The next day's travel was similar to the previous ones, but the British noticed the mountains getting closer and closer. On the last day of their journey to Kanum, they entered the mountains and began to climb. It was also on this last day that Elizabeth noticed the return of the "bird" which had plagued them on their journey. It was off in the distance, to the west - whence they themselves had come.

Elizabeth asked if the Romans had seen the "bird" before.

"Only on this trip, and only a few times in the distance. It was part of what brought us to the ruins," said the Centurion.

"What do you think it is?" she asked.

"We do not know. We thought perhaps a sign from the gods, a carrion bird marking a huge battle," he replied. "Do you know what it is?"

"We do not -- and we are curious about it."

"As are we," said the Centurion.

The party rode up across a rise and paused. "Kanum," said their guide. Below them, in a valley was a vision from out of history. An aqueduct zigzagged down a mountain side to fill a reservoir which served a city constructed from what seemed to be nothing but glowing white marble. The British picked out a forum, a theatre and several temples as well as a variety of public buildings whose function they could not place. Surrounding and interweaved with those were the dwellings, even the rudest of which contained much marble mixed in with the lesser stone. To one side, the cliff was terraced and olive trees shared space with sheep herds on some levels while on others figs and wheat were arranged in neat rows.

"I feel as if we've found our Lost City," Beth murmured.

The centurion led them down into the valley and past the public fountains and gardens which adorned the thoroughfares. Finally he led them up to a villa situated on a rise near the center of the city. "This is the home of the Consul, Marcus Draconius. One of my men rode ahead and he is expecting you."

The villa was everything the ruins had implied. With marble accents and pillars, the interior was freshly plastered and whitewashed and glistened in the afternoon sun. Slaves, African and European, rushed to take their good and bear them away, to bring them refreshment, and to escort them to their host and his wife, Drusilla Peremptious.

"Welcome, travellers," translated Jonathan from the Swahili. "Come refresh yourselves before dinner and we shall speak then."

The slaves led them to their rooms and by signs communicated to them that the baths were ready.

The baths were constructed along a parallel layout with the women's baths to the left and the men's baths to the right. Each of the pools - the figidarium and the caldarium - were connected, but separated by high walls, allow speech over the walls but not vision. The tepidariam had no pool, but several couches.

The Europeans were a little shocked to discover that they were intended to bath nude, accompanied by the slaves, although they were relived to see that the slaves were off appropriate genders for the bathers.

The slaves also offered thick soled sandals, indicating by signs that the floors were very hot. Once they had stripped their charges, the Europeans were laid on the couches where the slaves began to massage oil into their bodies and scrape it off with stirgils.

"Well, friends," said Beth, "we've been treated graciously and with respect, but it's always a little disturbing to be taken against one's will. Have you any thoughts on what has happened to us -- or what will happen now?"

Her friends did not have much to add and thus they all settled back to enjoy their baths.

After their baths, the British found that clothes had been laid out for them in their rooms - togas for the men and chiton like garments for the women. Servants, slaves rather, were available to help them into the unfamiliar garments.

Then they joined their host, the Consul Marcus Draconius and his wife Drusilla Peremptious. Their old friend the Centurion Julius Regulus was there as well. At their arrival, Draconius clapped his hands and slaves appeared bearing food; salads, roast meats, cheeses, olives and a harsh red wine, which their hosts watered down to at least half and half, a habit the British found made it much more palatable.

Draconius asked them many questions, suitably translated by Regulus, many of which they had been asked before: where were they from, what news did they have of the Empire, why had they come and so on. The conversation moved on a bit to their plans for the future. How long were they planning to stay in Kanum and what did they wish to do while they remained in the city?

Beth smiled. "It looks like we're not prisoners here. I'd like to observe the culture here -- it might help us understand the Lost City better. Perhaps our host knows some history of the Lost City...?"

Their host was happy to oblige. Kanum was founded in the reign on the Emperor Tiberius, primarily as a source for the wild animals needed for the games. However, the spring which provided water to the town failed, and the citizens relocated to the foot of the mountains. There they found themselves surrounded on all sides by hostile natives, this would have been in the 25th year of Tiberius rule.

At this point, Rose whispered, "I don't think Tiberius ruled that long, he was replaced by ... Caligula."

"We sent messengers to Rome seeking aid, but they were never heard from again. Then we were pressed on all sides. For ten years or more we were hard pressed on all sides. Oh, those were glorious days, weren't they Centurion."

"Yes, Your Excellency, they were," replied Regulus.

"By the time we had finished settling things here, it seemed less important to reach Rome, but we still sent the occassional messenger. That was when we discovered the plague."

"Plague?" asked Rose delicately.

"Our messengers returned, having travelled only a few days beyond our borders, afflicted with a horrible wasting disease. We had no choice, we declared a quarantine and moved back here to our currently location. We were sure Rome would find us eventually. And here you are!"

		*		*		*		*
The British were treated as honoured guests and shown the city and surroundings. They took in a show at the auditorium; it was in Latin, of course, and so some of the impact was lost, but it seemed to be an adaptation of "Telephos," a play of Euripides which was lost to the modern world. They witnessed a display of gladitorial skill in the arena - not a fight to the death, much to the relief of the ladies in particular. They rode out to see the vineyards on the hills near the city. They met with some of the city's philosophers who were debating the question of whether the earth moved around the sun or vice-versa. They attended a religious ceremony in honour of Jove and in honour of Minerva, the patron goddess of the city. They watched troops marching and drilling on the field of Mars. And, of course, they had free time to eat and talk with their hosts and enjoy the baths.

By the time they were scheduled to ride out and view the mine site, they had picked up a smattering of Latin and were able to converse in pidgen form with the Centurion who was their almost constant companion. They had also noted several things about the city: first was the prevalence of ornament, jewelry, tool and utensil of a strange, slick, grayish metal; the seond was the complete abscence of children anywhere in the city

The ride out to the mine took them far out of the city. They passed through the vineyards, climbed above the high meadows where the goats and sheep wandered, followed a solidly constructed Roman road to the top of a ridge. They crested the ridge and looked down into a great depression or hollow, a crater perhaps. There in the center of the crater they could see the buildings and figures of the mineworks.

"Is this where you mine the metal used to make your brooch?" asked Beth, via limited Latin and hand signals.

"Yes," said Marcus, "this is where we mine the Africanum, the Africa-metal."

"I've never seen anything like it before," said Beth. "Your people must have discovered it here. I have seen it in many places and uses in Kanum. How was it discovered? What are its properties?"

"We had never seen it before we came here, either," said Marcus. "We use it for many things. It has great beauty and is easy to work when hot, but strong when cold. We find the soft glow pleasing. Some of our physicians believe that it has healing properties and use it in poultices.

"We found it here, as you see. Exploring from our new home, we sought metals to work. Although iron is not common in these mountains, this metal is found in abundance in this location."

"Do you think we should ask about the children... Or lack of?" Beth whispered discreetly to Rose.

"It is difficult to say," said Rose. "They might be sensitive, but it is curious."

"Sir," Beth began deferentially -- and with a little help from Sandy -- "I haven't met any of the children of Kanum. Are they schooled elsewhere?"

The Centurion's face became grave, "There are no children in Kanum. The last was born just over a hundred years ago. It was ... a monster and was left on a rock in the ancient manner. Since that time, no citizen of Kanum has born a child. The slaves sometimes bear children for a short while after their capture, but then they, too, stop breeding." He shrugged, "It is the will of the gods. The priests tell us that this is the price we pay the gods for the salvation of the city."

Beth muttered sympathetically. Not wanting to rub salt in a still-open wound, she filed the information away to discuss with her travelling companions when they were on their own again.

The tour group went down to examine the mine works and then stopped for lunch near a spring before returning to the city, where the British had a chance to talk amongst themselves.

"I don't wish to irritate our hosts, but it seems to me there is no small coincidence to the use of this astonishing metal and the inability for this village to bear and raise healthy children," said Beth.

"Indeed," said Rose, "I had thought the same. But, with no children, how have they survived the ages?"

"Slavery?" mused Elizabeth, "or detaining travellers such as ourselves? Perhaps they've discovered the elusive fountain of youth. Then again, maybe their metal also preserves them -- exacts one form of immortality in payment of another."

"Do you think it is possible? Wait! The Centurion said the last child born to a citizen of Kanum was over a hundred years ago. Where did he come from then?" asked Rose.

"I'm afraid we may be on a disturbing path, Rose," said Elizabeth. "Something is very, very wrong -- like time has slowed here. I wonder if it would be terribly rude to ask our Centurion his age."

"Well, he's not a lady, so although it might be distasteful, it isn't completely improper."

"At our next opportunity, then," said Elizabeth. "Meantime, I'm planning to steer as clear of that metal as possible."

The next day, they found an opportunity to discuss the question with Julius. He did not seem offended when they asked his age, but rather proud. "I was born in the forty-third year of the reign of the Emperor Augustus."

NPCs The Story Timeline
Jeff Berry, nexus@panix.com
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