between them. They would not meet again.

In the enormous public spaces, no one seemed aware anything had happened. He walked, with his hand casually on his sword pommel, back through the palace, past the oblivious Guards on duty, out into the shock of brilliant September sunshine.

With a steady pace, Gaius Vinius — never again to be Clodianus — retraced his route down from the Palatine, back across the Forum and along the Vicus Longus. The same dogs were asleep in almost unchanged positions and the same baby was fretfully crying. This time he had the sun behind him. He could feel it, warm and cheering on his back, as he returned to the Sixth Region where for years he and the woman of his heart had rented an apartment, the apartment they were now leaving.

He reached Plum Street, found his waiting girl, picked up her hand luggage, shouldered his own, whistled the dog, and walked them briskly to the station house of the First Cohort of vigiles. Scorpus had kept the cart safe for him: a builder’s cart bought from his brother and already laden, an unassuming dray with a comfortable ox, nothing to make anyone look twice. Builders’ carts had a special licence to be on the streets during the normal ban on wheeled vehicles. Leaving now, they would avoid the incoming surge of evening traffic.



Gaius was withdrawn now, in shock. Lucilla accepted his silence. He would talk in due course; he would tell her everything. She draped a cloak around him, taking the reins herself. She pointed out how this was hardly an unusual sight on the Empire’s roads — a lazy scoundrel husband simply staring at the scenery, while his poor pregnant wife did all the hard work… Somewhere deep, a response glimmered; Gaius dropped one hand onto her lap. Just drive, darling.

They would turn out onto the high road, close to the Saepta Julia, as if they were heading past the Horologium and Mausoleum of Augustus, en route for northern Italy. Instead, they would turn off left, drive across the Field of Mars and reach the Tiber. Crossing Nero’s Bridge, they would change direction one more time, to follow the river down to the coast at Ostia, where their ship was waiting.

Behind them in countless local neighbourhoods, citizens were still enjoying lunch and their rest period, unmoved by events on the Palatine. There at the heart of the city, important men had frantic work to do, but nothing of this would become public until tomorrow. Today, Rome, the eternal, the Golden City, lay bathed in sunlight peacefully. There were no alarms. It was a quiet afternoon on the Via Flaminia.

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