Rings of Saturn: Part 8 – Aug. 15, 79

Rings of SaturnIt was official: Evie preferred sleeping in villages or even temples. Sleeping outside on the ground wasn’t just uncomfortable, but without an app to tell her the forecast or wondering whether they’d be attacked in the middle of the night, Evie had trouble falling asleep in the wildnerness. After the ordeal in the cave, it was nice to find a barn with a pile of hay. Hay was scratchy and soft at the same time.

Marcus woke her with the sun and said they should get moving because they didn’t exactly have permission to sleep in the barn.

“Relax,” she told him, stretching and yawning, “let’s enjoy the village for a little while. We have the map. Finding Hercules will be simple now.” Had she just said those words? Evie still wasn’t sure if she’d had some kind of psychotic break. 

Marcus wasn’t having it. There were no lazy mornings on a quest, it seemed. Reluctantly, Evie left the barn and they walked through the village, seeking an opportunity to either buy or take breakfast. Evie stopped in the middle of the main road and Marcus didn’t realize it until a few steps later. 

“What? Why’d you stop?” he asked.

Evie let her mouth hang open and pointed to a small hut across the street.

“By Jupiter…” Marcus whispered.

Tatius wasn’t facing them, but he wasn’t turned away either. He held the door open while someone talked to him from inside. Evie couldn’t hear the other person but she saw Tatius nod and walk around the building toward the back. Evie crossed the road.

“Leave him, Evie,” Marcus said.

She ignored him. He continued to protest that Tatius would only slow them down. Rounding the building, she saw Tatius poking at a haystack. 

“What’re you doing here?” Evie didn’t mean to sound accusing, but she saw his shoulders tense.

Tatius turned from the hay. “Evie. I’m glad to see you’re still alive.”

She repeated her question. Tatius told her the mule was stolen from him, and so he never returned to Publius Sepunius Columella’s farm, afraid the old man would fire him anyway—or worse. 

“But he was so kind to me.”

“He wanted you to leave without causing him any trouble with the guards.” 

“Who stole the mule?” 

Tatius shrugged. “I didn’t stop the bandits to introduce myself.” 

A smile twitched on Evie’s face and then she broke into laughter. She laughed until her stomach and sides ached. Tatius didn’t laugh, but the fact that he’d made a sarcastic comment was so out of place, so unexpected, that she couldn’t help but laugh. Her laughter drew Marcus, who glowered at Tatius. 

“He’s not joining us,” Marcus announced.

Evie’s laughter ebbed and she caught her breath. “Who said anything about joining you?” 

Tatius leaned on his pitchfork. “Join you where?”

“Oh, get this,” Evie said. “A priestess sent us to find Hercules. Apparently he alone can stop Mount Vesuvius from blowing its lid and killing everyone in Pompeii. We’re supposed to find a third—” Evie paused and recited the first line of the prophesy. “Rings of Saturn and companions three…” She turned toward Marcus. “Tatius is the third!”

“What? No,” Marcus said.

“I can’t leave,” Tatius protested.

Evie grabbed Tatius’s hand and dragged him away from the haystack. “You have to come with us. We’re supposed to find a third companion and Hercules and stop the volcano in just ten days. If it’s not you, then who are we supposed to find?”

“Anyone else,” Tatius said. “I let you lead me away from my last home. It’s not happening again.” 

“I don’t think he has what it takes,” Marcus piped up.

“Tatius, if you come with us, don’t you think the gods will reward you?” 

“Erm…having a home and work and food in my belly is reward enough.” 

“We need you,” Evie said.

“No we don’t,” Marcus added. Evie glared at him and mouthed the words be quiet. 

“This is my quest. I need you, Tatius, like I need Marcus. Like we need the map and Hercules and these,” she held up her wrist. Evie looked around and then dragged Tatius to the village bathhouse. Marcus followed. Except she didn’t lead them into the public part, but to the small structure behind it, where a fire burned to heat the water. Evie stuck her hand and wrist in.

“No!” Tatius yanked her away from the fire. 

Evie held up her wrist to show the glowing runes wrapped around it. “The gods need you, Tatius. Look. This isn’t some…some dream or vision, or some crazy, imaginary thing.” Well, maybe it is, she thought. “We need you.” 

It took some more convincing, the promise of coin upon completion of the quest as well as her word as the mortal chosen by the gods that his life would be markedly improved in exchange for his participation. Tatius told his new employer that he was leaving. The man wasn’t as kind about it as Publius Sepunius in that he didn’t give them money but rather chased them out of the village with a knife. When they were several hundred yards’ out, Marcus said he would have fought back, except it was funny to be chased so by a man who’d obviously never killed anyone.

Once out of the village, Marcus went to gather or hunt for some food since they were chased out before they could get any. Evie sat down with Tatius and the map. “Do you know where this is?” she asked, holding it out to him. There weren’t any place names labeled—just a zigzagging line through mountains and valleys. 

Tatius examined the map. “I have a good guess,” he said. Turning the map in his hands a few times, he looked around them in a circle. “I think we have to go to Positano.”

“How long will that take?”

Tatius rolled a shoulder. “Three days?”

Evie nodded. “Giving us just over a week to get Hercules back to Mount Vesuvius. I think it’s doable. When Marcus comes back, we’ll start walking.” Evie put the map away and ran her fingers over the runes, no longer glowing, on her wrist. “Why’d you really stay near Campania, Tatius?” 

“I told you already. Mule was stolen and I didn’t want to return without it.” 

“I think Publius Sepunius would have accepted an apology. You’re not a fighter.”

“He would not have. I have seen his anger before.”

“What’d he do?”

According to Tatius, it was three years ago. One of the Publius Sepunius’s slaves was sent out to get the goats. Two of them escaped and could not be recovered. Publius Sepunius had two of the slave’s fingers removed. Both pinkies. The story made Evie gasp and cover her mouth with both hands. 

“That’s horrid. And you saw this?”

Tatius nodded. 

“But…you are a freeman. Surely, he wouldn’t do that to you…” 

“I don’t know. Probably not but that wouldn’t stop him hurting one of his slaves.”

Evie hesitated. “I’m just…I’m surprised. He was so kind to me and he didn’t have to be.” 

“Publius Sepunius fears and honors the gods, as we all do. Showing you kindness was his way of preserving himself and his home.” 

Evie wrapped her arms around her legs. “Oh.” She rested her chin on her knees and said, “Well, then I guess it’s good you didn’t go back there.”

Tatius nodded. “What did the priestess tell you about this prophesy?”

“All I know besides the fact that the three of us have to find Hercules is that he’s trapped somewhere.” 


She nodded.

“He must have angered Jupiter. Or Juno. Juno hates Hercules.” 

“I bet she does.”

Evie and Tatius fell into companiable silence until Marcus returned. He couldn’t find any meat but he’d gotten his hands on some bread, milk, and olives. Evie thought he must have skirted around the village to sneak in and steal from people. She secretly hoped he took the food from the villager who chased Tatius and them out with a knife, but she didn’t ask. While they ate, they told Marcus where they had to go and he agreed it would be best not to linger too long. If she hadn’t been convinced before that he stole the food, she would be now. 

With the whole afternoon ahead of them to walk toward Positano, Evie hoped they could put some distance behind them. The sooner they found Hercules, and released him from wherever he was trapped, the sooner they could go to Mount Vesuvius. The sooner she could go home.

Rings of Saturn: Part 7 — Aug. 14, 79, continued

Rings of SaturnThe tunnel grew brighter, the voices louder, until it dropped out from under their feet. Evie bounced onto her tailbone and winced, then tumbled over Marcus. The pair of them somersaulted like the twins of Gemini into a brightened cavern. When Evie opened her eyes, about two dozen men surrounded them. Some carried torches, some spears. 

“Are they alive?”

Evie didn’t budge, but watched through her eyes, open just a crack, just enough to see one of the men jab Marcus with the butt of his weapon. A puff of air escaped Marcus, who was trapped under Evie’s legs.

“He is. Check the girl.” 

Evie waited to be jabbed at. The spear never came. Instead, hands wrapped around her upper arms and lifted. She went limp, let her head loll to the side. 

“I don’t think she is. Must have snapped her neck.” The man who spoke this time was one of the one’s holding her. She held her breath.

“Search her for money or jewels. Then dump her off the cliff.”

Evie lifted her head then. She wasn’t going to let anyone dump her off a cliff. “I’m alive.”

Spears clattered to point at her and Marcus. She tried to pull her arms free but the meaty hands wouldn’t relent. Evie stood now, supporting her own weight at least. One of the men told two others to get Marcus up, and then he was standing beside her. Marcus refused to look at her and she could tell from the set of his jaw that he was angry. He wanted to sneak up on these men, not roll right into their midst. It wasn’t her fault though—the tunnel had been dark, the rocks slick.

Evie took a quick glance around. Beyond the circle of men there was an opening wide enough for one person to shimmy through. That must be how they got here. She guessed they were on the other side of the mountain, and that the caves connected one valley to another. 

“We’re not here to start trouble,” she said. Marcus hissed at her to be quiet. Evie stood straighter. “You don’t have to dump us off any cliffs.”

Now Marcus did look at her, ferocity in his gaze. “Be quiet,” he ordered through clenched teeth.

The apparent leader of this band of bandits walked through the circle, the men parting like the Red Sea for Moses. “If you don’t want any trouble,” he asked, looking Evie up and down, “then why are you here?”

“We were lost,” Marcus said.

At the same time, Evie answered, “We’re looking for a map.” 

A ripple of laughter echoed around them, bouncing off the cavern walls. “Maps are useful when you’re lost. Why do you think we’d have a map?”

“I—” Marcus started, but leader held his hand up, palm facing Marcus, as though he could create a wall to hide him from view. He commanded Evie to answer.

“We were told the map would be here.”

“Who told you that?” 

Would these men be frightened of the gods? Would they bow before them if they knew they were on a so-called sacred quest to fulfill some ancient prophesy? Or would they kill them? Evie performed a quick catalogue search of what mythology she knew. The gods were famous for getting humans to fight amongst themselves. They were entertained by it. What if these men were sent to work against them? Blabbing about the prophesy could get them killed. Then again, any answer could get them killed. The leader came closer so that he was a breath away from Evie. His buried his fist in her hair and tugged her head back. She whimpered. He repeated his question.

“One of our companions. Gone now.” It wasn’t a lie, but it wasn’t really the truth, either.

The man released her head, shoving her backward so the men holding her arms had to shuffle to keep from dropping her or being knocked over. “Tie them up. We’ll see if we can’t get a more…complete answer from one of them in the morning.”

The bandits fetched some rope and tied their wrists and ankles between two stalagmites, so that Marcus and Evie were back to back. Two of them were posted guard at the back of the cave wtih them while the others went back to their celebrations. Eventually, they fell asleep. Evie’s own eyelids were starting to droop when she heard a whisper rasp behind her.

“We’ve got to get out of this before morning,” Marcus warned. “They’ll kill one of us then, maybe torture first.”

Evie felt like she’d swallowed a stone. “What do we do?” 

“I don’t know yet.”

Evie nodded and chewed her bottom lip. If she died here, in this cave, would someone thousands of years in the future find her remains and think she was an Ancient Roman? They’d have no reason not to except for one: a filling she got in one of her molars when she jumped backward into a pool and cracked it. She was just old enough to have gotten her adult teeth, and her parents had vascillated between worry and anger that it wasn’t her first set of teeth she damaged. Thankfully, the tooth was able to be filled and she’d forgotten about it until now. 

People now could have fake teeth, if they had the wealth for it, but they didn’t have amalgam fillings. Evie ran the tip of her tongue over the tooth. She couldn’t die here. It would spark too many unanswerable questions. Her thoughts shifted next to the bracelet that brought her here. Was Pete searching the museum for it? Did he wonder where she went? Did he think she stole the bracelet? Her purse and coffee were there—would those be evidence enough to clear her name of any theft charges if she returned without the bracelet?

Evie felt heat radiating from her wrist. She looked and saw all the symbols lighting up. The rope tied around her wrist began to smolder. It never erupted in flames but it burned away to nothing, and she had a hand free. Evie eyed the two men guarding them. One of them was seated, his head resting back against the cave wall. Was he asleep? The other man stood looking out, his back to her and Marcus. Evie slowly crossed her free arm over her body and worked the knot on her other wrist loose. Then she untied her ankles. She turned and untied Marcus’s bindings next. 

What now? She mouthed the words, afraid even a whisper would catch their guards’ attentions. 

Darkness settled in Marcus’s eyes. He didn’t have to say it; Evie knew what was coming. Marcus turned from her, walked over to the standing guard, and snapped his neck. Evie lunged forward and took his spear, holding it while Marcus lowered the man’s body to the ground and dispatched the other guard. He opened his hand for the spear, and she was all too relieved to give it to him.

Marcus motioned for her to follow into the depth of the cave, where the bandits stockpiled their stolen goods. As Evie drew near one of the crates, the symbols on her wrist lit up. She rifled around until she found a wax tablet, a map carved in it. Evie studied the map and then tucked it under her arm. 

“How do we get out?” she whispered. 

Marcus pointed the sphere toward the opening on the other side of the sleeping bandits. He mimed drinking and gestured to them. Evie hoped he was right, that they’d gotten too drunk to wake easily. They creeped along the wall, toward the opening. When they were almost there, Marcus accidentally knocked over a jug, but Evie managed to catch it before it shattered on the ground. Mead glubbed out of it to run all over the map and toward the sleeping men. Her eyes widened. Marcus grabbed her shoulder and urged her ahead of him.

She reached the exit and slid through. She heard Marcus grunt behind her as he squeezed through the tight space between the rocks. There was a narrow goat path that Evie could just make out, and she followed it. The path zigzagged down the mountain. About halfway down, she heard shouts from the cave. The bandits were awake. 

“We need to get down to the valley and hide. Go faster. Run.” 

Running on the goat path was impossible. Evie stumbled down it, her feet catching up just fast enough to keep her from faceplanting onto sharp rocks below. She looked over her shoulder. Torchlights bobbed behind and above them. Her heart thudded, heavy in her chest. Marcus prodded her from behind and told her not to stop. 

Rock turned into soil and grass. Marcus clasped her hand and broke into a sprint, leading her toward a thicket at the base of the mountain. There was a small farm with a house close by and Evie asked why they didn’t go there instead. Marcus shushed her.

The bandits spilled into the valley and ran straight for the farm house. Marcus took Evie’s hand and led her back the way they came, but not up the mountain. They ran until her legs ached and throbbed, and then ran some more. 

“Enough!” she finally said, the word forced from her lungs on a panted breath. She yanked her hand free from his. “That,” she gulped, “has to be enough distance between us and them.” 

Marcus studied the landscape past Evie, and harumphed. “I suppose it’s far enough. What does the map say?” 

“It’s too dark. I can’t read it.”

“Well, didn’t you look at it before?” 

“Yes, but then we had to run for our lives. I’m sorry if I don’t have a photographic memory.”

“A what?”

She waved her hand back and forth. “It doesn’t matter. We need to get somewhere with enough light. A village, maybe? Or we could stop and make a fire.” 

“Village is safer. Come on.” Marcus turned and led the way at a brisk pace—but at least they weren’t running anymore.

Rings of Saturn: Part 6 – Aug. 14, 79

Rings of Saturn“Are you sure you know where we’re going?” Marcus asked for the umpteenth time. He adjusted one of the packs filled with their food and supplies.

“No,” Evie answered, her voice flat. “But I think when we turn the wrong way, that’s when the symbols go dim. Do you know where the zodiac constellations are in the sky?”

Marcus stopped, turned to her. His expression said, Puh-leese.

“Right then. We’ll be following my lead. Either we’re going the right way…” Or we’re going in the complete opposite direction. There was no pressure, of course. Either they found Hercules and somehow saved Pompeii, or they failed and an entire city was scorched. With only twelve days left until the supposed doomsday Aelia predicted, Evie walked a little faster. She wished some geologist had been able to pinpoint exactly what day the volcano blew. Was it the twenty-fifth? Or days later? Days could make a difference.

The longer they walked, the more their shadows shrunk. When the sun was overhead, Evie stopped. “Pass me the water, please.” 

“We need to conserve it.”

“I’m going to pass out if you don’t pass it to me. Then you’ll have to carry me, too.” 

“Pity you didn’t keep that mule.” 

“We would have had to keep Tatius, too.” She caught the water from Marcus and took a long drink until he yanked it from her hands and closed it. 

“Don’t drink it all right now.” 

“It’s not like we can’t get more.”

“Stopping to get more wastes time. And Tatius wasn’t so bad.”

Evie shifted her weight back onto her hip and folded her arms over her chest. “Right. You hated him.” 

“He was weak. I didn’t hate him. I didn’t respect him—”

“You were glad when he left. Besides, he’s not an adventurer.”

“At least he did what you said.” 

“Yeah, unlike you.” Evie expected a retort that never came. Instead, Marcus shook his head and continued walking. She had to jog to catch up. “I thought I was the navigator.”


“Shouldn’t I walk ahead?”

Marcus stopped. He waved one arm in front of him. “After you,  o great and mighty chosen one. Better you lead anyway. Then, when we watch that mountain spew fire from a league away, you can take responsibility for leading us in the wrong direction.”

Evie didn’t answer. She didn’t know how far a league was, anyway. She held her chin high and walked ahead of him. The two of them didn’t speak all afternoon. Occasionally, the symbols on her wrist would light up and she’d change direction. Evie wished she’d asked Aelia how to navigate with these symbols. She couldn’t even try to find the constellations with the sun out. Maybe Aelia intended them only to travel at night? 

They skirted around a small village. Evie wanted to stop, but Marcus reminded her they had to find a demigod and convince him to save Pompeii four months early.

“I don’t know what demigods and gods do when they’re not on quests, but it might be difficult to sway his mind.” 

“I know what I’d be doing if I wasn’t on this quest,” Evie muttered. Nightime. She’d probably be reading from her collection of history books or watching some documentary about the ancient world. She loved to watch and try to find things to correct. It wasn’t an easy challenge, because they were usually well researched, but some of the documentaries with lower production value provided ample fodder for her brain game. 

“We should make camp,” Marcus announced.

“No. Not tonight. I think we should press on, I mean, we only have so much time.” Evie wasn’t sure, but Marcus looked proud of her in the disappearing light. 

He fashioned a torch and when they passed by a farm with a fire brazier in the front, he dipped the torch in to light their way. The symbols on Evie’s wrist brought them into the mountains, to a cave. They stood at the mouth of the cave and Marcus waved the torch at the opening.

“Checking for bears?” 

“Bears…bandits…anything else.”

Evie snatched the torch from Marcus. “Well you’re not going to see much from out here.” She marched into the cave, tailed by his protests. They came to what Evie thought was a dead end, but she squinted past the light of the torch to see that two tunnels branched off in opposite directions. Her wrist didn’t show any symbols. 

“Maybe we’re not supposed to be here,” Marcus said.

“Why would the symbols lead us to the cave but not through it?”

“Maybe we’re supposed to have the third member of our party by now.” 

“What third companion?”

“You didn’t listen to the whole prophesy, did you? ‘Rings of Saturn and companions three.’ I count two of us.” 

Evie argued they were supposed to come and find the map. Marcus said that Aelia was always vague and launched into a tirade about how she shouldn’t trust priestesses because they’re vague on purpose. He accused Aelia of not really knowing what the gods wanted anyway.

Evie clamped a hand over his mouth and shushed him. He licked her palm, so she recoiled. “Ew, gross,” she wiped her hand on his tunic and shushed him again. “Listen.” 

Voices echoed from the tunnel on the right. There were other people in this cave. 

“I think we should take this tunnel,” Evie pointed the torch toward the one on the right.

“No. The other,” Marcus insisted. “They’re probably bandits.”

“You’re a bandit. What’s wrong, lose your nerve?” 

In the flicker of the torch, Evie saw the contours of his face change. His expression shifted from annoyed to angry. “If you want to get yourself run through, then follow the voices. We don’t know how many there are.” 

“If they run me through, at least I don’t have to traipse all over Italy with you anymore.” Evie pushed past him to enter the tunnel to the right.

“What’s Italy?”

Evie didn’t answer. She couldn’t constantly guard her tongue. In the midst of all this questing, she forgot there wasn’t technically an Italy yet. There wouldn’t be for a long time. Over a millennium. I have thousands of years of intelligence on these people. I don’t need Marcus. Or Tatius. Or Aelia. Hell, do I even need Hercules? But Evie didn’t know how to stop a volcano from erupting or how to initiate time travel when the bracelet that brought her to this time melted into her wrist. Even the memory burned.

But then, when Aelia held her hand over the fire in the temple, she didn’t feel it. Maybe I have a brain tumor. This is all just a figment of my overactive imagination. I’m having delusions. 

The voices from ahead grew louder, but Evie couldn’t make out what they were saying. The sound bounced around too much. She rounded a bend and a soft glow reflected on the tunnel wall. She was close. 

Someone grabbed her from behind. The torch fell and the flame died as Marcus pushed her back against the wall and clamped his hand over her mouth. His skin smelled like soil and sweat. 

“Let me go first,” he whispered. 

Evie nodded. 

Marcus removed his hand and released her. He bent to pick up the unlit torch and handed it to her. “Someone attacks you,” he said, keeping his voice low, “you swing this at him as hard as you can. Aim for his head or his…erm…nethers.”

Evie almost laughed at Marcus’s embarrassment to say groin or any other off-color term he might have drummed up. 

“It’s not funny. If you get me killed, I’ll give you hell in the Underworld.” 

Evie nodded, forcing her face into an solemn expression. The Underworld. Right, like that exists. Then again, they were on a quest from the gods to find a magic map that would lead them to Hercules. Evie gripped the torch tighter and followed Marcus toward the voices and glowing light.

Rings of Saturn: Part 5 – August 13, 79

Rings of SaturnEvie had one of those nights that seemed to pass in an instant. She wondered if she even dreamed. Usually, she could remember at least a snippet from a dream–one time, a few years back, she dreamed that she had to convince a king to pay his auto insurance. But last night? No dreams. Just a deep slumber until a cool hand shook her shoulder. The hand belonged to Aelia.

“Wake, Evie. There is little time to waste. We have much to discuss.”

Evie opened her eyes. She was so sleepy she could hear the lids parting and coming together again with each blink. “Alright…you don’t have coffee, do you?”

Aelia cocked her head to one side. “Cough-ee?” Her almost-transparent brows pressed together.

“Don’t worry about it. I think it’ll be about another nine hundred years before coffee is even the slightest bit popular. I’m just not a morning person.” She swung her legs off of the bed and stretched her arms over her head.

Aelia smiled. “I see. You have less than a fortnight to complete your quest, Evie. I suggest you be a morning person for the next twelve days.”

“Ah, what’s happening in twelve days?”

Aelia didn’t answer. She crooked her finger, beckoning Evie to follow, and left the room. In silence, they walked through a labyrinth of tunnels. Torches in brackets lit their way until they reached a room with a five-foot brazier in the center. Fire consumed the wood there, peeling back bark, charring each log’s innards. Marcus stood on the far side of the fire; Evie could make out the sharp jaw line and aquiline nose. In the contrast between light and dark, Marcus looked younger, carefree. It was like the fire smoothed out his scars and the cold in his eyes.

“In twelve days time,” Aelia began to speak, rounding the fire to prod at it with a stick, “the volcano will erupt. It will erupt and kill many, unless you stop it.” Aelia pointed the smoking stick at Evie.

Evie’s jaw hung open. “I’m sorry, what? Stop a volcano? I can’t do that. Is this–what year is this?”

Marcus and Aelia shared a look and then Marcus answered, “The year is 79.”

Evie scoffed and held her hands up in surrender. “You’re right. Everyone in Pompeii is going to die. It’d be better to try to evacuate the city. I can’t stop a volcano.”

“To return to your home, to your time,” Aelia lowered the stick and rested it against the side of the brazier, “you must complete the quest the gods have set out for you. But do not fear, Evie. You will have help.”

“Marcus? We’re not exactly buddies. He only brought me here because I paid him.”

Aelia smiled and walked over to Marcus, trailing her index finger across his shoulders. She leaned up and whispered in his ear, kissed his cheek. Marcus pulled his head away like he was disgusted. Aelia laughed. “Oh, he will help you, friend or no. But you two cannot complete this task alone. There is a prophesy.”

“Oh, please. Let’s hear the prophesy,” Evie prompted, unable to hold in the bubble of incredulous laughter.

Aelia’s smile slipped from her lips. “Do not mock the gods.” She cleared her throat. “The prophesy states: Rings of Saturn and companions three, find the strength of Hercules. On the cone of raging fire, soothe the gods’ burning ire.”

Evie perched her hands on her hips. “How does that help? Are you one of the companions, Aelia? Do you, Marcus, and I somehow equal the strength of a demigod?”

“No,” Aelia shook her head. “I will not accompany you. There is a third who will present himself to you. You must journey to find Hercules. Only then can you save the city of Pompeii.”

“This is insane. I’m leaving,” Evie turned and walked away from the fire-room, from Marcus, and from Aelia.

“You will not find your way out, not without my help,” Aelia called after her.

Evie stopped and clenched her fists until she could feel her fingernails dig into the flesh of her palm. Usually, she kept her nails trimmed short, but this was just one more piece of evidence that she’d been away. “How are we supposed to find Hercules and convince him to save Pompeii in less than two weeks?”

“There is a map.”

“Great. Can I see it?”

Aelia laughed. “Evie, you know little of prophesies. I don’t have the map. You must quest for it. Then you must find the demigod. He will know what to do to stop the eruption.”

“Well, why can’t you just ask him directly, then?”

Aelia stared into the flames. “He is trapped. In a place I cannot go. Only the one bearing the marks you now wear on your wrist can find him. My part is to give this information to you. The gods have not designed any other purpose for me. Do you not think I would be grateful to have a larger role to play? Instead, they bring you here. You are reluctant, inept, and not of our time and land.”

Evie turned to look at Aelia. In the midst of her tirade, her ethereal beauty, the softness in her features, disappeared. She looked like she was carved of marble. “What’s in it for me, if I help you by going on this prophesied quest?”

“In it for you? Well, I suppose you get to leave this time and place. But it is not me asking you to do these things. It is the gods. Jupiter is angry, but Venus and Saturnus have the power to calm his rage. Hercules is the key. Fulfilling this prophesy will save thousands of lives. More than that. Is there a greater reward, or are we destined to become selfish beings?”

Evie clamped her mouth shut. Shame swelled in her, heating her face. Or maybe that was just the fire. “I suppose I don’t have much of a choice.”

Aelia’s face softened again and she smiled. “You always have a choice. You can refuse. I will lead you out of the bowels of this temple. Marcus will pay his debt with his life. You can find your way to live in this time, in this place.”

“But if I want to go home–“

“You must complete the prophesy.”

Evie blew out a sigh between taut lips. She flared her nostrils and took in the deep, stinging smell of the smoke from the fire. “Fine, I’ll do it.”

Aelia came forward and grasped Evie’s arm, yanking her toward the brazier. Evie tried to dig her heels in, but her sandals just slipped and slid on the smooth rock floor. Aelia held Evie’s hand over the flames and let out a cry of pain as her own skin bubbled and burned. The fire didn’t touch Evie’s hand, but some of the markings on her wrist began to glow. Aelia released Evie and cradled her hand to her chest, whimpering.

“What are you–what the hell? Why’d you do that?” Evie reached for Aelia. “Marcus, help her.”

Between desperate breaths, Aelia explained, “Now you know how to find the map.”

“I–I don’t understand. Your arm–“

“Look at the glowing symbols. Follow,” she gulped, “follow the zodiac signs to find the map. Two days. You will find it in two days.” She gasped. “Now–now follow me back up through the labyrinth.” Breathing heavily, Aelia led them from the fire room. When the three of them reached the ante room, Aelia disappeared down a long corridor. Three others stepped forward with parcels and held them out to Marcus and Evie.

“Take these with you,” a brunette said. “Clothes, food, water. Some coin. Revere the gods. We shall pray for your success.”

Rings of Saturn: Part 4 – Aug. 11-12, 79

Rings of SaturnTraveling with Marcus made Evie feel like her feet might fall off at the end of the day. He roused everyone before dawn and got them into a marching file, and they walked until the sun reached its zenith. They’d stop for a bit of wine, bread, and cheese, and then march some more. Marcus might not be an actual soldier, but Evie sure felt like she was in the army. Whenever they passed villages or other cities, Marcus would send a man or two ahead to scout the area and buy more provisions when necessary.

“I have to admit,” Evie said as they approached Naples, “he’s efficient.”

Tatius had not enjoyed the last four days. Despite his lanky build, he was slow on the road. He liked to say it was the mule slowing him down, that the beast was stubborn, but that excuse was dashed to bits when one of Marcus’s men took the rope and the mule matched the man’s pace. Since then, Marcus had taken to prodding Tatius verbally and physically. He walked by now, jabbing the farmhand in the back with the butt of his spear. “I’m going as fast as I can,” Tatius said.

“Not fast enough. Something tells me those symbols won’t last forever.”

“What does that mean?” Evie asked. Marcus didn’t answer, but set his jaw and stared forward. She stopped. “What do you mean by that? That I won’t be able to get back home?”

Marcus stopped and looked back at them. “Keep moving.”

“Not until you answer me. I didn’t know these things,” Evie held up my arm, “have an expiration date.”

“I don’t know how long they’ll last. But quests aren’t meant to be delayed. I don’t know why you even let this boy stay with us; he’s slowing us down. Slowing you down. Campania is still another day away–two if he doesn’t pick up his feet.”

“I’ve been traveling ten days already,” Tatius said.

Evie shifted her weight. “I keep him around because it’s his master’s mule. Besides, neither of us are used to walking so much in a day. Where I come from, we have–” She stopped, because she didn’t know how to describe subways and taxicabs to a Roman bandit dressed as a soldier. “This isn’t your quest, Marcus. It’s mine. I’ve hired you and the coin I gave you should be enough to pay for an extra day. Quit giving Tatius a hard time.”

Marcus shook his head. “The priestesses. Far as I’m taking you.”

“Right. Just like we agreed.”

The rest of the day, and half of the next, passed with more marching, though Marcus was gentler to Tatius. He only told him to walk faster instead of happing at him with the blunt end of his weapon. As they approached the city, Evie quieted.

“Are you frightened?” Tatius asked.

“I don’t know. I’m sure if there is some quest to fulfill, it’ll require more than walking from north of Rome to Campania. What if–what if I can’t do it, and I never get to go home again?”

“That may happen, but the gods will perhaps take into account that you tried. Well, Saturn probably wouldn’t.”


“I’m only mean that he’s rather stern, isn’t he?”

“Tatius! That’s not helping.”

“Sorry. Will you–” He adjusted his grip on the mule’s rope. “Will you send word to Publius Sepunius Columella either way?”

Evie stopped and turned toward him, mouth hanging open. “Tatius, are you worried about me?”

Tatius stopped too and looked up at the sky. Not a single cloud drifted by to distract him. “I–only because my master was concerned. And setting off as we did without the time to make a sacrifice or consult the augurs…”

Evie placed her hand on Tatius’s forearm. “I will send word if I can but I probably won’t be able to. I don’t know what’s coming and if given the opportunity to go home, I have to take it. Tatius, I don’t belong here. You didn’t see–didn’t see what I looked like when I arrived.”

“I know my master had to bring you clothes. You only know about some of our gods. Your accent is all wrong and you don’t know where some of the small villages are between the larger cities. I know you’re an outsider, but I don’t know from where.”

Or when, Evie thought. “Right. So I have to go back the moment the priestesses give me the chance–or I might lose it.”

Tatius hung his head. “I understand. Publius Sepunius Calumella will be disappointed.”

“And you?”

Tatius lifted one corner of his mouth to smile. “I haven’t got much of a choice. Just bring the mule here, bring the mule back. Probably won’t even make it back alive.”

“I don’t think I’ve heard you tell a joke. You shouldn’t. It’s weird, Tatius.” Evie smiled to him though.

“Are you two finished? The priestesses won’t wait forever,” Marcus said.

After Tatius left with the mule, Evie followed Marcus into Campania proper. It was more beautiful than anything she’d ever imagined, but somehow she knew it fulfilled every part of a Mediterranean dream, even though it was on the Tyrrhenian Sea. Turquoise water, sailboats, and villas carved into cliffs were accompanied by the calls of gulls overhead, and a chorus of voices. Some advertised the catch of the day, others wares from all over the region. Wheat from Egypt. Pottery from Greece. Spanish leather.

“This way,” Marcus closed his hand around Evie’s elbow and led her through a maze of streets. Each time she was certain they’d hit a dead end, he turned into an alleyway that was so narrow it seemed to appear out of nowhere. It would widen and then lead to other alleyways that worked like capillaries, arteries, and veins carrying people, animals, and goods to and from the port. Evie imagined a great heart there, beneath the docks, pulsing. Marcus turned with her so many times that she lost track of which direction they’d come from, until they finally stopped before an archway over a door twice her height. “The priestesses are inside. I’ve fulfilled my part of the bargain.”

“So you’re just going to abandon me here?”

He shook his head, lips pressed into a thin line. “It is no abandonment. You paid me to take you to the priestesses.”

“You said you knew them. You have to at least make an introduction.”

Marcus sighed and approached the door, raising his fist and pounding on the wood with his whole forearm. For a moment, nothing happened, and Evie wasn’t sure if she would be happy about that or not. Would it be easier to just go back to Publius Sepunius Columella and try to find a job she could do for him? The door swung open and her wrist burned. Evie hissed and covered the marks with her other hand. Marcus turned toward her. “What is it?”

She uncovered her wrist, which looked red and angry, like the symbols had just been branded mere moments ago. “It hurts.”

“It would, wouldn’t it?”

Evie narrowed her eyes at him. “Why? Why should it hurt?”

“Means you’re on the right path, I bet. Come on.”

Evie didn’t consider herself a wimp but she wouldn’t have minded getting some sympathy from Marcus. Tatius would have shown empathy, she thought–but then, Marcus was a cruel mercenary, probably. Or brigand. She shouldn’t expect such kindness from him. She followed him through the archway, her cheeks heating up as she looked up at the barrel-vaulted expanse before her. The walls were frescoed with scenes of the gods. Evie couldn’t help but think how much Pete would love to get a team in here. If she ever made it home, she’d have to make sure that the museum got someone to come check this place out. Maybe she’d get to come back in two thousand years or so and see it with an archeologist’s eye.

“Marcus,” a woman in a dark blue dress walked up to them and regarded him. “You weren’t going to ever return here. On pain of death.”

Evie turned her head toward him so fast that her neck spasmed. “You–you said they owed you.”

The woman laughed. “We do! We owe him death. But,” she turned toward Evie, trailing cool fingertips down Evie’s arm to clasp her wrist. She pried Evie’s fingers away from the symbols and held them up close to her face. Evie examined the paint around the woman’s eyes. Tiny Roman numerals–just numerals here, I suppose–lined her brow. “But maybe we can find a way for him to settle this debt between us. Marcus, you will both stay the night.” She smiled to Evie, releasing her wrist. “I am Aelia, and you and I have much to discuss. You come with the gods’ blessing, on a quest that…” Aelia closed her eyes and inhaled a deep breath that shuddered her torso, “that will either save or doom you.”

Evie couldn’t look away from Aelia. Her low, soft voice, her painted amber eyes, her soft black curls that framed her face and rested weightless on her shoulders, entranced Evie. “Can you help me? Tell me what I’m supposed to do? And how to get back home?”

Aelia smiled. “There is only one way to go home. You must do as the gods ask, and you must have faith in them. I must consult with them–you will both dine and sleep in this temple tonight.”

“But–” Marcus said, but silenced himself when Aelia held up her hand, palm facing him. He nodded and Aelia waved that hand, beckoning three more young women. They kept their gazes down, but two of them led Marcus one way, and one of them led Evie down another corridor.

“You must bathe, then sup, then sleep,” the woman told Evie.

Despite how much she wanted to get home, Evie agreed. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d had a real bath. Food sounded great, and sleep in what she hoped would be a bed would be divine. Then in the morning, she could find out from Aelia exactly what she had to do to get back home where she belonged.