valeria. This stock route-for so it was better termed than road-traversed the ranges between Atina at the back of the Melfa Gorge-a wilderness-went to Sora on the elbow of the Liris River, then to Treba, then to Sublaquaeum, and finally emerged on the Via Valeria a scant mile east of Varia, at a little hamlet called Mandela. It was neither paved nor even surveyed, but it had been there for centuries, and was the route whereby the many shepherds of the mountains moved their flocks each summer season between pastures at the same altitude. It was also the route the flocks took to the sale yards and slaughterhouses of the Campus Lanatarius and the Vallis Camenarum adjoining the Aventine parts of Rome.



Had Sulla stopped to remember the time when he had marched from Fregellae to the Fucine Lake to assist Gaius Marius to defeat Silo and the Marsi, he might have remembered this stock route, for he had actually followed a part of it from Sora to Treba, and had not found it impossible going. But at Treba he had left it, and had not thought to ascertain whereabouts it went north of Treba. So the one chance Sulla might have had to circumvent Mutilus's strategy was overlooked. Thinking that the only route open to the Samnites if they planned to attack Rome was the Via Appia, Sulla remained in his defile on the Via Latina and kept watch, sure he could not be taken by surprise.



And while he sat in his defile, the Samnites and their allies toiled along the stock route, secure in the knowledge that they were passing through country whose inhabitants had no love of Rome, and well beyond the outermost tentacles of Sulla's intelligence network. Sora, Treba, Sublaquaeum, and finally onto the Via Valeria at Mandela. They were now a scant day's march from Rome, a mere thirty miles of superbly kept road as the Via Valeria came down through Tibur and the Anio valley, and terminated on the Campus Esquilinus beneath the double rampart of Rome's Agger.




But this was not the best place from which to launch an attack on Rome, so when the great host drew close to the city, Pontius Telesinus and Brutus Damasippus took a diverticulum which brought them out on the Via Nomentana at the Colline Gate. And there outside the Colline Gate-waiting for them, as it were-was the stout camp Pompey Strabo had built for himself during Cinna's and Gaius Marius's siege of Rome. By nightfall of the last day of October, Pontius Telesinus, Brutus Damasippus, Marcus Lamponius, Tiberius Gutta, Censorinus and Carrinas were comfortably ensconced within that camp; on the morrow they would attack.



The news that ninety thousand men were occupying Pompey Strabo's old camp outside the Colline Gate was brought to Sulla after night had fallen on the last day of October. It found him a little the worse for wine, but not yet asleep. Within moments bugles were blaring, drums were rolling, men were tumbling from their pallets and torches were kindling everywhere. Icily sober, Sulla called his legates together and told them.



"They've stolen a march on us," he said, lips compressed. "How they got there I don't know, but the Samnites are outside the Colline Gate and ready to attack Rome. By dawn, we march. We have twenty miles to cover and some of it's hilly, but we have to get to the Colline Gate in time to fight tomorrow." He turned to his cavalry commander, Octavius Balbus. "How many horses have you got around Lake Nemi, Balbus?"



"Seven hundred," said Balbus.



"Then off you go right now. Take the Via Appia, and ride like the wind. You'll reach the Colline Gate some hours before I can hope to get the infantry there, so you've got to hold them off. I don't care what you have to do, or how you do it! Just get there and keep them occupied until I arrive."



Octavius Balbus wasted no time speaking; he was out of Sulla's door and roaring for a horse before Sulla could turn back to his other legates.



There were four of them-Crassus, Vatia, Dolabella and Torquatus. Shocked, but not bereft of their wits.



"We have eight legions here, and they will have to do," said Sulla. "That means we'll be outnumbered two to one. I'll make my dispositions now because there may not be the time for conferences after we reach the Colline Gate."



He fell silent, studying them. Who would fare best? Who would have the steel to lead in what was going to be a desperate encounter? By rights it ought to be Vatia and Dolabella, but were they the best men? His eyes dwelt upon Marcus Licinius Crassus, huge and rock-solid, never anything save calm-eaten up with avarice, a thief and a swindler-not principled, not ethical, perhaps moral. And yet of the four of them he had the most to lose if this war was lost. Vatia and Dolabella would survive, they had the clout. Torquatus was a good man, but not a true leader.



Sulla made up his mind. "I will move in two divisions of four legions each," he said, slapping his hands on his thighs. "I will retain the high command myself, but I will not command either division. For want of a better way to distinguish them, I'll call them the left and the right, and unless I change my orders after we arrive, that is how they'll fight. Left and right of the field. No center. I haven't enough men. Vatia, you will command the left, with Dolabella as your second-in-command. Crassus, you'll command the right, with Torquatus as your second-in-command."



As he spoke, Sulla's eyes rested upon Dolabella, saw the anger and outrage; no need to look at Marcus Crassus, he would not betray his feelings.



"That is what I want," he said harshly, spitting out the words because they shaped themselves poorly without teeth. "I don't have time for argument. You've all thrown in your lots with me, you've given me the ultimate decisions. Now you'll do as you're told. All I expect of you is the will to fight in the way I command you to fight."



Dolabella stood back at the door and allowed the other three to precede him; then he turned back. "A word with you alone, Lucius Cornelius," he said.



"If it's quick."



A Cornelius and a remote relation of Sulla's, Dolabella was not from a branch of that great family which had managed to acquire the luster of the Scipiones-or even of the Sullae; if he had anything in common with most of the Cornelii, it was his homeliness-plump cheeks, a frowning face, eyes a little too close together. Ambitious and with a reputation for depravity, he and his first cousin, the younger Dolabella, were determined to win greater prominence for their branch of the family.



"I could break you, Sulla," Dolabella said. "All I have to do is make it impossible for you to win tomorrow's fight. And I imagine you understand that I'll change sides so fast the opposition will end in believing I was always with them."



"Do go on!" said Sulla in the most friendly fashion when Dolabella paused to see how this speech had been received.



"However, I am willing to lie down under your decision to promote Marcus Crassus over my head. On one condition."



"Which is?"



"That next year, I am consul."



"Done!" cried Sulla with the greatest goodwill.



Dolabella blinked. "You're not put out?" he asked.



"Nothing puts me out anymore, my dear Dolabella," said Sulla, escorting his legate to the door. "At the moment it makes little odds to me who is consul next year. What matters at the moment is who commands on the field tomorrow. And I see that I was right to prefer Marcus Crassus. Good night!"



The seven hundred horsemen under the command of Octavius Balbus arrived outside Pompey Strabo's camp about the middle of the morning on the first day of November. There was absolutely nothing Balbus could have done had he been put to it; his horses were so blown that they stood with heads hanging, sides heaving and white with sweat, mouths dripping foam, while their riders stood alongside them and tried to comfort them by loosening girths and speaking soft endearments. For this reason Balbus had not halted too close to the enemy- let them think his force was ready for action! So he arranged it in what appeared to be a charge formation, had his troopers brandish their lances and pretend to shout messages back to an unseen army of infantry in their rear.



It was evident that the attack upon Rome had not yet begun. The Colline Gate stood in majestic isolation, its portcullis down and its two mighty oak doors closed; the battlements of the two towers which flanked it were alive with heads, and the walls which ran away on either side were heavily manned. Balbus's arrival had provoked sudden activity within the enemy camp, where soldiers were pouring out of the southeastern gate and lining up to hold off a cavalry onslaught; of enemy cavalry there was no sign, and Balbus could only hope that none was concealed.



Each trooper on the march carried a leather bucket tied to his left rear saddle horn to water his horse; while the front rank carried on with the farce of a coming charge and an invisible army of foot soldiers behind, other troopers ran with the buckets to various fountains in the vicinity and filled them. As soon as the horses could safely be watered, Octavius Balbus intended that the business should be finished in short order.



So successful was this mock show of aggression that nothing further had happened when Sulla and his infantry arrived some four hours later, in the early afternoon. His men were in much the same condition as Balbus's horses had been; exhausted, blown, legs trembling with the effort of marching at the double across twenty miles of sometimes steep terrain.



"Well, we can't possibly attack today," said Vatia after he and Sulla had ridden with the other legates to inspect the ground and see what sort of battle was going to develop.



"Why not?" asked Sulla.



Vatia looked blank. "They're too tired to fight!"



"Tired they may be, but fight they will," said Sulla.



"You can't, Lucius Cornelius! You'd lose!"



"I can, and I won't," said Sulla grimly. "Look, Vatia, we have to fight today! This war has got to end, and here and now is where and when it must end. The Samnites know how hard we've marched, the Samnites know the odds are in their favor today more than on any other day. If we don't offer battle today, the day they believe they have their best chance of winning, who knows what might happen tomorrow? What's to stop the Samnites packing up in the night and vanishing to choose another venue? Disappearing perhaps for months? Until the spring, or even next summer? Next autumn? No, Vatia, we fight today. Because today the Samnites are in the mood to see us dead on the field of the Colline Gate."



While his soldiers rested, ate and drank, Sulla went among them on foot to tell them in a more personal way than the usual speech from a rostra that somehow they had to find the strength and the endurance to fight. That if they waited to recover, the war might go on and on. Most of them had been with him for years and could be said in truth to love him, but even the legions which had belonged to Scipio Asiagenus had felt his hand for long enough to know themselves his men. He didn't look like the wonderful, godlike being to whom they had offered a Grass Crown outside Nola all those campaigns ago, but he was theirs-and hadn't they grizzled and wrinkled and grown a bit creaky in the joints too? So when he went among them and asked them to fight, they lifted laconic hands and told him not to worry, they'd fix the Samnites.



A bare two hours before darkness, battle was joined. The three legions which had belonged to Scipio Asiagenus comprised the major part of Sulla's left division, so while he did not assume command of the left, Sulla elected to remain in its area of operation. Rather than bestride his customary mule, he chose to mount a white horse, and had told his men that he would do so. That way they would know him, see him if he came to their part of the fight. Choosing a knoll which gave him a fair perspective of the field, he sat upon the white animal watching the conflict develop. Those inside Rome, he noted, had opened the doors of the Colline Gate and raised the portcullis, though no one issued out to participate in the battle.



The enemy division facing his left was the more formidable, for it was composed entirely of Samnites and commanded by Pontius Telesinus, but at forty thousand it was less numerous-some kind of compensation, thought Sulla, touching his groom with a foot, the signal for the fellow to lead his horse onward. No rider, he didn't trust this white force of nature, and had preferred that it be led. Yes, his left was falling back, he would have to go there. On lower ground, Vatia probably couldn't see that one of his worst problems was the open gate into the city; as the Samnites pushed forward stabbing and slashing upward with their short infantry swords, some of Vatia's men were slipping through the gate rather than standing and holding.



Just before he entered the melee, he heard the sharp smack of his groom's hand on the horse's shoulder, had the presence of mind to lean forward and grab its mane in both hands as it took off at a gallop. One glance behind showed him why; two Samnite spearmen had launched their weapons simultaneously at him, and he ought to have fallen. That he had not was thanks to the groom, who had made the horse bolt. Then the groom caught up and hung on to the creature's plumy tail; Sulla came to a halt unscathed and still in the saddle.



A smile of thanks for his groom, and Sulla waded into the thick of the battle with his sword in his hand and a small cavalry shield to protect his left side. He found some men he knew and ordered them to drop the portcullis-which, he noted in some amusement, they did with scant regard for those beneath it at the time it fell. The measure worked; having nowhere now to retreat, Scipio's legions stood and held while the single legion of veterans began the slow and steady job of pushing the enemy back.



How Crassus and the right were faring, Sulla had no idea; even from his knoll they had been too far away for him to supervise, and he had known his left was his weakness from the beginning. If anybody could cope, it was Crassus and the four veteran legions under his command.



Night fell but the fight went on, aided by thousands of torches held on high by those atop Rome's walls. And, gaining its second wind, Sulla's left took heart. He himself was still among it, cheering Scipio's frightened men on, doing his share of hand-to-hand combat because his groom, splendid fellow, never allowed the horse to become an encumbrance.



Perhaps two hours later, the Samnite host opposing Sulla's left broke and retreated inside Pompey Strabo's camp, where they proved too exhausted to keep Sulla out. Hoarse from shouting, Sulla and Vatia and Dolabella urged a finish, and their men cut the Samnites to pieces within the camp. Pontius Telesinus fell with his face split in two, and the heart went out of his men.



"No prisoners," said Sulla. "Kill the lot, with arrows if they clump together and try to surrender."



At that stage in a battle so bitterly fought, it would have been more difficult to persuade the soldiers to spare their foes, so the Samnites perished.



It was only after the rout was complete that Sulla, now back on his trusty mule, found time to wonder about the fate of Crassus. Of the right division there was no sign; but nor was there sign of an enemy. Crassus and his opponents had vanished.



About the middle of the night a messenger came. Sulla was prowling through Pompey Strabo's old camp making sure the still bodies lying everywhere were well and truly dead, but paused to see the man, hoping for news.



"Are you sent from Marcus Crassus?" he asked the man.



"I am," said the man, who did not look downcast.



"Where is Marcus Crassus?"



"At Antemnae."



"Antemnae?" '



"The enemy broke and fled there before nightfall, and Marcus Crassus followed. Another battle took place in Antemnae. We won! Marcus Crassus has sent me to ask for food and wine for his men."



Grinning widely, Sulla shouted orders that the requested provisions be found, and then, riding upon his mule, accompanied the train of pack animals up the Via Salaria to Antemnae, just a few miles away. There he and Vatia found the reeling town trying to regain its breath, having played involuntary host to a battle which had made a wreck of it. Houses were burning fiercely, bucket brigades toiled to prevent the fires from spreading, and everywhere the bodies sprawled in death, trampled underfoot by panicked townsfolk striving to save their own lives and belongings.



Crassus was waiting on the far side of Antemnae, where in a field he had gathered the enemy survivors.



"About six thousand of them," he said to Sulla. "Vatia had the Samnites-I inherited the Lucanians, the Capuans, and Carbo's remnants. Tiberius Gutta fell on the field, Marcus Lamponius I think escaped, and I have Brutus Damasippus, Carrinas and Censorinus among the prisoners."



"Good work!" said Sulla, showing his gums in the broadest of smiles. "It didn't please Dolabella and I had to promise him a consulship next year to get him to go along, but I knew I'd picked the right man in you, Marcus Crassus!"



Vatia swung his head to stare at Sulla, aghast. "What? Dolabella demanded that? Cunnus! Mentula! Verpa! Fellator!"



"Never mind, Vatia, you'll get your consulship too," soothed Sulla, still smiling. “Dolabella will do no good by it. He'll go too far when he goes to govern his province and he'll spend the rest of his days in exile in Massilia with all the other intemperate fools." He waved a hand at the pack animals. “Now where do you want your little snack, Marcus Crassus?''



“If I can find somewhere else to put my prisoners, here, I think," said the stolid Crassus, who didn't look in the least as if he had just won a great victory.



"I brought Balbus's cavalry with me to escort the prisoners to the Villa Publica at once," said Sulla. "By the time they're moving, it will be dawn."



While Octavius Balbus rounded up the exhausted enemy who had survived Antemnae, Sulla summoned Censorinus, Carrinas and Brutus Damasippus before him. Defeated though they were, none of them looked beaten.



"Aha! Think you're going to fight again another day, eh?" Sulla asked, smiling again, but mirthlessly. "Well, my Roman friends, you are not. Pontius Telesinus is dead, and I had the Samnite survivors shot with arrows. Since you allied yourselves with Samnites and Lucanians, I hold you no Romans. Therefore you will not be tried for treason. You will be executed: Now."



Thus it was that the three most implacable foes of the whole war were beheaded in a field outside Antemnae, without trial or notice. The bodies were thrown into the huge common grave being dug for all the enemy dead, but Sulla had the heads put in a sack.



"Catilina, my friend," he said to Lucius Sergius Catilina, who had ridden with him and Vatia, “take these, find the head of Tiberius Gutta, add the head of Pontius Telesinus when you get back to the Colline Gate, and then ride with them for Ofella. Tell him to load them one by one into his most powerful piece of artillery, and fire them one by one over the walls of Praeneste."



Catilina's darkly handsome face brightened, looked alert. "Gladly, Lucius Cornelius. May I ask a favor?"



"Ask. But I don't promise."



"Let me go into Rome and find Marcus Marius Gratidianus! I want his head. If Young Marius looks on his head too, he'll know that Rome is yours and his own career is at an end."



Slowly Sulla shook his head-but not in refusal. "Oh, Catilina, you are one of my most precious possessions! How I do love you! Gratidianus is your brother-in-law."



"Was my brother-in-law," said Catilina gently, and added, "My wife died not long before I joined you." What he did not say was that he had been suspected by Gratidianus of murdering her in order to pursue another liaison more comfortably.



“Well, Gratidianus would have to go sooner or later anyway," said Sulla, and turned away with a shrug. "Add his head to your collection if you think it will impress Young Marius."



Matters thus tidily disposed of, Sulla and Vatia and the legates who had accompanied them settled down with Crassus and Torquatus and the men of the right division to a jolly feast while Antemnae burned and Lucius Sergius Catilina went happily about his grisly business.



Seeming not to need sleep, Sulla rode thereafter back to Rome, but did not enter the city. His messenger sent on ahead summoned the Senate to a meeting in the temple of Bellona on the Campus Martius. En route to Bellona, he paused to make sure the six thousand prisoners were assembled in the grounds of the Villa Publica (which was close to the temple of Bellona), and issued certain orders; after that he completed his journey, and dismounted from his mule in the rather desolate and unkempt open space in front of the temple always called "Enemy Territory."



No one of course had dared not to answer Sulla's summons, so about a hundred men waited inside. They all stood; it did not seem the right thing to do to wait for Sulla seated on their folding stools. A few men looked serenely comfortable-Catulus, Hortensius, Lepidus-and some looked terrified-a Flaccus or two, a Fimbria, a minor Carbo-but most bore the look of sheep, vacuous yet skittish.



Clad in armor but bareheaded, Sulla passed through their ranks as if they did not exist and mounted the podium of Bellona's statue, which had been added to her temple after it became very fashionable to anthropomorphize even the old Roman gods; as she too was clad for war, she matched Sulla very well, even to the fierce look on her too-Greek face. She, however, owned a kind of beauty, whereas Sulla had none. To most of the men present, his appearance came as an absolute shock, though no one dared to stir. The wig of orange curls was slightly askew, the scarlet tunic filthy, the red patches on his face standing out amid remnants of near-albino skin like lakes of blood on snow. Many among them grieved, but for differing reasons: some because they had known him well and liked him, others because they had at least expected the new Master of Rome to look a fitting master. This man looked more a ruined travesty.



When he spoke his lips flapped, and some of his words were hard to distinguish. Until, that is, he got under way, when self-preservation stimulated his audience to total comprehension.



"I can see I'm back not a moment too soon!" he said. "The Enemy Territory is full of weeds-everything needs a fresh coat of paint and a good wash-the stones of the road bases are poking through what's left of the surface-laundresses are using the Villa Publica to hang out their washing- a wonderful job you've been doing of caring for Rome! Fools! Knaves! Jackasses!"



His address probably continued in the same vein-biting, sarcastic, bitter. But after he yelled "Jackasses!" his words were drowned by a hideous cacophony of noises from the direction of the Villa Publica-screams, howls, shrieks. Bloodcurdling! At first everyone pretended they could still hear him, but then the sounds became just too alarming, too horrifying; the senators began to move, mutter, exchange terrified glances.



As suddenly as it had begun, the din died away.



"What, little sheep, are you frightened?" jeered Sulla. "But there's no need to be frightened! What you hear is only my men admonishing a few criminals."



Whereupon he scrambled down from his perch between Bellona's feet and walked out without seeming to see a single member of the Senate of Rome.



"Oh dear, he's really not in a good mood!" said Catulus to his brother-in-law Hortensius.



"Looking like that, I'm not surprised," said Hortensius.



"He only dragged us here to listen to that," said Lepidus. "Who was he admonishing, do you imagine?"



"His prisoners," said Catulus.



As proved to be the case; while Sulla had been speaking to the Senate, his men had executed the six thousand prisoners at the Villa Publica with sword and arrow.



"I am going to be extremely well behaved on all occasions," said Catulus to Hortensius.



"Why, in particular?" asked Hortensius, who was a far more arrogant and positive man.



"Because Lepidus was right. Sulla only summoned us here to listen to the noise of the men who opposed him dying. What he says doesn't matter one iota. But what he does matters enormously to any of us who want to live. We will have to behave ourselves and try not to annoy him."



Hortensius shrugged. "I think you're overreacting, my dear Quintus Lutatius. In a few weeks he'll be gone. He'll get the Senate and the Assemblies to legalize his deeds and give him back his imperium, then he'll return to the ranks of the consulars in the front row, and Rome will be able to get on with her normal business."



"Do you really think so?" Catulus shivered. "How he'll do it I have no idea, but I believe we're going to have Sulla's unnerving eyes on us from a position of superior power for a long time to come."



Sulla arrived at Praeneste the following day, the third one of the month of November.



Ofella greeted him cheerfully, and gestured toward two sad men who stood under guard nearby. "Know them?" he asked.



"Possibly, but I can't find their names."



"Two junior tribunes attached to Scipio's legions. They came galloping like a pair of Greek jockeys the morning after you fought outside the Colline Gate and tried to tell me that the battle was lost and you were dead."



"What, Ofella? Didn't you believe them?"



Ofella laughed heartily. "I know you better than that, Lucius Cornelius! It will take more than a few Samnites to kill you." And with the flourish of a magician producing a rabbit out of a chamber pot, Ofella reached behind him and displayed the head of Young Marius.



"Ah!" said Sulla, inspecting it closely. "Handsome fellow, wasn't he? Took after his mother in looks, of course. Don't know who he took after in cleverness, but it certainly wasn't his dad." Satisfied, he waved the head away. "Keep it for the time being. So Praeneste surrendered?"



"Almost immediately after I fired in the heads Catilina brought me. The gates popped open and they flooded out waving white flags and beating their breasts."



"Young Marius too?" asked Sulla, surprised.



"Oh, no! He took to the sewers, looking for some way to escape. But I'd had all the outflows barred months before. We found him huddled against one such with his sword in his belly and his Greek servant weeping nearby," Ofella said.



"Well, he's the last of them!" said Sulla triumphantly.



Ofella glanced at him sharply; it wasn't like Lucius Cornelius Sulla to forget anything! "There's still one at large," he said quickly, then could have bitten off his tongue. This was not a man to remind that he too had shortcomings!



But Sulla appeared unruffled. A slow smile grew. "Carbo, I suppose you mean?"



"Yes, Carbo."



"Carbo is dead too, my dear Ofella. Young Pompeius took him captive and executed him for treason in the agora at Lilybaeum late in September. Remarkable fellow, Pompeius! I thought it would take him many months to organize Sicily and round up Carbo, but he did the lot in one month. And found the time to send me Carbo's head by special messenger! Pickled in a jar of vinegar! Unmistakably him." And Sulla chuckled.



"What about Old Brutus?"



"Committed suicide rather than tell Pompeius whereabouts Carbo had gone. Not that it mattered. The crew of his ship-he was trying to raise a fleet for Carbo-told Pompeius everything, of course. So my amazingly efficient young legate sent his brother-in-law off to Cossura, whence Carbo had fled, and had him brought back to Lilybaeum in chains. But I got three heads from Pompeius, not two. Carbo, Old Brutus, and Soranus."



"Soranus? Do you mean Quintus Valerius Soranus the scholar, who was tribune of the plebs?''



"The very same."



"But why? What did he do?" asked Ofella, bewildered.



"He shouted the secret name of Rome out loud from the rostra," said Sulla.



Ofella's jaw dropped, he shivered. "Jupiter!"



"Luckily," lied Sulla blandly, "the Great God stoppered up every ear in the Forum, so Soranus shouted to the deaf. All is well, my dear Ofella. Rome will survive."



"Oh, that's a relief!" gasped Ofella, wiping the sweat from his brow. "I've heard of strange doings, but to tell Rome's secret name-it passes all imagination!" Something else occurred to him; he couldn't help but ask: "What was Pompeius doing in Sicily, Lucius Cornelius?"



"Securing the grain harvest for me."



"I'd heard something to that effect, but I confess I didn't believe it. He's a kid."



"Mmmm," agreed Sulla pensively. "However, what Young Marius didn't inherit from his father, young Pompeius certainly grabbed from Pompeius Strabo! And more besides."



"So the kid will be coming home soon," said Ofella, not very enamored of this new star in Sulla's sky; he had thought himself without rival in that firmament!



"Not yet," said Sulla in a matter-of-fact tone. "I sent him on to Africa to secure our province for me. I believe he is at this moment doing just that." He pointed down into No Man's Land, where a great crowd of men stood abjectly in the chilly sun. "Are they those who surrendered bearing arms?"



"Yes. In number, twelve thousand. A mixed catch," said Ofella, glad to see the subject change. "Some Romans who belonged to Young Marius, a good many Praenestians, and some Samnites for good measure. Do you want to look at them more closely?"



It seemed Sulla did. But not for long. He pardoned the Romans among the crowd, then ordered the Praenestians and Samnites executed on the spot. After which he made the surviving citizens of Praeneste-old men, women, children- bury the bodies in No Man's Land. He toured the town, never having been there before, and frowned in anger to see the shambles to which Young Marius's need for timber to build his siege tower had reduced the precinct of Fortuna Primigenia.



"I am Fortune's favorite," he said to those members of the town council who had not died in No Man's Land, "and I shall see that your Fortuna Primigenia acquires the most splendid precinct in all of Italy. But at Praeneste's expense."



On the fourth day of November, Sulla rode to Norba, though he knew its fate long before he reached it.



"They agreed to surrender," said Mamercus, tight-lipped with anger, "and then they torched the town before killing every last person in there-murder, suicide. Women, children, Ahenobarbus's soldiers, all the men of the town died rather than surrender. I'm sorry, Lucius Cornelius. There will be no plunder or prisoners from Norba."



"It doesn't matter," said Sulla indifferently. "The haul from Praeneste was huge. I doubt Norba could have yielded much of use or note."



And on the fifth day of November, when the newly risen sun was glancing off the gilded statues atop the temple roofs and that fresh light made the city seem less shabby, Lucius Cornelius Sulla entered Rome. He rode in through the Capena Gate, and in solemn procession. His groom led the white horse which had borne him safely through the battle at the Colline Gate, and he wore his best suit of armor, its silver muscled cuirass tooled with a scene representing his own army offering him his Grass Crown outside the walls of Nola. Paired with him and clad in purple-bordered toga rode Lucius Valerius Flaccus, the Princeps Senatus, and behind him rode his legates in pairs, including Metellus Pius and Varro Lucullus, who had been summoned from Italian Gaul four days earlier, and had driven hard to be here on this great occasion. Of all the ones who were to matter in the future, only Pompey and Varro the Sabine were not present.



His sole military escort was the seven hundred troopers who had saved him by bluffing the Samnites; his army was back in the defile, tearing down its ramparts so that traffic on the Via Latina could move again. After that, there was Ofella's wall to dismember and a vast stockpile of building material to dump in several fields. Much of the tufa block had been fragmented in the demolition, and Sulla knew what he was going to do with that; it would be incorporated into the opus incertum construction of the new temple of Fortuna Primigenia in Praeneste. No trace of the hostilities must remain.



Many people turned out of doors to see him enter the city; no matter how fraught with peril it was, no Roman could ever resist a spectacle, and this moment belonged to History. Many who saw him ride in genuinely believed they were witnessing the death throes of the Republic; rumor insisted that Sulla intended to make himself King of Rome. How else could he hang on to power? For how–given what he had done–could he dare relinquish power? And, it was quickly noted, a special squad of cavalry rode just behind the last pair of legates, their spears held upright; impaled on those lances were the heads of Carbo and Young Marius, Carrinas and Censorinus, Old Brutus and Marius Gratidianus, Brutus Damasippus and Pontius Telesinus, Gutta of Capua and Soranus–and Gaius Papius Mutilus of the Samnites.



Mutilus had heard the news of the battle at the Colline Gate a day after, and wept so loudly that Bastia came to see what was the matter with him.



"Lost, all lost!" he cried to her, forgetting the way she had insulted and tormented him, only seeing the one person left to whom he was bound by ties of family and time. "My army is dead! Sulla has won! Sulla will be King of Rome and Samnium will be no more!"



For perhaps as long as it would have taken to light all the wicks of a small chandelier, Bastia stared at the devastated man upon his couch. She made no move to comfort him, said no words of comfort either, just stood very still, eyes wide. And then a look crept into them of knowledge and resolution; her vivid face grew cold and hard. She clapped her hands.



"Yes, domina?” asked the steward from the doorway, gazing in consternation at his weeping master.



"Find his German and ready his litter," said Bastia.



"Domina?" the steward asked, bewildered.



"Don't just stand there, do as I say! At once!"



The steward gulped, disappeared.



Tears drying, Mutilus gaped at his wife. “What is this?''



"I want you out of here," she said through clenched teeth. "I want no part of this defeat! I want to keep my home, my money, my life! So out you go, Gaius Papius! Go back to Aesernia, or go to Bovianum-or anywhere else you have a house! Anywhere but this house! I do not intend to go down with you."



"I don't believe this!" he gasped.



"You'd better believe it! Out you go!"



"But I'm paralyzed, Bastia! I am your husband, and I'm paralyzed! Can't you find pity in you, if not love?"



"I neither love you nor pity you," she said harshly. "It was all your stupid, futile plotting and fighting against Rome took the power out of your legs-took away your use to me-took away the children I might have had-and all the pleasure in being a part of your life. For nearly seven years I've lived here alone while you schemed and intrigued in Aesernia-and when you did condescend to visit me, you stank of shit and piss, and ordered me about-oh no, Gaius Papius Mutilus, I am done with you! Out you go!"



And because his mind could not encompass the extent of his ruin, Mutilus made no protest when his German attendant took him from the couch and carried him through the front door to where his litter stood at the bottom of the steps. Bastia had followed behind like an image of the Gorgon, beautiful and evil, with eyes that could turn a man to stone and hissing hair. So quickly did she slam the door that the edge of his cloak caught in it and pulled the German up with a jerk. Shifting the full weight of his master to his left arm, the German began to tug at the cloak to free it.



On his belt Gaius Papius Mutilus wore a military dagger, a mute reminder of the days when he had been a Samnite warrior. Out it came; he pressed the top of his head against the wood of the door and cut his throat. Blood sprayed everywhere, drenched the door and pooled upon the steps, soaked the shrieking German, whose cries brought people running from up and down the narrow street. The last thing Gaius Papius Mutilus saw was his Gorgon wife, who had opened the door in time to receive the final spurt of his blood.



"I curse you, woman!" he tried to say.



But she didn't hear. Nor did she seem stricken, frightened, surprised. Instead, she held the door wide and snapped at the weeping German, "Bring him in!" And inside, when her husband's corpse was laid upon the floor, she said, "Cut off his head. I will send it to Sulla as my gift."



Bastia was as good as her word; she sent her husband's head to Sulla with her compliments. But the story Sulla heard from the wretched steward compelled by his mistress to bring the gift did not flatter Bastia. He handed the head of his old enemy to one of the military tribunes attached to his staff, and said without expression, "Kill the woman who sent me this. I want her dead."



And so the tally was almost complete. With the single exception of Marcus Lamponius of Lucania, every powerful enemy who had opposed Sulla's return to Italy was dead. Had he wished it, Sulla could indeed have made himself undisputed King of Rome.



But he had found a solution more to the liking of one who firmly believed in all the traditions of a Republican mos maiorum, and thus rode through the middle of the Circus Maximus absolutely free of kingly intent.



He was old and ill, and for fifty-eight years he had done battle against a mindless conspiracy of circumstances and events which had succeeded time and time again in stripping from him the pleasures of justice and reward, the rightful place in Rome's scheme of things to which birth and ability entitled him. No choice had he been offered, no opportunity to pursue his ascent of the cursus honorum legally, honorably. At every turn someone or something had blocked him, made the straight and legal way impossible. So here he was, riding in the wrong direction down the length of the empty Circus Maximus, a fifty-eight-year-old wreck, his bowels knotted with the twin fires of triumph and loss. Master of Rome. The First Man in Rome. Vindication at last. And yet the disappointments of his age and his ugliness and his approaching death curdled his joy with the sourest sadness, destroyed pleasure, exacerbated pain. How late, how bitter, how warped was this victory....



He didn't think of the Rome he now held at his mercy with love or idealism; the price had been too high. Nor did he look forward to the work he knew he had to do. What he most desired was peace, leisure, the fulfillment of a thousand sexual fantasies, head-spinning drunken binges, total freedom from care and from responsibility. So why couldn't he have those things? Because of Rome, because of duty, because he couldn't bear the thought of laying down his job with so much work undone. The only reason he rode in the wrong direction down the length of the empty Circus Maximus lay in the knowledge that there was a mountain of work to be done. And he had to do it. There was literally no one else who could.



He chose to assemble Senate and People together in the lower Forum Romanum, and speak to both from the rostra. Not with complete truth-was it Scaurus who had called him politically nonchalant? He couldn't remember. But there was too much of the politician in him to be completely truthful, so he blandly ignored the fact that it had been he who pinned up the first head on the rostra-Sulpicius, to frighten Cinna.



"This hideous practice which has come into being so very recently that I was urban praetor in a Rome who did not know of it"-he turned to gesture at the row of speared heads-"will not cease until the proper traditions of the mos maiorum have been totally restored and the old, beloved Republic rises again out of the ashes to which it has been reduced. I have heard it said that I intend to make myself King of Rome! No, Quirites, I do not! Condemn myself to however many years I have left of intrigues and plots, rebellions and reprisals? No, I will not! I have worked long and hard in the service of Rome, and I have earned the reward of spending my last days free of care and free of responsibilities-free of Rome! So one thing I can promise you, Senate and People both-I will not set myself up as King of Rome, or enjoy one single moment of the power I must retain until my work is over."



Perhaps no one had really expected this, even men as close to Sulla as Vatia and Metellus Pius, but as Sulla went on, some men began to understand that Sulla had shared his secrets with one other-the Princeps Senatus, Lucius Valerius Flaccus, who stood on the rostra with him, and did not look surprised at one word Sulla was saying.



"The consuls are dead," Sulla went on, hand indicating the heads of Carbo and Young Marius, "and the fasces must go back to the Fathers, be laid upon their couch in the temple of Venus Libitina until new consuls are elected. Rome must have an interrex, and the law is specific. Our Leader of the House, Lucius Valerius Flaccus, is the senior patrician of the Senate, of his decury, of his family." Sulla turned to Flaccus Princeps Senatus. "You are the first interrex. Please assume that office and acquit yourself of all its duties for the five days of your interregnum."



"So far, so good," whispered Hortensius to Catulus. "He has done exactly what he ought to do, appoint an interrex."



“Tace!'' growled Catulus, who was finding it difficult to understand every word Sulla was saying.



"Before our Leader of the House takes over the conduct of this meeting," Sulla said slowly and carefully, "there are one or two things I wish to say. Rome is safe under my care, no one will come to any harm. Just law will be returned. The Republic will go back to its days of glory. But those are all things which must come from the decisions of our interrex, so I shall not dwell upon them any further. What I do want to say is that I have been well served by fine men, and it is time to thank them. I will start with those who are not here today. Gnaeus Pompeius, who has secured the grain supply from Sicily, and has thereby guaranteed that Rome will not be hungry this winter... Lucius Marcius Philippus, who last year secured the grain supply from Sardinia, and this year had to contend with the man who was sent against him, Quintus Antonius Balbus. He did contend with Antonius, who is dead. Sardinia is safe.... In Asia I left three splendid men behind to care for Rome's richest and most precious province-Lucius Licinius Murena, Lucius Licinius Lucullus, and Gaius Scribonius Curio.... And here standing with me are the men who have been my loyalest followers through times of hardship and despair-Quintus Caecilius Metellus Pius and his legate, Marcus Terentius Varro Lucullus-Publius Servilius Vatia-the elder Gnaeus Cornelius Dolabella-Marcus Licinius Crassus..."



"Ye gods, the list will be endless!" grumbled Hortensius, who loathed listening to any man save himself speak, especially one whose rhetoric was as unskilled as Sulla's.



"He's finished, he's finished!" said Catulus impatiently. "Come on, Quintus, he's calling the Senate to the Curia, he'll tell these Forum fools no more! Come on, quickly!"



But it was Lucius Valerius Flaccus Princeps Senatus who took the curule chair, surrounded only by the skeletal body of magistrates who had remained in Rome and survived. Sulla sat off to the right of the curule podium, probably about where he ought to have ordinarily placed himself in the front row of consulars, ex-censors, ex-praetors. He had not, however, changed out of his armor, and that fact told the senators that he was by no means relinquishing his control of the proceedings.



"On the Kalends of November," said Flaccus in his wheezing voice, "we almost lost Rome. Had it not been for the valor and promptness of Lucius Cornelius Sulla, his legates, and his army, Rome would now be in the power of Samnium, and we would be passing under the yoke just as we did after the Caudine Forks. Well, I need go no further on that subject! Samnium lost, Lucius Cornelius won, and Rome is safe."



"Oh, get on with it!" breathed Hortensius. "Ye gods, he's growing more senile every day!"



Flaccus got on with it, fidgeting a little because he was not comfortable. "However, even with the war over, Rome has many other troubles to plague her. The Treasury is empty. So are the temple coffers. The streets are thin of business, the Senate thin of numbers. The consuls are dead, and only one praetor is left of the six who commenced at the beginning of the year." He paused, drew a deep breath, and launched heroically into what Sulla had ordered him to say. "In fact, Conscript Fathers, Rome has passed beyond the point where normal governance is possible. Rome must be guided by the most able hand. The only hand capable of reaching out and drawing our beloved Lady Roma to her feet. My term as interrex is five days long. I cannot hold elections. I will be succeeded by a second interrex who will also serve for five days. He will be expected to hold elections. It may not lie in his power to do so, in which case a third interrex will have to try. And so on, and so forth. But this sketchy governance will not do, Conscript Fathers. The time is one of the acutest emergency, and I see only one man present here capable of doing what has to be done. But he cannot do what has to be done as consul. Therefore I propose a different solution-one which I will ask of the People in their Centuries, the most senior voting body of all. I will ask the People in their Centuries to draft and pass a lex rogata appointing and authorizing Lucius Cornelius Sulla the Dictator of Rome."



The House stirred; men looked at each other, amazed.



"The office of Dictator is an old one," Flaccus went on, "and normally confined to the conduct of a war. In the past, it has been the Dictator's job to pursue a war when the consuls could not. And it is over one hundred years since the last Dictator was put into power. But Rome's situation today is one she has never experienced before. The war is over. The emergency is not. I put it to you, Conscript Fathers, that no elected consuls can put Lady Roma back on her feet. The remedies called for will not be palatable, will incur huge resentments. At the end of his year in office, a consul can be compelled to answer to the People or the Plebs for his actions.



He can be charged with treason. If all have turned against him he may be sent into exile and his property confiscated. Knowing himself vulnerable to such charges in advance, no man can produce the strength and resolution Rome needs at this moment. A Dictator, however, does not fear retribution from People or Plebs. The nature of the office indemnifies him against all future reprisals. His acts as the Dictator are sanctioned for all time. He is not prosecutable at law on any charge. Bolstered by the knowledge that he is immune, that he cannot be vetoed by a tribune of the plebs or condemned in any assembly, a Dictator can utilize every ounce of his strength and purpose to put matters right. To set our beloved Lady Roma on her feet."



"It sounds wonderful, Princeps Senatus," said Hortensius loudly, "but the hundred and twenty years which have elapsed since the last Dictator took office have spoiled your memory! A Dictator is proposed by the Senate, but must be appointed by the consuls. We have no consuls. The fasces have been sent to the temple of Venus Libitina. A Dictator cannot be appointed."



Flaccus sighed. "You were not listening to me properly, Quintus Hortensius, were you? I told you how it could be done. By means of a lex rogata passed by the Centuries. When there are no consuls to act as executives, the People in their Centuries are the executive. The only executive, as a matter of fact-the interrex must apply to them to execute his only function-which is to organize and hold curule elections. The People in their tribes are not an executive. Only the Centuries."



"All right, I concede the point," said Hortensius curtly. "Go on, Princeps Senatus."



"It is my intention to convoke the Centuriate Assembly at dawn tomorrow. I will then ask it to formulate a law appointing Lucius Cornelius Sulla the Dictator. The law need not be very complicated-in fact, the simpler it is, the better. Once the Dictator is legally appointed by the Centuries, all other laws can come from him. What I will ask of the Centuries is that they formally appoint and authorize Lucius Cornelius Sulla the Dictator for however long it may take him to fulfill his commission; that they sanction all his previous deeds as consul and proconsul; that they remove from him all official odium in form of outlawry or exile; that they guarantee him indemnity from all his acts as Dictator at any time in the future; that they protect his acts as Dictator from tribunician veto and any Assembly's rejection or negation, from the Senate and People in any form or through any magistrates, and from appeal to any Assembly or body or magistrates."



"That's better than being King of Rome!" cried Lepidus.



"No, it is simply different," said Flaccus stubbornly; he had taken some time to get into the spirit of what Sulla wanted from him, but he was now well and truly launched. "A Dictator is not answerable for his actions, but he does not rule alone. He has the services of the Senate and all the Comitia as advisory bodies, he has his Master of the Horse, and he has however many magistrates he chooses to see elected beneath him. It is the custom for consuls to serve under the Dictator, for instance."



Lepidus spoke up loudly. "The Dictator serves for six months only," he said. "Unless my hearing has suddenly grown defective, what you propose to ask of the Centuries is that they appoint a Dictator with no time limit to his office. Not constitutional, Princeps Senatus! I am not against seeing Lucius Cornelius Sulla appointed the Dictator, but I am against his serving one moment longer than the proper term of six months."



"Six months won't even see my work begun," said Sulla without rising from his stool. “Believe me, Lepidus, I do not want the wretched job for one single day, let alone for the rest of my life! When I consider my work is finished, I will step down. But six months? Impossible."



"How so?" asked Lepidus.



"For one thing," Sulla answered, "Rome's finances are in chaos. To right them will take a year, perhaps two years. There are twenty-seven legions to discharge, find land for, pay out. The men who supported the lawless regimes of Marius, Cinna and Carbo have to be sought out and shown that they cannot escape just punishment. The laws of Rome are antiquated, particularly with regard to her courts and her governors of provinces. Her civil servants are disorganized and prey to both lethargy and cupidity. So much treasure, money and bullion were robbed from our temples that the Treasury still contains two hundred and eighty talents of gold and one hundred and twenty talents of silver, even after this year's profligate waste. The temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus is a cinder." He sighed loudly. "Must I go on, Lepidus?"



“All right, I concede that your task will take longer than six months. But what's to stop your being reappointed every six months for however long the job takes?" asked Lepidus.



Sulla's sneer was superlatively nasty without his teeth, despite the fact that those long canines were missing. "Oh, yes, Lepidus!" he cried. "I can see it all now! Half of every six-month period would have to be spent in conciliating the Centuries! Pleading, explaining, excusing, drawing pretty pictures, pissing in every knight-businessman's purse, turning myself into the world's oldest and saddest trollop!" He rose to his feet, fists clenched, and shook both of them at Marcus Aemilius Lepidus with more venom in his face than most men there had seen since he had quit Rome to go to war with King Mithridates. "Well, comfortable stay-at-home Lepidus, married to the daughter of a traitor who did try to set himself up as King of Rome, I will do it my way or not at all! Do you hear me, you miserable pack of self-righteous stay-at-home fools and cravens? You want Rome back on her feet, but you want the undeserved right to make the life of the man who is undertaking to do that as miserable and anxious and servile as you possibly can! Well, Conscript Fathers, you can make up your minds to it right here and now-Lucius Cornelius Sulla is back in Rome, and if he has a mind to it, he can shake her rafters until she falls down in ruins! Out there in the Latin countryside I have an army that I could have brought into this city and set on your despicable hides like wolves on lambs! I did not do that. I have acted in your best interests since first I entered the Senate. And I am still acting in your best interests. Peacefully. Nicely. But you are trying my patience, I give all of you fair warning. I will be Dictator for as long as I need to be Dictator. Is that understood? Is it, Lepidus?"



Silence reigned absolutely for many long moments. Even Vatia and Metellus Pius sat white-faced and trembling, gazing at the naked clawed monster fit only to screech at the moon- oh, how could they have forgotten what lived inside Sulla?



Lepidus too gazed white-faced and trembling, but the nucleus of his terror was not the monster inside Sulla; he was thinking of his beloved Appuleia, wife of many years, darling of his heart, mother of his sons-and daughter of Saturninus, who had indeed tried to make himself King of Rome. Why had Sulla made reference to her in the midst of that appalling outburst? What did he intend to do when he became Dictator?



Sick to death of civil wars, of economic depression and far too many legions marching endlessly up and down Italy, the Centuriate Assembly voted in a law which appointed Lucius Cornelius Sulla the Dictator for an unspecified period of time. Tabled at contio on the sixth day of November, the lex Valeria dictator legibus scribundis et rei publicae constituendae passed into law on the twenty-third day of November. It contained no specifics beyond the time span; as it bestowed virtually unlimited powers upon Sulla and also rendered him unanswerable for a single one of his actions, it did not need specificity. Whatever Sulla wanted to enact or do, he could.



Many in the city fully expected a flurry of activity from him the moment his appointment as Dictator was tabled, but he did nothing until the appointment was ratified three nundinae later, in accordance with the lex Caecilia Didia.



Having taken up residence in the house which had belonged to Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus (now a refugee in Africa), Sulla did, it seemed, little except walk constantly through the city. His own house had been wrecked and burned to the ground after Gaius Marius and Cinna had taken over Rome, and he walked across the Germalus of the Palatine to inspect its site, poke slowly among the heaps of rubble, gaze over the Circus Maximus to the lovely contours of the Aventine. At any time of day from dawn to dusk he might be seen standing alone in the Forum Romanum, staring up at the Capitol, or at the life-size statue of Gaius Marius near the rostra, or at some other among the numerous smaller statues of Marius, or at the Senate House, or at the temple of Saturn. He walked along the bank of the Tiber from the great trading emporium of the Aemilii in the Port of Rome all the way to the Trigarium, where the young men swam. He walked from the Forum Romanum to every one of Rome's sixteen gates. He walked up one alley and down another.



Never did he display the slightest sign of fear for life or limb, never did he ask a friend to accompany him, let alone take a bodyguard along. Sometimes he wore a toga, but mostly he just wrapped himself voluminously in a more easily managed cloak-the winter was early, and promised to be as cold as the last. On one fine, unseasonably hot day he walked clad only in his tunic, and it could be seen then how small he was-though he had been a well-made man of medium size, people remembered. But he had shrunk, he was bent over, he crabbed along like an octogenarian. The silly wig was always on his head, and now that the outbreaks on his face were under control he had taken once more to painting his frost-fair brows and lashes with stibium.



And by the time one market interval of the Dictator's wait for ratification was over, those who had witnessed his awful rage in the Senate but had not been direct objects of it (like Lepidus) had begun to feel comfortable enough to speak of this walking old man with some degree of contempt; so short is memory.



"He's a travesty!" said Hortensius to Catulus, sniffing.



"Someone will kill him," said Catulus, bored.



Hortensius giggled. "Or else he'll tumble over in a fit or an apoplexy." He grasped at his brother-in-law's toga-swaddled left arm with his right hand, and shook it. "Do you know, I can't see why I was so afraid! He's here, but he's not here. Rome doesn't have a hard taskmaster after all-very peculiar! He's cracked, Quintus. Senescent."



An opinion which was becoming prevalent among all classes as every day his uninspiring figure could be seen plodding along with wig askew and stibium garishly applied. Was that powder covering up his mulberry-hued scars? Muttering. Shaking his head. Once or twice, shouting at no one. Cracked. Senescent.



It had taken a great deal of courage for such a vain man to expose his aged crudities to general gaze; only Sulla knew how much he loathed what disease had done to him, only Sulla knew how much he yearned again to be the magnificent man he was when he left to fight King Mithridates. But, he had told himself, shunning his mirror, the sooner he nerved himself to show Rome what he had become, the sooner he would learn to forget what the mirror would have shown him had he looked. And this did happen. Chiefly because his walks were not aimless, not evidence of senility. Sulla walked to see what Rome had become, what Rome needed, what he had to do. And the more he walked, the angrier he became-and the more excited, because it was in his hand to take this dilapidated, threadbare lady and turn her into the beauty she used to be.



He waited too for the arrival of some people who mattered to him, though he didn't think of himself as loving them, or even needing them-his wife, his twins, his grown-up daughter, his grandchildren-and Ptolemy Alexander, heir to the throne of Egypt. They had been waiting patiently for many months under the care of Chrysogonus, first in Greece, then in Brundisium, but by the end of December they would be in Rome. For a while Dalmatica would have to live in Ahenobarbus's house, but Sulla's own residence had recently begun rebuilding; Philippus-looking brown and extremely fit-had arrived from Sardinia, unofficially convoked the Senate, and browbeaten that cowed body into voting nonexistent public funds to give back to Sulla what the State had taken away. Thank you, Philippus!



On the twenty-third day of November, Sulla's dictatorship was formally ratified, and passed into law. And on that day Rome awoke to find every statue of Gaius Marius gone from the Forums Romanum, Boarium, Holitorium, various crossroads and squares, vacant pieces of land. Gone too were the trophies hung in his temple to Honor and Virtue on the Capitol, fire-damaged but still habitable for lifeless suits of enemy armor, flags, standards, all his personal decorations for valor, the cuirasses he had worn in Africa, at Aquae Sextiae, at Vercellae, at Alba Fucentia. Statues of other men had gone too-Cinna, Carbo, Old Brutus, Norbanus, Scipio Asiagenus-but perhaps because they were far fewer in number, their going was not noticed in the same way as the disappearance of Gaius Marius. He left a huge gap, a whole grove of empty plinths with his name obliterated from each, herms with their genitalia hammered off.



And at the same time the whispers increased about other, more serious disappearances; men were vanishing too! Men who had been strong and loud in their support of Marius, or Cinna, or Carbo, or of all three. Knights in the main, successful in business during a time when business success was difficult; knights who had gained lucrative State contracts, or loaned to partisans, or enriched themselves in other ways from affiliations to Marius, to Cinna, to Carbo, or to all three. Admittedly no senator had puffed out of existence, but suddenly the total of men who had was big enough to be noticed. Whether because of this public awareness or as a side effect of it, people now saw these men vanishing; some sturdy-looking private individuals, perhaps ten or fifteen in number, would knock upon a knight's street door, be admitted, and then scant moments later would emerge with the knight in their midst, and march him off to-no one knew where!



Rome stirred uneasily, began to see the peregrinations of her wizened master as something more than just benign excursions; what had been quite amusing in a saddened way now took on a more sinister guise, and the innocent eccentricities of yesterday became the suspicious purposes of today and the terrifying objectives of tomorrow. He never spoke to anyone! He talked to himself! He stood in one place for far too long looking at who knew what! He had shouted once or twice! What was he really doing? And why was he doing it?



Exactly in step with this growing apprehension, the odd activities of those innocuous-looking bands of private persons who knocked on the street doors of houses belonging to knights became more overt. They were now noticed to stand here or there taking notes, or to follow like shadows behind an affluent Carboan banker or a prosperous Marian broker. The disappearing men disappeared with increasing frequency. And then one group of private persons knocked upon the street door of a pedarius senator who had always voted for Marius, for Cinna, for Carbo. But the senator was not marched away. When he emerged into the street there was a flurry of arms, the sweep of a sword, and his head fell to the ground with a hollow thock!, and rolled away. The body lay emptying itself of blood down the gutter, but the head disappeared.



Everyone began to find a reason for drifting past the rostra to count the heads-Carbo, Young Marius, Carrinas, Censorinus, Scipio Asiagenus, Old Brutus, Marius Gratidianus, Pontius Telesinus, Brutus Damasippus, Tiberius Gutta of Capua, Soranus, Mutilus.... No, that was all! The head of the backbencher senator was not there. Nor any head of any man who had vanished. And Sulla continued to walk with his idiotic wig not quite straight, and his brows and lashes painted. But whereas before people used to stop and smile to see him-albeit smiled with pity-now people felt a frightful hole blossom in their bellies at sight of him, and scrambled in any direction save toward him, or bolted at a run away from him. Wherever Sulla now was, no one else was. No one watched him. No one smiled, albeit with pity. No one accosted him. No one molested him. He brought a cold sweat in his wake, like the wraiths which issued from the mundus on the dies religiosi.



Never before had one of the great public figures been so shrouded in mystery, so opaque of purpose. His behavior was not normal. He should have been standing on the rostra in the Forum telling everyone in magnificent language all about his plans, or throwing rhetorical sand in the Senate's eyes. Speeches of intent, litanies of complaint, flowery phrases-he should have been talking. To someone, if not everyone. Romans were not prone to keep their counsel. They talked things over. Hearsay ruled. But from Sulla, nothing. Just the solitary walks which acknowledged no complicity, implied no interest. And yet-all of it had to be emanating from him! This silent and uncommunicative man was the master of Rome.



On the Kalends of December, Sulla called a meeting of the Senate, the first such since Flaccus had spoken. Oh, how the senators hurried and scurried to the Curia Hostilia! Feeling colder even than the air, pulses so rapid heartbeats could not be counted, breathing shallow, pupils dilated, bowels churning. They huddled on their stools like gulls battered by a tempest, trying not to look up at the underside of the Curia roof for fear that, like Saturninus and his confederates, they would be felled in an instant by a rain of tiles from above.



No one was impervious to this nameless terror-even Flaccus Princeps Senatus-even Metellus Pius-even military darlings like Ofella and panders like Philippus and Cethegus. And yet when Sulla shuffled in he looked so harmless! A pathetic figure! Except that he was ushered in by an unprecedented twenty-four lictors, twice as many as a consul was entitled to-and twice as many as any earlier dictator.



"It is time that I told you of my intentions," Sulla said from his ivory seat, not rising; his words came out in jets of white vapor, the chamber was so cold. “I am legally Dictator, and Lucius Valerius, the Leader of the House, is my Master of the Horse. Under the provisions of the Centuriate law which gave me my position, I am not obliged to see other magistrates elected if I so wish. However, Rome has always reckoned the passing of the years by the names of the consuls of each year, and I will not see that tradition broken. Nor will I have men call this coming year 'In the Dictatorship of Lucius Cornelius Sulla.' So I will see two consuls elected, eight praetors elected, two curule and two plebeian aediles elected, ten tribunes of the plebs elected, and twelve quaestors. And to give magisterial experience to men too young to be admitted into the Senate, I will see twenty-four tribunes of the soldiers elected, and I will appoint three men to be moneyers, and three to look after Rome's detention cells and asylums."



Catulus and Hortensius had come in a state of terror so great that both sat with anal sphincters clenched upon bowel contents turned liquid, and hid their hands so that others would not see how they shook. Listening incredulously to the Dictator announcing that he would hold elections for all the magistracies! They had expected to be pelted from the roof, or lined up and beheaded, or sent into exile with everything they owned confiscated-they had expected anything but this! Was he innocent? Did he not know what was going on in Rome? And if he did not know, who then was responsible for those disappearances and murders?



"Of course," the Dictator went on in that irritatingly indistinct diction his toothlessness had wrought, "you realize that when I say elections, I do not mean candidates. I will tell you-and the various Comitia!-whom you will elect. Freedom of choice is not possible at this time. I need men to help me do my work, and they must be the men I want, not the men whom the electors would foist on me. I am therefore in a position to inform you who will be what next year. Scribe, my list!" He took the single sheet of paper from a clerk of the House whose sole duty seemed to be its custodian, while another secretary lifted his head from his work, which was to take down with a stylus on wax tablets everything Sulla said.



“Now then, consuls... Senior-Marcus Tullius Decula. Junior-Gnaeus Cornelius Dolabella-"



He got no further. A voice rang out, a togate figure leaped to his feet: Quintus Lucretius Ofella.



"No! No, I say! You'd give our precious consulship to Decula! No! Who is Decula? A nonentity who sat here safe and sound inside Rome while his betters fought for you, Sulla! What has Decula done to distinguish himself? Why, as far as I know he hasn't even had the opportunity to wipe your podex with his sponge-on-a-stick, Sulla! Of all the miserable, malicious, unfair, unjust tricks! Dolabella I can understand-all of your legates got to know of the bargain you made with him, Sulla! But who is this Decula? What has this Decula done to earn the senior consulship? I say no! No, no, no!"



Ofella paused for breath.



Sulla spoke. “My choice for senior consul is Marcus Tullius Decula. That is that."



"Then you can't be allowed to have the choice, Sulla! We will have candidates and a proper election-and I will stand!"



"You won't," said the Dictator gently.



"Try and stop me!" Ofella shouted, and ran from the chamber. Outside a crowd had gathered, anxious to hear the results of this first meeting of the Senate since Sulla had been ratified Dictator. It was not composed of men who thought they had anything to fear from Sulla-they had stayed at home. A small crowd, but a crowd nonetheless. Pushing his way through it without regard for the welfare of anyone in his path, Ofella stormed down the Senate steps and across the cobblestones to the well of the Comitia and the rostra set into its side.



"Fellow Romans!" he cried. "Gather round, hear what I have to say about this unconstitutional monarch we have voluntarily appointed to lord over us! He says he will see consuls elected. But there are to be no candidates-just the two men of his choice! Two ineffectual and incompetent idiots-and one of them, Marcus Tullius Decula, is not even of a noble family! The first of his family to sit in the Senate, a backbencher who scrambled into a praetorship under the treasonous regime of Cinna and Carbo! Yet he is to be senior consul while men like me go unrewarded!"



Sulla had risen and walked slowly down the tesselated floor of the Curia to the portico, where he stood blinking in the stronger light and looking mildly interested as he watched Ofella shouting from the rostra. Without drawing attention to themselves, perhaps fifteen ordinary-looking men began to cluster together at the foot of the Senate steps right in the path of Sulla's eyes.



And slowly the senators crept out of the Curia to see and hear what they could, fascinated at Sulla's calm, emboldened by it too-he wasn't the monster they had begun to think him, he couldn't be!



"Well, fellow Romans," Ofella went on, voice more stentorian as he got into stride, "I am one man who will not lie down under these studied insults! I am more entitled to be consul than a nonentity like Decula! And it is my opinion that the electors of Rome, if offered a choice, will choose me over both of Sulla's men! Just as there are others they would choose did others step forward and declare themselves candidates!"



Sulla's eyes met those of the leader of the ordinary-looking men standing just below him; he nodded, sighed, leaned his weary body against a convenient pillar.



The ordinary-looking men moved quietly through the thin crowd, came to the rostra, mounted it, and laid hold of Ofella. Their gentleness was apparent, not real; Ofella fought desperately, to no avail. Inexorably they bent him over until he collapsed on his knees. Then one of them took a handful of hair, stood well back, and pulled until head and neck were extended. A sword flashed up and down. The man holding the hair staggered despite his wide stance in the moment when his end parted company with the rest of Ofella, then whipped the head on high so all could see it. Within moments the Forum was empty save for the stunned Conscript Fathers of the Senate.



"Put the head on the rostra," said Sulla, straightened himself, and walked back into the chamber.



Like automatons the senators followed.



"Very well, where was I?" asked Sulla of his secretary, who leaned forward and muttered low-voiced. "Oh, yes, so I was! I thank you! I had finished with the consuls, and I was about to commence on the praetors. Clerk, your list!" And out went Sulla's hand. "Thank you! To proceed.... Mamercus Aemilius Lepidus Livianus. Marcus Aemilius Lepidus. Gaius Claudius Nero. Gnaeus Cornelius Dolabella the younger. Lucius Fufidius. Quintus Lutatius Catulus. Marcus Minucius Thermus. Sextus Nonius Sufenas. Gaius Papirius Carbo. I appoint the younger Dolabella praetor urbanus, and Mamercus praetor peregrinus."



A truly extraordinary list! Clearly neither Lepidus nor Catulus, who might at a proper election have expected to come in at the top of the poll, was to be preferred to two men who had actively fought for Sulla. Yet there they were, praetors when loyal Sullans of senatorial status and the right age had been passed over! Fufidius was a relative nobody. And Nonius Sufenas was Sulla's sister's younger boy. Nero was a minor Claudius of no moment. Thermus was a good soldier, but so poor a speaker he was a Forum joke. And just to annoy all camps, the last place on the list of praetors had gone to a member of Carbo's family who had sided with Sulla but failed to distinguish himself!



"Well, you're in," whispered Hortensius to Catulus. "All I can hope for is that I'm on next year's list-or the year after that. Ye gods, what a farce! How can we bear him?"



"The praetors don't matter," said Catulus in a murmur. "They'll all flog themselves to shine-Sulla isn't fool enough to give the wrong job to the wrong man. It's Decula interests me. A natural bureaucrat! That's why Sulla picked him-had to, given that Dolabella had blackmailed him into a consulship! Our Dictator's policies will be meticulously executed, and Decula will love every moment of the execution."



The meeting droned on. One after another the names of the magistrates were read out, and no voice was raised in protest. Done, Sulla handed his paper back to its custodian and spread his hands upon his knees.



“I have said everything I want to say at this time, except that I have taken due note of Rome's paucity of priests and augurs, and will be legislating very soon to rectify matters. But hear this now!'' he suddenly roared out, making everyone jump. "There will be no more elected Religious! It is the height of impiety to cast ballots to determine who will serve the gods! It turns something solemn and formal into a political circus and enables the appointment of men who have no tradition or appreciation of priestly duties. If her gods are not served properly, Rome cannot prosper." Sulla rose to his feet.



A voice was raised. Looking mildly quizzical, Sulla sank back into his ivory chair.



"You wish to speak, Piglet dear?" he asked, using the old nickname Metellus Pius had inherited as his father's son.



Metellus Pius reddened, but got to his feet looking very determined. Ever since his arrival in Rome on the fifth day of November, his stammer-almost nonexistent these days-had steadily and cruelly worsened. He knew why. Sulla. Whom he loved but feared. However, he was still his father's son, and Metellus Numidicus Piggle-wiggle had twice braved terrible beatings in the Forum rather than abrogate a principle, and once gone into exile to uphold a principle. Therefore it behooved him to tread in his father's footsteps and maintain the honor of his family. And his own dignitas.



"Luh-Luh-Lucius Cornelius, wuh-wuh-will you answer wuh-wuh-one question?"



"You're stammering!" cried Sulla, almost singing.



"Truh-truh-true. Suh-suh-suh-sorry. I will try," he said through gritted teeth. "Are you aware, Luh-Luh-Lucius Cornelius, that men are being killed and their property confiscated thruh-thruh-throughout Italy as well as in Rome?"



The whole House listened with bated breath to hear Sulla's answer: did he know, was he responsible?



"Yes, I am aware of it," said Sulla.



A collective sigh, a general flinching and huddling down on stools; the House now knew the worst.



Metellus Pius went on doggedly. “I uh-uh-uh-understand that it is necessary to punish the guilty, but no man has been accorded a truh-truh-trial. Could you cluh-cluh-clarify the situation for me? Could you, for instance, tuh-tuh-tuh-tell me whereabouts you intend to draw the line? Are any men going to be accorded a trial? And who says these men have committed treason if they are nuh-nuh-not tried in a proper court?''



"It is by my dictate that they die, Piglet dear," said the Dictator firmly. "I will not waste the State's money and time on trials for men who are patently guilty."



The Piglet labored on. "Then cuh-cuh-can you give me some idea of whom you intend to spare?"



"I am afraid I cannot," said the Dictator.



"Then if yuh-yuh-yuh-you do not know who will be spared, can you tell me whom you intend to punish?"



"Yes, dear Piglet, I can do that for you."



"In which case, Luh-Luh-Lucius Cornelius, would you please share that knowledge with us?" Metellus Pius ended, sagging in sheer relief.



"Not today," said Sulla. "We will reconvene tomorrow."



Everyone came back at dawn on the morrow, but few looked as if they had enjoyed any sleep.



Sulla was waiting for them inside the chamber, seated on his ivory curule chair. One scribe sat with his stylus and wax tablets, the other held a scroll of paper. The moment the House was confirmed in legal sitting by the sacrifice and auguries, out went Sulla's hand for the scroll. He looked directly at poor Metellus Pius, haggard from worry.



"Here," Sulla said, "is a list of men who have either died already as traitors, or who will die shortly as traitors. Their property now belongs to the State, and will be sold at auction. And any man or woman who sets eyes upon a man whose name is on this list will be indemnified against retaliation if he or she appoints himself or herself an executioner." The scroll was handed to Sulla's chief lictor. "Pin this up on the wall of the rostra," said Sulla. "Then all men will know what my dear Piglet alone had the courage to ask to know."



"So if I see one of the men on your list, I can kill him?" asked Catilina eagerly; though not yet a senator, he had been bidden by Sulla to attend meetings of the Senate.



"You can indeed, my little plate-licker! And earn two talents of silver for doing so, as a matter of fact," said Sulla. "I will be legislating my program of proscriptions, of course-I will do nothing that has not the force of law! The reward will be incorporated into the legislation, and proper books will be kept of all such transactions so that Posterity will know who in our present day and age profited."



It came out demurely, but men like Metellus Pius had no trouble in discerning Sulla's malice; men like Lucius Sergius Catilina (if in truth they discerned Sulla's malice) obviously did not care.



The first list of proscribed was in the number of forty senators and sixty-five knights. The names of Gaius Norbanus and Scipio Asiagenus headed it, with Carbo and Young Marius next. Carrinas, Censorinus and Brutus Damasippus were named, whereas Old Brutus was not. Most of the senators were already dead. The lists, however, were basically intended to inform Rome whose estates were confiscate; they did not say who was already dead, who still alive. The second list went up on the rostra the very next day, to the number of two hundred knights. And a third list went up the day after that, publishing a further group of two hundred and fifteen knights. Sulla apparently had finished with the Senate; his real target was the Ordo Equester.



His leges Corneliae covering proscription regulations and activities were exhaustive. The bulk of them, however, appeared over a period of a mere two days very early in December, and by the Nones of that month all was in a Deculian order, as Catulus had prophesied. Every contingency had been taken into account. All property in a proscribed man's family was now the property of the State, and could not be transferred into the name of some scion innocent of transgression; no will of a man proscribed was valid, no heir named in it could inherit; the proscribed man could legally be slain by any man or woman who saw him, be he or she free, or freed, or still slave; the reward for murder or apprehension of a proscribed man was two talents of silver, to be paid by the Treasury from confiscated property and entered in the public account books; a slave claiming the reward was to be freed, a freedman transferred into a rural tribe; all men-civilian or military-who after Scipio Asiagenus had broken his truce had favored Carbo or Young Marius were declared public enemies; any man offering assistance or friendship to a proscribed man was declared a public enemy; the sons and grandsons of the proscribed were debarred from holding curule office and forbidden to repurchase confiscated estates, or come into possession of them by any other means; the sons and grandsons of those already dead would suffer in the same way as the sons and grandsons of those listed while still living. The last law of this batch, promulgated on the fifth day of December, declared that the whole process of proscription would cease on the first day of the next June. Six months hence.



Thus did Sulla usher in his Dictatorship, by demonstrating that not only was he master of Rome, but also a master of terror and suspense. Not all the days of itching agony had been spent in mindless torment or drunken stupor; Sulla had thought of this and that and many things. Of how he would achieve mastery of Rome; of how he would proceed when he became master of Rome; of how he would create a mental attitude in every man and woman and child that would enable him to do what had to be done without opposition, without revolt. Not soldiers garrisoning the streets but shadows in the mind, fears which led to hope as well as to despair. His minions would be anonymous people who might be the neighbors or friends of those they sneaked up on and whisked away. Sulla intended to create a climate rather than weather. Men could cope with weather. But climates? Ah, climates could prove unendurable.



And he had thought while he itched and tore himself to raw and bloody tatters of being an old and ugly and disappointed man given the world's most wonderful toy to play with: Rome. Its men and women, dogs and cats, slaves and freedmen, lowly and knights and nobles. All his cherished resentments, all his grudges grown cold and dark, he detailed meticulously in the midst of his pain. And took exquisite comfort from shaping his revenge.



The Dictator had arrived.



The Dictator had put his gleeful hands upon his new toy.



PART II



from DECEMBER 82 B.C.



until MAY 81 B.C.




1



Things, decided Lucius Cornelius Sulla early in December, were going very nicely. Most men still hesitated at the idea of killing someone proscribed on the lists, but a few like Catilina were already showing the way, and the amount of money and property confiscated from the proscribed was soaring. It was money and property, of course, which had directed Sulla's footsteps down this particular path; from somewhere had to come the vast sums Rome would need in order to become financially solvent again. Under more normal circumstances it would have come out of the coffers of the provinces, but given the actions of Mithridates in the east and the fact that Quintus Sertorius had managed to create enough trouble in both the Spains to curtail Spanish incomes, the provinces could not be squeezed of additional revenues for some time to come. Therefore Rome and Italy would have to yield up the money-yet the burden could not be thrust upon the ordinary people, nor upon those who had conclusively demonstrated their loyalty to Sulla's cause. Sulla had never loved the Ordo Equester-the ninety-one Centuries of the First Class who comprised the knight-businessmen, but especially the eighteen Centuries of senior knights who were entitled to the Public Horse. Among them were many who had waxed fat under the administration of Marius, of Cinna, of Carbo; and these were the men Sulla resolved would pay the bill for Rome's economic recovery. A perfect solution! thought the Dictator with gleeful satisfaction. Not only would the Treasury fill up; he would also eliminate all of his enemies.



He had besides found the time to deal with one other pet aversion-Samnium, and this in the harshest way possible, by sending the two worst men he could think of to that hapless place. Cethegus and Verres. And four legions of good troops. "Leave nothing," he said. "I want Samnium brought so low that no one will ever want to live there again, even the oldest and most patriotic Samnite. Fell the trees, lay waste the fields, destroy the towns as well as the orchards"-he smiled dreadfully-"and lop off the head of every tall poppy."



There! That would teach Samnium. And rid him of two men with considerable nuisance value for the next year. They would not be back in a hurry! Too much money to be made above and beyond what they would send to the Treasury.



It was perhaps well for other parts of Italy that Sulla's family arrived in Rome at this moment to restore to him a kind of normality he had not realized he needed as well as missed. For one thing, he hadn't known that the sight of Dalmatica would fell him like a blow; his knees gave under him, he had to sit down abruptly and stare at her like a callow boy at the unexpected coming of the one unattainable woman.



Very beautiful-but he had always known that-with her big grey eyes and her brown skin the same color as her hair- and that look of love that never seemed to fade or change, no matter how old and ugly he became. And she was there sitting on his lap with both arms wound about his scraggy neck, pushing his face against her breasts, caressing his scabby head and pressing her lips against it as if it was that glorious head of red-gold hair it used to flaunt-his wig, where was his wig? But then she was tugging his head up, and he could feel the loveliness of her mouth enfold his puckered lips until they bloomed again.... Strength flowed back into him, he rose lifting her in the same movement, and walked with her in triumph to their room, and there dealt with her in something more than triumph. Perhaps, he thought, drowning in her, I am capable of loving after all.



"Oh, how much I have missed you!" he said.



"And how much I love you," she said.



"Two years... It's been two years."



"More like two thousand years."



But, the first fervor of that reunion over, she became a wife, and inspected him with minute pleasure.



"Your skin is so much better!"



"I got the ointment from Morsimus."



"It's ceased to itch?"



"Yes, it's ceased to itch."



After which, she became a mother, and would not rest until he accompanied her to the nursery, there to say hello to little Faustus and Fausta.



"They're not much older than our separation," he said, and heaved a sigh. "They look like Metellus Numidicus."



She muffled a giggle. "I know.... Poor little things!"



And that set the seal upon what had been one of the happiest days of Sulla's life; she laughed with him!



Not knowing why Mama and the funny old man were clutching each other in paroxysms of mirth, the twins stood looking up with uncertain smiles until the urge to join in could no longer be resisted. And if it could not be said that Sulla grew to love them in the midst of that burst of laughter, he did at least decide that they were quite nice little people- even if they did look like their great-uncle, Quintus Caecilius Metellus Numidicus Piggle-wiggle. Whom their father had murdered. What an irony! thought their father: is this some sort of retribution the gods have visited upon me? But to believe that is to be a Greek, and I am a Roman. Besides which, I will be dead long before this pair are old enough to visit retribution on anyone.



The rest of the new arrivals were also well, including as they did Sulla's grown daughter, Cornelia Sulla, and her two children by her dead first husband. The little girl Pompeia was now eight years old and completely absorbed in her beauty, of which she was very aware. At six years of age the little boy Quintus Pompeius Rufus bade fair to living up to his last name, for he was red of hair, red of skin, red of eye, red of temper.



"And," asked Sulla of his steward, Chrysogonus, whose task it had been to look after the family, "how is my guest who cannot cross the pomerium into Rome?"



A little thinner than of yore (it could not have been an easy job to shepherd so many people of different and distinct natures, reflected Sulla), the steward rolled his expressive dark eyes toward the ceiling and shrugged.



“I am afraid, Lucius Cornelius, that he will not agree to remain outside the pomerium unless you visit him in person and explain exactly why. I tried! Indeed I tried! But he deems me an underling, beneath contempt-or credibility."



That was typical of Ptolemy Alexander, thought Sulla as he trudged out of the city to the inn on the Via Appia near the first milestone where Chrysogonus had lodged the haughty and hypersensitive prince of Egypt, who, though he had been in Sulla's custody for three years, was only now beginning to be a burden.



Claiming to be a refugee from the court of Pontus, he had turned up in Pergamum begging Sulla to grant him asylum; Sulla had been fascinated. For he was none other than Ptolemy Alexander the Younger, only legitimate son of the Pharaoh who had died trying to regain his throne in the same year as Mithridates had captured the son, living on Cos with his two bastard first cousins. All three princes of Egypt had been sent to Pontus, and Egypt had fallen firmly into the grasp of the dead Pharaoh's elder brother, Ptolemy Soter nicknamed Lathyrus (it meant Chickpea), who resumed the title of Pharaoh.



From the moment he set eyes on Ptolemy Alexander the Younger, Sulla had understood why Egypt had preferred to be ruled by old Lathyrus the Chickpea. Ptolemy Alexander the Younger was womanish to the extreme of dressing like a reincarnation of Isis in floating draperies knotted and twisted in the fashion of the Hellenized goddess of Egypt, with a golden crown upon his wig of golden curls, and an elaborate painting of his face. He minced, he ogled, he simpered, he lisped, he fluttered; and yet, thought Sulla shrewdly, beneath all that effeminate facade lay something steely.



He had told Sulla a tale of three hideous years spent as a prisoner at the court of one who was the most militant of heterosexuals; Mithridates, who genuinely believed womanish men could be "cured," had subjected young Ptolemy Alexander to an endless series of humiliations and degradations designed to disenchant the poor fellow of his chosen proclivities. It had not worked. Thrown into bed with Pontine courtesans and even common whores, Ptolemy Alexander had been able to do no more than hang his head over the edge of the bed and vomit; forced to don armor and go on route marches with a hundred sneering soldiers, he had wept and collapsed; beaten with fists and then with lashes, he had only betrayed the fact that he found such treatment highly stimulating; set on a tribunal in the marketplace of Amisus in all his finery and paint, and there subjected to rains of rotten fruit, eggs, vegetables and even stones, he had dumbly endured without contrition.



His chance had come when Mithridates began to reel under Sulla's competent conduct of the war with Rome, and the court disintegrated. Young Ptolemy Alexander had escaped.



"My two bastard cousins preferred to remain in Amisus, of course," he lisped to Sulla. "The atmosphere of that abominable court has suited them beautifully! They both went into marriage eagerly-to daughters of Mithridates by his part-Parthian, part-Seleucid wife, Antiochis. Well, they can keep Pontus and all of the King's daughters! I hate the place!"



"And what do you want of me?" Sulla had asked.



"Asylum. Shelter within Rome when you return there. And, when Lathyrus Chickpea dies, the Egyptian throne. He has a daughter, Berenice, who is reigning with him as his Queen. But he cannot marry her, of course-he could only marry an aunt, a cousin, or a sister, and he has none of any available. In the natural way of things Queen Berenice will survive her father. The Egyptian throne is matrilineal, which means the king becomes the king through marriage to the queen or to the eldest-born princess of the line. I am the only legitimate Ptolemy left. The Alexandrians-who have the sole say in the matter since the Macedonian Ptolemies established their capital there rather than in Memphis-will want me to succeed Lathyrus Chickpea, and will consent to my marrying Queen Berenice. So when Lathyrus Chickpea dies I want you to send me to Alexandria to claim the throne-with Rome's blessing."



For some moments Sulla considered this, eyeing Ptolemy Alexander in amusement. Then he said, “You may marry the Queen, but will you be able to get children by her?"



"Probably not," said the prince with composure.



"Then is there any point to the business?" Sulla smirked at his own pun.



Ptolemy Alexander apparently did not see the point. "I want to be Pharaoh of Egypt, Lucius Cornelius," he said solemnly. "The throne is rightfully mine. What happens to it after my death is immaterial."



"So who else is there in line for the throne?"



“Only my two bastard cousins. Who are now the minions of Mithridates and Tigranes. I was able to escape when a messenger came from Mithridates that all three of us were to be sent south to Tigranes, who is extending his kingdom in Syria. The purpose of this removal, I gather, was to keep us from Roman custody if Pontus should fall."



"Your bastard cousins may not be in Amisus, then."



"They were when I left. Beyond that I do not know."



Sulla had put his pen down and stared with cold goat's eyes at the sullen, bedizened person before him. "Very well, Prince Alexander, I will grant you asylum. When I return to Rome you may accompany me. As to your eventual assumption of the Double Crown of Egypt-best perhaps to discuss that when the time comes."



But the time had not yet come when Sulla trudged out to the inn at the first milestone on the Via Appia, and he could now foresee certain difficulties anent Ptolemy Alexander the Younger. There was a scheme in the back of his mind, of course; had it not occurred to him on the occasion of his first meeting with Ptolemy Alexander he would simply have sent the young man to his uncle Lathyrus Chickpea in Alexandria, and washed his hands of the whole affair. But the scheme had occurred to him, and now he could only hope that he lived long enough to see it bear fruit; Lathyrus Chickpea was much older than he was, yet apparently still enjoyed the best of health. Alexandria had a salubrious climate, so they said.



"However, Prince Alexander," he said when he had been shown into the inn's best parlor, "I cannot house you at Rome's expense for however many years it will take your uncle to die. Even in a place like this."



Outrage flared in the dark eyes; Ptolemy Alexander drew himself up like a striking snake. "A place like this? I'd rather be back in Amisus than remain in a place like this!"



"In Athens," said Sulla coldly, "you were housed royally at the expense of the Athenians, purely due to your uncle's gifts to that city after I was obliged to sack a part of it and did some little damage. Well, that was the prerogative of Athens. You cost me nothing. Here you're likely to cost me a fortune Rome cannot spare. So I'm offering you two choices. You may take ship at Rome's expense for Alexandria, and make your peace with your uncle Lathyrus Chickpea. Or you may negotiate a loan with one of this city's bankers, hire a house and servants on the Pincian or some other acceptable place outside the pomerium, and remain until your uncle dies."



It was difficult to tell if Ptolemy Alexander lost color, so heavy was his maquillage, but Sulla rather fancied that he did; certainly the fight went out of him.



"I can't go to Alexandria, my uncle would have me killed!"



"Then negotiate a loan."



"All right, I will! Only tell me how!"



"I'll send Chrysogonus to tell how. He knows everything." Sulla had not sat down, but he moved now to the door. "By the way, Prince Alexander, under no circumstances can you cross the sacred boundary of Rome into the city."



"I shall die of boredom!"



Came the famous sneer. "I doubt that, when it's known you have money and a nice house. Water always finds its level. Alexandria is a long way from Rome, and I must assume that you will be its lawful king the moment Lathyrus Chickpea dies. Which neither you nor I can know until word reaches Rome. Therefore, as Rome will tolerate no ruling sovereign within her boundary, you must stay outside it. I mean that. Flout me, and you won't need to go to Alexandria to meet a premature death."



Ptolemy Alexander burst into tears. "You're a horrible, hateful person!"



Off went Sulla down the road to the Capena Gate, giving voice to an occasional neigh of laughter. What a horrible, hateful person Ptolemy Alexander was! But-how very useful he might prove to be if only Lathyrus Chickpea had the grace and good sense to die while Sulla was still the Dictator! And he gave a little skip of pleasure at the thought of what he was going to do when he heard that the throne of Egypt was vacant.



Oblivious to the fact that his laughter and his skip and that crabbed gait had become portents of terror to every man and woman who chanced to see him, whose mind was in fabled Alexandria.



2



It was religion, however, which chiefly occupied Sulla's mind. Like most Romans, he didn't think of the name of a god, close his eyes and immediately visualize a human person-that was to be a Greek. These days it was a sign of culture and sophistication to show Bellona as an armed goddess, Ceres as a beautiful matron carrying a sheaf of wheat, Mercury with winged hat and winged sandals, because a Hellenized society was superior, because a Hellenized society despised more numinous gods as primitive, unintellectual, incapable of behavior as complex as human behavior. To the Greeks, their gods were essentially human beings owning superhuman powers; they could not conceive a being more complex than a man. So Zeus, who was king of their pantheon, functioned like a Roman censor-powerful but not omnipotent-and handed out jobs to the other gods, who took delight in tricking him, blackmailing him, and behaving a bit like tribunes of the plebs.



But Sulla, a Roman, knew the gods were far less tangible than the Greeks would have them: they weren't humanoid and they didn't have eyes in their heads or hold conversations, nor did they wield superhuman powers, nor go through the integration and differentiation of thought processes akin to a man's. Sulla, a Roman, knew that the gods were specific forces which moved specific events or controlled other forces inferior to themselves. They fed on life-forces, so they liked to be offered living sacrifices; they needed order and method in the living world as much as they did in their own, because order and method in the living world helped maintain order and method in the world of forces.



There were forces pervaded storage cupboards and barns and silos and cellars, liked to see them full-they were called Penates. There were forces kept ships sailing and crossroads together and a sense of purpose among inanimate objects- they were called Lares. There were forces kept the trees right-thinking, obliged them to grow their branches and leaves up into the air and their roots down into the earth. There were forces kept water sweet and rivers going from on high all the way down to the sea. There was a force gave a few men luck and good fortune, but gave most men less, and a few men nothing-it was called Fortuna. And the force called Jupiter Optimus Maximus was the sum total of all other forces, the connective tissue which bound them all together in a way logical to forces, if mysterious to men.



It was clear to Sulla that Rome was losing contact with her gods, her forces. Why else had the Great Temple burned down? Why else had the precious records gone up in smoke? The prophetic books? Men were forgetting the secrets, the strict formulae and patterns which channeled godly forces. To have the priests and augurs elected disturbed the balances within the priestly colleges, obviated the delicate adjustments only possible when the same families filled the same religious positions time out of mind, forever and ever.



So before he turned his energies toward rectifying Rome's creaky institutions and laws, he must first purify Rome's aether, stabilize her godly forces and allow them to flow properly. How could Rome expect good fortune when a man could be so lost as to what was fitting that he could stand and holler out her secret name? How could Rome expect to prosper when men plundered her temples and murdered her priests? Of course he didn't remember that he himself had once wanted to plunder her temples; he only remembered that he had not, though he was going to fight a true enemy. Nor did he remember quite how he had felt about the gods in those days before illness and wine had made a shambles of his life.



In the burning of the Great Temple there was an implicit message, so much he knew in his bones. And it had been given to him to halt the chaos, correct the present drift toward utter disorder. If he did not, then doors supposed to be shut would fly open, and doors supposed to be open would slam shut.



He summoned the priests and augurs to him inside Rome's oldest temple, Jupiter Feretrius on the Capitol. So ancient that it had been dedicated by Romulus and was built of tufa blocks without plaster or decoration, it had only two square columns to support its portico, and it contained no image. On a plain square pedestal of equal age there rested a straight electrum rod as long as a man's hand and arm to the elbow, and a silica flint brooding black and glassy. The only light admitted to its interior came through the door, and it smelled of incredible age-mouse droppings, mildew, damp, dust. Its one room was a mere ten feet by seven feet, so Sulla was grateful for the fact that neither the College of Pontifices nor the College of Augurs was anywhere near full membership.



Sulla himself was an augur. So too were Marcus Antonius, the younger Dolabella and Catilina. Of priests, Gaius Aurelius Cotta had been in the college the longest; Metellus Pius was not far behind, nor Flaccus the Master of the Horse and Princeps Senatus, who was also the flamen Martialis. Catulus, Mamercus, the Rex Sacrorum Lucius Claudius of the only branch of the Claudii with the first name of Lucius-and a very uneasy pontifex, Brutus the son of Old Brutus, who clearly wondered if and when he was going to be proscribed.



"We have no Pontifex Maximus," Sulla began, "and our company is thin. I could have found a more comfortable place for us to meet, but I suspect a little discomfort may not be displeasing to our gods! For some time now we have thought of ourselves ahead of our gods, and our gods are unhappy. Dedicated in the same year as our Republic was born, our temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus did not burn down by accident. I am sure it burned down because Jupiter Best and Greatest feels the Roman Senate and People have cheated him of his due. We are not so callow and credulous that we subscribe to barbarian beliefs in godly wrath-bolts of lightning that strike us dead or pillars that squash us flat are natural events-they merely indicate a man's personal ill luck. But portents do indicate unhappy gods, and the burning of our Great Temple is a terrible portent. If we still had the Sibylline Books we might discover more about it. But the Sibylline Books burned, along with our fasti of the consuls, the original Twelve Tables, and much else."



There were fifteen men present, and not enough room to allow a proper arrangement of speaker and audience; Sulla just stood in their midst and spoke in normal tones. “It is my task as Dictator to return Rome's religion to its old form, and to make all of you work toward that end. Now I can enact the laws, but it is up to all of you to implement them. On one point I am adamant, for I have had dreams, I am an augur, and I know I am right. Namely, I will invalidate the lex Domitia de sacerdotiis which our Pontifex Maximus of some years ago, Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus, took so much pleasure in foisting upon us. Why did he? Because he felt his family had been insulted and himself overlooked. Those are reasons founded in personal pride, not in a true religious spirit. I believe Ahenobarbus Pontifex Maximus displeased the gods, especially Jupiter Best and Greatest. So there will be no more elections for Religious. Not even for the office of Pontifex Maximus."



"But the Pontifex Maximus has always been elected!" cried Lucius Claudius the Rex Sacrorum, astonished. "He is the High Priest of the Republic! His appointment must be democratic!"



"I say, no. From now on, he too will be chosen by his fellow members of the College of Pontifices," said Sulla in a tone which brooked no argument. "I am right about this."



"I don't know...." Flaccus began, then trailed off when he met Sulla's awful eyes.



"I do know, so that will be the end of it!" Sulla's gaze traveled from one distressed face to another, and quelled all further protest. “I also think it is displeasing to our gods that there are not enough of us to go around, so I intend to give each priestly college-most of the minor as well as the major-fifteen members each instead of the old ten or twelve. No more of this squeezing two jobs in for every one man! Besides, fifteen is a lucky number, the fulcrum upon which thirteen and seventeen-the unlucky ones-turn. Magic is important. Magic creates pathways for the godly forces to travel. I believe that numbers have great magic. So we will work magic for Rome's benefit, as is our sacred duty."



"Perhaps," ventured Metellus Pius, "wuh-wuh-we could set up only wuh-wuh-one candidate for Pontifex Maximus? That wuh-wuh-way, we could at least have an election process."



"There will be no election process!" Sulla spat.



Silence fell. No one so much as shifted a foot.



After some time had passed Sulla began to speak again. "There is one priest who sits ill with me, for a number of good reasons. I refer to our flamen Dialis, the young man Gaius Julius Caesar. Upon the death of Lucius Cornelius Merula he was chosen to be Jupiter's special priest by Gaius Marius and his bought-and-paid-for minion, Cinna. The men who chose him alone are ominous enough! They contravened the usual selection process, which ought to involve the entire gamut of colleges. Another reason for my disquiet concerns my own ancestors, for the first Cornelius to be cognominated Sulla was flamen Dialis. But the burning of the Great Temple is by far the most ominous reason. So I began to make enquiries about this young man, and have learned that he flatly refused to observe the regulations surrounding his flaminate until he assumed the toga virilis. His behavior since has been orthodox, as far as I can find out. Now all this could well have been a symptom of his youth. But what I think is not important. What does Jupiter Optimus Maximus think? That is important! For, my fellow priests and augurs, I have learned that Jupiter's temple fire finally went out two days before the Ides of Quinctilis. On that exact same day of the year, the flamen Dialis was born. An omen!"



"It could be a good omen," said Cotta, who cared about the fate of this particular flamen Dialis.



"Indeed it could," said Sulla, "but that is not for me to say. As Dictator, I feel free to determine the method whereby our priests and augurs are appointed, I feel free to abolish the elections. But the flamen Dialis is different. All of you must decide his fate. All of you! Fetials, pontifices, augurs, the priests of the sacred books, even the epulones and the salii. Cotta, I am putting you in charge of the investigation, as you are the longest-serving pontifex. You have until the Ides of December, when we will meet again in this temple to discuss the religious position of the present flamen Dialis." He looked at Cotta sternly. "No word of this must get round, especially to young Caesar himself."



Home he went, chuckling and rubbing his hands together in transports of delight. For Sulla had thought of the most wonderful joke! The kind of joke Jupiter Optimus Maximus would find a terrific boost to his force pathways. An offering! A living sacrificial victim for Rome-for the Republic, whose High Priest he was! He had been invented to supplant the Rex Sacrorum, ensure that the Republic outranked the Kings, all of whom had been Rex Sacrorum as well as King. Oh, a superb joke! he cried to himself, literally crying-with laughter. I will offer the Great God a victim who will go consenting to the sacrifice, and continue to sacrifice himself until his death! I will dower the Republic and the Great God with the best segment of one man's life-I will offer up his suffering, his distress, his pain. And all with his consent. Because he will never refuse to be sacrificed.



The next day Sulla published the first of his laws aimed at regulating the State religion by fixing them to the rostra and the wall of the Regia. At first the rostra perusers presumed it was a new proscription list, so the professional bounty hunters clustered quickly, only to turn away with exclamations of disgust: it turned out to be a list of the men who were now members of the various priestly colleges, major and minor. Fifteen of each, somewhat haphazardly divided between patricians and plebeians (with the plebeians in the majority), and beautifully balanced between the Famous Families. No unworthy names on this list! No Pompeius or Tullius or Didius! Julii, Servilii, Junii, Aemilii, Cornelii, Claudii, Sulpicii, Valerii, Domitii, Mucii, Licinii, Antonii, Manlii, Caecilii, Terentii. It was also noted that Sulla had given himself a priesthood to complement the augurship he held already-and that he was the only man to hold both.



"I ought to have a foot in both camps," he had said to himself when contemplating doing this. "I am the Dictator."



The day after, he published an addendum containing only one name. The name of the new Pontifex Maximus. Quintus Caecilius Metellus Pius the Piglet. Stammerer extraordinary.



The people of Rome were beside themselves with horror when they saw that frightful name upon the rostra and the Regia-the new Pontifex Maximus was Metellus Pius1? How could that be? What was wrong with Sulla? Had he gone quite mad?



A shivering deputation came to see him at Ahenobarbus's house, its members consisting of priests and augurs, including Metellus Pius himself. For obvious reasons he was not the deputation's Spokesman; his tongue stumbled so these days that no one was willing to stand there shifting from one foot to the other while the Piglet strove to articulate his thoughts. The spokesman was Catulus.



"Lucius Cornelius, why?” wailed Catulus. "Are we to have no say about this?"



"I duh-duh-duh-don't wuh-wuh-wuh-wan? the juh-juh-job!" the Piglet stuttered painfully, eyes rolling, hands working.



"Lucius Cornelius, you can't!" Vatia cried.



"It's impossible!" shouted son-in-law Mamercus.



Sulla let them run down before he answered, no flicker of emotion on his face or in his eyes; it was no part of his joke ever to let them see that it was a joke. They must always think him earnest, serious. For he was. He was! Jupiter had come to him in a dream last night and told him how much he appreciated this wonderful, perfect joke.



They ran down. An apprehensive silence fell, save for the soft sound of the Piglet's weeping.



"Actually," said Lucius Cornelius Sulla in conversational tones, "as the Dictator I can do anything I want. But that is not the point. The point is that I dreamed Jupiter Optimus Maximus came to me and asked specifically for Quintus Caecilius as his Pontifex Maximus. When I woke I took the omens, and they were very propitious. On the way to the Forum to pin my two pieces of parchment up on the rostra and the Regia, I saw fifteen eagles flying from left to right across the Capitol. No owl hooted, no lightning flashed."



The deputation looked into Sulla's face, then at the floor. He was serious. So, it seemed, was Jupiter Optimus Maximus.



"But no ritual can contain a mistake!" said Vatia. "No gesture, no action, no word can be wrong! The moment something is performed or said wrongly, the whole ceremony has to start all over again!"



"I am aware of that," said Sulla gently.



"Lucius Cornelius, surely you can see!" cried Catulus. "Pius stutters and stammers his way through every statement he makes! So whenever he acts as Pontifex Maximus, we are going to be there forever!''



"I see it with crystal clarity," said Sulla with great seriousness. "Remember, I too will be there forever." He shrugged. "What can I say, except that perhaps this is some extra sacrifice the Great God requires of us because we haven't acquitted ourselves as we ought in matters pertaining to our gods?" He turned to Metellus Pius to take one of the spasming hands in both his own. “Of course, Piglet dear, you can refuse. There is nothing in our religious laws to say you can't."



The Piglet used his free hand to pick up a fold of toga and employ it to wipe his eyes and nose. He drew in a breath and said, "I will do it, Lucius Cornelius, if the Great God requires it of muh-muh-me."



“There, you see?'' asked Sulla, patting the hand he held. "You almost got it out! Practice, Piglet dear! Practice!"



The first paroxysm of laughter was welling dangerously close to eruption; Sulla got rid of the deputation in a hurry and bolted to his study, where he shut himself in. His knees gave way; he collapsed onto a couch, wrapped his arms round his body and howled, the tears of mirth pouring down his face.



When he couldn't breathe properly he rolled onto the floor and lay there shrieking and gasping with his legs kicking in the air, hurting so much he thought he might die. But still he laughed, secure in the knowledge that the omens had indeed been propitious. And for the rest of that day, whenever the Piglet's expression of noble self-sacrifice flashed before his mind's eye, he doubled over in a fresh paroxysm; so too did he laugh again whenever he remembered the look on Catulus's face, and Vatia's, and his son-in-law's. Wonderful, wonderful! Perfect justice, this Jupiterian joke. Everyone had received exactly what everyone deserved. Including Lucius Cornelius Sulla.



On the Ides of December some sixty men-members of the minor as well as the major priestly colleges-tried to squash into the temple of Jupiter Feretrius.



"We have paid our respects to the god," said Sulla. "I do not think he will mind if we seek the open air."



He sat himself on the low wall which fenced off the old Asylum from the parklike areas of ground swelling easily up on either side to the twin humps of Capitol and Arx, and gestured to the rest to sit on the grass.



That, thought the desperately unhappy Piglet, was one of the oddest things about Sulla: he could invest small things with huge dignity, then-as now-reduce huge things to complete informality. To the Capitoline visitors and tourists-to the men and women who arrived panting at the top of the Asylum steps or the Gemonian steps, taking a shortcut between Forum Romanum and Campus Martius-they must look like a strolling philosopher and his pupils, or an old country daddy with all his brothers, nephews, sons, cousins,



"What have you to report, Gaius Aurelius?" asked Sulla of Cotta, who sat in the middle of the front row.



“First of all, that this task was very difficult for me, Lucius Cornelius," Cotta replied. "You are aware, I suppose, that young Caesar the flamen Dialis is my nephew?''



"As indeed he is also my nephew, though by marriage rather than blood," said the Dictator steadily.



"Then I must ask you another question. Do you intend to proscribe the Caesars?''



Without volition Sulla thought of Aurelia, and shook his head emphatically. "No, Cotta, I do not. The Caesars who were my brothers-in-law so many years ago are both dead. They never really committed any crimes against the State, for all they were Marius's men. There were reasons for that. Marius had helped the family financially, the tie was an obligatory gratitude. The widow of old Gaius Marius is the boy's blood aunt, and her sister was my first wife."



"But you have proscribed both Marius's and Cinna's families."



"That I have."



"Thank you," said Cotta, looking relieved. He cleared his throat. "Young Caesar was but thirteen years old when he was solemnly and properly consecrated as the priest of Jupiter Optimus Maximus. He fulfilled all the criteria save one: he was a patrician with both parents still living, but he was not married to a patrician woman with both parents still living. However, Marius found him a bride, to whom he was married before the ceremonies of inauguration and consecration. The bride was Cinna's younger daughter."



"How old was she?" Sulla asked, snapping his fingers at his servant, who promptly handed him a peasant's wide-brimmed straw hat. Having adjusted it comfortably, he looked out slyly from under it, truly an old country daddy.



"She was seven."



"I see. A literal marriage of children. Faugh! Cinna was hungry, wasn't he?"



"Quite so," said Cotta uncomfortably. "Anyway, the boy did not take kindly to his flaminate. He insisted that until he put on the toga of manhood he would pursue the customary activities of a noble Roman youth. So he went to the Campus Martius and there did his military exercises. He fenced, shot arrows, cast spears-and revealed a talent for whatever he was called upon to do. I am told he used to do something remarkable-he would ride a very fleet horse at the full gallop with both hands behind his back-and no saddle! The old fellows of the Campus Martius remember him well and deem his flaminate a shame in view of his natural aptitude for soldiering. For his other behavior, my source is his mother-my half sister, Aurelia. According to her, he did not adhere to the stipulated diet, he pared his nails with an iron knife, had his hair cut with an iron razor, and wore knots and buckles."



"What happened when he donned the toga virilis?"'



"He changed radically," said Cotta, considerable surprise in his voice. "The rebellion - if indeed it had been rebellion - ceased. He had always performed his religious duties with scrupulous care, but then he put on his apex and laena permanently, and adhered to all the prohibitions. His mother says he liked his role no better, but had become reconciled."



"I see." Sulla kicked his heels softly against the wall, then said, "It begins to sound quite satisfactory, Cotta. What conclusion have you come to about him and his flaminate?"



Cotta frowned. “There is one difficulty. Did we have the full set of prophetic books available to us, we might have been able to elucidate the matter. But we do not, of course. So we have found it impossible to form a conclusive opinion. There appears to be no doubt that the boy is legally the flamen Dialis, but we are not so sure from the religious viewpoint."



"Why?"



"It all hinges upon the civic status of Caesar's wife. Cinnilla, they call her. Now twelve years of age. Of one thing we are absolutely positive - the flaminate Dialis is a dual entity which involves wife as much as it does husband. She has her religious title of flaminica Dialis, she is under the same taboos, and she has her own religious duties. If she does not fulfill the religious criteria, then the whole flaminate is in doubt. And we have come to the conclusion that she does not fulfill the religious criteria, Lucius Cornelius."



"Really? How have you reached that conclusion, Cotta?" Sulla kicked the wall harder, thought of something else. "Has the marriage been consummated?"



"No, it has not. The child Cinnilla has lived with my sister and my sister's family since she married young Caesar. And my sister is a very proper Roman noblewoman," said Cotta.



Sulla smiled briefly. "I know she's proper," he said.



"Yes, well..." Cotta shifted uneasily, remembering the debates which had raged in the Cotta household about the nature of the friendship between Aurelia and Sulla; he was also aware that he was about to criticize one of Sulla's new proscription laws. But in he plunged bravely, determined to get it over and done with. “We think Caesar is the flamen Dialis, but that his wife is not the flaminica. At least, that is how we have interpreted your laws of proscription, which, in the matter of under-age children of the proscribed, do not make it clear whether these children are subject to the lex Minicia. Cinna's son was of age when his father was proscribed, therefore his citizenship was not in question. But what about the citizen status of under-age children, especially girls? Does your law intend judgment under the lex Minicia, or-as with conviction and exile by a court-does the father's loss of citizenship extend only to himself? That is what we had to decide. And given the severity of your laws of proscription in relation to the rights of children and other heirs, we came to the conclusion that the lex Minicia de liberis does apply."



"Piglet dear, what do you have to say?" asked the Dictator demurely, entirely ignoring the implication of a legislative cloudiness. "Take your time, take your time! I have nothing else to do today."



Metellus Pius flushed. "As Gaius Cotta says, the law of a child's citizen status does apply. When one parent is not a Roman citizen, the child cannot be a Roman citizen. So Caesar's wife is not a Roman citizen and cannot therefore be the flaminica Dialis under religious law."



"Brilliant, brilliant! You got that out without a single mistake, Piglet!" Drum, drum went Sulla's heels. "So it is all my fault, eh? I left a law up to interpretation instead of spelling every detail out."



Cotta drew a deep breath. "Yes," he said heroically.



"That is all very true, Lucius Cornelius," said Vatia, adding his mite. "However, we are fully aware that our interpretation may be wrong. We respectfully ask for your direction."



"Well," said Sulla, sliding off the wall, "it seems to me that the best way out of this dilemma is to have Caesar find a new flaminica. Though he must have been married confarreatio, in the eyes of both civil and religious law a divorce is possible. It is my opinion that Caesar must divorce Cinna's daughter, who is not acceptable to the Great God as his flaminica.”



"An annulment, surely!" said Cotta.



"A divorce," said Sulla firmly. "Though all and sundry may swear that the marriage is not consummated-and though we could have the Vestals examine the girl's hymen-we are dealing with Jupiter Best and Greatest. You have pointed out to me that my laws are open to interpretation. In fact, you have gone so far as to interpret them-without coming to consult with me before making your decision. Therein lies your mistake. You should have consulted me. But since you did not, you must now live with the consequences. A diffarreatio divorce."



Cotta winced. "Diffarreatio is a dreadful business!"



"I weep to see your pain, Cotta."



"Then I shall inform the boy," said Cotta, mouth set.



Sulla put out his hand. "No!" he said, quite sharply. "Say nothing to the boy, nothing at all! Just tell him to come to my house tomorrow before the dinner hour. I prefer to tell him myself, is that clear?"



"And so," said Cotta to Caesar and Aurelia a short time later, "you must see Sulla, nephew."



Both Caesar and his mother were looking strained, but saw the visitor to the door without comment. After her brother had gone Aurelia followed her son into his study.



"Do sit, Mater," he said to her gently.



She sat, but on the edge of the chair. "I don't like it," she said. “Why should he want to see you in person?''



"You heard Uncle Gaius. He's starting to reform the religious orders, "and he wants to see me as flamen Dialis.''



"I do not believe that," said Aurelia stubbornly.



Worried, Caesar put his chin on his right hand and looked at his mother searchingly. His concern was not for himself; he could cope with whatever was to come, he knew that. No, it was for her, and for all the other women of his family.



The tragedy had marched on inexorably from the time of the conference Young Marius had called to discuss his seeking the consulship, through the season of artificially induced joy and confidence, through the downslide of the terrible winter, to the yawning pit which had been the defeat at Sacriportus. Of Young Marius they had seen practically nothing once he had become consul, and that included his mother and his wife. A mistress had come on the scene, a beautiful Roman woman of knightly forebears named Praecia, and she monopolized every spare moment Young Marius could find. Rich enough to be financially independent, she was at the time she caught Young Marius in her toils already thirty-seven years old, and not of a mind for marriage. There had been a marriage in her eighteenth year, but only to obey her father, who had died shortly thereafter; Praecia had promptly embarked upon a series of lovers, and her husband had divorced her. Which suited her very well. She settled to the kind of life she most liked, mistress of her own establishment as well as mistress to some interesting nobleman who brought his friends, his problems and his political intrigues to her dining couch and bed, and thus enabled her to combine politics with passion-an irresistible combination to one of Praecia's leanings.



Young Marius had been her biggest fish and she had grown quite fond of him, amused at his youthful posturings, fascinated by the power inherent in the name Gaius Marius, and pleased at the fact that the young senior consul preferred her to his mother, a Julia, and his wife, a Mucia. So she had thrown her large and tastefully decorated house open to all Young Marius's friends, and her bed to a small, select group who formed Young Marius's inner circle. Once Carbo (whom she loathed) had left for Ariminum, she became her paramour's chief adviser in all things, and fancied that it was she, not Young Marius, who actually ran Rome.



So when the news came that Sulla was about to depart from Teanum Sidicinum, and Young Marius announced that it was more than time he left to join his troops at Ad Pictas, Praecia had toyed with the idea of becoming a camp follower, accompanying the young senior consul to the war. It had not come to pass; Young Marius found a typical solution to the problem she was becoming by leaving Rome after dark without telling her he was going. However, not to repine! Praecia shrugged, and looked about for other game.



All this had meant that neither his mother nor his wife had been given the opportunity to bid him farewell, to wish him the luck he would certainly need. He was gone. And he was never to come back. The news of Sacriportus had not spread through Rome before Brutus Damasippus (too much Carbo's man to esteem Praecia) had embarked upon his bloodbath. Among those who died was Quintus Mucius Scaevola Pontifex Maximus, the father of Young Marius's wife, and a good friend to Young Marius's mother.



"My son did this," Julia had said to Aurelia when she came to see if there was anything she could do.



"Nonsense!" Aurelia had answered warmly. "It was Brutus Damasippus, no one else."



"I have seen the letter my son sent in his own writing from Sacriportus," Julia had said, drawing in her breath on something far worse than a sob. "He couldn't accept defeat without this paltry retaliation, and how can I expect my daughter-in-law to speak to me again?"



Caesar had huddled himself in a far corner of the room and watched the faces of the women with stony concentration. How could her son have done this to Aunt Julia? Especially after what his mad old father had done at the end? She was caught inside a mass of sorrow like a fly in a chunk of amber, her beauty the greater because she was static, her pain all within and quite invisible. It didn't even show in her eyes.



Then Mucia came in; Julia shrank away, averted her gaze.



Aurelia had sat bolt upright, the planes of her face sharp and flinty. "Mucia Tertia, do you blame Julia for your father's murder?" she demanded.



"Of course not," said Young Marius's wife, and pulled a chair over so that she could sit close enough to Julia to take her hands. "Please, Julia, look at me!"



"I cannot!"



"You must! I do not intend to move back to my father's house and live with my stepmother. Nor do I intend to seek a place in my own mother's house, with those frightful boys of hers. I want to stay here with my dear kind mother-in-law."



So that had been all right. Some kind of life had gone on for Julia and Mucia Tertia, though they heard nothing from Young Marius walled up in Praeneste, and the news from various battlefields was always in Sulla's favor. Had he been Aurelia's son, reflected Aurelia's son, Young Marius would have drawn little comfort from dwelling upon his mother while the days in Praeneste dragged on interminably. Aurelia was not as soft, not as loving, not as forgiving as Julia-but then, decided Caesar with a smile, if she had been, he might have turned out more like Young Marius! Caesar owned his mother's detachment. And her hardness too.



Bad news piled on top of bad news: Carbo had stolen away in the night; Sulla had turned the Samnites back; Pompey and Crassus had defeated the men Carbo had deserted in Clusium; the Piglet and Varro Lucullus were in control of Italian Gaul; Sulla had entered Rome for a period of hours only to set up a provisional government-and left Torquatus behind with Thracian cavalry to ensure his provisional government remained a functioning government.



But Sulla had not come to visit Aurelia, which fascinated her son sufficiently to try a little fishing. Of that meeting his mother had found thrust upon her outside Teanum Sidicinum she had said just about nothing; now here she was with her calm unimpaired and a tradition broken.



"He ought to have come to see you!" Caesar had said.



"He will never come to see me again," said Aurelia.



"Why not?"



"Those visits belong to a different time."



"A time when he was handsome enough to fancy?" the son snapped, that rigidly suppressed temper suddenly flashing out.



But she froze, gave him a look which crushed him. "You are stupid as well as insulting! Leave me!" she said.



He left her. And left the subject severely alone thereafter. Whatever Sulla meant to her was her business.



They had heard of the siege tower Young Marius built and of its miserable end, of the other attempts he made to break through Ofella's wall. And then on the last day of October there came the shocking news that ninety thousand Samnites were sitting in Pompey Strabo's camp outside the Colline Gate.



The next two days were the worst of Caesar's life. Choking inside his priestly garb, unable to touch a sword or look on death at the moment it happened, he locked himself in his study and commenced work on a new epic poem-in Latin, not in Greek-choosing the dactylic hexameter to make his task more difficult. The noise of battle came clearly to his ears, but he shut it out and struggled on with his maddening spondees and empty phrases, aching to be there and in it, admitting that he would not have cared which side he fought on, as long as he fought....



And after the sounds died away during the night he came charging out of his study to find his mother in her office bent over her accounts, and stood in her doorway convulsed with rage.



"How can I write what I cannot do?" he demanded. “What is the greatest literature about, if not war and warriors? Did Homer waste his time on flowery claptrap? Did Thucydides deem the art of beekeeping a suitable subject for his pen?"



She knew exactly how to deflate him, so she said in cool ledgerish tones, "Probably not," and returned to her work.



And that night was the end of peace. Julia's son was dead-all of them were dead, and Rome belonged to Sulla. Who did not come to see them, or send any message.



That the Senate and the Centuriate Assembly had voted him the position of Dictator everyone knew, and talked about endlessly. But it was Lucius Decumius who told Caesar and young Gaius Matius from the other ground-floor apartment about the mystery of the disappearing knights.



“All men who got rich under Marius or Cinna or Carbo, and that be no accident. You're lucky your tata has been dead for enough years, Pimple," Lucius Decumius said to Gaius Matius, who had borne the unflattering nickname of Pustula- Pimple-since he had been a toddler. "And your tata too, probably, young Peacock," he said to Caesar.



"What do you mean?" asked Matius, frowning.



"I means there's some awful discreet-looking fellows walking round Rome pinching rich knights," the caretaker of the crossroads college said. “Freedmen mostly, but not your average gossipy Greek with boyfriend troubles. They're all called Lucius Cornelius something-or-other. My Brethren and I, we calls them the Sullani. Because they belongs to him. Mark my words, young Peacock and Pimple, they do not bode no good! And I safely predicts that they are going to pinch a lot more rich knights."



"Sulla can't do that!" said Matius, lips compressed.



"Sulla can do anything he likes," said Caesar. "He's been made Dictator. That's better than being King. His edicts have the force of law, he's not tied to the lex Caecilia Didia of seventeen days between promulgation and ratification, he doesn't even have to discuss his laws in Senate or Assemblies. And he cannot be made to answer for a single thing he does- or for anything he's done in the past, for that matter. Mind you," he added thoughtfully, "I think that if Rome isn't taken into a very strong hand, she's finished. So I hope all goes well for him. And I hope he has the vision and the courage to do what must be done."



"That man," said Lucius Decumius, "has the gall to do anything! Anything at all."



Living as they did in the heart of the Subura-which was the poorest and the most polyglot district in Rome-they found that Sulla's proscriptions had not the profound effect on life that they did in places like the Carinae, the Palatine, the upper Quirinal and Viminal. Though there were knights of the First Class aplenty between the far poorer Suburanites, few of them held a status above tribunus aerarius, and few the kind of political contacts which imperiled their lives now that Sulla was in power.



When the first list had displayed Young Marius's name second from the top, Julia and Mucia Tertia had come to see Aurelia; as these visits were usually the other way around, their advent was a surprise. So was news of the list, which had not yet spread as far as the Subura; Sulla had not kept Julia waiting for her fate.



"I have had a notice served on me by the urban praetor-elect, the younger Dolabella." Julia shivered. "Not a pleasant man! My poor son's estate is confiscate. Nothing can be saved."



“Your house too?'' Aurelia asked, white-faced.



“Everything. He had a list of everything. All the mining interests in Spain, the lands in Etruria, our villa at Cumae, the house here in Rome, other lands Gaius Marius had acquired in Lucania and Umbria, the wheat latifundia on the Bagradas River in Africa Province, the dye works for wool in Hierapolis, the glassworks in Sidon. Even the farm in Arpinum. It all belongs now to Rome and will, I was informed, be put up for auction."



"Oh, Julia!"



Being Julia, she found a smile and actually made it reach her eyes. "Oh, it isn't all bad news! I was given a letter from Sulla which authorizes payment out of the estate of one hundred silver talents. That is what he assesses my dowry at, had Gaius Marius ever got round to giving me one. For, as all the gods know, I came to him penniless! But I am to have the hundred talents because, Sulla informs me, I am the sister of Julilla. For her sake, as she was his wife, he will not see me want. The letter was actually quite gracefully phrased."



"It sounds a lot of money-but after what you've had, it's nothing," said Aurelia, tight-lipped.



"It will buy me a nice house on the Vicus Longus or the Alta Semita, and yield me an adequate income besides. The slaves of course are to go with the estate, but Sulla has allowed me to keep Strophantes-I am so glad about that! The poor old man is quite crazed with grief." She stopped, her grey eyes full of tears-not for herself, but for Strophantes. "Anyway," she continued, "I will manage very comfortably. Which is more than the wives or mothers of other men on the list can say. They will get absolutely nothing."



"And what about you, Mucia Tertia?" asked Caesar. “Are you classified as Marian or Mucian?'' She displayed no sign of grief for her husband, he noted, or even self-pity at her widow's status. One knew Aunt Julia grieved, though she never showed it. But Mucia Tertia?



"I am classified as Marian," she said, "so I lose my dowry. My father's estate is heavily encumbered. There was nothing for me in his will. Had there been something, my stepmother would try to keep it from me anyway. My own mother is all right-Metellus Nepos is safe, he is for Sulla. But their two boys must be thought of ahead of me. Julia and I have talked it over on the way here. I am to go with her. Sulla has forbidden me to remarry, as I was the wife of a Marius. Not that I wish to take another husband. I do not."



"It's a nightmare!" cried Aurelia. She looked down at her hands, inky-fingered and a little swollen in their joints. “It may be that we too will be put on the list. My husband was Gaius Marius's man to the end. And Cinna's at the time he died."



"But this insula is in your name, Mater. As all the Cottae stand for Sulla, it should remain yours," Caesar said. "I may lose my land. But at least as flamen Dialis I will have my salary from the State and a State house in the Forum. I suppose Cinnilla will lose her dowry, such as it is."



"I gather Cinna's relatives will lose everything," Julia said, and sighed. "Sulla means to see an end to opposition."



"What of Annia? And the older daughter, Cornelia Cinna?" asked Aurelia. "I have always disliked Annia. She was a poor mother to my little Cinnilla, and she remarried with indecent haste after Cinna died. So I daresay she'll survive."



"You're right, she will. She's been married to Pupius Piso Frugi long enough to be classified as Pupian," said Julia. "I found out a lot from Dolabella, he was only too anxious to tell me who was going to suffer! Poor Cornelia Cinna is classified with Gnaeus Ahenobarbus. Of course she lost her house to Sulla when he first arrived, and Annia wouldn't take her in then. I believe she's living with an old Vestal aunt out on the Via Recta."



“Oh, I am so glad both my girls are married to relative nobodies!'' Aurelia exclaimed.



"I have a piece of news," said Caesar, to draw the women's attention away from their own troubles.



"What?" asked Mucia Tertia.



“Lepidus must have had a premonition of this. Yesterday he divorced his wife. Saturninus's daughter, Appuleia."



"Oh, that's terrible!" cried Julia. "I can bear the fact that the ones who fought against Sulla must be punished, but why must their children and their children's children suffer too? All the fuss about Saturninus was so long ago! Sulla won't care about Saturninus, so why should Lepidus do that to her? She's borne him three splendid sons!"



"She won't bear him any more," Caesar said. "She took a nice hot bath and opened her veins. So now Lepidus is running around sobbing rivers of grief. Pah!"



"Oh, but he was always that sort of man," said Aurelia with scorn. "I do not deny that there must be a place in the world for flimsy men, but the trouble with Marcus Aemilius Lepidus is that he genuinely believes he has substance."



"Poor Lepidus!" sighed Julia.



"Poor Appuleia," said Mucia Tertia rather dryly.



But now, after what Cotta had told them, it seemed that the Caesars were not to be proscribed. The six hundred iugera at Bovillae were safe, Caesar would have a senatorial census. Not, he reflected wryly as he watched the snow pouring down the light well like a powdery waterfall, that he needed to worry about a senatorial census! The flamen Dialis was automatically a member of the Senate.



As he watched this sudden appearance of real winter, his mother watched him.



Such a nice person, she thought-and that is my doing, no one else's. For though he has many excellent qualities, he is far from perfect. Not as sympathetic or forgiving or tender as his father, for all that he has a look of his father about him. A look of me too. He is so brilliant in so many different ways. Send him anywhere in this building and he can fix whatever is wrong-pipes, tiles, plaster, shutters, drains, paint, wood. And the improvements he has made to our elderly inventor's brakes and cranes! He can actually write in Hebrew and Median! And speak a dozen languages, thanks to our amazing variety of tenants. Before he became a man he was a legend on the Campus Martius, so Lucius Decumius swears to me. He swims, he rides, he runs, all like the wind. The poems and plays he writes-as good as Plautus and Ennius, though I am his mother and should not say so. And his grasp of rhetoric, so Marcus Antonius Gnipho tells me, is without peer. How did Gnipho put it? My son can move stones to tears and mountains to rage. He understands legislation. And he can read anything at a single glance, no matter how bad the writing. In all of Rome there is no one else who can do that, even the prodigy Marcus Tullius Cicero. As for the women-how they pursue him! Up and down the Subura. He thinks I do not know, of course. He thinks I believe him chaste, waiting for his dear little wife. Well, that is better so. Men are strange creatures when it comes to the part of them makes them men. But my son is not perfect. Just superlatively gifted. He has a shocking temper, though he guards it well. He is self-centered in some ways and not always sensitive to the feelings and wants of others. As for this obsession he has about cleanliness-it pleases me to see him so fastidious, yet the extent of it he never got from me or anyone else. He won't look at a woman unless she's come straight from a bath, and I believe he actually inspects her from the top of her head to the spaces between her toes. In the Subura! However, he is greatly desired, so the standard of cleanliness among the local women has risen hugely since he turned fourteen. Precocious little beast! I always used to hope my husband availed himself of the local women during those many years he was away, but he always told me he didn't, he waited for me. If I disliked anything in him, it was that. Such a burden of guilt he shifted to me by keeping himself for me, whom he rarely saw. My son will never do that to his wife. I hope she appreciates her luck. Sulla. He has been summoned to see Sulla. I wish I knew why. I wish-



She came out of herself with a start to find Caesar leaning across his desk snapping his fingers at her, and laughing.



"Where were you?" he asked.



"All over the place," she answered as she got up, feeling the chill. "I'll have Burgundus give you a brazier, Caesar. It is too cold in this room."



"Fusspot!" he said lovingly to her back.



"I don't want you confronting Sulla with a sniffle and a thousand sneezes," she said.



But the morrow brought no sniffles, no sneezes. The young man presented himself at the house of Gnaeus Ahenobarbus a good summer hour before the winter dinnertime, prepared to kick his heels in the atrium rather than run the risk of arriving too late. Sure enough, the steward-an exquisitely oily Greek who subjected him to subtle come-hither glances-informed him that he was too early, would he mind waiting? Conscious of crawling skin, Caesar nodded curtly and turned his back on the man who would soon be famous, whom all Rome would know as Chrysogonus.



But Chrysogonus wouldn't go; clearly he found the visitor attractive enough to pursue, and Caesar had the good sense not to do what he longed to do-knock the fellow's teeth down his throat. Then inspiration struck. Caesar walked briskly out onto the loggia, and the steward disliked the cold too much to follow him. This house had two loggias, and the one where Caesar stood making crescent patterns in the snow with the toe of his clog looked not down onto the Forum Romanum, but back up the Palatine cliff in the direction of the Clivus Victoriae. Right above him was the loggia of another house literally overhung the house of Ahenobarbus.



Whose house? Caesar wrinkled his brow, remembered. Marcus Livius Drusus, assassinated in its atrium ten years ago. So this was where all those orphaned children lived under the arid supervision of... Who? That's right, the daughter of that Servilius Caepio who had drowned coming back from his province! Gnaea? Yes, Gnaea. And her dreaded mother, the ghastly Porcia Liciniana! Lots of little Servilii Caepiones and Porcii Catones. The wrong Porcii Catones, of the branch Salonius. Descendants of a slave-there was one now! He was leaning over the marble balustrade, a painfully thin boy with a neck long enough to give him a resemblance to a stork, and a nose large enough to show even at this distance. A lot of lank, reddish hair. No mistaking Cato the Censor's brood!



All of these thoughts indicated one thing about Caesar his mother had not catalogued during her reverie: he adored gossip and forgot none of it.



"Honored priest, my master is ready to see you." Caesar turned away with a grin and a cheerful wave up to the boy on Drusus's balcony, hugely amused when the wave was not returned. Young Cato was probably too amazed to wave back; there would be few in Sulla's temporary dwelling with the time to make overtures of friendship to a poor little storky boy who was the descendant of a Tusculan squire and a Celtiberian slave.



Though he was prepared for the sight of Sulla the Dictator, Caesar still found himself shocked. No wonder he hadn't sought Mater out! Nor would I if I were he, thought Caesar, and walked forward as quietly as his wooden-soled clogs permitted.



Sulla's initial reaction was that he looked upon a total stranger; but this was due to the ugly red-and-purple cape and the peculiar effect the creamy ivory helmet created, of someone with a shaven skull.



"Take all that stuff off," said Sulla, and returned his gaze to the mass of papers on his desk.



When he looked up again the priestling was gone. In his place there stood his son. The hairs bristled on Sulla's arms, and on the back of his neck; he emitted a sound like air oozing out of a bladder and stumbled to his feet. The golden hair, the wide blue eyes, the long Caesar face, all that height... And then Sulla's tear-clouded vision assimilated the differences; Aurelia's high sharp cheekbones with the hollows beneath and Aurelia's exquisite mouth with the creases in the corners. Older than Young Sulla had been when he died, more man than boy. Oh, Lucius Cornelius, my son, why did you have to die?



He dashed the tears away. "I thought you were my son for a moment," he said harshly, and shivered.



"He was my first cousin."



"I remember you said you liked him."



"I did."



"Better than Young Marius, you said."



"I did."



"And you wrote a poem about him after he died, but you said it wasn't good enough to show me."



"Yes, that's true."



Sulla sank back into his chair, his hands trembling. "Sit, boy. There, where the light is best and I can see you. My eyes are not what they used to be." Drink him in! He is sent from the Great God, whose priest he is. "Your uncle Gaius Cotta told you what?"



"Only that I had to see you, Lucius Cornelius."



"Call me Sulla, it's what everybody calls me."



"And I am called Caesar, even by my mother."



"You are the flamen Dialis."



Something flashed through the disquietingly familiar eyes-why were they so familiar, when his son's had been much bluer and sprightlier? A look of anger. Pain? No, not pain. Anger.



"Yes, I am the flamen Dialis," Caesar answered.



"The men who appointed you were enemies of Rome."



"At the time they appointed me they were not."



"That's fair enough." Sulla picked up his reed pen, which was encased in gold, then put it down again. "You have a wife."



"I do."



"She's Cinna's daughter."



"She is."



“Have you consummated your marriage?''



"No."



Up from behind his desk Sulla got to walk over to the window, which gaped wide open despite the freezing cold. Caesar smiled inwardly, wondering that his mother would have said-here was another who didn't care about the elements.



"I have undertaken the restitution of the Republic," said Sulla, looking out the window straight at the statue of Scipio Africanus atop his tall column; at this altitude, he and tubby old Scipio Africanus were on the same level. "For reasons I imagine you will understand, I have chosen to begin with religion. We have lost the old values, and must return to them. I have abolished the election of priests and augurs, including the Pontifex Maximus. Politics and religion in Rome are inextricably intertwined, but I will not see religion made the servant of politics when it ought to be the other way round."



"I do understand," said Caesar from his chair. "However, I believe the Pontifex Maximus must be elected."



"What you believe, boy, does not interest me!"



"Then why am I here?"



"Certainly not to make smart remarks at my expense!"



"I apologize."



Sulla swung round, glared at the flamen Dialis fiercely. "You're not a scrap afraid of me, boy, are you?"



Came the smile-the same smile!-the smile which caught at heart and mind together. “I used to hide in the false ceiling above our dining room and watch you talking to my mother. Times have changed, and so have all our circumstances. But it's hard to be afraid of someone you suddenly loved in the moment you found out he was not your mother's paramour."



That provoked a roar of laughter, laughter to drive away a fresh spring of tears. "True enough! I wasn't. I did try once, but she was far too wise to have me. Thinks like a man, your mother. I bring no luck to women, I never have." The pale unsettling eyes looked Caesar up and down. "You won't bring any luck to women either, though there'll be plenty of women."



"Why did you summon me, if not to seek my advice?"



"It's to do with regulating religious malpractices. They say you were born on the same day of the year that Jupiter's fire finally went out."



"Yes."



"And how did you interpret that?"



"As a good omen."



"Unfortunately the College of Pontifices and the College of Augurs do not agree with you, young Caesar. They have made you and your flaminate their most important business for some time now. And have concluded that a certain irregularity in your flaminate was responsible for the destruction of the Great God's temple."



The joy flooded into Caesar's face. "Oh, how glad I am to hear you say that!"



"Eh? Say what?"



"That I am not the flamen Dialis."



"I didn't say that."



"You did! You did!"



"You've misinterpreted me, boy. You are definitely the flamen Dialis. Fifteen priests and fifteen augurs have arrived at that conclusion beyond a shadow of a doubt."



The joy had died out of Caesar's face completely. "I'd rather be a soldier," he said gruffly. "I'm more suited for it."



"What you'd rather be doesn't matter. It's what you are that does. And what your wife is."



Caesar frowned, looked at Sulla searchingly. "That's the second time you've mentioned my wife."



"You must divorce her," said Sulla baldly.



"Divorce her? But I can't!"



"Why not?"



"We're married confarreatio."



"There is such a thing as diffarreatio."



“Why must I divorce her?''



"Because she's Cinna's brat. It turns out that my laws pertaining to proscribed men and their families contain a minor flaw in regard to the citizen status of children under age. The priests and augurs have decided that the lex Minicia applies. Which means your wife-who is flaminica Dialis-is not Roman or patrician. Therefore she cannot be flaminica Dialis. As this flaminate is a dual one, the legality of her position is quite as important as yours. You must divorce her."



"I won't do that," said Caesar, beginning to see a way out of this hated priesthood.



"You'll do anything I say you must, boy!"



"I will do nothing I think I must not."



The puckered lips peeled back slowly. “I am the Dictator," said Sulla levelly. "You will divorce your wife."



"I refuse," said Caesar.



"I can force you to it if I have to."



“How?'' asked Caesar scornfully. ' The rites of diffarreatio require my complete consent and co-operation."



Time to reduce this young pest to a quivering jellyfish: Sulla let Caesar see the naked clawed creature which lived inside him, a thing fit only to screech at the moon. But even as the creature leaped forth, Sulla realized why Caesar's eyes were so familiar. They were like his own! Staring back at him with the cold and emotionless fixity of a snake. And the naked clawed creature slunk away, impotent. For the first time in his life Sulla was left without the means to bend another man to his will. The rage which ought by now to possess him could not come; forced to contemplate the image of himself in someone else's face, Lucius Cornelius Sulla was powerless.



He had to fight with mere words. "I have vowed to restore the proper religious ethics of the mos maiorum," he said. "Rome will honor and care for her gods in the way she did at the dawn of the Republic. Jupiter Optimus Maximus is displeased. With you-or rather, with your wife. You are his special priest, but your wife is an inseparable part of your priesthood. You must separate yourself from this present unacceptable wife, take another one. You must divorce Cinna's non-Roman brat."



"I will not," said Caesar.



"Then I must find another solution."



"I have-one ready to hand," said Caesar instantly. "Let Jupiter Best and Greatest divorce me. Cancel my flaminate."



“I might have been able to do that as Dictator had I not brought the priestly colleges into the business. As it is, I am bound by their findings."



"Then it begins to look," said Caesar calmly, "as if we have reached an impasse, doesn't it?"



"No, it does not. There is another way out."



"To have me killed."



"Exactly."



“That would put the blood of the flamen Dialis on your hands, Sulla."



"Not if someone else has your blood on his hands. I do not subscribe to the Greek metaphor, Gaius Julius Caesar. Nor do our Roman gods. Guilt cannot be transferred."



Caesar considered this. "Yes, I believe you're right. If you have someone else kill me, the guilt must fall on him."



He rose to his feet, which gave him some inches over Sulla. "Then our interview is at an end."



"It is. Unless you will reconsider."



"I will not divorce my wife."



"Then I will have you killed."



"If you can," said Caesar, and walked out.



Sulla called after him. "You have forgotten your laena and apex, priest!"



"Keep them for the next flamen Dialis."



He forced himself to stroll home, not certain how quickly Sulla would regain his equilibrium. That the Dictator had been thrown off balance he had seen at once; it was evident that not too many people defied Lucius Cornelius Sulla.



The air was freezing, too cold for snow. And that childish gesture had cost him protection from the weather. Not important, really. He wouldn't die of exposure walking from the Palatine to the Subura. More important by far was his next course of action. For Sulla would have him killed, of that he had absolutely no doubt. He sighed. It would have to be flight. Though he knew he could look after himself, he had no illusions as to which of them would win did he remain in Rome. Sulla. However, he had at least a day's grace; the Dictator was as hampered by the slowly grinding machinery of bureaucracy as anyone else, and would have to squeeze an interview with one of those groups of quite ordinary-looking men into his crowded schedule; his foyer, as Caesar had quickly assessed, was filled with clients, not paid assassins. Life in Rome was not a bit like a Greek tragedy, no impassioned instructions were roared out to men straining like hounds at the leash. When Sulla found the time he would issue his orders. But not yet.



When he let himself into his mother's apartment he was blue with cold.



"Where are your clothes?" asked Aurelia, gaping.



"With Sulla," he managed to say. "I donated them to the next flamen Dialis. Mater, he showed me how to be free of it!"



"Tell me," she said, and got him to sit over a brazier.



He told her.



"Oh, Caesar, why?" she cried at the end.



"Come, Mater, you know why. I love my wife. That's first of all. All these years she's lived with us and looked to me for the kind of care neither father nor mother was willing to give her, and thought me the most wonderful aspect of her little life. How can I abandon her? She's Cinna's daughter! A pauper! Not even Roman anymore! Mater, I don't want to die. To live as the flamen Dialis is infinitely preferable to death. But there are some things worth dying for. Principles. The duties of a Roman nobleman you instilled in me with such uncompromising care. Cinnilla is my responsibility. I can't abandon her!" He shrugged, looked triumphant. "Besides, this is my way out. As long as I refuse to divorce Cinnilla, I am unacceptable to the Great God as his priest. So I just have to keep on refusing to divorce her."



"Until Sulla succeeds in having you killed."



"That's on the lap of the Great God, Mater, you know it is. I believe that Fortune has offered me this chance, and that I must take it. What I have to do is stay alive until after Sulla dies. Once he's dead, no one else will have the courage to kill the flamen Dialis, and the colleges will be forced to break my priestly chains. Mater, I do not believe Jupiter Optimus Maximus intends me as his special flamen! I believe he has other work for me. Work of better use to Rome."



She argued no more. "Money. You'll need money, Caesar." And she ran her hands through her hair, as she always did when she was trying to find mislaid funds. "You will need more than two talents of silver, because that's the price of a proscribed man. If you're discovered in hiding, you'll need to pay considerably more than two talents to make it worth an informer's while to let you go. Three talents ought to give you a purchase price plus enough to live on. Now can I find three talents without talking to bankers? Seventy-five thousand sesterces... I have ten thousand in my room. And the rents are due, I can collect them tonight. When my tenants hear why I need it, they'll pay up. They love you, though why they should I don't know-you're very difficult and obstinate! Gaius Matius might know how to get more. And I imagine Lucius Decumius keeps his ill-gotten gains in jars under his bed...."



And off she went, still talking. Caesar sighed, got to his feet. Time to organize his flight. And he would have to talk to Cinnilla before he left, explain.



He sent the steward, Eutychus, to fetch Lucius Decumius, and summoned Burgundus.



Old Gaius Marius had bequeathed Burgundus to Caesar in his will; at the time Caesar had strongly suspected that he had done so as a last link in the chain of flamen Dialis with which he had bound Caesar hands and feet. If by any chance Caesar should not continue to be Jupiter's special priest, Burgundus was to kill him. But of course Caesar-who owned a great deal of charm-had soon made Burgundus his man, helped by the fact that his mother's gigantic Arvernian maidservant, Cardixa, had fastened her teeth into him. A German of the Cimbri, he had been eighteen when he was captured after the battle of Vercellae, and was now thirty-seven to Cardixa's forty-five. How much longer she could go on bearing a boy a year was one of the family jokes; their total at the moment was five. They had both been manumitted on the day Caesar put on his toga of manhood, but this formal rite of being freed had changed nothing save their citizen status, which was now Roman (though of course they had been enrolled in the urban tribe Suburana, and therefore owned worthless votes). Aurelia, who was both frugal and scrupulously fair, had always given Cardixa a reasonable wage, and thought Burgundus was worthy of good money too. They were believed to be saving this for their sons, as their living was provided for them.



"But you must take our savings now, Caesar," Burgundus said in his thickly accented Latin. "You will need them."



His master was tall for a Roman, two inches over six feet, but Burgundus was four inches taller and twice as wide. His fair face, homely by Roman standards because its nose was far too short and straight and its mouth too wide, looked its normal solemn self when he said this, but his light blue eyes betrayed his love-and his respect.



Caesar smiled at Burgundus, shook his head. "I thank you for the offer, but my mother will manage. If she doesn't- why, then I will accept, and pay you back with interest."



Lucius Decumius came in accompanied by a swirl of snow; Caesar hastened to finish with Burgundus.



“Pack for both of us, Burgundus. Warm stuff. You can carry a club. I will carry my father's sword." Oh, how good to be able to say that! I will carry my father's sword! There were worse things than being a fugitive from the Dictator's wrath.



"I knew that man meant trouble for us!" said Lucius Decumius grimly, though he didn't mention the time when Sulla had frightened him almost witless with a look. "I've sent my boys home for money, you'll have enough." A glare buried itself in Burgundus's back. "Listen, Caesar, you can't go off in this sort of weather with only that big clod! The boys and I will come too."



Expecting this, Caesar gave Lucius Decumius a look which silenced protest. "No, dad, I can't allow that. The more of us there are, the more likely I am to attract attention."



"Attract attention?" Lucius Decumius gaped. "How can you not attract attention with that great dolt shambling along behind you? Leave him at home, take me instead, eh? No one ever sees old Lucius Decumius, he's a part of the plaster."



"Inside Rome, yes," Caesar said, smiling at Decumius with great affection, "but in Sabine country, dad, you'd stick out like dog's balls. Burgundus and I will manage. And if I know you're here to look after the women, I'll have a lot less to worry about while I'm away."



As this was the truth, Lucius Decumius subsided, muttering.



"The proscriptions have made it more important than ever that someone be here to guard the women. Aunt Julia and Mucia Tertia have no one except us. I don't think they'll come to any harm up there on the Quirinal, everyone in Rome loves Aunt Julia. But Sulla doesn't, so you'll have to keep watch on them. My mother"-he shrugged-"my mother is herself, and that's as bad as it is good when it comes to dealing with Sulla. If things should change-if, for instance, Sulla should decide to proscribe me, and because of me, my mother-then I leave it to you to get my household out." He grinned. "We've put too much money into feeding Cardixa's boys to see Sulla's State end up making a profit on them!"



"Nothing will happen to any of them, little Peacock."



"Thanks, dad." Caesar bethought himself of another matter. "I must ask you to hire us a couple of mules and get the horses from the stables."



This was Caesar's secret, the one aspect of his life he kept from everyone save Burgundus and Lucius Decumius. As flamen Dialis he couldn't touch a horse, but from the time when old Gaius Marius had taught him to ride he had fallen in love with the sensation of speed, and with the feel of a horse's powerful body between his knees. Though he wasn't rich in any way except his precious land, he did have a certain amount of money which was his, and which his mother would not have dreamed of managing. It had come to him in his father's will, and it enabled him to buy whatever he needed without having to apply to Aurelia. So he had bought a horse. A very special horse.



In all ways but this one Caesar had found the strength and self-denial to obey the dictates of his flaminate; as he tended to be indifferent to what he ate the monotonous diet did not cost him a pang, though many a time he had longed to take his father's sword out of the trunk in which it reposed and swing it around his head. The one thing he had not been able to give up was his love of horses and riding. Why? Because of the association between two different living creatures and the perfection of the result. So he had bought a beautifully made chestnut gelding as fleet as Boreas and called it Bucephalus, after the legendary horse of Alexander the Great. This animal was the greatest joy in his life. Whenever he could sneak away he would walk to the Capena Gate, outside which Burgundus or Lucius Decumius waited with Bucephalus. And he would ride, streaking down the towpath along the Tiber without regard for life or limb, swerving around the patient oxen which drew the barges upriver-and then, when that ceased to be interesting, he would head off across the fields taking stone walls in his stride, he and his beloved Bucephalus as one. Many knew the horse, nobody knew the rider; for he trousered himself like a mad Galatian and wore a Median scarf wound round head and face.



The secret rides also endowed his life with an element of risk that he didn't yet understand he craved; he merely thought it tremendous fun to hoodwink Rome and imperil his flaminate. While he honored and respected the Great God whom he served, he knew that he had a unique relationship with Jupiter Best and Greatest; his ancestor Aeneas had been the love child of the goddess of love, Venus, and Venus's father was Jupiter Optimus Maximus. So Jupiter understood, Jupiter gave his sanction, Jupiter knew his earthly servant had a drop of divine ichor in his veins. In all else he obeyed the tenets of his flaminate to the best of his ability; but his price was Bucephalus, a communion with another living creature more precious to him by far than all the women in the Subura. On them, the sum was less than himself. On Bucephalus, the sum was more.



Not long after nightfall he was ready to leave. Lucius Decumius and his sons had trundled the seventy-six thousand sesterces Aurelia had managed to scrape up in a handcart to the Quirinal Gate, while two other loyal Brethren of the college had gone to the stables on the Campus Lanatarius where Caesar kept his horses and brought them the long way round, outside the Servian Walls.



"I do wish," said Aurelia without displaying a sign of her terrible inward anxiety, "that you'd chosen to ride a less showy animal than that chestnut you gallop all over Latium."



He gasped, choked, fell about laughing; when he could, he said, wiping his eyes, "I don't believe it! Mater, how long have you known about Bucephalus?"



"Is that what you call it?" She snorted. "My son, you have delusions of grandeur not in keeping with your priestly calling." A spark of amusement glittered. "I've always known. I even know the disgracefully long price you paid for it-fifty thousand sesterces! You are an incorrigible spendthrift, Caesar, and I don't understand where you get that from. It is certainly not from me."



He hugged her, kissed her wide and uncreased brow. "Well, Mater, I promise that no one but you will ever keep my accounts. I'd still like to know how you found out about Bucephalus."



"I have many sources of information," she said, smiling. "One cannot but, after twenty-three years in the Subura." Her smile dying, she looked up at him searchingly. "You haven't seen little Cinnilla yet, and she's fretting. She knows something is amiss, even though I sent her to her room."



A sigh, a frown, a look of appeal. "What do I tell her, Mater? How much, if anything?"



"Tell her the truth, Caesar. She's twelve."



Cinnilla occupied what used to be Cardixa's room, under the stairs which ascended to the upper storeys on the Vicus Patricius side of the building; Cardixa now lived with Burgundus and their sons in a special room it had amused Caesar to design and build with his own hands above the servants' quarters.



When Caesar entered on the echo of his knock, his wife was at her loom diligently weaving a drab-colored and rather hairy piece of cloth destined to form a part of her wardrobe as flaminica Dialis, and for some reason the sight of it, so unappealing and unflattering, smote at Caesar's heart.



"Oh, it isn't fair!" he cried, swept her off her stool into his arms and sat with her on his lap in the one place available, her little bed.



He thought her exquisitely beautiful, though he was too young himself to find her burgeoning womanhood attractive in itself; he liked females considerably older than he was. But to those who have been surrounded all their lives by tall, slender, fair people, a slightly plump mite of night-dark coloring held an irresistible fascination. His feelings about her were confused, for she had lived inside his house for five years as his sister, yet he had always known she was his wife, and that when Aurelia gave her permission he would take her out of this room and into his bed. There was nothing moral in this confusion, which might almost have been called a matter of logistics; one moment she was his sister, the next moment she would be his wife. Of course all the eastern kings did it- married their sisters-but he had heard that the family nurseries of the Ptolemies and the Mithridatidae resounded with the noises of war, that brothers fought sisters like animals. Whereas he had never fought with Cinnilla, any more than he had ever fought with his real sisters; Aurelia would not have let that kind of attitude develop.



"Are you going away, Caesar?" asked Cinnilla.



There was a strand of hair drifting across her brow; he smoothed it back into place and continued to stroke her head as if she were a pet, rhythmic, soothing, sensuous. Her eyes closed, she settled into the crook of his arm.



"Now, now, don't go to sleep!" he said sharply, giving her a shake. "I know it's past your bedtime, but I have to talk to you. I'm going away, that's true."



"What is the matter these days? Is it all to do with the proscriptions? Aurelia says my brother has fled to Spain."



"It has a little to do with the proscriptions, Cinnilla, but only because they stem from Sulla too. I have to go away because Sulla says there is a doubt about my priesthood."



She smiled, her full top lip creasing to reveal a fold of its inside surface, a characteristic all who knew Cinnilla agreed was enchanting. "That should make you happy. You'd much rather not be the flamen Dialis."



"Oh, I'm still the flamen Dialis," said Caesar with a sigh. "According to the priests, it's you who are wrong." He shifted her, made her sit upright on the edge of his knees so he could look into her face. "You know your family's present situation, but what you may not have realized is that when your father was pronounced sacer–an outcast–he ceased to be a Roman citizen."



"Well, I do understand why Sulla can take away all of our property, but my father died a long time before ever Sulla came back," said Cinnilla, who was not very clever, and needed to have things explained. "How can he have lost his citizenship?"



"Because Sulla's laws of proscription automatically take away a man's citizenship, and because some men were already dead when Sulla put their names on his proscription lists. Young Marius-your father-the praetors Carrinas and Damasippus-and lots of others-were dead when they were proscribed. But that fact didn't stop their losing their citizen rights."



"I don't think that's very fair."



"I agree, Cinnilla." He ploughed on, hoping that he had been dowered with the gift of simplifying. "Your brother was of age when your father was proscribed, so he retains his Roman status. He just can't inherit any of the family property or money, nor stand as a curule magistrate. However, with you, it's quite different."



"Why? Because I'm a girl?"



"No, because you are under age. Your sex is immaterial. The lex Minicia de liberis says children of a Roman and a non-Roman must take the citizenship of the non-Roman parent. That means-at least according to the priests-that you now have the status of a foreigner."



She began to shiver, though not to weep, her enormous dark eyes staring into Caesar's face with painful apprehension.



"Oh! Does that mean I am no longer your wife?"



“No, Cinnilla, it does not. You are my wife until the day one of us dies, for we are married in the old form. No law forbids a Roman to marry a non-Roman, so our marriage is not in doubt. What is in doubt is your citizen status-and the citizen status of all the other children of a proscribed man who were under age at the time of proscription. Is that clear?''



"I think so." The expression of frowning concentration did not lighten. “Does that mean that if I give you children, they will not be Roman citizens?"



"Under the lex Minicia, yes."



"Oh, Caesar, how terrible!"



"Yes."



"But I am a patrician!"



"Not any longer, Cinnilla."



"What can I do?"



"For the moment, nothing. But Sulla knows that he has to clarify his laws in this respect, so we will just have to hope that he does so in a way which allows our children to be Roman, even if you are not." His hold tightened a little. "Today Sulla summoned me and ordered me to divorce you."



Now the tears came, silently, tragically. Even at eighteen Caesar had experienced women's tears with what had become boring regularity, usually turned on when he tired of someone, or someone discovered he was intriguing elsewhere. Such tears annoyed him, tried his sudden and very hot temper. Though he had learned to control it rigidly, it always flashed out when women produced tears, and the results were shattering-for the weeper. Whereas Cinnilla's tears were pure grief and Caesar's temper was only for Sulla, who had made Cinnilla cry.



"It's all right, my little love," he said, gathering her closer. "I wouldn't divorce you if Jupiter Optimus Maximus came down in person and ordered it! Not if I lived to be a thousand would I divorce you!"



She giggled and snuffled, let him dry her face with his handkerchief. "Blow!" he commanded. She blew. "Now that's quite enough. There's no need to cry. You are my wife, and you will stay my wife no matter what."



One arm stole round his neck, she put her face into his shoulder and sighed happily. "Oh, Caesar, I do love you! It's so hard to wait to grow up!"



That shocked him. So did the feel of her budding breasts, for he was wearing only a tunic. He put his cheek against her hair but delicately loosened his hold on her, unwilling to start something his honor wouldn't let him finish.



"Jupiter Optimus Maximus doesn't have a person to come down in," she said, good Roman child who knew her theology. "He is everywhere that Rome is-that's why Rome is Best and Greatest."



"What a good flaminica Dialis you would have made!"



"I would have tried. For you." She lifted her head to look at him. “If Sulla ordered you to divorce me and you said no, does that mean he will try to kill you? Is that why you're going away, Caesar?"



"He will certainly try to kill me, and that is why I'm going away. If I stayed in Rome, he would be able to kill me easily. There are too many of his creatures, and no one knows their names or faces. But in the country I stand a better chance." He jogged her up and down on his knee as he had when she had come first to live with them. "You mustn't worry about me, Cinnilla. My life strand is tough-too tough for Sulla's shears, I'll bet! Your job is to keep Mater from worrying."



"I'll try," she said, and kissed him on his cheek, too unsure of herself to do what she wanted to do, kiss him on his mouth and say she was old enough.



"Good!" he said. He pushed her off his lap and got to his feet. "I'll be back after Sulla dies," he said, and left.



When Caesar arrived at the Quirinal Gate he found Lucius Decumius and his sons waiting. The two mules were panniered with the money evenly divided between them, which meant neither was carrying anything like a full load. There were no leather moneybags in evidence; instead, Lucius Decumius had put the cash in false compartments lining what looked like-and were!-book buckets stuffed with scrolls.



"You didn't make these in a few hours today," Caesar said, grinning. "Is this how you shift your own loot around?"



"Go and talk to your horse-but first, a word in your ear. Let Burgundus lift the money," Lucius Decumius lectured, and turned to the German with such a fierce look upon his face that Burgundus took an involuntary step backward.



"Now see here, lout, you make sure when you lifts those buckets that you makes it seem like you was lifting feathers, hear me?"



Burgundus nodded. "I hear, Lucius Decumius. Feathers."



“Now put all your other baggage on top of them books- and if the boy takes off like the wind, you hang on to them mules no matter what!"



Caesar was standing at his horse's head, cheek against cheek, murmuring endearments. Only when the rest of the baggage had been tied onto the mules did he move, and then it was to allow Burgundus to toss him into the saddle.



"You look after yourself, Pavo!" shrilled Lucius Decumius into the wind, eyes tearing. He reached up his grubby hand.



Caesar the cleanliness fanatic leaned down, took it, and kissed it. "Yes, dad!"



And then they were gone into the wall of snow.



Burgundus's mount was the Caesar family steed, and almost as expensive as Bucephalus. A Nesaean from Median bloodstock, it was much bigger than the horses of the peoples around the Middle Sea. Nesaeans were few and far between in Italy, as they could be used for nothing else than bearing oversized riders. Many farmers and traders had eyed them longingly, wishing they could be employed as beasts of burden or attached to heavy wagons and ploughs because they were both speedier and more intelligent than oxen. But, alas, when yoked to pull a load they strangled; the forward movement pressed the harness against their windpipes. As pack animals they were useless too; they ate too much to pay their way. An ordinary horse, however, could not have taken Burgundus's weight, and though a good mule might have, on a mule Burgundus's feet literally skimmed the ground.



Caesar led the way toward Crustumerium, hunched down in the lee of Bucephalus's head-oh, it was a cold winter!



They pressed on through the night to put as much distance as possible between themselves and Rome, and paused only when the next night threatened. By then they had reached Trebula, not far from the crest of the first range of mountains. It was a small place, but boasted an accommodation house which also served as the local tavern, and was therefore noisy, overcrowded, and very hot. The general atmosphere of dirt and neglect did not please Caesar in the least.



"Still, it's a roof and a sort of a bed," he said to Burgundus after inspecting a room upstairs where they were to sleep-along with several shepherd dogs and six hens.



Of course they attracted a considerable amount of attention from their fellow patrons, who were all locals there to drink wine; most would be fit to stagger home again through the snow, but some (so Mine Host confided) would spend the night wherever they happened to be lying when they fell over.



"There's sausages and bread," said Mine Host.



"We'll have both," said Caesar.



"Wine?"



"Water," said Caesar firmly.



"Too young to drink?" Mine Host demanded, not pleased. His profit was in the wine.



"My mother would kill me if I took a single sip."



"What's wrong with your friend, then? He's old enough."



"Yes, but he's mentally retarded, and you wouldn't want to see him with a bit of wine in him-he pulls Hyrcanian bears apart with his hands, and did in two lions some praetor in Rome thought he was going to show at the games," said Caesar with a straight face; Burgundus just looked vacant.



"Oooer!" said Mine Host, and retreated quickly.



No one ever tried to bother Caesar when he had Burgundus for company, so they were able to sit in the most peaceful part of that turbulent room and watch the local sport, which mostly seemed to consist in plying the drunkest youngster there with more wine and speculating upon how much longer he would manage to keep it down.



"Country life!" said Caesar, slapping at his bare arm. "You'd never think Rome was close enough for these yokels to vote every year, would you? Not to mention that their votes count because they belong to rural tribes, whereas canny fellows up to every political trick but unfortunate enough to own Rome as their birthplace have votes that are worthless. Not right!"



"They can't even read," said Burgundus, who could these days because Caesar and Gnipho had taught him. His slow smile dawned. "That's good, Caesar. Our book buckets are safe."



"Quite so." Caesar slapped at his arm again. "The place is full of mosquitoes, wretched things!"



"Come in for the winter," said Burgundus. "Hot enough to boil eggs in here."



An exaggeration, but the room was certainly unbearably hot, a combination of the bodies jammed into a confined space and a huge fire which roared away inside a thick stone box let into the side of the room; though the box was open at the top to let the smoke out, no cold could compete with several logs as big around as a man's waist sending great tongues of flame into the smoke hole; clearly the men of Trebula, literally with timber to burn, disliked being cold.



If the dark corners were full of mosquitoes, the beds were full of fleas and bugs; Caesar spent the night on a hard chair and quit the place thankfully at dawn to ride on. Behind him he left much speculation as to why he and his giant servant were abroad in such weather-and what class of man he was.



"Very uppish!" said Mine Host.



"Proscriptions," suggested Mine Host's wife.



"Too young," said a rather urban-looking fellow who had arrived just as Caesar and Burgundus were departing. "Besides, they'd have looked a lot more frightened if Sulla was after them!"



"Then he's on his way to visit someone," said the wife.



"Very likely," said the stranger, looking suddenly unsure. "Might bear investigating, though. Can't mistake the pair of them, can you? Achilles and Ajax," he ended, displaying a morsel of education. "The thing that struck me was the horses. Worth a fortune! There's money there."



"Probably owns a bit of the rosea rura at Reate," said Mine Host. "It's where the horses come from, I'll bet."



"He has a look of the Palatine about him," said the newcomer, whose thoughts were now definitely suspicious. "One of the Famous Families, in fact. Yes, there's money there."



"Well, if there is it's not with him," said Mine Host, disgruntled. "Know what they had on those mules? Books! A dozen great buckets of books! I ask you-books!"



Having battled worsening weather as they climbed higher into the ranges around the Mons Fiscellus, Caesar and Burgundus finally arrived in Nersae a full day later.



The mother of Quintus Sertorius had been a widow for over thirty years, and looked as if she had never had a husband. She always reminded Caesar of the late, much-lamented Scaurus Princeps Senatus, for she was little and slight, incredibly wrinkled, very bald for a woman, and owned one remarkable focus of beauty, a pair of vivid green eyes; that she could ever have borne a child as massive as Quintus Sertorius was hard to imagine.



"He's all right," she said to Caesar as she loaded her old and well-scrubbed table with goodies from her smokehouse and her larder; this was country living, everyone sat on chairs at a table to eat. "Didn't have any trouble setting himself up as governor of Nearer Spain, but he's expecting big trouble now that Sulla has made himself Dictator." She chuckled gleefully. "Never mind, never mind, he'll make life harder for Sulla than that poor boy of my cousin Marius's. Brought up too soft, of course. Lovely lady, Julia. But too soft, and my cousin Marius was too much away when the boy was growing up. That was true of you too, Caesar, but your mother wasn't soft, was she?"



"No, Ria," said Caesar, smiling into her eyes.



"Anyway, Quintus Sertorius likes Spain. He always did. He and Sulla were there when they went poking about among the Germans years ago. He's got a German wife and son in Osca, he tells me. I'm glad for that. Otherwise there'll be no one after he goes."



"He ought to marry a Roman woman," said Caesar austerely.



Ria emitted a cracked laugh. "Not him! Not my Quintus Sertorius! Doesn't like women. The German one got him because he had to have a wife to get inside the tribe. No, doesn't like women"-she pursed her lips and shook her head-"but doesn't like men either."



The conversation revolved around Quintus Sertorius and his deeds for some time, but eventually Ria talked herself out on the subject of her son, and got down to what Caesar must do.



"I'd gladly have you myself, but the connection is too well known, and you're not the first refugee I've had-my cousin Marius sent me the king of the Volcae Tectosages, no less-name was Copillus. Very nice man! Quite civilized for a barbarian. They strangled him in the Carcer after my cousin Marius triumphed, of course. Still, I was able to make a nice little nest egg out of taking care of him for my cousin Marius all those years. Four, I think it was.... He was always generous, my cousin Marius. Paid me a fortune for that job. I would have done it for nothing. Company, Copillus was.... Quintus Sertorius is not a homebody. Likes to fight." She shrugged, slapped her knees briskly, got down to business. "There's a couple I know live in the mountains between here and Amiternum. They'd be glad of some extra money, and you can trust them-I say that in truth. I'll give you a letter for them, and directions when you're ready to go."



"Tomorrow," said Caesar.



But she shook her head. "Not tomorrow! Not the day after, either. We're in for a big storm and you won't be able to find the road or know what's underneath you. The German there would be under the ice in a river before he even knew there was a river! You'll have to stay with me until the winter sets."



"Sets?"



"Gets its first nasty storms over and the freeze sets in. Then it's safe to travel, everything is solid ice. Hard on the horses, but you'll get there. Make the German go first, his horse's hooves are so big the creature won't slip much and will break the surface for your dainty creature. Fancy bringing a horse like that up here in winter! You have no sense, Caesar."



He looked rueful. "So my mother told me."



"She has sense. Sabine country folk are horse folk. That pretty animal is noticed. Just as well where you're going there's no one to notice." Ria grinned, revealing a few black teeth. "But you're only eighteen, after all. You'll learn!"



The next day proved Ria right about the weather; the snow continued unabated until it piled up in massive drifts. Had Caesar and Burgundus not got to work and shoveled it away, Ria's cozy stone house would soon have been snowed in, and even Burgundus would not have been able to open the door. For four more days it snowed, then patches of blue sky began to appear; the air grew much colder.



"I like the winter up here," said Ria, helping them pile straw warmly in the stables. "In Rome, a cold one is a misery, and we're going through the cold winter cycle this decade. But up here at least it's clean and dry, no matter how cold."



"I must get away soon," said Caesar, dealing with hay.



"Considering the amounts your German and his nag eat, I will be glad to see you away," said Sertorius's mother between grunts. "Not tomorrow. Perhaps the day after. Once it's possible to travel between Rome and Nersae you won't be safe here. If Sulla remembers me-and he should, he knew my son very well-then he will send his hirelings here first."



But Ria's guests were not destined to leave. On the night before the start was planned, Caesar began to ail. Though it was indeed far below freezing outside, the house was well warmed through in country fashion, braziers against its thick stone walls and good stout shutters to keep out every wind. Yet Caesar was cold, and grew colder.



"I don't like this," Ria said to him. "I can hear your teeth. But it's been going on too long to be a simple ague." She put her hand upon his forehead and winced. "You're burning up! Have you a headache?"



"Bad," he muttered.



"Then you're not going anywhere tomorrow. Look to it, you German lump! Get your master into his bed."



In his bed Caesar remained, consumed with fever, racked by a dry cough and a perpetual headache, and unable to keep any food down.



“Caelum grave et pestilens,'' said the wisewoman when she came to see the patient.



"It isn't a typical ague," said Ria stubbornly. "It's not quartan and it's not tertian. And he doesn't sweat."



"Oh, it's the ague, Ria. The one without a pattern."



"Then he'll die!"



"He's strong," said the wisewoman. "Make him drink. I can give you no better advice. Water mixed with snow."



Sulla was preparing to read a letter from Pompey in Africa when the steward Chrysogonus came to him looking flustered.



"What is it? I'm busy, I want to read this!"



"Domine, a lady wishes to see you."



"Tell her to buzz off."



"Domine, I cannot!"



That took Sulla's mind off the letter; he lowered it and stared at Chrysogonus in astonishment. "I didn't think there was anyone alive could defeat you," he said, beginning to be amused. "You're shaking, Chrysogonus. Did she bite you?"



"No, domine," said the steward, who had absolutely no sense of humor. "However, I thought she might kill me."



"Oh! I think I have to see this lady. Did she give you a name? Is she mortal?"



"She said, Aurelia."



Sulla extended his hand and watched it. "No, I'm not in a pother yet!"



"Shall I bring her in?"



. "No. Tell her I don't want to see her ever again," Sulla said, but did not pick up Pompey's letter; his interest in it had waned.



"Domine, she refuses to go until she's seen you!"



"Then have the servants carry her out."



"I tried, domine. They wouldn't lay a finger on her."



"Yes, that would be right!" Sulla huffed, closed his eyes. "All right, Chrysogonus, send her in." And when Aurelia marched in he said, "Sit down."



She sat, the glaring winter light bathing her without mercy, once more showing Sulla's wreckage how powerless perfect bones could render time. In his general's quarters at Teanum the light had been so bad he hadn't really seen her properly, so now he looked his fill. Too thin, and that ought to have made her less beautiful; instead it made her more, and the rosy flush which used to suffuse her lips and cheeks had faded away to leave her skin marmoreal. The hair had not greyed, nor had she yielded to a wish to bring back her youth by softening the style in which she wore it; it was still scraped back from her face into an uncompromising bun on the nape of her neck. And the eyes were so lovely, set in thick black lashes beneath feathered black brows. They gazed at him sternly.



"Come about your boy, I suppose," he said, leaning back in his chair.



"I have."



"Then speak! I'm listening."



"Was it because he looks so like your son?"



Shaken, he could not continue to meet her gaze, stared at Pompey's letter until the pain of that barb had dissipated. "It was a shock when I first set eyes on him, but no." His eyes came back to hers, cold and goatish.



"I liked your son, Lucius Cornelius."



"And this is no way to get what you want, Aurelia. My boy died a long time ago. I've learned to live with it, even when people like you try to make capital out of it."



"So you do know what I want."



"Certainly." He tipped the chair back, not easy with the backward-curving legs of a sturdy Roman-designed version. "You want me to spare your son. Even though mine was not spared."



"You can hardly blame me or my son for that!"



"I can blame anyone I like for anything I like! I am the Dictator!" he shouted, beads of foam at the corners of his lips.



"Rubbish, Sulla! You don't believe that any more than I do! I am here to ask you to spare my son, who does not deserve to die any more than he deserved to be made flamen Dialis.''



"I agree, he's not the right type for the job. But he's got it. You must have wanted it for him."



"I did not want him to be flamen Dialis, any more than my husband did. We were told. By Marius himself, in between his atrocities," Aurelia said, lifting her lip just enough to indicate her disgust. "It was also Marius who told Cinna to give my son his daughter. The last thing Cinna wanted was to see Cinnilla made flaminica Dialis!"



Sulla changed the subject. "You've given up wearing those lovely colors you used to like," he said. "That bone thing you have on doesn't even begin to do you justice."



"Oh, rubbish again!" she snapped. "I am not here to please your discriminating eye, I'm here to plead for my son!"



"It would please me very much to spare your son. He knows what he has to do. Divorce Cinna's brat."



"He won't divorce her."



"Why not?" shouted Sulla, leaping to his feet. "Why not?"



A little color crept into her cheeks, reddened her lips. "Because, you fool, you showed him that she's his way out of a job he loathes with all his being! Divorce her, and remain the flamen Dialis for the rest of his life? He'd rather be dead!"



Sulla gaped. "What?"



"You're a fool, Sulla! A fool! He'll never divorce her!"



"Don't you criticize me!"



"I'll say what I like to you, you evil old relic!"



A peculiar silence fell, and Sulla's rage trickled away as fast as Aurelia's gathered. He had turned to the window, but now he turned back to stare at her with something more on his mind than anger or the ordeal she had become.



"Let's start again," he said. "Tell me why Marius made your son the flamen Dialis if none of you wanted it."



"It has to do with the prophecy," she said.



"Yes, I know about that. Consul seven times, Third Founder of Rome-he used to tell everyone."



"But not all of it. There was a second part he told to no one until his mind was failing. Then he told Young Marius, who told Julia, who told me."



Sulla sat down again, frowning. "Go on," he said curtly.



"The second part of the prophecy concerned my son. Caesar. Old Martha foretold that he would be the greatest Roman of all time. And Gaius Marius believed her about that too. He saddled Caesar with the flaminate Dialis to prevent his going to war and enjoying a political career." Aurelia sat down, white-faced.



"Because a man who cannot go to war and cannot seek the consulship can never shine," said Sulla, nodding. He whistled. "Clever Marius! Brilliant! Make your rival the flamen Dialis and you've won. I didn't think the old beast was so subtle."



"Oh, he was subtle!"



"An interesting story," Sulla said then, and picked up Pompey's letter. "You can go, I've heard you out."



"Spare my son!"



"Not unless he divorces Cinna's daughter."



"He will never do that."



"Then there is no more to be said. Go away, Aurelia."



One more try. One more try for Caesar. "I wept for you once. You loved that. Now I find myself wanting to weep for you again. But you wouldn't love these tears. They would be to mourn the passing of a great man. For now I see a man who has diminished inside himself so much that he's reduced to preying upon children. Cinna's daughter is twelve years old. My son is eighteen. Children! Yet Cinna's widow strolls brazenly through Rome because she's someone else's wife, and that someone else belongs to you. Cinna's son is left penniless, with no alternative than to leave his country. Another child. While Cinna's widow thrives. Not a child." She sneered at him, made a derisory sound. "Annia is a redhead, of course. Is that some of her hair on your naked old pate?''



After which sally she swung on her heel and walked out.



Chrysogonus came bustling in.



"I want someone found," said Sulla, looking his nastiest. "Found, Chrysogonus, not proscribed and not killed."



Dying to know what had transpired between his master and that extraordinary woman-they had a past together, nothing was surer!-the steward heaved an inward sigh; he would never know. So he said very smoothly, “A private transaction, is it?"



"That's as good a way of putting it as any! Yes, a private transaction. Two talents reward for the fellow who locates one Gaius Julius Caesar, the flamen Dialis. Who is to be brought to me with not so much as one hair of his head disturbed! Make sure they all know, Chrysogonus. No man kills the flamen Dialis. I just want him here. Understand?''



"Of course, domine." But the steward made no move to go. Instead he coughed delicately.



Sulla's eyes had drifted back to Pompey's letter, but he lifted his head at this. "Yes?"



"I have prepared the outline you wanted, domine, at the time I first asked you if I might be appointed the bureaucrat in charge of administering the proscriptions. I have also found a deputy steward for you to interview, in the event that you should agree to allow me to administer the proscriptions."



The smile was not nice. “You really believe you can cope with two jobs, do you? If I give you a deputy steward."



"It is best if I do both jobs, domine, truly. Read my outline. It will show you conclusively that I do understand the nature of this particular administrative task. Why put some Treasury professional in the job when he'd prove too timid to seek clarification of his problems from you personally, and would be too mired in Treasury methods to take advantage of the more commercial aspects of the job?''



"I'll think about it and let you know," said Sulla, picking up Pompey's hapless letter yet again. Impassively he watched the steward bow his way out of the room, then grinned sourly. Abominable creature! Toad! Yet that, he reflected, was what administration of the proscriptions required-someone absolutely abominable. But trustworthy. If the administrator were Chrysogonus, Sulla could be sure that disastrous liberties would not take place. No doubt Chrysogonus would make a fat profit for himself somewhere, but no one was in a better position than Chrysogonus to know that it would go very ill with him if he made his profit in any way which would reflect personally on Sulla. The business end of the proscriptions had to be conducted in a positive cloud of respectability-sale of properties, disposal of cash assets, jewelry, furniture, works of art, stocks and shares. It was impossible for Sulla to administrate all of this himself, so someone would have to do it. Chrysogonus was right. Better him than a Treasury bureaucrat! Put one of those fellows on the job and nothing would ever get done. The work had to proceed expeditiously. But no one could be given the opportunity to say that Sulla himself had profited at the State's expense. Though Chrysogonus was a freedman now, that made him no less Sulla's creature; and Chrysogonus knew his master would have no qualms about killing him if he erred.



Satisfied that he had solved the chief dilemma of the proscriptions, Sulla returned to pore over Pompey's letter.



Africa Province and Numidia are both pacified and quiet. The task took me forty days. I left Lilybaeum at the end of October with six legions and two thousand of my horse, leaving Gaius Memmius in charge of Sicily. I did not consider there was any need to garrison Sicily. I had already begun to assemble ships when I first arrived in Sicily, and by the end of October there were more than eight hundred transports on hand. I always like to be well organized, it saves so much time. Just before I sailed, I sent a messenger to King Bogud of Mauretania, who keeps his army these days in Iol, not so far away as Tingis. Bogud is now ruling from Iol, and has put a minor king, Ascalis, in Tingis. All these changes are because of the strife in Numidia, where Prince Iarbas has usurped King Hiempsal's throne. My messenger instructed King Bogud to mount an invasion of Numidia from the west immediately, no excuses for delay. My strategy was to have King Bogud push Iarbas eastward until he encountered me and I could roll him up.



I landed my men in two divisions, one half at Old Carthage, the second half at Utica. I commanded the second division myself. The moment I stepped ashore, I received the submission of seven thousand of Gnaeus Ahenobarbus's men, which I took as a good omen. Ahenobarbus decided to give battle at once. He was afraid that if he did not, more of his men would desert to me. He deployed his army on the far side of a ravine, thinking to ambush me as I marched through. But I went up on a high crag and saw his army. So I did not fall into his trap. It began to rain (winter is the rainy season in Africa Province) and I took advantage of the fact that the rain was beating into the eyes of Ahenobarbus's soldiers. I won a great battle and my men hailed me imperator on the field. But Ahenobarbus and three thousand of his men escaped unharmed. My men were still hailing me imperator on the field, but I stopped them by saying they could do that later. My men saw the truth of this and stopped hailing me imperator on the field. We all rushed to Ahenobarbus's camp and killed him and all his men. I then allowed my men to hail me imperator on the field.



I then marched into Numidia, Africa Province having surrendered all insurgents still at large. I executed them in Utica. Iarbas the usurper went to earth in Bulla Regis-a town on the upper Bagradas River-having heard that I was approaching from the east and Bogud from the west. Of course I got to Bulla Regis ahead of King Bogud. Bulla Regis opened its gates the moment I arrived, and surrendered Iarbas to me. I executed Iarbas at once, and also another baron called Masinissa. I reinstated King Hiempsal on his throne in Cirta. I myself found sufficient time to hunt wild animals. This country abounds in wild game of every description, from elephants to very large cattle-looking things. I write this from camp on the Numidian plain.



I intend to return soon to Utica, having subdued the whole of North Africa in forty days, as I have already stated. It is not necessary to garrison our province there. You may send a governor without fear. I am going to put my six legions and two thousand horse on board my ships and sail for Tarentum. I will then march up the Via Appia to Rome, where I would like a triumph. My men have hailed me imperator on the field, therefore I am entitled to a triumph. I have pacified Sicily and Africa in one hundred days and executed all your enemies. I also have some good spoil to parade in my triumph.



By the time Sulla had worked out what Pompey said, he was weeping with laughter, not sure whether the missive's artless confidences amused him more than its arrogance, or the imparting of information like winter being the rainy season and Bulla Regis being on the upper Bagradas-surely Pompey knew that Sulla had spent years in Africa and had single-handedly captured King Jugurtha? At the end of a mere forty days Pompey knew everything. How many times had he managed to say that his troops had hailed him imperator on the field? Oh, what a hoot!



He pulled forward some paper and wrote to Pompey; this was one letter he didn't intend to dictate to a secretary.



What a pleasure to get your letter, and thank you for the interesting facts you impart about Africa. I must try to visit it someday, if for no other reason than to see for myself those very large cattle-looking things. Like you, I do know an elephant when I see one.



Congratulations. What a speedy young chap you are! Forty days. That, I think, is the length of time Mesopotamia was inundated a thousand years ago.



I know I can take your word for it that neither Africa nor Sicily needs to be garrisoned, but, my dear Pompeius, the niceties must be observed. I therefore command you to leave five of your legions in Utica and sail home with only one. I do not mind which one, if you have a favorite among them. Speaking of favorites, you are certainly one of Fortune's favorites yourself!



Unfortunately I cannot allow you to celebrate a triumph. Though your troops hailed you imperator on the field many times, triumphs are reserved for members of the Senate who have attained the status of praetor. You will win more wars in years to come, Pompeius, so you will have your triumph later, if not sooner.



I must thank you too for the speedy dispatch of Carbo's eating, seeing, hearing and smelling apparatus. There is nothing quite like a head to convince a man that another man has bitten the dust, to use a phrase of Homer's. The force of my contention that Carbo was dead and Rome had no consuls was immediately apparent. How clever of you to pop it in vinegar! Thank you too for Soranus. And the elder Brutus.



There is just one small thing, my dear Pompeius. I would have preferred that you had chosen a less public way to dispose of Carbo, if you were determined to do it in such barbaric fashion. I am beginning to believe what people say-scratch a man from Picenum, and reveal the Gaul. Once you elected to set yourself upon a tribunal with toga praetexta and curule chair and lictors, you became Rome. But you did not behave like a Roman. Having tormented poor Carbo for hours in the hot sun, you then announced in lordly tones that he did not deserve a trial, and was to be executed on the spot. Since you had housed and fed him atrociously for some days prior to this distressingly public hearing, he was ill. Yet when he begged you to allow him to retire and relieve his bowels in private before he died, you denied him! He died, so I am told, in his own shit but very well.



How do I know all this? I have my sources. Did I not, I doubt I would now be Dictator of Rome. You are very young and you made the mistake of assuming that because I wanted Carbo dead, I had no time for him. True enough in one way. But I have all the time in the world for the consulship of Rome. And the fact remains that Carbo was an elected consul at the time he died. You would do well to remember in future, young Pompeius, that all honor is due to the consul, even if his name is Gnaeus Papirius Carbo.



On the subject of names, I hear that this barbaric episode in the agora of Lilybaeum has earned you a new name. A great benefit for one of those unfortunates with no third name to add a little luster, eh, Pompeius No Third Name? Adulescentulus carnifex. Kid Butcher. I think that is a wonderful third name for you, Kid Butcher! Like your father before you, you are a butcher.



To repeat: five of your legions will remain in Utica to await the pleasure of the new governor when I find time to send one. You yourself are at liberty to come home. I look forward to seeing you. We can have a nice chat about elephants and you can educate me further on the subject of Africa and things African.



I ought too to convey my condolences upon the death of Publius Antistius Vetus and his wife, your parents-in-law. It is hard to know why Brutus Damasippus included Antistius among his victims. But of course Brutus Damasippus is dead. I had him executed. Yet in private, Pompeius Kid Butcher. In private.



And that, thought Sulla as he finished, is one letter I really did enjoy writing! But then he began to frown, and he sat thinking about what he ought to do with Kid Butcher for some time. This was one young man who would not easily let go of something once he had it in the center of his gaze. As he did this triumph. And anyone who could set himself up in all state in the public square of a non-Roman town, complete with lictors and curule chair, then behave like a complete barbarian, was not going to appreciate the nuances of triumphal protocol. Perhaps even then in the back of his mind he knew that Kid Butcher was cunning enough to go after his triumph in ways which might make it hard to go on refusing the triumph; for Sulla started plotting. His smile grew again, and when his secretary came in, the man breathed an involuntary sigh of relief to see it; he was in a good mood!



"Ah, Flosculus! In good time. Sit yourself down and take out your tablets. I am in a mood to behave with extraordinary generosity to all sorts of people, including that splendid fellow Lucius Licinius Murena, my governor of Asia Province. Yes, I have decided to forgive him all his aggressions against King Mithridates and his transgressions against me when he disobeyed my orders. I think I may need the unworthy Murena, so write and tell him that I have decided he is to come home as soon as possible and celebrate a triumph. You will also write to whichever Flaccus it is in Gaul-across-the-Alps, and order him to come home at once so as to celebrate a triumph. Make sure to instruct each man to have at least two legions with him...."



He was launched, and the secretary labored to keep up. All recollection of Aurelia and that uncomfortable interview had vanished; Sulla didn't even remember that Rome had a recalcitrant flamen Dialis. Another and far more dangerous young man had to be dealt with in a way almost too subtle- almost, but not quite. For Kid Butcher was very clever when it came to himself.



The weather in Nersae had, as Ria predicted, set into real winter amid days of clear blue skies and low temperatures; but the Via Salaria to Rome was open, as was the road from Reate to Nersae, and the way over the ridge into the Aternus River valley.



None of which mattered to Caesar, who had slowly worsened day by day. In the earlier, more lucid phase of his illness he had tried to get up and leave, only to discover that the moment he stood upright he was assailed by an uncontrollable wave of faintness which felled him like a child learning to walk. On the seventh day he developed a sleepy tendency which gradually sank to a light coma.



And then at Ria's front door there arrived Lucius Cornelius Phagites, accompanied by the stranger who had seen Caesar and Burgundus in the accommodation house at Trebula. Caught without Burgundus (whom she had ordered to cut wood), Ria was powerless to prevent the men entering.



"You're the mother of Quintus Sertorius, and this fellow asleep in bed here is Gaius Julius Caesar, the flamen Dialis," said Phagites in great satisfaction.



"He's not asleep. He can't be woken," said Ria.



"He's asleep."



"There is a difference. I can't wake him, nor can anyone else. He's got the ague without a pattern, and that means he is going to die."



Not good news for Phagites, aware that the price on Caesar's head was not payable if that head was not attached to its owner's breathing body.



Like the rest of Sulla's minions who were also his freed-men, Lucius Cornelius Phagites had few scruples and less ethics. A slender Greek in his early forties-and one of those who had sold himself into slavery as preferable to eking out a living in his devastated homeland-Phagites had attached himself to Sulla like a leech, and had been rewarded by being appointed one of the chiefs of the proscription gangs; at the time he arrived to take custody of Caesar he had made a total of fourteen talents from killing men on the lists. Presentation of this one to Sulla still alive would have brought that total to sixteen talents, and he didn't like the feeling that he was being cheated.



He did not, however, enlighten Ria as to the nature of his commission, but paid his informer as he stood beside Caesar's bed and then made sure the man departed. Dead was no good for his income in Rome-but perhaps the boy had some money with him. If he was clever enough, thought Phagites, he might be able to prise that money out of the old woman by pitching her a tale.



"Oh well," he said, taking out his huge knife, "I can cut off his head anyway. Then I'll get my two talents."



"You'd better beware, citocacia!" shrilled Ria, standing up to him fiercely. "There's a man coming back soon who'll kill you before you can jump if you touch his master!"



"Oh, the German hulk? Then I tell you what, mother, you go and get him. I'll just sit here on the edge of the bed and keep the young master company." And he sat down beside the inanimate figure in the bed with his knife pressed against Caesar's defenseless throat.



The moment Ria had gone scuttling out into the icy world crying for Burgundus, Phagites walked to the front door and opened it; outside in the lane there waited his henchmen, the members of his decury of ten.



"The German giant's here. We'll kill him if we must, but some of us will have broken bones before we do, so no fighting him unless we can't avoid it. The boy is dying, he's no use to us," Phagites explained. "What I'm going to try to do is get whatever money there is out of them. But the moment I do, I'll need you to protect me from the German. Understood?"



Back inside he went, and was sitting with his knife held to Caesar's throat when Ria returned with Burgundus. A growl came rumbling up from Burgundus's chest, but he made no move toward the bed, just stood in the doorway clenching and unclenching his massive hands.



"Oh, good!" said Phagites in the most friendly way, and without fear. "Now I tell you what, old woman. If you've got enough money, I might be prepared to leave this young fellow here with his head still on his shoulders. I've got nine handy henchmen in the lane outside, so I can go ahead and cut this lovely young neck and be out in the lane quicker than your German could get as far as this bed. Is that clear?''



"Not to him, it isn't, if you're trying to tell Burgundus. He speaks not one word of Greek."



"What an animal! Then I'll negotiate through you, mother, if that's all right. Got any money?"



She stood for a short while with her eyes closed, debating what was the best thing to do. And being as practical as her son, she decided to deal with Phagites first, get rid of him. Caesar would die before Burgundus could reach the bed-and then Burgundus would die-and she too would die. So she opened her eyes and pointed to the book buckets stacked in the corner.



"There. Three talents," she said.



Phagites moved his soft brown eyes to the book buckets, and whistled. "Three talents! Oh, very nice!"



"Take it and go. Let the boy die peacefully."



"Oh, I will, mother, I will!" He put his fingers between his lips, blew piercingly.



His men came tumbling in with swords drawn expecting to have to kill Burgundus, only to find the scene a static one and their quarry one dozen buckets of books.



"Ye gods, what weighty subjects!" said Phagites when the books proved difficult to lift. "He's a very intelligent young fellow, our flamen Dialis."



Three trips, and the book buckets were gone. On the third time his men entered the room Phagites got up from the bed and inserted himself quickly among them. "Bye-bye!" he said, and vanished. There was a sound of activity from the lane, then the rattle of shod hooves on the cobblestones, and after that, silence.



“You should have let me kill them,'' said Burgundus.



“I would have, except that your master would have been the first to die," said the old woman, sighing. "Well, they won't be back until they've spent it, but they'll be back. You're going to have to take Caesar over the mountains."



"He'll die!" said Burgundus, beginning to weep.



"So he may. But if he stays here he will surely die."



Caesar's coma was a peaceful one, undisturbed by delirium or restlessness; he looked, Ria thought, very thin and wasted, and there were fever sores around his mouth, but even in this strange sleeping state he would drink whenever it was offered to him, and he had not yet been lying immobile for long enough to start the noises which indicated his chest was clogging up.



"It's a pity we had to give up the money, because I don't have a sled, and that's how you'll have to move him. I know of a man who would sell me one, but I don't have any money now that Quintus Sertorius is proscribed. I wouldn't even have this house except that it was my dowry."



Burgundus listened to this impassively, then revealed that he could think. "Sell his horse," he said, and began to weep. "Oh, it will break his heart! But there's nothing else."



"Good boy, Burgundus!" said Ria briskly. "We'll be able to sell the horse easily. Not for what it's worth, but for enough to buy the sled, some oxen, and payment to Priscus and Gratidia for your lodging-even at the rate you eat."



It was done, and done quickly. Bucephalus was led off down the lane by its delighted new owner, who couldn't believe his luck at getting an animal like this for nine thousand sesterces, and wasn't about to linger in case old Ria changed her mind.



The sled-which was actually a wagon complete with wheels over which polished planks with upcurving ends had been fixed-cost four thousand sesterces and the two oxen which pulled it a further thousand each, though the owner indicated that he would be willing to buy the equipage back in the summer for four thousand sesterces complete, leaving him with a profit of two thousand.



"You may get it back before then," said Ria grimly.



She and Burgundus did their best to make Caesar comfortable in the sled, piling him round with wraps.



"Now make sure you turn him over every so often! Otherwise his bones will come through his flesh-he hasn't enough of it left, poor young man. In this weather your food will stay fresh far longer, that's a help, and you must try to give him milk from my ewe as well as water," she lectured crabbily. "Oh, I wish I could come with you! But I'm too old."



She stood looking over the white and rolling meadow behind her house until Burgundus and the sled finally disappeared; the ewe she had donated in the hope that Caesar would gain sufficient sustenance to survive. Then, when she could see them no more, she went into her house and prepared to offer up one of her doves to his family's goddess, Venus, and a dozen eggs to Tellus and Sol Indiges, who were the mother and father of all Italian things.



The journey to Priscus and Gratidia took eight days, for the oxen were painfully slow. A bonus for Caesar, who was hardly disturbed by the motion of his peculiar conveyance as it slid along the frozen surface of the snow very smoothly, thanks to many applications of beeswax to its runners. They climbed from the valley of the Himella where Nersae lay beside that swift stream along a road which traversed the steep ascent back and forth, each turn seeing them a little higher, and then on the other side did the same thing as they descended to the Aternus valley.



The odd thing was that Caesar began to improve almost as soon as he began to chill a little after that warm house. He drank some milk (Burgundus's hands were so big that he found it agony milking the ewe, luckily an old and patient animal) each time Burgundus turned him, and even chewed slowly upon a piece of hard cheese the German gave him to suck. But the languor persisted, and he couldn't speak. They encountered no one along the way so there was no possibility of shelter at night, but the hard freeze continued, giving them days of cloudless blue skies and nights of a heaven whitened by stars in cloudy tangles.



The coma lifted; the sleepiness which had preceded it came back, and gradually that too lifted. In one way, reasoned the slow alien mind of Burgundus, that seemed to be an improvement. But Caesar looked as if some awful underworld creature had drained him of all his blood, and could hardly lift his hand. He did speak once, having noticed a terrible omission.



"Where is Bucephalus?" he asked. "I can't see Bucephalus!"



"We had to leave Bucephalus behind in Nersae, Caesar. You can see for yourself what this road is like. Bucephalus couldn't have managed. But you mustn't worry. He's safe with Ria." There. That seemed better to Burgundus than the truth, especially when he saw that Caesar believed him.



Priscus and Gratidia lived on a small farm some miles from Amiternum. They were about Ria's age, and had little money; both the sons who would have contributed to a greater prosperity had been killed during the Italian War, and there were no girls. So when they had read Ria's letter and Burgundus handed them the three thousand sesterces which were all now remaining, they took in the fugitives gladly.



"Only if his fever goes up I'm nursing him outside," said Burgundus, "because as soon as he left Ria's house and got a bit cold, he started to get better." He indicated the sled and oxen. "You can have this too. If Caesar lives, he won't want it."



Would Caesar live? The three who looked after him had no idea, for the days passed and he changed but little. Sometimes the wind blew and it snowed for what seemed like forever, then the weather would break and snap colder again, but Caesar seemed not to notice. The fever had diminished and the coma with it, yet marked improvement never came, nor did he cease to have that bloodless look.



Toward the end of April a thaw set in and promised to turn into spring. It had been, so those in that part of Italy said, the hardest winter in living memory. For Caesar, it was to be the hardest of his life.



"I think," said Gratidia, who was a cousin of Ria's, "that Caesar will die after all unless he can be moved to a place like Rome, where there are doctors and medicines and foods that we in the mountains cannot hope to produce. His blood has no life in it. That's why he gets no better. I do not know how to remedy him, and you forbid me to fetch someone from Amiternum to see him. So it is high time, Burgundus, that you rode to Rome to tell his mother."



Without a word the German walked out of the house and began to saddle the Nesaean horse; Gratidia had scarcely the time to press a parcel of food on him before he was away.



"I wondered why I hadn't heard a word," said Aurelia, white-faced. She bit her lip, began to worry at it with her teeth, as if the stimulus of some tiny pain would help her think. “I must thank you more than I can say, Burgundus. Without you, my son would certainly be dead. And we must get him back to Rome before he does die. Now go and see Cardixa. She and your boys have missed you very much."



It would not do to approach Sulla again by herself, she knew. If that avenue hadn't worked before the New Year, it would never work now, four months into the New Year. The proscriptions still raged-but with less point these days, it seemed, and the laws were beginning to come; great laws or terrible laws, depending upon whom one spoke to. Sulla was fully occupied.



When Aurelia had learned that Sulla had sent for Marcus Pupius Piso Frugi several days after their interview, and learned too that he had ordered Piso Frugi to divorce Annia because she was Cinna's widow, she had dared to hope for Caesar. But though Piso Frugi had obeyed, had divorced Annia with alacrity, nothing further happened. Ria had written to tell her that the money had been swallowed by one who was named for the size of what he could swallow, and that Caesar and Burgundus were gone; but Ria had not mentioned Caesar's illness, and Aurelia had allowed herself to think all must be well if she heard nothing at all.



"I will go to see Dalmatica," she decided. "Perhaps another woman can show me how to approach Sulla."



Of Sulla's wife, who had arrived from Brundisium in December of last year, Rome had seen very little. Some whispered that she was ill, others that Sulla had no time for a private life, and neglected her; though no one whispered that he had replaced her with anyone else. So Aurelia wrote her a short note asking for an interview, preferably at a time when Sulla himself would not be at home. This latter request, she was careful to explain, was only because she did not wish to irritate the Dictator. She also asked if it was possible for Cornelia Sulla to be there, as she wished to pay her respects to someone she had once known very well; perhaps Cornelia Sulla would be able to advise her in her trouble too. For, she ended, what she wished to discuss was a trouble.



Sulla was now living in his rebuilt house overlooking the Circus Maximus; ushered into a place which reeked of fresh, limey plaster and all kinds of paints and had that vulgar look only time erases, Aurelia was conducted through a vast atrium to an even vaster peristyle garden, and finally to Dalmatica's own quarters, which were as large as Aurelia's whole apartment. The two women had met but had never become friends; Aurelia did not move in the Palatine circle to which belonged the wives of Rome's greatest men, for she was the busy landlady of a Suburan insula, and not interested in tittle-tattle over sweet watered wine and little cakes.



Nor, to do her justice, had Dalmatica belonged to that circle. For too many years she had been locked up by her then husband, Scaurus Princeps Senatus, and in consequence had lost her youthful appetite for tittle-tattle over sweet watered wine and little cakes. There had come the exile in Greece- an idyll with Sulla in Ephesus, Smyrna and Pergamum-the twins-and Sulla's awful illness. Too much worry, unhappiness, homesickness, pain. Never again would Caecilia Metella Dalmatica find it in her to cultivate an interest in shopping, comedic actors, petty feuds, scandal and idleness. Besides which, her return to Rome had been something in the nature of a triumph when she found a Sulla who had missed her into loving her more than ever.



However, Sulla did not confide in her, so she knew nothing of the fate of the flamen Dialis; indeed, she didn't know Aurelia was the mother of the flamen Dialis. And Cornelia Sulla only knew that Aurelia had been a part of her childhood, a link to the vague memory of a mother who had drunk too much before she killed herself, and to the vivid memory of her beloved stepmother, Aelia. Her first marriage-to the son of Sulla's colleague in his consulship-had ended in tragedy when her husband died during Forum riots at the time of Sulpicius's tribunate of the plebs-and her second marriage-to Drusus's younger brother, Mamercus-had brought her great contentment.



Each of the women was pleased at how the others looked, and as each was held one of Rome's great beauties, it was fair to deduce that they all felt they had weathered the corroding storms of time better than most. At forty-two, Aurelia was the oldest; Dalmatica was thirty-seven, and Cornelia Sulla a mere twenty-six.



"You have more of a look of your father these days," said Aurelia to Cornelia Sulla.



The eyes too blue and sparkling to be Sulla's filled with mirth, and their owner burst out laughing. "Oh, don't say that, Aurelia! My skin is perfect, and I do not wear a wig!"



"Poor man," said Aurelia, "it's very hard for him."



"It is," agreed Dalmatica, whose brown beauty was softer than Aurelia remembered, and whose grey eyes were much sadder.



The conversation passed to mundanities for a little while, Dalmatica tactfully steering it away from the more uncomfortable topics her stepdaughter would have chosen. Not a natural talker, Aurelia was content to contribute an occasional mite.



Dalmatica, who had a boy and a girl by her first husband, Marcus Aemilius Scaurus, as well as the twins, was preoccupied with her eldest, Aemilia Scaura.



"The prettiest girl!" she said warmly, and looked happy. "We think she's pregnant, but it's a little early to be sure."



"Whom did she marry?" Aurelia asked; she never kept up with who married whom.



"Manius Acilius Glabrio. They'd been betrothed for years, Scaurus insisted. Traditional ties between the families."



"He's a nice fellow, Glabrio," said Aurelia in carefully neutral tones; privately she considered him a loudmouthed and conceited son of a far better father.



"He's a conceited loudmouth," said Cornelia Sulla flatly.



"Now, now, he wouldn't suit you, but he does suit Aemilia Scaura," said Dalmatica.



"And how is dear little Pompeia?" asked Aurelia quickly.



Cornelia Sulla beamed. "Absolutely ravishing! She's eight now, and at school." Because she was Sulla's daughter and had much of his detachment, she went on to say, "Of course she is abysmally stupid! I'll count myself fortunate if she learns enough Latin to write a thank-you note-she'll certainly never manage to learn any Greek! So I'm very glad she's going to be a beauty. It's better that a girl's beautiful than brilliant."



"It certainly is when it comes to finding a husband, but a decent dowry helps," said Aurelia dryly.



"Oh, she'll have a decent dowry!" said Pompeia's mother. "Tata has grown to be enormously rich, and she'll inherit a bit from him as well as from the Pompeii Rufi-who have quite changed their tune since I was a widow living in their house! Then they made my life a misery, but now I bask in reflected light from tata. Besides, they're afraid he might proscribe them."



"Then we'll have to hope that Pompeia finds a very nice husband," said Dalmatica, and looked at Aurelia in a more serious way. “It is delightful to see you and I hope I can now count on you as a much-needed friend, but I know you didn't come merely to pay your respects-you're too renowned as a sensible woman who minds her own business. What is this trouble, Aurelia? How may I help you?"



The story came out, told in that unsensational and unvarnished style Aurelia had made her own. She could not fault her audience, who listened in complete silence.



"We must do something," said Dalmatica when the tale was told. She sighed. "Lucius Cornelius has too many things on his mind, and I'm afraid he's not a very warm person." She shifted, looked uncomfortable. "You were his friend for many years," she said awkwardly. "I can't help thinking that if you could not influence him, I stand little chance."



"I trust that isn't true," said Aurelia stiffly. "He did come to see me from time to time, but I do assure you there was nothing untoward between us. It was not my so-called beauty that drew him. Unromantic though it may sound, what drew him was my common sense."



"I believe that," said Dalmatica, smiling.



Cornelia Sulla assumed control. "Well, it's all a long way down the river," she said briskly, "and it can't influence what we need today. You're quite right, Aurelia, when you say you can't try to see tata on your own again. But you must try to see him-and the sooner, the better. He's between laws at the moment. It will have to be a formal delegation. Priests, male relatives, Vestal Virgins, you. Mamercus will help, I'll talk to him. Who are Caesar's closest relatives not on the proscription lists?"



"The Cottae-my three half brothers."



"Good, they'll add luster to the delegation! Gaius Cotta is a pontifex and Lucius Cotta is an augur, which gives them a religious importance too. Mamercus will plead for you, I know. And we'll need four Vestal Virgins. Fonteia, because she is the Chief Vestal. Fabia. Licinia. And Caesar Strabo's daughter, Julia, of Caesar's own family. Do you know any of the Vestals?"



"Not even Julia Strabo," said Aurelia.



"Never mind, I know them all. Leave it to me."



"What can I do to help?" asked Dalmatica, a little overawed at so much Sullan efficiency.



"Your job is to get the delegation an appointment to see tata tomorrow afternoon," said Cornelia Sulla.



"That may be easier said than done. He's so busy!"



"Nonsense! You're too humble, Dalmatica. Tata will do anything for you if you ask him. The trouble is that you hardly ever ask, so you have no idea how much he loves to do things for you. Ask him at dinner, and don't be afraid," said Sulla's daughter. To Aurelia she said, "I'll get everyone here early. You can have some time with them before you go in."



"What should I wear?" asked Aurelia, preparing to go.



Cornelia Sulla blinked. So did Dalmatica.



"I only ask," said Aurelia apologetically, "because he commented on my clothes last time I saw him. He disliked them."



"Why?" demanded Cornelia Sulla.



"I think he found them too drab."



"Then wear something colorful."



So out of the chest came dresses Aurelia had put away years ago as too undignified and skittish for an aristocratic Roman matron. Blues? Greens? Reds? Pinks? Lilacs? Yellows? In the end she decided upon layers of pink, darkest underneath, and shading through to a gauzy overlay of palest rose.



Cardixa shook her head. "All giddied up like that, you look just as you did when Caesar's father came to dinner at your uncle Rutilius Rufus's. And not a day older!"



"Giddied up, Cardixa?"



"You know, like one of those Public Horses on parade."



"I think I'll change."



"No you won't! You don't have time. Off you go at once. Lucius Decumius will take you," said Cardixa firmly, pushing her out the door onto the street, where, sure enough, Lucius Decumius waited with his two sons.



Since Lucius Decumius had enough sense to hold his tongue about Aurelia's appearance and his sons no tongues at all, the long walk to the far side of the Palatine proceeded in silence. Every moment Aurelia waited for word to come from Priscus and Gratidia that it was too late, that Caesar was dead, and every moment that this word did not come was one more blessing.



Somehow the news had got round the insula that Caesar was at death's door; little gifts kept arriving, everything from bunches of flowers from the Cuppedenis Markets to peculiar amulets from the Lycians on the fifth floor and the mournful sounds of special prayers from the Jewish floor. Most of Aurelia's tenants had been with her for years, and had known Caesar since he was a baby. Always an alert, insatiably curious, chatty child, he had wandered from floor to floor experimenting with that dubious (his mother thought it very dubious) quality he possessed in abundance, charm. Many of the women had wet-nursed him, fed him tidbits from their national dishes, crooned to him in their own languages until he learned what the crooning meant, then sang their songs with them-he was extremely musical-and taught himself to pick away at peculiar stringed instruments, or blow through all kinds of pipes and flutes. As he grew older, he and his best friend, Gaius Matius from the other ground-floor flat, extended their contacts beyond the insula and into the Subura at large; and now the news of his illness was getting around the Subura too, so the little gifts kept arriving from further and further afield.



How do I explain to Sulla that Caesar means different things to different people? That he has the most intense Romanness about him, yet is also a dozen different nationalities? It is not the priest business matters most to me, it is what he is to everyone he knows. Caesar belongs to Rome, but not to Rome of the Palatine. Caesar belongs to Rome of the Subura and the Esquiline, and when he is a great man he will bring a dimension to his office no other man could, simply because of the breadth of his experience, of his life. Jupiter only knows how many girls-and women as old as I am!-he's slept with, how many forays he's gone on with Lucius Decumius and those ruffians from the crossroads college, how many lives he touches because he is never still, never too busy to listen, never uninterested. My son is only eighteen. But I believe in the prophecy too, Gaius Marius! At forty my son will be formidable. And I hereby vow to every god there is that if I have to journey to the Underworld to bring back the three-headed dog of Hades, I will, to see that my son lives.



But of course when she got to Sulla's house and was ushered into a room stuffed with important people, she did not have all that eloquence at her command, and her face was closed upon her thoughts; she simply looked austere, severe. Daunting.



As Cornelia Sulla had promised, there were four Vestals, all of them younger than she was; having entered at seven or eight, a Vestal left the Order after thirty years, and none of these, including the Chief Vestal, was yet due to retire. They wore white robes with long sleeves gathered in fine folds by a longitudinal rib, more white drapes over that, the chain and medal of a Vestal's bulla, and on their heads crowns made of seven tiers of rolled wool, over which there floated fine white veils. The life, which was female-oriented and virginal-though not sequestered-endowed even the youngest of Vestals with a massive presence; no one knew better than they that their chastity was Rome's good luck, and they radiated consciousness of their special status. Few of them contemplated breaking their vows, as most of them grew into the role from a most malleable age, and took enormous pride in it.



The men were togate, Mamercus with the purple border he could now wear thanks to his position as praetor peregrinus, and the Cottae, too young yet for purple-bordered togas, in plain white. Which meant that Aurelia in her gradations of pink was by far the most colorful of them all! Mortified, she felt herself stiffen into stone, and knew that she would not do well.



"You look magnificent!" breathed Cornelia Sulla in her ear. "I had quite forgotten how absolutely beautiful you are when you decide to bring the beauty out. You do, you know. You shut it up as if it didn't exist, and then suddenly-there it is!"



"Do the others understand? Do they agree with me?" Aurelia whispered back, wishing she had worn bone or beige.



"Of course they do. For one thing, he is the flamen Dialis. And they think he's terrifically brave, to stand up to the Dictator. No one does. Even Mamercus. I do, sometimes. He likes it, you know. Tata, I mean. Most tyrants do. They despise weaklings, even though they surround themselves with weaklings. So you go in at the head of the delegation. And stand up to him!"



"I always have," Caesar's mother said.



Chrysogonus was there, smarming with exactly the correct amount of oil to the various members of the delegation; he was beginning to get a reputation as one of the chief profiteers of the proscriptions, and had become enormously rich. A servant came to whisper in his ear, and he bowed his way to the great double doors opening into Sulla's atrium, then stood back to let the delegation enter.



Sulla waited for them in a sour mood rooted in the fact that he knew he had been tricked by a parcel of women, and angry because he hadn't been able to find the steel to resist them. It wasn't fair! Wife and daughter pleaded, cajoled, looked sad, made him aware that if he did this futile thing for them, they would be eternally in his debt-and if he did not, they would be very put out. Dalmatica wasn't so bad, she had a touch of the whipped cur in her that Scaurus no doubt had instilled during those long years of imprisonment, but Cornelia Sulla was his blood, and it showed. Termagant! How did Mamercus cope with her and look so happy? Probably because he never stood up to her. Wise man. What we do for domestic harmony! Including what I am about to do.



However, it was at least a change, a diversion in the long and dreary round of dictatorial duties. Oh, he was bored! Bored, bored, bored... Rome always did that to him. Whispered the forbidden blandishments, conjured up pictures of parties he couldn't go to, circles he couldn't move in.... Metrobius. It always, always came back to Metrobius. Whom he hadn't seen in-how long? Was that the last time, in the crowd at his-triumph? Inauguration as consul? Could he not even remember that?



What he could remember was the first time he had seen the young Greek, if not the last. At that party when he had dressed up as Medusa the Gorgon, and wore a wreath of living snakes. How everyone had squealed! But not Metrobius, adorable little Cupid with the saffron dye running down the insides of his creamy thighs and the sweetest arse in the world...



The delegation came in. From where he stood beyond the huge aquamarine rectangle of the pool in the middle of the vast room, Sulla's gaze was strong enough to absorb the entire picture they made. Perhaps because his mind had been dwelling upon a world of theater (and one particular actor), what Sulla saw was not a prim and proper Roman delegation but a gorgeous pageant led by a gorgeous woman all in shades of pink, his favorite color. And how clever that she had surrounded herself by people in white with the faintest touches of purple!



The world of dictatorial duties rolled away, and so did Sulla's sour mood. His face lit up, he whooped in delight.



"Oh, this is wonderful! Better than a play or the games! No, no, don't come an inch closer to me! Stand on that side of the pool! Aurelia, out in front. I want you like a tall, slender rose. The Vestals-to the right, I think, but the youngest can stand behind Aurelia, I want her against a white background. Yes, that's right, good! Now, fellows, you stand to the left, but I think we'll have young Lucius Cotta behind Aurelia too, he's the youngest and I don't think he'll have a speaking part. I do like the touches of purple on your tunics, but Mamercus, you spoil the effect. You should have abandoned the praetexta, it's just a trifle too much purple. So you-off to the far left." The Dictator put his hand to his chin and studied them closely, then nodded. "Good! I like it! However, I need a bit more glamor, don't I? Here I am all alone looking just like Mamercus in my praetexta, and just as mournful!"



He clapped his hands; Chrysogonus popped out from behind the delegation, bowed several times.



"Chrysogonus, send my lictors in-crimson tunics, not stodgy old white togas-and get me the Egyptian chair. You know the one-crocodiles for arms and asps rearing up the back. And a small podium. Yes, I must have a small podium! Covered in-purple. Tyrian purple, none of your imitations. Well, go on, man, hurry!"



The delegation-which had not said a word-reconciled itself to a long wait while all these stage directions were seen to, but Chrysogonus was not chief administrator of the proscriptions and steward to the Dictator for nothing. In filed twenty-four lictors clad in crimson tunics, the axes inserted in their fasces, their faces studiously expressionless. On their heels came the small podium held between four sturdy slaves, who placed it in the exact center at the back of the pool and proceeded to cover it neatly with a tapestry cloth in the stipulated Tyrian purple, so dark it was almost black. The chair arrived next, a splendid thing of polished ebony and gilt, with ruby eyes in the hooded snakes and emerald eyes in the crocodiles, and a magnificent multihued scarab in the center of the chair back.



Once the stage was set, Sulla attended to his lictors. "I like the axes in the bundles of rods, so I'm glad I'm Dictator and have the power to execute within the pomerium! Now let me see.... Twelve to the left of me and twelve to the right of me-in a line, boys, but close together. Fan yourselves away so that you're nearest to me next to me, and dribble off a bit into the distance at your far ends.... Good, good!" He swung back to stare at the delegation, frowning. "That's what's wrong! I can't see Aurelia's feet, Chrysogonus! Bring in that little golden stool I filched from Mithridates. I want her to stand on it. Go on, man, hurry! Hurry!"



And finally it was all done to his satisfaction. Sulla sat down in his crocodile and snake chair on the Tyrian purple small podium, apparently oblivious to the fact that he should have been seated in a plain ivory curule chair. Not that anyone in the room was moved to criticize; the important thing was that the Dictator was enjoying himself immensely. And that meant a greater chance for a favorable verdict.



"Speak!" he said in sonorous tones.



"Lucius Cornelius, my son is dying-"



"Louder, Aurelia! Play to the back of the cavea!"



"Lucius Cornelius, my son is dying! I have come with my friends to beseech you to pardon him!"



"Your friends? Are all these people your friends?" he asked, his amazement a little overdone.



"They are all my friends. They join with me in beseeching you to allow my son to come home before he dies," Aurelia enunciated clearly, playing to the back row of the cavea, and getting into her stride. If he wanted a Greek tragedy, he would get a Greek tragedy! She extended her arms to him, the rose-colored draperies falling away from her ivory skin. “Lucius Cornelius, my son is but eighteen years old! He is my only son!" A throb in the voice there, it would go over well- yes, it was going over well, if his expression was anything to go by! "You have seen my son. A god! A Roman god! A descendant of Venus worthy of Venus! And with such courage! Did he not have the courage to defy you, the greatest man in all the world? And did he show fear? No!"



"Oh, this is wonderful!" Sulla exclaimed. "I didn't know you had it in you, Aurelia! Keep it coming, keep it coming!"



"Lucius Cornelius, I beseech you! Spare my son!" She managed to turn on the tiny golden stool and stretched out her hands to Fonteia, praying that stately lady would understand her part. "I ask Fonteia, Rome's Chief Vestal, to beg for the life of my son!"



Luckily by this the rest were beginning to recover from their stupefaction, could at least try. Fonteia thrust out her hands and achieved a distressed facial expression she hadn't used since she was four years old.



"Spare him, Lucius Cornelius!" she cried. "Spare him!"



"Spare him!" whispered Fabia.



"Spare him!" shouted Licinia.



Whereupon the seventeen-year-old Julia Strabo upstaged everyone by bursting into tears.



"For Rome, Lucius Cornelius! Spare him for Rome!" thundered Gaius Cotta in the stentorian voice his father had made famous. "We beg you, spare him!"



"For Rome, Lucius Cornelius!" shouted Marcus Cotta.



"For Rome, Lucius Cornelius!" blared Lucius Cotta.



Which left Mamercus, who produced a bleat. "Spare him!"



Silence. Each side gazed at the other.



Sulla sat straight in his chair, right foot forward and left foot back in the classical pose of the Roman great. His chin was tucked in, his brow beetled. He waited. Then: "No!"



So it began all over again.



And again he said: "No!"



Feeling as limp and wrung out as a piece of washing- but actually improving in leaps and bounds-Aurelia pleaded for the life of her son a third time with heartbroken voice and trembling hands. Julia Strabo was howling lustily, Licinia looked as if she might join in. The beseeching chorus swelled, and died away with a third bleat from Mamercus.



Silence fell. Sulla waited and waited, apparently having adopted what he thought was a Zeus-like aspect, thunderous, regal, portentous. Finally he got to his feet and stepped to the edge of his small Tyrian purple podium, where he stood with immense dignity, frowning direfully.



Then he sighed a sigh which could easily have been heard in the back row of the cavea, clenched his fists and raised them toward the gilded ceiling's splendiferous stars. "Very well, have it your own way!" he cried. "I will spare him! But be warned! In this young man I see many Mariuses!"



After which he bounced like a baby goat from his perch to the floor, and skipped gleefully along the side of the pool. "Oh, I needed that! Wonderful, wonderful! I haven't had so much fun since I slept between my stepmother and my mistress! Being the Dictator is no kind of life! I don't even have time to go to the play! But this was better than any play I've ever seen, and I was in the lead! You all did very well. Except for you, Mamercus, spoiling things in your praetexta and emitting those peculiar sounds. You're stiff, man, too stiff! You must try to get into the part!"



Reaching Aurelia, he helped her down from her (solid) gold stool and hugged her over and over again. "Splendid, splendid! You looked like Iphigenia at Aulis, my dear."



"I felt like the fishwife in a mime."



He had forgotten the lictors, who still stood to either side of the empty crocodile throne with wooden faces; nothing about this job would ever surprise them again!



"Come on, let's go to the dining room and have a party!" the Dictator said, shooing everybody in the chorus before him, one arm about the terrified Julia Strabo. "Don't cry, silly girl, it's all right! This was just my little joke," he said, rolled his eyes at Mamercus and gave Julia Strabo a push between her shoulder blades. "Here, Mamercus, find your handkerchief and clean her up." The arm went round Aurelia. "Magnificent! Truly magnificent! You should always wear pink, you know."



So relieved her knees were shaking, Aurelia put on a fierce frown and said, her voice in her boots, '“In him I see many Mariuses!' You ought to have said, 'In him I see many Sullas!' It would have been closer to the point. He's not at all like Marius, but sometimes he's awfully like you."



Dalmatica and Cornelia Sulla were waiting outside, utterly bewildered; when the lictors went in they hadn't been very surprised, but then they had seen the small podium go in, and the Tyrian purple cloth, and the Egyptian chair, and finally the gold stool. Now everyone was spilling out laughing-why was Julia Strabo crying?-and Sulla had his arm around Aurelia, who was smiling as if she would never stop.



"A party!" shouted Sulla, pranced over to his wife, took her face between his hands and kissed her. "We're going to have a party, and I am going to get very, very drunk!"



It was some time later before Aurelia realized that not one of the players in that incredible scene had found anything demeaning in Sulla's impromptu drama, nor made the mistake of deeming Sulla a lesser man because he had staged it. If anything, its effect had been the opposite; how could one not fear a man who didn't care about appearances?



No one who participated ever recounted the story, made capital out of it and Sulla at dinner parties, or tittle-tattled it over sweet watered wine and little cakes. Not from fear of their lives. Mostly because no one thought Rome would ever, ever believe it.



When Caesar arrived home he experienced the end results of his mother's one-act play at once; Sulla sent his own doctor, Lucius Tuccius, to see the patient.



"Frankly, I don't consider Sulla much of a recommendation," Aurelia said to Lucius Decumius, "so I can only hope that without Lucius Tuccius, Sulla would be a lot worse."



"He's a Roman," said Lucius Decumius, "and that's something. I don't trust them Greeks." ,



"Greek physicians are very clever."



"In a theory-etical way. They treats their patients with new ideas, not old standbys. Old standbys are the best. I'll take pounded grey spiders and powdered dormice any day!"



"Well, Lucius Decumius, as you say, this one is a Roman."



As Sulla's doctor emerged at that moment from the direction of Caesar's room, conversation ceased. Tuccius was a small man, very round and smooth and clean-looking; he had been Sulla's chief army surgeon, and it had been he who sent Sulla to Aedepsus when Sulla had become so ill in Greece.



"I think the wisewoman of Nersae was right, and your son suffered the ague without a pattern," he said cheerfully. "He's lucky. Few men recover from it."



"Then he will recover?" asked Aurelia anxiously.



“Oh, yes. The crisis has long passed. But the disease has left his blood enervated. That's why he has no color, and why he is so weak."



"So what does we do?" demanded Lucius Decumius pugnaciously.



"Well, men who have lost a lot of blood from a wound show much the same symptoms as Caesar," said Tuccius, unconcerned. "In such cases, if they didn't die they gradually got better of their own accord. But I always found it a help to feed them the liver of a sheep once a day. The younger the sheep, the quicker the recovery. I recommend that Caesar eat the liver of a lamb and drink three hen's eggs beaten into goat's milk every day."



"What, no medicine?" asked Lucius Decumius suspiciously.



"Medicine won't cure Caesar's ailment. Like the Greek physicians of Aedepsus, I believe in diet over medicine in most situations," said Lucius Tuccius firmly.



"See? He's a Greek after all!" said Lucius Decumius after the doctor had departed.



"Never mind that," said Aurelia briskly. "I shall adhere to his recommendations for at least a market interval. Then we shall see. But it seems sensible advice to me."



"I'd better start for the Campus Lanatarius," said the little man who loved Caesar more than he did his sons. "I'll buy the lamb and see it slaughtered on the spot."



The real hitch turned out to be the patient, who flatly refused to eat the lamb's liver, and drank his first mixture of egg-and-goat's-milk with such loathing that he brought it up.



The staff held a conference with Aurelia.



“Must the liver be raw?'' asked Murgus the cook.



Aurelia blinked. "I don't know. I just assumed it."



"Then could we send to Lucius Tuccius and ask?" from the steward, Eutychus. "Caesar is not an eater-by that I mean that the sheer taste of food does not send him into ecstasies. He is conservative but not fussy. However, one of the things I have always noticed is that he will not eat things with a strong smell of their own. Like eggs. As for that raw liver- pew! It stinks!"



“Let me cook the liver and put plenty of sweet wine in the egg-and-milk," pleaded Murgus.



"How would you cook the liver?" Aurelia asked.



"I'd slice it thin, roll each slice in a little salt and spelt, and fry it lightly on a very hot fire."



"All right, Murgus, I'll send to Lucius Tuccius and describe what you want to do," said the patient's mother.



Back came the message: "Put what you like in the egg-and-milk, and of course cook the liver!"



After that the patient tolerated his regimen, though not with any degree of affection.



"Say what you like about the food, Caesar, I think it is working was his mother's verdict.



"I know it's working! Why else do you think I'm eating the stuff?" was the patient's disgruntled response.



Light broke; Aurelia sat down beside Caesar's couch with a look on her face that said she was going to stay there until she got some answers. "All right, what's the real matter?"



Lips pressed together, he stared out the open window of the reception room into the garden Gaius Matius had made in the bottom of the light well. "I have made the most wretched business out of my first venture on my own," he said at last. "While everybody else behaved with amazing courage and daring, I lay like a log with nothing to say and no part in the action. The hero was Burgundus, and the heroines you and Ria, Mater."



She hid her smile. "Perhaps there's a lesson to be learned, Caesar. Perhaps the Great God-whose servant you still are!-felt you had to be taught a lesson you've never been willing to learn-that a man cannot fight the gods, and that the Greeks were right about hubris. A man with hubris is an abomination."



"Am I really so proud you think I own hubris?" he asked.



"Oh, yes. You have plenty of false pride."



"I see absolutely no relevance between hubris and what happened at Nersae," said Caesar stubbornly.



"It's what the Greeks would call hypothetical."



"I think you mean philosophical."



Since there was nothing wrong with her education, she did not acknowledge this quibble, simply swept on. "The fact that you own an overweening degree of pride is a grave temptation to the gods. Hubris presumes to direct the gods and says that a man is above the status of men. And-as we Romans know!-the gods do not choose to show a man he is above himself with what I might call a personal intervention. Jupiter Optimus Maximus doesn't speak to men with a human voice, and I am never convinced that the Jupiter Optimus Maximus who appears to men in dreams is anything more than a figment of dreams. The gods intervene in a natural way, they punish with natural things. You were punished with a natural thing- you became ill. And I believe that the seriousness of your illness is a direct indication of the degree of your pride. It almost killed you!"



"You impute a divine vector," he said, "for a disgustingly animal event. I believe the vector was as mundanely animal as the event. And neither of us can prove our contention, so what does it matter? What matters is that I failed in my first attempt to govern my life. I was a passive object surrounded by heroism, none of which was mine."



"Oh, Caesar, will you never learn?"



The beautiful smile came. "Probably not, Mater."



"Sulla wants to see you."



"When?"



"As soon as you're well enough, I am to send to him for an appointment."



"Tomorrow, then."



"No, after the next nundinae."



"Tomorrow."



Aurelia sighed. "Tomorrow."



He insisted upon walking without an attendant, and when he discovered Lucius Decumius lurking some paces behind him, sent his watchdog home with a firmness Lucius Decumius dared not defy. “I am tired of being cosseted and clucked over!" he said in the voice which frightened people. "Leave me alone!"



The walk was demanding, but he arrived at Sulla's house far from exhausted; now definitely on the mend, he was mending rapidly.



"I see you're in a toga," said Sulla, who was sitting behind his desk. He indicated the laena and apex disposed neatly on a nearby couch. "I've saved them for you. Don't you have spares?"



"Not a second apex, anyway. That one was a gift from my wonderful benefactor, Gaius Marius."



"Didn't Merula's fit?"



"I have an enormous head," said Caesar, straight-faced.



Sulla chuckled. "I believe you!" He had sent to Aurelia to ask if Caesar knew of the second part of the prophecy, and having received a negative answer, had decided Caesar wouldn't hear it from him. But he fully intended to discuss Marius. His thinking had swung completely around, thanks to two factors. The first was Aurelia's information about the circumstances behind Caesar's being dowered with the flaminate Dialis, and the second was his one-act play, which he had enjoyed (and the party which had followed) with huge gusto; it had refreshed him so thoroughly that though it was now a month in the past, he still found himself remembering bits and pieces at the most inappropriate moments, and had been able to apply himself to his laws with renewed energy.



Yes, the moment that magnificent-looking delegation had walked into his atrium so solemnly and theatrically he had been lifted out of himself-out of his dreary appalling shell, out of a life devoid of enjoyment and lightness. For a short space of time reality had utterly vanished and he had immersed himself inside a sparkling and gorgeous pageant. And since that day he had found hope again; he knew it would end. He knew he would be released to do what he longed to do, bury himself and his hideousness in a world of hilarity, glamor, idleness, artificiality, entertainments, grotesques and travesties. He would get through the present grind into a very different and infinitely more desirable future.



"You made a thousand mistakes when you fled, Caesar," said Sulla in a rather friendly way.



"I don't need to be told. I'm well aware of it."



"You're far too pretty to disappear into the furniture, and you have a natural sense of the dramatic," Sulla explained, ticking his points off on his fingers. "The German, the horse, your pretty face, your natural arrogance-need I go on?"



"No," said Caesar, looking rueful. "I've already heard it all from my mother-and several other people."



"Good. However, I'd be willing to bet they didn't give you the advice I intend to. Which is, Caesar, to accept your fate. If you are outstanding-if you can't blend into the background-then don't hare off on wild excursions which demand you can. Unless, as I once did, you have a chance to masquerade as a rather terrific-looking Gaul. I came back wearing a torc around my neck, and I thought the thing was my luck. But Gaius Marius was right. The thing was noticeable in a way I didn't want to be noticed. So I gave up wearing it. I was a Roman, not a Gaul-and Fortune favored me, not an inanimate hunk of gold, no matter how lovely. Wherever you go, you will be noticed. Just like me. So learn to work within the confines of your nature and your appearance." Sulla grunted, looked a little astonished. "How well-meaning I am! I hardly ever give well-meaning advice."



"I am grateful for it," said Caesar sincerely.



The Dictator brushed this aside. "I want to know why you think Gaius Marius made you the flamen Dialis.''



Caesar paused to choose his words, understanding that his answer must be logical and unemotional.



"Gaius Marius saw a lot of me during the months after he had his second stroke," he began.



Sulla interrupted. "How old were you?"



"Ten when it started. Almost twelve when it finished."



"Go on."



"I was interested in what he had to say about soldiering. I listened very intently. He taught me to ride, use a sword, throw a spear, swim." Caesar smiled wryly. "I used to have gigantic military ambitions in those days."



"So you listened very intently."



"Yes, indeed. And I think that Gaius Marius gained the impression that I wanted to surpass him."



"Why should he?"



Another rueful look. "I told him I did!"



"All right, now to the flaminate. Expound."



"I can't give you a logical answer to that, I really can't. Except that I believe he made me flamen Dialis to prevent my having a military or a political career," said Caesar, very uncomfortably. "That answer isn't all founded in my conceit. Gaius Marius was sick in his mind. He may have imagined it."



"Well," said Sulla, face inscrutable, "since he's dead, we'll never know the real answer, will we? However, given that his mind was diseased, your theory fits his character. He was always afraid of being outshone by men who had the birthright. Old and great names. His own name was a new one, and he felt he had been unfairly discriminated against because he was a New Man. Take, for example, my capture of King Jugurtha. He grabbed all the credit for that, you know! My work, my skill! If I had not captured Jugurtha, the war in Africa could never have been ended so expeditiously and finally. Your father's cousin, Catulus Caesar, tried to give me the credit in his memoirs, but he was howled down."



Not if his life depended upon it would Caesar have betrayed by word or look what he thought of this astonishing version of the capture of King Jugurtha. Sulla had been Marius's legate! No matter how brilliant the actual capture had been, the credit had to go to Marius! It was Marius had sent Sulla off on the mission, and Marius who was the commander of the war. And the general couldn't do everything himself- that was why he had legates in the first place. I think, thought Caesar, that I am hearing one of the early versions of what will become the official story! Marius has lost, Sulla has won. For only one reason. Because Sulla has outlived Marius.



"I see," said Caesar, and left it at that.



Scuffling a little, Sulla got out of his chair and walked across to the couch where the garb of the flamen Dialis lay. He picked up the ivory helmet with its spike and disc of wool, and tossed it between his hands. "You've lined it well," he said.



"It's very hot, Lucius Cornelius, and I dislike the feel of sweating," said Caesar.



"Do you change the lining often?" Sulla asked, and actually lifted the apex to sniff its interior. "It smells sweet. Ye gods, how a military helmet can stink! I've seen horses turn up their noses at the prospect of drinking from a military helmet."



A faint distaste crossed Caesar's face, but he shrugged, tried to pass it off. "The exigencies of war," he said lightly.



Sulla grinned. “It will be interesting to see how you cope with those, boy! You're a trifle precious, aren't you?"



"In some ways, perhaps," said Caesar levelly.



The ivory apex bounced onto the couch. "So you hate the job, eh?" Sulla asked.



"I hate it."



"Yet Gaius Marius was afraid enough of a boy to hedge him round with it."



"It would seem so."



"I remember they used to say in the family that you were very clever-could read at a glance. Can you?''



"Yes."



Back to the desk: Sulla shuffled his papers and found a single sheet which he tossed at Caesar. "Read that," he said.



One glance told Caesar why. It was execrably written, with such a squeezing together of the letters and absence of columns that it really did look like a continuous, meaningless squiggle.



"You don't know me Sulla but do I have something to tell you and it is that there is a man from Lucania named Marcus Aponius which has a rich property in Rome and I just want you to know that Marcus Crassus had this man Aponius put on the proscription list so he could buy the property real cheap at auction and that is what he did for two thousand sesterces-A Friend.'' Caesar finished his effortless translation and looked at Sulla, eyes twinkling.



Sulla threw back his head and laughed. "I thought that's what it said! So did my secretary. I thank you, Caesar. But you haven't seen it and you couldn't possibly have read it even if you had seen it.''



"Absolutely!"



"It causes endless trouble when one cannot do everything oneself," Sulla said, sobering. "That is the worst feature about being Dictator. I have to use agents-the task is too Herculean. The man mentioned in there is someone I trusted. Oh, I knew he was greedy, but I didn't think he'd be so blatant."



"Everyone in the Subura knows Marcus Licinius Crassus."



"What, because of his little arsons-the burning insulae?"



"Yes-and his fire brigades which arrive the moment he's bought the property cheaply, and put the fire out. He's becoming the Subura's biggest landlord. As well as the most unpopular. But he won't get his hands on my mother's insula!" vowed Caesar.



"Nor will he get his hands on any more proscription property," said Sulla harshly. "He impugned my name. I warned him! He did not listen. So I will never see him again. He can rot."



It was awkward listening to this: what did Caesar care about the troubles a dictator had with his agents? Rome would never see another dictator! But he waited, hoping Sulla would eventually get to the point, and sensing that this roundabout route was Sulla's way of testing his patience-and probably tormenting him too.



"Your mother doesn't know it and nor do you, but I didn't order you killed," the Dictator said.



Caesar's eyes opened wide. "You didn't? That's not what one Lucius Cornelius Phagites led Ria to believe! He got off with three talents of my mother's money pretending to spare me when I was ill. You've just finished telling me how awful it is to have to use agents because they get greedy. Well, that's as true of the bottom as it is of the top."



"I'll remember the name, and your mother will get her money back," said Sulla, obviously angry, "but that is not the point. The point is that I did not order you killed! I ordered you brought before me alive so I could ask you exactly the questions I have asked you."



"And then kill me."



"That was my original idea."



"And now you've given your word that you won't kill me."



"I don't suppose you've changed your mind about divorcing Cinna's daughter?"



"No. I will never divorce her."



"So that leaves Rome with a difficult problem. I can't have you killed, you don't want the job, you won't divorce Cinna's daughter because she's your way out of the job-and don't bother trying to give me high-flown explanations about honor and ethics and principles!" Suddenly a look of incredible old age came into the ruined face, the unsupported lips folded and flapped, worked on themselves; he was Cronus contemplating eating his next child whole. "Did your mother tell you what transpired?"



"Only that you spared me. You know her."



"Extraordinary person, Aurelia. Ought to have been a man."



Caesar's most charming smile dawned. "So you keep saying! I must admit I'm rather glad she wasn't a man."



"So am I, so am I! Were she a man, I'd have to look to my laurels." Sulla slapped his thighs and leaned forward. "So, my dear Caesar, you continue to be a trouble to all of us in the priestly colleges. What are we going to do with you?"



“Free me from my flaminate, Lucius Cornelius. You can do nothing else save kill me, and that would mean going back on your word. I don't believe you would do that."



"What makes you think I wouldn't break my word?"



Caesar raised his brows. "I am a patrician, one of your own kind! But more than that, I am a Julian. You'd never break your word to one as highborn as I."



"That is so." The Dictator leaned back in his chair. "We of the priestly colleges have decided, Gaius Julius Caesar, to free you from your flaminate, just as you have surmised. I can't speak for the others, but I can tell you why I want you freed. I think Jupiter Optimus Maximus does not want you for his special flamen. I think he has other things in mind for you. It is very possible that all of the business about his temple was his way of freeing you. I do not know for sure. I only feel it in my bones-but a man can do far worse than to follow such instincts. Gaius Marius was the longest trial of my life. Like a Greek Nemesis. One way or another, he managed to spoil my greatest days. And for reasons I do not intend to go into, Gaius Marius exerted himself mightily to chain you. I tell you this, Caesar! If he wanted you chained, then I want you freed. I insist upon having the last laugh. And you are the last laugh."



Never had Caesar conceived of salvation from this unlikely quarter. Because it had been Gaius Marius who chained him, Sulla would see him freed. As he sat there looking at Sulla, Caesar became unshakably convinced that for no other reason was he being released. Sulla wanted the last laugh. So in the end Gaius Marius had defeated himself.



“I and my colleagues of the priestly colleges are now of the opinion that there may have been a flaw in the rituals of your consecration as flamen Dialis. Several of us-not I, but enough others-were present at that ceremony, and none of them can be absolutely certain that there was not a flaw. The doubt is sufficient given the blood-soaked horror of those days, so we have agreed that you must be released. However, we cannot appoint another flamen Dialis while you live, just in case we are mistaken and there was no flaw." Sulla put both palms down on his desk. "It is best to have an escape clause. To be without a flamen Dialis is a grave inconvenience, but Jupiter Optimus Maximus is Rome, and he likes things to be legal. Therefore while you live, Gaius Julius Caesar, the other flamines will share Jupiter's duties among them."



He must speak now. Caesar moistened his lips. "This seems a just and prudent course," he said.



"So we think. It means, however, that your membership in the Senate ceases as of the moment the Great God signifies his consent. In order to obtain his consent, you will give Jupiter Optimus Maximus his own animal, a white bull. If the sacrifice goes well, your flaminate is over. If it should not go well-why, we will have to think again. The Pontifex Maximus and the Rex Sacrorum will preside"-a flicker of antic mirth came and went in the pale cold eyes-"but you will conduct the sacrifice yourself. You will provide a feast for all the priestly colleges afterward, to be held in the temple of Jupiter Stator in the upper Forum Romanum. This offering and feast are in the nature of a piaculum, to atone for the inconveniences the Great God must suffer because he will have no special priest of his own."



"I am happy to obey," said Caesar formally.



"If all goes well, you are a free man. You may be married to whomsoever you choose. Even Cinna's brat."



"I take it then that there has been no change in Cinnilla's citizen status?" asked Caesar coolly.



"Of course there hasn't! If there had been, you'd wear the laena and apex for the rest of your life! I'm disappointed in you, boy, that you even bothered to ask."



"I asked, Lucius Cornelius, because the lex Minicia will automatically extend to apply to my children by my wife. And that is quite unacceptable. I have not been proscribed. Why should my children suffer?"



"Yes, I see that," said the Dictator, not at all offended at this straight speaking. "For that reason, I will amend my law to protect men like you. The lex Minicia de liberis will apply only to the children of the proscribed. If any of them are lucky enough to marry a Roman, then their children will be Roman." He frowned. "It should have been foreseen. It was not. One of the penalties of producing so much legislation so quickly. But the way in which it was drawn to my attention put me publicly in a ridiculous position. All your fault, boy! And your silly uncle, Cotta. The priestly interpretation of my laws anent the other laws of Rome already on the tablets must stand for the children of the proscribed."



"I'm glad for it," said Caesar, grinning. "It's got me out of Gaius Marius's clutches."



"That it has." Sulla looked brisk and businesslike, and changed the subject. “Mitylene has revolted from Roman tribute. At the moment my proquaestor Lucullus is in the chair, but I have sent my praetor Thermus to govern Asia Province.



His first task will be to put down the revolt of Mitylene. You have indicated a preference for military duty, so I am sending you to Pergamum to join Thermus's staff. I expect you to distinguish yourself, Caesar," said Sulla, looking his most forbidding. "On your conduct as a junior military tribune rests the final verdict about this whole business. No man in Roman history is more revered than the military hero. I intend to exalt all such men. They will receive privileges and honors not given to others. If you win accolades for bravery in the field, I will exalt you too. But if you do not do well, I will push you down harder and further than Gaius Marius ever could have."



"That's fair," said Caesar, delighted at this posting.



"One more thing," said Sulla, something sly in his gaze. "Your horse. The animal you rode while flamen Dialis, against all the laws of the Great God."



Caesar stiffened. "Yes?"



"I hear you intend to buy the creature back. You will not. It is my dictate that you will ride a mule. A mule has always been good enough for me. It must also be good enough for you."



The like eyes looked a like murder. But-oh no! said Gaius Julius Caesar to himself, you won't trap me this way, Sulla! "Do you think, Lucius Cornelius, that I deem myself too good for a mule?" he asked aloud.



"I have no idea what you deem yourself too good for."



"I am a better rider than any other man I have ever seen," said Caesar calmly, "while you, according to reports, are just about the worst rider ever seen. But if a mule is good enough for you, it is certainly more than good enough for me. And I thank you sincerely for your understanding. Also your discretion."



"Then you can go now," said Sulla, unimpressed. "On your way out, send in my secretary, would you?"



His little flash of temper sent Caesar home less grateful for his freedom than he would otherwise have been; and then he found himself wondering if such had not been Sulla's purpose in stipulating that final rather picayune condition about a mule. Sulla didn't want his gratitude, didn't want Aurelia's son in any kind of cliental bondage to him. A Julian beholden to a Cornelian? That was to make a mockery of the Patriciate.



And, realizing this, Caesar ended in thinking better of Lucius Cornelius Sulla than he had when he left that man's presence. He has truly set me free! He has given me my life to do with what I will. Or what I can. I will never like him. But there have been times when I have found it in me to love him.



He thought of the horse Bucephalus. And wept.



"Sulla is wise, Caesar," said Aurelia, nodding her full approval. ' The drains on your purse are going to be considerable. You must buy a white bull without flaw or blemish, and you won't find such for less than fifty thousand. The feast you have to provide for all of Rome's priests and augurs will cost you twice that. After which, you have to equip yourself for Asia. And support yourself in what I fear will be a punishingly expensive environment. I remember your father saying that the junior military tribunes despise those among them who cannot afford every luxury and extravagance. You're not rich. The income from your land has accumulated since your father died, you've not had any need to spend it. That is going to change. To buy back your horse would be an unwelcome extra. After all, you won't be here to ride the beast. You must ride a mule until Sulla says otherwise. And you can find a splendid mule for under ten thousand."



The look he gave his mother was not filial, but he said no word, and if he dreamed of his horse and mourned its permanent passing, he kept those things to himself.



The piacular sacrifice took place several days later, by which time Caesar had readied himself for his journey to take up duty under Marcus Minucius Thermus, governor of Asia Province. Though the feast was to be held in the temple of Jupiter Stator, the ritual of atonement was to take place at the altar erected below the steps which used to lead up to the temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus on the Capitol.



Togate (his laena and apex had been given to the priests for storage until they could be laid to rest in Jupiter's unbuilt new temple), Caesar himself led his perfect white bull from his house down the Fauces Suburae and the Argiletum. Though he could have got away with tying ribbons around its splendid horns, Caesar now demonstrated his disregard for economy by having the animal's horns covered in thick gold foil; around its neck garlands of the most exotic and costly flowers were thrown, and a wreath of perfect white roses sat between its horns. Its hooves too were gilded, its tail wound round with cloth-of-gold ribbons intertwined with flowers. With him walked his guests-his uncles the Cottae, and Gaius Matius, and Lucius Decumius and his sons, and most of the Brethren of the crossroads college. All were togate. Aurelia was not present; her sex forbade her attending any sacrifice to Jupiter Optimus Maximus, who was a god for Roman men.



The various colleges of priests were clustered waiting near the altar, and the professionals who would do the actual killing were there too-popa, cultarius, slaves. Though it was the custom to drug the sacrificial animal beforehand, Caesar had refused; Jupiter had to be given every opportunity to indicate pleasure or displeasure. This fact was immediately apparent to everyone; the pure white bull, not a mark or blemish on it, was brisk of eye and step, and swished its tail importantly-obviously it liked being the center of attention.



"You're mad, boy!" whispered Gaius Aurelius Cotta as the waiting crowd grew larger and the steeply sloping Clivus Capitolinus began to level out. "Every eye is going to be on this animal, and you haven't drugged him! What are you going to do if he refuses to behave? It will be too late by then!"



"He won't misbehave," said Caesar serenely. "He knows he carries my fate. Everyone must see that I bow unreservedly to the will of the Great God.'' There came a faint chuckle. "Besides, I'm one of Fortune's favorites, I have luck!"



Everyone gathered around. Caesar turned aside to the bronze tripod holding a bowl of water and washed his hands; so did the Pontifex Maximus (Metellus Pius the Piglet), the Rex Sacrorum (Lucius Claudius), and the other two major flamines, Martialis (the Princeps Senatus, Lucius Valerius Flaccus) and Quirinalis (a new appointee, Mamercus). Bodies and clothing now ceremonially pure, the participating priests lifted the folds of toga lying across their shoulders and draped them over their heads. Once they had done so, everyone else followed.



The Pontifex Maximus moved to stand at the altar. "O mighty Jupiter Optimus Maximus-if you wish to be addressed by this name, otherwise I hail you by whatever name it is you wish to hear-receive your servant, Gaius Julius Caesar, who was your flamen and now wishes to atone for his wrongful appointment, which he wishes to point out to you was not of his doing!" cried the Piglet without a single stammer, and stepped back with a glare of fury aimed at Sulla, who was managing to keep a straight face; this flawless performance had cost the Piglet days of remorseless practice more grueling than military drills.



The professional priestlings were stripping the bull of its flowers and gold foil, patting the latter carefully into a rough ball, and paid no attention to Caesar, who now stepped forward and placed his hand upon the moist pink nose of his offering. The ruby-dark eyes surrounded by long thick lashes as colorless as crystal watched him as he did so, and Caesar felt no tremor of outrage in the white bull at his touch.



He prayed in a voice pitched much higher than his natural one, so that every word would travel. "O mighty Jupiter Optimus Maximus-if you wish to be addressed by this name, otherwise I hail you by whatever name it is you wish to hear- you who are of whichever sex you prefer-you who are the spirit of Rome-accept, I pray, this gift of your own sacred animal which I offer you as an atonement for my wrongful appointment as your flamen. It is my prayer that you release me from my vows and grant me the opportunity to serve you in some other capacity. I submit myself to your will, but offer you this best and greatest and strongest living thing in the knowledge that you will grant me what I ask because I have offered you exactly what I ought."



He smiled at the bull, gazing at him, it seemed, with insight.



The priestlings stepped forward; Caesar and the Pontifex Maximus turned to one side and each took a golden chalice from a tripod, while the Rex Sacrorum took up a golden bowl of spelt.



"I cry for silence!" thundered Caesar.



Silence fell, so complete that the distant noises of busy activity in the Forum arcades of shops floated clearly on the warm and gentle breeze.



The flautist put his instrument made from the shinbone of an enemy to his lips, and began to blow a mournful tune intended to drown out these sounds of Forum business.



As soon as the flute began the Rex Sacrorum sprinkled the bull's face and head with spelt, a thistledown shower which the beast seemed to take as rain; its pink tongue came out and sopped up the granules of fine flour on its nose.



The popa moved to stand in front of the bull, his stunning hammer held loosely by his side. "Agone? Do I strike?" he asked Caesar loudly.



"Strike!" cried Caesar.



Up flashed the hammer, down to land with perfect precision between the bull's mild and unsuspecting eyes. It collapsed on its front knees with an impact heavy enough to feel through the ground, its head outstretched; slowly the hindquarters subsided to the right, a good omen.



Like the popa stripped naked to the waist, the cultarius took the horns in both his hands and lifted the bull's limp head toward the sky, the muscles in his arms standing out ribbed and sinewy, for the bull's head weighed more than fifty pounds. Then he lowered his burden to touch the cobbles with its muzzle.



"The victim consents," he said to Caesar.



"Then make the sacrifice!" cried Caesar.



Out came the big razor-sharp knife from its scabbard, and while the popa hauled the bull's head into the air, the cultarius cut its throat with one huge deep slice of his knife. The blood gushed but did not spurt-this fellow knew his job. No one- even he-was spattered. As the popa released the head to lie turned to the right, Caesar handed the cultarius his chalice, and the cultarius caught some of the blood so accurately that not a drop spilled down the side of the vessel. Metellus Pius gave his chalice to be filled in turn.



Avoiding the steady turgid crimson stream which flowed away downhill, Caesar and the Pontifex Maximus walked to the bare stone altar. There Caesar trickled the contents of his cup, and said, "O mighty Jupiter Optimus Maximus-if you wish to be addressed by this name, otherwise I hail you by whatever name it is you wish to hear-you who are of whichever sex you prefer-you who are the spirit of Rome-accept this offering made to you as an atonement, and accept too the gold from the horns and hooves of your victim, and keep it to adorn your new temple."



Now Metellus Pius emptied his cup. "O mighty Jupiter Optimus Maximus-if you wish to be addressed by this name, otherwise I hail you by whatever name it is you wish to hear- I ask that you accept the atonement of Gaius Julius Caesar, who was your flamen and is still your servant."



The moment Metellus Pius had clearly enunciated the last syllable of his prayer, a collective sigh of relief went up, loud enough to be heard above the sad tweetling of the tibicen.



Last to offer was the Rex Sacrorum, who sprinkled the remnant of his spelt into the starred splashes of blood on the altar. "O mighty Jupiter Optimus Maximus-if you wish to be addressed by this name, otherwise I hail you by whatever name it is you wish to hear-I bear witness that you have been offered the life-force of this best and greatest and strongest victim, and that all has been done in accordance with the prescribed ritual, and that no error has been made. Under the terms of our contractual agreements with you, I therefore conclude that you are well pleased with your offering and its donor, Gaius Julius Caesar. Furthermore, Gaius Julius Caesar wishes to burn his offering whole for your delectation, and does not wish to take any of it for himself. May Rome and all who live in her prosper as a result."



And it was over. Over without a single mistake. While the priests and augurs unveiled their heads and began to walk down the slope of the Clivus Capitolinus toward the Forum, the priestlings who were professional sacrificers began to clean up. They used a hoist and cradle to winch the huge carcass off the ground and deposit it upon the pyre, then set a torch to it amid their own prayers. While their slaves worked with buckets of water to wash away the last traces of blood upon the ground, a peculiar aroma arose, a mixture of delicious roasting beef and the costly incenses Caesar had bought to stuff among the brands in the pyre. The blood on the altar would be left until after the bull had burned away to bony ashes, then it too would be scrubbed. And the ball of gold was already on its way to the Treasury, where it would be marked with the name of its donor and the nature and date of the occasion.



The feast which followed in the temple of Jupiter Stator on the Velia at the top of the Forum Romanum was at least as successful as the sacrifice; as Caesar passed among his guests exhorting them to enjoy themselves and exchanging pleasantries, many eyes assessed him that had never so much as noticed him before. He was now by virtue of rank and birth a contender in the political arena, and his manner, his carriage, the expression on his handsome face, all suggested that he bore watching.



"He has a look of your father about him," said Metellus Pius to Catulus, still flushed with the well-being which stemmed from a ceremony executed without one improperly pronounced word.



"He should," said Catulus, eyeing Caesar with an instinctive dislike. "My father was a Caesar. Such a pretty fellow, isn't he? I could suffer that. But I'm not sure I can suffer his awful conceit. Look at him! Younger by far than Pompeius! Yet he struts as if he owned the world."



The Piglet was disposed to find reasons. "Well, how would you feel in his shoes? He's free of that terrible flaminate."



"We may rue the day we let Sulla instruct us to free him," said Catulus. "See him over there with Sulla? Two of a kind!"



The Piglet was staring at him, mildly astonished; Catulus could have bitten off his tongue. For an indiscreet moment he had forgotten his auditor was not Quintus Hortensius, so used was he to having his brother-in-law's ear permanently ready to listen. But Hortensius was not present, because when Sulla had informed the priestly colleges who were the new members, he had excluded the name of Quintus Hortensius. And Catulus considered Sulla's omission quite unforgivable. So did Quintus Hortensius.



Unaware that he had offended Catulus, Sulla was busy getting some information from Caesar.



"You didn't drug your animal. That was taking a colossal chance," he said.



"I'm one of Fortune's favorites," said Caesar.



“What leads you to that conclusion?''



"Only consider! I have been released from my flaminate-before that I survived an illness men usually die from- I evaded your killing me-and I am teaching my mule to emulate a very aristocratic horse with marked success."



"Does your mule have a name?" asked Sulla, grinning.



"Of course. I call it Flop Ears."



"And what did you call your very aristocratic horse?"



"Bucephalus."



Sulla shook with laughter, but made no further comment, his eyes roaming everywhere. Then he extended an arm. "You do this sort of thing remarkably well for an eighteen-year-old."



"I'm taking your advice," said Caesar. "Since I am unable to blend into the background, I decided that even this first banquet in my name should not be unworthy of it."



"Oh, arrogant! You really are! Never fear, Caesar, it is a memorable feast. Oysters, dug-mullets, licker-fish of the Tiber, baby quail-the menu must have cost you a fortune."



"Certainly more than I can afford," said Caesar calmly.



"Then you're a spendthrift," said Sulla, anything but.



Caesar shrugged. "Money is a tool, Lucius Cornelius. I don't care whether I have it or not, if counting up a hoard is what you believe to be the purpose of money. I believe money must be passed on. Otherwise it stagnates. So does the economy. What money comes my way from now on, I will use to further my public career."



"That's a good way to go bankrupt."



"I'll always manage," said Caesar, unconcerned.



"How can you know that?"



"Because I have Fortune's favor. I have luck."



Sulla shivered. "I have Fortune's favor! I have luck! But remember-there is a price to pay. Fortune is a jealous and demanding mistress."



"They're the best kind!" said Caesar, and laughed so infectiously that the room went quiet. Many of the men present took that memory of a laughing Caesar into the future with them-not because they suffered any premonitions, but because he had two qualities they envied him-youth and beauty.



Of course he couldn't leave until after the last guest was gone, and that was not until many hours later; by then he had every last one of them assessed and filed away because he had that kind of mind, always storing up whatever it encountered. Yes, an interesting company, was his verdict.



"Though I found none I was tempted to make a friend of," he said to Gaius Matius at dawn the next day. "Sure you don't want to come with me, Pustula? You have to serve in your ten campaigns, you know."



“No, thank you. I have no wish to be so far from Rome. I will wait for a posting, and hope it's Italian Gaul."



The farewells were genuinely exhausting. Wishing he might have dispensed with them, Caesar endured them with what patience he could muster. The worst feature of it was the many who had clamored to go with him, though he had steadfastly refused to take anyone save Burgundus. His two body servants were new purchases-a fresh start, men with no knowledge of his mother.



Finally the goodbyes were over-Lucius Decumius, his sons and the Brethren of the crossroads college, Gaius Matius, his mother's servants, Cardixa and her sons, his sister Ju-Ju, his wife, and his mother. Caesar was able to climb on his inglorious mule and ride away.



PART III



from JANUARY 81 B.C.



until SEXTILIS (AUGUST) 80 B.C.




1



Not two months had gone by when Sulla decided that Rome had adjusted satisfactorily to the presence of his proscriptions. The slaughter was only marginally more subtle than Marius's slaughter during the few days of his seventh consulship; the streets of Rome didn't run with quite so much blood, and there were no bodies piled in the lower Forum Romanum. The bodies of those killed in Sulla's proscriptions (the victims were forbidden funeral rites and interment) were dragged with a meat hook under the sternum to the Tiber, and thrown in; only the heads were piled in the lower Forum Romanum, around the perimeter of the public fountain known as the Basin of Servilius.



As the amount of property gathered in for the State by the administrator, Chrysogonus, accumulated, a few more laws came into being: the widow of a man proscribed could not remarry, and the wax masks of Gaius Marius and Young Marius, of Cinna or his ancestors, or of any proscribed man and his ancestors, could not be displayed at any family funeral.



The house of Gaius Marius had been sold at auction to the present Sextus Perquitienus, grandson of the man who had made that family's fortune, and next door to whom Marius had erected his house; it now served as an annex for art works to the Perquitienus residence, though it was not incorporated in it.



At first the auctions Chrysogonus conducted saw the estates of the proscribed knocked down to successful bidders at a fair market price, but the amount of money to buy was not great, so that by the time the tenth auction occurred, the prices being realized were dropping rapidly. It was at this moment that Marcus Crassus began to bid. His technique was shrewd; rather than set his heart on the best property on the agenda, he chose to concentrate upon less desirable estates, and was able to pick them up for very little. The activities of Lucius Sergius Catilina were more feral. He concentrated upon informing Chrysogonus of traitorous talk or actions, and thus succeeded in having his elder brother Quintus proscribed, after which he ensured that his brother-in-law Caecilius was proscribed. The brother was sent into exile, but the brother-in-law died, and Catilina applied to the Dictator for a special law to inherit, arguing that in neither case was he named in the will, nor was he a direct heir-both men had male children. When Sulla acceded to his request, Catilina became rich without needing to spend a single sestertius at the auctions.



It was in a dually chilly climate, therefore, that Sulla celebrated his triumph on the last day of January. Ordinary Rome turned out en masse to do him honor, though the knights stayed home, apparently on the theory that should Sulla or Chrysogonus see their faces, they might wind up on the next proscription list. The Dictator displayed the spoils and tributes of Asia and King Mithridates with every tricky device conceivable to camouflage the fact that his conclusion of the war had been as hasty as it was premature, and that in consequence the booty was disappointing considering the wealth of the enemy.



On the following day Sulla held an exposition rather than a triumph, displaying what he had taken from Young Marius and Carbo; he was careful to inform the spectators that these items were to be returned to the temples and people they had been taken from. On this day the restored exiles-men like Appius Claudius Pulcher, Metellus Pius, Varro Lucullus and Marcus Crassus-marched not as senators of Rome, but as restored exiles, though Sulla considerately spared them the indignity of having to don the Cap of Liberty, normally the headgear of freedmen.



The taming of Pompey proved to be more difficult than reconciling Rome to the proscriptions, as Sulla learned the day before he held his triumph. Pompey had ignored his instructions from the Dictator and sailed with his whole army from Africa to Italy. The letter he sent Sulla from Tarentum informed Sulla that his army had refused to let him sail without every last one of his loyal soldiers coming along, and he claimed to have been powerless to prevent this mass embarkation (without explaining how it was that he had gathered sufficient ships to fit five extra legions and two thousand horse on board); at the end of his missive he again asked to be allowed to celebrate a triumph.



The Dictator sped a couriered letter to Tarentum in which for the second time he denied Pompey this mouth-watering triumph. The same courier carried back a letter from Pompey to Sulla apologizing for the refractory behavior of his army, which he protested yet again he could not control. Those naughty, naughty soldiers were insisting their darling general be allowed his well-deserved triumph! If the Dictator were to continue his negative attitude, Pompey was very much afraid his naughty, naughty soldiers might take matters into their own hands, and elect to march to Rome. He himself would-of course!-do everything in his power to prevent this!



A second letter was galloped from Sulla down the Via Appia to Tarentum, containing a third refusal: NO TRIUMPH. This proved to be one refusal too many. Pompey's six legions and two thousand cavalry troopers set out to march to Rome. Their darling general came along with them, protesting in another letter to Sulla that he was only doing so in order to prevent his men taking actions they might later have cause to regret.



The Senate had been privy to every episode in this duel of wills, horrified at the presumption of a twenty-four-year-old knight, and had issued a senatus consultum to back every one of Sulla's orders and denials. So when Sulla and the Senate were informed that Pompey and his army had reached Capua, resistance hardened. The time was now nearing the end of February, winter storms came and went, and the Campus Martius was already crowded because other armies were sitting on it-two legions belonging to Lucius Licinius Murena, the ex-governor of Asia Province and Cilicia, and two legions belonging to Gaius Valerius Flaccus, the ex-governor of Gaul-across-the-Alps. Each of these men was to triumph shortly.



Hot on the heels of the inevitable letter ordering Pompey to halt at Capua (and informing Pompey that there were four battle-hardened legions occupying the Campus Martius), the Dictator himself left Rome in the direction of Capua. With him were the consuls Decula and the elder Dolabella, Metellus Pius the Pontifex Maximus, Flaccus Princeps Senatus the Master of the Horse, and an escort of lictors; no soldiers traveled with them to protect them.



Sulla's letter caught Pompey before he could leave Capua, and the news that four battle-hardened legions were encamped outside Rome shocked him into remaining where he was. It had never been Pompey's intention to go to war against Sulla; the march was a bluff purely designed to obtain a triumph. So to learn that the Dictator had four battle-hardened legions at his immediate disposal broke upon Pompey like a torrent of ice-cold water. He himself knew he was bluffing-but did Sulla know it? Of course not! How could he? To Sulla, this march would look like a repeat of his own from Capua in the year that he had been consul. Pompey flew into an absolute funk.



So when the news came that Sulla in person was approaching without an army to back him, Pompey scrambled frantically to ride out of his camp and up the Via Appia-also without his army to back him. The circumstances of this meeting bore some resemblance to their first encounter at the ford across the Calor River. But today Sulla was not drunk, though inevitably he was mounted upon a mule. He was dressed in the purple-bordered toga praetexta and preceded by twenty-four lictors shivering in crimson tunics and brass-bossed black leather belts, with the ominous axes inserted in their bundles of rods. In Sulla's wake there followed thirty more lictors-twelve belonging to Decula, twelve to the elder Dolabella, and six to the Master of the Horse, who had a praetor's rank. So the occasion was more dignified and impressive than had been that at the Calor crossing. More in tune with poor Pompey's original fantasies.



But there could be no arguing that Pompey had grown in stature during the twenty-two months which had elapsed since his original meeting with Sulla; he had conducted one campaign in conjunction with Metellus Pius and Crassus, another in Clusium with Sulla and Crassus, and a third in complete command abroad. So now he didn't quibble about wearing his best gold-plated suit of armor, and flashed and glittered quite as much as did his gaily caparisoned Public Horse. The Dictator's party was coming up on foot; unwilling to look more martial, Pompey dismounted.



Sulla was wearing his Grass Crown, an unkind reminder that Pompey as yet had not managed to win one-had not managed to win a Civic Crown, for that matter! Silly wig and all, scar-spattered face and all, the Dictator still contrived to look every inch the Dictator. Pompey was quick to note it. The lictors moved twelve to either side of the road, thus permitting the tanned young man in his gold-plated armor to walk between their files toward Sulla, who had halted and arranged his party so that he stood a few feet ahead of the others, but was not isolated from them.



"Ave, Pompeius Magnus!" cried Sulla, right hand lifted.



"Ave, Dictator of Rome!" cried Pompey, transported with joy. Sulla had actually called him in public by the third name he had given himself-he could now officially be Pompey the Great!



They kissed on the mouth, something neither man enjoyed. And, the lictors preceding as always, turned slowly to walk in the direction of Pompey's camp, the others following on.



"You're prepared to admit I'm Great!" said Pompey happily.



"The name has stuck," said Sulla. "But so has Kid Butcher."



"My army is determined that I triumph, Lucius Cornelius."



"Your army has absolutely no right to make that determination, Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus."



Out flew both powerful, freckled arms. “What can I do?”' he cried. "They won't take a scrap of notice of me!"



"Rubbish!" said Sulla roundly. "Surely you realize, Magnus, that throughout the course of four letters-if you count the original one you received in Utica-you have demonstrated that you are not competent enough to control your troops?''



Pompey flushed, drew his small mouth in even smaller. "That is not a fair criticism!" he exclaimed.



“It most certainly is. You have admitted its truth yourself in no less than three letters."



"You're deliberately failing to understand!" said Pompey, red-faced. "They're only behaving like this because they love me!"



"Love or hate, insubordination is insubordination. If they belonged to me, I'd be decimating them."



"It's a harmless insubordination," Pompey protested lamely.



“No insubordination is harmless, as you well know. You are threatening the legally appointed Dictator of Rome."



"This is not a march on Rome, Lucius Cornelius, it's just a march to Rome," labored Pompey. "There is a difference!



My men simply want to see that I receive what is due to me."



“What is due to you, Magnus, is whatever I, as Dictator of Rome, decide to give you. You are twenty-four years old. You are not a senator. I have agreed to call you by a wonderful name which could only be improved by degree-Magnus can go to Maximus, but nowhere else-unless it be diminished to Parvus–or Minutus–or even Pusillus," said Sulla.



Pompey stopped in the middle of the road, faced Sulla; the party behind somehow forgot to stop until they were well and truly close enough to hear.



"I want a triumph!" said Pompey loudly, and stamped a foot.



"And I say you can't have one!" said Sulla, equally loudly.



Pompey's broad, temper-reddened face grew beetling, the thin lips drew back to reveal small white teeth. "You would do well to remember, Lucius Cornelius Sulla, Dictator of Rome, that more people worship the rising than the setting sun!"



For no reason any of the enthralled listeners could determine, Sulla burst out laughing. He laughed until he cried, slapping his hands helplessly on his thighs and quite losing control of the many folds of toga draped upon his left arm; it began to fall away and drag upon the ground. "Oh, very well!" he gasped when he could speak at all. "Have your triumph!" And then, still shaken by fresh guffaws, he said, "Don't just stand there, Magnus, you great booby! Help me pick up my toga!"



"You are a complete fool, Magnus," said Metellus Pius to Pompey when he had an opportunity to speak in private.



"I think I've been very clever," said Pompey smugly.



Still not consul though he had entered into his late forties, the Piglet had aged well; his curly brown hair was frosted with white at the temples and his skin bore none but attractive lines at the corners of his brown eyes. Even so, next to Pompey he paled into insignificance. And he knew it. Not so much with envy as with sadness.



"You've been anything but clever," the Piglet said, pleased to see the brilliant blue eyes widen incredulously. "I know our master considerably better than you do, and I can tell you that his intelligence is greater than both of ours put together. If he has a failing, it is only a failing of temperament-not of character! And this failing doesn't affect the brilliance of his mind one iota. Nor does it affect the consummate skill of his actions, as man or as Dictator."



Pompey blew a derisive noise. "Oh, Pius, you're not making any sense! Failing? What failing of Sulla's can you possibly mean?"



"His sense of the ridiculous, of course. Better to cuh-cuh-call it that than a sense of huh-huh-huh-humor." The Piglet floundered, his own disability recollected, and stopped for a few moments to discipline his tongue. "I mean things like his appointing me the Pontifex Maximus when I stumble over my words. He can never resist that kind of joke."



Pompey contrived to look bored. “I have no idea where you are going, Pius, or what it has to do with me."



"Magnus, Magnus! He's been having a laugh at your expense all along! That's what it has to do with you. He always intended that you should triumph-what does he care about your age or your knight's status? You're a military hero, and he raises them to all kinds of exalted heights! But he wanted to see how much it meant to you, and how far you'd go to get it. You should never have risen to his bait. Now, he has you properly assessed and tucked away in his mental accounting system. He knows now that your courage is almost the equal of your self-esteem, not to mention your ambition. Almost. But not quite. He knows now that at the bitter end, Magnus, you won't stick the course."



"What do you mean, I won't stick the course?"



"You know perfectly well what I mean."



"I was marching on Rome!"



"Rubbish!" The Piglet smiled. "You were marching to Rome. You said so yourself. And I believed you. So did Sulla."



Confounded, Pompey glared at his critic, not sure what he ought to-what he could say. "I got my triumph."



"Yes, you did. But he's making you pay a price for it you wouldn't have had to pay if you'd behaved yourself."



"Price? Price?" Pompey shook his head like a large and angry animal confused by teasing. "Today, Pius, you seem quite determined to speak in riddles!"



"You'll see," said the Piglet, no less obscure.



...



And Pompey did see, but not until the day of his triumph. The clues were there; excitement clouded his perceptions, was the trouble. The date of his triumph was set at the twelfth day of March. On the sixth day of March, Gaius Flaccus, the ex-governor of Gaul-across-the-Alps, triumphed for victories over rebellious Gallic tribes; and on the ninth day of March, Murena, the ex-governor of Asia Province, triumphed for victories in Cappadocia and Pontus. So by the time that the day of Pompey's triumph came round, Rome had had enough of victory parades. A few people turned out, but not a crowd; after Sulla's magnificent two-day extravaganza Flaccus had been mildly interesting, Murena somewhat less so, and Pompey hardly at all. For no one knew his name, no one was aware of his youth or beauty, and no one could have cared less. Another triumph? Ho hum, said Rome.



However, Pompey wasn't particularly worried as he set off from the Villa Publica; word would fly and the people would come running from all directions when they heard the style of this particular triumph! By the time he turned the corner from the Circus Maximus into the Via Triumphalis, all of Rome would be there to see. In almost every respect his procession was a standard one-first the magistrates and senators, then musicians and dancers, the carts displaying spoils and the floats depicting various incidents from the campaign, the priests and the white male sacrificial victims, the captives and hostages, and then the general in his chariot, followed by his army.



Even Pompey's garb was correct-the purple toga solidly embroidered with gold, the laurel wreath upon his head, the palm-embroidered tunic with the massive purple stripe. But when it came to painting his face red with minim, he balked. It was vital to his plans that Rome should see his youth and beauty, the face of an individual. His likeness to Alexander the Great. If his face were to be reduced to a brick-red blob, he might be anyone of any age. Therefore, no minim!



This barefaced presentation was not the major difference between Pompey and every other triumphing general; that lay in the animals which drew the antique four-wheeled triumphal chariot in which Pompey rode. Instead of the customary matched white horses, he was using four enormous male African elephants he had personally captured in Numidia. Four mahouts had worked every day since-in Utica and Tarentum, on the Via Appia, at Capua-to tame the recalcitrant pachyderms sufficiently to persuade them to act as beasts of slight burden. No easy feat, yet accomplished. Thus Pompey was able to set off in a triumphal chariot towed by four elephants. His companion in the car did not drive, simply held on to a set of ornate reins attached to the flashy trappings worn by these fabulous creatures. The elephants were under the control of the mahouts, each one sitting between a pair of massive, wrinkled grey shoulders more than ten feet off the ground. Once word spread-and it would, very quickly!-crowds would line the route of the parade just to see this remarkable sight-the New Alexander drawn by the very animals Rome regarded as most sacred. Elephants! Gigantic elephants with ears the size of sails and tusks seven feet long!



The path of the parade led from the Villa Publica on the Campus Martius to a narrow roadway lined with villas and apartment houses that wound around the base of the Capitoline Hill and approached the Servian Walls below the sharp cliffs at the hill's western end; here was the Porta Triumphalis, through which the parade passed into the city itself. As Pompey 's was the third triumph within six days, senators and magistrates were thoroughly fed up with the whole procedure, so this first contingent was thin of company and inclined to be brisk. Taking their cue from the leaders, the musicians, dancers, carts, floats, priests, sacrificial victims, captives and hostages also moved quickly. Trundling along at the leisurely pace of four elephants harnessed two abreast, Pompey soon fell behind.



The chariot came to the Triumphal Gate at last, and stopped dead. The army-minus swords and spears but carrying staves wrapped in laurels-also stopped. Because the triumphal car was so old it belonged to Etruscan times and had been ceremonial from the beginning, it was much lower to the ground than the classical two-wheeled war chariot still employed by some outlandish tribes of Gauls; Pompey couldn't see what was happening over the majestic but tousled rumps of the pair of elephants in front of him. At first he merely fretted and fumed a little; then when the halt became tediously long, he sent his driver forward to see what was the matter.



Back came the driver, looking horrified. "Triumphator, the elephants are too big to fit through the gate!"



Pompey's jaw dropped. He felt a prickling in his skin, beads of sweat popping out on his forehead. "Nonsense!" he said.



"Truly, Triumphator, it is so! The elephants are too big to fit through the gate," the driver insisted.



Down from the chariot in all his glory descended Pompey to run, trailing gold and purple garments, in the direction of the gate. There the mahouts belonging to the two leading pachyderms were standing looking helpless; thankfully they turned to Pompey.



"The opening is too small," said one.



While on his way to the gate, Pompey had been mentally unharnessing the beasts and leading them through the aperture one at a time to the far side, but now he saw what he had not been able to see from the chariot; it was not a question of width, but of height. This opening-the only one by which the triumphal parade was permitted to travel-was wide enough to allow an army to march through eight abreast, even to allow the entry of a chariot drawn by four horses abreast, or a huge float; but it was not high enough to pass the head of an old and mighty African tusker, as the masonry above it which burrowed into the cliff of the Capitoline Hill began at about the height of these elephants' shoulders.



"All right," said Pompey confidently, "unharness them and lead them through one at a time. Just make them bend their heads right down."



"They're not trained to do that!" said one mahout, aghast.



"I don't care whether they're trained to shit through the eye of a needle!" snapped Pompey, face beginning to look as if it had been painted with minim after all. "Just do it!"



The leading elephant refused to bend his head.



"Pull on his trunk and make him!" said Pompey.



But no amount of pulling on his trunk or sitting on his glorious curving tusks would persuade the beast to bend his head; instead, he became angry. His unrest began to infect the other three, two of whom were still attached to the chariot. They began to back away, and the chariot began to threaten the lionskin-clad band of Pompey's standard-bearers immediately behind.



While the mahouts continued to battle to obey him, Pompey stood articulating every horrific profanity in a ranker soldier's vocabulary and producing threats which reduced the mahouts to glassy-eyed jellies of fear. All to no avail. The elephants were too big and too unwilling to be brought through the gate.



Over an hour had gone by when Varro came through the gate to see what had gone wrong. He, of course, had been walking with the other senators at the very front of the parade.



One look was enough. A terrible urge invaded Varro to lie down in the road and howl with laughter. This he could not do-not, one glance at Pompey's face told him, if he wanted to live.



"Send Scaptius and some of his men to the Stabulae to get the horses," said Varro crisply. "Come, Magnus, abandon these tantrums and think! The rest of the parade has reached the Forum, and no one knows why you're not following. Sulla is sitting up on Castor's podium fidgeting more and more, and the caterers for the feast in Jupiter Stator are tearing their hair out!"



Pompey's answer was to burst into tears and sit down on the dirty cobbles in all his triumphal finery to weep his heart out. Thus it was Varro who sent the men for horses, and Varro who supervised the unhitching of the elephants. By this the scene had been complicated by the arrival of several market gardeners from the Via Recta, armed with shovels and barrows, and determined to appropriate what was known to be the best fertilizer in the world. Stepping unconcernedly between the gigantic legs of the pachyderms, they busied themselves scooping up piles of dung the size of wheels of cheese from Arpinum. Only urgency and pity kept Varro's mirth at bay as he shouted and shooed, finally saw the mahouts get their charges under way toward the Forum Holitorium-no one could have driven them back the way they had come, with six legions congesting the roadway.



In the meantime the front half of the parade had ground to a halt in the Forum Romanum opposite the imposing Ionic facade of the temple of Castor and Pollux-upon which, high up, sat Sulla with his Master of the Horse, the two consuls, and some of his family and friends. Courtesy and custom said that the triumphator must be the most important man in his parade as well as at his feast, so these august men did not participate in the parade, nor would they attend the feast afterward.



Everyone was restless; everyone was also cold. The day was fine, but a bitter north wind was blowing, and the sun in the depths of the lower Forum not strong enough to melt the icicles hanging from temple eaves. Finally Varro returned, took the steps of Castor's two at a time, and bent to whisper in Sulla's ear. A huge gust of laughter assailed all the suddenly curious men; then, still laughing, Sulla got to his feet and walked to the edge of the podium to address the crowd.



"Wait a little longer!" he shouted. "Our triumphator is coming! He decided he'd improve the look of his parade by using elephants to draw his car instead of horses! But the elephants wouldn't fit through the Porta Triumphalis, so he's had to send for horses!" A pause, and then (quite audibly), "Oh, how I wish I'd been there to see it!"



General titters followed that announcement, but only the men who knew Pompey-Metellus Pius, Varro Lucullus, Crassus-roared their amusement.



"You know, it isn't wise to offend Sulla," said Metellus Pius to those around him. "I've noticed it time and time again. He has some sort of exclusive claim on Fortune, so he doesn't even have to exert himself to see a man humiliated. The Goddess does it for him. Sulla is her favorite person in the world."



"What I can't understand," said Varro Lucullus, frowning, "is why Pompeius didn't measure the gate beforehand. Give him his due, he's usually very efficient."



"Until his daydreams overpower his good sense," said Varro, arriving breathless; he had run all the way from the Triumphal Gate as well as up Castor's steps. "His mind was so set on those wretched elephants that it never occurred to him anything could go wrong. Poor Magnus, he was shocked."



"I feel sorry for him, actually," said Varro Lucullus.



"So do I, now I've proved my point to him," said Metellus Pius, and looked closely at the panting, scarlet-faced Varro. "How is he taking it?"



"He'll be all right by the time he gets to the Forum," Varro said, too loyal to describe the bout of tears.



Indeed, Pompey carried the rest of his triumphal parade with grace and dignity, though there could be no denying, even in his mind, that the two-hour fracture in its middle relegated it to the level of a very pedestrian triumph. Nor had many people lined the route to see him; what were horses compared to old men elephants, especially the plodding bay mediocrities which were all Scaptius could find?



It was not until he entered the temple of Jupiter Stator, in which his feast was laid out, that he fully understood how funny the men who mattered thought his elephantine fiasco was. The ordeal had actually begun on his way down from the Capitol after the triumph itself had concluded, when he found a group of people clustered about the base of Scipio Africanus's encolumned statue, laughing hilariously. The moment he drew near, however, everyone cleared a path to make sure he saw what some Forum wit had chalked upon the plinth in huge letters:



"Africanus up here in the air



Found elephants worthy of prayer.



Kid Butcher, precocious young shit,



Found elephants just wouldn't fit!"



Inside Jupiter Stator it was even worse. Some of his guests contented themselves by putting a heavy emphasis on the word "Magnus" when they addressed him by it, but others feigned a slip in pronunciation which turned him into "Magus"-a ludicrous wise man from Persia-or punned deliciously on "Manus"-hand-to imply everything from his being on hand to smarm to Sulla, to smarming to Sulla by using his hand. A very few remained courteous, like Metellus Pius and Varro Lucullus; a few were Pompey's own friends and relatives, who made matters worse by waxing indignant and offering to fight the mockers; and some, like Catulus and Hortensius, were conspicuous by their absence.



Pompey did make a new friend, however; none other than the Dictator's long-lost nephew, Publius Cornelius Sulla, who was introduced to him by Catilina.



"I didn't realize Sulla had a nephew!" said Pompey.



"Nor did he," said Publius Sulla cheerfully, and added, "Nor did I until recently, for that matter."



Catilina began to laugh. "It's no less than the truth," he said to Pompey, now obviously confused.



"You'd better enlighten me," said Pompey, glad to hear a shout of laughter that was not directed at him.



"I grew up thinking I was the son of Sextus Perquitienus," Publius Sulla explained. "Lived next door to Gaius Marius all my life! When my grandfather died and my father inherited, neither of us suspected the truth. But my father was friendly with Cinna, so after the proscription lists started going up on the rostra, he expected to see his name at the top of every new one that came out. And worried so much that he fell over dead."



This was announced with such careless insouciance that Pompey correctly assumed there was no love lost between father and son-not a surprise, considering that old Sextus Perquitienus (and Publius Sulla's father) had been detested by most of Rome.



"I'm fascinated," Pompey said.



"I found out who I was when I was going through a chest of old documents belonging to my grandfather," said Publius Sulla. "I unearthed the adoption papers! Turned out my father had been adopted by my grandfather before my uncle the Dictator was born-he never knew he had an older brother. Anyway, I thought I had better take the papers to Uncle Lucius the Dictator before someone put my name on a proscription list!"



"Well, you do have a look of Sulla about you," Pompey said, smiling, "so I suppose you didn't have much trouble convincing him."



"No trouble at all! Isn't it the most wonderful luck?" asked Publius Sulla happily. "Now I have all the Perquitienus wealth, I'm safe from proscription, and I'll probably inherit a share of Uncle Lucius the Dictator's millions as well."



"Do you think he'll groom you as some kind of successor?"



A question which sent Publius Sulla into slightly wine-soaked giggles. "I? Succeed Sulla? Ye gods, no! I, my dear Magnus, have no political ambitions whatsoever!"



"Are you in the Senate already?"



Catilina stepped into the breach. "We're both summoned by Sulla to attend meetings of the Senate, though he hasn't made us senators officially-yet. Publius Sulla and I just had a feeling you might need some young and friendly faces here today, so we came along to sample the eats and cheer you up."



"I'm very glad you did come," said Pompey gratefully.



"Don't let these haughty sticklers for the mos maiorum grind you down," said Catilina, clapping Pompey on the back. "Some of us were really delighted to see a young man triumph. You'll be in the Senate very soon, I can promise you that. Sulla intends to fill it with men whom the haughty sticklers do not approve of!"



And suddenly Pompey saw red. "As far as I'm concerned," he said through his teeth, "the Senate can disappear up its own fundamental orifice! I know what I intend to do with my life, and it does not include membership in the Senate! Before I'm done with that body-or enter it!-I mean to prove to it that it can't keep an outstanding man from any office or command he might decide he wants-as a knight, not a senator!"



One of Catilina's darkly slender eyebrows flew up, though Publius Sulla seemingly missed the significance of this remark.



Pompey gazed around the room, then beamed, his flash of temper gone. "Ah! There he is! All alone on his couch too! Do come and eat with me and my brother-in-law Memmius! He's the best of good fellows!"



“You should be eating with all the haughty sticklers who unbent enough to come today," said Catilina. "We'll quite understand, you know, if you join Metellus Pius and his friends. You leave us with Gaius Memmius and we'll be as happy as two elderly Peripatetics arguing about the function of a man's navel."



"This is my triumphal feast, and I can eat with whomsoever I like," said Pompey.



At the beginning of April, Sulla published a list of two hundred new senators, promising that there would be more in the months to come. The name at the top was that of Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, who went to see Sulla immediately.



"I will not enter the Senate!" he said angrily.



Sulla gazed at his visitor, astonished. "Why? I would have thought you'd be breaking your neck to get in!"



The anger fled; self-preservation came to the fore as Pompey realized how Sulla would see this extraordinary departure from what Sulla thought of as Pompey's normal self; after all, he had been at some pains to build a certain image for Sulla. Cool, Magnus! Cool down and think this thing out. Find a reason Sulla will believe because it fits his idea of me. No! No! Give him a reason that fits his idea of himself!



"It's all to do," said the young man, gazing at Sulla in wide-eyed earnestness, "with the lesson you taught me over that wretched triumph." He drew a breath. "I've had a good think since then, Lucius Cornelius. And I realize I'm too young, not educated enough. Please, Lucius Cornelius, let me find my own way into the Senate in my own good time. If I go in now, I'll be laughed at for years." And that, thought Pompey, is very true! I'm not joining a body of men who will all smirk every time they set eyes on me. I'll join that body of men when their knees shake every time they set eyes on me.



Mollified, Sulla shrugged. “Have it your own way, Magnus."



"Thank you, I really would prefer to. I'll wait until I've done something they'll remember over elephants. Like a decent and conscientious quaestorship when I'm thirty."



That was a little too much; the pale eyes were now frankly amused, as if the mind behind them was reaching deeper into Pompey than Pompey wanted. But all Sulla said was, "A very good idea! I'll remove your name before I take my list to the Popular Assembly for ratification-I am going to have all my major laws ratified by the People, and I'll start with this one. But I want you in the House tomorrow just the same. It's fitting that all my legates of the war should hear the beginning. So make sure you're there."



Pompey was there.



"I will begin," said the Dictator in a strong voice, "by discussing Italy and the Italians. In accordance with my promises to the Italian leaders, I will see that every last Italian entitled is enrolled as a citizen of Rome in the proper way, with an equal distribution across the full spectrum of the thirty-five tribes. There can be no more attempts to cheat the Italian people of full suffrage by burying their votes in only a few selected tribes. I gave my word on the matter, and I will honor my word."



Sitting side by side on the middle tier, Hortensius and Catulus exchanged a significant glance; neither was a man who favored this massive concession to people who were not, when it was all boiled down, a Roman's bootlace.



Sulla shifted a little on his curule chair. "Regretfully, I find it impossible to honor my promise to distribute Rome's freedmen across the thirty-five tribes. They will have to remain enrolled in urban Esquilina or Suburana. I do this for one specific reason: to ensure that a man who owns thousands of slaves will not at any time in the future be tempted to free large numbers of them and thus overload his own rural tribe with freedman clients."



"Clever old Sulla!" said Catulus to Hortensius.



"Not much escapes him," said Hortensius under his breath. "It sounds as if he's heard that Marcus Crassus is going heavily into slaves, doesn't it?"



Sulla went on to discuss towns and lands. “Brundisium, a city which treated me and my men with the honor we deserved, will be rewarded by becoming exempt from all customs and excise duties."



"Phew!"' said Catulus. "That little decree will make Brundisium the most popular port in Italy!"



The Dictator rewarded some districts but punished many more, though in varying degree; Praeneste suffered perhaps worst, though the lesser Sulmo was ordered razed to the ground, and Capua went back to its old status as well as losing every last iugerum of its lands to swell the Roman ager publicus.



Catulus only half-listened after Sulla began to drone an endless list of town names, to find himself rudely jerked back to the present by Hortensius's elbow in his ribs. "Quintus, he's talking about you!" said Hortensius.



"... Quintus Lutatius Catulus, my loyal follower, I hereby give the task of rebuilding the temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus on the Capitol." The puckered lips drew back to display gum, and a derisive, spiteful gleam flickered in Sulla's eyes. "Most of the funds will come out of income generated from our new Roman ager publicus, but I also expect you, my dear Quintus Lutatius, to supplement this source from the depths of your private purse."



Jaw dropping, Catulus sat filled with an icy fear, for he understood that this was Sulla's way of punishing him for staying safely in Rome under Cinna and Carbo all those years.



"Our Pontifex Maximus, Quintus Caecilius Metellus Pius, is to restore the temple of Ops damaged in the same fire," Sulla went on smoothly. "However, this project must be entirely funded from the public purse, as Ops is the manifestation of Rome's public wealth. However, I do require that our Pontifex Maximus shall rededicate that temple himself when the work is finished."



"That ought to be stammering good fun!" said Hortensius.



“I have just published a list containing the names of two hundred men I have elevated to the Senate," Sulla continued, "though Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus has informed me that he does not wish to join the Senate at this time. His name has been deleted."



That caused sufficient sensation to stir the whole House; all eyes turned to Pompey, who sat alone near the doors looking very comfortable with himself, and smiling demurely.



“I intend to add a further hundred or so men to the Senate in the future, which will bring total membership up to about four hundred, so many senators have we lost over the past decade."



"You wouldn't think he'd killed any of them, would you?" asked Catulus of Hortensius with a snap. How could he possibly find the huge sums he suspected would be required of his private purse in order to rebuild the Great Temple?



The Dictator proceeded. "I have tried to find my new members of the Senate from among senatorial families, though I have included knights of hitherto unsenatorial family, provided their bloodlines do the Senate honor. You will find no mushrooms growing on my list! However, in relation to one kind of new senator, I pass over all qualifications, from the completely unofficial census of one million sesterces to a suitable family background. I am referring to soldiers of exceptional valor. I intend that Rome should honor all such men as she did in the days of Marcus Fabius Buteo. Of recent generations we have entirely ignored the military hero. Well, I will see an end to that! If any man should win a Grass Crown or a Civic Crown, no matter who or what his antecedents, he will automatically enter the Senate. In this way, the little new blood I have permitted the Senate will at least be brave blood! And I would hope that there will be fine old names among the winners of our major crowns: it should not be left to newcomers to earn accolades as our bravest men!"



Hortensius grunted. "That's a fairly popular edict."



But Catulus could get no further than the financial burden Sulla had laid upon him, and merely rolled a pair of piteous eyes at his brother-in-law.



"One further thing, and I will dismiss this assemblage," Sulla said. "Each man on my list of new senators will be presented to the Assembly of the People, patrician as well as plebeian, and I will require of that body that he be voted in." He got to his feet. "The meeting is now concluded."



"How am I going to find enough money?" wailed Catulus to Hortensius as they hurried out of the Curia Hostilia.



"Don't find it," said Hortensius coolly.



"I'll have to!"



"He's going to die, Quintus. Until he does, you'll have to adopt delaying tactics. After he dies, who cares? Let the State find every sestertius of the money."



"It's all due to the flamen Dialis!" said Catulus savagely. "He caused the fire-let him pay for the new Great Temple!"



The fine legal mind of Hortensius found issue with this; its owner frowned. "You'd better not be heard saying that! The flamen Dialis cannot be held responsible for a mischance phenomenon unless he has been charged and tried in a court of law, as with any other priest. Sulla hasn't explained why the young fellow has apparently fled from Rome, but he hasn't proscribed him. Nor has a charge been laid against him."



"He's Sulla's nephew by marriage!"



"Exactly, my dear Quintus."



"Oh, brother-in-law, why do we bother with all this? There are times when I long to gather up all my money, sell my estates, and move to Cyrenaica," said Catulus.



"We bother because we have the birthright," said Hortensius.



...



New senators and old gathered two days later to hear Sulla announce that he intended to abolish the election of censors, at least for the time being; the way he would reorganize the State's finances, he explained, would make it unnecessary to call for contracts, and no census of the people would be of value for at least another decade.



"At that point you may re-examine the matter of censors," said the Dictator grandly. "I do not presume to legislate the censors completely out of existence."



He would, however, do something special for the men of his own order, the Patriciate. “Over the centuries which have passed since the original plebeian revolt," he said, "patrician rank has come to mean very little. The only advantage a patrician possesses over a plebeian these days is that he can assume certain religious offices barred to plebeians. I do not consider this worthy of the mos maiorum. A man born a patrician goes back to before the Kings in a clean, clear line. The mere fact that he exists shows that his family has served Rome for more than half a millennium. I think it fair in light of this that the patrician must enjoy some special honor- minor perhaps, but exclusive to him. I am therefore going to allow the patrician to stand for curule office-both praetor and consul-two years ahead of the plebeian."



"What he means, of course, is that he's looking after his own," said the plebeian Marcus Junius Brutus to his wife Servilia, a patrician.



Servilia had found her husband slightly more communicative in these peril-fraught days. Ever since the news came that her father-in-law had died off Lilybaeum as a result of the Dictator's house pet Pompey's cleaning-up operations, Brutus had lived on a hairline. Would his father be proscribed? Would he be proscribed? As the son of a proscribed man he could inherit nothing, would lose everything; and if he himself were proscribed, he would lose his life. But Old Brutus's name had not been among the forty proscribed senators, and no more senatorial names had been published since that first list. Brutus hoped the danger was over-but he couldn't be sure. No one could be sure! Sulla dropped hints.



That he was less aloof toward Servilia was due to his sudden appreciation of the fact that it was probably his marriage to her that had kept the Marcus Junius Brutus name off Sulla's lists. This new honor Sulla was providing for patricians was just one more way in which Sulla was saying that the patrician was special, due more honors than the richest and most powerful plebeian of a consular family. And among the Patriciate, what name was more august than Servilius Caepio?



"It is a pity," said Servilia now, "that our son cannot have patrician status."



"My name is sufficiently old and revered for our son," said Brutus stiffly. "We Junii Bruti are descended from the founder of the Republic."



"I've always found it odd," said Servilia coolly, "that if that is really so, the present-day Junii Bruti are not patrician. For the founder of the Republic certainly was. You always talk of an expedient adoption into a plebeian family, but a plebeian family called Junius Brutus must have been descended from a slave or a peasant belonging to the patrician family."



This speech, which Brutus felt himself obliged to swallow, was one more indication that Servilia was no longer a silent and compliant wife. Her fear of divorce had lessened, and her sense of power had correspondingly grown. The child in the nursery, now two years old, meant everything to her. Whereas the child's father meant nothing. That she intended to preserve her husband's status was purely because of her son. But that didn't mean she had to bow and scrape to Brutus as she had in the days before the old man's treason had threatened everything.



"Your younger sister will do superbly," said Brutus with a slight tinge of malice. “A patrician married to another patrician! She and Drusus Nero can't go wrong."



"Drusus Nero is a plebeian," said Servilia haughtily. "He may have been born a Claudian, but my uncle Drusus adopted him. He is a Livian, with rank no greater than yours."



"I predict he'll prosper all the same."



"Drusus Nero is twenty years old, and has about a medicine spoon of intelligence. Why, our son is more capable at two!" said Servilia tartly.



Brutus eyed her warily; it had not been lost upon him that his wife's attachment to little Brutus was phenomenal. To say the least. A lioness!



"Anyway," said Brutus pacifically, "Sulla will continue to tell us what he means to do the day after tomorrow."



"Have you any idea what he's going to do?"



"Not until the day after tomorrow."



The day after tomorrow saw Sulla tackling elections and elected offices with an expression on his face that did not brook argument. "I am tired of haphazard electoral scrambles," he said, "and will legislate a proper procedure. In future, all elections will be held in Quinctilis, which is five to six months earlier than an elected man takes office. During the waiting period, the curule men will assume a new importance in the House. Consuls-elect will be asked to speak immediately after consuls in office, and praetors-elect immediately after praetors in office. From now on the Princeps Senatus, ex-censors and consulars will not speak until after the last praetor-elect. It is a plain waste of the House's time to listen to men who have passed beyond office ahead of men occupying it or in transition toward occupying it."



All eyes had turned to Flaccus Princeps Senatus, sharply demoted by this edict, but he sat blinking gently, apparently not at all put out.



Sulla continued. "The curule elections in the Centuriate Assembly will be held first, on the day before the Ides of Quinctilis. Then will follow the elections for quaestors, curule aediles, tribunes of the soldiers and other minor positions in the Assembly of the People ten days before the Kalends of Sextilis. And finally the plebeian elections in the Plebeian Assembly will be held on a date between two and six days before the Kalends."



"Not too bad," said Hortensius to Catilus. "We'll all know our electoral fates well before the end of the year."



"And enjoy a new prominence," said Catulus, pleased.



"Now to the offices themselves," said Sulla. "After I've personally finished adding the names of new senators to this distinguished body, I intend to close the door. From then on, the only entrance will be through the office of quaestor, which a man will stand for in his thirtieth year, no earlier. There will be twenty quaestors elected each year, a sufficient number to offset senatorial deaths and keep the House plump. There are two minor exceptions which will not affect overall numbers: a man elected tribune of the plebs who is not already a senator will continue to enter the Senate through this office. And a man who has been awarded the Grass Crown or the Civic Crown will be promoted to the Senate automatically."



He shifted a little, looked at his mute flock. "I will see eight praetors elected every year. A plebeian man will not be able to seek election as praetor until his thirty-ninth year, but a patrician man two years sooner, as already said. There will be a two-year wait between a man's election as praetor and his election as consul. No man will be able to stand for consul unless he has already been praetor. And I will restate the lex Genucia in the strongest terms, making it impossible for any man-patrician or plebeian!-to stand for consul a second time until after ten full years have elapsed. I will have no more Gaius Mariuses!"



And that, everyone thought, was an excellent thing!



But when Sulla introduced his legislation to cancel the powers of the tribunes of the plebs, approval was not so general or so strong. Over the centuries of the Republic, the tribunes of the plebs had gradually arrogated more and more legislative business unto themselves, and turned that Assembly which contained only plebeians into the most powerful of the lawmaking bodies. Often the main objective of the tribunes of the plebs had been to handicap the largely unwritten powers of the Senate, and to render the consuls less essential.



"That," said Sulla in tones of great satisfaction, "is now all finished with. In future, tribunes of the plebs will retain little except their right to exercise the ius auxilii ferendi.''



A huge stir; the House murmured and moved restlessly, then frowned and looked bleak.



"I will see the Senate supreme!" Sulla thundered. "To do that, I must render the tribunate of the plebs impotent- and I will! Under my new laws, no man who has been a tribune of the plebs will be able to hold any magistracy after it-he will not be able to become aedile or praetor or consul or censor! Nor will he be able to hold office as a tribune of the plebs for a second time until ten years have elapsed. He will be able to exercise the ius auxilii ferendi only in its original way, by rescuing an individual member of the Plebs from the clutches of a single magistrate. No tribune of the plebs will be able to call a law threatening the Plebs as a whole a part of that right! Or call a duly convened court a part of that right."



Sulla's eyes rested thoughtfully upon, oddly enough, two men who could not hold the office of tribune of the plebs because they were patricians-Catilina and Lepidus.



"The right of the tribune of the plebs to veto," he went on, "will be severely curtailed. He will not be able to veto senatorial decrees, laws carrying senatorial approval, the right of the Senate to appoint provincial governors or military commanders, nor the right of the Senate to deal with foreign affairs. No tribune of the plebs will be allowed to promulgate a law in the Plebeian Assembly unless it has been authorized first by the Senate in passing a senatus consultum. He will no longer have the power to summon meetings of the Senate."



There were many glum faces, quite a few angry ones; Sulla paused rather stagily to see if anyone was going to protest audibly. But no one did. He cleared his throat. "What do you have to say, Quintus Hortensius?"



Hortensius swallowed. "I concur, Lucius Cornelius."



"Does anyone not concur?"



Silence.



"Good!" said Sulla brightly. "Then this lex Cornelia will go into law forthwith!"



"It's horrific," said Lepidus to Gaius Cotta afterward.



"I couldn't agree more."



"Then why," demanded Catulus, "did we lie down under it so tamely? Why did we let him get away with it? How can the Republic be a genuine Republic without an active and properly constituted tribunate of the plebs?"



"Why," asked Hortensius fiercely, taking this as a direct criticism of his own cowardice, "did you not speak out, then?"



"Because," said Catulus frankly, "I like my head right where it is-firmly attached to my shoulders."



"And that about sums it up," said Lepidus.



"I can see," said Metellus Pius, joining the group, "the logic behind it-how clever he's been! A lesser man would simply have abolished the office, but not he! He hasn't tampered with the ius auxilii ferendi. What he's done is to pare away the powers added on in later times. So he can successfully argue that he's working well within the framework of the mos maiorum-and that has been his theme in everything. Mind you, I don't think this can possibly work. The tribunate of the plebs matters too much to too many."



"It will last as long as he lives," said Cotta grimly.



Upon which note, the party broke up. No one was very happy-but on the other hand, nor did anyone really want to pour his secret thoughts and feelings into another man's ear. Too dangerous!



Which just went to show, thought Metellus Pius as he walked home alone, that Sulla's climate of terror was working.



By the time Apollo's games came round early in Quinctilis, these first laws had been joined by two more: a lex Cornelia sumptuaria and a lex Cornelia frumentaria. The sumptuary law was extremely strict, even going so far as to fix a ceiling of thirty sesterces per head on ordinary meals, and three hundred per head on banquets. Luxuries like perfumes, foreign wines, spices and jewelry were heavily taxed; the cost of funerals and tombs was limited; and Tyrian purple carried an enormous duty. The grain law was reactionary in the extreme. It abolished the sale of cheap grain by the State, though Sulla was far too shrewd to forbid the State to sell grain; his law just said that the State could not undercut the private grain merchants.



A heavy program, by no means ended. Perhaps because the onerous task of preparing all this legislation had been going on without let since just after Sulla's triumph, the Dictator decided on the spur of the moment to take a few days off and attend the ludi Apollinares, celebrated during early Quinctilis. The events held in the Circus Maximus were not what he wanted to see, of course; he wanted to go to the plays, of which a good ten or eleven had been scheduled in the temporary wooden theater erected within the space of the Circus Flaminius on the Campus Martius. Comedy reigned. Plautus, Terence and Naevius were well represented, but there were several mimes listed too, and these were always Sulla's favorites. True comedy contained written lines which could not be deviated from, but the mime was just a stock situation upon which the cast and its director extrapolated their own lines, and played without masks.



Perhaps it was his interlude with Aurelia's delegation that led to his wholehearted participation in the plays put on during Apollo's games; or perhaps the fact that one of his ancestors had founded Apollo's games made him decide he must show himself; or was it a need to set eyes upon the actor Metrobius? Thirty years! Could it really be that long? Metrobius had been a lad, Sulla celebrating his thirtieth birthday in bitter frustration. Since his entry into the Senate three years afterward, their meetings had been few and far apart, and filled with torment.



Sulla's decision to deny that part of himself had been considered, obdurate, firmly based in logic. Those men in public life who admitted to-or succumbed to-a preference for their own sex were damned for it. No law compelled them to retire, though there were several laws on the tablets, including a lex Scantinia which demanded a death penalty; mostly they were not used, for there was a certain tolerance in fair men. The reality was more subtle, need not even retard the public career if the man was able. It consisted in amusement, contempt, liberal applications of wit and pun and sarcasm, and it diminished a man's dignitas drastically. Some men who ought to be his peers would always regard him as their inferior because of it. And that to Sulla made it something he couldn't have, no matter how badly he wanted it-and he wanted it badly. His hopes were pinned on his eventual retirement- after which, he told himself, he didn't care one iota what men said of him. He would come into his own, he would grab eagerly at a personal reward. His accomplishments at his retirement would be tangible and formidable, his dignitas accumulated over the length of his public career too cemented to be diminished by an old man's last sexual fling.



But oh, he longed for Metrobius! Who probably wouldn't be interested in an old and ugly man. That too had contributed to his decision to go to the plays. Better to find out now than when the time came to retire. Better to feast his worsening eyes upon this beloved object while he could still see.



There were several companies taking part in the festival, including the one now led by Metrobius, who had changed from acting in tragedies to formal comedy some ten years ago. His group was not scheduled to perform until the third day, but Sulla was there on the first and second days, devoted to mime, and enjoyed himself enormously.



Dalmatica came with him, though she couldn't sit with the men, as she could at the Circus; a rigid hierarchy had been established in the theater, plays not being quite approved of in Roman society. Women, it was felt, might be corrupted if they sat with men to watch so much immorality and nudity. The two front rows of seating in the semicircular, tiered cavea were reserved for members of the Senate, and the fourteen rows just behind had used to be reserved for the knights of the Public Horse. This privilege had been conferred on the senior knights by Gaius Gracchus. And it had afforded Sulla intense pleasure to take it away. Thus all knights were now forced to battle for seats among their inferiors on a first-come, first-served basis. The few women who attended sat right up the top at the back of the cavea; they could hear well enough, but had difficulty in seeing anything titillating on the stage. In formal comedy (such as Metrobius played), no women were included in the fully masked cast, but in the mimes from Atella female roles were played by women, and nobody was masked; quite often, nobody was clothed.



The third day's play was by Plautus, and a favorite: The Vainglorious Soldier. The starring role was taken by Metrobius-how foolish! All Sulla could see of his face was the grotesque covering with its gaping mouth curving up in a ridiculous smile, though the hands were there, and the neat, muscular body looked well in its Greek armor. Of course at the end the cast took their bows with masks off; Sulla was finally able to see what the years had done to Metrobius. Very little, though the crisp black hair was exquisitely sprinkled with white, and there was a deepening fissure on either side of the straight, high-bridged Greek nose.



He couldn't weep, not there in the very middle of the front row upon his cushioned section of the wooden seat. But he wanted to, had to fight not to. The face was too far away, separated from him by the vacant half-moon of the orchestra, and he couldn't see the eyes. Oh, he could distinguish two black pools, but not what they held. Not even whether they rested on him, or on some current lover three rows behind. Mamercus was with Sulla; he turned to his son-in-law and said, voice a little constricted,



"Ask the man who played the miles gloriosus to come down, would you? I have a feeling I used to know him, but I'm not sure. Anyway, I'd like to congratulate him in person."



The audience was vacating the temporary wooden structure, and the women present were wending their way toward their spouses if they were respectable women, or trolling for business if they were prostitutes. Carefully escorted by Chrysogonus-and very carefully avoided by those in the audience who recognized them-Dalmatica and Cornelia Sulla joined the Dictator and Mamercus just as Metrobius, still in armor, finally arrived before Sulla.



"You did very well, actor," said the Dictator.



Metrobius smiled to reveal that he still had perfect teeth. "I was delighted to see you in the audience, Lucius Cornelius."



"You were a client of mine once, am I right?"



"Indeed I was. You released me from my cliental obligations just before you went to the war against Mithridates," said the actor, eyes giving nothing away.



"Yes, I remember that. You warned me of the charges one Censorinus would try to bring against me. Just before my son died." The wrecked face squeezed up, straightened with an effort. "Before I was consul, it was."



"A happy chance that I could warn you," said Metrobius.



"A lucky one for me."



"You were always one of Fortune's favorites."



The theater was just about empty; weary of these continuing platitudes, Sulla swung to face the women and Mamercus.



"Go home," he said abruptly. "I wish to talk with my old client for a while."



Dalmatica (who had not been looking well of recent days) seemed fascinated with the Greek thespian, and stood with her eyes fixed on his face. Then Chrysogonus intruded himself into her reverie; she started, turned away to follow the pair of gigantic German slaves whose duty it was to clear a path for the Dictator's wife wherever she went.



Sulla and Metrobius were left alone to follow too far behind for anyone to think they belonged to the same party. Under normal circumstances the Dictator would have been approached by clients and petitioners, but such was his luck that no one did approach.



"Just this stroll," Sulla said. "I ask nothing more."



"Ask what you will," said Metrobius.



Sulla stopped. "Stand here in front of me, Metrobius, and see what time and illness have done. The position hasn't changed. But even if it had, I am no use to you or to anyone else except these poor silly women who persist in-oh, who knows? Pitying me, in all probability. I don't think it can be love."



"Of course it's love!" He was close now, close enough for Sulla to see that the eyes still held love, still looked at him with tenderness. And with a dynamic kind of interest unspoiled by disgust or revulsion. A softer, more personal version of the way Aurelia had looked at him in Teanum Sidicinum. "Sulla, those of us who have once fallen under your spell can never be free of you! Women or men, there is no difference. You are unique. After you, all others pale. It's not a matter of virtue or goodness." Metrobius smiled. "You have neither! Maybe no great man is virtuous. Or good. Perhaps a man rich in those qualities by definition is barred from greatness. I have forgotten all my Plato, so I am not sure what he and Socrates have to say about it."



Out of the corner of his eye Sulla noticed Dalmatica turn back to stare in his direction, but what her face displayed he could not tell at the distance. Then she went round the corner, and was gone.



"Does what you say mean," asked the Dictator, "that if I am allowed to put down this present burden, you would consider living with me until I die? My time grows short, but I hope at least some of it will be mine alone to spend without consideration of Rome. If you would go with me into retirement, I promise you would not suffer in any way-least of all financially."



A laugh, a shake of the curly dark head. "Oh, Sulla! How can you buy what you have owned for thirty years?"



The tears welled, were blinked away. "Then when I retire, you will come with me?"



"I will."



"When the time comes I'll send for you."



"Tomorrow? Next year?"



"Not for a long while. Perhaps two years. You'll wait?"



"I'll wait."



Sulla heaved a sigh of almost perfect happiness: too short, too short! For he remembered that each time he had seen Metrobius on those last occasions, someone he loved had died. Julilla. His son. Who would it be this time? But, he thought, I do not care. Because Metrobius matters more. Except for my son, and he is gone. Only let it be Cornelia Sulla. Or the twins. Let it not be Dalmatica! He nodded curtly to Metrobius as if this had been the most trivial of encounters, and walked away.



Metrobius stood watching his retreating back, filled with happiness. It was true then what the little local gods of his half-remembered home in Arcadia said: if a man wanted something badly enough, he would get it in the end. And the dearer the price, the greater the reward. Only when Sulla had disappeared did he turn back toward the dressing rooms.



Sulla walked slowly, completely alone; that in itself was a seldom experienced luxury. How could he find the strength to wait for Metrobius? Not a boy any longer, but always his boy.



He could hear voices in the distance and slowed even more, unwilling that anyone should see his face just yet. For though his heart hoped and acknowledged a premonitory joy, there was anger in him because of this joyless task he still must finish, and fear in him that it might be Dalmatica to die.



The two voices were louder now, and one of them floated high above the other. He knew it well. Odd, how distinctive a man's voice was! No two alike, once one got past superficial similarities of pitch and accent. This speaker could be no one save Manius Acilius Glabrio, who was his stepdaughter Aemilia Scaura's husband.



“He really is the outside of enough,'' said Glabrio now, in tones both forceful and aristocratically languid. "Thirteen thousand talents his proscriptions have put into the Treasury, and he boasts of it! The truth is, he ought to hang his head in shame! The sum should have been ten times as much! Properties worth millions knocked down for a few thousands, his own wife the proud owner of fifty millions in big estates bought for fifty thousands-it's a disgrace!"



"I hear you've profited yourself, Glabrio," said another familiar voice-that belonging to Catilina.



"A trifle only, and not more than my due. Frightful old villain! How dared he have the audacity to say the proscriptions would end on the Kalends of last month-the names are still going up on the rostra every time one of his minions or his relatives covets another luscious slice of Campania or the seashore! Did you notice him remain behind to have a chat to the fellow played the vainglorious soldier? He can't resist the stage-or the riffraff who strut across it! That goes back to his youth, of course, when he was no better than the most vulgar strumpet who ever hawked her fork outside Venus Erucina's! I suppose he's worth a laugh or two among the pansies when they get together to see who is on which end today. Have you ever seen a daisy chain of pansies? Sulla's seen plenty!"



"Be careful what you say, Glabrio," said Catilina, sounding a little uneasy. "You too could wind up proscribed."



But Glabrio laughed heartily. "Not I!" he cried gleefully. "I'm part of the family, I'm Dalmatica's son-in-law! Even Sulla can't proscribe a member of the family, you know."



The voices faded as the two men moved off, but Sulla stayed where he was, just around the corner. All movement had stilled in him, and the ice-cold eyes glowed eerily. So that was what they said, was it? After all these years too... Of course Glabrio was privy to much Rome was not-but clearly Rome would soon be privy to everything Glabrio imagined or knew. How much was idle gossip, how much the opportunity to read documents and papers filed away year by year? Sulla was in the throes of collecting all his written evidence against the day of his retirement, for he intended to author his memoirs, as Catulus Caesar had done ten years earlier. So there were plenty of bits and pieces lying around, it wouldn't have taken any great talent to unearth them. Glabrio! Why hadn't he thought of Glabrio, always in and out of his house? Not every member of that privileged visiting circle was a Cornelia Sulla or a Mamercus! Glabrio! And who else?



The ashes of his anger at having to continue to hold Metrobius at arm's length tumbled onto a fresh conflagration within Sulla's mind and fueled it sourly, relentlessly. So, he thought as he picked up his feet and began to walk again, I cannot proscribe a member of my own family, eh? I cannot, he's right about that. Yet-need it be proscription? Might there not be a better way?



Round the corner he came, straight into the arms of Pompey. Both men stepped back, reeling a little.



"What, Magnus, on your own?" asked Sulla.



"Sometimes," said Pompey, falling into step alongside the Dictator, "it's a pleasure to be alone."



"I heartily concur. But don't tell me you tire of Varro!"



“Too much Varro can be a pain in the podex, especially when he starts prating on about Cato the Censor and the old ways and when money had real value. Though I'd rather hear Varro on those topics than on invisible fingers of power," grinned Pompey.



"That's right, I'd forgotten he was a friend of poor old Appius Claudius's," said Sulla, rather glad that if in his present mood he had to collide with anyone, it had turned out to be Pompey. "I wonder why we all think of Appius Claudius as so old?"



Pompey chuckled. "Because he was born old! But you are out of touch, Sulla! Appius Claudius is quite eclipsed these days. There's a new man in town-name of Publius Nigidius Figulus. A proper sophist. Or do I mean Pythagorean?" He shrugged casually. “No use, I never can keep one sort of philosopher distinct from all the others."



"Publius Nigidius Figulus! It's an old and hallowed name, but I hadn't heard of the genuine article raising his head in Rome. Is he a bucolic gentleman, perhaps?"



"Not a hayseed, if that's what you're asking. More a gourd half-full of peas-rattle, rattle... He's a great expert on Etruscan soothsaying, from lightning to livers. Knows more lobes in that organ than I know figures of speech."



"How many figures of speech do you know, Magnus?" asked Sulla, highly diverted.



"Two, I think. Or is it three?"



"Name them."



"Color and description



"Two."



"Two."



They walked on in silence for a moment, both smiling, but at different thoughts entirely.



"So how does it feel to be a knight when they don't have special seats at the theater anymore?" demanded Sulla.



"I'm not complaining," said Pompey blithely. "I never go to the theater."



"Oh. Where have you been today, then?"



"Out to the Via Recta. Just for a good walk, you know. I get very hamstrung in Rome. Don't like the place."



“On your own here?''



"More or less. Left the wife behind in Picenum." He pulled a sour face.



"Not to your liking, Magnus?"



"Oh, she'll do until something better comes along. Adores me! Just not good enough, is all."



"Well, well! It's an aedilician family."



"I come from a consular family. So ought my wife."



"Then divorce her and find a consular wife."



"Hate making small talk, to women or their fathers."



At that precise moment a blinding inspiration came to Sulla, who stopped dead in the middle of the lane leading from the Velabrum to the Vicus Tuscus just below the Palatine.” Ye gods!" he gasped. "Ye gods!"



Pompey stopped too. "Yes?" he asked politely.



"My dear young knight, I have had a brilliant idea!"



"That's nice."



"Oh, stop mouthing platitudes! I'm thinking!"



Pompey obediently said nothing further, while Sulla's lips worked in and out upon his toothless gums like a swimming jellyfish. Then out came Sulla's hand, fixed itself on Pompey's arm.



"Magnus," come and see me tomorrow morning at the third hour," he said, gave a gleeful skip, and departed at a run.



Pompey remained where he was, brow furrowed. Then he too began to walk, not toward the Palatine but toward the Forum; his house was on the Carinae.



Home went Sulla as if pursued by the Furies; here was a task he was really going to enjoy performing!



"Chrysogonus, Chrysogonus!" he bellowed in the doorway as his toga fell behind him like a collapsing tent.



In came the steward, looking anxious-something he did quite often of late, had Sulla only noticed. Which he didn't.



"Chrysogonus, take a litter and go to Glabrio's house. I want Aemilia Scaura here at once."



"Lucius Cornelius, you came home without your lictors!"



"Oh, I dismissed them before the play began-sometimes they're a wretched nuisance," said the Dictator impenitently. "Now go and pick up my stepdaughter!"



"Aemilia? What do you want her for?" asked Dalmatica as she came into the room.



"You'll find out," said Sulla, grinning.



His wife paused, stared at him searchingly. "You know, Lucius Cornelius, ever since your interview with Aurelia and her delegation, you've been different."



"In what way?"



This she found difficult to answer, perhaps because she was reluctant to provoke displeasure in him, but finally she said, "In your mood, I think."



"For better or for worse, Dalmatica?"



"Oh, better. You're-happy."



"I am that," he said in a happy voice. "I had lost sight of a private future, but she gave it back to me. Oh, what a time I'm going to have after I retire!"



"The actor fellow today-Metrobius. He's a friend."



Something in her eyes gave him pause; his carefree feeling vanished immediately, and an image of Julilla lying with his sword in her belly swam into his mind, actually blotted Dalmatica's face from his gaze. Not another wife who wouldn't share him, surely! How did she know? What could she know? Did they smell it?



"I've known Metrobius since he was a boy," he said curtly, his tone not inviting her to enquire further.



"Then why did you pretend you didn't know him before he came down from the stage?" she asked, frowning.



"He was wearing a mask until the end of the play!" Sulla snapped. "It's been a good many years, I wasn't sure." Fatal! She had maneuvered him to the defensive, and he didn't like it.



"Yes, of course," she said slowly. "Yes, of course."



"Go away, Dalmatica, do! I've frittered away too much of my time since the games began, I have work waiting."



She turned to go, looking less perturbed.



"One more thing," he said to her back.



"Yes?"



"I shall need you when your daughter arrives, so don't go out or otherwise make yourself unavailable."



How peculiar he was of late! she thought, walking through the vast atrium toward the peristyle garden and her own suite of rooms. Touchy, happy, labile. Up one moment, down the next. As if he had made some decision he couldn't implement at once, he who loathed procrastination. And that fine-looking actor... What sort of place did he occupy in Sulla's scheme of things? He mattered; though how, she didn't know. Had there been even a superficial resemblance, she would have concluded that he was Sulla's son-such were the emotions she had sensed in her husband, whom she knew by now very well.



Thus it was that when Chrysogonus came to inform her that Aemilia Scaura had arrived, Dalmatica had not even begun to think further about why Sulla had summoned the girl.



Aemilia Scaura was in her fourth month of pregnancy, and had developed the sheen of skin and clearness of eye which some women did-no bouts of sickness here! A pity perhaps that she had taken after her father, and in consequence was short of stature and a little dumpy of figure, but there were saving echoes of her mother in her face, and she had inherited Scaurus's beautiful, vividly green eyes.



Not an intelligent girl, she had never managed to reconcile herself to her mother's marriage to Sulla, whom she both feared and disliked. It had been bad enough during the early years, when her brief glimpses of him had shown someone at least attractive enough to make her mother's passion for him understandable; but after his illness had so changed him for the worse she couldn't even begin to see why her mother apparently felt no less passionately about him. How could any woman continue to love such an ugly, horrible old man? She remembered her own father, of course, and he too had been old and ugly. But not with Sulla's internal rot; though she had neither the perception nor the wit thus to describe it.



Now here she was summoned into his presence, and with no more notice than to leave a hasty message for Glabrio in her wake. Her stepfather greeted her with pats of her hand and a solicitous settling on a comfortable chair-actions which set her teeth on edge and made her fear many things. Just what was he up to? He was jam-full of glee and as pregnant with mischief as she was with child.



When her mother came in the whole business of hand pats and solicitous settlings began all over again, until, it seemed to the girl, he had arranged some sort of mood and anticipation in them that would make whatever he intended to do more enjoyable to him. For this was not unimportant. This was going to matter.



"And how's the little Glabrio on the way?" he asked his stepdaughter, nicely enough.



"Very well, Lucius Cornelius."



"When is the momentous event?"



"Near the end of the year, Lucius Cornelius."



"Hmmm! Awkward! That's still a good way off."



"Yes, Lucius Cornelius, it is still a good way off."



He sat down and drummed his fingers upon the solid oaken back of his chair, lips pursed, looking into the distance. Then the eyes which frightened her so much became fixed upon her; Aemilia Scaura shivered.



"Are you happy with Glabrio?" he asked suddenly.



She jumped. "Yes, Lucius Cornelius."



"The truth, girl! I want the truth!"



"I am happy, Lucius Cornelius, I am truly happy!"



"Would you have picked somebody else had you been able?"



A blush welled up beneath her skin, her gaze dropped. "I had formed no other attachment, Lucius Cornelius, if that's what you mean. Manius Acilius was acceptable to me."



"Is he still acceptable?"



"Yes, yes!" Her voice held an edge of desperation. "Why do you keep asking? I am happy! I am happy!"



"That's a pity," said Lucius Cornelius Sulla.



Dalmatica sat up straight. "Husband, what is all this?" she demanded. "What are you getting at with these questions?”



“I am indicating, wife, that I am not pleased at the union between your daughter and Manius Acilius Glabrio. He deems it safe to criticize me because he is a member of my family," said Sulla, his anger showing. "A sign, of course, that I cannot possibly permit him to continue being a member of my family. I am divorcing him from your daughter. Immediately."



Both women gasped; Aemilia Scaura's eyes filled with tears.



"Lucius Cornelius, I am expecting his child! I cannot divorce him!" she cried.



"You can, you know," the Dictator said in conversational tones. "You can do anything I tell you to do. And I am telling you that you will divorce Glabrio at once." He clapped his hands to summon the secretary called Flosculus, who entered with a paper in his hand. Sulla took it, nodded dismissal. "Come over here, girl. Sign it."



Aemilia Scaura sprang to her feet. "No!"



Dalmatica also rose. "Sulla, you are unjust!" she said, lips thin. "My daughter doesn't want to divorce her husband."



The monster showed. "It is absolutely immaterial to me what your daughter wants," he said. "Over here, girl! And sign."



"No! I won't, I won't!"



He was out of his chair so quickly neither woman actually saw him move. The fingers of his right hand locked in a vise around Aemilia Scaura's mouth and literally dragged her to her feet, squealing in pain, weeping frantically.



"Stop, stop!" shouted Dalmatica, struggling to prise those fingers away. "Please, I beg of you! Leave her be! She's with child, you can't hurt her!"



His fingers squeezed harder and harder. "Sign," he said.



She couldn't answer, and her mother had passed beyond speech.



"Sign," said Sulla again, softly. "Sign or I'll kill you, girl, with as little concern as I felt when I killed Carbo's legates. What do I care that you're stuffed full with Glabrio's brat? It would suit me if you lost it! Sign the bill of divorcement, Aemilia, or I'll lop off your breasts and carve the womb right out of you!"



She signed, still screaming. Then Sulla threw her away in contempt. "There, that's better," he said, wiping her saliva from his hand. "Don't ever make me angry again, Aemilia. It is not wise. Now go."



Dalmatica gathered the girl against her, and the look of loathing she gave Sulla was without precedent, a genuine first. He saw it, but seemed indifferent, turned his back upon them.



In her own rooms Dalmatica found herself with an hysterical girl on her hands and a huge burden of anger to deal with. Both took some time to calm.



"I have heard he could be like that, but I've never seen it for myself," she said when she was able. "Oh, Aemilia, I'm so sorry! I'll try to get him to change his mind as soon as I can face him without wanting to tear his eyes out of his head,"



But the girl, not besotted, chopped the air with her hand. "No! No, Mother, no. You'd only make things worse."



"What could Glabrio have done to provoke this?"



"Said something he ought not have. He doesn't like Sulla, I know that. He keeps implying to me that Sulla likes men in ways men shouldn't."



Dalmatica went white. "But that's nonsense! Oh, Aemilia, how could Glabrio be so foolish? You know what men are like! If they do not deserve that slur, they can behave like madmen!"



"I'm not so sure it is undeserved," said Aemilia Scaura as she held a cold wet towel to her face, where the marks of her stepfather's fingers were slowly changing from red-purple to purple-black. "I've always thought there was woman in him."



"My dear girl, I've been married to Lucius Cornelius for almost nine years," said Dalmatica, who seemed to be shrinking in size, "and I can attest that it is an infamy."



"All right, all right, have it your own way! I don't care what he is! I just hate him, the vile beast!"



"I'll try when I'm cooler, I promise."



"Save yourself more of his displeasure, Mother. He won't change his mind," said Aemilia Scaura. "It's my baby I'm worried about, it's my baby matters to me."



Dalmatica stared at her daughter painfully. "I can say the same thing."



The cold wet towel fell into Aemilia Scaura's lap. "Mother! You're pregnant too?"



"Yes. I haven't known for very long, but I'm sure."



"What will you do? Does he know?"



"He doesn't know. And I'll do nothing that might provoke him to divorce me."



"You've heard the tale of Aelia."



"Who hasn't?"



"Oh, Mother, that changes everything! I'll behave, I'll behave! He mustn't be given any excuse to divorce you!"



"Then we must hope," said Dalmatica wearily, "that he deals more kindly with your husband than he has with you.'



"He'll deal more harshly."



"Not necessarily," said the wife who knew Sulla. "You were first to hand. Very often his first victim satisfies him. By the time Glabrio arrives to find out what's the matter, he may be calm enough to be merciful."



If he wasn't calm enough to be merciful, Sulla was at least drained of the worst of his anger at Glabrio's indiscreet words. And Glabrio was perceptive enough to see that blustering would only make his situation more perilous.



"There is no need for this, Lucius Cornelius," he said. "If I have offended you, I will strive mightily to remove the cause of that offense. I wouldn't put my wife's position in jeopardy, I assure you."



"Oh, your ex-wife is in no jeopardy," said Sulla, smiling mirthlessly. "Aemilia Scaura-who is a member of my family!-is quite safe. But she cannot possibly stay married to a man who criticizes her stepfather and spreads stories about him that are manifest lies."



Glabrio wet his lips. "My tongue ran away with me."



"It runs away with you very often, I hear. That is your privilege, of course. But in future you'll let it without the insulation of claiming to be a member of my family. You'll let it and take your chances, just like everyone else. I haven't proscribed a senator since my first list. But there's nothing to stop my doing so. I honored you by appointing you to the Senate ahead of your thirtieth birthday, as I have a great many other young men of high family and illustrious forebears. Well, for the moment I will leave your name among the senators and will not attach it to the rostra. Whether in future I continue to be so clement depends on you, Glabrio. Your child is growing in the belly of my children's half sister, and that is the only protection you have. When it is born, I will send it to you. Now please go."



Glabrio went without another word. Nor did he inform any of his intimates of the circumstances behind his precipitate divorce. Nor the reasons why he felt it expedient to leave Rome for his country estates. His marriage to Aemilia Scaura had not mattered to him in an emotional way; she satisfied him, that was all. Birth, dowry, everything as it ought to be. With the years affection might have grown between them. It never would now, so much was sure. A small twinge of grief passed through him from time to time when he thought of her, mostly because his child would never know its mother.



What happened next did nothing to help heal the breach between Sulla and Dalmatica; Pompey came to see the Dictator the following morning, as directed.



"I have a wife for you, Magnus," said Sulla without delay.



There was a quality of sleepy lion about Pompey that stood him in good stead when things happened he wished to think about before acting or speaking. So he took time to ingest this piece of information, face open rather than guarded; but what was going on inside his mind he did not betray. Rather, thought Sulla, watching him closely, he just rolled over in some metaphorical sun to warm his other side, and licked his chops to remove a forgotten morsel from his whiskers. Languid but dangerous. Yes, best to tie him to the family-he was no Glabrio.



Finally, "How considerate of you, Dictator!" said Pompey. "Who might she be?"



This unconscious grammatical betrayal of his Picentine origins grated, but Sulla did not let it show. He said, "My stepdaughter, Aemilia Scaura. Patrician. Of a family you couldn't better if you looked for a millennium. A dowry of two hundred talents. And proven to be fertile. She's pregnant to Glabrio. They were divorced yesterday. I realize, it's a bit inconvenient for you to acquire a wife who is already expecting another man's child, but the begetting was virtuous. She's a good girl."



That Pompey was not put off or put out by this news was manifest; he beamed foolishly. "Lucius Cornelius, dear Lucius Cornelius! I am delighted!"



"Good!" said Sulla briskly.



"May I see her? I don't think I ever have!"



A faint grin came and went across the Dictator's face as he thought of the bruises about Aemilia Scaura's mouth; he shook his head. "Give it two or three market intervals, Magnus, then come back and I'll marry you to her. In the meantime I'll make sure every sestertius of her dowry is returned, and keep her here with me."



"Wonderful!" cried Pompey, transported. "Does she know?''



"Not yet, but it will please her very much. She's been secretly in love with you ever since she saw you triumph," lied Sulla blandly.



That shot penetrated the lion's hide! Pompey almost burst with gratification. "Oh, glorious!" he said, and departed looking like a very well-fed feline indeed.



Which left Sulla to break the news to his wife and her daughter. A chore he found himself not averse to doing. Dalmatica had been looking at him very differently since this business had blown up out of a tranquillity almost nine years old, and he disliked her disliking him; as a result, he needed to hurt her.



The two women were together in Dalmatica's sitting room, and froze when Sulla walked in on them unannounced. His first action was to study Aemilia Scaura' s face, which was badly bruised and swollen below her nose. Only then did he look at Dalmatica. No anger or revulsion emanated from her this morning, though her dislike of him was there in her eyes, rather cold. She seemed, he thought, ill. Then reflected that women often took refuge in genuine illnesses when their emotions were out of sorts.



"Good news!" he said jovially.



To which they gave him no reply.



"I have a new husband for you, Aemilia."



Shocked, she looked up and at him with tear-reddened, dull eyes. "Who?" she asked faintly.



"Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus."



"Oh, Sulla, really!" snapped Dalmatica. "I refuse to believe you mean it! Marry Scaurus's daughter to that Picentine oaf? My daughter, of Caecilius Metellus blood? I will not consent!"



"You have no say in the matter."



"Then I wish Scaurus were alive! He'd have plenty to say!"



Sulla laughed. "Yes, he would, wouldn't he? Not that it would make any difference in the end. I need to tie Magnus to me with a stronger bond than gratitude-he doesn't have a grateful bone in his body. And you, stepdaughter, are the only female of the family available at the moment."



The grey shade in Dalmatica's skin deepened. "Please don't do this, Lucius Cornelius! Please!"



"I'm carrying Glabrio's baby," whispered Aemilia Scaura. "Surely Pompeius wouldn't want me?"



"Who, Magnus? Magnus wouldn't care if you'd had sixteen husbands and had sixteen children in your nursery," said Sulla. "He knows a bargain when he sees one, and you're a bargain for him at any price. I give you twenty days to heal your face, then you'll marry him. After the child is born, I'll send it to Glabrio."



The weeping broke out afresh. "Please, Lucius Cornelius, don't do that to me! Let me keep my baby!"



"You can have more with Magnus. Now stop behaving like a schoolgirl and face facts!" Sulla's gaze went to Dalmatica. "That goes for you as well, wife."



He walked out, leaving Dalmatica to do what she could to comfort her daughter.



Two days later, Pompey informed him by letter that he had divorced his wife, and would like a firm wedding date.



"I plan to be out of town until the Nones of Sextilis," said Sulla in his answer, "so I think two days after the Nones of Sextilis seems propitious. You may present yourself in my house at that time, not before."



Hercules Invictus was the god of the triumphing imperator and held sway over the Forum Boarium, in which lay the various meat markets, and which formed the large open space in front of the starting-post end of the Circus Maximus. There he had his Great Altar, his temple, and there too his statue, naked save on the day a general held his victory parade, when it was dressed in triumphal robes. Other temples to other aspects of Hercules also dotted the area, for he was the patron god of olives, of merchant plutocrats, and of commercial voyages personally placed under his protection.



On the feast day of Hercules Invictus, announced Sulla in a citywide proclamation, he would dedicate one tenth of his private fortune to the god, as thanks for the god's favor in all his martial endeavors. A huge stir of anticipatory pleasure went through the populace, as Hercules Invictus had no temple funds, so could not keep the moneys donated to him; they were spent in his and the triumphing general's name on providing a public feast for all free men in Rome. On the day before the Ides of Sextilis-this being the god's feast day-five thousand tables of food would be laid out, each table catering for more than a hundred hungry citizens (which was not to say that there were half a million free males in Rome- what it did say was that the donor of the feast understood that it was hard to exclude spry grannies, determined wives and cheeky children). A list of the location of these five thousand tables was appended to the proclamation; a formidable exercise in logistics, such an occasion was very carefully planned and executed so that the participants by and large remained in their own districts, did not clog the streets or overflow into rival regions and thereby cause fights, public disturbances, crime waves and riots.



The event set in train, Sulla left for his villa at Misenum with his wife, his daughter, his children, his grandchildren, his stepdaughter, and Mamercus. Dalmatica had avoided him ever since the dissolution of Aemilia Scaura's marriage to Glabrio, but when he did see her in passing, he had noticed that she looked ill. A holiday beside the sea was clearly called for. This entourage was augmented by the consul Decula, who drafted all Sulla's laws for him, and by the ubiquitous Chrysogonus.



It was therefore some days after they had settled into seaside living before he found the leisure to spend a little time with his wife, still tending to avoid him.



"There's no point in holding things like Aemilia against me," he said in reasonable but unapologetic tones. "I will always do what I have to do. You should know that by now, Dalmatica."



They were sitting in a secluded corner of the loggia overlooking the water, cooled by a gentle zephyr wind and shaded by a judiciously planted row of cypresses. Though the light was not harsh, it revealed that several days of healthier air had not served to improve Dalmatica's ailment, whatever it might be; she looked drawn and grey, much older than her thirty-seven years.



"I do know it," she said in answer to this overture of peace, but not with equanimity. "I wish I could accept it! But when my own children are involved, it's different."



"Glabrio had to go," he said, "and there was only one way to do that-sever him from my family. Aemilia is young.



She will get over the blow. Pompeius is not such a bad fellow."



"He is beneath her."



“I agree. Nonetheless, I need to bind him to me. Marriage between him and Aemilia also drives home to Glabrio that he dare not continue to speak out against me, when I have the power to give Scaurus's daughter to the likes of a Pompeius from Picenum." He frowned. "Leave it be, Dalmatica! You don't have the strength to withstand me."



"I know that," she said, low-voiced.



"You're not well, and I'm beginning to think it has nothing to do with Aemilia," he said, more kindly. "What is it?"



“I think-I think..."



"Tell me!"



"I'm going to have another child."



"Jupiter!" He gaped, recovered, looked grim.



"I agree it isn't what either of us wants at this time," she said wearily. "I fear I am a little old."



"And I am far too old." He shrugged, looked happier. "Oh well, it's an accomplished thing, and we're equally to blame. I take it you don't want to abort the process?"



"I delayed too long, Lucius Cornelius. It wouldn't be safe for me at five months. I didn't notice, I really didn't."



"Have you seen a doctor or a midwife?"



"Not yet."



He got up. "I'll send Lucius Tuccius to you now."



She flinched. "Oh, Sulla, please don't! He's an ex-army surgeon, he knows nothing about women!"



"He's better than all your wretched Greeks!"



"For doctoring men, I agree. But I would much rather see a lady doctor from Neapolis or Puteoli."



Sulla abandoned the struggle. "See whomever you like," he said curtly, and left the loggia.



Several lady physicians and midwives came to see her; each agreed she was run down, then said that as time went on and the baby in her womb settled, she would feel better.



And so on the Nones of Sextilis the slaves packed up the villa and the cavalcade set off for Rome, Sulla riding ahead because he was too impatient to dawdle at the snail's pace the women's litters made inevitable. In consequence he reached the city two days ahead of the rest of his party, and plunged into the last-moment details concerning his coming feast.



"Every baker in Rome has been engaged to make the bread and the cakes, and the special shipments of flour are already delivered," said Chrysogonus smugly; he had arrived in the city even earlier than Sulla.



"And the fish will be fresh? The weather is scorching."



"All taken care of, Lucius Cornelius, I do assure you. I have had a section of the river above the Trigarium fenced off with nets, and the fish are already swimming there against the day. A thousand fish-slaves will commence to gut and cook on the morning of the feast."



"The meats?"



“Will be freshly roasted and sweet, the guild of caterers has promised. Sucking pigs, chickens, sausages, baby lambs. I have had a message from Italian Gaul that the early apples and pears will arrive on time-five hundred wagons escorted by two squadrons of cavalry are proceeding down the Via Flaminia at this moment. The strawberries from Alba Fucentia are being picked now and packed in ice from the Mons Fiscellus. They will reach Rome the night before the feast-also under military escort."



"A pity people are such thieves when it comes to food," said the Dictator, who had been poor enough and hungry enough in his youth to understand, for all he pretended otherwise.



"If it were bread or porridge, Lucius Cornelius, there would be no need to worry," soothed Chrysogonus. "They mostly steal what has a novel taste, or a season."



"Are you sure we have enough wine?"



"There will be wine and food left over, domine."



"None of the wine's vinegary, I hope!"



"It is uniformly excellent. Those vendors who might have been tempted to throw in a few air-contaminated amphorae know well who the buyer is." Chrysogonus smiled reminiscently. "I told every one of them that if we found a single amphora of vinegar, the lot of them would be crucified, Roman citizens or no."



"I want no hitches, Chrysogonus. No hitches!"



But the hitch when it came bore no connection (or so it seemed) to the public feast; it involved Dalmatica, who arrived attended by every wisewoman Cornelia Sulla could find as they passed through the towns on the Via Appia.



"She's bleeding," said Sulla's daughter to her father.



The relief on his face was naked. "She'll lose the thing?" he asked eagerly.



"We think she may."



"Far better that she does."



"I agree it won't be a tragedy if she loses the baby," said Cornelia Sulla, who didn't waste her emotions on anger or indignation; she knew her father too well. "The real worry is Dalmatica herself, tata."



"What do you mean?"



"She may die."



Something darkly appalled showed in his eyes, just what his daughter couldn't tell; but he made a movement of distress, shook his head violently. "He is a harbinger of death!" he cried, then, "It is always the highest price! But I don't care, I don't care!" The look of amazement on Cornelia Sulla's face brought him back to his senses, he snorted. "She's a strong woman, she won't die!"



"I hope not."



Sulla got to his feet. "She wouldn't consent to see him before, but she will now. Whether she wants to or not."



"Who?"



"Lucius Tuccius."



When the ex-army surgeon arrived in Sulla's study some hours later, he looked grave. And Sulla, who had waited out those hours alone, had passed from horror at what always seemed to happen after he saw Metrobius, through guilt, to resignation. As long as he didn't have to see Dalmatica; for he didn't think he could face her.



"You don't bear good tidings, Tuccius."



"No, Lucius Cornelius."



“What exactly is wrong?'' Sulla asked, pulling at his lip.



"There seems to be a general impression that the lady Dalmatica is pregnant, and that is certainly what she thinks," said Lucius Tuccius, "but I doubt the existence of a child."



The crimson patches of scar tissue on Sulla's face stood out more starkly than usual. “Then what does exist?''



The women speak of haemorrhage, but the loss of blood is too slow for that," said the little doctor, frowning. "There is some blood, but mixed with a foul-smelling substance I would call pus were she a wounded soldier. I diagnose some kind of internal suppuration, but with your permission, Lucius Cornelius, I would like to obtain some further opinions."



"Do whatever you like," said Sulla sharply. "Just keep the comings and goings unobtrusive tomorrow-I have a wedding to see to. I suppose my wife cannot attend?"



"Definitely not, Lucius Cornelius."



Thus it was that Aemilia Scaura, five months pregnant by her previous husband, married Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus in Sulla's house without the support of anyone who loved her. And though beneath her veils of flame and saffron she wept bitterly, Pompey set himself the moment the ceremony was over to soothing and pleasing her, and succeeded so well that by the time they left, she was smiling.



It ought to have been Sulla who informed Dalmatica of this unexpected bonus, but Sulla continued to find excuse after excuse as to why he couldn't visit his wife's rooms.



"I think," said Cornelia Sulla, upon whom his communication with Dalmatica had devolved, "that he can't bear to see you looking so ill. You know what he's like. If it's someone he doesn't care about he is utterly indifferent. But if it's someone he loves, he can't bring himself to face the situation."



There was a smell of corruption in the big airy room where Dalmatica lay, reinforced the closer a visitor came to the bed. She was, Cornelia Sulla knew, dying; Lucius Tuccius had been right, no baby was growing inside her. What was pushing her poor laboring belly into a travesty of pregnancy no one seemed to know, except that it was morbid, malign. The putrid discharge flowed out of her with sluggish remorselessness, and she burned with a fever no amount of medicine or care seemed to cool: She was still conscious, however, and her eyes, bright as two flames, were fixed on her stepdaughter painfully.



"I don't matter," she said now, rolling her head upon her sweat-soaked pillow. "I want to know how my poor little Aemilia got on. Was it very bad?''



"Actually, no," said Cornelia Sulla, with surprise in her voice. “Believe it or not, darling stepmother, by the time she left to go to her new home, she was quite happy. He's rather a remarkable fellow, Pompeius-I'd never more than seen him in the distance before today, and I had all a Cornelian's prejudice against him. But he's terribly good-looking-far more attractive than silly Glabrio!-and turned out to have a great deal of charm. So she started out in floods of tears, but a few moments of Pompeius's telling her how pretty she was and how much he loved her already, and she was quite lifted out of her despond. I tell you, Dalmatica, the man has more to him than ever I expected. I predict he makes his women happy."



Dalmatica appeared to believe this. "They do tell stories about him. Years ago, when he was scarcely more than a child, he used to have congress with Flora-you know who I mean?''



"The famous whore?"



"Yes. She's a little past her prime now, but they tell me she still mourns the passing of Pompeius, who never left her without leaving the marks of his teeth all over her-I cannot imagine why that pleased her, but apparently it did! He tired of her and handed her over to one of his friends, which broke her heart. Poor, silly creature! A prostitute in love is a butt."



"Then it may well be that Aemilia Scaura will end in thanking tata for freeing her from Glabrio."



"I wish he would come to see me!"



The day before the Ides of Sextilis arrived; Sulla donned his Grass Crown and triumphal regalia, this being the custom when a man of military renown sacrificed on the Ara Maxima in the Forum Boarium. Preceded by his lictors and heading a procession of members of the Senate, the Dictator walked the relatively short distance from his house to the Steps of Cacus, and down them to the empty area in which the meat markets were normally located. When he passed by the statue of the god-today also clad in full triumphal regalia-he paused to salute it and pray. Then on he went to the Great Altar, beyond which stood the little round temple of Hercules Invictus, an old plainly Doric structure which enjoyed some fame because inside it were located some frescoes executed by the famous tragic poet Marcus Pacuvius.



The victim, a plump and perfect cream-colored heifer, was waiting in the care of popa and cultarius, chewing her drugged cud and watching the frenzied pre-banquet activity within the marketplace through gentle brown eyes. Though Sulla wore his Grass Crown, the rest of those assembled were crowned with laurel, and when the younger Dolabella-who was urban praetor and therefore in charge of this day's ceremonies-began his prayers to Hercules Invictus, no one covered his head. A foreigner within the sacred boundary, Hercules was prayed to in the Greek way, with head bare.



Everything proceeded in flawless fashion. As donor of the heifer and celebrant of the public feast, Sulla bent to catch some of the blood in the skyphos, a special vessel belonging to Hercules. But as he crouched and filled the cup, a low black shape slunk like a shadow between the Pontifex Maximus and the cultarius, dipped its snout into the growing lake of blood on the cobbles, and lapped noisily.



Sulla's shriek of horror ripped out of him as he leaped back and straightened; the skyphos emptied as it fell from his nerveless hand, and the wizened, stringy Grass Crown tumbled off his head to lie amid the blood. By this the panic was spreading faster than the ripples on the crimson pool at which the black dog, starving, still lapped. Men scattered in all directions, some screaming thinly, some hurling their laurels away, some plucking whole tufts from their hair; no one knew what to do, how to end this nightmare.



It was Metellus Pius the Pontifex Maximus who took the hammer from the stupefied popa and brought it crashing down upon the dog's working head. The cur screeched once and began to whirl in a circular dance, its bared teeth snapping and gnashing, until after what seemed an eternity it collapsed in a convulsing tangle of limbs and slowly stilled, dying, its mouth spewing a cascade of bloodied foam.



Skin whiter than Sulla's, the Pontifex Maximus dropped the hammer to the ground. "The ritual has been profaned!" he cried in the loudest voice he had ever produced. “Praetor urbanus, we must begin again! Conscript Fathers, compose yourselves! And where are the slaves of Hercules, who ought to have made sure no dog was here?"



Popa and cultarius rounded up the temple slaves, who had drifted off before the ceremony got under way to see what sort of goodies were being piled upon the readied tables. His wig askew, Sulla found the strength at last to bend over and pick up his blood-dabbled Grass Crown.



"I must go home and bathe," he said to Metellus Pius. "I am unclean. In fact, all of us are unclean, and must go home and bathe. We will reassemble in an hour." To the younger Dolabella he said, less pleasantly, "After they've cleared away the mess and thrown the carcass of the heifer and that frightful creature into the river, have the viri capitales lock the slaves up somewhere until tomorrow. Then have them crucified-and don't break their legs. Let them take days to die. Here in the Forum Boarium, in full sight of the god Hercules. He doesn't want them. They allowed his sacrifice to be polluted by a dog."



Unclean, unclean, unclean, unclean: Sulla kept repeating the word over and over as he hurried home, there to bathe and clothe himself this time in toga praetexta-a man did not have more than one set of triumphal regalia, and that one set only if he had triumphed. The Grass Crown he washed with his own hands, weeping desolately because even under his delicate touch it fell apart. What remained when finally he laid it to dry on a thick pad of white cloth was hardly anything beyond a few tired, limp fragments. My corona graminea is no more. I am accursed. My luck is gone. My luck! How can I live without my luck? Who sent it, that mongrel still black from its journey through the nether darknesses? Who has spoiled this day, now that Gaius Marius cannot? Was it Metrobius? I am losing Dalmatica because of him! No, it is not Metrobius....



So back to the Ara Maxima of Hercules Invictus he went, now wearing a laurel wreath like everyone else, his terrified lictors ruthlessly clearing a path through the crowds gathering to descend on the feast once it was laid out. There were still a few ox-drawn carts bringing provisions to the tables, which created fresh panics as their drivers saw the cavalcade of approaching priests and hastened to unyoke their beasts, drive them out of the way; if one ox plopped a pile of dung in the path of priests, the priests were defiled and the owner of the ox liable to be flogged and heavily fined.



Chrysogonus had obtained a second heifer quite as lovely as the first, and already flagging from the drug the frantic steward had literally rammed down its throat. A fresh start was made, and this time all went smoothly right to the last. Every one of the three hundred senators present spent more time making sure no dog lurked than in paying attention to the ritual.



A victim sacrificed to Hercules Invictus could not be taken from the pyre alongside the god's Great Altar, so like Caesar's white bull on the Capitol, it was left to consume itself among the flames, while those who had witnessed the morning's dreadful events scurried home the moment they were free to do so. Save for Sulla, who went on as he had originally planned; he must walk through the city wishing the feasting populace a share of his good fortune. Only how could he wish them that when Fortune's favoritism had been canceled out of existence by a black mongrel?



Each made of planks laid on top of trestles, five thousand tables groaned with food, and wine ran faster than blood on a battlefield. Unaware of the disaster at the Ara Maxima, more than half a million men and women gorged themselves on fish and fruit and honey cakes, and stuffed the sacks they had brought with them full to the top so that those left at home- including slaves-might also feast. They greeted Sulla with cheers and invocations to the gods, and promised him that they would remember him in their prayers until they died.



Night was falling when he finally returned to his house on the Palatine, there to dismiss his lictors with thanks and the news that they would be feasted on the morrow in their precinct, behind the inn on the corner of the Clivus Orbius.



Cornelia Sulla was waiting for him in the atrium.



"Father, Dalmatica is asking for you," she said.



"I'm too tired!" he snapped, knowing he could never face his wife, whom he loved-but not enough.



"Please, Father, go to her! Until she sees you, she won't abandon this idiotic notion your conduct has put into her head."



"What idiotic notion?" he asked, stepping out of his toga as he walked to the altar of the Lares and Penates on the far wall. There he bent his head, broke a salt-cake upon the marble shelf, and laid his laurel wreath upon it.



His daughter waited patiently until this ceremony was done with and Sulla turned back in her direction.



"What idiotic notion?" he asked again.



"That she is unclean. She keeps saying she's unclean."



Like stone he stood there, the horror crawling all over him, in and out and round and round, a wormy army of loathsome sensations he could neither control nor suffer. He jerked, flung his arms out as if to ward off assassins, stared at his daughter out of a madness she had not seen in him in all her life.



"Unclean!" he screamed. "Unclean!"



And vanished, running, out of the house.



Where he spent the night no one knew, though Cornelia Sulla sent parties armed with torches to look for him amid the ruins of those five thousand tables, no longer groaning. But with the dawn he walked, clad only in his tunic, into the atrium, and saw his daughter still waiting there. Chrysogonus, who had remained with Cornelia Sulla throughout the night because he too had much to fear, advanced toward his master hesitantly.



"Good, you're here," said Sulla curtly. "Send to all the priests-minor as well as major!-and tell them to meet me in one hour's time at Castor's in the Forum."



"Father?" asked Cornelia Sulla, bewildered.



"Today I have no truck with women" was all he said before he went to his own rooms.



He bathed scrupulously, then rejected three purple-bordered togas before one was presented to him that he considered perfectly clean. After which, preceded by his lictors (four of whom were ordered to change into unsoiled togas), he went to the temple of Castor and Pollux, where the priests waited apprehensively.



"Yesterday," he said without preamble, "I offered one tenth of everything I own to Hercules Invictus. Who is a god of men, and of men only. No women are allowed near his Great Altar, and in memory of his journey to the Underworld no dogs are permitted in his precincts, for dogs are chthonic, and all black creatures. Hercules is served by twenty slaves, whose main duty is to see that neither women nor dogs nor black creatures pollute his precincts. But yesterday a black dog drank the blood of the first victim I offered him, a frightful offense against every god-and against me. What could I have done, I asked myself, to incur this? In good faith I had come to offer the god a huge gift, together with a sacrificial victim of exactly the right kind. In good faith I expected Hercules Invictus to accept my gift and my sacrifice. But instead, a black dog drank the heifer's blood right there at the foot of the Ara Maxima. And my Grass Crown was polluted when it fell into the blood the black dog drank."



The ninety men he had commanded to attend him stood without moving, hackles rising at the very thought of so much profanation. Everyone present in Castor's had been at the ceremony the day before, had recoiled in horror, and then had spent the rest of that day and the night which followed in wondering what had gone wrong, why the god had vented such displeasure upon Rome's Dictator.



"The sacred books are gone, we have no frame of reference," Sulla went on, fully aware of what was going through the minds of his auditors. “It was left to my daughter to act as the god's messenger. She fulfilled all the criteria: she spoke without realizing what she said; and she spoke in ignorance of the events which occurred before the Great Altar of Hercules Invictus."



Sulla stopped, peering at the front ranks of priests without seeing the face he was looking for. "Pontifex Maximus, come out before me!" he commanded in the formal tones of a priest.



The ranks moved, shuffled a little; out stepped Metellus Pius. "I am here, Lucius Cornelius."



"Quintus Caecilius, you are closely concerned in this. I want you in front of the rest because no man should see your face. I wish I too had that privilege, but all of you must see my face. What I have to say is this: my wife, Caecilia Metella Dalmatica, daughter of one Pontifex Maximus and first cousin of our present Pontifex Maximus, is"-Sulla drew a deep breath-"unclean. In the very instant that my daughter told me this, I knew it for the truth. My wife is unclean. Her womb is rotting. Now I had been aware of that for some time. But I did not know that the poor woman's condition was offensive to the gods of men until my daughter spoke. Hercules Invictus is a god of men. So too is Jupiter Optimus Maximus. I, a man, have been entrusted with the care of Rome. To me, a man, has been given the task of helping Rome recover from the wars and vicissitudes of many years. Who I am and what I am matters. And nothing in my life can be unclean. Even my wife. Or so I see it today. Am I right in my assumption, Quintus Caecilius, Pontifex Maximus?"



How much the Piglet has grown! thought Sulla, the only one privileged to see his face: Yesterday it was the Piglet took charge, and today it is only he who fully understands.



"Yes, Lucius Cornelius," said Metellus Pius in steady tones.



"I have called all of you here today to take the auspices and decide what must be done," Sulla went on. "I have informed you of the situation, and told you what I believe. But under the laws I have passed, I can make no decision without consulting you. And that is reinforced because the person most affected is my wife. Naturally I cannot have it said that I have used this situation to be rid of my wife. I do not want to rid myself of my wife, I must make that clear. To all of you, and through you, to all of Rome. Bearing that in mind, I believe that my wife is unclean, and I believe the gods of men are offended. Pontifex Maximus, as the head of our Roman religion, what do you say?"



"I say that the gods of men are offended," said Metellus Pius. "I say that you must put your wife from you, that you must never set eyes upon her again, and that you must not allow her to pollute your dwelling or your legally authorized task."



Sulla's face revealed his distress; that was manifest to everyone. "I love my wife," he said thickly. "She has been loyal and faithful to me. She has given me children. Before me, she was a loyal and faithful wife to Marcus Aemilius Scaurus, and gave him children. I do not know why the gods of men require this of me, or why my wife has ceased to please them."



"Your affection for your wife is not in question," said the Pontifex Maximus, her first cousin. “Neither of you needs to have offended any god, of men or of women. It is better to say that her presence in your house and your presence in her life have in some unknown way interrupted or distorted the pathways whereby divine grace and favor are conducted to Rome. On behalf of my fellow priests, I say that no one is to blame. That we find no fault on either your side, Lucius Cornelius, or on your wife's side. What is, is. There can be no more to be said."



He spun round to face the silent assemblage, and said in loud, stern, unstammering voice, "I am your Pontifex Maximus! That I speak without stammer or stumble is evidence enough that Jupiter Optimus Maximus is using me as his vessel, and that I am gifted with his tongue. I say that the wife of this man is unclean, that her presence in his life and house is an affront to our gods, and that she must be removed from his life and his house immediately. I do not require a vote. If any man here disagrees with me, let him say so now."



The silence was profound, as if no men stood there at all.



Metellus Pius swung back to face the Dictator. "We direct you, Lucius Cornelius Sulla, to instruct your servants to carry your wife, Caecilia Metella Dalmatica, out of your house and convey her to the temple of Juno Sospita, where she must remain until she dies. On no account must you set eyes upon her. And after she has been taken away, I direct the Rex Sacrorum and the flamen Martialis in lieu of the flamen Dialis to conduct the purification rites in Lucius Cornelius's house."



He pulled his toga over his head. "O Celestial Twins, you who are called Castor and Pollux, or the Dioscuri, or the Dei Penates, or any other name you might prefer-you who may be gods or goddesses or of no sex at all-we have come together in your temple because we have need of your intercession with the mighty Jupiter Optimus Maximus-whose offspring you may or may not be-and with the triumphator Hercules Invictus. We pray that you will testify before all the gods that we are sincere, and have striven to right whatever wrong it is that has been done. In accordance with our contractual agreements, which go back to the battle at Lake Regillus, we hereby promise you a sacrifice of twin white foals as soon as we can find such a rare offering. Look after us, we beg you, as you have always done."



The auspices were taken, and confirmed the decision of the Pontifex Maximus. The clear morning light, which struck the interior of the temple through its open doorway, turned suddenly darker when the sun moved toward its zenith, and a chill breath of some strange wind came whistling softly in the sunlight's stead.



"One final matter before we go," said Sulla.



The feet stilled at once.



"We must replace the Sibylline Books, for though we have the Book of Vegoe and Tages still safe in the temple of Apollo, that work is unhelpful in any situation wherein foreign gods are involved, as is Hercules Invictus. There are many sibyls throughout the world, and some who are closely connected to the Sibyl of Cumae who wrote her verses on palm leaves and offered them to King Tarquinius Priscus so long ago. Pontifex Maximus, I wish you to depute someone to organize a search throughout the world for the verses which were contained in our prophetic books."



"You are right, Lucius Cornelius, it must be done," said Metellus Pius gravely. "I will find a man fit for the purpose."



The Dictator and the Pontifex Maximus walked back to Sulla's house together.



"My daughter won't take it kindly," said the Dictator, "but if she hears it from you, she may not blame me for it."



"I am very sorry for this mess."



"So," said Sulla unhappily, "am I!"



Cornelia Sulla did believe her father, a fact which surprised her as much as it did him.



"Insofar as you're able, Father, I think you do love her, and I don't think so badly of you that I credit you with wanting to be rid of her."



"Is she dying?" asked Metellus Pius, smitten with a qualm because it had been his idea to place Dalmatica in the temple of Juno Sospita for however much longer she had to live.



"Very soon now, Lucius Tuccius says. She's full of a growth."



"Then let us get it over and done with."



Eight sturdy litter-bearers took Dalmatica from her sickbed, but not in dignified silence; the forbearance with which Sulla's wife had conducted her life to date vanished in the moment she was informed of the priests' decision, and realized she would never see Sulla again. She screamed, she wept, she shrieked his name over and over and over as they carried her away, while Sulla sat in his study with his hands over his ears and the tears coursing down his face. One more price to pay. But did he have to pay it for Fortune's sake-or for the sake of Metrobius?



There were four temples in a row outside the Servian Walls in the vegetable markets: Pietas, Janus, Spes, and Juno Sospita. Though this Juno was not one of the primary goddesses who looked after gravid women, she was simultaneously a warrior offshoot of the Great Mother of Pessinus, Juno of Snakes from Lanuvium, Queen of Heaven, and Savior of Women. Perhaps because of this last aspect in her makeup, it had long been the custom for women safely delivered of a child to bring the afterbirth to Juno Sospita and leave it in her temple as an offering.



At the time of the Italian War, when money had been short and temple slaves few, the Metella Balearica who had been wife to Appius Claudius Pulcher had dreamed that Juno Sospita appeared to her complaining bitterly that her temple was so filthy she couldn't live in it. So Balearica had gone to the consul, Lucius Caesar, and demanded that he help her scrub it out. They had found more than rotting placentas; the place was green and runny with the detritus of dead women, dead bitches, dead babies, rats. Herself pregnant at the time she and Lucius Caesar had performed their stomach-turning labor, Caecilia Metella Balearica had died two months later after giving birth to her sixth child, Publius Clodius.



But the temple had been beautifully kept ever since; the offered afterbirths were placed in an ooze-proof basket and taken away regularly to be ritually burned by the flaminica Dialis (or, in these days, by her designated replacement), and no temple floor was cleaner or temple interior sweeter-smelling. Cornelia Sulla had prepared a place for Dalmatica's bed, to which the litter-bearers transferred her in an agony of terror, men brought into a woman's precinct. She was still crying out for Sulla, but weakly, near her end, and seemed not to recognize her surroundings.



A painted statue of the goddess stood upon a plinth; she wore shoes with upturned toes, brandished a spear, and faced a rearing snake, but the most striking aspect of her image was the real goatskin draped about her shoulders, tied at her waist, and with its head and horns perched atop the goddess's dark brown hair like a helmet. There beneath this outlandish creature sat Cornelia Sulla and Metellus Pius, each holding one of Dalmatica's hands to help her surmount the mortal barriers of pain and loss. The wait was one of hours only, a spiritual rather than a physical ordeal. The poor woman died still asking to see Sulla, apparently deaf to the reasonable answers both Cornelia Sulla and Metellus Pius gave her.



When she was dead the Pontifex Maximus had the undertakers set up her lectus funebris inside the temple, as she could not be taken home to lie in state. Nor could she be displayed; she sat in the traditional upright position completely covered by a black, gold-edged cloth, hedged in by the keening professional mourners, and had for her background that strange goddess with goatskin and rearing snake and spear.



"When one has written the sumptuary law," said Sulla afterward, "one can afford to ignore it."



As a result, Caecilia Metella Dalmatica's funeral cost one hundred talents, and boasted over two dozen chariot-borne actors who wore the ancestral wax masks of the Caecilii Metelli and two patrician families, Aemilius Scaurus and Cornelius Sulla. But the crowd which thronged the Circus Flaminius (it had been decided that to bring her body inside the pomerium would be imprudent, given her unclean status) appreciated so much luster less than they did the sight of Dalmatica's three-year-old twins, Faustus and Fausta, clad in black and carried by a black-festooned female giant from Further Gaul.



On the Kalends of September the real legislating began, an onslaught of such dimensions that the Senate reeled.



“The present law courts are clumsy, time-consuming and not realistic," said Sulla from his curule chair. "No comitia should hear civil or criminal charges-the procedures are too long, too liable to political manipulation, and too influenced by the fame or popularity of the accused-not to mention his defending advocates. And a jury which might be as large as several thousand electors is as unwieldy as it is injudicious."



Having thus neatly disposed of a trial process in one of the Assemblies, Sulla went on. “I will give Rome seven permanent standing courts. Treason, extortion, embezzlement, bribery, forgery, violence, and murder. All of these except the last one involve the State or the Treasury in some way, and will be presided over by one of the six junior praetors, according to the lots. The murder court will try all cases of murder, arson, magic, poison, perjury, and a new crime which I will call judicial murder-that is, exile achieved through the agency of a court. I expect that the murder court will be the busiest, though the simplest. And I will see it presided over by a man who has been aedile, though not yet praetor. The consuls will appoint him."



Hortensius sat horrified, for his greatest victories had been fought in one of the Assemblies, where his style and his ability to sway a big crowd had made of him a legend; juries of the size staffing a court were too intimate to suit him.



"Genuine advocacy will die!" he cried.



"What does that matter?" asked Sulla, looking astonished. "More important by far is the judicial process, and I intend to take that off the Assemblies, Quintus Hortensius, make no mistake about it! However, from the Assembly of the People I will seek a law to sanction the establishment of my standing courts, and by the provisions of that law all three Assemblies will formally hand over their juridical duties to my standing courts."



"Excellent!" said the historian Lucius Cornelius Sisenna. "Every man tried in court will therefore be tried by the consent of the Assemblies! That means a man will not be able to appeal to an Assembly after the court has delivered its verdict."



"Exactly, Sisenna! It renders the appeal process null and void, and eliminates the Assemblies as judges of men."



"That is disgusting!" shouted Catulus. "Not only disgusting, but absolutely unconstitutional! Every Roman citizen is entitled to an appeal!"



"Appeal and trial are one and the same, Quintus Lutatius," said Sulla, "and part of Rome's new constitution."



"The old constitution was good enough in matters like this!"



“In matters like this history has shown us all too clearly that the provisions of the old constitution led to many a man who ought to have been convicted getting off because some Assembly was persuaded by some trick rhetoric to overturn a legal court decision. The political capital made out of such Assembly trials and appeals was odious, Quintus Lutatius. Rome is too big and too busy these days to be mired down in customs and procedures invented when Rome was little more than a village. I have not denied any man a fair trial. I have in fact made his trial fairer. And made the procedure simpler."



“The juries?'' asked Sisenna.



“Will be purely senatorial-one more reason why I need a pool of at least four hundred men in the Senate. Jury duty was a burden, and will be a burden when there are seven courts to staff. However, I intend to reduce the size of juries. The old fifty-one-man jury will be retained only in cases of the highest crimes against the State. In future jury size will depend on the number of men available to sit, and if for any reason there is an even number of men on a jury, then a tied decision will count as an acquittal. The Senate is already divided into decuries of ten men, each headed by a patrician senator. I will use these decuries as the jury base, though no decury will be permanently seconded to duty in one particular court. The jury for each individual trial in any court will be selected by lot after the trial date has been set."



"I like it," said the younger Dolabella.



"I hate it!" cried Hortensius. "What happens if my decury is drawn for jury duty while I myself am occupied in acting for a defendant in another trial?''



"Why, then you'll just have to learn to fit both in," said Sulla, smiling mirthlessly. "Whores do it, Hortensius! You ought to be able to."



"Oh, Quintus, shut your mouth!" breathed Catulus.



"Who decides the number of men to staff a particular jury?" asked the younger Dolabella.



"The court president," said Sulla, "but only to a limited extent. The real determination will depend upon the number of decuries available. I would hope to see a figure between twenty-five and thirty-five men. Not all of a decury will be seconded at once-that would keep jury numbers even."



"The six junior praetors will be each given presidency of a court by lot," said Metellus Pius. "Does that mean the old system will still prevail to decide who will be urban and who foreign praetor?"



"No, I will abolish giving urban praetor to the man at the top of the poll, and foreign praetor to the man who comes in second," said Sulla. "In future, all eight jobs will be decided purely by the lots."



But Lepidus wasn't interested in which praetor would get what; he asked the question he already knew the answer to, just to make Sulla say it. "You therefore intend to remove all court participation from the knights?''



"Absolutely. With one brief intermission, the control of Rome's juries has rested with the knights since the time of Gaius Gracchus. That will stop! Gaius Gracchus neglected to incorporate a clause in his law which allowed a corrupt knight juror to be prosecuted. Senators are fully liable under the law, I will make sure of that!"



"So what is left for the urban and foreign praetors to do?" asked Metellus Pius.



"They will be responsible for all civil litigation," said Sulla, "as well as, in the case of the foreign praetor, criminal litigation between non-Romans. However, I am removing the right of the urban and foreign praetor to make a judgment in a civil case himself-instead, he will pass the case to a single judge drawn by lot from a panel of senators and knights, and that man will act as iudex. His decision will be binding on all of the parties, though the urban or foreign praetor may elect to supervise the proceedings."



Catulus now spoke because Hortensius, still red-faced and angry at Sulla's gibe, would not ask. "As the constitution stands at the moment, Lucius Cornelius, only a legally convoked Assembly can pass a sentence of death. If you intend to remove all trials from the Assemblies, does this mean you will empower your courts to levy a death sentence?"



“No, Quintus Lutatius, it does not. It means the opposite. The death sentence will no longer be levied at all. Future sentences will be limited to exiles, fines, and/or confiscation of some or all of a convicted man's property. My new laws will also regulate the activity of the damages panel-this will consist of between two and five of the jurors chosen by lot, and the court president."



"You have named seven courts," said Mamercus. "Treason, extortion, embezzlement, bribery, forgery, violence, and murder. But there is already a standing court in existence for cases of public violence under the lex Plautia. I have two questions: one, what happens to this court? and two, what happens in cases of sacrilege?"



"The lex Plautia is no longer necessary," said Sulla. He leaned back, looking pleased; the House seemed happy at the idea of having criminal procedures removed from the comitia. "Crimes of violence will be tried either in my violence court or in the treason court if the magnitude is great enough. As for sacrilege, offenses of this nature are too infrequent to warrant a standing court. A special court will be convened when necessary, to be presided over by an ex-aedile. Its conduct, however, will be the same as the permanent courts-no right of appeal to the Assemblies. If the matter concerns the un-chastity of a Vestal Virgin, the sentence of being buried alive will continue to be enforced. But her lover or lovers will be tried in a separate court and will not face a death sentence."



He cleared his throat, continued. "I am nearly done for today. First of all, a word about the consuls. It is not good for Rome to see the consuls embroiled in foreign wars. These two men during their year in office should be directly responsible for the welfare and well-being of Rome and Italy, nothing else. Now that the tribunes of the plebs have been put in their proper place, I hope to see the consuls more active in promulgating laws. And secondly, conduct within the Senate itself. In future, a man may rise to his feet to speak if he so wishes, but he will no longer be permitted to stride up and down the floor as he does so. He must speak from his allocated place, either seated or standing. Noise will not be tolerated. No applause, no drumming of feet, no calls or outcries will be tolerated. The consuls will levy a fine of one thousand denarii upon any man who infringes my new standards of conduct within the House."



A small group of senators clustered below the Curia Hostilia steps after Sulla had dismissed the meeting; some of them (like Mamercus and Metellus Pius) were Sulla's men to the last, whereas others (like Lepidus and Catulus) agreed that Sulla was at best an evil necessity.



"There's no doubt," said the Piglet, "that these new courts will take a great burden off the legislating bodies-no more fiddling about trying to induce the Plebeian Assembly to enact a special court to try someone, no more worrying about some unknown knight taking a bribe-yes, they are good reforms."



"Oh come, Pius, you're old enough to remember what it was like during the couple of years after Caepio the Consul gave the courts back to the Senate!" cried Philippus. "I was never not on some jury or other, even during the summer!" He turned to Marcus Perperna, his fellow censor. "You remember, surely."



“Only too well,'' said Perperna with feeling.



"The trouble with you two," said Catulus, "is that you want the Senate to control juries, but you complain when it's your turn to serve. If we of the Senate want to dominate the trial process, then we have to be prepared to take the pain along with the pleasure."



"It won't be as difficult now as it was then," said Mamercus pacifically. "There are more of us."



"Go on, you're the Great Man's son-in-law, he pulls your strings and you howl like a dog or bleat like a sheep!" snapped Philippus. "There can't be enough of us! And with permanent courts there will be no delays-at least back then we could hold things up by getting the Assemblies to dither about for a few market intervals while we had a holiday. Now, all the president of a court has to do is empanel his jury! And we won't even know in advance whether we'll be sitting on it, so we won't be able to plan a thing. Sulla says the lots won't be drawn until after the trial date has been set. I can see it now! Two days into a lovely summer laze by the sea, and it's off back to Rome to sit on some wretched jury!"



"Jury duty ought to have been split," said Lepidus. "Keep the important courts for the Senate-you know, extortion and treason. The murder court could function properly on knight jurors-it would probably function properly if its juries were drawn from the Head Count!"



"What you mean," said Mamercus acidly, "is that juries trying senators should be composed of senators, whereas juries trying the rest of the world on charges like witchcraft or poisoning are not important enough for senators."



"Something like that," said Lepidus, smiling.



"What I'd like to know," said the Piglet, deeming it time to change the subject a little, "is what else he plans to legislate."



"I'd be willing to bet it won't be to our advantage!" said Hortensius.



"Rubbish!" said Mamercus, not a bit dismayed at being called Sulla's puppet. "Everything he's done so far has strengthened the influence of the Senate and tried to bring Rome back to the old values and the old customs."



"It may be," said Perperna thoughtfully, "that it is too late to go back to the old ways and the old customs. A lot of what he's abolished or changed has been with us long enough to deserve being lumped in with the rest of the mos maiorum. These days the Plebeian Assembly is like a club for playing knucklebones or dice. That won't last because it can't last. The tribunes of the plebs have been Rome's major legislators for centuries."



"Yes, what he did to the tribunes of the plebs isn't at all popular," said Lepidus. "You're right. The new order of things in the Plebeian Assembly can't last."



On the Kalends of October the Dictator produced new shocks; he shifted the sacred boundary of Rome exactly one hundred feet in the vicinity of the Forum Boarium, and thus made Rome a little bit larger. No one had ever tampered with the pomerium after the time of the Kings of Rome; to do so was considered a sign of royalty, it was an un-Republican act. But did that stop Sulla? Not in the least. He would shift the pomerium, he announced, because he now declared the Rubico River the official boundary between Italy and Italian Gaul. That river had been so regarded for a very long time, but the last formal fixing of the boundary had been at the Metaurus River. Therefore, said Sulla blandly, he could justifiably be said to have enlarged the territory of Rome within Italy, and he would mark the event by moving Rome's pomerium an infinitesmal hundred feet.



"Which as far as I'm concerned," said Pompey to his new (and very pregnant) wife, "is splendid!"



Aemilia Scaura looked puzzled. "Why?" she asked.



She did a lot of asking why and might thus have irritated a less egotistical man, but Pompey adored being asked why.



"Because, my darling little roly-poly girl who looks as if she has swallowed a giant melon whole"-he tickled her tummy with a leer and a wink-"I own most of the Ager Gallicus south of Ariminum, and it now falls officially into Umbria. I am now one of the biggest landowners in all Italy, if not the very biggest. I'm not sure. There are men who own more land thanks to their holdings in Italian Gaul, like the Aemilii Scauri-your tata, my delectable wee pudding-and the Domitii Ahenobarbi, but I inherited most of the Lucilian estates in Lucania, and with the southern half of the Ager Gallicus added to my lands in Umbria and northern Picenum, I doubt I have a rival inside Italy proper! There are many going around deploring the Dictator's action, but he'll get no criticism from me."



"I can't wait to see your lands," she said wistfully, putting her hand on the mound of her abdomen. "As soon as I am able to travel, Magnus-you promised."



They were sitting side by side on a couch, and he turned to tip her over with a gentle push in just the right place, then pinched her lips painlessly between his fingers and kissed her all over her ecstatic face.



"More!" she cried when he finished. His head hung over hers, his impossibly blue eyes twinkled. "And who's the greedy little piggy-wiggy?" he asked. "The greedy little piggy-wiggy should know better, shouldn't she?"



She fell into cascades of giggles, which provoked him to tickle her because he liked the sound of them so; but soon he wanted her so badly that he had to get up and move away.



"Oh, bother this wretched baby!" she cried crossly.



"Soon, my adorable kitten," he managed to say cheerfully. "Let's get rid of Glabrio before we try for our own."



And indeed Pompey had been continent, determined that no one, least of all Aemilia Scaura's stiff and haughty Caecilius Metellus relatives, should be able to say that he was not the most considerate and kindest of husbands; Pompey wanted badly to join the clan.



Learning that Young Marius had made an intimate of Praecia, Pompey had taken to visiting her sumptuous house, for he deemed it no comedown to sample someone else's leavings provided that the someone else had been famous, or stuffed with clout, or awesomely noble. Praecia was, besides, a sexual delight sure to please him in ways he knew very well Aemilia Scaura would not when her turn came. Wives were for the serious business of making babies, though poor Antistia had not even been accorded that joy.



If he liked being married-which he did-it was because Pompey had the happy knack of knowing how to make a wife besotted. He paid her compliments galore, he didn't care how silly what he said might sound were Metellus Pius Pontifex Maximus to overhear (he just made very sure he never said things like that in the hearing of Metellus Pius Pontifex Maximus), and he maintained a jolly, good-tempered attitude which disposed her to love him. Yet-clever Pompey!-he allowed her to have moods, to weep, to carp a trifle, to chastise him. And if neither Antistia nor Aemilia Scaura knew that he manipulated them while they thought they did the manipulating, then that was all for the good; all parties were satisfied, and strife was nonexistent.



His gratitude to Sulla for bestowing Scaurus Princeps Senatus's daughter upon him knew almost no bounds. He understood that he was more than good enough for Scaurus's daughter, but it also reinforced his positive opinion of himself to know that a man like Sulla considered him good enough for Scaurus's daughter. Of course he was quite aware that it suited Sulla to bind him by a tie of marriage, and that too contributed to his positive opinion of himself; Roman aristocrats like Glabrio could be thrown aside at the Dictator's whim, but the Dictator was concerned enough about Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus to give him what he had taken from Glabrio. Sulla might (for example) have given Scaurus's daughter to his own nephew, Publius Sulla, or to the much-favored Lucullus.



Pompey had set his heart against belonging to the Senate, but it was no part of his plans to alienate himself from the circle of the Dictator; rather, his dreams had taken a fresh direction, and he now saw himself becoming the sole military hero in the history of the Republic who would seize proconsular commands without being at the very least a senator. They said it couldn't be done. They had sneered at him, smirked at him, mocked him. But those were dangerous activities when they were aimed at Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus! In the years to come he would make every last one of them suffer-and not by killing them, as Marius might have-nor by proscribing them, as Sulla would have. He would make them suffer by forcing them to come to him, by maneuvering them into a position so invidious that the pain of being nice to him would well-nigh kill their fine opinions of themselves. And that was far sweeter to Pompey than seeing them die!



So it was that Pompey managed to contain his desire for this delectable sprig of the gens Aemilia, contented himself with many visits to Praecia, and consoled himself by eyeing Aemilia Scaura's belly, never again to be filled with any but his progeny.



She was due to have her baby at some time early in December, but toward the end of October she went into a sudden and terrible labor. Thus far her pregnancy had been uneventful, so this very late miscarriage came as a shock to everyone, including her doctors. The scrawny male child who came so prematurely into the world died the day after, and was not long survived by Aemilia Scaura, who bled her way inexorably from pain to eternal oblivion.



Her death devastated Pompey. He had genuinely loved her in his proprietary, unselective fashion; if Sulla had searched Rome for the right bride for Pompey in a conscious effort to please him, he could not have chosen better than the giggly, slightly dense, completely ingenuous Aemilia Scaura. The son of a man called The Butcher and himself called Kid Butcher, Pompey's exposure to death had been lifelong, and not conditioned by impulses of compassion or mercy. A man lived, a man died. A woman lived, a woman died. Nothing was certain. When his mother died he had cried a little, but until the death of Aemilia Scaura only the death of his father had profoundly affected him.



Yet his wife's death smote Pompey almost to joining her upon her funeral pyre; Varro and Sulla were never sure afterward whether Pompey's struggle to leap into the flames was genuine or only partly genuine, so frantic and grief-stricken was he. In truth, Pompey himself didn't know. All he did know was that Fortune had favored him with the priceless gift of Scaurus's daughter, then snatched the gift away before it could be enjoyed.



Still weeping desolately, the young man quit Rome through the Colline Gate, a second time because of sudden death. First his father, now Aemilia Scaura. To a Pompeius from northern Picenum, there was only one alternative. To go home.



"Rome now has ten provinces," said Sulla in the House the day after the funeral of his stepdaughter. He was wearing the senatorial mourning, which consisted of a plain white toga and a tunic bearing the thin purple stripe of a knight rather than the senator's broad purple stripe. Had Aemilia Scaura been his blood daughter he could not easily have gone about public business for ten days, but the absence of any close blood relationship obviated that. A good thing; Sulla had a schedule.



"Let me list them for you, Conscript Fathers: Further Spain, Nearer Spain, Gaul-across-the-Alps, Italian Gaul, Macedonia together with Greece, Asia, Cilicia, Africa together with Cyrenaica, Sicily, and Sardinia together with Corsica. Ten provinces for ten men to govern. If no man remains in his province for more than one year, that will leave ten men for ten provinces at the beginning of every year-two consuls and eight praetors just coming out of office."



His gaze lighted upon Lepidus, to whom he appeared to address his next remarks-for no better reason, it seemed, than random selection. "Each governor will now routinely be assigned a quaestor except for the governor of Sicily, who will have two quaestors, one for Syracuse and one for Lilybaeum. That leaves nine quaestors for Italy and Rome out of the twenty. Ample. Each governor will also be assigned a full staff of public servants, from lictors and heralds to scribes, clerks, and accountants. It will be the duty of the Senate-acting on advice from the Treasury-to assign each governor a specific sum to be called the stipend-and this stipend will not be added to for any reason during the year. It therefore represents the governor's salary, and will be paid to him in advance. Out of it he must pay his staff and expenses of office, and must present a full and proper accounting of it at the end of his year's governorship, though he will not be obliged to refund any part of it he has not spent. It is his the moment it is paid over to him, and what he does with it is his own business. If he wishes to invest it in Rome in his own name before he leaves for his province, that is permitted. However, he must understand that no more moneys will be forthcoming! A further word of warning is necessary. As his stipend becomes his personal property the moment it is paid over, it can legally be attached by lien if the new governor is in debt. I therefore advise all potential governors that their public careers will be jeopardized if they get themselves into debt. A penniless governor going out to his province will be facing heavy criminal charges when he returns home!"



A glare around the chamber, then Sulla went back to business. "I am removing all say in the matters of wars, provinces and other foreign affairs from the Assemblies. From now on the Assemblies will be forbidden to so much as discuss wars, provinces and other foreign affairs, even in contio. These matters will become the exclusive prerogative of the Senate."



Another glare. "In future, the Assemblies will pass laws and hold elections. Nothing else. They will have no say in trials, in foreign affairs, or in any military matter."



A small murmur started as everyone took this in. Tradition was on Sulla's side, but ever since the time of the Brothers Gracchi the Assemblies had been used more and more to obtain military commands and provinces-or even to strip men appointed by the Senate of their military commands and provinces. It had happened to the Piglet's father when Marius had taken the command in Africa off him, and it had happened to Sulla when Marius had taken the command against Mithridates off him. So this new legislation was welcome.



Sulla transferred his gaze to Catulus. "The two consuls should be sent to the two provinces considered most volatile or endangered. The consular provinces and the praetorian ones will be apportioned by the casting of lots. Certain conventions must be adhered to if Rome is to keep her good name abroad. If ships or fleets are levied from provinces or client kingdoms, the cost of such levies must be deducted from the annual tribute. The same law applies to the levying of soldiers or military supplies."



Marcus Junius Brutus, so long a mouse, took courage. "If a governor is heavily committed to a war in his province, will he be obliged to give up his province at the end of one year?"



"No," said Sulla. He was silent for a moment, thinking, then said, "It may even be that the Senate will have no other choice than to send the consuls of the year to a foreign war. If Rome is assailed on all sides, it is hard to see how this can be avoided. I only ask the Senate to consider its alternatives very carefully before committing the consuls of the year to a foreign campaign, or before extending a governor's term of office."



When Mamercus lifted up his hand to speak, the senators pricked up their ears; by now he was so well known as Sulla's puppet asker-of-questions that everyone knew this meant he was going to ask something which Sulla thought best to introduce via the medium of a question.



"May I discuss a hypothetical situation?" Mamercus asked.



"By all means!" said Sulla genially.



Mamercus rose to his feet. As he was this year's foreign praetor and therefore held curule office, he was sitting on the podium at the far end of the hall where all the curule magistrates sat, and so could be seen by every eye when he stood up. Sulla's new rule forbidding men to leave their place when they spoke made the men on the curule podium the only ones who could be seen by all.



"Say a year comes along," said Mamercus carefully, "when Rome does indeed find herself assailed on all sides. Say that the consuls and as many of the praetors of the year as can be spared have gone to fight during their tenure of office-or say that the consuls of the year are not militarily skilled enough to be sent to fight. Say that the governors are depleted-perhaps one or two killed by barbarians, or dead untimely from other causes. Say that among the Senate no men can be found of experience or ability who are willing or free to take a military command or a governorship. If you have excluded the Assemblies from debating the matter and the decision as to what must be done rests entirely with the Senate, what ought the Senate to do?''



"Oh, what a splendid question, Mamercus!" Sulla exclaimed, just as if he hadn't worded it himself. He ticked the points off on his fingers. "Rome is assailed on all sides. No curule magistrates are available. No consulars or ex-praetors are available. No senator of sufficient experience or ability is available. But Rome needs another military commander or governor. Is that right? Have I got it right?''



"That is right, Lucius Cornelius," said Mamercus gravely.



"Then," said Sulla slowly, "the Senate must look outside its ranks to find the man, must it not? What you are describing is a situation beyond solution by normal means. In which case, the solution must be found by abnormal means. In other words, it is the duty of the Senate to search Rome for a man of known exceptional ability and experience, and give that man all the legal authorities necessary to assume a military command or a governorship."



"Even if he's a freedman?" asked Mamercus, astonished.



"Even if he's a freedman. Though I would say he was more likely to be a knight, or perhaps a centurion. I knew a centurion once who commanded a perilous retreat, was awarded the Grass Crown, and afterward given the purple-bordered toga of a curule magistrate. His name was Marcus Petreius. Without him many lives would have been lost, and that particular army would not have been able to fight again. He was inducted into the Senate and he died in all honor during the Italian War. His son is among my own new senators."



“But the Senate is not legally empowered to give a man outside its own ranks imperium to command or govern!" objected Mamercus.



“Under my new laws the Senate will be legally empowered to do so-and ought to do so, in fact," said Sulla. "I will call this governorship or military command a 'special commission,' and I will bestow the necessary authority upon the Senate to grant it-with whatever degree of imperium is considered necessary!-to any Roman citizen, even a freedman."



“What is he up to?'' muttered Philippus to Flaccus Princeps Senatus. "I've never heard the like!"



"I wish I knew, but I don't," said Flaccus under his breath.



But Sulla knew, and Mamercus guessed; this was one more way to bind Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, who had refused to join the Senate, but because of all those veterans of his father's was still a military force to be reckoned with. It was no part of Sulla's plan to allow any man to lead an army on Rome; he would be the last, he had resolved on that. Therefore if times changed and Pompey became a threat, a way had to be open for Pompey's considerable talents to be legally harnessed by the legal body responsible-the Senate. Sulla intended to legislate what amounted to pure common sense.



"It remains for me to define treason," the Dictator said a few days later. "Until my new law courts came into being some time ago, there were several different kinds of treason, from perduellio to maiestas minuta-big treasons, little treasons, and treasons in between. And what all of these treasons lacked was true specificity. In future all charges of treason will be tried in the quaestio de maiestate, my standing treason court. A charge of treason, as you will shortly see, will be largely limited to men given provincial governorships or commands in foreign wars. If a civilian Roman generates treason within Rome or Italy, then that man will be the object of the only trial process I will allow an Assembly to conduct. Namely, that man will be tried perduellio in the Centuries, and will in consequence face the old penalty-death tied to a cross suspended from an unlucky tree."



He let that sink in a little, then continued. "Any and all of the following will be treasonable:



"A provincial governor may not leave his province.



"A provincial governor may not permit his armies to march beyond the provincial frontier.



"A provincial governor may not start a war on his own initiative.



"A provincial governor may not invade the territory of a client king without formal permission from the Senate.



"A provincial governor may not intrigue with a client king or any body of foreign nationals in order to change the status quo of any foreign country.



“A provincial governor may not recruit additional troops without the consent of the Senate.



"A provincial governor may not make decisions or issue edicts within his own province that will alter his province's status without the formal consent of the Senate.



"A provincial governor may not remain in his province for more than thirty days after the arrival in that province of his Senate-appointed successor.



"That is all." Sulla smiled. "On the positive side of things, a man with imperium will continue to hold that imperium until he crosses the sacred boundary of Rome. This has always been so. I now reaffirm it."



"I do not see," said Lepidus angrily, "why all these specific rules and regulations are necessary!"



"Oh come, Lepidus," said Sulla wearily, "you're sitting here looking straight at me. Me! A man who did almost every 'may not' on my list! I was justified! I had been illegally deprived of my imperium and my command. But I am here now passing laws which will make it impossible for any man to deprive another of his imperium and his command! Therefore the situation I was in cannot happen again. Therefore those men who break any of my 'may nots' will be guilty of treason. No man can be permitted to so much as toy with the idea of marching on Rome or leading his army out of his province in the direction of Rome. Those days are over. And I am sitting here to prove it."



On the twenty-sixth day of October, Sulla's nephew, Sextus Nonius Sufenas (who was Sulla's sister's younger boy) put on the first performance of what were to become annual victory games, the ludi Victoriae; they culminated at the Circus Maximus on the first day of November, which was the anniversary of the battle at the Colline Gate. They were good but not magnificent games, save that for the first time in a dozen decades the Trojan Game was performed. The crowd loved it because of its novelty-a complex series of maneuvers on horseback carried out by youths who had to be of noble birth. Greece, however, was not amused. Sufenas had combed Greece for athletes, dancers, musicians and entertainers, so that the Olympic Games in Olympia, celebrated at about the same time of year, were an absolute disaster. And-juicy scandal!-the younger son of Antonius Orator, Gaius Antonius Hybrida, utterly disgraced himself by driving a chariot in one of the races; if it was a social cachet for a nobleman to participate in the Trojan Game, it was an horrific solecism for a nobleman to drive a chariot.



On the Kalends of December, Sulla announced the names of the magistrates for the coming year. He would be senior consul himself, with Quintus Caecilius Metellus Pius the Piglet as his junior. Loyalty was rewarded at last. The elder Dolabella received Macedonia as his province, and the younger Dolabella was given Cilicia. Though well provided by the lots with a quaestor in the person of Gaius Publicius Malleolus, the younger Dolabella insisted upon taking none other than Gaius Verres along as his senior legate. Lucullus remained in the east serving under Thermus, the governor of Asia, but Gaius Scribonius Curio came home to a praetorship.



It was now time for Sulla to begin the most massive undertaking of all-the awarding of land to his veterans. During the next two years the Dictator intended to demobilize one hundred and twenty thousand men belonging to twenty-three legions. During his first consulship at the end of the Italian War he had handed over the rebel lands of Pompeii, Faesulae, Hadria, Telesia, Grumentum and Bovianum to his Italian War veterans, but that had been a tiny task compared to the present one.



The program was meticulously worked out, and incorporated graduations of reward according to the length of a man's service, his rank, and his personal valor. Primus pilus centurions in his Mithridatic legions (they all had many decorations into the bargain) were each given five hundred iugera of prime land, whereas the ranker soldiers of Carboan legions which had deserted to Sulla received the smallest pensions, ten iugera of less desirable land.



He began with the confiscated lands of Etruria in the areas which had belonged to Volaterrae and Faesulae, punished yet again. Because Etruria had by now established what amounted to a tradition of opposition to Sulla, he did not at first concentrate his veterans in enclosed soldier-communities; instead he scattered them far and wide, thinking thereby to contain future rebellion. This turned out to be a mistake. Volaterrae rose almost at once, shut its gates after lynching many of Sulla's veterans, and prepared to withstand a siege. As the town lay in a deep ravine yet was raised up on a very high, flat-topped hill in the middle of the ravine, Volaterrae looked forward to a long defiance. Sulla went there in person to establish his blockade, stayed for three months, then went back to Rome when he saw how long and wearisome a job reducing Volaterrae was going to be.



He learned from this lesson, however, and changed his mind about how his veterans would be settled on their lands; his later colonies were just that, cohesive nuclei of ex-soldiers able to stick together in the face of bitter local opposition. His one overseas experiment occurred on Corsica, where he set up two separate soldier colonies, thinking to civilize the place and eliminate the Corsican curse, banditry. A futile hope.



The new law courts settled down well, providing the perfect arena for a new legal star, the young man Marcus Tullius Cicero. Quintus Hortensius (who had thriven in the trial atmosphere of the Assemblies) took time to telescope his act down to the intimate size of the open-air courtroom; whereas Cicero found it ideal. At the end of the old year Cicero appeared alone for the defendant in a preliminary hearing before the younger Dolabella, who was praetor urbanus. The object of the hearing was to decide whether the sum of money known as sponsio should be lodged, or whether the case could proceed without it. Cicero's advocate opponents were formidable-Hortensius and Philippus. But he won, Hortensius and Philippus lost, and Cicero embarked upon a forensic career which was to have no equal.



It was in June of the year that Sulla was senior consul with Metellus Pius as his junior consul that a twenty-six-year-old nobleman of patrician family, Marcus Valerius Messala Niger, appealed to his good friend, the twenty-six-year-old Marcus Tullius Cicero, to act on behalf of a man who was Niger's friend as well as his client.



"Sextus Roscius Junior, from Ameria," said Messala Niger to Cicero. "He's charged with murdering his father."



"Oh!" said Cicero, astonished. "You're a good advocate, my dear Niger. Why not defend him yourself? Murder is juicy, but very easy, you know. No political overtones."



"That's what you think," said Messala Niger grimly. "This case has more political pitfalls than a ditch has sharpened stakes! There is only one man who has a chance of winning, and that man is you, Marcus Tullius. Hortensius recoiled in horror."



Cicero sat up straighter, a gleam of interest in his dark eyes; he used one of his favorite tricks, dipping his head and shooting Messala Niger a keen glance from under his brows. "A murder case so complicated? How?"



“Whoever takes on the defense of Roscius of Ameria will be taking on Sulla's whole system of proscription," said Messala Niger. "In order to get Roscius off, it will be necessary to prove that Sulla and his proscriptions are utterly corrupt."



The generous mouth with the full lower lip pursed into a soundless whistle. "Ye gods!"



"Ye gods, indeed. Still interested?"



"I don't know...." Cicero frowned, at war with himself; preservation of his skin was mandatory, and yet a case so difficult had the potential to win him legal laurels no other kind of case could. "Tell me about it, Niger. Then I'll see."



Niger settled down to tell his story cleverly enough that Cicero's interest would be stimulated further. "Sextus Roscius is my own age, and I've known him since we were at school together. We both served in our six campaigns under Lucius Caesar and then Sulla in Campania. Roscius's father owned most of Ameria, including no less than thirteen river frontage properties along the Tiber-fabulously rich! Roscius is his only son. But there are also two cousins, sons of his brother, who are the real villains of the piece. Old Roscius went to Rome on a visit at the beginning of the year, and was murdered in Rome. I don't know whether the cousins did it, nor does Roscius. Probable, but not necessary." Messala Niger grimaced. "The news of the father's murder came to Ameria through an agent of the cousins, certainly. And the most suspicious part about it is that this agent didn't tell poor Roscius at all! Instead he told the cousins, who hatched a plot to filch all the property off my friend Roscius."



"I think I begin to see," said Cicero, whose mind was razor-keen when it came to the criminal perfidies of men.



"Volaterrae had just revolted, and Sulla was there conducting the initial stages of the siege. With him was Chrysogonus."



There was no need to inform Cicero who was this Chrysogonus; all of Rome knew the infamous bureaucrat in charge of the lists, the books, and all the data pertaining to Sulla's proscriptions.



"The cousins rode to Volaterrae and were granted an interview with Chrysogonus, who was willing to make a deal with them-but for a huge price. He agreed to forge Roscius's dead father's name on one of the old proscription lists. He would then 'happen to see' a routine report on the murder, and pretend to 'remember' that this name was a proscribed one. That is what transpired. Roscius's father's properties- worth a cool six million-were immediately put up for auction by Chrysogonus, who bought them all himself-for two thousand, if you please."



"I love this villain!" cried Cicero, looking as alert as a huntsman's hound.



"Well, I do not! I loathe the man!" said Messala Niger.



"Yes, yes, he's loathsome! But what happened next?"



“All of this occurred before Roscius even knew his father was dead. The first intimation he had was when Cousin Two appeared bearing Chrysogonus's proscription order, and evicted Roscius from his father's properties. Chrysogonus kept ten of the thirteen estates for himself and installed Cousin Two on them as his live-in manager and agent. The other three estates Chrysogonus signed over to Cousin One as outright payment. The blow for poor Roscius was a twin one, of course-not only did he learn that his father had been proscribed months before, but also that he was murdered."



"Did he believe this tissue of lies?" asked Cicero.



"Absolutely. Why should he not have? Everyone with two sesterces to rub together expected to find himself named on a proscription list, whether he lived in Rome or in Ameria. Roscius just believed! And got out."



"Who smelled the rotten carcass?"



"The elders of the town," said Messala Niger. "A son is never as sure of his father's worth and nature as his father's friends are, which is not illogical. A man's friends know him without the concomitant emotional distortions suffered by his son."



"True," said Cicero, who didn't get on with his own father.



"So the friends of the old man held a conference, and agreed that there had not been a Marian, Cinnan or Carboan bone in the old man's entire body. They agreed to ride to Volaterrae and seek an audience with Sulla himself, beg him to reverse the proscription and allow Roscius to inherit. They gathered up masses of evidence and set off at once."



"Accompanied by which cousin?" asked Cicero shrewdly.



"Quite correct," said Messala Niger, smiling. "They were joined by Cousin One, who actually had the temerity to assume command of the mission! In the meantime Cousin Two rode at the gallop for Volaterrae to warn Chrysogonus what was in the wind. Thus it was that the deputation never got to see Sulla. It was waylaid by Chrysogonus, who took all the details-and all the masses of evidence!-from them, and promised them that he would see the Dictator reverse his proscription. Don't worry! was his cry. Everything will be right and Roscius will inherit."



“Did no one suspect that he was talking to the real owner of ten of the thirteen estates?'' asked Cicero incredulously.



"Not a one, Marcus Tullius."



"It's a sign of the times, isn't it?"



"I fear so."



"Go on, please."



"Two months went by. At the end of them old man Roscius's friends realized that they had been neatly tricked, for no order rescinding the proscription came through, and Cousin One and Cousin Two were now known to be living on the confiscated property as if they owned it. A few enquiries revealed that Cousin One was the outright owner of three, and Chrysogonus of the other ten. That terrified everyone, as everyone assumed Sulla was a part of the villainy."



"Do you believe he was?" asked Cicero.



Messala Niger thought long, finally shook his head. “No, Cicero, I doubt it."



"Why?" asked the born lawyer.



"Sulla is a hard man. Frankly, he terrifies me. They say that in his youth he murdered women for their money, that he got into the Senate over their bodies. Yet I knew him slightly when I was in the army-too junior to be on close terms, of course, but he was always around, always busy, always in control of the job-and he struck me as aristocratically scrupulous. Do you know what I mean by that?"



Cicero felt a tinge of red creeping under his skin, but pretended he was at ease. Did he know what the patrician nobleman Marcus Valerius Messala Niger meant by aristocratic scrupulousness? Oh, yes! No one understood better than Cicero, who was a New Man, and envied patricians like Messala Niger and Sulla very much.



"I think so," he said.



"He has a dark side to him, Sulla. He'd probably kill you or me without a qualm if it suited him. But he would have a patrician's reasons for killing us. He wouldn't do it because he coveted thirteen lush properties on the banks of the Tiber. If it occurred to him to go to an auction of proscribed property and he was able to pick up some very cheap estates, he would. I don't say he wouldn't. But conspire to enrich himself or his freedman in a dishonorable way when nothing as vital as his career was at stake? No. I don't think so. His honor matters to him. I see it in his laws, which I think are honorable laws. I may not agree with him that the tribunes of the plebs must be legislated out of all their power, but he's done it legally and openly. He's a Roman patrician."



"So Sulla doesn't know," said Cicero thoughtfully.



"I believe that to be the truth."



"Pray continue, Marcus Valerius."



"About the time that the elders of Ameria began to think that Sulla was a part of the conspiracy, my friend Roscius became more vocal. The poor fellow really was utterly flattened for months, you know. It took a long time for him to say anything. But the moment he did begin to say things, there were several attempts on his life. So two months ago he fled to Rome and sought shelter with his father's old friend, the retired Vestal Metella Balearica. You know, the sister of Metellus Nepos. His other sister was the wife of Appius Claudius Pulcher-she died giving birth to that frightful monster of a child, Publius Clodius."



"Get on with it, Niger," said Cicero gently.



"The fact that Roscius knew such powerful people as Metellus Nepos and a retired Vestal Virgin of the Caecilii Metelli gave the two cousins some sleepless nights, it would appear. They began to believe that Roscius just might manage to see Sulla in person. But they didn't dare murder Roscius, not without risking being found out if the Caecilii Metelli insisted upon an enquiry. So they decided it was better to destroy Roscius's reputation, by fabricating evidence that he had murdered his own father. Do you know a fellow called Erucius?''



Cicero's face twisted in contempt. "Who doesn't? He's a professional accusator."



“Well, he came forward to charge Roscius with the murder of his father. The witnesses to old Roscius's death were his slaves, and of course they had been sold along with the rest of his estate to Chrysogonus. Therefore there was no likelihood that they would appear to tell the real story! And Erucius is convinced that no advocate of ability will take on Roscius's defense because every advocate will be too afraid of Sulla to dare say damning things about the proscription process."



"Then Erucius had better look to his laurels," said Cicero briskly. "I'll defend your friend Roscius gladly, Niger."



"Aren't you worried that you'll offend Sulla?"



"Pooh! Rubbish! Nonsense! I know exactly how to do it--and do it, I will! I predict, in fact, that Sulla will thank me," said Cicero blithely.



Though other cases had been heard in the new Murder Court, the trial of Sextus Roscius of Ameria on a charge of parricide created a huge stir. Sulla's law stipulated that it be presided over by an ex-aedile, but in that year it was under the presidency of a praetor, Marcus Fannius. Fearlessly Cicero aired the story of Roscius in his actio prima, and left no juror or spectator in any doubt that his main defense was the corruption behind Sulla's proscriptions.



Then came the final day of the trial, when Cicero himself was to give his final address to the jury. And there, seated on his ivory curule chair to one side of the president's tribunal, was Lucius Cornelius Sulla.



The presence of the Dictator dismayed Cicero not a jot; instead, it pushed him to hitherto undreamed-of heights of eloquence and brilliance.



"There are three culprits in this hideous affair," he said, declaiming not to the jury, but to Sulla. "The cousins Titus Roscius Capito and Titus Roscius Magnus are obvious, but actually secondary. What they did, they could not have done without the proscriptions. Without Lucius Cornelius...... Chrysogonus," he said, pausing so long between the second and the third names that even Messala Niger began to think he might say, "Sulla."



On went Cicero. "Who exactly is this 'golden child'? This Chrysogonus? Let me tell you! He is a Greek. There is no disgrace in that. He is an ex-slave. There is no disgrace in that. He is a freedman. There is no disgrace in that. He is the client of Lucius Cornelius Sulla. There is no disgrace in that. He is rich. There is no disgrace in that. He is powerful. There is no disgrace in that. He is the administrator of the proscriptions. There is no disgrace in that-ooops! Ooops, ooops! I beg your collective pardons, Conscript Fathers! You see what happens when one bumps along in a rhetorical rut for too long? I got carried away! I could have gone on saying 'There is no disgrace in that' for hours! And oh, what a rhetorical ravine I would have dug for myself!"



Fairly launched, Cicero paused to revel consciously in what he was doing. "Let me say it again. He is the administrator of the proscriptions. And in that there is a monumental, a gigantic, an Olympian disgrace! Do all of you see this splendid man on his curule chair-this model of every Roman virtue, this general without rival, this lawmaker who has broken new bounds of statesmanship, this brilliant jewel in the crown of the illustrious gens Cornelia? Do all of you see him? Sitting so calmly, Zeus-like in his detachment? Do all of you see him? Then look well!"



Now Cicero turned away from Sulla to glare at the jury from under his brows, a rather sticklike figure, so thin was he even in his toga; and yet he seemed to tower, to have the thews of Hercules and the majesty of Apollo.



"Some years ago this splendid man bought himself a slave. To be his steward. An excellent steward, as things turned out. When this splendid man's late wife was forced to flee from Rome to Greece, his steward was there to help and console. His steward was there in complete charge of this splendid man's dependents-wife and children and grandchildren and servants-while our great Lucius Cornelius Sulla strode up the Italian peninsula like a titan. His steward was trusted, and did not betray that trust. So he was freed, and took for himself the first two parts of a mighty name-Lucius Cornelius. As is the custom, for his third name he kept his own original name-Chrysogonus. The golden child. Upon whose head was heaped honor after honor, trust after trust, responsibility after responsibility. He was now not merely the freedman steward of a great household, but also the director, the administrator, the executor of that process which was designed to fulfill two aims: the first, to see a just and rightful punishment meted out to all those traitors who followed Marius, who followed Cinna, who even followed an insect as small as Carbo; and the second, to use the property and estates of traitors as fuel to fan poor impoverished Rome into the flame of prosperity again."



Back and forth across the open space left in front of Marcus Fannius's tribunal did Cicero stride, his left arm raised to hold his toga at its left shoulder, his right arm limply by his side. No one moved. Every eye was fixed upon him, men breathed in shallow gasps thinking they didn't breathe at all.



"So what did he do, this Chrysogonus? All the while keeping his oily smiling bland face toward his employer, his patron, he slithered to exact his revenge on this one who had insulted him, on that one who had impeded him-he toiled mightily in the secret marches of the night with forger's pen and patron's trust to slip in this name and that name whose property he slavered for, to conspire with worms and vermin to enrich himself at the expense of his patron, at the expense of Rome. Ah, members of the jury, but he was cunning! How he plotted and schemed to cover his tracks, how he smarmed and greased in the presence of his patron, how he manipulated his little army of pimps and panders-how industriously he worked to make sure that his noble and illustrious patron could have no idea of what was really going on! For that is what happened. Given trust and authority, he abused both in the vilest and most despicable ways."



The tears began to flow; Cicero sobbed aloud, wrung his hands, stood hunched over in a paroxysm of pain. "Oh, I cannot look at you, Lucius Cornelius Sulla! That it should be I-a mean and simple man from the Latin countryside-a hick, a hayseed, a bucolic shyster-that it should have to be I who must draw the wool from your eyes, who must open them to the-the-what adjective can I find adequate to describe the level of the treachery of your most esteemed client, Lucius Cornelius Chrysogonus? Vile treachery! Disgusting treachery! Despicable treachery! But none of those adjectives is low enough!"



The easy tears were dashed away. "Why did it have to be me? Would that it could have been anybody else! Would that it had been your Pontifex Maximus or your Master of the Horse-great men both, and hung about with honors! But instead the lot has fallen to me. I do not want it. But I must accept it. Because, members of the jury, which do you think I would rather do? Spare the great Lucius Cornelius Sulla this agony by saying nothing about the treachery of Chrysogonus, or spare the life of a man who, though accused of murdering his own father, has actually done nothing to warrant the charge? Yes, you are right! It must be the embarrassment, the public mortification of an honorable and distinguished and legendary man-because it cannot be the unjust conviction of an innocent man." He straightened, drew himself up. "Members of the jury, I now rest my case."



The verdict, of course, was a foregone conclusion: ABSOLVO. Sulla rose to his feet and strolled toward Cicero, who found the crowd around him melting away.



"Well done, my skinny young friend," the Dictator said, and held out his hand. "What an actor you would have made!"



So exhilarated that he felt as if his feet were floating free in air, Cicero laughed, clasped the hand fervently. "What an actor I am, you mean! For what is superlative advocacy except acting out one's own words?"



"Then you'll end the Thespis of Sulla's standing courts."



"As long as you forgive me for the liberties I had to take in this case, Lucius Cornelius, I will be anything you like."



"Oh, I forgive you!" said Sulla airily. "I think I could forgive almost anything if it meant I sat through a good show. And with only one exception, I've never seen a better amateur production, my dear Cicero. Besides, I've been wondering how to get rid of Chrysogonus for some time-I'm not entirely a fool, you know. But it can be ticklish." The Dictator looked around. "Where is Sextus Roscius?"



Sextus Roscius was produced.



"Sextus Roscius, take back your lands and your reputation, and your dead father's reputation," said Sulla. "I am very sorry that the corruption and venality of one I trusted has caused you so much pain. But he will answer for it."



"Thanks to the brilliance of my advocate, Lucius Cornelius, it has ended well," said Sextus Roscius shakily.



"There is an epilogue yet to play," said the Dictator, jerked his head at his lictors, and walked away in the direction of the steps which led up onto the Palatine.



The next day Lucius Cornelius Chrysogonus, who was a Roman citizen of the tribe Cornelia, was pitched headlong from the Tarpeian Rock.



"Think yourself lucky," said Sulla to him beforehand. "I could have stripped you of your citizenship and had you flogged and crucified. You die a Roman death because you cared so well for my womenfolk when times were hard. I can do nothing more for you than that. I hired you originally because I knew you were a toad. What I didn't count on was becoming so busy that I was unable to keep an eye on you. But sooner or later it comes out. Bye-bye, Chrysogonus."



The two cousins Roscius-Capito and Magnus-disappeared from Ameria before they could be apprehended and brought to trial; no further trace of them was ever discovered. As for Cicero, he was suddenly a great name and a hero besides. No one else had taken on the proscriptions and won.



2



Having been freed from his flaminate and ordered to do military duty under the governor of Asia Province, Marcus Minucius Thermus, Gaius Julius Caesar left for the east a month short of his nineteenth birthday, accompanied by two new servants and his German freedman, Gaius Julius Burgundus. Though most men heading for Asia Province sailed, Caesar had decided to go by land, a distance of eight hundred miles along the Via Egnatia from Apollonia in western Macedonia to Callipolis on the Hellespont. As it was summer by the calendar and the seasons, the journey was not uncomfortable, though devoid for the most part of the inns and posting houses so prevalent throughout Italy; those who went overland to Asia camped.



Because flamen Dialis was not allowed to travel, Caesar had been obliged to travel in his mind, which had devoured every book set in foreign parts, and imagined what the world might look like. Not, he soon learned, as it really was; but the reality was so much more satisfying than imagination! As for the act of travel-even Caesar, so eloquent, could not find the words to describe it. For in him was a born traveler, adventurous, curious, insatiably eager to sample everything. As he went he talked to the whole world, from shepherds to salesmen, from mercenaries looking for work to local chieftains. His Greek was Attic and superlative, but all those odd tongues he had picked up from infancy because his mother's insula contained a polyglot mixture of tenants now stood him in good stead; not because he was lucky enough to find people who spoke them as he went along, but because his intelligence was attuned to strange words and accents, so he was able to hear the Greek in some strange patois, and discern foreign words in basic Greek. It made him a good traveler, in that he was never lost for means of communication.



It would have been wonderful to have had Bucephalus to ride, of course, but young and trusty Flop Ears the mule was not a contemptuous steed in any way save appearance; there were times when Caesar fancied it owned claws rather than hooves, so surefooted was it on rough terrain. Burgundus rode his Nesaean giant, and the two servants rode very good horses-if he himself was on his honor not to bestride any mount except Flop Ears, then the world would have to accept this as an eccentricity, and understand from the caliber of his servants' horses that he was not financially unable to mount himself well. How shrewd Sulla was! For that was where it hurt-Caesar liked to make a good appearance, to dazzle everyone he encountered. A little difficult on a mule!



The first part of the Via Egnatia was the wildest and most inhospitable, for the road, unpaved but well surveyed, climbed the highlands of Candavia, tall mountains which probably hadn't changed much since well before the time of Alexander the Great. A few flocks of sheep, and once in the distance a sight of mounted warriors who might have been Scordisci, were all the evidence of human occupation the travelers saw. From Macedonian Edessa, where the fertile river valleys and plains offered a better livelihood, men became more numerous and settlements both larger and closer together. In Thessalonica, Caesar sought and was given accommodation in the governor's palace, a welcome chance to bathe in hot water- ablutions since leaving Apollonia had been in river or lake, and very cold, even in summer. Though invited to stay longer, Caesar remained only one day there before journeying on.



Philippi-the scene of several battles of fame and recently occupied by one of the sons of King Mithridates-he found interesting because of its history and its strategic position on the flanks of Mount Pangaeus; though even more interesting was the road to the east of it, where he could see the military possibilities inherent in the narrow passes before the countryside flattened a little and the terrain became easier again. And finally there lay before him the Gulf of Melas, mountain-ringed but fertile; a crust of ridge beyond it and the Hellespont came into view, more than merely a narrow strait. It was the place where Helle tumbled from the back of the Golden Ram and gave her name to the waters, it was the site of the Clashing Rocks which almost sank the Argo, it was the place where armies of Asiatic kings from Xerxes to Mithridates had poured in their thousands upon thousands from Asia into Thrace. The Hellespont was the true crossroads between East and West.



In Callipolis, Caesar took ship at last for the final leg of his journey, aboard a vessel which had room to accommodate the horses, the mule and the pack animals, and which was sailing direct to Pergamum. He was hearing now of the revolt of Mitylene and the siege which was under way, but his orders were to report in Pergamum; he could only hope he would be posted to a war zone.



But the governor, Marcus Minucius Thermus, had other duties in mind for Caesar. "It's vital that we contain this rebellion,” he said to this new junior military tribune, “because it's caused by the new system of taxation the Dictator has put into Asia Province. Island states like Lesbos and Chios were very well off under Mithridates, and they'd love to see the end of Rome. Some cities on the mainland feel much the same. If Mitylene succeeds in holding out for a year, we'll have other places thinking they can revolt too. One of the difficulties in containing Mitylene is its double harbor, and the fact that we don't have a proper fleet. So you, Gaius Julius, are going to see King Nicomedes in Bithynia and levy a fleet from him. When you've gathered it, I want you to sail it to Lesbos and put it at the disposal of my legate, Lucullus, who is in charge of the investment."



"You'll have to forgive my ignorance, Marcus Minucius," said Caesar, "but how long does it take to gather a fleet, and how many vessels of what kind do you want?''



"It takes forever," said Thermus wearily, "and you'll get whatever the King can scrape together-or it might be more accurate to say that you'll get as little as the King can escape with. Nicomedes is no different from any other oriental potentate."



The nineteen-year-old frowned, not pleased at this answer, and proceeded to demonstrate to Thermus that he owned a great deal of natural-though not unattractive-arrogance. "That's not good enough," he said. "What Rome wants, Rome must have."



Thermus couldn't help himself; he laughed. "Oh, you have a lot to learn, young Caesar!" he said.



That didn't sit well. Caesar compressed his lips and looked very like his mother (whom Thermus didn't know, or he might have understood Caesar better). “Well, Marcus Minucius, why don't you tell me your ideal delivery date and your ideal fleet composition?" he asked haughtily. "Then I will take it upon myself to deliver your ideal fleet on your ideal date."



Thermus's jaw dropped, and for a moment he genuinely didn't know how best to answer. That this superb self-confidence did not provoke a fit of anger in him, he himself found interesting; nor this time did the young man's arrogance provoke laughter. The governor of Asia Province actually found himself believing that Caesar truly thought himself capable of doing what he said. Time and King Nicomedes would rectify the mistake, but that Caesar could make it was indeed interesting, in view of the letter from Sulla which Caesar had presented to him.



He has some claim on me through marriage, this making him my nephew, but I wish to make it abundantly clear that I do not want him favored. In fact, do not favor him! I want him given difficult things to do, and difficult offices to occupy. He owns a formidable intelligence coupled with high courage, and it's possible he'll do extremely well.



However, if I exclude Caesar's conduct during the course of two interviews with me, his history to date has been uninspiring, thanks to his being the flamen Dialis. From this he is now released, legally and religiously. But it means that he has not done military service, so his valor may simply be verbal.



Test him, Marcus Minucius, and tell my dear Lucullus to do the same. If he breaks, you have my full permission to be as ruthless as you like in punishing him. If he does not break, I expect you to give him his due.



I have a last, if peculiar, request. If at any time you witness or learn that Caesar has ridden a better animal than his mule, send him home at once in disgrace.



In view of this letter, Thermus, recovering from his utter stupefaction, said in even tones, "All right, Gaius Julius, I'll give you a time and a size. Deliver the fleet to Lucullus's camp on the Anatolian shore to the north of the city on the Kalends of November. You won't stand a chance of prising one vessel but of old Nicomedes by then, but you asked for a delivery date, and the Kalends of November would be ideal-we'd be able to cut off both harbors before the winter-and give them a hard one. As to size: forty ships, at least half of which should be decked triremes or larger. Again, you'll be lucky if you get thirty ships, and of those, about five decked triremes."



Thermus looked stern. "However, young Caesar, since you opened your mouth, I feel it my duty to warn you that if you are late or if the fleet is less than ideal, it will go against you in my report to Rome."



"As it should," said Caesar, undismayed.



"You may have rooms here in the palace for the time being," said Thermus cordially; despite Sulla's giving him permission, it was no part of Thermus's policy to antagonize someone related to the Dictator.



"No, I'm off to Bithynia today," said Caesar, moving toward the door.



"There's no need to overdo it, Gaius Julius!"



"Perhaps not. But there's every need to get going," said Caesar, and got going.



It was some time before Thermus went back to his endless paperwork. What an extraordinary fellow! Very well mannered, but in that inimitable way only patricians of the great families seemed to own; the young man left it in no doubt that he liked all men and felt himself superior to none, while at the same time knowing himself superior to all save (perhaps) a Fabius Maximus. Impossible to define, but that was the way they were, especially the Julians and the Fabians. So good-looking! Having no sexual liking for men, Thermus pondered about Caesar in that respect; looks of Caesar's kind very often predisposed their possessors toward a sexual liking for men. Yet, he decided, Caesar had not behaved preciously at all.



The paperwork reproached silently and Thermus went back to it; within moments he had forgotten all about Gaius Julius Caesar and the impossible fleet.



Caesar went overland from Pergamum without permitting his tiny entourage a night's rest in a Pergamum inn. He followed the course of the Caicus River to its sources before crossing a high ridge and coming down to the valley of the Macestus River, known as the Rhyndacus closer to the sea; the latter, it seemed from talking to various locals, he would do better not to aim for. Instead he turned off the Rhyndacus parallel to the coast of the Propontis and went to Prusa. There was, he had been told, just a chance that King Nicomedes was visiting his second-largest city. Prusa's position on the flanks of an imposing snow-covered massif appealed to Caesar strongly, but the King was not in residence. On went Caesar to the Sangarius River, and, after a short ride to the west of it, came to the principal royal seat of Nicomedia dreaming upon its long, sheltered inlet.



So different from Italy! Bithynia, he had discovered, was soft in climate rather than hot, and amazingly fertile thanks to its series of rivers, all flowing more strongly at this time of year than Italian rivers. Clearly the King ruled a prosperous realm, and his people wanted for nothing. Prusa had contained no poverty-stricken inhabitants; nor, it turned out, did Nicomedia.



The palace stood upon a knoll above the town, yet within the formidable walls. Caesar's initial impression was of Greek purity of line, Greek colors, Greek design-and considerable wealth, even if Mithridates had ruled here for several years while the Bithynian king had retreated to Rome. He never remembered seeing the King in Rome, but that was not surprising; Rome allowed no ruling king to cross the pomerium, so Nicomedes had rented a prohibitively expensive villa on the Pincian Hill and done all his negotiating with the Senate from that location.



At the door of the palace Caesar was greeted by a marvelously effeminate man of unguessable age who eyed him up and down with an almost slavering appreciation, sent another effeminate fellow off with Caesar's servants to stable the horses and the mule, and conducted Caesar to an anteroom where he was to wait until the King had been informed and his accommodation decided upon. Whether Caesar would succeed in obtaining an immediate audience with the King, the steward (for so he turned out to be) could not say.



The little chamber where Caesar waited was cool and very beautiful, its walls unfrescoed but divided into a series of panels formed by plaster moldings, the cornices gilded to match the panel borders and pilasters. Inside the panels the color was a soft shell-pink, outside them a deep purplish-red.



The floor was a marble confection in purples and pinks, and the windows-which looked onto what seemed to be the palace gardens-were shuttered from the outside, thus loomed as framed landscapes of exquisite terraces, fountains, blooming shrubs. So lush were the flowers that their perfumes seeped into the room; Caesar stood inhaling, his eyes closed.



What opened them was the sound of raised voices coming from beyond a half-opened door set into one wall: a male voice, high and lisping, and a female voice, deep and booming.



"Jump!" said the woman. "Upsy-daisy!"



"Rubbish!" said the man. "You degrade it!"



"Oozly-woozly-soozly!" said the woman, and produced a huge whinny of laughter.



"Go away!" from the man.



"Diddums!" from the woman, laughing again.



Perhaps it was bad manners, but Caesar didn't care; he moved to a spot from which his eyes could see what his ears were already hearing. The scene in the adjacent chamber- obviously some sort of private sitting room-was fascinating. It involved a very old man, a big woman perhaps ten years younger, and an elderly, roly-poly dog of some smallish breed Caesar didn't recognize. The dog was performing tricks- standing on its hind legs to beg, lying down and squirming over, playing dead with all four feet in the air. Throughout its repertoire it kept its eyes fixed upon the woman, evidently its owner.



The old man was furious. "Go away, go away, go away!" he shouted. As he wore the white ribbon of the diadem around his head, the watcher in the other room deduced he was King Nicomedes.



The woman (the Queen, as she also wore a diadem) bent over to pick up the dog, which scrambled hastily to its feet to avoid being caught, ran round behind her, and bit her on her broad plump bottom. Whereupon the King fell about laughing, the dog played dead again, and the Queen stood rubbing her buttock, clearly torn between anger and amusement. Amusement won, but not before the dog received her well-aimed foot neatly between its anus and its testicles. It yelped and fled, the Queen in hot pursuit.



Alone (apparently he didn't know the next-door room was occupied, nor had anyone yet told him of Caesar's advent), the King's laughter died slowly away. He sat down in a chair and heaved a sigh, it would seem of satisfaction.



Just as Marius and Julia had experienced something of a shock when they had set eyes upon this king's father, so too did Caesar absorb King Nicomedes the Third with considerable amazement. Tall and thin and willowy, he wore a floor-length robe of Tyrian purple embroidered with gold and sewn with pearls, and flimsy pearl-studded golden sandals which revealed that he gilded his toenails. Though he wore his own hair-cut fairly short and whitish-grey in color-he had caked his face with an elaborate maquillage of snow-white cream and powder, carefully drawn in soot-black brows and lashes, artificially pinkened his cheeks, and heavily carmined his puckered old mouth.



"I take it," said Caesar, strolling into the room, "that Her Majesty got what she deserved."



The King of Bithynia goggled. There before him stood a young Roman, clad for the road in plain leather cuirass and kilt. He was very tall and wide-shouldered, but the rest of him looked more slender, except that the calves of his legs were well developed above finely turned ankles wrapped around with military boots. Crowned by a mop of pale gold hair, the Roman's head was a contradiction in terms, as its cranium was so large and round that it looked bulbous, whereas its face was long and pointed. What a face! All bones-but such splendid bones, stretched over with smooth pale skin, and illuminated by a pair of large, widely spaced eyes set deep in their sockets. The fair brows were thinnish, the fair lashes thick and long; the eyes themselves could be, the King suspected, disquieting, for their light blue irises were ringed with a blue so dark it appeared black, and gave the black pupils a piercing quality softened at the moment by amusement. To the individual taste of the King, however, all else was little compared to the young man's mouth, full yet disciplined, and with the most kissable, dented corners.



"Well, hello!" said the King, sitting upright in a hurry, his pose one of bridling seductiveness.



"Oh, stop that!" said Caesar, inserting himself into a chair opposite the King's.



"You're too beautiful not to like men," the King said, then looked wistful. "If only I were even ten years younger!"



"How old are you?" asked Caesar, smiling to reveal white and regular teeth.



"Too old to give you what I'd like to!"



"Be specific-about your age, that is."



"I am eighty."



"They say a man is never too old."



"To look, no. To do, yes."



"Think yourself lucky you can't rise to the occasion," said Caesar, still smiling easily. "If you could, I'd have to wallop you-and that would create a diplomatic incident."



"Rubbish!" scoffed the King. "You're far too beautiful to be a man for women."



"In Bithynia, perhaps. In Rome, certainly not."



"Aren't you even tempted?"



"No."



"What a disgraceful waste!"



"I know a lot of women who don't think so."



"I'll bet you've never loved one of them."



"I love my wife," said Caesar.



The King looked crushed. "I will never understand Romans!" he exclaimed. "You call the rest of the world barbarian, but it is you who are not civilized."



Draping one leg over the arm of his chair, Caesar swung its foot rhythmically. "I know my Homer and Hesiod," he said.



"So does a bird, if you teach it."



"I am not a bird, King Nicomedes."



"I rather wish you were! I'd keep you in a golden cage just to look at you."



"Another household pet? I might bite you."



"Do!" said the King, and bared his scrawny neck.



"No, thanks."



"This is getting us nowhere!" said the King pettishly.



"Then you have absorbed the lesson."



"Who are you?"



"My name is Gaius Julius Caesar, and I'm a junior military tribune attached to the staff of Marcus Minucius Thermus, governor of Asia Province."



"Are you here in an official capacity?"



"Of course."



"Why didn't Thermus notify me?"



"Because I travel faster than heralds and couriers do, though why your own steward hasn't announced me I don't know," said Caesar, still swinging his foot.



At that moment the steward entered the room, and stood aghast to see the visitor sitting with the King.



"Thought you'd get in first, eh?" asked the King. "Well, Sarpedon, abandon all hope! He doesn't like men." His head turned back to Caesar, eyes curious. "Julius. Patrician?"



"Yes."



"Are you a relative of the consul who was killed by Gaius Marius? Lucius Julius Caesar?"



"He and my father were first cousins."



"Then you're the flamen Dialis!"



"I was the flamen Dialis. You've spent time in Rome."



"Too much of it." Suddenly aware the steward was still in the room, the King frowned. "Have you arranged accommodation for our distinguished guest, Sarpedon?"



"Yes, sire."



"Then wait outside."



Bowing severally, the steward eased himself out backward.



“What are you here for?'' asked the King of Caesar.



The leg was returned to the floor; Caesar sat up squarely. "I'm here to obtain a fleet."



No particular expression came into the King's eyes. "Hmm! A fleet, eh? How many ships are you after, and what kind?"



"You forgot to ask when by," said this awkward visitor.



"Add, when by."



"I want forty ships, half of which must be decked triremes or larger, all collected in the port of your choice by the middle of October," said Caesar.



“Two and a half months away? Oh, why not just cut off both my legs?" yelled Nicomedes, leaping to his feet.



"If I don't get what I want, I will."



The King sat down again, an arrested look in his eyes. "I remind you, Gaius Julius, that this is my kingdom, not a province of Rome," he said, his ridiculously carmined mouth unable to wear such anger appropriately. "I will give you whatever I can whenever I can! You ask! You don't demand."



"My dear King Nicomedes," said Caesar in a friendly way, "you are a mouse caught in the middle of a path used by two elephants-Rome and Pontus." His eyes had ceased to smile, and Nicomedes was suddenly hideously reminded of Sulla. “Your father died at an age too advanced to permit you tenure of this throne before you too were an old man. The years since your accession have surely shown you how tenuous your position is-you've spent as many of them in exile as you have in this palace, and you are only here now because Rome in the person of Gaius Scribonius Curio put you back. If Rome, which is a great deal further away from Pontus than you are, is well aware that King Mithridates is far from finished-and far from being an old man!-then you too must know it. The land of Bithynia has been called Friend and Ally of the Roman People since the days of the second Prusias, and you yourself have tied yourself inextricably to Rome. Evidently you're more comfortable ruling than in exile. That means you must co-operate with Rome and Rome's requests. Otherwise, Mithridates of Pontus will come galumphing down the path toward Rome galumphing the opposite way-and you, poor little mouse, will be squashed flat by one set of feet-or the other."



The King sat without a thing to say, crimson lips agape, eyes wide. After a long and apparently breathless pause, he took air into his chest with a gasp, and his eyes filled with tears. "That isn't fair!" he said, and broke down completely.



Exasperated beyond endurance, Caesar got to his feet, one hand groping inside the armhole of his cuirass for a handkerchief; he walked across to the King and thrust the piece of cloth at him. "For the sake of the position you hold, compose yourself! Though it may have commenced informally, this is an audience between the King of Bithynia and Rome's designated representative. Yet here you sit bedizened like a saltatrix tonsa, and snivel when you hear the unvarnished truth! I was not brought up to chastise venerable grandfathers who also happen to be Rome's client kings, but you invite it! Go and wash your face, King Nicomedes, then we'll begin again."



Docile as a child, the King of Bithynia got up and left.



In a very short time he was back, face scrubbed clean, and accompanied by several servants bearing trays of refreshments.



"The wine of Chios," said the King, sitting down and beaming at Caesar without, it seemed, resentment. "Twenty years old!"



"I thank you, but I'd rather have water."



"Water?"



The smile was back in Caesar's eyes. "I am afraid so. I have no liking for wine."



"Then it's as well that the water of Bithynia is renowned," said the King. "What will you eat?"



Caesar shrugged indifferently. "It doesn't matter."



King Nicomedes now bent a different kind of gaze upon his guest; searching, unaffected by his delight in male beauty. So he looked beyond what had previously fascinated him in Caesar, down into the layers below. "How old are you, Gaius Julius?"



"I would prefer that you call me Caesar."



"Until you begin to lose your wonderful head of hair," said the King, betraying the fact that he had been in Rome long enough to learn at least some Latin.



Caesar laughed. "I agree it is difficult to bear a cognomen meaning a fine head of hair! I'll just have to hope that I follow the Caesars in keeping it into old age, rather than the Aurelians in losing it." He paused, then said, "I'm just nineteen."



"Younger than my wine!" said the King in a voice of wonder. "You have Aurelius in you too? Orestes or Cotta?"



"My mother is an Aurelia of the Cottae."



"And do you look like her? I don't see much resemblance in you to Lucius Caesar or Caesar Strabo."



"I have some characteristics from her, some from my father. If you want to find the Caesar in me, think not of Lucius Caesar's younger brother, but his older one-Catulus Caesar. All three of them died when Gaius Marius came back, if you remember."



"Yes." Nicomedes sipped his Chian wine pensively, then said, "I usually find Romans are impressed by royalty. They seem in love with the philosophy of being Republican, but susceptible to the reality of kingship. You, however, are not a bit impressed."



"If Rome had a king, sire, I'd be it," said Caesar simply.



"Because you're a patrician?"



"Patrician?" Caesar looked incredulous. "Ye gods, no! I am a Julian! That means I go back to Aeneas, whose father was a mortal man, but whose mother was Venus-Aphrodite."



"You are descended from Aeneas's son, Ascanius?"



"We call Ascanius by the name Iulus," said Caesar.



"The son of Aeneas and Creusa?"



"Some say so. Creusa died in the flames of Troy, but her son did escape with Aeneas and Anchises, and did come to Latium. But Aeneas also had a son by Lavinia, the daughter of King Latinus. And he too was called Ascanius, and Iulus."



"So which son of Aeneas are you descended from?"



"Both," said Caesar seriously. "I believe, you see, that there was only one son-the puzzle lies in who mothered him, as everyone knows his father was Aeneas. It is more romantic to believe that Iulus was the son of Creusa, but more likely, I think, that he was the son of Lavinia. After Aeneas died and Iulus grew up, he founded the city of Alba Longa on the Alban Mount-uphill from Bovillae, you might say. Iulus died there, and left his family behind to continue to rule-the Julii. We were the Kings of Alba Longa, and after it fell to King Servius Tullius of Rome, we were brought into Rome as her foremost citizens. We are still Rome's foremost citizens, as is demonstrated by the fact that we are the hereditary priests of Jupiter Latiaris, who is older by far than Jupiter Optimus Maximus."



"I thought the consuls celebrated those rites," said King Nicomedes, revealing more knowledge of things Roman.



"Only at his annual festival, as a concession to Rome."



"Then if the Julii are so august, why haven't they been more prominent during the centuries of the Republic?''



"Money," said Caesar.



"Oh, money!" exclaimed the King, looking enlightened. "A terrible problem, Caesar! For me too. I just haven't the money to give you your fleet-Bithynia is broke."



"Bithynia is not broke, and you will give me my fleet, O king of mice! Otherwise-splosh! You'll be spread as thin as a wafer under an elephant's foot."



"I haven't got it to give you!"



"Then what are we doing sitting wasting time?" Caesar stood. “Put down your cup, King Nicomedes, and start up the machinery!" A hand went under the King's elbow. "Come on, up with you! We will go down to the harbor and see what we can find."



Outraged, Nicomedes shook himself free. "I wish you would stop telling me what to do!"



"Not until you do it!"



"I'll do it, I'll do it!".



"Now. There's no time like the present."



"Tomorrow."



"Tomorrow might see King Mithridates appear over the hill."



"Tomorrow will not see King Mithridates! He's in Colchis, and two thirds of his soldiers are dead."



Caesar sat down, looking interested. "Tell me more."



“He took a quarter of a million men to teach the savages of the Caucasus a lesson for raiding Colchis. Typical Mithridates! Couldn't see how he could lose fielding so many men. But the savages didn't even need to fight. The cold in the high mountains did the work for them. Two thirds of the Pontic soldiers died of exposure," said Nicomedes.



"Rome doesn't know this." Caesar frowned. "Why didn't you inform the consuls?"



"Because it's only just happened-and anyway, it is not my business to tell Rome!"



"While you're Friend and Ally, it most definitely is. The last we heard of Mithridates, he was up in Cimmeria reshaping his lands at the north of the Euxine."



"He did that as soon as Sulla ordered Murena to leave Pontus alone," nodded Nicomedes. "But Colchis had been refractory with its tribute, so he stopped off to rectify that and found out about the barbarian incursions."



"Very interesting."



"So as you can see, there is no elephant."



Caesar's eyes twinkled. "Oh yes there is! An even larger elephant. It's called Rome."



The King of Bithynia couldn't help it; he doubled up with laughter. "I give in, I give in! You'll have your fleet!"



Queen Oradaltis walked in, the dog at her heels, to find her ancient husband without his face painted, and crying with laughter. Also decently separated by some feet from a young Roman who looked just the sort of fellow who would be sitting in much closer proximity to one like King Nicomedes.



"My dear, this is Gaius Julius Caesar," said the King when he sobered a little. “A descendant of the goddess Aphrodite, and far better born than we are. He has just maneuvered me into giving him a large and prestigious fleet."



The Queen (who had no illusions whatsoever about Nicomedes) inclined her head regally. "I'm surprised you haven't just given him the whole kingdom," she said, pouring herself a goblet of wine and taking up a cake before she sat down.



The dog bumbled over to Caesar and dumped itself on his feet, gazing up adoringly. When Caesar bent to give it a resounding pat, it collapsed, rolled over, and presented its fat belly to be scratched.



"What's his name?" asked Caesar, who clearly liked dogs.



"Sulla," said the Queen.



A vision of her sandaled toe administering a kick to Sulla's private parts rose up before Caesar's inner gaze; it was now his turn to double up with laughter.



Over dinner he learned of the fate of Nysa, only child of the King and Queen, and heir to the Bithynian throne.



"She's fifty and childless," said Oradaltis sadly. "We refused to allow Mithridates to marry her, naturally, but that meant he made it impossible for us to find a suitable husband for her elsewhere. It is a tragedy."



"May I hope to meet her before I leave?" asked Caesar.



"That is beyond our power," sighed Nicomedes. "When I fled to Rome the last time Mithridates invaded Bithynia, I left Nysa and Oradaltis here in Nicomedia. So Mithridates carried our girl off as a hostage. He still has her in his custody."



"And did he marry her?"



"We think not. She was never a beauty, and she was even then too old to have children. If she defied him openly he may have killed her, but the last we heard she was alive and being held in Cabeira, where he keeps women like the daughters and sisters he won't permit to marry," said the Queen.



"Then we'll hope that when next the two elephants collide on that path, King Nicomedes, the Roman elephant wins the encounter. If I'm not personally a part of the war, I'll make sure whoever is in command knows whereabouts Princess Nysa is."



"By then I hope I'll be dead," said the King, meaning it.



"You can't die before you get your daughter back!"



"If she should ever come back it will be as a Pontic puppet, and that is the reality," said Nicomedes bitterly.



"Then you had better leave Bithynia to Rome in your will."



"As the third Attalus did with Asia, and Ptolemy Apion with Cyrenaica? Never!" declared the King of Bithynia.



"Then it will fall to Pontus. And Pontus will fall to Rome, which means Bithynia will end up Roman anyway."



"Not if I can help it."



"You can't help it," said Caesar gravely.



The next day the King escorted Caesar down to the harbor, where he was assiduous in pointing out the complete absence of ships rigged for fighting.



"You wouldn't keep a navy here," said Caesar, not falling for it. "I suggest we ride for Chalcedon."



"Tomorrow," said the King, more enchanted with his difficult guest in every passing moment.



"We'll start today," said Caesar firmly. "It's-what? Forty miles from here? We won't do it in one ride."



"We'll go by ship," said the King, who loathed traveling.



"No, we'll go overland. I like to get the feel of terrain. Gaius Marius-who was my uncle by marriage-told me I should always journey by land if possible. Then if in future I should campaign there, I would know the lie of the land. Very useful."



"So both Marius and Sulla are your uncles by marriage."



"I'm extraordinarily well connected," said Caesar solemnly.



"I think you have everything, Caesar! Powerful relatives, high birth, a fine mind, a fine body, and beauty. I am very glad I am not you."



"Why?"



"You'll never not have enemies. Jealousy-or envy, if you prefer to use that term to describe the coveting of characteristics rather than love-will dog your footsteps as the Furies did poor Orestes. Some will envy you the beauty, some the body or its height, some the birth, some the mind. Most will envy you all of them. And the higher you rise, the worse it will become. You will have enemies everywhere, and no friends. You will be able to trust neither man nor woman."



Caesar listened to this with a sober face. "Yes, I think that is a fair comment," he said deliberately. "What do you suggest I do about it?"



"There was a Roman once in the time of the Kings. His name was Brutus," said the King, displaying yet more knowledge of Rome. "Brutus was very clever. But he hid it under a facade of brutish stupidity, hence his cognomen. So when King Tarquinius Superbus killed men in every direction, it never once occurred to him to kill Brutus. Who deposed him and became the first consul of the new Republic."



"And executed his own sons when they tried to bring King Tarquinius Superbus back from exile and restore the monarchy to Rome," said Caesar. "Pah! I've never admired Brutus. Nor will I emulate him by pretending I'm stupid."



"Then you must take whatever comes."



"Believe me, I intend to take whatever comes!"



"It's too late to start for Chalcedon today," said the King slyly. "I feel like an early dinner, then we can have some more of this wonderfully stimulating conversation, and ride at dawn."



"Oh, we'll ride at dawn," said Caesar cheerfully, "but not from here. I'm leaving for Chalcedon in an hour. If you want to come, you'll have to hurry."



Nicomedes hurried, for two reasons: the first was that he knew he had to keep a strict eye on Caesar, who was highhanded; and the second that he was fathoms deep in love with the young man who continued to profess that he had no weakness for men.



He found Caesar being thrown up into the saddle of a mule.



"A mule?"



"A mule," said Caesar, looking haughty.



"Why?"



"It's an idiosyncrasy."



"You're on a mule, and your freedman rides a Nesaean?"



"So your eyes obviously tell you."



Sighing, the King was helped tenderly into his two-wheeled carriage, which followed Caesar and Burgundus at a steady walk. However, when they paused for the night under the roof of a baron so old he had never expected to see his sovereign again, Caesar apologized to Nicomedes.



"I'm sorry. My mother would say I didn't stop to think. You're very tired. We ought to have sailed."



"My body is devastated, that's true," said Nicomedes with a smile. "However, your company makes me young again."



Certainly when he joined Caesar to break his fast on the morning after they had arrived in Chalcedon (where there was a royal residence), he was bright and talkative, seemed well rested.



"As you can see," he said, standing on the massive mole which enclosed Chalcedon's harbor, "I have a neat little navy. Twelve triremes, seven quinqueremes, and fourteen undecked ships. Here, that is. I have more in Chrysopolis and in Dascylium."



"Doesn't Byzantium take a share of the Bosporan tolls?"



"Not these days. The Byzantines used to levy the tolls- they were very powerful, used to have a navy almost the equal of the Rhodians. But after the fall of Greece and then Macedonia, they had to keep a large land army to repel the Thracian barbarians, who still raid them. Simply, Byzantium couldn't afford to keep a navy as well as an army. So the tolls passed to Bithynia."



"Which is why you have several neat little navies."



"And why I have to retain my neat little navies! I can donate Rome ten triremes and five quinqueremes altogether, from what is here and what is elsewhere. And ten undecked ships. The rest of your fleet I'll hire."



"Hire?" asked Caesar blankly.



"Of course. How do you think we raise navies?"



"As we do! By building ships."



"Wasteful-but then you Romans are that," said the King. "Keeping your own ships afloat when you don't need them costs money. So we Greek-speaking peoples of Asia and the Aegean keep our fleets down to a minimum. If we need more in a hurry, we hire them. And that is what I'll do."



"Hire ships from where?" asked Caesar, bewildered. "If there were ships to be had along the Aegean, I imagine Thermus would have commandeered them already."



"Of course not from the Aegean!" said Nicomedes scornfully, delighted that he was teaching something to this formidably knowledgeable youth. "I'll hire them from Paphlagonia and Pontus."



"You mean King Mithridates would hire ships to his enemy?"



"Why would he not? They're lying idle at the moment, and costing him money. He doesn't have all those soldiers to fill them, and I don't think he plans an invasion of Bithynia or the Roman Asian province this year-or next year!"



"So we will blockade Mitylene with ships belonging to the kingdom Mitylene so badly wants to ally itself with," said Caesar, shaking his head. "Extraordinary!"



"Normal," said Nicomedes briskly.



"How do you go about the business of hiring?"



"I'll use an agent. The most reliable fellow is right here in Chalcedon."



It occurred to Caesar that perhaps if ships were being hired by the King of Bithynia for Rome's use, it ought to be Rome paying the bill, but as Nicomedes seemed to regard the present situation as routine, Caesar wisely held his tongue; for one thing, he had no money, and for another, he wasn't authorized to find the money. Best then to accept things as they were. But he began to see why Rome had problems in her provinces, and with her client kings. From his conversation with Thermus, he had assumed Bithynia would be paid for this fleet at some time in the future. Now he wondered exactly how long Bithynia would have to wait.



"Well, that's all fixed up," said the King six days later. “Your fleet will be waiting in Abydus harbor for you to pick it up on the fifteenth day of your October. That is almost two months away, and of course you will spend them with me."



"It is my duty to see to the assembling of the ships," said Caesar, not because he wished to avoid the King, but because he believed it ought to be so.



"You can't," said Nicomedes.



"Why?"



"It isn't done that way."



Back to Nicomedia they went, Caesar nothing loath; the more he had to do with the old man, the more he liked him. And his wife. And her dog.



Since there were two months to while away, Caesar planned to journey to Pessinus, Byzantium, and Troy. Unfortunately the King insisted upon accompanying him to Byzantium, and upon a sea journey, so Caesar never did get to either Pessinus or Troy; what ought to have been a matter of two or three days in a ship turned into almost a month. The royal progress was tediously slow and formal as the King called into every tiny fishing village and allowed its inhabitants to see him in all his glory-though, in deference to Caesar, without his maquillage.



Always Greek in nature and population, Byzantium had existed for six hundred years upon the tip of a hilly peninsula on the Thracian side of the Bosporus, and had a harbor on the horn-shaped northern reach as well as one on the southern, more open side. Its walls were heavily fortified and very high, its wealth manifest in the size and beauty of its buildings, private as well as public.



The Thracian Bosporus was more beautiful than the Hellespont-and more majestic, thought Caesar, having sailed through the Hellespont. That King Nicomedes was the city's suzerain became obvious from the moment the royal barge was docked; every man of importance came flocking to greet him. However, it did not escape Caesar that he himself got a few dark looks, or that there were some present who did not like to see the King of Bithynia on such good terms with a Roman. Which led to another dilemma. Until now Caesar's public associations with King Nicomedes had all been inside Bithynia, where the people knew their ruler so well that they loved his whole person, and understood him. It was not like that in Byzantium, where it soon became obvious that everyone assumed Caesar was the King of Bithynia's boyfriend.



It would have been easy to refute the assumption-a few words here and there about silly old fools who made silly old fools of themselves, and what a nuisance it was to be obliged to dicker for a fleet with a silly old fool. The trouble was, Caesar couldn't bring himself to do that; he had grown to love Nicomedes in every way except the one way Byzantium assumed he did, and he couldn't hurt the poor old man in that one place he himself was hurting most-his pride. But there were cogent reasons why he ought to make the true situation clear, first and foremost because his own future was involved. He knew where he was going-all the way to the top. Bad enough to attempt that hard climb hiding a part of his nature which was real; but worse by far to attempt it knowing that the inference was quite unjustified. If the King had been younger he might have decided upon a direct appeal, for though Nicomedes condemned the Roman intolerance of homosexuality as un-Hellenic, barbarian even, he would out of his naturally warm and affectionate nature have striven to dispel the illusion. But at his advanced age, Caesar couldn't be sure that the hurt this request would produce would not also be too severe. In short, life, Caesar was discovering after that enclosed and sheltered adolescence he had been forced to endure, could hand a man conundrums to which there were no adequate answers.



Byzantine resentment of Romans was due, of course, to the occupation of the city by Fimbria and Flaccus four years earlier, when they-appointed by the government of Cinna-had decided to head for Asia and a war with Mithridates rather than for Greece and a war with Sulla. It made little difference to the Byzantines that Fimbria had murdered Flaccus, and Sulla had put paid to Fimbria; the fact remained that their city had suffered. And here was their suzerain fawning all over another Roman.



Thus, having arrived at what decisions he could, Caesar set out to make his own individual impression on the Byzantines, intending to salvage what pride he could. His intelligence and education were a great help, but he was not so sure about that element of his nature that his mother so deplored- his charm. It did win over the leading citizens of the city and it did much to mollify their feelings after the singular boorishness and brutishness of Flaccus and Fimbria, but he was forced in the end to conclude that it probably strengthened their impressions of his sexual leanings-male men weren't supposed to be charming.



So Caesar embarked upon a frontal attack. The first phase of this consisted in crudely rebuffing all the overtures made to him by men, and the second phase in finding out the name of Byzantium's most famous courtesan, then making love to her until she cried enough.



"He's as big as a donkey and as randy as a goat," she said to all her friends and regular lovers, looking exhausted. Then she smiled and sighed, and stretched her arms voluptuously. "Oh, but he's wonderful! I haven't had a boy like him in years!"



And that did the trick. Without hurting King Nicomedes, whose devotion to the Roman youth was now seen for what it was. A hopeless passion.



Back to Nicomedia, to Queen Oradaltis, to Sulla the dog, to that crazy palace with its surplus of pages and its squabbling, intriguing staff.



"I'm sorry to have to go," he said to the King and Queen at their last dinner together.



"Not as sorry as we are to see you go," said Queen Oradaltis gruffly, and stirred the dog with her foot.



“Will you come back after Mitylene is subdued?'' asked the King. "We would so much like that."



"I'll be back. You have my word on it," said Caesar.



"Good!" Nicomedes looked satisfied. "Now, please enlighten me about a Latin puzzle I have never found the answer to: why is cunnus masculine gender, and mentula feminine gender?''



Caesar blinked. "I don't know!"



"There must surely be a reason."



"Quite honestly, I've never thought about it. But now that you've drawn it to my attention, it is peculiar, isn't it?"



"Cunnus should be cunna–it's the female genitalia, after all. And mentula should be mentulus–it's a man's penis, after all. Below so much masculine bluster, how hopelessly confused you Romans are! Your women are men, and your men, women." And the King sat back, beaming.



"You didn't choose the politest words for our private parts," said Caesar gravely. "Cunnus and mentula are obscenities." He kept his face straight as he went on. "The answer is obvious, I would have thought. The gender of the equipment indicates the sex it is intended to mate with-the penis is meant to find a female home, and a vagina is meant to welcome a male home."



"Rubbish!" said the King, lips quivering.



"Sophistry!" said the Queen, shoulders shaking.



"What do you have to say about it, Sulla?" asked Nicomedes of the dog, with which he was getting on much better since the advent of Caesar-or perhaps it was that Oradaltis didn't use the dog to tease the old man so remorselessly these days.



Caesar burst out laughing. “When I get home, I will most certainly ask him!"



The palace was utterly empty after Caesar left; its two aged denizens crept around bewildered, and even the dog mourned.



"He is the son we never had," said Nicomedes. "No!" said Oradaltis strongly. "He is the son we could never have had. Never."



"Because of my family's predisposition?"



"Of course not! Because we aren't Romans. He is Roman."



"Perhaps it would be better to say, he is himself."



“Do you think he will come back, Nicomedes?'' A question which seemed to cheer the King up. He said very firmly, "Yes, I believe he will."



When Caesar arrived in Abydus on the Ides of October, he found the promised fleet riding at anchor-two massive Pontic sixteeners, eight quinqueremes, ten triremes, and twenty well-built but not particularly warlike galleys.



"Since you wish to blockade rather than pursue at sea," said part of the King's letter to Caesar, "I have given you as your minor vessels broad-beamed, decked, converted merchantmen rather than the twenty undecked war galleys you asked for. If you wish to keep the men of Mitylene from having access to their harbor during the winter, you will need sturdier vessels than lightweight galleys, which have to be drawn up on shore the moment a storm threatens. The converted merchantmen will ride out all but gales so terrible no one will be on the sea. The two Pontic sixteeners I thought might come in handy, if for no other reason than they look so fearsome and daunting. They will break any harbor chain known, so will be useful when you attack. Also, the harbor master at Sinope was willing to throw them in for nothing beyond food and wages for their crews (five hundred men apiece), as he says the King of Pontus can find absolutely no work for them to do at the moment. I enclose the bill on a separate sheet."



The distance from Abydus on the Hellespont to the Anatolian shore of the island of Lesbos just to the north of Mitylene was about a hundred miles, which, said the chief pilot when Caesar applied to him for the information, would take between five and ten days if the weather held and every ship was genuinely seaworthy.



"Then we'd better make sure they all are," said Caesar.



Not used to working for an admiral (for such, Caesar supposed, was his status until he reached Lesbos) who insisted that his ships be gone over thoroughly before the expedition started, the chief pilot assembled Abydus's three shipwrights and inspected each vessel closely, with Caesar hanging over their shoulders badgering them with ceaseless questions.



“Do you get seasick?'' asked the chief pilot hopefully.



"Not as far as I know," said Caesar, eyes twinkling.



Ten days before the Kalends of November the fleet of forty ships sailed out into the Hellespont, where the current- which always flowed from the Euxine into the Aegean-bore them at a steady rate toward the southern mouth of the strait at the Mastusia promontory on the Thracian side, and the estuary of the Scamander River on the Asian side. Not far down the Scamander lay Troy-fabled Ilium, from the burning ruins of which his ancestor Aeneas had fled before Agamemnon could capture him. A pity that he hadn't had a chance to visit this awesome site, Caesar thought, then shrugged; there would be other chances.




The weather held, with the result that the fleet-still keeping well together-arrived off the northern tip of Lesbos six days early. Since it was no part of Caesar's plan to get to his destination on any other day than the Kalends of November, he consulted the chief pilot again and put the fleet snugly into harbor within the curling palm of the Cydonian peninsula, where it could not be seen from Lesbos. The enemy on Lesbos did not concern him: he wanted to surprise the besieging Roman army. And cock a snook at Thermus.



"You have phenomenal luck," said the chief pilot when the fleet put out again the day before the Kalends of November.



"In what way?"



"I've never seen better sailing conditions for this time of the year-and they'll hold for several days yet."



"Then at nightfall we'll put in to whatever sheltering bay we can find on Lesbos. At dawn tomorrow I'll take a fast lighter to find the army," said Caesar. "There's no point in bringing the whole fleet down until I find out whereabouts the commander wants to base it."



Caesar found his army shortly after the sun had risen on the following day, and went ashore to find Thermus or Lucullus, whoever was in command. Lucullus, as it turned out. Thermus was still in Pergamum.



They met below the spot where Lucullus was supervising the construction of a wall and ditch across the narrow, hilly spit of land on which stood the city of Mitylene.



It was Caesar of course who was curious; Lucullus was just testy, told no more than that a strange tribune wanted to see him, and deeming all unknown junior officers pure nuisances. His reputation in Rome had grown over the years since he had been Sulla's faithful quaestor, the only legate who had agreed to the march on Rome that first time, when Sulla had been consul. And he had remained Sulla's man ever since, so much so that Sulla had entrusted him with commissions not usually given to men who had not been praetor; he had waged war against King Mithridates and he had stayed in Asia Province after Sulla went home, holding it for Sulla while the governor, Murena, had busied himself conducting an unauthorized war against Mithridates in the land of Cappadocia.



Caesar saw a slim, fit-looking man of slightly more than average height, a man who walked a little stiffly-not, it seemed, because there was anything wrong with his bones, but rather because the stiffness was in his mind. Not a handsome man-but definitely an interesting-looking one-he had a long, pale face surmounted by a thatch of wiry, waving hair of that indeterminate color called mouse-brown. When he came close enough to see his eyes, Caesar discovered they were a clear, light, frigid grey.



The commander's brows were knitted into a frown. "Yes?"



"I am Gaius Julius Caesar, junior military tribune."



"Sent from the governor, I presume?"



"Yes."



"So? Why did you have to ask for. me? I'm busy."



"I have your fleet, Lucius Licinius."



"My fleet?"



"The one the governor told me to obtain from Bithynia."



The cold regard became fixed. "Ye gods!"



Caesar stood waiting.



"Well, that is good news! I didn't realize Thermus had sent two tribunes to Bithynia," said Lucullus. "When did he send you? In April?"



"As far as I know, I'm the only one he sent."



"Caesar-Caesar... You can't be the one he sent at the end of Quinctilis, surely!"



"Yes, I am."



“And you have a fleet already?”



"Yes."



"Then you'll have to go back, tribune. King Nicomedes has palmed you off with rubbish."



“This fleet contains no rubbish. I have forty ships I have personally inspected for seaworthiness-two sixteeners, eight quinqueremes, ten triremes, and twenty converted merchantmen the King said would be better for a winter blockade than light undecked war galleys," said Caesar, hugging his delight inside himself so secretly not a scrap of it showed.



"Ye gods!" Lucullus now inspected this junior military tribune as minutely as he would a freak in a sideshow at the circus. A faint turn began to work at tugging the left corner of his mouth upward, and the eyes melted a little. "How did you manage that?"



"I'm a persuasive talker."



"I'd like to know what you said! Nicomedes is as tight as a miser's clutch on his last sestertius."



"Don't worry, Lucius Licinius, I have his bill."



“Call me Lucullus, there are at least six Lucius Liciniuses here." The general turned to walk toward the seashore. "I'll bet you have the bill! What is he charging us for sixteeners?"



"Only the food and wages of their crews."



"Ye gods! Where is this magical fleet?"



"About a mile upshore toward the Hellespont, riding at anchor. I thought it would be better to come ahead myself and ask you whether you want it moored here, or whether you'd rather it went straight on to blockade the Mitylene harbors."



Some of the stiffness had gone from Lucullus's gait. "I think we'll put it straight to work, tribune." He rubbed his hands together. "What a shock for Mitylene! Its men thought they'd have all winter to bring in extra provisions."



When the two men reached the lighter and Lucullus stepped nimbly on board, Caesar hung back.



"Well, tribune? Aren't you coming?"



"If you wish. I'm a little new to military etiquette, so I don't want to make any mistakes," said Caesar frankly.



"Get in, man, get in!"



It was not until the twenty oarsmen, ten to a side, had turned the open boat into the north and commenced the long, easy strokes which ate up distance that Lucullus spoke again.



"New to military etiquette? You're well past seventeen, tribune, are you not? You didn't say you were a contubernalis.''



Stifling a sigh (he could see that he would be tired of explaining long before explanations were no longer necessary), Caesar said in matter-of-fact tones, “I am nineteen, but this is my first campaign. Until June I was the flamen Dialis.''



But Lucullus never wanted lavish details; he was too busy and too intelligent. So he nodded, taking for granted all the things most men wanted elaborated. “Caesar... Was your aunt Sulla's first wife?"



"Yes."



"So he favors you."



"At the moment."



"Well answered! I am his loyalest follower, tribune, and I say that as a warning I owe to you, considering your relationship to him. I do not permit anyone to criticize him."



"You'll hear no criticisms from me, Lucullus."



"Good."



A silence fell, broken only by the uniform grunt of twenty oarsmen dipping simultaneously into the water. Then Lucullus spoke again, with some amusement.



"I would still like to know how you prised such a mighty fleet out of King Nicomedes."



And that secret delight suddenly popped to the surface in a manner Caesar had not yet learned to discipline; he said something indiscreet to someone he didn't know. "Suffice it to say that the governor annoyed me. He refused to believe that I could produce forty ships, half of them decked, by the Kalends of November. I was injured in my pride, and undertook to produce them. And I have produced them! The governor's lack of faith in my ability to live up to my word demanded it."



This answer irritated Lucullus intensely; he loathed having cocksure men in his army at any level, and he found the statement detestably arrogant. He therefore set out to put this cocksure child in his place. "I know that painted old trollop Nicomedes extremely well," he said in a freezing voice. "Of course you are very pretty, and he is very notorious. Did he fancy you?'' But, as he had no intention of permitting Caesar to reply, he went on immediately. "Yes, of course he fancied you! Oh, well done for you, Caesar! It isn't every Roman who has the nobility of purpose to put Rome ahead of his chastity. I think we'll have to call you the face that launched forty ships. Or should that be arse?"



The anger flared up in Caesar so quickly that he had to drive his nails into his palms to keep his arms by his sides; in all his life he had never had to fight so hard to keep his head. But keep it he did. At a price he was never to forget. His eyes turned to Lucullus, wide and staring. And Lucullus, who had seen eyes like that many times before, lost his color. Had there been anywhere to go he would have stepped back out of reach; instead he held his ground. But not without an effort.



"I had my first woman," said Caesar in a flat voice, "at about the time I had my fourteenth birthday. I cannot count the number I have had since. This means I know women very well. And what you have just accused me of, Lucius Licinius Lucullus, is the kind of trickery only women need employ. Women, Lucius Licinius Lucullus, have no other weapon in their arsenal than to use their cunni to get what they want- or what some man wants them to get for him. The day I need to resort to sexual trickery to achieve my ends, Lucius Licinius Lucullus, is the day that I will put my sword through my belly. You have a proud name. But compared to mine it is less than the dust. You have impugned my dignitas. I will not rest until I have extirpated that stain. How I obtained your fleet is not your affair. Or Thermus's! You may rest assured, however, that it was obtained honorably and without my needing to bed the King-or the Queen, for that matter. The sex of the one being exploited is of little moment. I do not reach my goals by such methods. I reach them by using my intelligence-a gift which, it seems to me, few men own. I should therefore go far. Further, probably, than you."



Having finished, Caesar turned his back and looked at the receding siegeworks which were making a ruin of the outskirts of Mitylene. And Lucullus, winded, could only be thankful that the verbal exchange had taken place in Latin; otherwise the oarsmen would have spread its gist far and wide. Oh, thank you, Sulla! What a hornet you have sent to enliven our placid little investment! He will be more trouble than a thousand Mitylenes.



The rest of the trip was accomplished in a stony silence, Caesar withdrawn into himself and Lucullus cudgeling his brains to think of a way by which he could retrieve his position without sacrificing his good opinion of himself-for it was absolutely inconceivable that he, the commanding officer of this war, could lower himself to apologize to a junior military tribune. And, as a satisfactory solution continued to elude him, at the end of the short journey he scaled the ladder up onto the deck of the nearest sixteener having to pretend Caesar didn't exist.



When he was standing firmly on the deck he held his right hand, palm outward, to halt Caesar's progress up the ladder.



"Don't bother, tribune," he said coldly. "Return to my camp and find your quarters. I don't want to see you."



"Am I at liberty to find my servants and horses?"



"Of course."



If Burgundus, who knew his master as well as anyone, was sure that something had gone very wrong during the time Caesar had been away from the fleet, he was wise enough not to remark upon Caesar's pinched, glazed expression as they set off by land toward Lucullus's camp.



Caesar himself remembered nothing of the ride, nor of the layout of the camp when he rode into it. A sentry pointed down the via principalis and informed the new junior military tribune that he would find his quarters in the second brick building on the right. It was not yet noon, but it felt as if the morning had contained a thousand hours, and the kind of weariness Caesar now found in himself was entirely new-dark, frightful, blind.



As this was a permanent camp not expected to be struck before the next spring, its inhabitants were housed more solidly and comfortably than under leather. For the rankers, endless rows of stout wooden huts, each containing eight soldiers; for the noncombatants, bigger wooden huts each containing eighty men; for the general, a proper house almost big enough to be called a mansion, built of sun-dried bricks; for the senior legates, a similar house; for the middle rank of officers, a squarer mud-brick pile four storeys in height; and for the junior military tribunes, the same kind of edifice, only smaller.



The door was open and voices issued from within when Caesar loomed there, hesitating, his servants and animals waiting in the road behind him.



At first he could see little of the interior, but his eyes were quick to respond to changes in the degree of available light, so he was able to take in the scene before anyone noticed him. A big wooden table stood in the middle of the room, around which, their booted feet on its top, sat seven young men. Who they were he didn't know; that was the penalty for being the flamen Dialis. Then a pleasant-faced, sturdily built fellow on the far side of the table glanced at the doorway and saw Caesar.



"Hello!" he said cheerfully. "Come in, whoever you are."



Caesar entered with far more assurance than he felt, the effect of Lucullus's accusation still lingering in his face; the seven who stared at him saw a deadly Apollo, not a lyrical one. The feet came down slowly. After that initial welcome, no one said a word. Everyone just stared.



Then the pleasant-faced fellow got to his feet and came round the table, his hand outstretched. "Aulus Gabinius," he said, and laughed. "Don't look so haughty, whoever you-are! We've got enough of those already."



Caesar took the hand, shook it strongly. "Gaius Julius Caesar," he said, but could not answer the smile. "I think I'm supposed to be billeted here. A junior military tribune."



"We knew they'd find an eighth somewhere," said Gabinius, turning to face the others. "That's all we are-junior military tribunes-the scum of the earth and a thorn in our general's side. We do occasionally work! But since we're not paid, the general can't very well insist on it. We've just eaten dinner. There's some left. But first, meet your fellow sufferers."



The others by now had come to their feet.



"Gaius Octavius." A short young man of muscular physique, Gaius Octavius was handsome in a rather Greek way, brown of hair and hazel of eye-except for his ears, which stuck straight out like jug handles. His handshake was nicely firm.



"Publius Cornelius Lentulus-plain Lentulus." One of the haughty ones, obviously, and a typical Cornelian-brown of coloring, homely of face. He looked as if he had trouble keeping up, yet was determined to keep up-insecure but dogged.



"The fancy Lentulus-Lucius Cornelius Lentulus Niger. We call him Niger, of course." Another of the haughty ones, another typical Cornelian. More arrogant than plain Lentulus.



"Lucius Marcius Philippus Junior. We call him Lippus–he's such a snail." The nickname was an unkindness, as Lippus did not have bleary eyes; rather, his eyes were quite magnificently large and dark and dreamy, set in a far better-looking face than Philippus owned-from his Claudian grandmother, of course, whom he resembled. He gave an impression of easygoing placidity and his handshake was gentle, though not weak.



"Marcus Valerius Messala Rufus. Known as Rufus the Red." Not one of the haughty ones, though his patrician name was very haughty. Rufus the Red was a red man-red of hair and red of eye. He did not, however, seem to be red of disposition.



"And, last as usual because we always seem to look over the top of his head, Marcus Calpurnius Bibulus."



Bibulus was the haughtiest one of all, perhaps because he was by far the smallest, diminutive in height and in build. His features lent themselves to a natural expression of superiority, for his cheekbones were sharp, as was his bumpy Roman nose; the mouth was discontented and the brows absolutely straight above slightly prominent, pale grey eyes. Hair and brows were white-fair, having no gold in them, which made him seem older than his years, numbering twenty-one.



Very occasionally two individuals upon meeting generate in that first glance a degree of dislike which has no foundation in fact or logic; it is instinctive and ineradicable. Such was the dislike which flared between Gaius Julius Caesar and Marcus Calpurnius Bibulus in their first exchange of glances. King Nicomedes had spoken of enemies-here was one, Caesar was sure.



Gabinius pulled the eighth chair from its position against the wall and set it at the table between his own and Octavius's.



"Sit down and eat," he said.



"I'll sit, gladly, but forgive me if I don't eat."



"Wine, you'll have some wine!"



"I never touch it."



Octavius giggled. "Oh, you'll love living here!" he cried. "The vomit is usually wall to wall."



"You're the flamen Dialis!" exclaimed Philippus's son.



"I was the flamen Dialis," said Caesar, intending to say no more. Then he thought better of that, and went on, "If I give you the details now, no one need ever ask about it again." He told the story crisply, his words so well chosen that the rest of them-no scholars, any-soon realized the new tribune was an intellectual, if not a scholar.



"Quite a tale," said Gabinius when it was over.



"So you're still married to Cinna's daughter," said Bibulus.



"Yes."



"And," said Octavius, giving a whoop of laughter, "we are now hopelessly locked in the ancient combat, Gabinius! Caesar makes it four patricians! War to the death!"



The rest gave him withering glances, and he subsided.



"Just come out from Rome, have you?" asked Rufus.



"No, from Bithynia."



"What were you doing in Bithynia?" asked plain Lentulus.



"Gathering a fleet for the investment of Mitylene."



"I'll bet that old pansy Nicomedes liked you," sneered Bibulus. Knowing that it was a breach of manners calculated to offend most of those in the room, he had tried not to say it; but somehow his tongue could not resist.



"He did, as a matter of fact," said Caesar coolly.



"Did you get your fleet?" Bibulus pressed.



"Naturally," said Caesar with a haughtiness Bibulus could never have matched.



The laughter was sharp, like Bibulus's face. "Naturally? Don't you mean, un-naturally?"



No one actually saw what happened next. Six pairs of eyes only found focus after Caesar had moved around the table and picked Bibulus up bodily, holding him at arm's length, feet well clear of the floor. It looked ridiculous, comedic; Bibulus's arms were swinging wildly at Caesar's smiling face but were too short to connect-a scene straight out of an inspired mime.



"If you were not as insignificant as a flea," said Caesar, "I would now be outside pounding your face into the cobbles. Unfortunately, Pulex, that would be tantamount to murder. You're too insignificant to allow me to beat you to a pulp. So stay out of my way, fleabite!" Still holding Bibulus clear of the floor, he looked about until he found something that would do-a cabinet six feet tall. Without seeming to exert much effort, he popped Bibulus on top, gracefully avoiding the boot Bibulus aimed at him. "Kick your feet up there for a while, Pulex."



Then he was gone, out into the road.



"Pulex really suits you, Bibulus!" said Octavius, laughing. "I shall call you Pulex from now on, you deserve it. How about you, Gabinius? Going to call him Pulex?"



"I'd rather call him Podex!" snapped Gabinius, red-faced with anger. “What possessed you to say that, Bibulus? It was utterly uncalled for, and it makes every one of us look bad!" He glared at the others. "I don't care what the rest of you do, but I'm going out to help Caesar unload."



"Get me down!" said Bibulus from the top of the cabinet.



"Not I!" said Gabinius scornfully.



In the end no one volunteered; Bibulus had to drop cleanly to the floor, for the flimsy unit was too unstable to permit of his lowering himself by his hands. In the midst of his monumental rage he also knew bewilderment and mortification-Gabinius was right. What had possessed him? All he had succeeded in doing was making a churl of himself- he had lost the esteem of his companions and could not console himself that he had won the encounter, for he had not. Caesar had won it easily-and with honor-not by striking a man smaller than himself, but rather by showing that man's smallness up. It was only natural that Bibulus should resent size and muscularity in others, as he had neither; the world, he well knew, belonged to big and imposing men. Just the look of Caesar had been enough to set him off-the face, the body, the height-and then, to cap those physical advantages, the fellow had produced a spate of fluent, beautifully chosen words! Not fair!



He didn't know whom he hated most-himself, or Gaius Julius Caesar. The man with everything. Bellows of mirth were floating in from the road, too intriguing for Bibulus to resist. Quietly he crept to the side of the doorway and peered around it furtively. There stood his six fellow tribunes holding their sides, while the man who had everything sat upon the back of a mule! Whatever he was saying Bibulus could not hear, but he knew the words were witty, funny, charming, likable, irresistible, fascinating, interesting, superbly chosen, spellbinding.



“Well,'' he said to himself as he slunk toward the privacy of his room, "he will never, never, never be rid of this flea!"



As winter set in and the investment of Mitylene slowed to that static phase wherein the besiegers simply sat and waited for the besieged to starve, Lucius Licinius Lucullus finally found time to write to his beloved Sulla.



I hold out high hopes for an end to this in the spring, thanks to a very surprising circumstance about which I would rather tell you a little further down the columns. First, I would like you to grant me a favor. If I do manage to end this in the spring, may I come home? It has been so long, dear Lucius Cornelius, and I need to set eyes on Rome-not to mention you. My brother, Varro Lucullus, is now old enough and experienced enough to be a curule aedile, and I have a fancy to share the curule aedileship with him. There is no other office a pair of brothers can share and earn approbation. Think of the games we will give! Not to mention the pleasure. I am thirty-eight now, my brother is thirty-six- almost praetor time, yet we have not been aediles. Our name demands that we be aediles. Please let us have this office, then let me be praetor as soon afterward as possible. If, however, you feel my request is not wise or not deserved, I will of course understand.



Thermus seems to be managing in Asia Province, having given me the siege of Mitylene to keep me busy and out of his hair. Not a bad sort of fellow, really. The local peoples all like him because he has the patience to listen to their tales of why they can't afford to pay the tribute, and I like him because after he's listened so patiently, he insists they pay the tribute.



These two legions I have here are composed of a rough lot of fellows. Murena had them in Cappadocia and Pontus, Fimbria before him. They have an independence of mind which I dislike, and am busy knocking out of them. Of course they resent your edict that they never be allowed to return to Italy because they condoned Fimbria's murder of Flaccus, and send a deputation to me regularly asking that it be lifted. They get nowhere, and by this know me well enough to understand that I will decimate them if they give me half an excuse. They are Rome's soldiers, and they will do as they are told. I become very testy when rankers and junior tribunes think they are entitled to a say-but more of that anon.



It seems to me at this stage that Mitylene will have softened to a workable consistency by the spring, when I intend a frontal assault. I will have several siege towers in place, so it ought to succeed. If I can beat this city into submission before the



summer, the rest of Asia Province will lie down tamely.



The main reason why I am so confident lies in the fact that I have the most superb fleet from- you'll never guess!-Nicomedes! Thermus sent your nephew by marriage, Gaius Julius Caesar, to obtain it from Nicomedes at the end of Quinctilis. He did write to me to that effect, though neither of us expected to see the fleet before March or even April of next year. But apparently, if you please, Thermus had the audacity to laugh at young Caesar's confidence that he would get the fleet together quickly. So Caesar pokered up and demanded a fleet size and delivery date from Thermus in the most high-handed manner possible. Forty ships, half of them decked quinqueremes or triremes, delivered on the Kalends of November. Such were Thermus's orders to this haughty young fellow.



But would you believe it, Caesar turned up in my camp on the Kalends of November with a far better fleet than any Roman could ever have expected to get from the likes of Nicomedes? Including two sixteeners, for which I have to pay no more than food and wages for their crews! When I saw the bill, I was amazed-Bithynia will make a profit, but not an outrageous one. Which makes me honor-bound to return the fleet as soon as Mitylene falls. And to pay up. I hope to pay up out of the spoils, of course, but if these should fail to be as large as I expect, is there any chance you could persuade the Treasury to make me a special grant?



I must add that young Caesar was arrogant and insolent when he handed the fleet over to me. I was obliged to put him in his place. Naturally there is only one way he could possibly have extracted such a magnificent fleet in such a short time from old pansy Nicomedes-he slept with him. And so I told him, to put him in his place. But I doubt there is any way in the world to put Caesar in his place! He turned on me like a hooded snake and informed me that he didn't need to resort to women's tricks to obtain anything-and that the day he did was the day he would put his sword through his belly. He left me wondering how to discipline him-not usually a problem I have, as you know. In the end I thought perhaps his fellow junior military tribunes might do it for me. You remember them-you must have seen them in Rome before they set out for service. Gabinius, two Lentuli, Octavius, Messala Rufus, Bibulus, and Philippus's son.



I gather tiny Bibulus did try. And got put up on top of a tall cabinet for his pains. The ranks in the junior tribunes' quarters have been fairly split since-Caesar has acquired Gabinius, Octavius, and Philippus's son-Rufus is neutral-and the two Lentuli and Bibulus loathe him. There is always trouble among young men during siege operations, of course, because of the boredom, and it's difficult to flog the young villains to do any work. Even for me. But Caesar spells trouble above and beyond the usual. I detest having to bother myself with people on this low level, but I have had no choice on several occasions. Caesar is a handful. Too pretty, too self-confident, too aware of what is, alas, a very great intelligence.



However, to give Caesar his due, he's a worker. He never stops. How I don't quite know, but almost every ranker in the camp seems to know him-and like him, more's the pity. He just takes charge. My legates have taken to avoiding him because he won't take orders on a job unless he approves of the way the job is being done. And unfortunately his way is always the better way! He's one of those fellows who has it all worked out in his mind before the first blow is struck or the first subordinate ordered to do a thing. The result is that all too often my legates end up with red faces.



The only way so far that I have managed to prick his confidence is in referring to how he obtained his wonderful fleet from old Nicomedes at such a bargain price. And it does work, to the extent that it angers him hugely. But will he do what I want him to do-physically attack me and give me an excuse to court-martial him? No! He's too clever and too self-controlled. I don't like him, of course. Do you? He had the impudence to inform me that my birth compared to his is less than the dust!



Enough of junior tribunes. I ought to find things to say about grander men-senior legates, for example. But I am afraid that about them I can think of nothing.



I hear that you have gone into the matchmaking business, and have found Pompeius Kid Butcher a wife far above his own standing. You might, if you have the time, find me a bride. I have been away since my thirtieth birthday, now I am almost of praetor's age and have no wife, let alone son to succeed me. The trouble is that I prefer good wine, good food and good times to the sort of woman a Licinius Lucullus must marry. Also, I like my women very young, and who is so hard up that he would give me his thirteen-year-old? If you can think of anyone, let me know. My brother absolutely refuses to act as a matchmaker, so you can imagine how happy I was to learn that you have gone into the business.



I love you and miss you, dear Lucius Cornelius.



Late in March, Marcus Minucius Thermus arrived from Pergamum, and agreed that Lucullus should attack. When he heard all the details about Caesar's Bithynian fleet he roared with laughter, though Lucullus was still unable to see the funny side of it; he was too plagued by complaints passed up the command chain about his unruly, scrapping junior military tribunes.



There was, however, a very old and unwritten army law: if a man is a constant source of trouble, put him somewhere in the battle sure to see him dead by the end of it. And, making his plans for the assault on Mitylene, Lucullus resolved to abide by this ancient army law. Caesar would have to die. Full command in the coming battle had been left with him; Thermus would be present only as an observer.



It was not extraordinary for a general to call all ranks of his officers to a final council, but rare enough in the case of Lucullus to cause some comment. Not that anyone thought it odd to see the junior military tribunes present; they were inordinately troublesome, and clearly the general did not trust them. Normally they served, chiefly as messengers, under his legionary tribunes, and it was as such that he appointed them when he came to the fine details at the end of his war council. Except for Caesar, to whom he said coldly,



"You are a pain in the podex, but I note that you like to work hard. I have therefore decided to give you command of a special cohort composed of all the worst elements in the Fimbriani. This cohort I will hold in reserve until I see whereabouts the fiercest resistance is. Then I will order it into that section of the battle. It will be your job as their commander to see that they reverse the situation."



"You're a dead man," said Bibulus complacently as they sat in their quarters after the council.



"Not I!" said Caesar cheerfully, splitting a hair from his head with his sword, and another with his dagger.



Gabinius, who liked Caesar enormously, looked worried. "I wish you weren't such a prominent sort of mentula," he said. "If you would only pipe down and make yourself inconspicuous, you wouldn't be singled out. He's given you a job he ought not to have given to a junior, especially one who has never served in a campaign before. All of his own troops are Fimbriani and under permanent sentence of exile. He's gathered together the ones who resent it most, then put you in charge of them! If he was going to give you command of a cohort, it ought to have been of men from Thermus's legions."



"I know all that," said Caesar patiently. "Nor can I help it if I'm a prominent sort of mentula-ask any of the camp women."



That provoked a chuckle from some, dark looks from others; those who loathed him might have forgiven him more easily had he not, over the course of the winter, earned an enviable reputation among the female camp followers-made more novel and amusing by his insistence that the lucky woman be so clean she shone.



"Aren't you worried at all?" asked Rufus the Red.



"No," said Caesar. "I have luck as well as talent. Wait and see." He slid sword and dagger into their scabbards carefully, then prepared to carry them to his room. As he passed by Bibulus he tickled him under the chin. "Don't be afraid, little Pulex," he said, "you're so small the enemy will never notice you."



"If he wasn't so sure of himself, I might find him more bearable," said plain Lentulus to Lentulus Niger as they trod together up the stairs to their rooms.



"Something will cut him down to size," said Niger.



"Then I hope I'm there to see it," said plain Lentulus, and shivered. "It's going to be nasty tomorrow, Niger."



"Most of all for Caesar," said Niger, and smiled with sour satisfaction. "Lucullus has thrown him to the arrows."



There were six siege towers drawn close to the walls of Mitylene, each big enough to permit the passage of hundreds of troops through them and onto the top of the walls quickly enough to meet the defenders and hurl them down. Unfortunately for Lucullus, the defenders were well aware that their chances of withstanding such an assault were less than their chances of winning a pitched battle outside their walls.



Halfway through the night Lucullus was woken with the news that the city's gates were all open and that sixty thousand men were pouring out to take up stations in the space between Mitylene's walls and the ditch and siege wall Lucullus had built.



Bugles blew, drums rolled, horns blared: the Roman camp became a scene of frenzied activity as Lucullus summoned his soldiers to arms. He now had all four of Asia's legions, as Thermus had brought the other two with him; these had not been a part of Fimbria's army and so would be entitled to return to Rome with Thermus at the conclusion of his term in office. Thus their presence in the siege camp at Mitylene had served to remind the Fimbriani of their permanent exile, and stirred up fresh discontent. Now that a pitched battle was inevitable, Lucullus feared that the Fimbriani would not stand and fight. Which made it more imperative than ever that Caesar's cohort of the most aggressive malcontents be separated from the rest of the army.



Lucullus had twenty-four thousand men, against Mitylene's sixty thousand. But among the seasoned Mitylene warriors would be many old men and little boys-as there always were when a city marshaled its people to fight a force of besiegers.



"I'm a fool, I should have thought of this!" said an angry Lucullus to Thermus.



"What's more to the point, how did they know we were going to attack today?" asked Thermus.



"Spies, probably among the camp women," said Lucullus. "I will have all of them killed later." He returned to the business at hand. "The worst of it is that it's still too dark to see how they've drawn themselves up. I'll have to keep them at bay until I've worked out a plan."



"You're a brilliant tactician, Lucullus," said Thermus. "It will go well, despite this."



At dawn Lucullus stood at the top of one of the towers along his own walls, examining the massed formations of enemy; his troops were already in No Man's Land, clustered along the edge of his ditch, from the bottom of which the hundreds of thousands of sharpened stakes had been hastily removed. Lucullus wanted no impaled Roman soldiers if his army should be forced back. One good thing, it would have to be a fight to the death. Lucullus's wall would prevent his own troops fleeing the field. Not that he anticipated this; the Fimbriani-when they were in the mood to fight-were as good as any troops he had ever commanded.



Before the sun rose he was in No Man's Land himself, with his command chain around him receiving their orders.



"I can't address the army, it would never hear me," he said, tight-lipped. "So everything depends on your hearing me now, and on your absolute obedience. As your orientation point you will use the great north gate of Mitylene, as it is right in the center of our sphere of operation. My army will be drawn up in the shape of a crescent moon, with the wings forward of the center. But in the middle of the hollow exactly opposite the gate I want a forward-thrusting peak. This peak will advance ahead of all other units at a walk, its objective the gate. My tactic is to use the peak to divide the enemy host in two, and to enclose each half within the loops of my crescent. That means the men must keep the shape of their formation, the wing tips almost level with the peak. I have no cavalry, so I must ask the men at the ends of the crescent to behave like cavalry wings. Fast and heavy."



Perhaps seventy men were gathered around him as he stood on a small box to give him sufficient height to see everyone; the cohort centurions were there as well as the officers. His frowning gaze rested upon Caesar and the pilus prior centurion who commanded that cohort of rebels he had originally intended as arrow fodder. Lucullus had no trouble in remembering the name of the pilus prior–Marcus Silius–an aggressive, ill-mannered upstart who was always the ringleader of the deputations the men of the Fimbriani sent regularly to petition him. This was no time to exact revenge; what he needed was to make a decision based firmly in good sense. And what he had to decide was whether this cohort ought to form the spearhead of that central peak-a cohort sure to die almost to its last man-or be buried at the back of one of the two crescent curves where it could do little save form a reinforcement. He made up his mind.



"Caesar and Silius-you will take your cohort to the head of the peak and drive toward the gate. Once you reach the gate, hold your ground no matter what they throw at you." And he went on to make the rest of his dispositions.



"The gods help me, that cunnus Lucullus has given me a pretty baby to lead us," growled Silius to Caesar out of the side of his mouth as they waited for Lucullus to end.



From a seasoned centurion Caesar took the slur without so much as a flicker of irritation. Instead, he laughed. "Would you rather be led by a pretty baby who sat at Gaius Marius's knee for two years hearing how to fight, or by some ostensibly skilled legate who doesn't know his military arse from his military elbow?"



Gaius Marius! That was the one name echoed in the heart of every Roman soldier like a joy-bell. The gaze Marcus Silius bent upon his commander was searching, even a little mollified. "And what was you to Gaius Marius?" he asked.



"He was my uncle. And he believed in me," said Caesar.



"But this is your first campaign-and your first battle!" Silius objected.



"Know everything, Silius, don't you? Then you'd better add this. I won't let you or your men down. But if you let me down, I'll have the lot of you flogged," said Caesar.



"You got a deal," said Silius promptly, and slipped off to tell his junior centurions what to do.



Lucullus was not the kind of general who wasted time. The moment his officers knew what was expected of them and had put their men into formation, he sounded the advance. It was clear to him that the enemy had no actual plan of battle, for they simply waited in a huge mass spread along the ground under their walls, and when the Roman army began to walk, made no attempt to charge it. They would take its assault on their shields and then fight. Their numbers, they were sure, would win the day.



As shrewd as he was truculent, Silius spread the word from one end of his six hundred men to the other: their commander was a pretty baby who also happened to be Gaius Marius's nephew-and Gaius Marius had believed in him.



Caesar walked alone in front of the standard, his big rectangular shield on his left arm, his sword still in its metal scabbard; Marius had told him that it must not be drawn until the last moment before the enemy was engaged, because,



"You can't afford to look down at the ground, whether you're advancing at a run or a walk," he had mumbled out of the unparalyzed corner of his mouth. "If you're carrying the thing unsheathed in your right hand and you stumble into a hole or trip over a rock, you'll end in wounding yourself."



Caesar was not afraid, even in the most secret corner of himself, and it never occurred to him for one moment that he might be killed. Then he became aware that his men were singing:



"We-are-the Fim-bri-ani!



Be-ware-the Fim-bri-ani!



We-trapped-the King-of-Pontus!



We-are-the best-there-is!''



Fascinating, mused Caesar as the waiting hordes of Mitylene came closer and closer. It must be four years since Fimbria died, four years in which they've fought for two Licinii, Murena and then Lucullus. He was a wolfshead, Fimbria. But they still think of themselves as his men. They are not- and I suspect they never will be-the Liciniani. How they felt about Murena, I don't know. But they loathe Lucullus! Well, who doesn't? He's such a stiff-rumped aristocrat. And he doesn't believe it's useful to have his soldiers love him. How wrong he is.



At exactly the correct moment Caesar signaled the bugler to play "launch spears," and kept cool enough not to duck when over a thousand of them whistled above his head in two volleys which sorely distressed and unsettled the men of Mitylene. Now follow up!



He drew his sword and flashed it in the air, heard the peculiar scrape of six hundred swords being pulled out of their sheaths, and then he walked calmly into the enemy like a senator into a Forum crowd, shield round and not a thought in his head for what was happening at his back. Short, double-edged and razor-sharp, the gladius was not a weapon to swing about one's head and slash downward; Caesar used it as it was meant to be used, held at groin level with its blade a hypotenuse and its wicked point upward, outward. Stab and thrust, thrust and stab.



The enemy didn't like this form of attack, aimed at precious loins, and the cohort of Fimbriani troublemakers just kept on advancing, which gave the men of Mitylene scant room to wield their longer swords above their heads. Shock hurled them back, the pressure of the Romans kept them back for long enough to see Lucullus's peak at the hollow middle of his crescent bury itself deep in the enemy ranks.



After that they took courage and stood to fight by any means they could, all haters of Rome, and determined to die before their beloved Mitylene would fall once more into Roman hands.



A big part of it, Caesar soon discovered, was bluff. When a man came at you, you displayed no terror nor gave ground; for if you did, you lost the encounter mentally and your chances of dying were far greater. Attack, attack, always attack. Look invincible, then it was the enemy soldiers who gave ground. He reveled in it, blessed with fine reflexes and a phenomenally accurate eye, and for a long time he fought on without pausing to think what was happening behind him.



Then, he discovered, there was room even in the hottest contest for intelligence; he was the cohort's commander, and he had almost forgotten its existence. But how to turn about and see what was going on without being cut down? How to gain a vantage spot from which he could assess the situation? His arm was tiring a little, though the low sword stance and the light weight of the sword staved off the kind of fatigue the enemy were obviously suffering as they waved their far heavier weapons around; their swings were becoming progressively wilder and their slashes less enthusiastic.



A heap of enemy dead lay to one side of where he stood, pushed there by the eddying movements of those who still lived and fought. Caesar put everything he had into a sudden flurry of aggression and seized the opportunity this gave him to spring up onto the mound of bodies. His legs were vulnerable, but nothing higher, and the pile was wide enough once he gained its summit to turn around without guarding his legs.



A cheer went up from his men when they saw him, and that gladdened him. But he could see that his cohort was now cut off; Lucullus's spearhead had done its work, yet had not been backed up strongly enough. We are an island in the midst of enemy, he thought. Thanks to Lucullus. But we will stand, and we will not die! Coming down in a series of savage leaps which confused the enemy, he ranged himself beside Marcus Silius, soldiering on.



"We're cut off-blow 'form square,' " he said to the cohort bugler, who fought alongside the standard-bearer.



It was done with formidable precision and speed-oh, these were good troops! Caesar and Silius worked their way inside the square and went around its perimeter cheering the men on and seeing that any weak spots were strengthened.



"If only I had my mule, I could find out what was going on all over the field," said Caesar to Silius, "but junior military tribunes in charge of mere cohorts don't ride. That's a mistake."



"Easy fixed!" said Silius, who now looked at Caesar with great respect. He whistled up a dozen reserves standing nearby. "We'll build you a tribunal out of men and shields."



A short time later Caesar was standing at full stretch on top of four men who held their shields over their heads, having attained this lofty height by a series of human steps.



"Watch out for enemy spears!" shouted Silius to him.



It now became apparent that the outcome of the battle was still hotly disputed, but that Lucullus's tactics were basically sound; the enemy looked as if it might find itself rolled up by the Roman wings, closing inexorably.



"Give me our standard!" Caesar yelled, caught it when the bearer flung it into the air, and waved it on high in the direction of Lucullus, clearly visible on a white horse. “There, that should at least inform the general that we're alive and holding our ground as ordered," he said to Silius when he jumped down, having given two thwarted spearmen a rude gesture with his hand as he did so. "My thanks for providing the tribunal. Hard to know who'll win."



Not long after that the men of Mitylene launched an all-out offensive on Caesar's square.



"We'll never hold," said Silius.



"We'll hold, Silius! Squeeze everybody up as tight as a fish's anus," said Caesar. "Come on, Silius, do it!"



He forced his way to where the brunt of the attack was falling, Silius with him, and there laid about left and right, sensing the enemy's desperation. This marooned cohort of Romans must die to serve as an example to the rest of the field. Someone loomed beside him; Caesar heard Silius gasp, and saw the saber coming down. How he managed to fend his own opponent off with his shield and deflect the blow which would have cleaved Silius's head in two, Caesar never afterward understood-only that he did it, and then killed the man with his dagger, though that arm still carried his shield.



The incident seemed to form a kind of watershed, for after it the cohort slowly found the enemy pressure lessening, and was able some time later to continue its advance. The barred gate was reached; in its shelter the Fimbriani turned to face the far-distant Roman wall, exultant-nothing would dislodge them now!



Nothing did. At about an hour before sunset Mitylene gave up the fight, leaving thirty thousand dead soldiers upon the field, mostly old men and little boys. Mercilessly just, Lucullus then executed every woman of Lesbos in the Roman camp, while at the same time he allowed the women of Mitylene to visit the shambles of the battlefield to gather in their dead for proper burial.



It took, Caesar learned, a full month to tidy up the aftermath of battle, and was harder work than preparing for the fray. His cohort-with whom he now associated himself at all times-had decided that he was worthy of Gaius Marius's favor (of course he didn't tell them that Gaius Marius's favor had manifested itself in the form of a flaminate), and that it was Caesar's to command. Several days before the ceremony at which the general, Lucullus, and the governor, Thermus, awarded military decorations to those who had earned them, the pilus prior centurion Marcus Silius had gone to Lucullus and Thermus and formally sworn that Caesar had personally saved his life in battle, then held the ground on which it happened until after the contest was over; he also swore that it was Caesar who saved the cohort from certain death.



"If it had been a full legion you would have won the Grass Crown," said Thermus as he fitted the chaplet of oak leaves on Caesar's big golden head by pulling its open ends further apart, "but as only a cohort was involved, the best Rome can do is to give you the corona civica." After a moment's thought, he went on to say, "You realize, Gaius Julius, that winning the Civic Crown automatically promotes you to the Senate, and entitles you to other distinctions under the Republic's new laws. It would certainly seem that Jupiter Optimus Maximus is determined to have you in the Senate! The seat you lost when you ceased to be the flamen Dialis is now returned to you."



Caesar was the only man at the battle of Mitylene so honored, and his the only cohort given phalerae to adorn its vexillum; Marcus Silius was awarded a full set of nine golden phalerae, which he proudly strapped on the front of his leather cuirass. He already had nine silver phalerae (now switched to adorn the back of his cuirass), five broad silver armillae, and two gold torcs suspended from his front shoulder straps.



"I'll give Sulla this," said Silius to Caesar as they stood together among the other decorated soldiers on the tribunal while the army saluted them, "he may have denied us the chance to go home, but he was too fair a man to take our decorations off us." He eyed Caesar's oak leaf chaplet admiringly. "You're a real soldier, pretty baby," he said. "I never saw a better."



And that, said Caesar to himself afterward, was worthier praise than all the platitudes and congratulations Lucullus and Thermus and the legates heaped upon him during the banquet they gave in his honor. Gabinius, Octavius, Lippus and Rufus were very pleased for him, and the two Lentuli very quiet. Bibulus, who was not a coward but had not won anything because he had done routine messenger service throughout the battle, could not stay quiet.



"I might have known it," he said bitterly. "You did not one thing any of us could not have done, were we lucky enough to have found ourselves in the same situation. But you, Caesar, have all the luck. In every way."



Caesar laughed merrily as he chucked Bibulus under the chin, a habit he had fallen into; it was Gabinius who protested.



"That is to deny a man the proper merit of his actions," he said angrily. "Caesar shamed every last one of us with the amount of work he did during the winter, and he shamed every last one of us on the battlefield by doing more hard work! Luck? Luck, you small-minded, envious fool, had nothing to do with it!"



"Oh, Gabinius, you shouldn't let him irk you," said Caesar, who could afford to be gracious-and knew it annoyed Bibulus almost to a fit of tears. "There is always an element of luck. Special luck! It's a sign of Fortune's favor, so it only belongs to men of superior ability. Sulla has luck. He's the first one to say it. But you wait and see! Caesar's luck will become proverbial."



"And Bibulus's nonexistent," said Gabinius more calmly.



"Probably," said Caesar, his tone indicating that this was a matter which neither interested nor provoked him.



Thermus, Lucullus, their legates, officials and tribunes returned to Rome at the end of June. The new governor of Asia Province, Gaius Claudius Nero, had arrived in Pergamum and taken over, and Sulla had given Lucullus permission to come home, at the same time informing him that he and his brother, Varro Lucullus, would be curule aediles the next year.



"By the time you come home," ended Sulla's letter, "your election as curule aedile will be over. Please excuse me from the role of matchmaker-I seem not to have my usual luck in that particular area. You will by now have heard that Pompeius's new wife has died. Besides, if your taste runs to little girls, my dear Lucullus, then you're better off doing your own dirty work. Sooner or later you'll find some impoverished nobleman willing to sell you his underaged daughter. But what happens when she grows up a bit? They all do!"



It was Marcus Valerius Messala Rufus who arrived in Rome to find a marriage in the making. His sister-of whom he was very fond-had, as he knew from her tear-stained letters, been summarily divorced by her husband. Though she continued to vow that she loved him with every breath she took, the divorce made it plain that he did not love her at all. Why, no one understood. Valeria Messala was beautiful, intelligent, well educated and not boring in any way; she didn't gossip, she wasn't spendthrift, nor did she ogle other men.



One of the city's wealthiest plutocrats died late in June, and his two sons put on splendid funeral games to his memory in the Forum Romanum. Twenty pairs of gladiators clad in ornamental silver were to fight; not one after the other, as was customary, but in two conflicts of ten pairs each-a Thracian pitted against a Gaul. These were styles, not nationalities-the only two styles practiced at that time-and the soldiers of the sawdust had been hired from the best gladiatorial school in Capua. Pining for a little diversion, Sulla was eager to go, so the brothers mourning their dead father were careful to install a comfortable enclosure in the middle of the front row facing north wherein the Dictator could dispose himself without being crushed up against people on either side.



Nothing in the mos maiorum prevented women from attending, nor from sitting among the men; funeral games were held to be a kind of circus, rather than a theatrical performance. And her cousin Marcus Valerius Messala Niger, fresh from his triumph of having engaged Cicero to defend Roscius of Ameria, thought that it might cheer poor divorced Valeria Messala up if he took her to see the gladiators fight.



Sulla was already ensconced in his place of honor when the cousins arrived, and the seating was almost filled; the first ten pairs of men were already in the sawdust-cushioned ring, going through their exercises and flexing their muscles as they waited for the bereaved brothers to decide the games should start with the prayers and the sacrifice carefully chosen to please the dead man. But at such affairs it was very useful to have highborn friends, and especially to have an aunt who was both an ex-Vestal and the daughter of Metellus Balearicus. Sitting with her brother, Metellus Nepos, his wife, Licinia, and their cousin Metellus Pius the Piglet (who was consul that year, and hugely important), the ex-Vestal Caecilia Metella Balearica had saved two seats which no one quite had the courage to usurp.



In order to reach them, Messala Niger and Valeria Messala had to work their way past those already sitting in the second row, and therefore directly behind the Dictator. He was, everyone noted, looking rested and well, perhaps because Cicero's tact and skill had enabled him to quash a great deal of lingering feeling about the proscriptions-and eliminate a problem-by throwing Chrysogonus off the Tarpeian Rock. All of the Forum was thronged, the ordinary people perched on every roof and flight of steps, and those with clout in the wooden bleachers surrounding the ring, a roped-off square some forty feet along a side.



It wouldn't have been Rome had not the latecomers been subjected to considerable abuse for pushing their way past those already comfortably seated; though Messala Niger didn't care a hoot, poor Valeria found herself muttering a series of apologies as she pressed on. Then she had to pass directly behind Rome's Dictator; terrified that she might bump him, she fixed her eyes on the back of his head and his shoulders. He was wearing his silly wig, of course, and a purple-bordered toga praetexta, his twenty-four lictors crouched on the ground forward of the front row. And as she passed Valeria noticed a fat and fleecy sausage of purple wool adhering to the white folds of toga across Sulla's left shoulder; without stopping to think, she picked it off.



He never showed a vestige of fear in a crowd, always seemed above that, oblivious to danger. But when he felt the light touch Sulla flinched, leaped out of his chair and turned around so quickly that Valeria stepped back onto someone's toes. The last ember of terror still dying out of his eyes, he took in the sight of a badly frightened woman, red-haired and blue-eyed and youthfully beautiful.



"I beg your pardon, Lucius Cornelius," she managed to say, wet her lips, sought for some explanation for her conduct. Trying to be light, she held out the sausage of purple fluff and said, "See? It was on your shoulder. I thought if I picked it off, I might also pick off some of your luck." Her eyes filled with quick tears, resolutely blinked away, and her lovely mouth shook. "I need some luck!"



Smiling at her without opening his lips, he took her outstretched hand in his and gently folded her fingers around the innocent cause of so much fear. "Keep it, lady, and may it bring you that luck," he said, and turned away to sit down again.



But all through the gladiatorial games he kept twisting around to look at where Valeria sat with Messala Niger, Metellus Pius and the rest of that party; and she, very conscious of his searching scrutiny, would smile at him nervously, then blush and look away.



"Who is she?" he asked the Piglet as the crowd, well pleased with the magnificent display, was slowly dispersing.



Of course the whole party had noticed (along with a lot of other people), so Metellus Pius did not dissimulate. “Valeria Messala," he said. "Cousin of Niger and sister of Rufus, who is at the moment returning from the siege of Mitylene."



"Ah!" said Sulla, nodding. "As wellborn as she is truly beautiful. Recently divorced, isn't she?"



"Most unexpectedly, and for no reason. She's very cut up about it, as a matter of fact."



"Barren?" asked the man who had divorced one wife for that.



The Piglet's lip curled contemptuously. "I doubt it, Lucius Cornelius. More likely lack of use."



"Hmm!" Sulla paused to think, then said briskly, "She must come to dinner tomorrow. Ask Niger and Metellus Nepos too-and yourself, of course. But not the other women."



So it was that when the junior military tribune Marcus Valerius Messala Rufus arrived in Rome he found himself summoned to an audience with the Dictator, who didn't mince matters. He was in love with Rufus's sister, he said, and wished to marry her.



“What could I say?'' asked Rufus of his cousin Niger.



"I hope you said, delighted," said Niger dryly.



"I said, delighted."



"Good!"



"But how does poor Valeria feel? He's so old and ugly! I wasn't even given a chance to ask her, Niger!"



"She'll be happy enough, Rufus. I know he's nothing much to look at, but he's the unofficial King of Rome-and he's as rich as Croesus! If it doesn't do anything else for her, it will be balm to the wound of her undeserved divorce," said Niger strongly. "Not to mention how advantageous the marriage will be for us! I believe he's arranging for me to be a pontifex, and you an augur. Just hold your tongue and be thankful."



Rufus took his cousin's sound advice, having ascertained that his sister genuinely thought Sulla attractive and desirable, and did want the marriage.



Invited to the wedding, Pompey found a moment to have some private speech with the Dictator.



"Half your luck," said that young man gloomily.



"Yes, you haven't had too much luck with wives, have you?" asked Sulla, who was enjoying his wedding feast immensely, and feeling kindly disposed toward most of his world.



"Valeria is a very nice woman," Pompey vouchsafed.



Sulla's eyes danced. "Left out, Pompeius?"



"By Jupiter, yes!"



"Rome is absolutely stuffed with beautiful noblewomen. Why not pick one out and ask her tata for her hand?"



"I'm no good at that sort of warfare."



"Rubbish! You're young-rich--handsome-and famous," said Sulla, who liked to tick things off. "Ask, Magnus! Just ask! It would be a fussy father who turned you down."



"I'm no good at that sort of warfare," Pompey repeated.



The eyes which had been dancing now surveyed the young man shrewdly; Sulla knew perfectly well why Pompey wouldn't ask. He was too afraid of being told that his birth wasn't good enough for this or that patrician young lady. His ambition wanted the best and his opinion of himself insisted he have the best, but that niggling doubt as to whether a Pompeius from Picenum would be considered good enough held him back time after time. In short, Pompey wanted someone's tata to ask him. And nobody's tata had.



A thought popped into Sulla's mind, of the sort which had led him to dower Rome with a stammering Pontifex Maximus.



"Do you mind a widow?" he asked, eyes dancing again.



"Not unless she's as old as the Republic."



"I believe she's about twenty-five."



"That's acceptable. The same age as me."



"She's dowerless."



"Her birth concerns me a lot more than her fortune." "Her birth," said Sulla happily, "is absolutely splendid on both sides. Plebeian, but magnificent!"



"Who?" demanded Pompey, leaning forward. "Who?" Sulla rolled off the couch and stood looking at him a little tipsily. "Wait until I've had my nuptial holiday, Magnus. Then come back and ask me again."



For Gaius Julius Caesar his return had been a kind of triumph he thought perhaps the real thing later on might never equal. He was not only free, but vindicated. He had won a major crown.



Sulla had sent for him at once, and Caesar had found the Dictator genial; the interview took place just before his wedding-which all of Rome was talking about, but not officially. Thus Caesar, bidden seat himself, did not mention it.



"Well, boy, you've outdone yourself."



What did one say? No more candor after Lucullus! "I hope not, Lucius Cornelius. I did my best, but I can do better."



"I don't doubt it, it's written all over you." Sulla directed a rather sly glance at him. "I hear that you succeeded in assembling a fleet of unparalleled excellence in Bithynia."



Caesar couldn't help it; he flushed. "I did as I was told. Exactly," he said, teeth shut.



"Smarting about it, eh?"



“The accusation that I prostituted myself to obtain that fleet is unjustified."



"Let me tell you something, Caesar," said the Dictator, whose lined and sagging face seemed softer and younger than it had when Caesar had last seen him over a year ago. "We have both been the victims of Gaius Marius, but you at least are fully freed of him at-what age? Twenty?"



"Just," said Caesar.



"I had to suffer him until I was over fifty years old, so think yourself lucky. And, if it's any consolation, I don't give a rush who a man sleeps with if he serves Rome well."



"No, it is no consolation!" snapped Caesar. "Not for Rome-not for you-not for Gaius Marius!-would I sell my honor."



"Not even for Rome, eh?"



"Rome ought not to ask it of me if Rome is who and what I believe her to be."



"Yes, that's a good answer," said Sulla, nodding. "A pity it doesn't always work out that way. Rome-as you will find out-can be as big a whore as anyone else. You've not had an easy life, though it hasn't been as hard as mine. But you're like me, Caesar. I can see it! So can your mother. The slur is present. And you will have to live with it. The more famous you become, the more eminent your dignitas, the more they'll say it. Just as they say I murdered women to get into the Senate. The difference between us is not in nature, but in ambition. I just wanted to be consul and then consular, and perhaps censor. My due. The rest was foisted on me, mostly by Gaius Marius."



"I want no more than those things," said Caesar, surprised.



"You mistake my meaning. I am not talking about actual offices, but about ambition. You, Caesar, want to be perfect. Nothing must happen to you that makes you less than perfect. It isn't the unfairness of the slur concerns you-what rankles is that it detracts from your perfection. Perfect honor, perfect career, perfect record, perfect reputation. In suo anno all the way and in every way. And because you require perfection of yourself, you will require perfection from all around you- and when they prove imperfect, you'll cast them aside. Perfection consumes you as much as gaining my birthright did me."



"I do not regard myself as perfect!"



"I didn't say that. Listen to me! I said you want to be perfect. Scrupulous to the highest mathematical power. It won't change. You won't change. But when you have to you will do whatever you have to do. And every time you fall short of perfection, you'll loathe it-and yourself." Sulla held up a piece of paper. "Here is a decree which I will post on the rostra tomorrow. You have won the Civic Crown. According to my laws that entitles you to a seat in the Senate, a special place at the theater and in the circus, and a standing ovation on every occasion when you appear wearing your Civic Crown. You will be required to wear it in the Senate, at the theater and in the circus. The next meeting of the Senate is half a month away. I will expect to see you in the Curia Hostilia."



And the interview was over. But when Caesar reached home he found one more accolade from Sulla. A very fine and leggy young chestnut stallion with a note clipped to its mane that said: "There is no need to ride a mule any longer, Caesar. You have my full permission to ride this beast. He is, however, not quite perfect. Look at his feet."



When Caesar looked, he burst out laughing. Instead of neat uncloven hooves, the stallion's feet were each divided into two toes, a little like a cow's.



Lucius Decumius shivered. "You better have him cut!" he said, not seeing any joke. "Don't want no more like him around!"



"On the contrary," said Caesar, wiping his eyes. "I can't ride him much, he can't be shod. But young Toes here is going to carry me into every battle I fight! And when he isn't doing that, he'll be covering my mares at Bovillae. Lucius Decumius, he's luck! I must always have a Toes. Then I'll never lose a battle."



His mother saw the changes in him instantly, and wondered why he sorrowed. Everything had gone so well for him! He had come back with the corona civica and had been glowingly mentioned in dispatches. He had even been able to inform her that the drain on his purse had not been as drastic as she had feared; King Nicomedes had given him gold, and his share of the spoils of Mitylene had been the greater because of his Civic Crown.



"I don't understand," said Gaius Matius as he sat in the garden at the bottom of the light well, hands linked about his knees as he stared at Caesar, similarly seated on the ground. "You say your honor has been impeached, and yet you took a bag of gold from the old king. Isn't that wrong?"



From anyone else the question would not have been tolerated, but Gaius Matius was a friend since infancy.



Caesar looked rueful. "Had the accusation come before the gold, yes," he said. "As it was, when the poor old man gave me the gold it was a simple guest-gift. Exactly what a client king ought to give to an official envoy from his patron, Rome. As he gives tribute, what he bestows upon Rome's envoys is free and clear." Caesar shrugged. "I took it with gratitude, Pustula. Life in camp is expensive. My own tastes are not very grand, but one is forever obliged to contribute to the common mess, to special dinners and banquets, to luxuries which everyone else asks for. The wines have to be of the best, the foods ridiculous-and it doesn't matter that I eat and drink plain. So the gold made a big difference to me. After Lucullus had said what he did to me, I thought about sending the gold back. And then I realized that if I did, I would hurt the King. I can't possibly tell him what Lucullus and Bibulus said."



"Yes, I see." Gaius Matius sighed. "You know, Pavo, I am so glad I don't have to become a senator or a magistrate. It's much nicer being an ordinary knight of the tribuni aerari!"



But that Caesar could not even begin to comprehend, so he made no comment about it. Instead, he returned to Nicomedes. "I am honor bound to go back," he said, "and that will only add fuel to the rumors. During the days when I was flamen Dialis I used to think that nobody was interested in the doings of people like junior military tribunes. But it isn't so. Everyone gossips! The gods know among how many people Bibulus has been busy, tattling the story of my affair with King Nicomedes. I wouldn't put it past Lucullus either. Or the Lentuli, for that matter. Sulla certainly knew all the juicy details."



"He has favored you," said Matius thoughtfully.



"He has. Though I can't quite understand why."



"If you don't know, I have no chance!" An inveterate gardener, Matius noticed two tiny leaves belonging to a just-germinated weed, and busied himself digging this offender out of the grass. "Anyway, Caesar, it seems to me you'll just have to live the story down. In time it will die. All stories do."



"Sulla says it won't."



Matius sniffed. "Because the stories about him haven't died? Come, Caesar! He's a bad man. You're not. You couldn't be."



"I'm capable of murder, Pustula. All men are."



"I didn't say you weren't, Pavo. The difference is that Sulla is a bad man and you are not."



And from that stand Gaius Matius would not be budged.



Sulla's wedding came and went; the newly wed pair left Rome to enjoy a holiday in the villa at Misenum. But the Dictator was back for the next meeting of the Senate, to which Caesar had been commanded. He was now, at twenty years of age, one of Sulla's new senators. A senator for the second time at twenty!



It ought to have been the most wonderful day of his life, to walk into the filled Senate chamber wearing his chaplet of oak leaves and find the House risen to its feet-including consulars as venerable as Flaccus Princeps Senatus and Marcus Perperna-with hands vigorously applauding in this one permissible infraction of Sulla's new rules of conduct for the Senate.



Instead, the young man found his eyes studying face after face for any hint of amusement or contempt, wondering how far the story had spread, and who despised him. His progress was an agony, not helped when he ascended to the back row wherein the pedarii sat-and wherein he fully expected he himself would sit-to find Sulla shouting at him to sit with the men of the middle tier, wherein soldier heroes were located. Of course some men chuckled; it was kindly laughter, and meant to approve of his embarrassment. But of course he took it as derision and wanted to crawl into the furthest, darkest corner.



Through all of it, he had never wept.



When he came home after the meeting-a rather boring one-he found his mother waiting in the reception room. Such was not her habit; busy always, she rarely left her office for very long during the day. Now, stomach roiling, she waited for her son in a stilled patience, having no idea of how she could broach a subject he clearly did not wish to discuss. Had she been a talker it would have been easier for her, of course. But words came hard to Aurelia, who let him divest himself of his toga in silence. Then when he made a movement toward his study she knew she had to find something to say or he would leave her; the vexed subject would remain unbroached.



"Caesar," she said, and stopped.



Since he had put on his toga of manhood it had been her custom to address him by his cognomen, mostly because to her "Gaius Julius" was her husband, and his death had not changed the file of references in her mind. Besides which, her son was very much a stranger to her, the penalty she paid for all those years of keeping him at a distance because she feared for him and could not allow herself to be warm or kind.



He halted, one brow raised. "Yes, Mater?"



"Sit down. I want to talk to you."



He sat, expression mildly enquiring, as if she could have nothing of great moment to say.



"Caesar, what happened in the east?" she asked baldly.



The mild enquiry became tinged with a mild amusement. "I did my duty, won a Civic Crown, and pleased Sulla," he said.



Her beautiful mouth went straight. "Prevarication," she said, "does not suit you."



"I wasn't prevaricating."



"You weren't telling me what I need to know either!"



He was withdrawing, eyes chilling from cool to cold. "I can't tell you what I don't know."



"You can tell me more than you have."



"About what?"



"About the trouble."



"What trouble?"



“The trouble I see in your every movement, your every look, your every evasion."



"There is no trouble."



"I do not believe that."



He rose to go, slapping his thighs. "I can't help what you believe, Mater. There is no trouble."



“Sit down!''



He sat down, sighing softly.



“Caesar, I will find out. But I would much rather it came from you than from someone else."



His head went to one side, his long fingers locked around themselves, his eyes closed. Then he sighed again, and shrugged. "I obtained a splendid fleet from King Nicomedes of Bithynia. Apparently this was a deed of absolute uniqueness. It was said of me that I obtained it by having sexual relations with the King. So I have returned to Rome the owner of a reputation not for bravery or efficiency or even cunning, but for having sold my body in order to achieve my ends," he said, eyes still closed.



She didn't melt into sympathy, exclaim in horror, or wax indignant. Instead, she sat without saying anything until her son was obliged to open his eyes and look at her. It was a level exchange of glances, two formidable people finding pain rather than consolation in each other, but prepared to negotiate.



"A grave trouble," she said.



"An undeserved slur."



"That, of course."



"I cannot contend with it, Mater!"



"You have to, my son."



"Then tell me how!"



"You know how, Caesar."



"I honestly don't," he said soberly, his face uncertain. "I've tried to ignore it, but that's very difficult when I know what everyone is thinking."



"Who is the source?" she asked.



"Lucullus."



"Oh, I see.... He would be believed."



"He is believed."



For a long moment she said nothing more, eyes thoughtful. Her son, watching her, marveled anew at her self-containment, her ability to hold herself aloof from personal issues. She opened her lips and began to speak very slowly and carefully, weighing each word before she uttered it.



"You must ignore it, that is first and foremost. Once you discuss it with anyone, you place yourself on the defensive. And you reveal how much it matters to you. Think for a little, Caesar. You know how serious an allegation it is in the light of your future political career. But you cannot let anybody else see that you appreciate its seriousness! So you must ignore it for the rest of your days. The best thing is that it has happened now, rather than ten years further on-a man of thirty would find the allegation far harder to contend with than a man of twenty. For that you must be grateful. Those ten years will see many events. But never a repetition of the slur. What you have to do, my son, is to work very hard to dispel the slur." The ghost of a smile lit her remarkable eyes. "Until now, your philanderings have been restricted to the ordinary women of the Subura. I suggest, Caesar, that you lift your gaze much higher. Why, I have no idea, but you do have an extraordinary effect on women! So from now on, your peers must know of your successes. That means you must concentrate upon women who matter, who are well known. Not the courtesans like Praecia, but noblewomen. Great ladies."



“Deflower lots of Domitias and Licinias, you mean?'' he asked, smiling broadly.



"No!" she said sharply. "Not unmarried girls! Never, never unmarried girls! I mean the wives of important men."



"Edepol!" cried her son.



"Fight fire with fire, Caesar. There is no other way. If your love affairs are not public knowledge, everyone will assume you are intriguing with men. So they must be as scandalous and generally known as possible. Establish a reputation as Rome's most notorious womanizer. But choose your quarry very carefully." She shook her head in puzzlement. "Sulla used to be able to cause women to make absolute fools of themselves over him. On at least one occasion he paid a bitter price-when Dalmatica was the very young bride of Scaurus. He avoided her scrupulously, but Scaurus punished him anyway by preventing his being elected praetor. It took him six years to be elected, thanks to Scaurus."



"What you're trying to say is that I'll make enemies."



"Am I?" She considered it. "No, what I think I mean to say is that Sulla's trouble arose out of the fact that he did not cuckold Scaurus. Had he, Scaurus would have found it much harder to be revenged-it's impossible for a man who is a laughingstock to appear admirable. Pitiable, yes. Scaurus won that encounter because Sulla allowed him to appear noble-the forgiving husband, still able to hold his head up. So if you choose a woman, you must always be sure that it's her husband is the goose. Don't choose a woman who might tell you to jump in the Tiber-and never choose one clever enough to lead you on until she is able to tell you to jump in the Tiber absolutely publicly."



He was staring at her with a kind of profound respect as new on his face as it was inside his mind. "Mater, you are the most extraordinary woman! How do you know all this? You're as upright and virtuous as Cornelia the Mother of the Gracchi, yet here you are giving your own son the most dreadful advice!"



"I have lived a long time in the Subura," she said, looking pleased. "Besides, that is the point. You are my son, and you have been maligned. What I would do for you I would not do for anyone else, even for my daughters. If I had to, I would kill for you. But that wouldn't solve our problem. So instead I am very happy to kill a few reputations. Like for like."



Almost he scooped her into his arms, but the old habits were too strong; so he got to his feet and took her hand, kissed it. "I thank you, Mater. I would kill for you with equal ease and pleasure." A thought struck him, made him shiver with glee. "Oh, I can't wait for Lucullus to marry! And that turd Bibulus!"



The following day brought women into Caesar's life again, though not in a philandering context.



"We are summoned by Julia," said Aurelia before her son left to see what was going on in the Forum Romanum.



Aware he had not yet found the time to see his beloved aunt, Caesar made no protest.



The day was fine and hot but the hour early enough to make the walk from the Subura to the Quirinal an enjoyable one. Caesar and Aurelia stepped out up the Vicus ad Malum Punicum, the street which led to the temple of Quirinus on the Alta Semita. There in the lovely precinct of Quirinus stood the Punic apple tree itself, planted by Scipio Africanus after his victory over Carthage. Alongside it grew two extremely ancient myrtle trees, one for the patricians and one for the plebeians. But in the chaotic events which had followed the Italian War the patrician myrtle had begun to wither; it was now quite dead, though the plebeian tree flourished still. It was thought that this meant the death of the Patriciate, so sight of its bare dry limbs brought Caesar no pleasure. Why hadn't someone planted a new patrician myrtle?



The hundred talents Sulla had permitted Julia to retain had provided her with quite a comfortable private dwelling in a lane running between the Alta Semita and the Servian Walls. It was fairly large and had the virtue of being newly built; Julia's income was sufficient to provide enough slaves to run it, and more than enough to permit her life's necessities. She could even afford to support and house her daughter-in-law, Mucia Tertia. Scant comfort to Caesar and Aurelia, who mourned her sadly changed circumstances.



She was almost fifty years old, but nothing seemed to change Julia herself. Having moved to the Quirinal, she took not to weaving on her loom or spinning wool, but to doing good works. Though this was not a poor district-nor even closely settled-she still found families in need of help, for reasons which varied from an excessive intake of wine to illness. A more presumptuous, tactless woman might have been rebuffed, but Julia had the knack; the whole of the Quirinal knew where to go if there was trouble.



There were no good deeds today, however. Julia and Mucia Tertia were waiting anxiously.



"I've had a letter from Sulla," said Mucia Tertia. "He says I must marry again."



"But that contravenes his own laws governing the widows of the proscribed!" said Aurelia blankly.



"When one makes the laws, Mater, it isn't at all difficult to contravene them," said Caesar. "A special enactment for some ostensible reason, and the thing is done."



"Whom are you to marry?" asked Aurelia.



"That's just it," said Julia, frowning. "He hasn't told her, poor child. We can't even decide from his letter whether he has someone in mind, or whether he just wants Mucia to find her own husband."



"Let me see it," said Caesar, holding out his hand. He read the missive at a glance, gave it back. "He gives nothing away, does he? Just orders you to marry again."



"I don't want to marry again!" cried Mucia Tertia.



A silence fell, which Caesar broke. "Write to Sulla and tell him that. Make it very polite, but very firm. Then see what he does. You'll know more."



Mucia shivered. "I couldn't do that."



"You could, you know. Sulla likes people to stand up to him."



"Men, maybe. But not the widow of Young Marius."



"What do you want me to do?" asked Caesar of Julia.



"I have no idea," Julia confessed. "It's just that you're the only man left in the family, so I thought you ought to be told."



"You genuinely don't want to many again?" he asked Mucia.



"Believe me, Caesar, I do not."



"Then as I am the paterfamilias, I will write to Sulla."



At which moment the old steward, Strophantes, shuffled into the room. "Domino., you have a visitor," he said to Julia.



"Oh, bother!" she exclaimed. "Deny me, Strophantes."



"He asked specifically to see the lady Mucia."



"Who asked?" Caesar demanded sharply.



"Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus."



Caesar looked grim. "The prospective husband, I presume!"



"But I've never so much as met Pompeius!" cried Mucia Tertia.



"Nor have I," said Caesar.



Julia turned to him. "What do we do?"



"Oh, we see him, Aunt Julia." And Caesar nodded to the old man. "Bring him in."



Back went the steward to the atrium, where the visitor stood oozing impatience and attar of roses.



"Follow me, Gnaeus Pompeius," said Strophantes, wheezing.



Ever since Sulla's wedding Pompey had waited for further news of this mysterious bride the Dictator had found for him. When he heard that Sulla had returned to Rome after his nuptial holiday he expected to be summoned, but was not. Finally, unable to wait a moment longer, he went to Sulla and demanded to know what was happening, what had eventuated.



"About what?" asked Sulla innocently.



"You know perfectly well!" snarled Pompey. "You said you had thought of someone for me to marry!"



"So I did! So I did!" Sulla chuckled gleefully. "My, my, the impatience of youth!"



"Will you tell me, you malicious old tormentor?"



"Names, Magnus! Don't call the Dictator names!"



"Who is she?"



Sulla gave in. "Young Marius's widow, Mucia Tertia," he said. "Daughter of Scaevola Pontifex Maximus and Crassus Orator's sister, Licinia. There's far more Mucius Scaevola in her than genuine Licinius Crassus because her maternal grandfather was really the brother of her paternal grandfather. And of course she's closely related to Scaevola the Augur's girls called Mucia Prima and Mucia Secunda-hence her given name of Mucia Tertia, even though there's fifty years in age between her and the other two. Mucia Tertia's mother is still alive, of course. Scaevola divorced her for adultery with Metellus Nepos, whom she married afterward. So Mucia Tertia has two Caecilius Metellus half brothers-Nepos Junior and Celer. She's extremely well connected, Magnus, don't you agree? Too well connected to remain the widow of a proscribed man for the rest of her life! My dear Piglet, who is her cousin, has been making these noises at me for some time." Sulla leaned back in his chair. "Well, Magnus, will she do?"



"Will she do?" gasped Pompey. "Rather!"



"Oh, splendid." The mountain of work on his desk seemed to beckon; Sulla put his head down to study some papers. After a moment he lifted it to look at Pompey in apparent bewilderment. "I wrote to tell her she was to marry again, Magnus, so there's no impediment," he said. "Now leave me alone, will you? Just make sure I get an invitation to the wedding."



And Pompey had rushed home to bathe and change while his servants chased in a panic to find out whereabouts Mucia Tertia was living these days, then Pompey rushed straight to Julia's house blinding all those he encountered with the whiteness of his toga, and leaving a strong aroma of attar of roses in his wake. Scaevola's daughter! Crassus Orator's niece! Related to the most important Caecilii Metelli! That meant that the sons she would give him would be related by blood to everyone! Oh, he didn't care one iota that she was Young Marius's widow! He would not even care if she was as ugly as the Sibyl of Cumae!



Ugly? She wasn't ugly at all! She was very strange and very beautiful. Red-haired and green-eyed, but both on the dark side, and skin both pale and flawless. And what about those eyes? No others like them anywhere! Oh, she was a honey! Pompey fell madly in love with her at first glance, before a word was spoken.



Little wonder, then, that he hardly noticed the other people in the room, even after introductions were made. He drew up a chair beside Mucia Tertia's and took her nerveless hand in his.



"Sulla says that you are to marry me," he said, smiling at her with white teeth and brilliantly shining blue eyes.



"This is the first I know about it," she said, unaccountably feeling her antipathy begin to fade; he was so patently happy-and really very attractive.



"Oh well, that's Sulla for you," he said, catching his breath on a gasp of sheer delight. "But you have to admit that he does have everyone's best interests at heart."



"Naturally you would think so," said Julia in freezing tones.



"What are you complaining about? He didn't do too badly by you compared to all the other proscribed widows," said the tactless man in love, gazing at his bride-to-be.



Almost Julia answered that Sulla had been responsible for the death of her only child, but then she thought better of it; this rather silly fellow was too well known to belong to Sulla to hope that he would see any other side.



And Caesar, sitting in a corner, took in his first experience of Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus unobserved. To look at, not a true Roman, that was certain; the Picentine taint of Gaul was all too obvious in his snub nose, his broad face, the dent in his chin. To listen to, not a true Roman, that was certain; his total lack of subtlety was amazing. Kid Butcher. He was well named.



“What do you think of him?'' asked Aurelia of Caesar as they trudged back to the Subura through the noon heat.



"More germane to ask, what does Mucia think of him?"



"Oh, she likes him enormously. Considerably more than ever she liked Young Marius."



"That wouldn't be hard, Mater."



"No."



"Aunt Julia will find it lonely without her."



"Yes. But she'll just find more to do."



"A pity she has no grandchildren."



"For which, blame Young Marius!" said Aurelia tartly.



They had almost reached the Vicus Patricius before Caesar spoke again. "Mater, I have to go back to Bithynia," he said.



"Bithynia? My son, that isn't wise!"



"I know. But I gave the King my word."



"Isn't it one of Sulla's new rules for the Senate that any senator must seek permission to leave Italy?"



"Yes."



"Then that's good," said Aurelia, sounding pleased. "You must be absolutely candid about where you're going to the whole House. And take Eutychus with you as well as Burgundus."



"Eutychus?" Caesar stopped to stare at her. "But he's your steward! You won't manage easily without him. And why?"



"I'll manage without him. He's from Bithynia, my son. You must tell the Senate that your freedman who is still your steward is obliged to travel to Bithynia to see to his business affairs, and that you must accompany him, as is the duty of any proper patron."



Caesar burst out laughing. "Sulla is absolutely right! You ought to have been a man. And so Roman! Subtle. Hit them in the face with my destination instead of pretending I'm going to Greece and then being discovered in Bithynia. One always is discovered in a lie, I find." A different thought occurred to him. "Speaking of subtlety, that fellow Pompeius is not, is he? I wanted to hit him when he said what he did to poor Aunt Julia. And ye gods, can he brag!"



"Incessantly, I suspect," said Aurelia.



"I'm glad I met him," said her son soberly. "He showed me an excellent reason why the slur upon my reputation might prove a good thing."



"What do you mean?"



"Nothing has served to put him in his place. He has one-but it is not as high or as inviolate as he thinks. Circumstances have conspired to inflate his opinion of himself to insufferable heights. What he's wanted so far has always been given to him. Even a bride far above his merits. So he's grown into the habit of assuming it will be forever thus. But it won't, of course. One day things will go hideously wrong for him. He will find the lesson intolerable. At least I have already had the lesson."



"You really think Mucia is above his merits?"



"Don't you?" asked Caesar, surprised.



"No, I don't. Her birth is immaterial. She was the wife of Young Marius, and she was that because her father knowingly gave her to the son of a complete New Man. Sulla doesn't forget that kind of thing. Nor forgive it. He's dazzled that gullible young man with her birth. But he's neglected to expound upon all his reasons for giving her away to someone beneath her."



"Cunning!"



"Sulla is a fox, like all red men since Ulysses."



"Then it's as well I intend to leave Rome."



“Until after Sulla steps down?''



"Until after Sulla steps down. He says that will be after he superintends the election of the year after next's consuls- perhaps eleven months from now, if he holds his so-called elections in Quinctilis. Next year's consuls are to be Servilius Vatia and Appius Claudius. But who he intends for the year after, I don't know. Catulus, probably."



"Will Sulla be safe if he steps down?"



"Perfectly," said Caesar.



PART IV



from OCTOBER 80 B.C.



until MAY 79 B.C.




"You'll have to go to Spain," said Sulla to Metellus Pius. "Quintus Sertorius is rapidly taking the whole place over."



Metellus Pius gazed at his superior somewhat reprovingly. "Surely not!" he said in reasonable tones. "He has fruh-fruh-friends among the Lusitani and he's quite strong west of the Baetis, buh-buh-but you have good governors in both the Spanish provinces."



"Do I really?" asked Sulla, mouth turned down. "Not anymore! I've just had word that Sertorius has trounced Lucius Fufidius after that fool was stupid enough to offer him battle. Four legions! Yet Fufidius couldn't beat Sertorius in command of seven thousand men, only a third of whom were Roman!"



“He bruh-bruh-brought the Romans with him from Mauretania last spring, of course," said Metellus Pius. "The rest are Lusitani?"



"Savages, dearest Piglet! Not worth one hobnail on the sole of a Roman caliga! But quite capable of beating Fufidius."



"Oh... Edepol!"



For some reason beyond the Piglet, this delightfully mild expletive sent Sulla into paroxysms of laughter; some time elapsed before the Dictator could compose himself sufficiently to speak further upon the vexing subject of Quintus Sertorius.



"Look, Piglet, I know Quintus Sertorius of old. So do you! If Carbo could have kept him in Italy, I might not have won at the Colline Gate because I may well have found myself beaten long before then. Sertorius is at least Gaius Marius's equal, and Spain is his old stamping ground. When Luscus drove him out of Spain last year, I'd hoped to see the wretched fellow degenerate into a Mauretanian mercenary and trouble us never again. But I ought to have known better. First he took Tingis off King Ascalis, then he killed Paccianus and stole his Roman troops. Now he's back in Further Spain, busy turning the Lusitani into crack Roman troops. It will have to be you who goes to govern Further Spain-and at the start of the New Year, not in spring." He picked up a single sheet of paper and waved it at Metellus Pius gleefully. "You can have eight legions! That's eight less I have to find land for. And if you leave late in December, you can sail direct to Gades."



"A great command," said the Pontifex Maximus with genuine satisfaction, not at all averse to being out of Rome on a long campaign-even if that meant he had to fight Sertorius. No religious ceremonies to perform, no sleepless nights worrying as to whether his tongue would trip him up. In fact, the moment he got out of Rome, he knew his speech impediment would disappear-it always did. He bethought himself of something else. "Whom will you send to govern Nearer Spain?"



"Marcus Domitius Calvinus, I think."



"Not Curio? He's a guh-guh-guh-good general."



"I have Africa in mind for Curio. Calvinus is a better man to support you through a major campaign, Piglet dear. Curio might prove too independent in his thinking," said Sulla.



"I do see what you mean."



"Calvinus can have a further six legions. That's fourteen altogether. Surely enough to tame Sertorius!"



"In no time!" said the Piglet warmly. "Fuh-fuh-fear not, Lucius Cornelius! Spain is suh-suh-safe!"



Again Sulla began to laugh. "Why do I care? I don't know why I care, Piglet, and that's the truth! I'll be dead before you come back."



Shocked, Metellus Pius put out his hands in protest. "No! Nonsense! You're still a relatively young man!"



“It was foretold that I would die at the height of my fame and power," said Sulla, displaying no fear or regret. "I shall step down next Quinctilis, Pius, and retire to Misenum for one last, glorious fling. It won't be a long fling, but I am going to enjoy every single moment!"



"Prophets are un-Roman," said Metellus Pius austerely. "We both know they're more often wrong than right."



"Not this prophet," said Sulla firmly. "He was a Chaldaean, and seer to the King of the Parthians."



Deeming it wiser, Metellus Pius gave the argument up; he settled instead to a discussion of the coming Spanish campaign.



In truth, Sulla's work was winding down to inertia. The spate of legislation was over and the new constitution looked as if it would hold together even after he was gone; even the apportioning of land to his veterans was beginning to arrive at a stage where Sulla himself could withdraw from the business, and Volaterrae had finally fallen. Only Nola-oldest and best foe among the cities of Italy-still held out against Rome.



He had done what he could, and overlooked very little. The Senate was docile, the Assemblies virtually impotent, the tribunes of the plebs mere figureheads, his courts a popular as well as a practical success, and the future governors of provinces hamstrung. The Treasury was full, and its bureaucrats mercilessly obliged to fall into proper practices of accounting. If the Ordo Equester didn't think the loss of sixteen hundred knights who had fallen victim to Sulla's proscriptions was enough of a lesson, Sulla drove it home by stripping the knights of the Public Horse of all their social privileges, then directed that all men exiled by courts staffed by knight juries should come home.



He had crotchets, of course. Women suffered yet again when he forbade any female guilty of adultery to remarry. Gambling (which he abhorred) was forbidden on all events except boxing matches and human footraces, neither of which drew a crowd, as he well knew. But his chief crotchet was the public servant, whom he despised as disorganized, slipshod, lazy, and venal. So he regulated every aspect of the working lives of Rome's secretaries, clerks, scribes, accountants, heralds, lictors, messengers, the priestly attendants called calatores, the men who reminded other men of yet other men's names-nomenclatores-and general public servants who had no real job description beyond the fact that they were apparitores. In future, none of these men would know whose service they would enter when the new magistrates came into office; no magistrate could ask for public servants by name. Lots would be drawn three years in advance, and no group would consistently serve the same sort of magistrate.



He found new ways to annoy the Senate, having already banned every noisy demonstration of approbation or disapproval and changed the order in which senators spoke; now he put a law on the tablets which severely affected the incomes of certain needy senators by limiting the amount of money provincial delegations could spend when they came to Rome to sing the praises of an ex-governor, which meant these delegations could not (as they had in the past) give money to certain needy senators.



It was a full program of laws which covered every aspect of Roman public life as well as much Roman life hitherto private. Everyone knew the parameters of his lot-how much he could spend, how much he could take, how much he paid the Treasury, who he could marry, whereabouts he would be tried, and what he would be tried for. A massive undertaking executed, it seemed, virtually single-handed. The knights were down, but military heroes were up, up, up. The Plebeian Assembly and its tribunes were down, but the Senate was up, up, up. Those closely related to the proscribed were down, but men like Pompey the Great were up, up, up. The advocates who had excelled in the Assemblies (like Quintus Hortensius) were down, but the advocates who excelled in the more intimate atmosphere of the courts (like Cicero) were up, up, up.



"Little wonder that Rome is reeling, though I don't hear a single voice crying Sulla nay," said the new consul, Appius Claudius Pulcher, to his colleague in the consulship, Publius Servilius Vatia.



"One reason for that," said Vatia, "lies in the good sense behind so much of what he has legislated. He is a wonder!"



Appius Claudius nodded without enthusiasm, but Vatia didn't misinterpret this apathy; his colleague was not well, had not been well since his return from the inevitable siege of Nola which he seemed to have supervised on and off for a full ten years. He was, besides, a widower burdened with six children who were already notorious for their lack of discipline and a distressing tendency to conduct their tempestuous and deadly battles in public.



Taking pity on him, Vatia patted his back cheerfully. "Oh, come, Appius Claudius, look at your future more brightly, do! It's been long and hard for you, but you've finally arrived."



"I won't have arrived until I restore my family's fortune," said Appius Claudius morosely. "That vile wretch Philippus took everything I had and gave it to Cinna and Carbo- and Sulla has not given it back."



"You should have reminded him," said Vatia reasonably. "He has had a great deal to do, you know. Why didn't you buy up big during the proscriptions?"



"I was at Nola, if you remember," said the unhappy one.



"Next year you'll be sent to govern a province, and that will set all to rights."



"If my health holds up."



"Oh, Appius Claudius! Stop glooming! You'll survive!"



"I can't be sure of that" was the pessimistic reply. "With my luck, I'll be sent to Further Spain to replace Pius."



"You won't, I promise you," soothed Vatia. "If you won't ask Lucius Cornelius on your own behalf, I will! And I'll ask him to give you Macedonia. That's always good for a few bags of gold and a great many important local contracts. Not to mention selling citizenships to rich Greeks."



"I didn't think there were any," said Appius Claudius.



"There are always rich men, even in the poorest countries. It is the nature of some men to make money. Even the Greeks, with all their political idealism, failed to legislate the wealthy man out of existence. He'd pop up in Plato's Republic, I promise you!"



"Like Crassus, you mean."



"An excellent example! Any other man would have plummeted into obscurity after Sulla cut him dead, but not our Crassus!"



They were in the Curia Hostilia, where the New Year's Day inaugural meeting of the Senate was being held because there was no temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus, and the size of the Senate had grown sufficiently to render places like Jupiter Stator and Castor's too small for a comfortable meeting that was to be followed by a feast.



"Hush!" said Appius Claudius. "Sulla is going to speak."



"Well, Conscript Fathers," the Dictator commenced, voice jovial, “basically it is all done. It was my avowed intention to set Rome back on her feet and make new laws for her that fulfilled the needs of the mos maiorum. I have done so. But I will continue as Dictator until Quinctilis, when I will hold the elections for the magistrates of next year. This you already know. However, I believe some of you refuse to credit that a man endowed with such power would ever be foolish enough to step down. So I repeat that I will step down from the Dictatorship after the elections in Quinctilis. This means that next year's magistrates will be the last personally chosen by me. In future years all the elections will be free, open to as many candidates as want to stand. There are those who have consistently disapproved of the Dictator's choosing his magistrates, and putting up only as many names for voting as there are jobs to fill. But-as I have always maintained!-the Dictator must work with men who are prepared to back him wholeheartedly. The electorate cannot be relied upon to return the best men, nor even the men who are overdue for office and entitled to that office by virtue of their rank and experience. So as the Dictator I have been able to ensure I have both the men I wish to work with and to whom office was morally and ethically owed. Like my dear absent Pontifex Maximus, Quintus Caecilius Metellus Pius. He continues to be worthy of my favor, for he is already on the way to Further Spain, there to contend with the outlawed felon, Quintus Sertorius."



"He's rambling a bit," said Catulus clinically.



"Because he has nothing to say," said Hortensius.



"Except that he will stand down in Quinctilis."



"And I am actually beginning to believe that."



But that New Year's Day, so auspiciously begun, was to end with some long-delayed bad news from Alexandria.



Ptolemy Alexander the Younger's time had finally come at the beginning of the year just gone, the second year of Sulla's reign. Word had arrived then from Alexandria that King Ptolemy Soter Chickpea was dead and his daughter Queen Berenice now ruling alone. Though the throne came through her, under Egyptian law she could not occupy it without a king. Might, the embassage from Alexandria humbly asked, Lucius Cornelius Sulla grant Egypt a new king in the person of Ptolemy Alexander the Younger?



“What happens if I deny you?'' asked Sulla.



"Then King Mithridates and King Tigranes will win Egypt," said the leader of the delegation. "The throne must be occupied by a member of the Ptolemaic dynasty. If Ptolemy Alexander is not made King and Pharaoh, then we will have to send to Mithridates and Tigranes for the elder of the two bastards, Ptolemy Philadelphus who was called Auletes because of his piping voice."



"I can see that a bastard might be able to assume the title of King, but can he legally become Pharaoh?" asked Sulla, thus revealing that he had studied the Egyptian monarchy.



“Were he the son of a common woman, definitely not'' was the answer. "However, Auletes and his younger brother are the sons of Ptolemy Soter and Princess Arsinoe, the royal concubine who was the eldest legitimate daughter of the King of Nabataea. It has long been the custom for all the small dynasts of Arabia and Palestina to send their oldest daughters to the Pharaoh of Egypt as his concubines, for that is a more august and respectable fate than marriage to other small dynasts-and brings greater security to their fathers, who all need Egyptian co-operation to carry on their trading activities up the Sinus Arabicus and across the various deserts."



"So you're saying that Alexandria and Egypt would accept one of the Ptolemaic bastards because his mother was royal?''



"In the event that we cannot have Ptolemy Alexander, that is inevitable, Lucius Cornelius."



"Mithridatid and Tigranic puppets," said Sulla thoughtfully.



“As their wives are the daughters of Mithridates, that too is inevitable. Tigranes is now too close to the Egyptian border for us to insist the Ptolemy bastards divorce these girls. He would invade in the name of Mithridates. And Egypt would fall. We are not militarily strong enough to deal with a war of that magnitude. Besides which, the girls have sufficient Ptolemaic blood to pass on the throne. In the event," said the delegation's leader suavely, "that the child of Ptolemy Soter and his concubine the daughter of the King of Idumaea fails to grow up and provide Auletes with a wife of half-Ptolemaic blood."



Sulla looked suddenly brisk and businesslike. "Leave it with me, I'll attend to the matter. We can't have Armenia and Pontus in control of Egypt!"



His own deliberations were already concluded long since, so without delay Sulla set off for the villa on the Pincian Hill and an interview with Ptolemy Alexander.



"Your day has arrived," said the Dictator to his hostage, no longer such a very young man; he had turned thirty-five.



"Chickpea is dead?" asked Ptolemy Alexander eagerly.



"Dead and entombed. Queen Berenice rules alone."



"Then I must go!" Ptolemy Alexander squawked, agitated. "I must go! There is no time to be wasted!"



"You can go when I say you can go, not a moment before," said Sulla harshly. "Sit down, Your Majesty, and listen to me."



His Majesty sat with his draperies flattening limply around him like a pricked puffball, his eyes very strange between the solid lines of stibium he had painted on both upper and lower lids, extended out toward the temples in imitation of the antique Eye of Egypt, the wadjet; as he had also painted in thick black brows and whitened the area between them and the black line of the upper lids, Sulla found it absolutely impossible to decide what Ptolemy Alexander's real eyes held. The whole effect, he decided, was distinctly sinister-and probably intended to be.



"You cannot talk to a king as to an inferior," said His Majesty stiffly.



"There is no king in all the world who is not my inferior," Sulla answered contemptuously. "I rule Rome! That makes me the most powerful man between the Rivers of Ocean and Indus. So you will listen, Your Majesty-and without interrupting me! You may go to Alexandria and assume the throne. But only upon certain conditions. Is that understood?"



“What conditions?''



"That you make your will and lodge it with the Vestal Virgins here in Rome. It need only be a simple will. In the event that you die without legitimate issue, you will bequeath the Kingdom of Egypt to Rome."



Ptolemy Alexander gasped. "I can't do that!"



"You can do anything I say you must do-if you want to rule in Alexandria. That is my price. Egypt to fall to Rome if you die without legitimate issue."



The unsettling eyes within their embossed ritual framework slid from side to side, and the richly carmined mouth- full and self-indulgent-worked upon itself in a way which reminded Sulla of Philippus. "All right, I agree to your price." Ptolemy Alexander shrugged. "I don't subscribe to the old Egyptian religion, so what can it matter to me after I'm dead?"



"Excellently reasoned!" said Sulla heartily. "I brought my secretary with me so you'd be able to make out the document here and now. With every royal seal and your personal cartouche attached, of course. I want no arguments from the Alexandrians after you're dead." He clapped for a Ptolemaic servant, and asked that his own secretary be summoned. As they waited he said idly, "There is one other condition, actually."



"What?" asked Ptolemy Alexander warily.



"I believe that in a bank at Tyre you have a sum of two thousand talents of gold deposited by your grandmother, the third Queen Cleopatra. Mithridates got the money she left on Cos, but not what she left at Tyre. And King Tigranes has not yet managed to subdue the cities of Phoenicia. He's too busy with the Jews. You will leave those two thousand talents of gold to Rome."



One look at Sulla's face informed His Majesty that there could be no argument; he shrugged again, nodded.



Flosculus the secretary came, Ptolemy Alexander sent one of his own slaves for his seals and cartouche, and the will was soon made and signed and witnessed.



"I will lodge it for you," said Sulla, rising, "as you cannot cross the pomerium to visit Vesta."



Two days later Ptolemy Alexander the Younger departed from Rome with the delegation, and took ship in Puteoli for Africa; it was easier to cross the Middle Sea at this point and then to hug the African coast from the Roman province to Cyrenaica, and Cyrenaica to Alexandria. Besides which, the new King of Egypt wanted to go nowhere near Mithridates or Tigranes, and did not trust to his luck.



In the spring an urgent message had come from Alexandria, where Rome's agent (a Roman ostensibly in trade) had written that King Ptolemy Alexander the Second had suffered a disaster. Arriving safely after a long voyage, he had immediately married his half sister cum first cousin, Queen Berenice. For exactly nineteen days he had reigned as King of Egypt, nineteen days during which, it seemed, he conceived a steadily increasing hatred of his wife. So early on the nineteenth day of his reign, apparently considering this female creature a nonentity, he murdered his forty-year-old wife/sister/cousin/queen. But she had reigned for a long time in conjunction with her father, Chickpea; the citizens of Alexandria adored her. Later during the nineteenth day of his reign the citizens of Alexandria stormed the palace, abducted King Ptolemy Alexander the Second, and literally tore him into small pieces-a kind of free-for-all fun-for-all celebration staged in the agora. Egypt was without king or queen, and in a state of chaos.



"Splendid!" cried Sulla as he read his agent's letter, and sent off an embassage of Roman senators led by the consular and ex-censor Marcus Perperna to Alexandria, bearing King Ptolemy Alexander the Second's last will and legal testament. His ambassadors were also under orders to call in at Tyre on the way home, there to pick up the gold.



From that day to this New Year's Day of the third year of Sulla'