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Richard's Writings > The Birth of Rome > Chapter 1: A Life for a Life

Synopsis of Chapter 1: A Life for a Life

Marcus Junius is a young man belonging to the Latin tribe that live on the Palatine, one of the seven hills that dominate the natural ford across the River Tiber. While hunting one afternoon, he spies a party of horsemen watching the activities of his people on the other side of the river. His suspicions aroused, he decides to follow the party and see what they are truly up to. The horsemen become aware of his presence when he leaps into the river to save one of their number. Now they have a problem: to keep thier mission secret, they must either kill Marcus Junius, or take him with them. Since he saved a life, they decide to spare his life and take him into Etruria, the land of the people who call themselves the Rasenna. Now off on an adventure not of his choosing, Marcus is exposed to a culture he never had dreamed of. But the Etruscans will ask a service of him in return...

Excerpt from Chapter 1: A Life for a Life

They entered a cool, dark hallway that led to a porter at its far end. Demaratus dropped a number of coins into his hand and gestured that the young men should follow him around the corner and into the first cubical on the left, where he began to shed his clothing.

"Don't think I haven't noticed how painfully you climbed that ramp, young Junius," said Demaratus with a smile in his eyes. "It was your first time on the back of a horse, wasn't it? I thought so. And you did well. But riding with your legs hanging loose and heavy is not comfortable for any man, even an experienced rider. Quickly, shed your tunic and follow me into the next room. Oh, you are going to love the next hour!"

Cneve smiled and his eyes sparkled with anticipation as he waved Marcus through the portal ahead of him. An attendant stood waiting for them in a room cloudy with warm and comforting steam, handing Demaratus, Marcus and Cneve each a small clay vial of oil. Marcus watched his companions carefully and did what they did. First he smoothed the oil over his entire body, with the attendant ready to assist as required. Then he was handed a curved copper blade shaped not unlike a scythe. He watched Demaratus and Cneve scrape the oil and sweat and dirt from their limbs with the tool and followed suit. When all the oil was removed he was handed a large vase of warmed water to lift and pour over his head to wash the remainder away. They then moved into the next room, leaving behind the attendant to brush the mess down a drain set in the middle of the floor.

In the next room was a small pool of tepid water. Cneve indicated that all three were to soak in the same bath and Marcus immediately joined them. Demaratus sank lower in the water and closed his eyes.

"Welcome to the balneum. Welcome to civilized living! I think I can say without any undue modesty that the Rasenna got the idea of public baths from my countrymen, the Greeks. And there are no finer baths than these in all the world. It's the water. Caere is known for its magical, medicinal waters. They have oceans of it, hot, bubbly and full of healing sulfur, which everyone knows is as strong in health properties as it is strong in smell."

After a short soak they rose and walked into yet another room, this one set with padded tables overlaid with soft cloths. A masseur for each of the men stood waiting next to three tables, where they were invited to stretch out and relax. Scented oil was worked into the skin and strong fingers smoothed the pain and tiredness from every muscle group front and back. Marcus felt himself transported into another world, one with gods and goddesses drifting softly on the breeze. Ah yes, this civilized living was very, very good. But they were not done yet!

They pulled their contented bodies from the tables, submitted to a vigorous toweling of any excess oil, then staggered through the portal into another room with yet another pool, this one steaming and sizzling with fine bubbles. The smell of sulfur was strong in the air. Demaratus and Cneve lowered their bodies slowly into the water, and after a moment Marcus lowered his left foot into the pool. The water was hot! Marcus wondered if his muscles would cook like a chicken thrown into the stewpot, but his companions had submerged their bodies fully and were letting out sighs of contentment, so Marcus decided to join them.

"Some people consider the perfect temperature to be just above tepid," Demaratus remarked. "But in Caere the sulfur water comes bubbling through the earth at the boil and they have to add cold water to make it tolerable for men. I like it like this." Sinking his body into the water cocoon, feeling every muscle relax and his spirit slumber, Marcus decided he liked it, too.

After a long, soothing soak they arose and plunged into one more bath, this one a pool of cold water. Their stay was short and they stepped out of the water to be towel dried by attendants and handed fresh, clean clothes.

"I hate to change back into clothing that isn't as fresh and clean as I am, and so I took the liberty of having new garments waiting for us. I bought a new tunic for you, too, Marcus; it is time you add some real color to your wardrobe." Indeed, Marcus' tunic was a dark green color, unlike anything worn in Septimontium, where the predominant color was the natural oatmeal color of unbleached wool.


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