Scenes from a Roman Taverna: Vita

‘Have they gone?’ Senodo asked from the cellar.
‘Yes,’ said Calgacus,’ you can bring her up now. Thank you.’
‘No, wait,’ cautioned Exuperatus,’ give them a few more minutes. Sometimes they come back in just to see if they can catch people out. I know these authority types.’
‘Come on, you must be kidding,’ laughed Calgacus,’ surely that is only in the plays.’
The legionnaire stuck his head back around the door at that point,
Calgacus spilt his wine over his tunic.
‘Sorry,’ said the soldier, seeing the accident,’ but just one more thing. The owner of the slave is one of the junior magistrates and he’s offering a considerable reward. I just thought you should know that.’
‘Thank you,’ said Exuperatus sweetly as he wiped the rest of the spilt wine off the counter,’ I’m sure we will be right over to collect it the moment we find the little miscreant.’
‘Good to hear. Good day to you both.’
Having first checked that he had really gone this time, Calgacus looked at Exuperatus with new eyes.
‘Don’t ask,’ the smaller man said,’ and do you want some more wine or have you had enough? I know I’ve just about had enough of this disruption.’
Exuperatus turned to the cellar opening,’ Senodo, get the brat up here now.’
The bigger man lifted the little girl out gently. She looked at Exuperatus warily and he glared back. She switched her attention to Calgacus and switched on the winning smile.
‘Your name is Vita?’ Calgacus asked.
‘Yes.’
‘And you’re a runaway slave. Why?’
‘Mother died three weeks ago so I got sold on. The master bought me because he wanted me to share his bed.’
Calgacus swore.
‘That’s disgusting.’
‘Fairly normal,’ remarked Exuperatus calmly as he cleaned a cup and put it on the shelf next to the bar.
‘But she’s only a child!’
Exuperatus sighed.
‘Do we have to go over this again? She’s his property, Calgacus. He’s a magistrate. He can do what he likes with her, when he likes. For the record, I agree it’s disgusting, but you need to face reality. Either she lives as a fugitive or she goes back and learns to survive, no matter how unpleasant it is,’ the thin man shrugged his bony shoulders,’ If she’s lucky and pleases him enough, she may even earn her freedom when she becomes too old to be of interest to him, say when she’s thirteen or fourteen.’
‘I’m not going back,’ said Vita boldly,’ I’ll die first.’
‘Quite possibly,’ Exuperatus sighed,’ look, we can’t keep her here. Why would we have a girl about the place? This is a men’s drinking establishment. Someone would report it and they’d be on to us in a matter of days, especially if there is a decent reward.’
‘Well I cannot keep her with me. My tent is in the middle of the Vicus. I can’t see any way I could hide her from the other men, and they all know I do not have a daughter.’
Senodo squinted at the Vita and then he began to smile.
‘We can’t have a serving girl here without attracting suspicion, it’s true, but it would not be odd to have a serving boy around the place.’
Exuperatus stopped cleaning and looked thoughtfully at Vita. The girl looked nervously back.
‘I see what you mean. Cut her hair and there is not much difference physically at her age.’
Exuperatus grabbed Vita and pushed his face into hers until his hooked nose was almost touching hers.
‘OK Stolen Goods. Do you think you can play a boy? I am not sticking my neck out for an amateur performer. I see enough bad acting at the theatre.’
Vita seemed to recover her composure. She grinned.
‘Other than the peeing standing up thing, which I may struggle with, I can be the best boy you could ever employ, sir.’

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?’
‘No.’
‘It will only be for a few minutes.’
‘No.’
‘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.’