we were to leave him alone. Comes and goes as he pleases. Disappears for a while, then pops up again. A soothsayer, they call him, though he doesn't say much. As strange as they come, but harmless as far as I can tell.'

'Is he Massilian?'

'Could be. Or could be a Gaul. Or a Roman, for all I know; speaks Latin. He certainly knows a thing or two about local matters, as you've just seen demonstrated. What's that he called the lump on the pedestal?' The soldier tried to duplicate the word without success. 'Anyway, why don't you and your son-in-law step out of the temple. It's getting so you can't see your hand in front of your face in here.'

We followed the soldiers onto the porch and descended the steps. The soothsayer stood outside the gate, where there were now five horses tied to the pylons.

'So, Gordianus of Rome, what's your business in being here?' asked the soldier.

'My immediate business is to find a way out of this valley.' He laughed. 'Easy enough. Marcus and I will escort you out. In fact, we'll escort you all the way to my commander's tent. You being on a first-name basis with `Gaius Julius,' maybe you'll feel more comfortable explaining yourself to an officer.' He looked at me sidelong. 'Whoever you are, I don't mind saying I'm glad you turned up today. It's slow out here, so far away from the action. You two are the first visitors we've had to the temple. Are you sure you're not looters? Or spies? Only joking!' We readied our horses. The soldiers did likewise. The soothsayer conferred with them for a moment. The soldier called to us over his shoulder. 'Rabidus says he wants to ride alongside us for a while. You don't mind, do you?'

I watched the cowled figure mount his swayback nag and shrugged.

The soldiers led the way to a narrow cleft in the stone wall. The opening was impossible to see unless viewed straight on. I doubted that Davus and I would ever have found it by ourselves, even in broad daylight. A rocky path led between sheer limestone walls so close l could have touched both sides with outstretched arms. The passage was deep in shadow, almost as dim as the interior of the temple. My horse began to jerk in protest at being ridden over rough, unfamiliar ground in near darkness. At last a vertical slash of pale light appeared ahead of us. The path descended, dropping like a staircase.

We emerged from the fissure as abruptly as we had entered it. Behind us rose a sheer cliff of limestone. Before us was a dense forest, brooding and dark.

'How can we ride through that wilderness at night?' I asked Davus in a hushed voice. 'These woods must go on for miles!' A voice startled me. It was the soothsayer. I had thought he was ahead with the soldiers, but suddenly he was alongside me. 'Nothing in this place is what it appears to be,' he whispered hoarsely. 'Nothing!'

Before I could answer, the soldiers doubled back, edging out the soothsayer and hemming Davus and me in on either side like sheep to be herded. Did they really think we might try to escape into that deep, dark wood?

But the forest was not as vast as it appeared to be. We rode through the enveloping gloom for only a moment, then suddenly emerged into a vast clearing. The last glow of twilight illuminated a landscape of endless tree stumps. The forest had been razed.

The soldier saw my confusion and laughed. 'Caesar's doing!' he said. 'When the Massilians refused to open their gates to him, he took one look at those thick city walls and decided an attack by sea might be advisable. Only problem: no ships! So Caesar decided to build a navy overnight. But to build ships you need big trees-cypresses, ash trees, oaks. Not many such trees in this rocky land; that's why the Massilians declared this forest sacred and never touched it, not for all the hundreds of years they've been here. Gods lived in this wood, so they said, gods who'd been here since long before the Massilians came, gods so old and hidden in the gloom that even the Gauls had no names for them. The place was rank and wild, powdery beneath your feet from so much rotted heartwood over the years, with cobwebs the size of houses up in the branches. The Massilians built altars, sacrificed sheep and goats to the unknown gods of the forest. They never touched the trees for fear of some horrible, divine retribution.

'But that didn't stop Caesar. Oh, no! `Cut down those trees,' he ordered, `and build me my ships!' But the men he ordered to do the cutting got spooked. They froze up, couldn't bring down their axes. Stood staring at each other, quivering like schoolboys. Men who'd burned cities, slaughtered Gauls by the thousands, scared Pompey himself out of Italy-afraid to attack a forest. Caesar was furious!. He grabbed a double-headed ax from one of the men, pushed the fellow out of the way, and started hacking at the biggest oak in sight. Wood chips flew through the air! The old oak creaked and groaned! Caesar didn't stop until the tree came crashing down. Everyone fell to chopping after that. Afraid Caesar might come after them with that ax!' The soldier laughed.

I nodded. My horse seemed glad to be away from narrow, rocky places. He had no trouble picking his way between tree stumps. 'But if this wood was sacred… I thought you said Caesar was making a point of respecting the Massilians' holy places.'

The soldier snorted. 'When it suits him!'

'He has no fear of sacrilege?'

'Was it sacrilege to cut down an old forest full of spiders and mulch? I wouldn't know. Maybe the soothsayer can tell us. What do you say, Rabidus?'

The soothsayer was keeping to himself, riding a little ways off. He turned his hooded head toward the soldier and spoke in a hoarse, strained voice. 'I know why the Roman has come here.'

'What?' The soldier was taken aback, but recovered with a grin. 'Well, tell me then! You'll save us the trouble of torturing him to find out. Only joking! Go on, soothsayer, speak up.'

'He's come to look for his son.'

The strange voice emerging from the faceless hood chilled my blood. Wings fluttered in my chest. Involuntarily, I whispered the name of my son: 'Meto!'

The soothsayer reined his horse and turned about. 'Tell the Roman to go home. He has no business here. There's nothing he can do to help his son.' He rode off at a slow pace in the direction from which we had come, back toward the last redoubt of the forest.

The soldier grimaced and shivered like a dog shaking off water. 'There's a weird one. Not sad to see the back of him!' Davus tugged at my sleeve. 'Father-in-law, the fellow really is a soothsayer! How else could he have known-'

I hissed at Davus to silence him: For a mad moment I considered turning back to pursue the hooded figure, to see what else he could tell me. But I knew that the soldiers, for all their joking, would never have allowed it. For the moment, we were their prisoners.

We ascended a small hill. At the summit the soldier halted and pointed straight ahead at a distant hilltop ablaze with campfires. 'You see that? There's Caesar's camp. And beyond that lies Massilia, with her back against the sea. She'll open her gates to us, sooner or later. Because Caesar says so!'

I looked behind us. A sea of tree stumps shone white beneath the rising moon. The soothsayer had vanished into the night.


'Says his name is Gordianus. Claims to be a Roman citizen. Calls the imperator 'Gaius Julius,' as if he knows him. Says he won't say more, except to Trebonius himself. What do you think, sir?'

The soldier had passed me on to his centurion; the centurion had passed me on to his cohort commander; the cohort commander was now conferring with the next officer above him. It was suppertime in the camp. From where I stood, just inside the officer's tent, I could peer out the flap to see a line of men queued up with metal bowls in their hands, shuffling forward at a steady rate. A torch was mounted on a pole at the nearest intersection in the grid of pathways between tents; the light shone on weary, smiling faces of men happy to have reached the end of the day, though some were practically asleep on their feet. Many were smudged with dirt, and some looked as if they had been rolling in mud. Soldiering during a siege means endless digging: trenches, latrines, tunnels beneath the enemy's walls.

From somewhere toward the far end of the queue I heard the dull, repetitious knocking of a wooden spoon against metal bowls. I caught whiffs of a stew of some sort. Did I smell pork? Davus and I had eaten only a handful of bread since we'd left the tavern that morning. Beside me, I heard Davus's stomach growl.

From his folding chair, the officer perused us grudgingly. We were keeping him from his own supper in the

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