convulsed and spun about, then threw back his head and let out a strange, unnerving ululation. It was not an exact imitation of the real thing, only a suggestion-not even remotely as frightening or uncanny as the real Cassandra's episodes of possession by the god-but it was close enough to cause any bystanders who had ever seen Cassandra prophesy in the Forum or in a public market to nod and say to themselves, So that's who's lying upon that funeral bier. Directly after the mime came Cassandra herself, carried aloft and ensconced amid fresh flowers and evergreen boughs, her arms crossed over her chest and her eyes closed as if she slept. After Cassandra came the members of my household, marching in solemn procession for a woman none of them but myself had actually known.

We strode slowly past the great houses on the Palatine and then down into the region of the Subura, where the narrow streets teemed with life. Even in these impious days, when men scorn the gods and the gods scorn us in return, people pay their respects when a funeral passes by. They stopped squabbling or gossiping or bargaining, shut their mouths, and stood aside to let the dead and the mourning pass.

Often, as a funeral cortege makes its way through Rome, others join the retinue, inspired to pay their respects by following along behind the family and adding to the train. This invariably happens with the funerals of the famous and powerful, and often even with those of the humble, if they were well-known and well liked in the community. But on that day, no one joined us. Whenever I looked over my shoulder, I saw only a gap behind the last of our retinue, and then the crowd closing ranks behind us, turning their attention away from the passing spectacle and getting back to their business.

And yet, we were observed, and we were followed-as I soon would discover.

At length, we came to the Esquiline Gate. Passing through its portals, we stepped from the city of the living into the city of the dead. Sprawling over the gently sloping hillsides, as far as the eye could see, was the public necropolis of Rome. Here the unmarked graves of slaves and the modest tombs of common citizens were crowded close together. Ours was not the only funeral that day. Here and there, plumes of smoke from funeral pyres rose into the air, scenting the necropolis with the smells of burning wood and flesh.

A little way off the road, atop a small hill, the pyre for Cassandra had already been prepared. While her bier was being laid upon it and the keepers of the flame set about stoking the fire, I stepped into the Temple of Venus Libitina, where the registry of deaths is kept.

The clerk who attended me was officious and sullen from the moment he slammed his record book on to the counter that separated us. I told him I wanted to register a death. He opened the hinged wooden diptych with its inlaid wax tablets and took up his stylus.

'Citizen, slave, or foreigner?' he asked curtly.

'I'm not sure.'

'Not sure?' He looked at me as if I had entered the temple with the specific intention of wasting his time.

'I didn't really know her. No one seems to have known her.'

'Not part of your household?'

'No. I'm only attending to her funeral because-'

'A foreigner then, visiting the city?'

'I'm not sure.'

He slammed shut his record book and brandished his stylus at me. 'Then go away and don't come back until you are sure.'

I reached across the counter and grabbed the front of his tunic in my fist. 'She died four days ago, here in Rome, and you will enter her death into the registry.'

The clerk blanched. 'Certainly,' he squeaked.

It was only as I gradually released him that I realized how hard I had been clutching his tunic. His face was red, and it took him a moment to catch his breath. He made a show of reasserting his dignity, straightening his tunic, and slicking back his hair. With great punctiliousness, he opened his register and pressed his stylus to the wax. 'Name of the deceased?' he asked, his voice breaking. He coughed to clear his throat.

'I'm not sure,' I said.

His mouth twitched. He bit his tongue. He kept his eyes on the register. 'Nevertheless, I have to put down something for a name.'

'Put down Cassandra, then.'

'Very well.' He pressed the letters crisply into the hard wax. 'Her place of origin?'

'I told you, I don't know.'

He clicked his tongue. 'But I have to put something. If she was a Roman citizen, I have to know her family name; and if she was married, her husband's name. If she was a foreigner, I have to know where she came from. If she was a slave-'

'Then write, 'Origin unknown.' '

He opened his mouth to speak then thought better of it. 'Highly irregular,' he muttered, as he wrote what I told him. 'I don't suppose you know the date of her birth?'

I glowered at him.

'I see. 'Birthdate unknown,' then. And the date of her death? Four days ago, you said?'

'Yes. She died on the Nones of Sextilis.'

'And the cause of her death?'

'Poison,' I said, through gritted teeth. 'She was poisoned.'

'I see,' he said, showing no emotion and hurriedly scribbling. 'With a name like Cassandra,' he said under his breath, 'you might think she'd have seen it coming. And what is your name? I have to have it to complete the record.'

I felt another impulse to strike him, but resisted. 'Gordianus, called the Finder.'

'Very well, then. There, I've written the entry just as you wished. 'Name of deceased: Cassandra. Family and status unknown. Birthdate unknown. Death by poison on the Nones of Sextilis, Year of Rome 706. Reported by Gordianus, called the Finder.' Does that satisfy you, citizen?'

I said nothing and walked away, toward the pillars that flanked the entrance. Behind me I heard him mutter, 'Finder, eh? Perhaps he should find out who poisoned her…'

I walked down the temple steps and back toward the funeral pyre, staring at the ground, seeing nothing. I felt the heat of the fire as I drew closer; and when I finally lifted my eyes, I beheld Cassandra amid the flames. Her bier had been tilted upright so that the funeral party could view the final moments of her physical existence. The musicians quickened their tempo from a mournful dirge to a shrill lament. The hired mourners dropped to their knees, pounded their fists against the earth, screamed and wailed.

A gust of wind suddenly whipped the flames higher. The roar of the fire was punctuated with loud cracking and popping and sizzling noises. While I watched, the flames gradually consumed her, frizzling her hair, withering and charring her flesh, turning everything black, destroying her beauty forever. The wind blew smoke in my eyes, stinging them, filling them with tears. I tried to look away-I wanted to look away-but I couldn't. Even this awful spectacle constituted one more moment, one final chance to look upon Cassandra.

I reached into my toga and pulled out a short baton made of leather. It had belonged to Cassandra; it was the only one of her possessions that still existed. I clutched it in my fist for a moment, then hurled it into the flames.

I felt Diana's presence beside me, then the touch of her hand on my arm. 'Papa, look.'

I finally tore my eyes from the funeral pyre. I looked blankly at my daughter's face. Her eyes-so beloved, so vibrantly alive-met mine, then turned elsewhere. I followed her gaze. We were no longer alone. Others had come to witness Cassandra's end. They must have arrived while I was in the temple or staring at the flames. The separate groups stood well away from the fire, scattered in a semicircle behind us. There were seven entourages in all. I looked at each in turn, hardly able to believe what I was seeing.

Seven of the wealthiest, most powerful, most remarkable women in Rome had come to the necropolis to see Cassandra burn. They had not joined in the public funeral procession, yet here they were, each woman seated in a litter surrounded by her own retinue of relatives, bodyguards, and litter bearers, not one of them acknowledging the presence of any of the others, all keeping their distance from ourselves and from each other, each gazing steadily straight ahead at the funeral pyre.

I took stock of them, looking from left to right.

First, there was Terentia, the pious, always proper wife of Cicero. With her husband off in Greece to side with

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