October 79 AD, Pompeii, 2nd Day

For the first time possibly ever I woke up before Gaius. I could hear him snore next to me, and I felt so peaceful and content. I could see a little light enter our room through the window opening, which, sadly, meant it was time to wake up and prepare the breakfast. As Fortuna willed it, we still had leftover from the lavish dinner, so preparing the door was not a great task. I woke Gaius up and sent him to fetch water, whilst I lit the oven, and then the fires in the lamps. When Gaius returned, sooner than I expected, he told that there was no water in the fountains anywhere nearby. He had spoken to a guard, who told that the aqueduct had been damaged by the tremors yesterday, and the water engineer was going to see the damage today. We kept a small supply of water in the house for emergencies, but it wouldn’t last for much longer.

During the breakfast, Mistress told Master, publicly, how well Gaius and me had stepped up to save the dinner yesterday. Apparently the guests had been satisfied and that had improved young master’s chances of marrying their daughter! I was beaming with pride of our accomplishment! It kept me going throughout the morning even though Gaius and I were tasked to transport the cook’s body to a temple for her burial services. Luckily Master was a businessman and had a wagon we could use for this task. We didn’t have to rely on the temple’s wagons as on a day like this they might be busy as well.

We wrapped her in a shroud, and carried her to a wagon as gently as we could. It felt sad to see the familiar face of hers being all pale and… so dead. Leaving the domus, we sat in the front of the wagon, as all of a sudden a roar, like a thousand lions sounded all around us. Mere seconds later the light from the sun seemed to dim, and we looked at the sky. A massive plume of black smoke rose from the top of the Vesuvius, like a pillar. We both just sat there, with our mouths wide open. I instinctively reached out for Gaius’ hand and pulled him close to me. A fear I had never felt before rose in me and I might have let out a little shriek. That made Gaius hug me more tightly. Then a gust of horrible smelling wind hit us. It lifted dust and sand off the ground, and would definitely have knocked us over had we not been sitting on the wagon!

The black tower rising from the top of Vesuvius seemed to go higher, and higher, and higher, like it was trying to reach the home of the gods. At the same time it started to spread out, dimming the daylight even more. I was petrified and held tightly to Gaius. His voice brought me back to my senses – we had a mission to accomplish and what was happening was far away – it wouldn’t affect us! The most important thing was to get the poor cook’s body to the temple, as soon as possible, and get back to the domus.

Shortly after we reached the temple and the priests, who too were shaken by the “force of Vulcanus”, as they called it, helped us to carry the body of the poor cook inside. The temple felt cool and calming after witnessing the spectacle. I felt like I wanted to stay there for a while longer, as I felt safe there, but Gaius’ was adamant – we shouldn’t laze about. The family might need our assistance.

On the way back to the domus, we saw more and more people standing outside, looking at the black smoke billowing from the mountain. To me it looked like it had started to spread even more across the sky and towards us. It also looked like there was lightning inside the cloud, but I couldn’t hear any thunder. Maybe it was Jupiter, fighting back this, this.. this evil plot by Hades!

When we got back to the domus, everything was a chaos. Master had returned home early, very early, from his business and was ordering Mistress and young master to pack the bare necessities and valuables and get ready to go. We stopped respectfully to wait, and when he was available, we asked what would he want us to help them with. At that very moment, first of the black stones fell from the clouds, like the floor of the gods’ palaces were falling to the earth!

Master, bless him, took one look of the falling stones, and confidently ordered us to assist him and the Mistress with packing. We, of course did what we were told to. Whilst we were packing, the soft, black stones continued to fall from the sky and the day kept turning darker and darker. At some point we had to light the lamps, even though it was still mid-morning! It was simply unheard of!

When we finally had finished packing and loading the necessary items and a little food we had stored to the cart, Master stopped us. He told us that the family was heading out, either to Herculaneum or even Neapolis, and Gaius and me were to lock the doors and guard the house until they came back. He kindly left us with some sestertii to cover costs of bread and meat, the price which he was sure would go up as the days went on. Mistress hugged us and gave us each a protective amulet, and told us that we would all see each other soon.

I brushed some of the black stones, which were surprisingly light, off from the path to the carriage and urged Mistress and young master to sit under the canopy we had erected on the wagon. Master tried to steer the ox from under it as well. After they left, I turned to Gaius, who had tears in his eyes. I didn’t want to add to his fear, so I just hugged him tightly and told that we would be protected by the gods and then we closed the doors. I had never felt so afraid and alone, and I thanked the gods, any gods who would listen, that Gaius was there with me. What Fates had brought us together under the roof of the family!

On the courtyard, the family had erected a small water feature. Now, with all the black stones it was all covered and the stones, it looked like they were floating on the water! This, if any, was proof that these stones were from the firmament of the gods’ houses! How else could these rocks float!

We tried to clean up the fountain as much as we could, but the more we piled up the stones, more kept falling from the sky. And now, mixed with the stones, there was ash and it made us both cough.

As Gaius continued to cough, I decided to brave the streets and try to find us something to eat and some more water from the fountains. Gaius reminded me that there had been no water in the morning, not even in the further one! I didn’t want to believe him, so I went out anyway as I was very worried with Gaius coughing, and the whole situation where we were in.

The streets were full of people carrying what ever they could, trying to flee the city. The baker was already closing his doors, but as he knew me he gave me some breads and told me to flee the city with Gaius. He said we would be fools to stay here. As he was older, he had seen and experienced the big tremor in AD 62, seventeen years ago. He said that this event had the same kind of feeling of the end of the world in it, and that was why he was going to leave. I told him that Gaius and me were not freemen or citizens and if we left and got caught, they would kill us as deserters. Hearing this, he hugged me and wished us both blessing of the gods. I hurried home, wondering about all the stones on the roofs.

I wasn’t overly worried as Master had overseen the building of our house himself and had chosen only the strongest wood to support the clay tiles. The beams sat firmly on stone pillars. This made our roof able to withstand what ever the nature and gods would throw on us!

I checked the fountains. There was no water flowing and the basins were filled with the same black stones. I saw also how a layer of dark ash had started to settle on the white marble of the fountain. I just prayed we would have enough water at home, and blamed myself for not asking if the baker had any extra water that I could have.

At home, we sat and ate in silence. I told Gaius what the baker had said to me, and he was silent for the longest time. He said we could go to the docks and see if there were any official boats or ships as then we could explain the situation. If we just left, we would surely be punished for departing against direct orders of our Master. He also said that he was grateful that I was there with him, as he had strong feelings for me. That made me feel strengthened.

We packed what little sestertii and food we had, and headed out to the streets towards the docks. Trying to protects ourselves from the ever falling stones we slowly managed the short trip, coughing all the way because of the falling ash. It seemed to have more effect on Gaius than me. It felt like it was already midnight, we had to walk with a torch to even see where we were going.

Reaching the shore, it was clear we were not the only ones who had had the same idea. I couldn’t but stare in awe as the whole sea seemed to be made of the black stones. They even moved like waves would move! Some people were wading in the water and the stones would just float away! Very peculiar! Also, we saw imperial ships further in the sea, but they didn’t seem to be coming closer. Maybe it was because of the lack of the wind, but we could hear the drums beating for the oarsmen. Or maybe it was the amount of the black stones on the water that had turned the sea into stone!

We stood there, hugging each other and coughing from the ash, for the longest time. Our hearts sank when we saw the imperial ships turn and sail away. Our plan had failed. There was nothing else to do but to return to the domus and wait this out.

To Part 3

One Comment Add yours

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s