The light from the brazier was interrupted by a shadow. One of the others had crossed the room to join us. She sat beside Clodia and reached for her hands.

'My daughter, Metella,' said Clodia, though I hardly needed to be told. The young woman was unmistakably her mother's child. Perhaps she would even become as beautiful as her mother, given time. A beauty like Clodia's was not something a woman could be born with. It consisted of more than what the eyes could see, of a mystery behind the flesh which accrues only with the passage of time.

'I seem to remember that you have a daughter the same age,' said Clodia quietly.

'Diana,' I said. 'Seventeen.'

Clodia nodded. Metella suddenly began to weep. Her mother embraced her for a moment, then released her and sent her to rejoin the others. 'She loved her uncle very much,' Clodia said.

'What happened?'

Her voice was strained and colourless, as if any display of emotion would make it impossible for her to speak. 'We don't know for certain. He was down south, at his villa past Bovillae. Something happened on the road. They say it was Milo, or Milo's men. A skirmish. Others were killed, not just Publius.' There was a catch in her voice. She paused to compose herself 'Someone passing by just happened to find his body in the road — there wasn't even anyone standing guard over him! Strangers brought him back to the city. His body arrived here just after sundown. Since then some of his bodyguards have come straggling in. The ones who survived. We're still trying to make sense of what happened.'

'I saw a man in bandages being questioned in the other room.'

'A bodyguard. The man has been with Publius for years. How could he have let this happen?'

'And the young man questioning him?'

'My nephew, I imagine. Our brother Appius's oldest boy. He came with me in the litter, along with Metella. He loved Publius like a second father.' She shook her head. 'Publius's own little boy was with him down at Bovillae. We don't know what's become of the child. We don't even know where he is!' This was suddenly too much for her. She began to weep. Eco looked away. It was a hard thing to watch.

Her weeping subsided. 'Clodia,' I said quietly, 'why did you send for me?'

The question seemed to baffle her. She wrinkled her brow and blinked back tears. 'I'm not sure. I saw you in the crowd, and so — ' She shrugged. 'I don't know, really. But something will have to be done. You know about that sort of thing, don't you? Inquiries. Investigations. How it's done. Publius knew how to go about that kind of thing, of course. But now Publius…'

She drew a deep breath and slowly exhaled. Her tears had run dry. 'I don't know why I called for you, really. To see an old, familiar face? We parted friends, didn't we?' She touched my arm and managed a wan smile. The effort produced only a small fraction of the charm of which I knew she was capable. The feebleness of the attempt made it all the more poignant. 'Who knows what will happen now? The world has turned upside down. But something will have to be done to set things right. Publius's children are too young to see to it. It will fall to others in the family. We may need you. It may come to that, you see.' She sighed wearily 'There's nothing to be done right now, except to seek what comfort we can. Metella needs me.' She stood and looked bleakly towards the women across the room.

The interview seemed to be at an end. I nodded to Eco. Together we rose from the couch.

The slave girl came to show us out. Clodia walked away from us, then turned back.

'Wait. You should see him. I want you to see what they did to him.'

She led us across the room, to the altarlike table where Metella stood along with two other women and a child. At our approach the oldest of the women turned and scowled at us. Her face was gaunt and haggard. Her hair was almost entirely grey. Unpinned, it hung to her waist. There were no tears in her eyes, only anger and resentment.

'Who are these men?'

'Friends of mine,' said Clodia, her voice taking on an edge.

'What man isn't?' The woman gave Clodia a withering look. 'What are they doing here? They should wait in the outer room with the rest.'

'I asked them here, Sempronia.'

'This is not your household,' said the woman bluntly.

Metella went to her mother's side and took her hand. The older woman glared at them. The fourth woman, whose face I had not yet seen, kept her back turned. She reached down to touch the head of the little girl pressed against her. The child craned her neck and looked up at us with wide, innocent eyes.

'Sempronia, please' said Clodia in a strained whisper.

'Yes, Mother, let's try to be peaceable. Even with dear Clodia.'

The fourth woman finally turned. In her eyes I saw neither tears nor anger. There was weariness in her voice, but it was the weariness of exhaustion, not resignation. There was no emotion to be read in her voice or on her face, only a kind of steady determination. One might have expected to see a stronger reaction from the widow of the dead man. Perhaps she was simply numb with shock, but her gaze was keen and unwavering as she appraised us.

Fulvia was not a great beauty, like Clodia, but her appearance was striking nonetheless. She was younger by at least ten years; I guessed her to be no more than thirty. As her little daughter clung to her, I saw where the child's curious, luminous brown eyes had come from; there was a sharpness in Fulvia's gaze that indicated a formidable intelligence. She lacked her mother's grim harshness, but one could see the seeds of it in the hard lines around her mouth, especially when she turned her gaze to Clodia.

I could see at a glance that there was no love lost between the two sisters-in-law. Clodia and her brother had long been famous (or infamous) for their mutual devotion; there were many who thought they were more like man and wife than siblings. Where did that leave Clodius's real wife? What had Fulvia thought of the intimacy between her husband and his sister? From the look that passed between them, I gathered that the women had learned to tolerate one another, but not much more than that. Clodius had been the link between them, the mutual object of their affections as well as the cause of their mutual animosity; perhaps Clodius had also kept the peace between them. Now Clodius was dead.

Quite dead, I thought, for beyond Fulvia I could see his corpse laid out on the long, high table. He was still dressed in winter riding clothes — a heavy, long-sleeved tunic cinched with a belt at the waist, woollen leggings, red leather boots. The filthy, blood-soaked tunic was torn open across his chest and hung in rags, like the streamers of a tattered red flag.

'Come,' whispered Clodia, ignoring the other women and taking my arm. 'I want you to see.' She led me to the table. Eco pressed close behind me.

The face was undamaged. The eyes were closed and the bloodless Ups and cheeks were marred only by a few smudges of dirt and blood and a slight grimace, like that of a man suffering from a toothache or having an unpleasant dream. He looked uncannily like his sister, with the same finely moulded cheekbones and long, proud nose. It was a face to melt the hearts of women and make men prickle with envy, a race to taunt his scowling patrician colleagues in the Senate and win the adoration of the rabble. Clodius had been strikingly handsome, almost too boyish-looking for a man nearly forty. The only signs of his age were a few strands of grey at his temples; even these were mostly lost in his thick mane of black hair.

Below the neck, his strong, lean body was elegantly proportioned with square shoulders and a broad swimmer's chest. A gaping puncture wound pierced his right shoulder. There were two smaller stab wounds in his chest, and his limbs were marked with numerous lacerations, scrapes and mottled bruises. More bruises ringed his throat, as if a thin cord had been tightened around his neck; indeed, had he shown no other wounds, I would have said that he had been strangled.

Beside me, Eco shuddered. Like me, he had seen many dead bodies, but victims of poison or a dagger in the back present a less gory spectacle than did the corpse before us. This was not the body of a man who had died from quick and furtive murder. This was a man who had died in battle.

Clodia took one of the corpse's hands in hers, pressing it between her palms as if she could warm it. She ran her fingers over his and wrinkled her brow. 'His ring. His gold signet ring! Did you remove it, Fulvia?'

Fulvia shook her head. 'The ring was gone when they brought him. The men who killed him must have taken it, like a trophy.' Again, she showed no emotion.

There was a gentle rapping at the door. A group of slave girls entered with cloths folded over their arms.

Вы читаете A murder on the Appian way
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