Under the Cornice that topped the columns of red marble, clear in the light of a lamp, stood Aulus, with one hand outstretched before him as if to receive a gift. He was staring down at it, and the eyes of every slave in both courtyards followed his, for the hand was as red and dark as the marble.
Hylas started toward him, and the movement seemed to release the bond of fear that had held the other slaves still. Aulus stumbled forward and fell on his knees beside the fish tank in the center of the atrium, plunging his whole arm into the water between the lily leaves. At the same time he began to cry, the wheezing sob of a small child who will howl louder when he has got his breath.
Hylas shook him as one shakes a small child to stop the noise. "Who is it?"
There was death in Aulus's face, and more deaths than one, but he did not answer. The women behind were whimpering now. Where was the steward? He ought to have been there to take charge. Hylas ran through into the peristyle . . .
Murder by one slave in a Roman household meant death for the other slaves. When Senator Caius Pomponius is found stabbed, the seventeen-year-old secretary Hylas manages to escape arrest. In a desperate attempt to save his mother and fellow slaves, he is unexpectedly helped by Varro, a secret Christian, through whom he enlists the help of Camillus, a young tribune. Camillus soon finds himself reluctantly picking a dangerous way through the political plots of Nero's Rome to discover the real murderer.
Hylas is a young Greek slave in the household of Caius Pomponius, a Roman Senator involved in political schemes. When the senator is found mysteriously murdered, the household slaves (including Hylas and his mother) fall under suspicion. Hylas escapes capture long enough to enlist the aid of a young tribune, Camillus Rufus. The desperate attempt to unravel the threads of the political intrigue carries Camillus into the very presence of Nero and brings Hylas into contact with the new secret sect of Christians.
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