Rome, Sesithacus decided, smelled even worse after rain. It did not wash away the stench of so many people living in one spot, rather it just made the entire city smell of damp wool and wet dogs on top of everything else.
"Is there no rain in Germania?" Februus asked in amusement when he complained.
"Of course there's rain," Sesithacus said, forcing his way along the narrow street thronged with people. "But there aren't so many people who eat nothing but beans and olive oil." He grimaced as he was shoved by a workman passiing by and stepped into a muddy puddle that proved to be mostly dog shit churned up by others' feet. "It's cleaner rain," he said, wondering if he could make one of their employer Silvius' slaves clean his sandal. He valued them, he thought, surely he would not begrudge one of his slaves making sure his exotic bodyguards didn't smell of shit? "And in Germania I would not have been up since before it was light, seeking out foreign plants to buy for a foreign priest's spells. My cloak is soaked, and it can only get wetter – it's going to rain again, just look at those clouds."
"It doesn't rain at all in Hibernia," Februus said cheerfully. "The sun shines every day, the wind is always warm and the women willing, the songbirds do not start their warbling until a man has had a chance to sleep his fill and the rivers run with gold. It was such a relief when the whole land went to war. I was half-mad with the boredom."
"You are wholly mad now," Sesithacus muttered, and turned with relief up the street that led to Silvius' house. He shoved a final few people out of the way and banged on the door until the doorkeeper let them in. "Good morning," he added as they passed the house's steward, who eyed them suspiciously as he always did.
"Boo," Februus said, and laughed as the man retreated a half step.
Sesithacus grinned. He had made it his mission to force the man to acknowledge them every day. The man looked gloomier and more than ever like he suffered from perpetual indigestion. "He's still astonished his master allows barbarians in his house," he said quietly to Februus. "There's something more he is worried about –"
"Don't take it to heart," Februus said, as if cheering up a small boy with a skinned knee, distracting him as he tried to hear the thoughts the steward had covered over with his disapproval of barbarians. "You can gut him soon enough."
Sesithacus kept the smile on his face and didn't shudder. Februus didn't joke about such things. "Come on," he said, "let's give Caratacus his shopping." He led the way to the small room they shared, and was annoyed to find only Sanagi, kneeling upon the ground, seeming to look through the wall.
"Where is Caratacus?" Sesithacus asked. "I have the things he wanted." He rolled his eyes as Sanagi said nothing. "Where is he?" he asked, louder than before. Sanagi looked up at him slowly and without blinking, as if seeing him from a thousand miles away.
"The courtyard," he said.
"What are you doing?" Februus asked, shoving past Sesithacus and dropping his sodden cloak onto his mattress.
"Waiting," Sanagi said, his eyes still fixed on Sesithacus' face
"For what?" Sesithacus said, already regretting it.
"I have finished now," Sanagi said, and rose smoothly to his feet. "Come."
"I don't do what you tell me," Sesithacus snapped. His eye was drawn to something bright Februus was admiring. "What's that?"
"I saw a ring I liked in the market," Februus said idly. "I got it while you were arguing over the price of Caratacus' plants." He held it up. "What do you think?"
Sesithacus kept his face as blank as he could. The ring was still on a finger. "Madman," he said, not forcefully enough to make Februus do more than laugh at him.
"Come," Sanagi said again. "Or stay in his company. I want to see the fish."
He walked out of the room and away. Sesithacus gritted his teeth and followed. They found Caratacus sitting in the family's private courtyard, a fold of his cloak thrown over his head to protect himself from the drizzle that had started up again. Sanagi walked straight past him and stopped at the edge of the ornamental pond, staring down into it with the intensity with which Sesithacus had found him staring at nothing.
"You'll make yourself sick, sitting in the rain," Sesithacus said and sighed. When had he come to sound like a scolding mother? "Move over." He sat on the bench beside Caratacus and held out the bag. "I have your magic herbs. I haggled for hours in the rain. Februus cut off someone's finger. The slaves here still hate us. When can we find a place that will suit us all?"
"Soon," Caratacus said, reaching out without looking to take the bag. "I have told our noble employer that the gods will favour his family greatly if he passes a message from me to his recent illustrious guest." He blinked and squinted at Sanagi, who was now leaning precariously far over the pond at an angle Sesithacus considered impossible. "Don't fall in!" Caratacus called.
"You asked Silvius to pass on a message to the Emperor," Sesithacus said. "And you think he'll speak well of a half-blind Briton to the man who rules so much of the world, do you?"
"Yes," Caratacus said calmly. "The gods are behind us, Sesithacus." He sighed. "If they would but send me something I could use. All they have shown me is the death of his daughter. Useless!" He stretched his legs out before him. "Thank you for buying these. We should go in, before you worry too much that I will catch another fever."
"Wait," Sesithacus said. "You've seen the death of Nero's daughter?"
"I cannot use that, we'd be arrested for conspiring to bring about the death of one of the Imperial family," Caratacus said. He grinned suddenly, the humour wiping away the marks of exhaustion on his face. "When in truth we conspire to kill them all!"
"Shh! Have the gods robbed you of sense?" Sesithacus hissed. "What if someone hears you?"
"The only one in hearing range is Sanagi," Caratacus said cheerfully. "And are the rest of us not told daily that our Latin is incomprehensible?"
"Are you bringing about her death?" Sesithacus said, looking askance at the bag of herbs he had so recently bought. He was no priest, he thought, to know their powers and uses. He was not to blame in this. "The child is only a baby, Caratacus."
"Don't fear," Caratacus said. "It is the gods who strike Nero thus, not me." He smirked. "You are grown so soft here that you mourn one Roman child, Sesithacus?" He looked up at the sky, seeming not to care as the drizzle turned a little sharper, the water darkening his hair and moustache. "Did you not tell me the steward thinks you Germans are fearsome creatures, more given to the eating of babies than fearing for them?"
"That man's a fool. It's just -" Sesithacus started. He remembered how it had been to feel the pleasure of the Romans when the news of the girl's birth had been announced, a spot of brightness in the cold days of the start of the year. "Babies die so easily, I know, but -" He looked away. If his life had gone as he wished he would have been married over a year ago, he thought, and might have a child much the age of Nero's daughter. He thought of his own mother weeping when his younger brother died, coughing his life away, and thought how he would feel to see the death of his own child. "What is Sanagi doing?" he said roughly, staring fixedly at the pond, where Sanagi was now dropping handfuls of earth and pebbles into the water. "Stupid boy."
"Oh, Sesithacus," Caratacus said gently. "Don't weep for her; the gods are taking her before she knows how the world mistreats the weak. Don't weep for her parents either." He put a kind hand on Sesithacus' shoulder. "These Romans aren't like us," he said. "They don't have real feelings. Do you know, Silvius' daughter had her bastard this morning? He asked me if it would be a fortunate thing to raise it quietly, out of the city. I said it would be luckier to throw it into a pit. He thanked me. The Greek slaves are the only ones who ask about his daughter's welfare. That's what Roman feelings are, so dry your eyes." He stood up. "It's starting to rain in earnest. We should go indoors." He strolled to the pond. "What are you doing, Sanagi?"
"Making islands," Sanagi said. "But they're going to sink." He glared down at the water. "I grow tired of this place. When will your gods be ready? I will bring destruction down for you. I will pluck the Romans up and cast them down."
"Soon enough," Caratacus said. "For now, let's go in."
He led the boy away as Sesithacus sat in the strengthening rain, scrubbing his hands over his face as if he could wash away Caratacus' words. At last he heaved himself up and walked the few steps to the pond, looking down numbly at Sanagi's work, a miniature line of islands stretching in a curve down the centre of the water. One by one they sank under the weight of the raindrops and were gone. Give me a sign, Sesithacus thought. Any sign that anything Caratacus says about his vengeance will come to pass.
The next morning a great heron came down and ate all the fish in the pond, one by one.