'I heard she was a Vestal who broke her vows and got herself buried alive. Managed to claw her way out of the grave but ended up raving mad.'

'Nonsense! You'll believe anything.'

'All I know is, she could see the future.'

'Could she? I wonder if she saw that coming?'

I swallowed hard. I wanted to press my lips against Cassandra's, but I felt the eyes of my wife and daughter on me. I turned to Diana, kneeling beside me. What must my face have looked like for my daughter to gaze back at me with such pity and puzzlement? I peered up at Bethesda. For a long moment, she registered no emotion-then suddenly raised her eyebrows in alarm.

'The radishes!' she cried, slapping her hands to her face.

In all the commotion, someone had stolen them.


The first time I saw Cassandra was in the Forum. It was a day in mid-Januarius. When I count the months on my fingers, I realize that from the first day I saw her to the last, not quite seven months passed. So brief a period! Yet in some ways it seems I knew her for a lifetime.

I can place the date precisely, because that was the day word reached Rome that Caesar had successfully crossed the Adriatic Sea from Brundisium to the coast of northern Greece. For days, all Rome had been holding its breath to learn the outcome of that bold gambit. The gray-bearded, self-styled sages who passed their days gossiping and arguing in the Forum all agreed, whether they favored Caesar or Pompey, that Caesar was mad to attempt a naval crossing in winter, and madder still to attempt such a thing when everyone knew that Pompey had the superior fleet and ruled the Adriatic. A sudden storm could send Caesar and all his soldiers to the bottom of the sea in a matter of minutes. Or, in clear weather, Caesar's fleet was likely to be outmaneuvered by Pompey's and destroyed before they could reach the other side. Yet Caesar, having settled affairs in Rome to his liking, was determined to carry the battle to Pompey, and to do that he had to convey his troops across the water.

All through the previous year, from the day he crossed the Rubicon and drove Pompey in a panic out of Italy, Caesar had campaigned to secure his mastery of the West-mustering troops from his stronghold in Gaul; destroying the Pompeian forces in Spain; laying siege to the seaport of Massilia, whose inhabitants had sided with Pompey; and arranging to have himself declared temporary dictator so as to set up magistrates of his choosing in Rome. Meanwhile, Pompey, driven in confusion and disarray from Rome, had been biding his time across the water in Greece, insisting that he and his fellow exiles constituted the true government of Rome, compelling Eastern potentates to send him massive contributions of money and vast numbers of troops, and building up a huge navy that he stationed in the Adriatic with the express purpose of keeping Caesar in Italy until Pompey was ready to face him.

At the outset of that fateful year, which of these rivals found himself in the stronger position? That question was argued endlessly by those of us who frequented the Forum in those uncertain days. We sat under the weak winter sun on the steps of the treasury (plundered by Caesar to pay for his troops) or, as on that particular day, we found a spot outside the wind near the Temple of Vesta and discussed the issues of the day. I suppose I must say 'us' and 'we,' including myself in that group of tireless chin-wagers, although I opened my mouth less frequently than most. Mostly I listened, and thought what a useless lot of know nothings we all were, too old or frail or crippled to have been compelled to take up arms by either side, and not rich enough to have been extorted by either side to hand over gold or gladiators to their cause. Over looked by the warlords, we spent our days idling in the Forum, expounding our opinions on the latest rumors, arguing and insulting one another, gnashing our teeth while we helplessly waited for the world we had known all our lives to come to an end.

'What does it matter if Caesar's won the West, when all the wealth of Asia and the grain of Egypt are at Pompey's disposal?' This came from a mild-mannered fellow called Manlius, who seemed equally distressed at the impending destruction of either side in the conflict. Manlius hated violence. 'I don't see why Caesar's so eager to make the crossing. He'll only be stepping into the trap Pompey's laid for him. The slaughter will be horrific!'

'Why is Caesar eager to cross? That's plain enough. Once it comes to a head-on confrontation, sword against sword, Caesar's got the clear advantage.' So declared one-armed Canininus who, if his tales of combat were true, had more fighting experience than the rest of us combined; he had lost his right arm fighting for Caesar in Gaul and had received a generous retirement from his grateful imperator. 'Caesar's men are battle-hardened from constant fighting. Years and years spent conquering the Gauls, then the march on Rome, then the mad chase down to Brundisium-Pompey barely slipped out of that noose! — and most recently, that little foray in Spain to put an end to Caesar's enemies there.'

'And don't forget the siege of Massilia!' This came from my friend Hieronymus, a Massilian of Greek descent and the only one of the group who was not a Roman citizen. The others suffered his presence partly because I was his patron, but also because they were a little in awe of him. A cruel fate had led to his selection by the priests of Massilia to serve as the city's scapegoat during the siege by Caesar. It had been his role to take on the sins of the whole city, and at some critical juncture, by his death, to save the city from destruction. Massilia had indeed been spared from destruction, but a strange twist of fortune had spared Hieronymus from his fate, and he had ended up in Rome living in my house. Hieronymus was tall and physically striking, with a curious demeanor. Having begun life as the heir of one of Massilia's more powerful families, but having spent most of his life as a beggar, he combined the haughtiness of a fallen aristocrat with the crafty pragmatism of a streetwise survivor. He often played referee in our little group, since he favored neither Caesar nor Pompey.

Canininus snorted. 'The siege of Massilia! I'd already forgotten about it. Massilia was nothing more than a pimple on Gaul's butt! Caesar simply dispatched Trebonius to pop it open before it could fester.'

Hieronymus raised an eyebrow. How he had despised his native city while he lived and very nearly died there! Since he had left Massilia, I never once heard him express a sentimental longing for the place. Still, it rankled him to hear a Roman express contempt for the city of his Greek fore fathers.

'If 'squeezing the pimple' of Massilia, as you put it, was such a smallish thing,' he said dryly, in slightly stilted Latin, 'then why did Caesar reward Trebonius by making him city praetor for the year and charge him with enforcing Caesar's own plan to shore up the Roman economy? Such an important task is handed by a man like Caesar only to one who has shown his true mettle. I think that Caesar must have rated the taking of Massilia a far more important achievement than you do, my friend.'

'In the first place,' snapped Canininus, 'Caesar didn't 'make' Trebonius city praetor, the voters did.'

This met with catcalls from the Pompeians in the group. 'Nonsense!' said the most vocal of them, Volcatius, who had a surprisingly strong voice for such an old man. 'The only voters left in Rome are the common rabble, who'll cast their lots however Caesar tells them to. Pompey and all the Best People ran for their lives when Caesar crossed the Rubicon-except for those who couldn't bear the journey, like myself. How can any so-called election held under such circumstances constitute a true vote of the people? The last elections were a farce and a scandal, a mime show put on for the sole purpose of putting Caesar's handpicked men in office. The whole process was an illegal and illegitimate-'

'Oh, please, Volcatius, not all this again!' groaned Canininus. 'You'll still be whining about the last elections when it comes time to hold the next.'

'If the next round is as corrupt and meaningless as the last, I won't keep silent!'

'Corrupt, maybe'-Canininus shrugged and smirked-'but hardly meaningless. The fact of the matter is that Rome has a government in place, and that government is running the city, whether you like it or not. Get used to it and move on!' Canininus laughed spitefully, along with some of the more vehement of the Caesarian faction. 'But back to the point I was trying to make before we became distracted by politics: Caesar holds the military advantage because his men are primed and ready to fight.'

Mild-mannered Manlius, who had started the whole exchange, objected. 'You say Caesar's men are battle- hardened, but aren't they battle-weary as well? Some of them staged a revolt while Caesar was on the way back from Spain-'

'Yes, and Caesar promptly put the ringleaders to death and rallied the rest to his side,' said Canininus. 'He knows how to handle a mutiny; he's a born leader of men. You, Manlius, never having been a soldier, wouldn't

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