We came out among new warehouses with narrow fronts at the river's edge, running back from their tight- packed unloading berths in long secure storage tunnels. The river embankment was fringed with these, as if it had been planned. A great wooden platform, of recent construction, provided a landing stage and a bulwark against the spreading tide.

I stared at the river gloomily. The Thamesis was much wider than the Tiber at home, its high-tide width more than a thousand strides, though at low water it shrank to a third of that. Opposite our wharf were reeded islands, which would become almost submerged at high tide, when for miles all up the estuary the Thamesis marshes would flood. Roads from the southern ports arrived over there on the south bank, conjoining at a spot where ferries had always crossed the river. There was a wooden bridge coming across from the main island, at a slightly odd angle.

Standing beside me, the procurator clearly shared my melancholy mood. Death and misty gray riverbanks produce the same effect. We were men of the world, yet our hearts ached.

Oppressed by our surroundings, I felt unready yet to address the Verovolcus death. 'You mended the bridge, I see.'

'Yes. Boudicca used it to get at the settlement on the south bank- then her troops made a good attempt to put it out of action.' Hilaris sounded dry. 'If this one seems rather strangely aligned, that's because it isn't permanent.' Clearly the bridge issue amused him. 'Falco, I remember the post-Invasion bridge, which was intended to be for purely military purposes. It was just decking on pontoons. Later the supports were made permanent-but it was still wood, and we pulled it down. It was decided a decent stone bridge would signify permanence in the province, so this one was built.'

I joined in the satire. 'You said this isn't permanent either?'

'No. The permanent bridge will come straight across to link up with the forum; people arriving will have a splendid view, directly across from the river and up the hill.'

'So when is the permanent bridge planned for?' I asked, smiling.

'About ten years' time, I'd say,' he told me gloomily. 'Meanwhile we have this one, which you could call the permanent temporary bridge- or the temporary permanent bridge.'

'It's offset so while you build the final version alongside, you can maintain a crossing point?'

'Correct! If you want to cross now, my advice is, use the ferry.'

I quirked up an eyebrow. 'Why?'

'The bridge is temporary; we don't maintain it.'

I laughed.

Hilaris then fell into a reflective mood. He enjoyed giving history lessons. 'I remember when there was nothing here. Just a few round huts, most of them across the water. Orchards and coppices this side. By Jove it felt desolate! A civilian settlement struggled into existence after Rome invaded. But we were then away out at Camulodunum, the Britons' own chief center. It was bloody inconvenient, I can tell you. Our presence caused bad feeling too; in the Rebellion that was the first place lost.'

'Londinium had enough by Nero's day to attract Boudicca's energy,' I reminisced bitterly. 'I saw it… Well, I saw what was left afterwards.'

Hilaris paused. He had forgotten that I was here in the Icenian Rebellion-a youngster, marked for life by that grim experience. Evidence of the firestorm remained to this day. Memories of corpses and severed heads churning in the local waterways would never die. The whole atmosphere of this place still upset me. I would be glad when I could leave.

Hilaris had been in Britain then too. I had been a ranker, and in a disgraced legion; he a junior official among the governor's elite staff. Our paths would not have crossed.

After a moment he went on: 'You're right; the bridge will change things. The river used to form a natural boundary. The Atrebates and Cantii roamed to the south, the Trinovantes and Catuvellauni to the north. The floodplain was no-man's-land.'

'We Romans were the first to deploy the corridor, making the river a highway?'

'Before we put in decent roads it was the best way to move around supplies, Marcus. The estuary is navigable way up to here-and in the early days ships were more secure than trundling goods across country. They can float up on one tide, then back on the next. After the Rebellion we made this the provincial capital and now it's a major import base.'

'New city, new formal administrative center-'

'And new problems!' said Hilaris with unexpected feeling.

What problems? Did he already know what we were dealing with? It seemed a cue to discuss the Briton's death.

'Verovolcus,' I admitted, 'might have been in that district close to the river because he was trying to arrange transport to Gaul.'

I made no overt link to the problems. Whatever that was about could wait.

Hilaris turned his neat head and considered me. 'You knew Verovolcus' movements? Why was he going to Gaul?'

'Exile. He was in disgrace.'

'Exile!' Some people would at once have asked me why. Ever the pedantic administrator, Hilaris demanded, 'Have you told the governor that?'

'Not yet.' I had no option now. 'Oh, I like Frontinus. I've worked with him before, Gaius, and on confidential matters too. But you're the old lag in this province. I was more likely to tell you.' I smiled, and the procurator acknowledged the compliment. 'It's a stupid story. Verovolcus

killed an official. His motives were misguided, he expected royal protection-but he had misjudged Togidubnus.'

'You exposed him.' A statement, not a question. Hilaris knew how I worked. 'And you did tell the King!'

'I had to.' That had been far from easy. Verovolcus had been the King's close confidant. 'It was tense. The King is virtually independent, and we were in his tribal center. Imposing a Roman solution was not easy. Fortunately Togi wants amicable relations, so in the end he agreed that this man had to disappear. Murder's a capital crime, but that seemed the best I could ask for. From our angle, I felt I could sanction exile rather than a public trial and an execution. Sending Verovolcus to Gaul was my bargain for us all keeping the affair quiet.'

'Neat,' Hilaris agreed, ever pragmatic. Britain was a sensitive province since the Rebellion. Tribal feeling might not tolerate a respected king's henchman being punished for murdering a Roman official. Verovolcus did it (I was confident of that) but the governor would have hated having to dole out a death sentence to the King's right-hand man, and if Frontinus was publicly lenient he would look weak, both here and back in Rome.

'Verovolcus agreed on Gaul?'

'He wasn't keen.'

'Londinium was not allowed as an alternative?'

'Nowhere in Britain. I would have made Londinium formally off-limits if I had ever thought Verovolcus would turn up here.'

'And the King?'

'He knew Gaul was better than the standard desert island.'

'But with Verovolcus killed in a Londinium bar instead, the King may well turn rough,' Hilaris observed glumly. 'Bound to,' I said.

He cleared his throat, as if diffident. 'Will he suspect that you arranged his death?' I shrugged.

No stranger to the ways of undercover agents, Flavius Hilaris turned to stare at me. He was blunt: 'Did you?'


He did not ask whether I would have done so, if I had thought of it. I chewed a fingernail, wondering that myself.

'You said Verovolcus killed someone,' suggested Hilaris. 'Could his drowning be some form of retribution, Marcus?'

'Unlikely.' I was fairly sure. 'There is nobody with an interest. He killed the architect, the project manager for the King's new palace.'

Добавить отзыв


Вы можете отметить интересные вам фрагменты текста, которые будут доступны по уникальной ссылке в адресной строке браузера.

Отметить Добавить цитату