trading vessels.

It was no use attempting to elude them, but the captain panicked. Having kept a cool head throughout the storm, which might have cap-sized the ship and killed us all in an instant, he lost his head when confronted with a human menace. I scowled at his misjudgment; if an encounter was inevitable, forcing the pursuers to give chase would only stir excitement in their blood, making even men with innocuous intentions more dangerous to deal with. He would have been wiser to trim sail and turn about to meet them with whatever dignity and bravado he could muster, but instead he gave a hoarse order to row at full speed.

The shoreline grew nearer, yet showed no more features than before; it was little more than a dun-colored smudge along the horizon, without even a palm tree to betray any sign of life. That hopeless shore mirrored the hopelessness I felt at that moment; but Bethesda squeezed my hand and whispered, 'Perhaps these are Caesar's ships, Husband. Didn't you say that Caesar himself might head for Egypt next, if the reports of his success in Greece were true?'


'And Caesar has always been your friend, hasn't he, Husband-even when you've been less than friendly to him?'

I almost smiled at this sardonic jibe; Bethesda was still capable of needling me, despite the malady that plagued her. Anything that gave evidence of her old spirit was cause for hope.

'You're right,' I said. 'Those fellows pursuing us have the look of Levantines, but they could well be Caesar's men, or men he's won over from Pompey, if in fact Pompey is vanquished or dead. If that fleet does belong to Caesar, and we've encountered him on his way to Alexandria, then…'

I left the thought unspoken, for Bethesda knew what I was about to say, and to actually speak his name aloud would be too painful; if he had survived the travails of battle, very likely my adopted son Meto would be by Caesar's side. I had seen him last in Massilia, in Gaul, where I had upbraided him and publicly disowned him for the intrigues and deceits he had practiced on Caesar's behalf. No one in my family, least of all Bethesda, quite understood why I had turned my back on a son I had adopted, who had always been so dear to me; I myself did not quite comprehend the violence of my reaction. If these were Caesar's ships, and if Caesar was among them, and if Meto was with Caesar-what a jest of the gods that would be, to snatch me from a quiet arrival in Alexandria and set me down in the midst of Caesar's fleet, faced with a reunion I could not bear to contemplate.

These thoughts, as gloomy as they were, at least served to distract me from imagining a more dreadful alternative-that the ships pursuing us were not from Caesar after all. These men could be pirates, or renegade soldiers, or something even worse…

Whoever they were, they were practiced sailors with considerable skill at pursuit and capture. Coordinating their movements with admirable precision, they drew apart so as to pull alongside us both to starboard and port, then slowed their speed to match ours. They were close enough now so that I could see the leering faces of the armed men on deck. Were they bent on our destruction, or merely exhilarated by the chase? From the ship to our starboard, an officer called out, 'Give it up, Captain! We've caught you fair and square. Raise your oars, or else we'll get rid of them for you!'

The threat was literal; I had seen warships employ just such a maneuver, drawing alongside an enemy vessel, veering close, then withdrawing their oars so as to shear off the other ship's still-extended oars, rendering it helpless. With two ships, such a maneuver could be executed on both sides of us simultaneously. Given the skill our pursuers had so far displayed, I had no doubt that they could pull it off.

The captain was still in a panic, frozen to the spot and speechless. His men looked to him for orders, but received none. We proceeded at full speed, the pursuers matching us and drawing closer on either side.

'By Hercules!' I shouted, tearing myself from Bethesda to run to the captain's side. I gripped his arm. 'Give the order to raise oars!'

The captain looked at me blankly. I slapped him across the face. He bolted and moved to strike back at me, then the glimmer of reason lit his eyes. He took a deep breath and raised his arms.

'Lift oars!' he cried. 'Trim sail!'

The sailors, heaving with exertion, obeyed at once. Our pursuers, with flawless seamanship, mimicked our actions, and all three ships remained side by side even as the waves began to brake our progress.

The ship to our starboard drew even closer. The soldier who had ordered us to stop spoke again, though he was now so close that he hardly needed to raise his voice. I saw that he wore the insignia of a Roman centurion. 'Identify yourself!'

The captain cleared his throat. 'This is the Andromeda, an Athenian ship with a Greek crew.'

'And you?'

'Cretheus, owner and captain.'

'Why did you flee when we approached?'

'What fool wouldn't have done the same?'

The centurion laughed. At least he was in good humor. 'Where do you sail from?'

'Ostia, the port city of Rome.'


'Alexandria. We'd be there now if not for-'

'Just answer the questions! Cargo?'

'Olive oil and wine. In Alexandria we'll be picking up raw linen and-'


'Only one party, a fellow and his wife-'

'Is that him, beside you?'

I spoke up. 'My name is Gordianus. I'm a Roman citizen.'

'Are you now?' The centurion peered at me. 'How many in your party?'

'My wife, a bodyguard, two slave boys.'

'Are we free to sail on?' said the captain.

'Not yet. All ships without exception are to be boarded and searched, and the names of all passengers passed on to the Great One himself. Nothing for you to be alarmed about; standard procedure. Now turn about, and we'll escort you to the fleet.'

I cast a wistful glance at the bleak, receding shore. We had not fallen into the clutches of Caesar, or pirates, or renegade soldiers. It was much worse than that. Only one man in the whole world presumed to call himself Magnus, Great One: Pompey. The Fates had delivered me into the hands of a man who had vowed to see me dead.


The 'fleet,' as the centurion had called it, was a more ragtag assembly than it had appeared to be at a distance. There were a few warships, to be sure, but all seemed to be in varying degrees of disrepair, with thread- bare sails, battered hulls, and mismatched oars. The other ships were transports. The soldiers loaded on their decks had the distracted, ill-disciplined look of conscripted slaves; I had seen enough of those since the outbreak of the war, for both sides in desperate bids for advantage had drafted gladiators, farmhands, and even clerical slaves into their ranks. These soldiers, with their squints and blank expressions and dented armor, were certainly not the crack troops whom Pompey had gathered for his campaign in Greece; those presumably had vanished at Pharsalus, either slain by Caesar's legions or else pardoned and absorbed into Caesar's ranks.

Pompey had escaped from Pharsalus with his life, but not much else. Rumor had it that his defeat had caught him completely by surprise. The engagement had begun at daybreak; as the battle commenced, so certain had Pompey been of victory that he withdrew to his command pavilion to relax and enjoy a midday repast. But Caesar's forces abruptly overran the opposition and sent them fleeing. When they reached Pompey's position, they stormed the ramparts and went streaming into the camp. Caesar himself was the first to reach Pompey's pavilion; when he entered, he found sumptuous furnishings strewn with pillows still warm to the touch, a banquet table set with silver plates piled high with steaming delicacies, and amphorae of fine Falernian wine not yet un-sealed. If Pompey had intended a victory banquet, the celebration had been premature; at the last moment, learning that all was lost, the

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