283 ab urbe condita
The stern-eyed man turned from his survey of the city below. "What is it now, Valerius?"
"Accus and Flavius are wondering whether they ought to curb the men now, Dominus."
The man cocked his head thoughtfully at the rising columns of smoke, listening to the distant shouts and yells. He narrowed his eyes and nodded slowly. "Give them another hour, then sound the call to camp. Only what they can carry in their hands, all booty to be inspected by their commanding officer. Then burn what's left."
"Yes, Dominus." The younger man examined the turf at his feet, shifting slightly.
"Well? What else?" He scowled and watched as flames began to lick the base of the ruined wall nearest his vantage point.
"There is a problem at one of the temples, Dominus."
"Yes, Dominus." He swallowed. "One of the smaller temples, by the city wall. Quite a small one, actually, but with some substantial treasures nonetheless. Only one old priest was left guarding the temple. I suppose the rest must have fled."
"Valerius. If there is a point, may we arrive at it?"
"Yes, Dominus. The priest has. . . done something with some of Trebonius's men."
The general frowned. "By the twins, I haven't time for this. What do you mean, done something? Speak plainly."
"Yes, of course, Dominus. What I mean to say is, three of Trebonius's men have disappeared."
"Let me understand you. An old priest has done away with three of our men, and you are standing here asking me what is to be done?"
Valerius shifted again. "I'm afraid you misunderstand me, Dominus. He hasn't so much done away with them, as. . . well, it's a little difficult to explain."
The general crossed his arms. "Try."
"Yes, Dominus. Several of Trebonius's men were. . . securing the valuables—"
"Yes, Dominus. And they rushed this little temple, which apparently was quite mean and small, and just one old priest shouting at them, and they found the treasury, which, strange to say, wasn't even locked. In fact, it didn't even have a door at all, not properly speaking – only an embroidered curtain in front of it, which was tied back, you see, Dominus, so they could see the temple treasury quite clearly."
"Temple treasury," the general snorted. "Bowls of rotting fruit, three otter skins, and Apollo's golden arse wipe, more like."
"Yes, Dominus. Anyway, the priest began shouting at them not to go in there, that they would be sorry if they did – you know, the sort of blather priests always spout when somebody's about to lay hands on their money. And one of the men went in, of course, and. . . vanished."
The general uncrossed his arms. "What did you say, Valerius?"
"He vanished, Dominus. Right into thin air. The other men thought it was some sort of trick, so they followed him. And they vanished, too. It was a tiny room, barely large enough to turn around in. They couldn't have hidden anywhere, Dominus. The fourth man was so terrified he grabbed the priest and ran straight here, to find me. He's my sister's son, Dominus." He dared a glance, and mistook the general's silence for incredulity. "He's not the sort to make up stories, Dominus, not at all. He's got quite a level head on him, and there is something. . . odd about this old man. And if he's been assaulting Roman soldiers. . ."
"Bring him here."
Valerius hesitated. "My nephew, Dominus?"
"No, you imbecile. The priest."
"Yes, Dominus. Right away."
Valerius trotted hastily away and returned within minutes, gripping an ancient little man by the forearm, half hauling, half dragging him up the bluff to his commander. He released him, and the trembling man fell to the ground, clutching his brightly coloured garment about him.
"On your feet, priest. His excellency wishes to speak to you."
The tiny priest, who appeared to be well over a hundred, took his time arranging himself, glancing quickly from the general to his adjutant and back again. There was a sharp gleam in the watery blue eyes, and, the general noted with irritation, very little fear, despite his elaborate show of it.
"Well?" he began. "I hear you have been playing a priest-trick on some of my men. Produce them at once, you fraudulent, vermin-ridden wretch, and perhaps I shall let you live. Otherwise I shall have you run though and stuck on a stake outside your pathetic temple with the rest of your brethren."
The priest straightened and met his gaze. There was a little smile tucked in the long beard. "I don't think you will, my friend. I think you will want to hear what I have to say."
The general grunted, as displeased by the little man's excellent Latin as by his insolence of manner. He laid his hand on his sword hilt. "Your lips will be less impertinent when they are swallowing iron. Tell me where my men are before I spit you."
The priest smiled serenely. "You burn and loot and destroy that which you have not made, and which your plodding minds cannot understand. You root in the mud and know not the difference between rat's turds and emeralds. This city holds the greatest treasure known to mankind, and you would tear it apart without a moment's thought. You are like children, and like children the gods will punish you. You are thugs and brutes and bullies, and there is in you no spark of the divine, no yearning for beauty, no love of anything but your own petty, shallow lusts."
The adjutant dropped his eyes in horror, wondering if he was expected to run the priest through at once or if his commander would want the satisfaction of doing it himself. He lifted his eyes in surprise when he heard the general's calm answering voice.
"No, old man," he was saying. "You are quite wrong. It is true that we are a people with little use for the womanish refinements you treasure. But we do indeed love something that is worth loving, and that you have little of. We love power, and we will have it. We love the uses of power, and we know her ways as you do not. We serve power, and she is a harsh, but beautiful mistress."
"Ah," the priest replied, narrowing his eyes. He gave a slight nod. "So that is it, then. Very good. If it is power you want, I can give you more power than you have ever dreamed of."
The general's hand flexed on his sword hilt. "How?"
The priest glanced at Valerius. "Privately. What I have to say is for your ears alone."
"As you wish, old man." The general gripped the little man by the forearm and dragged him some feet away from his adjutant and the little knot of officers behind him. Valerius strained to hear. He watched the priest lean close, whispering something, watched his commander rear back in astonishment.
"How?" He caught the word quite clearly on the evening breeze. The unmistakable stench of burning flesh was beginning to crinkle in his nostrils now.
The priest leaned close again, and now his commander was nodding and frowning, asking something. They continued in huddled conference for some time. Valerius edged as near as he dared, but could hear nothing further.
When they were done, his commander released the priest's arm and walked back to his adjutant, white-faced and grim. He glanced at Valerius, but did not meet his eyes. "Tell Trebonius and his men to take the doorway."
"To. . . do what, Dominus?"
"Take it. Remove it from the wall. Leave the masonry around it in place, but remove the archway. Use bars – it shouldn't be that difficult. These people know nothing of architecture, that much should be obvious. Use an oxcart to drag it to the camp, and place it under guard beside my tent. Select your best men for this task, Valerius. I want you personally to supervise Trebonius's men in this. Under no circumstances are any of the men to pass under that arch. And make sure none of those oafs touches anything in that temple treasury once the arch is removed. Do you understand me?"
The general was gone in a swirl of scarlet-fringed cloak, striding quickly down toward the camp. "Dominus!" he called after him.
"What is it, Valerius?"
"What shall I do with the priest?"
He waved his hand. "Kill him."
1106 ab urbe condita
The fat man mopped his brow with a square of linen cloth and scratched another note on his parchment. The heat was beginning to tell on him. If only wool were not considered the only proper material for a toga, he might stand a chance of appearing like less of a used sponge before his immaculately groomed emperor.
"What of these things here, Tullus?"
"Oh, I wouldn't worry with those crates, Augustus. I don't think there will be anything you want in there."
"Oh?" The handsome man, whose toga was exactly as he had draped it eight hours before, turned his head. "What is in those?"
"Just odds and ends, Augustus. Bits and pieces brought back from our military conquests. Some of them quite old, actually. It says here. . ." he shuffled through several scrolls tucked underneath his arm. "Ah. Here we go," he said, opening one and hastily scanning it. "Yes, yes. Military booty from the Italian wars, Augustus. As I said, I don't think there will be anything you will want in there."
But the emperor was not listening to him. He had already begun to wander the dusty, dim aisle of the storehouse, running a meditative finger along the wooden crates, pausing to examine the markings on some of them. "Fascinating," he was murmuring.
Tullus dropped a scroll and swore, crouching on his hands and knees to retrieve it as it rolled underneath a crate. "Oh, Numa's balls," he sighed.
"Tullus? Can you decipher these markings?" The emperor's voice was two aisles over at least. His fingers closed around the scroll and several piles of sticky dust, and he hurriedly straightened and trotted over to where the emperor was frowning at an enormous crate, taller than he was.
"Oh. Um. Well." Tullus squinted at the markings, comparing them to the scroll open in his hands. "According to this, it's part of the booty from the campaign of Gnaeus Marcius, afterwards Coriolanus, against the Volsci and their city of Corioli."
"Ah, yes," the emperor murmured. "Coriolanus. Brilliant strategist. I had to study him in school, though I won't hold it against him now." He rested a hand against the side of the crate. "But that was almost seven hundred years ago. Do you men to say that this has been here. . ." He frowned more deeply.
"Well, Augustus, there is certainly seven hundred years' worth of dust on it," Tullus said with distaste.
"Yes," he replied absently. "Yes, you're right there. What a thing it would be, Tullus, to have something of Coriolanus in my new city."
Tullus looked up from his parchment with a look of apprehension. "Oh, Augustus, I don't think. . ."
"My city," the emperor resumed, as though there had been no interruption. "And what a city it will be, Tullus. A new wonder of the world. My city, all of shining marble, its columns of porphyry and carnelian and alabaster. . . what a thing it will be. Men will speak of it in wonder for thousands of years to come, my friend. They will write poetry about it, they will sing songs of it, men will tell their children and their children's children that once they saw the queen of cities." The emperor was lost in his reverie now, his eyes far away, his voice soft. "And it will bear my name, this new Rome. It will be my city, mine alone. None of theirs. . ."
Abruptly he came back to himself. He patted the crate. "Add this to the others, Tullus. Doubtless it is some magnificent statue confiscated from one of the Volscian temples, or some such thing. It will fit on the next shipment. I want my city to have as much of her glorious heritage about her as we can haul across the sea." He brushed a bit of dust off his gleaming toga. "You are right, Tullus. This place is a mess. We shall both be inhaling healing herbs for a month to get the dust of this place out of our noses." He clapped a hand on his retainer's back. "Come, Tullus, let us call it a day. I don't know about you, but I am in the mood for a cold drink and some fresh air."
"Oh yes, Augustus," he said with relief. "That sounds lovely." He made a final notation on his parchment and extracted a red-tipped stylus from the fold of his tunic. He hastily scratched a bright red mark on the side of the crate and bustled after the emperor, who was waiting impatiently at the door.
2229 ab urbe condita
"Your majesty, please, there is no time."
"No." The emperor wiped his sweating brow, breathing hard. "No." He collapsed for a moment against the wall and closed his eyes. A trickle of blood mingled with sweat ran down the side of his face, and Theophilus winced to see it.
"Your majesty, this section of the wall will be down in fifteen minutes. Maybe less. There is no more time. You must come with me." A great roar rose from the outer wall, and black smoke was thick in their lungs.
"No. I will go down with the wall, if need be. They may take the shreds of my empire, they may take my city, but me they will not take." The slim young man hefted the sword again and ran his arm across his brow.
Theophilus nodded, his eyes grave. "You are worthy of your namesake, my lord."
"No," the emperor said, yet again. "I am a pale shadow of all of them, Theophilus. We are but shadows, in a shadow city. But when shadows are all you have, even they can be worth dying for." Another roar sounded, and distant screams. "Most Holy Mother of God, save us," he whispered.
"Most Holy Mother of God, forgive me," Theophilus murmured in response, and lifting his sword arm, brought it down with all his might on the head of his emperor.
The young man crumpled in a graceful heap, and Theophilus bent and scooped him effortlessly onto his shoulders, shifting his weight until he found his balance. He started slowly down the narrow stairs on the inner wall, then was struck with a thought. Carried like this, the blood and soot-streaked emperor was indistinguishable from the rest of the soldiers. Theophilus might have been just another man carrying a wounded comrade to the temporary refuge of the city below, but for one thing: the purple boots. Only the emperor was entitled to this footwear, and they were a surer sign of his royal status than crown or jeweled pallium. Swearing, Theophilus tugged them off and tossed them behind him.
He made his careful way through the press of bodies on the stairs over the Gate of Xylokerkos, making sure the emperor's cloak fell forward, covering his face. Down, down he went, off the great land walls erected by Theodosius himself, the massive, unbreachable walls that had been the city's surest defence after the mantle of the Mother of God herself. He spared not a glance for the blue domes of Blachernae, or the wail that rose to meet him as he descended into the city. Women ran with frightened faces, men dragged the wounded, children cried for their parents. Theophilus looked neither to right nor left at Constantinople's last hours, but picked his steady way through the throng, sure of his path.
At the door of the church of St. Theodosia, he stopped, and rested against the high lintel, panting. His younger cousin might be smaller, but he was dense with muscle, and not as light as he looked. Theophilus shifted him and pushed the heavy cypress door in, unsurprised to find it open. In these last days, all the churches in the city had been open, day and night, and the candles had flickered endlessly as the greatest city in Christendom pled for its salvation.
He stumbled down the stairs that led to the crypt. The women sobbing quietly on their knees in front of an icon of the Pantocrator ignored him, and he set his mouth at the sound of their useless rustlings and snivelings, and at he useless, merciful eyes that stared back at him from the icon. It struck him that tomorrow was the church's patronal feast, the feast of St. Theodosia. Sending a curse heavenward to her, he shoved through the narrow door at the bottom of the stairs.
"What are you doing?" Startled, an old monk rose from his knees, prayer-rope in hand. "This is no place for the wounded."
"Out of the way, old man. Do you know who this is?" And he lifted the edge of the cloak that hid his cousin's face. The monk's eyes widened, and he crossed himself.
"St. Theodosia, save us," he murmured. "What have you done?"
"What I had to do," he gasped. "Where is it?"
The monk froze. "Where is what?"
"Don't play the idiot with me!" he roared, not caring who heard. "Where is it? Where is the arch?"
The monk paled. "The arch. . . how do you know about that?"
"Never mind that now. You damnable monks – what good are your secrets now? I carry the blood of the purple on my back, and I would save it from the infidel's filthy claws! Do you want them to find him? Do you want them to desecrate his body?"
The monk blinked at him. "But. . . he is not dead."
"Of course not, you imbecile. This is his only chance not to be before nightfall. Will you help me?"
The monk searched his eyes, then nodded. "This way."
Theophilus followed him through a winding passageway behind a rotting door, down through crypts that reeked of the dead, stumbling over what filth he did not want to know. There was only darkness and stench. At last he stumbled into an open space, and the monk waved his hand at a torch on the wall. It sprang to life.
"How. . ."
"Never mind that now." The monk's manner was all business. "You are sure about this?"
With another wave of his hand, the torches in the rest of the room leaped and blazed. Now Theophilus could see the arch in the center of the room, and the faded embroidered curtain hanging from it that swayed as if in a breeze. "Dear God. . ." he muttered.
Above them was a distant rumble and crash. He did not have to speculate what it was. The nearest section of wall must have fallen, almost on top of their heads. The first breach, then.
"Hurry," he said to the monk. "Take his legs." Together they hoisted the emperor off Theophilus's shoulders, cradling him between them. They paused in front of the arch. Theophilus glanced up and met the monk's eyes, and strangely enough found something in them that strengthened him. He set his jaw. "On my count, then. One, two. . ."
"Mmm. Cousin?" The emperor cracked a woozy eye. "What. . ."
God forgive me, he thought. "Now!" he cried, and with all his strength he hurled his cousin though the archway, bracing himself for the crack of skull on stone that never came, for the angry protests and groans. There was only silence, and when he dared to look, the tattered veil in the arch was fluttering closed. There was only bare stone behind it.
Theophilus sank to his knees. He had done it. God forgive him, but he had done it.
"He does, my son," came a gentle voice, and a soft hand on his head. "He does."
"Oh, for the love of all that's holy. Will you look at that?" The portly man stepped gingerly around a pile of muck on the cobbled street. "Not three feet out the door, and my shoes are ruined. This place is revolting." He pulled out a pocket handkerchief and began to scrub at the bottom of his trousers. "White. I had to pack white suits. I thought it would be refreshingly cool. How was I to know I was taking ship for a cesspool?" Disgusted, he tossed the ruined handkerchief on top of a barrel of rotten figs. "Animals."
The other man beside him said nothing, but smiled gently. "Lucky for you, Farleigh, no one around here speaks English."
"Oh yes, that's just a stroke of good fortune," Farleigh said bitterly. "I'm just so bloody lucky that I have to shout and wave my arms about to make myself understood when all I want is a decent meal made out of something recognisable."
"Do you think the shouting helps?" the other man asked innocently, and Farleigh shot him a sharp glance.
"That's enough of your cheek. I agreed to have you along on this because you might prove useful, but that doesn't mean I have to put up with your impudence. And yes, I think the shouting helps. It's all these half-civilised barbarians do understand. Oh come on, don't dawdle there."
The other man had paused to buy a ripe pomegranate, and was tipping his hat to the ancient swaddled woman at the barrel.
"Now, pay attention. We've got work to do this morning, and I want this over with quickly. This country's in turmoil, and we're here to put it right. There's a passel of stuff Sir Louis wants attended to, and we need to start with the valuables."
"Oh, don't be thick. This whole place is a wreck. Our troops everywhere, and while I can speak for our boys, I wouldn't trust those Frogs further'n I could chuck 'em. They'll be looting every museum and church in the city if we don't keep a sharp eye out. The best thing we can do is clear out some of the more valuable items and send them off for safekeeping."
"Are you hard of hearing today? Yes, safekeeping. British Museum's the safest place in the world. Where better? And with Frogs poking about the city, and Ataturk moving west from Ankara for all we know, and hysterical Greeks and Armenians running about like chickens with their heads off – well, we'd best get these valuables secured as soon as possible." He sidestepped another puddle of muck and made a face. "Honestly, why do they even bother paving the place?"
"Actually, they didn't," his companion supplied. "This particular street was paved in the time of Constantine XI Dragases, the last emperor of Constantinople. The city was beginning to disintegrate in his day – well, long before it, actually – what with the loss of revenue and the Turks harrying them from every side. When a building would fall in, they would often break up the stones to use as paving. So there's no telling how old these cobbles could be. Just think of it, Farleigh. We could be treading on stones that go all the way back to the city's founder, Constantine the Great."
"Oh, hurrah. I'm tingling with joy. Are you quite finished? Come on, it's just through here." The man called Farleigh pushed a rickety door open, and they found themselves in a gigantic warehouse. Rotting fish and worse assaulted their nostrils. "Faugh," he choked. "Have you got a pocket handkerchief?"
The other man fished his out and handed it over, settling himself on a crate. He picked at his pomegranate and watched while Farleigh began a balletic series of gesticulations with the supervisor of the warehouse, a sloe-eyed young man who regarded him with astonishment.
"Puttee in box-es," Farleigh was shouting, as loudly and slowly as possible, flapping his pudgy arms. The young man looked equally puzzled and alarmed.
"Oh for heaven's sake. I give up," Farleigh sighed, and collapsed back onto a crate, fanning himself with his hat. "Those wagons will be here in one hour's time, and I'm damned if I know how to get these rotters moving. Diddlemore, why don't you do make yourself useful for a change and get off your damned arse?"
"Dumbledore," he replied. "But you know that, Fartleigh." He rose and brushed the remains of the pomegranate off his trousers. "I'm so very sorry," he began in impeccable Turkish, extending his hand. "My companion is not well. He is Sir Louis Mallet's second cousin once removed, and the ambassador thought it would do him good to get out of the sanitarium and have a change of scene. The obligations of family, you know. You mustn't mind him."
The young man craned his neck around and watched Farleigh fan himself. His gaze changed from hostile to pitying. "Of course," he said softly. "We have one in our family, as well. My great-uncle Mehmet."
"Then you know how it is," he said with a little smile.
"Naturally. Once, my great uncle Mehmet believed he was a howler monkey and tried to crawl up my aunt Akasma's skirts." He gave a rueful laugh.
"Dumbledore! What's he saying there?"
"He says he's very sorry for putting you to so much trouble, and they'll prepare the shipment right away."
"Oh. That's better then." Farleigh grunted, and resumed wiping sweat from his beefy neck. He watched as Dumbledore led the young man away with a gentle hand on his arm, gesturing toward the jumble of vases and statues and bric-a-brac. Farleigh sighed and settled himself. Dumbledore might be a damned nuisance to have underfoot, and he might not fully understand why on God's green earth Sir Louis had been so hell-bent that he drag Dumbledore to Istanbul with him, but at least the younger man's skill with the natives had come in useful on more than one occasion. He certainly seemed to have a rapport, not that this raised him in Farleigh's estimation. Precisely the opposite, actually. Doubtless it was for the sake of this Diddlemore's language ability that the ambassador had been so insistent about taking him along. Certainly it couldn't have been a lack of faith in his own diplomatic abilities.
The young man was shrugging, his fine-boned face taut and troubled.
"Yes, yes, I know what it is they want," he said bitterly. "My country is dying, and the vultures descend. It is always the same."
"Yes. Yes, I'm afraid it is. Tell me, what is your name?"
"I am Cahil."
"My name is Albus."
"Your name does not sound like the others."
"I do not think you are like the others."
Dumbledore extracted his pomegranate from his pocket and broke off a ruby cluster of seeds, tonguing them thoughtfully. "No," he said at last. "I'm not." Wordlessly he broke off another cluster and pressed it into the young man's hand. They sucked their seeds in silence.
"I cannot stop Farleigh and his kind," Dumbledore said at last. "But I can stop them from doing too much damage. Cahil, listen to me. Do you trust me?"
He nodded slowly, warily.
"Then if there is anything here that you think would be safer with me than with that man—" he gestured to Farleigh, who was waving wildly at invisible flies—"you should let me know, and I will see to it that it is kept safe."
Cahil studied his bit of pomegranate, revolving it in his hands.
"Cahil. Can you think of such a thing?"
"Can you think of why I should tell you, if I could?"
Dumbledore broke off another cluster, gently, so as not to rupture it. "I can think," he said quietly, "of one or two reasons." He pressed the delicate cluster of berries into Cahil's warm brown hand, and let his thumb linger for just a moment, but long enough to catch the younger man's stillness of breath. He let Cahil watch him as he pretended to study his fruit.
"There is one thing," the young man said finally. "You must come with me. And you must swear to me you will put it somewhere safe."
Dumbledore met his eyes. "I swear. If I have to create a place just for such a treasure, I will do it. And I think you believe that I keep my promises."
"Yes," Cahil reflected. "I think that I do."
Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry
Severus Snape ran a reflective finger down the little book's last page. The sepia ink on the flyleaf contained one final note:
Arch brought to England by A.D.
And on the next line: Department of Mysteries established, December 1919. A.D. first curator.
An abrupt ending. He closed the little suede-bound volume that nestled in the hand so satisfyingly. "Annales Arcus et Peregrinationes," the title page proclaimed in faint hand-written letters. The History of the Arch and Its Travels. He tapped its soft time-worn cover, lost in thought.