Archive for the ‘Metrius episode’ Category

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.

delta

Advertisements

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.

gamma

Metrius of Sabine – Episode 2

March 8, 2018

Shepherd and farmer Metrius has slain the killers of his friend Ariston. After his frenzied attack he must travel to find aid from the Sabine council else the killer’s leader, Kephalos, will bring war to their small village.

sad greek wife

The sting of the cold water crashed into his face as he brought the liquid to his skin and closed his eyes to feel the freshness flow over him. He watched the water of the trough become stained with a pink tinge, rubbing his arms and hands to remove the grim marks of the fight. Rising from where he knelt at the horse trough, he patted his steed’s muzzle before it began to drink.

The light of the god’s sun that illuminated the perfect blue sky was gradually fading, night preparing to swallow up the world once again. All around, the farm’s trees were laden with a crop of healthy olives that would soon need to be harvested. As night crept in, they gradually became shapes that hide ghouls and ghosts in the darkness. Despite the warmth he shivered, a creepy rush that ran up his spine and made him more than eager to head inside.

“Alkaterina!”

The only thing that could ease this pain he felt was the face of his wife, Alkaterina. Their love would always bring peace to his mind, soften his thoughts and unwind his soul. Just to see her would remind him of just why he loved her so much, and all other troubles could simply be dismissed for those moments.

“Alkaterina!”

Walking across the cool tiled floor, the columns began to cast their shapes across the patterns as the light of the first stars began to look down upon him. Across the courtyard, woven baskets were piled with juniper green olives, miniature mountains formed from the smallest of fruits.

Alkaterina’s face was thinner than most women and perhaps overly slender. Metrius saw this as grace and beauty that most women lacked. His gaze followed her as she walked from the kitchen door, momentarily stopping to wipe her brow and brush back a long strand of hair that had fallen into her eyes. Finally seeing him standing there, she jumped at the sight of his shape hidden in the night.

“Metrius, I did not see you.”

Walking across the courtyard toward her, Metrius smiled at the woman he loved with all his heart. He raised a hand, touching her cheek, but he halted as she raised a hand to stop him.

“I have work, Metrius.” She nodded at the baskets, “The rest of the harvest has to be brought into the store room and I still have your food to make.”

Metrius moved over to the olives and lifted one of the baskets, “We shall bring them in together.”

Alkaterina seemed to ponder his words for a second and then shrugged, “As you please.” As she bent over her brow creased, “Your clothes Metrius?”

Turning to where she looked, Metrius noticed some stains that still had not washed away. A spattering of blood had been splashed across his tunic as if red raindrops had drizzled upon him.

Lifting the basket, Metrius hurriedly hid the marks behind its wicker surface, “It is nothing.”

Pausing, Alkaterina considered Metrius’s answer and he could tell she didn’t believe him. She knew that there was more to those stains than just an injury on the farm or an attack on the sheep but she did not chase the matter. Instead she picked up her olives and walked in through to the kitchen. Watching Alkaterina’s curves sway as she walked in front of him, Metrius let out a breathe as the matter was left alone.

Alkaterina pulled down a clay pot from the shelf, placing it on the table before taking a handful of olives and dropping them into the salted water within. The fruit would be left to preserve in the solution whilst she would wash the ones that they had just brought in. She already had a large bowl next to her, filled with cold water from the well, and small olives floated in the clear liquid.

“Go to the andron, I shall bring your food to you.”

Seated at the table, Metrius shook his head, “I wish to have my meal with you.”

“As you will.”

Metrius always felt proud of his wife, the way she dedicated so much effort into the chores she would carry out. Every day he would hike the hills and mountains to check on animals and clear out any predators. The day would make his muscles ache and his skin sweat in the Mediterranean sun yet when he came she would be working hard. Every day she would send him to his private chamber just so that she could carry on her tasks.

Picking up a bowl of olives and a few slices of warm bread, she placed the food in front of Metrius, which he took gratefully. The golden smell of the loaf filled his lungs and he felt the pang of hunger before gladly placing several in his mouth and biting into the succulent flesh.

“Come sit with me.”

Filling the urns, Alkaterina shook her head, “I have work.”

Metrius could feel his brow crease as he was puzzled by his wife’s behavior. Becoming more and more focused on her work he watched as water splashed onto the table and several olives slipped to the floor, slick wetness rolling across the stonework. Her lips pursed, arms tensed, and there seemed to be a pressure building up inside her. Reaching out a hand, he moved gently to hold hers and halt her agitated movements. Could the marks on his clothing really be worrying her this much?

In a sharp motion she snatched her hand away, so fast that her elbow struck one of the baskets to send a mound of olives scattering across the ground. Cursing she rested her weight upon the table, holding back her temper with slow, heavy breaths.

“Alkaterina? Are you ok?”

Tilting her head up with a deep sadness in her eyes, his wife looked upon him in sorrow. The pause that hovered between them seemed to last an eternity but finally her shoulders sagged and she let out a sigh.

“I am fine.” She gave a quick smile as if to reinforce her answer, “I am just tired from the work. You need to rest.”

Rising to his feet, Metrius shook his head, “No, you need to rest.”

Despite the half-hearted protests, Metrius guided her toward her bedroom. He would take her and hold her and they would make love, love that would end her stressful day in a wholesome peace.

But when they finally lay naked she was already asleep, curled into a ball and resting on her side. With a smile he ran a finger across her flesh and then laid down beside her, pressing against her so that his body enveloped hers. Placing an arm around her he closed his eyes and slipped into a blissful unconsciousness.

*

Hills flowed away from him like the waves of the sea, rising and falling to spread a rich green mosaic over the land. The landscape undulated along, sinking into the rich valleys that lay beneath a perfect sky. Amongst the abundant grass, dry stalky stems waved in the air, rising like flags that are waved for nature’s army. Wild flowers scattered the grass with color as if the gods above had tossed them as a farmer sows his seeds onto the ground below. Some grew tall, bowing as Metrius rode past.

Moving with the motion of his horse, his body rocked back and forth as his mount descended another pathway down a sharp slope. Trampled by animals and travelers, its dusty soil led him further down into the valley until he reached the shimmering river that meandered its way along the foot of the hills. Gorse brushing against its legs, the animal pushed through unfazed to come to a halt at the clear ripples. It dipped its head as Metrius patted the horse’s neck lovingly.

“Have your fill girl.”

The horse lowered its head, eagerly drinking the cool water after its journey. Above, an eagle swooped through the air, circling in a graceful flight that allowed it to scan the ground below for prey. Dipping and weaving, it finally vanished from sight as it plummeted to the ground below, evidently spotting the rabbit that would be its next meal.

Sliding from his animal, Metrius knelt beside the animal and brought up a handful of the water to crash into his face. Traveling such distances on a scorching day could be a strain, heat parching the body. He was more than glad to quench his thirst and fill his stomach with the refreshing water.

Wiping the liquid from his brow, he watched the slow moving waters with slight ripples forming twisting patterns. Small circles suddenly appeared where a fish darted up to snatch prey from the surface, whilst other insects sat calmly on the water where it slowed into a small alcove in the bank. The animals seemed to be taking in the sun’s rays, legs spayed out, so that they could bask fully in the warmth.

“Not far now.” Murmured Metrius to his mount, taking his mare’s reign and climbing onto her back once more, “Let’s hope we can get Caeninenses’s help.”

Raising her head, Metrius tensed when he saw the expression on her face. She was alert, ears high, and her eyes scanned the horizon. Away in the distance was a small grove of trees displayed evergreen cork oaks, gnarled trunks twisted as if they were crippled men with bent backs. They hid part of the view, with the path onward winding alongside them as it followed the river, and now his mount was staring at them intently.

“What have you spotted girl?” He murmured, and as if to answer his question the first of the riders emerged from the trees.

There were four of them, tough sinewy men who showed scars from battle that were uncovered by their sleeveless chiltons. One held a spear loosely in his hand, tip pointing to the ground, but Metrius guessed the man would quickly bring it up to bare. That one was unkempt, a stubble covered chin and square jaw, and he looked like he could crush a skull with his hands. They splashed through a small stream that crossed the path and fed the river, hoof prints left in the muddy banks. In the waters, the giant shadow of the barbel fish swept past, hunting the smaller fish.

Eyes glancing around for a means to escape, Metrius felt his heart begin to race. It was the adrenaline of danger, the body’s chemical to awaken the senses and prepare for the fight or flight. He calmed himself, breathed deeply, making sure his body language gave nothing away. If he had to flee he could only go back the way he came; the slope to his right was too much for his horse to climb.

Pulling his spear from his back he felt comforted by the firm shaft and held it against his thighs. He would not raise it yet as there was still ample chance that this could an uneventful encounter.

“Greetings.” He raised his hand as they pulled up their mounts. One horse flicked its tail at a fly, annoyed by the insect’s harassment.

“These are Romulus’s lands.”

The words had come from a grim faced man, one dark eye studying Metrius intently. The other was sealed up and deformed, an injury from a fight that would have almost cost him his life, and it gave him a gruesome appearance.

“I am simply passing through to reach my council. I had not been told that these lands were owned.” The last words were very true, as this valley had never been claimed by either the Sabines or the Latins, yet the Latin power grew daily. It did not surprise him if Romulus, their leader, was spreading his shadow further afield. Word spread south had described his love of warfare and the outcasts and criminals who kept his company. They fought for him not out of loyalty but for the loot he provided, and his harsh discipline kept them in line, provided they had their fill. If these were some of his men then it was a problem.

“Now you know.” Rebuked the one-eyed man, a comment that caused one of the onlookers to let out a snort of laughter, “But you still walk in his lands.”

Metrius shrugged, “I have no payment but I will gladly leave as soon as I can.” He felt sweat trickle down his back and now it was not because of the heat.

“That is a nice horse.” The bigger brute, the one whose shoulders looked as if they could carry the world, looked at Metrius’s mount and then up at him, “A very nice horse indeed.”

“I want no trouble between the Sabines and Latins.” He had to think fast. These were men of Romulus, worse than brigands as they had the Latin leader’s might behind them and it could turn nasty. As a Sabine, Romulus would gladly take hold of an opportunity to go to war with his people. He glanced behind, wondering if he could out ride them back up the track but when he he caught the one-eyed leader’s expression he knew there was something the man was hiding. He was happy to inform.

“Before you decide to run we’ve had people trailing you. Over the brow there’s a couple of riders ready to cut you off.” He shrugged, “Have to be careful of strangers nowadays.” His horse stamped her foot, evidently eager to move, and he stroked her neck to comfort her.

Sure enough two riders appeared at the hill top, their horses bobbing as the mounts reached the summit and finally came to halt. The men looked down upon Metrius, daring him to move.

Too many.

“So what do you want?” It was an inevitable question, and one that Metrius had to ask. There was no where else to take this apart from to let the story unfold. In the thick grass, crickets chirped their song whilst birds sung from the thickets unaware of the death that was so close. A lacky leaned over to the leader and muttered something in his ear, something Metrius could not make out. In response, the man gave a nod.

“You’re Sabine?” He asked. The leader seemed to be regarding him thoughtfully, almost like a potential tool than a human. Suspicious, Metrius nodded. The name of his people creates fear in the hearts of many of the Italic people but if the man felt it he did not show it. Neither did his men.

“You don’t want to start a war between our people.”

The scarred warrior smiled, “I wouldn’t bet on that. Take his horse.”

Eager to obey and even more thirsty to get his hands on Metrius’s mount, the burly lacky climbed down and pulled a spear from his back and held it ready to block any blow that Metrius might strike. The man was a behemoth, like some ugly gigantes ready to lift boulders and crush skulls with his bare hands. Metrius doubted that the thug could carry out such feats but he would not be surprised if he could snap a man’s neck like a chicken’s. The others maneuvered around him, weapons rising to stop any desperate attempts to break away.

“You’re coming to see Romulus.”

*

Alkaterina was alone. She leaned on the doorway to their huge hut, far bigger than anyone else’s in the village, and their olive trees were shadows that loomed in the darkness. Their twisted forms seemed to struggle under the weight of the world, causing their trunks to bend from side to side. They looked like demons in the night. Beyond, she could just about make out the smaller huts of friends and family but once again they were hidden in the gloom. Their squat shapes with conical rooves were all that could be make out and, eventually, she turned back inside.

She and Metrius were lucky, the most well off in the village. Though only a shepherd he had brought home lambs to kill and meat to sell. Instead of throwing away his gains on alcohol or opulent luxuries he had bought olive trees to grow, more produce to sell, and his influence in the village had spread. Now he led the small group and she was at his side, a home so large it needed wooden columns to keep it upright. The floor was laid with smooth wooden tiles that felt comfortable underfoot. Whereas others slept on soil, only protected by woollen blankets, she and Metrius dreamt soundly.

She pulled the animal skin that hid their bed and began to undress, sliding the top of her chiton over her shoulder. Metrius would not be home tonight.

The crunch of stony earth outside made her freeze, her body tensing as she realised someone was there. She listened into the night, heard the silence that only darkness brings, and slowly lifted her gown back up to her shoulder.

“Hello?”

It felt like an eerie silence that hovered in the air, her heart beating with the fear that night brought. Even in the warmth of her hut she felt vulnerable and she scorned herself for letting her imagination run wild. Loneliness and darkness cause trouble when dancing hand in hand and the mischief that they brought had run images through her mind. Slipping from behind the drapes she looked out at the doorway.

“Are you back Metrius?”

There was still no answer from the night beyond and she shook her head, ready to return to bed.

The crunch again.

This time her eyes darted for something to protect herself. The blood on Metrius had not been lost on her and she was no fool. That morning, once Metrius had left to visit the council, she had sought his friends and demanded the truth. The nervous glances and bungled excuses had given her all the answers she required and immediately she knew that something was afoot. When she had learned that Ariston was missing, the rumours had spread of dangerous foes and evil that had taken him and would take others. She had ignored them to wait for a more sensible reason but now she was not so sure.

When the noise came a third time she quickly snatched up a knife from beside the fire, a small blade she had used that day to cut dried meat for Metrius’s journey. Now it was a weapon to protect her, barely anything but something nonetheless. When the shape stumbled through the doorway and cried out, it was instinct that drove her arm forward and stabbed with the blade.

A sheep. A cursed sheep. The animal let out a second bleat, startled by the sudden attack after the warmth of the hut had attracted it, and it sprang back out into the night. Alkaterina’s heart pounded, her breathing fast, and she leaned against the daub wall. Slowly she calmed herself, closing her eyes, and eventually she let out a nervous laugh at the practical joke the gods had played.

From outside, eyes watched her.

beta

Metrius of Sabine – Episode 1

February 27, 2018

For those of you who want to catch up on what’s happened, all six posts merged into one.

Enjoy.

ancient shepherd

Metrius of Sabine

He leaned back in his throne, a grand ornately carved structure that served to emphasize his position and stature. Its high back made his presence all the more looming as he looked down upon those around him and his hands sat on the broad arm rests as he judged those before him.

Imposing himself, those who looked at him were immediately struck with awe. This was the way it had always been and this was the way it always should be. Muscular in form, chest oiled so that it gleamed in the sun’s light, his torso gave the impression that he was young and fit. Despite this, there was a timeless age in his face. A flowing beard was now painted grey and his face had creases that showed his time on Earth. For those who were strong or foolish enough to look into his face, they were drawn into cold eyes that showed endless wisdom. They seemed to suck everything from the soul so that nothing could be hidden and this would break most humans.

This was no human before him. Her beauty was beyond any that a human could be born with, captivating to look at and hypnotic in motion. Her hair was long and dark, flowing in a cascade over bare shoulders and perfectly tanned skin. Any man or woman would crave to even touch that flesh, caress her faultlessness. Naked to the waste, her slight breasts seemed only to complete the magic that seemed to form this absorbing figure.

In her arms she cradled a soft white dove, brushing her hand over the soft feathers to make it still. It seemed at ease in her gently grasp, pleasured by the feel of her fingers constant petting. Her eyes studied the bird, at peace with the harmony that was emitted between the two, and then she looked up at the throne.

“Father, there is change coming.”

Zeus stared down at Aphrodite, absorbing the words that she spoke. They had conversed for several hours now and he had been waiting for the moment she would approach the matter. She was young and naïve, new to the world.

“There is always change.” His words were cold, without emotion.

She looked up at him, perhaps a flare of annoyance in her juvenile glare, and then it sank away into the loving gaze that she always bore. Pacing softly along the paved floor, her bare feet padded across its surface whilst the cloth draped around her waist flowed across the ground behind her.

“We shall reform.”

Zeus nodded, “We always reform. It is the way the world works.”

A frown creased her brow, such a strange look on the angelic grace that she was. Sometimes he wondered how his child could be so completely flawless, such was the extent of her beauty, but then she represented everything of adoration and beauty to those who gave birth to them. It only showed how much love there was in the world below. He followed his daughter’s path, waiting for the argument that she would undoubtedly put before him.

“Yet we meddle in other ways? We give to the blessed and punish those who deserve but we must be moulded like some potter’s clay?” She sighed, frustrated at the matter.

“A potter can create much beauty from clay.” Zeus stated, as if preaching to a child. Sometimes he still thought of her as such even though she had long since reached her womanhood.

She shook her head, “It should be different.”

As she came before him, Zeus leaned forward and gently touched her on the shoulder. His grip was surprisingly soothing and soft, immediately instilling a peace upon his daughter. Leaning her head to one side, she brushed her cheek against his rough fingers and closed her eyes.

“We are here to provide guidance and they are there to create our existence. Without us they would be lost and without them we would not be.”

For a moment she sat there, eyes closed, feeling the love from her father. Then, just as an alerted fox is awakened by its instincts, her eyes snapped open,“He is coming.”

Immediately Zeus withdrew his hand and he leaned back into the throne. His lips pursed and Aphrodite drew away, knowing she may have pushed this matter too far. He knew who his daughter spoke of and such thoughts made a fire build up within as if to spew forth from within his gut. The burning was like a volcano rumbling and he fought to hold this rage back.

“It will be a test.”

Relieved that these were her father’s only words, Aphrodite felt herself relax. Only then did she realize how tense her father’s anger had made her. She sank back into the peace that always cocooned her and once again began stroking the white bird. Bowing her head she looked at the ground.

“I’m sorry if I offended you, father.”

A strong hand lifted her gently by the chin and she looked up into the love that graced her from the King of the Gods.

“You could never offend me.”

*

The valley stretched away before Metrius, mountains reaching up into the sky as if lifting their heads to the gods themselves. White capped, it seemed as if he could feel the cold as an entity itself, a chill that ran through the veins to make the bones shiver. Their peaks were blanketed by thick snow making them an empty canvas for the god’s paints.

A flood of greens shaded the descent into the nooks and crannies of the landscape; forests that stretched out like an endless army. Nature would always envelop these beautiful lands, making its presence known in the leaves and branches that intertwined to form its multitude. Among those trees the animals hid; rabbits that darted into its depths when danger flickered forth; delicately painted deer that nibbled the grass among the roots; and wolves that hunted in pack, sleek footed and cunning.

It was because of those wolves that Metrius now stood here so high up, a sling bag held by a strap over his shoulder and staff held in his other hand. It was cold up here, on the fields above the village, but he never complained. The sight was so awesome that every day was breathtaking, and tomorrow he would gaze upon it once again.

Seating himself upon a large boulder, he placed the staff down on the ground to his side. Feeling the fresh air fill his lungs, he drew the leaven bread from his bag and broke the soft meal to keep some for later. Crumbs dropped to the soil around him, soil that his animals had fed upon many times before, and he wondered how many times he would be here again. Before him sheep grazed on the dry grass, oblivious to the dangers around them that Metrius would protect them from.

The sound of horse hooves made Metrius jump to his feet, the noise causing alarm as he rarely heard others so high up. His hand slipped to a sling that he carried by his side, but before it was within his grasp the horseman rounded the corner and upon recognition he relaxed his stance.

Riding the horse was a man named Theocydes, a friend who worked the wool these animals would give. There was a look of panic about him, and his slight form seemed overly tense. More worrying still was the spear that was strapped closely to his back. Clinging tightly to his ride, he tugged the reign to get the animal to stop as the others behind him followed suit.

“Metrius! Thank god!” There was much relief in his voice and it was evident he had been looking for the shepherd. Metrius looked up at the others, all people from the village, and could see the grim expressions in dark faces. Something was seriously amiss.

“Theocydes, what brings you here?”

Looking down from his mount the weaver bit his lip in anxiety, clenching the reign tightly. He fidgeted in his seat, not wanting to answer the question, but the obvious agitation in Metrius’ face finally stopped him from evading the answer.

“It is your best friend, Metrius, he has been taken.”

Immediately Metrius could feel his heart begin to race, his chest tighten and breathing come more forced.

“What do you mean? Taken by who?”

The uneasy glances that were passed between the men made him all the more uneasy.

“Kephalos.”

*

A blow crashed into Ariston’s belly, thrusting upward to make him bring up the content of his stomach. The wretched vomit was violently spewed down his chest as his arms were pinned behind his back by one of Kephalos’s men. There was no time to recover from the punch as a second then third smashed into his ribs, pain lancing through him as something cracked.

The thugs around him laughed and jeered at his cries, mocking Ariston’s misery.

“Do you think you will bed her when your face is swollen like a pig’s?”

As if to emphasize the question, a blow smashed into the side of his face, splitting the skin above his eye. Sticky blood dripped down into his socket, half blinding him from the view of his captors. In some ways it was a mercy, as watching each of the outlaws who were to take their turn beating him had only made him soil himself as he cried out for mercy.

“Or maybe we should castrate you?”

This time the knee caught him below, ramming into his groin so hard that he could feel nothing but the pain this blow had brought. His world was becoming one of constant agony, his arms wrenched back further and further as they threatened to exit their sockets.

“Stop that!” This shriek was from a young woman across the clearing, a beautiful freckled girl whose visage had put Ariston in this hell. He had fallen in love the moment he saw her, wanted to be with such a beautiful woman that he knew he could never have her, yet she had befriended him. They had conversed and laughed for hours, not once did he make a move, and when she had finally brought his lips to hers the kiss had made his head spin.

Then he had discovered she was the girl of one of Kephalos’s outlaws.

Through blurred vision, Ariston watched as his attacker stalked over to his love. The world seemed slanted to one side as the outlaw grabbed her roughly by the arm and shook her, “Bite your tongue bitch or I’ll punish you too. You shall see what happens to those who look to take my woman.”

“I am not your woman!”

The back of his hand struck her across her face, the smack stinging Ariston as much as it stung her. In a pathetic attempt, Ariston tried to frantically shake away the one who held him but it was only answered by more laughter at his fruitless attempt. Cursing and screaming, Ariston roared out in rage before a rock crashed into his jaw with a sickening crunch. Immediately it felt as if someone was repeatedly kicking the side of his face, constantly pounding his head, but he was unable to even cry out. They had broken his jaw.

“You are mine.” The man hissed, marching across to where Ariston barely stood, held up by the man behind him. Blood and saliva dribbled from his open mouth. Snatching the rock from whoever had struck his jaw, the abductor drew his arm back.

Behind the man, Ariston saw the horseman burst through the trees, Metrius thrusting his spear forward and into the back of one of his captors. Relief flooded through him.

Then there was a burst of pain as the rock struck his forehead and all went black.

*

Metrius’ spear plunged into the back of the first, the point thrust so deep that is skewered the outlaw like a spit roast rabbit. The man’s shriek came forth, a young child’s cry in a nightmarish sleep. The sight of the rock striking his friend’s head drew a bitter snarl from Metrius’ lips, filling him with wrath, and his spear thrust in again and again.

The other thugs, dispersed throughout the clearing, fumbled for their swords and weapons but already Theocydes and his men were riding amongst them. The stale smell of horse sweat filled the air, tinged with the metallic taste of blood, as the criminals were rode down. Animals snorted and whinnied, eyes filled with terror as some of the killers tried to strike back, but Metrius and his men were good riders and they would not deny themselves their vengeance.

“Metrius! That one’s getting away!”

Twisting the reign of his horse, Metrius caught a glimpse of the man who had darted into the undergrowth, fleeing in a maddened sprint to save himself from sharing the fate of the others.

“After him!” The reply was snapped, his spear an extension of his arm that pointed after the escaping fugitive. Riders crashed into the tree line to hunt their prey down.

Sliding from his mount, Metrius stared across the clearing at the young girl who now sat sobbing, trying to hold Ariston’s still body to her even though he was still tied to the tree. The blood had stained her himation, the red soaking into the woolen cloth. Her arms clung tightly to his head that tilted forward, nodding off in some slumber that he would never wake from. That Metrius was sure of.

As he approached, the view of Ariston’s body and face made him wince, such a mess had been made of him. Stripped naked, his torso was purple and swollen in so many places, as if goblets of dye had been splattered across his stomach and chest. His fingers on one hand were at mangled improper angles, the knuckles snapped so that they looked more like that of a cripple than the fine carpenter he had been. It had been a lesson to show he would never be a craftsman again.

And his face…there very nearly was none. Both eyes were sunken into a swollen cheeks that puffed up to swallow the left and partially hide the right. Coagulated blood hang from one side as if daring gravity to release it to the ground below, but instead it created a sticky glue that would have made those last images indistinct and distorted. It would have not hid the pain, pain created from smashed teeth, the broken nose, and a split, distended scalp that ended his life.

Dropping to his knee, Metrius lowered his head and fought the tears.

“I…was…not…his.” The sobbed of the woman, quiet words were broken by intakes of breathe as Metrius slipped his arm around the girl. She leaned her head against his shoulder, dark locks flowing over his bare arm

“Not his?” Asked Metrius curiously, wishing to make some sense of what had happened.

Lifting a shaking hand slowly, she pointed across to where a man lay, cough violently so that spatters of red fluid frothed from his lips in a sadistic fountain.

“I bedded him several weeks ago, one of Kephalos’s lackeys. When he returned to my village I had begun courting Ariston and that he could not have.”

Recollection of Ariston telling Metrius about a new girl came to him, but he had never realized it was this woman before him. She was lighter than most, still with the dark Mediterranean hair and eyes, but a beautiful curve to her jaw and skin unblemished and flawless. He could easily see why Ariston had been so in love with her.

Eyes narrowing, Metrius looked across to where Ariston’s killer lay and felt an anger stirring in his gut. No, this was not an anger but a fury that was beginning to consume everything within him. Reaching for the blood smeared rock that had been the murder weapon, he lifted the slick covered stone and turned it in his palm, coating his hand in the sticky fluid.

Surrendering himself to the rage, he stalked across to where the killer lay. It was evident that the man had little or no time left, blood dripping from his mouth and shoulders shuddering. Even so, there was enough life in him to see Metrius standing above him, shadow falling across him, the stance of a demon possessed. The rock was brought down upon his head.

Again, again and again.

“Metrius! Metrius!”

The voice seemed to be echoing in the distance, somewhere far away, and then he was there kneeling on the man’s chest, staring into the face that was now just a mashed pulp. He felt himself gag at the sight, fought to control his reflexes, and then saw the gore that now coated his arms from wrist to elbow.

Tossing the stone aside, he rose to his feet, the others staring at him in shock. They watched, grim and dark, as he moved back to his horse, wiping the blood from his arms in the black fur. The horse’s side glistened with sweat and now it was marked with streaks of red.

“Kephalos will want his revenge.”

There were murmurs of agreement, sounds of men who were watching dark clouds forming on the horizon.

“He will not know. They are all dead.” Metrius was about to mount his horse when he saw the men looking down at the ground like children scolded. Knowing the inevitable reply, he asked the question nonetheless.

“You caught the man who fled?”

One shrugged, “He had vanished. We searched but he has fled like a fox.”

“And he should have been hunted down like one!” Snapped Metrius. Closing his eyes he tried to figure out what needed to be done. Kephalos would come with more than a small band of men, men would kill them and even take out vengeance on the village. Rubbing his forehead the answer came to him.

“I shall travel to the council. They have sought out Kephalos’s criminals for some time and now they have the chance. When they attack out village a larger force will be waiting.”

An older nodded in agreement, evidently taken with the idea, “If you travel in these darkening hours the outlaws shall have you on the road. Travel tomorrow, it will take Kephalos at least three days to reach us.”

The man watched Metrius carefully, hoping the younger Sabine would listen to the wisdom.

“Tomorrow.” Agreed Metrius, mounting his horse, “Tomorrow I shall fetch the council’s men and then Kephalos will be removed from these lands.”