A/N: Yes, I'm awful. I've had this chapter written for ages but I never bothered to post it. It's the last chapter, so I'm pleased to say I can finally mark this story as complete.
I hope you enjoy (If I still have any followers out there :P)
Tears streamed down Miriam's cheeks as she left the room, mourning for the small creature that had brought her joy.
"He's dead," she whispered, "Dead."
Her young brother approached her. "Who?" he cried, "Who's dead?"
Miriam held up the birdcage. "Catullus. I found him when I woke up."
"Another portent," said Mordecai, remembering the dream Jonathan had just told him about, "We must leave immediately. The Lord has warned us today as he one warned me, nearly ten years ago."
Jonathan agreed at once, "When I think about leaving, I feel better."
"Then pack your things. We must depart immediately," commanded Mordecai
"No, Father," said Miriam, wiping the tears from her face, "I'm not going. There is no danger of besieging armies now."
Jonathan stared at her in utter amazement. Mordecai, too, had a look of disbelief on his face. Never before had his daughter defied him.
"Miriam," he said firmly, "You must come with us."
"Father, please don't ask me to go." She did not like to anger her father. She knew now was the time to tell her father about Gaius. "I want to stay here for a little longer," she stammered, wishing she had prepared what she was going to say.
"Miriam, is there something you want to tell me?" Mordecai asked his daughter.
Miriam waited a moment before answering. She took a deep breath, her cheeks flushing miserably. She could not look at him as she said the words. "Yes, father there is. I am in love, Father, and I wish to marry. Please don't make me leave."
"Marry?" Mordecai said, the shock clear in his voice, "You have only just turned fourteen!"
"I am a woman now," Miriam stated confidently, looking her father in the eye, "And I am ready to marry."
"Yes," Mordecai gave in. His voice was barley more than a whisper, "Well, who is it? Whom do you love."
"She is in love with me." Gaius had appeared from beneath the peristyle. "And I would give my life for her."
"Uncle Gaius!" came Flavia's shrill voice as Gaius appeared before them.
Everyone else, except for Nubia, gasped in surprise.
Mordecai's face softened. "Then you must come with us, too, Gaius. We all must leave Italia. And quickly, I beg of you. We can discuss this matter later."
"But how?" replied Gaius, "How can I leave my villa, my vines, the farm? If there's another earthquake…I have to stay to protect my house against looters and thieves. If I must face God's judgment, then I would rather face it in the house where I was born."
"No. Father's right." Jonathan looked around at them all, "We have to leave! Don't you understand?"
Mordecai nodded, "Nearly ten years ago, when I saw Jerusalem beginning to be surrounded by armies, I remembered the words of the Shepherd, 'Let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let no one in the field go back to get his cloak. For there will be great distress, not seen from the beginning of the world until now.'
"I felt a sense of dread then, just as Jonathan feels now. And it was that sense of dread that saved our lives. My children and I left Jerusalem immediately. But their mother…their mother…"
Mordecai began to weep.
"She was so beautiful." He turned to face Miriam. Miriam felt tears well up in her own eyes, too. "So much like you, my dear. She refused to go, just as you are refusing to go. We argued, and she decided to stay with her parents. I relented, and I never saw her again."
Mordecai took his daughter's hands. "Miriam. What good is a warning from the Lord if we refuse to listen? You must come with us."
But before Miriam could reply, a bird fell to the ground.
"Oh!" cried Flavia as she bent down to pick it up. "I think it's dead, but it's still warm."
Suddenly, the corpses of began to fall from the trees around them. Nubia bent down to pick up a tiny sparrow.
"Birds dead," she whispered. "All dead."
"What on earth…" Aristo looked at the dead birds.
"Rotten eggs!" cried Gaius, "I should've remembered!"
"You should've remembered what?" asked Flavia.
"Sulfur smells like rotten eggs," explained Gaius, "And sulfur fumes are what killed the sheep up near Misenum in the big earthquake seventeen years ago."
Everyone inhaled the air around them. There was a distinct smell of sulfur.
"If the smell of sulfur can kill animals as large as sheep…" started Aristo. He didn't need to finish the sentence.
"My mother always told me that the smell of rotten eggs meant that Vulcan was angry."
Frustilla, the wise old cook, stood in the doorway of the kitchen.
"My grandmother was from the island of Sicily," Frustilla continued, "where the smith god has his forge…"
"And when the smith god is angry…" reasoned Jonathan.
Flavia finished for him, "There's a volcano!"
Vesuvius was erupting. There was no denying it.
"We must warn the people," said Mordecai. "I am a fool. The Lord has been trying to tell us for days, but I didn't see the signs."
"Neither did Pliny," said Flavia, "and he is greatest natural historian in the world."
"Do we escape by land or by sea?" asked Aristo.
"The quickest route is always by sea," Mordecai answered, "But we must escape any way we can…"
At once, the garden gate flew open.
"Vulcan!" Flavia cried to the blacksmith.
"Clio!" called Jonathan when he saw the small girl.
"Modestus!" said Nubia, referring to the donkey.
After a moment, Clio explained that he parents had gotten into a fight the previous night and that he mother had left for her villa, taking all the girls with her.
"Please, Clio," Mordecai said gently, "Try to be calm. Tell us again: Where is your mother's villa?"
"Just the other side of Herculaneum," Clio sniffled, "Two miles north of the Neopolis Gate."
"Great Jupiter's eyebrows!" exclaimed Gaius. "It's at the very foot of the mountain!"
The earth trembled, reminding them all of the danger they were in.
"We must warn those beneath the mountain," Gaius decided grimly.
He ran his fingers through his hair in concern. "I'll go to Pompeii and immediately tell the authorities what we've discovered. Then I'll ride inland to Nuceria and warn them, too. But someone will have to go to Oplontis and Herculaneum, and then onto Neopolis…"
It was then agreed upon that Vulcan would do it and Mordecai and Aristo would take the others to safety.
But Miriam protested. She threw her arms around Gaius's neck. "Don't go! Stay with us!"
"I must go, my darling," he said softly, kissing her forehead. "How could you still love me if I didn't try to help all the people whose lives are in danger?"
"But what if you're wrong? What if it's all a mistake? What if they are just tremors?" Miriam tried to dissuade him, but she knew that Gaius was right.
"Then no harm will come to us. Except perhaps from angry citizens."
"But, Gaius…" she could not bear the thought of losing him.
"Shhh!" he whispered, taking her face between his hands. "I've waited all my life for you and I'm not about to lose you now. I promise, I'll return."
Gaius pulled her close to his chest, saving their last moment together.
Unseen in the shadows, Aristo and Vulcan glanced at each other.
"I gave her the bracelet," confessed Vulcan, "I made it myself."
"I gave her the sparrow," admitted Aristo.
Vulcan frowned. "That means he…"
"He didn't give her anything," finished Aristo.
But they were wrong. Gaius had given her his heart.
They had packed as much they could carry then set off toward the Villa Pomponiana. Miriam was terrified. Aside from escaping from Jerusalem, which Miriam could not remember very clearly, this was the most frightening she had ever experienced. But she feared more for Gaius life than her own.
Please, Lord, she prayed, Keep Gaius safe.
Miriam lost track of time. The mountain had begun to spew rock and ash, covering the land and making the air hard to breathe. But Miriam did not despair for her own life. Only Gaius's. He was all that mattered.
Involuntarily, Miriam began to weep. Vulcan, who had returned, looked at her with concern.
"She's worried about Uncle Gaius," Flavia informed him. For once, Miriam was glad to have Flavia explain.
They continued to speak as Miriam buried her face in her hands, one again praying for Gaius's safety.
Gaius had not even arrived in Pompeii when hot ash and rock began to rain down from the heavens. His horse whined, losing his footing.
"Steady there, boy," he said, patting the horse's neck softly.
At last, he reached Pompeii.
"Attention everyone!" Gaius shouted, "You must leave the city at once! Vesuvius is erupting!"
Many people gasped and headed for their homes to gather their belongings, but one man came forward, defying Gaius's words.
"Lies!" he yelled, "All lies! That mountain there is not a volcano. Never before has it erupted. It's all lies! Don't you see? This man is one those Christians! They speak blasphemies!"
Many nodded in agreement. Angry words came from the crowd.
"We do not wish to hear your lies!" the man screamed, and then began to chase Gaius, a mob of people following behind.
Gaius's horse easily out ran them. He left the city, hoping the at least a few of the citizens took heed of warning. He began to ride toward the Villa Pomponiana.
About halfway there, Ferox began to bark.
"What is it, boy?" Gaius asked, stopping his horse.
Ferox growled fiercely into the darkness. Suddenly, four grubby men appeared, a huge mastiff by their side. Ferox snarled and bared his teeth.
"Feisty one, aren't you?" said one of the men. Then to his partners, "Let Cerberus handle the dog. We'll get the horse."
"Come on, Ferox!" Gaius yelled as the men lunged toward him.
His horse reared, and Gaius lost his balance and fell from the horse. He hit his head hard on the ground. Ferox fiercely fought the men and the huge dog. Gaius got up, but was quickly overcome by two of the men. He fell to the ground once more, losing consciousness.
Miriam didn't know how long it had been when she saw Ferox limp toward them. Jonathan saw him, too.
"Ferox!" he cried, "It's Ferox!"
The poor dog was wounded and bloody. He looked up at them and whined.
"Master of the Universe!" whispered Mordecai, and began to examine the dog's wounds. "These wounds were inflicted by man and not volcanic rock," he concluded.
"He must have been protecting Gaius!" exclaimed Miriam with sudden worry.
The weak dog whimpered as he began to walk back in the direction that he had come from.
"Ferox want to follow," Nubia said, patting the poor dog's head.
"There's no way I'm going out there," said Jonathan.
"Uncle Gaius maybe out there," suggested Nubia.
"Gaius?" cried Miriam, "Out there? Then I'm going to follow Ferox!" she said with sudden determination.
Miriam headed down the ash-covered lawn, with Flavia and the other's following.
They followed Ferox, who limped ahead, chest deep in ash. Finally, he stopped by the shrine of Mercury. He nudged the form of his master and whined pitifully. Miriam ran to his lifeless form, tears streaming down her ashy face.
"Gaius!" she cried, "Gaius, my love. Speak to me! Tell me your still alive!"
She prayed to all the gods as she pulled his cloak back from his head. she stroked his injured face, hoping against hope. Suddenly, one of his eyes flickered open. And through his pain, he managed a smile.
The beautiful angel was watching over him. She cleaned his cuts and bandaged his wounds.
"I love you," he whispered.
"Oh, Gaius, darling, I love you, too, but you mustn't speak now! You need to sleep and regain your strength." She pressed her lips gently to her forehead.
"You…need to…rest too," Gaius managed.
"Don't worry, love, I will," she smiled at him.
Then Gaius fell into a long, dreamless sleep.
"Miriam, your hair's on fire!" screamed Flavia as hot pumice rained from the sky.
Miriam screamed as he father enveloped her head in his robes.
"Father, it hurts," Miriam sobbed.
And as they turned to go back inside, Miriam wished for the endless night to be over.
They all awoke to golden light streaming through the darkness. The endless night had ended.
"Behold! The sun," Nubia said softy.
Gaius took Miriam's hand in his as they watched the sun rise over the horizon, offering a new hope.