There was one sad task remaining: Helena, Petronius, and I attended the funeral of Chloris. Maia, still shaky after her bout with Norbanus, refused to come with us. She had harsh words for all female fighters and worse for my old girlfriend. She even blamed Helena for attending.

'This is noble, Helena-but nobility stinks!'

'She died at my feet,' Helena Justina reproved her quietly.

Gladiators are outcasts from society. Their infamy means their graves lie not just beyond the town, as happens with all adult interments, but outside the public cemetery too. Established and wealthy groups of fighters may buy their own tombs, but Londinium so far possessed no townships of elaborate mausoleums for the dead. So her friends chose to bury Chloris in open ground, with an antique and peculiarly northern ritual.

It was a familiar walk to the site. We went westward along the De-cumanus Maximus, crossing the central stream and then out past the arena and the bathhouse. Londinium had no walls and no formally plowed pomerium to mark its boundary, but we knew we were at the town limits. Beyond the military area, we reached a cemetery, one that contained some grand memorials. We walked through it, noticing a massive inscription, set up by his wife, to Julius Classicianus, the previous procurator of finance, from whom Hilaris had taken over after he died in service. Up and over the hill, we came to sloping ground that looked out across another tributary of the Thamesis. There, separate from the official tombs and monuments and facing the empty countryside, the funeral party met.

Chloris was the founder and leader of her group, cut down in unfair combat. It called for particular honor. Her body was brought at daybreak, the bier carried slowly by women. Her companions formed a somber ceremonial escort. Other mourners, mainly women also, had come from all parts of town. They included a priestess of Isis, to whose cult many gladiators are attached. There was a temple of the Egyptian goddess on the south bank of the river in Londinium, incongruously. I knew Chloris had barely honored her own Tripolitanian gods, but some of her companions found the attendance of the priestess appropriate. Anubis, the dog-headed Egyptian guide to the Underworld, equates to Rhadamanthus or Mercury, those messengers of the gods who officiate over deaths in the arena. So it was in a heavy fug of pine incense, and accompanied by the rattle of a sistrum, that the bier reached the burial site.

Outside the perimeter of the cemetery we found a carefully dug, straight-sided grave pit. Above this had been constructed an elaborate pyre of crossed logs, built up in rectangles. The timbers were meticulously laid. They would burn hot and they would burn long.

Deep in the pit were placed new lamps and incense burners, symbols of light and ritual. There were a few personal treasures and gifts from her friends too. Someone had washed Helena's blue stole and Chloris lay upon it. If Helena noticed, she gave no sign of approval or otherwise.

Chloris looked older than I wanted to remember her. A fit woman in the prime of life who had chosen a harsh but spectacular career. However desperate it seemed, she might have hoped to win her fights and be acclaimed, with wealth and fame. Instead, she had been cut down for her independent spirit. Today she had been carefully robed, her ghastly wounds concealed. She wore a long dark gown, crossed on the breast with a costly gold body chain, bejeweled at its center. Even in death, she looked expensive, honed, sexually dangerous, troubling. I had not wished her dead, yet I was half relieved to be leaving her here.

'Who bought her the jewel?' I wondered.

'Nobody.' Helena glanced at me. 'She will have bought it for herself. Don't you see, Marcus-that was the point for her?'

As the flames were lit, her colleagues stood around her, beautiful and disciplined. Some wept, but most were still and grim. They knew they all faced death in the life they had chosen. Yet this death had been untimely; it demanded a special requiem. Heraclea, statuesque and blonde, took the torch first and fired a corner of the pyre. The sweet, aromatic scent of pine cones intensified. A thin trail of smoke curled upward, then the flames began to take. She handed on the torch. One by one the women touched the logs, circling the pyre. A low moan filled the air. Brief farewells were spoken. Even Helena moved away from Petronius and me and took her turn with the brand. He and I did not. It would have been unwelcome. We just stood with the smoke gusting around us, winding its way into our lungs, our hair, and our clothes.

The flames would burn all day and night. Slowly the layers of logs would fragment and sink into one another. At the end, the charred remains would fall into the pit, flesh melted, bones burned to fragility yet virtually intact. No one would collect the ashes and bones. This would be her perpetual resting place.

Eventually I went forward alone to say my farewells. After a while, the woman called Heraclea attended me like a hostess. 'Thank you for coming, Falco.'

I did not want to talk but politeness forced it. 'This is a sad day. What will happen to your group now?'

Lowering her voice, Heraclea nodded to the priestess of Isis. 'See her with the priestess?' There was a richly clad young matron alongside, one of those holy hangers-on whom temples attract, all dangling silver jewelry. 'New patron. There were always several on the sidelines, widows or wealthy wives of merchants. They want the thrill of the blood, but if they sponsor us they can avoid being thought to lust after men. Amazonia said-'

I guessed. 'Accepting their support would be no different from taking on Florius.'

'You knew her well.'

'Yes, I knew her.' I stared at the pyre. 'I knew her, but it was a long time ago.'

Heraclea was also subdued. 'Amazonia was right. I'm giving up on Britain. I'm going home.'

'Where's that?'


'Well, that's the right place!' Halicarnassus is the spiritual homeland of the Amazons in myth. I glanced behind. Helena was talking to Petronius. From the stark expression on his face, this funeral was affecting him. He was thinking too much about that other in Ostia, when his two daughters were sent to the gods in his absence. Helena would comfort him. It would take her concentration off me for a moment. I took a chance. 'Heraclea, did Chloris say anything about me?'

The tall blonde turned and gazed at me for a moment. I don't know what I was hoping to hear, but she could not or would not supply it. 'No, Falco. No. She never said anything.'

So that was it. I left her amid the sweet scent of burning pine cones and the avid flames.

Sometimes in the ensuing years I would remember her, trying not to dwell too much on the times we had spent together. I could cope with the memory.

'You were always trouble.'

'And you were always-'


'I'll tell you next time we're alone…'

I returned to Petronius and Helena. They seemed to be waiting, as if they thought I had had something to finish.

We would not stay to the end, but for some time longer stood watching the flames in silence. The evil that had caused the death we mourned had been averted, at least temporarily. Londinium would fall prey to worse gangsters eventually, and for Petronius the task of hunting Florius remained. This woman who had died and her friends, whose grieving faces were lit by the fire, were outcasts-just like the criminals; they, however, stood for skill, talent, comradeship, and good faith. They represented the best of those who came here to the end of the world in hope. Chloris had been destroyed, yet it was on her own ground, using her skills, defiant, admired, and, I thought, holding no regrets.

Who could say that was uncivilized? It depends what you mean by civilization, as the procurator said.

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