PART II Chapter 6

There was a steady drone of bees from the hives at the far end of the outer wall, not unlike the continual chanting from the church. It was late in the afternoon and the cowherds were starting to drive their charges back from grazing between the inner and outer walls to the barn; behind them, the goatherds and shepherds guided their charges to their pens. All around there were signs of spring burgeoning: the flowers on the fruit trees were filled with blossoms, and the raised beds of herbs and vegetables were attended by monks and refugees as well as insects. The air was filled with wonderful scents and the barnyard was redolent of livestock and manure. Lambs and shoats kept near their mothers as they moved; cows plodded steadily while their calves romped; foals rushed among the mares, improving their running. Occasionally the young goats rushed together, butting their heads in anticipation of horns.

"The monastery has a good number of young animals," Rotlandus Bernardius said to Mangueinic as they made their way toward the outer walls where two work-crews were putting up the stockade they wanted to complete before the snows melted in the pass. "I trust we will have had good progress today."

"It's to their advantage to have livestock," said Mangueinic, leaning heavily on his crutch. "Some of it belongs to us, of course." He steadied himself with difficulty, adding, "I would think there would have to be good progress. We had another load of logs brought in this morning."

"I saw the sledge being dragged by the mules. A good thing we have them to work."

"And a good thing we will have them when we leave, given the ground we'll have to cover," said Mangueinic, leaning on his crutch in anticipation of the long trek to come. "We'll need them to negotiate the mountains, as we discovered coming here."

"When do you think we should leave?" Bernardius inquired. "Shortly before midsummer. The days will be at their longest, and there will be many more companies of travelers on the roads, which may provide us greater protection than keeping to ourselves." Mangueinic cleared his throat. "There will be goodly crops and enlarged herds, and if we make an equitable arrangement with the monks, we should all benefit."

"The monks may not see it that way," warned Bernardius. "Some of them have said that any baby animals should be regarded as a donation to the monastery, including the six mules the mares have dropped."

"Those of us who are going to remain here into summer wouldn't mind the monks keeping the babies, so long as we may take the animals we brought with us when we leave. It would be a fair exchange. They have given us a haven - that should be worth a spring's run of new livestock." Mangueinic slewed around, aware that half a dozen men were following them; the westering sun dazzled him so that he was unable to recognize any of the men. "I think there are men who want to talk with you, Tribune."

Bernardius stopped and swung around, shading his eyes as he regarded the men behind him. "Is there something you want of me, fellows?" He turned to Mangueinic. "I believe they're your Watchmen. They probably want to talk to you."

Mangueinic blinked and stepped aside so that the sun was behind him; he was startled to realize Bernardius was right. "What do you want of me, Watchmen? Is there some trouble?" he asked.

The men halted; they all had been serving as Watchmen since they arrived at Sanctu-Eustachios the Hermit and they clearly intended to speak to Mangueinic. "We want you and the others in charge to know that as soon as we can get through the pass, we and our families are going to leave. We've had enough. We'll go south to Viminacium and from there make our way to Pola, where we can take to the sea if the Huns should reach so far into Roman territory, though it doesn't seem likely that they will." The speaker, the former house-keeper Urridien, folded his arms. "Say what you will, we are committed to leaving. Our messenger from Apulum Inferior, Vilca Troed, says he knows the way. He will guide us."

"He knows the way from Odessus to Ravenna," agreed Mangueinic. "He is a fine guide." He looked squarely from one to the next as he went on, "So you, Urridien, and Corcotos, and Bacoem, and Thirhald, and Hovas, and you, Enlitus Brevios, wish to leave with your families - "

"Those of us who still have families who can travel," muttered Thirhald. "My infant son is too young to make such a journey, though my older daughter will be able to. As to Betto, Agtha will care for him. She has already agreed to it."

Rotlandus Bernardius stared hard at the six men. "You are willing to abandon your comrades from Apulum Inferior? Vertigino me facit. I should be ashamed to treat my people of Ulpia Traiana so shabbily."

"Do you think it's what we want to do?" Enlitus Brevios exclaimed. "We'll all be exiled on some excuse or other if we remain here much longer. The monks disapprove of us, and are looking for reasons to make us leave. We'd rather go of our own choice, with what remains of our property and our animals."

"What of the Huns?" Mangueinic asked.

"What of them?" Hovas shot back. "There has been no trace of them. For all we know, they have left these mountains and are searching the plains for better pickings. It would be a sensible thing to do. Coming this far into the mountains for mounted warriors is a tremendous risk. The sentries on the peaks have seen nothing of them. Why should we believe that they will bother to attack?"

"You heard the accounts that the men from Tsapousso gave, didn't you? They didn't believe that the Huns would bother with them. Tsapousso was smaller than this monastery, and as isolated, yet the Huns came. Why would they spare Sanctu-Eustachios the Hermit?" Mangueinic asked.

"All the more reason to leave as soon as possible - the monks as well as the rest of us," said Bacoem. "If we go, we will have a chance to be safe. If you're right, we will never be so here."

"If I'm right, you won't be safe in Pola," said Mangueinic.

"How do you know that? Have you been in contact with the Huns?" Urridien demanded, flicking his hands fastidiously.

"No more than you have," Mangueinic countered, his face darkening as his temper rose.

"Watchmen, please," said Bernardius. "We need not turn to anger."

Mangueinic glowered at the far wall, taking care not to engage anyone's eyes; he struggled to keep his voice even and his tone amiable. "If we had reliable, recent information, we might be able to find a solution that would put as few of us as possible at risk. Since we have no such information, I think it might be wisest to wait before taking any action."

Hovas took a step forward. "We are leaving and there is nothing you can do to keep us here."

"Possibly not," Bernardius interjected, attempting to reduce the tension that was building between Mangueinic and the men from Apulum Inferior. "But since there is no reason to think that anyone can get through the pass from either direction, there is still time to discuss the matter and work out a plan that will expose you to the least risk. Fas est cogit."

"There you are wrong," said Thirhald with a harsh smugness. "We do have current information. A man has arrived from Drobetae a short while ago. He made it through the pass, he and his two mules. He is with Antoninu Neves and Priam Corydon at present." Bernardius and Mangueinic exchanged startled glances. "From Drobetae? What would he want here? Why not make for Apulum or Ulpia Traiana? They're more accessible." Mangueinic could not conceal his doubts about this new arrival. "What does he want with us?"

"He says he was sent here, and he carries a letter from the Praetor-General of Drobetae to Priam Corydon," Brevios declared. "In addition he has his own observations to report."

"I was unaware that Drobetae had a Praetor-General," said Bernardius, his observation laden with skepticism. "Non credo."

"He is newly appointed, the messenger says. A Roman landowner called Verus Flautens, long known to protect Roman interests in the former province of Dacia, which accounts for his advancement," said Urridien, a trace of satisfaction in his voice. "Dom Sanctu-Germainios affirms he knows the name."

"I, too, have exchanged messages with him," said Bernardius. "Although it startles me that the Romans would decide to make such an appointment at a time like this."

"It is one way to ensure that the old border is maintained on both sides of the Danuvius," said Mangueinic. "He will undoubtedly work in concert with Gnaccus Tortulla in Viminacium, who is well- established."

Thirhald laughed unpleasantly. "The man from Drobetae has said that he is charged with advising the Praetor-General, who has been assigned the task of keeping the road open and protected for those seeking to leave the former Province of Dacia, or to cross through it. It is our intention to take advantage of this extended protection before the Huns come along the Danuvius."

"Why do you say the Huns will follow the Danuvius?" Bernardius asked. "Or has the messenger brought news about that, as well?"

"It is believed that they will attempt to cross the river into Moesia once the river passes the danger of flooding,"

"How do you plan to travel?" Mangueinic asked. "Which way will you go?"

"We'll follow the old milestones on the Roman roads, and gauge ourselves every thousand paces in order to determine our speed of travel." Thirhald nodded twice. "Just the way the merchants do."

"Huns can follow milestones, too, and they travel faster than a band of refugees," Bernardius said in as steady a voice as he could produce. "As Goths follow white pebbles and notched tree-trunks."

"There are still some fortresses where we can find shelter if we need to seek protection." Hovas gave Bernardius a hard look. "We will have Vilca Troed to guide us."

Corcotos, who had been content to glare at Mangueinic and Bernardius, now spoke up. "You have no right to order us to remain here. It was never our intention to remain here. We only want to preserve what little we have left, and we cannot do that in this place, with the monks requiring we live according to their dictates."

"You may not be able to preserve your goods and chattel anywhere else," said Bernardius. "Some of the garrisons are as greedy as pirates on the sea, and some would not be above selling you into slavery if you will not pay them what they demand."

"You say that to frighten us," Hovas accused. "But Troed says that he knows all the garrison commanders from Porolissum - they are gone from that town now, but Troed knows them - to Durostorum, in Moesia Inferior. He will handle all our arrangements."

"Dorus Teodoricos can probably be trusted," said Bernardius, doing his best to be accommodating. "But there are others I wouldn't put too much faith in. Cave amicum."

"Because you're so frightened you can't see the advantage of leaving," Hovas said scornfully. "You'll stay here until the monks have everything."

"I think," said Mangueinic, "that you might want to hear what the newcomer from Drobetae has to say before you make any binding plans. He will undoubtedly have more information than any of us."

Enlitus Brevios achieved a pugnacious stance. "If we speak with him, then you must hear what we hear, or you may be deceived by the monks, who are not above telling you things that will cause you to take their side. I don't trust monks to be forthcoming about such matters."

"Then let us seek this stranger out now," said Bernardius. "I will ask Priam Corydon to allow us to join in the interview of the man." He began to walk up the slope toward the cross-shaped monastery, not bothering to turn to see if he were being followed.

They found Priam Corydon, Antoninu Neves, and the messenger in the office of the monastery, all three men looking troubled at the sight of the eight encroachers who hardly bothered to knock on the door. Neves put his hand on the hilt of his sword, but moved it away again when Priam Corydon gave him a severe look and said, "This is no occasion for fighting."

"They have come without being summoned," said Neves.

"They would have been informed of the messenger's presence before sunset in any case. I gather everyone within the walls is aware that our first visitor of the spring has arrived," said Priam Corydon, trying to make the best of the awkward situation. He motioned to the plain wooden bench against the far wall. "You may be seated. All of you."

Enlitus Brevios hesitated as if uncertain if such an offer were an insult. He considered the matter, then did as he was told; the others joined him. "Who is this man? They say he comes from Drobetae."

"That I do," the stranger said, absently chafing his forearm. "I am Hredus, a freedman in the household of the Praetor-General, Verus Flautens. He has dispatched me to discover where the people of Dacia are living now, and how well-prepared they are to defend themselves." He ducked his head in an habitual show of respect.

"He has been giving us news from the former Province of Dacia," said the Priam.

"And imparting all he has seen for himself as he made his way here," added Neves.

Mangueinic leaned his crutch against the wall at the end of the bench; he stretched to relieve the tightening in his back. "What have you seen, Freedman Hredus?"

"There are many encampments of refugees, most of them at lower elevations than this one, most of them fairly small - perhaps fifty persons and as many animals," said Hredus promptly. "I have noticed that the greatest number of refugees are from the high plateau, northwest of this valley, where the land is flat enough for a good cavalry attack. About half the refugees have been driven out by Huns; the others have left anticipating attacks." He paused. "They say the Huns leave few survivors where they have passed. And if they attack a second time, they come in greater numbers. They are like a plague on the land."

"So have we all heard," said Enlitus Brevios, an edge of defiance in his remark. "The Gepidae and Carpi have said it, and so have the Goths and Daci."

"According to rumor, this new Hunnic King, Attila, is organizing his forces along Roman lines, and is changing his manner of attack to confront fortresses and ground troops." Hredus nodded to Neves. "You have heard of this, haven't you?"

"That I have, but haven't been able to gather more information since the first storm of winter," said Neves. "No one could reach this valley, and no one could leave."

"Except the fifteen we exiled," said Brevios under his breath. "We all have heard the same thing," added Mangueinic.

"Many garrison commanders are convinced that Attila is going to focus his efforts on Aquincum, from where he can strike out at all the Carpathians, and position himself to assault cities farther west, or so they have informed the Praetor-General," said Hredus. Three garrison commanders had offered him such speculation, which seemed enough to bring it to the attention of these men. He scratched at a patch of darkened skin on his forearm. "I'm told you have a healer here. Do you think he could do something to alleviate this infernal itch?"

"If there is anything to be done, Dom Sanctu-Germainios will do it," said Mangueinic.

"The regional guardian of Apulum Inferior?" Hredus asked, startled.

"The same," said Mangueinic. "The monks at the infirmary have nothing to match his knowledge of medicaments, and they have their hands full with those suffering from dry eyes and wet noses. You may need more than prayers and powdered angelica-root. Without the Dom's skill, I'd have lost my life and not just my leg." Hredus concealed his interest. "If it's convenient, I'd like to consult him after evening supper."

"It will be arranged," said Priam Corydon, anxious to learn more from Hredus. "How long did it take you to reach us? How were the roads and the bridges? How many towns have been attacked?"

"I would have been here some days since, but the late storm prevented me from traveling at all for three days, and then the snow was so deep that I couldn't determine if I would get through the pass at all." Hredus scratched his wrist again. "There were wolves about, and bear, so I didn't want to risk making camp outside sturdy walls, and that, too, slowed me down."

"Better a few days late than dead," Bernardius said.

"As to the condition of the road, the nearer you are to Roman territory - East or West - the better the roads are, but they are not as fine as records say they were a century ago. Most of the roads are in need of repair, and in some areas, total replacement is required. Three of the small bridges between Drobetae and Gepidorum are no longer safe to cross so I ferried across some ten thousand paces below Ulpia Traiana, which has been raided, but I can't say who the raiders were. That was why I didn't remain near the town. The river was high but the main thaw had barely started. By now, it will be a torrent." Hredus could see the trenchant involvement of the men in the room, and he decided to make the most of it. "One merchant I encountered not far from Ulpia Traiana told me that the Huns are moving out into the plains to the northwest of here. He had it from a family of farmers from Auru Calida; the Huns burned them out."

"Others have suggested that," said Priam Corydon.

"Then it may be worthy of your attention. This part of the mountains is only two or three days' ride to the beginning of the plains; if the land were flatter you could cut that time in half," Hredus said. "Once they're set up in a camp, your valley will be one of the first they're likely to seek out."

"You must have a great deal to impart to the Praetor-General," said Bernardius. "Can you tell us why he sent you here?"

Hredus chuckled. "He wants someone he can trust to get close enough to the Huns to observe them, but not so close as to risk being caught." He said it very much the way Flautens had told him to answer such an inquiry. His eyes gave nothing away; his many years of slavery had taught him to conceal every aspect of his thoughts and emotions.

"Then he must trust you," said Priam Corydon. "We'll bear that in mind."

Enlitus Brevios spoke up. "We'll want to consult this man more closely, for some of us are planning to leave as soon as we can take our wagons through the pass, and we'll want to be prepared for what we should expect. We will be bound for Viminacium." His hard smile challenged Priam Corydon to forbid them to go.

"If you are determined, then I will not attempt to stop you. But I urge you to be sure that you will be as safe as possible during your travels. You will be responsible for the well-being of those going with you, and the preservation of their souls." Priam Corydon rose.

"Who among you is planning to leave?" Urridien answered first, then Bacoem, Hovas, Thirhald, and Corcotos. "And what of you, Mangueinic? and Tribune Bernardius?"

"We've only now heard of this plan," said Bernardius. "I still believe for those who wish to move on that midsummer is the time for us to go." He shrugged. "Neither I nor Bernardius have the authority to command these men to stay or to go. If it suits their purposes, then, no matter how reckless it may be, we won't have the right to keep them here."

Mangueinic pursed his lips. "I don't think it is prudent to set out so early in the season of travel, but there is little I can do about it, except to tell them my reservations, which I have done."

Priam Corydon made the sign of the fish and then the sign of the cross. "May your leaving not harm you, or us, and may God protect you on your journey." He went toward the door. "I ask you to take time for private contemplation, that you not discuss what you have heard here with one another until tomorrow, so that none of you reaches a conclusion that hasn't been examined in your own souls. You are worried and you are unhappy with living here. If you will implore God to grant you His Wisdom in your dreams, I will be content with your outcome whatever it may be, for it will have come from God." He made the sign of the fish again and left them.

Mangueinic leaned forward and shoved himself to his foot as he reached for his crutch. "Come," he said to Hredus. "I'll take you to Dom Sanctu-Germainios."

Hredus looked at the other men, tempted to disregard the Priam's orders. Then he hitched his shoulder. "The sooner he treats me, the sooner I will recover," he said, approaching Mangueinic. "I'll follow you."

Hovas took a step to block Hredus' leaving. "Tonight I'll think of questions to ask you in the morning. I will want answers, messeng."

"Hovas, don't badger the man. He's had a long, hard journey and is entitled to rest," said Brevios, who then addressed Hredus.

"You may rely on Dom Sanctu-Germainios to employ all he knows to rid you of the trouble you have with your skin."

"I pray it will be so," said Hredus as he moved around Hovas and fell in behind Mangueinic, making the sign of the fish as he went.

Mangueinic pointed out the old wooden chapel as he and Hredus approached it. "Long ago this was a pagan spring, and that chapel was put up for those who came to consult the keepers of the waters, and to find shelter in their travels through the Carpathians. Then a pilgrim stopped here, more than two centuries ago, and saw the Virgin Maria above the spring, and it became a holy place for Christians. Sanctu Eustachios had the monastery built when he retired from the world. Once the monastery was complete, the chapel fell into disuse."

Hredus had heard the story before, but he responded with interest. "That transformation has happened in other places."

Mangueinic nodded, and rapped on the side-door. "Dom Sanctu-Germainios . I have a new patient for you."

Nicoris opened the door and nodded a welcome. "You and the new patient are welcome. Dom Sanctu-Germainios is with Giraldus, Antoninu Neves' lieutenant; he hammered his hand while working on the outer wall." She stood aside to admit them.

"Is he badly hurt?" Mangueinic asked, coming through the door and leaving room for Hredus to enter with him.

"He has broken two bones in his hand, the Dom says, and he has made a splint to help the bones to heal straight."

"Poor man," said Hredus, because he knew a response was expected of him and would gain him the good opinion of Mangueinic, which would be useful.

"It is unfortunate," Nicoris said, encouraging the two to move toward the alcove where Sanctu-Germainios had his raised table.

Mangueinic stumped toward him. "I've brought you the messenger from Drobetae, Dom Sanctu-Germainios." He nodded to Giraldus. "I'm sorry to hear about your hand."

"It was a foolish thing to do," said Giraldus. "I don't know how it happened."

"You will need to wear that sling during the day, and to wrap your hand in cloth during the night," said Sanctu-Germainios to Giraldus as he got off the raised bed. "If you have swelling or pain, use ten drops of this tincture" - he held out a large vial - "and drink it in a cup of water or wine. Do not use it more than twice a night."

"Very well," said Giraldus, accepting the vial with his uninjured hand. "Lucky thing it was my left hand I struck. At least I can still use my sword."

"As you say: fortunate," was Sanctu-Germainios' dry answer. Nicoris escorted Giraldus to the main door; she wished him well and went back to the alcove where Sanctu-Germainios conducted his examinations, waiting near the hearth and listening. When Hredus had finished his account of his trek from Drobetae, he held out his arm.

Sanctu-Germainios took it and held it up to the waning light; as he inspected the purplish area of skin, he asked, "Did you have a rash before the color changed?"

"Some chafing," Hredus allowed. "How did you know?"

He took on his most academic tone. "The rash was the cause of your infestation. As you scratched, you moved animalcules from the rash to lodge beneath your skin. I will need to open the skin and insert a curative ointment. It is not a pleasant procedure, but if it is not done, the animalcules will spread through your body and will rupture your organs." He saw the shock in Hredus' eyes. "I do not mean to frighten you, or to cause you distress, but you ought to be aware of the danger of delay, or superficial treatment."

Hredus' face went blank. "Then it must be done," he said without inflection.

"I have an unguent that will deaden the pain of the cutting, and syrup of poppies to relieve any pain you feel afterward. I will need some time to boil my instruments, as the physicians of Roma used to do." He regarded Hredus. "Would you rather have supper and rest until the first quarter of the night?"

"You said it was urgent that it be treated," said Hredus.

"It is, but if you are tired and hungry - "

"Let us be done with it," said Hredus.

Nicoris came up to Sanctu-Germainios and said quietly, "You have very little of the sovereign remedy left. Four vials are all that remain."

"I know," said Sanctu-Germainios. "And I have neither the moldy bread nor the athanor to make more." He sighed. "Still, there is enough to treat this man, and have a little left. If I must, I can pack wounds with moldy bread, if I can persuade the baker to provide me with some. For now, I will deal with this messenger."

"Then shall I put the flensing knives to boil, and the closing pins? Which astringent herbs shall I use?" Nicoris went to the red-lacquer chest.

"Nettles and tarragon," Sanctu-Germainios answered, then escorted Hredus to the raised bed. "If you like, I will prepare a composer for you."

"No need," said Hredus, and got onto the bed, watching Sanctu-Germainios , revealing nothing.

Text of a report from the factor Artemidorus Iocopolis to Patras Methodos, both in Constantinople; written in Byzantine Greek in fixed ink on vellum, and delivered by footman.

To the estimable priest, Patras Methodos, this accounting of the assets of the Eclipse Trading Company, as requested to facilitate the liberation of Rugierus of Gades, who is presently being held under house arrest, and to regularize the evaluation of the business.

The Eclipse Trading Company is presently owned by Dom Feranescus Rakoczy Sanctu-Germainios, regional guardian at Apulum Inferior in the former Province of Dacia, who has nine hundred aurea in deposit with the Secretary of the Metropolitan for its continuing operation.

The Company owns nineteen merchant ships, all plying ports from Trapezus, through the Black Sea, the Adriatic, the Mediterranean, into the Atlantic Ocean and as far as Gallia Belgicae; additionally, the Company sponsors three caravan troupes that trade as far as Herat in Persia and Medina in Arabia. All tariffs on goods brought to market in Constantinople are current, in accordance with Dom Sanctu-Germainios' specific instructions, and all taxes on the property of the Company are current. Bona fides copies of bills of lading for the last year are included with this information, for your diligent review. Eclipse Trading Company maintains offices in twenty-seven ports; a list of these is provided in this report.

One hundred aurea accompany this as a donation to the law- courts and the Church, in the interests of justice.

By my own hand, sixteen days after the Vernal Equinox in the Christian year 439,

Artemidorus Iocopolis

factor, Eclipse Trading Company Constantinople

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