It took a few hours for Dorus to be missed and when he was; Torquatia Valeria Dorus went out into the garden and stared out over the shrubbery. Beyond the scrub covered crest of the hill, towards the sparkling cobalt waters of the gulf of Neapolis all was calm and peaceful.
The breeze, weighted with warm earthy notes from the Lattari mountains, blew past her, flattening her clothes against her back and revealing her figure through the billowing material. She brushed away the waving strands of dark hair that floated around the edges of her face as the blow distressed the her simple coiffure, and focused on the water.
With the sun growing ever higher in the blue vastness of the eastern sky, the the light on the waves seemed to dance like the spitting sparks of a fire. The light bouncing off the sea seemed to catch and refract in the large umber pools of her eyes as she picked out the speck of her husband’s boat, beetling through an especially dazzling patch of water in the middle of the gulf.
Valeria, knew the view well. She had been born in the aged villa that stood behind her, where most of her family still lived, and she could vaguely hear the sounds of her nieces and nephews playing in the atrium, which would earn them a stern rebuke if they were caught.
Despite only just recently reaching the age of thirty, she was the sort of woman whose smile could make a mad world seem sane, and to the man bending to the oars of his boat midway across the bay, she was as necessary to existence as a ship’s rudder. His direction and stability depended on her, and the thought of life without her was as unthinkable as putting to sea in a rudderless ship.
Having picked him out, Valeria shaded her eyes with both hands and watched him go for a moment, calculating how much longer he had to go, wondering what had made him leave so secretively. He would be back in a little over an hour, she supposed, hungry and thirsty from his exertions.
Satisfied, she turned away, letting the breeze strike her anew, and walked back up the path to the house, calling out to the children, ‘I’d better not find any small intruders playing in grandfather’s good atrium!’
Out on the water, Lucius Iulus Dorus was in the midst of his stride, relishing the grain of the wood in his clenched palms and the warm sun on his back and shoulders.
The scent of the offshore breeze mixed with the freshness that hovered and blustered over the restless sea and filled his nostrils, blowing the images of the past away.
Dorus rowed well, with smooth, long, powerful strokes; propelling his craft effortlessly, through the sometimes unruly waves that slapped noisily against the thwarts and splashed him with a refreshing vigour. To keep his timing he sang the songs of the rowing benches; songs that praised the great sea captains and the labours of the gods.
It allowed him to adhere to the cruising metre of practiced warship crews and to keep a more pleasant connection to his former life. The words were not sung loudly or lustily, though he would start and end that way, right now they were squeezed through his bared teeth and were sometimes indistinguishable from grunts of exertion. Effort throbbed through each vein and muscle, his bronzed skin growing darker and rosier as he reached the middle of the gulf.
Pausing in his stroke he rested on his oars to look over the bow. His own headway carried him on for a cubit or two while he checked his bearings and surroundings. Dorus had rowed this way uncountable times. Like his wife he was local born, a Campanian with the Hellenistic looks and temperament of his ancestors.
He knew the landmarks to keep in line with to ensure he didn’t drift too far out to sea, although he had a small sail that he could raise to get back to shore, long experience in the navy had taught him that success on the water was based on awareness and anticipation; it did not do to take the sea for granted.
The view on a clear day was one he liked to absorb. The olive mole of the Surrentine peninsula stretched out into the sea toward the cape, were the sharp, mountainous, spine of the Lattarian ridge rose in pale, distant, tones against the sky, ending in tumbling cliffs. His stern was pointed southward; down the channel between the it’s craggy western tip and the greyish lump of Capreae, stranded just out of reach of the mainland’s straining arm, as if at some point it had been plucked up by the roots and thrown there by the hand of an idle god.
By looking over his left shoulder he could see he was roughly level with the cone of Vesuvius. The eminence was likewise veiled with a blueish grey tint, misty through the atmosphere, and fringed by a few bands of stratocumulus cloud. From this lookout, the mountain dominated the mostly unremarkable stretch of beach lined coast that ran for some ten miles between Stabiae to where it turned at Neapolis to create the gulf. It was featureless but for the flat, gleaming clusters of human dwellings with their bustling wharfs and jutting breakwaters that studded the sandy shoreline. As the boat lost momentum, it’s regular swivelling motion became sharper and more rapid, making the land seem deceptively unsteady.
It was time to turn for shore, and somehow he new, Valeria would be waiting for him.