She was lying quite still, a thin linen sheet pulled up to her shoulders exposing her long hair which flowed across the pillow. She was tired and the events of the past few days were running through her mind going over the list of tasks left her by the mistress of the house. It had been a hectic time getting all in order with the house being closed and empty for so long. She sighed and tried to drift into the arms of sleep. All was quiet now as the big house rested, waiting for the new day when all the family and guests would arrive for their annual escape from the summer heat, smell and rigours of the city.
She closed her eyes and the voices started. Soft laughter, merry chatter, indistinct conversation, close yet too far away to pick out precise words or understand what was being said. They seemed to come from down the hall again. It was not the first time she had heard voices in recent days but she had dismissed the other occasions as exuberant servants noisily going about their allotted tasks unsupervised, and no one else had heard them. Now, tonight, she was alone in the house and the voices seemed different, getting stronger. She was tired and dismissed it as the wind, breeze whispering through the trees. She did not want to give the matter further thought, not now, she wanted to sleep.
The crash of a bottle, a man’s shouted curse woke her. It seemed to come from that same room in the hall. She sat up and a shiver of fear tickled her spine. A shaft of moonlight shining through the shutters picked out the oil lamp on the stool next to her bed. She lit it and the flame guttered then took hold casting a pale wavy shadow across the room almost making the wall paintings come to life. She swung her legs over the side of the bed and her feet touched the cold floor. She had to go and see who had shouted. She should not be on her own. One of the other servants had gone to the village when the wheel of the cart had broken. He had obviously succumbed to a jug of the local ale and she did not think he would risk the lonely walk back alone in the dark.
“You clumsy oaf, red wine too. That’s the carpet ruined.” A woman’s shrill voice this time.
She walked to the doorway, and peered along the hallway. Nothing, no tell tale flickering lights. Then she saw the stain oozing out from under a door, spreading out over the smooth marble floor, growing larger. Suddenly the noise was louder, much louder and it hurt her ears. Strident voices, harsh laughter, and music completely foreign to her ears. She would get the blame for this. There would be trouble. Anger overcame her fear and she grasped the handle and threw the door open. Dazzled by the sudden brightness of the lights she stared into the room her eyes drawn to a strange window in the corner and reflections of people dressed in bright coloured costumes and dancing in a jerky yet choreographed way she had not seen the like of before. Her feet now felt strangely warm and she noticed too the vibrant scenes of the mosaic floor had disappeared and were now covered in a thick soft wool material.
A voice cried out. “Hey, it’s someone in a Roman toga. Come in, join the party. You needn’t have bothered with the fancy dress though, unless you’ve come for the coins and broken pottery I found the other day!”