Marcia stormed through the atrium of her villa, fuming with rage. “Pater!” she screamed as she thundered through the inner garden and sat on the bench under the peach tree. Tears stained her pale face, and her wavy dark hair hung by her ears in tangled plaits.
Secundus Marcius sighed as he spotted his short-tempered eldest daughter through the pillared entrance to his study. At twelve, he would soon have to find her a husband – a task he dreaded. Marcia was plain with an untidy mane of her mother’s dark curls. She was thin and short and had the palest skin this side of the necropolis. Her laugh was like a donkey’s bray and her quick temper would startle any grown man – yet Secundus loved his daughter with all his heart. She was intelligent and curious, with an eye for trouble – much like himself.
Reluctantly, he stood up and made his way into the inner garden. His wife, Tacita, was a committed gardener, and had filled the garden with peach, date and citrus trees, and had filled the border with luscious flowers and perfumed lavender. Cautiously he made his way around the main fountain and swung himself under the large peach tree branch, and sank down next to his daughter. He put his arm around her bony shoulder and looked down. Marcia wiped her nose on the shoulder of her orange tunic and sniffed. She looked up into her fathers grey eyes and began to cry again. Secundus sighed and rolled his eyes. “What is it now Marcia? Every waking moment there is something to cry about.” He kissed her forehead. “So.” He beckoned for her begin. In her high-pitched voice she whispered “Its Marcela and Marcella. They ruined my tablet. They scratched all of the wax off and now its useless.” The girl buried her head into her father’s side. Secundus laughed, rousing the sparrows from the tree’s sensuous branches. They fluttered out of the tree and over the red roof of the villa. Marcia hid a smile.
“Marcela is not yet four my dear! She doesn’t know what a tablet is for, let alone how to use one!” His brow crumpled. “ Marcella however… she is almost nine.” He stretched. “I shall speak with them. Now dry your tears. Seneca wishes to speak with you.” He rose and made his way back to his study, shaking his
head. “Take your time!” He called back, muffling a laugh.
Marcia frowned, her mind temporarily put off from her ordeal. Then she realized and rolled her eyes in disgust. “ Brilliant!” she muttered sarcastically. “ Another lecture on keeping your temper,” she huffed as she put a lock of hair behind her ear. She studied the wall surrounding the inner garden closely. It was covered in the most exquisite mosaics of Greek heroes and perilous adventures.
The back of her tunic was damp with sweat, and was tight around her neck. She huffed. How she hated the humidity. It made her palms clammy and her face sticky. Slowly she stood, swinging herself under the branch, and tiptoed to the fountain. Marcia gathered a handful of the pearl water, and splashed her face. She looked down into the fountain and caught a glimpse of her stony reflection. Marcia smiled and sat down again. She sighed and brought her knees to her chest and rested her chin on her knees. How boring life in the villa was, she thought as she fiddled with a strand of her hair, sliding small rose heads into the dark plaits.
The sweet smell of newly cooked pastry lingered in the sunlit villa, piercing Marcia’s stomach. She hadn’t realized the time, and as she glanced at the sundial in the far corner of the garden she was stunned to see it was already the twelfth hour.
Feverishly, she scampered through the garden and into the cooling atrium, hurriedly wetting her hands in the rainwater fountain that was the heart of the room. As she did so, Paulus, the door slave, came through a door leading from his room in the corner of the atrium, and, without looking, hit into Marcia. The girl fell, sprawling across the tiled floor. “Paulus!” she fumed, steadily pulling herself up. “You clumsy oaf! Look where you’re going!” She huffed, dusted her tunic and eyed the man furiously.
Paulus was a loyal man, yet he wasn’t very clever. His baldhead shone in the sun, with a gaping drop down to his large dark eyebrows. These protected two startling blue eyes, which would have been attractive, were it not for the broken nose and half empty mouth that lay below it. Nevertheless he had huge bulging muscles, and was dauntingly tall, and had been Secundus Marcius’s door slave for years. He grinned at Marcia sheepishly, before scuttling to the latrine.
Marcia rolled her eyes and hurried – more carefully now, to the large oak door that sealed her from the rest of Herculaneum. With much effort, she heaved the door open, and was welcomed by a large gust of wind from a passing cart. The cry of market holders and slave dealers echoed through the sand-white streets, and the repellent smell of sewage and fish wafted around the buildings. Marcia looked to her left, and spotted her mother – already on her way to the baths with her sisters. She flew past the perfumed women and well groomed men new from the baths, quickly losing sight of her mother. Marcia began to panic. It was market day, meaning there were twice as many people as usual in the forum. If she got lost she could easily find herself in the Subura District – the slums of cutthroats and villains – or worse. Sold as a slave. Marcia’s breathing hastened as she called for her mother. “Mater! Tacita Marcius! Mater!” She took a deep breath. “Marcela! Marcella! Wait!” Her eyes went blurry as she cried her sister’s names.
It was no use. As the crowd thickened Marcia felt herself being pushed and shoved around the forum. Surrounded, she could no longer see anything but the bodies of the five people who crushed around her. She closed her eyes and clutched her money pouch. If she were lost, she would need the few Sestertii she had. Crowds were prize pickings for beggars and thieves, and Marcia was constantly checking her money pouch. She prayed her mother would find her, yet she doubted it very much.
The smell of sweat and sewage filled Marcia’s lungs, making her gag. The heat was unbearable. She tried to take deep breaths but the more she did the more sickening the stench became. As tears welled in her eyes she noticed a gap between a young woman and a market holder. Relief washed over Marcia as she scrambled towards the gap.
A flood of fresh air welcomed her as she passed through the crowd, and into the pillared cover way that encircled the forum. She wept with relief, and collapsed next to the fountain. When she had gained her strength back she reached into the fountain and splashed her sweltering crimson face with the cool water. As she wiped her eyes she felt a gentle hand on her shoulder, and she turned to look into the anxious blue eyes of her mother.