PART III Chapter 5
"The men won't go into the woods to cut more trees," said Mangueinic, his frustration revealed in every line of his body. "They say it isn't safe. And they're right - it isn't." He looked around at the faces gathered in the small warehouse that stood between the monks' church and the largest of the travelers' dormitories. Half of the building was taken up with the stacked crates and chests of the refugees' belongings; the rest had been pressed into service as a council chamber. "Five have been wounded since the Huns' last attack, and one is dead from it. And someone loosed an arrow at them as they came in from felling today."
"But we must have logs to repair the outer stockade; two of the main supports are weakened from the fires the Huns started with their flaming arrows. We have to replace them, and the braces behind them," Neves protested, looking around at the others, leaning forward, elbows on knees, seeking their support. "Don't they understand how important it is that the walls be repaired and made stronger? We need logs to do that. It isn't safe to stand on the battlements without reinforcing the braces, not if we have to increase the number of men fighting from there."
Mangueinic looked ashamed. "The Watchmen say that since the outer wall is manned by your mercenaries, they should be the ones to cut the trees for its repair. I tried to convince them that the walls protect us all, but none of my Watchmen would listen." He turned to Priam Corydon. "I've tried to persuade them to reconsider, but they're too frightened. They know the Huns have scouts in the region, and that they have orders to fire on anyone from the monastery they see."
"They leave the hermits in the caves alone," said Denhirac, Denerac's son, who had taken over his father's position since his father and a company of men and women from Tsapousso had left Sanctu-Eustachios the Hermit for the plains to the west, and the old Roman city of Aquincum in the Province of Pannonia Inferior. He wore his responsibilities awkwardly and often said he would have preferred to go with his father and the twenty-one others; now only thirteen remained.
"The hermits have nothing the Huns want," said Bernardius. "They are safe where they are."
"Not that Monachos Anatolios would allow them to fight; it would be contrary to God's Will," said Neves, making no effort to hide his contempt.
"Would that still be true if the Huns take this monastery?" Mangueinic asked.
"Would it matter? We'd all be dead," said Neves.
"We're getting off the point," Priam Corydon said patiently. "Our present predicament is to deal with the need for trees to be felled and brought back here to make the needed repairs to the outer stockade, and we must bury the last of the dead. What the Huns may do is up to them, and nothing we do can change that."
"What about Patras Anso?" Mangueinic turned his eyes on Priam Corydon.
"Patras Anso may lie with the monks of this monastery," Priam Corydon said.
"That's all well and good," said Bernardius. "But we must do what we may, and trust to God to keep us from ruination."
Priam Corydon made the sign of the cross and motioned to Monachos Niccolae of Sinu. "We ought to prepare another dispatch for Verus Flautens, explaining the urgency of our plight. As Praetor- General, he is obligated to provide us what protection he can."
"Do you think he's in a position to send soldiers? Assuming he has any to spare?" Bernardius interjected.
"He hasn't sent any recently," said Neves.
"Is that man from Drobetae - Hredus, I believe he is called - still missing?" Bernardius asked.
"I believe so: why?" Mangueinic frowned.
"It is just that if Priam Corydon is preparing a report, Hredus would be the most useful courier." He clicked his tongue. "Well, if he is missing, we must find someone else."
"True," said Priam Corydon. "Monachos Niccolae, make a full catalog of our lacks; have it ready by sunrise tomorrow." He considered the others. "One of you might provide a courier for us."
"What about the bondsman who is caring for the horses? Niklos Aulirios. The one the Dom's relative sent to him. Do you think Sanctu-Germainios could spare him?" Neves asked. "We have men enough to care for the horses without him."
"We can ask," said Bernardius doubtfully.
Priam Corydon sighed. "There must be someone who will take our report to Drobetae." He motioned to Monachos Niccolae. "Be sure you include the need for more messengers as well as soldiers."
"Yes, Priam; I will," said Monachos Niccolae, his short-sighted eyes straining to make out the faces of the others.
"That is all to the good, but it doesn't resolve the need for more logs, and a more fortified wall," said Neves. "They're our most immediate problems."
"Tomorrow morning, some of our men must go into the forest," said Mangueinic emphatically. "They will have to be in the company of guards, which I will order my Watchmen to be."
Bernardius hesitated, then said, "Of my soldiers I think I can convince a dozen to log for the benefit of the monastery. Most of the refugees from Ulpia Traiana know what happens when the defenses fail, for they saw it happen. They, like the rest of you, want the inner wall reinforced, and that will not happen until the outer wall is fortified. They will understand the advantage of helping the wood-cutters."
"Do you think they will actually do it?" Neves asked, surprised at this offer.
"I think they will, if I provide sufficient incentive," Bernardius said, making the gesture for bargaining.
"And what incentive would that be?" Denhirac asked, his manner tentative although his words carried conviction. "I have six men who could log, and they might agree to help Bernardius' soldiers if there were reward enough for their labors."
"Something can surely be arranged," said Neves.
"If you pay them to go into the forest, then the harvesters will ask for the same when they bring in the crops," warned Mangueinic.
"There are many kinds of pay," said Denhirac. "Money isn't much use here, but there are things that can be exchanged for labor."
"What did you have in mind?" asked Mangueinic.
"First chance at the beer and the cooked food, or a wheel of cheese," said Denhirac at once. "A chance to select some of the yearling sheep and goats."
"Or the right to hunt ducks on the lake," suggested Mangueinic. "That would deplete our flocks," Priam Corydon warned. "You may plan to move on, but I and my monks expect to remain here; we cannot give away all our food."
"You will have many fewer mouths to feed once the refugees are gone. A great many of us plan to leave as soon as the whole harvest is in, and that should be two months at most," Denhirac pointed out. "You can spare a lamb or two, or a few ducks. You may be sure the Huns will take much more than any refugee would."
Bernardius held up his hands, struggling to smile genially. "No more, I ask you. We need no more devisiveness. All of us must be prepared to bend a little to guarantee our safety. We understand what you, Denhirac, have explained, and all of us second your sapience; we know that you, Priam Corydon, wish to protect your own people. Volemus. Both of you have valid points to make, and we should consider everything as we determine how to proceed. But we have to decide, and quickly. The longer we delay, the more exposed we are."
Mangueinic thumped his crutch on the floor. "The Tribune makes sense," he said firmly. "It's something for all of you to keep in mind. The Huns will know what we do shortly, if they don't know already."
"They're worse than vermin, or shadows," said Bernardius, adding defiantly in his own version of Latin, "cavi ombram."
There was a brief silence, then Priam Corydon said, "For now, we will turn our attentions to tomorrow and whatever arrangements must be made to repair the walls. We will determine the recompense for the work now and let the men know before they go to have their supper."
"Then we'd best agree quickly. Food is being prepared right now, and there are two deer turning on spits outside." Neves rose and clapped his hands together. "Yearling goats and sheep would be an acceptable trade for a week's work, I believe. Hunting privileges will also be a reasonable exchange for labor; we all benefit when a deer or a boar is killed. What do the rest of you say?"
"I will ask my soldiers if they're willing to agree to any or all of these terms, and report their answer to you after supper is ended," Bernardius said. "Mangueinic, see if your Watchmen will concur."
"That I will, and make them answer for it if they cavil," said Mangueinic, his glance shifting to Priam Corydon. "Will your monks be willing to spare some of the livestock and ducks so that they may be safe?"
Priam Corydon turned to Monachos Niccolae. "What do you think? Will they consent?"
"If they understand the danger, I think they might; they know that prayers alone will not deter the Huns, and that soldiers do not fight for the Glory of God alone, to all our ignominy," said Monachos Niccolae. He looked down at the vellum spread on the writing board in his lap. "Shall I record the terms here, for the archives?"
"It would be prudent to write this down. It will help us avoid later disputes or misunderstandings," said Priam Corydon, trying to ignore the condemning glare of Denhirac, who associated writing with magic.
"Then I will," said Monachos Niccolae, reaching for a jar of fixed ink and thumbing the lid open.
"Do you want the courier to leave tomorrow at dawn?" Mangueinic asked Priam Corydon.
"Ideally, yes. We can decide which road or path to tell the courier to use later this evening. The sooner we send our dispatch, the sooner we may have an answer," said Priam Corydon.
"Even if that answer is no, as it is likely to be," remarked Bernardius, then lifted his head as if to defend himself. "What makes any of you think that Verus Flautens will send us soldiers? What if he hasn't any more to provide? Drobetae itself may have been attacked by Huns, and all the soldiers are needed to protect the town from another assault."
"Like us; we beg for more soldiers because we are losing ours too rapidly," said Neves. "I'll ask my men, and Bernardius can ask his, who among them is willing to carry the report to Drobetae. One of them must be willing to risk being chased by Huns." He snapped his fingers. "Oios knows the roads in this region. He may be willing to go. He's a brave enough fellow." He turned toward the door. "When the payment agreement is ready, I'll put my name to it."
"Thank you," said Priam Corydon, making the sign of the cross in his direction, and then the sign of the fish.
"I'll sign it, as well," said Bernardius.
Mangueinic shifted uncomfortably on his crutch. "If there is reason for me to put my mark on it, I will."
"How will I know that you are going to abide by your agreement?" Denhirac asked testily.
"You know because I will swear by Christ the Savior to do so," said Priam Corydon, his countenance becoming severe. "I will bind the salvation of my soul to the terms of this agreement, if it will allay your reservations."
"Then I will speak to those few of my men who are still here; if any of them are willing to cut wood for a lamb, I'll let you know before we retire tonight. One way or another, the work will be done." He saluted the others with great formality and left the warehouse.
"That," said Mangueinic, "is an impatient man."
"Not without reason," Neves said. "We have work to do, comrades, and we had best be about it."
Priam Corydon made the sign of the cross. "Come, Monachos Niccolae." He rose from his bench, gesturing to his recorder. "You and I will have to explain our decisions to the rest of the monks and novices."
"Yes, Priam," said Monachos Niccolae as he gathered up his vellum, goose-quill pen, and jar of fixed ink and prepared to follow him.
Bernardius, Neves, and Mangueinic were left alone in the warehouse. The place was growing dark as the last of sunset faded from the sky, leaving the two clerestory windows aglowing deep-blue. The three took a little time to gather their thoughts, then Neves said, "At least work will continue on the walls."
"That's something," said Mangueinic.
"We can train some of the refugees to man the ballistas; that would be helpful just now," Neves went on.
"Not all the refugee men want to fight," said Bernardius, "but it's probably worth a try. I'll ask among my townsfolk."
"If we stay in here much longer, people will think we're plotting against the Priam and Denhirac," Bernardius remarked.
"True enough," Neves said, and started toward the door.
"Do we meet here later, or at the monastery?" Mangueinic asked, working his crutch to gain more speed.
"Probably at the monastery. I don't think the Priam will seek us out." Neves sounded annoyed, but he continued out into the deepening twilight, the increasing darkness banished by the large fire at the center of the compound where the carcasses of deer turned on spits and the smell of smoke, venison, wild garlic, and thyme filled the air.
"When do your men change their posts?" Bernardius asked. "Is it the same as most evenings, or have you assigned another hour?"
"It is the same as it has been," said Neves. "As I assume it is for your men."
"Most of them, yes, but not all." Bernardius cleared his throat and spat. "Our ranks have thinned, as have all ranks, and I am hard put to fill the posts on the battlements, so I have lengthened the watches stood to a half a day or half a night and staggered the times of service so they overlap, giving the appearance of more guards than we have. Or so I hope. Having more of the refugees to add to their numbers will embolden my soldiers."
"So that's what you've been doing - lengthening the watches your men stand," Neves exclaimed. "A good precaution. Astute of you."
"More necessity than cleverness, I fear," said Bernardius, opening the door for the three of them. "After supper, when we've spoken to our men, we should meet at the horse-trough, and decide how to deal with the messengers and the woodsmen. I hope we have some volunteers."
They stood together outside the door, looking serious. Neves finally broke their silence. "I trust we'll have good news by then."
"Truly," said Mangueinic, and would have said more but the loud, unmelodious clang of the alarm sounded.
"The outer walls are burning!" came the shout from the gate-tower.
"Huns!" Mangueinic started toward the center of the compound.
"No," Neves said, loudly enough to be heard. "No sentry or guard reported them approaching."
"There has been no lightning," Mangueinic said. "It has to be Huns."
"Then they killed the sentries and guards," growled Bernardius.
"All of them?" Neves asked, starting toward the lower gate that led to the fields and the outer wall where smoke was beginning to churn into the twilight sky. "And no one noticed?"
"It doesn't matter the cause: the fires must be put out," said Mangueinic, and started off as rapidly as he could go toward the inner gate, bellowing as he went, "Men of Apulum Inferior! To your posts! Bring water, and form a line to quench the flames!"
"But if there are Huns ..." Bernardius began, then his words faded as the fire began to shine along the tops of the outer stockade. "We must be careful, in case this is another deceptive tactic."
"Then we must have the men take up their positions on the inner walls!" Neves shouted, running after Mangueinic. "We must put it out!"
Men came running from the center of the compound, their hands still shining with the grease of the basted deer they were dining upon. Some carried weapons, others held buckets of water, and still others had baskets of stones. Bernardius took up the task of directing them toward the outer walls or the battlements of the inner walls, all the while shouting encouragement and scrambled Latin phrases.
"What would you like me to do?" The voice came from a short distance behind Bernardius, and it shocked him to hear so reasonable a question. He swung around and looked into Niklos Aulirios' face.
"Are the horses safe?" Bernardius asked.
"For now. I put the grooms to wetting down the outside of the stable and the barn, though neither is very near the flames." Niklos paused. "I also ordered two of them into the roof, to stamp out sparks."
"A good idea," said Bernardius. "If you're willing, would you go around from the main gate to the fire and see if you can find anything that might reveal who did this?"
"You mean you want me to find out if the forest is full of Huns," said Niklos, faintly amused.
"Or brigands, or Gothic outlaws, or - well, who can say?" He coughed as the smoke thickened.
Niklos reverenced Bernardius as elegantly as a Byzantine courtier would have done. "I shall inform Dom Sanctu-Germainios of my mission, and will report to you as soon as I am finished with my inspection."
"If the fire enters the forest, things will go badly for us," Bernardius warned. "We must have trees to repair the walls - more so now than this morning."
"I'll observe as much as I can, and I'll tell you what I find, but you probably shouldn't hope for too much." He turned away and strode off to the old chapel, entering by the side-door and finding Sanctu-Germainios setting out medicaments. "I suppose you know?" he asked in Greek.
He sighed and spoke in the same tongue, "About the fire: how could I not? This will bring trouble."
"As if we didn't have any already," said Niklos. He studied Sanctu-Germainios narrowly. "Bernardius has asked me to go outside the outer walls to assess the damage."
"Because he can spare you, I suppose," said Sanctu-Germainios.
"I'm not one of his soldiers, or one of Neves' mercenaries, or one of the refugees, so I am more expendable than most." Niklos chuckled his exasperation. "I think I had better do it, don't you?"
"It would probably be advisable," said Sanctu-Germainios. "But be circumspect."
"I know: Olivia would kill me if I died again." Niklos ducked his head. "If I'm not back by midnight, look for what's left of me in the morning." He took a step back. "Where's your ice-eyed companion?"
"In the women's dormitory," said Sanctu-Germainios. "There has been an outbreak of fever there."
"The fire won't help that," said Niklos, and departed. He walked quickly to the horse-trough and drenched himself with water, then went to the main gate and slipped out through the warder's door to the outer wall of the monastery. Above him on the ramparts, a few of the guards still remained, but most had gone to fight the fire; Niklos kept in the shadow of the wall, not wanting to take an arrow in his flesh because a soldier thought he was an enemy.
The outer walls were more than half a league around, but Niklos covered the distance to the fire quickly. Nearing the shallow end of the lake, he saw the first of the flames gnawing away at the standing logs; the fire crackled and spat as it reached pockets of resin in the newly cut trunks. Niklos peered through the smoke, glad for once that ghouls did not have to breathe very often. The trees nearest the lake had been cut down during the most recent rebuilding of the fortifications, and most of the underbrush had been cleared away as well, so there were no signs of the fire spreading - at least not yet, he reminded himself. He approached as near to the burning stockade as he dared, noticing that the wind was blowing toward the buildings inside the walls rather than toward the forest. "That's something to be pleased about," he said aloud, and continued down toward the lake, wanting to wet himself down again before he continued his survey. Wading into the shallows, he crouched down and began lifting handfuls of water and pouring them over his head and shoulders. He rose slowly when he was soaked again, and looked around the edge of the lake, searching for any sign of men waiting for the breach in the wall to widen sufficiently for them to storm the defenses. He caught sight of what appeared to be a mound of rags at the edge of the lake, a dozen strides from where he stood. Frowning, he started toward the heap, and halted as he heard an agonized voice come from within the pile.
"God's Will. God's Will." The voice cracked, and the mass of rags lurched.
Niklos moved quickly, going to the fallen man, who lay supine, half in and half out of the water; Niklos was aware as he did that this could be a trap, that the man at the edge of the lake could be one of many others bent on catching him unaware. He felt for the dagger in his belt, prepared to use it. He reached the ragged figure and saw that his monkish garments were dreadfully burned, as were his hands and face. After he had taken a little time to look around, wishing as he did that he had a vampire's night-seeing eyes, he bent down next to the man. "You're badly hurt," he said, slowly and distinctly. "Do you understand me?"
"God's Will," the man whispered.
"Do you hear me?" Niklos persisted.
"I hear," the man answered. "The fire ..."
"Yes, there is a fire."
"Is it still burning?"
"It is," Niklos answered, fearing the man's eyes had been damaged; his eyebrows were singed away and most of his face looked as if the skin had been melted.
"Is the wall destroyed?"
"It's ... damaged," said Niklos.
"Oh," said the man, his tone remote.
Making up his mind, Niklos said to the man, "I'm going to pick you up and carry you into the monastery where your burns can be treated."
"No. No!" The man thrust out with his scorched hands; he writhed desperately as Niklos took hold of him.
"I promise you I will hurt you as little as possible," he said, and dragged the man upright as he wailed. In another abrupt motion, he slung the man up and over his shoulder, his arm holding him in place.
"No! God's Will! God's Will!"
Moving slowly so that he could maintain his hold on the squirming man, Niklos made his way back toward the main gate, trying not to listen to the howls the man made. Getting through the warder's door was difficult, but after two tries, he succeeded, emerging inside the walls to see that the flames were dying, and as much steam as smoke was rising from the outer wall. He started toward the old chapel, but slowed as Priam Corydon approached him with Mangueinic. "I saw no signs of Huns," he said as they came up to him.
"Then what's that?" Mangueinic asked, pointing to Niklos' miserable burden.
"I found him at the lake. He's badly burned."
"Let me look at him," said Priam Corydon.
"He's not a pleasant sight," Niklos warned as he lowered the man from his shoulder and helped him to stand upright.
Priam Corydon stared at the tarnished silver crucifix hanging from a braided leather thong around the man's neck; he made the sign of the fish. "Monachos Anatolios," he mumbled as if his lips had lost all feeling.
"Priam Corydon?" the man asked, cocking his head to hear.
"What have you done, Monachos Anatolios?" Priam Corydon asked, horrified. He studied the ruined face for some vestige of expression and found none.
"God's Will. Since you wouldn't do it, I have," he said, standing more erect as he spoke.
"You've killed us all," Mangueinic accused.
"God's Will," Monachos Anatolios said with apparent satisfaction, then fainted, falling to the ground before Niklos or Priam Corydon could reach him.
Text of a letter from Rugierus in Aquileia to Artemidorus Iocopolis in Constantinople, written in Greek on sanded linen with fixed ink and carried by the same ship that brought Rugierus to Aquileia, the Celestial Crown, and delivered thirty-one days after the letter was written.
To the most worthy factor Artemidorus Iocopolis of Eclipse Trading Company at Constantinople, the greetings and thanks of the bondsman Rugierus of Gades on this, the 27th day of July, in the Christian year 439.
My esteemed Factor Iocopolis,
This is to inform you that I have arrived safely in Aquileia and am now staying at the estate of a blood relative of Sanctu-Germainios just outside the city. I am arranging for Captain Kakaios to carry not only this letter to you, but the sum of one hundred gold Angels as a sign of my gratitude, and to recompense you for all the expenses you incurred in your superlative efforts to gain my release. Without your continued endeavors, I might have languished in captivity for years. If I am ever in a position to extend myself on your behalf, you have only to inform me and I will do my utmost to return to you the exertions you performed for me.
In a month I plan to leave for the former Province of Dacia in the hope of rejoining my master, at which time I will inform him of all you did on my behalf. No doubt he, too, will want to offer some token of his appreciation. I have heard, as everyone has, of the ravages of the Huns, and so I believe I may not locate Dom Sanctu-Germainios readily. My one consolation is that Bondama Clemens has sent her most trusted servant to find Sanctu-Germainios and provide him with his assistance, whatever he may require. That is as much comfort as I can hope for at this time.
At Cnossus we learned of a fever spreading from Egypt, one that is marked by lethargy, great thirst, and general pain. Alexandria has already instituted measures against the fever by limiting public gatherings to religious services and confining all travelers to the foreign quarter of the city. I advise you to be on guard against this fever, and to warn the captains and crews of all Eclipse Trading Company ships about the disease, for it is said that half of those who contract it are invalided by it, or killed. If you suspect any ship of carrying this fever, do not allow its crew ashore, and send a physician to treat those who suffer. I would also take care in sending ships to Egyptian ports, for fear of contracting the fever, and to report any information on the fever's spread. I know my master would issue such orders, so I give them in his name, certain that you will abide by them, for prudence if for no other reason.
I am deeply obliged to you, good Factor,
Rugierus of Gades
bondsman to Dom Sanctu-Germainios
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