They were coming. The Romans. Titus was unstoppable, so mama said.
Incessant pounding, stench of death and decay, constant rumblings of hunger racked my tiny body awake. But I was no longer tiny nor was I in Jerusalem.
“Another earthquake?” Ferris asked.
“Yes,” I arose from bed.
“Four days of shaking,” he stretched and yawned compelling me to join him. There had been little rest of late. “Why are the gods so angry?”
I held my tongue but in my mind I prayed for retribution.
Cruel Rome deserved little compassion. I saw my people starve to death, crucified by the hundreds, beaten, burned, and cut down one by one as the walls of Jerusalem fell, the Temple destroyed, all treasure carried off, the ancient scrolls burned....
“Ilias!” Javan’s clear voice broke through my troubled thoughts. “Rectina needs you in the library now!” Her lithe figure quickly came into our room and left, like a vision. She was a vision.
I stopped briefly at the slave's bath to make myself presentable to the Lady of the Villa.
I hurried through the gardens passing the many statues depicting their gods and ascended to the second terrace entering the library.
Rectina hurriedly stuffed scrolls into the awaiting wooden tubes. For two days we worked and barely a quarter of the immense library was secure for travel.
“Ilias, thank be to the gods!” She swept a strand of dark hair that had escaped the ivory comb, behind her jeweled ear. “I need you.”
I reached for the next scroll. She interrupted my hands and held them in her own. They smelled of rose and lavender.
“I need you to deliver a message to Pliny.” Trouble brewed deep in her blue eyes.
Rectina was the closest thing I had to a mother. I would do anything for her. She was kind, held me when I cried, calmed my fears after each nightmare, taught me to read even though I was a slave, and let me read the scrolls of my people each day.
I was a mere boy of five when Titus presented me to her as a gift.
He found me in the middle of Jerusalem, some nine years previous, with a rock in each tiny hand, threatening to hurl my weapons at any Roman that came my way.
Death surrounded me. My parents blood ran at my feet. Yet when he saw me, Titus didn’t strike. For some reason he felt compassion and stayed his sword. I was carried off to Rome amongst the treasures from the temple and deposited, along with a few preserved scrolls, in Herculaneum and Piso’s library.
The pounding hooves of the galloping horse beneath me were suddenly drowned out by an explosion. I looked back to see a bright cloud rise rapidly above the mountain. I spurred the horse on as we raced around the Bay of Naples. Ash began to gently fall from the sky. Two separate letters, each secured with Rectina’s seal, occupied the leather satchel secure at my side.
When I finally reached Pliny he was ready to launch his small ship. He was determined to explore the phenomenon close at hand for himself.
Recognizing my lady’s seal he immediately opened the first letter.
Being the commander of the Roman Fleet at Misenum, Pliny was a regular guest at the villa. I knew him to be a jovial and intelligent man but as he read Rectina’s letter his face lost all color.
“Prepare the entire fleet for a rescue operation!” He barked to the officer nearest at hand.
He tore open the second letter, read it, then gave it to his nephew, Pliny the Younger.
“Ilias, you must remain here.”
“No! Take me with you!”
The elderly man didn’t answer but turned on his heel and marched onto the waiting vessel. They were soon under sail.
He never returned.
The villa at Herculaneum, Piso’s library, Rectina and all that remained, were overtaken by the anger of Vesuvius.
As the mountain lashed out in earthquakes, ash, and burning gasses, killing all in her path, I grieved for Rome.
The thought that I was safe while Rectina, Javan, Ferris and others died, didn’t sit well with me. I may have harbored bitterness toward Rome but the Rome I hated was a war machine not the individuals I cared about.
Two days after my ride from death, Pliny the Younger showed me Rectina’s second letter.
I was free.
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