Part I

Chapter One

29 BC Rome

Julia turned from the light, shutting out the morning, the day she dreaded, the one she had prayed would never come. Outside, the cicadas sang a hymn to the heat, as they did every dawn of summer. The slaves said it was a mating call, to draw lovers from distant trees, but this morning it sounded like a call of distress. Julia breathed deep and blew air through pursed lips. If she were a cicada for the span of a day, she would shed her dried cape, leave it on a limb of the olive tree, and fly away, returning only when it was safe and all this had been forgotten. Somehow, some day, she would get even with the authorities, always men, who shuffled women and children about like chattel.

Quick footsteps sounded in the hallway and a moment later a slender white hand drew back the velvet curtain separating Julia’s room from the corridor. Her half-sister, Cornelia, stepped inside, dressed in a silk gown the color of an apricot. Cornelia stooped to lift a coverlet that had slipped to the floor, just as if she were not married to one of the most distinguished men in Rome, as if she did not own slaves enough to serve a small city.

Julia cleared sleep-tangled hair from her cheeks and greeted Cornelia. Her half-sister had come to lift her spirits. Could she intercede and make it all go away? Before Julia could ask, their mother came in, enveloping the room in the fragrance of lemon soap she used at the baths. “Hurry now, Julia. You’ll not want to keep them waiting. Here, wear this today. You want to look your best.”

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