“Here, some wine,” Castor said, as Aranth sat at his kitchen table.
“Thank you. So, can you help me?” the Basic replied and took the glass offered to him by the vampire.
“No one has ever done that before. To say it’s dangerous would be an understatement. And for what? For a human?” Castor replied.
“Don’t forget that you were once just like her. You were lucky to be turned,” Aranth reminded him.
“My change was a matter of circumstances, it came naturally. Besides, I didn’t ask for it. And you should know that when we turn, our human side remains dead, and the vampire one is born. What you are trying to do is perform the change, intentionally. That is what worries me, and that’s what is wrong in your plan. If she dies, and she becomes a vampire by a chance, like all of my kind did, then I would be fine with it. You want to turn her yourself. It doesn’t work that way,” the vampire said and sat next to Aranth. He too had a glass in his hand, only his was full of blood.
“There must be a way. Anything is possible, Castor. You said no one has done that. Maybe, no one has ever really attempted it. I’m ready, and willing to do whatever it takes. I have to save her,” the Basic said.
“From what? Are you sure that she should be the one for whom you will put your powers, and even perhaps your life in jeopardy? We don’t know what side effects the ritual might have. Don’t rush. Don’t provoke. Wait, see if she turns after she dies. You can wait. What is fifty years for a Basic? Less than what a day is for a human,” Castor said.
“I can’t risk it and let her die. What if she doesn’t turn? Friend, please, I see this as my only chance,” Aranth replied.
“Strange, I never thought you would fall into a trap of a human woman,” the vampire said.
“It’s not a trap. I’m doing this because I love her. She has been sad lately, because she knows we can’t be together forever,” the Basic said.
“There are other women. So, you succeed, and make her immortal. And then, you have a fight and end your relationship. You meet others, but she constantly invades your mind and your life, spoiling you new found joys. Have you thought of that?” Castor asked.
“Her and I are connected. You wouldn’t understand. I didn’t begin a relationship with her so that I could end it one day,” Aranth replied.
“But, it’s inevitable. Please, reconsider your decision. I’m sure she’s a fine Roman lady, but don’t temper with the rules of the world,” Castor said.
“Haven’t we broken the rules by now? Our existence defies everything the life on this planet is based on. I’m not saying she and I won’t have problems. Maybe I leave her after a century or two. Maybe I grow to hate her. But, I want that chance, Castor. Humans spend their lives together like this. Why can’t I?” Aranth said and quickly drank his wine.
“Have you spoken to the others? Where is the First?” Castor asked.
“I don’t know. Some say she went north. As if, she would help me… That witch cares for no one, but herself,” Aranth replied.
“Tomorrow, I will check in the library, if there is anything that might be of use,” Castor said in a sad tone.
“No, tonight. You must do it tonight, and I will assist you,” the Basic replied.
“Are you in a hurry?” the vampire replied.
“Yes, and as soon as I find useful information, I will go back to Rome,” Aranth said.
“Alright, but I don’t guarantee anything. And, if you decide to go through with it, be careful, please,” the vampire said. The Basic nodded, but it was an impatient, childish nod. Castor was sure that something was wrong with his friend. They have known each other for six hundred years, but Castor had never seen Aranth like this. The vampire feared for the future.
Philomela was in her room, putting her clothes tidily on a stool. She heard the family gathering at the kitchen, and making breakfast. The girl thought of joining them, but first, she needed to prepare everything for her departure. She still hadn’t told Georgios about her decision. Surely, he will be relieved when he hears about it. Philomela loved her brother, and she knew that he loved her too, in his own way. But, being many years apart, they’ve learned to have separated lives, and this changed when she came to Rome. Much was different, they were different. Philomela interfered, she disturbed his world and his work. She was aware of that, and if her brother saw her as a threat, then she was determined to end his torment.
Fresh baked bacon, eggs and goat cheeses waited at her side of the table, when she came into the kitchen. The children had already eaten, and went outside with their mother. Georgios was sitting at the table, chewing white, soft cheese in his mouth. Philomela quietly sat opposite of him, at the other end of the table.
“Good morning,” he said, biting into another slice of cheese.
“Good morning, brother,” she said and sighed.
“Is everything alright?” he asked.
“I wanted to speak with you. Now I have a chance,” Philomela replied. Georgios cleared his throat and stopped chewing.
“What is it?” he asked, in a concerned and thoughtful voice.
“I have decided to leave Rome,” she replied.
“We have arranged that already, haven’t we?” the blacksmith said.
“But, I won’t to leave without the governor. Before he sails for Crete,” she specified. Georgios’s face lit with curiosity.
“What do you mean? Are you suddenly homesick?” he asked.
“I want to go back. I want to be honest, and you should be, too,” she replied.
“What do you mean?”
“You’ve changed. I understand. And, I know you care for me, and I care for you. But, it’s evident that my visit should end. I’m going back home, I miss it.”
“Philomela… I’m sorry if you feel that way. My behaviour was unacceptable in the last few days. I don’t know what came over me…”
“It’s alright, brother. Are there any ships sailing for Crete, tomorrow, or even today? I’ve packed my clothes and everything, I could leave this afternoon if there is a vessel,” she said. But, Georgios wasn’t paying attention to her words. All he was thinking about was how he was eaten inside out by his envy and anger. So much hatred he directed towards a kind young woman, who was his sister. He bowed his head and looked at his hands, resting on his lap. The blacksmith sighed. He let his vanity turn him against the only person in this world to whom he could entrusted his life. Wives come and go, children grow up and leave the family house. But his sister, his sweet Philomela, she was always the one who supported him, who would do anything just to see him happy. And now, she thought her departure would satisfy him.
“You can’t go today. And you shouldn’t go before the governor leaves. The sea is dangerous for you to go without any protection,” Georgios said.
“I’ll be fine, Georgios. I’ve managed to go on by myself before. It’s best this way,” she replied.
“Let’s go for a walk. I’ll tell my apprentices to start the work at the smithy, until I return. Wait for me here,” the blacksmith said and went to his workshop.
Philomela finished her meal and collected the plates. She started washing them in a pot filled with cold water, when her brother returned.
“Just let me finish this,” she said.
“Leave it, Philomela. Come on, let’s go,” he said and took the plates out of her hands and dropped them into the pot. Philomela was reluctant to leave the dishes in a mess like that, but still she followed her brother outside. Georgios took an apple, and gave it to her, smiling.
“This won’t change my mind,” she said, biting the apple.
“I know you will return to the island, but I don’t want you to leave now, because of my bad temper,” the blacksmith said.
“Everyone here grew tired of me. Don’t deny it, I feel it. It’s not just you,” she replied.
“It’s safer if you go with the governor. He’s grown very fond of you. I think he still has that dagger you’ve made for him,” he said.
“That’s what I’m talking about. Atticus is a fine man, but I’ve seen the way his wife looks at me. She doesn’t share her husband’s delight of me, and I can’t blame her,” she said.
“But, that’s not your fault. Besides, the governor never showed any sign of affection to you. Yes, you are dear to him, but like a girl, not like a woman,” Georgios said.
“I have a feeling that his wife doesn’t think the same. It’s better if I go alone. If I come along with the governor, it will only arouse more suspicion,” Philomela replied. The blacksmith was aware that Lavinia’s fury was mostly his doing. Maybe, Philomela was right. She should go to Crete as soon as possible. Who knows what plans Lavinia has made. That woman was unpredictable, cruel. Georgios covered his mouth with his hand. He, in his unprovoked anger, put his sister in grave danger.
“I’ll prepare everything for your voyage. Is that fine with you? Maybe it is better, to get you off the streets of this city. Philomela, I’ll send several good men that I can trust, I’ll send my apprentices with you, to follow you, to keep you safe. You’re right. You know I love you, but I understand why you want to go,” he said and kept nodding to himself.
“I had a good time here. We should inform the governor to stop with the preparations for our voyage. He’s been gathering the supplies for two in the main cabin, but since I won’t go with him…” Philomela replied.
“I’ll tell his servants to cancel your place on that ship. It won’t take long before I find you another. Do you want to go to the market with me? It’s the trading day, there will be a lot of merchants from various parts of the Empire. They’ll tell us the schedule,” he said.
“I’ll go with you. It’s going to be a nice walk,” she replied and smiled. They went to the Rome’s market, which was crowded with people from the city and those from the provinces. They were shouting, fighting over items they wanted to purchase, sometimes so hard, that the guards had to stop them. Georgios and his sister slowly moved towards the stands with the goods from Africa and Asia, knowing that there they will find an experienced commander and a ship to take her across the sea. Philomela threw away the remains of the apple she’s been eating, and it hit a boot of a tall, skinny man, dressed in rich, colourful clothes.
“Excuse me, young girl,” he said in a deep, old voice.
“My apologies, sir,” she replied and bowed down her head.
“I see you have little manners. Who’s your master? That man over there?” he replied and pointed at Georgios who was speaking to a sailor at the other stand.
“I’m no slave, sir. That’s my brother,” she said.
“Is there a problem?” Georgios showed up behind her. Philomela turned around and shook her head.
“It’s fine, everything is fine,” she said.
“Your sister threw an apple at me,” the stranger said.
“I didn’t. It was an accident,” Philomela replied.
“I’m sorry, sir. She didn’t mean to. Sometimes she can be a bit clumsy,” the blacksmith said.
“These boots are from Persia, they are easily stained, but hard to obtain,” the man said.
“Persia? You’ve been to Persia?” Philomela asked. Her cheerful voice surprised the stranger and he looked carefully at her.
“I’ve been to lands and seas you have only dreamed of,” the man said.
“So, you are a merchant?” Georgios asked. He and his sister both saw a chance.
“I am, indeed. I trade with all provinces of the Empire, southern, eastern, northern and western ones. Even with the enemies of Rome. My market is the world,” the stranger pompously announced.
“Then, you must have sailed to Crete, as well?” the blacksmith asked.
“Of course, many times. But, why is that important to you?” the merchant said.
“Because, I’m trying to find a ship that will take me to Crete, that will take me home,” Philomela said. The man turned his head away, as if he was searching for something, but, as he didn’t find it, his eyes were set on Georgios and Philomela again.
“You need a ship? One, which will take you to Crete? In two days, I’m sailing out, heading for Cyprus. On my way, I can stop on Crete. Would you like to come with me?” the man asked. Georgios was happy to hear that the man they’ve basically have just met could be of help. But, at the same time, his heart was restless. Their quest for a ship ended quickly, he knew nothing about the stranger in front of him. How could he trust him enough to let his sister travel with him. Philomela even made everything worse, looking delighted and amazed by the merchant.
“And how expensive it will be, to take my sister with you?” Georgios asked. Philomela was confused, because she thought that the deal was sealed.
“Fifty denarii,” the man said.
“What about the food and drink?” Philomela asked.
“You will be provided with those on my ship. All you need to bring is money to pay for your place on the deck,” the man said.
“My sister will not travel alone. She’ll be accompanied by three men. Can you find a place for them?” Georgios said.
“Of course I can. But, it will cost you ten denarii more,” the merchant replied.
“Understood, and thank you. But, you see, we’ll need some time to think about you offer. If we decide to accept it, where can we find you? Where will you stay during these two days?” the blacksmith asked.
“In the inn, ask for Septimus The Sailor. That’s me,” the man said and showed four small windows to their left, peeking over the stands. He and Georgios shook hands, and then the merchant turned around and walked away, pleased. With the chance of striking a good deal, Septimus forgot about Philomela’s lack of manners, the leftovers of the apple, and his expensive Persian boots. He was glad to come back to Rome, after all the years spent in exile. The thought of transporting people again gave him shivers, because that was what got him into trouble with the law in the past. He used to be a pirate. He wasn’t a very menacing one, a dangerous, murderous pirate, but his ways of smuggling goods and slaves didn’t really suit the Empire. He was sentenced with ten years of exile, and now that the decade had passed, he wanted to try more honest work. However, his permission to transport people on his ship was still pending. Nevertheless, he was going to use this chance and take Philomela with him. Permissions, papers, it was all matter of administration, and he had no time to waste thinking about it.
“Why didn’t you say I was coming with him?” Philomela asked, as her brother and she continued to walk down the market.
“I don’t trust him much. I think I saw his face on posters,” Georgios replied.
“Then, do you know any other ship commander, or merchant that you could trust? A friend of yours?” she replied.
“No, I don’t. Maybe it feels strange to me, because we have found a ship for you so quickly,” he said and smiled.
“Sailors and their captains usually spend time in the tavern, just at the end of the market. Why don’t we go there, and ask some of them?” she said.
“How do you know where the sailors are?” he asked and laughed.
“I had a lot of spare time here, enough to explore all the important parts of the city,” she said. They headed towards the tavern, and as they approached, they could hear loud, but not so pleasant music, coming from the inside. They entered into a smoky room, and sat at the first available table they found. This tavern was different than the inn Septimus was staying at. At least from the outside, the inn looked homey, friendly and tidy. The tavern, on the other hand, from both the outside and the inside, looked like it was more of a prison, than a place where one could find food and good wine. The brother and sister didn’t mind that, though. They were surrounded by men who seemed tired of their lifestyle, but nevertheless experienced and skilful. The girl who served the customers, probably a slave of the tavern owner, came to Georgios and Philomela’s table.
“What can I get you? Something to drink, or eat?” the girl asked.
“I’ll have a glass of vine,” the blacksmith said.
“Yes, domine,” the girl replied.
“I’ll have the same. And bring a plate of cheese,” Philomela added.
“Yes, domina,” the girl said and left. When she came back with their order, Georgios stopped her for a moment.
“Could you tell me, are there merchants, in here? Which one of them sails soon and towards east?” he asked.
“That one over there, domine, but I wouldn’t trust him. And then, there is Tyro, that one, in the corner. He looks rough, but he’s an honest man, and an honest captain,” the girl said.
“Call him, tell him to join us,” Philomela replied. The girl nodded, and immediately approached a man dressed in black, with black bandana covering his ginger hair.
“So, you need me?” he said, as he walked towards the table.
“We need a ship, to take my sister to Crete,” Georgios said. Tyro sat down, and took a piece of cheese from the table.
“Lovely girl, what’s your name?” he asked.
“My name is Philomela. You are Tyro, right? Can you help us? Help me?” blacksmith’s sister replied.
“Depending on what you need. But, let’s be serious. I’m sailing for Corinth and Crete, soon. Then, the sea will take me further east,” Tyro said, smiling.
“That’s great,” Philomela said.
“It is, but only if you have a better price to offer us,” Georgios added.
“Yes, the merchant we’ve been speaking to before we came here offered us a price of sixty denarii, for transporting me and my brother’s apprentices,” Philomela said.
“Sixty denarii? For four people?” Tyro asked.
“Yes, is there a problem?” Georgios replied.
“Whoever offered you that deal is in a hurry and needs any money,” the captain explained.
“Why would you say that?” the blacksmith asked.
“If you sailed with me, it would cost you one hundred denarii. And, many other captains would name the same or similar price. The merchant you met must be desperate. Who is he?” Tyro asked.
“He said that he is called Septimus The Sailor,” Georgios replied. Tyro’s eyes opened wide, he was surprised, and upset.
“He’s back? He dares return?” Tyro shouted.
“Did he bother you in the past?” Philomela asked.
“Septimus was exiled from Rome. It wasn’t a definite exile, it was temporary. He transported slaves illegally, as well as citizens of Rome, and one day he was caught. The rest of us from the sailing guild threatened him before he left. We all signed a statement and showed it to him. We said we would end him if we see him in the city and if he ever starts overseas treading business again,” Tyro explained.
“He was a smuggler?” Georgios said.
“Yes, he smuggled both merchandise and people. Terrible man, that’s what he is. Please, you don’t have to let your sister travel on my ship, but don’t let her leave on his either,” the captain warned the blacksmith.
“Of course I won’t go with him, now that I know. He tried to deceive us, brother,” Philomela said.
“Yes… Now I remember. I told you that he was suspicious. I must have seen his poster just before he was arrested an exiled,” Georgios said.
“You and your friends, the captains and commanders of other ship would be happy with the knowledge of his whereabouts,” Philomela said to Tyro.
“If he has come back, it means his sentence expired. But, I’m surprised that he was brave enough to come here, aware of our threats,” Tyro said.
“He’s not very far from here. But, that’s not our conflict, and Philomela and I won’t interfere. If you feel you should face him, do as you please. For now, I’m only interested in finding a place on your ship, a place for my sister and three men,” Georgios was serious.
“Tell me where Septimus resides, and I will lower the price. I will lower it, yes, let’s see… The price will be seventy denarii, if you reveal me The Sailor’s location,” Tyro replied. Georgios moved his head back, as if he was startled. Philomela looked at her brother, and nodded. She knew it was unlike him to betray another man, especially if his own life didn’t depend much on that action. The blacksmith was indecisive.
“What will you do to him?” Philomela asked what her brother thought.
“What he deserves,” the captain replied. This made her heart skip a beat. She breathed in, while Georgios remained silent.
“I want to sail across the sea, not across another man’s blood,” Philomela said. Georgios looked at the captain, with a supporting face.
“Truly, we have nothing to do with your dispute with The Sailor. Don’t lower your price for us, we’ll pay you the hundred denarii. Let’s strike the deal,” the blacksmith said.
“Very well, if you want it so. The day after tomorrow, I hope I’ll be sailing out. Come here then, at the sunset. Come here, prepared, with your company, and your money. Thank you for choosing me. And thank you for telling me about Setptimus,” Tyro said and stood up. Philomela and Georgios did the same.
“We’ll be here,” the blacksmith’s sister said.
“I know. Fellows, tonight we have some business to take care of,” Tyro shouted, smiling. Some of the regulars turned their heads in his direction.
“What is it now?” an old captain asked.
“Septimus is back in town,” Tyro uttered after a pause.
“What?” the old captain screamed. Firstly, the tavern roared with laughter, and then the sound of joy was turned into shouts of anger.
“Goodbye, now,” Georgios said, and he and Philomela quickly left the tavern. As they found themselves back on the street, they were relieved that they got away in time.
“He’s near. I don’t have his exact location, but he’s been seen at the market. That means he couldn’t be far from here,” the siblings heard Tyro’s voice from the tavern, followed by more shouting and glass breaking.
Lavinia was going up and down her room. Her husband was getting dressed next to their bed.
“You seem distressed,” Atticus said. He didn’t like to communicate with her when she was in a bad mood, but he had to say something, just to break the icy silence between them.
“It’s nothing. When are you coming back? Will you be home for lunch?” she replied.
“I don’t know when my discussion at the Senate will end. But, I’ll try to be here on time,” Atticus said. Lavinia just shrugged her shoulders, as if she didn’t really care about his answer. He kissed her softly on the cheek as he walked out of the room. His wife looked at the shelves with his clothes and there she saw the dagger given to him by Philomela. It was a fine piece of work, but for Lavinia it was nothing more but the symbol of his treachery. She took the dagger and carefully touched the edge of the blade. It was sharp, so sharp that she was afraid to make a sudden move, and cut herself. She hated the dagger, as much as she hated her husband and Philomela. And where was Aranth when she needed him? She sent a slave to his house to tell him to visit her, but the slave returned with the news that the Basic was gone. Has he left her? He couldn’t have. It would be the end of her. Has he changed his mind? It would destroy her if he had betrayed her. Lavinia sobbed. Everything was going on well, until that disgusting girl came to Rome. She never saw any woman catch her husband’s attention like that. She was one of those rare threats that came along in matrimonial life, a threat that came suddenly and shook Lavinia’s world. The governor’s wife had to defend herself, with all the means she had at her disposal. Aranth has grown soft regarding the problem with Philomela. Lavinia felt that. But she also felt that she could ask him to do anything and he would still fulfil it. He was he pawn. A pawn she loved. But, for how long? The years of her life pressed her, pushed her down. Why was she mortal? What justice was out there, sharing its grace to some, and leaving others to taste the nectar of living, before taking it away, forever? It was cruel. And for that reason, as much as she loved Aranth, at the same time she hated him. Where was he? Has je forgotten his promise? The girl must die, one way or another. If Aranth doesn’t show up any time sooner, Lavinia will do it herself. With that same dagger. She’ll cut her skin, pierce it with one fierce strike. And Philomela will be no more. Lavinia sighed. She counted on Aranth’s support. He was the one who could save her, and take her far away. He couldn’t have left her forever. Aranth will be back, wiser and better, with all the answers she needed. If he does not indeed return, her hopes will be dead. She will be good as dead. But, no, she cannot give up. The demons of the old did not send her such a powerful being for nothing. She was alone, but Aranth was her sudden light of victory. She heard her children, a boy and a girl running in the atrium, playing with the slaves. Those were the children she gave birth to, but who were not hers. She couldn’t feel anything for them. Maybe that was a wrong, but she could do little about it. Was their laughter truly music to Lavinia? By all the stories she was listening to when she was young, it should have been. However, something inside of her froze, left her incapable of caring. Part of her role as the governor’s wife was pretending to be happy. Happy with her husband, her children, her home, and her life in its entirety. Yet, it was not so. All she felt was indeed hers was her own flesh. Everything and everyone else was utterly alien to her.
At that time, Aranth was reading a book given to him by Castor. The vampire took it in secret from the closed section in the Library, and brought it to the Basic so he could study it. The book contained the important information about the origins of vampires, and how they came to be, with little mentioning of the Basics. But, what troubled Aranth the most was the lack of any clue about the process of deliberate creation of an immortal. Of course he knew every possibility of a human becoming a vampire, but all the cases described were accidental. The many authors of the book collected only general information, while Aranth needed more. Then, his vampire friend brought him another book, apparently forgotten by everybody but Castor. The book’s covers were two ceramic plates, covered with thin layers of iron, rusted around the edges. The pages inside where of thick paper, which felt rough under Basic’s fingers. The paragraphs were hard to read, because the black ink did not show well on dark grey surface of the pages. It was an unusual object. Aranth carefully held it in his hands, turned it over to see every aspect of it. He finally opened it and looked through the chapters. One particularly caught his attention and he quickly turned the pages to find it. It was about non-human creatures and how they came to be. One of the chapter was concerned with attempts of creating an immortal being, which was previously born as mortal. The section was filled with illustrations, and those did not please Aranth. They were images of horrible creature with grotesque appearance, that made the Basic feel sick. Those were the examples of trials. He couldn’t find any which was successful.
“Castor, come here, and see this,” Aranth called for his friend who was making tea in the kitchen. The vampire approached the Basic and took the book from his hands.
“Yes, what is it?” Castor asked.
“Look at this. These are terrible. There they are, the instruction, the procedure, everything. But, look at the result. How could I do something like this to her? But maybe, part of it went wrong. Maybe I could fix it,” Aranth said
“These look sickly, deteriorating. As if this is not an eternal life, but simply lack of death. Don’t do this, please. You will destroy her,” Castor replied.
“Maybe, if I change something…” the Basic said.
“What? I can’t believe it! You persist with this idea! Can’t you see what’s in front of you, monsters,” Castor replied and showed him a drawing of a creature that looked something like a dog, but with thicker fur and confused, sorrowful expression. Its jaws looked like they were dislocated, and some sort of liquid was coming out of them. The creature was portrayed as if it was suffering a great deal of pain, pain unknown to a common person. It was the pain of endless existence, one which could endure the greatest damage, but could not have been interrupted. The creature was abysmal to look at, and Aranth shook his head constantly, as to prove that it won’t happen to Lavinia.
“It’s obvious that it’s possible to turn a human into an immortal. A few adjustments, that’s all it needs,” the Basic said. Castor stood next to him, frightened of what he had seen in Aranth’s eyes.
“Would you really do that to someone you love? This isn’t life she deserves, not to mention that she’ll be in this form for an eternity,” the vampire warned him.
“This is just the first step. I don’t mean to go to her now and present her with this. This is not a solution, but it is a good guideline. It’s a good start,” Aranth said.
“What if you fail and make her be like this? Who will deal with this abomination, then?” the vampire protested.
“You haven’t been very supportive from the beginning, so I don’t mind whatever you say. I’m surprised that you don’t realize what a great step this is,” Aranth said and continued to read the book.
“Step towards what? You will create a monster,” Castor replied.
“And you said you will help me,” Aranth said. The vampire sighed. He returned to the kitchen and then came out of it with steaming cup of tea for the Basic.
“We’ve had some ridiculously dangerous actions since we have befriended each other. I guess this one is the most dangerous yet. What do you need?” the vampire asked.
“Let me see,” Aranth replied and started reading the list of necessities for such an experiment. Then, when he copied the list on a separate piece of paper, he gave the paper to Castor, and the vampire quickly read it.
“I know where I can find these. But what is this? Should it be a potion of some sort?” the vampire asked.
“Apparently, it does end up being some kind of liquid. But, I don’t know whether she will be willing to try it, or whether its taste will be strong,” the Basic replied.
“We’ll see what will become of it. But, first, let me bring you the ingredients,” the vampire said and left the room. By the sound of the door, Aranth deduced that Castor went outside. Perhaps he knew a place where he could get crow’s feathers, grinded and mixed with pearls of the sea. Aranth doubted he could find all of that. Besides, the list was filled with items which were either completely unobtainable, or not clear enough. The Basic was happy to have found a way to turn Lavinia into his eternal companion, but he was at the same time troubled by the pages from the book. They stared at him, from the pages, warned him, haunted him. But his honour forbade him from giving up. He promised her that he will come back, and that later they will be untied in eternity. Aranth drank his tea, slowly letting the warm essence of herbs slip down his throat. Lavinia and him will live until the end of time on Earth. Yes, that will be their fate. He occasionally turned his eyes to the candle flame, lit in the corner of the room, quivering at every commotion in the air. The Basic waited for the vampire to return. After an hour or so, the noise was heard from the hall, announcing the host’s arrival.
“Where were you?” Aranth asked, worried.
“I’m not the only vampire in Alexandria, you know. I have seen some friends who might help you,” Castor replied.
“No, you didn’t tell them about my plan, did you? Castor this must remain a secret,” Aranth said.
“Of course I didn’t. But they have shown me how to use all of these,” the vampire said and put a sack, packed with various items, on the table. The Basic examined the contents of the sack, taking out each ingredient required and putting it on the table.
“This is brilliant. Thank you, truly,” the Basic said and hugged Castor.
“My friends have told me to be very cautious when it comes to use of these items. Mixed badly, they can become a poison rather than an elixir,” Castor said in a serious tone.
“Perhaps that’s where those who wrote this book made a mistake and created all those poor beings. Our attempt will be different. Our attempt will be successful,” the Basic assured him.
“There is just one small disturbance,” Castor said.
“What is it?” the Basic asked.
“The ritual must be performed at one place, and at that place only. Nothing else will suffice,” Castor said.
“Where is that place? Why is it so special?” Aranth asked.
“According to the map of the Empire, it is the area between Savus and Danubius, the two rivers surround it. There is an old Celtic watermill, near the place where she… Where the first Basic came to existence,” Castor described it.
“In the lowlands around Sirmuim?” the Basic said.
“A bit to the east from Sirmium. There is, like I said, a watermill, and a willow in front of it, over the stream. There, you must give your loved one to drink this,” the vampire said. Aranth slapped his face with his hands, couple of times. This is something he didn’t expect.
“That, that is nonsense. Why should there be a special place? She’s not going to do anything, I’m not going to do anything. She’s simply going to drink it. Why all this? Why the complications?” the Basic said.
“I don’t make the rules,” Castor replied.
“The time is growing shorter…” Aranth whispered. The vampire collected the items and took them to the basement.
“I have some equipment in the basement, which might serve is in the making of your potion,” Castor said. The Basic followed him to the lower chamber, which was dressed in blue light coming from a set of very unusual lamps on the walls.
“You’ve never shown me this room,” Aranth noticed.
“There was no need for you to know about it. I’ve added it when I was obsessed with the occult of the Egyptians. This is, as you may call it, my laboratory,” Castor said with apparent pride in his voice.
“Quite a lovely little laboratory. So, are you ready?” the Basic replied. The vampire nodded, and tidily placed the ingredients on a shelf behind the table with all kinds of bottles and glasses. The Basic walked from one wall to another, occasionally picking up an object to observe it. He was really impressed with Castor’s collection. The vampire selected the items which were necessary to start the potion. He started boiling water in a classy bowl, while cutting a peculiar, violet algae. The Basic was adding the rest of the ingredients into the boiling water, casually stirring it. The process of cooking the potion cause the entire basement to be filled with steam.
“It’s almost done. It just needs to cool down,” the vampire said.
“Are you sure we’ve done everything properly?” Aranth asked.
“There is no mistake, we did everything according to the instructions. Now, when I look at it, the potion itself is not hard to make. Those who tried to perform this change most likely didn’t know about the special location where everything had to take place. Thus, the results were disappointing,” Castor made a conclusion.
“That does make sense,” Aranth replied, encouraged by Castor’s words. The vampire gave him hope that all will be well in the end. The Basic couldn’t allow himself to be shaken or have doubt. He must be determined and assuring when he shows up in front of Lavinia. But, there was the matter of murder. His plans had to change, especially after learning that the potion had to be drunk at a precise location. The Basic was aware that he had to ask for another favour from his vampire friend.
“What’s wrong?” Castor asked when he noticed that Aranth’s face grew grim. Basic’s initial smile faded, replaced by furrowed brows.
“There is something else. I have promised Lavinia more than immortality. I have to murder a girl for her. Don’t look surprised, like you’ve never killed anyone,” Aranth said.
“Death of a human is not what concerns me, but the influence that woman has on you. What are you? A personal assassin?” Castor protested.
“I just want to start a new life with her, somewhere where Rome’s fist cannot hit us,” the Basic said.
“You’ll have to go quite far then. What’s on your mind? I am going to accompany you to Rome, to secure your escape, after that girl you’ve mentioned is dead?” the vampire predicted Basic’s request.
“And not just that. I need you to help me find the exact location I need. I must admit, I’ve never been to the territories you’ve mentioned. I’ve only seen them on maps,” Aranth admitted.
“This is going in the direction of calamity, Aranth. But, I guess I’m already in this, am I not? Be ready in two hours. I will find us a ship, and then, we can go on foot to Rome,” Castor said.
“I swam from Italy to Egypt. Why can’t you? Is the strength of vampires so less compared to those of Basics?” the Basic teased him.
“No, but I have a problem with sunlight. I don’t want to risk the dawn on the horizon while I’m still out in the open. Below decks is a much safer place to be when sunlight appears in the east,” the vampire explained with a cynical tone. Aranth carefully put the potion in a leather bag, and tied its knot. He wiped the sweat off his forehead, and felt how hot his cheeks were. If he could have seen himself in that moment, he would have noticed that he looked like he was blushing. His face was red, probably because of the steam and heat. Castor, however, maintained his vampire paleness. He left the laboratory, and Aranth stayed to clean after the cooking of the potion.
The night in Alexandria was cloudy, with a few patches of clear, starry sky. In the harbour, the ship was waiting for Aranth and Castor to take them to Italy. The ship lulled on the waves of Mediterranean, as two friends boarded. Castor spoke a few words with the captain and then went down, into the darkness of the vessel. Aranth stayed on the deck, and sat next to the bow. He saw ornaments on the sides of the ship, on its front part, too. They looked like grapevines, wrapped around each other, green and restless. The ship sailed out, smoothly and graciously kissing the water with its wooden lips. It moved up and down, dipping its body into the sea foam, and surfacing covered with traces of salt. The Basic looked towards the north and east, where Lavinia waited for him. Then he turned, and observed as the ship escaped the great shadow of Pharos. The Lighthouse rose above the harbour like a monument of silence. The light beaming out of its tower was long and sharp, always aware, always awake. The sentinel of silence and solitude saluted the wandering sea spirits going on a voyage to wonderful lands. Pharos was left behind, and its light was soon replaced by the glamour of the stars. There were no clouds now. Just thousands of lanterns shinning above the dark of the Earth, the sound of midnight wind, trapped in Aranth’s hair. The sailors who were on the deck said goodnight to their captain. When he closed the door of his cabin, they spontaneously started singing a silent, but glorious song about Heracles’ quests and victories. Aranth knew that song very well, since he was the one who wrote it down, several generations before. Nevertheless, he did not want to join them in singing, he was just listening, every word and every note. For them, he was a stranger dressed in shadows, distant and quiet. Aranth felt their fear. Humans knew when something greater and stronger than them was near. It was one of the instincts they haven’t lost during the shifts in their evolution. However, they were still unprepared to embrace that greatness and welcome it. So, the Basic refused to speak with them. He just let himself enjoy their harmonious voices, celebrating a true hero. Heracles, yes, the pillar of legends. Aranth admired his fate and endurance, yet despised his every character feature. But, like Hercules, the Basic was unhappy. Granted with all the gifts one would want, somehow, both men managed to complicate their lives. But, greater the torment, greater the hero.
Somewhere, far away, she waited. The Roman wife, unsatisfied with her achievements. Why unsatisfied? Because achievements were not hers truly, they were achievements set by others for her. The Basic thought about her often. And she thought about him. Still, another woman occupied his mind, invading it suddenly, without a notice in advance. Her name was not spoken, because it was not known. The existence of all Basic was tied to hers. Aranth even had to visit the place of her coming to life in order to give immortality to Lavinia. Who knows where she was now. Her traces were lost. Her face sometimes vanished from Aranth’s memory. Right then, as he was sitting, leaned on the sail ropes, she was like a sketch in his thoughts. A contour, without colour and flesh, without a voice or a personality. She was so much, and so little for him in that moment. How he would be honoured if she happened to be there when Lavinia drinks the potion. She would be delighted to witness such an event. No, he was wrong. She wouldn’t care. This thought, although true, saddened him. The queen of all immortals would remain reserved, as it is her manner. At that moment, as the ship progressed through the water, she had been given a name. The people of the islands worshipped her as a goddess, but they were also aware of her violent, monstrous nature. Therefore, she was called Morrigan, to bear it as long as she lives, as her first name and true name. She never received such a gift. Morrigan felt like she was finally given a full shape. A name, it sounded so human. Perhaps now, with that simple word attached to her, she’ll get peace she always wanted to have.
Dawn broke the night’s sheets on the deck. Aranth went below, to speak to Castor. The Basic realized that he won’t have time to do what he intended if he stays on the ship. The vampire may stay, but Aranth had to go.
“Castor, are you busy?” he asked when he saw his friend sitting on pillows and skimming pages of a book.
“No, I’m not. What is it?” the vampire replied.
“I will have to leave the ship, Castor. I won’t make it in time if I stay here. The voyage is four days long, I don’t have those four days to spare,” Aranth said. The vampire closed the book and got up.
“And what about the plan, then? Then I didn’t need to come with you in the first place,” Castor protested.
“You will come to Rome just in time for our escape. But, I have to be there sooner, to prepare everything, to tell Lavinia about the trip,” Aranth explained.
“I don’t like to be left behind. Let’s wait for the sunset. Then, I’ll follow you,” Castor said.
“You said you were safer on the ship, why the sudden change? It’s dangerous for you to go out in the open, to try to cross such a distance when the sun can appear on the horizon,” Aranth warned him.
“I’ll muster all of my strength. Besides, I was thinking to have a dinner before we set out for the wide, blue sea,” the vampire said and smiled. It was a hungry smile that the Basic saw on his friend’s face.
“How are we going to catch a few sailors and drink their blood without being discovered? We’re on a ship, it’s not likely that we’ll find a place to hide while feeding,” the Basic remarked.
“Who said we’re going to take just a few? The entire ship is practically a served table for us,” Castor said.
“Fine, but we must wait. Don’t do anything till the sun sets. And when it sets, we’re going into action,” Aranth advised Castor. The vampire was nervous.
“I’m hungry, Aranth. I’m not sure if I can wait that long,” Castor said.
“If you kill a member of the crew, others will notice, I’m sure of it,” the Basic replied.
“There are other passengers on the shit besides us,” the vampire whispered and pointed with his head at a family that was sitting across of him. They didn’t appear to be rich, but they definitely weren’t poor. They were nicely dressed, the father, the mother, the boy.
“All of them?” Aranth asked, while looking at the family.
“Rome is far away,” Castor said and grinned. The father noticed that Aranth and Castor were looking at the three of them. At first, he acted as if he didn’t mind, but as their gazes persisted, he became worried. Aranth and Castor looked like they were making a plan and the father assumed they were criminals, thieves who wanted to rob his family. The man stood up, and slowly approached the Basic and the vampire. Aranth, aware of what the father was doing, was confused by man’s bravery and determination. It was a noble act that he wanted to protect his family, and Aranth admired him for that. But, it was all in vain.
“I’m going up, to keep the crew occupied on the deck, while you… Take care of everything. Don’t let them scream a lot and attract the attention of the others on this ship,” Aranth said.
“You speak to me as if this is my first time killing someone,” Castor said, but he stopped bothering with the whispers. He was speaking with his usual tone, so that the humans could hear them.
“Is there a problem?” the father stepped forward, willing to do whatever it takes to make Castor back off.
“As silent as possible,” Aranth said, ignoring the man’s question.
“Do you want me to save some for you?” Castor asked, as he was slowly going backwards, towards the family.
“I don’t want to spoil the main course with such an appetizer,” Aranth said and left.
“There is no problem,” the vampire finally turned around to face the petrified man standing and shaking with fear. The boy in his mother’s arms didn’t seem to mind the sudden shift of mood in the room. The woman was terrified as she watched the vampire making her husband back up, and fix his eyes upon them. She desperately searched the room for another exit other than the one blocked by Castor. But, she had to try. She got up carefully, while the vampire was distracted with her husband and moved towards the door. In panic, she pressed the boy hard against her body, and he cried. Castor immediately directed his attention to the two of them, and in the blink of an eye, he stood behind her, grabbing her by her neck. The man ran towards the vampire to defend his wife, but he easily landed on Castor’s fist, and the punch knocked him unconscious. The woman let out a weak cry, and the boy imitated his mother. Castor dealt with both of them quickly, hitting the child on the head, smashing the boy’s skull, and cutting woman’s neck aorta. The blood from her neck sprayed him in the face, but he did nothing but laugh. His feast was ready to begin, but Castor couldn’t wait for night to come. The ship was a good idea to set them off, but they had to speed up now. The time was running against them, and Aranth had to change his plans rapidly and unpredictably.
They all had to adjust to new circumstances. Especially Georgios. He wrote a letter and sent a slave with it to Lavinia’s house. Luckily, she was alone, Atticus was in the Senate, so no suspicion was awoken when the slave brought the important letter. Georgios wrote that all ended well, and that she should not worry about Philomela anymore. The blacksmith stated that his sister decided to departure before the governor’s return to Crete, and that Lavinia had nothing to fear. While writing it, Georgios wanted to inform Lavinia that Philomela never had an affair with her husband, and that he was wrong for not correcting her assumption that he was cheating her with his sister. But, he couldn’t. It would only lead to further complications. While reading it, Lavinia thought of sending a slave to Aranth, wherever he was, to tell him that she’s calling off the murder. But, she couldn’t forget, nor forgive that Philomela stepped into her territory, and seduced Atticus with no shame or respect for her. So, she wrote a brief note, stating that she had received the letter, and that she is glad for how everything worked out. As she watched blacksmith’s slave returning to his master with her note, she ripped the letter, and burned it on a candle. Lavinia sighed.