William and myself had arrived.
The city of Rome alone was home to a million people. As magnificent as it may have looked from a distance, the city told tales of squalor, poverty and death through its filthy stench and the sullen faces of its inhabitants.
“That the Colloseum?” asked William, pointing up to the towering building in the relative distance.
“Yes,” I said, “We’ve still a long way to go, Scarlette.”
I urged Nod on, and we trotted through the trees, slowly.
“Have you been here before?”
“A few times. But I didn’t spend too long in the city itself, or go to many places. I spent most of my time here in hostels or in audiences with King Silvio.”
“You’d think that,” I snorted, “But it’s a little more than annoying.”
As we approached the city boundaries we saw guards, and I said to William, “Let me do all the talking, eh? Don’t object to anything I say.”
One guard raised a hand and said in Italian, “Dismount!”
I did as I was told and nodded to William to do the same.
“State your purpose,” the guard said.
“We’re travellers. Here for the Olympics,” I replied in his language.
“Papers,” he demanded and put out a hand. I took off my bag and dug around for my British passport. Italy and Britain were currently allies, so I hoped this would be enough. Finding it, I handed the passport to him.
He eyed at the maroon cover with something approaching disgust, but didn’t say anything and opened the book and read, “Mariqah de Saint-Omer? Strange name, signora.”
“Arab mother,” I said shortly, “French father.”
“Mm,” he said and then looked at William, “what about you?”
“He’s my slave, sir,” I said.
“No papers?” the man raised a brow, looking William up and down.
I shook my head, “Mi dispaice.”
“Looks scruffy enough,” said one of the other guards.
“And he looks like a guard-type slave. Armed and everything,” said another, “would be appropriate for a pretty woman on the move,” the smile he flashed at me was received with a scowl.
The main guard paused, and then said, “Alright, but I’ll be keepin’ an eye out for dangerous slaves, comprende?”
“Grazie,” I said.
They opened the gates as we mounted our horses again. We rode through the entrance.
William looked at me, “You know Italian?”
“Well enough,” I said, “It’s better than my Veneto, anyway.”
“Veneto,” I said, like it was supposed to be obvious, “language of Venice.”
“Isn’t Venice inside Italy…?”
I paused, “It’s like Gaelic and English.”
“Except Ireland is a whole different country.”
I sighed, shaking my head, “I had this discussion with your brother,” I said, “It didn’t end well.”
“It really doesn’t make a difference, William,” I said, frustrated and upset with his unnecessary insistence.
“Actually, Mariqah, it does. Thomas is my half-brother. And only half,” William looked angry, “He abandoned us. Why should even accept him as that?”
“He abandoned everything in his life, William!” I snapped, drawing Nod up to the main roads, “I know that he did you some injustice, but he was not safe from it either. Thomas lived a hard life!” I looked away and mumbled, “and I didn’t exactly make it any easier for him…”