had taken to calling upon a haruspex to read the entrails of a sacrificed beast before beginning the day's debate.

One of the charms of haruspicy was the fact that its practitioners used the Etruscan language in their rituals. Nobody spoke Etruscan anymore, not even the Etruscans, and the language is so different from every other language that the sound of it alone conveys an exotic, otherworldly quality.

Even so, there were plenty of nonbelievers who scoffed at what they considered outmoded superstitions practiced by charlatans. Cato, leader of the opposition's last stand against Caesar in Africa, once remarked: 'When two of these yellow-clad buffoons meet in the street, babbling in their incomprehensible tongue, it's a miracle that either can keep a straight face!' Of course, Cato had come to a terrible end, enduring perhaps the most wretched of all the deaths suffered by Caesar's opponents. All Rome would no doubt be reminded of the grisly details during one of the upcoming triumphs.

According to my son Meto, who had served with him for many years, Caesar, too, took a dim view of haruspicy. At Pharsalus, all the omens went against Caesar, but he ignored them and went to battle anyway, completely destroying the forces of his chief rival, Pompey. Caesar made a show of observing the old ways of divination, but when the haruspices weighed against him, he had only contempt for them.

From everything I knew of her, I would have assumed that Calpurnia placed no more faith in haruspicy than did her husband-yet here stood a haruspex in his gaudy yellow garments and peaked hat, looking at me with a smug expression on his face.

'This is the one they call the Finder?' he said to Calpurnia.

'Yes.'

Porsenna nodded vigorously, causing his pointed hat to poke the air like a comical weapon in a mime show. 'Indeed, this is the very man I saw in my dreams. This is the one who can help you, Calpurnia-the only one.'

She raised an eyebrow. 'Before, you said the other fellow was the man to help me-and we both know how that turned out.'

'Yes, but I was right then as well, don't you see? Because that man, despite his misfortune, was the one to lead us to this man. Divination does not always guide us straight to the truth, like the furrow of a plow. Sometimes it meanders, like a stream. No matter. As long as we follow the precepts of Tages, we surely arrive-'

'What 'other fellow' are you talking about?' I said. 'And what is it you want from me, Calpurnia? When your messenger summoned me, I came here at once. How could I refuse? Before I left for Egypt, you dealt with me honestly and fairly, and I owe you my respect for that, above and beyond your station as the dictator's wife. But I must tell you right now that if you intend to offer me some commission that involves poking into dark corners, uncovering ugly secrets, getting someone killed-or getting myself killed! — I won't accept it. I'm finished with that sort of thing. I'm too old. I won't have my tranquillity disturbed.'

'I can pay you handsomely.'

So she did intend to employ me for some sort of intrigue. I sighed. 'Fortunately, I don't need your money. I would advise you to call on my son Eco-he does that sort of thing nowadays; and he's younger than I am, faster, stronger, probably twice as clever. Eco is away from Rome at the moment-a commission has taken him down to Syracuse-but as soon as Eco returns-'

'No! It's you we must have, Finder,' said Porsenna. 'Tages has decreed it.'

'Just as the god previously decreed that you turn to that 'other fellow' you spoke of-the one who met with 'misfortune'? I don't like the sound of that.'

Calpurnia made a sour face. 'You'll at least hear me out, Gordianus.' It was a statement, not a question, uttered in a tone to remind me that I was in the presence of the most powerful woman in Rome.

I took a deep breath. 'What is it you want from me, then?'

'Seek the truth. Only that. And why not? It's your nature. It's the thing you were born to do; the gods made you thus. And when you find the truth, I wish you to share it with me-and with no one else.'

'Truth? I thought you had Porsenna to find that for you.'

She shook her head. 'Haruspicy functions at one level. A fellow like you functions at another.'

'I see. Instead of sifting through entrails, I dig in the dirt.'

'That's one way of putting it. We each must use whatever skills we possess, do whatever is necessary… to save my husband's life.'

'What is this threat to Caesar?'

'I was first alerted by my dreams-nightmares so terrible that I sought out Porsenna to interpret them for me. His divinations confirmed my worst fears. Caesar is in immediate and very terrible danger.'

I sighed. 'I'm surprised, Calpurnia. I thought you were not the sort to act on dreams or omens. Others, yes, but not you.'

'You sound like my husband! I've tried to warn him. He scoffs at my fears.'

'Have you introduced him to your haruspex?'

'No! Caesar knows nothing about Porsenna, nor must he ever know. It would only further arouse his skepticism. But I assure you: Caesar has never been in greater danger.'

I shook my head. 'Surely Caesar has never been in less danger. All his enemies are dead! Pompey, beheaded by Egyptians who wanted to please Caesar. Ahenobarbus, driven to earth and speared like a rabbit by Marc Antony at Pharsalus. Cato, driven to suicide in Africa. The survivors who were pardoned by Caesar, like Cicero, have been reduced to cowering sycophants.'

'Yet some of them must wish Caesar dead.'

'Some? Many, I should think. But wishes are not daggers. Have these men the will to act? Caesar thinks not; otherwise, he wouldn't have pardoned them. I trust his judgment. The man has been courting danger all his life, and getting the better of it. Once, in Alexandria, I stood beside him on a quay when a flaming missile from an enemy ship came hurtling straight toward us. I thought that missile was the end of us-but Caesar calmly assessed the trajectory, stood his ground, and never flinched. And, sure enough, the missile fell short. Another time, in Alexandria, I watched his ship sink during a battle in the harbor, and I thought he would surely drown. Instead he swam, wearing full armor, all the way to safety.' I laughed. 'Later, his only complaint was that he had lost his new purple cape-a gift from Cleopatra.'

'This is not a laughing matter, Finder!'

Was it my mention of Cleopatra that rankled her? I took a deep breath. 'Of course not. Very well, when you say Caesar is in danger, what exactly do you mean? Is there a particular person you suspect, or some particular group? Is there a conspiracy against him?'

'I don't know.'

I frowned. 'Calpurnia, why am I here?'

'To help me save Caesar's life!' She had begun to slump but now sat stiffly upright, grasping the arms of the chair with white knuckled hands.

'How?'

'Porsenna will be our guide.'

I shook my head. 'I won't take instructions from a haruspex.'

'Your orders will come from me,' said Calpurnia sternly.

I sighed. Caesar was not yet a king, and the republic's citizens were not yet his subjects, yet Caesar's wife seemed incapable of accepting a direct refusal. Perhaps I could lead her by argument to see that employing me was simply not to her advantage.

'I acknowledge your sense of urgency, Calpurnia, but I don't understand what you want from me. What would you have me do? Where would I begin?'

Porsenna cleared his throat. 'You can start by retracing the steps of the man we called upon to do this work before you. He delivered written reports to us.'

'I take it this fellow came to a bad end. Yes, from the looks on both your faces, a very bad end! I don't care to follow in the footsteps of a dead man, Calpurnia.' I directed my gaze at her, pointedly ignoring the haruspex, but it was Porsenna who replied.

'Those footsteps might lead you to the man's killer,' he said, 'and knowing who killed him might lead us to the source of the threat against Caesar. The fellow must have discovered something dangerous, to have paid for it with his life.'

I shook my head. 'Dreams, divination, death! I don't like anything about this affair, Calpurnia. I respectfully

Вы читаете The Triumph Of Caesar
Добавить отзыв
ВСЕ ОТЗЫВЫ О КНИГЕ В ИЗБРАННОЕ

0

Вы можете отметить интересные вам фрагменты текста, которые будут доступны по уникальной ссылке в адресной строке браузера.

Отметить Добавить цитату
×