Gaius sighed wearily. Outside the air was fresher. In the room he had just left the voices were loud. The night air muted the sound. Lights flickered in the windows of rooms opening onto the court. But the clear stars were not dimmed. He thought of the mountains where the air would be fresher still, cooler, sharper. Sitting in the quiet of the hills with the warmth of the dying fire would make a man content. He sighed again. Perhaps someday he could afford a manager, and, then, time with the pastured flocks and nights under the stars.

A pounding on the heavy door brought him back to his present responsibilities. As the pounding continued he called out, “Yes, I’m coming.” But he did not hurry. The place was full anyway. This census business was beginning to tire him. A full house had its financial advantages, but demands of it week after week seemed more than it was worth. The help grumbled with overwork. He had not had a single afternoon in over a month to get away from the city and into the hills. A man had to have time alone, to relax, to renew himself with the energy of the earth through his feet. No, the Roman census with the increased business it brought was no blessing to him.

He opened the small window in the door. There were six men on horseback. Immediately a voice commanded, “You. Be quick. Open the door.”

“I’m sorry, sir,” Gaius answered, ignoring the order, “we don’t have a single room. Even the chair by our fire has been claimed.”

“Let us in. There must be room somewhere. We can’t stay in the streets.”

Gaius should have left the door firmly shut. He knew that. But it wouldn’t be safe for anyone to wander the streets this late. ...

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