“Hurry Marcela! We are late as it is!” Tacita Marcius clutched her youngest daughter’s hand, dragging her under the cover way.
Marcela pouted, her blonde hair falling in straggles in front of her dark eyes. She looked up to her elder sisters, and groaned. “I’m hungry.” She mumbled, almost tripping in her mother’s haste. Marcella bent down to her sister and patted her on her head. Marcella shared Marcela’s blonde hair (a gift from their father) but instead of his dark eyes she had her mother’s brightest blue sapphires. She was the prettiest of her sisters; her hair was thick and curly not thin or matted, her face round not square or bony. This fact was a bone in Marcia’s side, and drove a wedge between the three sisters.
Marcella whispered to her younger sister, “The quicker we bathe Marcela, the quicker we eat.” The smallest girl’s eyes lit up and she began to scamper ahead of the family. Marcella smiled and adjusted her neat lilac tunic. Marcia glowered. Her face was red and puffy and her hair was worse than usual, gratitude of the earlier ordeal. She felt a soft arm wrap around her shoulder, and looked up to her mother. Tacita was dressed in a long salmon pick stola, her hair neatly curled and entwined with pink roses. A large blue stone hung from a gold chain around her neck, illuminating her eyes from her pale complexion. Tacita smiled. “Are you alright my turtle dove? I am so sorry.” Marcia grinned and sighed. “I am fine Mater, honestly.” Marcia looked up to see the entrance to the baths, pulling her mother forward. “Hurry Mater! I am starving!”
Tacita laughed, and took her daughter’s hand. She wrapped her other arm around Marcella, and kissed Marcela on the forehead. “In we go.”
Marcia and her family made their way under glass domes and statues to the Apdoyteria, where they stripped off their tunics. Tacita dropped four semis into a dark skinned girl’s hand, ordering her to watch their belongings. With that, she grabbed the youngest girls hands and led them into the Sudatorium, where they sat down on a tiled bench. The centre furnace belched steam, making Marcia sweat uncontrollably. She glanced at Marcella and grinned. Her face was redder than Marcia’s! Marcela began to fidget, and Tacita sent Marcia ahead with the girls. “ I shall meet you in the forum.” She clutched Marcia’s arm. “Try not to get lost again.” Marcia groaned and followed her sisters into the next room.
The Caldrarium was the girl’s favourite room. It consisted of a large hot pool of crystal water, surrounded by pillars and vibrant mosaics. Between each pillar there was a notch, filled with the busts of goddesses and emperors. Marcia carefully lowered herself into the pool, clipping her hair back high above her neck. Marcella passed Marcela down to Marcia, and then daintily lowered herself in. Marcela giggled and pushed herself off from the side, steadily floating to the next. Marcia laughed and pulled Marcella into the middle. The women eyed them callously, but they didn’t take any notice. Marcella lightly kicked the water, sending a small wave across the pool, enveloping her younger sister in water. Marcela screamed, splashing her sister. Marcia laughed, but soon noticed the spectator’s displeasure. Hastily, she grabbed her sister’s hand and led them through to the Massage room.
Marcela was too young to have a massage, and so occupied herself in a corner of the room, tracing the mosaic flooring, mumbling the legends to herself. Ensured Marcela was safe, the older sisters paid a slave several quadrons. Sweet scented oil was rubbed into their skin, the dirt and worries of the day scraped away by an iron strigil. Marcella began to giggle, and Marcia turned her head to the girl. Marcella whispered inventively. “It is said that the scrapings of a gladiator make the sweetest love potion!” Marcia rolled her eyes. Marcella glared. “You look even more ugly when you do that,” she hissed turning away from her sister.
From then on they lay in silence, glowering at each other if they ever caught eyes. This was too much for Marcia, who left abruptly before the end of her massage. She could feel Marcella’s eyes on her back as she lumbered sheepishly into the Tepidarium. She sunk into the luke-warm water, sighing with pleasure. She could smell the jasmine on her skin, and pictured what she would wear to dinner. She would get Anglia, her body slave, to put her hair into ringlets, and would wear her olive green tunic. She smiled to herself, and slowly drifted into a lulled sleep.
* * *
“Marcia!” Marcia sat up with a start, her nose filling with water. She began to splutter, and was heaved out of the pool by Marcella, closely followed by Marcela. “You fell asleep! Marcela and I are finished! It is time to go! Mater says you have just enough time for the Fridgidarium but that is all! Hurry!” And with that her sisters scampered out of the baths, leaving a dazed Marcia to traipse over to the cold plunge. Reluctantly, Marcia made her way out of the Tepidarium and into the garden. She stepped into the Fridgidarium – an unheated pool outside the main building of the baths.
The bitter water rose above Marcia’s head, veiling her from eyesight. All was silent beneath the surface, except for her heartbeat, pumping through her ears. She forced her eyes open and was shocked by the coldness on her face. Swiftly, she pushed up from the bottom until she was left gasping on the surface. Trembling, she scurried through the pillared archway to the Apodytheria, where she wrenched her tunic over her wet hair, grabbed her money pouch and thanked the slave. Hastily she slipped on her sandals and unclipped her hair and tied it in an untidy knot, slipping in her speed. As she found the entrance to the baths, she spotted her mother with her sisters, sitting impatiently on a stone bench that overlooked the forum. Tacita sighed as she saw her eldest daughter clumsily dodge the group of people on their way to the baths. “I think we’d better order a litter, don’t you?”
* * *
Marcia scowled. Her hair hung limp around her shoulders and her olive tunic was spattered with stray ash Anglia had used to darken her eyelids. The red plant dye that reddened her cheeks was smudged and Marcia felt miserable. Her dream of surpassing Marcella had not gone to plan.
The women had returned from their eventful bath, and the girls were sent to their rooms to change for dinner. Anglia had fetched her chosen tunic, only to find she had not worn it for three summers, and had dramatically outgrown it. Nevertheless, this was Marcia’s favourite tunic, and she was determined to outshine her sister. She had just squeezed into the tunic when Anglia burnt herself on the heated irons, used for curling hair. Marcia had been furious, as now Anglia was unable to use her right hand, and so it was left to Marcia to finish her half completed curls.
Marcia cringed at the memory. She had burnt herself numerous times, and by the end her hair merely hung in thin strands around her face. Marcia looked around the triclinium. Her parents were reclining on the outskirts of the tiled room, quietly conferring. Marcia and her sisters sat on the centre table, awaiting the first course. Marcella simpered opposite Marcia, her hair in perfect ringlets, prepared by her fully able body slave Leda. She wore a blue tunic, matching her glittering eyes – flawlessly outlined with ash. Marcia grimaced, and was about to remark when Crustulum, the cook, entered the room with the starter. Marcia had never eaten so much food - she was absolutely ravenous!
For the starter there were hard-boiled eggs, mushrooms, oysters and cheese, followed by fried mullet and hot rolls. For the main there was roast chicken and sweet salad, and to finish with there was stuffed dates, honeyed door mice and fresh apples. Marcia licked her lips inattentively as Anglia played a sweet melody on her flute. Her father belched approvingly, making Marcela giggle. Marcia sighed, and lay back in her chair, swiftly disturbed by a soft shuffle of footsteps from the atrium. Marcia sat bolt upright, peering past her sisters in the hall. She gasped as Seneca, her grandfather walked into the room.