Biographies & Memoirs


JOAN’S first act as Pope was to undertake a walking tour of the city. Accompanied by an entourage of optimates and guards, she visited each of the seven ecclesiastical regions in turn, greeting the people and listening to their grievances and needs.

As she neared the end of her tour, Desiderius, the archdeacon, directed her up the Via Lata away from the river.

“What about the Campus Martius?” she said.

The others in the papal entourage looked at one another in consternation. The Campus Martius, the marshy, breezeless, low-lying region abutting the Tiber, was the poorest part of Rome. In the great days of the Roman Republic, it had been dedicated to the worship of the pagan god Mars. Now starving dogs, ragged beggars, and thieves wandered its once-proud streets.

“We daren’t venture in there, Holiness,” Desiderius pro tested. “The place is rife with typhus and cholera.”

But Joan was already striding toward the river, flanked by Gerold and the guards. Desiderius and the others had no choice but to follow.

Rows of insulae, the narrow tenements of the poor, crowded together along the filthy streets edging the riverbank, their rotting timbers bending alarmingly. Some of the insulae had collapsed; the heaps of rotten timber lay where they had fallen, blocking the narrow streets. Overhead stretched the ruined arches of the Marcian aqueduct, once one of the engineering wonders of the world. Now its broken walls dripped filthy water that collected underneath in black, stagnant pools, breeding grounds for disease.

Groups of beggars huddled over pots of foul-smelling food simmering on little fires made from twigs and dried dung. The streets were covered with a layer of slime left behind by repeated floodings of the Tiber. Refuse and excrement plugged the gutters; the stench rose unbearably in the summer heat, attracting swarms of flies, rats, and other vermin.

“God’s teeth,” Gerold muttered darkly beside her. “The place is a pesthole.”

Joan knew the face of poverty, but she had never seen anything to equal this appalling, brutish squalor.

Two small children crouched before a cooking fire. Their tunics were so threadbare Joan could see the whiteness of their skin beneath; their bare feet were wrapped with strips of filthy rags. One, a little boy, was obviously sick with fever; despite the summer heat, he was shivering uncontrollably. Joan removed her linen paenula and tucked it gently around him. The boy rubbed his cheek against the fine cloth, softer than anything he had felt in his life.

She felt a tug on the hem of her robe. The smaller child, a round-eyed cherub of a girl, was looking up at her questioningly. “Are you an angel?” the small voice chirruped.

Joan cupped the child’s dirty chin. “You’re the angel, little one.”

Inside the pot, a small piece of stringy, unidentifiable meat was beginning to brown. A young woman with lank yellow hair came lumbering wearily up from the river hauling a bucket of water. The children’s mother? Joan wondered. She was scarcely more than a child herself—surely no more than sixteen.

The young woman’s eyes lit hopefully as she saw Joan and the other prelates. “Alms, good fathers?” She held out a grimy hand. “A bit of coin for the sake of my little ones?” Joan nodded at Victor, the sacellarius, who placed a silver denarius in the girl’s outstretched palm. With a happy grin, the girl set down the water bucket to pocket the coin.

Raw sewage was floating in the water.

Benedicite! Joan thought. The filth in that water was doubtless what had made the boy sick. But with the aqueduct in ruins, what choice did his mother have? She must use the polluted water of the Tiber or die of thirst.

By now, others had begun to notice Joan and her entourage. People crowded around, eager to greet their new Lord Pope. Joan reached out to them, trying to touch and bless as many as she could. But as the crowd grew, the people packed round so closely she could scarcely move. Gerold gave commands; the guards shouldered the crowd back, opening a path, and the papal entourage retreated back up the Via Lata to the open sunshine and breezy, healthful air of the Capitoline Hill.

“WE MUST rebuild the Marcian aqueduct,” Joan said during a meeting with the optimates the next morning.

The brows of Paschal, the primicerius, lifted with surprise. “The restoration of a Christian edifice would be a more appropriate way to begin your papacy, Holiness.”

“What need do the poor have of more churches?” she replied. “Rome abounds with them. But a working aqueduct could save untold lives.”

“The project is chancy,” Victor, the sacellarius, said. “It may well be that it can’t be done.”

She couldn’t deny this. Rebuilding the aqueduct would be a monumental, perhaps an impossible, undertaking, given the sorry state of engineering of the day. The books which had preserved the accumulated wisdom of the ancients regarding these complicated pieces of construction had been lost or destroyed centuries ago. The parchment pages on which the precious plans were recorded had been scraped clean and written over with Christian homilies and stories of lives of saints and martyrs.

“We have to try,” Joan said firmly. “We cannot allow people to go on living in such appalling conditions.”

The others kept silent, not because they agreed but because it would be impolitic to offer further opposition when the Apostolic One’s mind was so obviously set upon this course.

After a moment Paschal asked, “Who do you have in mind to oversee the building?”

“Gerold,” Joan replied.

“The superista?” Paschal was surprised.

“Who else? He directed the construction of the Leonine Wall. Many believed that could not be done, either.”

In the weeks since her coronation, she had sensed Gerold’s growing unhappiness. It was difficult for them both, being near each other all the time. She, at least, had her work, a clear sense of mission and purpose. But Gerold was bored and restless. Joan knew this without his having to tell her; they had never needed speech between them to know what the other was feeling.

When Gerold came to her, she laid out her idea for the rebuilding of the Marcian aqueduct.

His brow furrowed thoughtfully. “Near Tivoli, the aqueduct runs underground, tunneling through a series of hills. If that section has fallen into decay, it will not be easy to repair.”

Joan smiled as she saw his mind already beginning to engage with the idea, anticipating the problems involved.

“If anyone can do it, you can.”

“Are you sure this is what you want?” Gerold’s eyes met hers in a look of unmistakable longing.

She felt herself respond to him. But she dared not let her feelings show. To acknowledge their intimacy, even here in private, would be to court disaster. Matter-of-factly she replied, “I can think of nothing that would be of greater benefit to the people.”

He looked away. “Very well, then. Mind you, I’m not promising anything. I’ll look into it, see what’s possible. I’ll do all I can to see the aqueduct restored to working order.”

“That’s all I ask,” she said.

SHE was coming to understand in an altogether new way what it meant to be Pope. Though nominally a position of great power, it was actually one of great obligation. Her time was completely taken up with the burdensome round of liturgical duties. On Palm Sunday, she blessed and distributed palm branches in front of St. Peter’s. On Holy Thursday, she washed the feet of the poor and served a meal to them with her own hands. On the Feast of St. Anthony she stood before the Cathedral of Sancta Maria Maggiore and sprinkled holy water on the oxen, horses, and mules that had been brought by their owners to be blessed. On the third Sunday after Advent, she laid her hands upon each of the candidates brought forward to be ordained as priests, deacons, or bishops.

There was also the daily mass to lead. On certain days, this became a stational mass, preceded by a procession through the city to the titular church in which the service would be held, stopping along the route to hear petitioners; the procession and service took most of the day. There were over ninety stational masses, including the Marian feasts, the ember days, Christ Mass, Septuagesima and Sexagesima Sundays, and most of the Sundays and ferias in Lent.

There were feast days honoring Saints Peter, Paul, Lawrence, Agnes, John, Thomas, Luke, Andrew, and Anthony, as well as the Nativity, the Annunciation, and the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. These were fixed or immovable feasts, meaning that they fell on the same day each year, like Christ Mass and Epiphany. Oblation, the Feast of St. Peter’s Chair, the Circumcision of Christ, the Nativity of John the Baptist, Michaelmas, All Saints’, and the Exaltation of the Cross were also fixed feasts. Easter, the holiest day of the Christian year, was a movable feast; its place in the calendar followed the time of the ecclesiastical full moon, as did its “satellite” holidays, Shrove Tuesday, Ash Wednesday, Ascension Day, and Pentecost.

Each of these Christian holidays was observed with at least four days of celebration: the vigil, or eve of the feast; the feast itself; the morrow, or day following; and the octave, or eighth day subsequent. All told, there were over one hundred and seventy-five Christian festival days, given over to elaborate and time-consuming ceremonial.

All of this gave Joan very little time to actually govern, or do the things she deeply cared about: bettering the lot of the poor and improving the education of the clergy.

IN AUGUST, the arduous liturgical routine was interrupted by a synod. Sixty-seven prelates attended, including all the suburbicarii, or provincial bishops, as well as four Frankish bishops sent by the Emperor Lothar.

Two of the issues addressed at this synod held particular interest for Joan. The first was intinction, the practice of bestowing Communion by dipping the eucharistic bread into the wine, rather than partaking of them separately. In the twenty years since Joan had introduced the idea at Fulda as a way of preventing the spread of disease, it had become so popular that in Frankland it was now almost universal custom. The Roman clergy, who were of course unaware of Joan’s connection with intinction, regarded the novel practice with suspicion.

“It is a transgression of divine law,” the Bishop of Castrum argued indignantly. “For the Holy Book clearly states that Christ gave His Body and Blood separately to His disciples.”

There were nods of agreement all around.

“My lord Bishop speaks truly,” Pothos, the Bishop of Trevi, said. “The practice has no precedent among the writings of the Fathers, and therefore must be condemned.”

“Should we condemn an idea simply because it is new?” Joan asked.

“In all things we should be guided by the wisdom of the ancients,” Pothos answered gravely. “The only truth of which we can be sure is that which has been vouchsafed in the past.”

“Everything that is old was once new,” Joan pointed out. “The new always precedes the old. Is it not foolish to scorn that which precedes and cherish that which follows?”

Pothos’s brow furrowed as his mind wrestled with this complex dialectic. Like most of his colleagues, he had no training in classical argument and debate; he was comfortable only when quoting authority.

A lengthy discussion followed. Joan could, of course, have imposed her will by decree, but she preferred persuasion to tyranny. In the end the bishops were won over by her reasoning. The practice of intinction would continue in Frankland, at least for the present.

The next issue to be addressed was of deep personal interest to Joan because it involved her old friend Gottschalk, the oblate monk whose freedom she had once helped to win. According to the report of the Frankish bishops, he was again in serious trouble. Joan was saddened by this news but not especially surprised; Gottschalk was a man who courted unhappiness as ardently as a lover pursues his mistress.

Now he stood accused of the serious crime of heresy. Raban Maur, formerly Abbot of Fulda, since promoted to Archbishop of Mainz, had gotten wind of some radical theories Gottschalk had been preaching regarding predestination. Seizing the opportunity to wreak revenge upon his old nemesis, the archbishop had ordered Gottschalk imprisoned and savagely beaten.

Joan frowned. The cruelty with which supposedly pious men like Raban treated their fellow Christians never ceased to astound her. Pagan Norsemen aroused less fury in them than a Christian believer who stepped the slightest bit aside from the strict doctrines of the Church. Why, she wondered, do we always reserve our worst hatred for our own?

“What is the specific nature of this heresy?” she asked Wulfram, the leader of the Frankish bishops.

“First,” Wulfram said, “the monk Gottschalk asserts that God has foreordained all men to either salvation or perdition. Second, that Christ did not die on the cross for all men, but only for the elect. And lastly, that fallen man can do no good apart from grace, nor exercise free will for anything but evil.”

That sounds like Gottschalk, Joan thought. A confirmed pessimist, he would naturally gravitate to a theory that predestined man for doom. But there was nothing heretical, or even especially new, about his ideas. St. Augustine himself had said exactly as much in his two great works De civitate Dei and the Enchiridion.

No one in the room appeared to recognize this, however. Though all reverenced the name of Augustine, evidently none had taken the trouble to actually read his works.

Nirgotius, Bishop of Anagni, rose to speak. “This is wicked and sinful apostasy,” he said. “For it is well known that God’s will predestines the elect but not the condemned.”

This reasoning was seriously flawed, as predestining the one group inevitably implied predestining the other. But Joan did not point this out, for she also was troubled by Gottschalk’s preaching. There was a danger in leading people to believe they could not earn their own salvation by avoiding sin and trying to act justly. After all, why should anyone trouble to do good works if Heaven’s roll was already made up?

She said, “I concur with Nirgotius. God’s grace is not a predestining choice, but the overflowing power of His love, which suffuses all things that exist.”

The bishops received this warmly, for it accorded well with their own thinking. Unanimously they voted to refute Gottschalk’s theories. At Joan’s instigation, however, they also included a condemnation of Archbishop Raban for his “harsh and unchristian” treatment of the erring monk.

Forty-two canons were passed by this synod, dealing mostly with the reform of ecclesiastical discipline and education. At the end of the week, the assembly was adjourned. All agreed that it had gone very well, and that Pope John had presided with unusual distinction. The Romans were especially proud to be represented by a spiritual leader of such superior intellect and learning.

THE goodwill Joan accrued from the synod did not, however, last very long. The following month, the entire ecclesiastical community was jarred to its foundations when she announced her intention to institute a school for women. Even those of the papal party who had supported Joan’s candidacy were shocked: what manner of Pope had they elected?

Jordanes, the secundicerius, confronted Joan publicly on the matter during the weekly meeting of the optimates.

“Holiness,” he said, “you do great injury in seeking to educate women.”

“How so?” she asked.

“Surely you know, Holiness, that the size of a woman’s brain and her uterus are inversely proportionate; therefore, the more a girl learns, the less likely she will ever bear children.”

Better barren of body than of mind, Joan thought dryly, though she kept the thought to herself.

“Where have you read this?”

“It is common knowledge.”

“So common, apparently, that no one has taken the trouble to write it down so all may learn from it.”

“There is nothing to be learned from what is obvious to all. No one has written that wool comes from sheep, yet we all know it to be so.”

There were smiles on all sides. Jordanes preened, pleased with the cleverness of his argument.

Joan thought for a moment. “If what you say is true, how do you account for the extraordinary fertility of learned women such as Laeta, who corresponded with St. Jerome, and who, according to his report, was safely delivered of fifteen healthy children?”

“An aberration! A rare exception to the rule.”

“If I remember correctly, Jordanes, your own sister Juliana knows how to read and write.”

Jordanes was taken aback. “Only a little, Holiness. Just enough to allow her to keep the household accounts.”

“Yet according to your theory, even a little learning should have an adverse effect upon a woman’s fertility. How many children has Juliana borne?”

Jordanes flushed. “Twelve.”

“Another aberration?”

There was a long, embarrassed silence.

“Obviously, Holiness,” Jordanes said stiffly, “your mind is quite made up on this matter. Therefore, I’ll say no more.”

And he didn’t, at least not in that assembly.

“IT WAS not wise to insult Jordanes publicly,” Gerold said afterward. “You may have driven him into the arms of Arsenius and the imperialists.”

“But he’s wrong, Gerold,” Joan said. “Women are as capable of learning as men. Am I not proof of that?”

“Of course. But you must give people time. The world can’t be remade in a day.”

“The world won’t ever be remade, if no one tries to remake it. Change must begin somewhere.”

“True,” Gerold allowed. “But not now, not here—not with you.”

“Why not?”

Because I love you, he wanted to say, and I’m afraid for you.

Instead he said, “You can’t afford to make enemies. Have you forgotten who and what you are? I can protect you from many things, Joan—but not from yourself.”

“Oh, come—surely it’s not as serious as all that. Will the world come to an end because a few women learn to read and write?”

“Your old tutor—Aesculapius, wasn’t it?—what was it you told me he once said to you?”

“Some ideas are dangerous.”


There was a long silence.

“Very well,” she conceded. “I’ll speak to Jordanes and do what I can to smooth his ruffled feathers. And I promise to be more politic in the future. But the school for women is too important; I won’t give up on it.”

“I didn’t think you would,” Gerold replied, smiling.

IN SEPTEMBER, the school for women was formally dedicated. St. Catherine’s School, Joan named it in loving memory of her brother Matthew, who had first acquainted her with the learned saint. Each time she passed the little building on the Via Merulana and heard the sound of female voices reciting, she thought her heart would split with joy.

She was as good as her word to Gerold. She was politic and courteous to Jordanes and the other optimates. She even managed to keep her tongue in check when she heard Cardinal Priest Citronatus preach that upon resurrection women’s “imperfections” would be remedied, for all human beings would be reborn as men! Calling Citronatus to her, she offered in the guise of a helpful suggestion that eliminating that line from his sermons might help him achieve a better effect with his female parishioners. Couched in such diplomatic terms, the suggestion went over well; Citronatus was flattered by the papal attention and did not preach the idea again.

Patiently and uncomplainingly Joan endured the daily round of masses, audiences, baptisms, and ordinations. So the long, cool days of autumn passed with no further incident.

ON THE ides of November, the sky darkened and it began to rain. For ten days the rain came down in great driving sheets, drumming against the shingled roofs of the houses so the inhabitants had to plug their ears to shut out the maddening noise. The ancient sewers of the city were soon overwhelmed; on the streets water collected in growing pools that met and joined in quick-moving streams, turning the basalt stones into a treacherous slipping ground.

And still the rain came down. The waters of the Tiber rose dangerously, overrunning the embankments from the city to the sea, flooding the fields of the campagna, destroying the croplands, carrying off the cattle.

Within the city walls, the first region to be inundated was the low-lying Campus Martius, with its teeming population of poor. Some fled to higher ground as soon as the water began to rise, but many remained behind, unaware of the consequences of delay and reluctant to leave their homes and meager possessions.

Then it was too late. The waters rose above the height of a man, preventing any attempt at escape. Hundreds of people were trapped inside the rickety insulae; if the waters continued to rise, they would drown.

In such circumstances, the Pope usually retired to the Lateran cathedral and held a solemn litany, prostrating himself before the altar and praying for the city’s deliverance. To the surprise and consternation of the clergy, Joan did no such thing. Instead, she summoned Gerold to discuss plans for a rescue.

“What can we do?” she asked. “There must be some way to save those people.”

He replied, “The streets surrounding the Campius Martius are completely flooded. There’s no way to get there except by boat.”

“What about the boats moored at Ripa Grande?”

“They’re only light fishing skiffs—flimsy vessels for such rough waters.”

“It’s worth an attempt,” she argued urgently. “We can’t just stand by idly while people drown!”

Gerold felt a rush of tenderness toward her. Not Sergius, not even Leo, would have showed such concern for the wretched population of the Campus Martius. Joan was different; seeing no distinction between rich and poor, she made none. In her eyes, all people were equally deserving of her care and attention.

“I’ll call up the militia at once,” he said.

They marched to the dock at Ripa Grande, where Joan used her authority to commandeer every dinghy in seaworthy condition. Gerold and his men got into the boats, and Joan spoke a few quick words of blessing over them, raising her voice to make herself heard over the pelting rain. Then she astonished everyone by clambering down into the boat with Gerold.

“What are you doing?” he asked in alarm.

“What does it look like?”

“You don’t mean to come with us!”

“Why not?”

He gazed at her as if she were mad. “It’s far too dangerous!”

“Where I am needed, I will go,” she replied determinedly.

Eustathius, the archpriest, frowned down from the dock. “Holiness, think of the dignity of your position! You are Lord Pope, Bishop of Rome. Would you risk your life for a group of ragged beggars?”

“They are God’s children, Eustathius, no less than you and I.”

“But who will lead the litany?” he asked plaintively.

“You will, Eustathius. Do it well, for we have good need of your prayers.” She turned impatiently to Gerold. “Now, Superista, will you row, or must I?”

Recognizing the look of stubborn determination in those gray-green eyes, Gerold took up the oars. There was no further time for debate, for the waters were rising quickly. He pulled on the oars, rowing strongly, and the boat drew away from the dock.

Eustathius shouted something after them, but his words were lost in the wind and driving rain.

The makeshift flotilla headed northwest toward the Campus Martius. The floodwaters had risen. The Tiber was coursing through this lower part of the city as if in its own channel. From the Porta Septimania to the foot of the Capitoline Hill, every church and house was flooded. The column of Marcus Aurelius was half submerged; waves lapped at the upper doorsills of the Pantheon.

Nearing the Campus Martius, they saw evidence of the terrible damage the flood had wreaked. Wooden debris, remains of the collapsed insulae, drifted swiftly by; bodies floated on the surface of the water, turning with every shift of the current. The terrified inhabitants of the remaining tenements had retreated to the upper stories. They leaned from the windows with outstretched arms, crying piteously for help.

The boats spread out, one or two to a building. The waves made it difficult to hold them steady. Some people panicked and jumped too soon, missing the bobbing, circling vessels. Others landed too far to the front or side of one of the boats, overturning it. There was a melee in the water as those who could not swim tried desperately to cling to those who could while the oarsmen cursed roundly and tried to right their flimsy craft.

Eventually all the boats were righted and they set off, following a route to the Capitoline Hill, where they let off their passengers. From this point, it was an easy climb to the safety of dry ground. Then the flotilla turned back to rescue more people.

They made trip after trip, drenched to the skin, clothes plastered to their bodies, aching from effort and fatigue. At last it seemed they had everyone. They were headed back toward the Capitoline Hill when Joan heard a child’s voice crying for help. Turning, she saw a small boy silhouetted in one of the windows. Perhaps he had been asleep and only just awakened, or perhaps he had been too frightened to come to the window before.

Joan and Gerold looked at each other. Without a word, he turned the boat around and rowed back, pulling up beneath the window from which the boy now leaned and fanning the oars to hold the boat steady.

Joan stood, holding out her arms. “Jump!” she said. “Jump and I’ll catch you!”

The boy stayed where he was, round eyes staring down in terror at the heaving boat below.

She fixed him with a compelling stare, willing him to move. “Jump now!” she commanded.

Timidly the boy slung one leg over the windowsill.

She reached for him.

At that moment there was a deafening roar. The ancient Posterula St. Agatha, northernmost gate of the Aurelian Wall, had given way under the pressure of the rising water. The Tiber came bursting into the city in a tidal wave of terrifying force.

Joan saw the boy’s face framed in the window, his mouth forming a tiny O of terror as the entire building began to break apart. At the same moment, she felt the boat beneath her lift and shudder as it was sent spinning wildly on the onrushing flood.

She screamed, clinging desperately to the sides as the flimsy boat careered down the rapids, threatening at every moment to overturn. Water gushed over the sides; she raised her head, gulping for air, and caught an instant’s glimpse of Gerold crouching near the bow.

There was a stunning jolt as the boat suddenly came to a halt, sending her crashing into the side.

For a while she lay dazed and uncomprehending. When at last she looked about her, she saw walls, a table, chairs.

She was indoors. The stupendous force of the flood had driven the little boat straight through an upper window of one of the insulae into the room within.

She saw Gerold lying in the front of the boat, facedown in several inches of water. She crawled over to him.

When she turned him over, he was limp and unresponsive, not breathing. She dragged him from the boat onto the floor of the room. Rolling him onto his stomach, she began pressing down on his back to force water out of his lungs. Press and release, press and release. He can’t die, she thought. He mustn’t die. Surely God could not be so cruel. Then she recalled the doomed young boy in the house and thought: God is capable of anything.

Press and release. Press and release.

Gerold’s throat heaved, bringing up a great rush of water.

Benedicite! He was breathing again. Joan examined him carefully. No broken bones, no open wounds. But there was a large blue-black swelling just below his hairline, where he had received a nasty blow. This must have been what had knocked him senseless.

He should be coming round now, she thought. But Gerold remained sunk in his unnatural sleep, his skin pale and moist, his breathing shallow, his pulse faint and dangerously rapid. What’s wrong? she wondered anxiously. What else can I do?

“The shock of violent injury can kill a man with a penetrating chill.” The words of Hippocrates, words that had once saved Gottschalk’s life, came back to her now.

She must get Gerold warm, and quickly.

Blasts of wind and rain were coming through the gaping hole left by the passage of the boat. She rose and began to explore the small tenement dwelling. Behind the front room there was a second, smaller one, windowless and therefore warmer and dryer. And—Deo gratias!—in the middle of the room there was a small iron brazier stacked with a few pieces of wood. On a nearby shelf she found a flint and some kindling. In a chest in the corner, there was a blanket of heavy wool, tattered but mercifully still dry.

Returning to the front room, she grasped Gerold under the shoulders and half-carried, half-dragged him into the back room, setting him down beside the brazier. Taking up the box of kindling, she struck the flint against the iron. Her hands were shaking so hard she had to try several times before she drew a spark. At last she got the little pile of straw to catch. She placed the flaming kindling in the brazier, and it flared upwards, licking at the logs above. The damp wood hissed and spat, reluctant to take. At last a tiny core of red glowed in one of the logs. She fanned the fragile fire, nursing it along with practiced skill. Just as it began to take hold, a breeze swept in from the other room and extinguished it.

She looked despairingly at the cold logs. There was no more kindling, no way for her to start the fire again. Gerold still lay unconscious, his skin an ominous bluish white, his eyes sunk in their sockets.

There was only one thing left to do now. Quickly she removed his wet clothes, baring his taut, slenderly muscular body, marked here and there with the fading scars of battle. Then she covered him with the blanket.

She stood and, shivering in the frigid air, began to take off her own soaked clothes: first the paenula and dalmatic, then the undergarments, the alb, amice, and cingulum. When she was stripped to the skin, she crawled under the blanket and lay full length against Gerold.

She held him close, warming his body with her own, willing her strength, her life into him.

Fight, Gerold, my dearest. Fight.

She closed her eyes and concentrated on making the link between them. All else was apart. The little room, the quenched fire, the boat, the storm outside—none of it was real. There was only the two of them. They would live joined, or perish.

Gerold’s eyelids fluttered, then opened. His indigo eyes regarded her without surprise; he knew she had been with him.

“My pearl,” he murmured.

For a long while they lay silent, joined in wordless communication. Then he raised his arm to draw her closer, and his fingers brushed against the raised scars on her back.

“The marks of a lash?” he asked quietly.

She flushed. “Yes.”

“Who did this to you?”

Slowly, haltingly, she told him of the beating she had received from her father when she refused to destroy Aesculapius’s book.

Gerold said nothing, but the muscles in his jaw tightened. He bent over her and began to kiss each jagged scar.

Over the years, Joan had trained herself to rein her emotions in, to hold tight against pain, not to cry. Now the tears slid down her cheeks unchecked.

He held her tenderly, murmuring endearments, until her tears stopped. Then his lips were on hers, moving softly with a skill and tenderness that filled her with surging warmth. She slid her arms around him and closed her eyes, letting the sweet, dark wine of her senses rush over her, mind’s will yielding at long last to body’s desire.

Dear God! she thought. I didn’t know, I didn’t know! Was this what her mother had warned her against, what she had run from all these years? This wasn’t surrender; it was a wondrous, glorious expansion of self—a prayer not of words but of eyes and hands and lips and skin.

“I love you!” she cried at the moment of ecstasy, and the words were not profanation but sacrament.

IN THE Great Hall of the Patriarchium, Arsenius waited with the optimates and members of the high clergy of Rome for news. When he had first received word of what Pope John had done, Arsenius could scarcely believe it. But then what else could one expect from a foreigner—and a commoner at that?

Radoin, second in command of the papal militia, entered the hall.

“What news?” Paschal, the primicerius, asked impatiently.

“We managed to rescue several score of the inhabitants,” Radoin reported. “But I fear His Holiness has been lost.”

“Lost?” Paschal repeated thinly. “What do you mean?”

“He was in a skiff with the superista. We thought they were following us, but they must have turned back to rescue another survivor. That was just before the gate of St. Agatha collapsed and sent a wall of water crashing into that area.”

This news was followed by scattered cries of alarm and dismay. Several of the prelates crossed themselves.

“Is there any chance they survived?” Arsenius asked.

“None,” Radoin replied. “The force of the flood swept away everything in its path.”

“God have mercy upon them,” Arsenius said gravely, using all his control to conceal his elation.

“Shall I give the order to sound the bells of mourning?” Eustathius, the archpriest, asked.

“No,” Paschal replied. “We must not be precipitate. Pope John is God’s chosen Vicar; it is yet possible that God has worked a miracle to save him.”

“Why not return and search for them?” Arsenius suggested. He had no interest in a rescue, but he did need to assure himself that the Throne of St. Peter was again vacant.

Radoin replied, “The collapse of the northern gate has rendered the entire area impassable. We can do nothing more until the flood-waters subside.”

“Then let us pray,” said Paschal. “Deus misereatur nostri et benedicat nobis …”

The others joined in, bowing their heads.

Arsenius recited the words by rote, while his mind ranged to other matters. If, as it now appeared certain, Pope John had died in the flood, then Anastasius had a second chance at the throne. This time, Arsenius thought determinedly, nothing must go wrong with the election. This time he would use all his power to make certain his son’s candidacy did not fail.

“… et metuant eum omnes fines terrae. Amen.”

“Amen,” Arsenius echoed. He could hardly wait for the news the next day would bring.

WAKING toward morning, Joan smiled to see Gerold sleeping beside her. She let her eyes linger on his long, spare, proud face—as startling now in its manly beauty as when she had first glimpsed it across a banquet table twenty-eight years ago.

Did I know even then, she wondered, in the very first moment? Did I know that I loved him? I think I did.

At last she had come to accept what she had fought so long to deny—Gerold was part of her, was her in some unfathomable way she could neither explain nor deny. They were twin souls, linked inextricably and forever, two halves of one perfect whole that would never again be complete without both.

She did not let herself dwell upon the full implications of this wondrous discovery. It was enough to live in the present moment, in the supreme happiness of being here, now, with him. The future did not exist.

He lay on his side, his head close to hers, lips slightly parted, long, red hair tousled about his face. In his sleep, he looked vulnerable and young, almost boyish. Moved by an inexpressible tenderness, Joan reached out and gently smoothed a stray tendril off his cheek.

Gerold’s eyes opened, gazing at her with so intense an expression of love and need that it left her breathless. Wordlessly he reached for her, and she went to him.

THEY were dozing again, entwined in each other’s arms, when Joan started alert, aware of a strange sound. She lay still, listening with pricked ears. All was quiet. Then she realized that it wasn’t noise that had awakened her but silence—the absence of the loud, steady drumming on the roof overhead.

The rain had stopped.

She rose and went to the window. The sky was overcast and gray, but for the first time in over ten days patches of blue showed on the horizon, with shafts of sunlight spilling through the clouds.

Praise God, she thought. Now the flooding will end.

Gerold came up behind her and put his arms around her. She leaned back against him, loving the feel of him.

“Will they come for us soon, do you think?” she asked.

“Very soon, now the rain’s stopped.”

“Oh, Gerold!” She buried her head in his shoulder. “I’ve never been so happy, nor so unhappy.”

“I know, my heart.”

“We can never be together again, not like this.”

He stroked her bright hair. “We needn’t go back, you know.”

She looked at him with surprise. “What do you mean?”

“No one knows we’re here. If we don’t signal the rescue boats when they come, they’ll go away. In a day or so, when the flood waters recede, we’ll slip away from the city by night. No one will come after us, for they’ll think we both died in the flood. We’ll be free and clear—and we’ll be together.”

She made no answer but turned to look out the window again.

He awaited her decision, his life, his happiness hanging in the balance.

After a while she turned back to him. Looking into the depths of those gray-green eyes, haunted with grief, Gerold knew that he had lost.

She said slowly, “I cannot walk away from the great responsibility with which I’ve been entrusted. The people believe in me; I can’t abandon them. If I did, it would turn me into someone else, someone different from the person you love.”

He knew he would never have more power over her than he had at this moment. If he used that power, if he took her in his arms and kissed her, she might yet agree to come away with him. But that would be unfair. Even if she yielded, it would be a surrender that might not last. He would not try to persuade her to do anything she might afterward regret. She must come to him of her own free will or not at all.

“I understand,” he said. “And I’ll not press you further. But there’s something I want you to know. I’ll say it only once, and never again. You are my true wife on this earth, and I your true husband. No matter what happens, no matter what time and fate may do to us, nothing can ever change that.”

They dressed, to be ready when rescue should come. Then they sat together, holding each other close, Joan’s head resting lightly on Gerold’s shoulder. They were sitting like that, rapt in each other, when the rescue boats arrived.

AS THEY were rowed back toward the Patriarchium, Joan kept her head bowed as if in prayer. Aware of the watchful eyes of the guards, she did not dare look at Gerold, for she was not sufficiently in control of her feelings.

Arriving at the dock, they were immediately surrounded by a jubilant, cheering crowd. There was time for only one last backward glance before they were triumphantly borne off to their separate quarters.

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