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  • Writer's pictureNijay K. Gupta

STRANGE ENCOUNTER—Episode 5 | "Can I trust you?"





This short-form fiction series is set in Rome in the late first century AD. You can read the previous episodes by clicking the link below.


 

Felix didn’t know which god Hermes prayed to but he knew his prayers to Asclepius seemed to go unheard. So Felix rummaged through the tavern, oil lamp in hand, trying to find the supplies Hermes had asked for. With the vinegar and honey in hand, he ran back up the apartment and shoved them into Hermes’ hands, interrupting Hermes’ quiet prayers. Hermes wasn’t bothered. He went straight to work, mixing the items and dabbing a clean cloth into the mixture. The infected wound looked cleaner than when Hermes left, but Anna was no better. Hermes gently applied his ointment onto the infected area. She winced in pain, but only for a moment. 


 
“ICE?!” Felix said with exasperation. Ice was a privileged resource of the most wealthy.
 

Felix watched in confusion as Hermes again put his hand on Anna’s throat, checking for something.  Once Hermes felt satisfied, he stood up and announced, “her body is too hot from the infection, we need to cool her down.” 


“It’s too hot outside, how can we cool her down?” Felix commented.


Hermes packed up his things and said, “She needs ice.”


“ICE?!” Felix said with exasperation. Ice was a privileged resource of the most wealthy. It was brought down to Rome from the mountains at great labor and cost, and kept in underground cellars to slow the melting. Access to ice was a luxury enjoyed by only elites. Felix had never even seen ice before, at least never in the city, only looking up at the mountains. 


“I sent for Marcus, he and I will visit a friend who owes us a favor. I’ll be back in a few hours. Anna seems stable, you should sleep while I’m gone. Let the mixture have some time to work.”


With that, Hermes was off and Felix was alone. Felix was feeling a strange combination of appreciative and puzzled—Hermes was attentive but also his usual evasive and mysterious self. But Felix kept thinking to himself, all that matters is that Anna is getting help


At this point, Felix noticed he was still holding the snake of Asclepius; he knelt by the bed and gently set the clay charm again by Anna’s head. He kissed Anna on the forehead and he could feel how hot her skin was; that ice (if they could even pull off the miracle of getting some) could help make her body right again. Felix pulled up a chair close to the bed and sat down. Sitting brought a new feeling—he realized his whole body was exhausted and his eyes very heavy. He thought he would rest for a bit so he could be helpful when Hermes and Marcus returned. As he drifted off, he muttered some prayers, “Forgive me, Lord Asclepius; do not punish Anna for my disrespect; punish me, punish me, punish me…”


 

Felix rushed into the room (but as quietly as he could, not to disturb Anna’s rest) and burst into tears.
 

[Hours later]


Felix woke up to the warm rays of the sunrise peeking into the windows. Once he got his wits about himself, he realized he had slept for hours, and concern  for Anna consumed him. He moved towards her to find she had not moved much through the night, but a wet cloth was laying on her forehead, and several bowls of water were surrounding her on her bed, which could only mean Hermes had found ice and—by Jove!—it already cooled her head down. Felix quickly got to his knees and crawled closer to the bed to inspect her infected leg. It looked better, less red, less puffy. He could hear quiet chatter in the other room, and he instantly recognized the voices as Hermes and Marcus. 


Felix rushed into the room (but as quietly as he could, not to disturb Anna’s rest) and burst into tears. He yelled, “Hermes you did it, you’re a healer. How do you know how to treat wounds? The gods have blessed you!”


Hermes immediately stood up and shooshed Felix, Marcus quietly slipped out the front door. 


“Felix, lower your voice.” Hermes leaned over towards the window to see if anyone was there. He held his hand up to signal that Felix should be quiet. After scanning the streets, Hermes gestured for Felix to sit down and stay quiet. 


 
Hermes leaned over and said, “I have a secret that I dare not tell anyone, but if I can trust you I think that you ought to know.
 

Felix did as Hermes said, he sat down in silence. What could be so secretive? He wondered, Could Hermes be caught up in one of those dangerous “Mystery cults,” where they meet in caves, do bizarre ceremonies, engage in [**gulp**] human sacrifice? No, surely Hermes isn’t involved in those dark practices. Felix shook his head to shake out the bad thoughts. 


Hermes signaled for Felix to pull his chair closer, so they could talk quietly. Felix didn’t know if it was primarily to not wake Anna, or to not catch the attention of passersby; either way, Felix obliged and scooted closer. 


Hermes leaned over and said, “I have a secret that I dare not tell anyone, but if I can trust you I think that you ought to know. Once you know, there’s no going back. You could get into trouble just knowing me. Can I trust you?”



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www.russmeek.com

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