Canto IAs my ship turns finally towards its sweet harbor, I call upon soft voiced reason to guide my story to its conclusion.
Finally, as if in a dream, Agent Finn made it known to me by mysterious gestures and then by shouts and then finally by writing on a piece of paper that we had reached our destination. He handed my Master another piece of paper upon which was written two numbers: 777 and 9.(77)
The side of the great mechanical bird was opened to the morning air and a ladder of white and smooth rope was then lowered. My eyes, blinking in the bright light of the rising sun, I hesitated. However, my Liege said, “My son, fear not. Even as you trusted me upon Geryon(78), trust me now that I will not let you fall.” So my Master going ahead of me and I, following behind, climbed down the ladder to the quiet street below.
The red brick building in front of us was numbered 777 and so we walked inside. Each door was numbered. We climbed the stairs until we came to the door numbered 9. Glancing at one another, I made as if to knock upon the door and almost stuck a man as the door suddenly opened.
“Good Lord!” said the man, who was wearing a robe of richest purple and tiny lenses upon his eyes. He took off the lenses and wiped them with a white cloth. Placing them back onto his face, he said, “You’re early. Please come in.” He gestured us into the room. “My name is Rupert Giles. Although, you may certainly call me Giles.” He smiled slightly, “It would rather make me feel at home. I’m afraid things are a bit of a mess. The Erichthon(79) Prophesies indicated that you wouldn’t get here until noon.”
Merriment in my eyes, I pointed to his bare feet and said, “Other prophesies are clearer. For as Saint Thomas Aquinas foretold not more than a few days ago in God’s heaven, ‘Giles is barefoot .’(80) And here you are with neither shoes nor hose.”
“Hmm…yes, well. Really?” said Giles as he went to move a stack of books and papers from the couch near the center of the room. “Normally, I don’t feature in prophesy. Mostly, I just stay up till three in the morning reading them. Would you care for some tea or biscuits after your journey?”
After some conference with my Teacher upon the nature, history, and varietals of teas at this time in this land, I replied that a cup of tea would be a gratification, while my Liege, of course, as one who has already passed from this life, declined.
I sat down upon the stuffed couch, while Giles brought me my tea. The room filled with the streaming morning light. Dust motes danced like souls in the Empyrean(81). My Liege went to stand before the book case, which was as heavy with books as the vine is red with grapes before the harvest.
Giles quickly gathered up the papers scattered across the low table in front of the couch into an untidy pile and glanced at my good Father, “Ah, yes, there’s a copy of some Statius(82) that you might find quite interesting, having just met him.” He turned to me, “Lemon or cream?” After I asked for and received lemon for my tea, Giles, with the air of a man who has been whisked over the waterfall one too many times said, “If you don’t mind, I’ll just go change into some clothes then. And of course, shoes.” So, saying, he left the room.
I settled into the couch. Everything was warm and good, with my steaming tea before me, the sound of rustling pages in the background . Yet, there was a bitter thread to the moment. The song, which begins, “A baby in a restaurant,”(83) was emitting from a black box at the far end of the room, encapsulating my sadness. So, although I was thirsty, I did not drink. Although I was hungry, I did not eat any of the biscuits, which the metal container proclaimed were from Florence, Italy. As I sighed, Giles returned from his room, where he had gone to change into his clothing, which seemed to involve many layers of brown fabric.
Seeing that I had not drunk my tea, he said, “Is something wrong with your tea. Ah, no.” And as if he had been there in the heavens with me said, “Bitter is taste of another man’s bread. Bitter is the tread upon another man’s stairs.(84)”
I nodded and agreed that it was so.
“I’ve done quite a lot research. However, I don’t quite have the books that we need here,” said Giles. “However, I know where to go. If you will, as it were, let me be your guide.” He gestured to the door.
We agreed and Giles led us out into the full light of the sun.
We walked down the quiet tree lined street, while Giles told us of where we were and pointed out local sites. It seemed that we were in some future England in the ancient Latin town of Bath, which was quite amusing to my Master, since he predated the town by some years.
The sun was warm and the sky a brilliant cerulean blue. When I commented upon it, Giles said, “Yes, it is quite disturbing. This is not at all what England should be like in March. Yesterday, it hailed and rained all day. Today, the clouds are practically Virgilian sheep.” Which of course, caused my Teacher to laugh and tell a long and amusing story about a trip into the countryside, a very confused sheep and his good friend Octavian.
We passed our way pleasantly walking down the streets. It was decided, after Giles had checked an ingenious device for tracking both hours and minutes, that since we were early, we would go to visit the Roman baths before catching the 12:27 to Paddington.
We came to the gate and stood in line with several others for tickets to get in. A man behind us in line said, “What are you supposed to be? Some sorta act. Hey, Edna(85), they’ve got an act here. The tour book didn’t say nothing about an act.”
To which my Teacher replied with great dignity, “I am both supposed to be and am a Mantuan, while my good son is a Florentine and neither of us has any pretense to being actors. Rather, we are poets.”
“Oh, poets.” The man rolled his eyes and pushed back his cap, which was fronted with a stiff board shaped like the bill of a duck. The man’s forehead was white and pasty, while his face was red from the kiss of the sun.
Watching this exchange, Giles said, “Back in Sunnydale, I would have already been knocked unconscious by now. Here we’re just insulted by tourists. And yet, how very…, it’s odd the things that we miss. I find myself longing for someone to call me boring and long winded.” So, saying we purchased our tickets and went into the Baths.
While, of course, nothing compares to the ruined glories of Rome, the baths were lovely. The golden stone walls and rising steam glowed gold and silver with the increasing light of the rising sun.
Our guide explained to us how the ancient Romans would use the Scaldarium and Frigidarium. Which then prompted my Guide and Giles to tell a series of stories about common bathing houses, which brought tears of joy to my eyes, although it seemed like rather more bathing than was necessary.
Then as the noon hour approached, we walked over to a low building and bought yet more tickets from a man in a dirty cage. Quite soon, a train, appeared like a great many legged worm roaring up two great metal tracks. The sides of the beast opened and we went into it.
The belly of the creature was filled with tables and chairs and I found myself thirsty for tea after all.