"The man was a scholar from Caesarea. He said Mary's virginal conception was a onetime event. It will never happen like that again."
"Is that so?"
"Mm-hmm," Rex replied. "It's an absolute truth. Only once like that—ever."
"Then I suppose that leaves the normal method for everyone else."
Rex laughed as he tossed the blanket aside and stood up. "It's getting chilly out here," he declared. "How about if we go inside? Maybe you can help me understand what you mean by the normal method."
"There are many definitions, Rex. I have so much to teach you."
"And I'm quite willing to learn." He winked at Flavia, then added, "O wise one."
Rex went to the door of the apartment and opened it. As he paused there, he was silhouetted against the lamplight from within. With his broad shoulders and narrow waist, his manly shape was appealing. He glanced back, inviting Flavia to follow him with a sly tip of his head. She felt her heart begin to race.
I really do have a beautiful life, she said to the Lord, then followed her husband inside.
* * *
When the imperial coach came to a stop, Emperor Licinius immediately felt his stomach begin to rumble. He was ready for a hot lunch. And he was even more ready to be rid of the philosophical blabbering he'd been enduring all morning on the long ride to Hadrianopolis.
Everyone said the philosopher Diogenes was the best teacher around. Licinius had decided to take them at their word despite the man's unimpressive appearance. The little fellow was unusually scrawny, and now his great age had shriveled him even more. How that shrunken body could sustain so great a flood of words, Licinius didn't know. It was a wonder the wheezy old man was still alive, much less capable of teaching philosophy.
Yet teach he did, this chattering geezer. His mouth ran constantly, spewing profound thoughts that Licinius only half understood. Yet Licinius didn't consider himself dull-minded. It was just hard to think about philosophy when he had an empire to run.
Licinius had spent the previous winter shoring up his defenses at Byzantium and Nicomedia. Troop deployments had to be managed, provisions laid in, walls rebuilt, and Gothic mercenaries recruited. That was just for the land army. Any confrontation with Constantine was going to require sea battles as well. The navy needed more triremes right away, as many as could be amassed. Maybe some could be found at—
"Are you listening to me?" Diogenes demanded, interrupting Licinius's war planning. The philosopher's voice had the bold tone that old men often took. Their lives were near the end already. What more could anyone do to them?
"I'm listening," Licinius said, "though only with one ear."
Diogenes made a displeased tsk! at this. "Both ears are required for philosophy, Emperor Licinius. Can an archer shoot with one arm? Can a racer run on one leg? Can a surgeon operate with one hand? Total effort is needed for those tasks! How much more, then, are all your mental faculties required for the greatest of human pursuits?"
"I'm not sure philosophy is the greatest human pursuit," Licinius muttered.
"Well, sire, you're the one who hired me. You must have wanted this."
It was an impudent thing to say, yet true nonetheless. As Licinius had been making his rounds through his eastern domains, he had become painfully aware in those elegant circles—steeped as they were in six hundred years of glorious Greek culture—that his own peasant background was embarrassing. Licinius knew war-making very well, but in truth, not much else. Running an empire properly was going to require some higher learning. Diogenes was the handy solution.
"It's been a long morning and I'm tired," Licinius admitted. "We've reached the sacred grove now. Let us resume our studies after lunch and a nap."
"Let us keep your studies going," the old man countered. Licinius ignored the remark and exited the coach.
The sacred grove that had been chosen for the lunch stop was a picturesque dell with mossy cliffs and big, old oaks. A beautiful stream watered it, making the grass thick and lush. Long ago, some ancient gardener had been hired to turn the place into a religious shrine. Now many idols stood at the base of each tree, making the grove into a pantheon, a sanctuary for all the gods.
This excerpt ends on page 42 of the hardcover edition.
Monday we begin the book The Blackout Book Club by Amy Lynn Green.