Great One threw off his scarlet cloak and the other badges of his rank, mounted the first horse he could find, and rode through the rear gate of the camp, barely escaping with his life.

And now, here was Pompey with a ragtag fleet of warriors anchored off the coast of Egypt; and here was I, in Pompey's power.

My stomach growled, and I realized that I had grown hungry pacing the deck of the little ship and waiting for word from the centurion, who had diligently recorded my name before rowing off to his commander's ship for further orders. The Andromeda's captain sat nearby, giving me sidelong looks. At last he cleared his throat and spoke up.

'Look, Gordianus, you're not… I mean to say, you're not dangerous-are you?'

I smiled. 'That depends. Do you think I could take you in a fair fight, Cretheus? We're about the same age, the same build-'

'That's not what I meant, and you know it.'

'Am I dangerous to know, you mean? Am I dangerous cargo?'

He nodded. 'This is Pompey we've run into. I've never had dealings with the man myself, but everyone knows his reputation. He's used to getting what he wants, and stopping at nothing to get it.'

I nodded, remembering a famous comment from early in the Great One's career, when he ran roughshod over the Sicilians. They complained of his illegal tactics in bringing order to their island. Pompey's response: 'Stop quoting laws to us; we carry swords!' Pompey had always done whatever was necessary to prevail, and throughout his long career he had never tasted defeat-until now.

'Considering what happened at Pharsalus, I imagine the Great One must be in a rather foul mood,' I said.

'So you do know him, Gordianus?'

I nodded. 'Pompey and I are acquainted.'

'And will he be pleased or displeased when that officer tells him you're on my ship?'

I laughed without mirth. 'Displeased to learn that I'm still breathing. Pleased that he has a chance to do something about that.'

The captain wrinkled his brow. 'He hates you that much?'


'Because you're a partisan of Caesar?'

I shook my head. 'I am not and never was in Caesar's camp, despite the fact that my son-my disowned son…' I left the sentence unfinished.

'You have a son who fights with Caesar?'

'They're closer than that. Meto sleeps in the same tent, eats from the same bowl. He helps write the propaganda Caesar passes off as memoirs.'

The captain looked at me with fresh eyes. 'Who'd have thought…?'

'That such a common-looking fellow as myself would have such a close connection to the world's new lord and master?'

'Something like that. What did you do to offend Pompey, then?'

I leaned against the rail and stared into the water. 'That, Captain, is my own business.'

'My business, if it means Pompey decides to confiscate my ship and throw me overboard, to punish me for taking you as a passenger. I'll ask you again: What did you do to offend the Great One?'

'Even as Caesar was marching on Rome and Pompey was scrambling to escape, a favorite young cousin of Pompey's was murdered. Just before he left Rome, Pompey charged me with finding the killer.'

'And you failed to do so?'

'Not exactly. But the Great One was not pleased with the outcome.' I thought of Pompey as I had last seen him-his hands around my throat, his eyes bulging, determined to see me dead. He had been in the process of fleeing Italy by ship, disembarking from the port of Brundisium even as Caesar stormed the city. I'd barely managed to escape, wrenching free from Pompey's grip, diving into deep water, surfacing amid flaming flotsam, dragging myself to the shore while Pompey sailed off to fight another day.

I shook my head to clear it. 'You've done nothing to insult the Great One's dignity, Captain. He has no reason to punish you. If Pompey confiscates your ship, it'll be because he needs more room for that sad-looking bunch of soldiers crowded on these transports. But he'll need someone to sail this ship, so why throw you overboard? Ah, but perhaps we'll know the Great One's intentions soon enough. I see a skiff approaching, and I believe it's carrying our friend, that centurion who detained us.'

The skiff pulled alongside. The centurion called up to us. 'Ahoy, Captain.'

'Ahoy, yourself. Your men finished searching my cargo an hour ago. What now? Am I free to go?'

'Not yet. That passenger you're carrying…'

I leaned over the rail to show my face. 'Are you referring to me, Centurion?'

'I am. Are you the same Gordianus who's called the Finder, who lives in Rome?'

'I suppose there's no point in denying it.'

'You must be a rather important fellow, then. The Great One himself would like a word with you. If you'll join us here in the skiff, we'll escort you to his galley.'

Bethesda, who had been standing to one side with Rupa and the boys, drew near and gripped my hand.


'I'll be alright, I'm sure,' I said.

She squeezed my fingers and averted her eyes. 'We've come so far, Husband.'

'All the way back to where we first began, you and I. Well, almost all the way. We didn't quite make it to Alexandria, but we did see the lighthouse, didn't we?'

She shook her head. 'I should never have insisted on this journey.'

'Nonsense! These days, no place is safer than any other. We came to Egypt so that you could bathe in the Nile and cleanse yourself of the malady that plagues you, and so you must. Promise me you will, no matter whether I'm there to see it or-'

'Don't say such a thing!' she whispered.

I took both her hands, but only for a moment. 'The Great One doesn't like to be kept waiting,' I said, reluctantly letting her fingertips slip from mine. 'Look after her while I'm gone, Rupa. And you boys, behave yourselves!' Androcles and Mopsus both looked at me uncertainly, sensing trouble.

A man of my years should never be obliged to climb down a rope ladder into a skiff, but I managed the difficult descent with more grace than I thought possible. Perhaps the gods were watching after all, and thought it fitting to allow an old Roman to retain a shred of dignity on the way to meet his destiny.

'A beautiful day,' I said to the centurion. 'Not a sign of that storm that blew us here. You'd never know it happened. Nothing but blue skies.'

The centurion nodded but did not speak. His reserves of bonhomie were apparently spent. His face was grim.

'Not a very cheerful group,' I said, looking at the rowers. They kept their eyes straight ahead and made no response.

We rowed past warships and transports to the center of the little fleet. Pompey's galley stood out from the rest. Its sail was trimmed with crimson, its armored hull gleamed in the sunlight, and the soldiers on the deck were by far the best outfitted of any in sight. It was clearly the handsomest ship in the fleet, and yet, in some intangible way, the gloomiest. Was I only imagining the air of dread that seemed to thicken around us as each stroke of the oars brought us closer?

I was spared the challenge of attempting an ascent by ladder, for the galley was equipped with a ramp that unfolded from the deck. I stepped onto it, swaying a bit. When the centurion gripped my elbow to steady me, I turned to thank him; but the way he averted his eyes, as if the very sight of me might contaminate him, unnerved me. Mustering my courage, I turned and ascended the ramp.

The moment I stepped onto the deck, I was searched. My dagger was discovered and taken from me. I was told to remove my shoes, and those were taken as well; I suppose an enterprising assassin might find some way to conceal a deadly weapon in his shoe. Even the cord I used to belt my tunic was taken. Armed guards escorted me to the cabin at the stern of the galley. Its door stood open, and well before we reached it, I heard Pompey's raised voice from within.

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