The Gift of Minerva

Dorothy J. Heydt

"Now let my words be heard by every man," Cynthia said when she came out again. "Inside that room, safe from the profanation of your eyes, hangs the veil of Minerva, all-wise daughter of Jupiter. Each of you will wash his hands, then go inside. Stretch out your hands till you touch the sacred veil; then, holding it between your hands, swear to her that you are innocent of the blood of the Carthaginian Hamilcar. Then come out again, and stand there by the railing.

"One of you, of course, will have sworn falsely. One or more, perhaps. The goddess will tell me. Or perhaps she'll simply strike the guilty man down---it doesn't matter; she has promised me there'll be no mistake. Caius Duilius, you shall go first, as a sign that the innocent man has nothing to fear." (Becuase if Duilius is the murderer himself, then he is such a great actor that he deserves life, or else I am such a fool as deserves to perish.)

Duilius did not speak, but nodded in the Roman fashion. He carefully washed and dried his hands, as pale as though it were his young bride in the room, instead of what was actually inside---well, for a pious Roman, maybe it was understandable. He went in, closing the door behind him; he came out again; he went to the railing, clasped his hands in front of him, and did not speak.

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