Might Have Beens: or Living in the Subjunctive.
If it hadn’t been for that spoilt twat ‘Tura, he would have lived out his days as a priest and leader for his clan. He and Artos (even after two centuries he remembered him) had talked long into the night about how they would do things when they were grown. There was no doubt in their minds that when the time came, they would be, if not heroes, just leaders and the clan would prosper.
Artos already had his eye on a girl; her impish sense of humor would make her a good companion and her thick mane of glossy chestnut hair betokened excellent health. Her freckles and dancing laugh didn’t hurt either. He’d spoken to Tarvorix, who had agreed to approach her father. A very suitable match.
Tod had known that he would probably never marry, his duties as priest would make that difficult. Of course he would have a house keeper, and probably children (if his track record were any indication). Like his Uncle Cat he would be able to watch over his people and advise whichever of his half brothers became chief.
He missed the mountains, he missed the potent sunlight of the heights, and the swirling diamante snow of winter. He regretted losing all of these things but what he missed most was his place. He’d lost his world, he missed his people.
He’d begun to wonder if perhaps ‘Tura hadn’t managed to snip all thethreads that made up the tapestry of his life; at length he decided what remained of the weave might be darker, and linked with another clan, but still part of the weave.
Tod would mind those threads, tend them, keep them strong. Perhaps…..
There was pain, there was retreat from pain……and then he flew………a gift. Maybe floated would be better word. Every once in a while something valuable came out of ‘Tura’s mouth, though it was usually something Yaz had told her. He seemed to have something of Yaz’ gift too; not so much invisibility, more of a don’t-see-me.
These were good, these were ways he could help his people. Perhaps no longer a victim. Yesss… Honey, the rain?”
Bird and Horse laughed as Honey helped him strip off his clothes and he zipped joyously out into the deluge. She hung their stuff up along with Horse’s and hissed as she stepped under the sheets of water cascading off the roof.
Tod whipped past and poked her ribs. “Tag, you’re it!”
“Toddddd! That is so not fair,” she squealed and splashed off in pursuit.
While they fussed with the fire and waited for the pair to come back, Bird elbowed Horse in the side. “I think he let her catch him, he is feeling better.”
“Ya, I think you’re right.”
Tod turned abruptly and caught Honey just as she barreled into him. They were both gasping with laughter and slick with rain.
Now that his tongue had healed he could ask the questions that had been burning in him. Reaching up he palmed her wet hair (he so wanted his fingers to be there), “You are still a maiden?”
Customs hadn’t changed that much, and unbound hair, amongst his people, meant maiden.
“Ya,” she spoke against his ear since the rain drummed loudly around them. “I will have to do something about that soon. I cannot mate within the clan, the blood ties are too close.” Honey looked away from Tod. “I will not marry, since as a priestess, my time will be spoken for; but my duty to the clan is that I must at least breed.”
“Your custom does not demand that you remain a maiden?” Tod asked.
“Nah, we are too few….. my brother/cousins are forbidden to me, we were raised like triplets anyway. I really would like to. To, get it over with, before I look for a baby daddy …..mmmmm, are you offering?”
“Yes, I’m offering,” he still lisped a bit, it was sweet. “But I think we would be more comfortable inside.”
As they found their way back to the charcoal burner’s hut, Tod couldn’t stop himself from asking: “If you are not going to wed, how would you find a baby daddy?”
Honey cut her eyes at Tod, “Oooooh, I’d look for about the same thing you’d look for in a stallion.”
Tod exploded with laughter; he’d laughed more this night than he had in centuries.
“Please explain that…the images I’m getting are too funny.”
“First you have to describe the images, I’d like to laugh about the prospect too.”
“Well, I thought of you at a horse fair, asking the traders to show you each stallion’s paces, and then you looking at their teeth, feet and equipment.” He started laughing again. “I can’t imagine what a guy would do if you asked to see their teeth, and other bits.”
Honey snorted and turned away. “It’s important! I don’t want to have kids with rotten teeth or crooked legs.” She started to chuckle too. Before long they had to hang on to each other they were laughing so hard.
Standing on the rock slab that served as the stoop, they held out their feet to rinse off the mud in the rain sluicing off the roof. Tod was not as mucky since he’d been floating but Honey had managed to spatter him a couple of times.
Horse was already snoring softly and Bird was just settling down when they ducked under the door lintel. Honey reached for the rough linen she had left out as a towel and began to dry Tod off, muttering to herself.
“I wish you were still human, you’d make a great baby daddy,” as she rubbed down his torso.
He sighed, his gray eyes looking inward”Ya, I think I was.”
“What‽‽” Honey stood up so quickly she almost clipped Tod’s chin. “You were what‽”
“Baby daddy. It was part of my job to serve the Goddess, to help women who were having problems with conception,”After a moment he went on: “Babies are good for the clan, especially when they are blessed by the Goddess. I was told that they all had gray eyes, like mine. I saw this for myself a few times.” He rubbed his face with his healing palm, more to hide his sorrow than as an aid to memory.“This was a help for my Uncle Cat who was training me in the priesthood. Even after two generations there just weren’t enough young men to go around, you know, all the battles with the Romans. Especially after the one at the Sabis, so many gone. The older men were delighted to take young second wives, but sometimes things didn’t work out as well as they’d hoped. Then the Goddess’ aid was sought.”
Nodding thoughtfully. Honey dried her arms and challenged: “So you are experienced?”
Tod seemed to agree as he drifted closer. “Comb your hair and we will talk about it.”
It had been a long while since he’d had the liberty to choose his own bedmate. A long while since he’d had any liberty at all. Not since the Legate had made him his whore and he’d encountered that wretch Spurius Corbulo Valgus, ‘Tura’s minion and a nasty, scuttling, gossip mongering, shit beetle.
As captive, as slave, as childe to a capricious mistress, as chattel given over to the hand of her minion; he’d had a very long while to think about the choices he’d made that brought him here. The runes had foretold this, he had just not read them aright. No matter how often he had queried the runes, as man and boy he had only seen what he wanted to see, never the path he actually trod.
Kit’s feet and heart had been set on this path by all the winter’s tales he’d heard while crouching quietly in the shadows, listening to the elders.
Over beakers of solstice-ale, old grievances were unearthed and foolish escapades recounted. After more than a few refills someone would always bring up the death of the Apa’s father’s older brother at the battle of the Sabis. A mighty feast for ravens, very few of the men returned from that riverside, though many had set out.
In warrior’s cadence the Roman’s fighting abilities were praised and battle tactics were given their due. Few were singled out for honor in the battle, save the one who became Caesar. He seemed to be everywhere, urging his men on, reviving their spirits, reforming their battle lines. Going so far as to take up a sword himself and fighting on the front lines.
Even so, one of theirs had been killed and there was a grudge held – they would not join in a treaty with the Romans until the matter had been settled.
Kit felt the weight of that blood debt on his shoulders, his was the third generation that carried it and it was time someone acted.
He didn’t mind so much that he’d been pushed aside by his half brothers. Of course his step mother had his father’s ear now and would speak in her children’s favor. If he could only get his father’s respect, it would be enough. To a young buck, that had meant far more than the honor of being the-priest-up-mountain.
Even though Artos was ready to settle into his life, Kit still felt restless, felt that cursed itch to experience more, to move, to feed his spirit. The chaos in his soul sent him like a stone straight from a sling, right into that pass, splayed out like an offering before the Romans.
Was that hunger laid on him by the the Three Ladies? To chivy him onto the road they’d spun?
His uncle Cat had tried to help him accept the path set out for him. It was an honorable and noble death to be chosen as the sacrifice. Cat had thrown the runes many times to gain understanding. No matter how many times Kit rubbed them between his fingers, breathed on them, warmed them with his palms. Invariably these runes spilled out:
t The spiritual warrior, the archer of the sky Gods.
He took it to mean that the warrior was his true self; he should have thought more on the rune giver, the God who sacrificed himself to gain knowledge of the runes.
Y Nourishment for the soul, the yew tree symbolizing death, difficulties arising at the beginning of a new life.
The yew spoke of the power to avert defeat, but also cautioned against lusting after a particular outcome; wait on the will of the Goddess. Patience is better than chasing your wyrd. What young man possesses patience?
z The Sedge, rushes or Elk, develop self control to protect your spirit during times of transition and change.
The deep rooted sedge and the wide branching antlers of the third rune should have reminded him to be steady within himself, take responsibility for where he is instead of believing he was protected.
When Cat cast the rune-stones great trials and great change clattered to the floor. Almost every time Kit delved into the pouch to seek a runic guide, his fingers retrieved the warrior’s arrow.
He had absolutely no intention of fighting, since he was hopeless in anything more organized than a bar fight. Corbulo had originally had signed on as a Cacula– (an un-enlisted camp servant) with a pack full of things he thought to sell to the soldiers – he’d seen the kinds of things the old timers had flocked to in the market at home –and he
was determined to make his fortune.
Or at least enough to resume his former existence as a bar fly.
He’d been raised in Massilia,1 fled to Forum Julii one step ahead of his creditors. He was a louche character, fond of hanging around wine shops, trading on his former status as a younger son from a small time merchant family. Fond of wagers, gambling and gossip, they called him the dung beetle for his love of gathering choice tidbits of gossip and rolling them into a large ball of shit.
By the time Caesar’s legions were closing on the River Sabis Corbulo’s glib tongue and classical Greek features had worn out their welcome, no one had his back when the irate natives swept through the unfinished defenses of the castra (camp).
He got in a few swipes with a knife and an ineffectual nut punch before he was gut stabbed with a spear and then thoroughly stomped as those stinking Gauls overran the camp.
“Tura found him at dusk when she came to tap her share of the thirty five thousand dead and wounded. Damn, that Julian2 was a fiiiine general!
Oooooh, lookie what I found. What a cutie, even all stomped on. Deliciously handsome, such soulful dark eyes, such a bite-able full lower lip and elegant nose. And nothing … Nothing, like Yaz. The dangling silver coin with the lion stamped on the face would have to go. ‘Tura hissed at the offensive item as she cast it aside. Already tanked up she threw her new boy-toy over her shoulder and darted off. She would make herself a minion, ummmm-hummm.
Tavorix and Cap brought a remarkable tale back to clan home. Apparently the incident at the spruce grove had been a hot topic and the auxiliaries had talked of nothing else. Most of the un-Romanized tribes, both Gauls and Celts, were known for their strong clan ties. Such a bald betrayal laid a stink on Stud’s whole family.
Three of the foragers had been in a position to see the big eared youth extend his bow as Kit raced to divert attention from his wounded friend on the ground. Neatly but treacherously done, the bow snagged his ankles and down the boy went. The traitor vanished between the trees like smoke.
“Three of the men were willing to swear as to the actions of the false clansman.” Tarvorix lifted his chin and looked into the Apa’s eyes. “You are judge as well as clan-father, you decide.”
“Attack on a priest, as well as treachery is a grievous matter. I must hear it all before I judge.” the Apa turned his eyes to the mountain thoughtfully.
The men jostled each other and stamped their feet, working themselves up into a rage while the Apa continued looking at the mountains, grim lipped.
Older women looked meaningfully at each other, nodding; mothers looked to their daughters and muttered about bad blood; the girls twittered, not yet understanding that no member of Stud’s family or kin would be considered as marriage material, for fear of the taint of treachery.
For one ill-thought-out action the men intended to end his life, the women would end his line.
Before dusk Cat climbed up the track to clan home dragging a trussed, bedraggled Stud. “He tried to run,” was the only explanation.
The Apa had not left off his meditation of the escarpment that sheltered clan home. Not shifting his eyes, he asked: “What is your story, boy? Why did you run?”
Cornered the boy began babbling, ”I didn’t do anything, it wasn’t my fault. He just pushed in there. He fell. And I got scared because of all the soldiers, they all had their swords out. I had to run or I would have gotten killed.” Stud’s tongue tripped over his cowardice.
Cap spoke up: “The auxiliaries said that the soldiers didn’t show up until later, after the kids had left.”
The Apa grunted and finally looked at Stud. “We have heard your story and we have heard the tale of those that witnessed your treachery.” The fury in his voice was sharpened by the whetstone of sorrow. “I have decided, only death will wipe out the shame of your action.” The Apa turned to the clan “We will all act to cleanse our clan. Take him to the base of the cliff. The rocky soil that he dishonored will be the end of him.”
So it was done, the Apa threw the first stone sped by a curse on his family, then Cat laid his priest’s curse with a well placed shard; Kit’s brothers each took a turn. Artos’ missile had so much anger behind it, the force shattered Stud’s ribs. All were careful not to deliver the killing blow until everyone had a chance to heap scorn on the broken screaming youth. The coup de grâce was dealt by the Apa with a rough and blackened stone large enough to smash Stud’s jaw and brow at one time. All that remained was a pile of rubble and a tuft of lank nondescript hair riffling in the breeze.
Tod had changed while he had been under the hand of the Legate. He thought he had gotten taller, and he knew he had gotten stronger, had filled out more. The constant lifting and twisting while loading the hypocaust added mass to his torso and thighs; the pulsing heat from the furnace sweated off any excess. Pushing the hand-stone around the quern to grind the finest flour when he helped in the bakehouse built other muscles. He would always have a compact build but he had sweated his way from wiry rock scrambler all the way to solid.
No matter how many treats Merulla slipped him, he was always hungry. When he wasn’t chaotically brooding on his captivity he was thinking about food; in between those times he dreaded a summons from the Legate. He hated that he’d been stripped of his self respect as a warrior. He hated that he feared the Legate and the power he held over him. He hated the men who spat at him. His stomach churned with it. A very bad combination with hunger.
After all that had happened, he wasn’t sure he could ever be with a girl again. His mind seized when ever that urge tickled at him. The shame rose right up and pressed on the inside of his eyeballs. Then it all spun back into a tooth grinding maelstrom of anger.
Tod wasn’t proud that he rejoiced when the Legate found someone new to be his verbera3; a pretty and exotic little bath slave he’d found on one of his inspection tours. Tod had a feeling she was going to poison the old pervert – which was just fine with him; he just hoped she wouldn’t get caught.
After a full turn of seasons, Tod was permitted more freedom, which meant he was sent on errands around the camp. Since all castrum were laid out on exactly the same grid they were very easy to get around in but also extremely easy to get lost in – one block of barracks4 looked much like the next. The most obvious difference lay in the soldiers hanging around each porch gossiping. Whatever was happening within or without the walls of the camp circulated like a brush fire.
The very best gossip was to be heard in the kitchens. Which officer made a roaring fool of himself, who was caught stealing, a troop of acrobats performing in the canabae legonis5.
The Primus Pilus (leading centurion) had become greatly enamored of one of the contortionists leaving the rest of the officers to make do with whatever else was on offer. Rumors of a new and talented whore in the Canabae distracted their attention from the gymnasts and the men seen leaving her embrace staggering and starry eyed only added to her luster.
Tod was always pleased to tag along with Iberius when he was sent to fetch items from the Canabae. All the bits and bobs needed for the household were gotten locally. The earthenware and baskets to be had around here were especially nice.
Merulla was particularly taken with the fine sieves made in one of the workshops there and vowed she needed another set. While they were out they also spied a few particularly toothsome blackberries at the camp market at Porta Quintana6and made arrangements to have some delivered on the morrow. In the Canabae the shop of a cheese monger from up country caught their eyes next and Tod was able to assure Iberius that that kind of cheese was very palatable and worth trying; then Iberius found one of his countryman selling knives and stopped for a natter about affairs on the peninsula. The outer market was always lively, swarming with women and children. It felt as though he were almost within touching distance of his former life. Often he lagged behind, raptly watching people.
Before they knew it, dusk was coming on and it was time for them to hustle. Taking a shortcut through an alley, feeling secure in their station as the Legate’s slaves.
Iberius brushed past a pallid fellow lounging in a dark doorway. “Way, make way!” he warned, making sure Tod could pass with his burdens.
The lurker eyed them and they put on a little more speed, glancing over their shoulders while hurrying through the gates.
Iberius was the one to comment: ”Nasty fellow, that one.”
Eyes continued to follow them from the dark alley.
‘Tura had fed very well from the legionaries; glamoring a lusty soldier was child’s play. By the end of the evening she was rosy with her greed. Mostly, poor Corbulo was left to fend for himself – she really didn’t like to share. Although it was kind of unappealing when he got too pale, then she would let him at her leftovers.
He was so desperate for the crumbs from her table that he would bring pretties for her to play with, hoping to regain some favor. She liked it when he brought jewelry, although there wasn’t much gold, the Canabae ran more to silver. The gold was inside the treasure vault of the camp.
Trotting after her as they made their way to their resting place, Corbulo started blathering about some great find. Oh Gods, she wished he wouldn’t talk to her back that way. ‘Tura stopped, turned around and hissed: “I told you not to talk to my back! Unless it is VERY important.” Just like a dog begging for attention. Some nights she was tempted to end him – what ever made her think that turning this idiot was a good idea.
“Alright! What is it? I’m facing you now! It is almost dawn.”
“Mistress I saw a tattooed priest, the kind you always remark on, heading for the castra.”
“You wait until now to tell me? Aaaargh!”
“I didn’t want to disturb you, you seemed quite occupied.”
“DO I HAVE TO THINK FOR YOU!” frickin’ idiot. “Tell me about it at dusk.”
‘Tura rose at nightfall, not yet at three hundred years she was still strictly bound by dusk and dawn. She’d kind of gotten used to resting in the dirt, but her ‘clients’ didn’t like it; her dinner depended on her toilette. She washed, bound up her breasts (as was the Roman custom – don’t offend the natives, yes Yaz, I remember Yaz), rouged her mouth, nipples and cheeks, then piled her hair artfully on her head. The new yellow dress, yes, with the delicate green sandals.
Corbulo had become such a bore, he always seemed to be ki-yi-ing like a kicked dog. She wondered if he actually had found something interesting. The cache of jewelry had been pretty nice. She’d been looking for a priest since before she’d gotten Corbulo. She needed to know about things, unfortunately she hadn’t paid attention while her mother explained. The only thing she was ever interested in was not being the daughter of a slave.
‘Tura packed up her makeup case and secured the straps. She wasn’t going to get caught unprepared again. If they had to run she’d be ready. She couldn’t put a kit together just like that! It took for-ev-er.
‘Tura was afraid, afraid she had fumbled the proper rituals and sacrifices. Bad dark things pursued her, she needed a priest to avert the vengeful spirits and ill luck that dogged her steps. It certainly wasn’t her fault, she’d done all she could. Yaz had explained that as dragur her god was now Zalmoxis7 and she must honor him or terrible things would happen. She kept looking over her shoulder waiting for the fury of the God to find her.
“So tell me Corbulo, what of the tattooed man you saw last night?”
He replied, interspersed with splashing, as he washed off the dirt of his resting place. “Mistress, he was young, fit and comely, but a slave; there was an elaborate tattooed creature that writhed up his back, jagged bands around his upper arms and an inked neck piece that circled below his clavicles and across his upper shoulders. He carried packages for the Legate’s senior slave Iberius.”
“Corbulo: you are familiar with the arrangement of the Legate’s quarters?”
“Yes, Mistress. I looked it over last week.”
“We will find ourselves a good vantage point tonight. You should hope fortune is on our side.”
Tod was afraid.
The Legate was entertaining, which meant bad things for him. The Tribunis Laticlavis8, the praefectus castrorum9 and even the primus pilus10 would be in attendance. Rumor had it that there was stirrings along the frontier and parts of the Legate’s legions might be detailed to help see to the matter.
The Legate was not amused.
Tod knew he would be part of the entertainment.
Tod also knew he was angry enough to do something stupid, really stupid. The anger was pounding in his throat, pushing him to throw caution, common sense, and self preservation to the winds.
After the day meal Tod scuffed his way out the the latrines, hungering for freedom so desperately that it tore at the fibers of his spirit. .
Waiting in the latrine was the old broken slave whose life consisted of wiping the shit off of Roman butts, his badge of office? A long rod with a damp sponge affixed to one end. The brand of FUG on his cheek marked him as a runaway and his broken ankles kept him from repeating his action. Daily Tod was reminded of the punishment that awaited him if he tried to escape.
There was no honorable death here.
That was almost two centuries ago, he’d avoided one horror only to become tangled in a nightmare. He would cast the runes with Bird again, perhaps this time he would understand.
1 Massalia was one of the first Greek ports in Western Europe, growing to a population of over 1000. It was the first settlement given city status in France. Facing an opposing alliance of the Etruscans, Carthage and the Celts, the Greek colony allied itself with the expanding Roman Republic for protection. This protectionist association brought aid in the event of future attacks, and perhaps equally important, it also brought the people of Massalia into the complex Roman market. The city thrived by acting as a link between inland Gaul, hungry for Roman goods and wine (which Massalia was steadily exporting by 500 BC), and Rome’s insatiable need for new products and slaves. Under this arrangement the city maintained its independence until the rise of Julius Caesar, when it joined the losing side (Pompey and the optimates) in civil war, and lost its independence in 49 BC . Wikipedia.
2Gaius Julius Caesar was a member of the Julia, a prominent family
3 Verbera:whipping girl f. of verbero: whipping boy.
military dependents and civilian contractors who serviced the base.
6 In peaceful times the camp set up a marketplace with the natives in the area. They were allowed into the camp as far as the units numbered 5 (half-way to the praetorium). There another street crossed the camp at right angles to the Via Decumana, called the Via Quintana, “5th street”. If the camp needed more gates, one or two of the Porta Quintana were built, presumably named dextra and sinistra. If the gates were not built, the Porta Decumana also became the Porta Quintana. At “5th street” a public market was allowed
7 According to Herodotus the Greeks of the Hellespont and the Black Sea tell that Zalmoxis was a slave on Samos of Pythagoras, son of Mnesarchos. After being liberated, he gathered huge wealth and, once rich, went back to his homeland. Thracians lived simple hard lives. Zalmoxis having lived amongst the wisest of Greeks – Pythagoras and had been initiated to the Ionian life and Eleusinian Mysteries. Building a banquet hall, he received the chiefs and his fellow countrymen at a banquet, he taught that neither his guests nor their descendants would ever die, but instead they would go to a place where they would live forever in a complete happiness. He then dug an underground residence and, once finished, he disappeared from the Thracians going down to his underground residence, where he lived for three years. The Thracians missed him and wept fearing him dead. The fourth year, he came back amongst them and thus they believed …. Zalmoxis.
The post was created by the Marian reforms. Its holder stood just below the legatus legionis, the legion’s commander, and above the other five tribuni angusticlavii (and later the praefectus castrorum). The position was the first step of the traditional cursus honorum, the formalized sequence of public offices held by Roman nobles of the senatorial class (conversely, the tribuni angusticlavii were knights). Thus the tribunus laticlavius would usually be a man in his early twenties who might belong to one of the richest families in Rome or be a close friend to the legionary commander. After two or three years in the army he would go back to Rome and be given a government job, usually a quaestorship. Wikipedia.
9 The praefectus castrorum (“camp prefect”) was, in the Roman army of the early Empire, the third-most senior commander of the Roman legion, after the legate (legatus) and the senior military tribune (tribunus laticlavius). Wikipedia
I’ve put together a list of pertinent videos on YouTube http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL0E352DF381AFB593. Enjoy!