A Familiar’s Tale – Part XI

Image by Dave Scelfo. Used under Creative Commons license 2.0Our trip was, as you say, smooth sailing. The ship skimmed along the water, even after leaving a port on the northern end of Sardinia, when it had to zig-zag to travel in a more southerly direction.

However, as I had pointed out earlier to Korbis, I was a land bird. The captain kept a clean ship and there was little in the way of bugs for me to eat. Korbis kept me alive by feeding me offal from the fish caught for the sailors’ food but my digestive system was not happy. Thankfully, we were only at sea five days. Longer, and I may not have lived.

After taking his leave of the captain, Korbis wandered the streets of Neapolis with his jaw hanging in awe. We’d never seen such a large city, much less one as cosmopolitan. Greeks in chitons and Romans in togas walked side-by-side along the thoroughfares with no signs of animosity.

At the entrance to a Roman bath, Korbis asked a man if there was a place a physician could ply his trade. Taking one look at the obvious barbarian in his breeches, tunic and cloak, the man grabbed Korbis by the arm and dragged him up one street and down another. I had taken flight to find real food (which was plentiful) but at a feeling of alarm from Korbis, I returned and followed them to a large house on a hill. Korbis was hauled through the doorway. I settled on the branch of a fig tree in the courtyard to await further happenings.

“You are a physician, you say. Heal my daughter.”

Through Korbis’ mind, I saw a pale young lady lying on a bed. Were it not for the shallow rise and fall of her breast, I would have thought her dead. The room was as lavish as the corridors Korbis had been dragged through: frescoes on the walls, carved furniture, and a shrine to Athena in the corner. Although the man spoke fluent Latin, they were Greek. That was fortunate.

Korbis asked a few questions, got fewer answers and, heaving a sigh, used his magic to look at her. A tumor on her brain told him why she did not wake. He relayed his findings to the father.

“Magos, you will heal her. Or I will turn you in to the Roman tribunus who is visiting his father, the senator, next door.”

Not stopping to wonder how the man knew he had magic, Korbis nodded and proceeded to draw the energy I was feeding him. More than an hour later, he had carefully evaporated the tumor. The girl’s breathing deepened and color started returning to her cheeks. This was in stark contrast to Korbis’ drawn appearance and my desire to do nothing but eat a full meal and sleep for two days. It had been a difficult “operation.” Even in those days, it was known that anything affecting the brain could have disastrous effects.

Korbis was fed and given a room, not quite as lavish, in which to lay his head. We both slept for the better part of a day. When we woke, a man guarding the door gestured and Korbis followed him to a salon where our host and several others reclined on couches.

Korbis was formally introduced to his host, Kalchas, a wealthy factory owner. The conversation reverted to Greek and although we did not understand what was being said, it was obvious Kalchas was exhorting his friends with a tale. Switching to Latin, Kalchas informed Korbis that he was now a member of his household. He was not to leave the house unless given express permission to do so. His duties would include seeing to the health of the household, instructing the gardeners which herbs he required to be planted and harvested, and assisting Kalchas’ friends when asked to do so.

Slavery! Gilded but a cage, nonetheless. Korbis was dismayed – he’d never find his mysterious island. I, on the other hand, while sad for my human, was happy that I would not have to travel the seas again.

Life settled into a routine. Korbis became accustomed to wearing a chiton rather than breeches (he complained frequently of the breeze on his nether regions), learned to speak passable Greek and, with a large herb garden, cured the ailments of the household and those of Kalchas’ friends. And like his predecessor, Abou, he prepared love charms, amulets for legal cases and talismans for race- or fight-fixing. The young lady he had healed, Agathe, while never the sharpest knife in the drawer, was married off to that tribunus within three months. That afforded Kalchas an entrée into even higher Roman society.

A little over a year into our captivity, Kalchas decided to retire. He turned over the operation of his factory to his oldest son and management of his distribution network to the middle son. The oldest son got the house in Neapolis and we moved to a smaller house in the beautiful seaside city of Herculaneum. It was just a few kilometers away so Kalchas could still keep an eye on his children.

Here, Korbis had to be even more circumspect. Herculaneum was at that time more Roman than Greek, although the Greeks had founded the city. Kalchas devoted the majority of his time to his new-found love of Roman politics. He and the senator (who had also retired and relocated) would spend hours discussing and debating what was happening in Rome. Korbis spent a good deal of time treating the gout so prevalent in the older, less active generation that was Kalchas and his friends.

Then, one fateful late summer day, the mountain Vesuvius started billowing ash. No one, not even the oldest alive, remembered that it was a volcano. At the first signs, panic hit the city and everyone rushed to the sea, hoping to take a boat far away. Korbis and several other slaves were told to pack Kalchas’ valuables and join him at a specific spot along the shoreline. I was told to follow the master so Korbis could be sure of meeting him in the correct place. I took flight but we never made it. The last thing I remember of that life is air hotter than an oven.