A Living Burial by Laura Loney

The sun descends, smothering daylight’s dying embers. But Vesta’s sacred fire burns bright, an eternal beacon. I vowed to keep the flame alive. Vesta will be honoured and Rome shall never fall. 

Calmness settles over the temple, in time with the moon. The servi publici busy themselves around me, little more than eavesdropping shadows with eyes. It is my night to tend the fire. 

My stark white robe highlights my purity and position, while disguising my female curves. Curves designed for creating children, useless on the holy bodies of Vestal Virgins. As a blessed daughter of Rome I hold many rights, but marriage is not one of them. I must be pure. My mind, chaste. Or endure a death, so dishonourable and cruel… 

Surrounded by heat my hands turn icy, remembering my poor sister. Sister by vow, a promise stronger than blood. How long did she suffer buried alive in her room deep in Vesta’s earth? Did her light fade before her spirit crossed? Was she cold far from Vesta’s flame? 

My chest tight, I step outside. Gentle scraping footsteps cut through the crackles of the hearth. Too rythmic to be natural, too smooth to be an animal. My traitorous heart leaps. It's him. I divert my eyes, but risk a glance. I know he sees me. Vestals are exalted treasures. Perhaps after my thirty years of temple service when I am free to marry...Perhaps then. I lower my head, cheeks ablaze. 

He is close. A message no louder than a breath. “Try harder next time.” 

I meet his eyes and a bolt stabs my heart. 

“Your eyes give away your desire,” he says. “Extinguish your fire.” 

He’s right. I must bury my fire. I am a Vestal Virgin and I burn only for Rome. 

Published in Issue #20

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