[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 02-04-2003 @ 03:34 PM).]
Jayhawk, Micah Aragorn and Proconsul Creaticus Dania
[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 02-04-2003 @ 03:34 PM).]
[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 02-04-2003 @ 03:34 PM).]
Jayhawk, Micah Aragorn and Proconsul Creaticus Dania
[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 02-04-2003 @ 03:34 PM).]
The rotund Roman with pink cheeks, his toga draped loosely about his body, his hand grasping a goblet of the villa's best wine, loudly protested the answer he received. "And why not? Is there something wrong with becoming a member of the Senate that you, Civis Romanus, should find it unpalatable?"
"My dear Senator," said Civis Romanus. "There is nothing unpalatable about membership in the distinguished body of Romans that make up the Senate. You simply have to understand that I am very happy and quite satisfied to be a military commander and Caesar Marcus Aurelius' Chief Military Advisor at this time. When I can no longer do either of these two tasks to my personal satisfaction, I will seek another way to serve Rome. If the Senate then will accept me, I shall be very willing to serve with its distinguished members. Until that time, I am very much the soldier and not the politician..."
Civis paused as one of his servants passed by with a platter of spiced meats and cheese. "Oh my, Senator, you must try these. The recipe was brought all of the way from Parthia." Civis placed a gentle hand on the servant's shoulder before he could pass them both by, halting the servant in his tracks. A quick smile reassured the servant that all was well, though the servant knew he had little to fear from this master despite his reputation for violence towards enemies of Roma or Caesar.
The senator stabbed alternating morsels of meat and wedges of cheese with a small, thin bladed, solid gold dagger. He sampled a portion of meat and cheese together. "Mmmm. Simply marvelous, Commander. You say these are from Parthia? By any chance near the city where you defeated Vologezes?"
"The very one, Senator. Now, if you will kindly excuse me, I must see to the well-being of my other guests."
"Of course, but do keep what I said in mind, Commander."
"I shall, Senator Lepidus. And thank you." Civis inclined his head in an abbreviated bow of respect towards the Senator. His relationship with the Senate had improved dramatically in the years following the murder of Senator Tiberius Publicus and his own acquittal of the crime. Of course, unmasking the conspirators in the Silk Merchants' Plot against Caesar and their attempt to regain control of the silk trade made an improved relationship with the Senate a foregone conclusion. In fact, noting that Civis Romanus' position with Caesar was elevated substantially by these events made the Senators ever more eager for their own purposes to have a positive relationship with Caesar's Chief Military Advisor. Civis knew this and so he was exceedingly careful about his choice of friends among the Senators.
Not that he was careful only with Senators. Even among those who were brothers in arms, Civis was naturally cautious. It was to be expected of someone who must analyze quickly the talents of his subordinates and assign them properly or risk the destruction of his own army through their incompetence and his own dishonor or death at the hands of Caesar or the Senate. One man who gained Civis' carefully reserved trust was young Titus Tarquintius, now a seasoned Tribune, who shared with Civis his mission on the Silk Road and was instrumental in foiling the Silk Merchants' Plot and in proving Civis was not the murderor of Tiberius Publicus. In fact, Civis was looking for Titus, but was ultimately disappointed to learn that Titus was not yet present.
Meanwhile, the small music ensemble continued to play in the Atrium as Civis' guests wandered about the villa. This was a celebration of the season's end hosted annually by Civis and Apolita, his spouse, to mark the completion of another grape harvest. This was their most bountiful harvest of the past three years, due in part to excellent weather and the enlargement of their estate. It was by decree of Caesar three years ago that Civis should receive title to the abandoned holdings of childless Tiberius Publicus, as compensation to Civis and his family for their suffering under the murderous plot of which Tiberius was a party and Apolita nearly a victim.
The nightmares that plagued Apolita were largely gone now, but occasionally something triggered a memory of the events in the bathhouse causing her to rise in the middle of the night, waves of panic coursing through her body. On these occasions it would be some time before Civis could calm Apolita and help her return to sleep at his side. He was grateful for her sake that these occasions were becoming rarer with each passing year.
Civis asked of a passing servant about Titus' arrival. "No," said the servant. "Tribune Tarquintius has not been seen yet." Civis frowned and let the servant go about his chores. These servants were not slaves. Civis never treated them as slaves. In fact, his lack of slaves was the talk of Rome. Chief Military Advisor to Caesar and he has no slaves? Civis ignored such talk. He didn't need slaves when he had servants whose loyalty was assured because of how they were treated. He never lacked for help in the villa. The other villas needed slaves because they couldn't hold their freemen, such was the impact of their ways of treating servants.
All in all, it was a gentle time for Civis and his family. Marcus Aurelius was the most competent emperor to rule the Empire since Augustus and PAX ROMANA was in full sway. However, a continent away, in the very land where eastward terminated the Silk Road, events were underway that would bring an end to this period of personal peace and put Civis Romanus and others at risk of their lives once more.
One such person, a citizen who was once a slave, even now had returned to Rome and was planning to seek out Civis Romanus, the man who once owned him.
[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 11-21-2002 @ 09:51 PM).]
Fu Hachu looked at the other people in the room. The burly general Wan Li, his aides beside him, seemed restless. Xia Deng, the Emperor's Number Two wife, reclining on a couch seemed as composed as always. Not a line of her elaborate makeup and hairdo out of place. A slave was waving a large fan.
The Prime Minister folded his hands together, the long nails clicking softly as he did so.
"So..." he spoke, his voice a sibilant hiss.
"We agree? For the good of our country we need to stop the Celestial One from being contaminated with barbaric ideas and bringing dangers untold to our beloved country."
The two others nodded.
"However, we can not anger the god by disposing of him. Especially as he has no heir as yet, an heir I will provide him with" Xia Deng added with a cat like smile.
Her eyes darkened as she turned towards the General and continued.
"we no longer need for the barbarian raised upstart Sin Ying. You will take care to dispose of her, won't you? Maybe have your men have sport with her, before you feed her to the rats?"
Now and then a dispatch rider came carrying fresh messages for their superior in Rome, or the big waggons of the traders carrying spice, silk or other commodities from foreign countries slowly made their way to their storehouse. When this happened people would make room on the middle of the road, sometimes they would even stop and look at the passing waggon or dispatch rider while dreaming of strange foreign people and countries; or victories, valor and honor on distant battlefields, -and then continue their errands like ants busy taking care of each ones specific task in and arund the anthill.
This particular late afternoon people became aware something different seemed to be happening up the road. It was like it took a little longer before walkers continued on their track after making room for a horseman. As the horseman came within clear eyesight one would deem him to be rich from the horse he was riding. It looked like one of those finebuild horses from Parthia only the rich people in Roma could afford to import, but then it was also looking a bit different.
The horse did have the characteristic fine small head and the color was as it should be -black as a raven, but the body and legs looked more like some of the horses the military imported from the Goths far to the North. It was easy to see the horse had made a long travel but still it was in real good shape and taken good care off. The saddle was of a type noone except maybe a few fortunate to be able recall seing had seen before -the saddle of the feared Parthian horsearcher. Of other belongings were the ordinary saddlebags and a blanket. Placed on the blanket was a wooden box about 1 foot high.
If the horse looked in good shape and taken good care of, that could not be said about the man riding it. His clothes looked like made of good fabric, but dirty and worn, even threadbare in places. It was difficult to see the appearance of the man as he was wearing a cloak with the hood covering his face. Then the wind blew of the hood and the face of a man in his mid-thirties became visible. His near shoulderlong grey hair looked dirty and greasy, his eyes were blue and sadlooking. His face was skinny and some of those on his left side had to look away as they saw a grim not fully healed scar making its way from the root of the nose, down the cheek to the jawbone. The man made a movement as for taking the hood on again but then changed his mind.
A short moment later he stopped at the citygates talking briefly with a sentry, then dissapeared through the gates into Roma. Inside the gates he slowly rode along making his way to the Senat where he talked a bit with one of the guards while showing him something. He then turned around heading in the direction of the more prosperous neighbourhoods in the hills just outside Roma and finally made his horse to a halt on the road outside one of the villas.
Roulv Dania -for he it was- got off the horse, loosened its harness and dried it over with some clothes he took in a saddlebag. After taking care of the horse he removed the blanket and the wooden box from behind the saddle and found a good spot under a tree giving free view up and down the road. With the blanket behind his back and the wooden box between his legs he seated on the ground leaning against the tree with his horse grazing at his side. Prepared for a long wait he let his thoughts go back to the day he had his first surprising encounter with the villas owner...
As allways when something that seemed worth making gossip about happened, words about a strange, badly clothed man on a valuable horse riding around asking sentries and guards questions followed in the wake of the stranger like a wildfire. Not long after the gossip had started one of the more 'truthseeking' citizens made his way to the spoken-about guard at the Senat.
"Ummm-ehh, guard. Who was that man on the black horse?"
"Well, ummm" the man continued, now playing with a coin. "He did talk to you, so there might be something....?"
"All I know is he was asking about Commander Civis Romanus and had proof of good intentions" the guard replied while placing his hand close to his gladius. "Now continue with whatever you were doing, we have more then enough assemblies outside the Senat as is..."
[This message has been edited by Proconsul Creaticus Dania (edited 11-19-2002 @ 03:40 PM).]
"Civis, I'm sure will not be pleased at my lateness".
He passed through the city gates and set his direction to the Romanus villa. His mount continued its gallup and Titus neared his destination. Upon his approach he reared his mount to more of a gate as the shadowy figure near a tree became apparent. This figure did not move from its position and as Titus grew nearer he realized it was black hooded and just sitting waiting for something or someone.
Flashes of a same black hooded figure came to Titus' mind remembering the conspiracy of three years ago and the disturbing peace it had brought. So it was as he finally reached the tree and sitting figure that with a hand on his gladius and ready to draw it he looked down at the hooded black cloak and asked with an authoritive voice,"Who are you and why do you wait at the entrance to this villa"
The figure rose from its sitting position without saying anything. The hood continued to hide any visible features and made it all that more difficult for Titus to know the person he spoke to nor his intentions.
Angry at the cloaked persons silence Titus once again said," Who are you and what business do you have here?"
Again the figure did not answer but instead moved toward the direction of the mounted Titus who now was past patience and drawing his gladius from its sheath pointed it at the forward progressing figure. As it passed from the shadows of the tree it had been sitting under the light of the night moon beamed onto the cloak. A soothing voice finally emanated from under the the hood, " You have nothing to fear from me Tribune and in fact would consider me a friend not foe.", the figure putting both hands on his hood,one on each side, pulled back and down and allowed the moonlight to illuminate his face.
Again the figure spoke,"Put your weapon away Titus. I am Roulv Dania......
From the doorway Civis silently admired his spouse, a Celtic woman raised in Roman ways on the Isle of Celtia, where Civis first met her. She was slightly shorter than Civis and slightly younger as well. Her auburn hair framed her heart-shaped face with its strikingly hazel eyes. Two children later, she still displayed most of the delightful figure of her youth. Today her figure was demurely covered in a pale blue gown with edgings in silk. Ah yes, silk... Mixed memories threatened to claw their way into his thoughts. He tried to cast them out.
Apolita must have sensed something was going on in her husband's mind, for she ceased her conversation with the chief cook and looked at him, tilting her head in that unique manner Civis knew so very well. "Husband? Is all well?"
Civis startled, vagrant thoughts suddenly gone at the sound of her voice. "Yes Apolita. All is well."
Apolita took the few steps needed to be at his side. "You had that look in your eyes. You know, the faraway one. It has had different meanings in the past."
"No meaning at all this time... Well, one maybe," Civis face reddened a little as one in particular was recalled. He quickly looked in the direction of the cook and her servants to see if they were watching. They seemed not to be, but he knew better. He leaned towards his wife and placed his lips near her ears and a hand behind her at her waist just above her hip. "It was this thought...," he whispered. "I love you, Apolita; and you've never looked prettier than you do today."
"Civis! Not among the servants!" she whispered back admonishingly, but smiling broadly. "Now go see your children. It's time to check on them."
"Yes, Apolita," he said, a devilish look in his eyes. Suddenly Apolita felt a hand quickly, masterfully, lightly but unstoppably, slide past her hip and pat her with pleasant familiarity.
"Civis!" Apolita hissed, both she and her husband quickly glancing in the servants' direction to make sure none saw. None were looking in their direction. Civis, laughing to himself, stole from the room to check on Civi and Apollonia. Apolita composed herself and turned to the chief cook. "Well, if there are no other issues, I'll return to the guests," she said.
"No, Mistress. We understand what is needed," said the chief cook. A long time member of the household, the chief cook watched Apolita leave the galley. The cook smiled to herself and turned to the youngest among the servants, a teenage girl newly arrived in the household. "And that is what I mean, Lydia. That is why I stay here. There is true wealth here."
"Yes, the Master and the Mistress "Ah Lydia, it is not "I'm not sure I understand." "You are very young, Lydia. Some day you will and then, though you may have far fewer possessions than they, you will be just as wealthy in the way that they are. You will see." "I hope so," replied Lydia, not sure she completely understood or agreed. "We all hope so for ourselves and each other," said the cook as she drew a pinch of salt from a glazed pottery bowl and sprinkled it over some meats cooking over the galley fire. [This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 11-23-2002 @ 12:12 PM).]
"Ah Lydia, it is not "I'm not sure I understand." "You are very young, Lydia. Some day you will and then, though you may have far fewer possessions than they, you will be just as wealthy in the way that they are. You will see." "I hope so," replied Lydia, not sure she completely understood or agreed. "We all hope so for ourselves and each other," said the cook as she drew a pinch of salt from a glazed pottery bowl and sprinkled it over some meats cooking over the galley fire. [This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 11-23-2002 @ 12:12 PM).]
"I'm not sure I understand."
"You are very young, Lydia. Some day you will and then, though you may have far fewer possessions than they, you will be just as wealthy in the way that they are. You will see."
"I hope so," replied Lydia, not sure she completely understood or agreed.
"We all hope so for ourselves and each other," said the cook as she drew a pinch of salt from a glazed pottery bowl and sprinkled it over some meats cooking over the galley fire.
[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 11-23-2002 @ 12:12 PM).]
Dania moved a bit for better seing Titus's face which made a flaming red scar visible on his left cheek. "I guess he would, but I am afraid I would spoil the party..." "What has happened with you!" Titus interrupted seing the grim scar and now clearly seing Roulvs almost white hair in the light of the full moon.
"That's a long story" Roulv responded, looking down "and also the reason I'm afraid I would spoil the party. Besides, I haven't got an invitation anyway."
"I'm forgetting myself again it seems" said a lightly shaken Titus "How is Butara and how is business going?"
Roulv responded by a quick glance at Titus and then looked down on the ground kicking slightly to a loose stone.
"Oh, is it that bad" Titus knit his brows "At least do not sit out here the whole night, come with me to the villa. I'm sure Civis does not mind if I ask a servant find a room for you where you can stay till tomorrow. Let me hold your horse while you pack your things" Titus pointed at the wooden box and the blanket behind Roulv and reached for the reins of Roulvs horse but quickly stepped back as the horse tried to bite him. "Whoaa easy, some of a wild beast you got there"
"Sorry, my fault. Forgot to tell Mistral does not like strangers. Think I'll do as you propose Titus. Just a minute and we'll be ready"
Knowing Titus was right about Civis, Roulv quickly took his blanket and the wooden box and mounted his horse.
A short moment later Titus and Roulv Dania slowly rode up the private road leading to the villa of Civis Romanus.
[This message has been edited by Proconsul Creaticus Dania (edited 11-19-2002 @ 05:44 PM).]
Da Long, the captain in charge of the squad saluted the general smartly and said:
"It shall be as you command. Come on men, the Celestial One is in danger" Wan Li nodded and turned away.
The troop of soldiers ran quickly towards the Emperor's private quarters. Da Long spoke a few short words towards the guard and they entered the room. Inside they saw the Emperor and Sin Ying playing a game of Mah Yong. The young man looked up as he saw the commotion at the door and asked.
"Captain? What is the meaning of this disturbance?"
The captain bowed deeply and said.
"Celestial one, we have word of an assassination attempt on your august person." He motioned two of the soldiers who took hold of Sin Ying. The girl looked confused.
"Sin Ying? Don't be ridiculous."
"Please, Celestial One."
As the Emperor turned his back on the Captain and made to move towards Sin Ying, Da Long hit him on the head with the butt of his dagger.
"I'm sorry, Celestial One, but this is for your own safety.
Take her away. You and you help me carry the Celestial One."
Some hours later.
Da Long and his troop of soldiers presented themselves to the General.
"Sir, the Emperor is where you wanted him to be."
"Did anyone see you take im there?"
"No, Sir, the servants saw us take him from his rooms, though."
"Never mind the servants, Captain.
And the girl?"
"We have taken her to the dungeons in the South Tower. No one recognised her."
You will be rewarded for your loyalty."
The General turned and walked towards the far end of the room, then raised his hands. Suddenly the air was full of the twanging of bowstrings as a flight of quarrels was losed upon the unsuspecting soldiers.
They fell where the were standing. Most dying before they even had a chance to look surprised.
"Take the bodies away and dump them in the river. We will blame their deaths on bandits."
Slowly the bodies of the soldiers floated down the river, blood swirling in their wake. One of the bodies drifted amongst the roots of a tree growing half in the river.
It's lacerated hand moved to grab a root and pulled itself on the mud covered shore.
Da Long shivered as his last strength left him and he fainted.
"No! I don't have to!" answered Civi. It was then that Civis rounded the corner and Civi seeing him lowered his eyes to the floor and then glared briefly at Apollonia before lowering them once more. Apollonia's expression was one that anticipated triumph. Civis hoped he could restore peace. Sometimes he was successful.
"And what is going on here? Apollonia, you first." Civis voice took on the ring of command that he used with errant troops.
"Caecellia and I are in this room and I told Civi to leave us alone, but he keeps coming in here and bothering us and we can't talk or do anything because he won't leave us alone and..." Civis cut off the deluge of words before more was said than needed. Before him stood his exceedingly annoyed and becoming angrier young daughter, the near image of his spouse, except for a few aspects that were mostly Civis. She achieved thirteen years of age just the week prior and achieved over the preceeding 12 months the same heighth as her mother. Fast growth spurred by pending womanhood had its usual effect and Apollonia was a great delight to her parents, but on occasion an emotional dagger to household harmony.
Apollonia's hands were on her hips. An expectant look on her face suggested she eagerly anticipated something just short of crucifixion to be imposed on her younger brother. Her hand placement emphasized the fact that she was a woman child and not the girl of a few years prior. The material of her gown pressed in by her hands emphasized the rounding of her hips and her narrowing waist. Her long sleeved, ankle length, high necked yellow gown, appropriate for a child not yet in her majority, flowed smoothly over her shoulders, down her straight back, and in front curved modestly to remind Civis that this was no longer a mere child.
Civis sighed. "Civi, how many times have I told you to leave your sister alone when she has a guest. It is the same thing I told her when Claudius came over to stay the day and night with you."
"But Father, while Claudius' older brother was here she wouldn't stay away. You should have seen the eyes she was making at him! It's not fair!"
Civis heard a sharp intake of breath and looked to see Apollonia turning pink before his very eyes. "Civi!" Apollonia protested fiercely. "That is not true! I did no such thing!
"Yes you did!"
"No I didn't"
Civis straightened his frame up to its full heighth. "Children! That will be enough! Apollonia, Civi will not bother you the rest of the night. Is that understood, Civis Romanus the Younger?"
When his full name was stated as part of a directive, Civi knew things were serious. "Yes, Father."
"And Apollonia, you will cease this catterwalling in the hallway with guests in the villa; and you will not bother Civi. Is that clear?"
Apollonia got what she wanted in this battle, though it wasn't without casualties. "Yes, Father," she said. Then both children decided it was time to beat a hasty retreat, and that is what they did. Caecellia, beckoned to by Apollonia to return to her room, paused a moment to speak to Civis.
"Sir... Commander Romanus... It's alright. These things happen in my father's villa too." She stood there smiling at Civis, a look in her eye that said "I dared to speak to him, will he speak to me?"
"I hope I have responded as well as he would."
"Oh, very much so," she blurted. "You said to Apollonia exactly what my father said to me... I mean... to my sister... well, my brother anyway. Ummm... I had better follow Apollonia." Caecellia smiled and quickly walked away, turning her head once to see if Civis was there and watching. She smiled again and lightly ran into the room into which Apollonia had disappeared.
Civis shook his head. Girls... Young girls. Metamorphs like the silk worm... only daily. Hourly if they could manage it. A servant hurried up the hallway obviously looking for Civis.
"Master Civis! The man you asked after is here... The Tribune has arrived... and there is another with him."
"Another? Who is the other?"
"The Tribune Tarquintius wouldn't tell me, Master Civis. The other wears a hooded garment and seems to have travelled a great distance, but his face is covered. The Tribune says you will be pleased and surprised to see the hooded man again."
"I see. Thank you. I will greet the Tribune," said Civis. As the servant left the hallway Civis, not knowing what or who to expect, made his way to the entry to his villa.
[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 11-20-2002 @ 04:39 PM).]
Hands...he felt hands touch his broken body, tracing the wounds the arrows had made.
'Arrow's' he thought muzzily, 'what arrows?'
A slow warmth enveloped him from the inside outwards, as if all his meridians were set on fire.
Oblivion took him back into it's embrace.
The captain stirred, slowly consciousness returned as the shadows grew longer.
Something had happened.
He'd been shot, and...
He pulled his body upwards and made his hands move over his body, there was dried blood, but no wounds, just pink scars where the wounds had been.
Still groggy he wondered, why would General Wan Li try to have him killed? He'd only done what he had been ordered to.
Unless there was something strange about those orders...
Sin Ying shivered, form cold, from hunger and from exhaustion. Alone in a cell, three feet wide and six feet deep, she wondered what had happened.
'Why had they taken her here? What had happened to her husband, Pei Lian, the Emperor?'
Suddenly she noted a pair of gleaming red eyes a foot of the ground at the other side of the cell.
She shivered again, but now from fear.
"I did, but I didn't say I would not say anything to Civis. I know.."
"Oh yeah," Dania interrupted "and what do you think Civis will do when he sees this?" He removed the hood with a quick move with his left hand so his bloodred scar and grey hair was clearly visible in the light from the oillamps at the main entrance. "He will start asking me questions about what has happened and think about that instead of enjoying his guests and the harvest festival"
Titus couldn't help looking a bit disgusted when he saw a small stream of blood and matter slowly make it's way down Danias cheek from the wound that got ripped open when Dania removed the hood, but quickly hid the expression.
"He would find out anyway. He knows me and would walk around looking at me until I would give up and tell him anyway. Let's go inside and wait for Civis. It's getting cold out here"
Titus seing Dania sway a bit from exhaustion reached for the wooden box he had taken from the horse and now carried using both hands.
"Sorry," Dania took a tighter grip on the box "I do not let this out of eyesight and besides, I do not think it is fit to take it inside the villa."
As Civis Romanus neared the entrance he heard a familiar voice saying something about 'not fit to take inside the villa', then the more deep voice of Titus asking why?...
[This message has been edited by Proconsul Creaticus Dania (edited 11-21-2002 @ 11:00 AM).]
Civis greeted Titus arm to arm in the Roman fashion, broadly smiling in welcome. "What kept you, young Tribune? I began to think the steets of Roma grasped you and swallowed you up."
"My sincerest apologies, Commander. It seemed like every time I turned around someone was seeking me out for some reason or another and preventing me from starting the ride to your villa. Then, by a tree at your gate, I met up with this citizen who stands near me. Begging your pardon Commander, I thought I should encourage him to follow me here."
"I see," said Civis, still without a clue as to the identity of the "citizen". Civis called out into the dim light of the evening to the man stationed in a small shelter across from the entrance to the villa. It was there just for nights like these when visitors brought their mounts or chariot horses. "Marcus! Ho Marcus! Two horses for Radko's care, please, if you will." The servant hurried from the shed and took the reins of their horses from the newly arrived visitors. Civis suddenly put up his hand.
"I have this correctly, Tribune? Your unnamed citizen will spend the night here?"
"With your permission, Commander."
"Granted. He is welcome here as your friend." Civis waived to the servant to indicate he could convey the horses to Radko's stable.
The hooded man spoke an indistinct protest, only partially uttered when Titus interrupted him with an admonishment. "Accept this, Citizen. All will be well."
The hooded man's voice, albeit interrupted, seemed oddly familiar to Civis. He couldn't quite place it. Perhaps a view of the man's face would be the key. "Now, please enter the villa and escape this evening's chill. Come in, both of you."
They entered. The word "tree" triggered a recollection in Civis' memory. Could it be? "Now," said Civis goodnaturedly. "Shall we allow our mystery guest to reveal himself or are we to play a guessing game instead?"
The hooded man spoke next, exhaustion weakening his resistance, knowing he would sooner or later have to reveal his own identity anyway. "I am most pleased to see you again, Commander Civis Romanus," he said as he pulled back the hood.
Civis recognized him immediately. "Dania! Roulv Dania!" Civis reached out to greet his former slave in the same manner as he did Titus. Then he paused as the severity of the change in the man and the glaring prominence of the scarring wound became obvious in the villa's light.
However, as a military commander, Civis was used to seeing such wounds, either fresh or healed, and the moment's hesitation was followed by a firm grasping of Dania's arms in warm welcome. Civis smile faded as he saw more closely the extent of the wound and its discharge. "My friend, you need some assistance. One of my servants will find you a room and another will bring a physician. Rest easy, Roulv Dania. I shall ask no questions and you need not offer any explanation... unless you want to." Civis smiled once more. "Welcome to my villa, Citizen Roulv Dania."
Titus gave Dania one of those "I told you so" glances as the former slave was guided to a room in the villa. Civis noted that Dania refused to permit the servant to carry his wooden box. When the injured man was out of earshot Civis said to Titus, "What do you know about that odd box he carries?"
Titus responded with a wry smile on his face, "It is made of wood. That is all I know."
"Hmmm. Well, Titus... Enough for the moment. A warm toga is waiting for you in the usual place. Make yourself at home and I'll send a goblet of wine in your direction."
Both men made their way up the hallway and towards the Atrium and its musicians, greeting friends and acquaintances along the way.
[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 11-21-2002 @ 09:49 PM).]
"Father..." Sin Ying whimpered.
Suddenly the rats fled back to where they'd come from. They scrambled over eachother in their haste to get out of the cell. Then there was silence.
The girl slowly lifted her head and saw a diffuse golden light appear before her. The light touched her and drove the chill out of her bones.
"Father? Please get me out of here? I'm afraid."
A soft familiar voice spoke in her head.
'Hush, little one, don't be afraid. Nothing bad's going to happen to you. I can't get you out, that would be...meddling' a mild disdain tinged the voice briefly and disappeared as quickly as it had come.
'Help will come, though, trust me?'
"I trust you, father" Sin Ying mumbled as she fell asleep.
Da Long walked stream upward, slowly moving towards the Imperial City. His thoughts tumbled over each other as he walked. Someting was seriously wrong and while there was no way he could get at the Celestial One, he could get at someone else. The girl, the Emperor's Number One wife, was locked away in the dungeon.
There should be a way to get inside and take her out. Maybe they could help eachother.
A voice rumbled
"Hello Ren. I am here to ask a favour"
Dania had almost finished taking off his clothes when the servant came back and helped him in the soaping area and then to the low end of the hot water pool where Dania was able to sit in the water without any risk in the case he should fall asleep as a combination of his exhaustion and the warm water. The servant found it a bit strange when Dania insisted on having the wooden box with him into the pool area, but made no comment as he found some cloth Dania asked for and then used for wrapping around the box.
"The physician should soon arrive master Dania, anything else I can do for you?"
"Aaahhh" Dania said as the effect of the hot water started to loosen his tired mucles "I don't think so thanks.....and then, maybe you could arrange a haircut for me?"
"I happen to be the one doing the haircut of the staff so, if it is ok with you master Dania?"
"That is fine with me"
"Just a minute and I will be back, master Dania"
About an hour later Dania was led to a small guesthouse behind the villa, tired but clean and with short hair. Here the physician waited for him. After gently cleansing the wound and adding some ointment he covered the wound and Danias left eye with a bandage.
"So, that's all I can do for now. I will come back and check up on you the day after tomorrow. If it looks fine you will not need the bandage any more. Remember to keep the bandage dry and take it easy else the wound will start bleeding again." With those words the physician left the small guestroom.
"Thanks for your help" Dania handed the servant a few sesterts "Here is for the haircut"
"Oh thank you, but..." the servant started
"No protests, you did a great job with that haircut. You may go now. Have a pleasent night."
After the servant had left Dania sat a few moments on the bed adjusting the bandage a bit. Then he went to bed with the wooden box placed between the bed and the wall. For some time he laid there looking up in the dark feeling how his eyelids slowly became more and more heavy and then slipped into a unruly sleep haunted by nightmares...
[This message has been edited by Proconsul Creaticus Dania (edited 12-01-2002 @ 04:45 AM).]
"My dear Titus," said Civis. "I begin to wonder if you are truly concerned for my mental wellbeing or just fearful the water will for once not be refreshing or warm enough." Titus laughed and still suffering the effects of interrupted sleep walked a little unsteadily over the uneven ground. Civis continued to trudge to the bathhouse talking as he walked.
"No, Titus. It seems even Apolita is nearly over the trauma of that day, with one exception..." Here Civis paused for effect and to see if Titus was truly listening. The tribune was in fact listening.
"What exception is that?"
"She will only go to the bathhouse if I am there as well."
"At the same time?"
"Of course, and I really don't mind at all." Civis looked over his shoulder and winked.
Titus remained silent, a smile curving his lips. If only he would be so fortunate when he decides to marry that it would be one such as Apolita he finds.
They were both very near the bathhouse when girls' laughter interrupted his thoughts. Two girls, the very same he and Civis happened upon in the same circumstances three years ago walked out of the bathhouse just as the two men were about to enter.
Three years of maturity had made their mark. Titus remembered one of the girl's names. "Hello Lydia. We meet again it seems."
Lydia's eyes enlarged and as before she, like the other, clasped her robe to herself. Now 16, there was a fullness to her figure that was only hinted at before. "Master Civis, good morning," she said trying to retain her composure. "And good morning to you, Tribune Titus."
"Is the water warm?" said Civis.
"Very warm and comfortable indeed, Sir," said Lydia, glancing repeatedly at Titus.
"Very well... Oh, and I should mention the Mistress and I are pleased with your work at the villa. We shall talk about extra privileges before long."
"Why thank you, Master Civis," replied Lydia, blushing at the unexpected complement. "We must go now."
"Certainly," acknowledged Civis. The girls curtseyed and took the path to the servants' quarters, glancing back, but with different looks in their eyes than those they had as the young girls of three years prior.
"Still catching their eyes, Titus, I see." Civis smiled as his friend searched for words in response. Finding none, Titus merely followed Civis into the bathhouse.
Immersing themselves in the warm water, fed by the wood fires placed under the bathhouse, both men permitted themselves to relax and absorb the comfort to be found in the small pool.
"Peaceful and serene..." commented Titus.
"Always, it seems so," observed Civis. "But Titus, I have this very strange feeling that this period of "pax" will soon come to an end."
Titus gave a start and on reflex started glancing around the visible areas of the bathhouse. Civis noticed the movement of his friend and moved to ease his concern. "No, nothing like that. It's just that... Well, I've been having these dreams..."
"Dreams, not nightmares?"
"Not nightmares yet, Titus."
Titus frowned. "Portents, they say."
"Yes, and I believe it."
"And what to they portend for you, Civis?"
"I don't know, Titus. They are far too strange, too foreign. And what is more, it is not me alone."
"Who else, then?"
"You, Titus. You are part of it as well, and then last night... another dream and another among those I know became part of it too."
"Who was the other?"
The two fell silent and all that could be heard was the gentle music of the water as it responded to the few motions caused by the bodies of the two bathers that disturbed its surface.
[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 11-23-2002 @ 12:56 PM).]
As the sunbeam slowly moved across the wall it gently touched a small colorfull carpet on the wall depicting a scenery from the mountains, then a small niche with a painted plaster figure of a woman carrying a basket full of fruits. As the sun stretched it's sunbeams inside the room it slowly lit up the whole room so one could see it had a tiled floor, just inside the door was a small desk and a simple chair. About an hour after Civis had awaken Titus, the sunbeams could reach the farthest end of the room which was to the left. Here it spread its gentle warm light on the face of Roulv Dania who slowly woke up.
At first he just lay on his back looking up into the ceiling and listening to the sounds of singing birds and in the distance playing children. Then he reached for the spot between the bed and the wall where he had placed the wooden box making sure it still was there. Reassured everything was calm and quiret, and the wooden box where it should be he sat up on the bed. A gentle knocking on the door was heard.
"Just a moment" Dania rose from the bed and as he remembered the servant had taken his clothes with him the last night he wrapped the blanket from the bed around his body. "You may come in now"
The servant who had taken care of him entered the room carrying a toga.
With a bow of his head he greeted Dania "Good morning. I hope you had a good night master"
"Yes I have, thank you. Haven't slept as good for many weeks"
"Your clothes should be ready within a few hours, please accept this toga until then" The servant placed a toga on the desk at the door. "If you are hungry master, there is food prepared for you in the villa. Master Civis and master Titus are in the bathhouse."
"Thank you -what is your name?"
"Julius, master Dania"
"Thank you Julius, and also for the haircut" Dania let a hand go through his now short hair, cut in the typical Roman fashion "You are free to go, have a pleasent day" Dania smiled at him.
"Thank you master, may you have a pleasent day too. If there is anything you need, just call for me" With those words the servant left the room heading for the bathhouse.
As Dania dressed in the toga he found his mucles were still sore after the last several weeks of not so pleasent places of sleeping. After collecting the wooden box he went to the villa where he filled a tray with bread, fruit, oliveoil and some bird he collected from the table prepared for him.
Carrying the tray with food and the wooden box he headed for the bathhouse where he knew the warm water would remove the pain from his aching mucles and prepared for telling Civis and Titus what had happened sinse Butara and he left Roma shortly before the attempt of assassinating Civis.
[This message has been edited by Proconsul Creaticus Dania (edited 12-01-2002 @ 04:47 AM).]
"I only need to hear that invitation once," replied Titus. Both men departed the warm water and completed the bathing ritual. Just as they wrapped themselves for the walk back to the villa, Roulv Dania entered the bathhouse not dressed to bathe but appearing to be looking for someone. That someone turned out to be Civis.
"Dania, you look the world for the better this morning!" said Civis, smiling broadly. "How goes the wound? Did the physician have anything to say?"
"It will heal, he said. But the scar will remain."
"Ummm. Have you eaten? Oh, I see you brought your dinner with you. Will you indulge Titus and me by accompanying us back to the villa and enjoying your dinner with us? We were just about to sit down ourselves and eat."
"Yes, that would be good. However, can we eat in some private place where we will not be overheard? I have something to tell you both and it is best you alone hear what I have to say."
Civis frowned. There was indeed something troubling his former slave. "Of course, Dania. Let me show you to a room. Give us a chance to gather our meals and we will join you there."
Dania nodded. He said nothing on the walk back to the villa. He saved what he had to say until both Titus and Civis were sitting across from him enjoying the same selection of foods prepared by Cook that Dania was picking at indifferently.
Dania decided the time was right. He tapped the wooden box with his right foot just to assure himself it was where he had placed it. Then Dania poured out all that had led to his scar, the wooden box and why he was at that moment sharing a meal with his previous companions in the villa of Civis Romanus.
Civis who sensed Danias trouble getting started adressed him.
"So, how is Butara doing?"
Dania looked down a brief moment, then raised his head and looked Civis right into his eyes.
Once more seing the sadness in Danias eyes but now with a hint of something as cold and hard as iron Civis inadvertently made an apology "Sorry, I didn't know. Has she left you or....?"
The coldness in Danias eyes slowly faded away as he answered with a soft and soothing voice.
"Don't be sorry Civis, how should you know. Butara is one of the reasons I do not want to take the box inside your villa ......... among other things it contains her ashes!"
Civis and Titus looked in surprised disbelief at each other and then in unison exclaimed "But how..." then stopped with Civis starting over again "Please accept my sinsere condolences, I am so sorry to hear this."
"Please accept my sinsere condolences too" Titus followed up "She was such a great person. Wish I had got to know her better..." Titus's voice faded as he did not know what more to say.
"Thank you, Civis and Titus. A great person she was indeed" A small hint of warmth showed in Danias eyes but quickly faded again. "I miss her dearly. At least she does not suffer any more..."
There were a few moments of silence, then Dania began his story.
"Well, I guess I better get done with this." Dania took a sip of water for clearing his voice.
"Shortly after Butara and I married we moved to Aquileia. As both of you know, some of the goods from the Silk Road passes through Aquileia. Because we needed money I sold my Parthian horse and some of the other stuff. A part of the deal when selling the horse was I should have its first foal which turned up do be Mistral. If you know the real mistral you will also know why I named the foal that way.
Because of this and my work at the storehouses of Publius Inventius Trifer we had decided to try make a living by trading. For some of the money I bought partnership with a trader called Lucius Nautius. Thanks to you Civis, the trader helped us find a place to live."
Seing Civis's liftet eyebrow Dania explained. "The trader had served under your command Civis, and when I showed him my Scroll of Freedom he did much for getting me started in a good way. He introduced me to some people important what trade goes, warned against traders using falsed scales and so on."
Dania took a sip of water and then continued:
"Well, trading went good except for a few mistakes I made in the beginning but thanks to Butara we soon were able to save a little of our income. Soon after we settled in Aquileia, Butara started a small business from our home making wallhangings. Because of her and taking care how we used our meager income we went into the winter with no debt.
Butara were slowly getting better after the assault from Crassus, but still suffered from fallbacks when ever she saw someone looking like him travelling with a tradecaravan. Because of this we decided to stay at most 2 more years in Aquileia depending on our savings and then move on. As the winter got colder we had to change our plans as Butara got sick from the cold weather, so during the winter we prepared for moving westwards in the spring as we heard the climate should be more pleasent at the southern coast of the province Gallia.
Spring came and with a letter Lucius Nautius gave us to a trader in Antipolis we left Aquileia with our belongings and as much merchandise as possible in an old tradewaggon. It was a great way of travelling often camping out in the free and having lot of time for learning each other better to know. A months time later we arrived in Antipolis and delivered the letter to Lucius Nautius's friend. We stayed a few weeks there and sold some of our goods before we continued to Massalia."
Dania made a brief pause while recollecting.
[This message has been edited by Proconsul Creaticus Dania (edited 12-05-2002 @ 04:55 PM).]
A small puff of smoke wafted around his head as Ren chuckled.
"There will be tales, Bright One," the voice rumbled, sounding like the deep tones of temple bells, a bright spark of laughter mixed in.
"Oh, yes my friend, there will be tales.
One of them might be more than normally scared of you, his faith has dealt your kind a bad hand, but I'm sure I can convince him to trust you."
"His faith?" Ren rumbled
"He belongs to the newest religion spreading over the world, they call themselves christians after their teacher. Unfortunately their biggest adversary is depicted as a dragon. Still Dania is a kind and gentle person and I'm sure I can convince him you are not like the evil dragon mentioned in their scriptures."
Ren huffed and more smoke came out of the cave.
"They try to be good, Ren, at least enough of them try to make it worth our efforts."
A deep sigh followed, shaking some small pebbles from the side of the mountain.
"I trust you, Bright One. We go back too long for you to betray that trust. Remember that tower they built?"
"Oh, yes, I remember that one. Always striving upwards, always failing because some of them decide their comfort is worht more than that of others."
Jayhawk shook his head.
"We'll have to see what happens..."
Silence pervaded the cave for a while.
"Ride with me to Roma, Bright One?"
Jayhawk smiled and his eyes sparkled.
Gladly, old friend, more than gladly."
The huge dragon flowed out of his caves, muscles rippling, scales glittering and spread it's huge winges. Jayhawk quickly found a comfortable spot between them.
[This message has been edited by Jayhawk (edited 11-27-2002 @ 03:53 AM).]
Butara and I started thinking at maybe getting involved in wine production and visited a few wineyards but abandoned the idea and had started thinking at moving to a city further to the West when we got a visit from a Gaul who had a proposal to make. An old relative of his who had been a trader had died a few months earlier. He had been some kind of strange man building his storehouse and home outside the city close to the woods. He had done mostly in fabric and pottery.
The old man had been known for sometimes closing down his business for months, even years a few times and then returning with rare goods few or noone had seen before. These goods he would not let any of his few employees handle but took care of it himself as he sort of made up his mind if a potential buyer was worthy of the purchasing of one of those special goods. The last few years before he died he had become too fragile for taking care of his business and ended up in the memory of the few that could remember him as 'The Woodland Crank'.
Because of the placement of the property this Gaul had given up selling it getting at least some out of his inheritance as he wasn't interested in trade himself. Then he heard we were looking for getting into the tradebusiness and sought us out as a last resort. To make a long story a bit shorter we ended up buying the property.
As it had become late Summer it was too late for starting up as traders and we were getting tight on money. Because of this and the nearby mayor crossroad connecting the East-West traderoute with the one going inland, we desided to add a small guesthouse and thereby make some money. The guesthouse made it possible for Butara later in the winter to start her wallhanging business again and in the Spring we had enough money so we slowly could start building up a trade business centered on fabric, spice an silk. The following winter we used for going through all buildings and cleaning out the storehouse which had a lot of worthless stuff stored in the back. Among those things Butara found the wooden box and some pottery looking like the sort they make in Ch'in. At first I wanted to burn the wooden box together with the other worthless things, but Butara liked it because of the strange patterns and pictures and took it together with the few unbroken Ch'in pottery for later cleaning."
Dania made a brief pause again, took a sip of water and after hesitating a moment and taking a deep breath continued his tale.
"Early in the Spring I took a day off and went hunting hoping to get some game as supplement to the tiresome food we had had to eat in the past weeks. It was getting dark when I returned from the woods seing a strange orange light in the direction of our home"
With a painfull expression on his face Dania closed his eyes, then he slowly continued but with painfilled voice now and then turning to a wisper.
"It was our home burning. I run as I have never run before screaming out her name ....... Everything was burning ..... I first tried finding her in our home but couldn't get further than to the kitchendoor because of the fire. Everything was smashed, it looked like a horde of Muhnguls had made a visit ...... Finally I found her and the boy helping in the storehouse laying infront of the guesthouse.
The boy was dead, his stomac slit open with a sword. Guess he had tried his best protecting Butara ..... Butara was still alive but barely."
Dania made a long pause while hiding his head in both hands. Then he continued with a monotone, cold and dead voice.
"There was nothing I could do other than holding her hand and make it as comfortable for her as possible. Shortly before she died she began talking about Ch'in and the other countries I had told her about and we had planned on maybe visiting some day ....... The last thing I did was promising to do my best to find her a last restingplace in Ch'in ..... She loved the stories about Ch'in so much, we could talk about it for hours."
Dania made a new long pause, then shook his head as for getting the sad moment at a distance and continued.
"The next day when the flames had died out I build a huge fire and cremated Butara. The only things left of our belongings were the wooden box that somehow had survived the fire in our former home and a strange bronce vase I had never seen before. From the broken pottery laying around it, it looks like it had been disguised as Ch'in pottery. It was late in the evening when I found the vase and cleaned it. Then I put the ashes of Butara in it and stored it in the wooden box she had liked so much.
I think it was at that moment I got insane. I do not remember much from the next many days except I started hunting down the assailants one by one. I also remember I one evening finally took the bronce vase out of the box, placed it in the light from my fire and guess I must have fallen asleep while sitting there. Anyway, I had the worst nightmare of my life, dark terrible creatures attacking me and trying to steal the bronce vase, then there came some strange light and everything went black. The next morning I woke up feeling like dead. When I went to a nearby stream for washing I got a new shock. My hair had turned almost white!"
Dania took a short break clearing his voice before ending his tale.
"The rest are just bits and pieces. I put the bronce vase back into the box and have not looked at it sinse and also had no more visits of strange creatures. I also seem to remember I prayed a lot in the following weeks while tracking down the murderers one by one and killing them in a fair fight. At a time I lost the track but then started dreaming. A shining white being came visiting me almost every night comforting and refreshing me and telling me in what direction to travel.
I met and killed the last of the assailants in the province of Noricum, the most difficult fight of them all. It was he who gave me the scar. I was sick for about a week after the final battle but then prepared for the long tour to Ch'in, keeping my last promise to Butara. The last night before I were ready to leave for Ch'in I had a dream where the shining being told me to turn around and head for Roma and you Civis. I do not know why, but somehow I sense something important is about to happen.
You now know why I do not let the wooden box out of sight and not like to take it inside your villa."
With those words Dania ended his tale, slowly placed his head in his hands and looked down on his plate hiding his expression.
[This message has been edited by Proconsul Creaticus Dania (edited 12-01-2002 @ 04:43 AM).]
Mountains loomed in the distance, rose and then fell back behind them as the land changed from the brown of lifeless dirt to snowcapped peaks and then became green plains stretching as far as the eye could see. Without stopping, Ren winged on seemingly needing no rest.
The land changed many times more from flat to elevated, from brown to green, broken now and then by the blue or blue brown of a flowing river or the oddly uncircular shape of a lake. Near one spot the Bright One looked down to see two scars on the land where once two cities stood tall and proud in the sun of the near east. In the distance, the easternmost shore of the Great Sea that was the heart of the Empire of Roma reflected light off of its sometimes placid, sometimes turbulent surface.
Ren glanced down as well, rumbled something indecipherable but correctly understood by the Bright One. They were regrets, for once an eon ago it was Ren who somehow, someway was compelled in a mindless rage to expend his firey breath and utterly destroy the two cities. He never understood what or who compelled him to do this. It simply happened.
It was the Bright One who brought the message of warning to the few living in the two cities who would listen, for though he was not to interfere, there was no reason why he couldn't warn those who seemed deserving about their impending doom. Most disregarded his message. The few who heeded the warning, tried to gather equally deserving citizens, and failing this, finally fled the city. So few, so very few... But the few who survived did not forget the warning they received nor the destruction that resulted. The two cities became forever the symbols of excess and their destruction the symbol of what might be reaped.
And Ren, viewed from afar in the act of firey destruction, forever caused his kind, no matter how benevolent their behaviour, to be portrayed by humans as bearers of doom and not the kind of creature they really were. Ren wondered how long his kind could survive with such enmity and fear sown throughout the land. The Bright One knew his thoughts but could not answer his question. Indeed, he was not permitted to, because to do so might alter what the future had in store for Ren, unknown to him, the last of his kind.
Civis found himself staring at his own hands searching for words to say to Roulv Dania. Finally he looked up. His blue eyes reflected sympathy, understanding, but not pity. He did not believe pity would be welcome or appropriate. Then Civis turned his head and looked at Titus. Unspoken words passed between them. Finally, Civis spoke to Dania. "I have had dreams as well, Roulv Dania. There is something about to happen and we are all to be part of it. You, Titus and me. There is a reason you felt compelled to come here. I think the reason will be revealed to us shortly."
Civis was more correct then he ever imagined.
He passed through the city gates and wandered past temples, bathhouses and fora to where his friend, the Roman commander Civis Romanus was staying. He breathed in deeply the scent of the city, letting it roll over his senses, the smell of incense mixing with that of dung and the warm smell of humanity.
The former captain shook his head then kneeled down. Sin Ying looked at him a moment longer, before she, with a grace that belied her years rose and then bade Da Long to rise.
Da Long quietly opened the door to Sin Ying's cell. He hoped the girl was still alive, and not too badly hurt by the rats that rules these dungeons. To his surprise the girl was sitting against the far wall, wrapped in the tatters of her ornamental robes, but unhurt.
"Come quickly and quietly" he whispered.
The girl looked up and spoke softly.
"You are the man that came for us. Are you going to kill me?"
"I have made a grave mistake, I come to help you and hope you can help me redeem myself"
"What is your name?"
"Da Long, your exaltedness"
"I will trust you, Da Long, and follow you.
The former captain shook his head then kneeled down.
Sin Ying looked at him a moment longer, before she, with a grace that belied her years rose and then bade Da Long to rise.
Apolita, Apollonia and Civi in tow, also found an opportunity to visit with Dania. He was happy to see them, though his association with the Romanus family was mostly through Civis the Elder and in the city of Tyre, where he left their service after becoming a freedman and citizen.
Pleasant conversations ended, Apolita and the children left their guest alone. Dania felt happy for Civis and ever so slightly envious of the Romanus family. Unconsciously he glanced at the carved wooden box and wondered what his own family might have been if only...
Dania interrupted himself recognizing the futility of his wondering and the impropriety of the tinges of envy he felt. A short private prayer said to ask blessings for his benefactors and their family, and Dania busied himself with needed rest. He awoke feeling refreshed and noted that the sun was much lower in the western sky than when he first closed his eyes. He wondered where Civis and Titus might be.
"But Civis, I must be getting back to my duties!" protested Titus, pressing his knee against the flank of his horse to guide it to the right and avoid bumping Civis' white stallion trotting next to his on his left.
"Oh nonsense, Titus. You have no current duties. And if you are awaiting an assignment from Caesar, you are waiting in vain. I arranged for you to have this time free so that you could enjoy a stay at the villa. Caesar agreed to it heartily. He has no pressing matter for you and you know how happy the children are when you visit. It's second only, I think, to those unexpected visits we get from Gaius Accipiter.
Civis looked towards the western sky. "Hmmm, its begining to approach sunset. We spent a little more time with the horse trader than I expected." Civis looked behind to see if all was well with the horses thethered to the saddle of his stallion. They were indeed following dutifully, the black mare, the white mare and the chestnut filly. The two older horses were domesticated and capable of being ridden. The filly was a present for Apollonia.
When Civis turned back he saw on the road ahead the outline of an unusually tall man walking along the side of the road and heading in the same direction as both he and Titus, that is, towards Civis' villa. There was something distinctly familiar about the man, aspects that became increasingly recognizable the closer they came.
At last the tall man stopped and turned to see who it was that approached. Civis squinted in the glare of the low setting sun to see the man's face. It took Civis only a moment to recognize his friend, Gaius Accipiter. Titus too recognized his former comrade in adventure on the Silk Road.
Both Romans dismounted. Civis grasped Accipter's extended arms in welcome, both men smiling broadly at seeing each other. Accipiter's eyes, mostly green, flashed highlights of blue and gold during their greeting. Then Accipiter turned and shared a welcome greeting with Titus as well.
"You are looking well, my friend," said Civis. "But you are walking and the day is late. Let me share a mount with you... or if you'd like, select either the white or black mare to ride. I have no extra saddle, but I suspect riding bareback should be no problem for you. Go ahead, select, and then lets ride straight for the villa. Apolita and the others will be happy to see you again."
Accipiter already knew which animal to select. There had been a pact with the beast the minute Accipiter sensed its approach. As to whether Apolita and the others would be happy to see him, he was sure it would be true at first. However, when it is learned why he is there, Accipter did not feel as sure as did Civis that the happiness at his arrival would last for very long.
Accipiter pointed to the beast of his choice and said to Civis, "That mount will be fine."
[This message has been edited by Civis Romanus (edited 11-27-2002 @ 08:43 PM).]
They moved to the dining room and Civis filled various goblets with wine and strongly watered wine for the children. Then Dania walked in the room. Civis who was watching Accipter at that moment saw his friend's eyes briefly turn almost black.
Accipter stood and walked towards the man who'd just entered and clasped his arm.
"Roulv, my friend, I'm sorry. May her spirit find peace."
Dania nodded, feeling his throat constrict at the empathy that flowed with those words. Gaius looked at the face before him.
"I can help you with that scar..if you want?"
"No, " Dania replied, "leave it, please?
It will remind me that revenge is only sweet when you yearn for it, but having it leaves only bitterness and emptiness."
The tall man nodded.
"Come, have some of Civis' excellent wine then."
"It moves but never changes," said the Roman. Accipiter looked at him wondering what that meant. Civis saw Accipiter's expression in the flickering light cast by the torches to either side of the portico. "I mean, the lights are in different places above, but always the same relative to each other. They form outlines and always keep their outlines, though the outlines change position from day to day, eventually coming back to the same place only to repeat the movement all over again. I have often wondered why."
"The wondering will continue for many centuries of your calendar," said Accipiter. "The answer will finally be deduced and the man who deduces it will be reviled and imprisoned... and threatened with death."
"What Roman name shall he bear?" asked Civis, wondering how much more Accipiter would reveal.
"His name will sound Roman," said Accipiter. "But he will not be a Roman. There will be no Romans then."
Civis knew of this time. It would be beyond his own years. It was revealed to him when he adventured in search of the scarab ring of Imhotep. Adventure... Civis wondered if it was time to ask the tall man his purpose in visiting; for there was always a purpose. He was about to ask when a piercing scream shattered the reverie of the night. It came from the guesthouse and it sounded like Roulv Dania's, only crazed.
Accipiter and Civis ran towards the guesthouse, Civis pausing only momentarily to grab a sword mounted in the portico for emergencies. The ground was surprisingly well lit for being the dead of night. It took them only one move of a sundial's shadow to understand it was because of the flames licking up the side of the guesthouse and reaching for the structures tiled roof.
Civis heard footsteps running with his to both sides, one pair he could tell was Accipter's by the long stride; the other pair was Titus'. Without hesitation, Civis crashed his shoulder into the door of the guesthouse. Inside he found Roulv Dania...
Dania was laying half unconsious on the floor in a slowly growing pool of blood flowing from a fresh wound on his left shoulder. In his right hand he held his hunting knife, at his left lay a piece of wood from the woodpile outside. Under the desk lay a sword of a type Civis could not remember having seen before. Assured there were no threat in the guesthouse Civis bowed down for getting Dania out and heard Dania groan with weak voice.
"The box, the wooden box. Did he get it? Stop him! He must not get away with the box"
Civis looked up again and noted the wooden box laying on the floor at the remnants of the smashed bed and answered while grapping Dania under his arms beginning to drag him out "Don't worry, it is still here"
While Civis rescued Dania from the now lightly burning guesthouse, Gaius headed for the house of the servants and then to the bathhouse getting water for putting out the fire. At the same time Titus heard the sound of a horse and started running in that direction.
In despite of bucket after bucket of water was thrown on the fire it had allready spread to most of the roof construction when Titus returned with a regretfull look on his face.
"I didn't get to see the fellow but it looks like Dania have wounded him"
Titus showed a bloodied hand...
[This message has been edited by Proconsul Creaticus Dania (edited 12-01-2002 @ 04:43 AM).]
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