the beak is opened wide to crow, and the outspread wings are painted a vivid shade of red. Now, what are these items he clutches in his talons? A scepter in one claw—a symbol of royalty—and in the other, a palm branch, a token of victory such as might be awarded to an athlete.” Catulus hummed thoughtfully. “And what’s this, balanced on the very edge of the base, as if it might fall off? A knucklebone of the sort our ancestors used for dice. When such a die is thrown, one of four sides comes up. I’m not a gaming man, but even I know that this particular throw is a loser. What do the Greeks call it? Ah yes, the Chian throw, named for the island of Chios.”

Catulus stepped back and assumed a pensive posture, with his right hand to his mouth and his left hand clasping his right elbow.

“A scepter—yet Antipater was not of royal blood. A palm branch—yet Antipater was never famed for athletic prowess, even as a youth. Why a cock? And why a losing throw of the die?”

He pondered a while longer, then smiled. “The palm is a victory token, yes, but it’s also a symbol of the city of Tyre—and despite the fact that Antipater claimed Sidon as his native city, he was actually born in Tyre, a few miles down the Syrian coast. Antipater revealed that fact to very few people; I see that you were among them, Finder. How clever of you to include this detail, since only those closest to Antipater will be able to figure it out.”

My father gave an unassuming shrug—or did the opposite, I suppose, since by this gesture he accepted credit for the design that had been created by Antipater.

“The crowing cock—that suggests a man who made himself heard far and wide, as did Antipater with his verses. And as the king of poets, the scepter is rightfully his. But the knucklebone, and the Chian throw…”

Catulus puzzled a while longer, then clapped his hands. “By Hercules, that’s the cleverest stroke of all! You’ve managed to symbolize not just the beginning of Antipater’s life—his birth in Tyre—but also his end, and the exact manner of his death. ‘Chian’ is a bad way for the die to fall, but the island of Chios is also famous for fine wine. By drinking too much wine, Antipater took a terrible tumble—befallen by a veritable Chian throw. You’ve created a pun in stone, Finder. It’s not merely clever; it’s downright brilliant!”

My father actually blushed, and lowered his eyes, as if he were too modest to accept such a compliment.

Catulus drew himself stiffly upright and gathered the folds of his toga. “Finder, I owe you an apology. When I heard that the affairs of my dear friend Antipater had been entrusted to—well, to a person not of our circle—I thought that Antipater must have lost his wits prior to making his will. But I now see how very close the two of you must have been, and the special attention he gave to your son, and most of all, your extreme cleverness, which only a man of Antipater’s intellect could fully appreciate. You’ve done the old fellow proud with this tombstone. I couldn’t have created a better one myself.”

And with that, the consul burst into tears and cried like a woman.

*   *   *

“Antipater, this is madness!” My father shook his head. “You can’t change our plans at the last moment. You cannot take part in your own funeral!”

After composing himself, the consul Catulus had rejoined his retinue in the street outside our house, where the funeral procession had begun to gather. I could hear the musicians warming up, playing shrill notes on their pipes and rattling their tambourines. The professional mourners were loosening their throats, making loud, ululating sobs. In a matter of moments, bearers would arrive to carry the bier out of our vestibule and into the street, and the procession would begin.

Antipater studied his reflection in a polished silver mirror, stroking his newly shaven chin. For as long as I had known him, he had worn a long white beard. But for his exit from Rome, he had allowed Damon to cut his beard and shave his cheeks. It was not exactly a disguise, but he did look quite different, and considerably younger.

The plan was this: once the funeral procession disappeared down the street, Antipater and I would slip out the front door; there could be no better time to leave unobserved, since anyone likely to recognize Antipater would be attending his funeral. We would steal across the city to the docks along the Tiber and board a boat headed downriver to Ostia. Such boats departed throughout the day and even during the night, so we would have no problem finding one.

But now, at the very last moment, just as we should have been making ready to set out, Antipater had proposed a change of plan. Yes, he and I would leave for Ostia, and then for Ephesus—but not until after the funeral. He wanted to see the cremation and hear the speeches, and he had thought of a way to do it.

“When the archmime arrives, Finder, you’ll tell him you don’t need his services after all and send him home. And I shall take his place!”

It was the duty of the archmime—a trained professional—to walk in front of the bier, wearing the death mask of the deceased. Some archmimes made quite an art of their impersonation, duplicating the exact gait and gestures of the dead man, performing mute, impromptu skits to remind anyone who knew the deceased of some familiar behavior.

“But I hired the best archmime in Rome,” my father complained, “just as your will instructed. He’s the most expensive player in the whole procession.”

“Never mind,” said Antipater. “Who better to play me, than me? I’m already suitably dressed; you wanted me to wear black today, so that if anyone should glimpse me I’d not look out of place. And young Gordianus is still wearing his black toga. He, too, will be able to take part in the funeral.” Antipater raised the wax mask, which was affixed to a pole, and held it before his face.

“Madness!” My father declared again, and then fell silent, for the consul Catulus, coming from the direction of the vestibule, suddenly joined us in the garden.

“Finder, it’s time to begin,” said Catulus, with the tone of a man used to taking charge. “The bearers have arrived—I took the liberty of escorting them into the vestibule. And look, here’s the archmime!” He stared at Antipater. “How did you enter the house, and I failed to see you?”

Hiding his face behind the mask, Antipater performed an elaborate shrug and gracefully extended one arm, making a flourish with his fingers.

Catulus frowned. “That’s nothing at all like Antipater! But the mask is a good likeness, so I suppose he’ll do. Finder, shall we begin?”

My father sighed and followed Catulus to the vestibule, where the bearers had gathered around the bier. In lieu of the death mask, a sprig of cypress had been laid over the ruined face of the deceased. I gave a start when I saw the archmime, a redhead with a weak jaw, standing in the front doorway; apparently he had just arrived. I tugged at my father’s toga and pointed. He quickly moved to whisk the actor back into the street. Catulus was never aware

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