Amicus shifted his weight from one foot, and onto another. His arms ached under the weight of the large gourd of wine he held in his hands. The gourd was clay, with patterned inclines and a corked top, and a rounded bottom. This meant it was impossible to put down without one of the large iron holders, which just so happened to be screwed to the tiles back in the kitchen.
Amicus stood in front of one of the openings of the pillared wall separating the triclinium from the terrace and gardens. Although this meant the evening breeze kept him from overheating, it also meant he had no wall to lean back on, and so his back was sore and heavy.
Sorex stood opposite Amicus, the pain mirrored on his face. Amicus looked around the triclinium at the many guests that lay around the main table. Sextus and his brothers and sisters were to young to recline, and so sat on cushions around the main table, dipping into the sumptuous feast that Amicus had seen be prepared. Plates piled high with honeyed venison, fried mullet, wine-smothered prawns, hot rolls, and spiced oysters. Amicus didn’t recognise the other guests, all noblemen and their wives visiting a local patron.
He could smell the perfume of the nearest woman, and almost reeled in disgust. A mixture of aniseed and lemongrass met his nose, radiating from the simpering clay – powdered cheeks. Broad rouged lips pouted below a large arched nose, her piercing green eyes glaring at her husband, a small, weedy man with a floppy grin and laughter lines. Next to him sat two men with the same blonde hair and dark eyes, one with more wrinkles but otherwise both evidently brothers. On the next couch lay a large man in a green toga, who reminded Amicus vividly of a pot-bellied pig.
All of the guests had the same stony, glum expression, except from one. Amicus gazed across the table to the couch beside the patron, and was welcomed by the image of an angel. She was perceptively old, with revealing grey lines streaking her black curls, tied in a simple plait that trailed from her shoulders down to her knees. She wore a long pale stola, and by the delicate bronze band around her forehead and identical green eyes, it was clear that she was the patron’s mother. Her small smile concluded her face, quite different to the threatening smirk that had befallen her son’s. Despite her age, her beauty shone, yet when her eyes met his she frowned and eyed him sternly.
Amicus looked away swiftly, and began to sway, his legs felt as if they would crumple beneath his weight. He balanced on his heels, and almost dropped the gourd as a bright-eyed messenger came cascading into the triclinium, pursued by several expressionless footmen. The man gestured with his leather gourd for a swig of wine, and Sorex painfully tipped the gourd to oblige. As he did so, his wrists strained and his legs gave way, dropping the gourd onto the tiled floor, shattering his tormentor and spilling scarlet liquid, which began to seep under the recliners and over the feet of the children. Amicus watched in horror as a footman boxed Sorex’s ears and threw him to the floor. Sorex crawled on his hands and knees, scrabbling for pieces of pottery. The weight from Amicus’s arms was also lifted as a slave took his gourd away and placed in his arms a large reel of linen to mop up the mess.
During this charade the messenger was sent into peels of laughter, which was abruptly silenced as the patron stood and growled at the man, “ Enough! Angelus, what is this message you bring? I hope it is worthy enough to excuse the ruin of my evening.” He looked at the two slave boys, and Amicus lifted his head to look back. Never had Amicus seen such hatred in a mans eyes, except in his own Before his enslavement, he would wonder the streets of Pompeii, watching families, brothers, sons, walk together down the cobbled streets, leaving him alone, with no one to help him. Amicus often dreamed of his mother. They had been separated, and Amicus never knew his father, and so envied and hated any who had such a luxury. As he looked into the eyes of his master, he felt angry that a man who seemed to own everything, neglected his children and felt similar pain by a gourd of wine being smashed.
Well? Speak up man, or that will be the last wine you’ll…” The messenger began to splutter, and stood up straight – still only just passing the patron’s waist. “I have a message for Patron Publius Pollius Quintus, and his mater, Matron Fortuna Pollius.” Publius snarled again, but his mother grabbed hold of his arm, holding him back. Amicus watched her beauty crease into wrinkles as she began to look concerned. Undeterred, the messenger continued, “ Your sister,” he coughed, moving his head towards Publius’ mother, “…your daughter, Crispina Pollius, Mistress of the Villa Porcia, has fallen ill, and wishes to see her close relatives, may this be her last night among us.”
Fortuna let out a scream, collapsing into sobs. Publius’ stern expression melted into concern as he stuttered. “ How?… but…” He coughed, “Quick. Mater, you and I will leave immediately. Lucrio?” Amicus looked to the covered hall to see the man that had first taken him to Sextus. “Lucrio, gather the horses and a litter for Matron Fortuna. Send the slaves and the children on later. Sextus, gather your things and help your sisters. Septimus will stay here with the other slaves.” With that, he swept from the room and the slaves dispersed, followed by Matron Fortuna guided through her tears by her body slave.
* * *
Amicus stood at the foot of Sextus’ bed, surprised as despite the news, his young master still seemed to be chatting away for his own entertainment. “You must come of course,” he lisped as he stacked his books and handed them to a young slave filling the doorway. “It will be a good experience for you. My aunt’s husband died a few years ago, and she has no children, yet she still maintains the villa all to herself. It’s not far from here. Let me…” Sextus went over to a high shelf across the room and stretched to bring down a book that lay on top. “ This is one of my favourites. It doesn’t have a plot, or many words even, but it is full of maps of the Roman Empire.” The boy laid the thickly bound book onto the bedcovers, and opened to the middle page. Amicus lifted his head over Sextus’ shoulder to see pages of lines, each forming a shape. The lines were painted gold as were the small words dotting the shapes, but in between the lumps the parchment was considerably darker – Sextus explained that this was the sea.
“ Each of these shapes are countries and here are we.” He pointed to a small bay where someone had painted in intricate writing the word ‘POMPEII’. “ My aunts villa is here, it is called Villa Porcia,” Amicus looked puzzled. “ It doesn’t look like a pig” He muttered, and Sextus laughed. “No, no, they only call it the villa of the pig as it is built on what used to be a famous pig farm. It is in the town of Oplontis, at the base of this mountain.” The boy’s carefully manicured fingered swooped along the bay a short distance landing underneath the writing of ‘MOUNT VESUVIUS.’ “It is further in land than here, but even so, I find it more beautiful.”
Amicus blushed and crossed across the room, and when Sextus turned towards him he flinched. Sextus frowned, “Whats wrong? I thought…” Amicus screwed up his fists and muttered, “Before I was here, I was high up. Everyone knew me on the streets. Here I am just stupid.” Sextus smiled “I never thought that for a second. Just ask! I’m sure you can teach me some things, and I can others.” Amicus turned away and shuffled out onto the balcony. From behind the blue shroud, Amicus could make out a figure ride out of the courtyard on horseback, tightly followed by a horse drawn litter, its path lit by lanterns. Amicus turned to Sextus and said, “well… there is one thing I want to know.” Sextus nodded, “You can ask on the journey, but the sun setting and it is dangerous to ride by moonlight. It is time to leave.”