© Clive Osborne Rapley
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Chapter 4 Strange Dreams (First Draft)
Justinian Flavius Appius groaned, he smelt the fetid breath of his hoarse as it nudged him with its nose. He tried to sit up. His head swam strange images flashed through his mind.
He had visions of falling rocks, screaming, running people. He could not get away. Then there was searing heat, he could not breathe his lungs burned, his skin blackened. Shaken he sank back against the road. He also saw in his mind a ruined city, a skeleton and a small ivory talisman in his hand.
His senses swam he felt sick. He turned and emptied the contents of his stomach onto the road. The reaching continued until he fell back exhausted. He lay on the warm road trying to make sense of what happened.
His horse had got bored and was idly pulling at the grass on the side of the road. He tried sitting up again. This time the nausea did not return. The strange images had subsided, They were like memories that were not quite his or visions of things that had not yet happened.
He sat for a moment getting his thoughts under control. His head ached, he rolled over onto his knees and pushed himself up. Standing he looked around, the rock fall that had caused his horse to rear up lay across the road. He remembered the road shaking slightly before the rocks were dislodged.
Justinian was not a religious man but being an ex soldier he had a healthy respect for the gods. Neptune must have been flexing his muscles.
He felt a little queasy so he decided not to ride, He walked over to his horse and took its reigns. His armour and luggage was still fixed behind the saddle. He checked everything was secure. The afternoon was hot, the rocks on the left side of the road reflected the suns heat back to him. If it were not for the breeze it would be unbearable.
He pulled the horse back onto the road; He paused to pick up his large rimmed felt hat and dusted it off before placing it gently on his head. He continued his interrupted journey. Since leaving the Via Appia there had been very little traffic. There were still several hours on horseback before he reached his destination.
The only sounds in the early afternoon heat were the click of the hobnails on his military sandals and the clip clop of his horse’s hooves. He let his mind wander as he walked.
His mother had summoned him, his brother and father had been found dead under mysterious circumstances. The letter had been brief but it meant that as the only male survivor the family estates now belonged to him.
He had been the youngest son he had never been interested in running the family estates. It was just as well because he was destined for a career in the legions. As soon as he came of age he joined up. His father purchased him a commission in Legio VI Victrix . He had won several honours the last being for the action where he lost three fingers and part of his left hand.
He was sent back to Rome and had just established himself as a Tribune of the Urban Cohort when he received the letter from his mother. The other memories were troubling; he tried to push them to the back of his mind.
The road was taking him through some low wooded hills when the silence was broken by shouts and screams. He moved forward cautiously the road dipped down. At the bottom of the dip were three heavy wagons. To one side of the wagons some people where kneeling, there were also two bodies lying on the road. Justinian counted three moving about around the wagons carrying weapons. Bandits had obviously held them up.
One of the bandits turned walked over to the furthest keeling person and killed them with a sword thrust as Justinian watched.
He then moved towards the next kneeling person Justinian knew he had no time to lose. Without even thinking grabbed his armour from the back of his horse and pulled it on over his tunic he put on his helmet and grabbing his sword. Turning he charged down the hill yelling at the top of his voice. As he hoped the bandits panicked. He was after all 5’11” and with his helmet and crest he looked a giant. Only one of the bandits stood his ground. It was the last mistake he ever made to face a fully armoured battle hardened warrior.
Justinian sidestepped his adversaries’ swinging sword and plunged his own into the bandit’s unprotected belly jabbing it up into his chest in one stroke. He pulled out his sword as the bandit crumpled, he was dead before he hit the ground. Justinian looked round, the others had disappeared into the trees. He scanned the tree line but there was no movement.
He bent down and wiped his sword on the dead bandits tunic. The erstwhile captives were now standing. A corpulent middle-aged man started towards Justinian.
The whole thing since first seeing the bandits, throwing his mail tunic over his head and charging at the wagons had taken less than five minutes. During that time he had not paid any attention to anyone but the bandits.
The man started to speak; Justinian noticed his small piggy eyes flick to the military awards on his chest. “Sir, Sir thank you for saving us. We are fortunate indeed to have such a brave decorated officer come to our rescue in our time of need”
Justinian just nodded and looked at the others now gathering round. His gaze stopped at a young woman standing slightly apart from the others. He had never seen anyone quite like her before.
Her skin was light brown similar to the Carthaginians Justinian had met in North Africa but there was something different about her. Her hair was Jet black and long almost down to her waist. Her large eyes were dark brown almost black, her features were fine and even, eyebrows thin and arched.
Their gaze locked for a fleeting moment, Justinian felt his face flush. She gave him a slight smile revealing even, white teeth, and then lowered her eyes.
The man standing in front of him noticed where he was looking. “Ah young man I see you have noticed my greatest treasure. She is special, very special.”
Justinian was hardly listening, the man continued. “She is worth 15000 Denarii, a huge fortune, they were going to take her!” He shook his head causing his chins to wobble. “Aulus Fabius Calvus would have had me put into the arena if I had lost her.”
Justinian started and brought his attention back to the person in front of him
“Aulus Fabius Calvus”
Justinian removed his helmet. His uncle, what did he want a slave like that for, especially one as expensive as that!
The man continued, “My name is Aulus Cunobelinus, a Freedman. What may we call our rescuer?”
“Oh I’m sorry I forget my manners. My name is Justinian Flavius Appius.”
“Where are you going Justinian?”
“That is where we are going. Will you travel with us and afford us your protection for the rest of the journey?”
“Yes of course”
Justinian whistled his horse. It appeared over the brow of the incline and came trotting up to him. He decided to keep his mail on so he adjusted his belt. In his haste he had grabbed his sword from its scabbard, which was still attached to the horse’s saddle. He untied the baldric put it over his shoulder and sheathed his sword.
The remainder of the people in the caravan were attending to the two wounded. The dead were quickly buried at the side of the road. Once everything was tided away they moved off.
Justinian’s head was feeling much better so he decided to ride. He rode by the side of the cart carrying the slave. Cunobelinus appreciated his attention to his most expensive asset but Justinian wanted to talk to her.
Along with his new memories he had gained a strange aversion to slavery since the blow to his head. He had not thought about it before. He had fond memories of the house slave who had looked after him as a child. He had thought more of her than his mother because his mother had always been rather distant. Then there was his Greek teacher again he had not thought of him as a slave.
“Hello, what’s your name?” He asked her.
She turned and looked up; she had an unreadable expression on her face. Justinian was just above her sitting on his horse even though the wagons were fairly high off the ground.
“My name is Pracheeta Sarika sir” She replied.
He had to repeat her name several times before he could pronounce it correctly.
“Where are you from?”
“I am from India sir”
Justinian had difficulty understanding her stilted heavily accented Latin.
He was only vaguely aware where India was so he asked her how she came to be in Italy.
From what he could understand her father, who was some sort of king or noble had dispatched her to a rival to cement a peace agreement by marriage. Unfortunately her caravan had been attacked. She and her retinue were taken to the coast where she had been sold. She had been transported by land and sea to Rome where an agent of his uncle had purchased her.
The wagons had by that time reached more cultivated areas, with the occasional villa set just off the road. It was not long before they were within sight of Pompeii and when Justinian had to turn off to reach his family home. He directed Cunobelinus to where his uncle’s villa was situated just outside the walls of Pompeii.
He felt strangely reluctant to leave the Indian slave to his uncle. He and his uncle never got on. He had an unpleasant streak and widely considered to be rather effeminate. Still he was a Roman and despite the new strange memories and beliefs percolating in his subconscious he had his duty.
He swung off the road and made his way to the family villa situated on the gentle slopes of the mountain of Vesuvius. His horse clattered into the courtyard just as darkness was falling. He swung his leg over the saddle and slid to the ground. A slave appeared and took hold of her harness.
“Stable her and have my luggage sent to my rooms”
The slave nodded, turned the horse and led her out of the courtyard. With the echoing sound of the horse’s hooves receding in his ears Justinian walked up the steps to the main entrance of the villa.
The door swung open as he reached the top step. One of the house slaves met him. “Your mother is expecting you sir”
Justinian grunted “I will bath first, the journey has been long and dusty”
The slave bowed “Yes sir”
Justinian stepped out of the atrium into the corridor, which led to the back of the villa and the family baths. It had been nearly ten years since Justinian had left to join the legions but he remembered the villa where he had spent most of his childhood. There were other estates belonging to his family but managers or tenants ran most of them. There was also a holiday villa on the cost but it was mainly used by his parents.
The corridor avoided the family living quarters and Justinian was not ready to face his mother. He wanted to relax in a hot bath and collect his thoughts.