a boy, and never more so than at this moment, dressed up in priestly finery but with the folds of his trabea tucked and draped haphazardly, like a child in grown-up costume. Twenty-four was very young for a man to be inducted into the college of augurs. The elder Pinarius had been in his forties before the honour came to him. With his black hair mussed from sleeping, his broad smile, and his smoothly handsome features, young Lucius hardly fitted the standard image of the wrinkled, grey-haired augur. Still, the young man came from a long line of augurs, and he had shown great aptitude in his studies.

“You look very fine, my son. Now, go change into a nice tunic. We shall have a bite to eat, then be off to the baths for a wash and a shave, then hurry back home to get ready for the ceremony. Hopefully, the storm will hold off and we won’t be drenched with rain.”

Having a slave arrange the trabea certainly made a difference, Lucius had to admit, as he studied himself in the copper mirror later that day. The sight of himself freshly groomed and properly outfitted in his trabea filled him with confidence. Of course, he was not an augur quite yet. Preceding the induction ceremony there would be a final examination in which Lucius would be called upon to demonstrate his skills. Lucius frowned. He was a little nervous about the examination.

This time, when he descended from his room, his mother almost swooned at the sight of him. His father, now dressed in his own trabea and carrying his own lituus, gave him a warm smile of approval.

“Shall we be off, father?”

“Not quite yet. You have a visitor.”

Across the garden, a young man and a girl were seated on a bench beneath the peristyle.

“Acilia!” Lucius began to run to her, then slowed his pace. A trabea was not made for running, and it would not do to catch the soft wool on a thorn as he passed the rose bushes.

Acilia’s older brother rose to his feet, nodded curtly, and discreetly withdrew. Looking over his shoulder, Lucius saw that his parents had also disappeared, to allow him a moment of privacy with his betrothed.

Lucius took her hands in his. “Acilia, you look beautiful today.” It was true. Her honey-coloured hair was worn long and straight, as befitted an unmarried girl. Her eyes were bright blue. Her cheeks were as smooth as rose petals. Her petite body was largely hidden by her modest, long-sleeved tunica, but during the year that they had been betrothed she had definitely begun to acquire the contours of a woman’s body. She was ten years younger than Lucius.

“Look at you, Lucius – so handsome in your trabea!”

“That’s what my mother said.” As they strolled across the garden, he suddenly felt self-conscious about their surroundings. Lucius was acutely aware that the house of Acilia’s father was far grander than that of the Pinarii, more lavishly furnished, tended by more household slaves, and located on the more fashionable side of the Aventine Hill, near the Temple of Diana. The Acilii were plebeians, descended from a family far less ancient than the patrician Pinarii, but the Acilii had a great deal of money, while the fortunes of the Pinarii had dwindled in recent years. Lucius’s late grandfather had owned a fine mansion on the Palatine, but his debts had forced the family to move to their current accommodations. To be sure, the vestibule of their house contained the wax masks of many venerable ancestors, but that was not the sort of thing to impress a girl. Had Acilia noticed how overgrown and untended the garden was? Lucius remembered the perfectly trimmed hedges and topiaries, the marble walkways and expensive pieces of bronze statuary in the garden at Acilia’s house. The roof of the peristyle behind Acilia was missing more than a few tiles, and the wall was unsightly with peeling plaster and water stains. The slave who was supposed to tend the garden was already overworked with other duties, and there was no money to repair the roof or the wall.

Lack of money: that was the reason they were not yet married. Acilia’s father, after the initial excitement of betrothing his daughter to the patrician son of a senator and a cousin of the emperor, had since found one excuse after another to postpone setting a date for the ceremony. Obviously, having discovered more about the Pinarii’s finances, Titus Acilius had grown dubious about Lucius’s prospects in the world. From the moment Lucius first saw her, at a meeting arranged by their fathers, Lucius had liked Acilia; since then he had fallen hopelessly in love with her, and she seemed to feel the same. But that counted for nothing unless her father could be swayed to approve the union.

Acilia said nothing about the state of the garden or the unsightly wall. She gazed admiringly at the lituus he carried.

“Such ornate carvings! What is it made of?”


“From the tusk of an elephant?”

“So they say.”

“It’s very beautiful.”

“It’s been in the family a long time. You can tell the ivory is very old, because of the colour. Many generations of Pinarii have been augurs, taking auspices at state ceremonies, on battlefields, at temple dedications. And at private events, as well, like… weddings.”

Acilia seemed duly impressed. “And only men from the ancient patrician families can become augurs?”

“That’s right.” And I can give you a patrician son, he thought. Yet even as he basked in her admiration, he heard a scurrying noise and looked up to see a rat running along the roof of the peristyle behind her. With a flick of its long tail, the rat dislodged a loose tile. Hearing Lucius gasp, Acilia look around just in time to see the tile fall and shatter on a paving stone. She jumped and uttered a little cry. Had she seen the rat?

To distract her, he seized her shoulder, spun her around to face him, and kissed her. It was only a quick kiss, but still she looked astonished.

“Lucius, what if my brother should see?”

“See what? This?”

He kissed her again, not as quickly.

She drew back, blushing but looking pleased. Directly in front of her was the amulet on the necklace that Lucius was wearing. It had slipped from inside his trabea and lay nestled amid the saffron-and-purple folds.

“Is that part of your augur’s outfit?” she said.

“No. It’s a family heirloom. My grandfather gave it to me when I ten years old. I wear it only on special occasions.”

“May I touch it?”

“Of course.”

She reached up to touch the little lump of gold, which was vaguely cruciform in shape.

“I remember the day my grandfather gave it to me. He showed me the proper way to wear a toga, and then took me all around the city, just the two of us. He showed me the exact spot where his great-uncle, Julius Caesar, was murdered. He showed me the Great Altar of Hercules, the most ancient shrine in the city, which was erected by the Pinarius family in the days before Roma even existed. He showed me the fig tree on the Palatine where Romulus and Remus and their friend Pinarius climbed among the branches. And finally he showed me the Temple of Venus that Caesar built, and that was the first time I saw the fantastic golden statue of Cleopatra inside. My grandfather knew Cleopatra very well, and he knew Marcus Antonius, too. Someday… someday I want to have a son, and take him to see all those things, and tell him about his ancestors.”

Acilia still held the amulet. As he spoke, she had drawn closer to him, until her body pressed gently against his. She gazed at the amulet, then looked up into his eyes.

“But what sort of amulet is this? I can’t make out the shape.”

Lucius shook his head. “It’s funny, my grandfather made such a fuss about giving it to me, but even he wasn’t sure what it’s supposed to represent or where it came from. He only knew that it had been in the family for many generations. The original shape must have worn away over so many lifetimes.”

“There’s nothing like that in our family,” said Acilia, clearly impressed. She was so close that Lucius felt an urge to put his arms around her and hold her tightly against him, no matter that her brother might appear at any moment. But the sky above them suddenly opened and pelted the garden with rain. The raindrops were warm, and Lucius would have been happy to stand there, holding her, both of them getting soaking wet, but Acilia dropped the amulet, seized his hand, and with a shriek of laughter pulled him through the peristyle and into the house.

They found Lucius’s father and Acilia’s brother sitting next to each other in a pair of matching ebony chairs with inlays of lapis and abalone. It was no accident that his father had guided their guest to the best two pieces of

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