“It was the fear in the eyes of the urchins who begged for food with motions to their mouths and who crowded us so close that we were forced to dismount as soon as we were within the city walls; it was the fear in the eyes of the older generations who looked at us well-fed warriors sullenly as we led our mounts through the city’s streets; it was the fear in the eyes of the girls who were being sold by their own fathers on the slave stands in the forum in the hope that any man with solidi to spare for a warm body was headed to warmer and safer climes; and, most especially, it was the fear in the eyes of the warlord Elafius, to whom we were led by a lieutenant we had met at a city gate after crossing the Tamesis by boat.
“The warlord was slouched in his throne at the end of the basilica converted into a lodge, and we learned quickly that the look in his eyes stemmed not entirely from the near-daily and thoroughly uninterrupted raids up the Tamesis by his enemies; Germanus discerned after a few minutes of conversation that Elafius’s son and sole heir was gravely ill.
“The disclosure of the illness came in the form of a challenge. ‘Tell me,’ Elafius demanded of his visitor standing alone with myself, Hilarius, and Severus in the middle of the room (our own guards having been left outside), ‘if the Pontifex in Rome is the sole channel for Divine Grace from up high,’ the warlord looked through the roof of the temple converted from commerce, ‘then shouldn’t the Pontifex’s champions be streams from the same source?’
“The Papa’s most vocal champion on the island could instantly see where this was going, and answered with a lowered gaze, ‘Divine Grace flows into the ocean that is eternal salvation, not into a marsh of miracles on demand. The Lord Jesus is not a performer in the Colisseum.’
“‘Indeed, I dare say not,’ Elafius shot back, leaning forward in his seat. ‘But surely if God insists that man cannot redeem himself, God will redeem him.’
“The gaze of God’s man remained lowered. ‘God does not work that way,’ he said simply.
“‘God will work that way, if he wishes the Pontifex to have a foothold on this island!’ Elafius snapped as he pounded the wooden arms of his throne, before continuing with, ‘God will begin by healing my son!’ The king looked aside, over one arm, and nodded to an underling as if performing a pre-arranged cue.
“Moments later, the crown prince of the shriveling realm of Londinium was led in from a side door by the hand of a servant, and Germanus and I both instantly recognized the nature of the prince’s condition, even if we thought of it in different terms.
“The boy had Down’s Syndrome.”
“Germanus, I, and the others all stood in the center of the room speechless for several moments, but I seized the initiative from all by speaking first. ‘We can help your son, my Lord,’ I stated softly.
“Elafius seemed not to have expected this answer, and most certainly not from me, but it was Germanus who was most shocked. His jaw went completely slack before he turned and stared at me, and it was only with the utmost effort that he was able to turn back to Elafius and speak once more. ‘This man does not speak for the Pontifex,’ was all that he said.
“Elafius’s smile at me would have been broader, if not for the circumstances surrounding him. ‘Then who does this man speak for?’ he asked.
“‘I merely speak,’ I replied, before taking a step forward and continuing with, ‘I will need time and space for prayer alone with your son.’
“Germanus started to speak once more, but Elafius raised a palm to stay him. ‘Are the Pontifex’s men filled with the same confidence?’ he asked of those men.
“Now it was Hilarius’s turn to protest, and he took a step forward to stand beside me and declare, ‘This man was hired by an episcopus of the Pontifex to escort myself and the episcopi here to the island in order to return Dominus Iesus’s loyal followers to his true faith. He is a bodyguard, nothing more.’
“The clerics’ arguments seemed to make no impression on a mind which seemed to be already made, and the mind of Elafius expressed, ‘A bodyguard he may be, but, as you can see,’ the hand of Elafius gestured toward his child, ‘I have nothing to lose.’
“‘I do have one request,’ I interjected, before the warlord could speak further.
“‘And what might that be?’ Elafius asked.
“I looked pointedly at the single native cleric in the room, a priest who had been content to remain standing in a corner in his cloak, and I declared with as firm a voice as I could muster, ‘I ask that, if I am able to cure your son with prayers to Dominus Iesus, you banish all followers of Pelagius from your realm, to demonstrate your loyalty to the Pontifex and the True Faith.’
“Now the expressions of my fellow visitors from the Continent were doubly shocked, and Elafius’s smile was a full, amused one. ‘Very well,’ he declared with a light pounding of a fist on a throne. ‘If Dominus Iesus is able to work such miracles, mankind has no need for his own works.’”
“Thus I found myself sequestered alone in a room of Londinium’s crumbling basilica with a would-be warlord. I had ignored the demands from my three clerical companions for an explanation as I was led away with the retarded prince, and I set to work on my cure for the boy the moment the guards shut the door on us.
“My cure involved not prayer, but the knife I had hidden in a rear vertical strip of my right sandal. Acting on a hunch that the medibots which flowed not in my semen flowed in my blood (yes, those scientists had been eager to avoid creating a master race with one specimen), I slashed the left palms of both myself and the prince who had proved docile enough to be gagged without too much trouble. The boy’s muffled screams of pain were not loud enough to bring the guards, and my grasp of his left hand with mine own was given time to work its magic.
“The palm of my hand healed quickly, and the desired effect began to take hold in my patient just as quickly, for when I pulled my palm away from his, the flesh of his wound was already beginning to heal. The next signs of recovery were even more impressive, for the signature sloping forehead of the boy’s condition began to morph into the forehead of an intelligent being, and, most importantly, the boy stood erect and looked at me with conscious, if bewildered, eyes. ‘What happened?’ he asked me in still-vulgar Latin.
“I stooped down to replace my bloody knife in its sheath, and replied, ‘That is a long story.’”
“When the boy and I re-entered the throne room, the prince a bewildered-yet-healthy man of late teenage years who strode behind me and strode before two equally bewildered guards, pandemonium broke loose. Elafius was suddenly forgotten by the underlings who collectively gasped, then collectively rushed forward to petition me for the cure of various illnesses and other misfortunes. I would have been trampled at that moment, if it were not for the raising of my hand to stay the crowd which now obeyed my every gesture, and not for the drawing of swords by the two witnessing guards who took up defensive flanking positions on either side of me.
“While the crowd stayed, I addressed Elafius. ‘Now that your son has been cured, my Lord, I ask that you fulfill your end of the bargain.’
“Now it was Elafius’s jaw which dropped. ‘Now?’ he asked.
“‘There is no time like the present, my Lord,’ I replied with a smile.
“The warlord rose from his wooden throne, crossed the room through the parted crowd, and embraced his son seemingly as much to confirm that it was indeed his son as to show affection for the cured boy. Then Elafius released his hold, turned back to the crowd with raised arms, and declared, ‘From this moment forth, the doctrine of Pelagius is outlawed from this realm, and all adherents, clergy and otherwise, are banished!’ As if waiting for the order, and perhaps waiting for confirmation to impart to his fellow Pelagianists, the native priest exited the throne room.
“Knowing that I would now never have the privacy on the island which I needed to add to my hidden treasure in Segontium, I knew my business on the island was as done as that of my companions from the Continent. I took a hasty leave of Elafius and his followers, and hurried out of the basilica with those companions of mine to the quartet of horses waiting with our guards in the forum, which was now filled with more tents than slave stands. As a force with swords drawn we rode hard for Ludgate, and commandeered a string of boats on the River of Wells just beyond the city wall, those vessels carrying us down that river and across the Tamesis to the latter river’s south bank.
“It was not until we could hear the waves of the larger river lapping against that bank, over the whinnying of our mounts, that Hilarius asked the question he had no doubt been holding in since our departure from the basilica and before. ‘You somehow knew that the boy had a twin brother, didn’t you?’ he asked.
“I allowed the silence of Germanus and Severus to testify to the absurdity of the priest’s theory, and did not speak until I was leading my mount onto the sand of the shore. ‘Think what you wish to think, Pater,’ I told him. ‘Just remember who returned Britannia to the True Faith.’
“‘And why not remain here in Britannia?’ Severus asked as he mounted his mount against the backdrop of the jagged posts jutting out of the Tamesis which were all that remained of the bridge destroyed by the Saxons. ‘The locals are ready to treat you like a god.’
“‘My business in Britannia is done,’ I replied. I did not bother looking at Hilarius as I remounted my own horse, turned its snout southward, and declared, ‘Now it is time to go rescue the Pater’s wife from Valentia.’”
“We as a group never made it as far as Paris, much less Valentia. Upon debarkation in Caracotinum, we learned that Armorica, swollen with British refugees all too familiar with the powerlessness of Rome, had erupted in rebellion. Myself and Germanus advised that we wait until a sizable collection of armed travelers was ready to make the journey with us to Paris, but Hilarius was impatient for action and Severus, no doubt missing his own wife, backed the priest’s rashness with his troops. Not wishing to be left behind in the port by the larger force, we joined them on the road to Paris.
“The rebels who could more properly be described as bandits ambushed us shortly before dawn the next morning. Those who had advocated an immediate departure for Paris were slaughtered to the last man, myself making an escape on foot after my horse was cut down from under me, and a seriously wounded Germanus being carried away on my shoulders after he was thrown by the horse’s fall.
“It was not until the arrival of dawn had made it unwise to continue further that I stooped down to lay the good bishop on the soft grass of a forest meadow just out of sight of the Roman road. I checked his wounds, exchanged a few reassuring words with him, then spied the smoke wafting upward from beyond the far end of the meadow.
“I judged rightly that where there was smoke there was a well of desperately-needed water, and we approached the remains of the destroyed village with myself supporting Germanus by his good shoulder. Many of the huts were still standing, but many of their former inhabitants were lying dead on the ground, in states of disembowelment and other slaughter. The lack of young women and girls among the dead was notable, and I noted the innumerable tracks in the mud that stretched into the woods which became deep within yards of the last village dwelling.
“‘Those Britons have no hearts, do they?’ Germanus asked, leaning heavily on me in his despair.
“‘Not Britons, Episcopus, Alans,’ I replied, still eyeing the tracks which were composed of hoof prints. ‘These men came from the east, Britons wouldn’t be on horseback, and these people were killed with spathae. I recall hearing rumors that General Aetius wanted to send the Alans against the Armoricans to put down their rebellion.’ I kicked away a severed leg and concluded with, ‘I suppose he did so.’
“‘This must be stopped,’ Germanus declared with wild eyes. ‘These people were innocent!’
“‘Innocent or not,’ I told the good episcopus, ‘they are dead, and we can only look out for ourselves at the moment.’ I turned him back in the direction of the road. ‘It appears they threw a corpse down the well. Let’s lie in wait for more travelers headed for Paris.’”
“Those fellow travelers were long in coming, but come they did, and we arrived in Paris a day later. The world of Western Europe was becoming a small world indeed, for no sooner had Germanus and I crossed the Left Bank bridge onto the island on a borrowed and shared horseback than I was recognized by a group of Britons fresh arrived from Londinium by boat.
“The episcopus and I had just dismounted our horse and the bridge gate had just been dropped, so I had little choice but to confront the group of a dozen refugees who surrounded myself and the episcopus within moments. As they related it to us, one of them had been in the hall of Elafius and had witnessed the miraculous cure of his son at my hands. I did not recognize the man in question, which was not surprising considering the fact that all twelve men wore nondescript garb and all twelve were relatively (and, I presumed then, newly) clean-shaven in a world where the only razors were swords.
“This last feature common to all should have aroused my suspicion, but my natural paranoia was dulled by the exhaustion I felt that evening, and these men were as respectful as they were fawning. They offered the episcopus and I a share of their quarters that night, and the two of us, as depleted of cash as we were of energy, accepted the offer with little question.
“Those twelve men came for me in the middle of the night, binding and gagging me as I slept the sleep of the tired traveler, and led me out of the donated room with a cloak and hood thrown over my torso and head. I never saw Germanus again, only hearing later through history that he died the following year in Ravenna while petitioning the Imperial government for leniency upon the Armoricans.
“I know for certain that I myself received no leniency that night from the twelve priests, who indicated their number and profession with a prayer whispered in a dozen voices before I was thrown over a wall into the waters of the Sequanus. If they had known my true nature, they might have reconsidered this certainly bloodless but only seemingly merciful fate, for I lived over a mile of the flowing river, keeping my head above water none too successfully and enduring the agony of being kept alive through extended drowning by the medibots in my system. I wished for death throughout the entire ordeal, but was instead washed ashore at the first bend in the river.
“And it was on that sandy shore, coughing in the bare moonlight, that I began the next chapter of my much-too-long life. A pair of hands rolled me over on the sand, and a sword cut the rope which had bound my wrists. I was then pulled to my feet by more than one set of hands, and, after my hood had been doffed, held standing in the moonlight for inspection by half a dozen blond and heavily armed warriors.
“I had just been captured by the Franks.”
“My latest captors rode hard through the night with me, allowing my hands to remain free (they no doubt did not consider me an escape risk atop a pack animal). Within a few minutes I had the overwhelming sense that we were in territory hostile to all who set foot in it, and within a few hours this sense was indubitably confirmed.
“Our attackers were lying in wait for us on the far side of a ford which our horses had just waded through, and they were no doubt the angry owners (in a collective sense, at least) of the possessions atop our party’s half dozen pack horses. The lead horse was run through with multiple blades before he could rear up against his assailants, but the other five horsemen dismounted swiftly and advanced upon the enemy with swords drawn.