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Authors: Steven Saylor

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BOOK: Wrath of the Furies
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“I'm not sure. I don't think anyone in the house knows what the queen has in mind, not even the master. A messenger arrived earlier today saying the queen would pay us a visit after nightfall. The household has been in a flurry ever since.”

“Has the queen been here before?”

“No, this will be her first visit. The king has been here a few times, though.”

“Mithridates himself?”

“Is there any other king? Or King of Kings, as he likes to be called.”

“Why should King Mithridates visit Eutropius?”

“Why shouldn't he? The master is one of the most important men in Ephesus. Especially now that the Romans have been driven from power…” She hesitated, perhaps thinking such talk would offend me.

“Go on,” I said.

“Well, when the Romans were still in charge, the master was always—how shall I put it?—butting his head against a wall. He was never a Roman-hater—you know that from your own experience, Gordianus, for he likes you very much. But he often complained that the Romans were holding back men like himself, independent-minded Ephesians who wanted to put the interests of Ephesus first, not those of Rome. Now that Mithridates has gotten rid of the Roman governor in Pergamon and driven the Romans from power, men like the master are finally in charge.”

“I thought the father of Monime was put in charge of Ephesus.”

“Yes, that's right, but no man runs a city alone, and Philopoemen is still feeling his way—so the master says. And as long as the king is in residence, all major decisions come directly from him. When the king comes to visit the master, other men come, too—the important men of Ephesus. They have long discussions. They're planning something…”

“Planning?”

“Something secret, for often they speak in low voices, careful that the household slaves can't overhear. As if any of us might be a spy!” She shook her head and shrugged, then lowered her eyes. “And I think … I think there's another reason the king keeps coming here.”

“Yes?”

“A certain someone has caught his eye.”

“You mean … a girl?”

She nodded. I had a sinking feeling. “Not …
you,
Amestris?”

She raised an eyebrow. “Do you not think I could turn the head of a king?”

“No, it's not that…” In fact, I could imagine only too well that the king might desire her. My face turned hot.

“No,” she said, “it isn't me who's caught his eye.”

“Who, then? Oh, no—does he have his eye on your mistress?” Mithridates could have as many wives as he wished. Being newly wedded to Monime would not necessarily stop him from taking Anthea for a wife, as well.

Amestris laughed. “No, he has no interest in Anthea—thank the goddess!”

I sighed, feeling relieved. I had managed to save Anthea from the clutches of one murderous lecher, but saving her from the King of Kings was surely beyond my capabilities. “I'm rather surprised Anthea isn't married by now.”

“There
were
marriage plans, for a while. To some rich, powerful Roman. The master wasn't fond of the arrangement; I think the Roman was somehow coercing him. Nor did Anthea much like the man. Then came Mithridates, and
poof!
That almighty Roman disappeared on the next boat to Rhodes, along with the marriage plans. Anthea and I both heaved a sigh of relief. Now it seems that she will never marry.”

“Why not?”

“Anthea has decided to be consecrated to the service of Artemis.”

“What does that mean?”

“There'll be a ceremony to mark her commitment. Since she'll no longer be available for marriage, the Megabyzoi will pay a kind of dowry to the master. Anthea will live on the temple grounds and perform certain daily duties. And take a vow of chastity, of course.”

“To be a virgin all her life?”

“Like the goddess, yes.”

“That seems a waste,” I said, then saw by the look on Amestris's face that perhaps I had spoken out of turn. Who was I to criticize the religious devotion of Anthea? “But we've strayed from the subject. Who in the household is the king lusting after?”

“Only with his eyes … so far.”

“Yes, I understand. But who?”

She smiled. “Freny, of course.”

“Your sweet little sister? But that's terrible!”

“Is it?”

“What if he were to buy her from Eutropius, and—”

“Buy her? I think the master is more likely to make a gift of her, to ingratiate himself with the king.”

“How sad for Freny.”

“Sad? On the contrary, I think it would be wonderful.”

“How so, Amestris?”

“Think, Gordianus! My sister and I are slaves. We have no marriage prospects, as free women do. Oh, sometimes it works out that a slave can find a love-match within the household, but such a bond can always be severed at the whim of her master. We may have babies, but they're the property of the master, and they can be taken from us. So what does Freny have to look forward to, even from a good master like ours? How much better it would be for her to become the concubine of the king! Then she could live with his other concubines and their children in the luxury of the royal household, and go traveling with the court. Sad? No, this is surely the very best thing that could happen to little Freny.”

“I see. Yes, I suppose I hadn't thought about it that way,” I said, still dubious. “What does Anthea think about the king's interest in Freny?”

“The mistress and I are of one mind—not only about this, but about most matters.”

“What about you, Amestris, and your prospects?”

She laughed. “I think I must be too old now to attract the attention of the King of Kings.”

“Then I call him the fool of fools,” I said, causing her to gasp. “But that's not what I meant. If Freny should leave, and if Anthea should be consecrated to Artemis—”

“Then I hope to go with her, as her handmaiden, and live with her on the temple grounds.”

“Would you also take a vow of chastity?”

“Yes. That way I can accompany her in the rituals she's to perform at the temple, and sleep alongside her in the chambers reserved for the virgin acolytes.”

“You would never know the touch of a man again?” I put my hands on her shoulders, then touched her face, delicately framing her smooth cheeks with my fingers. “How beautiful you are, Amestris! How fortunate I was to know you first among all women.” I felt her cheeks blush warmly against my fingers. I drew closer to her, looking into her dark eyes.

“I must admit, Gordianus, that night … in the cave … when we saved Anthea … that was the night that truly changed my life.”

“Not the next night? The night you came to me in this very room, and the two of us—”

There was a soft rapping at the door. Amestris drew away from me just as Freny stepped inside.

“She's here!” Freny whispered. “Come, sister! You must come at once. Queen Monime is here!”

 

XXII

There is a certain sound one hears when everyone residing in a great house is suddenly alert and on the move. It reverberates almost like a distant stampede of horses. It is the combined footsteps of every kitchen worker and scrub maid and handmaiden and stable boy and scribe and tutor and every other kind of slave coming from all corners to assemble, in this case, in the large garden at the center of the house of Eutropius.

Why is it customary for the entire household to assemble when certain personages visit the master of the house? I suppose it shows off the wealth of the host—men are often judged by how many slaves they own—but it also serves to spread the mystique of the visitor. For years afterward, and wherever they might go, those who were present at that moment would be able to say, “I saw her with my own eyes. I beheld Queen Monime.”

Leaving me behind, Amestris and Freny joined in this orderly rush, as did Anthea, whom I saw from the back as she strode quickly but gracefully down the hallway toward the stairs to the garden. Her hair was indeed impressive, even seen from the back. By some magic of twisted braids and unseen pins it hovered atop her head like a golden cloud.

Perhaps it would have been wiser for me to lock myself in the room where I had been talking with Amestris, but curiosity got the better of me. I, too, wanted to have a look at Queen Monime and her retinue.

Staying in the shadows of the upper landing of the stairway, I had a view of the far side of the garden below, toward the front of the house. It seemed likely that this was where Monime would appear, for the rest of the garden and the surrounding portico were occupied by the assembled household—so I presumed from the sounds I could hear, for though I couldn't see very many of the people in the garden below, I could hear the murmur of their whispered conversations. There seemed to be a great many of them. When I had been a guest in this house, I had no idea that so many slaves were all around me, staying out of sight. Thus it is in such households, where every need of the master and his guests are met, as if by invisible servants. Only when they all assemble in one place does one realize how many human beings it takes to keep such a household running.

The hubbub grew louder, then abruptly diminished as everyone fell silent. Two figures came into view, facing away from me and toward the front of the house. By her golden cloud of hair I recognized Anthea. Though I could not see his face, the man standing beside her had to be her father. Eutropius was also blond, though with a great deal of silver amid the gold.

A tall, white-haired chamberlain appeared, dressed in the regalia of the royal court. His ringing voice compelled the attention of everyone present.

“Her Majesty, consort to the King of Kings, Queen Monime, accompanied by His Eminence, the Grand Magus, and also by His Eminence, the Great Megabyzus, calls upon Eutropius of Ephesus and his daughter Anthea.”

One of Eutropius's slaves, obviously chosen for his strong, distinctive voice, stepped forward. “My master, Eutropius of Ephesus, and his daughter, the lovely Anthea, are most honored to receive Her Majesty, Queen Monime, and are humbled by the presence of Their Eminences, the Grand Magus and the Great Megabyzus.”

A moment later, the three visitors stepped forward into the soft lamplight of the garden. Acutely aware that I was wearing a bright yellow tunic, and that even at a distance one of them might recognize me, I stepped back a bit, deeper into the shadows. What sort of visit was this, that brought not just the queen but also the two most powerful religious authorities in the city? Eutropius happened to look over his shoulder, so that I caught a brief glimpse of his face. His expression was nervous, and his posture was very stiff.

There followed a great deal of bowing and other formalities, all of which seemed to have been rehearsed by Eutropius and the household ahead of time. Despite the fact that I had seen all three of the visitors at close quarters, and knew them to be nothing more than mortals like myself, there was something strangely awe-inspiring about the sight of them standing there, with Monime in the middle and the wise men to either side of her.

The queen was considerably shorter than either of her escorts, especially the Great Megabyzus with his towering headdress, but she compensated for this with a truly astonishing costume of purple silk shot with gold and silver threads; part of it clung to her body like a normal gown, but there was also a huge, fan-shaped collar of the same fabric that loomed behind her, framing her face and shoulders. Around her wrists and neck she wore bands of gold set with precious stones; the pieces looked as if they had been fitted for a woman twice her size. The oversized jewelry and the weirdly elaborate costume looked out of place with the simple purple and white fillet of wool that served as her crown, or perhaps their outlandishness was intended to emphasize the crown's simplicity. If the intent of the costume was to draw every eye to the smooth, moon-white face of Monime, it achieved its purpose. She gazed at the household of Eutropius with half-closed eyes and a cryptic smile.

The formal introductions came to an end. Eutropius beckoned to the slave who had spoken on his behalf and gave him some sort of instructions. Strain as I could, I was unable to overhear what Eutropius said, but from what followed it seemed that he wished to dismiss all the slaves except those who were needed for further service. There was a sound of rustling as the crowd began to disperse. But when Monime saw what was happening, she stepped forward.

“No one is to leave!” she said. Her voice, which had seemed rather small when I met her, filled the garden. The sound of rustling stopped at once. “Let all the household slaves stay where they are.”

Eutropius was clearly agitated. “Your Majesty, I don't quite understand. I had thought this visit was to be … of a more informal nature.”

“Then you were mistaken.”

“I didn't expect the presence of Their Eminences—”

“The participation of the Grand Magus and the Great Megabyzus is absolutely essential. I'm surprised the king did not make more clear to you the sacred nature of this visit.”

“Sacred?” Eutropius's voice broke oddly on the word, as if he had begun to anticipate something dreadful.

“What could be more sacred, or more serious, than the sacrifice that is to take place in the Grove of the Furies? You
do
know the sacrifice I refer to, and the reason for it?”

“Yes, Your Majesty. But what—”

“You know that the king has delegated to me the sacred responsibility for assembling the proper participants for this ritual?”

“Yes, His Majesty did inform me—”

“And I have been diligently at work toward that end. I am pleased to say that all the participants have been duly selected … except for one.”

“One, Your Majesty?” Eutropius's voice was so strained I hardly recognized it.

BOOK: Wrath of the Furies
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