The knock on Tero’s door a few days later was so tentative, he was only half-sure he’d heard it. Nonetheless, he went to the door and opened it to find Eprius’ valet Titus waiting for him.
“Come in, come in,” the vigil said. “What can I do for you?”
“Thank you very much,” the servant replied. His Latin, though grammatically perfect, still carried a faint guttural touch of his native Syriac. When comfortably seated, he went on, “I’ve had the time now to go through my late master’s effects more thoroughly, and I’ve found something I think you ought to know.”
“Ah?” Tero leaned forward. “Tell me more…”
The two time travelers walked through the center of Vesunna. The tune Alvarez was whistling would not be written for another nineteen centuries, but he couldn’t have cared less. In less than a day the timer would recharge itself and he’d return to the era where he belonged, a richer man. He looked about. He’d had enough of painted marble statues Uttering the city square, enough of the stink of ordure and the slimy feel of it under his feet, enough of drafty clothes, bad syrupy wine, and a language he barely understood! And he’d had enough of bedbugs, too; he scratched under his mantle. His fingers brushed the leather of his shoulder holster, and he smiled a little. The weight of the revolver was a comfort, like a paid-up insurance policy.
Lou was silent beside him, watching the tide of humanity ebb and flow. Today was market day, and the square was packed. To Alvarez the merchants and their customers were so many gabbling barbarians, but for some incomprehensible reason Lou chose to regard them as people. Most of the time this inspired nothing but disdain in Alvarez, but now his all-encompassing good humor even included his partner. Lou might be a weakling, but he knew his stuff. He had tracked that play of Sophokles from nothing but the vaguest rumor, and now it looked as if there would be an unexpected bonus in this squalid town. Who would have thought a copy of Hieronymos of Kardia’s lost history would have ended up here? It would be worth plenty: not as much as the Sophokles, perhaps, but still a nice piece of change.
Whoever this fellow was, this Kleandros Harmodios’ son who owned the Hieronymos, he wanted enough for it. Aemilius Ruso, the local scribe, had offered what was a good price by here-and-now standards, and Kleandros had turned him down flat. Alvarez chuckled. He and Lou would have no trouble on that score.
Despite directions, they got lost more than once searching out Kleandros’ house. The streets of Vesunna were winding alleyways, and one blank house front looked very much like another; to the locals, display belonged to the interior of a house, not the outside. Alvarez was beginning to mutter to himself when Lou stopped at a door no different from half a dozen others nearby and said, “This is it, I think.”
“How can you tell?” Alvarez asked, but Lou was already knocking. The door swung open, revealing a spare but handsome man wearing a white chlamys and sandals with leather lacings reaching almost to his knees. It was Greek dress, Alvarez realized: this must be Kleandros himself. Good. If Kleandros was answering the door himself, that must mean he was taking seriously the privacy instructions he’d gotten. Alvarez looked him over. In his own time he would have guessed Kleandros to be in his mid-fifties, but the wear and tear was harder here, so he was probably younger. Still, if he was a doctor, he might take better care of himself than most of the locals. Maybe not, though-some of the things the second century judged medicinal were amazing.
“Come in, come in,” Kleandros was saying. “You must be the gentlemen who inquired about my history.” Lou admitted it. “Very good. Will you join me in the courtyard? The day is far too fine to be cooped up inside without need.”
Kleandros was not as rich a man as Clodius Eprius, who had used the income of his country estate to beautify his home in Vesunna. Fewer rooms opened onto this courtyard, and it was bare of the elegant statuary that had been Eprius’ delight. There was a fountain at the center of the courtyard, though, and flowers of many kinds and colors grew in neatly trimmed rows, bright against drab plaster and pale stone.
The doctor seated his guests on a limestone bench and offered them wine. When they accepted, he served it to them in cups of the same red-glazed ware Eprius had used. It was decorated with embossed reliefs and called terra sigillata, or sealing-wax ware, after the color of the glaze. The stuff was everywhere in Gaul; it was made locally and had nearly driven the more expensive Italian pottery from the market.
Putting down his cup, Kleandros said, “Now to business. I am not eager to sell the history of Hieronymos, but I have a need for ready cash. What will you give me for it?”
A long haggle ensued. Lou had learned from his mistake with Eprius not to show too much eagerness, and as for Kleandros, he might have been arguing with some farmer over the price of a sack of beans. Alvarez was stifling yawns when they finally agreed that twenty-eight aurei did not seem too unreasonable. Lou was not yawning; he was sweating.
“Whew!” Kleandros said. “You drive a hard bargain, my friend. I suppose you would like to inspect the work now?”
“I would,” Lou agreed.
“Wait a moment, then, and I will fetch it.” Kleandros disappeared into the house. While he was gone, Lou counted out the requisite number of gold coins and made a little pile of them.
Kleandros’ face lit up when he returned with the scrolls and saw the money. “Splendid!” he said, scooping up the aurei. “I’m glad you brought what money you needed with you; waiting is hard on the nerves.” He studied the coins intently, so much so that Alvarez began to worry. Perhaps noticing the time traveler watching him, the doctor grinned and said, “It’s amazing how much more handsome an emperor’s face is when you see it on gold.”
“True,” Mark said, and he grinned back. For the first time he got a hint of his partner’s point of view; Kleandros didn’t seem like a bad fellow, for a savage. The doctor idly flipped a goldpiece in the air once, twice, three times.
Lou had been reading the work Kleandros had given him. At first his grin had been as wide as the Greek’s, but little by little it fell from his face, replaced first by puzzlement and then by anger. “What are you trying to palm off on us?” he demanded of Kleandros. “This is not Hieronymos of Kardia’s history; it’s the work of Diodoros of Sicily, who borrowed from him.”
Alvarez’s newfound liking for Kleandros flickered and blew out. Muscles bunched in his arms as he rose. If this downtime dimbulb was trying to cheat them, he was going to remember it for the rest of his life.
A crash behind him made him whirl, hand darting for his gun. Half a dozen fully armored Romans had burst from their concealment within Kleandros’ house and were rushing him, swords drawn, faces grim over their shields. Lou screamed in terror and started to run. Barking an oath, Alvarez snapped off a quick shot. It went wild. Before he could fire again, Kleandros seized his arm and dragged it down. Desperate now, Alvarez smashed at the doctor with his left fist. Kleandros fell with a groan, but by then the soldiers were on the time traveler. A sword knocked the gun from his hand. It flew spinning into the flowers. Punching and kicking to the last, he was borne to the ground and trussed like a hog on the way to the slaughterhouse. Lou Muller got the same treatment; a magnificent flying tackle had brought him down just inside Kleandros’ front door.