The Lizard in the Mosaic
rating: +86+x

287 C.E.

The traveling menagerie made its final stop for the year in Sicilia.

Within its cages, creatures from across Rome were viewed — and taunted — by the public. Children mocked the elephants pacing in their cage. The camel-leopards, their necks stunted by low ceilings, recoiled in fear from the crack of whips. The tigers looked over their captors, hungry for actual meat, fantasizing about the taste of their torturer's flesh.

Special pity had to be given to the creature in the farthest enclosure, however. It was supposedly young, hatched from an egg no more than six months ago, but it already was heavy enough to crush wood underneath its feet.

Nobody knew what to make of it; it was classified as a spine-backed crocodile by the menagerie's owner, but it avoided all water that it didn't drink. It refused all meat, no matter how much was placed into its cage, left to rot. It would more often eat the mold in its cage.

Eventually, someone decided to stick a plant into its cage. It was during its feeding that the keeper was approached by a patrician.

"Where did you find this?" The man clothed in purple asked.

"It came from an egg found south of Egypt. Beyond that, I don't know." The keeper threw in several bay leaves and looked at the man. "It's docile, too tame. Not good showing. But that tail…" He looked at the developing spines on the beast's flank. "It could kill a man."

The nobleman rubbed his chin. "My son's been asking for a pet, but he reacts poorly to hounds; he sneezes as if possessed when he's around them." He looked at the keeper. "I'll give you two-thousand assarii for the creature."

"Two thousand five-hundred," the keeper frowned. "It's one-of-a-kind."

"It looks sick. Two-thousand one-hundred."

"Two-thousand four-hundred."

"Two-thousand alone is more than this menagerie makes in a month. But…" the patrician sighed. "Two-thousand two-fifty?" He extended his hand.

The keeper chewed on his lip, and shook his hand.

Five days later, the lizard (for nothing else could be used to describe it) was delivered to the Patrician's villa, up the coast from the menagerie. It had a collar that cut into its neck, which was quickly removed once the men from the circus had left the villa.

"Max!" the patrician called to his son. "There's something out here for you!"

Out of the house, a young, sickly-looking boy emerged. He approached the lizard, putting his hand out warily. "Does it bite?"

"Only plants," his father smiled.

The boy stood to the beast's side, petting its smooth skin. The small head on its long neck turned to watch him, showing some sign of comfort. The boy did not mean the lizard harm, at the very least. "Should I… name him?"

"Or her," Max's father admitted. "It's hard to tell whether a lizard is male or female."

Max chewed a name over in his head. "I think I'm going to call her…"

296 C.E.

"Aegis!" Maximilian called to his pet from the garden. "Aegis! Dinner time!"

The beast — named for an ancient shield, after the dozens of plates on his back — loped over to her master. She bowed her head and let Max bridle her, before flexing those plates down to let him onto her back.

"We're going into town today, girl." He smiled. "Bellatrix doesn't believe you exist. I'm going to prove her otherwise."

He tugged on her reins, and directed her through the garden, letting her stop to graze on some of the plants. She had an affinity for the belladonna in the garden, though he feared that too much of it would make her sick.

Soon, they roamed through the house, through the front of the villa, and down into town. Aegis was a local curiosity, especially considering her size; the tallest man in all of Rome was unable to touch the top of her plates. She had stopped growing, and with her, any interest the common folk had.

Bellatrix was no common woman, however. She was skeptical, scoffed at the idea that a lizard of this size could exist.

She scoffed one last time upon sighting Max riding it across the forum, though this was a scoff of surprise, one that was caught by a mug of wine. It spilled over her robes, and she beamed.

313 C.E.

Bellatrix hugged her husband as he came up the steps to the villa. "I heard about Turin," she swallowed. "I'm sorry."

"It doesn't matter," General Maximilian smiled at her. "Constantine faces the best soldiers in Rome. Maxentius will rout him soon."

"They say that there's trouble brewing around Tzirallum." Bellatrix shook her head. "I shouldn't talk of war with you. The artists are coming tomorrow."

"To start the mosaics?" Maximilian blinked. "What took so long?"

"I told them to come only after you had returned." She looked at the top of the stairs leading to the villa, where Aegis, his life-long friend, stood. "I want you to make sure they get her looking just right."

Max shook his head and started up the stairs, waving at his friend. She bellowed down at him in greeting, a sound that carried across all of Sicilia.

327 C.E.

Praetor Maximillian stands over his mosaic-covered floor, looking down at the image of himself, his wife, and Aegis. A section of the mosaics had been dug out to portray their child at his mother's side. His mother would not be joining them.

He left the artist to his work, and went outside to Aegis. Max had gotten old enough that he could no longer climb on her back, but his son walked among her plates and toyed with her spikes as readily as he did at that young age.

"Paulus!" Max laughed at his son. "Be careful with her. You'll fall and crack your arm, or worse!"

"I'll be fine, father." Paulus gave Aegis a pat down her back. The lizard rumbled. "She's a good girl."

340 C.E.

Aegis watched what was once her friend be carried from his bed. She could smell the death on him, but he was not gone, not yet. She could not fit into his room, so Max was brought out to her.

In all this time, Aegis had barely aged, or so it felt. Somewhere in its mind, it knew that it was going to die. Part of it wanted to do so, to join her friend. But at the same time, she felt hands on her flank. One from his son. One from his son's mate. And one from their child.

Maximilian, the old man, caressed Aegis's face one last time. She felt him fade away, and bellowed. The youngest child hugged her flank, trying to comfort the great beast. She continued to live, for them.

396 C.E.

She gave endless rides to the children, and their children. She outlived several emperors, and four generations of Maximillian's family.

Eventually, ancient though she was, everything had to die. She lived for over a century, before, one day in the garden, she collapsed with a thunderous thud, and laid still.

It took four days and a dozen horses to haul her to the tomb of Maximillian's family. Long ago, he had said that he wanted his friend to be buried with him, when the time came. Decades ago, it was joked that he loved the lizard more than his wife. Certainly, the mosaic in his house showed Aegis far more prominently than any other member of his family.

She was laid to rest. Years later, a landslide would bury the villa, and all the mosaics within. Centuries after that, men would scratch their head as the sight of Aegis's form, immortalized in tile.

Item Description: A Roman mosaic assembled in the 4th century CE depicting a creature resembling a Stegosaurus. Outside its anachronism, it is not otherwise anomalous.
Date of Recovery: ██-██-████
Location of Recovery: Villa Romana del Casale, Sicily, Italy.
Current Status: In display at Site-77's Historical Anomalies Wing.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License