'Ptolemy!' Dio spat the name.

'Yes, I saw your agitation earlier when I spoke his name, which gave further confirmation to what I already suspected: that Dio of Alexandria had come to pay me a visit.'

'But you still haven't explained how you came to have such a suspicion in the first place,' said the gallus. ' 'Elucidate!' ' he quipped, mimicking Dio.

'By steps, then: My visitor is dressed as a woman but is not a woman. My visitor must be a man, then, with a reason for concealing himself-I confess that I overlooked the possibility that either of you might be a eunuch. A man in trouble, perhaps in danger-that seemed likely from your nervous mannerisms and the fact that you refused any food, despite the fact that your stomach was growling. From your brown hands and your accent, I knew you must be foreign.'

I shrugged. 'But there's a point where explaining the discrete steps in a logical progression of thought becomes too tedious to bother with- would you agree, Teacher? Like asking a weaver to explain how a tapestry was made by taking it apart thread by thread-what a mess you'd have! Suffice it to say that given what I had already deduced, the supposition leaped to my mind that my visitor must be Dio of Alexandria. I've heard of your plight; rumor says that you've been hiding in private houses here on the Palatine Hill; suddenly it occurred to me that this foreign stranger with a desperate demeanor might be Dio. To test the possibility, I felt you out. I spoke of philosophy, my days in Alexandria, King Ptolemy. Your reactions confirmed my suspicions. This is not philosophy or mathematics, Teacher, but I think you must see how my mind works, and how I have put to use the ways of thinking which you taught me long ago.'

Dio smiled and nodded. How curious, that in the fifth decade of my life I could still be warmed by the approval of a teacher I hadn't seen and had scarcely thought about for thirty years! 'And what about Trygonion?' Dio said.

'Yes, what did you make of me?' asked the little gallus, his eyes sparkling. (I say 'his eyes,' though many people, perhaps most, would say 'her eyes'; as often as not, eunuchs are referred to as females, which seems to please them.)

'I confess, Trygonion, that you stumped me. I knew that you weren't what you pretended to be, but I got it wrong. I assumed you must be a young woman in a toga and hat, trying to pass herself off as a man.'

The gallus threw back his head and let out a throaty laugh. 'A logical balance, I suppose, for those who think of things as one or the other: a young woman in a toga, to match an old man in a stola!'

I nodded. 'Exactly. The expectation of symmetry seduced me into error.'

'So you took me for a woman!' said Trygonion, sitting low in his chair and fixing me with a feline gaze. 'Who did you think such a woman might be-the philosopher's slave, his daughter, his wife?' He reached over and stroked the top of Dio's wrinkled hand with his fingertips; the philosopher made a face and drew back at the touch. 'Or his Amazon bodyguard, perhaps?' Trygonion laughed.

I shrugged. 'Your features and your voice confused me. Eunuchs are rare in Rome; I overlooked that possibility. I saw that you were unaccustomed to wearing a toga, as might be expected of a woman-but also of a foreigner. I did notice your accent, but it's faint, and not Egyptian; Phrygian, I assume, now that I know you're a gallus. Your Latin is almost that of a Roman. You must have lived here a long time.'

'For ten years. I came to serve at the Great Mother's temple here in Rome when I was fifteen, the very year that I consecrated myself to her worship.' By consecrated, Trygonion meant castrated; Dio winced. 'So, the gallus proved a harder riddle to solve than the philosopher,' the little priest said, looking pleased with himself.

'As is only logical,' said Dio irritably, 'given that philosophers strive for lucidity, while the priests of Cybele make a religion of mystifying the senses.'

'And yet our host's young daughter perceived the truth at a glance,' said Trygonion.

'A beautiful girl,' said Dio softly, wrinkling his brow. 'Such insight on the part of a child seems almost preternatural, don't you think, Gordianus?' Trygonion looked at me shrewdly. 'Perhaps your daughter is a witch.'

Dio scowled and shifted uneasily, but I decided to indulge the gallus's sense of humor rather than take offense. 'Diana's mother grew up in Egypt, which has many eunuchs. Diana was born with Egypt in her blood, so I suppose she knows a eunuch when she sees one. I'd like to take credit for her cleverness, but certain insights definitely come from her mother.'

'Perhaps they are both witches,' said Trygonion.

'Enough of your rudeness,' growled Dio. 'These galli think they can say anything and behave however they choose, under anyone's roof. They have no shame.'

'That's not all we lack,' said Trygonion with a straight face.

Whatever the source of her insight, Diana had also put her finger on the more perplexing mystery that lay beyond the thin disguises of my guests: what were they doing together? It was clear that they had no love for each other.

'If you've had enough wine,' I said, knowing that Trygonion had drunk more than his share while Dio had barely touched his cup, 'and if we've talked enough of your disguises, perhaps we should speak of more serious things. Why have you come to me, Teacher, and what do you want from me?'

Dio cleared his throat. 'You spoke a moment ago of what you Romans call 'the Egyptian situation.' I take it, then, that you know of the false will of King Alexander, the schemes of Caesar and Pompey to get their hands on the wealth of Egypt, the wholesale murder of my colleagues who have come to seek justice from the Senate of Rome — '

I raised my hand. 'Perhaps you should begin at the beginning and explain to me each step that brought you to my door. But to start, I want only the simplest answers to two simple questions. First: why have you come to me?'

Dio looked at me for a long moment, then gazed into the flames of the brazier. His voice trembled. 'I have come to you because there is no one else in all Rome to whom I can turn for help, no one else I can trust-if indeed I can trust even you.'

I nodded. 'And second: what do you want from me, Teacher?'

'I want you to help me to-' He choked on the words. He turned his gaze from the brazier to me, so that I saw the flames dancing in his eyes. His jaw quivered and the fleshy folds of his neck shook as he swallowed hard. 'Help me. Please! I want you to help me to…'

'To help you do what?'

'Stay alive!'

Chapter Three

With his great mane of dark hair, his towering physique (not yet gone to fat), and his amiable manner, the philosopher Dio had been a conspicuous figure in the Alexandria of my youth. Like most of the upper class of Egypt, Dio was of Greek blood-with a touch of the Scythian, he had claimed, to account for his height, and a bit of the Ethiop to account for his dark complexion. He had been a familiar sight on the steps of the library attached to the Temple of Serapis, where philosophers met to debate one another and instruct their pupils.

As a young man I had ended up in Alexandria after a long journey and had decided to stay there for a while. That was where I met my future wife, Bethesda, or more precisely, where I purchased her; she was a slave offered for sale at the great slave market, very young and very beautiful. (And a troublemaker, the auctioneer had begrudgingly admitted, which was why I was able to afford her; but if what she gave me was trouble, I only craved more of it.) Thus I passed the hot Alexandrian nights in a haze of lust; and during the day, while Bethesda kept herself busy in my shabby little apartment or went to the market, I gravitated to the library steps and sought out Dio. 1 was no student of philosophy- I lacked the money for formal education-but it was a tradition among Alexandrian philosophers to engage common men in conversation from time to time, at no charge.

Now, thirty years later, I could recall only bits and pieces of those conversations, but I vividly remembered how Dio had fanned my youthful passion for truth into white-hot flames with his rhetorical conundrums, just as Bethesda had fanned my other passions. In those days I had everything I needed, which for a young man is not much: an unfamiliar city to explore, a partner in my bed, and a mentor. We do not forget the cities, or the lovers, or

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