After the Battle – part 2
Cat was the priest, but also an intuitive tracker and subtle hunter. He’d come hotfoot as soon as he’d gotten word of Kit’s capture. The other men rumbled around for a bit, making arrangements, then jogged off to see what Cat’d found.
They caught up with the tracker and halted transfixed amongst the trunks of soughing evergreens, watching Cat who stood, nostrils flaring, at the edge of the old road.
“Here’s where Kit was taken; Tarvorix, you are standing close to where your son, Artos wide-foot, stood.’ All eyes turned to the scuffed ground. “I am standing where Rufus slipped,” he added looking up at the man with the faded auburn hair. “See the skid marks in the spruce needles and the gout of blood from his leg?”
Stepping twice to his left he pointed downwards “This is where Kit went down and was captured.” Everyone craned their necks to see what Cat pointed at. “I see a smudge of blood, so he maybe hit his head but wasn’t wounded.”
Moving up slope on a diagonal, he pointed at the ground again, “Narrow foot – maybe that git who calls himself Stud, stood here, rested his bow tip here and here.” He indicated two small areas of needles that were subtly aligned. “This one stepped back, then turned and ran, that way.” He waved his arm in the direction of the old road.
“Away from the scent of the spruce sap I smell two kinds of men that passed here, both armed. One set reeks of olive oil and garlic, the other of cows, cheese and grain.
“There is more on the road.” Cat stepped gracefully down to the ancient track “Yesterday the Roman hobnail boots came after the cheese and grain men whose boots were not reinforced, they were hauling a cart with them.” The wheel marks covered the first set of footprints and were in turn smudged by plain boots. “Both sets go down mountain. Plain boots came back, leading a cow.
“Tarvorix, I think you you should go up the old road and talk to those who brought the cow. Since you’ve sold livestock to the Romans before it would not be suspicious. I’ll track narrow-foot down the mountain and see what he has to say for himself.”
The Bull Master grunted in agreement and gestured for the goatherd Cap, who had also dealt with the Romans, to come with him.
Cat and the others sped along the path down mountain towards the oppidium. Away from the Romans the scent of an early snow drifted down to mix with the evergreens.
Occasionally He would stoop and make sure they were on track; Stud wasn’t clever enough to double back or use any other ruse to elude them.
The three Chatti, whiling away a rainy day and waiting for their dragur to rise, stood at three points of a triangle, their hands busily twisting cord. Since it always went faster with three sets of hands, they soon had several good lengths. Bird sat at the edge of the bench to concentrate on making snares with the shorter bits of cord, Honey ran a lump of beeswax over the longer pieces to add a little weather resistance. Horse had reluctantly sloped off into the weather to check his fish traps.
Honey softly called after him to “bring back those hemp stalks that were still retting downstream.” She hoped that the water had worked on the stalks enough that she would be able to strip the fiber off easily. There is no such thing as too much cord, she thought as shecoiled up the finished strands, and turned to busy herself with the night meal.
She was bent over her gathering basket, selecting greens, when Tod rose directly behind her, pleased to find his favorite lovey within arm’s reach.
Her squawk was predictable, but got a laugh out of Tod as he pulled Honey close, nosed her head-cloth out of the way and enthusiastically kissed her neck, while she hunched up her shoulders to dodge his tickly face.
“Grieving Ladies, you almost scared me into fits.” Honey twisted on his lap, right into the path of his lips. “Mmmmph!” Twisting her face in mock anger she playfully sniped: “Is it just you or do all guys have to lick everything?”
Tod ducked his head but grinned and winked with his good eye. He was still shy about speaking with his damaged tongue.
Honey peered closely at him. “How are you healing, may I look?”
Tod willingly opened his mouth. “How far can you stick your tongue out? Ooooh! Much better, the tip is almost all there. How’re those fangs? Niiiice. Can you extend them yet?” There was a faint ‘snick’ and ivory points gleamed against his gums.
Honey stroked them with her forefinger, “so sharp, already.”
A slow intake of breath and a purr reverberated around the hut. Tod’s eyelids lowered with pleasure.
“Oh, oh, I’m playing with fire, aren’t I?” she folded her hands in her lap and meaningfully cleared her throat.
“Gamli Tod?” He continued to rub his face along the back of her neck, tickling her and lipping at her shoulder. “Ermm, Gamli,” she pushed on “we were talking earlier and we need to keep moving, as soon as Horse gets back we can all discuss it. But right now you are hungry?” He inhaled greedily. “Bird!” she called raising her voice slightly, “Our dragur needs to be fed.”
“Be right there, Hon.”
Horse had come back with the five decent sized fish that had been in the trap. He’d dropped the retted hemp stalks outside the door (they couldn’t get any wetter) and hung the string of fish out of his way before he shook himself off like a great shaggy dog. The flying water spattered everywhere and sizzled on the hearthstones. Both Tod and Horse guffawed at the others wiping off the shared rain.
Dragging off his sodden tunic, Horse tossed it over a crossways pole that served as a drying rack and settled himself by the fire to cook the fish. Still chuckling he finally remembered to sketch a bow in Tod’s direction.
Honey leaned forward and stirred the pot of greens she had put to simmer. “Well, I was telling Tod that we need to be moving on. He really needs to feed more, at least more than we can give him.”
Bird had moved closer to the fire and Tod hitched himself over to settle between them, he leaned back against Bird to watch the interaction.
“You said you’d think on the best route, and whether we could manage to get a donkey.” Bending to peer around Tod and into Bird’s face she asked: “Didn’t you say something about the river route being risky because of the Roman Classis Germania1 boats patrolling that whole stretch of the Rên?”
“Ya, but it seems to be left to their commander as how diligent they are” Bird commented “I heard that the legate Marius Maximus2, is too busy scribbling his histories to pay much attention to the business of the province.”
“Well, be that as it may, we can’t count on there being a lax commander;“ Bird added, “plus I think a donkey would make us too conspicuous.”
“If we move at night, I can ride a Horse, not a donkey.” Tod smiled impishly.
Three mouths gaped and then grinned at his light baritone.
Tod watched his people while they ate and chattered, occasionally turning to include him in a conversation. He’d always kept his own council, maybe it had become a habit after spending so much time watching the animals on the mountain, he’d rather observe.
Then, then, afterwards, after he’d been enslaved, he couldn’t find anything to say. He was filled with shame and as a branded slave, he could never go home, back to his clan.
Sometimes he’d talk to Merulla, she’d been good to him. He wanted to do something nice for her which is why…………….
Later, he’d think about it later. Right now they had to decide where to stop on the way to Confluentes3 (later generations would call the city to grow on this point Koblenz, but for now the place retained its Latin name which said nothing more than it was where two rivers, the Rhine and the Moselle, met).
Horse and Bird had a game going flicking the little fish bones into the fire, until Honey snapped, “Quit! That stinks.” and stomped outside to clean the dishes.
It did stink but Tod thought if his fingers had finished regrowing, he probably’d joined in. He turned his face away trying to maintain a stoic calm. So hard, I miss those days.
When Tod looked for Honey, she was just coming back inside and he was seized with a powerful gnawing in his belly. He’d forgotten how hungry he still was.
Honey noticed, one look at the Elder’s fixed gaze and she knew they were in trouble. “Pay attention! Wash your hands now! You reek of fish!”
Softly, softly, she approached Tod hands palm upwards; “shuuuush, shuuush, shuush. It’s your turn. Here’s Horse. Come now, we’ll take care of you.”
Even before the ritual slash had been made in Horse’s forearm Tod was crouched, waiting to ease the ache in his belly. Later he would be ashamed how his instincts had overwhelmed him. If Honey hadn’t kept her eye on him he would have hurt one of them.
It had been worse right after he’d been turned. Why did his mind keep coming back to that awful night? He needed to focus on his monstrous needs for blood and violence, keep them under control. He wished he could watch ‘Tura die all over again.
Tod was still sprawled on the floor replete, head propped up on one hand. Bird slouched against one of the support beams while Horse acted the signpost. Cambete and Argentoratum4 were south of them, ahead of them lay maybe five days of travel5 before they got to Confluentes, where their river, the Mosella joined the Rên. The three had decided to retrace their path rather than venture cross country.
The next town was less than eight (Roman) miles6 from where they were; not a huge place but it was on the west side of the Rên, straddling the Roman road at the intersection of quite a few well traveled routes. Where there were travelers, there would be riffraff; and where there was riffraff there would be easy pickings. Brucomagnus, here we come.
Horse voiced their feelings when he commented:”It is best for us to follow the road right now, but I think we all will be happier when we are sheltered by the mountains.”
Bird looked at Tod. “We will be ready to leave at first dark tomorrow – unless you’d rather travel during the day, it might be risky, but it would save time.”
Tod shrank back into the gloom of the hut, hunching down like a threatened cat.
“I’ll take that as a no, then.”
Honey heaved a great sigh as she mentally started running through everything she had to fit in her pack. Just when I was really getting to know this place, ugh, I am such a stick-in-the-mud.
There wasn’t much left of the evening, Bird was tootling a soothing melody on one of his larger pipes; Horse had combed out his hair and was basking in the warmth of the fire. Honey noticed that Tod kept to the shadows; she wasn’t sure if he was angry or unhappy.
“Come outside with me, Tod, let’s check out the rain, it is still coming down pretty hard. You can try out the gift they made for you.” She pulled out the cane that the guys had cut to measure; Tod doubtfully started to stand.
“Wait, wait. Somebody showed me a good way to do this.” She crouched to hold his right leg. “See, you’ve got the whole back of your foot, heel and all, on the right side, but only the beginnings of the heel on the left side.”
Tod, annoyed, looked down at Honey. “Wait, let me finish. I know this will sound wrong, but it is backwards from what you’d think.” Honey over balanced and thumped down on her butt, which got a snort from Tod.
“Now, hold the stick in your left hand, and make it march in time with your right foot. Back wards, huh? But it holds you steady when you are trying to push off with the left and doesn’t twist your back.”
Tod experimented with the staff, it was still dot-and-carry but he was elated to be getting around under his own power. He looked up from his maneuvers and grinned.
“Granny taught me it.”
Tod tried to practice moving around in the hut but it was painful to put weight on the tender ankle joint of his left leg and he found himself flinching away from any pressure on his healing feet Although he wanted to avoid the nerves shrieking with pain, he wanted to be mobile even more. It seemed to get easier and easier until he caught sight of Bird’s wide eyes and open mouth.“What, what’s wrong? Are bats flying out of my ears?”
From behind him Honey’s voice whispered: “Maybe not bats, but you are….flying, that is.”
Tod was so startled his carry left and dot right got all tangled up with the stick and he ended up a heap on the floor staring at the rafters.
“Gentle lady, what just happened?” Tod wondered.
4 Argentoratum or Argentorate was the ancient name of the French city of Strasbourg. The Romans under Nero Claudius Drusus established a military outpost belonging to the Germania SuperiorRoman province close to a Gaulish village near the banks of the Rhine, at the current location of Strasbourg, and named it Argentoratum. The name “Argentoratum” was first mentioned in 12 BC and the city celebrated its 2,000th birthday in 1988; however, “Argentorate” as the toponym of the Gaulish settlement had preceded it before being latinized, though it is not known by how long. As systematic archaeological studies between 1947 and 1953, conducted by Jean-Jacques Hatt, archaeologist and director of the Musée archéologique de Strasbourg, have shown, Argentoratum was destroyed by fire and rebuilt six times between the first and the 5th century AD: in 70, 97, 235, 355, in the last quarter of the 4th century, and in the early years of the 5th century. It was under Trajan and after the fire of 97 that Argentoratum received its most extended and fortified shape. From the year 90 the Legio VIII Augusta was permanently stationed in Argentoratum
6The Roman mile equivalent to onethousand six hundred and seventeen yards is one thousand strides long, each stride is comprised of two paces. The genuine original mile.. (mille = 1000)