apart-brother against brother, husband against wife, even son against father. It's a wretched business. Meto made a choice-the wrong choice-but for all I know, there was honor behind it. He's my enemy now, but I don't hate him. As for you, I don't blame you for what your son has done. You're free to go. But if you've come here to collude with Meto against Caesar, I'll deal with you as harshly as I would with any traitor. I'll see you crucified.'

So much for trying to draw him out. If Trebonius knew the truth, he was not going to reveal himself to me.

He attacked the few scraps of flesh that still remained on the pork shank, then went on. 'My advice to you, Gordianus, is to get a good night's sleep, then turn around and head straight back to Rome. If you hear from Meto, tell him that Caesar will have his head. If you hear nothing, wait for news. The waiting is hard, I know, but you'll learn of Meto's fate sooner or later. You know the Etruscan saying: `Once grieving starts it never ends, so there's no point in grieving an hour earlier than you must.' '

I cleared my throat. 'That's the problem, you see. The day before I left Rome I received a message from someone inside Massilia. The message said… that Meto had been killed. That's why I've come all this way, to find out-whether my son is still alive… or not.'

Trebonius sat back. 'Who sent you this message?'

'It was unsigned.'

'How did it come to you?'

'It was left on the doorstep of my house on the Palatine.'

'Did you bring it with you?'

'Yes.' I reached into the pouch that hung from my belt and pulled out a small wooden cylinder. With my little finger I extracted a rolled scrap of parchment. Trebonius snatched it from me as he might a dispatch from a messenger.

He read aloud. ' `Gordianus: I send you sad news from Massilia. Your son Meto is dead. Forgive my bluntness. I write in haste. Know that Meto died loyal to his cause, in the service of Rome. His was a hero's death. He was a brave young man, and, though not in battle, he died bravely here in Massilia.' ' Trebonius handed the message back to me. 'This arrived anonymously, you say?'


'Then you don't even know that it came from Massilia. It might be a hoax perpetrated on you by someone in Rome.'

'Perhaps. But is it possible that the message could have come from Massilia?'

'Could a Massilian ship have slipped through our blockade, you mean? Officially, no.'

'But in reality?'

'There may have been a few… occurrences… especially at night. The Massilians are expert sailors, and the local winds favor sailing out of the harbor by night. Caesar's ships are moored behind the big islands just outside the harbor, but a small ship might have slipped by them in the dark. But what of it? What if the message did come from Massilia? Why is it unsigned if the writer tells the truth?'

'I don't know. Since the day Caesar crossed the Rubicon, everyone wears a mask. Intrigues and deceptions… secrecy for secrecy's sake…'

'If Meto is dead, the writer should have sent you some tangible memento-Meto's citizen's ring, at least.'

'Perhaps Meto drowned and his body was lost. Perhaps he died by-' In my imagination I pictured flames and blanched at the thought. 'Don't you think I've gone over this a thousand times in my own mind, Trebonius? It's the first thing I think of when I wake, the last thing I think of before I sleep. Who sent this message, why, from where, and is it true or not? What's become of my son?' I stared at Trebonius, letting the misery show on my face. Surely, if he knew whether Meto was alive or dead, he would tell me at least that much to alleviate a father's suffering. But his grim countenance was as changeless as a statue's.

'I see your dilemma,' he said. 'A nasty business-uncertainty. I sympathize. But I can't help you. On the one hand, if Meto is alive and in Massilia, he's cast his lot with Domitius and become a traitor to Caesar. You can't get into the city to see him, and I wouldn't allow it if you could. You'll have to wait until the Massilians surrender, or until we pull the walls down. Then, if we find Meto… do you really want to be here when that happens, to witness his fate as a traitor? On the other hand, if Meto is already dead, there's still no way you can get into Massilia and find out how it happened or who sent that message. Look, I'll promise you this: When we take Massilia, if there's news of Meto, I'll let you know what I find out. If Meto himself is taken, I'll let you know what Caesar decides to do with him. I can promise no more than that. There, your task is accomplished. You can go back to Rome now, knowing that you've done all that any father could. I'll see that you have a place to sleep tonight. You'll leave in the morning.' These last words had the unmistakable ring of an order.

He studied the fleshless bone in his fist. 'But where are my manners? You must be starving, Gordianus. Go, join your son-in-law in the officers' mess. The stew's not as bad as it looks, really.'

I left the tent and followed my nose to the mess. Despite the growling in my belly, I had lost my appetite.


We were given cots in an officers' tent not far from the commander's own. If Trebonius truly believed Meto to be a traitor, he was a generous man to give such hospitality to a traitor's father. More likely, he preferred to keep me close at hand so that he could be sure I left camp the next day.

Long after the others in the tent were sleeping, with Davus gently snoring nearby, I remained awake. I may have dozed once or twice, but it was hard to tell whether the images in my head were dreams or waking fantasies. I saw the canyon where we had lost our way that afternoon, the fence made of bones, the dark temple and the squat, primeval skystone of Artemis, the razed forest, the soothsayer who knew my reason for coming…

What sort of place had I come to? The next day, if Trebonius had his way, we would be off again before I had a chance to find out.

Finally I threw off my coverlet and quietly stepped out of the tent. The full moon had begun to set, casting long, black shadows. The torches that lit the pathways between tents burned low. I paced aimlessly, moving gradually uphill, until I found myself in a clearing close by Trebonius's tent. This was the crest of the hill, with a view of the city.

In the darkness, I imagined Massilia to be a great dorsal-finned behemoth that had pulled herself out of the sea and collapsed face down, then been ringed about by walls of limestone. The jagged crest along her spine was a ridge of hills. The encircling walls gleamed blue in the moonlight. Impenetrable shadows lurked in the bends of the towers. Torches, mere dots of orange flame, flickered at regular intervals along the battlements. On either side of the city, outside her walls, two bays opened into the sea beyond; the larger inlet on the left was the main harbor. The still face of the water was black, except where moonlight burnished it silver. The islands beyond the city, behind which Caesar's ships lay moored, were lumpy gray silhouettes.

Between the high place where I stood and the nearest stretch of wall lay a valley lost in shadows. Across the gulf of air, that stretch of wall seemed disconcertingly close; I could clearly see two Massilian sentries patrolling the battlements, torchlight causing their helmets to flicker. Behind them reared a dark hill, the crested head of my imagined sea monster.

Somewhere in the darkness encircled by those moonlit walls my son had died, swallowed up in the belly of that recumbent behemoth. Or else he still lived, pursuing a fate as shadowy as the night.

I heard footsteps and sensed a presence behind me. A sentry, I thought, come to send me back to my bed; but when I turned I saw that the man wore a sleeping tunic. He was quite short and had a neatly trimmed beard.

He stepped up to a spot on the crest of the hill not far off, crossed arms, and studied the view. 'Can't sleep either?' he remarked, not really looking at me.


'Neither can I. Too excited about tomorrow.'


He turned his head, studied me for a moment, then frowned. 'Do I know you?'

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