The 23rd of October, which was the day before yesterday, started as any other day in our household. I woke up to the smiling, handsome face of Gaius looking at me. As soon as he saw that my eyes opened, he kissed me. It is really uncanny how Gaius manages to wake up refreshed five minutes before me every morning. He says he has to because he doesn’t want to cause trouble to Master or Mistress by letting anyone unwanted to know he is sleeping in the same bed with me.
I, on the other hand, think that at least the young master knows about us being lovers, as I have seen him spy on us kissing each other in the back end of the kitchen garden where the olive trees are. He once even slyly asked me what I like most about Gaius, and am I jealous that Master gave him a Roman name, and I still have to keep my Grecian name, Theokritos. I replied to young master that I very much appreciate everything about Gaius and that I believe Master had his reasons to ask for Gaius to be given a Roman name. What comes to my own name, it was a name my mother gave me a long time ago and I proudly carry it as it is the only thing that I have of her.
But as the time for the Prima Hora, the first hour, was upon us, we couldn’t stay longer in bed. Even in the twilight of the morning I could see every delicious detail of Gaius’ young, 19 year old body, and it made my heart pound harder. I was truly blessed by Fortuna to have come across him in here! I jumped out of the bed too, and together, side by side, we dressed ourselves, readying for the coming day.
In the twilight, we scurried to light the lamps, so that the family can see to eat their breakfast. I could already hear the cook preparing the dishes, and muttered a quick prayer that Master wasn’t awake yet. From past experiences I knew how much he disliked to be in darkness.
I lit the remaining lamps in the hallway, and dusted off the black sand that seemed to be everywhere. People say it is because of mountain Vesuvius, but I don’t know anything about that. Besides, the mountain isn’t exactly near the city, so I think that it is the wind bringing it from the beach. It is much closer. But what I know is that for any guests entering our house, the floor needs to be clean. If not, it could make the family look bad in the eyes of other families in Pompeii. And you know what they say: anything you say in the forum can be heard at the barber’s next morning.
After the family had eaten their breakfast, the second hour had already started, and Master left for his businesses at the Forum. According to the cook, today was a specially important day for the family, as the Master had marriage dealings with a local senator! The senator had a young, and pretty, daughter and as it happened, young master was young, handsome, and available. Yesterday Master had met with an augur and all the signs pointed to a future marriage, so today was a good day for these talks.
As Master left, I whispered a quick prayer to Fortuna for success, as it could mean that the family, and all of us, could move to Rome! Can you imagine that! Living in a household of a future senator! As much as I loved the life in Pompeii, but you couldn’t deny that Rome was the capital! There people wouldn’t mind about me sharing a bed with Gaius.
But first things first. I had to go and get some fresh bread for the dinner party Mistress was organising for the family of the senator! Usually I would only be sent to buy flour as our cook as skilled enough to make her own bread, but today was clearly something special. Bread from the bakery was made with the better flour, and the smell was so much better than the one the cook made. Besides, it usually wasn’t burned.
Happily I walked to the bakery, where a line was already formed. It clearly was a busy day! I enjoyed the early morning sun on my face, and the cool wind from the sea on my bare arms. What a time to be alive!
And then, just as I was stepping to the counter, the earth shook. We got smaller tremors from time to time, and people were quite accustomed to them. This started like one of them, but it just went on longer and longer. That was unusual. Suddenly there was a stronger tremor that caused some of the people nearby fall to their knees! There was lots of screaming from panicking womenfolk, but I kept my head. I was in possession of Mistress’s sestertiuses and it would be bad if I lost them! But I have to tell you, at that moment all I wanted was to hide in Gaius’ arms.
Slowly, the tremor abated. And after that, everything was silent. Even the nearby water fountain fell silent and water stopped flowing. That had never happened before! It felt so eerie, I had never experienced anything like that. All around me people were looking at each other, and the sky, and the ground, and the fountains before continuing their daily chores. I did the same and soon was heading back to the domus with the bread.
I remember thinking and hoping that the magistrates should repair the fountain fast, because otherwise we all would have to make our way to the next fountain, which was two streets further! In the early twilight it would add stress to us getting the water. The amforae was not light when filled with water! And sometimes there were some unruly men on the streets at that time.
I’d like to say I was worried for the family, but I was more worried for Gaius. When he first came to work for the family a year ago, I had taken one look at him and felt things I had not dared to feel ever, ever before. He, like I, was 19, and came from the province of Hispania. He had told me that his whole tribe had been captured by Romans in some skirmish, and most of the menfolk had been sent to slavery. He had been taken to Rome, where Master had found him. As the family had been short of one slave, Master had bought him from the slavers and brought him home to live with us. At first we became friends but soon we already shared a bed. We had also started to talk about our fantasy of saving up enough of our vages to buy our freedom and finding a house to live in together. It was still a dream.
My story was quite similar to Gaius’. Instead of Hispania, I came from Graecia, where my parents had died from an illness that took most of my village. There had been only a handful of us left, when the Roman soldiers on patrol found us. Long story short, I was then sent to Neapolis where Master found me, and brought me to Pompeii. I had lived with the family for almost 10 years already.
Maybe the biggest difference was that Gaius was given a Roman name, where I got to keep my Grecian name, Theokritos. In my years with the family I was taught to read and write so I could help Master with his business when he needed me. Without this gift, I would not have been able to write this account to you.
The day wound on, getting busier and busier the later it became. I was tasked to prepare the reclinarium for the family’s guests whilst the dinner was prepared. I was nearly finished, when I there was another earth tremor.
This time it didn’t start slowly, but it felt like a violent strike of a snake or like the earth was trying to throw up something, violently. One second I was placing a pitcher full of water on a pedestal, and next moment I was laying down on the ground with the pitcher smashed next to me. Dazed, I tried to sit up but the ground prevented it as it heaved again. I heard the cook scream and then wail like someone was dead, or dying. From the bedrooms, I heard the Mistress let out a scared scream as well.
Slowly I managed to find my feet and get up. As soon as the ground settled, I dashed to the Mistress’s bedroom door to see that she was unharmed. Thank be to Venus, she was good and whole, and she commanded me to go and see the cook.
Our cook did not fare as well. Her screams were because a pot of hot meat had broken on her, and she was writhing on the floor with skin that seemed to have been boiled off her very bones! Gaius was already there trying to calm the cook down. I ran back to Mistress to ask if I should go and get the surgeon, and then the cook fell silent. Moments later, before I could get a start to go get the surgeon, Gaius, with tears on his eyes, came to the room. He told us that the cook had died because of the wounds and burst to tears. Despite us being in our Mistress’s presence, went and put my arms around Gaius, trying to console him.
At the same time I could see that the Mistress was horrified by the whole situation. So I quickly offered that we could finish the cooking. The cook had, luckily, managed to prepare most of the meal already, so we would just have to salvage the rest of the meat and make sure that everything was in order, before the guests arrived. I suggested to Mistress that, as it would be improper to cancel this important event at this late hour. She was visible relieved that we would be able to assist her in this. I could hardly contain my surprise when she sent, instead of us, the young master to check with Master and the other family if everyone was good. Us she ordered to the kitchen to salvage the dinner. But first we had to move the body of the cook in to the kitchen garden, so that she could be given proper burial rites on the next day.
The dinner went well, and even though we were all shaken by the sudden earth tremors, we were assured that these were nothing compared to the big tremors of 17 years earlier, when even some of the temples had collapsed! We overheard the senator telling our family that he had been one of the first ones coming to help the devastated Pompeii with a legion. They had worked day and night to help the people get fresh water and food, and shelters. I could only imagine how scary and horrible it had been. We also learned that there had been several houses that had collapsed during today’s tremor, but the senator was certain that those collapsed houses were badly repaired after the big tremor all those years ago, and that was the reason they had collapsed now.
When Gaius and I finally got into our bed, I cried a little. I hated to let him see me so weak, but it had been an emotional day. He told me that the worst was over, and the family was grateful for our help, and then he kissed me good night. As it really had been a tiring day, I fell asleep almost immediately.
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