"Bloody slaves – they do nothing right!" Beautiful Atia was covering up her fear with fury, as usual. The city of Rome was boiling over with fury – and the fickle mob had turned once again. Only this morning they had been for Marc Antony, and now – now the dogs were all against him!

The hot-blooded Roman matron had been sharing her bed with the soldier for months, of course. It was only good sense to form an alliance with the man everyone said was invincible. But as she ran around the outer walls of her family villa, making sure every door was bolted, flame-haired Atia began to wonder for the first time if poor Marc Antony were really indestructible after all.

Only this morning, Antony had been so confident. He was going to praise Caesar, and bury Brutus. But something had gone wrong. The funeral for Uncle Julius had exploded into a riot. Night had fallen, and Antony was still missing.

Suddenly there was a groan from under a pile of rubbish.

"Antony! How did you get in here?"

"Crawled . . . through the sewer." The great Roman soldier certainly looked as if he had crawled through the sewer. His entire body was blackened with filth, but even under all that muck and slime Atia could see the bruises and blood of a terrible beating.

"Poor man, let's get you into the bath." Atia nearly reached out to help Antony up herself, but the stench changed her mind. "Slaves! Come see to our guest!"

"Are you sure that's a good idea, mother?" Young Octavian had entered the atrium on silent feet, and stood looking down at the battered Marc Antony with expressionless eyes.

"Get a medic, boy." The moment Antony sensed Atia's son looking at him, he put on his old air of bullying authority. But he no longer had the muscle to back it up. The big man was finished. Sensing this, his voice cracked with fear. "Go on!"

Octavian kept looking at him, like a snake eyeing his prey. Finally he turned to his mother. "For your sake, mother, I ask you to reconsider whether it's really safe to keep up your . . . friendship with this man. Brutus and his allies now control the city. They have armed men out everywhere looking for Marc Antony. If he's found here, all of us may end up just like Uncle Julius."

"Legions," Antony choked out. The pain of his wounds was getting worse and worse. He remembered the mob kicking him, spitting on him, women clawing his face till it bled. "Have legions . . . in the north. Will protect . . . all of you!"

"Yes, well, we're not in the north now, are we?" Practical Atia seemed to come to a decision. "All right, my clever little son, why don't you and that low-born friend of yours, Agrippa, help Marc Antony find a safe hiding place in the city? Someplace shabby and drab, where no-one would look for my dashing, handsome, courageous Marc Antony!"

"Of course, mother. I'll summon Timon and his people, and we'll take him out the back way. We'll take Antony to the Aventine, to the home of Lucius Vorenus."

As soon as Antony heard the name of Vorenus, he knew everything would be all right. He remembered what he'd once told Caesar about the grim, gray-eyed centurion. Deep Thirteenth, that one. He'd follow the standard up Pluto's . . .

"Where are we going, boy?" Antony's eyes were nearly swollen shut. But he could tell this wasn't the way to the Aventine. Not far from Atia's house, they turned down a narrow alleyway. Someone tripped him, and he fell down.

"Good evening, Brutus!" Young Octavian cried cheerfully.

"Good evening, young Octavian," Marcus Junius Brutus said politely. "May I offer my condolences on the tragic death of your Uncle Julius?"

"Thank you, Brutus. Your speech at the Forum this afternoon touched me deeply. I realize now that Caesar's death was a tragedy for both of us."

"Murderer!" Marc Antony tried to lift his head. He wanted to spit on Brutus. He wanted to spit on all the sissy boys. He was a man! Oh, but he hurt. He hurt so bad. And he couldn't seem to move. Someone planted a foot on Antony's back, forcing his bloody face back into the filthy gutter.

"Well, what have we here?" Octavian asked, as though just noticing the man in the gutter. "Can this be Marc Antony, the Son of Hercules? Here, noble Antony, let me help you up."

Like a fool, Antony actually reached for the boy's hand. Instead he got a kick in the mouth that sent him sprawling.

"That's the kind of help I'm gonna give you . . . boy." Octavian's voice held a sneering note of triumph. He turned back to Brutus. "Tell me, Brutus, if this thing was a Gaul, would you kill it?"

"Killing is the last thing I would do to Antony," Brutus said. "The very last thing. But there's so much we can do first, to celebrate our new alliance. Let's do it together, Octavian."

"Together!" The two young men shook hands. They were sissy boys, all right. Nothing but a pair of weak sissy boys!

"Good evening friends," said a soft voice. Marcus Tullius Cicero held up something that glittered in the torch light. Something long and sharp. "Shall we get down to business?"

Marc Antony screamed.

Like a woman.