PART I Chapter 4
When the courier from Porolissum reached Apulum Inferior at midday the town was already in an uproar: goatherds from their vantage- points on the mountain had seen the horsemen coming along the old road little more than a day's fast ride away and had brought their animals back down the mountains, penning them inside the stout, wooden walls of the town, then had informed the leader of the Watch and the regional guardian of the approaching danger. They had barely completed their report when an official courier arrived on a lathered horse and hurried into the central villa, and was directed to the reception-room by the footman at the door.
"There are more than fifty mounted men heading this way; if they continue at their present pace, they may get here by midnight, and they could still attack; if they arrive after that hour, they won't attack until morning," the courier reported as he stood before the guardian and the captain of the Watch in the reception-room; he was tired, thirsty, and dusty, his buckskin paragaudion and femoralia were stained and torn; his temper was short. "The rest of their men have occupied Porolissum and apparently plan to hold it for their leader, possibly as a regional headquarters for him."
"Would he be Attila?" Mangueinic asked, speaking the language of the Gepidae; unlike the courier, it was not his native tongue. He was of Gothic and Dacian heritage, a common blend in this part of the Carpathians, and he had made a place for himself in Apulum Inferior that marked him as a man to be trusted by all parties: as captain of the Watch, he was responsible for the security of the town until soldiers arrived to take over the task of protection. Short, blocky, and strong, he was open-faced and wore his red hair and beard trimmed close to his head.
"That is what they claimed," said the courier. "I left hours before the Huns arrived, not long after the scouts brought their report from Ebussa, which was afire when Attila broke off their assault. Another six couriers were dispatched when I was, shortly after the attack began. Those of us sent out were given this mission because we can understand some of the Hunnic speech, and enough Gothic and Greek and other languages to comprehend most of what we hear when we stop to remount, or to deliver our messages." He patted the satchel secured to his belt. "This is where I have the dispatch for you. It tells you much the same things that I have, but it has details and information I did not have the time to learn, since speed has been essential. You may have to fight as soon as tomorrow, so I have traveled as fast as my horse would let me."
"You have done well," said Sanctu-Germainios, and was about to go on when the courier interrupted.
"Coming here, I passed a group of foreigners," the courier announced. "About thirty of them, with a flock of goats and a dozen carts coming, they said, from the north side of the Pontus Euxinus ... I believe is what they said. Their language was unknown to me and only two had any command of Byzantine speech; they may have said the south side, but their location would make little sense if ... Their village was destroyed by Huns and they are hoping to find a haven near Constantinople, where they might be safe, or so their leader claimed, and if I understood him correctly. They might have been Sarmatae, but I can't be certain. There will be more of them coming this way."
"This is a strange direction to take to get to Constantinople. Why should they climb the Carpathians when they might as readily have continued along the shore of the Pontus Euxinus." said Sanctu-Germainios . In his black-silk pallium, black femoralia, and short, black Gothic boots, he was like a shadow in the room, which his reserved manner emphasized.
"They admitted as much; they were not on the road they planned to follow. They hadn't wanted to scale the mountains. But there has been fighting along the edge of the sea, and they are not prepared to endure pitched battles, so they have gone around the combat and - " The courier fussed with his red, identifying shoulder-sash. "They may be bound for this town, or some other settlement in this region; they didn't appear to have a specific destination in mind. It would be unfortunate if they should lead the Huns here. If the Huns come upon them before this town is in sight, that may delay their arrival here."
"At the cost of those foreigners," said Sanctu-Germainios soberly.
"That's useful of the foreigners," Mangueinic remarked with a jovial cynicism. "It's better that they cause the Huns distraction than that we have to decide if we can offer any shelter to them."
Sanctu-Germainios felt disheartened to hear such a callous remark, but stopped himself from making the outburst that sparked within him, knowing that it was as much fear as indifference speaking in Mangueinic; he addressed the courier. "If you will give us your dispatch, you may go to the kitchen; my cooks will give you a meal and wine. When you have eaten, you may go to the bath-house, or to bed, as you think best. Unless you are to ride on, in which case, I will provide you a fresh horse." He nodded to Mangueinic while the courier pulled out the parchment, its author's name, location, and office written in a cobbled version of Latin and Greek; he offered it to the master of the Watch.
"I thank you for the horse and the meal, but I will have to continue on until sunset." He slapped at his paragaudion, coughing a little as dust sprayed from it. "Anything would be better than what I've been eating."
"Then I will have a new horse saddled for you; it will be waiting when you finish your meal." He turned to Mangueinic. "Is there anything you want to ask this brave man before he restores himself?"
"No; I will want to talk with him before he departs," said Mangueinic, taking the parchment from the courier. "I want to find out more about those foreigners. I'll catch him at the gates."
Sanctu-Germainios rubbed his jaw. "We will have to summon all the men in the town before the day is over. We will call them to the forum, at the third quarter of the afternoon."
"And not only from the town, but outlying holdings." Mangueinic scrutinized the parchment, frowning. "You were wise not to remain at your estate, but to come to your villa at the middle of the town."
"As regional foreign guardian, it is my duty to do so. As you and I must together organize our men for defense." Noticing that Mangueinic was having difficulty making out the scrawl on the parchment, and was holding it upside-down, he said, "Would you like me to have a try at it?"
Discomfited at being recognized as unable to read, Mangueinic gave the sheet to Sanctu-Germainios, saying as he did, "You merchants are always better at reading than we builders are. You have clerks and we have laborers and slaves."
"Skills follow necessity," said Sanctu-Germainios, using the old aphorism learned on his first visit to Roma, almost five centuries before. Perusing the hasty writing, he said, "This informs us that the Huns were coming from east-by-north, in three groups of mounted soldiers, the smallest of the groups numbered more than one hundred twenty men, the largest was more than three hundred. The middle group took up the attack on Porolissum, shouting that it belonged to Attila now, and would become his city, and for that reason they would not raze it. The smallest group turned south, the largest continued west-by-south so long as the shepherds and goatherds could see them. The writer is Bishop Perrus, and he fears that these Huns are truly bent on occupying the land they over-run. He says his people are terrified of what may become of them."
"Nonsense," Mangueinic scoffed, scratching the edge of his beard. "Everyone knows those eastern barbarians are raiders, after plunder, not conquerors, bent on claiming land for their people. We Dacians and Gepidae and Goths do that - we take l and - but such barbarians as the Huns do not."
"This says this new leader, Attila, isn't like the others. He wants to keep the lands he occupies, not graze them and move on, as the Hunnic people have done for ... for uncounted years." Sanctu-Germainios let Mangueinic have a little time to think about the implication of such intelligence, then added, "The Huns have raided in the past, but not like this. They always moved on after taking what they wanted. Now they remain and expand." He began to fold the parchment.
"The Huns are mercenaries for Constantinople," said Mangueinic sulkily. "They have been for more than fifty years. Whole Byzantine garrisons are manned by Huns. Let the Emperor in Constantinople give them land."
"But Attila was not their leader when those men were hired, and they will not be easily appeased," said Sanctu-Germainios. "Attila has taken a lesson from the Romans, and that is why we find ourselves having to defend our lands and our towns."
Mangueinic scowled. "Do you believe that this is true? Or could it be that these barbarians aren't Huns at all, but some other band from the east? What about the company of foreigners the courier saw?"
"They were fleeing the Huns, at least the courier seems convinced of that. And thirty people with flocks of goats and carts are not fifty mounted warriors." He hesitated, musing. "Attila is splitting his men into smaller companies: he is trying to conquer a large area quickly."
"Those foreigners: do you think they could be scouts, or spies?"
"Too many and too obvious to be spies, too slow to be scouts," said Sanctu-Germainios. "For now, I will suppose they are what they claim to be."
After taking a moment to mull this over, Mangueinic said, "I'll tell my Watch to be on the lookout for them. They could help us defend the town in exchange for our protection. Or, if they seem treacherous, we can keep them outside Apulum Inferior, to draw away the Huns."
"Whatever the case where these foreigners are concerned, we will have to do our utmost to be ready to face the Huns," Sanctu-Germainios said, concealing his dislike of Mangueinic's insensibility toward the unknown travelers; this was no time to argue with him about the fate of strangers - not when his town was in peril. "I will arm my servants and send them to you for posting. As captain of the Watch, it is for you to arrange our defense; I will not interfere with your task. I will do what I can to organize the town, and warn the outlying farms and villages, which is my province." He gave a fleeting smile as he thrust the fan-folded parchment through his belt and looked around the reception-room. "I will want to call all my servants together by mid-afternoon, and will assign to you such of them as come under your purview. Then I will want to speak to the clergy and the foreign merchants in the town."
"If you decide to close the gates before sundown, inform me. I think we had best keep the gates open for the outlying villagers and farmers, and to find out about the foreigners on the road. Otherwise they're apt to be killed, and that will not help us fight the Huns." Mangueinic looked out at the blustery brightness. "Are you going to send your messengers - "
"Shortly," said Sanctu-Germainios. "I'll use my personal courier to go to the chapels, churches, and monasteries, and the town's messengers for the rest. They should be gone from here before midafternoon, and not return until tomorrow morning, if then. I am going to instruct them to stay away from here if there is fighting. I'll make sure they have bows and arrows as well as smoked pork, in case they may encounter trouble on the way. If all goes well, half of them should return by midnight." He clapped his hands, wishing that Rugierus were with him and not on the road to Constantinople; he reminded himself that wishing was not useful, and gave his full attention to his approaching crisis.
"Funny," said Mangueinic, "we've had a lot of warning since spring, but I never thought it would really happen - that the Huns would actually attack Apulum Inferior. I was sure they'd be stopped before ... But then, I thought we would have more soldiers here if there were any real threat, I always supposed they'd head for Apulum, and we would have time to make a retreat."
"That could still happen," said Sanctu-Germainios, more to reassure Mangueinic than because he was convinced of it.
As the house-keeper appeared at the inner door he ducked his head to the guardian. "Dom Sanctu-Germainios." His conduct was completely contained, but there was a wildness in his tawny eyes that revealed his fear.
"Urridien," Sanctu-Germainios said. "Summon the household to this room at mid-afternoon, and send Estaphanos Stobi, and Samnor of Porolissum, Polynices Ridion, and Vilca Troed to me as soon as possible. I will see the messengers in my office as soon as they can get there. Then send word to the stable to have Atlas saddled."
Urridien ducked his head. "Yes, Dom Sanctu-Germainios," he said, and hurried away, grateful to have something to do.
As soon as he was gone, Mangueinic asked, "How many men will you be able to provide me?"
"I will know in little more than an hour, and will send the men to you with my report; I reckon between twenty-five and thirty." He paused, then added, "My clerk will give you the report."
Mangueinic gave a single, curt nod, raised his hand in a gesture that was not quite a salute but more than a simple wave of farewell. "I'll send a messenger if there are any changes."
"Thank you," Sanctu-Germainios acknowledged this, then strode off toward the room designated as his office, where he spent a short while writing out his dispatches on leather squares with an Egyptian stylus and fixed ink. When that was done, he made a list of his servants. By the time he had dispatched his courier and the town messengers, the afternoon was half-gone, and the town was filled with barely contained panic; as Sanctu-Germainios went out to issue his orders to his household servants, he was keenly aware of the terror that was welling as lava rose in the mouths of volcanoes. Everyone was afraid, and that fear was feeding on itself.
Urridien stood at the head of the household servants in the reception hall. Fifty-three men and women and six youngsters waited silently, apprehension in every aspect of their presence. "I brought the gardeners as well as the rest, and the grooms from the stable," the house-keeper announced, his voice cracking from his increasing edginess.
"Very good. We will need their help, too," said Sanctu-Germainios , and turned to address the gathering. "No doubt you have heard that there is a possibility that a mounted company of Huns is coming this way. Whether it is true or not, we must be prepared for that eventuality." He paused to give the servants a little time to think about this. "I will ask all able-bodied men - no matter what your function in the household - to report to the captain of the town Watch for assignment to a fighting post. Glamode, that does not include you. I want you to go into the cellars and make sure our foodstuffs, water, wine, and cloth are kept safe. And Bacoem, you will have tasks to do here."
Glamode, who was almost forty and leaned on a stick to walk, and who guarded the kitchen pantry at night, ducked his head. "Very kind, Dom Sanctu-Germainios."
"And what will I do?" Bacoem, the poultry-keeper, asked; he had lost his lower left arm in a construction accident, and though strong and capable, could not wield a weapon.
"In a moment, Bacoem. The youths will go to the Watch barracks, and help the Watchmen to arm themselves. The girls will remain here, in the weavery, where they can make bandages from the selvage on the looms." For the first time he was relieved that he had taken the time to provide brass-and-leather loricae for the men of the town; most of the townsmen could not afford to buy armor for themselves. "While you are there, you are to assist the monks in tending to any wounded," Sanctu-Germainios said, and saw the assuagement in all of the servants. "If you have to leave the barracks, go to the town chapel, and remain in the crypts under the sanctuary until it is safe to emerge." He considered adding another place of retreat, then changed his mind; if the chapel crypt was unsafe, the whole town would be lost. "The women will remain here. Set up an infirmary for anyone wounded. Bacoem will help you arrange the beds. Make sure you have sufficient blankets; if you believe you need more, let me know and I will have them brought in from my estate." He could sense that having something to do was reassuring to most of the servants, and that served to restore him as well. "Tonight when the household dines, I will ask the cooks to make extra cauldrons of stew and set them in the root-cellar, covered, and ready to be warmed tomorrow. The same with bread. And bring in four large wheels of white cheese from the creamery. If there is fighting tomorrow it might not be possible to stop long enough for a meal. This way the cooks need only light a fire to heat the stew, and it can be served in a bowl."
Urridien clapped his hands twice. "There. The Dom is providing for us. We would do well to follow his orders." He was about to disperse the servants when a single question stopped him. He looked at Sanctu-Germainios. "Have you made any provision for those of us who die?"
"I have asked Patras Anso to place himself at the town's service," said Sanctu-Germainios. "You will have his help and consolation until the fighting is over, and beyond if need be."
The senior footman who had asked now took a deep breath. "Will he be sufficient?"
"We must trust he will be. Patras Nestor and Patras Iob will have to attend to the chapel." Sanctu-Germainios held up his hand to command full attention again. "Do your duties in order of importance: the most important first, then those less necessary, and the last, those that may be left undone without undue hazard." He paused. "If the Huns do not arrive until tomorrow, use the night to sleep when you are not on Watch. You will need all the rest you can accumulate."
"And how will we keep guard in the house?" Urridien asked nervously. "Where shall we be safe?"
"We have women here, and they have eyes and ears. They will sleep in three shifts, and then, if there is a battle, they will divide their guard duties with caring for any wounded brought here, and so will do one third of the full day asleep, one third on guard, and one nursing."
"Women?" Hovas, the master gardener, asked in disbelief. "Keep guard?"
"And why not?" Sanctu-Germainios asked. "Keeping guard is easier than cleaning wounds. Surely if they can tend your hurts they can guard the villa."
There was an uneasy silence, and then Urridien said, "Be about your work."
The servants left the reception-room uncomfortably; only Sanctu-Germainios and Urridien remained behind. When they were quite alone, the house-keeper asked, "Can this town stand against the Huns, do you think?"
"I wish I knew," said Sanctu-Germainios quietly. "I fear we may find out."
"What will happen - if we can drive them off? Will they come back again?"
Sanctu-Germainios considered this question for some little while, then said, his dark eyes fixed on the middle-distance, watching a memory from Panticapaeum more than sixty years ago, when he and Rugierus returned with Kirit Honsilat ud-Kof from the lands north of China. "From what I have seen of the Huns over the years, they fight in the manner they herd: they do not form in lines and squares on foot as the Romans have done for centuries; they fan out on their horses as if to gather their herds together. They surround their foes on their horses and drive them as they would drive wild horses, and when they have them in a pen, or a town, they attack by circling them. When I saw them, they were in a band of around two hundred, including women and children. They had tall carts and their flocks and herds, and they skirmished with a company of Byzantine soldiers, raided, and moved on. Now they leave their families at base camps, or so the reports indicate." He thought a bit more. "Mountains will slow them a little, and forests will, also; bows are not very useful in forests and herding is awkward among close-growing trees. If we drive them away, we should expect them to return."
"Shouldn't we leave the town?" He was doing his best to remain calm, but his voice shook. He started to pace the length of the room, as if moving would lessen his dread.
"If we leave, we are likely to be herded into a trap, or be ridden down like game." Sanctu-Germainios sighed. "No. Dangerous as it may be, it is best to stay here, since the number of Huns seen heading this way is small. There are farmsteads to raid before they attack the town, which will tire their horses, if not the men riding them. If the walls are not set alight, we should be able to hold them off long enough for soldiers from Apulum and Ulpia Traiana to get here. If there were three times fifty, then we might have to abandon the town, and at once."
"And go where?" Urridien asked bluntly.
"That is what I hope to arrange." He took a long, slow breath. "Because if we hold them off this time, they will return, in greater numbers and angry; we should use that time between to get away."
"Could we ... pay them? Would they leave us alone if we gave them money or horses and goats - or slaves?" He coughed once, aware that Sanctu-Germainios had no slaves, only servants.
"They might leave," Sanctu-Germainios allowed. "But they would be back, demanding more, and plundering when there was nothing more to give." He met Urridien's jumpy eyes with his steady ones. "They do not want slaves. They are traveling people, and slaves slow them down; they require food if they are to keep up with the Huns, and they take up space. Gold does not eat and a great deal of it can be contained in a small chest. The only thing to be said against it is that it is heavy."
"But surely we have something they want?" The question was more of a wail than an inquiry.
"We do have. On their raids, they take food, hides, cloth, cooking pots, iron, cases, and chests, and occasionally young women." He had seen that at Panticapaeum. "They may be more organized now, but their wants have changed little."
"Then we are doomed," Urridien said in despair, and made the sign of the fish in supplication to the Christian God.
"Not necessarily, at least not yet," said Sanctu-Germainios, and was about to explain when Beijos, the head groom, came rushing into the reception-room.
"Pardon, Dom, but a courier has just arrived from Maeia Retta. He is in the stable; his horse has an injured hoof." He managed to stop panting.
"Maeia Retta is how far east of here?" Sanctu-Germainios asked. "Six leagues?"
"More than five; it's very remote," said Beijos. "He has a message for you."
Sanctu-Germainios nodded to Urridien. "See that the men report to Mangueinic, and meet me in the forum at the close of the afternoon." He watched Urridien duck his head, then turned to Beijos. "Take me to this messenger from Maeia Retta." He fell in beside Beijos. "What has he told you?"
"Me? Nothing. Nothing."
As he walked out into the sunshine, Sanctu-Germainios could feel the gusty wind rising; that was the first real encouragement he had experienced that day - Huns, he knew, would not risk traveling through trees in strong winds, for it was dangerous for men and horses to risk being struck by thrashing branches. That might give Apulum Inferior another full day to prepare for their arrival. No matter what news the courier brought from Maeia Retta, the town might have a reprieve. Ignoring the discomfort of the sunlight, he lengthened his stride and made for the stable, Beijos jogging beside him.
Text of a letter from Atta Olivia Clemens at Emona in Pannonia Superior, to Feranescus Rakoczy Sanctu-Germainios at Apulum Inferior in the former Province of Dacia Superior, written with fixed ink on split leather, carried by hired courier, and delivered in thirty-six days.
To the foreign guardian of the region of Apulum Inferior, and my most treasured friend, ave, ave, from the Roman widow, Atta Olivia Clemens, presently at Emona in what has been Pannonia Superior, thirty days after the Autumnal Equinox in the 1191st Year of the City, or the 438th year of the Christians.
Do not tell me that all is well and that I should not be worried. The word here at Emona is that Attila is raging through the mountains to the northeast, his men slaughtering every human being and half the livestock they come upon. Two Gepidae merchants carrying furs and iron arrived yesterday with such tales of rapine and destruction that I have become anxious on your behalf, since, according to the merchants, Porolissum was entirely sacked, and the Huns have spread out through the mountains and onto the Dacian plains. Even allowing for conflation and the natural inclination to make accounts more exciting than the events they describe were, it is clear that there is real danger in the mountains, and that it is unlikely to end soon. I fear that there is worse to come for all of us.
There is a rumor that the Byzantine Emperor Theodosios will dispatch troops to relieve the Christian towns and villages in the Carpathians, but I must tell you that I believe the Byzantines are not likely to defend lands that are part of the Western Roman Empire. If you are anticipating relief from Constantinople, you are more apt to be disappointed than to be heartened.
Which brings me to the purpose of this letter: I had intended to send you word when I arrive in Aquileia in ten to twelve days, but now, with this alarming information, I believe it is fitting to communicate with you, while I have a chance of getting a message through to you. If what we hear is true, let me make the request that you leave your post and come to Aquileia with all due haste. Knowing you, I extend this invitation to your household as well, and as many others as you wish, and we will find a way to make them welcome and safe.
Remember that there is no Tribigild to stop this new wave of Huns as he did almost forty years ago, and no Goths willing to form an army to hold the land against them. The Sciri and Carpi - what few are left of them - are not likely to unite with Attila as their fathers and grandfathers did with the first lot, which may be an advantage for you, but with more Goths holding the old Roman forts, the degree of protection they provide is not as ordered as it was before, unless the Byzantines finally decide to mount a resistance. Withdrawal from danger of the sort you are confronting is a sign of wisdom, not cowardice, and you are a wise man.
I vowed that I would not rail at you, and I have done my best not to, but I know I cannot continue without upbraiding you, so I will end this, hand it to the messenger, and leave wine and oil for Magna Mater in the hope that it will reach you before the Huns do. Know that it brings my pious love and my enduring bond, secured by blood, for days and years and centuries,
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