Scenes from a Roman Taverna: Redemption

Two figures made their way carefully through the increasingly chaotic mess that had once been an ordered Roman city.
‘What a mess,’ Exuperatus muttered as he led Vita through streets that were now strewn with the belongings of people whose homes and shops had been looted. Often they were also strewn with the bodies of those – now very much former – occupants.
Vita kept quiet and tried not to look too hard at the bodies.
They had walked out of the house of Miletus without challenge, the magistrate’s slaves having long since fled, probably delighted at being given the chance to do so.
Moments after the pair had left the house, as they were cowering together in the shelter of a shrine to Mars, they watched a group of tribesmen enter the house. Soon afterwards it became obvious that they had set fire to it.
Exuperatus had raised an eyebrow at that.
‘Unusually for me, a rare moment of luck,’ he observed,’ no one comes looking for an old Gaul with a kitchen knife if the corpse is burned to ash. I’ve even had a chance to profit a little…’
‘You stole from him?’
‘Of course,’ Exuperatus said, tapping the bag he was carrying that jingled slightly,’ anyway, you can talk, little miss. The trinket you have in there is of considerable value.’
He pointed at the small bag that Vita was clutching tightly. She could feel the hard curves of the torc through the thin leather.
‘This is different. It’s mine. Well it should have been mine,’ Vita listened to her whining and was a little ashamed. But she clutched the bag tightly nonetheless.
‘Oh it does, really? Interesting…’ Vita could not see the Gaul’s face but she could still hear another raised eyebrow.
‘Yes. According to him it belonged to my mother.’
Exuperatus grunted, and then decided to let the matter rest.
‘Come on. We cannot stay here. We need to get onto the bar and meet the others. And get out of this place.’
‘Why did you come for me?’ Vita whispered suddenly,’ I mean, of everyone, I thought you would be most happy I was out of the picture.’
Exuperatus did not answer at once.
‘Do you believe in redemption?’
‘I don’t know what that means,’ Vita admitted.
‘That the bad things you do in one part of your life can be somehow compensated for by better things you do later, to make up for it in a way?’
‘I suppose I believe that. That’s why we sacrifice to the gods, surely?’
Exuperatus laughed.
‘That? No, you silly young thing, sacrifices are just to keep the temples in business.’
‘You don’t believe in the gods?’ Vita was shocked and a bit confused,’ but you have household gods in the bar. I’ve polished them enough times!’
‘Doesn’t mean I believe in them, girl,’ Exuperatus said,’ I have the house gods there because none of my superstitious customers would come and drink in my bar if they did not feel they were under their “protection”,’ the older man sighed,’ no, sorry, I don’t believe in any gods. And considering my life to this point, if they do exist I want nothing more to do with them. Anyway, this redemption thing is about all I have to put my hope in, now, to allow myself to come to terms with the monster that I am. ’
Vita was about to respond, but saw the hard look in the man’s eye and shut up, just as a couple of Roman guards went by, accompanying a familiar figure.
‘Castor,’ breathed Vita,’ what’s he still doing here?’
‘I don’t know. That is odd. I would have thought master and his dog long gone by now,’ Exuperatus shook his head,’ still, he can worry about his neck – we need to care about ours.’
They continued through the town to the rendezvous.
The bar, however, by was by now an inferno.
Exuperatus stood for a moment and Vita felt rather than saw his shoulders slump.
‘Oh well,’ he said eventually,’ I guess I expected this, but it is hard to look at still. I wonder if the others made it.’
Vita squeezed his hand.
‘Come on Exuperatus. I think I know my way to the construction site. If the others are alive, that’s where I would go.’
Exuperatus allowed himself to be led away, shaking his head once more as his business literally collapsed behind him.