PART I Chapter 5

Mangueinic arrived at the central villa of Apulum Inferior before prandium, a harried look on his face, his determined limping almost as rapid as a jog. Soot clung to his hair and swiped his nose, making the scrape along his jaw less noticeable than it would have been otherwise; all were indications that the morning clean-up after the nighttime skirmish with a small company of Huns was well-underway. He looked around the reception-room that had been transformed into an infirmary, where a dozen women tended forty- three men - nearly a third of the men of the town - on cots and pallets, and Sanctu-Germainios provided medicaments, set broken bones, and stitched wounds closed. "The woodmen have come back from the forest with twenty more logs," he announced, his voice strained; he had been shouting orders since sunrise. "There is a band of refugees coming this way, they tell us. They have wagons and carts, well-laden, and probably wounded."

"How many?" Sanctu-Germainios asked with great calm; unlike most of the people in the room, he was impervious to the damp chill that promised rain by evening, and had not added a trabea over his black woolen pallium and femoralia to keep warm. "And do we know where they come from?"

"We have only guesses," said Mangueinic. "The woodmen estimate anything from sixty to a hundred. They are coming from the northwest. Possibly from Tsapousso."

"The northwest?" Sanctu-Germainios repeated, slightly emphasizing west. "Not Apulum?" Apulum was northeast of Apulum Inferior.

"Tsapousso," Mangueinic said again, and fell silent as the men on the beds around him who were alert enough gave him their full attention.

"Then the main body of the Huns have passed beyond us, and may circle back once they've secured their targets to the west."

"Ulpia Traiana, do you think?" Mangueinic asked. "We've had no news from there."

"It is probable. It is certainly the greatest prize, with the fortifications and the old Dacian sacred precincts." Sanctu-Germainios motioned to one of the women. "Will you fetch another roll of bandages for me, from the cabinet in the corridor? The captain of the Watch needs his leg rebound." His level voice and even look concealed the alarm he felt as he studied the stains on the bandages along the outside of his calf: puffy parallel traces made by smears of oozing pale-yellow pus.

"You needn't bother," Mangueinic grumbled. "Just let me have my mid-day meal and two cups of wine before I leave - that's all I need. We have to get the section of wall repaired today. I'll rest tonight, while it's raining."

"I would rather rebind your wound now than have to care for you in a high fever, which may be the alternative if you refuse this treatment. The rain will not give you the deep aches that are already beginning if the wound is cleaned." Sanctu-Germainios indicated a bench next to an array of oil-lamps next to the hearth, for unlike traditional Roman villas, this one was heated with fireplaces, and the light from the lamps and the burning logs provided the illumination he needed for his task. "If you will? You can dine afterwards, when you are improved."

Mangueinic huffed, but went to the bench with as much of a swagger as he could manage, although his eyes were worried. "If these refugees come here, what should we do?" he asked, as much to distract himself as to seek information. "If the Huns come back - and sooner or later, they will come back - these foreigners may take their part against us."

"I doubt that will happen. Take them in," said Sanctu-Germainios at once. "They will have valuable intelligence for us, and coming here now, we can use them and the time to advantage. The Huns will not attack in a storm, at least not so small a village as this one: it is not worth the risk." He paused in his untying the outer bands that held the dressing in place; Mangueinic winced, as much concession as he would give to pain. "The refugees can help us arrange our defenses." The unwrapping began. "I will try not to hurt you, but some of the bandage may stick to the laceration."

Mangueinic tried to conceal a squinch as he shifted his attitude. "If there are strong men among the refugees, then they can help rebuild the southern wall and the storehouse, and assist the woodmen in bringing in more logs to heighten the outer wall."

While Mangueinic spoke, Sanctu-Germainios tossed the long bandage aside and saying to the woman who picked it up, "Boil it with astringent herbs and dry it in the caldarium."

"Why do you want her to do that?" Mangueinic demanded. "Because the pus from your injury contains elements of disease. The Egyptians teach that there are animalcules engendered in wounds that may spread to others if not contained. Boiling in stringent herbs eliminates the contagion." He had learned about the boiling more than five centuries ago from a physician with the Legions and had used the technique ever since: anything that touched blood or pus boiled with astringent herbs. He had learned about the animalcules while serving at the Temple of Imhotep, many centuries ago. He also washed his hands with medicated water between patients, as a precaution against mixing animalcules.

The woman ducked her head and was about to throw the bandages into a cauldron when Mangueinic stopped her. "I want to have Patras Iob bless it first."

"Dom?" the woman inquired.

"Have him bless the bandages after they have been boiled, but tell him not to touch them." he said, and added for Mangueinic's benefit, "It would not be wise to pass infection to the priest."

"No," Mangueinic exclaimed, his nose wrinkling as the odor of his wound reached him. "There is pus."

"Not a great amount," Sanctu-Germainios said, "but I think it would be best to treat it with a sovereign remedy, one that will reduce the heat in the wound and will halt its progress. I will make more of it, so that you will not deprive any others who need it," he added, stifling Mangueinic's protest.

"What sovereign remedy is that?" Mangueinic was suspicious now.

"You have nothing to fear from it. You will take only benefit from it, my Word upon it." He raised his voice. "Urridien!"

The house-keeper came hurrying along the corridor to the kitchen, his banded hair in disarray, the front of his sleeved tunica stained with orange grease. He ducked his head. "Dom, I am preparing the cauldrons to take food to the Watchmen; they are due their meal at mid-d ... day ..." His words trailed off as he saw the condition of Mangueinic's leg. "God on the Cross."

"And so you shall feed the Watchmen, after one small errand," Sanctu-Germainios said at his most reassuring, making no reference to the horrified exclamation the house-keeper had uttered. "For now, you will go into my office, where you will find a red-lacquer chest of Roman design next to my writing table. Open it and you will see on the second shelf from the top a group of glass vials about as long and as thick as three fingers held together; they stand in a wooden frame. There is a viscous liquid in them that is pale and opalescent, and the vials are stoppered with long-tongued glass lids. If you would fetch me one of the vials, I would appreciate it. Then you will be free to return to your usual duties." Again he found himself missing Rugierus and worrying that he had had no word from him - or if a message had been dispatched, it had not yet arrived.

Urridien looked back toward the corridor to the kitchen, then at Mangueinic, then at Sanctu-Germainios, attempting to resolve the dither in his thoughts. "If I can't find the vials, what then?"

"They were there in the chest earlier this morning, so I am sure you will have no trouble," Sanctu-Germainios told him.

"If I should bring the wrong - "

Sanctu-Germainios cut him off. "Nothing else in the chests is similar to those vials. If you will take the time to do as I ask, you will soon be back in the kitchen."

"But - " Urridien bit his lower lip and his shoulders sagged. "On the second shelf from the top, in glass vials, you say?"

"Yes. It is in plain sight." Sanctu-Germainios turned to the woman again. "If you will bring me the bottle of rose-hip infusion and a clean cloth? And the small pitcher of syrup of poppies? Thank you, Hildren. I'll want my basin of herbed water when I have finished redressing his leg."

Hildren, who had been Mangueinic's woman for several years and found his wound distressing, nodded as if awakened from troubling sleep, and rubbed her dark-ringed eyes. "At once, Dom Sanctu-Germainios. I'll bring the basin when you've done with Mangueinic, unless ..." She made a vague gesture toward the occupied cots. "Syrup of poppies," she reminded herself, and went across the room to the table where their treatment supplies and medicaments were laid to get what Sanctu-Germainios requested. "Urridien?" Sanctu-Germainios prompted.

The house-keeper gave a startled yelp and all but sprinted away, returning as the woman went off to fetch a cup of wine. He held out the vial. "Is this what you asked for, Dom?"

"Exactly," said Sanctu-Germainios, taking it and slipping it into the pouch on his belt as he went on cleaning out Mangueinic's injury with the infusion of rose-hips. "Thank you, Urridien."

One of the other men with extensive burns on his forearms moaned loudly in his enforced sleep; a quiver of dysphoria passed through the room, and the other patients studiously avoided looking at the burned man.

"May I ... may I go back to preparing the Watchmen's prandium?" His voice shook as he asked, and he did his best not to look at Mangueinic or what was being done to his leg. "I'm needed in the kitchen."

"Yes. And tell the Watchmen that their captain will not join them until this evening. He needs to rest with his leg up. Thank you again." He put the soiled square of cloth aside, brought out the vial, and opened it, then spread a thin film of the contents on the inflamed skin.

"It's slimy," Mangueinic complained.

Urridien blanched and fled.

Sanctu-Germainios watched Mangueinic's face. "I will bandage your leg again after you have had some of the wine with syrup of poppies. It will be less painful that way, and will allow you to rest." Mangueinic ducked his head, his neck stiff. "Anything else?"

"When you get up this afternoon, I will give you some of the sovereign remedy to drink. Then you will want to have something hot to eat. Tomorrow I will want to change your bandages again."

"I have duties to attend to," Mangueinic protested truculently. "I can't be taking - "

"The rain will alleviate your most pressing ones for a day or two; if you use that time to recuperate, when we must be prepared to fight, you will be capable of commanding the Watch."

Hildren came back with a large tankard of wine. "Dom," she said, handing it to him. "Save my man, Dom."

"Thank you, Hildren," he said, and took the pitcher of syrup of poppies from its place at the end of the bench. He removed the lid and poured a small amount into the wine, then used a long, thin, scoured stick to stir the mixture. "Here." He gave it to Mangueinic. "Do not drink it too quickly. Sip a little, then wait a dozen heartbeats, then drink a little more."

Mangueinic took the tankard and, disregarding Sanctu-Germainios ' instructions, drank a long, deep draft that consumed almost half the mixture, then put the tankard down. "It tastes musty."

"That is not unexpected. If you take in so much at one time it will affect you sooner and more emphatically," said Sanctu-Germainios . "Syrup of poppies is anodyne and soporific."

"Is there any harm in that?" Mangueinic asked, doing his best to bluster.

"No, it will not harm you, but it will hit you harder."

Mangueinic scowled at the tankard accusingly. "In that case, do you expect me to drink all of it?"

"Yes, I do," said Sanctu-Germainios.

There was something in Sanctu-Germainios' quiet response that quelled the objections Mangueinic had intended to raise; he finished the wine and set down the tankard. "What now?"

"Now you will lie down with a bolster under your leg to keep it from swelling. You'll drift off to sleep shortly, and should awaken toward the end of the day. This will do you more good than anything else. When you waken, I will have a potion of the sovereign remedy and willow-bark tincture for you to drink, and you may move around again, unless you run a fever." He rose from the bench.

Hildren spoke up, her manner deferential as custom required. "Dom; how will you know if he has a fever if he pays no attention?"

"I will know because you will seek him out from time to time to test him. If his palms are hot and dry and his breath is meaty, then bring him back here and see that he lies down again. Then inform me so that I may attend to him." Sanctu-Germainios pointed to one of the beds and turned to Mangueinic. "That will suit your purposes for now."

Mangueinic was already starting to feel the drink, and he nodded in assent as he struggled to stand up. "I'll get there on my own," he declared as Sanctu-Germainios reached out to steady him.

"As you wish," said Sanctu-Germainios, and spoke to Hildren again. "Please bring a bolster for the captain of the Watch. Then inform his deputy - "

"Oh, no," Mangueinic exclaimed as he made his way precariously through the rows of cots. "If something needs my attention, wake me." He sagged against the foot of the nearest cot, and muttered an apology to the carpenter who lay there with a splinted broken arm. Once he regained his balance, he continued on to the bed. He worked his way onto it, trying not to bang his leg against anything firm, finally managing to lie supine upon it.

Hildren came up to Sanctu-Germainios with the bolster and a blanket. "In case he should be cold."

"A very fine idea," he said. "Where did you put the basin? I will wash while you put the bolster under his leg from knee to ankle, and then cover him."

She pointed to a shelf across the room, and told him, "The under-cook says stew will be ready shortly. If any of these men are asleep when the scullions bring it, should I wake them?"

"No. Sleep is more healing than food for most injured people. Be sure you and the other women eat, and have wine and water with your prandium, so that you will gain restoration as you sleep." He gave her a one-sided smile. "You are all doing well, but do not be profligate with your strength: if you tend patients while exhausted, you are likelier to make errors in their care."

"I pray not," Hildren said, dubiety coloring her words. "I have the responsibility for the care all the women provide."

Sanctu-Germainios sought to reassure her. "There is no lack of virtue in being rested; if monks choose to keep vigil and fast, that is their way, but it is not for everyone. For those caring for the sick and wounded, concentration is needed, and for that, you cannot be fatigued."

"I'll tell the other women," she said, and went off to deal with Mangueinic.

When Sanctu-Germainios had washed his hands, he went out into the forum of the village, looking for the town's three messengers; he found two of them - Samnor of Porolissum and Vilca Troed - in the tack-room at the back of the stable, busy repairing girths and bridles, and waxing saddles. "Good messengers," he said courteously, "may I ask a service of you?"

"Dom," said Samnor as he looked up; he put the girth he was mending aside. "Both of us, or just one?"

"Both of you if you are willing, or one who is willing to travel farther and longer."

The two messengers exchanged a private look and Samnor said, "Tell us what you want," as he stood.

"Since my courier is presently at Sanctu-Eustachios the Hermit, I must ask you to undertake to carry messages for me. I will pay you for your service, of course, and you may use my horses." Since he was known to have the best horses in the stable, this was a welcome offer.

Vilca Troed had taken a little longer to get to his feet; his expression bordered on sullen. "It is going to rain again and the roads are already fairly muddy. Where do you want us to go?"

"I want one of you to find the refugees coming this way and guide them here so that they will not become lost once it starts to rain; that could bring danger to them and to us. The company of Huns who attacked us last night cannot have gone far, and they will be looking for isolated people with limited defenses." He touched his hands together. "I want one of you to bear a message to the Tribune Rotlandus Bernardius at Ulpia Traiana. Later one of your comrades will have to carry a message to Apulum. Do you know where either one of them may be?"

"Polynices is at the chapel; he should be through with his prayers by mealtime." Samnor paused. "Why Apulum?"

"To be sure it is still there," said Sanctu-Germainios.

Again the messengers exchanged glances, and again Samnor spoke for them both. "How far away are the refugees, and where do they come from? Who are they - Goths, Daci, Gepidae, Romans, Byzantines, Carpi, or some unknown barbarians?"

"I do not know, to all questions," said Sanctu-Germainios. "The woodsmen saw them from higher up the mountain, so I would suppose they may be two or three leagues away, depending on how rapidly they travel. I have no notion where they came from except that it is in some way north of here."

"What does the captain of the Watch say to this?" Vilca Troed asked.

"He is currently recuperating from the cleaning of the wound on his leg," said Sanctu-Germainios. "I am asking you to do this as regional guardian."

"How much will you pay us?" Vilca Troed watched Sanctu-Germainios carefully, a sly glint in his eyes.

"A golden Byzantine Emperor to the one who guides the refugees, and three to the one who rides to Ulpia Traiana."

"Those coins are good metal," said Samnor.

Sanctu-Germainios regarded the two. "I would expect you to depart as soon as possible. If you have had prandium, then before the first quarter of the afternoon."

"A pack with food, water, a blanket, and a tent for the one going to Ulpia Traiana," said Samnor.

"Have the cook give you bread and cheese and smoked meat," said Sanctu-Germainios. "The man going to meet the refugees, get a sack of bread from the baker."

"I'll go to Ulpia Traiana," said Vilca Troed, making up his mind. "I know the way better than Samnor."

"Then choose your horses, take what supplies you need from the store-room, and start on your way." He left them alone, and had the satisfaction of seeing them ride out shortly before he went back into the reception-room to reset a dislocated shoulder, after which he sought out Polynices Ridion and dispatched him to Apulum. He returned to the reception-room to spend the afternoon with his patients, and when supper was served, he went to his private quarters and began to compound more of his sovereign remedy, beginning with gathering moldy bread in a ceramic pail and heating his athanor. As night fell, he continued to work on the remedy along with an array of tinctures and ointments in anticipation of more fighting and more wounded once the rain stopped. A short time later, while he combined camphor and woolfat in a deep stoneware jar, he heard Patras Anso singing the blessing for the dying; he wondered who among his patients was receiving those prayers.

In the middle of Patras Anso's orisons, a chorus of shouts went up outside the central villa, growing louder. The ritual broke off, and shortly thereafter one of the under-cooks was pounding on Sanctu-Germainios ' door, shouting that Samnor had returned with a band of strangers. "They're almost to the gate! What are we to do? If Samnor is leading them, will the captain of the Watch admit them?" His confusion lent a higher pitch to his voice, and his questions were breathless.

"I will be with you in a moment," Sanctu-Germainios called out, going to damp the athanor and set his new vials of sovereign remedy aside and placing his pan of ointment in his tallest oaken cabinet. He retrieved his key from its hook and left his quarters, locking the door behind him. "Now tell me what has happened."

"There are strangers about to enter the main courtyard," the under-cook, Thirhald, announced as if anticipating pandemonium.

"Who are they: do you know?" Sanctu-Germainios' stride lengthened. "Are they in the courtyard yet?"

"I don't know. They are at the outer wall," Thirhald cried out, a worried excitement coursing through him.

"And Mangueinic - is he still sleeping? I do not wish to usurp his authority."

"He was asleep when I came through the reception-room. He may be wakened by the furor by now." The under-cook flapped his arms in the direction of the growing shouting. "What's to be done?" He stared at Sanctu-Germainios so intently, he almost tripped as they turned toward the outer door that led onto the courtyard.

"We will determine that after the newcomers are identified."

"But once they're inside, how will we expel them?" Thirhald shook his head repeatedly, like a horse bitted up too tightly.

"There may be no need to do that," said Sanctu-Germainios, and opened the side-door onto the courtyard.

The people of Apulum Inferior had come out of their dwellings, most carrying torches, a few with covered oil-lamps, for the clouds had soaked up the remaining daylight. They were anxious and curious at once, huddling together as the gates were pulled open.

"Who gave the order to admit them?" Thirhald muttered. "The Watchmen should not do it without orders."

"Samnor did, I suspect," Sanctu-Germainios responded before he walked toward the center of the courtyard, feeling the first stinging drops of rain strike his face and hands.

Samnor was at the head of a bedraggled band: there were nine carts in all, and five wagons; nineteen women and eleven children rode in the wagons, with fifteen men riding horses and mules, two of them sagging in their saddles. Twenty-eight horses pulled the carts and wagons, and another eleven were tied to them with lead ropes. A flock of long-haired sheep tagged after them, kept in a group by a solitary woman riding a mule. They all drew up in the center of the courtyard, and Samnor dismounted and offered an off-handed salute to Sanctu-Germainios.

"Here are your refugees, Dom. All that remains of Tsapousso, they tell me." He sighed. "What are you going to do with them?"

"Put them in the old storehouse for tonight," said Sanctu-Germainios. "Tomorrow we will arrange things more equitably. For now, they should be given something to eat - Thirhald, if you would see to that? - and given a chance to bathe. Urridien, order the bath heated. I will want to talk to their leaders later."

"They told me their leaders died at the hands of the Huns. They are traveling without a leader, following the road hoping to find someone untouched by the Huns." Samnor's mirthless chuckle ended in a snarl. "The man with the patch over his eye is as much of a leader as they have, and the woman on the mule. They're Daci and Carpi, for the most part."

"Ah." Sanctu-Germainios moved closer to the wagons. "Welcome," he said in Dacian. "Dismount and let us extend you hospitality as custom requires." He went on in the Latin vulgate of the region, "Everyone here will be glad to help you. Watchmen, see to the gates! Urridien, escort our guests to the dining room. Herdsmen, see to the horses and the goats!" Activity erupted around him, and he stepped back toward the central villa, satisfied that the new arrivals would be taken care of. He was about to go back into the villa when the woman on the mule rode up to him.

"Good Praetor," she began in careful Latin.

"You do me too much honor. I am the regional guardian." He took the reins of the mule and offered her his arm to assist her to dismount.

She all but slid off the mule, and leaned against the saddle before she turned to face him. "Regional guardian, then. Where would you wish to assign me?" She looked up at him, the light of the doorway torches revealing her unusual features: her face was angular, and just now shaded by enervation, with broad, high cheekbones and a wide, pointed jaw. Her mouth was well-shaped, accented by a small, red birthmark in the shape of a leaf at its corner. Her hair, braided and coiled on her head, was a color that was not quite black. What was most striking was her eyes: pale gray and shiny, like quicksilver. She appeared to be about twenty-five or so.

"With your people, of course," Sanctu-Germainios said after a brief, intense pause.

"That would be impossible. My people are dead." She said it unflinchingly but with an air of profound grief. "I am a ... a servant to the village of Tsapousso. They gave me a hut, a mule, three flocks of sheep, and two of goats to herd. I wouldn't mind sleeping in the stable, or the barn," she offered, taking the mule's reins from him. "If you will point the way?"

Sanctu-Germainios thought a moment, then said, "For tonight, I'll place you with the women of the household. There is a dormitory where you will find a bed. In the morning we will decide what is to be done." He opened the door behind him and began to think of how he would explain this to Hildren. "When you have been assigned a bed, you may go to the kitchen for something to eat."

"I thank you for that," she said, lowering her head and following him into the central villa.

At the end of the corridor, he stopped and asked her, "What shall I call you? The women will want to know your name."

She nodded in agreement. "I am Nicoris."

Text of a letter from Priam Corydon of the Sanctu-Eustachios the Hermit monastery to Feranescus Rakoczy Sanctu-Germainios, regional guardian of Apulum Inferior in the Kingdom of the Gepidae, written on cotton with paint, carried by Sanctu-Germainios' personal courier, Estaphanos Stobi, and delivered in eleven days, having been delayed for six.

To the honorable regional guardian Feranescus Rakoczy Sanctu-Germainios , ave and benedictions from the monastery of Sanctu-Eustachios the Hermit on this second day of November in the 438th year of the Christ:

I have your request for the protection of the monastery for the people of your region, who are much plagued by the Huns. Since Christ enjoined His followers to succor the weary and the helpless, what can I do but agree to receive you? If I refused I would not be true to my faith, and unworthy of my calling, though I fear there will be great crowding with so many inside our walls.

You may wish to consider the weather that has become cold so suddenly. Two days ago we had our first snow - very light, but there will be more and heavier, which may make your travel difficult. At present, it should take you eight days to reach here, but after more snow comes, that time may easily double. I advise you to consider weather in your evacuation plans, and to send a messenger when you leave Apulum Inferior, so that we will know to anticipate your arrival. We may soon receive the people of Ulpia Traiana as well, so our resources will be much strained. Anything you can do to diminish your demands on our limited stores would earn our gratitude and the favor of God: your offer of food and the providing of your own basic household equipment is greatly appreciated; also your offer of weapons, for we keep none here. If you have men who can hunt, or animals that give milk, we ask you to bring them with you.

May God guard and keep you and your people, and so I will pray every morning and every night.

Priam Corydon

Sanctu-Eustachios the Hermit

In the former Province of Dacia Superior

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