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Authors: Ruth Downie

Tags: #General, #Fiction, #Historical, #Physicians, #Murder, #Italy, #Mystery & Detective, #Murder - Investigation, #Physicians - Rome, #Rome, #Mystery Fiction, #Investigation

Persona Non Grata

BOOK: Persona Non Grata
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PERSONA NON GRATA

BY THE SAME AUTHOR

Medicus

Terra Incognita

PERSONA
NON GRATA

A Novel of the Roman Empire

RUTH DOWNIE

Copyright © 2009 by Ruth Downie

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the publisher except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information address Bloomsbury USA, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010.

Published by Bloomsbury USA, New York

All papers used by Bloomsbury USA are natural, recyclable products made from wood grown in well-managed forests. The manufacturing processes conform to the environmental regulations of the country of origin.

LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING-IN-PUBLICATION DATA

Downie, Ruth, 1955–

Persona non grata : a novel of the Roman empire / Ruth Downie. — 1st U.S. ed.

p.cm.

eISBN: 978-1-60819-111-6

1. Physicians—Rome—Fiction. 2. Murder—Investigation—Fiction.

I. Title.

PR6104.O94P47 2009

823'.92—dc22

2009006767

First U.S. Edition 2009

1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2

Typeset by Westchester Book Group

Printed in the United States of America by Quebecor World Fairfield

To the excavators of Whitehall Roman Villa

Do not heap up upon poverty, which has many attendant evils, the perplexities which arise from borrowing and owing.

—Plutarch,
Moralia

The love of money is the root of all evils.

—The Bible, 1 Timothy 6:10

PERSONA NON GRATA

A Novel

IN WHICH Gaius Petreius Ruso, our hero, will be . . .

Lied for by

Valens, a fellow medic

Harassed by

Marcia and

Flora, his half sisters

Organized by

Arria, his stepmother

Put straight by

Cassiana, his sister-in-law

a cook

Complained at by

Lucius Petreius, his brother

Intrigued by

Lollia Saturnina, a neighbor

Puzzled by

Justinus, his brother-in-law (missing feared drowned)

A very short letter

Insulted by

Claudia, his former wife, daughter of Probus (see “thrown out by”)

Informed by

A security guard whose name he cannot remember

Flaccus, a kitchen boy

Galla, a servant

Valgius, a snake charmer

Attalus, an undertaker

Solicited by

Gabinius Fuscus, a politician and cousin of a senator

Tertius, a gladiator

Diphilus, a builder

Confused by

Polla

Sosia

Little Lucius

Little Publius, and

Little Gaius— his nephews and nieces

Pursued by

Calvus, an investigator

Stilo, his sidekick

Annoyed by

Brother Solemnis, a follower of Christos

Threatened by

Severus, the agent in charge of the senator’s estate (see “in debt to”)

Copreus, a sea captain

Ponticus, a shipping agent

Thrown out by

Ennia, sister of Severus

Zosimus, a house steward

Probus, a banker, Ruso’s former father-in-law

Employed by

Gnostus, an old colleague with a new name

Almost poisoned by

A stable lad

In debt to

Many people, including:

Probus (see “thrown out by”)

Gabinius Fuscus (see “solicited by”)

The senator, a character frequently mentioned but never appearing

Assorted tradesmen

Argued with, slept with, and abandoned (again) by

Tilla, otherwise known as Darlughdacha of the Corionotatae among the Brigantes

Contents

CHAPTER 1

CHAPTER 2

CHAPTER 3

CHAPTER 4

CHAPTER 5

CHAPTER 6

CHAPTER 7

CHAPTER 8

CHAPTER 9

CHAPTER 10

CHAPTER 11

CHAPTER 12

CHAPTER 13

CHAPTER 14

CHAPTER 15

CHAPTER 16

CHAPTER 17

CHAPTER 18

CHAPTER 19

CHAPTER 20

CHAPTER 21

CHAPTER 22

CHAPTER 23

CHAPTER 24

CHAPTER 25

CHAPTER 26

CHAPTER 27

CHAPTER 28

CHAPTER 29

CHAPTER 30

CHAPTER 31

CHAPTER 32

CHAPTER 33

CHAPTER 34

CHAPTER 35

CHAPTER 36

CHAPTER 37

CHAPTER 38

CHAPTER 39

CHAPTER 40

CHAPTER 41

CHAPTER 42

CHAPTER 43

CHAPTER 44

CHAPTER 45

CHAPTER 46

CHAPTER 47

CHAPTER 48

CHAPTER 49

CHAPTER 50

CHAPTER 51

CHAPTER 52

CHAPTER 53

CHAPTER 54

CHAPTER 55

CHAPTER 56

CHAPTER 57

CHAPTER 58

CHAPTER 59

CHAPTER 60

CHAPTER 61

CHAPTER 62

CHAPTER 63

CHAPTER 64

CHAPTER 65

CHAPTER 66

CHAPTER 67

CHAPTER 68

CHAPTER 69

CHAPTER 70

CHAPTER 71

CHAPTER 72

CHAPTER 73

CHAPTER 74

CHAPTER 75

CHAPTER 76

CHAPTER 77

CHAPTER 78

CHAPTER 79

CHAPTER 80

CHAPTER 81

CHAPTER 82

CHAPTER 83

CHAPTER 84

CHAPTER 85

CHAPTER 86

CHAPTER 87

AUTHOR’S NOTE

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

A NOTE ON THE AUTHOR

1

J
USTINUS WAS LYING in the stinking dark of the ship’s hold, bruised and beaten, feeling every breath twist hot knives in his chest.

The light that trickled in through the worrying gaps in the hull showed the angle of the ladder above him. Beyond it, thin bright lines betrayed the position of the hatch. He remembered the slam, and the rattle of the bolts. Now he heard the sharp yell of a reprimand over the thumps and footfalls up on the deck of the
Pride of the South
, a ship that could hardly have been less appropriately named.

What ever they were up to, it seemed he didn’t need to die for it. If they planned to kill him, they could simply have thrown him overboard. Perhaps they would maroon him on a remote island somewhere while they sailed off to enjoy spending his master’s money. He would eat berries, spear fish, and wait to be rescued. Sooner or later he would return home, thinner and browner and with a well-rehearsed apology to his master.

He forced himself into a sitting position just as the ship heeled to starboard. Cold bilge that should not have been near the cargo sloshed over his legs. Beneath him, he felt the stacked amphorae slide out of position and begin to tip and roll with the movement of the ship. Dark shapes swarmed out from among them and ran squealing along the sides of the hold.

“Hey!” he shouted, grasping at the ladder to steady himself and wincing at the pain in his chest. “Captain!”

No response.

“Copreus!” He banged on the ladder with his fist before he shouted the words that should bring the crew running. “The cargo’s shifting!”

There was a muffled shout from above, then something thudding against the side of the ship, scurrying feet, and the bark of orders. Between the other sounds, he was almost certain he could hear waves breaking on a shore near enough to swim to.

“Hey!”

Struggling over the rolling necks of the amphorae, he pressed his face against a gap in the planking of the hull. Outside, he could see nothing but brilliant blue. He crawled back and smashed two of the loose amphorae against each other. Nothing happened. He heaved one up—thank God, for some reason this one was empty and relatively light—and swung it against the other. The heavy pottery cracked. Praying he could make a gap big enough to escape from before the sea started pouring in, he began using a broken handle to batter ineffectually at the worm-eaten hull.

“Let me out!” When he stopped to catch his breath he heard footsteps retreating across the deck. There was a series of small bumps against the hull before the shout of an order and the irregular splash of rowers getting into rhythm. After that there was nothing but the creaking of wood and the slop of water.

Moments later, he smelled the burning.

For a moment he could make no sense of it. Then, ignoring the pain in his chest, he took a deep breath and shouted through the gap, “You bastards! Get me out!”

Only the sound of water. The scuffle of a rat.
“Fire! Don’t leave me here!”

Still no reply. The
Pride
lurched violently, rolling him up the inside of the hull and drenching him with more cold water as the amphorae crashed and tumbled around him.

“Don’t leave me!”

Smoke was seeping down into the hold, forming ghostly fingers in the thin shafts of light. The water was rising. The
Pride
was listing badly now, as if she was settling down on her side to sleep.

“Help me!” he screamed, the pain stabbing his chest with every movement as he struggled to get upright. He cried out in panic as he felt himself slip down toward the water. Seconds later he came to rest against a fallen amphora. An expanse of long pale cylinders was shifting about in front of him.

He realized suddenly that every one of them was empty. That was why they were all bobbing about on the surface of the bilge. The cargo he had authorized, and seen loaded, had vanished—probably while Copreus had been buying him drinks back in Are late the night before they sailed.

One of the amphorae gurgled and sank out of sight. The others rolled in and closed over the gap. Justinus shut his eyes. He prayed for strength. Then he edged along the ladder, which was now lying sideways, and aimed a kick at the hatch. Nothing happened.

He kicked at it again. “Let me out!” he screamed. “I won’t say anything!”

A rat swam past him, scrabbled to get a grip, and finally managed to hook a paw over a handle and pull its dripping body out of the water.

Justinus closed his eyes again. “You can forgive them if you like,” he growled to his god. “But they don’t deserve it.”

He said a prayer for his sister and his many nephews and nieces in case he did not see them again in this life. Then he began to give a last account of his sins and stupidities, all the time kicking at the locked hatch, because anything was better than listening to the creaking and splintering of old wood and the crash as something else gave way out there. Anything was better than noticing the way the cold was creeping up around him, and seeing the fingers of light in the smoky air being extinguished one by one by the rising flood, and coughing, and knowing that, drowning or burning, the end would be the same.

He was still praying and kicking the hatch when the
Pride of the South
vanished below the surface of the sunlit water, its passing marked only by a thin drift of smoke and a swell that was barely noticed by the men hastening away in a distant rowboat.

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