Windows Of Time


Elisabetta Panzica

Chapter 3 (Pages 33-43)

The family settled into the triclinium as the servant girls began to lay out the evening meal. Emma wore a stola, it was a dark shade of blue with multiple folds. The servant girl had pulled it from the family’s dowry chest. Emma knew from her studies that she was not allowed to wear a toga because she was not Roman citizen. She didn’t care.

Emma walked into the triclinium escorted by two servant girls. Markus was the first to rise from the table, mouth agape, body frozen in place. They stood in the entryway both of them staring one at the other.

“Come in.” Atia finally said, poking her son in the ribs with her elbow. “Come in girl!”

“Yes,” Markus cleared his throat and nodded. “Come in.” He waved awkwardly.

Emma smiled making her way to an open seat. A dog-headed Egyptian sculpture sat next to the side of the entry way, between the kitchen and the triclinium. It was Anubis. Emma eyed it curiously. She reasoned that Markus and his family were converts, members of the cult of Isis, but she wasn’t sure. Her attention wavered. Leaning against the white stone wall across the table standing over six feet tall was a sarcophagus. Emma wondered about the strange markings on its side. They were not Egyptian or Roman. She had never seen hieroglyphs like these before. She would have to remember to ask Markus about it after the meal, when his mother was not so close.

Emma noticed Olive’s brown boots pressed against the white marble wall, neatly tucked in the far corner of the room, next to several pairs of sandals. She wondered why some of the children could see her sisters while they were not visible to the lady of the household, or to any adults present, except for Markus.  Mystery was playing with a young girl, not much older than Mystery herself. She had long strawberry blond hair, woven into one long braid, and wore a crown of leaves on her head.

Atia frowned as Emma took a seat next to Markus. Feeling Atia’s gaze Emma worried that perhaps she was being too forward. The serving girl laid down a bowl of boiled eggs and another of olives. Spoons and knives were set next to each bowl. Emma studied what the others did, making mental notes, afraid to make the wrong move. Fish was served next, in a large platter, with bread. A sort of paste was smeared over the fish and poured into small bowls.

“Try it,” Markus said, dunking a piece of bread into the paste. “It’s garum. We make it from fish parts.” Emma wrinkled her nose as a strong sent of fermented something slithered up her nostrils. It reminded her of the time her father had taken her fishing, up in Maine. Mr. Franklin had shown her how to skin the catch of the day. She hated smell it left on her skin. This concoction smelt something like it.

“Try it.” Markus nodded, eyes dancing with amusement. “Don’t they have garum in Philly Delta?”

“No.” Emma dipped her bread reluctantly and nibbled on the end, not wanting to offend the family. “It’s … it’s good,” she said, sampling the unusual paste. It was strong, but not as vile as she had imagined. Surprisingly, she rather liked the taste of it.

The servants remained next to the table, pouring wine into goblets and removing empty dishes. Once the main course was done, dessert was served, consisting of nuts, apples, and figs.

The entertainment began before the meal ended. A tall lanky youth rose, he reminded Emma of Thomas. The boy next door, with whom she was good friends back in Philadelphia. The young man began to read. He read from the work of Catullus, whose poems had been influenced by poets from Alexandria, in Egypt. There it was again. Egypt. Emma squinted, trying to understand the connection.

Then she saw it. It was on a shelf. A familiar small red pyramid. Emma felt her heart begin to pound and her chest tighten. This was the same artifact her father had shown her. Emma swallowed and almost rose, wanting a closer look. How was this possible? She covered her mouth, afraid to cry out.

Markus turned sensing her dismay. “Are you alright? My Lady?” He studied her face.

Emma blushed. She squeezed her hands together and placed them on her lap under the table, so the others wouldn’t see her shaking. Tears burned her eyes and she took a napkin to dab them dry.

“Emma?” Markus’ voice grew anxious, he signaled for the servant girl to fill her cup with honeyed wine.

“He reads so well, I’m moved.” Emma swallowed. Her mother had died protecting that artifact. She had to take it back somehow. If she took it and destroyed it, her parents would never find it in the nineteenth century. If they never found it, her mother wouldn’t die protecting it. Emma’s mind swam with a thousand different thoughts.

“He is indeed an excellent poet,” Atia said, reclining on her couch, dipping her long slender fingers into the fruit bowl and pulling out a small apple. “He is my husband’s nephew.”

Atia picked up a cloth and dabbed her mouth before speaking again.

“Lady Emma, where are your sisters my son so fondly speaks of?”

“My sisters are not here.” Emma lied, grateful Markus had his back to the girls.

“Our manservant Antonius escorted them to the inn, after Markus met them,”

“Perhaps we should pay them a visit?” Atia insisted.

Emma was not expecting this response. “That won’t be necessary, my lady.” Atia straightened at this. Perhaps she could tell Emma had not been honest. Atia was sly but Emma would not let her get the best of her.

Julius glared at Emma across the table. “That’s because she has no sisters, mother.”

“Enough!” Atia stared back at her younger son. “She is our guest for the night.” Atia squinted, sizing up the young woman. Emma looked away, avoiding them both.

“Calda?” A servant girl asked, leaning over Emma. A flask of red wine in her hands.

Emma nodded. “Please.”

The girl, dressed in a short-sleeved tunic, poured the wine into Emma’s silver chalice. Emma took a small sip. The wine was warm and diluted. She had never had wine this way before. She took another sip. She dared not question their custom lest she seem even more of an outsider.

The poet continued his reading. He wore a special toga with a purple stripe, indicating his status as a magistrate. Emma knew that the thickness of the stripe indicated his wealth and by the look of it, this man was indeed well-to-do. He had a gentle face, eyes as gray as the rolling clouds of a gathering storm. His hair was short, dark blond, almost brown. Emma listened, pretending to be enraptured. Tonight, when the household slept, she would take the artifact. Her heart pounded at the thought. Why else would she have ended up in this house? In this time? In a world so apart from her own?

Emma lifted her gaze to catch Markus staring at her. She blushed. He offered a basket of grapes. Emma took a cluster and ate, unable to look away. She could feel her cheeks and ears grow hot. Atia was watching. Emma squirmed in her chair, forcing herself to listen to poet once more. His voice was thick and clear, his words beautifully woven, like honey dripping from an alabaster jar, enriching it, filling it with sweetness. She sighed, trying to ignore Markus’ mother.

She couldn’t let herself become entangled with these people if she hoped to retrieve the artifact and return to her own home, alive. Not to mention escape the looming threat of Vesuvius’ simmering rage. She just hoped it wouldn’t erupt anytime soon. She couldn’t ask the date, she looked at Atia, they might think she was an imbecile. Emma pressed her lips together.

From where she sat, Emma could see Olive and Mystery chasing each other around the atrium. There was a fish pond and birds perched on the branches of an olive tree in the center of the atrium. Nightingales sang beautiful tunes and crows squawked out words, making the girls laugh.

It would be a long night.

The Poet continued to read from his scroll of poems. Everyone in this family was literate. Emma remembered seeing a large library on the east wing. Not every manor had a library, and not many as large as the one Markus’ family had. But there were also those that were not literate. Emma stared at slave scrubbing the floor. She had a mark on her face, Emma had noticed it earlier. It was a brand, the master’s family mark. She also wore an iron collar with tags. Emma cringed. Her own people still practiced slavery. Centuries of learning had not brought people an ounce of knowing. Emma frowned. She would change things if she could. She could take the slave, leave tomorrow. But she needed the Artifact first.

The poet laid down his scroll. The household clapped.

“Well done, Cornelius.” Atia rose and motioned him to sit with the family. “Sophia!” Atia shouted for the servant girl, “fill our cups.” Sophia nodded, trembling. The girl poured from her carafe, over-filling Atia’s silver goblet, causing a droplet or two to spill onto the white cloth that covered the tabletop. Atia’s face turned red. She lifted her hand and struck the girl. “You clumsy fool! Look what you’ve done! Get out!” Sophia wiped the cloth and scurried off. Emma could already see a bruise beginning to form beneath the servant girl’s right eye.

Emma started to rise but Markus stopped her, holding her by the arm.  He shook his head. Emma took a deep breath. She hated Atia. In the few hours she had spent with the magistrate’s family, she had come to understand that this woman was the head of the household. She ruled with an iron fist, everyone coward in her presence including her son’s.

Markus looked back at Emma. “Will you join me in the garden, Lady Emma?” Emma smiled, afraid to lift her gaze to see the look on Atia’s face across the table, so she nodded instead, staring at her hands, and rose.

“Good.” Markus offered an arm and Emma took it, gently lifting her head upward, losing herself in his eyes. Dark blue, penetrating, she couldn’t pull her gaze from them.

“So, Emma of Philly Delta, tell me about yourself, about your kingdom,” Markus began.

“There’s not much to say.” Emma wasn’t sure what she could really tell him. She had read somewhere not disclose future events when one travels to the past, in some fairytale, she couldn’t place.

“What do you like?”

“I like to read, I like history.” Emma said.

“What kind of food do you like?”

“Warm pumpkin pie.” Emma’s face lit up. “I love how it smells when it comes out of the oven.

“And hotcakes with syrup and scrambled eggs, for breakfast,” Olive piped out as she and Mystery ran up to them.

“Pum-kin?” Markus sounded out the word. “What is that?”

“A sort of squash. It’s orange and sweet.” Emma tried to explain.

“Hot cakes?” Markus’ lips curled upward, it must have sounded amusing to him. Emma laughed.

“Yes, they are very good.” Mystery insisted, covering her mouth as she giggled.

Markus smiled at the two little girls. “I thought you girls had gone to the Inn?”

Emma shrugged, “they must have snuck away.”

Markus led Emma into a garden, to a small stone bench where they sat side by side, closer than Emma had ever dared to sit next to a man. Even in Philadelphia, this sort of thing wasn’t proper.

“You’re shaking.” Markus’ brows knitted. “Are you cold?”

“A little,” Emma said, but she wasn’t cold at all, just nervous.

“I’ll keep you warm.” Markus offered, his arm wrapping over her shoulders.

Julius cleared his throat as he entered the garden.

“What is it, Julius?” Markus seemed visibly upset. “Did mother send you to spy on us?” “Something like that.” Julius admitted. “If you will not defend our honor, then I will.”

“What are you talking about?” Markus rose and yanked his brother down to the ground. “Behave yourself around our guest, she is a lady.”

“She is not a lady, she is a soothsayer, possessed by demons. This is witchcraft!” Julius rose, shaking himself free. “And she has you under her spell.”

“How dare you!” Markus raised his hand and sent it crashing across his brother’s face. “What proof do you have?”

“This woman’s very presence taints our home.” Julius recovering from the blow, was furious. “I saw you and her talking to ghosts. You acted as if it was all normal. But there was no one there!”

“You’ve lost your mind, say one more thing, and I will pummel you.” Markus fumbled with the hilt of his sword.

“Mother! Mother, come here,” Julius shouted. In no time at all the entire household filled the garden. Emma huddled against a fountain, eyes wide. “I saw her Mother! She was talking to herself again and now she’s bewitched Markus and he was speaking to them too! They were talking to ghosts.” Julius repeated, whether out of nervousness or to drive the point across Emma could not tell.

“What is the meaning of this, girl?” Atia swept up her gown and stormed towards Emma.

“I … I didn’t do anything.” Emma stammered.

“You have bewitched my sons! That is something. And I will not have it! Get out!” Atia grabbed Emma by the arm, her nails digging into her flesh. “And never return! Do I make myself clear?”

Emma pushed her back and took a step forward, peering over the others and searching out her sisters. How was she going to get the artifact now? She ran to the cubicle she had been assigned and grabbed her bag. Atia followed, to make sure Emma was really leaving.

Markus ran after her. Julius followed and hid behind a pillar, watching them.

“It’s alright.” Emma hid her face, she didn’t want Markus to see her crying.

“I’m sorry.” Markus said, taking her hand. “Will you be alright?”

“I’ll be fine. My father is at the Inn. I will join him there.” She lied again. Mystery and Olive ran toward her.

“Will I see you again?”

“I don’t know, Markus.” Emma squeezed her eyes shut. This was not how it was supposed to end.

“I will find you,” Markus promised. “Tonight.”

Emma couldn’t help but smile.  No one had ever been interested in her before. Not like this. “I’ll be outside the Inn,” she said. “I’ll sneak out after father has gone to sleep.”

“And us?” Mystery looked up at Emma expectantly.

“No. You must stay with Father. You are too young.” Emma said, trying to sound convincing. She could see Julius poised behind the pillar, spying on them.  Julius shook his head, then stretched, eyes straining, trying to make out who it was the girl spoke to.

“Father?” Olive looked confused.

“But Father …” Emma covered Mystery’s mouth, “enough,” she scolded, afraid one of the girls would blurt out the truth.

“Good bye, Markus.” Emma whispered, picking up her bag and walking away. Markus followed her to the entryway.

“We will meet again, tonight,” Markus insisted. Emma nodded. She could hear the others coming, whispers and murmurs. Julius laughed mockingly, his square chiseled face jutting out from behind the pillar.

Markus reached for Emma’s hand and kissed the back of it. Emma pulled her hand back, surprised. She had not expected such a grand gesture from him in front of his household.

“She was talking to herself again, Mother.” Julius turned to his mother and pointed at Emma. Atia had come to stand behind him, listening.

She couldn’t leave without the artifact. Emma looked over her shoulder, Atia and Julius glared back. She frowned and kept walking.

“The pyramid! Mother!” Emma could hear Julius’ shrill voice behind her. So annoying. She kept walking.

“Witch!” Emma turned at the accusation, behind her Mystery carried the artifact in her hand. Emma paled.

“It’s floating!” Atia’s mouth dropped.

“It follows the witch!” Julius charged at Emma. Emma ran. Mystery and Olive ran in the opposite direction. To the others the artifact seemed to be racing around the villa, swirling and turning corners on its own. Emma kept running.

“Here!” Markus pulled Emma by the arm. “In here!” He shoved her into the sarcophagus.

“Stay in there until I come get you. Don’t make a sound.”  He brought a finger to his lips. “Why did your sisters take the pyramid?” he looked at her, his blue eyes questioning.

Emma shrugged. Markus pushed her back into the sarcophagus.

“Don’t, please don’t do this!” Emma screamed. She hated tight spaces. Emma squirmed, there were cobwebs inside, sticky white cobwebs. She gagged. Markus let the top of the coffin fall and sealed it shut by pounding on it with the hilt of his sword.

Emma felt herself falling, engulfed in darkness. She couldn’t breathe. Markus, she felt the word come, but there was no sound, it just settled in the back of her throat. She pushed against the face of the sarcophagus. “Let me out!” Again words formed, but nothing came out. She banged against the solid gold lid with her fists. She felt herself falling. Heart pounding, head spinning. “Markus!” Emma screamed inside her head, squeezing her eyes shut. The Sarcophagus had no back. She fell deeper and deeper until Emma found herself flat on her back, in the middle of her own parlor.  She was back in Philadelphia, she could smell soup cooking in the hearth.

“Father?” Emma walked into the kitchen.

Mr. Franklin sat at the table, reading.  “I thought you went upstairs.” He managed a weak smile. His luggage was propped against the front door.

Emma took a deep breath. She was back to the day before her father had left for the conference.