Archive for March, 2018

War – Metrius – Post 25

March 31, 2018

cooked rabbit.jpg

Part 2: War

Potitus leaned back against the tree, chewing the tough meat that they had cut from their catch. The rabbit, now skinned and lifeless, was held to a stick over the fire like some scrawny sinner, punished in the world of Tartarus. He watched the fire a moment, watching it char the meat, and then closed his eyes.

Ever since Metrius had escaped from Rome their leader had given the rack one more turn. Now they had parties that rode out regularly into the lands of the Sabines, capturing prisoners or killing villages as an example. He now saw with two others from one such scouting group, resting in the forest around a campfire. Around them the trees stood like guardians, holding the untolds at bay, but it was not the woods that protected them. The campfire, a pyramid of flickering branches and twigs, scared away the wolves and bears that patrolled the land and he was glad of its warmth also.

One of the others stooped forward, turning the spit so that the rabbit was cooked evenly. It was already charred thanks to the other imbeciles cooking skills and he would make sure the man never prepared the food again. Next time he could be the one skinning it and removing the guts.

Things get worse everyday.”

And that was another thing, thought Potitus. All the idiot did was grumble and complain, not simply obeying orders. Every time he was told to do a job there would be some sort of question or remark mumbled back and it was now getting on Potitus’s nerves.

What did you expect the Sabine’s to do?” Snorted the other, “Sit back and let us kill their people?”

It was true what he had said though. The Sabines had not just obeyed Romulus’s threats and instead each time they had killed someone several more had joined their leader’s cause. This tit for tat raiding strategy was certainly not bringing the war to an end, even though they had massacred one or two villages. The Sabine’s were attacking the lands around Rome, lands that Romulus now claimed as his own. He rubbed his scarred eye, the damned thing itching once again.

The spear came from nowhere, thumping into the chest of the man standing up. Shocked, he staggered back and simply looked down at the weapon, a bewildered expression across his face. Even as he collapsed to his knees Potitus sprung to his feet, drawing his sword from its scabbard.

From out of the trees Metrius appeared as if from nowhere, swinging his sword in a low ark that slashed the grumbler who still had not climbed to his feet. With a shriek and cry of pain his chest and neck was split, spraying Potitus with blood, the wet flecks landing in his mouth and across his face.

Bastard!” Metrius swung his sword again, but Potitus was not as slow or shocked as the other two. With a quick twist his blade clashed against Metrius’s, knocking the sword aside and brought around for his own thrust. This time it was Metrius who was forced to act fast, and a twist away to the left saw Potitus’s hit fall short.

The initial surprise over the two began to circle.

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Final Resting – Metrius – Post 25

March 28, 2018

inhumation burial

His olive trees, blackened by the ash that was scattered in the wind, still stood outside his home but the magnificent hut that had been the greatest in the village was now a ruined skeleton. Its roof had burnt through, collapsed inward as one side of the building had crumbled and everything he had worked towards was now taken from him. It made him feel sick inside, made him let out a moan of despair, and then he bolted forward in through the door.

Within, his belongings had become fuel for the flames, stained black and charred or completely destroyed. Desperation at finding Alkaterina flooded through his mind, taking over him, and he did not even noticed when his hands became stained from gripping the doorway. His eyes locked on to the body on the floor and a wail escaped him, though he did not even notice. Alkaterina was unrecognizable, so hot had been the flames, and she was more ash covered skeleton than a human. What flesh there was had been roasted like some pig on the spit, and he gagged as he collapsed to the floor. They had killed her and left her to burn. The world was lost to him as his mind collapsed inward, spinning out of control.

How long he sobbed for he did not know, time seemed to be non existent and the sun’s passage through the sky was not even noticed. Leaning against the doorway, staring at the body, his became fixated with the crisp remains that had once been his wife. His body rocked, his mind unable to come out of the vortex that he had spiraled into, but there was always a time when sanity claws to come out once again. Wiping his brow and smearing a stain across his face, he shakily rose to his feet and held his weight up against the doorway. He was tired, so tired, his body just wanting to surrender and surrender it did. Weakened legs collapsed slowly as he stepped outside and this time he did not fight it. Leaning back against the wall his eyes slowly closed and exhaustion consumed him.

When he awoke it was dark and the silence still coated the village. The smells of the burnt corpses made him bring a hand to his nose, the first time he registered it, but he slowly adjusted and shrugged the stench off. Around the back of his house he found a spade and began scraping the soil away to create a shallow trench. The soft ground broke and each spade full made the heap at his side deeper, creating the burial site for his wife. He would have her sleep peacefully before the night was done, have her final resting place.

And whilst she celebrated her life in the underworld, Metrius would bring bloody death to the Kephalos and his Roman allies.

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Metrius – Episode 4

March 27, 2018

After killing the men of local thug Kephalos, Metrius travels to the Sabine council for their aid. Captured by Latins, he is taken to Rome. Even as he is led away his wife is being watched from the night. Taken to see Romulus, Metrius sees the might of the growing Rome for the first time. Witness to a gladiatorial fight, he is shocked when it turns out to be Kephalos. Having refused to help Romulus by providing information about his people, Romulus has the lover of his dead friend brought out into the arena with Kephalos.

burning village

With the monsters howling and jeering at her, she scrambled backward, skin bitten by the sharp stony soil as her hands gripped the ground. Her head collided with the knee of one of the men who had brought her in, making her shriek out in terror. Springing up she ran across the arena like a frightened antelope, terror in her eyes. Tripping, she crashed forward into the fence, a chorus of insane wails escaping her lips as hands gripped and evil eyes leered. With a push she was thrown backward to the ground once more.

Raising his hand, Romulus brought the hell to a silence. His demons watched and waited.

“Ah, now I have angered you.”

And it was true. Metrius could no longer hide the emotions that coursed through him. His body trembled, his fists were tense, and he pulled at the rope that bound his wrists. Nothing; no give, no escape.

“I understand you know this woman,” He waved his hand in the direction of Ashton’s love, “Or at least your best friend found her useful.”

Howls of lust and mocking broke out in the night at their leader’s word.

“Kephalos, she is Sabine, yes?”

The thug nodded, watching Romulus carefully to work out what was to come next.

“And she was your woman before this runt’s insolent friend had his way? Would you like to see him pay for killing your men?”

At the first words Kephalos snarled, anger flashing across his face, “That runt is already paying for it.”

Metrius snapped alert, even more so than he had been before. He had caught the words, not a threat but a statement. Maybe Kephalos thought that this was some sort of punishment but something told him that this was not what he meant. It was instinct, his gut warning telling him that something was amiss.

“What do you mean?”

Now Kephalos smiled, “I hope you said goodbye to your wife, Metrius.” Turning to Romulus he snapped to attention, like a loyal soldier willing to serve his commander no matter what the cost. He was Romulus’s slave now.

“I want you to kill her.“ The dark gaze from his thick brow would have rested on his new killer but Kephalos was already pacing across to where the Sabine woman shrank away. His sword slid from its scabbard, reflecting death into her eyes, and she began to cry. Wrapping her arms around her head, she hid away from the world that her mind could no longer bare.

“Don’t!” Snapped Metrius, more an order than begging, but Kephalos marched onward. Grabbing the girls hair, he pulled and caused her head to snap back. The tanned neck was exposed to audience and the demons of Roman howled and cackled. The terrified eyes of the rabbit looked up at Kephalos with terror and pleading. The sword was pulled back.

“Tell me the secrets of the Sabines, Metrius the killer.” There was never more cold a gaze than that of Romulus as he bared into Metrius’s sole.

Conflict twisted inside Metrius’ stomach. It was almost as if he was being torn in to; the love of his close friend who had been brutally killed only yesterday or betray his people. What he give them anyway? He knew of the layout and maybe a few faces that Romulus should look out for but that was it. Would it make much of a difference if he just let one secret slip. One taste of the information Romulus needed might be enough to quench the vampire’s thirst and then he would back away, spare Kephalos’s kill.

He would know.

With dark eyes he glared up at Romulus, the tall leader of the Romans watching him carefully. Even before he had spoken, the answer was known. Raising his hand, he kept his gaze fixed on Metrius as he dropped it.

Kephalos’s blade plunged forward, stabbing into the woman’s neck and sending a fountain of blood into the air. It sprayed across the traitor, only accentuating the insane bloodlust that radiated from him. For a second the woman’s eyes bulged, blood coughed from the lips, and then as the sword was withdrawn she slumped forward to the ground. A crimson pool seeped into the soil.

With a roar, Metrius’s elbow came up sharply, ramming into Potitus’s jaw to make it snap shut with a heavy crack. His head jerked back, surprise flashing across Romulus’s face. Hands tied there was no chance for Metrius to strike revenge but instead he had to flee. With a quick jerk he pulled the rope from the stunned Potitus, kicking another captor in the groin and causing them to double up in pain. With a heave he pulled himself up onto a horse’s back.

Struggling to right himself he dodged a blade, a strike that came from Romulus very sword, but the tip fell short and he roared at the horse. In fear, the beast bolted, eyes full of terror and snorting in alarm. People parted for fear of the beast trampling them and he was clear. Behind him calls of panic and anger rang out, weapons drawn and orders barked, but he was free and racing through the night, unstoppable as hooves thundered along the track that he just walked.

His muscles ached, his balance hard to keep, and it took everything to hold himself on. Bending over, he pinned himself against the horse’s mane, head resting against its neck as he jeered it onward. He would not stop the animal until he was clear of this dreaded place, clear of the people who now looked up in surprise and shouted out in the night. Some grabbed spears, warned by the calls that came from far behind, but he was far past before they even had a chance to make an attack.

And all the while the words that played in his mind were those of Kephalos, ‘I hope you said goodbye to your wife, Metrius.’

He had to reach home.

*

The scream that rang out made Alkaterina’s eyes flick open, body snapping upright with alarm as is if she had been jabbed in the ribs with tapered stick. For a moment it seemed like a dream, the thick fog of sleep refusing to believe that something was happening outside, and then the hellish call came once again.

Drapes flung to the side, a figure appeared at the doorway. She was Sisenna, the old woman who lived by herself in the next hut, and he eyes were wide with shock. She was a loving woman, bringing food for Alkaterina and Metrius when they could more than provide for themselves. She would tell tales of the Athenians and Spartans, legends and fables from the past. The three of them had sat around the fire, glowing embers floating up into the night, and they would listen and learn about the heroes who had brought the Sabines to these new lands. Above them, the gods would listen too as Sisenna told their tales with sparkling eyes and gnarled skin.

Now she stumbled, a blade torn through the centre of her torso, cutting through flesh and cloth. She fell forward to the floor, a lifeless body, and behind her killer tugged his blade free. Quickly scanning the room it did not take him long to spot Alkaterina and he gave a satisfied smile.

“You are Alkaterina?”

He was a tallish man, hair slightly greying with silver streaks and eyes starting to show the creases of age. The warmth of his face would have made him seem dashing and handsome, were it not for the murder he had just committed. His question came in such a nonchalant manner, as if the life of Sisenna meant nothing, that it made Alkaterina feel sick inside. Grabbing the knife she had left by the bed, she sprang to her feet and let the blade hover in front of her.

With almost cocky overconfidence the man snorted, shaking his head, “Alkaterina, I have a sword and you have a knife.” He lifted his weapon and showed it to her, almost insinuating that she had failed to notice the short blade. The golden-brown bronze of the weapon could just about be made out in the darkness of the room, diamond shaped blade pointed aside so that he stood exposed.

“Who are you?” She hissed, taking glances at the body of Sisenna on the floor. Blood pooled beneath the old woman, a sign of the harsh end she had suffered after living such a loving life.

“My name is Gallus Humilus,” he nodded politely, “and I have come to take you for Kephalos.”

Alkaterina spat on the floor, “You can tell Kephalos to go to Hades.”

He chuckled, “I don’t believe Kephalos would like that. Besides, you have nowhere else to go. Listen.”

Outside noises of slaying and a one sided battle rang out in the air but Alkaterina had already noticed. It made her heart thump, her hands tremble, and she wondered if Gallus had spotted the shake. Another scream signaled the end of a villager’s life and metal clashed on metal with some of the men trying to defend the woman and children. She heard a child crying, wailing for his mother, and dogs barked in defiance before being silenced. Gallus was not alone.

“So Kephalos had sent his lackies to do his work.” She snapped, trying to think of some way out. There was one window out of this hut but already Gallus had slowly walked forward, giving her less time to bolt for the night.

Scrunching up his face, Gallus shook his head, “Kephalos wanted a bit of help, I’m not one of his soldiers.” Edging to the side, he started to cut of Alkaterina’s escape route, “I come on behalf of Romulus.”

“Romulus?” The name bewildered her. She had heard of the leader of the Latin Romans, even knew of the raids that were on the increase. Every now and then there would be confrontations between Sabines and Romans but it wasn’t a surprise; you didn’t travel alone in such lands. This was different, this was a raid on a village.

Gallus moved quietly toward the window, each step eased carefully so as not to catch Alkaterina’s eye, “With a bit of encouragement from Kephalos.”

With a sudden jerk of life, Alkaterina darted toward the way out, dodging to the left as she sprung away from the window and heading for the doorway instead. Caught off guard, thinking her plan had been to make some insane lunge for the closer exit, Gallus just about managed to lunge and catch hold of her arm. The tight fingers locked on, knuckled white and she span and swung out with the knife blade. Its point barely missed him, making him lean back and let go, and then she was bolting away.

Past the drapes and through the doorway, out into the night beyond, Alkaterina froze. The village was ablaze, roaring red flames that danced on the faces of killers. With thick smoke rising, Romulus’s men were making quick work of the village. They carried torches aloft, lit more huts so that the dried dung caught and the flames licked higher.

In front, a man she knew was cornered against a wall, waving a sword before his two attackers closed in and plunged spears into his chest. He called out in agony, clutching at one of the shafts protruding from him, before the killers moved on. Another young woman was having her hands bound, her eye black and tears streaming down her face. Her cheeks were red and her cloths covered in soil. It was a scene of death and chaos and horror.

Gallus’s hands grabbed her from behind and this time she could not break free, “Let me go! You’re monsters!”

The hands did not release her, clamps gripping her so tightly that she knew she would bruise. She did not care. Instead she pulled and struggled, trying to strike out, and she kicked backward so that her heel connected with the Latin’s shin.

In reply, he let go with one hand and struck hard and fast across her cheek. There was nothing held back, no easy going for a woman, and the blow made her head spin. She staggered back, lights flashing in the sky around her, her head swirling and unable to steady itself. Another blow hit her in the stomach, causing her to drop the knife, and the air was thrown from her lungs.

“You’re coming with us now. This village is your past.” Gripping hold of her once more, Gallus tugged her through the mayhem, barely allowing her to keep up. She slipped and fell, landing hard on her knees, but she was yank onto her feet and thrown into the arms of someone else.

With rope twisting tightly around her wrists, she could only watch as all her loved ones were killed around her.

“The Sabines will go to war over this.” She murmured, whether to herself or to Gallus she did not know.

Gallus’s smiled, “Romulus counts on it.”

*

The threads of the rope ran furiously over the sharp rock, sawing back and fore. Heating they began to split, one by one, and with each quick glance over his shoulder Metrius was a little bit freer.

Stamping its hoof impatiently, the horse he had stolen stood obediently nonetheless, and he was glad that the animal had not tried to bolt back to Rome. He had raced into the darkness of the Latin lands, praying that he could outwit any of Romulus’ scouts who might be searching for him, but none had come. Did Romulus want him to spread the word of Rome’s power? Did he want the other tribes to fear the new might that claimed the land? Deciding the question did not need an answer he concentrated on freeing his hands once again.

Every bit of him ached but he had refused to stop. His thighs had wanted to give in and let him fall from the mount, so tired were they from his journey as Potitus’s prisoner. Yet he knew he had to reach home, had to get back to Alkaterina and make sure she was safe. Frustrated by the ropes that still held his wrists together, he had finally decided that the Romans had been outwitted and that he could take a few minutes to remove the bonds.

Animals rustled in the dark, hunting their prey, whilst a screech owl called out like some demon from the underworld. The thought of death sent a shiver down his spine and, finally freeing himself, he climbed up onto his horse again. In the sky the stars winked and looked down upon him, watching him break into a gallop again and drive the sweating mount harder along its path. He would reach home by the end of the night.

*

He felt drained, the horse now walking rather than drumming along as it had for so long, and each judder shook through him. Head dropping forward, his eyes slowly closed, with each shudder throwing him from sleep and keeping his gaze fixed on the sun as it rose before him. It’s warmth was beginning to fill the valley, cast light upon the river that he had followed all night, and the trees and foliage began to show their colours. The trickling of streams became bouncing waters and the soft sound of muffled leaves became shrubs and bushes that dotted the landscape. The nocturnal animals went to ground once again.

Rubbing the weariness from his eyes, battling his body’s demand to cease the fight, he shook his head and tried to focus on the horizon. It was only a mile or so now, not far from the ones he loved, and he could be satisfied that they were safe and take to his bed. He would rest with Alkaterina, sleep with the one he loved, and be close to the protection of his friends and neighbours.

But the plume of smoke that rose, thick and grey, told him the story would not end this way. His heart sank, daunting fear sinking through him, and he knew that Kephalos had already struck.

The last mile was a hellish ride, nightmares plaguing his mind. He could picture Alkaterina, killed by the animals he had seen back in Rome. The thugish brutes who fought for Romulus raping and pillaging the village he called home. They would slaughter his friends and family alike, like cattle whose necks were slit open by the farmer’s blade. He painted pictures that burned in his mind; roofs aflame and victims with their guts spilled. And all the while Kephalos would watch and laugh, mocking in his suffering at Romulus’s side.

They stung into him, making tears weep from his weary eyes, and he felt the felt the pit open in his stomach. He could not live without his love, his wife Alkaterina, and now Kephalos was taking her away from him. Just as his mentality was pushed to his limit, so was his body’s endurance with muscles that pleaded only for rest and an end to the ride. It felt as if he was being stabbed, so worn was his body, but again and again he urged the horse onward. Would he be of any use when he got there, probably not, but he had to know and he had to know now.

Carrying him down into the valley where his village sat, the track wound down between the slopes of the hilly countryside. Since he was young it had been his voyage home, loving faces waiting for him and warm meals with his parents and sister. He remembered traveling home with his father from fishing, a small trip they regularly took to the rivers nearby. There were plenty of waters that were rich with fish, and his father had taught him to spear them. In the evening they had roasted the golden scaled by the campfire, skewering them on sticks that held them above the flames. Stars shining above them, they had strolled the path that even now he rode down.

There was no more home. Instead, what lay before him was the blackened shell of his village. Smoke rose from charred remains, ashes caked the floor and floated down through the air as if it rained death. The ground was littered with bodies, mutilated by the men who had slain and murdered without remorse. A dog whimpered, dragging a broken leg behind it. There was nothing left.

Sliding off his horse, Metrius thumped to the group, twisting his ankle and sending him toppling to the floor. His arm striking the ground a sharp pain bolted through his elbow but he did not feel it. Instead he scrambled up once more, half running and half walking towards his home. Stumbling he cried out, calling out for Alkaterina in desperation.

 

With the monsters howling and jeering at her, she scrambled backward, skin bitten by the sharp stony soil as her hands gripped the ground. Her head collided with the knee of one of the men who had brought her in, making her shriek out in terror. Springing up she ran across the arena like a frightened antelope, terror in her eyes. Tripping, she crashed forward into the fence, a chorus of insane wails escaping her lips as hands gripped and evil eyes leered. With a push she was thrown backward to the ground once more. Raising his hand, Romulus brought the hell to a silence. His demons watched and waited.

“Ah, now I have angered you.”

And it was true. Metrius could no longer hide the emotions that coursed through him. His body trembled, his fists were tense, and he pulled at the rope that bound his wrists. Nothing; no give, no escape.

“I understand you know this woman,” He waved his hand in the direction of Ashton’s love, “Or at least your best friend found her useful.”

Howls of lust and mocking broke out in the night at their leader’s word.

“Kephalos, she is Sabine, yes?”

The thug nodded, watching Romulus carefully to work out what was to come next.

“And she was your woman before this runt’s insolent friend had his way? Would you like to see him pay for killing your men?”

At the first words Kephalos snarled, anger flashing across his face, “That runt is already paying for it.”

Metrius snapped alert, even more so than he had been before. He had caught the words, not a threat but a statement. Maybe Kephalos thought that this was some sort of punishment but something told him that this was not what he meant. It was instinct, his gut warning telling him that something was amiss.

“What do you mean?”

Now Kephalos smiled, “I hope you said goodbye to your wife, Metrius.” Turning to Romulus he snapped to attention, like a loyal soldier willing to serve his commander no matter what the cost. He was Romulus’s slave now.

“I want you to kill her.“ The dark gaze from his thick brow would have rested on his new killer but Kephalos was already pacing across to where the Sabine woman shrank away. His sword slid from its scabbard, reflecting death into her eyes, and she began to cry. Wrapping her arms around her head, she hid away from the world that her mind could no longer bare.

“Don’t!” Snapped Metrius, more an order than begging, but Kephalos marched onward. Grabbing the girls hair, he pulled and caused her head to snap back. The tanned neck was exposed to audience and the demons of Roman howled and cackled. The terrified eyes of the rabbit looked up at Kephalos with terror and pleading. The sword was pulled back.

“Tell me the secrets of the Sabines, Metrius the killer.” There was never more cold a gaze than that of Romulus as he bared into Metrius’s sole.

Conflict twisted inside Metrius’ stomach. It was almost as if he was being torn in to; the love of his close friend who had been brutally killed only yesterday or betray his people. What he give them anyway? He knew of the layout and maybe a few faces that Romulus should look out for but that was it. Would it make much of a difference if he just let one secret slip. One taste of the information Romulus needed might be enough to quench the vampire’s thirst and then he would back away, spare Kephalos’s kill.

He would know.

With dark eyes he glared up at Romulus, the tall leader of the Romans watching him carefully. Even before he had spoken, the answer was known. Raising his hand, he kept his gaze fixed on Metrius as he dropped it.

Kephalos’s blade plunged forward, stabbing into the woman’s neck and sending a fountain of blood into the air. It sprayed across the traitor, only accentuating the insane bloodlust that radiated from him. For a second the woman’s eyes bulged, blood coughed from the lips, and then as the sword was withdrawn she slumped forward to the ground. A crimson pool seeped into the soil.

With a roar, Metrius’s elbow came up sharply, ramming into Potitus’s jaw to make it snap shut with a heavy crack. His head jerked back, surprise flashing across Romulus’s face. Hands tied there was no chance for Metrius to strike revenge but instead he had to flee. With a quick jerk he pulled the rope from the stunned Potitus, kicking another captor in the groin and causing them to double up in pain. With a heave he pulled himself up onto a horse’s back.

Struggling to right himself he dodged a blade, a strike that came from Romulus very sword, but the tip fell short and he roared at the horse. In fear, the beast bolted, eyes full of terror and snorting in alarm. People parted for fear of the beast trampling them and he was clear. Behind him calls of panic and anger rang out, weapons drawn and orders barked, but he was free and racing through the night, unstoppable as hooves thundered along the track that he just walked.

His muscles ached, his balance hard to keep, and it took everything to hold himself on. Bending over, he pinned himself against the horse’s mane, head resting against its neck as he jeered it onward. He would not stop the animal until he was clear of this dreaded place, clear of the people who now looked up in surprise and shouted out in the night. Some grabbed spears, warned by the calls that came from far behind, but he was far past before they even had a chance to make an attack.

And all the while the words that played in his mind were those of Kephalos, ‘I hope you said goodbye to your wife, Metrius.’

He had to reach home.

*

The scream that rang out made Alkaterina’s eyes flick open, body snapping upright with alarm as is if she had been jabbed in the ribs with tapered stick. For a moment it seemed like a dream, the thick fog of sleep refusing to believe that something was happening outside, and then the hellish call came once again.

Drapes flung to the side, a figure appeared at the doorway. She was Sisenna, the old woman who lived by herself in the next hut, and he eyes were wide with shock. She was a loving woman, bringing food for Alkaterina and Metrius when they could more than provide for themselves. She would tell tales of the Athenians and Spartans, legends and fables from the past. The three of them had sat around the fire, glowing embers floating up into the night, and they would listen and learn about the heroes who had brought the Sabines to these new lands. Above them, the gods would listen too as Sisenna told their tales with sparkling eyes and gnarled skin.

Now she stumbled, a blade torn through the centre of her torso, cutting through flesh and cloth. She fell forward to the floor, a lifeless body, and behind her killer tugged his blade free. Quickly scanning the room it did not take him long to spot Alkaterina and he gave a satisfied smile.

“You are Alkaterina?”

He was a tallish man, hair slightly greying with silver streaks and eyes starting to show the creases of age. The warmth of his face would have made him seem dashing and handsome, were it not for the murder he had just committed. His question came in such a nonchalant manner, as if the life of Sisenna meant nothing, that it made Alkaterina feel sick inside. Grabbing the knife she had left by the bed, she sprang to her feet and let the blade hover in front of her.

With almost cocky overconfidence the man snorted, shaking his head, “Alkaterina, I have a sword and you have a knife.” He lifted his weapon and showed it to her, almost insinuating that she had failed to notice the short blade. The golden-brown bronze of the weapon could just about be made out in the darkness of the room, diamond shaped blade pointed aside so that he stood exposed.

“Who are you?” She hissed, taking glances at the body of Sisenna on the floor. Blood pooled beneath the old woman, a sign of the harsh end she had suffered after living such a loving life.

“My name is Gallus Humilus,” he nodded politely, “and I have come to take you for Kephalos.”

Alkaterina spat on the floor, “You can tell Kephalos to go to Hades.”

He chuckled, “I don’t believe Kephalos would like that. Besides, you have nowhere else to go. Listen.”

Outside noises of slaying and a one sided battle rang out in the air but Alkaterina had already noticed. It made her heart thump, her hands tremble, and she wondered if Gallus had spotted the shake. Another scream signaled the end of a villager’s life and metal clashed on metal with some of the men trying to defend the woman and children. She heard a child crying, wailing for his mother, and dogs barked in defiance before being silenced. Gallus was not alone.

“So Kephalos had sent his lackies to do his work.” She snapped, trying to think of some way out. There was one window out of this hut but already Gallus had slowly walked forward, giving her less time to bolt for the night.

Scrunching up his face, Gallus shook his head, “Kephalos wanted a bit of help, I’m not one of his soldiers.” Edging to the side, he started to cut of Alkaterina’s escape route, “I come on behalf of Romulus.”

“Romulus?” The name bewildered her. She had heard of the leader of the Latin Romans, even knew of the raids that were on the increase. Every now and then there would be confrontations between Sabines and Romans but it wasn’t a surprise; you didn’t travel alone in such lands. This was different, this was a raid on a village.

Gallus moved quietly toward the window, each step eased carefully so as not to catch Alkaterina’s eye, “With a bit of encouragement from Kephalos.”

With a sudden jerk of life, Alkaterina darted toward the way out, dodging to the left as she sprung away from the window and heading for the doorway instead. Caught off guard, thinking her plan had been to make some insane lunge for the closer exit, Gallus just about managed to lunge and catch hold of her arm. The tight fingers locked on, knuckled white and she span and swung out with the knife blade. Its point barely missed him, making him lean back and let go, and then she was bolting away.

Past the drapes and through the doorway, out into the night beyond, Alkaterina froze. The village was ablaze, roaring red flames that danced on the faces of killers. With thick smoke rising, Romulus’s men were making quick work of the village. They carried torches aloft, lit more huts so that the dried dung caught and the flames licked higher.

In front, a man she knew was cornered against a wall, waving a sword before his two attackers closed in and plunged spears into his chest. He called out in agony, clutching at one of the shafts protruding from him, before the killers moved on. Another young woman was having her hands bound, her eye black and tears streaming down her face. Her cheeks were red and her cloths covered in soil. It was a scene of death and chaos and horror.

Gallus’s hands grabbed her from behind and this time she could not break free, “Let me go! You’re monsters!”

The hands did not release her, clamps gripping her so tightly that she knew she would bruise. She did not care. Instead she pulled and struggled, trying to strike out, and she kicked backward so that her heel connected with the Latin’s shin.

In reply, he let go with one hand and struck hard and fast across her cheek. There was nothing held back, no easy going for a woman, and the blow made her head spin. She staggered back, lights flashing in the sky around her, her head swirling and unable to steady itself. Another blow hit her in the stomach, causing her to drop the knife, and the air was thrown from her lungs.

“You’re coming with us now. This village is your past.” Gripping hold of her once more, Gallus tugged her through the mayhem, barely allowing her to keep up. She slipped and fell, landing hard on her knees, but she was yank onto her feet and thrown into the arms of someone else.

With rope twisting tightly around her wrists, she could only watch as all her loved ones were killed around her.

“The Sabines will go to war over this.” She murmured, whether to herself or to Gallus she did not know.

Gallus’s smiled, “Romulus counts on it.”

*

The threads of the rope ran furiously over the sharp rock, sawing back and fore. Heating they began to split, one by one, and with each quick glance over his shoulder Metrius was a little bit freer.

Stamping its hoof impatiently, the horse he had stolen stood obediently nonetheless, and he was glad that the animal had not tried to bolt back to Rome. He had raced into the darkness of the Latin lands, praying that he could outwit any of Romulus’ scouts who might be searching for him, but none had come. Did Romulus want him to spread the word of Rome’s power? Did he want the other tribes to fear the new might that claimed the land? Deciding the question did not need an answer he concentrated on freeing his hands once again.

Every bit of him ached but he had refused to stop. His thighs had wanted to give in and let him fall from the mount, so tired were they from his journey as Potitus’s prisoner. Yet he knew he had to reach home, had to get back to Alkaterina and make sure she was safe. Frustrated by the ropes that still held his wrists together, he had finally decided that the Romans had been outwitted and that he could take a few minutes to remove the bonds.

Animals rustled in the dark, hunting their prey, whilst a screech owl called out like some demon from the underworld. The thought of death sent a shiver down his spine and, finally freeing himself, he climbed up onto his horse again. In the sky the stars winked and looked down upon him, watching him break into a gallop again and drive the sweating mount harder along its path. He would reach home by the end of the night.

*

He felt drained, the horse now walking rather than drumming along as it had for so long, and each judder shook through him. Head dropping forward, his eyes slowly closed, with each shudder throwing him from sleep and keeping his gaze fixed on the sun as it rose before him. It’s warmth was beginning to fill the valley, cast light upon the river that he had followed all night, and the trees and foliage began to show their colours. The trickling of streams became bouncing waters and the soft sound of muffled leaves became shrubs and bushes that dotted the landscape. The nocturnal animals went to ground once again.

Rubbing the weariness from his eyes, battling his body’s demand to cease the fight, he shook his head and tried to focus on the horizon. It was only a mile or so now, not far from the ones he loved, and he could be satisfied that they were safe and take to his bed. He would rest with Alkaterina, sleep with the one he loved, and be close to the protection of his friends and neighbours.

But the plume of smoke that rose, thick and grey, told him the story would not end this way. His heart sank, daunting fear sinking through him, and he knew that Kephalos had already struck.

The last mile was a hellish ride, nightmares plaguing his mind. He could picture Alkaterina, killed by the animals he had seen back in Rome. The thugish brutes who fought for Romulus raping and pillaging the village he called home. They would slaughter his friends and family alike, like cattle whose necks were slit open by the farmer’s blade. He painted pictures that burned in his mind; roofs aflame and victims with their guts spilled. And all the while Kephalos would watch and laugh, mocking in his suffering at Romulus’s side.

They stung into him, making tears weep from his weary eyes, and he felt the felt the pit open in his stomach. He could not live without his love, his wife Alkaterina, and now Kephalos was taking her away from him. Just as his mentality was pushed to his limit, so was his body’s endurance with muscles that pleaded only for rest and an end to the ride. It felt as if he was being stabbed, so worn was his body, but again and again he urged the horse onward. Would he be of any use when he got there, probably not, but he had to know and he had to know now.

Carrying him down into the valley where his village sat, the track wound down between the slopes of the hilly countryside. Since he was young it had been his voyage home, loving faces waiting for him and warm meals with his parents and sister. He remembered traveling home with his father from fishing, a small trip they regularly took to the rivers nearby. There were plenty of waters that were rich with fish, and his father had taught him to spear them. In the evening they had roasted the golden scaled by the campfire, skewering them on sticks that held them above the flames. Stars shining above them, they had strolled the path that even now he rode down.

There was no more home. Instead, what lay before him was the blackened shell of his village. Smoke rose from charred remains, ashes caked the floor and floated down through the air as if it rained death. The ground was littered with bodies, mutilated by the men who had slain and murdered without remorse. A dog whimpered, dragging a broken leg behind it. There was nothing left.

Sliding off his horse, Metrius thumped to the group, twisting his ankle and sending him toppling to the floor. His arm striking the ground a sharp pain bolted through his elbow but he did not feel it. Instead he scrambled up once more, half running and half walking towards his home. Stumbling he cried out, calling out for Alkaterina in desperation.

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Ashes to ashes – Metrius – Post 24

March 27, 2018

burnt village

The last mile was a hellish ride, nightmares plaguing his mind. He could picture Alkaterina, killed by the animals he had seen back in Rome. The thugish brutes who fought for Romulus raping and pillaging the village he called home. They would slaughter his friends and family alike, like cattle whose necks were slit open by the farmer’s blade. He painted pictures that burned in his mind; roofs aflame and victims with their guts spilled. And all the while Kephalos would watch and laugh, mocking in his suffering at Romulus’s side.

They stung into him, making tears weep from his weary eyes, and he felt the felt the pit open in his stomach. He could not live without his love, his wife Alkaterina, and now Kephalos was taking her away from him. Just as his mentality was pushed to his limit, so was his body’s endurance with muscles that pleaded only for rest and an end to the ride. It felt as if he was being stabbed, so worn was his body, but again and again he urged the horse onward. Would he be of any use when he got there, probably not, but he had to know and he had to know now.

Carrying him down into the valley where his village sat, the track wound down between the slopes of the hilly countryside. Since he was young it had been his voyage home, loving faces waiting for him and warm meals with his parents and sister. He remembered traveling home with his father from fishing, a small trip they regularly took to the rivers nearby. There were plenty of waters that were rich with fish, and his father had taught him to spear them. In the evening they had roasted the golden scaled by the campfire, skewering them on sticks that held them above the flames. Stars shining above them, they had strolled the path that even now he rode down.

There was no more home. Instead, what lay before him was the blackened shell of his village. Smoke rose from charred remains, ashes caked the floor and floated down through the air as if it rained death. The ground was littered with bodies, mutilated by the men who had slain and murdered without remorse. A dog whimpered, dragging a broken leg behind it. There was nothing left.

Sliding off his horse, Metrius thumped to the group, twisting his ankle and sending him toppling to the floor. His arm striking the ground a sharp pain bolted through his elbow but he did not feel it. Instead he scrambled up once more, half running and half walking towards his home. Stumbling he cried out, calling out for Alkaterina in desperation.

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Dread – Metrius – Post 23

March 25, 2018

end of the trail

The threads of the rope ran furiously over the sharp rock, sawing back and fore. Heating they began to split, one by one, and with each quick glance over his shoulder Metrius was a little bit freer.

Stamping its hoof impatiently, the horse he had stolen stood obediently nonetheless, and he was glad that the animal had not tried to bolt back to Rome. He had raced into the darkness of the Latin lands, praying that he could outwit any of Romulus’ scouts who might be searching for him, but none had come. Did Romulus want him to spread the word of Rome’s power? Did he want the other tribes to fear the new might that claimed the land? Deciding the question did not need an answer he concentrated on freeing his hands once again.

Every bit of him ached but he had refused to stop. His thighs had wanted to give in and let him fall from the mount, so tired were they from his journey as Potitus’s prisoner. Yet he knew he had to reach home, had to get back to Alkaterina and make sure she was safe. Frustrated by the ropes that still held his wrists together, he had finally decided that the Romans had been outwitted and that he could take a few minutes to remove the bonds.

Animals rustled in the dark, hunting their prey, whilst a screech owl called out like some demon from the underworld. The thought of death sent a shiver down his spine and, finally freeing himself, he climbed up onto his horse again. In the sky the stars winked and looked down upon him, watching him break into a gallop again and drive the sweating mount harder along its path. He would reach home by the end of the night.

*

He felt drained, the horse now walking rather than drumming along as it had for so long, and each judder shook through him. Head dropping forward, his eyes slowly closed, with each shudder throwing him from sleep and keeping his gaze fixed on the sun as it rose before him. It’s warmth was beginning to fill the valley, cast light upon the river that he had followed all night, and the trees and foliage began to show their colours. The trickling of streams became bouncing waters and the soft sound of muffled leaves became shrubs and bushes that dotted the landscape. The nocturnal animals went to ground once again.

Rubbing the weariness from his eyes, battling his body’s demand to cease the fight, he shook his head and tried to focus on the horizon. It was only a mile or so now, not far from the ones he loved, and he could be satisfied that they were safe and take to his bed. He would rest with Alkaterina, sleep with the one he loved, and be close to the protection of his friends and neighbours.

But the plume of smoke that rose, thick and grey, told him the story would not end this way. His heart sank, daunting fear sinking through him, and he knew that Kephalos had already struck.

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Death in the Night – Metrius – Post 22

March 24, 2018

burning village

“Romulus?” The name bewildered her. She had heard of the leader of the Latin Romans, even knew of the raids that were on the increase. Every now and then there would be confrontations between Sabines and Romans but it wasn’t a surprise; you didn’t travel alone in such lands. This was different, this was a raid on a village.

Gallus moved quietly toward the window, each step eased carefully so as not to catch Alkaterina’s eye, “With a bit of encouragement from Kephalos.”

With a sudden jerk of life, Alkaterina darted toward the way out, dodging to the left as she sprung away from the window and heading for the doorway instead. Caught off guard, thinking her plan had been to make some insane lunge for the closer exit, Gallus just about managed to lunge and catch hold of her arm. The tight fingers locked on, knuckled white and she span and swung out with the knife blade. Its point barely missed him, making him lean back and let go, and then she was bolting away.

Past the drapes and through the doorway, out into the night beyond, Alkaterina froze. The village was ablaze, roaring red flames that danced on the faces of killers. With thick smoke rising, Romulus’s men were making quick work of the village. They carried torches aloft, lit more huts so that the dried dung caught and the flames licked higher.

In front, a man she knew was cornered against a wall, waving a sword before his two attackers closed in and plunged spears into his chest. He called out in agony, clutching at one of the shafts protruding from him, before the killers moved on. Another young woman was having her hands bound, her eye black and tears streaming down her face. Her cheeks were red and her cloths covered in soil. It was a scene of death and chaos and horror.

Gallus’s hands grabbed her from behind and this time she could not break free, “Let me go! You’re monsters!”

The hands did not release her, clamps gripping her so tightly that she knew she would bruise. She did not care. Instead she pulled and struggled, trying to strike out, and she kicked backward so that her heel connected with the Latin’s shin.

In reply, he let go with one hand and struck hard and fast across her cheek. There was nothing held back, no easy going for a woman, and the blow made her head spin. She staggered back, lights flashing in the sky around her, her head swirling and unable to steady itself. Another blow hit her in the stomach, causing her to drop the knife, and the air was thrown from her lungs.

“You’re coming with us now. This village is your past.” Gripping hold of her once more, Gallus tugged her through the mayhem, barely allowing her to keep up. She slipped and fell, landing hard on her knees, but she was yank onto her feet and thrown into the arms of someone else.

With rope twisting tightly around her wrists, she could only watch as all her loved ones were killed around her.

“The Sabines will go to war over this.” She murmured, whether to herself or to Gallus she did not know.

Gallus’s smiled, “Romulus counts on it.”

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Vengence – Metrius – Post 21

March 24, 2018

bronze xiphos

The scream that rang out made Alkaterina’s eyes flick open, body snapping upright with alarm as is if she had been jabbed in the ribs with tapered stick. For a moment it seemed like a dream, the thick fog of sleep refusing to believe that something was happening outside, and then the hellish call came once again.

Drapes flung to the side, a figure appeared at the doorway. She was Sisenna, the old woman who lived by herself in the next hut, and he eyes were wide with shock. She was a loving woman, bringing food for Alkaterina and Metrius when they could more than provide for themselves. She would tell tales of the Athenians and Spartans, legends and fables from the past. The three of them had sat around the fire, glowing embers floating up into the night, and they would listen and learn about the heroes who had brought the Sabines to these new lands. Above them, the gods would listen too as Sisenna told their tales with sparkling eyes and gnarled skin.

Now she stumbled, a blade torn through the centre of her torso, cutting through flesh and cloth. She fell forward to the floor, a lifeless body, and behind her killer tugged his blade free. Quickly scanning the room it did not take him long to spot Alkaterina and he gave a satisfied smile.

“You are Alkaterina?”

He was a tallish man, hair slightly greying with silver streaks and eyes starting to show the creases of age. The warmth of his face would have made him seem dashing and handsome, were it not for the murder he had just committed. His question came in such a nonchalant manner, as if the life of Sisenna meant nothing, that it made Alkaterina feel sick inside. Grabbing the knife she had left by the bed, she sprang to her feet and let the blade hover in front of her.

With almost cocky overconfidence the man snorted, shaking his head, “Alkaterina, I have a sword and you have a knife.” He lifted his weapon and showed it to her, almost insinuating that she had failed to notice the short blade. The golden-brown bronze of the weapon could just about be made out in the darkness of the room, diamond shaped blade pointed aside so that he stood exposed.

“Who are you?” She hissed, taking glances at the body of Sisenna on the floor. Blood pooled beneath the old woman, a sign of the harsh end she had suffered after living such a loving life.

“My name is Gallus Humilus,” he nodded politely, “and I have come to take you for Kephalos.”

Alkaterina spat on the floor, “You can tell Kephalos to go to Hades.”

He chuckled, “I don’t believe Kephalos would like that. Besides, you have nowhere else to go. Listen.”

Outside noises of slaying and a one sided battle rang out in the air but Alkaterina had already noticed. It made her heart thump, her hands tremble, and she wondered if Gallus had spotted the shake. Another scream signaled the end of a villager’s life and metal clashed on metal with some of the men trying to defend the woman and children. She heard a child crying, wailing for his mother, and dogs barked in defiance before being silenced. Gallus was not alone.

“So Kephalos had sent his lackies to do his work.” She snapped, trying to think of some way out. There was one window out of this hut but already Gallus had slowly walked forward, giving her less time to bolt for the night.

Scrunching up his face, Gallus shook his head, “Kephalos wanted a bit of help, I’m not one of his soldiers.” Edging to the side, he started to cut of Alkaterina’s escape route, “I come on behalf of Romulus.”

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Escape – Metrius – Post 20

March 21, 2018

horse

Conflict twisted inside Metrius’ stomach. It was almost as if he was being torn in to; the love of his close friend who had been brutally killed only yesterday or betray his people. What he give them anyway? He knew of the layout and maybe a few faces that Romulus should look out for but that was it. Would it make much of a difference if he just let one secret slip. One taste of the information Romulus needed might be enough to quench the vampire’s thirst and then he would back away, spare Kephalos’s kill.

He would know.

With dark eyes he glared up at Romulus, the tall leader of the Romans watching him carefully. Even before he had spoken, the answer was known. Raising his hand, he kept his gaze fixed on Metrius as he dropped it.

Kephalos’s blade plunged forward, stabbing into the woman’s neck and sending a fountain of blood into the air. It sprayed across the traitor, only accentuating the insane bloodlust that radiated from him. For a second the woman’s eyes bulged, blood coughed from the lips, and then as the sword was withdrawn she slumped forward to the ground. A crimson pool seeped into the soil.

With a roar, Metrius’s elbow came up sharply, ramming into Potitus’s jaw to make it snap shut with a heavy crack. His head jerked back, surprise flashing across Romulus’s face. Hands tied there was no chance for Metrius to strike revenge but instead he had to flee. With a quick jerk he pulled the rope from the stunned Potitus, kicking another captor in the groin and causing them to double up in pain. With a heave he pulled himself up onto a horse’s back.

Struggling to right himself he dodged a blade, a strike that came from Romulus very sword, but the tip fell short and he roared at the horse. In fear, the beast bolted, eyes full of terror and snorting in alarm. People parted for fear of the beast trampling them and he was clear. Behind him calls of panic and anger rang out, weapons drawn and orders barked, but he was free and racing through the night, unstoppable as hooves thundered along the track that he just walked.

His muscles ached, his balance hard to keep, and it took everything to hold himself on. Bending over, he pinned himself against the horse’s mane, head resting against its neck as he jeered it onward. He would not stop the animal until he was clear of this dreaded place, clear of the people who now looked up in surprise and shouted out in the night. Some grabbed spears, warned by the calls that came from far behind, but he was far past before they even had a chance to make an attack.

And all the while the words that played in his mind were those of Kephalos, ‘I hope you said goodbye to your wife, Metrius.’

He had to reach home.

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Execution – Metrius – Post 19

March 19, 2018

hair pull

With the monsters howling and jeering at her, she scrambled backward, skin bitten by the sharp stony soil as her hands gripped the ground. Her head collided with the knee of one of the men who had brought her in, making her shriek out in terror. Springing up she ran across the arena like a frightened antelope, terror in her eyes. Tripping, she crashed forward into the fence, a chorus of insane wails escaping her lips as hands gripped and evil eyes leered. With a push she was thrown backward to the ground once more.

Raising his hand, Romulus brought the hell to a silence. His demons watched and waited.

“Ah, now I have angered you.”

And it was true. Metrius could no longer hide the emotions that coursed through him. His body trembled, his fists were tense, and he pulled at the rope that bound his wrists. Nothing; no give, no escape.

“I understand you know this woman,” He waved his hand in the direction of Ashton’s love, “Or at least your best friend found her useful.”

Howls of lust and mocking broke out in the night at their leader’s word.

“Kephalos, she is Sabine, yes?”

The thug nodded, watching Romulus carefully to work out what was to come next.

“And she was your woman before this runt’s insolent friend had his way? Would you like to see him pay for killing your men?”

At the first words Kephalos snarled, anger flashing across his face, “That runt is already paying for it.”

Metrius snapped alert, even more so than he had been before. He had caught the words, not a threat but a statement. Maybe Kephalos thought that this was some sort of punishment but something told him that this was not what he meant. It was instinct, his gut warning telling him that something was amiss.

“What do you mean?”

Now Kephalos smiled, “I hope you said goodbye to your wife, Metrius.” Turning to Romulus he snapped to attention, like a loyal soldier willing to serve his commander no matter what the cost. He was Romulus’s slave now.

“I want you to kill her.“ The dark gaze from his thick brow would have rested on his new killer but Kephalos was already pacing across to where the Sabine woman shrank away. His sword slid from its scabbard, reflecting death into her eyes, and she began to cry. Wrapping her arms around her head, she hid away from the world that her mind could no longer bare.

“Don’t!” Snapped Metrius, more an order than begging, but Kephalos marched onward. Grabbing the girls hair, he pulled and caused her head to snap back. The tanned neck was exposed to audience and the demons of Roman howled and cackled. The terrified eyes of the rabbit looked up at Kephalos with terror and pleading. The sword was pulled back.

“Tell me the secrets of the Sabines, Metrius the killer.” There was never more cold a gaze than that of Romulus as he bared into Metrius’s sole.

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Metrius – Episode 3

March 18, 2018

After killing the men of local thug Kephalos, Metrius travels to the Sabine council for their support in fighting this killer of his people. However, as he journeys he is captured by Latins, men of Romulus who take him to Rome. Even as he is led away his wife is being watched from the night.

galdiator

With sun beating down, Metrius tried to keep up the pace as his four captors rode either side of him. His hands were bound, the tough fibers biting into his wrists, and the constant tugging had rubbed his skin raw. They had not ridden hard, just enough to make his muscles ache and his brow sweat. Though he was nowhere near to collapsing the image of finding himself being dragged along sliced fear through his mind and kept his legs moving.

The path had long since joined on to a rough track, ruts cut into the soil where carts had pulled their loads. Metrius knew of this route, a road leading up to lands in the north, and he knew they were heading for Rome. The musty smell of horse hair filled the air as the large shapes towered next to him. More than once he had been knocked by a sandal covered foot, ‘accidents’ that were accompanied by laughter.

Their first sign of Rome was a train of mules coming in the opposite direction, three in all and each tied to the one in front. The animals bobbed their heads, pacing onward to whatever journey they were undertaking, their backs laden with goods to sell. At the head of the train stood a well dressed man, probably a merchant, and he gave Romulus’s men a nod as he passed them. With the band of riders standing to the side as the trader past, Metrius gladly made the most of the moment’s respite.

“Have you been to Rome recently?”

The question surprised him and he looked up at Potitus, for that was the name of the scarred leader, “What?”

Potitus snorted and shook his head, turning back to the road and commanding his horse onward again, “I said, have you been to Rome recently?”

Conversation was the last thing from Metrius’s mind, the journey having been strenuous as the skies became darker. The hilly landscape became harder to make out, greens becoming greys as light faded. In the night, the Tiber river still twisted it’s never ending journey but now it was hidden from view. Owls hooted their call, guarding their territory, and a coolness settled upon Metrius’s shoulders.

“It has been a while.” And it had, at least twenty years when he had travelled to the region as a boy with his father. He had been amazed by the number of dwellings then but it was probably the imagination of a child and how it paints the picture that no adult can see. He remembered his father telling him how there were seven settlements set around the hills, guarding the ford that allowed passage across the Tiber. Etruscan merchants would travel down to cross its banks and would pay a healthy penny to the people of Rome.

Potitus did not bother looking back at him, “It has changed. Romulus creates a new land amongst its hills and the power of the Romans grows. Your people would do well to think about that.”

Holding back a retort that would only lead to punishment, Metrius bit his lip. There was time for revenge and resilience and there was a time to wait for the moment.

“People flock daily to its security, build their huts and look to Romulus to lead them. When you see the place that Rome has become you will want to be part of it. The moment I saw it I knew I was Roman.”

“What I hear is the Romans kill more and simply want to quell the tribes around them.”

Shrugging, Potitus smiled, “Ah, this from a warlike Sabine.”

Inside Metrius knew that Potitus’s remark was justified; myth said that the Sabines even had Spartan blood somewhere back in time, like those far to the south in the city of Taras. The Spartans were an aggressive race, a people across the seas who were only spoken of in tales around the fire. If it was true that they shared a past then the willingness of the Sabines to fight certainly came from them. Such a people could be a problem to Romulus.

“The warlike Sabines will end the city state of Rome if you do not release me.”

“I guess Romulus will decide.”

The journey turned back to one of silence, interrupted only by the scuttle of a nocturnal beast or the call of something from the wild. At one point a wolf howled, signaling its territory in the rocky hills, and it made Metrius feel all the more alone in a land he knew was increasingly further from his people. Though the day had been hot, the night now made Metrius shiver.

Once more the track rose over the brow of another hill and his muscles ached and his wrists burned. He thought of Alkaterina, far away in his village, and of the friends he had left behind. Had he not struck that blow to Ariston’s killer would everything be different now? Most certainly. Was this some way the gods wanted him to pay for taking another man’s life? He could not believe that their deaths were not justified and his mind tried to work out just why this had all happened.

And then he came to a halt, frozen at what flooded across the landscape.

They had reached Rome and there was no denying it, a site he had certainly underestimated as a child. Or maybe this place had just grown, leaching across the hills as it had spread out it’s tentacles and anchored itself to the rocks of these Latin lands. The landscape was a mass of lights, fire places that glowed like burning jewels in the night, and Metrius knew each was a hut and the home of a Roman. Each was a family that had turned to Romulus, thousands of Latins and other tribesman who had flocked to the protection and power he offered. It was no longer the seven hills that were occupied, like his father had said, but the huts and other buildings had flowed down the hills as if they were an army charging down the slopes toward an enemy. He could not make out the dwellings fully, just the dark shapes in the night, but he knew that Rome was growning at a rate that would soon allow it to challenge all the tribes around them.

Potitus looked down at him, pleased at his reaction, “Now you see the new power of Rome. This is where the true Latin strength lies and we shall soon conquer all those that oppose us.” With a crack of his reign the journey towards the city continued once again.

The track eventually began to run between the huts, daubed round buildings that had rough walls formed from mud. Many had fires lit outside, flames dancing in the night and sending sweet smelling grey wisps of smoke away into the dark. Groups of Roman’s sat around their campfires, joking around the stacked branches that glowed light upon their faces. One group halted their bursts of laughter as they passed, their smirks turning to dark looks as they studied the stranger who passed them.

“Another one for Romulus, Potitus?” One shouted, grinning at Metrius’s one-eyed captor.

“This one’s special,” Potitus replied, “nothing for you to play with Secundus.”

The men turned back to their talk around the fire at the four horsemen passed, Metrius tugged along on tired legs. This place was massive, the likes of which he had never seen before. He had been told of one or two huge city states that controlled the small villages and tribes that surrounded them but it was that Rome had grown so fast! A young child, naked and full of energy, threw a stick for a scraggy dog that yapped and happily played the game. It finally ended when the mother came out, angry at her child who evidently should not have been there, and he was dragged inside by the ear screaming.

They rode on.

At another hut a bearded man staggered past his hut drunk, swaying legs that had seen to much alcohol. He bent over, finally beaten by the fermented liquid, and wretched up his gut content. Just as they left Metrius saw the owner of the hut storming out of the doorway in a fit of rage. Not the owner, the drunk suddenly found himself being pummeled under the blows of the giant who did not appreciate the vomit that now smeared his wall.

They rode on.

More huts, more people, more fires and more children. Dogs, horses, old men and young wives; this place was a beehive of life and the hour was becoming late. The road seemed to go on forever, the slope making Metrius stagger, and he almost felt like crying out for mercy but stubbornness and pride allowed him to bite his tongue. Potitus would not get anything from him.

“By the gods!”

Once again Rome had shocked Metrius, took him to a level that he didn’t think he would ever see. The walls before him were massive, huge structures at least twenty feet high, and like nothing he had seen before. Some of the villages had timber ramparts to keep the outlaws and wolves out but nothing like this. This was designed to stop an army.

The walls were huge, at least the height of three men, and figures walked along the top, patrolling and looking out into the thousand homes of the Roman people. The walls were smooth to the touch, immaculately chiseled to make sure the blocks fitted together perfectly. They were huge rectangular structures with barely any space between them, magnificently shaped and in rows that stretched out to encompass the top of the hill. How long had it taken them to build such a marvel?

Potitus was grinning, “Techniques from across the sea. We had a merchant come to sell us his secrets and Romulus was happy to oblige. Only thing was he got too greedy and then Romulus took everything a required, along with the man’s tongue.”

Shivering inside, Metrius looked away, “Where next?”

Again they began to move, this time riding along the length of the walls that towered above them. Above, the Romans looked down upon them as if they were the gods that studied the mortals below. Beyond would be the most important and valuable parts of the city, the temples and training grounds for the Roman army. Every day these Latin would ride out from its protection, stalk the land to steal and hunt. They raped and pillaged the tribes that saw as below them, became ghosts that haunted their nightmares until they bowed down to the Romans.

Ahead, torch light flickered and flames danced. He could make out the clash of metal now, grunts and shouts that were surrounded by the jeers and cheering of a rowdy crowd. When the approached further he saw the make shift fence that had been assembled, wooden timber that was tied to large posts wedged into the ground. Around it, Roman soldiers laughed and shouted insults at whatever lay beyond the fence. They cheered at the arena that had been created, rugged faced and dressed in short woolen togas. One swigged a last mouthful of alcohol from a goblet before throwing it into the fray. Dismounting, Potitus pulled Metrius along, pushing their way through the crowd.

On sandy grounds two figures fought, the first thrusting forward with a broad bladed sword, using his round shield to block his opponent’s blows. The metal was dented, numerous scars from an unknown number of battles, and he viciously swung it so that it knocked the other backward. Stumbling, the second man almost fell, barely fending off the blow from the swordsman with the shaft of his spear. This thick wood barely took the blow and Metrius knew it was weakened. Sure enough, when the spear was thrust forward and was blocked with the shield, a split opened and the shaft broke. Seeing victory, the attackers eyes shone through slits in his helm, and he pressed forward to strike out with a kick that sent the weaker man to the floor.

Trying to stab upward with the broken end of his spear, the point was knocked aside with a hard blow from the shield and another kick, this time to the head, left the spear man dazed and struggling even to raise his head. Resigning himself to defeat, the man looked up without fear, watching the masked killer throw his shield aside in victory. He gripped his sword with both hands, pointing the blade at the man’s heart and looked down through the helm that hide his face. It was like some faceless monster, finding glory in the moment of the kill, and then the sword was stabbed downward.

“Enough!”

Metrius tuned his head sharply, looking to see where the command had come from. The crowd had hushed, silenced by the authority of the voice, and the masked killer had frozen. In his hand, his sword was poised ready to plunge into the other man’s neck. Every muscle, glistening with sweat, was tight and eager to continue with his opponent’s slaughter. There seemed to be tension in the air, an electricity as the crowd watched to see if the man would obey the order, but then he lowered his sword and reach down to help the other up. The tension evaporated.

It was not hard to spot the man Metrius looked for. The tall, bearded Romulus stood at one side, a gap around him where non dared to challenge him. He was an imposing figure, radiating authority, and his position was only accentuated by the intricate broaches that held up his tunic and the fine blade that was held at his belt. Looking across at Metrius he studied the newcomer before gesturing Potitus over. Leading his horse through the throng, Potitus obeyed.

“What do you have for me, Potitus?”

The scarred man grabbed Metrius’s arm tightly, tossing him forward so that he stumbled and almost fell in front of Romulus.

“A Sabine by the name of Metrius, my lord, found in our lands.” Bowing his head in respect, there was clear loyalty and willingness to obey in his voice, “I thought he may be off use to you, provide you with information.”

Romulus raised his thick brow and nodded his head slightly, toying with the suggestion from one of his soldiers, “Nicely done.” A thick hand gripped Potitus’ arm and then he gestured for a servant to bring him a drink.

Turning to Metrius, Romulus looked into the Sabine’s eyes, “Do you want to explain why you are in the land of the Romans?”

The words annoyed Metrius, a claim to territories that did not belong to the Romans or any Latin tribe. Romulus might be warring with many and spreading out the power of his people but any conflicts with the Sabines had certainly shown that Metrius’s people could hold their own.

“Its not the business of Rome.” He tried to hold back the bitterness in his words, but it was impossible, “These are lands of the Sabines.”

Running his tongue over his teeth, Romulus turned away from Metrius and back to the arena, almost as if the Sabine was completely forgotten. He leaned on the fence in front, arms stretched out so that it took his weight, and he scanned the faces before him. They had turned back to their drinking and debauchery.

“What did you think of Rome as you walked here?”

Anger inside made Metrius clench his jaw, to be treated with little respects as if he were a tool for Romulus, yet he held it back, “Its grown.”

Romulus smiled as he turned back, showing yellowing teeth. His eyes gleamed, energy that fed of the power he had gained. With a sudden gesture his arms swept apart, spreading them to encompass the world that was around him.

“My people have not just grown, they have become the dominant force of our lands.” He pointed to the walls, “Those have the might to hold anyone back, walls that have never been built by any of the Latin or Eutruscan people.” He gestured to the lights that flickered in the night, fires of the houses that covered the foot of the hills like stars in the sky, “Thousands of people now call themselves Romans and they are bloodthirsty and they are ruthless.”

He stepped closer and Metrius could smell his odour; the alcohol on his breath, the sweat that tainted his clothing.

“And they answer to me.”

The words came quietly yet clear. This was not the speech of someone who was spiralling out of control, seeing themselves as a god who walks among mortal men. This was the voice of one who was calculating yet powerful, a thinker who had built this up around him. Yet there was a taint of greed in his voice and time and glory would easily change who Romulus was. Metrius glimpsed around, looking for a means to escape. In the rowdy crowds that thronged about, there was a chance that he may be able to slip away. The dark eyes of the Latins met his gaze. Maybe not.

“Are you going to help me?”

It was an absurd question to Metrius. Loyalty was demanded by the tribe, by your people, “No Sabine would betray his people.”

Romulus tilted his head from side to side, as if toying with the idea in his head or juggling with the statement as a clown amuses the crowd, “Maybe, maybe not.”

Raising a hand, Romulus waved the victor of the arena over. The man sheathed his sword with a swift movement, the sound of metal scraping against its home a clear reminder of the battle’s end. While the crows watched to see how the scene played out, the would be killed crossed to where Romulus and Metrius stood.

“Remove your helm.”

Curious to know what trick Romulus was playing, Metrius eyed the stranger suspiciously until the armoured mask was removed and the face revealed.

Kephalos.

The Sabine’s hair was stuck to his forehead with sweat, sweat that glistened in his brown brow. His sharp eyes mocked Metrius, finding the fellow Sabine’s predicament amusing, and his hand rested on the hilt of his sword. Helm tucked underneath his arm, the killer’s relaxed posture around Romulus told him everything he wanted to know. Kephalos was not only a brutish thug who dominated his local villages, now he had betrayed everything the Sabines were.

“Kephalos had more sense.” Potitus took another mouthful of the wine, wiping it away from the corner of his mouth.

The murderer of the Sabines watched Romulus to see what the Roman leader’s next command was to be.

“He came to me this morning, telling me the tale of a troublesome thorn he had to pick from his hand. Isn’t that right Kephalos?” The Sabine remained silent and simply watched Metrius in amusement, loving the predicament that his enemy was in, “He told me that a strong fighter had killed several of his men, a fighter who could instill leadership amongst his fellow Sabines and could cause trouble for him unless he had help. Can you see where this is going, Metrius the defiant?”

Remaining silent, Metrius tried to work out a way to escape. If he tried running through these crowds then he would easily be caught. His legs ached as if spears had been thrust into them. Eyes falling on Potitus’s horse, he assessed the servant of Romulus who now held it.

“It does not surprise me that Kephalos would turn to treachery.”

A barked laugh was thrown in his face, “And yet ‘no Sabine would betray his people’” The Roman mocked. Potitus and Kephalos joined in the laughter, “You have to choices here, Sabine, become part of my army and serve me. Tell me everything you know of the Sabine Council that you hoped to visit and I shall let you live. Either that, or I will allow Kephalos to extract every bit of information I want from you.”

“So he is your lap dog now.” Snorted Metrius.

Romulus’s face turned dark, “I will show you how willing your fellow Sabine is willing to obey. Bring that woman in here.”

Now Metrius could hear the shrieking voice, the fear ringing out, the begging. It was a voice he knew, a voice he had heard only the day before, and his body tensed. Frantically he looked about, trying to find from where they had pulled her, but the crowds hid his friend’s lover from sight until the two guard who have dragged her forward tossed her into the arena to fall to the floor. The crowds laughed and mocked as Ashton’s, freckled romance looked up like a terrified rabbit, staring into the face of the wolves that surrounded her.

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