All Together Now . . .

D. Caecilius Metellus and his people are creations of John Maddox Roberts.

Xena ^tm and the lot are created by Schulian & Tapert.

Caesar and others are historical but some of their interpretations are created by Todd London, John Milius, et alia.

If you steal from one guy, it's theft; if you steal from two or more, it's research.

Now on with the show . . .

I had foolishly gone to Alexandria with Caesar, having left there a few years ago under quite a cloud. Had it not been for a large army accompanying me, I would never have gone. There was also the matter of Queen Cleopatra, another old acquaintance I would rather not have encountered again.

But this tale is not about her, but about another old acquaintance of Caesar’s.

It was a commonplace hot Alexandrian evening. There was no more than the usual unrest in the city, which contains a hot and bothered mass of Greeks, Egyptians, Jews, and every other people in the world. There were rumors of unrest in the Delta, and not just connected with that bothersome sycophant of Cicero’s.

In fact, it was Hermes who was responsible for acquainting me with the greatest of the rumors. It was late at night, and unable to sleep in the heat, I was composing a letter to Julia. I was no longer the sort to visit the Daphne, or any of the other disreputable and pleasant places of the city, but Hermes could take up the task on my behalf.

There was a clatter at the door. I heard Hermes arguing with the guards outside the dilapidated building that served as the praetorium, where I had to dance attendance on Caesar daily, while he dallied with Cleopatra. She’d give me those knowing looks, she knew me too well from Cyprus.

In any case, my attendant had a pass to get past the guards, so it worried me what the confusion was. Then he burst in the door, dragging another man with him. This was a rather sorry sort of a man, with a pathetic, defeated look on his face, and some memory struggled to dig its way to the surface.

Hermes was quite cheery. “Now, Joxer,” he said, “just you tell the propraetor what you told me about where you left Xena.”

Until that time in Gaul, like most everyone else in Rome, I had considered those stories of the Greek woman no more that the sort of tale that one told after they had opened the third amphora at the party. Then there had been that encounter in the Gallic village in Armorica. The woman had fought like Bellona.

When I had told him that, all Caesar had said was, “Now you will believe me.” The story still did not make much sense. After some thought I decided that for some reason, someone had decided to harass Caesar by having an incident from his early days follow him. I still didn’t believe him, even then. This must have been one of those Gallic fighting women who happened to look like the description, who even spoke a little Greek, who had met someone who was a friend of Pompey, or Clodius. Or so I convinced myself.

Coming back from Crete, though, I had encountered one of his men from the attack on the pirates. While we were buying each other drinks and congratulating each other, he mentioned the woman, and how her body had disappeared from the cross. Then I began to wonder.

“Leave him, Hermes,” I said, getting up and walking over to where they were. The man looked rather miserable, actually, and I wondered what all he had to do with Xena. “Where did you find him?” I asked Hermes.

“In a taverna!” he said. It looked like a good story and Hermes was going to exploit it. “He was standing everyone drinks and boasting about how he was such a great thief, and when he said he was going to meet Xena, I offered to buy him a few. When we went out back to the latrine I cold-cocked him and brought him here.”

“Not bad,” I said, then looked down at his prisoner. “I am the propraetor Decius Caecilius Metellus of Rome, on the staff of my wife’s uncle the consul Gaius Julius Caesar. My assistant here says you know the whereabouts of one of Caesar’s enemies.”

“Caesar,” the man groaned. He looked despairing.

For a moment I thought of summoning the quaestionarius, but this man was so pathetic I thought he might die under the questioning. Then I realized he was drunk. Then, so was Hermes. “Put him in the cells, and you, Hermes, will have to have some cabbage in the morning. Cicero recommends cabbage.”

“For what?”

When I was young I could get that serenely drunk, too. I called the guards, they packed Joxer off to the cells, and I finally went to bed.

. . . [To Be Continued]
In the morning Hermes was moaning between bites of something that looked vaguely green. “By the Dog, why didn’t you tell me?” he said, or tried to say.

I tried not to say anything myself. We were waiting for them to bring in the prisoner, and sure enough, he slouched in, looking sly and tricky and much put-upon. He stood in front of me, slumped and hang-dog as only a night in a disreputable Alexandrian taverna, followed by an even more disreputable Alexandrian lockup, will do to one. I repeated my self-introduction of the night before and then got down to questions.

Before the sun was much higher I was ushered into Caesar’s presence. He was looking remarkably calm and everyone knew why. It embittered Julia that she had miscarried, her cousin Atia had a sickly boy and a depressed girl, and then Caesar’s own daughter had died, all those years ago. So the claim of the Egyptian Queen was profoundly reassuring to him. Knowing her as I did, I wouldn’t have been surprised if she had had someone else along the way.

“I have a report on that Gallogrecian matter you mentioned earlier,” I said to him.

He was sitting at a table with maps of Syria spread across it. Domitius Calvinus was in trouble there and before long Caesar would head off to deal out what would become one of his more stunning victories and witticisms. But mine seemed to misfire. “Gallogrecia? Galatia?” he said, unsure of the relevance in either Latin or Greek.

“The woman who was with the pirates.” I hadn’t been the only one to ridicule the story and I was certain Caesar did not want it bruited around.

He got the point. “The rest of you, about your duties.”

We were left with his secretary, Posca. Caesar fixed me with a piercing gaze and said, “Xena.”

There was an uneasy silence and then he said, “I sometimes wonder if she is a proof that the Gods exist. That young man so many years ago, with my name and face . . . and here she is, still.”

Then he turned away from his dreaming. “There is no time for that, Pharnaces of Pontus is on the move. Calvinus has already been defeated and my presence there is desirable. Do you have the location for this meeting?”

When I told him — it was some Egyptian town with a multi-syllable name, that no one there used, and the Greek name of Ptolemais-by-Hathor, he said, “Very good.” Then he raised his voice and said, “Send a man to bring in Lucius Vorenus.”

I had encountered Vorenus, who was then only primus pilus, or really had just retired, of the Thirteenth Legion, when Caesar returned to Rome. He had posted Caesar’s proclamation of amnesty in the Forum, and I had had to hunt him down afterwards to confirm his demobilization. Then, he had been attending on Marcus Antonius that one time we had gone wrestling. When we had made that desperate winter crossing of the Adriatic he had been lost when the Phoxina had gone down, but had turned up again after Pharsalus. And now that Antonius had gone back to Rome . . .

Father would have characterized him as the sort of man who had built Rome, albeit suspicious of him for being part-Gaul. (He had snubbed Aemilius Scaurus for that reason.) Now, it appeared, he was Caesar’s man of all duties, the way that that Gordianus was the worker for Cicero.

Vorenus reported in quickly enough, he entered, saluted, and stood at parade rest, the very image of a proper Roman soldier. My father would definitely have approved of him. Caesar said, “Lucius Vorenus, I have prepared a message for you to deliver; it offers safe-conduct to the bearer for her to come to Alexandria. You have heard the stories of the warrior-woman Xena?”

“I have,” Vorenus said. There was something reserved and Caesar noticed it also, he gestured. Vorenus looked unsure, which surprised me, and then he said, “It was in Britain. We had been on that scout, looking for the lost pay-chest. A fight broke out in the village where we were laying up with two injured men, and I saw a woman such as you describe fighting. She had a long sword and seemed to use it very well. My first responsibility was to my men, so I remained in our billet.”

Caesar exhaled, significantly. Then he said, “So you too believe. So be it. The Queen has begged if not a pardon, a truce, and with the campaign in train it would be desirable to leave peace behind the army. Tribune Vorenus, you will find the woman Xena, give her this safe conduct —” he picked up a roll of parchment from the desk and held it out to Vorenus; I could see the seal on it, “and bring her here to me alive and unharmed so that I can hear her reply in person.”

Vorenus saluted and took the message. “Sir,” he said.

“Caecilius Metellus will issue you the passes and money you will need. Decius, take the tribune in hand and see that he gets what he requires.”

And with that Caesar lowered his gaze to the map, thinking about the great battle to come with the Pontic king. Or so it appeared.

Vorenus followed me out and on the way we picked up his man, the soldier Pullo, who had been sitting outside waiting. As we went along I heard his incredulous comments. We paused outside the garrison storeroom and I had a thought. “Vorenus, would it be any help if you spoke to the man Joxer?”

“Joxer?” Pullo said.

I looked at them. “Does the name mean something to you, soldier?”

Pullo harrumphed and then said, “Went drinkin’ the other day with your man, the one with the fancy name. This chap comes in, starts buyin’ rounds for the house. All t’lads know he’s Xena’s hanger-on. Then he went out to take a piss and your man went after him, didn’t either of them come back.”

If he were going around like that, I wondered what else he had spilled. I said, “You had better speak to him. I’ll hold him in the cells until after you’ve returned.”

If Vorenus was the example of Rome as it had been, Pullo was what it has become; a landless man, such as Marius had recruited into the legions, with no allegiance but his general and no skill but his sword. He was all the same a first-rate fighting man and I would have wanted to have him at my back in some of the places I have been. So did Vorenus.

They had their kit, and I paid Vorenus some two or three hundred drachmas, found them a boat with an Egyptian pilot, and packed them off, before sitting down to watch Caesar dance attendance on the Queen of Egypt and otherwise make a fool of himself — or perhaps not, given who he was making a fool of himself over.

What came to pass next I had to hear from Vorenus, with some additions from Titus Pullo.

[. . . To Be Continued]
“Rum little place, full of Gyppos and greasy Greeks.”

Pullo was surveying the river landing with a somewhat jaundiced eye. The Egyptians, and the few Greeks, doing their daily business there, ignored him. Overlords come and overlords go but the fellahin remains the same. We think of Egypt as this land of ancient sages, but we forget that a nation can afford only a few sages, and has to have many workers to sustain them.

Vorenus half drew his gladius, looked for rust, then shot it back into the scabbard. “That man wasn’t much help.” He picked up his pack and looked around. “Come along, we must find a place to stay before making inquiries. And we have to find someone who speaks Greek.”

They got about two steps before being encircled by small brown figures. “You give me money? You give me money?” “You see antiquities, ancient magic of Pharaohs?” “You want buy lamp? My father he finds nice lamps, very old!?” “You want drug of Pharaohs? Give you stand like obelisk!” “You want sleep with my sister, she very clean! Fourth best prostitute in all of Egypt! Niiiice!” “You give me much much money, yes!?”

“Looks like they all do,” Pullo said.

Vorenus scowled as he led the way down the street.

There was a taverna that had sleeping rooms, and after some argument Vorenus got them one, with room enough for Pullo to sleep on the floor. The man was perfectly capable of taking a woman then and there, never mind the audience, but Vorenus also had the money. However, the man in the next room didn’t have that control, and they heard his moans and her sounds for half the night.

In the mornng they set out to look for their quarry. They could have covered more territory by splitting up, but there were good reasons for them to stay together. The town gradually grew more somolent in the heat as the sun rose in the sky. It was almost at its highest when . .

There was an ululating sound that filled the air, and without thinking Lucius Vorenus drew his gladius, and blocked a long blade with it. He backstepped under the woman’s fierce swings, parrying her cuts with his sword, looking for anything — there! He picked up a chair in his free hand and used it as an improvised shield.

Splinters and chunks of wood flew as he went to the advance, thrusting and jabbing, trying to drive his opponent back as she swung fiercely at him. As if disconnected, some part of his mind evaluated his foe, the long dark unbound hair, the savage expression, the dark leathern armor . . . the incredible strength and stamina. So this was Xena, the legendary opponent of Caesar. There couldn’t be two women like that.

Had any been there to judge it, their fight could well have been heralded as the combat of the era; two different styles at work, neither combatant able to get to the other very well, as she hacked and swung at head or foot, as he jabbed and ducked at belly and breast. At least she couldn’t jump over him, or he could get her on the way over. If only anyone could see . . .


Pullo had found a woman.

She struggled in his grip, but he had his sword-point at her throat. She was tall but slighter than Xena, and had long golden hair. Pullo might have appreciated this.

Xena stepped back and stood, sword at ready, as Vorenus fell into a defensive stance. Then Pullo’s captive shouted, “NO! Don’t . . “

”I can’t,” Xena said.

They were all breathing very heavily. After a moment, Vorenus said, “A truce. I offer a truce. Let us all put away our arms.”

There was silence for a moment. Then, with an abrupt motion, Xena resheathed her long sword. Vorenus dropped the ruins of the chair, thrust his gladius into its scabbard, and said, “Pullo, let her go.”

Everyone else had abandoned the street, even the ubiquitous beggar-boys. It was hot and dusty, and the combatants were all damp with sweat. They were breathing hard. Titus Pullo released the woman he held, and she scampered away from him to Xena.

Xena said, “Roman, what is this?”

“Caesar offers a truce, Caesar and the Queen of Egypt.” Vorenus reached into his pouch and held up the scroll Caesar had given him. “Here are the seals of Caesar and of Queen Cleopatra.”

At that last name Xena relaxed slightly, but kept her hands clear. She flicked a glance in Pullo’s direction, then said to her companion, “Gabrielle, get that scroll.”

The other woman scampered over to Vorenus, who held out the roll of papyrus, took it from his hands with a nervous smile, then ran back to Xena. She broke open the seals and read, glancing quickly from the writing to the two men, then back to the message.

Then she sighed. “The Queen offers me protection, and Caesar has sworn not to harm me.” She looked from the woman Gabrielle to Vorenus, then back at her friend, and said, “I won’t let you be a hostage. Again. You stay here.”

Vorenus said, “Unarmed. You will come with us unarmed. I have my orders not to harm you or let you be harmed, you will not need your weapons.”

Xena looked at him and scowled. Then she slowly reached up and unbuckled her long sword, handing it to Gabrielle. “Keep this safe for me,” she said.

“The round throwin’ thing, too,” Pullo said.

Now Xena scowled at him, but handed over her other weapons. Then she dusted off her hands, looked at the two men, and said, “So we must go. Now?”

“Pullo, get our gear, and meet us at the dock. If you will follow?” Vorenus waited until Xena had said something quiet to her companion, then turned and set out, certain that he would be followed.

It took a while to find the boatman, who had retired to a place of his own, where there was an adequate source of palm wine. Vorenus said that the most unpleasant part was hearing Xena’s snickers as he tried to persuade the man, whose Greek had been washed away in the flow of wine. Pullo arrived in the middle of it, having put all their gear on the boat, “includin’ the stuff the little girlie gave me.”

The boatman finally responded, or sent his son anyhow, and the unwilling passenger and her escort set off down the river.

It was about evening of the first day when Xena deigned to speak to either of them, and it was to Pullo, not Vorenus. She had spent the entire trip that far in the bow of the boat, staring towards their destination as if a cross awaited her. As the boatman went past her to drop the anchor for the night, she turned, admitting she was not alone, and saw Pullo sitting in the midsection.

“How did you defeat Gabrielle so quickly, and yet not harm her?” she said then.

Pullo awoke, rubbed his face, and said, “What’d you say?” She repeated her statement and he said, “Oh. Cut her staff in the middle, grabbed her arm with my free hand before she could get at me with the pieces, and got her arm up behind her.”

Then he looked around, “That was one damn good fight you two were havin’. Ain’t ever seen better, at the Games even.”

She scowled at him. Vorenus ended the conversation — he had been glaring at them since Xena had spoken — by saying, “Pullo, help me rig the nets.”

Putting up the nets to keep the mosquitos off ended the conversation. The boatman, or boat boy, went off in a corner to eat, and while Xena didn’t speak to the two of them, she did sit near them to eat.

. . . [To Be Continued]
They reached Alexandria on the next day. The procession to the royal palace was quite the cynosure. Hermes had seen it coming, and run to get me. We arrived shortly before they did. Caesar was inundated with maps and messengers, neither very good. “One legion . . .” he was saying as we entered. He was bent over a table covered with papyruses and was holding one,

Posca, his secretary, hovered over his shoulder as usual, and chimed in, “There are the survivors of Calvinus’s army, some two legions, and King Deiotarus has offered troops.”

“And much needs to be done in Syria . . . Decius! What news!” He looked up at us as we entered.

“She is here,” I said.

Caesar made a motion. “Have the Sixth Legion prepared to march. Send messengers to Calvinus and to Deiotarius. Now leave me. Not you, Decius. Have her come in.”

Caesar seemed to be at odds, but I told Hermes, “Bring them in.”

He sat down, pushed some of the papers aside, and composed himself. I heard the door open, and Xena strode in, with Vorenus behind, and Hermes trying to catch up. Vorenus saluted, and said, “Tribune Lucius Vorenus, reporting, sir.”

They were ignoring him and glaring at each other. Caesar broke the silence. “The Queen is grateful to you,” he said. “She has not told me the nature of the services, but knowing you, I expect that they were extraordinary, conclusive, and unusual.” He sat back, looking almost amused then.

She wasn’t. “You sent your underling, underlings to drag me here just to tell me that?”

“No.” Caesar said, and then, “Posca, the other paper?”

The secretary raised an eyebrow. “Sir? You are certain?”

“I am always certain.”

Posca dived into a box of documents and after a moment’s scribbling, came out with one, which he handed to Caesar, who hefted it and said, “This is an assurance, shall we say, an assurance that binds me not to take any action against you as long as you are in Egypt, unless you attack me — only me, not anyone like Vorenus there, or my niece’s husband Decius Caecilius Metellus behind you, or even his runner.”

He held up the rolled document. “This has both our seals, mine and Queen Cleopatra’s. I am doing this because firstly, I wish to leave Egypt with no unsolved problems behind me, and secondly, the Queen has asked a boon of me.”

She was silent again. After a moment she said, “Only Egypt?”

Caesar shrugged. “Only Egypt. You understand the Queen herself raised the issue.”

Now Xena smiled. “I see. I’d like to speak to her then. Are the rumors I hear true?”

“In June, or perhaps Quintilis.”

She stalked out then. Caesar looked at her go and only then said, “She haunts me. She has not changed, not since that day, and I . . . Lucius Vorenus. Your observations?”

Vorenus had watched her go without comment. He said, “She is an unusually fierce fighter.”

“What else?”

“Not much else. She did not speak overmuch.”

Caesar got to his feet. “Decius, you see to our guest. I have to prepare to meet with the emissaries of King Antipater. We must march within ten days and every minute counts. You are dismissed.”

Vorenus and I left, with Hermes behind us. As we crossed into the courtyard, Pullo, who had been waiting outside while the superiors talked, saw us. He had been sitting on a bench, no doubt at sixes and sevens. Vorenus pointed to him and said, “You should talk to Titus Pullo. He was the one who got her to open up.”

I spent the afternoon with them getting the events of their expedition. Caesar had come to trust them after their efforts at rescuing the Queen. I did too, for my own reasons.

Vorenus didn’t believe me when I told him about Caesar and the pirates, so long ago, even though like me, he’d seen the woman. By contrast, Pullo seemed quite willing to believe his own eyes, and credit what I’d seen as well.

Then, towards sundown, we were interrupted. “Queen Cleopatra says you are a man worthy of trust. Surprising, for a Roman.”

I whipped around at that and saw Xena standing in the door, looking ready to fight even though disarmed. She went on to say, “She told me about Cyprus. You seem to be quite a character, Decius Caecilius Metellus the Younger.”

“She sneaks up on a fellow,” Pullo said.

I drew myself up. “As it is, you will have to spend the night here in the palace. Vorenus, you will escort the woman Xena back to where you found her in the morning.”

They left in the morning, and shortly thereafter I left in Caesar’s train for Pontus, but that is another story. On the way there I wrote to Julia about this matter, and asked her to enquire among her more philosophical friends about the nature of Xena and other such issues. Then I tried to put the entire affair behind me, as something too strange to be believed.

These were the events of eight days in the year 707 of the City of Rome, in the consulship of Quintus Fufius Calenus and Publius Vatinius.
For three years I had had no time to think of Xena. In that time Caesar made himself master of Rome and the world, fighting wars from Pontus to Hispania. Honorable men died, many by their own hands.

The month of March saw a Rome abuzz with rumor and speculation. All Caesar was divided into three parts, one of which pondered conquering Dacia, another Parthia, and a third courting Cleopatra, who worse yet had turned up in Rome with a small boy.

Which was why I found myself in Caesar’s house that March day. Caesar had made himself master of the calendar, also, which did at least leave Romans with the idea that dates had something to do with the progression of the year. March now was what March had been when my father was a boy.

That had been an example of the problem of politics; the old calendar and the year did not match, so the Senate had been required to insert an extra month to keep the calendar year aligned with the sun. Since that would give some people more time in office, it was a correction that was easy to ignore. As a solution to that Caesar had given us a very long year, one in which he and his obedient follower Lepidius had been consuls.

The calculations needed to create the new calendar had been done by an Egyptian. Which brought me back to the original point.

All which, I thought, had to do with the Queen. And it did, albeit in an unexpected fashion. Caesar gave me a very blunt order. I was summoned to him as he stood in the Senate House, speaking with Cicero, and discussing a mighty plan to rechannel the Tiber River. They would have to clean out the sewers in the process, a task I had my own experiences with. After Cicero was dismissed, Caesar spoke with me very briefly. “Decius, certain . . there are certain prisoners, recently taken, who are under sentence of death. These prisoners are to be brought here to Rome. I leave it up to you where to house them, as long as it is secure.”

I had a number of questions, but had found that they were a burden. He looked at my silence and added, “The Queen pleaded for her life, understand.”

Then I understood. Why he could not bring himself to say her name though was another matter.

. . . [To Be Continued]
Very good. I've just been re-reading my SPQR books and borrowed the local library's single Gordianus book too when I came to the end of them.
I collected Hermes, told Julia I would be off on official business, and left the City before sunset. The information that I had was minimal, only that the prisoners were being held in an obscure fortification high in the Appennius. Caesar had been working on the basis of not officially knowing, so he could deny anything if questioned.

We rode hard for most of the next day and got into the hills by sundown. Hermes was shivering. “I thought this new calendar was supposed to set things straight,” he said as we looked around for a billet for the night. I would have answered him but my teeth were chattering too hard.

We survived the night and reached the fortress before the fourth hour the next morning. There was a small garrison hard at work, erecting among other things two sediles. If Cleopatra was to be gratified, evidently I hadn’t come a moment too soon.

As we dismounted, Hermes said, “How are we going to handle two prisoners? And those prisoners, particularly, if what Lucius Vorenus said was anywhere near true?”

I had no idea myself but certainly did not want to appear indecisive. “Let’s talk to the man in charge first.”

It took a bit of threatening and pulling authority but in the end I got down to see the prisoners. The turnkey led us down into the cellar and opened the cell.

Xena lay there on the floor, her armor gone, looking sprawled and helpless in the flickering torchlight. Another woman, similarly (barely) dressed in her undergarments, with long fair hair, tended her. This must have been the Gabrielle that Vorenus and Pullo had mentioned.

The squeal of the cell door had drawn their attention. I found myself under a burning gaze. Then Xena said, “I see that Caesar is too busy to gloat himself, so he sent his niece’s husband.”

There wasn’t much to say to that, so I looked over my shoulder and said to Hermes, “See what you can do about a litter, or a wagon, and get their clothes and things.” He left, not without a certain gleam in his eye, and I looked back at them. I had some concerns about him. He wasn’t as good with a sword as Titus Pullo.

“Caesar has heeded, again, the wish of Queen Cleopatra,” I said then. “You are to be transported to Rome, not for punishment, but for your safety, to speak with Caesar and with the Queen Cleopatra.”

She stared back at me. “As I dreamed. But I am helpless,” she said.

The other woman looked at me with a pained hope in her eyes. Perhaps Hermes had a chance after all. I wondered what Asclepiodes would have to say about Xena’s injury. He would have to come tend her once we got to Rome.

I said, “Get dressed. We’ll be on our way to Rome soon enough.” Two men from the garrison came in, one with a torch and the other with a bundle of things, dropping them on the floor, and Gabrielle got up and scurried over to get them. She glared at me and said, “You’ll have to help me get her dressed.”

Where was Hermes when I needed him?

Hermes had organized a wagon and even talked the commander out of two men as escorts. This was waiting when we got out of the building. Xena must have been in extreme pain — they had some wild story about how her back had been broken — but she didn’t say a word as Hermes and the two men from the escort got her settled in the back of the wagon. She looked at the two sediles without flinching; if we hadn’t come there, no doubt soon they would have been hanging from the crosses.

The trip back, not surprisingly, took longer, and we had to stop outside the walls because the horses and men were exhausted. For a cripple, Xena withstood the journey well, without complaining. I figured that in the morning we could load her into a litter and take her to our house, though where we could put them would be another matter. Caesar would not want her with the Queen and I doubt he would have slept well with her under the same roof. So, as I lay on the bed and tried to get some sleep, I resigned myself to another expenditure done in the public interest.

. . . [To Be Continued]
When we had straggled in sometime after sundown, I had sent a boy from the inn into town to take a message to Julia, because Hermes was as tired as I was, and had somehow acquired a black eye. I was determined to get a shave before I presented myself to Caesar, and was sitting outside the inn with Hermes shaving me by the morning light when the surprise came.

“It’s your wife,” he said.

“Don’t cut me!” I said as I started in surprise. Then I looked, and sure enough, there was Julia, disembarking from a litter while another waited behind her. She walked over to me and said, “Good morning, dear. So you captured the savage barbarian and are bringing her to Rome for your Triumph. Where is she?”

“Good morning to you too. In the main room — we would never have got her up the stairs.”

She gave me an odd look before entering. Hermes made the last pass, wiped the blade, and reached for the pot of oil, for himself. I wiped off my face as I got up and went in after Julia.

The innkeeper had cleared out his main room, with some references to matters by order of the Dictator, and we had improvised a bed for our helpless prisoner. As for her companion:

“I can chain you up, or you can pledge not to escape,” I had told Gabrielle.

They had some strange communion and then Gabrielle said, “I swear.”

It did make it easier tending Xena on the journey. Otherwise I would have had to have Hermes doing it, and keeping an eye on them.

Now she was tending her mistress in the main room, fetching and carrying, singing, and apparently also fending off Hermes’s approaches. And now, confronting my wife.

Or perhaps not. When I entered the inn, Julia was in attentive conversation with Xena, which stopped when she saw me. “Decius, Xena here has been saying some incredible things about Uncle,” she said.

“I sometimes forget that even Caesar has family,” Xena said.

“He has been in a forgiving mood of late,” I informed them. “Marcus Brutus, Marcus Cicero, Cassius Longinus — all adherents of Pompeius, have been given or offered positions of authority.”

Julia laughed, “What do you want next, ‘Xena, Propraetoress of Greece’!? If that old windbag Cicero can be trusted, anyone can.”

Then she looked down at the bed. “What I was going to tell you was that Decius and I have no room in our house, so you are going to the house of my cousin Atia Caesonia, Caesar’s other niece. Her son is going to be joining the army that is going to Persia or Dacia — Uncle still is ‘keeping his options open’ as he puts it.”

“More conquest, more deaths,” Xena said, darkly.

They weren’t Romans. “And you’ll get to meet Marcus Antonius,” I said. It was the scandal of Rome, insofar as Rome could be moved by a scandal these days; Atia presented herself as the image of patrician Roman integrity, and was having an open affair with Antonius, while they were both married to others. So much for image and reality, but that was often the case with Rome of late.

“I can understand that Caesar wouldn’t sleep well with such a housemate, and he doesn’t want her under the same roof as Cleopatra, but what do you have against Atia?” I asked my wife.

“Why I don’t have anything against Atia,” she said in a you-had-better-not-talk-about-this tone. Then she addressed Xena in a more soothing manner, “Come along, we’ll get you into the litter and we’ll go off to Atia’s. She has the most entertaining parties.”

Hermes and I had to “get her into the litter” after the bearers balked at doing extra work. So much for being Roman. Then I handed Julia into hers, we made sure that Gabrielle was tagging along obediently, and we set off.

Our routes parted once we entered the City, I had to report to Caesar that the mission was accomplished, and Julia had to do whatever she was intending to do to her cousin. I doubted that she knew she was about to be a hostess, and if she or I had known what would happen that Ides of March, we would have been even more appalled.

. . . [To Be Continued]
We had to play catch-up through the streets, which were already filling up with the day’s traffic. Caesar had to go to the day’s meeting of the Senate with a full procession or we would never have caught up with him. Then the next problem presented himself.

After that dramatic event where Lucius Vorenus had played gladiator, Caesar had appointed him as his bodyguard. As well as a Senator, since only Senators could enter the House. Julia had pointed out that the old families, such as the Metellii, were dying out, so there would be new Senators anyhow, and better Lucius Vorenus, a brave and stanch Roman soldier imbued with Roman virtues, than some long-haired and trousered Gaul. She stuck with her uncle in that, a piece of family solidarity I didn’t entirely appreciate.

I would, therefore, have to go through Vorenus to get to Caesar. And there he was, right behind in the procession. Hermes helped me get through the crowd and I said, “Lucius Vorenus!”

He was almost distracted, there was a woman calling for him also, but I repeated my call. “Vorenus! Decius Caecilius Metellus! I have an important message for Caesar!”

He said over his shoulder, “I’ll see to her later! Senator Caecilius Metellus! Follow me!” We shouldered our way through the crowd and caught up with Caesar just as he was about to enter the Theater of Pompeius, where the Senate would meet.

I said as we entered, “We have her!”

Caesar looked over his shoulder at me, saying, “Very good, Decius. I’ll tend to that after — now just a minute!”

One of the Senators had grasped his toga, pulling on it. Then he looked and saw us. More likely, he saw Vorenus. The senator — Cimber, I realized, always begging for the recall of his brother — went white, backed off, and began pushing through the mass of Senators.

They panicked. Some started running, which frightened others. I got jostled in the crush — no one would dare molest Vorenus, obviously. Caesar calmly watched the House empty out and then said, “A legion of panicked soldiers would not have broken and run so speedily. Decius, do you not remember how it was at Dyrrachium, when they broke?”

“Did someone fart?” Antonius came down the steps towards us, laughing at some joke. “They came boiling out of there like a mob going for the corn dole. What is going on?”

“Decius has brought Xena to Rome,” Caesar said.

“Oh really? Congratulations on your heroic conquest.”

Vorenus, who had actually seen her, said, “You must have taken her by surprise.”

“No, she’s injured and can’t walk. Nearly went up on a cross, too.”

Caesar was surveying the almost empty chamber. “I do have the right to change my mind. I suppose I can declare an ill-omen and adjourn for the day. So be it. Where did you have them take Xena, Decius?”

“Your other niece’s. Atia’s. Julia decided she would like to help.”

He gathered his toga, threw it over one arm, and said, “Come, then, let us go to Atia’s.”

We left the Theater of Pompeius and made our way through the streets. There was an undercurrent of fear in the people that we passed; perhaps the flight of the Senators had spread to the populace. No one said the obvious thing.

. . . [To Be Continued]
No one said the obvious thing, that is, until we reached Atia’s house. Her sedan chair was on the street and she was getting out, with that son of hers at her elbow. He coughed, she turned and saw us, when the strangest look I have ever seen appeared on her face. Then she said: “You’re dead.”

Caesar was unmoved. Naturally he was thinking he was the one meant, and he said, “As you can see, my dear niece, I am still alive.”

“You’re dead!” She seemed unable to get past that statement.

Her son had been hanging around, looking helpful. He was supposed to be with the army, being helpful, but he was already thinking he was above such matters. What he did was helpful; he said, “Servilia invited us to her home, to inform us that her son and several of his friends had just assassinated you, and that we would be exiled.”

The lictors muttered, Posca winced, and I looked at Antonius, then Vorenus. Caesar said, “As you can see, their plot has failed. Posca, send a message to Marcus Lepidius, that he is to hold himself in readiness to suppress a riot. Lucius Vorenus! How many men can you call up from the Aventine? Have them assemble, then return here to find where to send them. Decius, is your man, there he is. Hermes, you know the street, go inquiring, find out where these plotters are. I think we had better get indoors, away from their friends, or any seeking to be such.”

Before Hermes could dash off I said, “And get Asclepiodes, he has to see to her back.”

Antonius took Atia by the arm, and they followed us into her house.

Julia was waiting in the atrium. “I got her settled down.”

“You did what!” Atia recovered at that. “This is my house, you sterile cuckoo! How dare you!”

“Uncle’s orders.”

Caesar looked at us. “This is one quarrel I dare not intervene in.”

“Let them squawk for a while, and then I’ll step in,” Antonius said.

“Very well, Decius, follow me, and Posca.”

We went the direction that Julia had come, leaving the gladiatrices to have their duel of words, looked into a room or two and then there she was.

“So you have come to gloat over my helplessness,” Xena said. She was sitting half-upright in the bed, propped up, her legs covered. As he came in, she looked at Caesar with an air of loathing. Her girl Gabrielle was sitting on the edge of the bed and presumably they had been talking.

She continued, “It isn’t enough for you now that we suffer punishment in the middle of nowhere. You have to bring us before all the people of Rome, as you did Vercingetorix, or Juba, or Arsinoe. Will I be put on a cross in the Forum? Or paraded through the streets and then strangled in the Mamertine?”

Caesar walked to the foot of the bed and looked at her for a moment. “Strangely enough, though I had indeed been intending to put you to death, I have been persuaded to do otherwise,” he said.

She gave a hollow laugh. “And I was coming to kill you, but events have made it otherwise. We are linked.”

“That was what Queen Cleopatra said when she asked for your life. Indeed, I have long since become weary of your lawless ways, and had she not begged for your life again, I would have allowed the forms of justice to prevail.”

He began to rock back and forth on his feet, then took a step and started pacing back and forth, speaking as he did. “I was younger, more arrogant, less formed by the shape of events, when we first met. Much has happened since then. You, who do not seem to change, may not appreciate this.

“My opponents have said that I wish to make myself king. The Gods know I have denied this, though such denials never seem to lodge themselves in men’s hearts. If I have assumed power, it has been because others have shown themselves unable to govern.”

“And made yourself a tyrant!” Xena burst out.

“Would any others be better? Consider Marcus Brutus, who has seemingly joined in this recent plot against my life. I have spared him once already, and do not wish to see him perish. Had he actually taken up arms against the Republic, or myself, that would have been otherwise, but I am not minded to do more than —”

Caesar fell silent. Then he began to tremble, and with a horrid suddeness fell over. I jumped and caught him before his head struck the foot of the bed. Behind us Gabrielle screamed. In a moment Posca was on top of us, forcing something into Caesar’s mouth. “It is one of his fits,” he said, as Caesar’s limbs jerked uncontrollably, and he lost control of his bowels. “The falling sickness — you know of that, Decius Caecilius.”

His spasms continued for a few heartbeats, then ended. I pulled away from Caesar, looked at the spectators, and said, coldly, “I do not believe that your life is linked to mine.”

“I’m not laughing,” Xena said. “How ironic! The Ruler of the World, and he is conquered by a fit.”

“Posca, you’ve seen more of this than I have. Is this a normal fit?”

The secretary looked up at me, then down at his master, who lay unconscious, twitching occasionally. “I suppose it to be,” he said. “Usually he is all right in an hour or two.”

“Get him into a bed. Asclepiodes can take a look at him.” Then I looked up. “Yes. I am having Asclepiodes, the greatest expert in Rome on wounds and other such injuries, come here to look at you. You may yet walk again.”

As we left, bearing Caesar (we should have called slaves but that would have been dangerous), she fired a parting shot, “So I can carry my own beam to the crucifixion ground!”

The other argument ended with a horrid suddenness when the contestants saw us carrying Caesar. “Did she kill him!?” Atia said. “Antonius, Decius, you have the responsibility to avenge his blood.” Then she looked closer. “He’s breathing.”

“Mother, I told you, it is one of his fits of the falling sickness.” Her son again. He had evidently watched the whole foray and not said a word, waiting out the combatants so he could come out on top like that.

Atia clapped her hands. “Come take Caesar to a bed! Quickly! Call a physician!”

“I already did,” I said.

“Have you eaten, dear?” Julia said.

Atia sighed. “It is simply amazing how you dispose of my property. See what the cook has and have them serve us.” Slaves scurried around at her commands, removing the fallen Dictator to a bed and setting a table for us.

I got a look at my tunic before I lay down on the couch to dine. Fortune had favored me; it wasn’t stained.

. . . [To Be Continued]
“Dolabella was in the Forum, saying he was with those who struck down Caesar.”

Hermes was reporting on the state of affairs in the City. He stood by the table while we finished off the last of the midday meal.

Antonius, who was the other consul after all, and with Caesar stricken, the man in charge, said, “Someone get him?”

“Vorenus marched up with a half-dozen thugs and said ‘You lie, I saw him safe to home!’ Dolabella threw away his toga and ran like a frightened rabbit.”

“I shall calm the people with a masterpiece of the oratorical art. In perhaps another hour, when all fears will be at their height. Come to bed, I can’t speak to the mob until I’ve had a woman,” Antonius said, this last to Atia.

Atia colored. “Caesar is stricken with the falling sickness, there is a savage killer sharing my roof, the City is on the verge of riots, and that’s all you can think about!” she said.

Antonius said, “Of course. Come on now.” He started to get to his feet.

She shook her head. “Not until after you’ve spoken. The sexual tension will add to the enthusiasm of your speech.”

“Hermes, what about the conspirators?” I said, trying to change the subject.

“They’re holed up in the Capitol. Lepidius is there with a cohort and a couple of hundred of Vorenus’s veterans and gang members.”

“Senator Decius.”

Asclepiodes appeared from the direction of the bedrooms, trailed by his slaves. We all looked his way, wanting a change from the way our conversations were going.

He went on, “I am grateful for this opportunity. I have never encountered such a case.”

“Is that all you can say, you old leech,” Antonius said. “Caesar lies stricken and you talk like an old woman. You canting Greek.”

“Antonius!” Atia said.

Asclepiodes ignored Antonius’s insults. “Caesar will be well. I have seen such fits of the falling sickness before, usually in gladiators who have been struck upon the head repeatedly during their careers. He was still unconscious when I looked at him, but had no signs of injury.

“I speak, however, of the other patient. You indicated that her complaint is a paralysis of the lower limbs. There is bruising on her lower back indicative of a blow from a thrown object. She retains sensation in the lower limbs and there is some involuntary movement. From those signs and the appearance of the wound area, I believe that the paralysis is caused by a temporary swelling of the tissues surrounding the spine, and may abate as the injured area returns to normal.”

“Very good, Asclepiodes,” I said. “Let me see you to the door.”

And Antonius said, “Paralyzed. So she’ll just lie there and make the man do all the work. I bet that girl of hers wouldn’t be any fun either.” He sighed. “Well, I will bathe and prepare my speech.”

“Now, Julia, about your staying here . . .” Atia began as we walked off.

At the door, Asclepiodes stopped for a moment. “There was one unusual factor I did not mention.” He paused for a moment, waiting for some response from me, then continued, “This gladiatrix — I suppose she is some fancy of the Lady Atia’s, a fighter dressed as this mythical character — has been hung on a cross, I assume briefly, presumably as some punishment for an infraction. I could see the wounds in her hands, which have fortunately healed in such a fashion as not to interfere with her fighting. The rope scars where she was tied to the beam by her wrists have presumably disappeared.”

Now I knew better, but all I said was, “You have been extremely helpful, Asclepiodes.”

“I don’t often get such an opportunity to examine such a fighter. She uses a long sword, as I determined by inspecting her hands and arms. That should be quite a spectacular sight. You must let me know when she appears.”

“Yes, I’ve seen it.”

The porter opened the door and I saw why Asclepiodes hadn’t been worried about getting back to his residence. The gladiators he had treated were willing to show their gratitude in useful ways.

He didn’t have enough guards, though, to escort any of us back to our homes. I had been thinking about that problem, and today was only worse. It looked as if we would have to stay the night after all.

. . . [To Be Continued}
Hermes was enthusiastic. “He had them in the palm of his hand! ‘We see that their acts are governed by the secret desires of their mortal enemies. To slay Caesar, denying all their solemn oaths, putting them beyond the pale of Gods and men, would make you good people rise up and burn them in their own homes! That Caesar forgave them —‘”

“He spent half an hour rehearsing it for me, Hermes,” Atia said. “I don’t need to hear the entire speech again.”

“Oh no, I do love hearing an intelligent analysis,” Antonius said from his position on the center couch. “Do go on, Hermes, what else did you like about my immortal oration?”

Atia had reluctantly agreed that we would have to spend the night under her roof. She had her own bodyguards deployed, and presumably they would discard whatever Jewish superstitions they might have for the benefits of her purse. Vorenus had reported in shortly before that all seemed to be well, and then offered to send his wife to help tend Xena. Why she needed such an on-hand watch I didn’t know, since she was hardly going to get up and walk off. I had thought Caesar was going to pack her off to Egypt again with Cleopatra. (Who had sent a message of immense concern, but remained safe at her villa outside the City.)

Hermes was about to continue flattering Antonius when he was interrupted again. “Lady Atia, I’m here.” Titus Pullo had forced his way into the house and come to the table in his direct, or even rude fashion. He was standing there with his arm around a woman’s shoulder.

“Pullo,” she said.

“Is he really dead?”

“Who? Caesar?”

Antonius said, “Not unless it was in the past few minutes. Decius’s tame physician came and checked him out a while ago.”

“Won’t you introduce the young lady?” Atia’s son said; I wondered if she were Pullo’s latest provision for the boy’s odd sexual needs.

Pullo looked down at the woman and smiled, “This here is Eirene, and she’s just agreed to be my wife.”

“Oh congratulations!” Julia said. “Wonderful!”

“Yes,” Atia said. “Pullo, Caesar is . . . unwell and we need more guards around here. When you get . . . Eirene, you said? . . . settled, go talk to Timon and see where you can help out.”

“Thank ‘ee, Lady.”

“What did you hear about Caesar?” I said, quickly.

He rubbed his face for a moment and then said, “We were in this little place by the road and a man came riding by as if the Furies were hot on his trail, shouting that the Senate had tried to kill Caesar and there was fighting in Rome. We took his horse and came back here. Didn’t seem so bad once we got here but there were armed men all over.”

“Go get something to eat, and then go help Timon,” Atia said.

. . . [To Be Continued]
Unlike some people, I had acted responsibly, and so was punished in the morning by having to look into the well-being of our patients. Caesar had fallen into a normal sleep, and no doubt would be out and about soon, to continue where he had left off. There was nothing normal about the other one.

Her girl Gabrielle was lying curled up on one side of the bed, wearing only her shift. Xena was awake, and her eyes followed me as I came in and stood at the foot of the bed. “How was your night?” I asked. Which was a mistake.

“Aphrodite came. She said that your iatros was right, that I would walk again, and that she was pleased to see me under the same roof as six of her descendants. Six?”

Evidently she had gone out of her mind. But I decided to humor her. “Venus?” I said, using our familiar Latin version of the Greek goddess. “Venus? You know that Anchises of Troy fathered Aeneas on her, and that in turn Aeneas founded the town of Lavinium, and there fathered a son, Ascanius Iulus, who founded the town of Alba Longa.

“Ascanius Iulus is the ancestor of the Julii, hence of Caesar, his nieces — my wife, Julia, his brother’s daughter, and your hostess Atia, his sister’s daughter, and her two children, and of Antonius through his mother. So there are your six.”

“Antonius?” she said. “The queen — thank you for the information, Decius.”

When I went back into the atrium there was Caesar, looking incredibly weary. He looked at me and beckoned me to come close to him. When I was standing beside him he said, in a low voice, “Decius. There is no need to mention certain events.”

I agreed. He then said, “I have had some time to think about the future. There are certain matters that must be dealt with, certain plans that must be made. Much may happen in the future, and without securities there will be chaos, or even, as the Greeks say, stasis.

“That so many attempted my life from apprehension that I should be named king, even in an indirect fashion, is a most powerful omen. I should be unwise not to heed it. Which means I must take other precautions for the future.

“If you will join with Antonius as witness at the ceremony this afternoon, when I shall adopt Gaius Octavius as my son and heir, I shall be honored.”

I should be disgusted, but that was an opinion I kept to myself, just as I kept Xena’s mad story to myself. Caesar took my silence as consent, for he went on, “He is to join Antonius and myself in the campaign against the Dacians. I have resolved to put off the conquest of the Parthians for a time. If they may only be conquered by a king, then perhaps King Ptolemaios Kaisar of Upper and Lower Egypt, friend and ally of Rome, will suffice, at the head of an allied army with Roman support. There is no need to provoke certain shades of opinion unnecessarily.

“While I am away in Dacia, there will have to be a regular administration in Rome. Accordingly, the other consul for next year will be you.”

Being consul with Caesar, who would be consul for the next few years, and was in any case Dictator, was not much of a honor, compared to what it had been. Or so I would have concluded, had I not been struck dumb.

Fortunately, Antonius rescued me from my problem. He entered, Atia in his wake, and said, “So you’re up and around. We had an interesting day, followed by an interesting night.”

“Antonius!” Atia said.

“Why, I dreamed that I was Anchises, being seduced by a goddess. Then I found out I was.”

“Antonius!” Atia repeated, but more affectionately.

Caesar said to him, “I have acquainted Decius with my plans. I intend to attack Dacia. You will be my deputy, of course, and here in Italy Lepidius as master of the horse will bolster Dolabella . . .”

“That bastard!?” Antonius said. “Do you know what he did? He was trotting around the Forum boasting of how he was with the damned assassins.”

Caesar fell silent. After a moment he looked at me and said, “Decius, your consulate shall begin even earlier than we intended.”

Dolabella had been intended to succeed Caesar as consul; there needed to be a consul in Rome, and so Caesar had planned to resign the consulship before leaving on the campaign, appointing a successor to run things. It looked as if Dolabella had opened his mouth just a little too soon.

. . . [To Be Continued]
An hour later, I was outside the Capitol, with Hermes and Vorenus at my side. Vorenus said, “I’ve summoned them to surrender in the name of Rome. No response; in fact it’s been damned quiet in there.”

Hermes said, “What’s that?”

We all looked towards the walls, and after a moment, saw the gates opening. An arm protruded, waving a green branch. I said, “Hermes, go see what they want.”

He grimaced, rolled his eyes, and went up the hill. I turned to Vorenus and said, “Get me a couple of squads, I may have to fight my way in. No, you have to stay here in charge.”

Vorenus reached into a pouch and produced an old centurion’s whistle, which he blew, beckoning as he did. An assembly of men in the most absurd of outfits, carrying everything from legionary swords to cook spits, advanced towards us.

A real consul wouldn’t have thought twice about storming the Capitoline, held by an enemy which had somehow evaded the guardian geese, and accordingly I formed up my rag-tag army and ordered them forward. When we got to the door, Hermes looked at them and said wittedly or perhaps nitwittedly, “Now one is fat and one is thin, one goes out —” Then he stopped, shook his head, and seemed to calm down. “They’re all dead.”

The men stopped, abruptly. “Dead?” I said, dumbly.

“That’s what Demetrius here says. Cassius Longinus had said that since they had failed, they had no choice but to take their own lives. They spent all night drinking, getting up the nerve, and then along about dawn started opening their own wrists.”

I felt relieved. “All right, men, go in and start bringing out the bodies. Hermes, go tell Vorenus to send up some more men.”

Then I kept watch on the door, only to hear a shout of, “We got ‘un!”

A moment later, two men came dragging out of all people Marcus Brutus. He glared at me and said, “Do your worst, Caesar’s lickspittle! But I shall tell our story to the Roman people, in my dying curse, if nothing else!”

I looked at his waist and said, “Didn’t have a dagger, did you?”

By the seventh hour we had the bodies laid out and identified. Over a dozen Senators had taken their lives, having resolved that either Caesar or they should die. There are times even now when I wish I had had the courage to be among them.

Vorenus had provided me with real soldiers to take Brutus to Lepidius’s camp. The Capitol would have to be cleansed and purified, and that would delay the start of the campaign by perhaps a few hours. As I was having the last of the bodies identified, Hermes came up to me and said, “You have to be at the Pontifex Maximus’s residence, and you had better shave first, and put on your proper toga.”

“What for?” I said and then remembered. That boy. Whether he would be better than Caesar’s reputed by-blow by the Queen . . . but I had to be there, like it or not. (And “not” was definitely the operative word.)

. . . [To Be Continued]
“. . . your hostess was beaming as if she were Helios, while Antonius was scowling. And he himself was preening like a gladiator who has just defeated three opponents without break.”

“How do you Romans do such names?” Xena said. She was sitting upright, with Pullo’s woman Eirene holding a bowl for her to eat from. I almost felt sorry for her, being in effect tied to a bed, even if Asclepiodes had opined that she would probably walk again.

I had returned to Atia’s house to get Julia, but she was busy, writing down the events of the day. For some reason I felt a need to talk, and it wasn’t as if Xena would be going anywhere anytime soon.

“He is now named ‘Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus,’” I said, grudgingly.

She rolled her head to one side. “Another Caesar. Gods preserve us.”

“There you are, Decius.”

They had made up, I supposed, and Julia was arm in arm with Atia. Julia had greeted me and now Atia said, “Isn’t it wonderful? Octavian — no, I suppose we have to say Octavianus now — heir, and going on campaign. It’ll make a man of him.”

“That may be, but Decius is going to be the man here,” Julia said. “Consul, and for twenty and a half months at that. What an honor!”

“Consul?” Xena said. “Doesn’t Rome has two of them?”

“Yes, but Antonius will be on campaign with Caesar. And next year, Caesar will be the other consul.”

Everyone seemed to think that I would be worth approaching now. When I had been young, an era ago, like every young man in our circle, I had hopes of rising through the progression of offices, from aedile to praetor to consul, elected leader of Rome. While I was coming along, though, people like Marius and Sulla, Pompeius and Caesar came along and changed all the rules. My father and his friends would have gladly seen me elected consul by their rules and their ways. In a sense, by being appointed by Caesar, I had failed them.

“But Caesar will still be imperator,” Xena said.

“Dictator,” Atia said. “This is Rome, after all, not the provinces. But enough of politics. Gabrielle, I would like you to play at my party tonight.”

“Party?” Gabrielle said. “Sure!”

“Party?” I said. “What party?”

“In honor of your consulship,” Julia said.

How is it that women know everything and know it first?

. . . [To Be Continued]
The next day I asked Lucius Vorenus to meet me in the Theater of Pompeius. Caesar was at the Campus Martius, with Antonius, reviewing the new recruits and the old veterans, so I was already in charge, but not yet with the title.

He arrived a little after the seventh hour, looking somewhat out of breath. “Vorenus, there was a little matter I wished to discuss with you,” I said as he came down the steps. We sat on the lowest bench, next to where the Father of the House sat. This was where Cato used to sit, I remembered. Vorenus looked a bit distracted.

“I’ve been thinking about what happened after the Ides,” I began.

“What in particular?” He was staring off past Caesar’s curule chair, the single dictator’s seat replacing the two consuls’.

“You remember how we had to send in legionaries to keep a riot from erupting. There shouldn’t be legions in Italy, not that way. And there are too many veterans on the loose, without anything to do. They join gangs, they disrupt the peace . . . Vorenus, are you even listening to me?”

“Gangs. You were talking about gangs.”

“What I think is that there should be a regular force of armed men here in Rome. Not soldiers, but armed men who can break up mobs. Milo had something of the sort, but it was his own gang.”

“Like we have in the Aventine.” He still wasn’t looking at me, and it bothered me.

“I will introduce a bill before the Senate to establish such a force. We can enlist veterans, try to take in some of the less corrupt gangs, break them to discipline and order. And see if we can revive Crassus’s fire fighters. A fire in the Suburra could destroy half the City. Right now, all we could do about that would be to climb a tower and sing epics about the fall of Troy as the City burned. There must be some of Crassus’s men still around.

“I want you to be its leader, Lucius Vorenus. Prefect of the City Watch.”

“Sure,” he said. He still seemed quite distracted.

When I went to boast to Xena about my great accomplishment I found out why Vorenus was so distracted. In fact, I heard it from both of them, together.

Atia heard the shouts from the prisoner’s room. There would be trouble if her involuntary guest were hurt, and somewhat annoyed she went to see what was the matter.

The scene there was . . . unexpected. Lucius Vorenus was standing at the foot of the bed, a knife in hand, and shoulders set as if about to attack. Xena was presumably safe from him, though. He was staring at the head of the bed, where Gabrielle was saying, “No! No! You can’t get her!” Frightened eyes peeked out from behind her shoulder.

Vorenus said, “Is it true!? Is it true!? Is the boy your son!?”

“Mercy . . . pity,” Niobe sobbed.

Atia had heard enough. “Lucius Vorenus,” she said, firmly, the proper Roman matron she posed as. “Lucius Vorenus, listen to me. There will be no killing in my house unless I say so. Listen to me!”

Vorenus turned around. He looked enraged, maniacal, but his voice was dangerously even. He looked both ready and able to use the knife he held. “I will kill her if I like. She has slept with another man.”

“Vorenus, if you killed every woman in Rome who has slept with a man besides her husband, the City would have to find some more Sabine women. Give me, no put the knife on the bed and go home, think it over. I’ll have no one else killing people here. Put the knife down.”

“Do as she says, Lucius Vorenus!” Xena snapped. “Do as she says!”

For a long moment they stared at each other. Then, Vorenus’s rage seemed to run out of him. He went blank, and stood there, limply holding the knife. Then he dropped it, walked past Atia, and went out the door.

Atia stood there, looking after him for a moment. Fortunately Gabrielle moves fast — it must be the long association — and caught her before she fell to the floor. She and Niobe pulled Atia up on the bed where she lay for a moment, eyes open, breathing heavily.

Xena lifted her head from the pillow and looked at her new bedmate. “Well done, Atia Caesonia of the Julii,” she said. “And I thought I’d never say that to anyone of your family.”

After a moment Atia could speak. “He’s mad,” she said. “He’s quite mad, completely mad.”

“He was telling the truth,” Niobe said. She started shaking. “He had been gone. Eight years. I thought he was dead. I never heard from him. And then Evander . . .” she broke down crying. “Lucius. The boy.”

“Evander?” Atia said, “Evander,” and smiled. Then she got out of the bed saying, “I really can’t have people saying I follow Sappho. Marcus Antonius is coming tonight, I want to say farewell before he goes off to the wars. Gabrielle, do sing for us tonight again but please do not sing that dreadful song making fun of Caesar, he shrugs such things off but I have to keep up standards. Niobe, it might be best if you and your children stayed here for a few more days, men in that state of mind will do anything.

“I will have to see to the kitchens those cooks will make an utter mess of things if I don’t watch them . . .”

On that note she left.

Later on she admitted to Julia that she had actually gone to her own room, drank four quick cups of wine, and lay there, shaking, until Antonius came early for the party and calmed her down in a different way.

. . . [To Be Continued]
But Antonius had come from the legionary camp outside the City, where we had been. I had been ordered there and had come, with Hermes and Vorenus in tow. Antonius was waiting inside the praetorium, eating an apple, and he said, “Vorenus. How does it feel to be client of the new ruler of Rome?”

Vorenus didn’t say anything. I said, “Antonius, you know quite well we are all hostages in Caesar’s thrall.” He laughed.

After some more chatter, we heard the soldiers outside stamp to attention, and then Caesar entered, with Marcus Lepidius in his trail, his secretary Posca at his elbow, and his self-importance around and above him. He nodded at us, went to the curule chair, and took his seat in it.

“Have the prisoners brought in,” he said.

Neither Servilia nor Brutus looked harmed, aside from being confined, and they were defiant. “Come to see us before we are handed over to your torturers!” Brutus said, loud and nervous. “The more you oppress us the more Rome will rise up against your tyranny!”

Servilia began, “I curse you, Gaius Julius Caesar —”

“SILENCE!” Caesar barked. Then he said, more quietly, “If you speak before I am through I will have you gagged.

“Your colleagues have solved the problem of their punishment by doing it for me. I have been remarkably forgiving. Most of them, and you as well, have been in arms against me. Marius and Sulla, Catiline and Sertorius, would have made examples of them, of you, long before.

“I have considered such a course of action. I fancy, however, that the punishment I am about to deal out will be worse. Marcus Junius Caepio Brutus, you are exiled to the island of Samos. You lent them money at, I believe, four percent a month, did you not? Then you will have the privilege of seeing how well they have done with your bounty and how they appreciate your willingness to be of assistance.

“Servilia Caepionis, you are exiled to the island of Minorca. They say the climate in Hispania is salubrious.

“Neither of you will be allowed communications save through the agency of your guards. You are interdict of fire and water. Remove the prisoners.”

Servilia began to curse again as she was taken away. When they were gone Caesar beckoned and we all stepped in closer. He said, quietly, “Since that damned woman has been brought to Rome my dreams have become strange. Last night I dreamed of being on a plain of ice, beholding Cassius Longinus in the mouth of a great lemure, a Cerebrus-headed monster, being chewed endlessly.

“Then the lemure’s center head gazed at me, and said, ‘There is room for the other, but the third is yet to come. You need not concern yourself with him.’ Calpurnia said I was shivering in my sleep.”

“Easy enough to get rid of her,” Antonius said. “Be a terrible waste, but sometimes you have to make a sacrifice.”

“I fear that such is out of the question. And that means you too, Decius.”

That night, I found out about Vorenus’s problem. I sent him to his home and went to the entertainment at Atia’s, hoping Vorenus would not get into trouble or that Atia’s son would not start declaiming.

Gabrielle did not sing that satirical song about Caesar. Instead, she sang about a nosy little patrician who was always into everything all over the Roman dominions, from Egypt to Gaul, and seemed to have to investigate killings everywhere he went, how some old friend would be accused of a murder and he would have to find out who actually did it. Worse yet, Cleopatra was there, and she was laughing at it. I wasn’t consul yet, and so couldn’t do anything about the little pest. “Murder, He Wrote,” indeed!

. . . [To Be Continued]
Then there came the fateful day when Caesar, Antonius, the boy, and the new troops would march over to the Salarian Way, down it to Truentimum on the coast, wher they would take ship to Macedonia and from there into Dacia. Caesar and his escort were escorted by the new suffect consul, who did not yet exercise authority, and would not until the Dictator was gone from Rome.

The army was encamped on the Campus Martis, where a large mob of family, friends, hangers-on, and the curious were watching. Many of them were foreigners, and I at least hoped they would be sufficiently awed by the demonstration of Roman power to be properly cowed into not thinking about rebelling. When Caesar crossed the pomerium, leaving the City proper for Italia, a watching bucinator blew a long wavering note from his instrument, which was picked up by a string of others. By the time we got to the encampment, the entire army had folded its tents and was in march order.

But first the City must officially declare war upon Dacia. Their King Burebista had sided with Pompeius, like every other petty monarch and dependent in the East. Once Caesar had won, Burebista had not made peace with Rome the way that, say, Herod the King of the Jews had. Now he would live to regret it. We could not, as in the days of old, bid the Fetiales beat the Ancilia, the twelve shields of Mars, as that priesthood had lapsed. However, we did have the spear of Romulus, and a bloodthirsty pontifex maximus to wield it.

The plot dedicated to Bellona had a fence around it, which had just been refurbished. It was here that Caesar rode, then dismounted. He stood before the site for a few heartbeats, pondering, and then held out a hand. Antonius handed him the old bronze spear. Caesar pointed to the plot and cried, “DACIA!” before throwing the spear into the ground there.

Then he remounted, quickly, turned to face the troops, and said, “Romans! The arrogance of Burebista has offended Rome! I go to humble him, and pass his people under the yoke! Are you with me!?”

Of course they were. Dacia was reported to have gold and certainly did have potential slaves. All Caesar had to do then was wave a hand, and the lead elements set off to march against Dacia. He and Antonius and their escort rode off to their place before the Eagles, leaving behind the other Consul, who watched about half the army march off before figuring propriety had been properly served, whereupon he nodded, told his escort of twelve lictors to form up, and made his way back to his home.

. . . [To Be Continued]