It was early summer in the year 96 BC. A ten-year-old child in Arpinum was looking for something his father told him to recover from the basement of their villa. Marcus Tully Cicero didn’t know what he was meant to be searching for. The elder Cicero had actually only sent him there in the hope he might remain unseen by soldiers sent to punish the family. It was the custom for no one, however young or old, to be spared.
Marcus pulled away a large red cloth, uncovering a gleaming mirror. He saw in the reflection a ladder which did not correspond to anything in the space around him. He could hear his father shouting defiantly above. Swords were drawn. Arpinum was guarded by its own loyal troops. Weapons clashed. The scent of death drifted down. One of his father’s trusted servants cried out, “Marcus, go now!”
Into the mirror he ran. Behind him, the basement of his home vanished to be replaced by the image of the dimly lit cavern he now found himself in. Not far ahead of him was the ladder he noticed before. As fast as he could in near darkness he climbed up it until it led him to a bright opening. The sun was overhead, but the air was cool. Cautiously he stepped away from the hole in the ground he had emerged from.
A red squirrel ran up to him and passed him what appeared to be a walnut. It gestured to him to break it open, and he complied by cracking it against a black stone on the ground. In it, he found a crumpled note that simply said, “It’s not too late, if you hurry.” He looked up but the squirrel was nowhere to be found. His quest through the looking glass had begun.