Even though the granny kept asking questions Honey stood and stretched her back while keeping an eye on the soldier. Sweet Mother, thank you; I didn’t think this was possible. She remembered telling Tod: “you’d make a great baby-daddy if you were still human.” There he stood, the same gray eyes, a little older, certainly darker, with a wonderful spark of humor quirking the corner of his mouth.
Horse was being pursued across the marketplace by a relentless street urchin.
“Citizen, sir, you won’t be sorry. My sister is very fine.” puff, puff “A real blond and very young.”
Eldjarn, the Horse rounded on the boy and firmly told him to get lost. “I’m not interested in your sister, your mother or your aunt!”
“Citizen, citizen! My brother is skilled in the lost arts of the east. He is the delight of many! Only three As.”
Horse growled down at him: “I don’t want your public toilet of a brother either! I’ve got business to tend to, mihi molestus ne sis!1” and tossed a clipped coin in the kid’s direction.
Honey and Bird were on the other side of the marketplace laughing at his futile dance trying to get away from the little beggar. They had struck up a conversation with the auxiliary and were pointing at the boy’s antics and seemed to be filling him in.
Vercondos listened to the banter amongst the three who were apparently cousins. Good, he wouldn’t be stepping on any toes if he made a move on the girl. She was already cutting him flirtatious glances.
“So, infantry, huh?” Honey speculated. “Where from? You look Raetian, or at least you look like a guy we met who was probably Raetian.”
”Ya, I am. From near the Great Pass, Gray Alps2 3 region, part of the Cohors II Raetorumc.R.; we may be peregrini, but even though we aren’t citizens we are part of a much decorated troop.” Vercondos brushed at the medals on his harness, in case the pretty girl hadn’t noticed them.
As Honey compared the infantryman with the image of Tod that she carried in her mind she realized that the difference lay mainly in a stillness about their dragur, unlike the lively soldier’s animated face, raised eyebrow and dimpled grin. His accent4 was a little different too. Honey tilted her head to listen more carefully. When he said cohors there was almost the sound of an extra h in there, like chorhors. Sexy.
Shifting his helmet to his other arm, Vercondos pushed his thick hair back off his sweaty forehead – he should have had it cut yesterday when he’d gotten a shave. Well, sometimes the ladies liked longer hair, gave them something to hold on to. He sidled closer to the new girl.
“Where do you and your cousins hail from, beautiful?”
Honey’s eyes slid towards the soldier as she rearranged her herb samples and re- settled her self on the hot paving stones of the marketplace.
“West of Confluentes5, near the Mosella river.”
Vercondos’ eyebrows darted upwards, “Good wine country, eh?”
“Yes, the grapes are fine, and we do well with them, but we like to tend them ourselves and not share our methods.” Slowly raising her eyes from the herbs, Honey teased: “We are pleased that our wines fetch such a good price in the market, occasionally we will even share the fruit with others.”
Sliding his hand down his pilum for balance, Vercondos crouched down next to Honey .” I’ve heard the fruit is very sweet. How does one get a taste of these fruits of the Mosella Valley?” he asked with a charming smile.
She was tickled that this man was quick witted enough to pick up on her word play – he passed the second test. Check. The first test had been health, he looked as though he had been part of the army for about ten years, that certainly spoke to his strength and endurance. Primary check.
That smile, those strong white teeth passed another test. Check. Those powerful square hands didn’t hurt either. Mmmmm, mmmm, mmm. Over all assessment: delicious. Honey flared her nostrils to take in his scent, mmmm, very healthy, very male…very attractive, yum.
The soldier leaned closer when he picked up on Honey’s interest, she was practically ready to crawl into his lap. His mouth watered and Vercondos had this sudden urge to lick her neck. He came to himself slightly when he dimly realized that he didn’t even know her name.
“Um, my name is Vercondos, I know that’s a mouthful, but I hate most of my nicknames, smmca, mumten.” ducking his head in embarrassment during the last bit.
“Well, officer of the renowned cohort, I’m called Honey, though my name is actually Disa. Now, you have to tell me what you were mumbling.”
“Marten, at home they called me Marten, ’cause I was so scrappy and loved to scramble over the rocks.” He blushed a little and wondered why he was telling the – Honey all this stuff. Crap, he’d probably never see her again.
Trying to save himself some embarrassment the soldier hauled himself to his feet and said he had to get back to his rounds.
“Marten, will you be coming ’round later? It would be nice to get to know you better.” Honey leaned forward and put as much warmth into the suggestion as she could; she sensed he was drawn to her.
Already their bodies were dancing the dance of the pheromones, their minds just had to catch on to the beat.
Gah, I feel bad fishing for a man this way, it would be so awkward to come right out and ask him if he would like to be my baby daddy. Sigh, needs must. I’ll just keep telling myself that it is for the clan. It’s not like I’m hurting him in any way as he’s not allowed to marry as long as he is in the service (I wonder how much more time he has). I’m not keeping him from that… His eyes really do look a lot like Tod’s!
More customers for the herbs showed up and Honey earned not only a few small coins but was also able to barter herbs for fresh bread. Bird got a little more money for his songs but it wasn’t until Horse came back that they could dust themselves off and consider a decent day-meal. He had ventured over to the Roman castrum and done some piece work for the blacksmith responsible for the horses of the Equitae.6
There was a place on the other side of the square where a man was grilling bits of meat and a vegetable stand nearby selling early carrots, onions and beans; they would make a nice meal.
After most of the tradesmen had scattered to eat and nap through the midday heat, Marten made another pass through the market. He swatted a couple of the lower ranked auxiliaries to remind them they were supposed to be on duty and not propping up the wine shop’s walls. Coming abreast of the little bit of shade where the cousins had decided to snooze, Marten waved and mouthed ‘later’ to Honey before he ducked down one of the alleys bisecting old-town, sidestepping the laundry strung between the upper stories.
Bird, enjoying the warmth of the wall against his shoulders, rolled his head towards Honey. “I wonder what Tod is going to think of Marten?”
Honey pulled her knees up and dropped her head to rest on them. ”Oh, Lady, I hope it isn’t a problem. He knows I’m supposed to come back carrying a new clan member under my tunic. Doesn’t mean he won’t be ticked.”
Rolling his head back to center Bird thought a moment. “He was a priest, he should understand these things. You must honor the Lady-as-Eostre and bear a babe. We all know if you are barren you cannot serve.”
Horse grunted and went back to sleep.
Tod rose out of sorts, he was accustomed to having the hum of his people around him. Humpf, he’d never had any ties before but it hadn’t taken long for them to become a part of him. He could barely feel the threads of those light bonds from a couple of miles away.
He had a couple of bodies in the pantry, should he have both or save one for tomorrow? If he had only one that meant he’d have to water and feed the other which would be a lot of trouble. On the other hand – he wiggled his fingers at his private joke – all that blood he had yesterday had regrown his digits past the last joint. That much blood and one more day death should see his hands and feet completely healed. Tod tensed the area around his fang roots, (odd feeling, that) and heard the wet snick that signaled their presence. Feeling with his forefinger he was satisfied to find that the breadth was restored if not the former length. A vampire’s fangs were much like his cock, as above so below. He stroked himself as he thought. A tall lean vampire had long narrow fangs, his were not so long but quite broad. His maker’s fangs had been more delicate, but Mother was she fast!
Scooting forward on the gritty floor to the opening of the rock crevice he dangled his feet over the edge, swinging them and humming as he considered. I could go my own way now, I am healed enough and have all the survival skills I need. She said that she had heard of dragur who surrounded themselves with blood slaves and luxury. The bond servants and indulgence became a weakness for them. She said it was safer to travel light and fast, like her maker. Perhaps She should have listened to her own advice and traveled smart, then she might’ve held on to her existence. Ha!
But the other side of the coin was what his humans had sung in their saga:
Unencumbered the Sword of the clan roved,
hunted, seeking the fleeting life force of fleeing prey.
Taking joy in thrumming pulse, thudding heart.
Unencumbered the Sword roved, hunted.
I’d like that, no Corbulo, NO CORBULO! Spiteful dog’s turd that he is.
If I went with the three to their clan home, might it be a trap? The saga spun a pretty tale but what did they want of me? ‘Tura taught me to suspect all motives. She should have heeded her own lessons, Zalmoxis certainly was a fickle God; turned on her pretty quick no matter how many sacrifices she made. Blamed it on me too.
They also sing that their dragur is
like a long lost lover, far
wanderer to be their home defender,
Both lover and far wanderer. Is that a true thing? Do I want to be both? Can I be?
Or am I no different from the Romans? They treat each other honorably – or at least to the extent that the law requires. All else were no better than animals to them, to exploit or destroy according to their whim.
Will my dark nature rise up until I turn and slaughter those that care for me? They were able to handle me when I was wild with hunger, or at least the three didn’t run screaming with terror. But what if the rage seizes me and I slaughter all around me? What then? How many sides are there to this coin?
Do I want what they offer? A place, a safe nest. Or only their easy blood?
A small flame of hope lit in Tod; he saw that defending these people might be a way that he could still serve the Goddess even though he was a dead thing.
Determined to see where these thoughts took him he fed deeply, disposed of the remains and sped into town.
As soon as he was off duty Marten hustled back to the barracks, dumped most of his kit, picked up a fresh tunic and made his way to the baths. No time for a quiet steam and massage, he was focused on Disa (should he call her Honey?), just a quick wash. Should he use scent? Which one? Venus Verticordia7 advise me.
In the end Marten chose a light citrus and pepper oil that didn’t smell girly. He guessed it was the pepper that made it so expensive. His nerves were twitching as he quickly walked to the tavern where Honey (or should he call her Disa, if he didn’t would she think him pushy?) was staying with her cousins. Spying her at a table, Marten tugged the folds his tunic straight where his belt had pulled them awry.
“Hai Honey, how’s the wine here?”
It was the one called Bird that answered, “Marten, Marten, it is not trustworthy, I think we’d better stick to beer, I don’t want to know what they added to the wine.”
“In that case Honey, rather than drink this doubtful wine, would you like to go for a walk with me? It has cooled off nicely and there are mimes performing over near the gates.”
“That sounds like fun Marten, let’s do it! You guys are staying here, right?” Honey cocked her head to one side and raised an eyebrow. Ooops they’d better.
Not long afterwards Tod slipped into the tavern. Holding to the shadows he joined Horse and Bird on their bench.
At the moment Honey and Marten were laughing at the antics of the mimes portraying star-crossed lovers, an evil uncle, and a buffoonish chaperone. The comedic figure was funny, but the mimes were so bad they were even funnier. During a romantic moment between the lovers, a dog wandered through and pissed on the mime’s leg.
Marten whispered -loudly- to Honey: “They need to keep the dog in the act!”
Honey discovered she’d had altogether too much beer and Marten guided her in search of a public latrine. Fortuna smiled on them when they missed the next act which turned into a rather bloody finale.
Tod had gone looking for Honey, following the thread of her scent, supposedly because he was worried, actually because he was feeling possessive. Huh! Winding his way through the the dark network of alleys where her skirts and favorite stole (he could tell, since it was usually kept folded with lavender) had brushed up against the walls, he heard a boy whimpering in a doorway: ”Please your lordship, please leave me alone, please it hurts, IT HURTS! Mmmgrph.”
The monster within Tod was already alert, having been teased awake by the hunt for Honey. These pleas struck a discord in him, plucking at the tendons of his remembered terror. Only now he had the power, he was able to act and faster than sound he was pulling the officer off and out of the broken boy.
His anger bellowed out as he tore bits and strips off the officer; he’d so forgotten himself in his blood rage that he didn’t even think that he might have an audience until someone came after him with a knife.
Luckily, or not, Tod’s ire had not been quenched and he slashed through the crowd like a whirlwind. After a few beats had passed the alleyway was littered with body parts, sprayed with blood and the dragur started to come back to himself.
“Oh, stupid, stupid, this will be sooooo bad. I’m out of here.”
Their date ended when screams started echoing opposite the gate. Marten tore off to see what was to be done and waded right in, damn I’m supposed to be off duty.
There were only two cressets on the gateposts and it was hard to see beyond their flickering light. Honey peered warily at the crowd, not able to make out more than a heaving mass of tuniced backs and shoulders.
She was taken aback by a flicker of movement well above the mass of people. “Tttoooodd!” she moaned, as the figure vanished in the direction of the Porta Decumana8, facing the hills.
“Crap! I need to figure out what went wrong.” Honey muttered as she worked her way through the thicket of coarse fabric and sweaty bodies. The fear stink was strong here. Finally she got close enough to see Marten holding back the crowd and decided she should wait to talk to him until the boots she heard clattering on the pavers actually showed up.
Tod had flown fast as an arrow until he’d gotten amongst the trees, collided with the cliffs and rebounded onto the forest floor. He berated himself as he lay there digging his fingers into the leaf mould and repairing the contusions from his encounter with the cliff. Gah! Stupid, stupid, stupid! When he’d risen he’d had the arrogance to believe that he could have peace and return to be of good service to his Lady. Instead he’d been seized again by chaos and thrown back into the black pit with that monster that inhabited him.
So Stupid. Why can’t I put those things behind me? They happened almost two centuries ago. The sight and rattle of shackles, if I feel anyone seize my arm, the sound and cry of a whipping, any one of these things set me off, blind, in a rage. Just thinking about it leaves a block of ice in the pit of my stomach.
So sunk in his own misery, Tod didn’t notice the sounds of snuffling in the woods.
Finally after being encouraged to get a move on, the crowd dispersed and Honey was able to get close to Marten – who after all was not on duty – and find out what happened. She really wanted to find out why Tod had gotten out of there like his tail was on fire.
“So? What was all the noise about?”
Marten, arms crossed, was leaning against the opposite wall of the alley; he looked twice as old as he had an hour ago. “It was ugly and weird at the same time, all these body parts in a circle – maybe three/four guys and in the middle of this mess was a dead kid still in one piece; like the center of a daisy. It isn’t the worst I’ve ever seen, but it sure is the strangest.”
Honey took his arm and said that she should be the one to buy him a cup of beer. He looked like he needed it!
A loud grunt, the roiling stink of magic and boar roused Tod from his misery. Numbly, he wondered if the huge animal intended to eat him and whether he ought to care. Summer had stripped the undercoat from the beast and left a dull black hide with a mane of bristles and a tufted tail. He swung his head back and forth, the snout wrinkling and whuffling.
Well, he wouldn’t be his father’s son if he met his end lying down from either magic or mortal means so he scrambled to his knees to properly meet his fate.
Respectfully Tod greeted the pig: “Do you manifest Tincus9? I have not followed the path of the Good Lady and no longer deserve her blessing. I am ready to follow where ever you choose to lead me.”
Even though Tod expected something strange he was still surprised when the looming monster sat on his haunches before him and swung his head to stare from one mad eye. “You now serve the third face of the Goddess, Death. You have fed me well this night, five souls at once!” Rasping his tusks together he worked his saliva into a froth. “Violence brought violence, our Lady was pleased.
“You can worship all the aspects of the Lady by protecting the Clan. They are also her faithful servants.” Tincus grunted again as he surged to his feet and shook debris from his hide. “The sweet one must bear fruit, do not hinder her.”
The boar quickly pivoted and trotted back into obscurity. Tod always thought that it was really weird how they moved. Their forequarters and neck were so thick with muscle that the body could hardly flex. In comparison the legs were almost dainty and scissored rapidly. It must be like being hit by a boulder studded with knives. Ooof.
Back at the tavern Honey had taken her cousins aside and explained the mess over by the Porta Decumana.
“Should we try to find him?” Horse gnawed at the corner of his lower lip.
“Can you feel him Honey? I think I can. How about you Horse? Should we try to call him? D’ya think that might work? We’ve all had his blood.”
The three thought on the place where their bond seemed to be anchored and shifted about until they were all facing west. “There!” they said.
“Call,” Honey demanded, “but put brother-love in it.”
Marten thought it was odd when Honey and her cousins put their heads together so earnestly; not his business though. Then Honey waved and said they would be right back as they slipped out the back door.
They hadn’t been gone long before they reappeared accompanied by a younger guy who looked real familiar; just couldn’t place him though. Somebody he used to know? Now it would drive him nuts all night.
Very quiet he was, pale, maybe not as young as he first thought. Horse and Bird bracketed the boy closely – had he been sick? – who introduced himself as Archer. He wiggled even closer to Horse’s bulk and Marten caught a glimpse of the tattoos around his upper chest.
Alllll-right, he was now officially weirded out. The last time he had seen tattoos like that had been on an ancient priest back home, really ancient.
Maybe he’d had too much beer, because after that point things got pretty fuzzy, fun but fuzzy.
He kind of remembered the boy glaring at him a bit when he and Honey excused themselves to ‘take another walk’. But it was all good. Honey understood his position as a soldier, understood that she couldn’t expect any more from him than a little summer romp.
They’d see each other tomorrow in the market place and maybe get together again in the evening.
She did fulfill her promise, her hair smelled like honey.
In Roman city planning, a decumanus was an east-west-oriented road in a Roman city, castra (military camp), or colonia. The main decumanus was the Decumanus Maximus, which normally connected the Porta Praetoria (in a military camp, closest to the enemy) to the Porta Decumana (away from the enemy).
This name comes from the fact that the via decumana or decimana (the tenth) separated the Tenth Cohort from the Ninth in the legionary encampment, in the same way as the via quintana separated the Fifth Cohort from the Sixth.
Caesar’s attempt to open the Great St Bernard Pass for Roman traffic failed in 57 BC due to strong opposition by the local Veragri. Concerted and successful efforts to gain control over the Alpine region were undertaken by his successor, Augustus, as the rapid development of Lugdunum (Lyon) made the establishment of a safe and direct route from Gaul to Italy a priority.
In 25 BC, an army under Aulus Terentius Varrus Murena wiped out the Salassi in the Aosta Valley. At some time between 25 and 7 BC – either following the Aosta campaign or, more likely, in the course of the conquest of Raetia in 15 BC – a campaign also subjugated the Celtic tribes of the Valais and opened the Great St Bernard Pass.
That conquest was a consequence of the Augustan imperative of securing the Imperial borders. To effectively control the Alps as the shield of northern Italy, Rome needed to control both flanks of the mountain range. Thus it had to extend its power to the Rhine and Danube, thereby also opening a direct route to Germania and all of Central Europe. The last obstacle in this path were the Raetians. After a first expedition against them by Publius Silius Nerva in 16 BC, a more thorough campaign by Drusus and the later emperor Tiberius brought Raetia – and thereby all of Switzerland – firmly under Roman control.
The tropaeum alpium, built by Augustus in 7 BC to celebrate his conquest of the Alps, lists among the defeated peoples the tribes of Raetia and of the Valais, but not the Helvetii. It appears that they were absorbed peacefully into the Empire during the first century AD, except for their part in the conflicts of the Year of the Four Emperors, AD 69.
1Don’t bother me!
2Alpes Poeninae, also known as Alpes Graiae, was a small Alpine province of the Roman Empire, one of three such provinces in the western Alps between Italy and Gaul. It comprised the Val d’Aosta region (Italy) and the Canton Valais (Switzerland). Its strongest indigenous tribe were the Salassi. Their territory was annexed by emperor Augustus in 15 BC. Its chief city was Augusta Praetoria Salassorum (Aosta). Wikipedia
4Romansch, one of the small dialects of Switzerland combines elements of the original Celtic and Latin languages, sounds facinating. Wikipedia.
5Confluentes: The flowing together of rivers, now Koblenz
7Venus the Changer of Hearts.
8In Roman city planning, a decumanus was an east-west-oriented road in a Roman city, castra (military camp), or colonia. The main decumanus was the Decumanus Maximus, which normally connected the Porta Praetoria (in a military camp, closest to the enemy) to the (away from the enemy).