Beyond Caesar’s absent and distracted influence, I encountered there in the hallway of that building a much more personal, more involved evil. No taller than the Emperor, but younger and leaner, the second man clad in the robes of a politician had the look of a mongrel dog starved to the point of death and gone cruel from its deprivation. His face reminded me of a rat, with a protruding nose and receding chin. He had beady, mean little eyes and a scant few hairs, black and curly, on his chin; these, more than anything else, looked like a man’s pubic hairs to me. At odds with the fashion of the city, or as much of it as I had seen, he wore his hair long, curled and coiffed, piled in rolls upon his head.
Other than the soldiers, the features of whom all have a way of blending together after a time so that they become a faceless horde, a function more than a group of men, of individuals—other than these and the rat-faced man—Silvanos, his name was—there remained one other in that hallway. Judging based upon appearance, she did not belong there. Never had I seen a more beautiful woman. Her form might well have been carved by some master sculptor from the purest virgin marble, white as fresh milk, and her tangle of hair, comprised of small ringlets that fell to her waist, looked woven by a professional seamstress from the blackest gossamer. Do I wax poetic over this woman, my loyal friends? I plead my guilt, and offer as my defense that you did not see her. Striking in the way a grand vista is so, or a work of high art, she inspired such praise of detail. She wore a gown of pale blue that matched her eyes and complimented her complexion. One could not find a finer portrait rendered in living flesh of delicate, magnificent womanhood.
I go on so in description of her femininity because she bore also, and in contrast, or rather blatant opposition to this former quality, a marked fierceness, a hardness masked by her soft and smiling lips, a cruelty, even, to match that in the features of Silvanos. This latter quality, in which there existed nothing whatsoever of the feminine, escaped its mask of sensual beauty by radiating out from the woman’s cold blue eyes.
Here again, as when I had gazed upon the fresco of Lycanon in that subterranean temple, I felt no stirring presentiment. Once more I looked upon one important to my destiny and knew it not, sensed nothing in it. The few thoughts she inspired in me at all, I confess, shame me to recollect them. She was, as I have made clear by now, I trust, a woman of exceeding sexuality.
She walked up to the cage, fearless, and leaned her face against the bars, curled her fingers around them. She licked her lips before she spoke.
“A real werewolf,” she said. “I can’t wait to see you transform. Will you do it for me now?”
I failed to answer her.
“Surely it can speak?” she said. “If it wants to keep its tongue, it should use it.” Her eyes narrowed to slits even as she continued to smile at me, her beauty in contradiction to the harshness of her gaze.
“I cannot control the transformation,” I told her.
“No? What brings it about, then?”
I saw no purpose for lying. They would all know the truth soon enough. “The moon,” I replied.
“Ah! Selene!” her smile widened, framed there between the silver. “That’s my name! How appropriate!”
Then she reached into the cage and poked at my chest with a slender finger. The gesture so took me aback that I recoiled against the rear of the cage, feeling in that instant the silver burning my bare back. This made Selene laugh, a giggle like one would expect to hear escape from a little girl.
“Silvanos, I want to play with him,” she said to the rat-faced man.
“Do you, my dear?” he said. “I suppose we could chain him down. That way he couldn’t hurt you. He would be at your mercy.”
“He’s already at my mercy,” she said, and stroked my cheek. “I’ve never bedded a werewolf before,” she said to me. “I look forward to taming the beast. How long is it until the next time you change?”
“If you come near me at that time,” I said, “and you fail to keep these bars between us…”
“You’ll gobble me all up?” she said, giggling. “I would hope so.”
“You would die!” I said. “The Doghead is not something to trifle with!”
She ran her cold eyes over me, then locked her gaze with mine.
“Neither am I,” she said. With that she pushed herself off from the cage and sauntered out of the hall, as soft of step and graceful as any woman. One would never know, who had not peered into those pale eyes of hers, that a beast—I recognized in this woman, this Selene, a kindred spirit—wore such supple beauty as its masquerade.
“Get some rest tonight, werewolf,” the rat-faced Silvanos said to me. “You will need it. You go into the arena tomorrow, and if you survive that, Selene will doubtless have you in her bed tomorrow night, which you may not survive!” He laughed like a horse braying.
“I will not fight,” I told him. “Nor can you make me. I have nothing in this world I am afraid to lose” —I spoke the truth. Samaethea and Elsora, Dalmontenes all were dead, and Oran so far away that no Roman blade could reach him. —“and by killing me you would only be giving me what I want!”
The little fiend screwed up his face into a grin. “You will fight,” he said.
And I did.