Eight days before the Calends of July, 79 AD
(June 25, 79)
Olivia leaned her back against a column, beneath a hanging basket spilling over with vines that were thick with dark purple blooms. Beneath her hand and silk stola, her belly swelled uncomfortably. In the shadows of the peristylium a worried slave lurked, ready at any moment to run screaming for the midwife now in residence until the delivery. Olivia paid her little mind, enjoying the open air, however hot, as she watched Gaius chipping away at a statue beside the peristylium pool. He liked to work out here because the light was better and sculpting was warm work. The spray from the fountain helped to alleviate the heat, in spite of its volcanic source.
She smiled softly, “His nose is slightly sharper,” she said quietly, as her husband’s face began to emerge from the stone.
Gaius jumped. “My Lady, why are you out here? Surely it cannot be good for you!”
“Because I wish to watch you work, and I enjoy my gardens.”
He grumbled quietly, returning to his art, aware it was not his place to force his patron to mind her health. This was not his favourite subject by far for his sculpture, but when one’s patron requests a statue of her senatorial husband, one obliges. He much preferred the lady of the house, with her patrician face and softer features. Although cold stone could not express the warm honey gold of her hair or the soft green of her eyes, he knew of alabasters that would express her skin tone with surprising accuracy. Her weak state of health did not take away from her classical beauty. Instead, it lent an air of delicacy to her, an other-worldliness that made men want to protect her.
Sighing, Olivia yielded to the worried shuffle behind her and moved more into the main of the house. She was barely nineteen; still, she wielded an air of confident nobility that none of her slaves or freedmen dared to question, and none of the artists she patronised dared to either challenge or seduce. She had already dismissed one of the best fresco painters from Herculaneum who had tried to take advantage of her husband’s absence, thinking a young woman of her years and beauty collected artists as she did for more lurid purposes. He had found himself on his ear in the gutter before he even realised his mistake. Before long, everyone on the South slope knew better.
Phillipa, her ever-present personal slave, seemed to relax as she entered the cooler regions of the house. She understood the girl’s worry, really. She had, after all, had three miscarriages in the last four years. This was the longest she had ever carried and she was dangerously close to delivery.
She paused, her hand straying to the underside of her belly as she felt a white-hot pull, but it subsided quickly and she went on. She moved down the corridors past the family’s living quarters, and out the garden gate. From a carved bench beneath an arched trellis of roses she could watch birds wheeling over the peak of Vesuvius as she sit in comfort. The sun was starting to set off to the left of the peak, casting a golden glow upon the world. She basked in the fading light; her hair turning a soft burnished gold, captured in a lattice of silver-white ribbon. She closed her eyes a moment.
“Ah, now I know how Aphrodite must have looked before the birth of Aeneas,” came a smooth voice from the shadows by the ivied walls.
She did not open her eyes, but smiled instead. Her expression faltered a second as she tried not to reveal another moment of pain. She waited until the sun had completely left the gardens and the speaker had moved out of the shadows to answer. “Good evening, Aeschylus.”
He came closer, but remained at a respectful distance. Of all the artists she patronised, he was her favourite. He was not a young man, perhaps in his late fifties, maybe even his sixties, and not exactly handsome, but she was very fond of him. He was a Greek of ancient name and sought to live up to that, or so he claimed. He had come to the house not long after she had arrived in Pompeii from Rome and quickly won over Julius, her husband. Shortly thereafter, Aeschylus had been brought into the household on a near permanent basis, and Julius had suggested that she spend her time rooting out and inspiring the local artists.
Aeschylus was fond of referring to her as his muse and often called her Calliope. No one ever dared to think, much less suggest that there was anything improper about their relationship. By many of the household he was looked upon almost in a grandfatherly way. Since his arrival he had written several pieces, including a play, which Olivia had financed the production of the year before. It had been a great success and made her entrance into Pompeian society complete; prior to that she had been only coolly welcome.
“And how moves the babe this eve?” he asked. “Painfully, I gather?”
Again she only smiled mildly. “At least he still moves.” She took a slow, deep breath, exhaled it. A frown creased her pale brow.
“How long ago was the last one?” he asked. It was a rather forthright question for a man who was neither family nor physician.
She dodged the question. “So, will we be having your friends over tonight discussing philosophy upon the peristyle steps again? Or will you be dancing attendance upon that actress friend of yours?”
He sighed, granting her the feint, but reluctant to fence her, even knowing it was the best way to handle her. Especially now. Something in her manner worried him, that and something on the edge of his senses that kept twitching. “In light of your health, it has been agreed upon that we will not be meeting again until there is a celebration to be held and as for Palmyra she has accepted an opportunity to perform Elektra in Rome.”
Another held breath followed, this time, by white knuckles and a tightened jaw that eliminated his need to press. “That answers that question,” he said matter of factly, waving to the slave in the shadows. As the girl drew nearer, he stopped, nostrils twitching ever so slightly. He glanced discretely down at the bench upon which his muse perched. There was a wetness beginning to spread there, tinged alarmingly with the faintest amount of blood. “Phillipa, get the midwife,” he ordered, and reached for Olivia as she started to waver. “Run.” His voice was calm, but firm, as if he had every right to order his patron’s slave about. The girl did not stop to question the propriety of things, but, following his glance, saw the blood and bolted for the house.
Aeschylus swept her into his arms with a wiry strength that belied his age, and began carrying her into the main of the house through darkening corridors as yet unlit. The midwife arrived as he was laying her upon her bed and immediately took over with a small flock of female attendants. She ran him out with the ease of decades of experience and left him to deal with the rest of the household who had begun to gather in the hall. Just as he raised his arms for attention, the night air was rent by a scream of agony no doubt heard by the neighbours. He said simply, “It has begun.” To himself he prayed, ‘Artemis, let them both survive this!’
The night had progressed, and still her screams tore the darkness. Slaves of the neighbours had begun to gather unobtrusively (or so they hoped) in doorways across the street, sent by concerned and hopeful friends to report back the moment there was news, for good or ill. At some point, a physician had been sent for, a bad sign to those waiting. Hours later the screaming stopped, followed by the offended cry of a newborn child forced from the warmth of his mother’s belly into the comparatively cold air of a June night.
Olivia tipped her head up to look upon the face of her newborn son and smiled weakly. “At last, my Lucius, you are here.” Then, Olivia Claria Severus, wife of Senator Julius Ignatius Sylvanus, breathed her last.
She drifted, mortally cold and tired beyond human capacity. Her feet moved her without effort; not that she could have stopped her forward motion had she chosen to resist. Still, caught in the current with many other incandescent souls drifting towards the riverbank, she had a smile upon her face. On the whole, she glowed: more so than the other dreary ghosts surrounding her. Her whole being was effused with Love; happy and content that she had managed at last to bring a child into the world alive. She had given her life for her son and perhaps had not even realised it yet. Or had she? When she reached the landing platform of the Ferry, she made a slight grimace as she checked for a coin beneath her tongue and was dismayed that there was nothing there.
A soul near her sighed, set a hand on her shoulder and explained, “Do not fret. They probably haven’t buried you yet. You’ll be buried with honour more than like,” he said, pointing to the stains of blood upon her gown. His accent was decidedly lower class and slightly old fashioned, his essence dim compared to hers. To semi-divine eyes watching unseen from across the river, she stood out like a bonfire on a dark night. All else was mere shadow.
He went on, comforting her. “The coin will appear when the rites are done.”
She relaxed, seemed almost happy. “Is that how it happened with you?”
It had seemed impossible, but he grew even dimmer. “I haven’t been found yet. For me there will be no coin, no fare to pay my way across.”
She did not dim exactly, but there was a darkening, a flux which showed her sympathy. “How...”
“Long? I’ve lost track.”
She shook her head. “How come you were not found?”
“Perhaps because I was murdered, and hidden away.”
“Where? How?” Her shock and horror seemed genuine.
He shrugged, suddenly unwilling to burden this bright creature with his own sorry state, but something in her manner made him want to tell her. “I was a freedman in the service of a Pompeian household. Unfortunately, I did not lead an exemplary life. I made mistakes. I gambled. I found myself in debt. My creditors wished me to grant them secret access to my mistress’s house in exchange for my debt. I refused. They stuffed me in an oil amphora which they buried in a grove behind my mistress’s house where she was having fruit trees planted. They just dumped me into a hole left by the workmen and planted a pomegranate tree over my head.”
A frown crossed her delicate features. “Who... who was your mistress?” she asked, as memory stirred.
He sighed. “Not that it matters, but she was Paula Herculia.”
Olivia shuddered. “What was your name?” she asked, a quaver in her voice that was not there before. Had she been closer to life he might have thought she was about to be ill.
Something across the river began to stalk the bank, its presence felt by all that had gathered yet obscured by mist off the Acheron and the marsh that lay between it and the Styx.
“Terrence Herculia.” He stepped back from her in what must have been fear.
In the mists and upon the water something stirred, sending out ripples which struck the bank smoothly and impossibly ended there instead of rebounding. Beside her, people who had them began fumbling for their coins.
Olivia was definitely ill. Something was pulling at her soul, almost dispersing her. The pain felt like childbirth, cold and hot at the same time, a belly full of knives slicing their way out to the edges of her weary soul. She reached out, for anything to anchor herself to, but all her near had backed away. One soul nearby, paler than his cohorts, smiled knowingly, though with some regret, and nodded to her to go without fear. Almost as effortlessly as she had arrived she began to depart, passing other souls upon the same road. The pain and the nauseous cold grew, twisting her, pulling. From the far shore there came a sound that was not unlike a growl which grew until it was a thundering roar to rival a stormy sea battering a breakwater. Her last unconscious thought was one of recognition of a single soul upon the road fading fast below her.
“VESPASIAN!” she screamed, tried to sit up, an act she found impossible.
Gnarled, ink-stained hands that held more strength than the ancient digits should have held her still. The roaring in her ears subsided as she realised that it was merely the sound of her heartbeat as it reluctantly began to work again. There was an acrid, copper tang in her mouth, that made her think of the coin she had needed and found wanting. She shivered. It felt as if her body was wrapped in a wet, cold shroud, weighing her down. Even the near insufferable summer heat did nothing to dent that chill. But something was missing, desperately. “Lucius,” she managed, looking up into Aeschylus’s face as if seeing him for the first time and expecting someone else. “Where...”
“Your son is with a wet nurse being fed. You said ‘Vespasian’ when you woke. Why?” he insisted gently. There seemed something in his voice that had not been there earlier that evening: something paternal. “It is important you tell me everything you have just seen right now, while you still remember it.”
She struggled, wanting to see her son and not seeing the relevance of it. But she found herself unable to resist his voice. She told him everything she could remember. About Terrance Herculia and the Pomegranate tree, the sickening feeling of being ripped out of existence, the roaring from across the river and finally of having sworn she saw the Emperor Titus Flavius Vespasianus walking down the road to the river to await the ferryman Charon like everyone else.
“Although it seems to me he was looking for someone,” she added weakly.
Aeschylus seemed to deflate. “Valeria cannot be pleased.”
Whatever else he had been about to say was lost with the sound of a breaking pot. Both of them turned to see the slave girl in the doorway looking as if she had seen a ghost. Not for the first time that night, someone screamed.
Aeschylus gathered his wits quickly, addressed the next slave who poked his head in the door to see what the commotion was about. “Quickly, man, get that idiot doctor back here! Obviously, he was somewhat hasty in his pronouncements!” The slave disappeared, dragging the girl with him. Aeschylus turned to Olivia, taking her hand in his slightly bloody one. “I do not have much time to explain things right now. Just do what I tell you and everything will be fine. Do not struggle to get up or fight the weakness you feel. Concentrate on breathing and keeping your heart beating.” His voice had a cadence to it that defied resistance. There was no reason to disobey. Her heart even began to match the pattern he was tapping on her wrist at the pulse point without her even being aware of the touch. “That’s it. That’s my girl. Let him examine you, but not too closely. The moment you hear anyone say that you were dead become angry and dismiss the doctor as a cracked pot.” She smiled. He frowned. Every now and again his Latin would slip. This was not the time.
She tried to wave him away. “Whatever,” she moaned thickly. She was beyond tired now, death almost seemed a welcome respite from the cold weariness that was overwhelming her. “Just bring me my son. I want to feed him.”
“Olivia,” he snapped. She looked up. He had never used her personal name before. His pet name for her yes, but this was a liberty although somehow it did not seem out of place. “You do not understand. You cannot feed him now. You are... too ill. Just do what I told you to, let the doctor look you over, but the moment you can deduce you were declared dead send him away. And whatever you do keep breathing,” he insisted.
It seemed insane, that order; but her muddled mind read it as an admonition to live. She did not have long to contemplate it however, or why it seemed that even the beating of her heart was an effort, (though an effort which was becoming less and less conscious) as the doctor bustled in.
Declaring him inept did not take much time. He seemed almost irate that she was staring up at him with eyes that were not only blinking, but had the appearance of life in them. He began to examine her, listening to her chest, lifting the sheets to note dully that the bleeding had stopped. He blustered himself up as he declared, “Well, I don’t see how it is possible, but it will be a short reprieve at best. She has lost a great deal of blood and surely the clots will slowly strangle the life out of her later. You might have done yourself a greater service, young lady, if you had had the decency to have stayed dead.”
He was summarily thrown out into the gutter by the overzealous porter.
Aeschylus promptly sent a boy he owned running through the dark to the house where a friend of his was, by luck, staying. It did not take an hour before the new ‘doctor’ was brought back. The porter frowned at the slightly dishevelled Greek with a full beard standing in the doorway with the poet’s personal slave, but he admitted him. Phillipa, Olivia’s personal maid, a spirited young Egyptian beauty showed them silently to her Lady’s private chambers. She had been reluctant at first, but Aeschylus had insisted that his friend was a trustworthy physician. He did not inform her however, that his friend’s list of previous clients included several long dead emperors and at least a handful of the Egyptian Ptolemy’s.
He introduced his guest to his patron, who by now had been washed and made comfortable. “Damocles, this is my latest patron, Olivia Claria Severus, wife of Senator Julius Ignatius Sylvanus.” He turned to indicate his friend, “Olivia, my oldest friend, Damocles.” She merely nodded weakly, concentrated on gathering her strength. Surprisingly, Aeschylus dismissed Phillipa and began holding a conversation with his friend in his native Greek. Not that Olivia did not understand a word, far from it, but she was entirely too weak to protest or participate and was becoming distracted by a demanding hunger she could not completely understand.
“She has just died in child-bed,” he explained.
Damocles shook his head. “And you did, didn’t you.” It was a statement, not a question. “Aeschylus, you were supposed to watch her, subtly prepare her, not steal her for yourself.”
“What was I supposed to do, Damocles? Let my muse die? As it was I was almost too late. For the first time in four hundred years I’ve felt like writing and she is the sole reason. Surely ‘She’ will forgive me for that.”
Surely she had not heard that correctly.
“Still... Valeria is going to be highly put out.”
“She has her hands full at the moment, I believe. I will have more than enough time to prepare her and to get word to Valeria before I bring her to Rome.”
“What do you mean her hands full?” the older Greek asked suspiciously, one bushy, grizzled eyebrow rising.
“According to Olivia, her pet Flavian is dead. She saw him on the Road.”
The ‘physician’ nearly fell off his stool. “Are you sure?”
He nodded solemnly. “I questioned her the instant she was lucid, and the girl would know. Her father was with Vespasian in the second Augusta when Claudius took Britain. She has been a welcome guest in the Flavian house since before it was moved to the Palatine Hill. The old man himself helped her father choose her husband.”
Damocles sucked his teeth, glancing over at the girl on the bed with a new respect. “Likely Valeria had something to do with suggesting the current arrangement?”
Aeschylus nodded. Her health had been too delicate for her to remain in Rome, and three miscarriages had done nothing to improve it or she would be in Rome with her husband. “The reason I called you in now is to set up, for the sake of the household, a physical regimen that the house and the husband will respect.”
He nodded sagely, still looking her over. He had no clue yet that she spoke Greek, much less recognised that his accent was old-fashioned. “So have you explained anything to her?”
He shook his balding head. “Haven’t had the time yet. Did you bring the amphora?”
Damocles brought a small clay jar out of the folds of his tunic, handed it to his friend without taking his eyes off the girl. As Aeschylus removed the wax seal and poured the contents into a goblet for her, his friend asked one more question. “Tell me, old friend. Is she worth it? Is she worth risking Valeria’s wrath? Creating her before she’s quite ripe?”
Aeschylus brought the goblet to her on the other side of the bed. “She’s riper than she looks. She’s had to be. She’d have been lost to Valeria regardless. Calliope, my pet, I need you to drink this, but slowly. Resist the urge to be... less than lady like. This will stave off the hunger.”
She looked trustingly up at him, allowed the fragrance from the goblet to pull her up, drawing her to it with a hypnotic attraction. She drank, forcing herself to do so neatly even though all she wanted was to gulp like someone fresh from the desert. She did not even think about what she had just consumed until after the cup was empty. Blood. There had been herbs floating in it, a sharp tang to it, but it was still undeniably blood. When she spoke, she continued in Greek, aware it was the best tongue to prevent the servants and slaves from understanding things. “Why blood?”
Damocles’ bushy brow rose yet again. “Because from now on, that is all your body will tolerate. That is the price for walking back the long road from the River Styx. It is said that even Orpheus, who entered that place whole, did not return untouched. And the maenads tore him to pieces because they smelled the blood upon his breath.”
She thought a moment. “How best must I obtain this? It would be a scandal I doubt my house could survive. I gather you have a plan in mind, Aeschylus?”
“Yes. From now on, you will observe a strict diet that will be brought to the house in sealed amphora every day. It is only to be handled by a trusted servant or loyal slave. It is a broth of beef blood blended with special herbs imported by the ‘physician’ here to keep it from congealing immediately. But it will only last a day or so. You will put on a brave face at consuming it, but must profess a distaste of it.”
Damocles snorted, sitting with his arms crossed over his chest. “Shouldn’t be too difficult. It is cold after all.”
“Do not worry, once the household has fallen into a routine and the furore dies down we can start teaching you other ways of feeding yourself.” Her eyes sparked at that but she said nothing. There was a warmth in her belly now that felt more right. In fact, she felt stronger than she had in years. “The most important thing we must remember is to keep you away from sunlight. I will explain later why this is important, but that is what the house will be told. You will allow only Phillipa to attend you during the day when you will sleep to preserve your strength. No one else gets into your room or it will go very badly.”
“I think that can be managed,” she replied softly.
“You’ll have to have ‘words’ with this Phillipa before dawn, you realise this, Aeschylus.”
“Yes, I know.”
“When, during all of this, may I be allowed to see my son?”
Both men looked down at her. Her friend looked over at his. Damocles shrugged. “Should be interesting to see his reaction. If she’s warm enough he might not even cry. Though you must not under any circumstances allow him to feed.”
She ruefully nodded. “Tell me though, how was this miracle attained? I gather that both of you have trod Death’s Road before yourselves?”
Aeschylus smiled. “I told you she was astute.”
Damocles grumbled. “Yes, well, astute and ripe are not the same thing.” He shifted on his stool. “Have the babe brought. Do you wish me to explain things while you have ‘words’ with the Egyptian girl?”
He shook his head, approaching the bed with a plain wooden beaker. “Thank you, but I would rather you spoke to the household, most importantly to Arnax, the freedman who is her in situ guardian while her husband is in Rome. He should be out in the hall. Explain to them with all your ‘physician’s authority’ what they must do from now on to attend to their mistress’s ‘precarious health’.”
“Right. And the handmaiden?” He watched as his friend drew a small knife.
“Oh, I am going to jump right to it with her. The lady needs a servant and I happen to know Phillipa has her utmost confidence and is fatally loyal.”
Olivia’s eyes widened with horror as Aeschylus took up her hand and pressed the knife to her wrist. She said nothing, not even when the blade bit and parted her flesh. Damocles shook his head with disapproval as he rose, moving towards the door. As Aeschylus set the beaker under the wound to catch the blood he called out. “Do me a favour and send the girl in? Might as well explain things only once.”
Damocles paused at the door, waiting until he had smoothed the blood over the wound to seal it and put away the paraphernalia. “I think I should like to see some of this new work of yours, old friend. To decide for myself if she is worth all of this.”
Aeschylus only smiled as he wiped the smear of blood from her unmarked wrist. Damocles sighed and left the room.
“Io!” she breathed. She ran her fingers over the place where she could still feel the fading shadow of a gaping wound. The flesh was as perfect as it had been before her death.
Aeschylus raised an eyebrow. Such exclamations were unusual for this demure and most proper Roman wife. Matron, now, he reminded himself; Matron at last. He frowned as he added wine to the small amount of blood in the cup. He had always disapproved of the Roman insistence that to be a proper and respected Roman you had to have children. All Augustus’s fault, although he did make the provision that any woman who had three children was exempt from needing a male guardian. It was a rule that had put many young women in their graves trying past the capability of their bodies. “I just hope you can forgive me for what I have done to you.”
Phillipa entered the room and prevented Olivia from commenting. She had the baby with her, wrapped tightly against the chill. She laid him, still sleeping, in his mother’s arms, then moved to help her sit up more comfortably, stacking goose down pillows behind her. The adoration in her eyes was as plain as the tears lying unshed on their reddened brims. “Oh, my lady! I thought we’d lost you! Praise to Hathor! I am so glad the physician was wrong!”
She smiled, paused from gazing at the tiny boy in her arms and set her hand on Phillipa’s. “Actually, you have Aeschylus to thank for my life, I think.”
At this, the girl turned to face the poet. He pressed a beaker of wine into her hand and told her to drink. She looked to her mistress, who, though not certain yet what purpose it would serve, nodded. The girl drank without further question. She frowned as she got to the dregs, but finished it dutifully, setting the beaker aside and waited patiently.
Aeschylus drew his stool nearer to the bed and gestured for her to first check the hallway for eavesdroppers and then stand near and listen. “What I am about to tell you concerns your mistress’s life,” he said sternly. She nodded. “There are many myths about those who have walked the road to the Styx and returned. Some of them ring of truth while others... others are steeped in gross lies. Those of us who have returned do our best to encourage some of those lies lest we be besieged by those wishing to escape Hades. The truth is not known, even by the first of us, whether it was a bargain made with a god or godling or a curse placed upon one who cheated Death. Either way, there is a price for our... life. The gifts we are granted are great, do not misunderstand,” he injected as the slave girl began to scowl, perhaps suspecting he had done her mistress a disservice. “Our gracious muse is, by the very definition of the word, immortal. She cannot die, though she can be destroyed should certain things be done to her body. The current Roman practice of cremation, for instance, would be the end of her.” He turned to Olivia, “Nor will you suffer the ravages of age and infirmity, beyond, of course, what you suffer prior to your dying. Magic is in our very blood, and it is this blood which enables the healing you have witnessed of your wrist. There is the possibility that this can be used to heal others, but it is not advisable to do this frivolously. Though our blood is our strength it is also our weakness. And it is our need for it that makes us the monsters the ignorant claim us to be.”
“Lamia,” Olivia breathed.
He nodded. “In some ways, yes. But we are not such monsters unless we are driven away from that which enables us to easily feed, which makes our eternities bearable.”
“Why did you feed my blood to my slave?”
Phillipa looked from one to the other but did not seem upset by this news, just curious for the answer. Possibly she had already managed to sift the taste of it from the wine.
“I told you that our blood holds magic. To drink the blood of one of us is to link us ever more to the source of that blood. For some, it gives control over those who have drunk; even if the drinker were one of us. We are not immune to our own powers, which, I might add, are as varied as the individuals themselves. There are lineages, but they are so numerous now as to be almost insignificant, though there are a few dynasties which managed fame, or infamy, among our kind. To give of our blood to a mortal is to bind that mortal to us, make them more devoted and incapable of betraying us. The more you feed her, the greater her loyalty, not that it was questioned before,” he added, noting the girl’s frown. He turned to address the girl more directly. “Now you cannot even by accident betray her. It also grants you greater strength, changes you in small ways. The more of it that you drink the better you will be able to serve, and the longer you will live, but also, the more likely you are to rise again should you die. There are differences though; you will never see the Road. Those that have never made that kind of connection with Death have a different relationship to it. A greater tolerance for sunlight, less of a hunger for blood, though more often than any others, they become the monstrous lamia you find in the wilds preying upon anything they can. Something to consider, both of you.”
“So anyone fed our blood in dying may leave the Road and return to life?” Olivia asked.
He shook his head. “No. I said our existence is tied to blood. And it is by losing our blood that we must die or not even an amphora of our blood will make us rise. I do not know why this is. Normally, had I intended to make you mine, I would have made certain you were properly prepared, then drank enough of your blood to kill you before feeding you mine. But Artemis had other plans and saw to them.”
“You said ‘had I intended to make you mine’. By this do you mean you had no intentions of doing so?”
He actually blushed and looked down at his feet between his hands. “Uh... no. You were destined to be someone else’s off-spring. You were sent here to mature, and I was asked to keep an eye on you, help you out where I could, be a mentor. I had never expected to need you as much as I did. You have a gift,” he began, taking up her hand and beginning to show his enthusiasm, “the gift to inspire and it is no mean thing. I have not been able to write for near four hundred years, until the day I saw you and spoke to you. You are such a bright and loving soul it is hard, nay, impossible to resist your charms! You inspire without word or expression! Until you, I had not thought the muses were prone to living their lives as mortals, but now....”
The sound of a throat being cleared in the doorway cut off what might have been an embarrassing moment. Damocles closed the door behind him and approached. Phillipa glanced at her mistress for approval before fetching a stool from nearby for the man.
“So, have you gotten to the part about ‘what she must not do at any cost?’ or have you gotten bogged down in the reasons why you stole her?”
Aeschylus frowned. “Some.”
Damocles took over and, strangely, Aeschylus let him. “Let me see. You must drink blood to survive; I believe that was covered earlier. But do not worry, madam, I shall make certain, at least for the time being that you are provided with an ample supply that is properly preserved to last the day. Your staff already knows you are on a very special and restrictive diet. Once things have returned to a semblance of normal, you can go about shifting things. For now though, it is best that you play the invalid and only slowly appear to gain strength. That and it will set a nice stage for the curious habits you will have to start keeping.” He sighed heavily. “Second, sunlight. Stay out of it. It will reduce you to ashes in minutes.”
“Why?” It was Phillipa who dared to ask the question.
He raised an eyebrow, amazed at her cheek, but answered the question anyway. “It is said that, because he governs the passing of days, Apollo is the de facto Lord of Time. Because we have not only entered into that place in which the sun cannot shine and returned, but have also, by doing so, made ourselves immune to the passing of time, we are cursed to never let its light touch our skin. To do so is to forfeit our immortality. So long as we never gaze upon that symbol of mortality we are not subject to the tides of life which it controls.”
A sob tore itself from Olivia, and, in her arms, the baby stirred. Phillipa ran to her, trying to comfort her while the ‘doctor’ glared at his friend in confusion. “Oh, my lady! I am so sorry!”
Aeschylus answered his question in a small voice. “That, I am afraid, will be the hardest for her to bear. She is an avid devotee of Apollo.” He turned to her, soothingly. “You can still worship him with your dance, hear his voice in music, even if you cannot look upon his glory. After all, what is the sun, but his chariot? And it is not his horses you love, but his art. Perhaps now your devotions will be more apparent to him, coming as they will when he is not working.”
She dried her face, tried to soothe the baby, smoothed back one bright golden lock from his face. “Perhaps. It was his sister, after all, who let my son live. Perhaps, now, I owe as much devotion to the moon as to the sun.”
Aeschylus stood, drawing his friend with him. “We should allow you to rest, and get to know the boy. I will go to write your husband if you would permit me?”
She nodded. “Send Gaius with it. He has been aching to see Rome and, well, I think he needs to see my husband’s face again, if he is to sculpt him properly,” she smiled weakly.
They had almost reached the door when Damocles stopped. “Did you tell her about morning?” he asked. The look on Aeschylus’s face said no. He scowled, crossed to Phillipa. “Girl, you alone are to attend your mistress during the day. No one but you is to enter her chambers once the sun has risen until it sets again. She is new yet, and the tides of life will rule her for a time. When the sun rises, she will, in all appearances, die again. You must not be shocked, nor must you allow anyone to disturb her ‘slumber’. As far as anyone is concerned, you prepare a draught for her that makes her sleep. I have told the staff that this is for her health, as the summer heat is greatly lessened after nightfall, and she needs the cool dark for now. We will make what adjustments we need when winter comes, but for now that will do.” With that, he grabbed Aeschylus’s arm and led him out of the chamber, presumably to berate him in Greek all the way out to the atrium.
Olivia looked down at the tiny face curled up against her useless breast. “Ah, light of my life. Daily death is but a small price to pay for the sound of your breathing and happy cries.” She looked up at Phillipa as she came near. “Handsome, isn’t he?”
“He reminds me more of your father, than of his, my lady.”
She smiled softly. “Not altogether a bad thing.”
“No, my lady. Senator Severus is a handsome man to be sure.”
“I will need you to...”
“...attend the shrine, yes, my lady. I will myself make your apologies to the god. If you wish I can even...”
“...take a white kid to the main temple for sacrifice. Go yourself, but...”
“...lock your door. Do not worry, the key will be around my neck. I will put Petronius at the door. He fancies me and will do nothing to jeopardise my favour. Not that he is unloyal to you...”
“...just curious and unthoughtful?” she smiled.
“Yes, my lady.... My lady,” she breathed. “He is watching you.”
Olivia gazed down again at the baby, smiled to see her father’s eyes shining back at her. The baby grinned, and reached up to touch her face.