Pompey in the civil war, Terentia was said to be hard-pressed to make ends meet, and in fact her litter was the most modest. The draperies that surrounded the box were no longer white but shabby gray, with tatters here and there. But her litter was also the largest, and squinting, I made out two other women in the litter with her. One was her daughter, Tullia, the apple of Cicero's eye. The other was farther back in the shadows, but from her distinctive clothing and headdress, I saw she was a Vestal Virgin. No doubt it was Fabia, Terentia's sister, who in younger days had very nearly met her end for breaking her sacred vow of chastity.

In the next litter I saw Antonia, the cousin and wife of Marc Antony, Caesar's right-hand man. While Caesar had been off fighting his enemies in Spain, Antony had been left in charge of Italy. Now both men had departed for northern Greece to do battle with Pompey. Antonia was said to be a very attractive woman. I had never formally met her and might not have recognized her except for the bronze lions' heads that surmounted the upright supports at each corner of her litter. The lion's head was Antony's symbol.

Her presence was all the more remarkable because of the woman whose litter was next in the semicircle. Anyone in Rome would have recognized that gaudy green box decorated with pink-and-gold tassels, for Cytheris, the actress, always made a show of her comings and goings. She was Antony's lover, and he had made no secret of that fact while he ruled Rome in Caesar's absence, traveling all over Italy with her. People called her his understudy wife. Cytheris was famous for her beauty, though I myself had never seen her close enough to get a good look. Those who had seen her perform in mime shows for her former master, Volumnius the banker, said she was talented as well, able by the subtlest gestures and expressions to evoke a whole range of responses in her audience-lust not least among them. She and Antonia cast not a single glance in each other's direction, apparently oblivious of one another.

I looked to the next litter, which was draped in shades of deepest blue and black suitable for mourning, and recognized Fulvia, the twice-widowed. She had been married first to Clodius, the radical politician and rabble- rouser. After his murder four years ago on the Appian Way and the chaos that followed-the beginning of the end of the Republic, it seemed in retrospect-Fulvia had eventually remarried, joining her fortunes to Caesar's beloved young lieutenant, Gaius Curio. Only a few months ago, word had arrived from Africa of Curio's disastrous end; his head had become a trophy for King Juba. Some called Fulvia the unluckiest woman in Rome, but having met her, I knew her to possess an indomitable spirit. Seated with her in her litter was her mother, Sempronia, from whom Fulvia had inherited that spirit.

As I moved my eyes to the occupant of the next litter, the incongruities multiplied. There, reclining amid mounds of cushions in a typically voluptuous pose, was Fausta, the notoriously promiscuous daughter of the dictator Sulla. Thirty years after his death, the dictator's brief, blood-soaked reign still haunted Rome. (Some predicted that whoever triumphed in the current struggle, Caesar or Pompey, would follow Sulla's merciless example and line the Forum with the heads of his enemies.) Sulla's ghost haunted the Forum, but Sulla's daughter was said to haunt the more dissolute gatherings in the city. Fausta was still married, though in name only, to the banished gang leader Milo, the one political exile whom Caesar had pointedly excluded from the generous pardons he'd issued before leaving Rome. Milo's unforgivable crime had been the murder four years ago of his hated rival Clodius on the Appian Way. According to the court, it was Fausta's husband who had made a widow (for the first time) of Fulvia. Were the two women aware of one another's presence? If they were, they gave no more indication of it than did Antonia and Cytheris. At that moment Milo was very much on everyone's mind, for he had escaped from exile and was said to be raising an insurrection in the countryside. What did Fausta know about that? Why was she here at Cassandra's funeral?

Next to Fausta's litter, surrounded by the largest retinue of bodyguards, was a resplendent canopy with ivory poles and white draperies that shimmered with golden threads, hemmed with a purple stripe. It was the litter of great Caesar's wife, Calpurnia. Now that Marc Antony had left Rome to fight alongside Caesar, many thought it was Calpurnia who functioned as the eyes and ears of her husband in his absence. Caesar had married her ten years ago, purely for political advantage some said, because in Calpurnia he had found a woman to match his own ambition. She was said to be an uncommonly hardheaded woman with no time for superstition. Why had she come to witness the funeral of a mad seeress?

One litter remained, a little farther off than all the others. When my eyes fell on it, my heart skipped a beat. Its occupant couldn't be seen, except for a finger that parted the closed drapes just enough for her to see out. But I knew that litter, with its red-and-white stripes, all too well. Eight years ago its occupant had been one of the most public women in Rome, notorious for her flamboyance and high spirits. Then she had dragged her estranged young lover into the courts and made the grave mistake of crossing Cicero. The result had been a disastrous public humiliation from which she had never recovered. Then her brother (some said lover) Clodius met his end on the Appian Way, and her spirit seemed to have been snuffed out altogether. She had retreated into a seclusion so complete that some thought she must be dead. She was the one woman in Rome-before Cassandra-who had threatened to break my heart. What was Clodia-beautiful, enigmatic Clodia, once the most dangerous woman in Rome, now all but forgotten-doing there that day, lurking incognito amid the litters of the other women?

I gazed from litter to litter, my head spinning. To see these particular women all gathered in one place at one time was more than remarkable; it was astounding. And yet, there they all were, their various litters scattered before the burning pyre like the pavilions of contending armies arrayed on a field of battle. Terentia, Antonia, Cytheris, Fulvia, Fausta, Calpurnia, and Clodia-the funeral of Cassandra had brought them all together. Why had they come? To mourn Cassandra? To curse her? To gloat? The distance made it impossible to read the expressions on their faces.

Beside me, Diana crossed her arms and took on the hard, shrewd look so familiar to me from her mother. 'It must have been one of them,' she said. 'You know it must have been one of those women who murdered her.'

I felt a chill, despite the heat of the flames. I blinked at a sudden swirl of smoke and cinders and turned to look again at the burning pyre. The fire had consumed yet more of Cassandra, had taken another portion of her away from me, and I had missed it. I opened my eyes wide despite the burning smoke. I stared at the blackened remains upon the upright bier reduced now to a bed of glowing coals. The musicians played their shrill lament. The mourners raised their cry to heaven.

How long I stared at the flames, I don't know. But when I finally turned to look behind me again, all seven of the women with their litters and their entourages had vanished as if they had never been there.


The last time I saw Cassandra-truly saw her, looked into her eyes and beheld not just her mortal shell but the spirit that dwelled within-was on the day of her death.

It was shortly after noon on the Nones of Sextilis, a market day, or what passed for a market day in Rome in those times of shortage and mad inflation. Bethesda felt well enough to go out that day. I went along as well, as did Diana. My son-in-law, Davus, accompanied us. In those uncertain days, it was always wise to bring along a big, hulking fellow like Davus to play bodyguard.

We were on a quest for radishes. Bethesda, who had been ill for some time, had decided that radishes, and radishes only, would cure her.

We made our way from my house on the Palatine down to the market on the far side of the Capitoline, not far from the Tiber. We walked from vendor to vendor, searching in vain for a radish that would satisfy Bethesda's discriminating gaze. This one was pitted with black spots. That one was too elongated and soft. Another had a face on it (leaves for hair, straggling roots for a beard) that looked like a dishonest cobbler with whom Bethesda had once had a row. To be sure, none of these radishes looked particularly appetizing to me, either. Despite the best efforts of the magistrates put in place by Caesar before his departure, the economy was in constant turmoil, with no end in sight. I make no claim to understand the intricacies of the Roman economy-production of food, transport to market, borrowing against future crops, the care and feeding of slaves and the cost of replacing runaways (a particular problem these days), the constant, grinding tug of war between creditors and debtors-but I do know this much: A war that splits the whole world in two results in a paucity of radishes fit to eat.

I suggested that Bethesda might look for carrots instead-I had seen one or two of those that looked edible- but she insisted that the soup she had in mind would allow no substitutions. Since this was a medicinal soup, meant more for her recovery than for my nourishment, I kept my mouth shut. A vague, lingering malady had been plaguing

Вы читаете A Mist of Prophecies
Добавить отзыв


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

Отметить Добавить цитату