PART III Chapter 1


Text of a report from Hredus at Sanctu-Eustachios the Hermit monastery to Verus Flautens, Praetor-General of Drobetae, written in a simple Greek code on a thin plank of wood using a charring stylus, entrusted to the deputy Watchman leaving with a company of refugees to carry with other letters and reports, delivered forty-nine days after it was written.

To my revered Praetor-General, Verus Flautens, two weeks before the Summer Solstice, Ave.

This region is still on alert, for it is feared that the Huns will attack again, and in larger numbers than when they came before. Already the people here have doubled the number of attackers they fought by repeating the tale among themselves; they have rebuilt the portions of the walls that were damaged during that first attack, and have also built two more observation towers in order to keep watch not only on the road through the pass but on the lake end of the valley. The men are largely busy with the defenses, the women help with the farming and cooking for all the residents. Those children who are old enough have been set to making shafts for arrows and fletching them. The monks are not pleased that they must deal with women, but their help has made a great difference in the state of the fields and flocks.

Over the last month, more than two hundred thirty of the refugees have left the monastery, diminishing the number of men available to fight and to help the fighters. More have plans to leave, including the ones who will bear this to you. The mercenaries are still willing to defend this place, some say because Dom Sanctu-Germainios has pledged to pay them if they survive. None of the soldiers have fled, though many of them are not happy to stay here. Antoninu Neves, their leader, has told Priam Corydon that his men will not desert the monks. Tribune Bernardius of Ulpia Traiana has said his soldiers will stay until an evacuation is ordered, but the others, the refugees, from Ulpia Traiana must do as they think best. He cannot force them to stay, or to go. The leaders of men, not the soldiers, from Ulpia Traiana have gone already, all but two, and one is planning to leave shortly.

Those refugees who remain here do so more because they fear to encounter the Huns in the open more than they wish to stay. All the refugees are awaiting the return of the Huns, and all are afraid. The monks say they would welcome the departure of the refugees and soldiers, but I think most of them are secretly glad to have help. Monks do not often make good fighters, and the Huns would defeat them with little effort if the refugees and soldiers and mercenaries left them without the protection they have given the monastery so far.

Presently there are eight hundred twenty-one men, women, children, and monks within these walls. The party leaving that will carry this to you will reduce that to seven hundred seventy-four. There are roughly thirty residents of the monastery who are ill or impaired and therefore unable to fight.

Only one merchant has stopped here since I have arrived, a man known to Priam Corydon from previous visits; he remained only two days before continuing his journey to Aquincum. He came from Thessalonika, crossed the Danuvius at Oescus, and came to the monastery by secondary roads, for he says the Roman ones are haunted by outlaws of all sorts; he said that this spring he has met with fewer merchants on this trip than in previous years. He had an escort of three men-at-arms, and nine well-laden mules, bearing not only the man and his escort, but all his wares. They travel at a rate of fifteen to twenty thousand paces a day on good roads, and between ten and twelve thousand paces a day on poor roads. They have three times had to fight off attacks of various robbers, but they have not yet seen any Huns. If this journey goes badly, he told the Priam that he would not come north of the Danuvius again.

If it is your intention to dispatch troops to add to the defenders' numbers, then I recommend that you do so as soon as may be. The summer will quickly be upon us, and the monastery could shortly be attacked. The Huns will not wait for much longer, I fear, if they intend to raid this place again, though they may hold off until the fields are nearer harvest, so they will have rewards for their efforts. They can use the grain in the fields before the lake, and the fruit in the orchards as well as items of value they can take from the refugees. I, for one, do not want to have to fight them if they come in their numbers as they are said to do.

The monastery is also being visited by the hermit Monachos Anatolios, who has declared that the defenses must be taken down, or God will not protect the monks and the other residents. He says that to build stockades shows a lack of faith, and that only those who will have utter faith in God will be worthy of His Mercy. By building defenses, Monachos Anatolios says, the monks expose themselves to the fires of Hell for apostasy, as well as to the fury of the Huns. He has four followers among the other hermits, and some of the monks here are inclined to agree with him. Because of that, stress between the monks and the refugees is getting worse, and it is likely that it will continue and worsen. Since I came here, four men have been exiled from the monastery for repeated fighting with those monks who think that the monastery should not be defended, to show their faith. No doubt more men will be turned off until the Huns come. The monks who fight are sent to penitential cells in the main building of the monastery.

There are rumors that the Huns have a spy in the monastery, but such rumors are always rife in circumstances like these, and I do not give the idea much credit. In so confined a place as this, it would be difficult for a spy to work without exposing himself. Not that the Huns would hesitate to employ spies, but I doubt that there is such a man in this place: the advantages appear to be few and the hazards many. Roman taxes may be high and arbitrary in former provinces, but they are not as destructive as the Huns can be.

From my view, from all I have seen and heard, this region would need a full Legion at least to defend it, the country being so mountainous that foot soldiers may have a good chance against cavalry, not that the Gepidae would welcome a Legion on this side of the Danuvius. The Gepidae and Goths have negotiated with the Hunnic King Attila, and pay him tribute to avoid fighting his men. Some of the Goths have gone over to the Huns, accepting their promise of safety in place of protecting their territory and kin. If anyone is to stop Attila's advance it will have to be the Roman Empire, East or West. The people in this region are growing weary of fighting, and many have already gone over to the Huns. If no action is taken now, in these mountains, then there will be no stopping Attila from attacking within the Empire, perhaps as far as Roma itself, or Constantinople. I do not say this to alarm you, but in warning.

I have fulfilled the first condition of my mission, so in accordance with your pledge, prepare a writ of manumission for my sister and procure a loom for her. I will leave here within the month, and will expect word of your compliance from my sister before I depart; should I have nothing from her, I will seek you out to discover the reason.

In all devotion to you and the Roman cause,


Freedman of Drobetae


"With the death of the farrier's baby, we are down to seven hundred fifty-four souls within our walls," Monachos Niccolae of Sinu said as he presented his weekly census to Priam Corydon; he was weary, his hair and beard were grayer, and his face was more worn than it had been a month ago. "We have lost six weavers and a fuller, and are now reduced to two smiths. The refugees from Apulum Inferior have lost the greatest number, and they are still leaving in higher count than the others." Early Mass had been over for a quarter of the morning, half the monks were at private devotions in their cells, and it was almost time for the mid-day meal.

The monastery's office was dim although it was late morning; the shutters were closed against the weather. A warm summer rain was falling, the fine drops more of a mist than a proper downpour; this meant that the usual sentries were not posted on the peaks around the valley, which made many of the residents uneasy, for in conditions like this, the Huns could be upon them without any warning, so they went about their tasks quietly, talking in hushed voices when they had to speak, but generally saying very little.

Priam Corydon sighed as he looked at the sheet of vellum. "The last lot went down the hunters' road, didn't they?"

"Yes. They believe it is safer," said Monachos Niccolae. "There is another party from Tsapousso preparing to leave, a group of eighteen. That will leave fewer than two dozen from that village in the monastery." He moved nervously, his face tight with worry.

"When do they plan to depart?" Priam Corydon asked, trying to conceal his worry.

"They plan to leave in four or five days, or so they have told Mangueinic. They believe it is no longer safe here. Mangueinic told me that he wants to dissuade them; he is concerned that they will be waylaid by outlaws if they escape the Huns, being so few in number." He made the sign of the cross. "The Huns are still in the region; we know that. So anyone leaving here puts himself in danger if he goes, no matter which road he chooses."

Priam Corydon stared at the report, seeing nothing of it. "If he must, I suppose it wouldn't be wrong to attempt it."

"It is his duty," said Monachos Niccolae.

"How do you see that?" Priam Corydon asked.

"He is now once again leader of the Watchmen, and the man most responsible for the refugees from Apulum Inferior - " Monachos Niccolae began.

"What of Dom Sanctu-Germainios?" Priam Corydon interrupted.

"He is important to those dealing with Roma, but he is a foreigner, and that absolves him of responsibility." Monachos Niccolae looked down. "Or so I believe is the case."

Priam Corydon lapsed into contemplation, his gaze drifting. "Do you think the refugees who want to leave can be persuaded to remain?"

"It is in God's hands, not in the words of men," said Monachos Niccolae, and made the sign of the fish.

For some little time, neither man spoke, then he went on, "Monachos Anatolios told Ritt that he will come to the monastery before mid-day."

Priam Corydon put down the vellum and rubbed his face, resisting the urge to pull on his beard. "Did he say why he is coming?"

"He might have, but Ritt didn't mention what it was, if he did."

"He's going to preach," said Priam Corydon with complete certainty and growing dismay. "He has been waiting for an opportunity, and now he has one."

"He may only want to get dry," suggested Monachos Niccolae.

"Not he," said Priam Corydon. "Sitting in his cave, in the damp, is a wonderful opportunity to mortify the flesh. He would hardly deprive himself of it." He knew he should do penance for so uncharitable a remark, but he found it difficult to admire the irascible hermit, whose zeal was so intense that he prayed daily for the apocalypse to occur, ending the world, and for the damnation of all Christians who did not share his vision.

"Mangueinic will not be glad to see him," Monachos Niccolae remarked. "There is always trouble among the refugees when Monachos Anatolios preaches."

Priam Corydon said nothing in response; he rose from his writing table and took a turn about the small chamber. "Can you tell me if any of the refugees have gone out hunting today?"

"Not that I know of," said Monachos Niccolae. "They are working on the outer walls still, and some of them are inspecting the livestock; necessary tasks, all of them, and ones that have been neglected these last several days. The rain gives them a good reason to keep the animals in pens and paddocks."

"So it does." He could not shake the sense that he was not seeing a danger that was directly in front of him. He told himself it was the result of many weeks filled with anticipation of Hunnic attack.

There was a tap on the door; the two men turned toward it.

"Mangueinic here, with Dom Sanctu-Germainios," the gruff voice announced. "Will you admit us?"

"Enter, enter," Priam Corydon called out, and motioned to Monachos Niccolae to open the door; he resumed his place in his chair at his writing table, trying to compose himself, and reluctant to show any sign of misgivings. "God save you," he said as the two men came into the room.

Making the sign of the fish, Mangueinic stumped across the room to the writing table. "God save you, too, Priam." He steadied himself on his crutch and said, "We've stopped another fight, this one over a woman. The Dom has treated the loser, who has been stabbed."

Sanctu-Germainios nodded. "He has two wounds, painful but not serious unless there is pus, and then he could be in danger." He paused. "I am told there is malachite in these mountains: is that true?" He knew there were deposits all through the mountains from his breathing days, when it had been prized for providing copper for trade and warfare.

"There is," said Priam Corydon. "Why do you ask?"

"I would like your permission to mine for it. If I can dig some out, I can make a poultice that will lessen the chance of infection in his wounds, and those of others." The remedy was not as effective as his sovereign one, but without an athanor to create the sovereign remedy from moldy bread, powdered malachite in woolfat would be a good secondary treatment, as he had learned in Egypt many centuries before.

"Who has been fighting?" Priam Corydon asked. "Who is wounded?"

"Who is the woman?" Monachos Niccolae asked.

"Severac, Tribune Bernardius' armorer, and Adrastos, the goatherd," said Mangueinic. "It's the second time for Severac."

"Who is the woman?" Monachos Niccolae repeated.

"Dysis. Her man died - " Mangueinic began.

"During the battle with the Huns," said Priam Corydon, and made the sign of the cross.

"The same," said Mangueinic.

"Which of the men is wounded?" Priam Corydon asked.

"Severac," said Sanctu-Germainios. "In the hand and along the hip. Adrastos is badly bruised, but his injuries will heal quickly. The cut on Severac's hand may be a problem; I have not had a chance to dress it thoroughly yet; I have set Nicoris to soaking the injury in an anodyne solution, so what I say now is conjecture. He seems to have grabbed the knife-blade; his palm is deeply cut. The cut on his hip is painful but less troubling than the one in the palm of his hand."

Priam Corydon shook his head. "An unfortunate thing." He caught his lower lip between his teeth, mulling the situation.

"I think it best that he remain in the old chapel until his wounds are truly healing," said Sanctu-Germainios.

Monachos Niccolae scowled. "If this is his second time fighting, he - "

"Pardon me, Monachos," said Sanctu-Germainios diffidently, "but it is his right hand that is cut, and if he is turned out of the monastery, he will starve. He will not be able to hunt, or fish, or live on anything more than roots and berries."

Priam Corydon looked up, his face set with an obstinate sorrow. "That is true, and in this case, it's unfortunate. But our rules are clear."

"That's what I told him," said Mangueinic.

"But he's right - with an injured hand, the man will surely die, for he won't be able to make a fire, even if he had something to eat," said Priam Corydon thoughtfully. "That will expose him to wild beasts. He would be fortunate to be taken captive by outlaws or one of the gangs of raiders."

"Exactly. He could not go over to the Huns; unless his hand is sound, they will not accept him," said Sanctu-Germainios.

Monachos Niccolae glowered in his direction. "And how is it you know such things?"

"I know them from listening to what has been said about the Huns for the last four years," said Sanctu-Germainios. "As you do." Priam Corydon held up his hand. "As we all do," he said, making an effort to enlarge on his observation. "Every traveler has tales about Huns and we listen to each word as if they were angels and their revelations gospel. There is no reason to be suspicious of anyone purporting to have knowledge about the Huns, particularly this man, since he has served as a regional guardian and therefore has heard more than most of us about the Huns."

Sanctu-Germainios lowered his head. "You are most kind, Priam."

"Kind? I am a sensible person, nothing more." He folded his arms. "If you can mine safely, then you may have your malachite." Then he looked at Monachos Niccolae. "You are circumspect, Monachos, and that is a laudable trait, but neither of these men is an enemy of this place, or anyone in it."

Monachos Niccolae made the sign of the fish. "As you say," he muttered, and backed toward the door. "Until our next prayers."

"God save you," said Priam Corydon automatically, then, as the door closed, gave Mangueinic a hard look. "So what do you recommend be done about Severac? Do we give him time to heal and then turn him out into the world, assuming his hand is strong enough?"

"I haven't decided upon anything yet; not until the Dom tells me how much of a chance Severac has of getting the use of his hand back."

"It may not be a popular decision," Priam Corydon warned. "No other man sent away from this monastery has been allowed to delay his departure."

"No other man had such injuries," said Sanctu-Germainios. "If he leaves now, I can tell you without doubt that the cuts will putrify and that he will not survive."

"Then sending him away would be sentencing him to death." Priam Corydon stared at the elaborate Greek crucifix above the door. "I understand that. You made it clear."

"The others at least had a chance. Severac has none." Mangueinic slammed his fist into his palm. "But we must uphold our rules, or there will be chaos here, and we needn't wait for the Huns to destroy us."

"Very true," said Priam Corydon. "Very well; I will pray on the matter and give you my decision tomorrow. Will you be able to assess his condition by then, Dom?"

"I should think so," said Sanctu-Germainios. "I ought to know how severely his hand has been damaged by then - what ligaments have been cut."

"I thank you for that," the Priam said. "If he is truly crippled, then we must regard his case differently than those of able-bodied men." He glanced toward the window. "I'll be glad when the weather clears. Having almost everyone indoors in such close quarters sours people, like animals kept stalled too long."

"Truly," Sanctu-Germainios said. "As does constant worry." Priam Corydon made the sign of the fish. "As we have reason to see every day." He sighed, "It shows a lack of faith."

Mangueinic cleared his throat. "No cause for us to become morbid about it," he growled. "It isn't fitting that we should succumb to despair."

"You're right," said Priam Corydon, pushing himself to his feet again. "In fact, it is a sin. Your rebuke is righteous."

"I'm not rebuking you," said Mangueinic, shocked at the idea. "Well, it would be fitting, in any case," said Priam Corydon, going toward the door. "Best not to be laggard all day; it presents a bad example." He stopped next to Mangueinic and laid his hand on his shoulder. "Difficult though it has been, you've shouldered your task well, Watchmen Leader; you deserve far more gratitude than you will probably see."

Feeling abashed, Mangueinic mumbled, "Most kind, Priam." Priam Corydon turned to Sanctu-Germainios. "You, too, deserve the gratitude of many and will not see enough of it."

Sanctu-Germainios said nothing as he followed Priam Corydon and Mangueinic out of the office, though he found himself considering the many hazards he had experienced as the result of gratitude. As they reached the intersection of corridors, he said, "There are many problems still to be dealt with - assuming Severac is not in fit condition to be exiled."

"There are," said Priam Corydon. "I've been reviewing the various possibilities since I left my office, and I think this may satisfy all those concerned: if Severac were to profess himself a penitent and join this monastery as a monk, I think the people will agree not to enforce his exile. What do you - "

They turned toward the foot of the Orthodox-cross-shaped building, bound for the refectory, when they heard a harsh voice announce, "God is displeased with you all! He has seen your sins!"

"Monachos Anatolios," said Priam Corydon, and lengthened his stride, waving to the men with him to hurry.

"God has offered you Salvation, and you spurn His gift! You set yourselves up in pride and rebellion to Christian teaching, and then you add to your error by imploring His aid in your endeavors." The voice was rising in volume and pitch. "He will not be merciful forever. Every day that you cling to your defenses here, you reveal the failure of your faith."

Monachos Vlasos was standing in the door to the refectory, a wedge-shaped kitchen knife in his hands, his arms folded. "Priam," he said as Priam Corydon came up to him, "I could not stop him. He insisted on addressing the monks."

"And you chose not to fight with him," said Priam Corydon, resignation in every part of him.

Monachos Vlasos looked abashed. "Fighting isn't permitted. Otherwise, I would have - "

Priam Corydon held up his hand. "I can't dispute that." Monachos Vlasos made the sign of the fish. "He is a most demanding man. His faith is powerful within him." He kept his voice low so as not to interfere with Monachos Anatolios' harangue.

" - in the Name of God. With your surrender to His Will, nothing will be denied you. You will walk on water, as Christ did, you will stand amid fire and remain unscathed, and you will vanquish armies with a shepherd's staff. Yet you prefer to cling to the ways of the world, forgoing the exaltation of His Glory in Paradise!" Monachos Anatolios held his thin arms up, the palms toward the ceiling, his lopsided face suffused with a rapture of rage. "But you fail Him! You impose your will on His Will, like ungrateful children. You do not believe His promise!" He stared at the men seated at the long tables, a hard light in his deep-sunk eyes. "Look at you! Huddling behind walls like rats, giving power to men of violence, not men of prayer. None of you has the courage of your religion to walk beyond the walls armed only with the Gospels. You will not face the Huns but on their terms, blood and fire. And you claim you are Christians!"

Priam Corydon stepped into the refectory. "Monachos Anatolios," he said firmly, "you are welcome at our table. We are pleased to have you pray with us. But this is not the place for you to preach."

"What better place?" Monachos Anatolios rounded on Priam Corydon. "Our Lord preached while his Apostles were at table. I seek only to emulate His perfect example."

"You seek to disrupt the spirit of community that is present here; you have lost your humility in your pursuit of holiness," said Priam Corydon, resisting the urge to take a step back from him. "In the name of Christ, you must not bring rancor here."

"I bring no rancor," declared Monachos Anatolios, his face becoming red with ire. "I bring only the duty of monks, to submit to God in all things. How can you call that rancor?"

"If you want to make yourself a martyr, so be it," said Priam Corydon, straightening his posture and meeting Monachos Anatolios' glare with one of his own. "The monks here are pledged to defend and protect the souls of their fellow-Christians, the refugees and soldiers who are within - "

"Christians!" Monachos Anatolios jeered. "Those soldiers you protect make sacrifices to pagan demons. I have seen them in their red caps, giving up offering to the Persian Mithras. Their heresy has brought you to this sorry pass, for God punishes apostasy."

"Whatever they do, so long as they honor our faith, God will not be so uncharitable to deny them Grace for fighting our enemies. Their diligence in our cause will bring them Salvation through God's Mercy." Priam Corydon made the sign of the cross, holding Monachos Anatolios' gaze unflinchingly. "Your devotion may compel you to expose yourself to needless danger as a sign of your faith, but I have sworn an oath that I will succor those in my charge, and keep them from the pains of the world, and that is what I will do while there is breath in my body."

"A false oath, made to men in finery and jewels, living amid the corruption of the Imperial Court, claiming to be true to Christ and His Redemption."

The monks seated at the table were becoming restive; although speaking was forbidden, a murmuring joined with the whisper of the rain as the men listened to this confrontation.

Priam Corydon noticed this, and he spoke more quietly but with no loss of authority. "You must come away from here so that the monks may take their meal in peace. If you insist on prosecuting your intent, you may address the residents - all of t hem - i n the main courtyard before sunset. I will guarantee that rain or no rain, you will have listeners." He motioned to Monachos Vlasos. "Take Monachos Anatolios to the kitchen and feed him fish soup and bread, then take him to the church so he may join with our novice in perpetual prayer."

There was no protest that Monachos Anatolios could make to such offers that would not compromise him in the eyes of the monks, so he made the sign of the fish. "I pray that God will reveal Himself to you so that you will no longer remain in stubborn, willful error."

"As I pray the same for you," said Priam Corydon. "May we both become wise enough through Grace that we may be capable of such understanding." He stepped aside for Monachos Vlasos to provide escort to Monachos Anatolios, then he looked around the room and three times made the sign of the cross.

"If you do not surrender to His Will, God will send you despair and ruin before the end!" Monachos Anatolios promised as he went with Monachos Vlasos toward the short corridor leading into the kitchen.

Monachos Egidius Remigos, the gate-warder, rose from his seat on the bench. "I ask the forgiveness of all the monks here for letting Monachos Anatolios inside the gates."

"You needn't do that," said Priam Corydon. "Monachos Anatolios is entitled to enter the monastery; no one can forbid him access to this place so long as monks live here."

"He wants the Huns to kill us all," called out one of the monks.

"He wants us to be martyrs and have crowns in Paradise," cried another.

Priam Corydon held up his hand. "Whatever may be the case, eat in silence, and meditate on what is owed to the body in the Name of God, Who gave them to us."

An uneasy silence settled over the refectory, and three of the novices put their hands over their mouths to stop the impulse to speak more.

Mangueinic moved away from his place at the door, signaling Sanctu-Germainios to come with him. When he spoke, it was in an under-voice that hardly carried to the man he addressed. "Dom, something must be done about that hermit-fellow. He's going to cause more trouble, I can feel it in my bones."

Sanctu-Germainios did not respond at once, and when he did, his dark eyes were troubled, and his words were sad. "I wish I could disagree with you."

Text of a letter from Artemidorus Iocopolis, factor in Constantinople for the Eclipse Trading Company, to Rugierus of Gades, presently detained in the Magistrates' Palace in Constantinople, written in Greek in blue paint on Persian vellum and delivered by Eclipse Trading Company courier.

To the manservant of the distinguished foreign trader Dom Feranescus Rakoczy Sanctu-Germainios, Rugierus of Gades, the greetings of factor for the Eclipse Trading Company, Artemidorus Iocopolis, on this third day after the Summer Solstice,

I have spent the last month in negotiations for your release, and I am pleased to report there has finally been some progress. Most accounts from the Eclipse Trading Company factors throughout the region in which the ships trade have arrived and been perused by the various officers appointed to the task, and they report that the information is exemplary, both in content and in compliance with the law by the factors.

You will not be released immediately, but I am assured that once they have the one hundred twenty golden Emperors in hand to cover the cost of your detention and investigation, you will be permitted to leave the city, and the Eclipse Trading Company will be free of all suspicion. I have pledged to produce the money within ten days, which is not as large an amount as I had suspected we would be asked to provide. I must assume that Dom Sanctu-Germainios has powerful friends in the ports where our ships call, for nothing his associates in this city have said has been able to bring about your release. If you will inform me who among your guards and attendants is to be given a token of your gratitude, I will see to the amounts at once so that no one will have reason to keep you from leaving.

I understand that the priest who spearheaded the inquiries into Eclipse Trading Company has been assigned to the Imperial Magisterial Court in Tarsus in the former Imperial Province of Cilicia, to monitor the terms of trade in that port, so you may be easy in your mind about coming to Constantinople again. Inform Dom Sanctu-Germainios of these developments, but use an Imperial courier to carry any message you dispatch before your release.

My congratulations on your deliverance,

Artemidorus Iocopolis

factor, Eclipse Trading Company

Constantinople, Roman Empire in the East

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