The Library: Augustus

By Simon Hartwell

Action & adventure, Fantasy, Children's, Young adult

Paperback, eBook

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345
3 mins

 

1
AUGUST 24th 79AD
“Whoa, did you feel that?” asked Chuck, holding his arms out wide for balance.
“Bit hard to miss mate,” said Chip, his knees bent to absorb the shaking.
“This is nothing,” said Pliny. “Back in February 62, the gods showed their displeasure by shaking the ground so violently the vibrations went all the way to Herculaneum and Nuceria.”
“We don’t have much time, we have to find the Poet,” said Lucy.
“Where did you say he lived again?” asked Pliny.
“Regio six, Insula eight?” said Katie tentatively, unsure whether the address in that form was of the time or a later addition. “It faces Via di Nola.”
“Oh yes, I know it,” said Pliny. “Opposite the Forum Baths, come on I’ll show you.”
“So what happened?” asked Alex. “When the ground shook?”
“In 62 you mean? The ground shakes so often here it has become commonplace. Some of the buildings that were damaged are still waiting to be repaired or in some cases rebuilt.”
“Really, why the delay?”
“The numerous shakes since and because many of the inhabitants left Pompeii after the big shake, leaving places empty. It wasn’t a good time I can tell you. Here’s Via di Nola.”
They turned onto a long wide street.
“There was no rule of law immediately after the big shake,” Pliny continued. “Theft was rife, and many people were starving. It took days for order to be restored.”
Another shake sent tiles crashing to the ground all around them; clay pots and jars fell and broke, and this time the people of Pompeii stopped to look at each other and up at the mountain that loomed above them.
“I think I will take my leave and head home,” said Pliny. “I have a bad feeling. I urge you to leave with me.”
“Thank you but no,” said Katie. “But you should leave. As quickly as you can.”
“You feel it too,” said Pliny.
Katie nodded. “I do. Something bad is coming.”
Pliny took one look at the mountain before turning and hurrying away.
Alex could see smoke coming from the top of the mountain, curling up into the bright blue sky.
“We don’t have much time,” he said.
“We can’t be far. Pliny said the house faced this street and was across from the Forum Baths,” said Katie.
Another shake wobbled their legs and a distant rumble rolled down from the mountain, urging them on.
They picked up the pace and raced along the street, heads swivelling to locate the house and find the poet.
A huge explosion sent them flying, the noise so loud they had to cover their ears. The top of the mountain had vanished, an enormous cloud billowed upwards, white, at the top, dark and angry at the base, lit by angry reds and oranges. Without warning, rocks began to fall about them, all smoking, some glowing red hot, flames licking their surface.
“Right on time,” said Chip, looking up at the sky. “Midday.”
“We have to find the poet and get to the harbour,” screamed Alex, pulling Katie to her feet.
“There, there’s the Bath House,” yelled Chuck.
Alex looked across the way and saw the house, the Poet looking out and up to the Mountain.
“Hey hey,” Alex called, as he run over. “You’ve got to come with us.”
The man looked dazed.
“You got to come with us NOW!” said Alex again, grabbing at the man’s chest, a fistful of his coat providing the purchase to drag the man from his home and into the street.
Chuck grabbed the Poet’s arm and urged him forward. Alex let go of the man’s coat and took his other arm.
“Who are you? What do you want?” asked the Poet.
“We’ve come to rescue you,” said Katie, skipping to her left as a large rock smashed into the cobbled street, throwing out sharp chunks, one of which caught her leg, leaving a jagged tear, blood flowing immediately.
“We’re from the Library,” yelled Lucy. “We know how to use the books.”
Hope and relief dawned on the Poet’s face, his legs strengthened, propelling him forward, and they picked up the pace.
“Where are we going?” he screamed, the noise around them was deafening, screams and shouts mingled with the sound of rocks smashing into houses, through their tiled roofs, exploding against the cobbles of the street and the constant rumbling and growling of Mount Vesuvius as it shook, belching smoke, rock and ash into the air.
“The harbour,” said Chuck.
The Poet nodded.
“It’s where I arrived.”
“Us too, and where we depart, as long as we get there on time.”
The raced through the streets, flinching every time a boulder landed close to them, flames and thick black smoke was everywhere, mixing with the ash that was falling like snow, lightly at first but getting heavier and heavier as they ran.
“It won’t be long now,” said Alex.
Katie nodded, her face grim with determination.
“There, there it is,” Lucy said, her voice breaking on the last word, such was her relief.
Alex felt it too, and not before time as another explosion shook the ground, and molten lava shot into the air with a roar.
Fear powered their legs, and they tore past men, women, and children as they pushed and shoved their way towards the Harbour.
“Here, here,” Katie called, holding onto Chuck, who still held the arm of the Poet. “HOLD ON!”
Lucy grabbed Chip and Alex threw his arms around the Poet as the crowds pulled at them.
Fear gripped Alex.
“I’m slipping,” he cried out.
“Me too,” screamed Lucy.
“Hold on,” yelled Katie. “Don’t let go.”
The pressure was intense as they tried to maintain their position close to the Harbour; hands pushed them, trying to get them to move along before relenting and flowing around them.
“Any second now!”
Lucy screamed as she disappeared, torn away into the crowd.
“LUCY!” cried Alex, letting go and allowing the press of people to carry him around the group.
He saw a hand reaching back, fingers wriggling; and he grabbed it just as the world spun.


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