R.A. Strobel
by on November 30, 2015
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“Meroveus!” Councilman Cornelius Caecilius greeted informally stepping forward out of the shadow of his expensive Roman villa. “We are honored to host you once more! Welcome back to Castellum Menaporium!”
Merovech stared down at the man, holding tightly to the reins of his horse. The Councilman was beginning to show his age. Care lines creased his brow and his hair was sprinkled with silver and white. It would seem that to him Rome was not being kind.
The party behind Merovech shifted uncomfortably as a much too long silence ensued. The Councilman’s smile wanted and he looked between the men of Merovec’s party for guidance, but there was none. “I trust...there are no hard feelings?”
Merovech finally forced a polite smile. “Of course not, dear Councilman,” he answered, gesturing to the men at his back. “My captains and I thank you for your generous invitation.”
Seemingly pacified, Caecilius’s smile returned. “We have a glorious feast laid out for you. And rooms have been prepared for you and your captains.”
“That is very kind, but I prefer to spend any night before a battle with my men.”
Caecilius’s smile, only just returned, vanished, his eyes clouding with confusion and fear. “Battle, Meroveus? There is no battle tomorrow.”
Merovech smiled a little. “In these strange lands, you never know which day will be your last. Each day and night are a battle.”
Again, the Councilman was pacified and he let out a relieved laugh. “I had forgotten how much you like to jest, Meroveus! I can never tell when we are playing a game. But please, dismount your horses and come inside for some pleasures before we dine.”
Romans were always so extravagant with their words, as if using this extended vocabulary was going to do more than confuse whomever they were talking to. Dealing with Rome’s representatives as always an especially tedious task. And, by the Gods, how he hated them calling him by that foul version of his name!
The men dismounted their horses and handed them off to the mass of Greek slaves who had seemed to magically appear from around the villa. Merovech was hesitant as one slave came for his stallion. The massive silver beast was not to be handled by any random hand. He was a war horse, bred to face angry throngs of warriors. He was hot-tempered, temperamental and very specific about how he liked to be handled. Only one other man was brave and skilled enough to lead the horse. Most men just let Merovech interact with the animal, as it did not trust anyone else. But, Merovech slowly handed the reins to the slave, whispering calming words to the horse in his native language, which worked well enough.
“That horse of yours seems to be quite a hassle,” Caecilius commented.
Merovech looked at him steadily. “He was not bred for companionship.”
“Of course not,” came the uneasy response. Merovech and his two captains were led to the villa and a small gathering of men waiting at its entrance. An older man whose stomach was so large it was causing him to sweat under the weight and pressure smiled pompously at him.
“So this is the famous Meroveus?” he asked in a loud, greasy voice. “Attila’s bane, Defender of Rome! He looks every bit the Barbarian Warrior!”
His voice sounded like he still held a large helping of tough meat in his mouth and the stains on his tunic did little to ease Merovech’s disgust. It was a disgust shared not only by his comrades at his sides, but also by the much younger Roman staring at the visitors. He was not as smartly dressed as the pig beside him, but obviously took care of his garments and even greater care of his appearance. Merovech, however, was not impressed and more thought the boy looked like he would have the scent of a sour scrap of linen. Not that he was going to get any closer to the boy to get a good whif to confirm.
“You remember my eldest son Nerva, of course,” Caecilius announced. “And may I present Senator Pescennius Babullius Rogatus? He has travelled here with the sole purpose of meeting you.”
Why did the Romans require so many names? And which one of those ridiculous groups of syllables and sounds was he supposed to call him? At least the son was easy to remember.
“Who is it you have brought with you?” the Senator asked loudly.
Merovech gestured for the two blonde men to step forward. The leaner of the two cocked a smile at Merovech as he came to his side. “Guntram is my first captain. Corbus is my third.” Corbus was much broader than Guntram and the son noticeably shook to behold him.
“You had a brother, yes?” Caecilius asked. “Where is he?”
“Samson is...north,” Merovech answered. “He had prior obligations which prevented his presence.”
“What a shame,” the Senator easily dismissed. “I hear he is good with his axe.”
“Corbus is better,” Merovech responded darkly.
They were led into the villa where they were instructed to remove their shoes and wash their hands in water that reeked of the typical Roman bathing oils. Merovech had never understood why Romans held such grand ceremonies for every small task. Guntram and Corbus, too, were confused and quite unwilling to relinquish their weapons. They were not needed and, thus, unwelcome at the dinner party--a reasonable argument for a civilian, but to a warrior, it was not good enough. Merovech was able to convince them to give them up with the understanding that they would be returned at the end of the visit.
After introducing the men to this particular set of ceremony, Merovech and his captains were led into another room where they were to strip out of all clothing to share in a public massage. Guntram’s look of horror as the fat senator began to disrobe was quite amusing. Merovech had to work very hard to maintain his composure. Corbus did not seem at all concerned by the sight, too distracted by the two young and beautiful men undressing him. Merovech uneasily allowed two other young men to do the same, but could not relax as the massage continued. Being fondled by a couple of young men who could easily pass for girls in heavy and fashionable make-up was not his idea of pleasure. At that point, he would much rather have preferred the girls they were pretending to be. Watching the Senator eye him and his men ravenously did nothing to relax Merovech either.
And then there was the dinner party, where the same young men who had just violated their bodies served them wine in goblets decorated with erotic and blatantly sexual images. Merovech had never found it comfortable to eat while reclining on a couch. Guntram seemed to be as uncomfortable as Merovech and much less experienced, but Corbus was, yet again, unphased. There was something different about one of the slaves, though, and Merovech was ashamed to admit how long it took him to realize that this server was an actual female. Guntram appeared to have understood immediately and could not tear his eyes away from the young, blonde beauty.
The invitation to the mysterious “Back Room” followed a meal of swollen sow’s udders, jellyfish and dormice drenched in honey. Merovech’s father had received this invitation with nearly every visit and it quickly became obvious why Merovech’s mother had never approved of such an “honor.” The same young men followed them once more into a locked room attached to the back of the villa, which many women called their workplace. The various scenes found on their goblets at the meal were then performed as yet another unnecessary ceremony and for once, Corbus looked interested. The pretty girl from dinner was nowhere to be found.
Their weapons were returned to them in their original condition and they could not get their shoes on fast enough. Guntram could barely keep his eyes open and Merovech easily understood his exhaustion. It had been a tiring evening. How on earth were they going to make it back to camp?
Yet, as they were attempting to leave, something kept pulling Merovech back until he finally had to turn around. His gaze found the earthy brown eyes of a young woman on the second floor, dressed and ready for bed. He recognized her immediately as the Councilman’s eldest daughter, Caecilia. Merovech would have recognized her anywhere. But, the fire that he had grown so fond of seeing when they came to visit had all but disappeared from her.
No hard feelings...How very far from the truth.
“Rome is dying.” That was what his father always said. No glorious explanations oro plans to stop the death of the great empire. Simply, “Rome is dying.” All of his life, ever since he could remember, Merovech hear those words and wondered why such a great king as his father, such a great man, would cower down to a dying people who were more f a disease on the land than a civilization. Ruled by greed and lust, Rome was destroying itself from the inside as it struggled to maintain control over its territories. The terrifying and menacing giant of Merovech’s childhood was now just a nightmarish shadow.
And then there were the Huns, led by such a fearsome leader in Attila that the Romans could do nothing to stop their invasion. They reached out to the people they would call “barbarians,” people such as his father. It was at this time when Merovech learned his father was not a great man. He was not even what men would consider a king, let alone a great one. To be a king, one had to have land to rule; his father did not even have that.
In exchange for land to call home for himself and his tribe, Merovech’s father agreed to fight with Rome to expel the Huns. But, when the time came to fight, instead of leading his soldiers himself, Merovech’s father sent his sons to fight in his stead. Merovech became famous for his defeat of Attila and was honored in Rome by the emperor himself in a grand ceremony that reached all corners of the city. Yet, after Merovech was victorious against the enemy, it was his father who reaped all of the true benefits and rewards. He was gifted and and soon took his place as ruler over that land, all the while still paying tribute to Rome.
But now, Merovech wore the crown of his father.
“It is almost too simple, Guntram,” Merovech said softly.
Guntram chuckled a little as he looked down at the city. Their little encampment on the hill was still alive with music, laughter, dancing and drinking even when they returned from the dinner party. “Do you think they were glad to see us?”
Merovech looked darkly out at the gridded streets and buildings of Castellum Menaporium. “I should hope so,” he responded. “They sent for us.”
Guntram nodded. “I only hope I never have to eat udders and jellyfish again.” Merovech let out a surprised but delighted laugh, agreeing to his friend’s statement. Guntram laughed with him as he turned back to the party, but stopped walking as soon as his back was to the Roman city. “Your men are behind you, Merovech.”
Merovech took in a deep breath and walked to join his friend to return to camp. “Have your men awake two hours before dawn. I will tell Corbus to do the same.”
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