Even suffering as I did through the condition of a loss of faith, I found something new for which to give thanks to God, had I been of the mind: a death with meaning. Nobility. Do not all men, in secret or otherwise, wish for such; as death is inevitable, does a man not long for his end at least to have some grand significance to it? Let our passing from this world construe a grand occurrence, our hearts yearn, even if we dare not out of guilt or shame or fear pray the words aloud, or allow them to form as silent whispers in our minds. All men desire first immortality, then, lacking this, a great death.
God provided me with an answer to this communal desire of all men. I found myself afforded the opportunity to sacrifice myself for the Marmorca.
Thus it came about:
It seemed, or so I was told, for I had not myself returned to sea in search of plunder since the loss of my women, that the Empire had loosed half its navy upon us. They sank so many of our ships, survivors told me, that by night the gleam of burning ships atop the waves looked like distant campfires, scattered across a vast plain. The standards of the Marmorcan pirates, serving for years to strike fear into the hearts of our quarry, availed us nothing, marked us as targets, nor did one of our craft have to reveal itself as a pirate vessel to suffer attack. The Romans, it seemed, were attacking any ship they encountered, sending it to the depths.
Those of our ships that escaped were driven inland. Their captains and crews returned to the village bearing news.
“They seek Reprobus!” they told us. “The Romans offer to spare the Marmorca if we hand over the Doghead to them!”
There still remained many alive among the people who bore loyalty to me, though our new Chieftain did not count himself as one of them, and these, my friends and comrades, refused to even entertain the notion. Also, there was Oran; the word of their holy man carried more weight with them now than did their Chieftain’s, and Oran had always, first and foremost, been my ally.
Yet there remained one whose say bested even Oran’s: mine. And I had lost by that time my drive towards self-preservation.
“Let the Romans come,” I said, “as they have vowed to do, as we know they will. They will find me waiting for them.”
“Never!” Oran protested.
“The Marmorca are far too few in number for us to withstand an attack from the Empire,” I said to him. “They will destroy our people, and the end result will prove the same, with me taken away as a captive. Do not deny me this one final thing, old friend. My life has lost all meaning. Let me find it again by gaining life for our people.”
“You would trust the Romans to keep their word?” Oran demanded.
“Let the people abandon the village. Let them flee and hide themselves in the forest. The Romans are treacherous, but they will not go to any great trouble, I think. This is your chance, Oran. For years you have wanted to coax the Marmorca away from the pirate lifestyle. Perhaps you can turn them all into farmers.”
“But what of you?” Oran asked, tears welling in his eyes. I mentioned before the expression on the face of Samaethea on our wedding day, how no one before or since had looked at me with such love on her, or his, features. I confess that the adoration I witnessed that day on the face of my old friend, though of a different sort, rivaled that born me by Samaethea.
“My time is at an end anyway,” I said to him. “Let my ending, then, have value. Let the Romans find me sitting in the midst of a deserted village, awaiting them with serenity and dignity.”
In the end Oran, ever my servant, could not contest my wishes. He, and the rest of our people, did leave me. They sailed downriver in their remaining ships, in the direction where years earlier I had sought out N’sua the witch and the temple wherein waited the great stone Hand—does it exist still? I wonder. Does it continue to move of its own accord, or has it crumbled, as all things must, with age?
I had given the Lycanon’s Curse into the hands of another. On one morning, bright and clear, a little cool for springtime, I watched my ship sailing away, shrinking in my sight as it headed southward, Oran, my oldest, truest friend, my brother, standing upon her deck, wailing his sorrow to the limp breeze.
I admit I too wailed.
May no man ever praise my name or my deeds without first praising my dear Oran! All I have known in this life of honor, of loyalty I learned from him. Of a certainty God Himself could in no better way have revealed Himself to me, His very nature, than the reflection of Him I saw in Oran. Looking back upon it now with the perspective of years, I realize how Oran bore the role of shepherd to this beast; Oran, my guardian angel. I never saw him again after that morning, but here at the end of my journey as on each day of it, I can but offer thanksgiving for the direction he gave to my life. Oran defined me.
“Do not forget who you are!” he’d told me. The last words he ever spoke to me. Or the last I could understand, for he’d spoken others as he’d held me in his arms, but I could not make them out for his sobbing.
“I will not forget,” I’d promised him.
After that moment, I vowed, as a means to honor Oran, to call myself by the name I had been given as a child, my Christian name, the name Oran had preferred for me. I would thenceforth call myself Christopher.
But enough of this. My heart breaks anew at such recollections. I will move on.
The Romans came four days later. As I had desired, they found me sitting alone in the village, waiting for them.
“Who are you, dog?” their commander addressed me. I took him as such, for all the others, with their pomp and swagger, seemed to defer to him. How this fat, knob-kneed oaf could have risen to heights of command amidst the Centurions I could not imagine. He may have been a relative of the Emperor’s. To say the least he did not impress me, and his words made me laugh.
“Dog?” I said. “You are more correct than you know. I am the one you seek. And judging by the number of soldiers you have brought with you, the one you fear. I am the Doghead of the Marmorca.”
“The werewolf?” he demanded. “How can you prove this?”
Again I laughed at him. “I have to prove nothing. I know who I am. But if it is evidence you want, wait another three or four days until the moon blossoms. Then you’ll entertain no doubts.”
Seeing the expression of hardened, repressed—yet evident—fear on the many faces of the Centurions, I offered them: “You need have no worries. There is plenty of time to kill me before then. All the fight has fled from me now; my life is at an end. I will not resist you. The beast would not, of course, feel the same way about it. It you would have to destroy against its wishes. Best that you not wait until you have to deal with it. I ask only that you destroy me utterly and completely. Burn my body. Let not a trace of me remain. Otherwise, I cannot guarantee but that the beast will somehow, with time, return, and make you all the poorer for it.”
Then it became the commander’s turn to laugh, though he did not laugh long.
“We are not here to destroy you,” he told me. “And you are wrong. Your life is not at an end, not by a damned sight!”
No. My life, as it turned out, was not over.
I would only, in the weeks to come, wish that it were so.