Authors: David Rodgers
The Songs of Slaves
A Novel of the
By David Gray Rodgers
David Rodgers, all rights reserved
A large area of the Roman world roughly equivalent to Modern France, but also including parts of Switzerland, Belgium, et cetera.
– also called Gallia Narbonensis. This was a Roman Province that panned across the south of France. It would include Provincia Nostra, which was an older designation.
– Provence, France
Area of Haute Provence and the Alps.
Area of Northern Italy. Geographically as well as ethnographically this fades into Transalpina and Provence.
– Marseilles, France
– Nice, France
Portus Pisanus –
Roman province in what are now Bulgaria, Moldova, and Southern Serbia
Roman province in what are now eastern Austria, western Hungary, northern Croatia, as well as parts of Serbia, Slovenia, Slovakia, and Bosnia
Roman province in what
now Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, and the Ukraine
Roman province in what is now Croatia and Albania
Province in what are now Bulgaria, Greece, and Turkey.
, 398-408 AD
I: Hibernia, 398 AD
For a moment the rain stopped. The heavy clouds grudgingly drifted aside to reveal the spring light. Connor slowed his pace, waiting for his friend, Mannus, to catch up. The fair-haired boy was running hard, but his skinny body could not match Connor’s enthusiasm. A few moments were all Connor could bear to wait, and then he was running up the hill again, as fast as his thick legs could pace the green turf.
The gray sea opened before him as he crested the hill. The water was not angry today, despite the wind and the rain. White foam edged the low waves. But all the people of the settlement knew that this could change at any moment; for the sea that stretched forever to the west was as wild as it was boundless.
Mannus came up beside him and pressed his palms into his knees, trying to catch his breath. Connor wiped the sweat and rain drops from his forehead with the sleeve of his wool tunic.
“Do you see them?” Connor asked pointing to the boat of tarred hide stretched over a wooden frame, bobbing like a discarded bowl on the waves. A bent man was at the oars, his long, read hair visible even at
such a distance. Beside him was a hooded and cloaked figure.
“I see the
” Mannus said. “Is that Brother Keagan at the oars?”
“Yes. And that man beside him must be the Roman.”
“The Roman,” Mannus repeated, feeling the awe of the word. No one had ever seen a Roman. The strange race of invincible warriors who lived in lavish, opulent cities was a thing of legend. The spirits in the woods and the ghosts in the twilight were much more real than they. But the message Brother Dervel and Brother Cumragh had received a month ago had been clear: Brother Keagan was returning from his mission to Amorica, and a Roman was accompanying him.
Connor looked away from the tiny boat that coasted the tide, to the stony beach below the hill. A small crowd was gathering already. The two monks stood in front in their unbleached woolen robes. Brother Cumragh’s family was gathered around him. The others had come in from their farms nearby. From his vantage point Connor could see more walking along the paths from their scattered dwellings. News had traveled
quickly, carried on the wind as one person shouted to another across the countryside.
Another gust of wind blew in from the sea, almost knocking the two boys back. Connor turned to watch as it moved through the leaves of the forest. He could feel more than the echo of the sea in this wind. It quickened something in his young mind, and for a moment in his heart he thought he could hear it whisper to him.
“What is it?” Mannus asked.
Connor looked at his friend and grinned, but said nothing. He turned and ran down the hill towards the beach.
An old farmer nearly fell over as Connor pushed by him. Dervel turned towards the boys, his weathered face brightening in a smile.
“There you are, lad.”
Cumragh stood beside the taller monk, holding his youngest girl in his arms. He nodded his shaggy head in acknowledgement to Connor’s greeting. He was a powerfully built man, who still bartered his iron working for some of their provisions. But it was not
only his stockier build that was in contrast to Dervel, nor his full beard and poorly shorn tonsure line. Cumragh was a man of the earth – a tireless worker, but loud of speech, quick to laugh and often quick to get angry. His passion for the joys of life was evident in his round belly and the number of his children around him. Dervel was fastidious, with a clean face and bare forehead. His graying hair was swept back into a single braid. He was sparing in everything. Dervel was more of what people expected of a holy man. He was more like a druid.
The boat was drawing close. The crowd had grown large, but remained almost reverently quiet. Connor noticed that a few of them had brought things to trade with the newcomer, as if he were a Briton merchant and not a priest. Connor looked back out to the dark figure in the boat. So far there was no sign of the shining segmented armor or high crested helmet the stories talked about, no bags of foreign treasures in the belly of the boat.
caught the waves and rode them in. Keagan and the stranger both jumped in to the knee-high surf and dragged the boat out of the tide. Keagan fell to his knees and kissed the wet gravel. A mad smile
lit his youthful face as he wiped the grime away with his palm.
“It’s good to be back,” he nearly shouted as he met Dervel’s embrace.
“It’s good to have you back, you mad Scot!” Cumragh said as he took Dervel’s place. “You’ve left us to do all the work for too long now.”
Keagan laughed and kissed the curls on Cumragh’s daughter’s head.
“Dania’s doubled since I’ve been gone. But look there! She’ll never be near as big as you, Connor my boy. Scarce ten and you’re as big as a bear.”
Connor hugged the monk around his bony rib cage, but his eyes were drawn to the dark stranger. The man stood there, perhaps surprised by the informality of the reunion. Keagan let Connor go and stood back.
“This is Titus Vestius
The man pushed back the hood of his finely made, dark brown robe. He was lean, wiry, and smaller in stature than Connor had initially perceived. His hair was black shot with silver and closely cropped around his broad forehead, and shaved around the crown, as if he were balding. His eyebrows were dark arches over intense hazel eyes. His aquiline nose, high cheekbones,
and gauntness gave him a hungry look – like some predatory bird. He strode forward and met Dervel’s embrace, and in a show of strange custom he kissed the monk on both cheeks.
“You are welcome here, Brother Titus Vestius
,” Dervel said, struggling slightly with the strange sounds of the man’s name.
The Roman bowed his head. He repeated the same greeting to Cumragh; then he raised his right hand towards the crowd and muttered something in his own tongue. Many of the people moved a few steps back, as if fearing some magic from the foreigner’s gesture.
“I am pleased to be here and to meet you all,” the Roman said in a thick accent.
“You speak some of our tongue, already,” Dervel observed.
“Brother Keagan worked with me; and I had the blessing to acquire a Hibernian slave in Britannia. I have long spoken the native tongue of the Britons, and so learning yours was easier for me. I have been preparing for two years to come here.”
Declan taught us that slavery is an abomination to the Lord, for all are equal in his sight. But I do not mean to be rude – our Lord’s
ways and men’s ways are seldom the same. It is excellent that you are well on your way to mastering our speech. Well, you are welcome to stay with us as long as you need to, until you are ready to go on to your mission. You can stay in the hut with Keagan, Connor, and I. You don’t want to stay with Cumragh and his wife and children. You’ll get no rest there.”
“Yes. I see that Brother Cumragh takes a wife, despite the admonishment of the Apostle Paul and the warnings of our Dear Christ.”
“This settlement is part of the
” Dervel said, not comprehending
Titus’ rebuke well enough to respond to it. “Settlements of our clan spread in that direction. They are mostly Christians. Just to the north are the Breagans. There are a few converts amongst them, but most follow the old ways. We are working on them; and their high druid, Conwyn, is friendly with me. But I think it would be best if you leave them to us. I think you may be best utilized by our Lord if you went inland, to the northwest. The men there are unreached by the gospels, but they are not too hostile of nature as to meet you violently. At least, I do not expect them to. To the northeast the land is full of ruthless men, and I think your mission would be cut
short indeed if you started there. But for now, stay here and learn our language and ways better. When you are ready and prepared for your journey you can be on with your great undertaking.”
“I think you do not understand,” Titus said. “My mission is here. I have been sent to help you. Yes, the men of the north; the men of the west. But I am here to help with this new church.”
“Thank you,” Cumragh said. “But we are already Christians. We do not need any help.”
“Perhaps this letter will explain,” Titus said. He pulled a worn piece of parchment out of his satchel and handed it to Cumragh. Cumragh eyed the script, but Connor knew that Cumragh could not read. The big monk handed the paper to Dervel. Dervel knew something of Latin – enough to get through the few pages of gospel and prayers that his mentor, Gilas, had given him. Dervel handed the paper back to Titus and turned to Keagan. Keagan shrugged, but winked as if to say “I’ll tell you everything later”.