Home Again, Home Again
Horse had been itching to carve a wild cat, not laid out straight on the handle, but wrapped around it; the notion had been nagging at him. The horse bone had a fine enough grain, it would take the detail and he was going for it. All morning he laid out his design, plotted the rivet holes and then, carefully sawing at the midline, split the piece lengthwise. Before he stopped to eat he firmly bound the pieces back together. All afternoon he incised and chipped and scraped until the revealed form traveled around the handle like a cat climbing a tree.
By mid-afternoon the shade was roiling with clouds of bugs and he could no longer ignore them; he decided to wash and retreat to the hut. If he lit the meal fire – and it was almost time to do so – the smoke might drive off his tormentors.
So the tools were duly wiped down, returned to their roll and put aside, as was the unfinished knife handle. Horse felt it over and was excited at how well it was turning out. As he sauntered down towards the rill he scooped up his work tunic since it was due for a rinse too.
At the tree line Horse paused to look towards the northwest. Not a flicker of movement to be seen along the road. He had hoped that Bird and Honey would be on their way home by now. ‘Home’, not exactly, it would be a while before they saw their own river valley again.
Bird and Honey had slipped away as soon as the soldiers were occupied with their wine and honey cakes. Only the dog saw them go.
They were mostly pleased with the price they had gotten for Horse’s knives; the eagle handled one had gone for 200 d.c.#. A comb, along with some herbs for headaches had gone to the tavern keeper in exchange for grain, honey, olives and cheese. There was no butter, but you had to take what you could get.
They would have to go further north to get to a market….perhaps tomorrow. Right now they wanted to get back, get rid of the dust and get off their feet.
Horse had become engrossed in smoothing the rough bits on the handle; polishing the cat’s back until the light poured along its spine like liquid. He had to keep a tight rein on himself so as not to lose the suggestion of movement held in the contrast between the rough background and the sleek cat.
He was so absorbed in his work that he didn’t realize that Tod had risen until he appeared right at his elbow. He actually squawked, which had Tod gasping with laughter. Before long Tod’s laughter had tickled a chuckle out of him too.
Tod seemed to be getting around on his knees pretty well, it wouldn’t work for moving any distance but was fine for close quarters. Soon they were side by side while Tod examined the carving. Horse noticed that his fingers were making progress but there still wasn’t enough length to let him grip something.
“Let me look at your hands, Tod” he said gently as he lifted each in turn, back and palm, carefully bending each tender little joint. “Looking good, my man, looking good. Let’s see that eye.” Horse softly cupped Tod’s chin to turn his face towards the firelight. “Better, much better. Any sign of those fangs? Just open a bit. You know I think I see something. May I check?”
Tod was so astounded by the whole scene that he could only nod. A human playing physician with a vampire!
Horse ran his finger over Tod’s gums, first one side, then the other. “Yowch! Sharp! There they are! Good.” He could see Tod working the remnant of his tongue around his mouth, trying to feel his fangs. “I think it’ll be awhile before you can feel them, they’re pretty far up there.” Horse stroked his back affectionately, which had Tod leaning into him and purring in no time. The gentle handling put him at ease.
Tod liked Horse’s rich scent, it reminded him of his father’s brother who oversaw the common pasturage of the clan’s grazing animals and who was the proud possessor of an especially fine dark auburn and white bull#, which he called Tarvorix, bull-king. Even though he was really Dannicos, judge of the grazing rights, people took to calling him Tarvorix too.
He would take Tod with him when it was time to move the cattle to the summer pastures and Tod was often left to watch over the cows and stay with his maternal uncle, Cat. It was a good time. Groups of young people would come up with the clan’s goat herd and to help with the cheese making; much sport was to be had chasing flocks of giggling girls over the meadows. The sun was bright, the grass green, and the air crisp. What could be better.
Traditionally Uncle Tarvorix used these up-mountain sojourns to instruct the young men in hand to hand combat. Tod later suspected that Uncle also saw it as a good way to shake out the pecking order amongst the young bucks while they showed off for the girls and tried not to land in the cow shit. Future leadership was decided as the boys stripped off and wrestled in the mountain pastures. Uncle would shout directions or demonstrate better grips.
The girls chattered and made flower necklaces for each other while casting sidelong glances at the boys.
So warriors were made and future marriages were decided all under Uncle Tarvorix’s watchful eye. That old bugger knew what he was doing.
Tod remembered other things that happened during that time; finding his strength, finding himself orbiting around the sweet wild girls, finding desire. All in the high bright meadows.
He came out of his downtime still leaning on Horse, who was quietly waiting for him. Suddenly he was ferociously hungry and he rubbed his face against Horse’s bare arm and furred chest, drawn to the scent of the nearest, plumpest, blood vessel.
“Whoa, slow down, Gamli-Tod, let me help you. No, no, not the neck, I can’t see to do it properly. It’s got to be the arm, the left arm, so I can use the knife with my right hand, Sit up a bit. There. Elbow? All right then, there you go.”
Tod lay back on Horse’s lap, his arms locked around Horse’s forearm practically inhaling the blood. He’d been so lost in memory while his hunger built that he was barely reining in his blood lust. As his belly filled other hungers stirred further fraying the reins on his appetites. Reluctantly he pulled away, lipping the wound clean. Awkward, not having a working tongue.
Horse felt a little shaky, but he ran his fingers through Gamli-Tod’s hair before saying: “You stopped in time, for a wounded dragur you’ve wonderful control. I know you didn’t get enough, but Bird and Honey will be back soon.” and continued stroking him soothingly.
Unbelievable, I come within a dozen heartbeats of killing the man and he’s praising my self control. Great Mother, my existence certainly has taken a strange turn.
Not too long afterwards Bird and Honey came back, wearily dragging themselves into the firelight. Of course, Tod had noticed as soon as they had come off the road – and Horse noticed that Tod had looked in that direction. He began to put his tools away and shake out the bits of leather that had covered his lap.
By the time that he had arranged another chunk of wood onto the fire, Bird and Honey were sliding their packs off and greeting Tod.
Somehow their greeting had developed a more formal flavor, their relationship had shifted. First Honey and then Bird had stood before Tod, pressed their palms together and bowed slightly: “Elder.” A sign of respect, a sign of acceptance.
The Gamli Tod was bewildered and looked to Horse for a clue. He signaled that Tod should also extend his arms and nod back. Each of them seized a proffered hand, kissed it briefly, and returned to what they were doing. It left Tod wondering if he’d fallen off the edge of the world, but he sat a little straighter.
Soon rough a flatbread had been set out with salty cheese and olives. As the pièce de résistance, Honey unwrapped a small salami that she had managed to wheedle out of the innkeeper. Bird looked hurt; “Why didn’t you tell me you’d managed to snag a salami?”
“Because, greedy gut, you’d have eaten half before we’d gotten back here!”
All the news was exchanged, but they looked to Gamli-Tod for confirmation before deciding to move further north as soon as possible. The eight or so residents at the guard post were not enough to conceal the Elder’s dietary habits, so a larger town with plenty of travelers would be ideal. Unfortunately, the next town of size: Noviomagus was in the rolling floodplain surrounding the river Rhin; little concealment, but plenty of travelers. How could they hide Tod during the day? Should they move at night?
Bird thought it would be most excellent if they could pick up a skiff around Brocomagnus where the road and the river ran close together. They might be able to run with the current all the way to Confluentes, if not, they could go afoot at Mogonatiacum, which had better terrain for skulking anyway. They had options, options were good.
They would be going home.
With all the flurry of getting back, Honey had just noticed that Tod was getting restless.
“D’oh! You’re hungry, I’m so sorry. Well, we’re all fed and watered, let’s get you sorted. I’m closest, so I’ll go first.”
Tod reached for Honey’s arm, but his eye was fixed on her neck and his nostrils were quivering.
Tentatively she asked if he would prefer her neck.
Tod nodded, parting his lips, panting a little to pick up the nuances of her scent.
Honey loosened the front of her tunic, tipped her head to one side and asked Bird if he would make the cut. He had a delicate touch and would go no deeper than necessary.
The blade glinted in the firelight as Bird positioned it right above her collarbone; Tod scooted closer until he was not more than a hand’s breadth away. Bird eased the sharp point down into Honey’s neck until the blood began to spring up around it. Quick as a ferret his mouth fastened on the wound even before Bird had finished pulling away. Tod rearranged himself, crossing his legs like a tailor while pulling Honey into his lap. Bird and Horse could tell that he wasn’t actively pulling on the wound, but slowly swallowing what pulsed into his mouth.
Unconsciously Tod started to sway, rocking Honey back and forth. The men stared at each other, mouths ajar. Finally he lipped the area, coating it well with his saliva, which stopped the bleeding immediately. Honey blinked sleepily at him and smiled.
Abruptly Bird stood and popped Horse on the shoulder. “C’mon, guy, let’s have a wash.”
Tod wrapped his arm tightly around the woman and rubbed his face in her hair purring, inhaling and exhaling in soft puffs along her neck, finally tasting the skin between her breasts.
When he raised his head he patted at her knife, which had slid around to the back.
“My knife? You want my knife?”
Tod nodded resolutely, and extended his wrist towards her.
Honey, baffled, looked back and forth between his face and his wrist “You want me to use the knife on you?”
Another jerk of his chin.
“Can you show me where?”
Tod moved his arm until the tip of her knife rested on the vein of his wrist.
“Deep cut, shallow cut?”
Honey pressed the tip of her knife alongside the tendon of his wrist. Tod surprised her by impatiently jerking his arm upwards drawing a spate of dark blood. Before she knew what he was about he had pressed his wrist to her mouth and was stroking her hair softly, pursing his lips as though he were encouraging a baby to feed.
She knew, oh she knew, and she exulted; this binding would be forever. She could taste the magic in his blood. Tod was acting instinctively – it was not likely that he understood that he was tying himself to the entire clan or how deeply embedded he would become. They would absorb him and they would become part of him. Honey hoped he didn’t bolt when he realized what was going on. It was for the best.
As the wound closed Tod moved his wrist from her mouth and rubbed the last smear of blood over the puncture on her neck then cupped her face between his palms. They held each other’s gaze as the magic swirled and settled between them.
“Mine.” he breathed, “mine.”
She whispered: “Ya, we are yours. As you are ours.”
The work-around program that I’ve been using keeps on losing footnotes. Herewith:
1 Denarii communes, a guess based on Diocletian’s “Edict of Maximum Prices” issued in 301 AD