I step outside the marble pillars of the villa and peer past the sprawling courtyard. Servants hurriedly pluck fresh weeds and pour water delicately onto flowers. I smile at them as I walk past. Some grin back, others keep their heads bowed respectfully. The heat burns my exposed shoulders so I pull the silk shroud over them. Helios, god of the sun, must be hard at work today. His overexertion of expertise amplified far beyond what I, and most in Pompeii, appreciate. Passerby’s on the street wave in my direction as I walk past; some avert their eyes, dip their heads and carry on. I return glances, waves and air blown kisses before turning my vision on the ruins before me. The earthquake that destroyed most of Pompeii’s streets is long gone, vanished like a speck of amber dust on the ocean breeze; however, the rubble of past offenses remains and the once thriving merchants of this town set up shops in caves, the crumbling remains of their dignity. I haven’t the heart or the guts to tell them it was my over excited father who caused it all.
I was conceived in a manner most aren’t familiar with. It may sound odd but my father, the god of fine art, artisans, sculptures and fire, was able to produce me by himself. I was the product, formed by the melted iron of loneliness and the stinging flame of an aching soul. My father, who had been tossed away by his mother for his deformities, wanted a companion, an underling as it were. He used his power to make it happen. Upon my creation, he uttered a shout, loud enough to rock the foundations of the volcano, Vesuvius and powerful enough to kill six hundred innocent people. Death came as my new life was celebrated. This is where the shame sets in like a terrified serpent seeking shelter from a hurricane. The shame is relentless and unquenchable.
But, even if I did work up the courage to tell people, I’m not certain most would believe me. As far as they understand, I am the illegitimate daughter of Julia Felix, one of the most wealthy and respected merchants in Pompeii. Given her position in the town’s government and the status of her equestrian family, I am annulled of any shame; however, I still feel the oddness of my situation as it burns through my innermost self and deep into the caverns of my heart.
My mother never existed, my father, Vulcan, as the Romans know him, is a deformed, overzealous beast; my grandparents, Zeus and Hera, are war lords, bent on carnage and perfection. Father tells me I am hidden away from them so they will not destroy me. Perhaps they don’t understand that I, just as they are, am immortal. Father tells me the only way I can die is by fire. He says this as it is the same with him. I hope to never die. I hope to make change to a world that has been pillaged by the wars of my family. I will restore order where is necessary and make right all things the gods of Olympus have made wrong. Julia Felix named me Matilde. Since then I have changed the word to “Matilda”. Despite the change, the name means “strength in battle” but I do not want to be the cause of unnecessary fatalities, bloodshed, and loss. Enough is enough.
I aspire to live up to the meaning of my name but in a peaceable way. But, like they say, the tempers of the gods are insatiable, their lust for war and territory rampant. They are the immortalized characters, the caricature of human nature at its worst. They also say, once a god always a god. I can only pray this isn’t true.