'Tell the brat and his pet eunuch that I'll expect to meet them ashore tomorrow at noon-not an hour earlier and not an hour later. I'll be able to judge how subservient these Egyptians intend to be by what they feed me for lunch. If they spring for crocodile steak and swallows' tongues with a decent Italian wine, I'll tell the boy-king to wipe my bottom for me as well. If they think they can get away with serving Nile mullets and Egyptian beer, I'll know I have my work cut out for me.' This was followed by a harsh laugh that made my blood run cold.

Another voice replied, in lower tones, 'As you command, Great One,' and a moment later an officer emerged from the cabin, wearing full regalia and carrying a plumed helmet under his arm. He spied me and raised an eyebrow. 'Is this the one called Gordianus, Centurion Macro?'

'It is, Commander.'

'Well, Citizen Gordianus, I don't envy you. But then, you probably don't envy me, either. I'm off to the mainland to parlay with that haughty boy-king and his insufferable advisers. The Great One expects to receive a fitting welcome when he goes ashore tomorrow, but one gets the distinct impression that the boy-king had rather be staging another battle against his sister and her rebels in the desert.' The officer shook his head. 'This sort of thing was so much easier before Pharsalus! I had merely to snap my fingers, and the locals cringed. Now they look at me as if…' He seemed to realize he had said too much, and scowled. 'Ah, well, perhaps I'll see you again when I get back. Or perhaps not.' He gave me a nudge in the ribs that was much too hard to be friendly, and then he pushed past me. I watched the officer descend the ramp and disappear from sight.

While I was distracted, one of the guards had apparently announced my arrival, for without further preamble Centurion Macro pushed me toward the cabin. I stepped inside, and he shut the door behind me.

The little room seemed dark after the bright sunshine. As my eyes adjusted, the first face I saw was that of a young woman, a strikingly beautiful Roman matron who sat in one corner with her hands folded on her lap, fixing me with a condescending stare. Even at sea, she had managed to take considerable pains with her appearance. Her hair was tinted with henna and piled atop her head in a complicated coif. Her wine-dark stola was belted about her shapely torso with chains of gold, and more gold shimmered amid the jewel-encrusted pectoral that adorned her throat and the lapis baubles that dangled from her earlobes. Pompey's young wife had no doubt taken a great deal of jewelry with her when she fled from Rome with her husband; she must have lugged that jewelry from camp to camp as the arena of battle moved. If any woman had learned to look her best while on the move, and if any woman felt she had earned the right to wear her best jewels for any occasion, it was the long-suffering Cornelia.

Pompey was not her first husband. Her previous marriage had been to Publius Crassus, the son of Marcus Crassus, the lifelong rival of Caesar and Pompey. When the elder Crassus set out to conquer Parthia some five years ago, he took his son with him; both perished when the Parthians massacred the invading Romans. Still young and beautiful, and famously well versed in literature, music, geometry, and philosophy, Cornelia had not remained a widow long. Some said her marriage to Pompey was a political union; others said it was a love-match. Whatever the nature of their relationship, through good times and bad she had remained steadfastly at his side.

'So it is you, Finder!' The voice, so harsh it gave me a start, came from another corner. Pompey stepped forward, emerging from the deepest shadows in the room.

On the last occasion I saw him, he had been possessed by an almost supernatural fury. There was a glint of that same fury even now in his eyes. He was dressed as if for battle, in gleaming armor, and carried himself stiffly, his chin high, his shoulders erect-a model of Roman dignity and self-control. But along with the glint of fury in his eyes, there was a glimmer of something else-fear, uncertainty, defeat. Those emotions, held carefully in check, nevertheless undermined the stiffly formal facade he presented, and it seemed to me that behind his gleaming armor and scowling countenance, Pompey the Great was a hollow man.

Hollow, I thought-but hardly harmless. He fixed me with a gaze so intense that I had to struggle not to lower my eyes. When he saw that I refused to quail, he barked out a laugh.

'Gordianus! As defiant as ever-or merely stupid? No, not stupid. That can't be, since everyone credits you with being so very, very clever. But cleverness counts for nothing without the favor of the gods, and I think the gods must have deserted you, eh? For here you are, delivered into my hands-the last person on earth I should have thought to see today. And I must be the last person you expected to encounter!'

'We've followed different paths to the same place, Great One. Perhaps it's because the gods have withdrawn their favor from both of us.'

He blanched. 'You are a fool, and I shall see that you end like a fool. I'd thought you dead already when I left Brundisium, drowned like a rat after you jumped from my ship. Then Domitius Ahenobarbus joined me in Greece and told me he'd seen you alive in Massilia. 'Impossible!' I told him. 'You saw the Finder's lemur.' 'No, the man himself,' he assured me. And now you stand before me in the flesh, and it's Domitius who's become a lemur. Marc Antony chased him to ground like a fox at Pharsalus. Damn Antony! Damn Caesar! But who knows? Mark my words, Caesar will yet get his just deserts, and when he least expects it. The gods will abandon Caesar-like that!' He snapped his fingers. 'One moment he'll be alive, plotting his next triumph, and the next moment-dead as King Numa! I see you scoff, Finder, but believe me, Caesar will yet receive his due.'

What was he talking about? Did he have spies and assassins close to Caesar, plotting to do away with him? I stared back at Pompey and said nothing.

'Lower your eyes, damn you! A man in your position-think of those traveling with you, if not of yourself. You're all at my mercy!'

Would he really harm Bethesda to take vengeance on me? I tried to steady the quaver in my voice. 'I'm traveling with a young mute of simple intelligence, two slave boys, and my wife, who is not well. I find it hard to believe that the Great One would stoop to exact vengeance on such-'

'Oh, shut up!' Pompey made a noise of disgust and looked sidelong at his wife. Some unspoken communication passed between them, and the exchange seemed to calm him. I sensed that Cornelia was his anchor, the one thing he could count on now that everything else, including his own judgment, had failed him so miserably.

Pompey now refused to look at me. 'Go on, get out!' he said between clenched teeth.

I blinked, not ready to believe that he was dismissing me with my head still on my shoulders.

'Well, what are you waiting for?'

I turned to leave. 'But don't think I'm done with you, Finder!' Pompey snapped. 'At present I have too much on my mind to fully enjoy seeing the life torn out of you. After I've met with young King Ptolemy and my fortunes have returned to a firmer footing-then I'll summon you again, when I can deal with you at my leisure.'

Centurion Macro accompanied me back to the skiff. 'You look as pale as a fish belly,' he said.

'Do I?'

'Mind your step, getting into the boat. I've been given orders that nothing untoward must happen to you.'

'The dagger that was taken from me?'

He laughed. 'You won't be seeing that again. Pompey says you mustn't hurt yourself.'


Night fell. The sea was calm, the sky clear. Far away to the west, beyond the low marshland of the Nile Delta, I imagined I could descry the Pharos, a pinpoint of light upon an uncertain horizon.

'There!' I said to Bethesda, who stood beside me at the ship's rail. 'Do you see it? The Pharos.'

She squinted and frowned. 'No.' 'Are you sure?' 'My vision is dim tonight.'

I held her close. 'Do you feel unwell?'

She grimaced. 'It seems such a small thing, now. To have come so far for such a petty purpose-'

'Not petty, Wife. You must be well again.'

'Toward what end? Our children are all grown.'

'Eco and Diana both have given us grandchildren, and now Diana is expecting another.'

'And no doubt they'll do a splendid job of raising them, with or without their grandmother. My time on this earth has been good, Master…'

Master? What was she thinking, to call me that? Many years had passed since I made her free and married

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