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Chapter IX

"Asklepiodes, you must let me kill you," I said. The physician looked up from his desk, where he was writing on one of his innumerable medical texts. He was always his own scribe when he worked on his first draft.

"That is a bit much to ask, even of your physician."

"It will only be temporary," I assured him.

"Temporary death, while a relative commonplace in mythology, is seldom met with in the mundane world." He set down his reed pen and frowned at me. "Just what is it you are suggesting?"

We were in the Temple of Aesculapius, on the island. The back of the temple was devoted to quarters, libraries and offices for the priests and physicians, along with lecture halls and gardens for growing medicinal plants.

"It won't be real at all," I insisted. "We just have to fake your death. It will only be for a few days."

"Never fear, Decius," he said soothingly. "It is quite common for wounds such as you have recently experienced to cause delirium."

"I am not delirious, and I feel excellent, except for being in agony."

"Then perhaps some explanation is in order. First, though, I must examine your wounds and re-dress them. Get out of your clothes and one of my servants will remove your bandages." I complied and Asklepiodes looked me over in great detail. You would have thought he intended to buy me.

"You are coming along nicely," he said when he was finished and the slave was renewing the bandages.

"There is no sign of infection in the wounds. Your skin and muscle tone are as healthy as ever, although I detect the signs left by venereal labors of some magnitude. It seems you were serious about finishing your strenuous day with a lady."

"It was the longest day of my life," I said, sinking upon a chair, now back in my clothes. "It began with a horse race and then a battle and it ended rapturously with the most beautiful woman in Rome, but in between there was plotting with men of evil intent. Murder, treason and arson were among the subjects discussed."

His eyes brightened. "Criminal doings! At last, you become interesting. Tell me all about it." The man absolutely thrived on skulduggery. I told him most of what I knew and suspected, because it is not wise to withhold information from one's physician. He nodded and chuckled at every horrible revelation. Well, he was a Greek.

"Oh, this is exciting!" he said when I was done. "I cannot tell you how bored I have been here, treating a lot of sick people. This will give me a chance to exercise some ingenuity. Let me see, how shall we go about it? Might you fling me from the Tarpeian Rock, leaving my shattered body covered in blood and bruises? No," he answered himself, "that would call for jagged shards of bone thrusting out through the skin, a difficult thing for me to simulate. Perhaps you could strangle me. The facial discolorations will be challenging and I can construct a swollen wax tongue of great verisimilitude to protrude between my dead, blue lips."

"I am known as a rather direct man," I told him, "of traditional Roman pugnacity. My fellow conspirators will expect a simple stabbing or throat-cutting."

"I shall concoct convincing lacerations and become a most realistic corpse. Shall I be found murdered tomorrow morning?"

"That would be convenient," I said. "Are you sure you can carry it off?"

"No one will ever suspect. By combining my own talents with the Roman fear of touching dead bodies, the illusion will be complete. My patron, Statilius Taurus, is in Capua, so my funeral obsequies can be delayed for days while my servants summon him, supposedly." He looked around him with satisfaction. "I'll hide out here in my quarters for a few days. It should be very restful and I can catch up on my writing. My servants are utterly discreet. You are sure this is quite legal?" he asked with some anxiety.

"Sanctioned by the Praetor Metellus himself. And I shall be calling on the Consul Cicero soon to apprise him of my findings."

"I would suggest you do that very soon," Asklepiodes advised. "It will do little good if you delay until the conspirators kill him." That seemed to be most reasonable advice.

I rose. "I'll leave you now. I look forward to news of your death."

"Try not to grieve," he said.

I went to the Temple of Saturn without attracting notice. My celebrity had already staled. Such is the nature of glory. I spent a profoundly boring but restful day amid the wealth of the empire. I attended the baths, bandages and all, and pondered my next move. I resolved to call upon Cicero that evening.

As I was leaving the bath, I encountered my father entering amid a knot of his cronies. I greeted them all and received their congratulations for my performance at the festival, then steered my father aside for a private talk. We went to one of the niches that lined the walls of the atrium and stood beneath a statue of Bellona.

"What do you want? Be brief," he said in his usual solicitous fashion.

"How is the situation with Hortalus?" I asked.

"He is enjoying his retirement too much, but I think he'll decide to stand for Censor. He knows there is no rush and I suppose he's waiting for half the Senate to go out to his country house in a mass and beg him to come out and save the Republic or some such." I told him what Crassus had said and he nodded, pleased. "I knew that this marriage-tie with the Crassi would be wise. I wish my niece Caecilia would hurry up and produce a grandchild for Marcus. He's not so bad, you know, despite his obscene obsession with accumulating money." The only way in which Marcus Crassus differed from most of his contemporaries in regard to money was his expertise in acquiring it. That, and his extraordinary honesty about it. There was supposed to be something unaristocratic about money. It was beneath the dignity of a wellborn man. What it meant in practice was that you robbed provinces when you could and left the money-grubbing to your freedmen.

"Has Hortalus had… oh, visitors, that you know of?" This was incredibly lame, but I could not think of a good way to phrase it. Father and Hortalus were great friends and Father would probably know if any of Catilina's men had approached the old fraud.

"What? Visitors?" He fixed me with a withering glare and I knew I had misstepped. "What sort of man does not have visitors? Quintus Hortensius Hortalus is one of the most distinguished men of his generation. Of course he has visitors! What are you getting at?"

I decided to get off that subject and ask something that had been troubling me but that I had not thought to ask him about.

"Father, were my mother and Orestilla close friends?"

He was startled by the change of subject, but years of legal practice had made him nimble on his mental feet, if I may use an awkward metaphor.

"You mean the wife of Sergius Catilina? Not that I know of. They must have known each other, attended the rites of Bona Dea, that sort of thing. All Senators' wives know one another, but I never heard that Servilia was especially close to Orestilla, as she was with Antonia the Younger and Hortensia. Orestilla's a scandalous woman, anyway. Why do you ask? What are you up to, you young reprobate?"

"All shall be made clear in time, Father," I assured him. "I am working on a delicate matter of crucial importance to the state."

He was utterly unimpressed. "I shall be pleasantly surprised to learn that you have been working on anything at all. Have you any further excuse for detaining me?" I had none and he left. It would never have occurred to him to inquire about my injuries. He probably thought that bandages were effeminate. No doubt I should have just left my wounds open and dripped on the pavement, in manly Old Roman fashion.

It was still early in the afternoon and I did not want to be seen going to Cicero's house. As I descended the steps of the public bath I noticed one of the monuments that seem to spring up overnight in Rome, like mushrooms. It was one of several that Crassus had erected to himself. To Crassus, modesty was for men who had good reason to be modest. This one commemorated his victory over Spartacus. Monuments to that event were considered by most Romans to be in extremely poor taste. Everyone loved commemorations of a foreign victory, but a slave rebellion was best forgotten. His real monument had been the six thousand crosses he had erected along the Via Appia between Rome and Capua, where the rebellion had begun. Gawkers from Rome and the towns along the road had gone out for days to witness the mass execution. The record for longevity was held by a burly Gaul who had taken eight days to die.

Now, thinking of Crassus in connection with Catilina and his boneheaded conspiracy, I saw the monument differently. Crassus was reminding the Romans that he had saved them from what they feared the most and would never admit to. Old Mithridates might have been fearsome, but he didn't live in your own house, in a position to cut your throat while you slept, should he take the fancy to.

Like many of the great men of that time, like Catilina himself, for that matter, Crassus had grown rich in the Sullan proscriptions. He had hunted down and killed men whose names Sulla had published in the Forum and had collected their estates as reward. Before the proscriptions, at the end of the civil war between the adherents of Marius and those of Sulla, it had been Crassus who had led a Sullan army that smashed the rebel Samnites outside Rome's Colline gate, a fight that Romans had witnessed from atop the wall as if it were being staged in the Circus for their edification. Crassus had won the battle, but Sulla had taken the glory. Ten years later, he had defeated Spartacus. That time, it had been Pompey who had stolen the glory.

Crassus was a man badly in need of glory. He had held the highest offices and seemed to own half the money in the world, so glory was all that was left. Did he want it badly enough to take Rome by coup? Rome itself was the one thing Pompey had not yet taken. If so, it meant that Crassus had finally gone mad, as had Marius in his later years, yet I did not think so. He might be playing some deeper game, one that was as hidden from Catilina as it was from me.

I was thinking about Crassus because I did not want to think about Aurelia. Was she no more than bait, a form of bond to keep me attached to Catilina and his cause? If so, he had discerned my weakness with an astuteness I would not have given him credit for. She bedazzled my mind and senses like no woman since-well, since Clodia. Was my susceptibility to women now common knowledge?

Asklepiodes had once said to me: "Young men are easily led about by the masculine member. You are one of the few I have known who are intelligent enough to know when it is being done to him yet susceptible enough to allow the process to continue regardless."

Had someone-Clodia, perhaps-told Catilina that nothing was necessary to secure my participation except to dangle a beautiful woman before my aristocratic nose? That I would then become the most malleable of clay, as my lower organs seized control from my brain? I did not know. I did know that I wanted Aurelia again, and felt that I could never get enough of her.

Cicero's house was near the Forum, a small but elegant dwelling that he maintained to be close to the seat of government. He had other houses both in the city and in the countryside, but during the fall and winter he was usually to be found in this one. Many Romans retired with the onset of darkness, but I knew that Cicero always worked late into the night. The janitor asked my business when I called at the front door.

"The Quaestor Metellus," I said, in a low voice, "to see the Consul on an urgent matter." The janitor said something to a slave boy who ran off into the interior of the house. A few minutes later Tiro appeared and admitted me. Tiro was Cicero's secretary and close companion, so indispensable that he was almost as famous as Cicero himself.

"Please come with me, Quaestor," Tiro said. "My master is with another visitor at the moment, but he wishes to see you and will come as soon as he has a few free minutes." He led me to a small room off the atrium where a table had already been set with refreshments, As a lawyer and now as Consul, Cicero was accustomed to receiving late visitors, who did not wish to be seen approaching him in the daytime.

"Thank you, Tiro," I said. "I hope you will inform the Consul that this is a matter of danger to the state. I would not call upon him at such an hour, unannounced, for anything less serious."

"He is well aware of that, sir. He will not be long. In the meantime, please refresh yourself while you wait."

I did as advised. The wine was a fine, mellow old Setinian, far better than I could afford. From nervousness and perplexity I had forgone dinner that evening, so I attacked the snack tray with appetite. Besides boiled quail's eggs there were pastries stuffed with chopped pork and others with honey and nuts. I was finishing off one of the latter when Cicero arrived. I fear I made a poor impression, as I was sucking honey from my fingertips as he came in. I sprang to my feet and made the expected apologies for disturbing him, but he waved them off and indicated I should resume my seat. He sat opposite me, ignoring the table and its temptations.

"People are always coming to me with tales of danger to the state, Decius Caecilius, but you have rendered loyal service in the past on matters touching state security. Please tell me what you have uncovered."

So I told him. I spoke of the murders, and of my discovery that the victims were moneylenders, and of Milo's advice that I contact the indebted malcontents who infested Rome. When I get to Catilina, I could see the look of distaste that crossed Cicero's face. All I left out was the part about Aurelia. A man should be allowed a few secrets.

"Lucius Sergius Catilina!" Cicero said, almost spitting the name. "So it has come to this? He wants a return to the evil days, when Romans killed Romans in the very streets of Rome? I always knew he was pernicious, now I know that he is mad." He looked at me with a frosty smile. "This has been most sagacious, Decius. I know of no other man whose mind works like yours, sifting evidence and placing seemingly disparate facts together to construct a-how shall I put it?-a model of how things might have happened. You should have been a philosopher."

"I'll accept that as a compliment, Consul," I told him. "Yes, I was stymied when the banker Caius Rabirius told me, at the Egyptian ambassador's, that the mere death of the lender did not cancel the debt. But when I found out that the murders were a show of earnestness, things began to make sense again."

"But the eques Decimus Flavius, the director of the Reds, was not a moneylender and seems to have no connection with the conspirators. How do you explain his demise?"

"I have a theory about that, Consul, but I need more proof." Actually, I was almost certain of why Flavius had died, but I also had a terrible feeling that Aurelia was directly involved and I did not want to bring her into it, still hoping to find proof of her innocence. "And you intend to go through with this charade of murdering the physician?" He laughed, something one rarely heard from Cicero. "It is the most insane thing I have ever heard, but then you are dealing with madmen and I suppose mad measures are called for."

"About Crassus-" I began, but he cut me off.

"That is mere speculation, Decius. You have incontrovertible evidence of the machinations of Catilina and his cronies, but none at all that Crassus might be involved."

"But they can have no hope of succeeding unless they are supported by real wealth and a credible army," I pointed out.

"Decius, these men are mad and desperate enough to think they can get away with it," Cicero insisted. "Their heads are full of airy fantasies and they are totally detached from reality. They are the sort who believe that they deserve high office because of some innate quality apparent only to themselves. They have never faced the fact that the only path to the highest honors is through education, hard soldiering and long, rigorous service, They hope, through desperate action, to have it all in a few days through the mere risk of their worthless lives." He shook his head. "No, Decius, Crassus has everything now. Why would he throw in with such men?"

"You have said nothing that has not occurred to me," I told him, "but I fear that you misread Crassus."

"Then bring me proof, Decius. If I had a single shred of evidence, preferably in writing, I would stand before the Senate tomorrow, denouncing Crassus and calling for his exile. But I must have more than your suspicions."

I was silent. He leaned back in his chair and went on, less severely. "Continue your investigation, Decius. You have rendered invaluable service already, and I must know all you can find out about this conspiracy. Knowing where their two largest arsenals are in the city will be worth half a legion to us when they make their move."

"I don't yet know when that will be," I said.

"We have a while yet. Let's get every name we can before I take this to the Senate. In the meantime I will speak to the Praetor Metellus and ensure that your legal position in this will be unassailable."

"Speaking of praetores," I said, "do you think there is any likelihood that the Praetor Lentulus Sura is really involved?"

Cicero pondered. "Lentulus Sura is a man of ignoble character. He is one of the few men ever to be elected Consul only to be expelled from the Senate the next year by the Censors. If any man of such rank is involved with the conspirators, it would be Lentulus, but I will not believe it until I see proof."

Now I remembered something else. It had been Crassus, during his abortive censorship, who had reinstated Lentulus as a member in good standing of the Senate, allowing him to stand for the praetorship elections held the next year. He owed Crassus much. I said nothing of this.

"You are right to be wary of the names Catilina gave you. Hortalus and Lucullus have become a pair of slothful gardeners, but they would have nothing to do with this nonsense. If those two and others like them would stay in Rome and help out in the Senate more often, instead of fish-raising, we would not have so much trouble with mediocrities such as fall in with the likes of Catilina." Both Hortalus and Lucullus were inordinately proud of their fishponds, in which they experimented with new types of foreign fish for domestication in Italy. Cicero considered this frivolous and said so, before the Senate.

"Yet you and Hortalus and Lucullus have been at odds before," I commented.

"What have my personal likes and dislikes to do with it?" he snapped. "They are both enormously capable men and ought to be here, serving the state, not playing the retired gentleman out in the country."

"And Julius Caesar?" I asked.

"There's more to him than most people think, even if he did get elected Pontifex Maximus through the most shameless campaign of bribery I have ever witnessed. He could be involved, but once again I would have to see proof."

"If you will pardon me, Consul," I said, "you do not seem terribly surprised or shaken by my revelations, which I had thought to be dramatic in the extreme." I was rather disappointed that he had not ordered an emergency meeting of the Senate to denounce the traitors.

Again that frosty smile. "I have known of Catilina's plottings for two or more years now. Oh, don't look so surprised. A man doesn't reach my position without having a great many sources of information. You are the first to bring me such detailed information, gleaned from Catilina himself, but my secondhand knowledge has been rather good."

"Who? Or would you rather not say?" I was stunned and a bit crestfallen.

"No, I know that you would not betray my sources. Fulvia is one."

"Fulvia!" In the midst of all the male plotting and strutting, I had all but forgotten the women involved, save for Aurelia.

"Yes, Fulvia. That cretin Curius loves her insanely, and when he isn't threatening her life from jealousy he tells her everything, including two plots by Catilina to murder me. Fulvia is a wild and shameless woman, but she draws the line at murder and she has informed me when I was in danger. She has told me a bit about this scheme of Catilina's, hoping that I will spare Curius when the coup is inevitably crushed."

"And will you?" I asked.

He shrugged. "That is not up to me, is it? It will be up to the Senate to decide."

At the time, I was so agitated that I did not notice that Cicero had said "the Senate," not "the courts." It was a slip weighted with much trouble in days to come.

"Consul," I said, "granted that this coup has no chance of succeeding, yet even a few men, if they are desperate enough, can wreak fearful carnage in a city as crowded as Rome, and they have supporters in the countryside."

"That is true. As soon as possible, I want you to go to your kinsman, Metellus Creticus, and alert him. Can you do that without arousing suspicion?." Poor Creticus still waited outside the walls of Rome for permission to celebrate his triumph.

"Next week the gens Caecilii hold a yearly family religious observance. Since Creticius can't enter the city, it will be held this year at his villa on the Janiculum. I can speak privily with him then."

"Excellent. Tell him of a planned coup, but no specifics. Tell him to await my summons and be ready to rally his men from wherever they are dispersed awaiting his triumph. I shall have Tiro take the same message to Marcius Rex. Between them, they should be able to summon a full-strength legion on short notice."

"And your colleague?" I asked.

"Hibrida is chafing to get away to Macedonia. I'll tell him to go ahead and assemble his men, but march no farther than Picenum. Have no fear, Decius, we'll take care of this sorry business handily."

I wished that I could be so sanguine. I greatly feared that there would be far more travail out of Catilina's mad plan than he foresaw. "But, Consul, what of Gaul? The Roman authorities and citizens there must be alerted! The Allobroges can spark a tremendous bloodbath there. Our hold on Gaul is not so firm that we cannot be expelled by a mass tribal uprising."

"Oh, that." Now the smile was frostier than ever. "Fulvia is not my only informant, Decius. I want you to meet the other gentleman with whom I have met this evening."

I sat mystified while he summoned a slave and sent him to bring this other guest. A few minutes later a tall, bold-faced man entered, a man I recognized.

" Quaestor Decius Caecilius Metellus," Cicero said formally, "greet the patrician Quintus Fabius Sanga, of Rome and Gaul."

"We've met," I said. "At the Circus, a few days ago."

"Then you understand that Fabius Sanga is the patron of the Allobroges?"

"Yes," I said. Then, to Sanga, "I spoke to your charioteer that day, the boy Dumnorix."

"Amnorix," Sanga corrected me. "Amnorix, then. He races as Polydoxus. He mentioned that you were the patron of his tribe and I remembered that your family surname was Allobrogicus."

"Fabius came to me a few days ago with alarming news," Cicero said. "This evening, he came by to bring me up to date."

"That detestable rogue Umbrenus approached the Allobrogian envoys some time past," Fabius said. "He's the worst sort of publicanus, but he was careful to keep on the good side of the tribes, in Gaul. He knew of the grievances the Allobroges had suffered, and were in Rome to protest. It was just the sort of thing that the malcontents who follow Catilina were looking for. Umbrenus approached them in the Forum and took them to the house of Decimus Brutus. Brutus is away from Rome, but Sempronia entertained them and provided an imposing setting for his proposition. They felt the Gauls would be impressed by one of Rome's great houses, and so they were."

"He claims to have received their firm support," I said.

Fabius laced his fingers and leaned forward. "Let me tell you something about Gauls. Like all Keltoi" -he used the Greek word for that race-"they are excitable and they love to boast, but they are not the comic figures we see in the theater. One must never accept their first, emotional reaction to anything as their final feeling on the matter. Given time for reflection, they are usually as sensible and levelheaded as anyone else.

"When Umbrenus pretended sympathy with their plight, they went into their usual extravagant lamentations of how they have suffered. When he told them that true men will always fight rather than surrender their liberties, they shouted that they would gladly follow any man who promised them the restoration of their ancient freedoms. He told them of Catilina and they declared themselves for him."

Fabius took a cup from the table and drank. "Of course," he went on, "that was just Gaul talk, but Umbrenus took them at their word. Once they had had a little time to think it over, they grew afraid that they had gotten themselves into something serious. When I returned to Rome, they very sensibly came to me to ask what they should do. I came here, to speak with the Consul."

"And I advised him to tell the Gauls to play along, to find out who the conspirators are. They told Umbrenus that they would be happier to know that there were important men involved. That turned out to be a mistake, because then the conspirators began to throw in names purely to impress, as they did with you. Your own fa ther's name was one they gave the Gauls."

I all but choked on my wine. "Father? Well, I suppose barbarians might believe such a thing."

"They used the name because the Allobroges would know it," Fabius said. "Your father was their recent governor, and a proconsul is the next thing to a god in barbarian lands."

"I have instructed them," Cicero said, "through Fabius, to demand this: that their kinsmen in Gaul will not rise in support of the rebellion unless they have the signatures and seals of the leading men of the conspiracy on a document that guarantees their own rewards upon success of the revolution."

I stared at him, aghast. "They absolutely cannot be that stupid!" I protested. "Granted they are unrealistic to the point of dwelling in the midst of fantasy, but even the most amateur of conspirators knows that you never put your name to anything in writing!"

"And yet they have promised to deliver this document," Cicero said. "It even makes sense, in a way. They feel that they must have the Gaulish support to succeed, and they know that if they do not succeed, they shall all die. Besides, like most such fools they don't think of themselves as conspirators. They fancy themselves to be patriots. They are going to restore the Republic to its rightful condition."

"By the time this document reaches Gaul," Fabius said, "the operations in Italy shall have commenced, so what is a bit of written evidence then? The letter is to be delivered in the next few days."

An awful though occurred to me. "I suppose I will be expected to sign it."

"What of it?" Cicero said. "I will attest that you acted under my orders."

"Your pardon, Consul, but if they act before we expect, your assassination will be the signal that the war has commenced."

"Oh, well, you'll still have Celer to vouch for you, if he lives, and Fabius here. To be safe, the sooner you talk to Creticus, the better. And now, gentlemen, I have much work to do. Please report to me as soon as you have important evidence. When I have that document in my hands, with the names of the leading conspirators upon it, I shall denounce Catilina in the Senate and we shall crush this rebellion before it has a chance to start."

We took our leave of the Consul and Tiro conducted us to the door. Outside, I spoke to Fabius."

"I would like a few words with you, Quintus Fabius, if it is convenient."

"And I with you. Let's walk to the Forum. The moonlight is adequate tonight, and there we can see for a good distance in all directions." I was glad to see that he was being cautious. A full moon made the streets navigable, and once we were in the Forum, it was reflected from the white marble that was everywhere, bathing the whole place in a ghostly luminescence. The Forum is like a place seen in a dream on such nights, We paused before the Rostra. "You first, Decius Caecilius," Fabius said.

"When I met you a few days ago, you were speaking with Crassus. More accurately, you were arguing with him. When I approached, you broke off your argument. Then Crassus said something strange. There were two men with me, Valgius and Thorius, both involved in the conspiracy. Crassus said that he had not met them. Yet when I spoke to your charioteer, he said that Valgius had accompanied Crassus to your house."

"That is so. I believe that, just now, Crassus is trying to put distance between himself and anyone involved in the conspiracy."

"And the nature of your argument?" I asked… "He wants me to surrender my patronage of the Allobroges. He claims it is for business purposes, involving his many Gaulish interests." He snorted disgust. "He offered to buy my patronship, as if such a thing could be subleased! Crassus thinks of everything in terms of money. Of course, he simply wants to manipulate the Gauls in Catilina's behalf. He does not yet know that they have already revealed everything to me."

"And you told Cicero of this?" I asked.

"I did. By now, you know that he is afraid to prosecute Crassus."

"So I have found, and I cannot understand why. I thought that Marcus Cicero was afraid of nothing. Why is he so fixed on Catilina when he knows that there must be someone more powerful behind him?"

He brooded over the expanse of moonlit marble around us. "Decius Caecilius, you and I are of ancient senatorial families, mine patrician, yours plebeian, families almost synonymous with the Roman state. Cicero is a good man, but he is novus homo, and can never forget it. No matter how high he climbs, he will never be secure." This was a sorrowful thing to hear about a man I greatly admired, but in later years I was to find it an accurate assessment of Cicero. "He will pursue Catilina, and that ruthlessly, precisely because he is the least of the leading traitors. He wants to smash the rebellion before it has a chance to become fully organized, in hopes that the great men will then back away from a lost cause."

"But won't Catilina implicate them?" I asked. He shrugged. "Who will believe him? We have already heard the names of wholly innocent men he and his followers have thrown around to appear stronger than they are. If he should accuse Crassus of backing him, why should Crassus not claim to be as innocent as your father?"

"Why, indeed?" I said. "And we can be sure that Crassus will put his name to no foolish letter to the Gauls."

"Of that you can be certain," Fabius agreed. "Quintus Fabius," I said, "one more question. You went to Cicero with your report of treason. Why not to Antonius Hibrida?"

He laughed, a flat, humorless sound. "The same reason as you. Hibrida is no more to be trusted than any other man bearing the name of Antonius. They are a reckless, unreliable breed, and I've no doubt that Catilina has already approached him."

I had not thought of that. "Any chance that he is with them, do you think?"

He shook his head. "You recall how the proconsular provinces were assigned, after the election?"

"Certainly. Cicero drew Macedonia, Anotonius drew Cisalpine Gaul. But for some reason Cicero refused Macedonia and Antonius got it by default. Catilina thinks Cicero is afraid of the command because there is fighting in Macedonia."

"Wrong. Catilina wanted to be Consul this year with Antonius as his colleague, but Antonius threw in with Cicero instead. Too much dirt has clung to Catilina from past corruptions. Anyway, Cicero made him a better offer."

"A better offer?"

"He gave Antonius Macedonia because Antonius wanted it. Antonius wanted a foreign war and the loot that a foreign war brings. And thus he bought Antonius's loyalty. I don't doubt that Antonius is toying with Catilina even now, but not seriously."

He was uncommonly well informed for a man who spent little time in Rome, but patricians have their ways of passing information among themselves. Another imponderable occurred to me.

"I am greatly troubled by the position of tribune-elect Bestia in all this," I said. "He is more intelligent than the others, and I think he's playing some game of his own."

"When are tribunes ever anything but troublemakers?" he said, in true patrician fashion. "Somehow, over the centuries they've bypassed the Senate and the courts and come to be the most crucial members of the government, and anybody can get elected to the tribunate."

"Anybody but a patrician," I reminded him. "Clodius has given up his patrician status just to become a tribune."

"It's about what you'd expect from a Claudian," Sanga all but growled. "I know very little about Bestia, but he seems to be a friend of your kinsman, Metellus Nepos."

"Pompey's legatus? That makes little sense."

"Things seldom make much sense in politics until you get a closer look. Sometimes not even then."

"How true. For all I know, Nepos and Bestia are old school friends, studied philosophy at Rhodes or some such. Pompey is the one man we can be certain has nothing to do with this conspiracy."

"Nothing is certain," Sanga reminded me. "Good night, Decius Caecilius Metellus."

I bade him good night and we went our ways. Before returning home, I trudged the long climb to the Capitol and entered the Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus. At that hour there was no one in the temple but a slave who, every hour or so, would check the oil level in the lamps and trim their wicks.

The new statue of Jupiter was a beautiful thing, much like the old one but nearly double its size. It was in the traditional mode, modeled after the legendary Olympian Zeus of Phidias. This statue had been paid for by the great Catulus and the god's body was sculpted of the whitest alabaster, his robes of porphyry. His hair and beard were covered with gold leaf and his eyes were inlaid with lapis lazuli. In the flickering lamplight, he almost seemed to breathe.

I took a handful of powdered incense from a chased bronze bowl and tossed it onto the brazier of coals that glowed at the feet of the god. The haruspices had said that this new Jupiter would warn us of dangers to the state, but as the smoke ascended he said nothing. As I left the temple, I paused on the steps, but I saw no mysterious flights of birds, no lightning from the clear sky, no falling stars or thunders from inauspicious directions. As I walked home, I decided that the gods probably had little interest in the petty schemings of the degenerate dwarfs men had become. In the days of heroes, when Achilles and Hector, Aeneas and Agamemnon had contended, the gods themselves had taken an active part in the struggle. Those heroes were near to being gods in their own right. The gods were not likely to bestir themselves for anyone like Catilina, Crassus or Pompey, and least of all for Decius Caecilius Metellus the Younger.

Chapter VIII | The Catiline Conspiracy | Chapter X