Just a reminder, this is an unedited extract. It goes to my editor at the end of September.
It took my breath away. Set into the side of a hill, the semi-circular tiered seating faced a massive stage edifice that would have once been covered with slender marble columns and frescoed panels. Only a few now remained, their fading and chipped surfaces a sad reminder of its past glory.
‘In its day, it was stunning,’ Marcus said.
How had it survived so long, through the rise and fall of empires and history’s most tumultuous events. If only these walls could speak. I glanced at Marcus’s profile, at the sad little smile tugging at his mouth, as he stared at the stage. He was living history.
‘What are you remembering?’
‘My father first brought me here when I received my toga virilis. I was sixteen. The play … I don’t recall the name anymore, but it had a young actress. She appeared naked on stage.’ He laughed and shook his head. ‘My father thought it was about time I got acquainted with the female sex.’
‘Oh my!’ I laughed with him.
‘Come, I’ll show you something.’ We wandered down to the front rows of seats. At the beginning of the third row, Marcus pointed. ‘Take a look.’
Carved into the stone were letters and numbers, EQ GIII. ‘What does it stand for?’
‘ “Equites Row 3.” This row was reserved for the cavalry unit stationed here.’
‘Front row seats? Why were they so lucky?’
Marcus pursed his lips. ‘Mmm … let me see. We defended the empire, kept the city safe, built the roads and aqueducts….’
‘Okay, okay, I get it,’ I laughed. I’d forgotten Marcus had been a military commander of a cavalry unit. Had he sat here? Had he known some of the men?
‘Move along four seats and look closely.’
Along one side of the stone seating, smoothed over by age was a barely visible scratching: MAR. ANT. PUL. I gasped. It could only be the abbreviated letters of Marcus’s name. ‘Your seat?’
He nodded. ‘I got bored during one pantomime. A few days later I was assigned as commander to the Frisian Cohort in Britain.’
And his whole life changed.
I blinked up at him. ‘Do you wish you never received that command?’
‘No. The only regret I have is that one particular day.’
He fell silent. As the wind howled through the columns, I fancied I heard the whispered voices of long ago—the excitement of the crowd, voices calling out greetings; the shuffling of feet on the stone steps, their centres worn by the weight of thousands over the centuries; the laughter and banter of the soldiers in the front rows. All beneath a statue of the emperor, whose sightless eyes surveyed the crowd from his niche above the stage.(copyright Tima Maria Lacoba)