The young woman,
Despite her soothing words, Kamma knew that the birthing was not going well. Arica's female relatives sat around looking glum. They were worried too. Arica had been in labor over a day and a night. In the last few hours the labor pains had been extremely close, coming one right after another. Kamma allowed Arica to sip a small amount of a mixture of wine and water. She checked Arica's vagina. It was dilated enough to allow passage of the baby, but the child was not coming. She placed her fingers inside and felt around.
The uterine contractions suddenly strengthened and became more frequent. "It's coming, Arica. Push." Arica did not need this advice; she grunted and bore down. The crown appeared. A moment later, along with a bloody discharge, a strong healthy baby squirted out, followed by the expulsion of the placenta. Kamma cut and tied the cord, held the child by its legs and slapped it on the buttocks. It squealed loudly. She brought the man child over to a basin, cleaned him up, wrapped him in a swaddling cloth and handed him to Arica's mother. Next she examined the placenta to be sure no parts remained within the uterus.
Everything seemed normal at first, but there was a sudden rush of blood. Arica had serious post partum hemorrhage, until Kamma became extremely concerned about the total amount of blood Arica had lost. She gave Arica more of the wine and water mixture.
Kamma placed the infant at Arica's breast to feed, but Arica had become pale and listless. The umbilical cord was still bleeding. Kamma cleaned it up but since the bleeding did not stop, she tied it tightly. But the bleeding continued. Kamma tried to stem the bleeding with cloth. Arica's breathing grew shallow, and her eyes closed. The relatives gazed at Kamma with pleading eyes, but she shook her head. She said a prayer to Diana.
"Call in Pontius, her husband. Allow him to say a last good bye to his wife."
Kamma covered Arica with a blanket. The weeping man entered, knelt besides his wife and kissed her on the lips. Moments later, Arica gave up the ghost.
Kamma asked whether their was a wet nurse. One of Arica's cousin's who was still nursing took the baby.
"I will go to the temple now and pray for the child."
There was nothing else left for her to do. Arica's husband and other relatives would prepare the young woman for burial. As Kamma left the household, she began to weep. Arica was a year younger than herself and someone she had known since childhood.
The temple of Diana was on Aventine Hill. Because the road was steep, by the time Kamma reached the entrance to the temple courtyard, she was breathing hard. As she entered, she gazed fondly at the temple before mounting the marble steps that led to a high terrace that surrounded the building. To her it was a second home. She had spent practically her whole life within its walls.
Holding up the terrace roof were several high columns with Ionic capitals and carved circular sides. Behind them was the gleaming white rectangular temple of the goddess, a low building with a decorated facade Within were housed finely sculpted bronze statues of Amazons, golden pillars, silver statuettes and paintings.
Although her reason for coming here was a sad one, once inside the walls Kamma felt calm and warm. Of all the many gods and goddesses in the Roman pantheon, Kamma felt closest to Diana. To enter the temple of the goddess of childbirth, virgins, hunting and the moon was coming home. She recalled how at the age of twelve, when her menstrual cycle started, she was initiated into the cult of Diana. She had laid her toys, dolls and locks of her hair on the altar as a sacrifice to the goddess. From that moment to the world and herself she was a grown woman. She had to smile at the naiveté of the girl that she had been seven years ago. She recalled an even earlier time, when as a child, she was picked to "play the bear," which meant serving as an attendant in the sanctuary for a year and dancing around the altar as part of a ritual in Diana's honor.
Central to the building was a great statue of the goddess, with a crescent moon above her head and her bow and quiver of arrows. Kamma approached it slowly and reverently, placing a small bit of incense in the bowl at Diana's feet and lighting it. She placed the clothing of Arica at the feet of the statue as an offering. Later, these would be given away to the poor. Once the incense started to burn, she raised her head and arms to gaze into Diana's beautiful face. She prayed aloud, "Oh, great Diana, virgin moon goddess of the hunt, wild animals, healing, wilderness, chastity, and childbirth, I honor you and pray for my friend, Arica, who has departed to Hades, that she may find happiness or at least contentment in the afterworld. And that the man child for whom she sacrificed her life grow strong and become a man of honor and courage." As an afterthought she prayed, "In addition, I ask that I soon meet the man who shall become my life partner." She tagged the last on because, although she was already nineteen and had several lovers, there had been none who had been worthy of her beauty and intellect.
It was warm in the temple, and Kamma was tired from being almost without sleep for two days. As the burning incense assailed her nostrils, she became dizzy, and her surroundings became hazy and dim.
Suddenly she found herself walking in dark forest. It was a dark night with roiling clouds overhead. She was alone and knew not where she was bound. Although the moonlight through twigs and limbs cast a mottled silver glow on the narrow path, she shuddered. The thought came to her that the surrounding black and mysterious forest was filled with evil night creatures, who watched her. Her bare feet slid and slipped on damp, musty leaves. An awful stillness, the quiet of a tomb, hung over the forest. No insect buzzed, no bird sang, no animal scurried across her path. The silence amplified and made terrifying the sound of her own breathing, the thump-thump of her heart and the sharp crack of twigs breaking underfoot.
After a while she stepped from the dark woods into a circular meadow which the moon had magically transformed into an arena of silver enchantment and soft shadows. There stood a handsome young man with a full dark beard and dressed in the manner of the northern barbarians. He wore a quiver arrows and carried a bow as though he had been out hunting. He smiled at her and beckoned to her.
Because he was especially attractive, her heart beat faster,. "Who are you?" she asked.
His reply was simply a mischievous grin and a charming twinkle in his eyes. He continued to beckon her to follow him as he turned and vanished into the forest. She rushed forward, burning with curiosity to know who this fellow was and where he was headed. As she ran into the woods, he kept a distance between them so that she would catch only short glimpses of him and hear his thrashing through the brush. It was as though like Diana she was a huntress, and he, her quarry. She hoped that he would allow her to catch up and sweep her into his arms, although she blushed at the fantasy.
But the forest became darker and the path narrower. Without knowing how, she realized that she was no longer running through woods, but through an underground catacombs. She was in a narrow passage lighted by torches in stanchions. The walls were of ancient stone, streaked black with mold. The stench of decay and death surrounded her. Along the corridor were rooms in which the dead lay entombed. Although she shivered with dread of the awful place, she hurried toward the sound of the young man's footsteps, which had begun to fade. She feared that if he was completely out of earshot, she would lose him.
She turned a corner and skidded to a stop. A crone leaned heavily on a cane and blocked her progress. The old woman was thin, deadly pale and bent like sapling in a wind storm. She stared at Kamma with sunken yet powerful eyes. Her face was so wrinkled that she no longer resembled anything human. Taken aback by this strange and dreadful creature, Kamma halted and stared, mouth agape.
"Why are you running through these catacombs, young woman?" The crone's voice was hoarse and high-pitched, its timbre that of a door hinge that had never been oiled.
"I followed a young man."
"Did he have a dark beard and dressed in the manner of a barbarian?"
"Yes. That's the one."
"Come with me. I will show you where he rests."
As Kamma walked next to the old crone, who took very small steps and shuffled along slowly, she engaged her in conversation.
"My name is Kamma. I am a priestess of Diana. Who are you? And what are you doing in these catacombs?"
The crone cackled. "I already knew who you are. I'm the one who summoned you. My name is Erictho. I make my home here among the dead."
"What do you mean you summoned me here?"
"You will learn that later. For right now, let us find the young man you seek."
Eventually they turned into one of the chambers of death. The young man lay prone on the top of sepulcher. Kamma rushed over to him. His skin was ash. His chest was still. With years of practice as a midwife and healer, she felt the artery in his throat for a pulse; there was none. She led out a sob. "He was fated to be my mate. And now he is dead." She collapsed across the dead man's chest, twin streams of tears running down her cheeks. Erictho tapped her on the shoulder with her cane. "Perhaps you can bring him back from Hades."
Kamma turned toward the old woman. "How could I do that?"
Erictho shrugged. "Perhaps you cannot. Do you wish to kiss him farewell?"
"Yes." She bent down and pressed her lips against the handsome young man's. They were soft and yielding and not at all cold. She felt them quiver. Startled, she rose up. The man's eyes opened and stared at her with that same twinkle she had seen in them while they were in the forest clearing. He smiled at her and sat up.
"What's your name, beautiful one?"
"Kamma. And yours?"
"Casticos. I am grateful for your kiss which has awakened me from the land of the dead. I wished to live a while longer so that I may gaze with longing at such loveliness."
Kamma blushed. Nonetheless, she boldly asked, "You are not Roman, nor Greek. Where do you hale from?"
"From right here in Gaul near Alesia."
* * *
At that moment, Kamma woke from her vision. She was on the floor in from of the statue of Diana. Bethica, a novice priestess, was bent over her. "Are you all right, Priestess Kamma?"
"Yes. I had a vision sent by Diana." She rose slowly to her feet. Every detail of her vision clear in her mind.
"What sort of vision?"
"I need to travel to Gaul. I must speak to Mother Superior as soon as possible."
"She's in the meditation room."
Kamma strode away from the novice, leaving the poor girl wondering. The meditation room was at the rear of the temple. When she opened the door, the Mother Superior was kneeling before an altar upon which rested a tiny version of the great statue in the main part of the temple. Kamma waited for the Mother Superior to finish her absolutions before speaking.
"Mother," she said softly. Everyone always spoke in whispers in this sacred room. "I would like to speak to you."
The Mother Superior turned her head. "In a few minutes. Wait in the corridor."
Kamma stepped out of the room and closed the door quietly. She waited impatiently in the hallway for what seemed like an eternity, but was only a few minutes. Finally the Mother Superior appeared.
"What is it, child?"
"Diana sent me a vision." Kamma told her about the bad delivery and the death of Arica, her prayers to Diana and her vision. "So, you see. I must travel to Gaul to meet this man. It is decreed by the fates."
"The vision was a strong omen, but why do you believe that you must go immediately to Gaul? It may have simply meant that sometime in the future you will be there to meet this barbarian."
"Because my heart tells me that it's important to do so swiftly."
"But word has reached me that the Franks are in revolt. The part of Gaul that you speak of is a war zone. That will only add to the usual dangers of travel. Besides, we need you here. You are our best midwife."
"I'm sorry, but despite the dangers, I must go quickly. You, yourself, have told me that I have psychic powers. They tell me that it is extremely important for me to leave immediately. I will return as soon as possible."
The Mother Superior frowned, but nevertheless said, "Very well. If you must, you must. I will arrange for an armed escort to accompany you."
"Thank you, Mother." Kamma knelt down and kissed the older woman's hand.