Oh, how soon they passed, those happy days! How much the memory of them lingers still, a sweet agony in my heart!
Thirteen years. I had expected thirty. But then the witch could not, could she, have predicted the plague that came to our shore? No one else did. The captain of a merchant ship who took as a member of his crew a man who carried the sickness already within him—he did not know. One of our ships, when it overtook that merchant ship and all the men aboard contracted the taint, brought it home to our village where, days later, the first symptoms of the disease would present themselves—of a surety the men of that ship did not know. By the time any of us knew, it was too late to do anything about it.
Thirteen years I had with my Samaethea before the sickness took her from me. We lost well over half the village to the disease, but I cared only for two, my wives. Samaethea, who had always been small and frail; and Elsora, hearty and strong, all the same took the sickness while nursing Samaethea, and followed after her in death not a week thereafter. With the loss of these two, so dear to me, I lost in truth all will to continue living. I too had gotten sick with the plague, but the beast had kept me alive. I recovered, against my own will.
The survivors of the Marmorca again sought to make me Chieftain, Holtarr the prior leader having succumbed to the plague. (Dalmontenes had died four years earlier in a battle with a Roman warship.) Again I refused. I cared nothing for such things. I cared nothing for anything. I even ceased to prepare the concoction that kept the beast inside of me subdued. Oran took over the chore. I ceased my prayers; it is an easy enough feat to believe in the providence of a god when one is prosperous and well, much harder to believe amidst suffering. I was no Job. I could not keep faith. If not for Oran, I would have succumbed to my hopelessness, and to the beast.
Was it not providence, God looking out for those of the Marmorca still alive, that He kept Oran from perishing? If not for Oran the Doghead would have triumphed, and fed. Fed well, indeed.
“My lord,” Oran said to me one day where I sat within my hut, staring at the bare wall. “You must come back to yourself. The people need you.”
“They have far more need for you,” I answered. I told the truth. Oran had succeeded in converting over half the Marmorca to Christianity by the time of the plague. In a land without bishops he had become the honorary bishop of the people. In a land without churches, the Marmorca had reared their own in the village. Oran had of late officiated at a lot of funerals. “The people need their holy man,” I told him. “Not their monster.”
“But my lord, it is only a matter of time. The Romans will come again. Always they have found us prepared, capable of repelling their attacks. But now, with so many dead…”
“They will pick our bones like vultures,” I said. “So be it. Let them come.”
“You,” he said to me, “could defend us.”
I spoke my despair. “Let them come,” I repeated.
And the Romans did come. That following spring, they came with many warships. But not as before did they come, hunting the pirates who had so often preyed on their fat merchant ships. They came in great numbers, far more men than had ever come before to our coasts. But they did not come seeking recompense or revenge.
This time, they came for the werewolf.