SEVEN DAYS IN POMPEII
City of Pompeii
The Porta Stabia brought them onto a main street. Xena was able to read a golden plaque clearly displayed high on the wall of a stone building just to their right: Via Stabia. The warrior squinted down the expanse of street, seeing nothing but the avenue stretching out before them, flanked on each side by one and two-story buildings as far as the eye could see.
Xena felt the claustrophobic effects of an over-crowded city creeping down her spine.
Gabrielle, on the other hand, was 'oohing' and 'aaahhing' at the brightly painted facades of the houses. Their balconies and loggias were overflowing with flowers and plant life, and beautifully tiled archways seemed to adorn each and every doorway all along the boulevard.
One particularly colorful wall grabbed the bard's attention. She hopped over a cement channel filled with water that flowed along the length of the Via Stabia dividing the street in two, intending to run over and take a closer look.
An angry yell behind them caught Xena's attention. She reached out to grab the bard's green top and pull her back just in time to prevent her from being run over by a merchant's wagon.
"Pedestrians to the right!" the angry driver yelled as he passed by in a clinking, clanking rush.
Xena looked down the Via Stabia and realized that the street was indeed segregated: pedestrians to right, wagons and horses to the left.
"Watch yourself, Gabrielle," Xena said, smoothing the shoulder of the bard's green top. "This isn't Athens."
"It sure isn't. Take a look at this, Xena!"
Gabrielle grasped Xena's elbow and together they crossed over to the opposite side of the street, but not before looking both ways for oncoming traffic. Xena pulled Argo gently, waiting patiently as her mare negotiated the step over the water channel.
"There's writing all over the walls," the bard said, bringing them before a stone wall, covered from top to bottom with the scribblings and artwork of what could only be the local Pompeians.
"Ha! Look at this!" Gabrielle directed Xena's attention, pointing to a scratched phrase on the wall:
'Romula tarried here with Staphylus.'
She suddenly realized that the wall contained all manner of messages, poetic or otherwise, for any and all to read.
Then the bard heard Xena chuckling and looked as the warrior pointed out one as well:
'O Chius, I hope that your ulcerous pustules reopen and burn even more than they did before.'
"That's disgusting, Xena!"
"It's funny though."
Gabrielle chose to make no comment and shuffled down a little to point to another.
"Now, here's one I like!"
'Health to those who invite me to lunch!'
Xena pulled Gabrielle back to her and tapped the stone with a forefinger.
'Samius to Cornelius: go hang yourself!'
Gabrielle rolled her eyes at Xena's laughter.
"You have a morbid sense of humor!"
Xena smiled with feigned innocence and shrugged her shoulders.
"Xena," the bard said, fingers tracing the etchings in the stone. "There's stuff written all over the place. Poems, comments, messages to people. Even drawings." Gabrielle stopped in front of a beautiful rendition of a mother and child. "Good ones, too."
"Now here's a comment I can really appreciate," Xena stated, pointing out a bold scribble in a corner.
'I am astounded, O wall that you do not crash under the weight of all this trash!'
They both enjoyed a good laugh. Gabrielle could already feel the stress and anxiety that, as of late, always seemed to be present beginning to fade.
"Come on," Xena placed her hand gently against the small of Gabrielle's back to prompt her away from the wall. "We better get going."
The pair carefully crossed to the 'pedestrian' side of the road, Xena electing to keep Argo on the horse side, while she led the mare along from the ‘pedestrian’ side. Gabrielle grinned at the warrior who was having a hard time convincing the mare to stay on her side of the divider. A city and its rules, she thought to herself with a smirk as they continued their journey down the Via Stabia.
They walked in silence for a while, grateful for the constant shade the tall buildings on the each of street provided from the sun, until the houses on the left came to an end and the suddenly bright sunshine almost blinded them.
"Oh, my!" Gabrielle exclaimed, shading her eyes and looking out at a meticulously groomed lawn spread out before a massive building. "Look at that stage!"
Gabrielle could barely contain her excitement. The theatre had been built to fit into the curve of the sloping ground. There was a semicircular pit in front of the stage, and the seats rose upward from that, row upon row into the hillside. How many seats there were, Gabrielle could not begin to count. Just the thought of performing in such a venue was giving the bard heart palpitations.
"Yes," Xena said bluntly, before her friend had a chance to speak.
"What?" Gabrielle turned her head in surprise, almost missing the statement.
"I said, yes."
"Yes, if we have time, we can go to the theatre."
If she hadn't been so preoccupied with the beauty of the building, Gabrielle might have thrown her arms around the warrior and given her a big kiss. For Xena, the bard's bright, happy smile was more than enough.
Xena gently tugged her arm, expecting the bard to resist and stare a little longer at the grand building. "Come on. The faster we get to the center of things, the more quickly we can find out about the play."
The mention of the word "play" sent Gabrielle bustling down the street. There was no way, the bard thought to herself, that she was going to be in this city and not experience the joy of watching classic drama in the atmosphere of that magnificent theatre.
Xena chuckled as she pulled Argo along, following her partner, barely able to keep up.
The theatre district came to an end and they were once again flanked on each side by stone and brick two-
Xena managed to catch up with Gabrielle and was keeping an eye out for the street called Via Dell'Abbondanza. She imagined it would be a large thoroughfare, since it sounded like a main street in the city. And though they had passed a number of very small cross streets, none had that name on its plaque nor fit the description.
She was wondering just how far away this main street could possibly be when she noticed a great amount of wagon and pedestrian traffic mulling at the cross street just ahead.
"That looks like it," the warrior nudged her friend and they hastened their pace - Xena anxious to book their passage out and Gabrielle anxious to book seats for that evening's performance.
Sure enough, the next golden plaque announced the Via Dell'Abbondanza and they rounded the corner to turn left.
"Yow," Gabrielle stated for both of them.
The Via Dell'Abbondanza was twice as wide as the Via Stabia and a bustle of activity. Shops and stores lined each side of the street. Unlike the open-air market of Athens, the merchandise did not spill out from vendor stalls bursting at the seams. Here, each store had distinctively designed storefronts and entryways, colorfully decorated and identified with signs. Shoppers were busily entering and exiting ,carrying armloads of bags that overflowed with goods and food purchased inside. The enclosed shops, however, could not prevent the wonderfully heady scents of freshly baked bread mixed with a touch of incense, fragrant oils, fruit, spices from drifting into the air.
Gabrielle took a big, deep breath and sighed.
"Aaaah, I love the smell of a marketplace in the morning."
The pair wove their way through the flow of oncoming traffic, heading in the direction Pontius had recommended.
The Pompeians were hastily coming and going, shuffling impatiently around Xena and Gabrielle and a horse who was now on the wrong side of the road. They seemed to be the only ones on the street who did not know where they were going. The pair walked toward the center of activity, trying avoid the steady stream of people who were hustling by them in both directions.
They passed all manner of stores: fabric, clothing, jewelry, furniture, weapons, pottery, food, food, food and then more food. But there were no taverns or eateries of the type that would harbor merchant seamen. Xena stopped abruptly, squinting forward into the distance.
Gabrielle had to break her step to avoid bumping into the back of the warrior. "Whatsa matter?"
"Pontius did say Via Dell'Abbondanza, right?" Xena looked up and down the busy street.
"Yup, that's what he said," Gabrielle answered, distracted by a very attractive bodice visible through an archway. She raised her eyebrows and smiled in appreciation, wondering how much such a lovely garment might cost.
"Well, there are plenty of stores all right, but I don't see any taverns." The warrior scrutinized the signs posted over the closest entryways.
"Just keep walking, Xena," Gabrielle advised, placing her hand against the warrior's back and pushing her gently, "we're bound to find a tavern. And slow down, don't walk so fast. You might miss it."
Xena narrowed her eyes and looked at the bard, wondering if that suggestion was to prevent them from missing their objective or just an excuse to allow her to window shop.
"Come on," Xena said and took off at a brisk pace.
Gabrielle sighed. Gods, when Xena got her mind on something there was just no getting her to relax. The bard followed, but kept a more leisurely pace. The distance between the friends grew with every passing step.
Xena halted and turned her head, suddenly sensing the absence of Gabrielle's presence. She spotted the bard's golden hair amidst the bustling crowd. Instead of following, she was staring at something through a portal.
"Gabrielle!" the warrior called. The bard's head turned to the sound of her voice. "Come on!"
With a sigh, Gabrielle reluctantly left the portal and wove her way back to the warrior. Xena had already starting leading Argo down the street.
A young woman bumped into Gabrielle's shoulder as she walked passed.
"Excuse me," the bard mumbled, but the woman was already gone. Another step and Gabrielle had to cut left to avoid another collision.
"Sorry." Gabrielle turned a bit to follow the quickly retreating form, only to walk right into another shopper.
"Hey! Watch it!" the man barked, moving the bard aside by the shoulders.
"Sorry," Gabrielle said and quickly stepped away. The man continued down the street.
"I guess you need a pair of Hermes' sandals to get anywhere in this crowd," the bard muttered . Then her eyes found Xena and watched as her partner strolled easily down the street. Even with Argo trailing behind, Xena did not seem to be having a problem. The oncoming crowds parted, opening a path for the warrior like a ship’s bow through a swell.
Gods, how does she do that? Gabrielle squared her shoulders and took off with an upraised chin and confident steps, only to crash right into the first person who came her way, scattering a bag full of groceries.
"Excuse me," the young woman said with a smile before bending to pick up the items that had fallen to the ground.
The bard returned the grin and bent down with her. "No, I'm sorry. Here, let me help you."
Together they picked up the groceries and re-filled the bag.
"Gabrielle! What are you doing? Come on!" The irritation was easily recognizable in Xena's voice even at this distance.
"Sorry." They both stood and Gabrielle put a nice loaf of bread back into the young woman's package. "Gotta go."
The bard made her way quickly back to the warrior's side.
"Try and stay with me, will ya?"
"Xena, what is the big rush? You know, your legs are a lot longer than mine. It's hard to keep up with you. At this pace, we could walk back to Greece and be there by tomorrow."
"Well, we'd get a little wet," Xena said, pulling Gabrielle away from the center of the street and nearer one of the shops to get them out of the flow of traffic. "Look, I'm just anxious to make sure we can book passage out of here as soon as possible."
"Why? Has something got you worried?"
Xena studied a Roman flag, Caesar's standard, displayed proudly above an archway, flapping lazily in the breeze.
"This is a big Roman city with plenty of rich and powerful Roman residents. Let's just say I don't want to end up fighting in a coliseum again."
Xena looked at her partner meaningfully and Gabrielle paled at the thought.
"You're right, of course. Look Xena, I'm just slowing you down here. Why don't you go on ahead and I'll browse around for a while."
"Not a good idea. We'll lose each other in this crowd."
"I'll stay right in this area," the bard promised, indicating the few stores surrounding them.
"I have no idea how long it'll take me to find the tavern."
"I can fix that," the bard stated confidently. Xena raised an eyebrow.
Gabrielle looked around and spied a young boy sitting under an awning, playing with sticks and stones on the walkway. She looked back up at the warrior and grinned.
"Wait right here."
Xena watched as Gabrielle trotted over to the young boy.
"Excuse me," the bard looked down at the lad and smiled.
"Yeah?" The boy caught a stone in his hand and paused in his game to look up at the bard.
"Are there any taverns or bars along this street?"
"Yeah, sure. Plenty."
"How 'bout one where a lot of merchant seamen might hang out. My friend and I need to book passage on a ship back to Greece."
The young boy leaned over to look beyond Gabrielle at the warrior and horse waiting impatiently a few steps away.
"That'll be the Fish Head. It's just a ways down on the left, closer to the Forum. It has a big sign...."
"Let me guess. A big fish head?"
"Yeah," the boy laughed. "Ya can't miss it. Smells like fish in there, too. But that's where you'll find all the skippers and their crew. They got the strongest sweet wine in the city."
"Thanks," the bard said sincerely and turned to walk back to Xena.
"Did you hear?"
"Yeah, I heard. The Fish Head."
"On the left, just before something called the Forum. So, you go there and I'll wait here."
"Gabrielle, I don't really want us to be separated in this city."
"Relax, Xena. I'll be fine. I'll do a little shopping and you'll book us passage. We'll meet right back here, say...in an hour? I'll be here. I promise."
"You'll stay right in this area?"
"You won't wander off and get lost?"
"I said, I promise!"
Xena studied Gabrielle's face carefully and then decided.
"All right. But don't you dare wander off. I mean it. I don't want to spend the rest of the afternoon looking for you."
"For Zeus' sake, Xena, do you want me to write it in blood? I said I'll stay right around here. Besides, it'll give me a chance to find out about this evening's performance at that theatre. Remember, you said we could go?" Gabrielle waggled her eyebrows up and down, smiling at her friend.
"Yeah, all right. We'll go. Do you need some dinars?"
Gabrielle shook her head no.
"Well here, have some anyway." The warrior took several out of the bag, placed them in the bard's hand and then returned the pouch to its hiding place. "I'll meet you back here in one an hour."
"Right. Do you want me to get you anything? Something else to wear? A disguise perhaps?" Gabrielle asked, shifting her staff so she could count the coins in her hand.
"Just get your butt back here in an hour so I can find you."
"Wouldya stop worrying! Go on. I have some serious shopping to do!"
"All right. See ya in a bit." The warrior pulled Argo and took off with purposeful strides in the direction of the Fish Head. Gabrielle grinned at her friend's retreating back. Aahh, now I can shop in peace, Gabrielle sighed silently and headed in the direction of the first accessible store.
Xena paused after a few steps and turned to follow the bard with her eyes. Gabrielle had wandered over to a fabric store and was gazing into the archway.
Xena smirked, knowing full well that her partner was going to wander off and she probably wouldn't be able to find her for hours. The warrior's eyes drifted over to the young boy, who had resumed his game on the cool stone street.
"Hey, you!" Xena called out.
The boy looked up briefly, spotted the warrior and assumed she must have been speaking to someone else. He resumed his game.
"You, boy," Xena said again, taking a few strides in his direction.
The boy looked up and saw the warrior woman heading his way fast. He glanced nervously over his shoulder, hoping she was really walking toward someone else.
"I'm talking to you," Xena stated.
"Who me?" the boy said, pointing to himself.
"Yeah, you." The warrior covered the last few paces remaining and stood towering over the young lad. "How would you like to make some easy coin?"
"You mean money?"
The boy squinted his eyes distrustfully at the tall, dark warrior woman.
"Depends. Just what do I have to do?"
Xena smirked at the question. Smart boy. "Do you see that girl looking into that store, just over there?" Xena asked, pointing in the bard's direction.
"You mean the one who asked me for directions? The one with the hair the color of sunshine?"
Very smart boy, Xena thought smiling. "Yeah, that's the one. I want you to keep an eye on her for me. See where she goes. Make sure she doesn't get lost. You understand?"
"One dinar now," Xena said, flipping the silver coin into the air. The boy caught it easily. "Two more if you can take me right to her when I come back. Deal?"
The lad looked the coin over carefully before smiling up at the warrior in agreement. "Deal."
"I'll be back in an hour. I'll meetcha right here. Ya got that?"
"No problem. I'm on it. I won't let her outta my sight."
"Good. I'm counting on you."
And with that Xena tugged on Argo’s rein and headed away in the direction of the Fish Head.
"Oooh boy, three dinars and alls I have ta do is watch a pretty girl for an hour!" The boy scooped up his stones, then ran after an oblivious Gabrielle.
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