By the Light of the Silvery Moon
At its apex, the moon appraised the Rhine valley, picking out the straight lines of human endeavor, the right angles of the latifunda1, the allées of trees leading to the farms, the terraces of grapevines, the road drawn toward the city of Confluentes2. The miniature figure of a horse had just enough wit left to carry its head at an angle the reins trailing to one side, as it tore in the direction of that city.
The sounds of terror shook the air and the scent of sweet horse blood and dung overlay the road. Soon this would be spiked with the sharper note of human blood and open omnivore gut.
The horse that didn’t get away still screamed from the pain the dragur had caused in his rush to get at the red cloaks. The pitiful noise not only woke the children but irritated Tod enough for him to turn and deal a backhanded slap that broke the beast’s neck, before he went back to pulling bits off the messengers.
The humans had never seen such shimmering rage, their Gamli was incoherent with it.
What on the Goddess’ green earth was going on? What madness had suddenly seized their ally?
Overwhelmed with the flashes of memory, Tod raised his face from the butchery and began to rub chunks of flesh over his arms and face. “I will bathe in your blood for the dishonor you brought to me. I will shit in your mouth, foul pederasts. I will cast your families into a cess pit and bury them there!” pushing to his feet, then stumbling to one side Tod declared, ”I cannot be chained my spirit is free.” He sank to his knees, “I cannot be chained, I CAN NOT! I WILL NOT!”
Suddenly he crumbled into himself his face a mask of horror, his focus turned inward, his inky pupils narrowing enough so that a thread of gray circled the iris.
A beat of silence, then all drew breath again. Another beat, broken by a small whisper: “My Tod, he hurt? He cry?”
“Shuussssh! Baby.” Honey swayed, rocking Andy. “Let him settle first, then we’ll help.”
Horse slid Bucky off his back and herded him over to Bird. “You stay here for a bit, guy. Let me get a handle on this.”
Keeping his limbs loose and posture relaxed Horse walked to where he was sure he was within Tod’s visual range. Looking towards the hills, he spoke softly.
Three breaths. The donkey flicked his tail.
“Tod, tell us what you see, what you feel.”
Another breath, little Buck choked on a sob.
“Tod, you are on the road with us, your people. Tell us what you are seeing.”
“I am caged, I am chained, they spit on me, they call me beast.” Tod seized his hair and tore at it.
“I am a priest! I am free! I am Raetian. My spirit abides no matter what shame you visit upon me!”
“You are here with us, your people. We are free.”
Horse glanced over his shoulder to signal that they needed to join his effort.
the Sword of the clan roved, hunting seeking
out the fleeting life force of prey. Taking joy in thrumming pulse, thudding heart.
Swiftly skimming the flanks of mountains
reaving river valleys, reaping fear.
The three adults stepped closer, perforce bringing the children with them. Skipping to the last stanza, their stanza:
Whetted beak slashing from the sun’s chariot’s
ascent. Always ravens feeding on the red cloaked
talons and the little foxes on the fiercest warriors.’
Stood the chance for three to winnow
through Raven’s harvest. (the children joined in for the part they knew)To reap the reapers,
to discern a sword that would fit their scabbard
like a lover. Embrace and welcome like a long lost
lover, (Tod added his voice)far wanderer to be their home defender,
their weal. His death consumes their life, their life
sups his death. This is their mead, eternal feast.
Tod opened and closed his darkly sticky fists; looked around at the carnage, mutely appalled.
Andala scrambled out of the sling on Honey’s back, trotting over to Tod she scolded: “you dirty, you wash NOW!”
Tugging on his forefinger the girl led him over to one of the rivulets feeding the river. “Det the ick off! I hep. Dimmy shirt.”
Honey bustled over to show Andy the best way to scrub, of course there was more demonstrating on Honey’s part than there was scrubbing on Andy’s part, but that was fine.
After being relieved of his tunic Buck got involved too; as soon as he was handed the jar of soap he set to washing Tod’s hair, relaxing as the blood swirled away, feeling less buffeted by anxiety.
It wasn’t as though the boy hadn’t seen people killed before. He thought about all those fights, sometimes with knives. Last spring a runaway horse had crashed into a produce cart and impaled itself on one of the supports, it had screamed and screamed until the owner came and slit its throat. Of course there was always the odd crucifixion for when a thief had been caught. Fortunately they were always on the Via Praetoria, on the other side of town. Mama wouldn’t let Andy go, said it would give her nightmares but Papa took him a couple of times and he got to stand around with the other auxiliaries. It was pretty neat.
Honey stepped back after spreading the shirts over brush to drip. Draping her stole over her head to shield her back from the rough bark she leaned against a tree while watching the boy and the dragur side by side. Lady I’m tired.
Amazing how similar their bodies were, the same compact frame, the same nicely muscled butt, the same dark hair. Even the same feet. She suspected that their skin would be the same tone if Tod were still human. Tch, she thought, amazing.
Little mistress bossy-boots insisted on combing Tod’s hair and patting it into place. He seemed to have pulled into himself, even ignoring Andy’s mothering. Finally he broke down and hugged the small body, pressing his face into her hair. Buck understood that Tod felt bad for what happened and awkwardly patted his shoulder.
“‘S all right. We weren’t scared too much. My sister was worried that you were hurt.”
Slowly they got themselves together. Tod still wasn’t himself, the blank look in his eyes made Honey’s stomach hurt. Horse hovered nearby to urge him along and Bird kept pace; Fortunus happily shambled in their wake.
The dragur very carefully thought of nothing at all. Later he might let bits and pieces of the messenger incident appear in his conscious mind but for now he paid attention to his feet striking the ground and the cool air stroking his arms. Most of the smell of blood was gone, except his shoes. Fumbling with the ties, Tod impatiently ripped his feet free of the noxious pieces of leather and threw them so far that they shrank into pinpoints before they thudded into a field.
Padding along barefoot on the dusty stones felt better, he could concentrate on the people around him. They will not hurt me, they will not trap me, they will not laugh at me nor spit on me. There are no chains, there are no bars I am free. I am the far wanderer, I am free.
Lifting his head a little Tod drew in the scents of his people; Horse’s signature was heaviest, richly woody, with a tang of iron; Honey was….honey and herbs and mouth-wateringly female; Bird was lighter, dryer but redolent of furs and grasslands. Ahhh, the children, indefinite but still male and female…citrus, almost reminiscent of puppies? They all carried the scent of the rivulet they’d washed in, last year’s rotted leaves and frog spawn.
Don’t think about the stench the Roman’s carried. Olive oil and fermented fish, metal polish and stale masculinity, armor padding soaked with yesterday’s sweat and horses. Don’t think about it! His fangs snapped down.
I am the far wanderer, I am free.
His fangs retreated reluctantly, some part of him was still dwelling within the horrors of his human life.
I am the far wanderer, I am free. Tod forced his mind back into emptiness.
In a slowly moving wedge the humans trailed in the Gamli’s wake. He was unreachable, even stumbling occasionally, but progressing.
They worried where he would spend his day death. Would they have to keep him safe?
“We will not get to Confluentes before sunrise at this rate.” Bird picked at the donkey’s lead rope, his brow twisted in consternation.
“Isn’t that the second oxbow we just passed? The hills are crowding the road right up against the river.” Horse pulled at his lower lip. “It seems to me that right after the vineyards to the left things will open out and we will reach Brey. Then there will be an easy ascent along a stream and then we can cut west,over to our river.”
In agreement Bird added “That way we won’t have to walk all the way to Confluentes, only to double back along the Moselle. My feet are ready for a rest.”
“You’ve been to Brey, haven’t you Horse? Will it suit?”
“Ya, I was there as a journeyman.”
They walked a few paces further before Horse continued “I worked with the smith there for almost a year, he was unusually talented. I would like to see him again. We can stay with him if he doesn’t have a new ‘prentice. There’s room for Tod too, I know the place well.”
So tired, Honey was so tired, she was practically sleepwalking.
On they went, the mists rose from the land, the somnolent children swayed suspended on their backs and the donkey sighed as he walked.
Tod seemed to be trapped in another world, his face frozen into the marble mask of an old time statue, eyes wide and staring.
They were all stumbling like Tod by the time they had reached Brey. Horse pointed out the loft over the smithy and told everyone to get Tod bedded down up there. He would talk to the smith and take care of the jack while they got settled.
Bird pulled the harness and panniers off of Fortunus. Horse fished a rag out of one of the baskets and started to rub him down.
“Bird, you get Tod up that ladder, there are pallets where ‘prentices usually sleep. We’ll go wake the smith as soon as he’s tucked in.
It took some serious pounding to wake Isarnomarus – he was deaf as a post from all the years of work at the anvil.
In the end his daughter Epasia came to the door, her hair unbound and in her under tunic. She was flustered to see Horse before her, flustered and pleased.
Suddenly, even tired as he was, Horse fumbled with the pack strap he was holding and stammered: “I wanted to visit before, I didn’t mean to barge in and drag my cousins with me But all sort of things happened and we ended up adopting these kids and we didn’t really have a place to stay and my cousin is dead tired. And, and.” he was over come with embarrassment, “I’m sorry to wake you.”
“Sure, sure, c’mon in, I think Pops is just getting up. You’ll have to rest up in this loft. Put the kids on my pallet.”
Retrieving a splinter of wood Epasia crouched over the hearth to stir the embers, “I’ll get a lamp lit so you can see where you are going.” As soon as the spill flamed she held it against the wick until it glowed steadily. Before she stood the blacksmith’s daughter carefully tucked the ends of several slender splits into the heart of the embers.
“That’ll catch soon.”
In the soft light of the lamp the travelers could see that Epasia’s hair was a fulgent red, her eyes winter gray. What a contrast! Fire and sleet!
Immediately Honey was envious. Brown, brown, brown, gah! I feel like a sparrow next to her.
Horse bent a little and softly thanked the woman for her hospitality. “You have always been welcoming to me and mine, we thank you.”
From the warmly attentive look on Horse’s face Bird and Honey suspected that more was being said than actually voiced. Oh, myyyyy.
It would be a slow day, mid-morning Horse donned his leather apron to spend time with Isarnomarus and Epasia in the shop. All afternoon the anvil rang as they excitedly showed each other new things.
While the children were drawn into the sooty shop by the rhythm of the hammers, they were held there, entranced by Epasia skillfully wielding her hammer to draw out tendrils and leaves on some fancy ironwork. As the piece cooled the young smith would pass it back to Horse who would tong out another white-hot bit for her to work on. A well practiced pas de deux.
The master smith was manning the bellows and he beckoned the children to watch him raise and lower the arm that alternately expanded and compressed the ridged leather bladder. With each rough exhale of the leather, sparks swirled up from the charcoal and the heart of the firepot glowed white.
Bucky drifted around the shop, much taken with the stuff piled in the corners and some small barrels filled with odd bits of broken tools. He fingered the sheaves of thick wire ready to be cut and shaped into nails. Just a wondrous collection of grimy stuff. Buck was in heaven.
On the other hand Andala looked at her brother horrified, and withdrew to stand with Honey.
“Pick f’owers ‘Tunus?” seemed like a much better thing to do.
“Good idea, little bit.”
Hand in hand they sauntered out into the sunlight and towards the hillside behind the smithy. It would be as good a time as any to begin teaching Andala herb-lore.
In search of news – and coin – Bird made for Brey. He thought it would be a good staging point for those heading into the city of Confluentes for a little trade. He imagined that the merchants might choose to rest the pack animals a bit before the rest of the trek, perhaps pick up a few deals without paying the big city prices for a place to stay.
The notion that had been tickling the bard’s brain grew into a full fledged plan. He noted the bridges across the Moselle and the Rhine, and mooring for the barges heading downstream on the Rhine towards Germania Inferior and the cold North Sea.
Of course the most heavily laden traffic moved south, upstream towards Rome of the multitudinous appetites, for wheat, for wine, for slaves. Even the local black pottery was much in demand.
The Aeturni had found a good market for their sweet wines in Confluentes; a local merchant would buy anything they produced, still, it might be more profitable to have their own staging point. Carefully scanning the terrain, Bird thought of Horse and his interest in the flame haired blacksmith. Not a bad idea at all. They just needed to see whether the short cut3 would permit passage of the wagons carrying the amphorae of wine. The rustic track branched off to the west right before the via crossed a stream plashing under a small bridge. No wonder the blacksmith’s shop did so well, right at the juncture of two roads and within reach of good water. After noticing the warmth between his cousin and the smith’s daughter, Bird wondered if Horse might want to settle here and how that would work out for them all.
Would it be practical for the Aeturni to establish footholds in the surrounding communities? Would that be dangerous for their Gamli? Could everyone be sealed to secrecy? It might work. They’d have to think on it.
The main square of Brey was easy enough to find, there was a colonnade and a gate right off of the Augusta Vindelicorum4. Bird’s feet had gotten weary of that road and he would be glad to put his boots to something besides paving stones. For now he had plotzed in the shade of the colonnade watching the vendors.
By the time the sun had slid far enough to the west to push back the shade Bird had been enjoying, he’d had enough of the gossip, earned enough coin, picked up a nice loaf of bread and was more than ready to head back to his comrades and share the sight of squad of Roman soldiers returning to Confluentes at full pace5, followed more slowly by a guarded wagon bearing two coffins . Time to disappear, hmmmm?
The house was quiet, he suspected that Honey had excused herself to nap with the children. Bird found Horse and Epasia wrapped around each other in the shade of an old chestnut tree and decided to check on the Elder.
Shadows had closed in around the smithy and little light penetrated the gloomy loft. The steer hide that they had spread out over Tod was undisturbed. Settling with his back against a post, Bird’s eyes drifted closed as he waited for the dragur to rise.
Tod’s nose quickened to the scent of leather, acrid soot and the old blood smell of quenched iron. Smithy, yes. One flex of his fingers drew new air under the hide, new air which carried the scent of his people, Bird was waiting, his heart in sleep mode.
The passing of last night’s anger left his belly empty. Was it hunger, when his chest ached? What had really happened? The clicking and creaking of the the soldier’s harness had set his nerves on edge, their voices pressed on his skull and when one had hawked and spat it felt like the tile floor of his first captivity had exploded around him leaving shards all over the landscape.
He thought Bird would let him feed, and then perhaps, other things. He had the feeling that the bard preferred men as partners; that was fine, it didn’t matter to him so much any more. You could be raped by either sex, after a while you could enjoy sex with either. A distraction.
A distraction, but perhaps in this case a whole new set of possibilities. His people permitted him to have the luxury of relaxing in fond comradeship. A luxury he hadn’t indulged in since before he’d left the mountains in his sophomoric attempt to lesson the Romans.
All the same his throat tightened with fear revolving around the course he was on; he’d had it pounded into him ever since he was made dragur that none were trustworthy and his only reality was kill or be killed.
Tod understood the hungers of his body, how long he could go before his needs would set up a raucous clamor within. But what to do with loneliness? ‘Tura and Corbulo were into searching out fresh conquests; charming, enticing, winning and slaughtering new victims. Always the hunt for something new.
Their decadent pursuits roiled his stomach. Dragur or not Tod still clung by his fingertips to honor.
His bard levered up to sit beside him and lean drowsily into his shoulder. “Is it full dark?” Bird asked, then spoke of the notion that was foremost in his mind.
“When I went into Bray today, I passed right by the via vicinales which joins the Augusta not far from the smithy. I think we should take the shortcut, maybe stay away from the fort at Confluentes.6 Have you been that way Tod?
“Mmmm, perhaps. I’ll have to have a look.” He soothed himself running his fingers through Bird’s hair, not as thick as Horse’s but nice. Indulging in one more deep inhale of the bard’s scent, my human, Tod suggested they find the others.
The women were crouched over the meal fire, each contributing ingredients to the pot for their supper. When Bird laid out the fresh bread he’d gotten that day everyone’s eyes lit up. Perfect.
Arguably, the dessert might be even better. When the distaff contingent had ventured out Andala had been the one to spot cherries in a neighbor’s tree. Honey had begged leave of the young mistress of the house to pick fruit in exchange for a share.
The woman gave up on trying to heft a toddler over her very pregnant belly and let him race in circles around her while adroitly switching hands and maintaining a grim hold on his wrist; she used her chin to point Honey in the direction of a basket. Peremptorily she dragged the dusty little tornado inside, roughly insisting that he drink his cup of milk and that he would, by the good Goddess, take a nap.
As the kerfluffle inside the house subsided Honey steadied the little girl in the tree and instructed her to pick the cherries by the stems to keep them fresh. They took turns at picking, Honey using her time to weave a little orchard grass basket to carry their share of fruit and helping Andy craft her own version just large enough to hold five cherries.
They delivered the harvest to the neighbor, who by that time was sitting on her front stoop half asleep in the afternoon sun, then returned to the smithy to collect Buck for a wash and a nap.
So it went for the humans and the dragur, a little of this, a little of that until they gathered again in the evening to decide their course.
The shadows were deep in the room and the fire lit the gathered faces warmly. It was, perhaps, a little startling for Isarnomarus and Epasia when Tod appeared at their door. Deftly he caught their eyes and explained that he he was a familiar figure to them, there was nothing startling about his habits or appearance, they expected to see him occasionally with or without the Aeturni but he wasn’t to be a topic for gossip. The blacksmiths’ eyes were a little glassy, but they nodded agreeably. “Yes, yes, of course, so good to see you again Tod.”
The children scrambled to their feet to make their little bows and whisper, “Good rising, Gamli.” Honey and Horse did the same, as did the blacksmiths (not to be thought lacking in courtesy) after a pause.
The Elder remained standing to return the greeting: “A good evening to you, my people,” and then sat gracefully at the foot of the meal fire.
Andy immediately scrambled over to wiggle into his lap and fill his ears with chatter about cherries.
While eating, the adults all noticed Epasia carefully serving Horse right after she’d taken care of her father, tending them both carefully, filling their mugs before passing the pitcher of ale. Honey and Bird smiled into their bowls and cut meaningful glances in Tod’s direction. Even the old blacksmith was sensible of the little by-play between his daughter and the journeyman; he also caught the smiles of the other Aeturni and nodded to himself. This couldn’t possibly work out better. Horse was a good man and a skilled craftsman.
When they were done with the soup and were spitting cherry pits into the fire, Bird tiptoed around the idea he’d had before.
“This shop, Isarnomarus, is so excellently placed.” The deaf blacksmith watched the bard’s lips carefully. “With the location and your own hard work you have prospered. Will your daughter take over or will you look for a partner?”
The old man cleared his throat and straightened his shoulders, putting his broad chest and gnarled arms on display.
“I have been most fortunate in my business, but it would be even greater good fortune if I could find one willing to bide here and wed my daughter. Many have offered, but she would have none of them – truthfully they were not good enough for her or as capable in the smithy. If there had been one I would have adopted him and made him my heir.” Isarnomarus wilted a bit.
“I hoped that I would see Epasia settled in a way no one could dispute. We don’t have the money for the fancy lawyers and the written contracts that the Romans use.”
“Erm, sir!” Horse reached out to brush the old man’s arm.
“This is more public than I’d hoped, but Epasia and I were talking today and decided that we would like to wed. If that meets with your approval?”
“Perhaps, there are details that need to be worked out.” Bird interjected, “and our elders must be consulted.” He looked towards the the other end of the fire pit, “Gamli, what are your thoughts?”
At another time or another place the smiths would have been surprised at such a young person’s opinion being sought.
Before she leaned forward to catch the dragur’s response, Honey quickly pulled out a bit of leather and tied her hair back securely. She’d learned the hard way not to get so involved in what was going on that she frizzled her hair.
Shifting Andala to sit on his thigh, Tod’s brows drew together as he weighed the possibilities. “I think it would be a good match, good for all parties. Except the adoption.” He gestured to the two smiths, “It would be to everyone’s advantage if we were to adopt you.”
I owe thanks to penpractice for maintaining my coherency and I recently realized that I also owe Octavia Butler a debt for her book ‘The Fledgeling’ for widening my perspective on vampires. It was a great loss when she died.
1 Cato the Elder (also known as “Cato the Censor”) was a politician and statesman in the mid-to-late Roman Republic and described his view of a farm of 100 iugera. He claimed such a farm should have “a foreman, a foreman’s wife, ten laborers, one ox driver, one donkey driver, one man in charge of the willow grove, one swineherd, in all sixteen persons; two oxen, two asses for wagon work, one ass for the mill work.” He also said that such a farm should have “three presses fully equipped, storage jars in which five vintages amounting to eight hundred cullei can be stored, twenty storage jars for wine-press refuse, twenty for grain, separate coverings for the jars, six fiber-covered half amphorae, four fiber-covered amphorae, two funnels, three basketwork strainers, [and] three strainers to dip up the flower (sic), ten jars for [handling] the wine juice…”
2 Around 1000 BC, early fortifications were erected on the Festung Ehrenbreitstein hill on the opposite side of the Moselle. In 55 BC, Roman troops commanded by Julius Caesar reached the Rhine and built a bridge between Koblenz and Andernach. About 9 BC, the “Castellum apud Confluentes”, was one of the military posts established by Drusus.
Remains of a large bridge built in 49 AD by the Romans are still visible. The Romans built two castles as protection for the bridge, one in 9 AD and another in the 2nd century, the latter being destroyed by the Franks in 259. North of Koblenz was a temple of Mercury and Rosmerta (a Gallo-Roman deity), which remained in use up to the 5th century.
3Viae privatae, rusticae, glareae and agrariae
The second category included private or country roads, originally constructed by private individuals, in whom their soil was vested, and who had the power to dedicate them to the public use. Such roads benefited from a right of way, in favor either of the public or of the owner of a particular estate. Under the heading of viae privatae were also included roads leading from the public or high roads to particular estates or settlements. These Ulpian considers to be public roads themselves.
Features off the via were connected to the via by viae rusticae, or secondary roads. Both main or secondary roads might either be paved, or left unpaved, with a gravel surface, as they were in North Africa. These prepared but unpaved roads were viae glareae or sternendae (“to be strewn”). Beyond the secondary roads were the viae terrenae, “dirt roads”.
The third category comprised roads at or in villages, districts, or crossroads, leading through or towards a vicus or village. Such roads ran either into a high road, or into other viae vicinales, without any direct communication with a high road. They were considered public or private, according to the fact of their original construction out of public or private funds or materials. Such a road, though privately constructed, became a public road when the memory of its private constructors had perished.
Siculus Flaccus describes viae vicinales as roads “de publicis quae divertunt in agros et saepe ad alteras publicas perveniunt” (which turn off the public roads into fields, and often reach to other public roads). The repairing authorities, in this case, were the magistri pagorum or magistrates of the cantons. They could require the neighboring landowners either to furnish laborers for the general repair of the viae vicinales, or to keep in repair, at their own expense, a certain length of road passing through their respective properties.
5At full pace a soldier was expected to cover 25 miles in five hours – carrying a 50 pound pack.