Come Twilight

Part I Csimenae Chapter 8

"It has been more than ten days, and no one has attacked," Csimenae said to Sanct' Germain late in the afternoon of the mid-point of September. It was hot; the languid breeze hardly moved the air around, though all of the barn doors stood open. Odors from the creamery on the south side of the walls mixed with stench of the midden, to the north-west, away from the little stream that leaped and shimmied down the hillside a hundred paces beyond the village walls. "Are you certain of what you saw in the forest?"

"I am," he said as he stood up, letting the mule's hind leg drop. "They said they were going to take Mont Calcius." The barn was lit by the slanting rays of the setting sun, burnishing everything; the animals were lethargic with the heat, only flicking their tails to be rid of flies, but otherwise drooping as Sanct' Germain went about tending to their hooves.

"But they have not come," she persisted; she held her son in an improvised sling, and as he struggled to free himself she confined him again. "Might they have meant another village and you misunderstood them?"

"It is unlikely. Their intentions were plain, though they have not acted yet," said Sanct' Germain as he went around to the off-side of the mule and lifted his hoof, straddled his leg and began to wield his rasp; in spite of the warmth of the barn and the effort of his task, there was no trace of sweat on him.

"Perhaps they will not come, after all. Perhaps the horses have kept them away. We have enough men to hold the gates, and we have weapons to fight with. They may have seen that we are prepared to fight and have looked for easier game," said Csimenae with enough emphasis to make it apparent she was no longer convinced of the danger.

Sanct' Germain paused in his work. "Perhaps. Or it may be that they know more than you think." It was risky to venture so much, but he thought it judicious to draw her attention to the possibility of a spy in the village.

"Do you mean they watch us?" She nodded, absent-mindedly stroking Aulutis' arm. "Yes. I suppose they would do. They will know we have strengthened our walls. I still think they may have decided not to bother trying to take the village. They may choose one that is not as well-defended."

"Or they may be waiting until you drop your guard," Sanct' Germain said. "They may be watching more closely than you know."

She glared at him. "You think there are spies inside the walls, don't you? Do not bother to deny it. I can read it in your face. You are certain that there are spies." She caught Aulutis' tiny hand in hers and held it. "You believe that there are men in this village who will betray their oaths."

"Yes. I do," he said, looking up from his work. "And so do you."

"No!" Her eyes glittered. "How can you imagine that I would hold such thoughts about anyone in the village? You should know better than that, Sanct' Germain. I have accepted the vows of all who live inside the gates. How can I believe that they are foresworn?"

"Because they are men, and they are not alone in the world. You would be foolish not to have some doubts," said Sanct' Germain at his most unperturbed. "You would not guard your son as you do if you were as certain as you claim to be." He finished his work with the rasp and let the mule's foot down.

"You are wrong," she said with a show of indifference. "You are not one of us. You do not know-"

"I have been about the world, and I have seen men swear fidelity with treachery in their hearts. Even the most honorable of men can turn to perfidy if he is driven to it." Most recently had been outside Baghdad, and had led to the death of nine men, as well as his own ordeal of heat and sun. "You may be right, but if you are, you have a village of honor beyond any I have ever encountered."

"Well, and so I do," she asserted. "You have let yourself be misled by those who are greedy and untrustworthy. Here we know what an oath means. If I fail to keep my pledge, may I be dragged behind a horse to my death."

"I hope, for your sake, that you are not put to the test. But I encourage you to keep the night-guards patrolling." He went to the next mule and lifted her on-side front foot. "Think about all you have done for Aulutis, and measure your decisions against that."

"You want to make me afraid," Csimenae said.

"If that will keep you safe, then yes I do." He used the rasp as he went on. "I also ask you to observe your people. Some of them have ties to those outside the gates, and they may feel that their obligations of blood outweigh the vows they have given to your son."

"You are a horrible man," Csimenae declared, turning abruptly on her heel and starting out into the glowing afternoon.

"Possibly. But I may also be right," he said as he continued his work.

That night passed uneventfully, and the next, but the night after that there was a disturbance at the edge of the sheepfold that brought the night-guard running into the market square to pound on the brass shield that had been hung up for that purpose.

"Thieves! Thieves!" Henabo shouted, bashing the shield one last time. "They're taking our sheep!"

"Taking sheep?" came the sharp cry from Csimenae's house. "They shall have none. By my blood, they shall not!"

The uproar increased as the village roused from sleep into confusion. Shouts and alarms began to summon everyone from their houses. Rushing out of doors, the women milled around the market square, trying to keep their few children from panic. The men were not much better: they held clubs and knives but were irresolute in their manner, and one of them was already behaving as if he had been bested in battle. Frightened and dispirited, the villagers responded to Csimenae's outrage with a lack of enthusiasm that boded ill.

If Csimenae was aware of this, she did not reveal it in her activity; she made her way to the center of the market square and climbed onto the bed of a low wagon that stood there. "You know there is danger!" she shouted aloud. "You know that we are set-upon by evil men. You must rally now, and fight them off, or you will be their slaves and worse than slaves."

"They are of this place!" Rilsilin protested.

"Not if they come to take it with weapons and kill us." Csimenae took the nearest torch and extinguished it. "We will not make it easy for them. Let them have as little light as possible to guide them."

"That was clever." From his position near the barns, Sanct' Germain marveled at Csimenae's steadfast demeanor. He held his Byzantine sword in one hand and a Roman dagger in the other. He was listening for the next rush the attackers were about to make, sensing that they were not quite ready to charge the walls.

"Let each of you stand to his place by the walls and use the flails on the attackers. Break their shoulders and their heads and you will have the victory, for there are fewer of them than there are of us." Her voice was a clarion, strong with purpose. "If you defeat the attackers, you will be rewarded for your fealty to Aulutis. If you fail, you will receive no mercy from the men outside the walls."

Rilsilin lifted his head and shouted, "Do not fight! They are our kinsmen. They will do us no harm."

"Do you think so?" Csimenae demanded. "There are no enemies as bitter as kinsmen. But if you want to take your chances, you may slip away through the sheepfold, and pray you will be welcomed with gratitude." Her laughter was harsh and condemning.

There was a muttering among the others, and finally Henabo shouted out, "We must fight. If we do not, we will be disgraced." He climbed up beside Csimenae and raised his fist. "Get your flails and your axes and your hammers and take up your positions. The woman is right."

For a long moment no one moved, and then Ione shouted, "I will take a cudgel."

That ended the reluctance: the men and youths surged forward, all trying to show their courage as they shouted their new-found determination aloud.

Sanct' Germain kept his attention on the sheep, watching their nervous behavior, their surging from one side of the sheepfold to the other, listening to their bleating; they were as useful watchmen as dogs, or geese. "Not yet, not yet," he said quietly, wondering what the attackers were doing that kept them in the trees.

There was a flurry of movement as the villagers hurried to take up their posts, weapons at the ready. Everyone was excited, their senses keen; they kept their fear at bay. Csimenae shouted to them, putting them on their mettle, exhorting them to be vigilant, not to slack in their purpose.

But the men in the forest did not move for some time; the village defenders grew edgy, then sullen, at last becoming sleepy and inattentive. As exhaustion seduced them, their fears returned as they waited, their imaginations increasing the number and ferocity of their enemies with every suppressed yawn. As the delay lengthened, two of the guards drowsed off into fitful slumber.

Csimenae had gone back into her house to tend to her fussing son when there was an eruption of men at the edge of the trees, and more than a dozen of them charged the walls, a log slung on ropes between them to use as a battering ram. Those awake enough to cry out did, and in the space of two quick breaths all was confusion.

One group of attackers made for the gate with the intention of breaking it open while a second group ran at the barn with axes swinging. Wood splintered and a mule screamed as a curved blade bit through the rough plank, embedding itself deeply in the animal's flank; the mule kicked, breaking the wall open for the men outside. The second mule brayed and began to strike out with her hooves, her teeth bared in warning. The horses milled in their end of the barn, eyes showing whites and necks craning as they sought to flee.

Sanct' Germain moved quickly to the edge of the barn, his weapons ready to swing. The long Byzantine sword hummed as he sliced the air with it. Then he turned and brought the sword up in a smooth, backhanded stroke that stopped as it struck one of the marauders who had hidden in the overhang of the barn roof. In the next breath, Sanct' Germain had brought his dagger into play, driving back a second man before the first had finished screaming. He advanced on the men-there were four of them on their feet-his sword driving them back. One of the attackers landed a lucky blow on Sanct' Germain's forearm, and was rewarded by a thrust from the dagger that left him on his knees before Sanct' Germain, his eyes dazed and blood spurting out from between his fingers. Sanct' Germain ducked an axe-swing that caught the kneeling man on the temple; he went down without a sound. The third attacker shrieked and struck at Sanct' Germain with a long-handled axe. Sanct' Germain slapped the axe away with the flat of his sword and then lunged with his dagger. The metallic odor of blood was thick in the air.

Shouts and shrieks filled the night as the fighting continued; one of the two torches lit in the village was doused, so that most of the skirmishing was done in darkness. When two of the attackers attempted to scale the walls, the guards fell on them from their watches above them and brawled with fists and feet with as deadly intent as those with actual weapons in their hands.

Sanct' Germain continued his progress along the side of the barn, driving back the attackers as he came upon them. Two more men lay wounded by the time he reached the creamery door and signaled to Rogerian to admit him. He paid little heed to the wound on his forearm, and none at all to the blood that dripped from it; there would be time to heal after the town was safe.

Rogerian noticed the wound, but said only, "The villagers are holding their own."

Nodding, Sanct' Germain said, "They will prevail if they do not let fear overwhelm them. The attackers are not prepared for resistance."

At the gate there was a sudden shout of dismay, for the attackers had smashed one of the horse-skulls that hung over it. The omen was plain and the villagers all but lost heart as the skull was battered to shards by the men outside.

"Go," Sanct' Germain said to Rogerian, cocking his chin in the direction of the market square. "I will brace this door."

"Do not falter now!" Csimenae was shouting. "If we fail now, then we deserve to be slaves! We deserve death!"

There was a bit of a rally, a few of the defenders taking up her challenge; the rest were too disheartened.

Then Rogerian came running up with two new torches in his hands. "You must uphold the horses," he shouted to them. "Their spirits will not spare you if you do nothing to preserve their home."

In the creamery, Sanct' Germain had more trouble: two men were chopping down the door with axes. His brace was not enough to withstand their assault, and so he took his sword and thrust at the men through the gouges in the wood.

One of the men cursed, but the other fought all the harder, reducing two of the door's boards to kindling in five desperate blows. His companion continued to hurl imprecations at Sanct' Germain and the village he defended. The man with the axe started to climb through the opening he had made. Sanct' Germain swung his Byzantine sword, letting the weight of the blade carry it deep into the man's thigh.

The man bellowed and scrambled back, leaving a wide spatter of blood behind. He and the man with him staggered away from the door as Sanct' Germain pushed through the wreckage of the door to make sure the two did no more damage; they might be injured, but they could still be dangerous. One of the men brandished a dagger as he strove to escape. Sanct' Germain had no difficulty seeing the fleeing men in the darkness, but the confusion of the fighting made it hard to keep track of them as the attackers began to mill, their own disorder bringing more disarray to the villagers. He kept after them, occasionally glancing back to see if any of the other attackers had discovered the gaping hole where the creamery door had been.

As Sanct' Germain dispatched the second of the men he chased, he heard the renewed shouting from the gates-the villagers had begun to fight once more, and their resolve was once again high. They began to shore up the gates as the younger men took baskets of stones and climbed to the top of the walls to hurl these down on the men outside.

Csimenae began to chant; the words were harsh, in a language Sanct' Germain did not recognize, and the melody confined itself to three notes, but it was stirring to the villagers, and soon most of them were chanting with her, shouting on every eighth syllable.

Now the attackers hesitated, and two of them broke and ran; the slower of the two was brought down by a cudgel thrown by one of his fellows. One of the attackers did his best to shout over the chanting, "This is deviltry! They are praying to demons! What do we have to fear? There are monks praying for us!"

Rocks showered down. From his vantage-point at the side of the barn. Sanct' Germain saw the attackers withdraw a short distance. He took advantage of this lull to hasten to Csimenae.

She was still leading the chanting, and a few of the villagers were flushed with premature victory. "How many did you rout?" she asked as she reached the end of a cadence in the chanting.

"Four," he answered. "Two of them are dead and we will have to bury them."

"Oh, no," she said. "Not until the kites and crows have picked their bones." She grinned her fury. "They must show what happens to those who come against us."

A few of the villagers added their support in vigorous shouting.

Sanct' Germain knew better than to press the matter with her now. Instead he told her, "I think they will make another rush, and soon."

"No," she said. "They will vanish into the hills and we will never see them again." The last words were cries of triumph.

"I fear they are not beaten yet; they may return for another assault," said Sanct' Germain. "Keep ready until sunrise. In case they have not accepted their defeat. Remember they have wounded to retrieve-"

He got no farther. "Wounded?" She pointed to Henabo. "Take one of the men with you and kill the injured. We have no use for them here."

"Kill them?" Sanct' Germain could not stop himself from exclaiming. For the first time he felt the ache in his arm where the blood was finally beginning to dry. "You cannot kill them."

"Yes. We must. Kill them. They would have done as much to us. We haven't food enough to keep them as slaves-you know that as well as I do. So they must die." Csimenae held up her arm and the men around her shouted agreement. "Go; do what you must."

"At least wait until morning," said Sanct' Germain. "Your men could be-"

Csimenae ignored him. "Kill them. Now."

Henabo pointed to Namundis. "You. Come with me." He hefted an iron-headed sledge-hammer and strode toward the gates.

Namundis nodded, swallowed hard, and took a stout cudgel before going after Henabo, his cheeks flushed beneath his fuzz of youthful beard.

"They will swear vengeance on you and on this village for-" Sanct' Germain protested, only to be interrupted.

"Let them swear whatever they like," Csimenae declared, and spat. "We will kill all who come against us." She smiled as the villagers made loud cries of assent. "They will not dare to attack us, no one will dare."

Pordinae shouted, "Let them die!" and the others took up her call, repeating it until it, too, became a chant.

"There is no benefit in this," Sanct' Germain said, but no one heard him.

An appalling sound rent the night-part shriek, part sigh, it came with a pulpy thud.

"That is what will become of all who attack us!" Csimenae shouted, and was echoed by a second fatal bludgeon.

The villagers cheered. Then the cheers turned to screams as a second wave of attackers came rushing out of the woods, their axes and hammers already swinging.

Namundis, who had been straddling a wounded man, gave a cry of dismay, then fell under the first onslaught as the men rushed at the walls.

"Fight!" Csimenae shouted. "Fight! Kill them!"

The people of the village struggled to overcome their burgeoning terror. Pordinae reached for a big iron rake and started to climb onto the wall. "Strike them down!"

"Strike them!" The shout encouraged the villagers, and they strove once more to fight off the outsiders.

It was a fast, ferocious skirmish: the attackers rushed at two sides of the walls, their hammers striking stones and flesh alike. The villagers clambered onto the walls and used rakes, hoes, and flails to batter at the men charging their stronghold.

Sanct' Germain climbed onto the roof of the house nearest the gate and called out where the attackers were. "Someone close the creamery! Brace the door from within!" he ordered, knowing it was the weakest part of their defenses. "And someone guard the barn! And the sheepfold!" He was shocked at how few men there were, and he realized how desperate they must be; he was at once more sympathetic to their plight and steeled against them, for they had very little to lose in this battle. Along with the sweep of the fighting, he could sense the coming dawn, and knew his strength would diminish with the light.

Three of the attackers managed to climb onto the wall, and one of them used a shepherd's sling to hurl rocks at the defenders until one of the villagers managed to batter him off the walls with a pig-goad. One of the fallen man's fellows was able to loose three more stones before he, too, and his remaining comrade, was driven from their place.

When the end came, it was quick; the attackers lost their impetus, faltered, then fell back rapidly, dragging their wounded with them, and pulling Namundis' mangled body after them. Inside the walls the villagers rushed to watch the retreat, confused by the suddenness of the withdrawal.

Sanct' Germain came down from the roof, weariness possessing him like a ghost. He leaned against the wall of the house, his arm aching, and his soul in despair. The villagers who hurried past him paid him no heed.

"My master." Rogerian's voice cut through the commotion and caught his attention.

He straightened up. "What is it?" For he could see from Rogerian's face that something was wrong.

"Csimenae," said Rogerian. "She has been...hurt." He said this last in the language of the Mongols on the Old Silk Road. "Ione has her."

"Hurt?" Sanct' Germain repeated in the same tongue. "Badly?"

"Yes." Rogerian glanced about uneasily. "Come with me."

Sanct' Germain squinted up into the night sky that was just beginning to fade. "I will," he said, knowing he would soon have to be indoors or suffer for it. He made himself walk with Rogerian as if he had all his strength still. "What happened?"

"One of the rocks in the slings-it struck her. Here." He laid his hand on the side of his head, above and slightly behind his ear.

Sanct' Germain frowned. "The skull?"

"Is broken," said Rogerian, and paused while Sanct' Germain considered this. "Not terribly, but broken. The side of her head feels...soft."

"Is she conscious?" Sanct' Germain asked as they reached the door to Ione's house.

"When I came for you she was, but her pain was great and she was...not herself." He indicated the villagers who had come to the market square to assess their losses, and said, "They do not know yet."

"Ah." Sanct' Germain closed his eyes a moment, then opened them, saying, "You had best bring my chest. I will do what I can for her."

Rogerian nodded, turning away before the crowd could understand their purpose. "I will be circumspect," he promised as he went off through the reveling villagers.

Behind Sanct' Germain, Ione opened the door. "Come in. Hurry. There isn't much time." She tugged him inside.

"Is Csimenae failing?" Sanct' Germain asked as the door was closed sharply.

"I fear," said Ione, pointing to the huddled figure beside her hearth.

Sanct' Germain went to her at once, dropping down onto one knee and leaning forward to examine her wound; he saw she held Aulutis close against her, and said, "Will you let me take him?"

"No!" Her voice was weak but there was no mistaking her determination. She looked blearily at Sanct' Germain. "Don't let. Them."

"She is afraid of what they will do to him," Ione explained.

"Why should they do anything?" Sanct' Germain wondered aloud as he inspected the side of Csimenae's head.

"They swore fealty to him," said Ione as if there was an obvious conclusion to this.

"Yes. Why should he fear them if he has their oath?" He saw the matted blood in her hair and the slight depression where the bone had broken; without his sovereign remedy it was only a matter of time before contamination of flesh would exhaust her body and she would succumb to fever. At least, he thought, he still had syrup of poppies to ease her pain.

Csimenae licked her lips. "Thirsty," she muttered.

"May I have some water?" Sanct' Germain asked Ione before once again attempting to take Aulutis from his mother. "I will not harm him; I want to treat you. Surely you can trust me to do this."

"No," she whispered, clutching her son so fiercely that he whimpered.

Ione brought the water. "It is the villagers," she said as she handed him a ceramic cup. "They will have to kill him if they want to end their fealty. They will drag him behind a horse. And her as well."

Sanct' Germain did not falter in holding the cup for Csimenae, but he looked around at Ione, startled. "Why should they do that?"

"If Aulutis cannot lead them, they will have to find someone who will. If Csimenae dies, they will kill her child for the good of the village." Ione studied Sanct' Germain. "Is she going to die?"

"Her injury is very grave," he admitted as he took the cup away; Csimenae had managed to drink half of it. "But killing the boy-"

"They must," Ione said as if any other possibility was unthinkable. "And Csimenae."

"And if Csimenae lives, what then?" He touched the mass of hair and blood as lightly as he could; there was no doubt the bone was broken.

"Then they will not abjure their oaths. But she would have to be strong enough to raise him, and to bring him to manhood." She took a step back. "If she is weak, or simple, they will kill her and her son, so that they may have a proper leader to support."

"If she needs time to recover, will she have it?" He was vexed with himself for what he was thinking; he had sworn when Nicoris had decided to die that he would bring no more of the living into his life; she had shown him that for most, his gift was worse than a scourge and he had realized then that he must not impose himself again on anyone. Yet he knew beyond question that if he did not offer his life to Csimenae she, and her child, would be lost to the desperate villagers and the attackers beyond the walls: it was unbearable. He heard Rogerian's rap on the door, and turned with relief. "If you will admit my servant."

Ione pulled the door back a little way and peered out. "It is he," she said as she opened the door to let him in.

"Very good," said Sanct' Germain as he rose to take the chest Rogerian carried. "Thank you," he said.

"It is little enough," Rogerian responded with a slight nod in Csimenae's direction. "That injury is...dire."

"I fear you are right," Sanct' Germain said as he opened the chest. "Syrup of poppies and the pansy anodyne, I think." He spoke remotely, as if his thoughts were far away and this work was done by rote.

"And willow bark," Rogerian suggested.

"It will ease any swelling," Sanct' Germain agreed. He looked at Ione. "Do you have a small bowl I could use? I want to make a treatment for Csimenae."

Ione's expression was skeptical, but she went and retrieved a small copper bowl from her pantry shelves. "Will this do? And what of the boy?"

"She will not let him go," Sanct' Germain said, aware of the force with which Csimenae held onto Aulutis.

"Not yet," said Ione, her meaning clear: when Csimenae was dead, Aulutis would be sacrificed.

"She's almost crushing him," Rogerian said, his concern making his austere features look forbidding. "Can you persuade her to release him?"

"I do not know," Sanct' Germain said as he took two small jars and a vial from his chest. "I will need a bandage for her. Something light, with that loose linen from Corduba."

"If there is any left," said Rogerian.

"If there is not, then make strips of my old silk tunica; you know the one. It is light enough." He went about his preparation with the ease of old habit. "Ione, will you keep watch for us?"

She hesitated, then said, "I will. Unless she fails. If she is dead, I must tell the rest, or they will kill me for my silence."

Sanct' Germain nodded, knowing that Csimenae could not last very long no matter what medicaments he provided. "That is kind of you."

Ione said nothing in reply; she kept her position, looking nervously from the door to Csimenae and back again. She bit her lower lip as the noise outside increased.

As soon as Sanct' Germain had prepared his herbal paste, he gave the vial to Rogerian. "Mix this with wine for me, if you would. Not too much. She is too weak for much syrup of poppies."

Rogerian took the vial. "This will not-"

"Do it," Sanct' Germain said softly.

"There is one thing you can do to save her, my master. You cannot restore her, as you did me, for you haven't all the material you would need. But you can save her." Rogerian went about diluting the syrup of poppies as he spoke.

"You know what coming to my life has done," Sanct' Germain said, his voice brittle.

"You mean what it did to Nicoris," Rogerian said evenly.

Sanct' Germain began to spread the paste on the side of Csimenae's head, covering the whole area; she moaned and mumbled a few scraps of protest, but was unable to gather strength enough to stop him; she paddled the air with limp hands and stared out at Sanct' Germain with glazed eyes. "What do you mean?" He gave Rogerian his full attention as soon as he had finished.

"I mean that Nicoris was not Csimenae, and that what Nicoris found a curse would be salvation for Csimenae. Think of what will happen if you do not." Rogerian spoke bluntly, meeting Sanct' Germain's dark gaze unflinchingly. "Do you think Olivia finds her life a curse?"

"Csimenae is not Olivia: she has no notion of what I am, or what my life is," Sanct' Germain said as he scrutinized Csimenae, trying to read her pale face.

"At least if you save her, she will have time to learn," Rogerian handed him a cup with the syrup of poppies. "It would mean her son would live. She has done so much for her son." Beneath his stern self-control, Rogerian felt a pang as he remembered his own children, now centuries dead.

"That she has, and with scant reward," Sanct' Germain said, comprehension in his response. "All right. For the sake of her son, and for you, old friend."

Csimenae muttered, "Horses."

Rogerian made a formal reverence. "I will see to Ione," he offered, and went to the woman at the door. "Will you help me? I have silk to cut." He added, "It will be to bind Csimenae's head."

She made a gesture to the door. "If anyone should come inside."

Aulutis began to wail, his tiny fists waving in his struggle to get away from his mother's convulsive hold on him.

"Set the bolt," Rogerian recommended as he put action to his suggestion. "That should keep them out."

Ione shrugged, and gave a tug to her stola. "It should, for a little while."

Wriggling, Aulutis managed to work himself out of Csimenae's arms; he lay beside her, his eyes tearing from the effort of what he had done.

"They may not even try it," Rogerian assured her. "It is almost dawn and they are exhausted. They will tire, and then no one will disturb us." He led her away from the door and the place where Csimenae lay.

Sanct' Germain looked down at Csimenae's curled body and gave a tiny shake to his head. Then he began to peel back the scab on his arm, letting the blood well as he went down on his knees next to her. Very gently he took her head in one hand and guided her mouth to his own wound, holding his arm so that his blood ran over her lips. "Drink, Csimenae," he urged her, and felt her swallow once, twice, and then several times; she murmured a disjointed phrase, and finally began to suck on her own. As she did, her body began to relax, opening from her tight position to an attitude of peaceful half-slumber; although she remained pallid, the shine of sweat went from her brow, and she held onto him gently, taking what he offered without distress, her ghost of a smile revealing her satisfaction. After a while, there was a small trail of blood running from her lips to her chin. Only when his arm stopped bleeding did he rock back on his heels, knowing that she was now protected from death. "Rogerian," he called out softly, "It is sufficient."

Rogerian came to his side. "She looks better."

"I suppose so." He rose unsteadily to his feet then paused, listening intently. "The villagers have retired. And the sun has risen." His dark eyes were livid with exhaustion. "I must rest."

"I will tend to the livestock and then-"

"The mule will have to be killed if he isn't dead already. Smoke the meat." His voice was soft and when he took his first step, he nearly stumbled.

Ione, who had picked up Aulutis and was rocking him in her arms, stopped, regarding Sanct' Germain with alarm. "Are you ill?"

"No," he said. "Only tired." He looked at Ione for an instant. "You will have goat's milk for the child before morning is gone. Rogerian will bring it. I will return later in the day, when I have restored myself. I will watch Csimenae. In the meantime, do not worry at her condition. I expect there will be a crisis some time today. She may enter a very deep swoon, and her breath might be hard to detect. By tomorrow at this time, she will be recovering." He did his best to calm her fears. "She will rise from her bed, I promise you."

"For the sake of this boy, I hope so," said Ione, making no secret of her doubts.

"Let no one see her until tomorrow. I do not want the others to panic because Csimenae is injured." He made himself stand straighter. "Rogerian will leave my chest here for today in case I should need any medicaments to treat her tonight."

Rogerian, who had gone to the door, now inclined his head to show obedience. "It is time you retired, my master," he said. "Leave me to my tasks."

"Well enough," said Sanct' Germain, and nodded to Ione. "You will be rewarded for your kindness."

She held Aulutis up in her arms. "Milk for the boy, and soon, will be reward enough," she said, certain that if Csimenae survived she would be shown favor far beyond any she might have expected before this night.

"I will bring it directly," said Rogerian as he opened the door. Sunlight streamed in, brilliant and powerful.

Sanct' Germain lifted his arm to shield his face from the light. "Let us hasten," he said to Rogerian, feeling as if acid ate at his skin.

Rogerian complied at once, doing his best to keep between Sanct' Germain and the early morning light. As they went through the debris of the market square, he said to Sanct' Germain, "You did well, my master."

"Did I." Sanct' Germain told himself his uneasiness came from fatigue and sunlight, not from Csimenae's unprepared passage into his life. There might be difficulties for her, and for him, since only she had tasted blood; he had gained no knowledge with his bond to her. He would have much to tell her when she wakened that night; she would have to learn quickly. Vampiric life had immediate demands she would have to understand; he hoped she would not be repulsed by what she had become, that she would understand the necessity of what she had become. Entering his house, he sank down gratefully on the largest chest of his native earth, and as he lay in a stupor for most of the day, none of his misgivings troubled him.

Text of a letter from Episcus Luitegild of Toletum to Episcus Salvius of Tarraco.

To my most esteemed Brother in Christ and the Church we both serve, my prayerful greetings from Toletum on this most fortuitous day, when all Christians must give thanks to God for the bounty of harvest and the fulfillment of prophesy, and when it is agreeable in God's Eyes that we Episcus Brothers inform one another of the events occurring since the Paschal Feast; in such devotion I tender this to you, as I will provide similar reports to our fellows.

On this day, at the Feast of the Virgin, there has been word brought to this city that the Gardingi have finally agreed to rebuild the road to Tolosa in the spring. That will not have any benefit for this year, but winter will soon be upon us in any case, and any repairs that could be made will be of no use in this season. While we of Toletum my rejoice in this decision, you at Tarraco may have less reason to thank God for moving the Gardingi to action, for it may mean fewer pilgrims will sail from your port than have done this year because they could not travel on the road. It is still to our benefits that the road will once again be open, for whatever the case, it is of importance to all of us; once the road is repaired, Christians may once again undertake to walk to Rome to pray at the Tomb of Sanct' Petrus and seek the blessings of the Pope. Those who are going to Jerusalem are still going to arrive at Tarraco to take ship for that most sacred place.

The Praetorius of Toletum has announced a tax on all travelers, including pilgrims. I have appealed to him to remove the tax, but he has remained adamant. I warn you of this, for many of the Gardingi have also begun to levy such taxes, and it is possible that you, in a place where pilgrims gather, may find your flock equally burdened. The tax must be reduced for the sake of our faith. If your Praetorius is not willing to excuse pilgrims a tax, you may find that many more pilgrims will decide to travel by road rather than spend what little money they have on the taxes of Praetoria and Gardingi.

We have been told that there have been fewer Greek ships coming to Gades; have you seen a similar reduction in Greeks? If you have, do you know the reason why there has been such a reduction? There are rumors here, but I can discover no part of the truth. I have spoken to the Jews of the city, for they are powerful and their trading ships go everywhere, but we are too far from the ports for them to know anything more than what we have been told. If the Greeks have found other ports more to their liking, it would behoove us to know which ones they have decided to favor. The price of good cotton is rising in the markets and if that is to continue, we will have to provide other woven goods to our religious communities in this region. The Greeks have made cotton their own, and we have no choice but to pay their price for it or make our own linen. Would it be possible to grow cotton here, do you think? God has favored our industry in such matters in the past. Might He not do so now? I know there is no sin in our poverty, but I do not like to see our monks ragged as beggars-I leave that to solitary mendicants and penitent pilgrims. It is said that the Romans of old had cotton planted in this region, but whether this is true or not, I have no way to know: there is no cotton here now.

We have received the hand of Sanct' Procopius and have commissioned a proper reliquary for it. Fortunately a portion of the monies provided to us by the foreigner Sanct' Germain, who left Toletum many months since, remains and will allow us to have the hand reverentially displayed for the veneration of the people. It is altogether fitting that we demonstrate our piety in this way, let the Greeks say what they will. The sanctity of Procopius is present in the least part of him, and by being in the presence of his hand, Christians may share in his holiness. Those of your flock who may come to Toletum will be welcomed in Christ to receive the virtue of this hand.

Our hearts are full of gratitude that God has finally ended all signs of the Great Pox. Those who died of it are surely martyrs as those eaten by wild beasts in the time of the monstrous Nero, in whom the Devil moved to bring an end of our faith and thereby leave the world without Salvation. The Great Pox is the tool of the Devil, and as such it must be answered with fasting and prayer. Those who sought the help of sooth-sayers and perished have lost all hope of Paradise. The Christians of Toletum have decided that any who perished of the Great Pox without the Last Confession may not be buried with those who died in Grace. The Praetorius has levied a tax on all families seeking such burial for their kin. Because of this, many bodies have been taken outside the city walls and left at crossroads, where no tax may be imposed. A few monks have gone to pray for these unfortunates, but this is not encouraged, for the dead are beyond our help.

I anticipate the arrival of your tomus with the certainty that you will provide me information that will comfort all good Christians and assure the continuing strength of our faith, for surely your example will renew the devotion of us all. I have not yet heard from our Brothers in Gades or Corduba, but I await their promised communications with the same tranquility of spirit that I expect yours.

May God bring you the joys of wisdom and the serenity of piety. May He make your sons strong and worthy of you. May He lift up your eyes to the wonders of His Realm. May He guide your flock in the ways of virtue. May your worldly prestige enhance your faith. May your city always be a haven for those who have affirmed their trust in Our Lord. May you never know want or sin. May goodness be upon you from this moment until the Last Days. May God keep you in His Sight on earth and at His Right Hand in Paradise. Amen.

Episcus Luitegild

of Toletum and

the Seat of Sanctissimus Resurrexionem

Written and sealed the 30th day of September in the 622nd year of man's Salvation in the calendar of Sanct' Iago.
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