A gray plume of smoke climbed into the sky, mixing with the clouds to muddy them. It came from just over a slight rise in a landscape that showed no other signs of human life, so Evie decided to walk toward the smoke. After what felt like about a half hour, she saw an olive orchard growing next to a grain field. Willows lined the far edge of that field, like shepherds protecting their flock. The contrast between the crops and dark soil drew her eye, and Evie realized she was hungry.
It was too soon to pluck an olive from the vineyard, and that would be stealing anyway. But where there was a farm, there were sure to be people, and perhaps the owners of this farm would help her. She had to get home. As much as her eyes enjoyed soaking in the sight of this idyllic landscape, Evie knew she’d somehow traveled a great distance. There was nowhere like this farm near her apartment in the city, which cultivated concrete and brick instead of vineyards and trees.
She stopped just before the growing crops and examined the house. Evie blinked and pinched her arm. “Ow.” The house was real, and it looked like an Italian villa. How could putting on the bracelet transport her to Italy? The whole idea was preposterous. She started walking again, intent on finding someone–anyone–who could answer some questions for her, but she stopped short when she saw an older man emerge from the villa. He wore a toga, like an Ancient Roman. Evie ducked into the vineyard, breathing hard.
She looked down at her own clothes. Jeans, a white tee shirt, and a pair of Adidas. Not exactly acceptable garb for a woman in Ancient Rome–or for anyone in Ancient Rome! “This is insane,” she muttered. Evie duckwalked along the row of olive vines, trying to keep her eye on the man between the bunches of young olives and the leaves clustered around them. From one branch to another, he disappeared. Evie stopped and rose inch-by-inch from crouching. Her thighs burned but she didn’t want to stand up too fast.
“You there! Who are you?” The man spotted her, and gathered his toga in his hands so he could run her way.
If I run, I’ll only look guilty, she thought. “I’m Evie, and I’m lost.”
“You steal my olive branches?”
She shook her head. “No, not a one. I was hiding.”
He narrowed his eyes. He was about her height. Deep wrinkles carved a path between his eyes, one of which was milky-white with a scar on the lid. It looked painful just to open it. His toga stretched over an ample belly, but his breathing wasn’t labored from the vineyard sprint. His hand darted out to grab her arm so fast that Evie couldn’t pull away. He twisted her forearm up to his face and examined the scorched symbols on her wrist. Then, he looked her up and down and, keeping a vice grip on her arm, turned back toward the villa.
Evie had no choice but to let him drag her. She tried to pull her arm free but he was holding on too tight. “Hey, let me go! I’m no thief–”
“I know you’re not. Hush, girl.” He didn’t walk to the front of the villa, but rather to the side, where he shouldered open a wooden door to reveal a storeroom. He swung her inside. “Stay here. I will return with food and clothes.”
“Wait, don’t–the symbols on my wrist–you know what they mean.”
“Shh! I will return.” He closed the door.
Evie felt for a handle but there was none. Not on this side. She tried to fit her fingers into the cracks between the planks, but they were too narrow, leaving her fingertips sore. If dreams couldn’t hurt, this definitely was not a dream. A few minutes passed before her eyes adjusted to the dim light pouring through the cracks in the door. The room was filled with jars and crates. Most of them were empty, but a few of the jars held milled grain.
She turned over one of the crates and sat down, watching the sunlight move outside. If that bracelet really took me back to Ancient Rome, I’m in so much more trouble than I thought I was. How was she going to get back to America? How was she going to get back to the twenty-first century? With the bracelet gone, she couldn’t think of any hope for her escape. But she couldn’t just live here, in the past. Sure, she’d studied Ancient Rome and Ancient Romans for years so she could probably survive but she didn’t belong here. Evie closed her eyes and tried to calm her racing heart.
It wasn’t until dusk that the door was shoved open again. The older man from before stooped to pick up a plate and a cup. “Foot and water first, I think,” he said, and passed them both to Evie. He turned from her and scooped up a dress. “My daughter’s–she’s outgrown it. She won’t miss it, I don’t think. You must wear this.” He draped it over one of the empty jars. “Eat. Drink.”
Evie eyed him warily but then thought, if he was going to poison her, why bring her clothes? She tore off a piece of bread and dipped it in a pool of olive oil on the plate. It tasted better than any bread she’d ever eaten before in her life–or maybe she was just hungry. The man had also brought her vegetables and a bowl with two dormice dipped in honey. She looked at the mice, then at the older man. He nodded. “Go on, woman, eat.”
“Evie. My name is Evie.”
“No family name?”
His eyebrows pinched together. “Russell…strange name. Never heard of your family. Never seen someone in clothes like yours, but I’ve seen those symbols.” He pointed at her wrist.
“The bracelet–it disappeared when I arrived. How do I get it back? What do they mean?”
The man shook his head. “I was young when I left Campania. You need to go there, Evie Russell, and consult with the priestesses. They will help you. Food and clothing is all I can do for you.”
“Who are you?”
“Publius Sepunius Columella.”
The name didn’t ring a bell, save for the writer Columella who wrote about agriculture in Ancient Rome. But this man wasn’t him. “Publius Sepunius Columella,” Evie repeated his name. “I am so grateful for your help but I must beg for more. I have no money. No means to get to Campania. These symbols,” she thrust her wrist out at him, “obviously mean something to you.”
He cast a furtive glance behind him. “I can give you a mule and tell you that you must ride south for,” he scratched at his chin, “ten days, if the weather’s fair. Campania is past Naples, near Herculaneum and Pompeii.”
Evie knew where towns were in Italy. She was hoping for a guide though. “Thank you, for the offer of the mule.”
“I can give you some money, too, to feed yourself on your journey.”
“Thank you. I am most grateful. Is there no one who can guide me?”
He huffed. “Gods above and below, will you take everything?”
Evie set aside the food and water and stood. “These symbols are important, yes?”
“I remember seeing them carved into the stones of the temple when I was a boy.”
“And you wouldn’t want to upset the gods?”
He pressed his lips into a thin line. “Very well. I will find someone to guide you. But one mule, and one only.” He turned from her. “Wear the gown I brought you. I will return soon.”
“Publius Sepunius Columella?”
He stopped but didn’t look at her.
“What temple was it?”
“I don’t recall.”
He left, and Evie changed out of her clothes and into the dress. It was a little too long, but otherwise a decent fit. She’d only have to wear it for the next ten days–as soon as she found these priestesses in Campania, she was going to find a way to make them send her home. While she waited, she wondered how it was Publius Sepunius Columella could speak English, a language that shouldn’t exist yet. Maybe she was losing her mind, but if so, she wasn’t going to spend her time sitting in an imaginary storeroom.
True to his word, Publius Sepunius Columella returned when the moon was high with a mule, a pouch of coins, and a young man. “This is Tatius,” he introduced the other man. “He will guide you to Campania–and then he will have to leave you to return here. I cannot spare him longer than that.”
Evie thanked him again, and tucked the money, her jeans, tee shirt, and Adidas into the baskets draped over the mule’s hind quarters. Tatius took up the rope and the two of them left the farm and Publius Sepunius Columella behind.