Come Twilight


Part II Chimenae Chapter 1





Now that it was dusk, he could move again; he had hidden all day, lying in the stupor that sunlight imposed upon him when he had no access to his native earth. San-Ragoz emerged from his hiding-place in the corner of the abandoned Roman cemetery where even the new spring flowers had an air of decay and neglect to them; he made his way past the ancient tombs with care, to emerge in the Old Merchants' Quarter. He was relieved that he still wore his black Byzantine dalmatica and black Persian kandys with black embroidery accents at neck and hem, for although they marked him as a foreigner, they also concealed him. The fading light had driven many of the residents indoors, away from the patrols of Umayyad soldiers with their lances and scimitars and whips. Concentrating intently, San-Ragoz kept alert to the approach of anyone still on the streets. Keeping to the narrowest of alleys and the darkest of paths, he took a circuitous route to the Byzantine Monastery of the Assumption, a squat, ancient building near the Eastern Gate of the city he still thought of as Corduba.

From the inside the stone walls came the drone of Greek chanting; San-Ragoz sank into the shadows of the short transept and waited for the evening prayers to end and the monks to retire to their dormitory. He reckoned these monks would leave one of their fellows in the chapel to guard the altar-flame, and all the rest would go off to pray and sleep, as Greek monks did. Their repetitive text and monotonous droning proved calming and he began to relax for the first time since he escaped the palace of the Emir's son. A pang of memory filled his thoughts with Charis and Cyprus, and his abduction to Tunis, followed by his sale into slavery; the enormity of his loss might have thrown him into melancholy but he forced such thoughts away: time enough for such recollection when he was out of Corduba-and to be out of Corduba he would have to achieve his goal here at the monastery. His opportunity would be brief, but he was determined to make the most of it, for if he could secure one of the habits, he could leave the city as a penitent before morning-not even the guards of the Emir's son stopped devout Christians in the practice of their faith.

The moon had risen by the time San-Ragoz slipped into the monastery and made his way toward the dormitory. He moved with unusual swiftness and so silently that no one heard him pass, or if they did, attributed it to the whispers of dreams. At the entrance to the dormitory corridor he paused, taking stock of his surroundings; there were only three oil lamps burning from one end of the hall to another, a reminder of the Trinity. What little illumination each shed was only enough to magnify the darkness beyond it. For San-Ragoz, this presented little trouble: he could see almost as well in the dark as he did in daylight, and just now night was his ally. Recalling other monasteries he had seen, he assessed the few, spartan furnishings, hoping to choose the one most likely to contain what he sought. Finally he made his way to the large chest in the alcove at the head of the corridor. He opened this with care and was rewarded with a stack of rough-woven, darkcolored dalmaticas that served as habits for the monks. Very carefully he took one from the middle of the stack and arranged the remaining garments so that no sign of any disturbance was noticeable. He worked as rapidly as he could, knowing that he risked discovery if he brought attention to himself.

As he was about to step back into the night, he heard a cough behind him; he froze.

One of the monks was making his way along the corridor, one hand extended to touch the rough stones of the wall.

It took San-Ragoz a long moment to see that the monk's eyes were white. Moving very slowly, he went around the corner and remained still until the old monk went past him, murmuring prayers in Greek. Once the corridor was empty again, San-Ragoz waited in stillness until he was certain he could once again move without detection.

When he was several streets away from the monastery, he stopped near a stable where he took his stolen dalmatica and tied it in knots, then rubbed the garment into the dusty stones paving the stable entrance. He continued to abuse the dalmatica for some little while, then removed his Persian kandys and subjected it to the same treatment as he had just given his penitent's habit. He began to fear he was risking too much time in his attempts to throw his pursuers off the track; he gave the habit one more energetic scrub on the stones, then stood up and untied the knots, then tugged it over his head, concealing the black silk dalmatica beneath. That done, he tugged one of the sleeves of the kandys loose and then pulled the eclipse-pattern embroidery off the neck before tossing the ruined garment near the stable midden. Satisfied that he had done as much as he could to make it appear he had met with foul play, he hurried toward the Eastern Gate, making sure to wipe his hands and face with soot as he went. By the time he was within sight of the gate he was grimy and smelly, just as he intended he should be.

"Halt," ordered the Moorish guard as San-Ragoz approached.

San-Ragoz did as he was told, remaining still while the guard came up to him.

"Are you leaving this city?" The guard wrinkled his nose in distaste.

"I am," said San-Ragoz in an attitude of resignation.

"Where are you bound?" asked the guard.

"I have been ordered to make a pilgrimage to Toloz, for a penance," San-Ragoz replied, adding, "I began at Gadez." Just speaking the name of Rogerian's city renewed his missing of his man-servant and valued companion; he hoped that Rogerian had not abandoned his search for him, in spite of the passage of more than thirty years.

"Why should you do penance?" The guard wanted to know. "If you wish to pass, you will answer me."

"I profaned the Church, and must atone for apostasy." As a good Moslem, San-Ragoz guessed the guard would be sympathetic to such an exercise, although he might deplore San-Ragoz's appalling condition: Christians, the guard was aware, equated filth with saintliness.

"So." The guard inspected San-Ragoz as well as he could in the darkness. "Let me see your shoulders," he ordered.

Although he knew the man was looking for a slave-brand, he asked, "Why?" in a truculent manner.

"That is not for you to know, dog." The last was an afterthought, a reminder that the Moors now held sway in Corduba.

"If you will tell me the reason you ask this of me, you will not offend me-unless that is your desire." San-Ragoz kept his voice even and his demeanor respectful, which made the guard consider his response.

"A dangerous slave has escaped and we are ordered to return him to Numair ibn Isffah ibn Musa for punishment," said the guard, reveling in this moment of self-importance. "No one may leave without baring his shoulders."

"To see if there is a burn-scar identifying him as a slave. I understand. Very well," said San-Ragoz, tugging at the neck of his two dalmaticas so that his left shoulder was exposed. "As you see, no brand." In all the years since his death, no injury had left a mark on his skin; the slave-brand had faded as soon as his skin healed.

"And the right one," the guard said.

San-Ragoz did as the guard required. "No brand there, either."

"True enough. You are not the man we seek." He stood back and was about to open the night-gate when something occurred to him. "Why do you travel at this hour?"

"It is required of me, and I must be obedient to my charge. I was given orders to begin my travels at the beginning of the Second Vigil, so that I would have to go in the dark, with only the stars and the Spirit of God to guide me," he said, providing the answer he had already prepared.

This time the guard made a gesture of approval. "Your superior is worthy of the Book. Profit by the lessons you are set."

San-Ragoz made the Sign of the Cross and bowed his head. "Holy is God," he said.

The guard lifted the brace on the gate and stood aside for San-Ragoz to pass. "May you learn wisdom, Penitent Christian dog."

With a gesture of humility, San-Ragoz went out of Corduba, into the cool, windy night, along the old Roman road that led eastward across the plateau and eventually, after many thousands of paces, into the mountains. He walked rapidly and steadily, seeking to put as much distance between him and the city as he could before daylight compelled him to seek out a shelter where he would not be discovered either by searchers or by mischance; he had no doubts that the soldiers of the Emir's son would soon follow him, for his ruse with the guard would not remain successful for very long: the morning inspection would list him among those departing, and that would put the soldiers on the scent. This certainty spurred him on. His efforts were exhausting, but he could not yet husband his strength, so he drove himself to keep on, to put as much distance between him and the soldiers of Numair ibn Isffah ibn Musa, the Emir's son

Shortly before sunrise he found a cleft in the rocks beside a small lake, and there he took refuge for the day, doing all he could to restore himself without blood or his native earth to nourish him; he sank into a deep, trance-like sleep that shut out most of the world around him. Once during the day he was vaguely aware that a flock of goats had come down to the edge of the lake to drink; their goatherd played an ill-tuned bagpipe to pass away the hours. The melody was still ringing in San-Ragoz's head when the sun dropped below the western horizon, and he once again continued his trek eastward.

By the third night he was famished; every step he took needed greater effort than the last, and as he trudged onward, he had to fight off the numbness of despair as he passed three razed villages, and anticipated worse ahead. He had seen the scars of battle across the countryside, and knew it would be increasingly devastated the closer he came to the actual areas of fighting; he had seen more than enough of war to seek it out now, but he was uncertain he would be able to avoid it entirely, for he had learned from Numair ibn Isffah ibn Musa the Moors were extending their invasion north and eastward. The thought of carnage sickened him.

Shortly before sunrise he managed to catch a large, white bird and take some of its blood, but this provided very little sustenance. He avoided places where people lived, especially if there were any signs of soldiers about: it had been nearly eleven years since the Berbers under Tariq had defeated the western Goths and the Berbers and Moors were still consolidating their territories even as they expanded their dominion; the destroyed villages gave testament to the continuing instability of the country, and the Moorish determination to hold what they had captured: soldiers could only mean trouble.

Finally, more by luck than cleverness, toward the morning of the next day San-Ragoz came upon a ruined villa left over from the days of the Romans. Most of the buildings were in disrepair, with vines and flowers running riot amid the broken marble. At the far end of what had once been the gardens, the large tepidarium of the old bath stood, rank with floating weeds and open to the sky; San-Ragoz was keenly aware of a beating human heart amid the wreckage of that vanished time; so keen was his need that the heartbeat seemed loud and compelling as a drum. He did not want to surrender to his craving, for he despised himself for his subjugation to it. Alone and enervated, for a moment he missed Roma keenly, and his Villa Ragoczy-it, too, was dilapidated, but just at present it was more inviting than any palace-then he put such things from his mind and did his utmost to determine who was living in the ruin, and why.

Moving silently, San-Ragoz made his way around the tepidarium toward the smaller, more intact frigidarium, for it seemed to him the heartbeat came from there. As he neared the frigidarium-thick-walled and dark to keep the water cold-he saw that a heavy, make-shift door had been constructed where the old door had been, and this one was marked with a cross. Someone had improvised a hermit's cell where the Romans had gone to bathe in cold water; the realization provided him brief, ironic amusement before he gave his attention to trying to work out some means of visiting the sleeper as a dream. He was so worn out that he began to doze before he hit upon any solution to alleviating his privation without exposing himself to worse than starvation, as well as bring horror and fury to the immured monk; so he was startled when, just before dawn, a young woman in a novice's habit came to the door of the tepidarium and called out to the inhabitant.

"Frerer Procopios, I have brought your morning bread."

"Deo gratias," came the answer in a muffled bass. "Why did she send you?"

"I asked for the opportunity," she said. "Are you well, Frerer?" she added, concern in her voice.

"I am as God wills me to be," Frerer Procopios replied.

"You do not sound wholly well," the novice persisted.

"That is God's business," said Frerer Procopios. "Whatever He send me, I will accept with humility for my failure in His cause."

"But if He should send you healing through-?" the novice said.

"He will do so," said Frerer Procopios. "His Angels will provide it." There was a long silence that was interrupted by birdcalls.

"And if the invaders come back? What will you do?" She sounded frightened.

"Die for the honor of Our Lord, as I should have done before," he said with the first enthusiasm he had shown. "I would win a Martyr's Crown with such a death. I should never have hesitated." His tone changed again, becoming flat. "So that splendid fate has passed me by. I lost that chance six years since." He was silent for a moment. "Go away. I must pray."

"And you must eat as well. My Sorrars have labored to make bread and cheese, and they do it for charity. Surely you-God sends us food to sustain us; you must not spurn it." She sounded plaintive. "For Mercy, you are my half-brother; you are the only one left alive." Now she was pleading, perilously near tears. "Procopios. Please. One mother bore us both. I cannot forget that."

"You must. I am not that man any longer." The words were abrupt.

There was a longer silence this time; finally the novice said, "I will bring you your evening meal."

"Deo gratias," said Frerer Procopios.

"Deo gratias," the novice echoed.

San-Ragoz listened intently as the novice left the make-shift cell. He could hear the man inside reciting prayers in a rasping tone. The sky was beginning to shine with the coming of day, and San-Ragoz knew he had to find shelter until nightfall, so he slipped away through the ruins to the old holocaust and settled into the maw of the ancient furnace, confident that he would remain undisturbed in such a secure hiding place. He set a slab of paving stone across the opening and let himself lapse into the torpor that passed for sleep among those who had come to his life. His last thought was that by the next time the sun rose, his appetite would be satisfied.

It was the novice's voice that wakened him once again, at sundown. San-Ragoz sat up, all vestiges of sleep gone from him; he listened as the novice greeted Frerer Procopios, her voice quivering a little as she spoke, as if her despondency of the morning was still fresh. "Are you all right?"

"I am as God wills me to be," he said, "That is all I ask, and all you should ask, Fountes."

"I am worried about you," she said.

"That is unworthy of you," said Frerer Procopios harshly. "You should pray for the conversion of the Moors and the Jews, not worry about me."

Listening to the two, San-Ragoz felt himself drawn to the melancholy novice, Fountes. He understood her sorrow with the solace of empathy; he listened more closely and moved a little nearer.

"I can't help it," said Fountes. When Frerer Procopios said nothing more, she added plaintively. "You are all the family left to me."

"I am not your family," he said. "You are one with the women of your community. I am one with my vocation. If you cannot achieve this understanding, you should leave your community."

The novice said nothing for a while, then coughed gently. "I will ask another novice to tend to your needs."

"If God wills it and your Superiora approves," said Frerer Procopios with deliberate indifference.

"Of course. If she approves. Deo gratias." Fountes began to move away from the old frigidarium, moving slowly along the ill-defined path that led out of the ruined villa to the rutted track that served as a road for this region.

San-Ragoz emerged from his hiding place and followed after the novice, all his concentration on her. He could sense her misery and loneliness as she tried to pray; as intense as his esurience was, his compassion for her in her dejection was greater.

Some two thousand paces from the old villa, the novice reached a long building that had been the stable for a long-fled Gardingio; it was now a small community of perhaps a dozen religious women, the box-stalls converted to cells, the central aisle to a chapel. Fountes went toward the nearest door surmounted by a cross, and spoke briefly to someone inside, then went along the building to a door that stood half-open.

In the shadows, San-Ragoz kept pace with Fountes, sensing her growing distress. He took refuge behind an overgrown berry hedge filled with blossoms and thorns; here he waited while the community finished chores and closed in for the night. When only the Vigil Lamp was shining, and the measured breathing of sleep sounded in the night, he moved out into the open, crossing the distance to Fountes' cell. He tested the door with care, determining whether or not it was barred from within. Satisfied that it was not, he eased it open, then entered the cell, pulling the door closed behind him.

The cell still had the look of a stall: the manger now served as a shelf for Fountes' few belongings, the palla that was her outer habit, and a single oil-lamp, now extinguished; the crucifix on the door hung from a halter-hook. The earthen floor had been carefully swept, and the cot that served as a bed stood along one wall; all three inner walls had been extended to the ceiling, closing off the cells as the stalls had never been. San-Ragoz stood for a long moment to assess his situation before he turned all his attention on Fountes, lying supine and asleep under a single worn blanket, to contemplate her before he spoke, his voice deep and soft. "You are dreaming, Fountes. You are pleased to dream. You welcome your dream. You are entering a wonderful vision, where you find comfort and solace. Everything you long for is yours, and all pain and loneliness have gone."

She murmured a few indistinguishable syllables and turned onto her side.

"In your dream, you are happy and carefree. No one troubles you. You embrace it with all your heart. This dream is an end to sorrow. You are in the house of your family, and all is well. You are deprived of nothing." He moved a little closer to her. "All your sacrifices have been rewarded, and you are restored to joy." A distant echo from his own life sounded deep within him. In the first few centuries after he had become a vampire, how he had yearned to be restored to his family, to life as it had been before the forces of the long-forgotten Hittites had come into the Carpathians, killing his father and enslaving him and his brothers and sisters. That had been nearly three thousand years ago, but the loss still caused a remote ache within him, and an abiding understanding of her loss. "You know delight, and you welcome it. In the gardens of your house, you have flowers and birds to gladden you; nothing diminishes your elation." He was at her side; he knelt down next to her cot as he sensed her enveloping herself in her dream. "You are overcome with unmarred happiness."

Deep as her sleep had become, her breathing slow and regular, she smiled, changing her careful, closed features to the enchanting face of a lighthearted young woman. Her body softened as well, one hand sliding off the edge of the cot, the palm upturned and slightly open.

"You are graceful and lithe as you move about your garden; you are warmed by the sun and caressed by the fragrant breeze. Everything you do is imbued with your radiance-plucking a flower from a branch, tossing your shining, red-gold hair, stopping to admire yourself in a pool of clear water." He touched her as he spoke, as lightly as the dream-wind would, barely grazing her arm with his fingertips. "Your dream is so sweet, so filled with enchantment: you immerse yourself in it, so that every fiber of your being quivers to its pulse."

Her tongue ran slowly over her lips and her head rolled back.

His hands were gentle and persuasive as he roused her, opening her flesh to his touch as reverently as he would open a budding rose. "You are filled with raptures as with music. All of you is absorbed in fulfillment, in ecstasy."

Culmination came quickly, the first pulsations taking him by surprise; she gave a little cry, her body trembled as he bent to her neck. She sighed with contentment as he moved away from her; her breathing steadied and slowed.

Rising from her side, San-Ragoz stood for a long moment, then spoke again, very softly. "You are strong and kind, Fountes. You are worthy of all good things. No God would punish you for your fortitude, nor your humanity, no matter what others tell you. You do not deserve the pain you have been given; you have no sin to expiate." Turning away toward the door, he felt a pang of sadness for this young woman whom he now knew so profoundly, and to whom he was so grateful; he wanted to shield her from her fears, and understood he could not.

Dawn found him more than ten thousand paces from Fountes' cell, in the long, rising valley that led eastward, toward Zaraugusta. He was sufficiently restored that he did not look for shelter until the sun was risen; he did not take the first place he came upon, but settled at last on a cellar of an abandoned farmhouse some distance from the road. His rest was deep but without the ache of vitiation that had worn him down since he left Corduba, and for that, he thanked Fountes in his thoughts.

It was five days before he took nourishment again. By this time, he was close behind the Berber army that was holding the Eberuz for the Caliph as the soldiers of Islam struck across the mountains into Toloz and beyond. This time he was more hurried than he wished to be, and the woman-a potter's widow living on the outskirts of Zaraugusta-was fretful, the woes of her daily life pursuing her in sleep, intruding on the illusory exaltation San-Ragoz imparted, so that she nearly woke as soon as she had achieved her fulfillment.

Without his native earth in the soles of his houseauz, he did not dare to cross running water in daylight; it would be hard enough in darkness. So it was after sunset that he made his way down the banks to where a number of small boats were tied to a wooden wharf cobbled onto the old Roman stone supports. The place was used by fishermen and they did their utmost to be gone from it before dark. Insects hummed in the air, but none of them touched San-Ragoz as he untied one of the shallow boats, took its single long oar in his hand, and slipped into the river. By the time he reached the eastern bank, he was dizzy and nauseated from the running water, and becoming disoriented; he tugged the boat up the jetty and secured its bow-line to expose tree roots. Had he possessed any coins, he would have left some in the bottom of the boat under the oar to recompense the owner, but he had nothing. He climbed away from the river, unsteady as a drunken man, and headed away from the large encampment of the Moors.

"Halt," said a sharp voice in the Berber tongue.

San-Ragoz almost stumbled as he rounded the corner of the encampment walls. He blinked at the lamp the Berber carried as he answered in the language of the Visigoths, "What do you want?"

The Berber spat. "Infidel."

San-Ragoz pretended not to understand. "Your insults mean nothing," he said.

"Who are you?" The Berber drew his long, curved scimitar. "Where are you going?" His command of Gothic was clumsy, but he made his questions comprehensible.

"I am a pilgrim," said San-Ragoz. "I am bound for Roma, on orders of the Church." He spread his small hands over the front of his habit in a show of piety.

"Pilgrim, is it?" Again the Berber spat, as if such alien words had to be expelled from his mouth.

"Yes. From Gadez." He lowered his head to show respect.

"A beggar, in other words," said the Berber in disgust.

"I live on the compassion of good Christians," he responded, a trace of irony in his voice.

"A beggar," the Berber said. "Well, you'll get no charity this day, not the sort you hope for. We show charity to our own." He gestured with his scimitar, and spoke again in his native language. "You'll pass the time in our prison. We'll let you out in due course."

San-Ragoz looked puzzled. "What are you saying?"

"You are going to our prison," the Berber said in poor Gothic. "Your case will be heard before sunset."

"Prison?" San-Ragoz exclaimed. "Why are you imprisoning me?"

"I do not know you are truthful. You do not put your hand on your Book, or the Holy Koran." He made a prodding gesture with his scimitar. "Move along."

San-Ragoz hesitated. "This is unjust," he protested as he weighed up the possibilities of his predicament: he could overpower the Berber and flee, but that would bring unwonted attention to his presence at a time when his strength was depleted; he could go along and spend the day in a cell, which would afford him rest, but risked ending in capture or a beating.

"We'll give you justice," said the Berber, and slapped San-Ragoz's shoulder with the flat of his blade. "Move along. To the left at the gate."

"Where are you taking me?" San-Ragoz saw a dozen soldiers approaching and realized his opportunity for flight was over.

"Go through the gate," the Berber told him.

San-Ragoz complied, noticing that the low walls of this side of the encampment were recent and in some places incomplete. "Where now?" he asked as he looked at the neatly laid out tents of the Moors. This late at night, there was minimal activity; guards patrolled and a few officers hastened to meetings, but otherwise only the sounds of sleep and the occasional recitation of prayers were heard.

"To the right. To the wooden building at the end of the alley." He pointed to underscore his instructions.

Walking between the long rows of tents, San-Ragoz noticed the heaps of supplies that stood beside them, making the intention of the Moors plain: they were preparing another attack on Frankish lands; this encampment was a staging area for the army of the Caliph to continue its conquest of Christian lands. He was careful not to make his curiosity too obvious as he continued down the brazier-lit alley.

"Halt," came the order from the doorway of the wooden building; San-Ragoz noticed that it was an old Visigothic guardhouse.

"Omma ibn Ali, may Allah give you long life and many sons," said the Berber who escorted San-Ragoz, salaaming to his superior. "The Christian dog is a pilgrim. Nothing to gain from ransom or fines. He's harmless enough, and he is of the Book."

San-Ragoz kept his expression carefully blank as he listened.

Omma ibn Ali sighed. "Put him in the usual place. It's nearly empty, so lock him in by himself. I don't want these unbelievers to talk together; they become defiant when they do." He cocked his head toward the side of the building. "You know where to take him." As an afterthought, he added, "Do not bother to feed him. It is too late for eating."

"What are you saying?" San-Ragoz complained, looking from one man to the other.

"He is saying," Omma ibn Ali said in very good Gothic, "that you will spend the day in a prison cell. You would do well to pray while you are held there. At the end of the day, the Imam will decide when you may be released. We cannot waste daylight on such as you; we have too many obligations to fulfill." He regarded San-Ragoz with distaste. "You might do well to bathe."

"I must not, except if God bathes me in rain," said San-Ragoz; many of the Moors knew that pilgrims were not supposed to wash their bodies or their garments until they reached their destination-he would not be caught in so obvious a trap.

"Just so," sighed Omma ibn Ali. "Tend to him, Jahdim."

"That I will," said San-Ragoz's captor. "You," he went on in Gothic. "Go to the side door. Then down."

"All right," said San-Ragoz, and made the sign of the Cross.

"It is as well that you pray," said Jahdim; he took San-Ragoz by the shoulder and shoved him along. The stairs were steep and narrow, their ancient wood creaked as the two made their way down. A strong odor of earth permeated the cellar, as well as a sour, latrine stench. Three doors were closed with bolts, two others stood open; Jahdim propelled San-Ragoz to the nearer of these. "Inside," he ordered, pushing the foreigner through.

San-Ragoz noticed the mound of straw that was clearly intended for a bed. "There is no window," he remarked.

"No, there isn't," said Jahdim, and shut the door, thrusting the bolt into place without further ado. He left the cellar quickly, going up the stairs two at a time.

Listening to Jahdim depart, San-Ragoz took stock of his situation and decided it could be much worse. At least he would be able to rest in this little cell, and although he would not lie on his native soil, he would garner some restoration here. He sank down on the damp straw, stretched out and let the night flow over him.

Text of a letter from Ruges to Atta Olivia Clemens, written in Imperial Latin and delivered the end of June 722.

To the most respected widow, Atta Olivia Clemens, the greetings of the bondsman Ruges who is presently bound for Tarraco from Neapolis.

I have finally been able to trace my master from Tunis and the Emir's territory to Corduba but I have lost the trail beyond that city. It has taken years to discover this, and I cannot tell you the relief I have felt on obtaining this knowledge. He is reported escaped and there is no notice of his capture. Had he been killed, notice would have to be sent to the son of the Emir who owned him; I have not learned of such notification, and therefore I assume he is still alive and free. Considering the current state in Hispania, it is possible he might have fallen in battle, or have been killed by soldiers of either side, but then you should be aware of it, due to the nature of your blood-bond. He could have suffered a misadventure and been injured, and may be recovering as I write this. There are a dozen misadventures he might have suffered, but I will assume he has made good his escape and will await me in the agreed-upon place. Unless there has been a change since your last letter to me, I believe that there is no reason to mourn him yet.

I am leaving for Tarraco, and when I arrive there, I will make my way to Mont Calcius, for that little village would afford him some protection-he left one chest of his native earth there, as he did in Toletum-and although there has been fighting in the mountains, it has been sporadic; the Moors have more important targets than small villages in remote places, which is another reason for my master to seek it out again. It would be far riskier for my master to go to Toletum than to return to Mont Calcius, and you and I know he does not take unnecessary risks. If he is not there, I will travel to Toletum. Once I have reached Tarraco, I will send you word of my arrival, and I will hope to have a letter from you. I will ask at the Sacra Lux monastery for any message that might come to me. The Moors will not forbid the monks receiving letters on behalf of travelers, but they will also read the letters the monks receive; you would be wise to be discreet in anything you send me there.

You have told me you intend to remain at Comus for some time to come, and so I will continue to write to you there, at your villa. If the lake is as beautiful as I remember, it must be a most pleasant retreat-surely far more lovely than Roma is now, and safer.

The ship leaves in the morning and I must put this in the hands of the courier, and load my chests aboard. I apologize for the brevity, but I know you will understand the reason for it.

Ruges

at Neapolis, the 2nd day of May, 722
Source: www_Novel12_Com