notes: This is a work of fantasy, not a history lesson, so expect a few anachronisms or mistakes. //"Speech in Latin will look like this."// *Thoughts will look like this.* If you find this confusing--deal with it. The story is worth it.
This is sheer and utter foolishness,* Mozelle thought, as she rattled the door once again. *That wasn't ten minutes, I know it wasn't.* She'd been late getting in to see the Roman exhibit at the museum. It was leaving the next day so, yes, she'd pretty much ignored the repeated warnings over the loudspeaker that the museum would be closing in fifteen minutes, in ten minutes... Now the door to the blasted lobby was locked, and what had happened to the five minute warning?
She'd been in the corner, squeezed between an exhibit case and the wall, trying to get a better look at an ancient bronze necklace when the lights had gone out. *Maybe I should have yelled, but I felt so silly. I thought I'd just walk on over and let myself out.* She'd been able to see where she was going. The main lights were out, but display lights shone over several cases and objects.
She rattled the door again. "Hello?" No answer. A more forceful jerk. "Hello?" Nothing. "Well, piss, what do I do now? Hello, dammit!" Absolutely nothing: not a footstep, not a murmur. Where had everyone gone all of a sudden?
She searched the room but there was no phone, no intercom, no way to contact the outside world. It looked like she was stuck for the night. Now what? There wasn't even a bench to sit on, and that tile was awful drafty. She found herself eyeing one of the displays, one that was only cordonned off by a velvet rope.
It was a huge marble slab, about four feetby six feet, over two and a half feet high. Actually, pretty perfect for a hard cot. *No, I shouldn't do that. It's an artifact, I don't think the museum people would approve. Then again, they shouldn't have locked me in, and I'm not going to hurt it.*
She sat gingerly on the stone slab, getting the feel of it. The surface was cool, smooth. This would do. She should be tired enough to at least doze. She stretched out, then turned on her side with a sigh. No, this probably wouldn't work.
She didn't see the figures that materialized behind her. One was a handsome, gentle faced youth. The other was a woman with red hair, and a sharp, foxy face. She gestured silently at the woman lying on the slab. The youth shrugged, and slowly passed his hands in the air over her body.
Mozelle yawned hugely, and her eyelids fluttered closed. In a moment she was breathing in the deep, slow rhythm of profound sleep. The woman nodded, //"Thank you, Somnus. I want to get a good look at her, and it's such a bore when they go all whiney and fawning."//
//"What makes you think she'd be like that, Dischordia?"// Somnus, God of Sleep, perched on the end of the slab, watching curiously as the Goddess of Strife and Dischord prowled around the sleeping woman, studying her intently.
//"I don't know. Maybe she wouldn't. She's pretty bold--going to sleep on my altar like this."//
//"Well, technically, she wasn't going to sleep..."//
She waved at him impatiently. //"Hush. She intended to. It's been almost three thousand years since someone was laid on my altar, and I'm curious."//
//"Are you sure this is yours?"// He peered at the carvings around the base. //"It looks like Vesta's."//
Dischordia hissed, //"It's mine! Some of her benighted followers got their hands on it and used it for her, but it's mine. Damn her. It's not like she didn't have enough altars of her own, she had to encourage her twaddling followers to take one of mine."// The sharp featured woman leaned closer to Mozelle. Mozelle stirred in her sleep, frowning, as if feeling someone near. One quick look from Dischordia and Somnus passed his hand over her again. The frown smoothed and she slept on. Dischordia touched her forehead, concentrating, then bent close and took a deep, penetrating sniff at the crook of the woman's neck.
She stepped back with an odd expression. It took Somnus a moment to recognize it as surprise. Gods weren't often surprised. //"What is it?"//
//"She's one of Vesta's."//
//"I didn't think anyone worshipped us these days."//
//"Not like that, dolt. She's a virgin. Vesta dotes on pristine little things like her."//
//"At her age?"// Somnus examined the woman more closely, curious. //"Has she dedicated herself to chastity? Maybe Vesta does still have worshippers. If she's a virgin, and she's sleeping on Vesta's alter..."//
//"It's my altar! Why should she have someone dedicated to her when I don't?"//
//"Are you joking? Have you seen anything of this time? You have millions of followers, they just don't perform the rituals or call you by your right name."//
//"I don't care. I'm not having this. I'll show this little mortal who's the stronger goddess."//
Somnus became alarmed. //"Dischordia, what are you going to do? Don't hurt her, she hasn't done anything. She doesn't even have any idea that this is your altar. I doubt she'd even know who you are. I doubt if she'd care."//
//"Well, I can fix that, can't I?"// She raised her hands.
//"Dischordia, don't!"// But it was too late. There was a muted crackle of cold blue fire, and the sleeping woman was gone. //"What have you done? You know Jupiter doesn't want us striking down mortals left and right."//
//"I didn't strike her down, idiot. She's perfectly fine. Physically, anyway. For now."//
//"What did you do?"//
//"I just sent her back."// Dischordia chuckled wickedly. //"That should mix things up a bit for her. And don't you dare bring her back, Somnus. Jupiter still doesn't know that it was you put him to sleep when Juno wanted to go galivanting. But that could change."//
Somnus remembered Jupiter's rage when rumors of his cuckolding reached him. Somnus had put him to sleep once before. Nothing had happened that time, and he'd still almost been hurled outside the universe. Only his nurse, Nyx, had saved him that time. If Jupiter was angered again... He wasn't sure if a god could die, and he didn't want to find out. So he'd say nothing. And the other gods and goddesses were so busy back in their high time, it was doubtful that the plight of one little mortal woman would interest them enough to intervein. Oh, well, perhaps she'd be alright. Things weren't going to be easy for her, landing in Rome without citizenship or protection.
She was cramped after lying on the stone all night, but she wasn't cold. That was a little bit of a surprise. The air conditioning had been pretty ferocious when she'd dozed off last night, now it was warm, and humid. A breeze moved across her face. Now that was odd. If the central air was up high enough for her to feel a breeze, shouldn't it be cold?
Then someone poked her in the side, and she groaned. "Okay, I'm up. Don't have a hissy, I can explain." She opened her eyes to find two men staring down at her. One of them prodded her again, and said something she couldn't understand. Must be a foreign tour group going through early.
Cletus stared curiously at the woman who'd been sleeping on Dischordia's altar when he arrived with Denus, his neighbor. They had intended to make a small sacrifice to the goddess to implore her help in a gambling dispute with the owner of a tavern they frequented. It would be easier, of course, if they just paid their debts, but a molting pigeon would cost less. They'd arrived before the sellers of sacrificial items, and had wandered into the temple to look around. And they'd found this.
\\"What did she say?"\\ asked Denus.
\\"How should I know? I've never hear that language before. You, woman, where are you from?"\\ She looked at him blankly. He sighed in irritation. \\"You're country. What part of the Empire are you from?"\\
"I don't understand what you're saying," She looked at them, and frowned. "And I don't understand why you're dressed the way you are. What is this, costume days?" The two men were wearing tunics, or togas. or something, and sandals Also, they both had thick beards, and didn't smell too awfully nice. The costumes she could understand, but surely the museum would require better hygiene?
She looked up, blinking. "Wait a minute." She glanced down. The floor was stone instead of tile, and the ceiling didn't seem to be the right height, much too high. And the walls... She slid down off the stone, staring around. "What... the walls?"
There weren't really any walls. The sides of whatever structure she was in consisted of a series of columns. She could see out into streets. And the streets...
The men looked at each other. \\"She can't be a citizen,"\\ said Cletus. \\"Not with that language. Do you know what that means?"\\
\\"She must not have any place to stay if she's sleeping in an open temple. And she may be a little mad to sleep on Dischordia's altar."\\ Denus shuddered. \\"I wouldn't want to be on her bad side."\\
\\"Dolt! It means that she's plunder!"\\
\\"Plunder?"\\ Denus looked at the woman more closely. True enough, most of the non-citizen's in Rome were slaves plundered from the far reaches of the empire. Those who didn't have obvious business, that was, and he'd never seen anyone who looked less like they had a clear purpose. The woman looked positively bewildered. \\"Are you sure about that?"\\
\\"Well, no. But the beauty is, she can't speak our language. How's she going to complain?"\\
The woman had begun moving hesitantly about the temple. She was frowning at the statue of Dischordia, as if she was trying to recognize a distant acquaintance. "What happened? Is some one playing a prank on me? How did y'all move me without my waking up? Why am I talking to you?"
\\"Cletus, why? What would we do with her?"\\ Cletus smirked, raising his eyebrows. Denus looked at the woman again, noting the plump curves and smooth skin. \\"Well, yes, there's that."\\
\\"It'd be a nice change from shagging your furry ass. But I have another idea that will get us out of our mess. We sell her. That should bring us enough to pay off Stintilla and have some left over."\\
\\"Well, if we're going to do that, hadn't we better catch her?"\\
Mozelle had made her way to the side of the building and was edging toward the street, wide eyed. "It was late January when I came in here, closest we were going to get to snow, and it's warm out here."
\\"Don't scare her,"\\ Cletus warned. \\"It'll be easier if we can get her to a broker without her realizing what's happening. If she starts screaming, they may find someone who knows her language."\\
Cletus approached the woman, and bobbed, smiling. \\"Hello, little slave. You seem lost. Why don't you come with us? We'll find a place for you where they'll show you exactly where you belong in the scheme of things."\\
She regarded him, a little warily. "What? You're making gestures like... You want me to come with you? Can you take me to someone who'll understand me? I've got to get back home."
\\"That's right, woman."\\ Denus touched her arm, to guide her out to the street. She jerked back from him, staring. \\"Cletus, she might not do well as a slave. She's skittish."\\
\\"She'll learn. Just kind of herd her."\\ They shooed her along.
\\"Where are we taking her?"\\
\\"Might as well try a good one. Let's start with Tinactus. We can work our way down the street if he doesn't want her."\\