Scenes from a Roman Taverna: Girl

Calgacus remembered very well the day when the local Oracle had told him, after payment of the appropriate fee, that one day he would run into a pretty girl that would change his life. It was a prophecy that had kept him warm on many a lonely night.
What the Oracle had not told him on that day, and that the labourer was now discovering was that the girl in question would be far too young and that she would literally cannon into him on the street outside his favourite Taverna just as he was leaving.
The Oracle had also failed to mention that this girl would look at him with a pair of huge, panicked, blue eyes surrounded by a mass of blonde rivulets.
And that in just two words she would melt his heart instantly.
‘Save me,’ said the girl, simply.
But that, Calgacus reflected, as he bundled the girl through the door of the wine shop he had just walked out of seconds before, is the problem with Oracles and fortune tellers. They never tell you the whole story.
Exuperatus looked up from his accounting and put down the stylus.
‘Back so soon?’ he said drily.
‘Your sausages, Exuperatus, must be better than I thought,’ said Senodo, who was sitting at the bar with his back to the entrance,’ I might have to try them. When I am desperate enough, that is.’
‘You mean drunk enough,’ said his partner.
‘Much the same thing…’
Calgacus looked around the small Taverna for somewhere to hide the girl. From her frequent glances behind her pursuit could not be far behind.
‘Exuperatus,’ Calgacus said quickly, ‘can I hide this girl in your cellar?’
‘It will only be for a few minutes.’
‘Yes,’ said Senodo, who had now turned around. He reached out a huge hand.
‘Let me give you a tour of our fine establishment, little one.’
The girl, who Calgacus reckoned was no older than ten, looked at him as if for approval. He nodded curtly.
‘Go with Senodo. He may look like a monster – with a nose like that – but he’s a good man.’
The girl allowed herself to be gently lowered into the cellar.
‘If we get closed down because of this I will be very cross,’ fumed Exuperatus,’ you do realise she is obviously a runaway slave?’
Calgacus nodded.
‘I figured so.’
‘And you’re still helping her?’
Calgacus shrugged.
‘She’s only a little girl, Exuperatus, and she’s terrified. She’s a little girl. ‘
‘Try explaining that to her master,’ Exuperatus sighed.
‘She’s property, Calgacus. Not just a little girl. She’s property like a flower vase or this bowl. And by hiding her you’re implicating us in theft.’
Calgacus shrugged.
‘Too late now, mate. Now are you going to give me a cup of wine so nothing looks suspicious? I think I can hear hobnails approaching.’
Calgacus heaved himself onto a stool and took the cup begrudgingly slapped before him.
A young soldier’s head appeared around the door.
‘Greetings,’ said the newcomer in a tired voice,’ the Legio IX Hispana is currently wasting its time looking for a runaway slave. A young girl… I don’t suppose you’ve seen her?’
‘No,’ said Exuperatus with complete certainty.
‘Not seen any girls for too long, of any age,’ lamented Calgacus.
The legionnaire laughed.
‘I know that problem. Pity, this girl’s led us a merry dance. I you catch wind of her, report it at the Forum office.’
‘I will,’ Calgacus lied into his wine,’ what’s her name by the way?’
The legionnaire shouted back over his shoulder as he stomped back into the street.
‘Her name is Vita.’