The Gathering

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Chapter 7

Decimus is thrown from his horse and lands on his back. Though the soil was soft, it did not cushion the impact. The horse steadies itself and looks for its rider. The old Roman groans in pain as he moves onto his stomach and slowly eases himself up. Shaking his head, he looks up and whistles for his horse.

Soon the horse hears the call and strolls back to its rider. Decimus rubs the belly of the horse, calming her down and soothing her. “Easy girl. You’re alright. It looks like we escaped them.”

Once the horse calms down, Decimus tries to remember the last thing that happened. All he remembers was fleeing from the massacre at Cannae and riding a forest. Looking around him, he believed that he was still in Italy. However, one thing that always puzzled him was the bright light.

He remembered a burning sensation over his body, yet there were no indications of burn marks. Even his horse was unscathed. As for his person, his armor, helmet, sword, and saddle were still with him. Except for one thing.

Looking at his belt, he noticed the pouch containing his letter to his wife was missing. Worried, he retraced his steps and followed where the horse bucked him off. Decimus searches high and low, under dead logs and rocks, but the pouch and letter were nowhere to be found.

“Damn you!” He beats his fist into the ground. A loud thud echoed around him. Hanging his head in defeat, he walks back to his horse, grabs the reins and together finds a way out of this forest.

“I pray that you and the boys are safe, Flavia.” Decimus feared the worst. With the Carthaginians killing Rome’s last line of defense, the young republic was in danger. He could not save Rome, but he could protect his family. He decides to follow the sounds of the river in hopes of figuring out where he is. All the while, making sure he was not being followed.

As he walked through the forest, he felt a sense of uneasy calmness. There was very little noise at all. The only sound he could make out was the flowing river not too far from him. Only a few yards away, he hears a slight rustle coming from the trees. Stopping in his tracks, he pauses and places a hand on his sword.

Trying to hear the sound again, the Roman cautiously continues his path to the river. If there was one thing Decimus hated above all, it was the fear of the unknown. He already saw firsthand the consequences of being unaware at Cannae. He refused to repeat the mistake. After a while, all began to seem normal, and Decimus finally arrived at the flowing river. Removing his helmet, both he and the horse take turns replenishing themselves from the river.

Removing his face from the river, Decimus sees a figure looking at him across the river. The being was in a mesh of bones and animal furs from head to mid-thigh. In its right hand was a club made from animal skulls and stone. Its eyes were piercing black as if it had no soul. This was no barbarian he had ever encountered. Something did not feel right.

He was not in Rome anymore.

܀

Heart pounding in his chest, Decimus slowly gets up and places a hand on his sword hilt. Wrapping his fingers around the weapon, Decimus prepared himself for a fight, but nothing happened. The figure simply stares at him before walking back into the forest, like a shadow. Releasing his grip, Decimus takes a moment to calm himself.

In all his years of fighting barbarians, he had never encountered one such as that. Not only was the appearance terrifying, but its presence alone was evil. He hopes never to meet that being again. After the brief rest, he gets back on his horse and continues further down the river.

Maybe there, he might be able to make camp and figure out his next plan. After following the stream further down the woods, Decimus comes across a small pond at the river’s end. Getting off his horse, he looks around to make sure none of those creatures here. Tying his horse to a nearby tree, the old roman soldier finally removes his armor.

Tossing them aside, Decimus went about making his camp. Using his sword, he cut off several tree limbs and gathered several large sticks. Planting four rods in the ground-two in front and two below-he layers the tree limbs one on top of each other until he makes a wooden bed. Taking his saddlebags, he stuffs them full of leaves and soft grass and places them onto the foundation as a pillow.

With his bed made, he went about gathering more material to complete his camp. By the end of the afternoon, he had made a canopy, fire pit, spears, and sundial out of various stones, twigs, leaves, and branches. After a long day, the sun was starting to set, and Decimus was famished. He walked over to the pond, and to his glee, it was teeming with fish and crustaceans.

As he plunges his hand into the water, he catches as many fish and crabs as possible. With his food piled behind him, he grabs a handful and takes them over his fire pit. Before getting the fire started, he takes a moment to gut and descale his dinner. This reminds him of the time he took his children fishing for the first time. It was before Hannibal’s invasion.

܀

Three years ago

Decimus took his children to a secluded area of the woods near their villa. This secret spot was rumored to have some of the biggest fish. Walking through the forest, Decimus sons Romulus and Justinian admire the colored leaves. It was Autumn, and the time for harvesting was near. In their village, their neighbors work in the fields, gathering grain for the young republic and her soldiers. As everyone spent their hours working, Decimus thought it was best to take a break. With their rods in hand, they continue making their way to the secret spot. Romulus was first to find it and darted past his brother and father to see the fish. The old Roman chuckled at his sons. Picking a spot underneath a large oak tree, they sit down and cast their hooks into the pond.

As they sit and wait for the fish to bite, Decimus boys begin to ask him a constant barrage of questions. How long was he a soldier? Did he fight many wars? How did he and mother meet? Why did he join the army, and much more? He tries to ease them, but suddenly his pole is yanked into the pond. Decimus rushed in to retrieve it, and as he scrambles to find it, he ends up catching a large trout. Its tail swished back and forth, hitting the Roman in the face a few times. He tosses it onto land, and his sons begin to marvel at the beast their father caught. He smiles at the scene and wishes moments like this could last forever.

܀

Something breaks Decimus out of his daydream. It sounded like a twig snapping. Laying the fish down slowly, Decimus goes to retrieve his sword. Suddenly, he feels the cool touch of a spearhead on his shoulder. His eyes glanced over and saw a figure hiding behind a few branches.

“Who are you?” said the Roman. Emerging from the branches, Decimus got a view of his would-be captor.

A soldier encased in bronze.

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