It is in October that the tale of the three priestesses in Fire and Sacrifice begins, so this October 2133 years later my monthly post goes back to the beginning.

It is 114BC Rome: 114 years before the birth of Jesus Christ, before Caesar, before Antony and Cleopatra, the emperors, the Colosseum, and before Pompeii was buried in volcanic ash.

It is mid Autumn. As the days shorten and the evenings cool, the priestesses’ sacred fire takes on greater import as Romans and their slaves and servants are drawn to her warmth.

Before there was a temple in this little corner of the bustling and famous Roman Forum, there was a campfire. From even before the time Romulus and his men made camp and built a fire for warmth and to cook the spoils of a hunt, this fire was survival.

In the coming Winter where the nights can drop to zero degrees, it would keep them alive.

Very quickly they came to cherish it.

Very quickly it became vital to be able to keep it aflame, and to use it to revive the fires of the new camps and clans growing around them should they be in need.

The new Romans protected their fire from wind and rain, with walls and a roof. Archaeological excavations have found the remains of wooden postholes at the Temple of Vesta that date back to 600 or 700BC.

They protected it later with stone. They named the fire a goddess, Vesta, and the shelter her temple. They raised an alter, and used the fire to cleanse their sacrifices to other gods, too.

The fire came to represent the beating heart of Rome itself. And, just as the campfire signals to the soldier, explorer, hunter, nomad that home has survived and waits safely, so the hearth in the Temple of Vesta in the centre of Rome symbolised no less that the very survival of the Roman empire.

And they would kill their most beloved, to protect that.

Here, in October 2133 years later, begins the story of the princess-priestess Aemilia and her servant Secunda.

Click here to get a copy of Fire and Sacrifice.