Bethesda for months. While I doubted that any soup would rid her of it, I had no better cure to suggest.

So the four of us strolled from vendor to vendor, searching for radishes. It was just as well that we weren't looking for olives, since the only ones to be had were selling for the price of pearls. Moldy bread was easier to find, but not much cheaper.

Behind me I heard Davus's stomach growl. He was a big fellow. He required more food than any two normal men to fill his belly, and in recent days he hadn't been getting it. His face had grown lean, and his waist was like a boy's. Diana made a fuss over him and fretted that he would dry up and blow away, but I suggested we needn't worry about that as long as Davus still had legs like tree trunks and shoulders like the arch of an aqueduct.

'Eureka!' Bethesda suddenly cried, echoing the famous exclamation of the mathematician Archimedes, although I doubt she had ever heard of him. I hurried to her side. Sure enough, she held in her hands a truly admirable bunch of radishes-firm and red, with crisp, green leaves and long, trailing roots. 'How much?' she cried, startling the vendor with her vehemence.

He quickly recovered himself and smiled broadly, sensing a motivated buyer. The price he named was astronomical.

'That's robbery!' I snapped.

'But look how fine they are,' he insisted, reaching out to caress the radishes in Bethesda's hands as if they were made of solid gold. 'You can still see the good Etruscan earth on them. And smell them! That's the smell of hot Etruscan sunshine.'

'They're just radishes,' I protested.

'Just radishes? I challenge you, citizen, to find another bunch of radishes in all this market to match them. Go ahead! Go and look. I'll wait.' He snatched the radishes back from Bethesda.

'I can't afford it,' I said. 'I won't pay it.'

'Then someone else will,' said the vendor, enjoying his advantage. 'I'm not budging on the price. These are the finest radishes you'll find anywhere in Rome, and you'll pay what I ask or do without.'

'Perhaps,' said Bethesda, her dark brows drawn together, 'perhaps I could manage with just two radishes. Or perhaps only one. Yes, one would do, I'm sure. I imagine we can afford one, can't we, Husband?'

I looked into her brown eyes and felt a pang of guilt. Bethesda had been my wife for more than twenty years. Before that she had been my concubine; she was practically a child when I acquired her in Alexandria, back in the days of my footloose youth. Her beauty and her aloofness-oh yes, she had been very aloof, despite the fact that she was a slave-had driven me wild with passion. Later she bore my daughter, the only child of my loins, Diana; that was when I manumitted and married her, and Bethesda settled into the role of a Roman matriarch. That role had not always been a comfortable fit-a slave born in Alexandria to an Egyptian mother and a Jewish father did not easily take to Roman ways-but she had never embarrassed me, never betrayed me, never given me cause for regret. We had stood beside one another through many hardships and some very real dangers, and through times of ease and joy as well. If we had become a little estranged in recent months, I told myself it was merely due to the strain of the times. The whole world was coming apart at the seams. In some families a son had taken up arms against his own father, or a wife had left her husband to side with her brothers. If in our household the silences between Bethesda and me had grown longer, or the occasional petty arguments sharper, what of it? In a world where a man could no longer afford a radish, tempers grew short.

It didn't help, of course, that we were constantly confronted with the contrasting example of our daughter and her muscle-bound husband. They, too, had begun life in unequal stations-Diana born free, Davus a slave-and the gulf between Diana's sharp wits and Davus's simplicity had struck me from the first as unbridgeable. But the two of them were inseparable, constantly touching, forever cooing endearments to each other, even as they approached the fourth year of their marriage. Nor was their attraction purely physical. Often, when I came upon the two of them in my house, I found them deep in earnest conversation. What did they find to talk about? Probably the state of her parents' marriage, I thought…

But the guilt I felt came from more than long silences and petty squabbles. It came from more than the very major row we had had after my return to Rome from Massilia the previous autumn, bringing a new mouth to feed- my friend Hieronymus-and the news that I had disowned my adopted son Meto. That announcement very nearly tore the whole household apart, but over time the shock and grief had lessened. No, the guilt I felt had nothing to do with household matters or family relations. I felt guilty because of Cassandra, of course.

And now Bethesda, who complained of feeling unwell every day, who seemed to be in the grip of some malady no doctor could diagnose, had taken it into her head that she must have radishes-and her wretched husband was trapped between a greedy vendor and his own guilty conscience.

'I shall buy you more than one radish, Wife,' I said quietly. 'I shall buy you the whole bunch of them. Davus, you're carrying the moneybag. Hand it to Diana so that she can pay the man.'

Diana took the bag from Davus, loosened the drawstrings, and slowly reached inside, frowning. 'Papa, are you sure? It's so much.'

'Of course I'm sure. Pay the scoundrel!'

The vendor was ecstatic as Diana counted the coins and dropped them into his hand. He relinquished the radishes. Bethesda, clutching them to her breast, gave me a look to melt my heart. The smile on her face, such a rare sight in recent days, made her look twenty years younger-no, younger than that, like a gratified and trusting child. Then a shadow crossed her face, the smile faded, and I knew that she suddenly felt unwell.

I touched her arm and spoke into her ear. 'Shall we go home now, Wife?'

Just then, there was a commotion from another part of the market-the clanging of metal on metal, the rattle of objects spilled onto paving stones, the crash of pottery breaking. A man yelled. A woman shrieked, 'It's her! The madwoman!'

I turned about to see Cassandra staggering toward me. Her blue tunica was torn at the neck and pulled awry. Her golden hair was wild and unkempt. There was a crazed expression on her face. That was how she often looked, especially during a fit of prophecy-but when her eyes met mine, I saw in them a look of utter panic, and my blood turned cold.

She ran to me, her arms reaching forward, her gait uneven. 'Gordianus, help me!' she cried. Her voice was hoarse and strained. She fell into my arms. Beside me, Bethesda gave a start and dropped her radishes. Cassandra fell to her knees, pulling me down with her.

'Cassandra!' I gasped. I lowered my voice to a whisper. 'If this is some pretense-'

She clutched my arms and cried out. Her body convulsed.

Diana knelt beside me. 'Papa, what's wrong with her?'

'I don't know.'

'It's the god in her,' said Bethesda from above and behind me, her voice tinged with awe. 'The same god that compels her prophecies must be tearing her apart inside.'

A crowd gathered around us, pressing in from all sides. 'Draw back, all of you!' I shouted. Cassandra clutched at me again, but her grip was weakening. Her eyelids flickered and drooped. She moved her lips, but no sound came out.

'Cassandra, what's wrong? What's happened?' I whispered.

'Poison,' she said. Her voice was failing. I could barely hear her above the hubbub of the crowd. 'She's poisoned me!'

'Who? What did she give you?' Our faces were so close that I felt her shallow breath on my lips. Her eyes seemed huge, her blue irises eclipsed by the enormous blackness of her pupils.

'Something-in the drink…' she said. I could barely hear her.

She convulsed again, then was still. I felt a last, long exhalation against my lips, strangely cold. The fingers clutching my arms relaxed. Her eyes remained open, but the life went out of them.

The crowd pressed in. Diana was knocked against me and gave a squeal. Davus bellowed at the on lookers to back away, brandishing his fists at those who didn't move quickly. As they dispersed, I heard snatches of excited conversation:

'Did you see that? She died in the old man's arms!'

'Cassandra-that's what people called her.'

'I heard she was a war widow. Went crazy with grief.'

'No, no, no! She was a Briton, from way up north. They're all crazy. Paint themselves blue.'

'She didn't look blue to me! Rather beautiful, in fact…'

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