Burning Shadows PART I Chapter 1


Text of a letter from Demetrios Maius, merchant of the Porolis- sensis region of the old Province of Dacia, to Gnaccus Tortulla, Praetor Custodis of Viminacium in the Province of Moesia, written in Latin vulgate with fixed ink on parchment and carried by Es- tephanos Stobi, private courier for Dom Feranescus Rakoczy Sanctu-Germainios, regional guardian of Apulum Inferior, in the company of Maius' fleeing family members; delivered in ten days.

Ave, Praetor Custodis Gnaccus Tortulla: may God and the old gods hold you in their favor. On your recommendation, we have appealed to the Goths who now rule in the southeastern quarter of the old Dacian region, seeking protection for those of us who are Romans still living here, from the increasing ferocity of the Huns; the small raiding parties of three decades past are still growing in numbers, and increasingly they are forming more extensive fighting companies. More than continuing their search for grazing lands, they are determined to hold the land they have over-run as their conquest rather than passing on to broader pastures as they have done before, unless this is a ploy to drive the last of the Roman settlements away from these mountains so that they will only have to fight the Gepidae and Goths. We have lost the good-will of the region, for it's said that the Huns follow the old roads to settlements and towns, as merchant-travelers do, and these are all Roman.

If you will not provide us some relief from these Huns, and maintain some level of military presence around us, we must flee or die. Already one in five of our people is gone, and those numbers are steadily increasing as the Huns become a stronger force. The Gepidae are occupied with protecting their own clans, drawing in to their territories, setting up patrols and guards, and are in no position to offer us any protection. There are more than thirty merchants in this region, and all of us have the same risks, so it will be wise if we bring our causes together and through bargaining as a group, ensure our protection and the preservation of our stock-in-trade. We may also enlist other Romans remaining in this region in building up fortresses and strengthening towns.

Roma is far away, to be sure, and Constantinople's Generals are unwilling to risk their fighting men by taking action against the Huns while they have employed so many companies of Huns to reinforce their border garrisons. We must find support through other means than Byzantine fighting men, or we will be killed and our lands overrun by Huns, who will strike westward and south from this place, farther into Christian lands. We are not a garrison-town but a trading center, and we are not in any position to become a regional fortress, for we have lost so much of the goods in which we trade that we cannot cover all the costs of constructing a proper stockade for all Porolissum, at least not as quickly as we are likely to need it. Surely there are devout men in Moesia who would be willing to fight for their salvation, and would come north to join with us in our battles. I beseech you to tell your soldiers of our plight and to appeal to them to help us. I have carts and mules I can provide for those who wish to help us. You have only to send word and I will dispatch muleteers to bring fighting men to us. If the men serve well, at the end of our fight they may keep their mules if they had them from me.

It has been a hard year so far; half our crops have been ruined by marauding Huns, and what has not been trampled or burned has been seized; when the harvest is made, we will have very little to lay in against the hardships of winter, and what little we do bring in we have small hope of keeping. Our herds and flocks have also been raided. More than a third of my stores have been looted, and most of the merchants here have suffered a similar fate. The tiered mills have been burned and the grain within them taken. Shepherds and goatherds have been killed in their summer grazing up the mountains, their animals confiscated by the Huns; the few remaining flocks have been moved to the enclosed fields of two local monasteries in exchange for twenty percent of the numbers of the animals to feed the monks.

As we are about to enter the month of Julius, we will have to look to our defenses, and attend to them before autumn arrives. Once the weather turns, our prospects for saving all of us from our enemies will be diminished to a dangerous degree. Already nine of our local merchants have announced their intention to shift their center of operations westward. If you will not provide those of us who seek to remain here some soldiers, we will find ourselves more in danger than we are now, with no prospect of relief. If you cannot spare men, then I implore you to send us weapons at least, or prepare to open your gates to your Roman brothers, for we will have to abandon our Porolissensis towns, either for Viminacium or the old fortress near Apulum Inferior, assuming we can restore its walls in time, or even to the monastery in the high valley between Ulpia Traiana and Apulum Inferior where we will have to retreat when the Huns return if no other fortification is made available to us. I pray you will grant us aid in this desperate time, for without some help we are all dead.

A Roman widow whose horse-farm to the south of the town has guaranteed us fifty horses for our defenders when they arrive. She has also provided silver and gold to help us pay for the strengthening of our walls, and arranged to move many barrels of food to wherever we Romans are to winter this year. This generous woman is the noble widow Atta Olivia Clemens, a blood relative of the foreigner Feranescus Rakoczy Sanctu-Germainios, serving as the regional guardian for Apulum Inferior, and he has pledged to see that her wishes are carried out. After this summer, Bondama Clemens will remain at Lux Perpetua Chapel, inside the northern gate of the monastery, where women stay. When she leaves the protection there, she will carry letters for us.

The monastery of Sanctu-Eustachios the Hermit, nearer the old Roman garrison-town of Ulpia Traiana than Apulum Inferior, may provide us shelter through the winter if we receive no help from other Romans, but it is unlikely that the monks would allow us to stay on past the thaw if our presence would serve to attract more Huns without also gathering more Roman soldiers to protect us from Attila's forces. The monks will fight to defend the monastery and their faith, but as I have said already, they are unlikely to do anything more than that if the barbarians follow us to their door. Yet we have an obligation to see that the monks are spared the risk of death that must be the destiny of soldiers. In this, Priam Corydon agrees, and as head of the monastery, his cooperation is essential to our purpose.

To secure the protection of more than Christ, I will leave a sacrifice for Mithras, and one for the old Greek Ares, whose temple is on the eastern side of the city. We have two churches here in Porolissum, and three private chapels. This is not so minor a place that everyone beyond Roma has no reason to pay attention to our plight, for it is towns like this one that will hold back the Huns if they are given aid now. The Church sends its priests here, and allows monks to man their monasteries, so it is not so remote that all the Christian world has no cause to be concerned for us. Seharic the Goth has allowed the region to support Christians, so long as the men will defend their lands, to which the Bishops of Porolissensis have consented. The priest who is assigned to our garrison will say his Masses for our fighting men - and tup our wives for us, if the rumors are right. There will be a home for us beyond the setting sun, as is always the end of men who fight.

There has been notice sent to us from Thracia that reports on another series of fearsome raids and the information that the Huns are stealing horses and food. Virginius Brolanor, a merchant from Odessus who had just left Serdica when the attack began, claims he would not be surprised to see more raids in winter than the Huns had ever made before. His house in Odessus was burned to the ground, and most of his family has vanished. Brolanor has declared that he will walk every road in the old Empire if it means he will have his family back. His father-in-law has promised Brolanor a new house so long as Brolanor brings back one of his grandsons; he has sworn an oath here that whether he lives to see that goodly day or not, the sum for the house will be settled in the Church of the Evangeloi, to be held against the restoration of Brolanors family. We are encouraging those with land or gold to put them in trust to the Christian Church so that there will be a chance to salvage some of the valuables and treasures that supported our way of life before the Huns arrived.

This is being carried by seventeen members of my family: my two younger brothers and their wives, six children of theirs, four children of mine, my widowed sister, my wife, and my half-brother, whose mother died last winter; he is very young. With them are such servants as are required for this journey. I ask you to receive them well. Furthermore, I hope that you will allocate housing for them, and see that they make a place for themselves in Viminacium, unless the region becomes over-run, in which case, pray send my family south to Narona or Aquileia. The Church has funds in trust for such travels.

I will soon depart for Illyricum and Macedonia, and plan to stop and visit with you in about a year. Whatever remarkable pieces I have found I will offer you at minimal profit for me, to show my appreciation for the kindness my family has enjoyed, thanks to you. In such uncertain times as these, it is a great relief to know that the old standards of Roma can still be found in such a man as you.

Demetrios Maius

merchant of Dacia

region of Porolissensis town of Porolissum

four days after the Summer Solstice in the 438th year of the Christ


"Why should I leave if you refuse to?" Atta Olivia Clemens stood with her arms folded as she faced Feranescus Rakoczy Sanctu-Germainios across her withdrawing room, her features set with determination, her hazel eyes snapping; she knew she was being unreasonable, but she also did not care: she would not admit to fear or misgivings, not even to her oldest, most trusted friend. "This place is as much my home as it is yours."

"We might say that of a dozen towns," he remarked. "You have a good number of holdings where you may go."

"You know what I mean," she said in an uncompromising tone. "But look out there. Summer is glorious here, in spite of everything. If I can't be on my native earth, this is a very pleasant second choice - the more so for you." The Latin they spoke had a heavy admixture of Greek, and a sprinkling of words borrowed from the local Germanic tribes, as well as a little Dacian.

He gave a single, sad laugh. "To reach my native earth, you must travel east along the Danuvius toward the bend in the mountains and then turn north at Durostorum Minor: it is a good deal closer than Roma, but it is still distant."

"How literal you are," she said, tweaking his sleeve.

"You are not safe here, Olivia," he said somberly.

"Probably not," she conceded. "But I still think it would be best to remain." She brushed her fingers together as if to rid them of dust; she was staring directly at him, daring him to contradict her. "Think, Sanctu-Germainios, what would be the point of leaving Porolissum? The roads are dangerous and we would not be welcome in many Roman towns, not with so many people trying to find protection."

"The point would be that you would not have to fight the Huns," he said bluntly. "I cannot believe that you would want to engage them in battle, not with so much to lose to them."

"You needn't remind me of my risks, but leaving Porolissum is no certainty that I won't have to fight the Huns," she said, and then, in an attempt to shift the subject, she looked at his silver-and-black paragaudion and his diamond-patterned Persian femoralia of the same colors. "Very handsome. Elegant without gaudiness, and not so elaborate that everyone must point you out. Gravitas, beyond question. Has anyone tried to rob you of the silver?"

He smiled and reached out to brush her cheek with his hand. "You will be safer in Aquileia, Olivia. Ask Niklos, if you doubt me; he still has ties in Thracia and Moesia, and he knows where the Huns are active, and what they have done," said Sanctu-Germainios, annoying her by refusing to fight with her. "Better to leave now, in accordance with your own plans; that way you won't be cast adrift in a crumbling world. Since you have another horse-farm on the west side of Aquileia where you can continue as you do here, with the advantage of being in Roman-Gothic territory, and therefore protected." She gave him a wide, insincere smile. "You make it sound as if this move is a step up in every way."

"It is better than trying to reinforce your fences with stones high enough to keep the Huns out - assuming you have time enough and masons to build the walls before winter."

"So you think I may have to lose my estate if I remain here; it is much more certain that it will be lost to me if I leave, isn't it?" she challenged him. "You don't believe there will be enough reinforcements provided for these towns and fortresses to stop the attacks. Why are you so convinced of it?"

He still would not be lured into open argument. "This is more than a simple matter of fighting off a band of marauders. Where your land here is concerned, you may have to make swift arrangements to keep your herds from being decimated by neighbors as well as Huns; the Huns are stealing more horses, and yours will be much sought-after by them. If it becomes necessary to leave hurriedly from Aquileia, you can take to the sea. The Huns are not known to be sailors." He made a minimal bow and then smoothed out the small tablion on the front of his paragaudion.

"I don't like the sea any more than you do," she said brusquely. "Running water and tides." She shuddered to make her point.

"Do you prefer the Lux Perpetua Chapel and monks around you day and night?" He asked it lightly enough; he knew she found the Christians stultifying and that it was the only part of the local monastery where women were allowed to shelter.

"Certainly not - I want to stay here, in my house, on my land. I like Porolissum. I don't mind the Gepidae, or the Goths, nor do they mind me." She started to walk away from him, then relented and came back to his side. "If I could remain here without danger..." He did not quite smile even though he felt relieved. "But for the sake of your household, you will go to Aquileia, out of harm's way. Please do it, Olivia. Your servants will appreciate your concern on their behalf. They have no wish to stay here to be taken as slaves or killed by the Huns, and who can blame them. You have the option of returning to Roma, whether the Goths are there or not. Since you are a Roman, you cannot be denied the right to return to Sine Pari."

"How am I to travel with so many? Won't that make us all the more vulnerable to attack by robbers, if not Huns?" It was a genuine concern, for she had lost a fair amount of money to robbers in the last six months, and the need to carry large sums on the road made her uneasy.

He took a pouch of coins from his belt, extending it to her. "Something more that may make your present circumstances less straitened: if you want to pay your household's wages before you leave, you may return me the sum when you like, or use it for lodging and food. I would not like to have you become a mendicant, not with so many in your care. Use as much as you need and when you have harvests and herds, then requite what I tender." He knew her well enough to know she would only agree to use his money if he were willing to have her return the sum.

Olivia accepted the pouch, saying as she did, "Thank you. This will be most useful. I have to admit that I'm much obliged to you for your kindness. It would be awkward, after my courier was taken by the Huns and my semi-annual payments from Lago Comus along with him, to have to compensate the entire household as well as the drayers and muleteers from my strongbox, thin of gold as it is. This will make my situation a bit easier, and provide a modicum of sustentation during our travels." She sighed in exasperation. "But since you continue to insist that I leave, I suppose it's fitting that you help me arrange it."

"Yes, it is," he agreed, knowing that her overbearing manner hid her increasing anxiety; his blue-black eyes were shining with relief.

"I imagine that Niklos worries almost as much as you do on my behalf. It's kind of you to be concerned for me, even though you insist on my departing." She said this as if by rote while she fussed with the maniakis where it fanned out over her shoulders. "It's the very devil being a widow this last century. No entertainments. No bright clothes. No jewels beyond pearl mourning-rings, and moonstones for earrings. And a dark ricinium over my hair, so that I will not be thought a loose woman." She turned her palms up in a show of helplessness. "How I long for red and ruby and amethyst and luminous greens, or brilliant yellow and gold. But no, being a widow, I must perpetually mourn; the Bishops require it. That I should mourn for Justus!" She made an emphatic gesture at the mention of her depraved husband, executed during the reign of Vespasianus. That his name could still distress her after nearly four hundred years! - she turned toward the upholstered bench under the window, thinking as she did that her long, loose-sleeved tunica was much the same color as the clouding sky beyond the opening. Over the tunica she had wrapped a trabea of dull-blue Antioch silk, darker than the maniakis, and secured it with a pearl- encrusted pin. "We'll have thunder and lightning before day's end."

"Very likely," he said, and waited for her to go on, letting her persuade herself.

She pursed her lips in thought. "How am I to watch after my estates if the Bishops keep limiting what I am allowed to do? I am mandated, as the owner of the land, to ensure it is in good heart, but that means going against the Bishops' strictures, inspecting the herds and the flocks and the fields, but that means being seen about my land without the escort the Bishops compel widows to have. It is most inconvenient to have to accommodate the demands of the Church. You may be guardian of this region, but you are also a successful merchant, and the Bishops do not impose upon you as they do me."

"I would be as disheartened as you are, were I in your position," he said with genuine sympathy.

"I'm not disheartened, I'm furious," she said calmly. "The Bishops are martinets, to a man."

"That they are," said Sanctu-Germainios, who had spent much of the previous day trying to persuade the Bishops of Porolissum to allow the farmers of the region to be permitted to use some of the more remote monasteries as look-out posts; two of the Bishops refused absolutely, for it would turn a religious building into a military one.

"None of them will be party to lessening the restraints they impose on women," she said, unable to keep the disgust out of her tone.

"Surely you can appeal to the local officials to modify your constraints," he said, but found himself doubting that Olivia would be made an exception to the rules the Bishops had instituted. "If you were in Apulum Inferior, I would lift all your restrictions, since you are a land-owner, but my authority does not extend to Porolissum."

"And our Praetor here is a Bishop as well as our district administrator. It's useless to appeal to him." Her stern gaze softened and she said conciliatingly, "I know, my oldest, dearest friend. I am expecting trouble and that makes me contentious. I have to arrange to do what I can to see my horse-farm remains intact, whether I am here or not. Those of us here in Porolissensis who intend to preserve our lands, one way or - "

"Most of the people here are Gepidae, not Roman," Sanctu-Germainios reminded her. "They are dependable enough in their way, but they will be preferential to kin."

"That is the way of the Goths, as well," she said dismissingly. "All barbarians are like that."

"For no Roman ever showed preferment for his clan," Sanctu-Germainios said, making no excuse for his sardonic tone.

"Of course we did, and do. But we value the Empire as much as we value our families. Or we did."

Sanctu-Germainios smiled enough to show he was not deceived. "You learned your conduct in another time."

"So did you," she said back to him; she glanced toward the door. "Niklos," she called, "will you ask the household to meet with me in an hour?"

A tall, athletically lean, gloriously handsome man in a dark- orange Persian kandys, femoralia of deep-brown knit goat-hair, and wooden-soled peri, who appeared to be about twenty-five, came and stood in the door; a slight glint of amusement in his eyes made it clear that he had been listening to their wrangling. "Where would you want us to gather?"

"In the old courtyard. It won't rain for a while yet; we might as well enjoy the afternoon while we make our arrangements." She accepted his salute, watching him stride off to alert the household. "You were good to provide me a bondsman, since you and I cannot remain together. He has come to be more worthwhile than my family: with all the new limitations put upon women, I have needed him very much."

"I am pleased you have him, then."

She paused, then continued, "I can't think how I managed without him for so long. But then, even a century ago, I had fewer hindrances to deal with."

Sanctu-Germainios regarded her levelly. "It is a great misfortune that you have to deal with so many ..." He faltered, going on in a slightly more wry tone, "With such depredations as have been imposed on you. It is unjust."

"And it will lead to worse: I know it will."

He stood beside her, not quite touching her. "I hope you prove wrong," he said, although he seconded her fears.

"So do I," she murmured. Then she stretched a little. "So. I concede you are right: it is probably imprudent for me to stay here with the Huns becoming so very aggressive. I will have to arrange for my departure." She moved a little distance away from him. "Since you are the instigator of my coming journey, increase your usefulness by offering your suggestions for my travels."

Sanctu-Germainios had been expecting something of this sort, and so he said, "How much of your household are you planning to take with you, and how many will you release?"

"I don't know; there are forty-two of them, not counting the grooms, the shepherds, and swineherds. A handful of servants come from the town and will remain here, but for those in the household itself - " she said, and pondered again. "It depends on what they want. I imagine at least four of them will want to remain here with their families." She paused, thinking. "Unless they want their families to leave here with the household, which would increase the numbers coming with me."

"Is that a possibility, do you think."

"It could be." She began to pace the room, studying the murals of the reign of Marcus Aurelius on the walls as if she had never looked at them before. "I'll have to wait until I know what the household wants before I make actual plans."

"It seems a worthwhile idea."

"You're indulging me," she accused.

"I am encouraging you to talk," he said.

She shook her head slowly twice. "What am I going to do with you?" she asked him without looking at him.

"You are going to keep in mind that it would pain me beyond all reckoning to lose you to the True Death because you wanted to prove a point. When you became one of my blood, the Blood Bond ensured that you will always have my - my piety, in the old Roman sense of enduring, affectionate dedication; I will devote myself to you as I do to any who love me knowingly, as you did when you were still alive." He laid his hand on her shoulder. "I know you have courage. I know you are purposeful. You need not take on the Huns to convince me of either."

"Sanctu-Germainios," she responded in a uncertain voice, shaking her head in puzzlement. "I can't think what I'm supposed to say to you."

"Anything you like," he told her, and kissed her forehead. "So long as you do what you can to stay out of immediate danger."

"I could say the same to you." She reached out and took his hand in both of hers. "I sometimes find it inconvenient that your protection and devotion is all that we share now. Not that I am not pleased and nourished by the lovers I have had of late, but they were not like you."

"Now that you and I are of the same blood, it is all we are able to share, or need I remind you about what we seek from our lovers?" He saw her disappointment, and recalled how keenly he had felt it himself, a thousand years ago.

"I would be willing to hear you out on anything but that," she said, reverting to her teasing manner. "You are going to tell me what you think of our present circumstances, in any case, aren't you?"

"Unless you forbid it." He gave her a quick smile. "Indulge me, Olivia. I might have some useful kernels among all the chaff."

She studied his face for a long moment. "Very well, then," she said, a genial note in her voice and a mordant arch to her eyebrow as modifier. "I'll be glad of the benefit of your long experience."

"Most gracious," he murmured, and indicated the two couches and three chairs at the east end of the room. "Shall we be comfortable?"

"If you would like," she said, and chose the more elaborate couch for herself. "Are you going to be here tomorrow?"

"Probably only in the morning. I must return to Apulum Inferior shortly. I have a meeting of landholders scheduled in four days." He chose the Byzantine-style chair, and adjusted the cushions before he sat. "Do you intend to come through Apulum Inferior on your way south?"

"I haven't decided," she told him. "It depends on where the bridges are still open. I've been told that it's best to cross at Viminacium. From there, it's straight west to Aquileia."

"Or you can bribe the Gepidae and cross the Danuvius to Aquincum and Pannonia Inferior," he suggested, watching her attentively. "From Aquincum, the road goes to Poetovio, Emona, and Aquileia. There are fortresses along the way which would provide you protection. You would be in Roman-Gothic territory sooner by that route."

"More Gothic than Roman, these days," she said, not excusing her irritation at his suggestion. "The garrisons are manned by barbarians, and they aren't completely reliable. They do not honor my titles to the lands I've purchased in those old provinces, saying that when the Legions left, the deeds were no longer legitimate, and no claim could be made based on them."

"A problem not limited to the Romans and barbarians," he observed, thinking of the many, many holdings he had lost over the centuries to the claims of conquerors. "The Goths are pressing to claim all the Italian Peninsula."

"And I fear they will succeed." She looked toward the window. "The Gepidae are restoring some of Legionaries' Dacian forts," Sanctu-Germainios observed. "In time that will help protect these mountains."

"If the Gepidae do not go to be mercenaries for the Byzantines, or hire out as road-guards for the Goths," said Olivia in a welling of world-weariness.

"Alaric prefers Goths in his fortresses," said Sanctu-Germainios.

"Not like the Byzantines, with their Hun-soldiers on the borders."

"The Byzantines do not want to send their hired soldiers so far from Constantinople as these high plains; I doubt they would send Hun-companies while the raids continue to worsen."

"So they won't send any companies of soldiers to help us," said Olivia, her voice flat with certainty.

"The Emperor in Constantinople might be persuaded to engage mercenaries from Roman territory to protect the region; a thousand mercenaries could be here by the end of autumn if they were to be dispatched now."

Olivia shook her head slowly. "The roads aren't better-maintained in much of Moesia than they here. I would expect some disrepair in this region, since the Romans have lost most of it, but Moesia is another matter, and in the last thirty years, you know as well as I that the roads have been neglected. Neither Roma nor Byzantium is prepared to maintain the roads in this portion of the old Empire, especially here, where the Gepidae rule, for fear the other portion of the Empire would use them to their advantage. So we languish between them, disputed by both and claimed by neither, except in regard to taxes." She glared at Sanctu-Germainios. "I am being candid with you, not to offend you, but to - "

"But to express your own misgivings and perturbation," he said levelly, meeting her gaze with his own. "I do understand, and I share many of your apprehensions. The reason I suggested leaving westward rather than south is that it will move you out of this disputed expanse of former provinces more quickly, and bring you into provinces that retain their links to Roma."

"Oh." She stared at the window again. "I'll have the shutters put up shortly, to keep the rain out."

"An excellent notion." He studied her, and when he spoke again, it was in the Latin of her youth. "It may be some time before you reach the point where you can reclaim all you have lost, and while I think it most advisable that you try to keep as much of what is yours as you can, I would hope that you do not make yourself an object of scrutiny. Your true nature is more dangerous to you than Hunnic raiders are, for the Church would condemn you for it. If you are revealed for what you are, that could prove troublesome whether the fighting worsens or not."

"I gather you think it will - get worse, that is." She spoke Imperial Latin with a kind of nostalgia that troubled her, but not enough to use the modern version of the tongue.

"I fear the circumstances will encourage more deterioration," he said a bit distantly. "I must shortly decide how to guard the Romans of Apulum Inferior not only from Huns, but from Gepidae."

"Then you suppose that the Gepidae might turn on the Roman settlements?"

"If we are left to fight these Huns alone, yes, I do. I have seen such things happen before."

"There isn't reason enough for the Romans or the Byzantines to come to our assistance as matters now stand; less so if the Gepidae want to be rid of us," she said. "That much is plain, and I think you're right in your vexations. But if circumstances should change, what then?"

"Change in what way?" he asked, aware that this matter could prove crucial if the changes were abrupt.

"If we could provide soldiers to defend the places we live, then the Gepidae may decide that we are worthy allies."

"Do you have knowledge of any companies of soldiers you would be willing to hire for such a purpose?"

Olivia shook her head, ordering her rushing thoughts and making herself speak more slowly than she wanted to. "But there is a Legionaries' camp near Apulum, not more than two leagues from Apulum Inferior. It hasn't fallen to ruin completely, and it could be reinforced effectively. As the guardian of the region, you could order all those whose claims are from the Roman times to contribute to securing the town and the villages around it. If the men of the region could be persuaded to help in the restoration, then the chance of engaging Roman free-soldiers would increase."

"It would depend upon how you and those like you decide to respond to threats from raiders. You are not the only Roman still in Dacia who would rather not leave these towns, but you have the good sense to accept the reality of the invasions; you will take your household and go, and that will allow you to retain more of your goods and servants than trying to defeat the Huns in battle. It may not be possible to unite the remaining Roman allies against the Huns, with or without soldiers to man the fortresses." He swung around toward the open window. "That was lightning. There will be thunder in ..." He held up his hand and counted to sixteen; thunder trundled through the air. "It is distant, but it will soon be closer."

Olivia sat up on her couch. "Niklos!" she called. "Call the household - go into the dining room, not the courtyard; that will keep us dry. And have Esculus and Spargens put up the shutters."

"Yes, Bondama," Niklos replied from the depths of the house. Sanctu-Germainios rose. "Come; so your servants may secure the windows in here," he said, holding out his hand to her.

She took it and stood up. "The storm is moving faster than I thought it would," she said.

"The wind is picking up. This is going to be a real storm by nightfall," Sanctu-Germainios said, escorting her through the small atrium toward her book-room.

As if to confirm this, a long rumble of thunder rolled along the southern sky, far enough behind the lightning still that there was a noticeable gap between them. Four of the household servants rushed toward the side-door, shouting about shutters as they went.

"You may have to remain here through tomorrow," said Olivia as she and Sanctu-Germainios slipped into the antechamber to the book- room, one of three rooms in her villa that had glass in the windows.

Sanctu-Germainios achieved a single laugh. "You are right: I may have waited half a day too long."

Olivia took a moment to compose her thoughts. "I'm sorry to have been the cause for - "

"It was my decision, and a shift in the weather, nothing you did," he said with a fond chuckle. "You are not responsible for either of those things."

She shrugged. "Still," she said as she led him into the book-room, accompanied by a louder report of thunder that shook the house. "Still."

Text of a note from Rotlandus Bernardius, Tribune of Ulpia Traiana, to Priam Corydon, leader of the monastery of Sanctu-Eustachios the Hermit, four thousand paces from the town gates, carried by local messenger.

Ave to the most esteemed Priam of the Sanctu-Eustachios the Hermit monastery; this is to inform you that there has been a flood on the road to Viminacium, and the crossing is much damaged as the result of the unusually heavy rainstorms that have marked this summer. In my capacity of Tribune, I have assigned men from the small garrison of Ulpia Traiana to participate in rebuilding the wooden portions of the bridge. We will need many more hands to make the repairs in a timely way, and for that reason I approach you, most reverend Priam, and ask you to consider sending us some of your workmen to join in our efforts to restore this important crossing on the Danuvius. All of us need to be able to reach Roman territory without having to cover mountains without roads and then to boat across the river. Deus salva!

I would also hope that we may discuss plans for securing the region from attack before snowfall this year. It has been a troubling summer, and all of us living in this region would do well to maintain contact with one another for the purpose of defense and shared dangers. We have more alarming reports of the Huns coming into the mountains and seizing camps for the winter, and this does not augur well for the year to come. Preparations must be made to protect our people. Volens preparatus.

Inform my messenger of your thoughts on these matters, or entrust a note to him. He is utterly reliable in regard to such communications, since he cannot read. His memory is excellent, and anything entrusted to him will be reported accurately.

May the God you adore show you favor and preserve you, body and soul, from peril.

Rotlandus Bernardius

Tribune of the garrison of Ulpia Traiana In Dacia Superior on the fourth day of the month of Augustus
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