THE FIRES OF POMPEII
The sound of bare feet slapping against the hard paved road mingled with the sound of sandaled servants and merchants, and even that single sound separated the owners from each other. While the others were personal rhythms of gait and speed, these fell in sync with three other pairs of bare feet, and, further beyond the gait, told educated listeners of their poor ranks.
A look at the owners would only confirm what the sound of their walking told others; they were poor servants of their mistress, whom they bore on their backs in the form of a glittering litter. Her makeup and hair were tastefully done, and her austere expression as she looked around told others she was a noblewoman of high stature; many watched her pass, respectfully lowering their gaze until they were behind her, and then they cast curious glances at her before returning to work.
The young woman spared only a cold glance for others, seemingly disinterested in the activities around her, and then spoke to the slaves carrying her, in s voice cold as a whip. “Go faster!”
The men wearily plodded on, their backs aching and their feet sore; but despite their exhaustion, they silently carried on, knowing what awaited them if they dared to speak.
Augusta, meanwhile, closed her eyes and thought about a hot bath. She had been traveling all day, and was tired from the conversations and responsibility that filled her day. Sometimes, she thought, being a noblewoman was almost not worth all the wealth.
I’ll have one of the servants prepare me a bath the minute I get home, she resolved. The imminent problem solved, she returned to observing her surroundings at a safe, emotionless distance.
Ten minutes later, Augusta’s daydream became a reality. As she stepped down from the litter, assisted by one of the inside servants, her head maid hurried outside, giving orders to two of the serving girls relaxing outside of the house. They cast quick glances at their mistress, and hurried off.
“Lady Augusta,” Livia said politely, smiling at her mistress.
“It’s so nice to be back, Livia,” Augusta replied with a smile, feeling her body ache from all the sitting and walking she had been doing. Her maid didn’t miss the subtle message, and escorted Augusta back to her rooms.
“Of course, mistress.” Livia smiled fondly at her mistress as she made her way inside, gracefully moving through the hallways and up to her rooms. Lady Augusta has grown up so much, she reflected ruefully, following the young Roman woman.
Maid and mistress had been paired together since the moment Augusta was born, exactly thirteen years ago to almost this exact day. Livia had watched proudly, and a little wistfully, as Augusta had grown into a beautiful young lady, capable of making important decisions on her own already. She even had suitors lining up for blocks to marry her; her father had sent them all away, not ready to marry his little girl off yet. As much as Livia had watched Augusta grow up, her parents had only seen their only child still needing protection.
“Have you talked to your parents yet, my lady?” She inquired, curious.
“No, not yet. I probably won’t until they get back,” Augusta replied easily. Her tone was deceptively light, but even so, Livia abandoned the subject.
But her words had brought up a doubt in Augusta’s mind. Perhaps she should talk to her parents, even though they were miles away, at the royal palace for some sort of celebration. It might be a good way to show how grown up she was, she reflected. But even so, her anger got the best of her, so she pushed the thought away.
“Just make sure the bath is prepared,” she said curtly, absentmindedly brushing her hair.
Livia nodded and walked away.
Augusta stared at herself in the mirror, thoughts racing through her head. Ever present was the question: Was not talking to her parents the right choice?
That night, she was awakened violently by shaking. The whole earth seemed to trembling, and Augusta cried out in fright. Barely a second later, Livia appeared in her room and was at Augusta’s side.
“It’s just a tremor, my lady,” Livia reassured her. Coincidentally, the quake stopped as quick as it had begun. It took a minute for Augusta to release her tight grip on Livia’s arm.
Livia stayed with her the rest of the night, which was filled with more tremors, and by morning, they were almost constant. Wave after wave, it was like never-ending enemy soldiers coming on, unstoppable and unrelenting.
By mid morning, it was a nightmare in real life. Augusta was shaking from fear, and Livia had glanced out the window. The last time she did, she saw a wave of fire descending upon Pompeii.
“Augusta, run!” She cried, etiquette forgotten. Her mistress quickly ran downstairs, Livia closely following. Without stopping to think, Augusta grabbed Livia’s hand and pulled outside.
They never had a chance. The crowds shoved them against walls one too many times, and Augusta collapsed on the ground, crying. Livia put her arms around her, trying to comfort her one last time.
That was how they remained when the fire reached them.
Almost two thousand years later, archeologists uncovered the remains of a woman holding a girl barely into her teens.
Many people had theories about this, including mother and daughter, but no one ever considered that they were, in fact, mistress and maid, forever trying to shield themselves from the fires of Pompeii.