THE CONFESSIONS OF SAINT CHRISTOPHER: WEREWOLF Part 18
I remember the first time I ever saw a Roman soldier. I was still very young, five or six years old. I remember that we, Father, my brothers and I, had traveled to the nearest actual town to try to sell a pair of donkeys. I do not recall why I had been allowed to come along; I had wanted to, perhaps, and for no other reason than that. I remember little of the trip or of the town, but I can still see with clarity the man.
I believe what drew my attention to him was the unheard, unspoken act, the hush, the tensing, a palpable sense of something in the air as he came down the street. As the townspeople saw him each in turn, then looking away, eyes darting to find the ground, hands busy with work, all present aware of the man yet all pretending, behaving as if none saw him, hoping themselves not to be noticed. Dread, respect, fear—reverence? I experienced none of these, but I could sense them in the others. These drew my attention and I turned to look.
I remember being impressed with the way the sunlight hovered and floated over his breastplate, his helmet; also with the brightness, a vivid crimson, of his skirt. He walked, hands hitched into his belt. As I looked at him my eyes drew his. He looked at me. I remember the scowl on his face, no softness there, not even for a small child gazing at him without prejudice. The man had seemed to me to convey, somehow, a hardness I had not seen in other men.
In all the years since, I have learned that this lone soldier, with his scowl and his swagger, stands as proxy, as representative of, if not all, at least the vast majority of Rome’s fighting men. All share that hardness. The Centurion, with scant variance, knows not the virtue of mercy.
They had shown none to the Marmorca.
We found the village burned, bodies left to rot where they had fallen. It brought back to me the village of the Christians on that terrible morning after I and the other Dogheads had escaped the Penance House. I recognized familiar forms amongst the dead. The same smell of death, of acrid smoke and spilled blood, permeated the air, the same buzzing of flies and cackling of dying, sated flames devouring the last black embers of ruined huts and livestock pens. Carrion birds had already found the feast the Romans had left for them. The same scene, another ruined village, save that I and my fellow Dogheads had attacked without organization or reason. The Centurions had displayed a ruthless efficiency, slaying only the fighting men, stripping the bodies of anything of value.
There was no less blood for all this efficiency, I think.
“Any man still living will return here,” Dalmontenes said. “With luck we can muster enough for a decent fight.”
“Where will the Romans have taken their prisoners?” I asked.
“They wouldn’t waste any time getting them loaded on their ships,” Dalmontenes said, “and these are doubtless already headed for the open sea.”
The women and children of the Marmorca, bound for lives as slaves, scattered throughout the Empire. I did not know them well enough to feel any outrage, or much of anything else, at this prospect. I cared little more for them than I did the Romans. I thought only of Samaethea and Elsora.
“We have to catch them before they reach the lagoon,” Dalmontenes said. “Otherwise we’ll have no chance.”
No chance for what? I wondered. Retribution? To rescue the captives? I still felt disoriented and somewhat sick, scarce up for a fight. But I went with the men, who did in fact come limping and skulking back into the village, some two dozen of them by nightfall, because Dalmontenes went. Because he had befriended me, then later freed me from the shrine. Because the two women might remain alive and among the prisoners of the Centurions. And I went because I had nowhere else to go.
“Stay here in the village,” I told Oran as the men prepared to march.
“I must go with you, my lord,” he protested.
“You’re no good in a fight, Oran. You’d only get in the way, or get yourself killed, more like. Stay here and continue your prayers for the souls of the dead. You can be of more use to them. If I live, I will return here. If I don’t, you are free to seek your own fate.”
“But my lord!”
“Your prayers will offer me better protection than you yourself could provide,” I said.
“Then I will pray for you, my lord,” he said.
The river, thin even at its widest point and shallow even at its deepest, ran from the coast through the territory of the Marmorca to disappear somewhere in the kingdoms of the black men to the south, or so I’d been told. The woodlands grew close to it, dissipating to the east and west into rocky desert after only a few miles. A tiny world, in truth, which the Marmorca inhabited. But from this small and isolated domain they launched their ships—a Greek of the coasts would hesitate to call these crafts “ships,” as they were large boats, nothing more. But the little ships of the Marmorcan raiders were bane and terror of the merchant vessels to and from Alexandria. This continued preying on the much larger cargo ships had at last brought the Romans to seek reprisal. Now we—I must count myself among the Marmorca now—would seek our own reprisal.
“I keep the Medusa’s Kiss moored a little downstream,” Dalmontenes had told me, back in the days before I had been poisoned and made captive in the vampire’s shrine. “There is a small natural harbor. The entry to it is so small and the trees and brush grow so thick around it, you’d never know our ships were there without one of our number to guide you.”
His words proved true, as the Romans had not discovered the harbor; I felt sure they must have looked for it, to destroy the Marmorcan “fleet” if possible.
We made or way to the harbor in the dark of night. Even if the canopy of the forest had grown thinner here along the trail, the light of the stars and the moon, almost full now, lay masked behind a veil of heavy clouds. We made do with torches. Each man followed the man in front of him; I followed behind Dalmontenes. In single file, the remaining fighting men of the Marmorca passed through the chill and humid darkness. We had reached the boats—I set foot aboard the Medusa’s Kiss for the first time that night—when I felt the tugging of the moon in my blood, the change coming over me.
“Ropes!” I cried. “Dalmontenes, get ropes! You must tie me! Hurry!”
“Yes! Hurry, tie me up!”
Dalmontenes made a sound then I did not expect to hear. He laughed.
“Tie…me!” I growled. “It’s coming!”
“Let it come!” Dalmontenes said. “And I hope it is hungry!”
WAYNE MILLER is the owner and creative director of EVIL CHEEZ PRODUCTIONS (www.evilcheezproductions.blogspot.com, www.facebook.com/evilcheezproductions), specializing in theatrical performances and haunted attractions. He has written, produced and directed (and occasionally acted in) over a dozen plays, most of them in the Horror and Crime genres. His first novel, THE CONFESSIONS OF SAINT CHRISTOPHER: WEREWOLF, is available for purchase at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/734763
MORTUI VELOCES SUNT!