A Homecoming (1)

09/21/2015 § Leave a comment

It was a wet spring in the district of Caedis, in the prefecture of Sirmion, in the western half of the glorious Empire of All Man under the august rule of Theodosius the second of his name, God’s chosen servant under Heaven, in the fourteenth year of his blessed reign.

For the people of Caedis, most of them farmers and herders in the gently-sloping lowlands near Lake Eris, the rain was simply a fact of life during this time of year. The sky opened with a downpour at each winter’s end, and remained so all through the spring until summer came hot on easterly winds. And along with the rain came the mist also, rising each morning in the pall before daybreak from the lake’s surface like a kind of exhalation, that would sidle up the slopes and swaddle the hamlets and villages by first light.

The resulting humidity could drown a person standing—or so it was said. Herodias the Younger, of Prabaltar, who had famously chronicled the early expansion of the Empire, had once written of Caedis in a letter to the senate: “The humidity of this place, wretched in spring, makes it unfit for a permanent colony; it would best be left to fish, toads, and such creatures as those that crawl in the mud.”

And so began the day in the house of Damaion of Adenapolis, the magistrate of Caedis, in mist and rain, and broken-down sunlight shining through in patches.

It was going to be a busy day. All the household slaves and servants had been up since dawn, called to rise by the steward’s bell. They all knew what day it was; they had been preparing for it for nearly a week now. A homecoming for the master’s only son, returning at last from a long campaign in barbarian lands.

The preparation was nearly complete: logs were split and stacked high, jugs of water and wine were cooling in the cellar, and canvas tents were set up in the courtyard, with tables and stools for commonfolk. Most of the work that needed doing today was going to be in and around the kitchen.

So the kitchen-fires were already burning in full, iron pots boiling over them with water and broth. The space was filled with the smell of fresh bread wafting from the stone oven in the back, mixing with the aromas of various herbs and spices. There were some fifteen men and women busy at work, peeling and chopping, mixing and stirring.

“He’s coming home!” cried the girl as she ran into the kitchen, in her nightdress, her hair bouncing in great tangled ringlets. She spun, almost knocking down a basket of eggs in the process, and cried again, to everyone and no one in particular. “He’s coming home!”

“We know, young mistress,” said old Ionava, who ruled over the kitchen with equal measures of fiery temper and common sense, who had been a slave—and now a freedwoman—to Damaion of Adenapolis since before he was named a magistrate. “Now be off with you, you’re bothering us.”

As always, Zoe, daughter of Damion, the youngest of his three children, completely ignored the old cook’s admonishment. She did make for the open door, however, but clearly of her own accord, pilfering an apple along the way. But she stopped suddenly at the threshold, as if she had forgotten something, almost falling in the process. Then she spun toward the kitchen and cried once more. “He’s coming home!”

The slaves and servants in the kitchen chuckled as the young mistress ran off into the misty courtyard. Old Ionava clicked her tongue and shook her head, before ushering everyone back to work with a stern rap from her iron ladle.

They had a feast to prepare.

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