Published in June 2010
Book 13 in the Theo and Ramona series
Text on the back cover of Theo's Pompeii:
One August morning in the year 79 A.D. in the city of Pompeii at the foot of Mount Vesuvius, Theo witnesses something that changes his life forever. As a result, he turns to a fortune teller, and what she tells him shifts him straight into new, frightening adventures in an attempt to evade the disastrous destiny that awaits him.
In this fascinating story of Theo's life in Pompeii, his own story is interwoven with Roman history. The reader follows the drama that unfolds, and that makes Theo the young man he is when he meets Ramona. It is a book full of nerve-tingling adventures in the lead up to the eruption of Vesuvius that destroys Pompeii.
A captivating story governed largely by twists of fate.
What the reviewers had to say about Theo's Pompeii:
Proofreaders reactions to Theo's Pompeii:
"This is an excellent beginning to the whole series about Theo and Ramona, giving the reader the necessary background to understand Theo's life. Good flow, and excitement but without being too scary." Kristina Fridensköld
"Kimselius best book yet! Her language has developed incredibly. I can't wait for the next book, and the one after that and the one after that!" Annelie Nilsson
"Another great reading experience. I had goose bumps all over. Getting to know Theo better made me want to reread the other books, since it gave them an added dimension." Ann-Christin Ahlberg
Excerpt from Theo's Pompeii:
Something unexpected was about to happen to Theo: something incredible that would change his whole life. But for the moment, he had no idea about it. Life was just preceeding, in its usual routine way.
He had some friends, though not many. One of them was the baker, Popidius Priscus, who would witness the prelude to the events. Theo had an older brother, Marius, who was always there to help him when he needed help, but who also loved to play embarrassing jokes on him. Theo's younger sister Livia thought she was the center of the universe, and her main focus was what kind of hair day she was having. Livia, too, came to play a significant role as events unfolded.
Theo's moter Urgulanilla and his very strict father Romulus were going to cause him many number of problems. He also had his dog, Pluto. Well, Pluto wasn't really Theo's. He actually belonged to a friend of his father's whose name was Primus, but Theo loved taking care of and being with Pluto, and since Theo had known Pluto since puppyhood, they were inseparable. In fact, it was Pluto who turned Theo's life upside down, forcing him into the most difficult decision he had ever had to make. It was a decision that saved both his own and Pluto's life.
But before we reach that fateful day, there was a whole series of events that made Theo into the boy he was on the day he had to make up his mind in an instant. If his life until that day had been very different, he would undoubtedly have made up his mind in a different way, which might have doomed both him and his beloved dog Pluto to death. Let's see what happened...
As always, Theo was up at the crack of dawn; the only other person moving around the house at that hour was Poltia.
Grabbing a few pieces of fruit, he hurried outside to meet the day. Like so many other mornings, he moved in the direction of the port. He knew his going there displeased his father, who thought of it as a dangerous place where slave traders, murderers and thieves flourished. All that made Theo find it even more exciting.
He had always lived a secure, calm life. His father saw to it that the family was well looked after; there was always food on the table and they always had clothes. School was no problem for Theo, and he could have had lots of friends if he had wanted to. But no one in his class really interested him. His classmates were boastful and rowdy, always arguing and fighting, criticizing girls, slaves, and the authorities. In fact, they were always criticizing everything and everyone, even whoever wasn't there at the moment. They weren't the kind of friends Theo wanted to have, and so he kept to himself most of the time. There was only one boy, Casius, with whom he spent time, and not that often, either, since they had very different views on most matters.
A slave ship was being loaded. This was a sight Theo was always sad to see, and yet he was fascinated by the people in chains, heads bowed, backs covered with welts from the lashes of the whips, sometimes wearing bloodstained clothes. The ones whose clothes were bloody must be the ones who dared to speak out. Theo drew closer and closer to the endless line of slaves making their way slowly from the slave traders' huts toward the ships. He wondered where all these people came from and where they were going. Perhaps to and from Delos, where the big slave market was. There were young people and older ones, children, perhaps even some whole families. Theo thought it looked as if whole villages had been captured to be taken away.
His heart ached to see these people passing by, chained together. He wanted to help them, but he knew there was nothing he could do. Even his own family kept slaves. They treated them well, almost as if they were members of the family, except for Theo's sister Livia, who always seemed to think she was better than everyone else. This upset Theo, who was firmly convinced that no human being was worth more than any other.
The whip whistled through the air; Theo turned his head at the sound. Toward the very end of the line of slaves was an elderly man walking with leaden footsteps. The chains were much too heavy for his thin arms and legs; he could just barely put one foot in front of the other. The slave trader lashed out at his back time after time, but the only effect of this punishment was that the old man moved even more slowly.
Theo felt his anger rising. He wanted to rush over to the slave trader and tear the whip from his hand, then use it to whip the trader's own back, giving him a taste of his own medicine. Yet Theo also knew he could never bring himself to strike a fellow human being. He also knew that if he wasn't careful he might be caught and taken away himself.
Most of the people at the port knew who he was, and above all whose son he was, and so no one had ever dared touch a hair on Theo's head. Now, though, it was early morning and no one at home knew his whereabouts; it would be easy for someone to make him one of the huge mass of slaves.
Theo had to bite his lip to keep from bursting out with some ill chosen words directed to the slave trader. He had to put all his effort into holding back from rushing up and pulling the whip out of the man's hand.
Suddenly the older slave collapsed to the ground, face down. The trader made no effort to break his fall, and the slave appeared to have passed out, or possibly even died.
The slave trader lashed out at the man's back several more times. When he didn't move, the trader bent forward, shook the slave by the shoulders, then turned him over to examine his face. What he saw made him remove the man's chains and abandon him, taking the other two slaves who had been chained to him to board the ship. He simply left the old man lying there in his own blood.
Theo watched the slave trader vanish. People passed by on their way to their morning duties, but no one but Theo gave the man so much as a glance. Finally, unable to stand by any longer, Theo went over and bent close to the man, putting one hand on his cheek. He felt a tremor. The man wasn't dead! Theo allowed himself a hasty smile of relief, then became solemn again. He spoke softly and gently:
"You needn't be afraid, I'm here to help you. I'll raise you up now and you must see if you can lean on me for support. If you are able, perhaps you could walk. Although you're nothing but skin and bones, I don't think I can manage to carry you."
The man nodded, almost imperceptibly, but it was enough to make Theo understand that his words had been heard, although not necessarily understood.
Theo raised the man up, put one arm around his waist and then helped the man to put an arm around his shoulder. Theo clasped that wrist to keep the man's arm from sliding down. With great difficulty, the slave moved forward. Theo felt more like he was dragging than supporting him as, one step at a time, they made slow progress.
Theo was afraid the man was going to die at any minute. He would have liked to run for help, but at the same time he had a feeling that if he left the man for even an instant he would never see him again.
Once they were inside the city walls, Theo felt safer, and the man seemed to as well, because he raised his head, which had been lowered to his chest. The man looked quizzically, with swollen eyes, first at the city buildings, then at Theo, who smiled warmly and reassuringly.
"You're out of danger now. I'll take care of you."
He thought he sensed the shade of a smile on the man's lips, but it was gone as quickly as it had appeared.
By the time they reached baker Popidius Priscus' shop, Theo's strength was failing fast, so he pulled the man into the bakery, helping him down to the earthen floor.
The surly owner hurried over, but as soon has he realized Theo was there his face broke into a grin
"Ah, Theo, to what do I owe the honor of your visit at this early hour?"
"Could you possibly lend me your cart?"
The baker looked from Theo to the man, who was more like a pile of rags than a human being. He saw the bright red welts from the whip amongst the rags, and the marks the chains had left on his hands and feet, at which he solemnly shook his head.
"What have you got yourself into this time, Theo? Your father will not be pleased."
"Does that mean you refuse to lend me the cart?" Theo asked without answering the baker's question, since the answer was so obvious there was no need.
"Take the cart! But I don't know anything about it, and I certainly didn't see you here this morning. Hurry up! Get moving!" The baker turned his back on Theo and returned to work.
Relieved, Theo hurried out into the rear courtyard, pulled the cart through the gate and around to the door of the bakery. Quickly, he went inside, lifted up the man and half dragged, half carried him out, gently putting his wounded body into the cart. Worried, Theo leaned down to make sure the man was still alive. He was breathing, but his breath was very shallow.
"You'll feel better soon, I promise," Theo assured him, raising the shafts on the cart. He began to run for home, pushing the cart in front of him.
In front of the large wooden door, Theo hesitated. He was afraid his father or mother might already be awake, in which case it would be difficult to smuggle the slave inside. His plan was to hide him in one of the rear storerooms on the other side of the garden. He was sure he would be able to find a room that was hardly ever used, and it would then be easy for him to sneak over to care for the man, and deliver food to him. No one would wonder why Theo was spending so much time in the garden, because he was already there a lot of time, studying or contemplating. When he had Pluto they often romped in the garden, too, since both of them loved being out of doors, among the flowers and trees.
"Don't go anywhere. I'll be right back," Theo whispered, opening the door quietly and peering inside.
The house was quiet. Not even Poltia was making any noise. Perhaps she'd gone off to the baker's for the morning bread. How lucky, thought Theo, that their paths hadn't crossed.
Looking around quickly again, he went back outside, lifted the slave out of the cart and helped him into the house. Leaning the man against the wall, Theo indicated to him to sit down. The man appeared not to understand, so Theo put his hands on his shoulders and applied some light pressure. The man sank to the floor.
"Stay right here," Theo whispered, raising one hand to signal "stop". Then he went back outside to move the cart out of sight. He pushed it into the nearest alley, and covered it with the sacks that were in it, to make it less conspicuous. Hurrying back into the house and pulling the door quietly to behind him, he raised the man up and began the difficult task of getting him across the garden to the sheds.
A shout of astonishment froze Theo in his tracks. Who had discovered what he was doing?
If it was Marius he'd tease him about having brought another nut case home from the port, not caring that this one was a slave rather than just a poor man in need of a nutritious meal.
If it was Livia she would soon be shouting at the top of her lungs for the guards, and for his father, mother and brother. Then every single member of the household would rush out to see what was going on.
And if the voice behind him was his father's...
Theo dearly hoped it was not. If it was his father, all was lost! He just knew his father would take the slave by the nape of his neck and toss him out through the door without so much as a glance.
If it was his mother...
Theo wished the voice behind him belonged to his mother, who would welcome the slave with open arms, offer him the best bed in the house and care for him as if he were her own. Probably, too, once the man had recovered his health she would have to fight for his freedom, but she would indeed do everything in her power to help the man back to both health and liberty.
Trembling, Theo turned around.
Standing there, was the person he had least expected to see, the person he didn't even think was there.
Poltia had clasped her hands over her mouth, as if to prevent a cry from escaping. Her eyes were brimming with tears, and the expression on her face was dubious, as if she couldn't believe her eyes. Theo wondered if she was horrified that he had dragged home a nearly lifeless slave.
Before he could say a word, Poltia put a finger to her mouth to silence him. An instant later she had hurried over and put one arm around the man's waist to help Theo.
"We'll take him to my room," she whispered.
Althought he couldn't imagine why she would want the man in her crowded little room, where there was hardly room for two people, Theo asked no questions.
With two of them, the job was quicker and easier.
They more or less carried the man between them, moving as silently as they could. Both kept looking around, afraid of being discovered. Theo was amazed that Poltia was so eager to help him, knowing that she was at risk of a terrible punishment if she was discovered. He would be lectured, and probably grounded for a few days, or told that he wouldn't be allowed to attend the next festival. But Poltia... She ran the risk of being sold or whipped, or deprived of food and water for a week. She couldn't possibly survive that kind of punishment.
Finally they reached Poltia's simple little abode, which was also across the garden, near the storerooms in one of which Theo had planned to give the man a safe haven. Poltia opened her door and they lifted the man, depositing him gently on her bed. Poltia hurried to close the door behind them. Theo had never before seen her move with such speed or determination. She tended to be slow and quiet, cautious in her movements.
It did not take long for Theo to find out why she was being so quick and enthusiastic now. Poltia lit an oil lamp, and set it on the little table by the bedside. Then she rested her cheek against the slave's neck, and the tears began to run down her cheeks. Theo stared in astonishment. He had never before seen her cry. Now she was mumbling in a language Theo didn't recognize. Gently, she patted the old man's cheek, and then gave him a kiss on the lips. Turning to Theo, her face tearstained and her eyes glassy, she looked extremely happy.
"Theo, from this day forward I will do anything for you, anything at all! And I will do it not as a slave but out of gratitude, because I am so deeply indepted to you now. Had you not brought him home with you, he would surely be lying dead on the road. Both he and I are eternally grateful to you for saving his life!"
Poltia threw herself at Theo's sandalled feet and began to kiss them.
"Poltia, stop that at once!" Theo said, and because she was accustomed to being obedient Poltia stopped right away and stood up, but this time with an ear to ear smile. Theo still had no idea what made her so happy about his having brought home a half-dead slave, and one whom she would now have to look after in addition to all her other duties.
But as he wondered what was going on, a thought began to take shape in his mind.
"Do you know him?" Theo asked, hoping to have his idea confirmed. He gazed hard at Poltia, hoping he would be able to judge whether or not she was telling the truth.
Poltia was utterly unable to conceal her feelings, and with a quick look at the man who was lying unconscious on her bed, her smile turned into an even broader grin as she returned Theo's gaze with:
"He's my father!"
Theo stared at Poltia in disbelief. She had been part of his life since the day he was born. To him, Poltia was more lika a member of the family than a slave. For that reason, he had never given a moment's thought to where she came from, and who her real family was. So when she stood there telling him she had a father and that the slave he had rescued was that very father, Theo could hardly believe it was true.
Seeing his bewilderment, Poltia smiled at Theo again. Feeling a bit foolish for saying nothing, he burst out:
Having said that made him feel even more foolish, and it made Poltia's smile wider still:
"I can imagine your surprise. Perhaps you didn't think I had any relatives. As an expression of my thanks for having helped my father and me, I will tell you the story of my life, but it will have to wait for another time. Otherwise you'll be late for your lessons."
Theo suddenly realized that the day had begun. It was no longer dawn, and from outside Poltia's little room a buzz of voices could be heard. The household was awake.
"The cart!" Theo exclaimed, suddenly realizing he needed to get it back to the baker.
"What cart?" asked Poltia.
"I borrowed the baker's cart to get your father home. He wasn't well enough to walk and he was much to heavy for me to carry. I've got to return it!"
Then all at once Theo realized he would not be albe to return it without being seen, and asked all kinds of questions. A nobleman's son had no reason to be pushing a cart. That was the work of a slave or a simple laborer. Theo knew the baker would be needing his cart, and at the same time he knew that returning it would be the beginning endless problems for him. He'd be late to his lessons, his tutor would be red in the face with frustration, and punish him with impossible problems to solve.
Theo watched Poltia for a moment, nursing her father so lovingly. All at once, nothing else mattered except his having reunited a father with his daughter, and possibly also having saved the old man's life. With a sigh, Theo started off to return the cart to the baker.
"You get over to Gregorius now, before he works out som terrible penalty for your late arrival. I'll take back the cart."
A wave of relief passed over Theo, and he hugged Poltia who pushed him gently aside with a laugh.
"Come now, that won't do at all, with me nothing but a humble slave, and you the master's son."
In spite of jer words Theo could see Poltia's eye still glimmering with tears of joy, and he knew she was as fond of him as he was of her. Poltia was like a second mother to him, just a little less strict that his real mother.
"When you come back we will find some time for me to tell you the story of how I ended up here," Poltia promised.
Theo nodded, beaming, and ran out the door.
Hurrying to his room he collected his wax board and his stylus. On his way across the atrium he passed his father, who was quick to criticize:
"Young man, that's no way to behave. Stop right there!"
Theo stopped in his tracks and turned to face his father.
"Excuse me! I lost track of the time and just realized I was going to be late for my morning class with Gregorius. Hence my rush, dear father. Forgive me for not coming to the morning ablutions, I apologize..."
"You've been down in the port at dawn again, haven't you?"
"Romulus, would you please come here for a moment?"
Theo sent a thought of gratitude to his mother, Urgulanilla, whose voice spared him further questioning. He knew, though, that she was asking for trouble herself. No one, not even his mother, could get away with shouting to his father, who was the head of the household and a man who demanded the respect of all around him, almost as if he were a god. Their lives were in his hands, and he made all the decisions concerning his familia.
Before Romulus could recover from the shock of hearing his wife call for him to come, Theo had scurried out the door and into the now crowded street. People were coming and going: slaves on the way to market, young men like Theo hurrying to their daily lessons, women walking and gossiping arm in arm. Lots of young girls tried to get Theo to pause for a flirt and a chat, puffing up their hair, straightening their clothing and their features as they saw him approach. But Theo had no time for the girls. He hurried right on past them at full speed, not giving them so much as a passing glance.
Rushing to the Forum for his lesson, Theo recreated the morning's events in his mind. He could hardly wait to get back home and listen to Poltia telling him the story of her life. And he was also very curious about what the old man might have to say.
What occupied his mind most, however was what kind of punishment awaited him when he arrived at his waiting tutor's.