THE SPIDER'S WARNING
My two ancestors who lived and breathed and had their being at the height of the Roman Empire were feeling as though their world was going to explode. They had been half-led, half-dragged down a series of hidden pathways that criss-crossed a broad expanse of uncultivated woodland, at night and without the benefit of anything but a crescent moon to light their way. Consequently they had been battered and scratched and torn by innumerable invisible thorns and spikes and twigs, all seemingly cavorting with nettles in a deadly, painful dance in the dark.
In the end Bern pulled them to a standstill. Owongus was just about all-in, but Mirumtia was definitely at the end of her tether. Neither could go a step further and both lacked the strength to inform Bern of the fact.
They could see nothing in the darkness, but Bern seemed to know exactly where they were.
“Well, my Honky-tonks,” he whispered. “You've done better than I would have thought! We're not safe yet, by any means, my sweet ones, but we're safer than we were. The Romans are a good fifteen miles away as the crow flies and further than their fancy roads go. We've been crows, cutting in a fairly straight line across country and we're going to stay here until tomorrow evening. I know this place, for I have sojourned here quite often. There is a tumble-down shack, not much more than a pile of old stones, actually – but it does have a roof and I made it as comfortable as possible. There's food there, dried meat and stuff, enough to feed the three of us for a week if need be. I put it there.”
All the two fugitives wanted to do was eat and sleep, and neither of them was sure which they wanted most. But when they were led into the shack, a place that reeked of damp and decay and the urine of ages, they knew. For both of them slumped onto the ground and their eyes closed automatically. It was dark and that meant sleep. Even as an overworked and unpaid servant of the Temple of Janus in Rome Owongus had learned to take advantage of the night for recuperation and rest, and Mirumtia was too exhausted for anything other than the land of nod to matter.
The two of them slept well into the next day. Dawn had long cast its early shadows on the world, and the sun had risen past noon, when they finally woke up. Their bodies ached and a weariness fogged their vision. Or maybe it wasn't weariness but the dark interior of the tumbledown shack that Bern had led them into. There were no windows and the only way the sun could poke a finger of itself into the space was through splits in what passed for a rough-hewn wooden door created from uneven planks.
“So, sleepy-headed Honky-tonks,” came Bern's voice through the gloom. Owongus could just about make him out sitting hunched in one corner and chewing on something brown that looked unappetisingly desirable.
“Oh, Bern...” he began. He wanted to ask where they were. He wanted to know how Bern had managed to disappear from the two Roman soldiers so completely. He wanted to say he was hungry. But most of all he wanted to ask why Bern was wearing such an impossibly brief kilt. It made the man look as if he had legs that were impossibly long. But instead of asking any of those questions he said nothing. His mind was still fogged with exhaustion and sleep.
“You must eat, Honky-tonk,” grinned Bern. I have meat here, dried during the summer under a hot sun and still filled with all the goodness of the beast I killed for it. Then, when you have eaten enough – though not too much, Honky-tonks, most certainly not too much, we must continue on our journey, back to Britannia, which you said was your intent.”
Owongus nodded. “Yes,” agreed Mirumtia.
“So eat and drink, and I will talk. You may listen if you wish, or close your ears – but my advice is that you listen.”
He handed them both strips of brown and unsavoury-looking meat and beakers of tepid water. The meat, though, tasted a great deal better than it looked, and the two refugees chewed on it gratefully.
“There are many like us,” began Bern, “men and women who have managed to escape from cruel or overburdening masters across the Empire. Most get recaptured in days, and their treatment can be harsh if that is the will of the men who own them. But I do not wish to be owned. I was a free man in my own land, able to ply my trade as a miller, and cared little for affairs over the seas. I had a lover, and together we would wile away the quiet evening hours, with ale and bread and good old local cheese, with pickles too, when the mood took us. That was our life and that was our love.
“Then along came the Romans, reaching ever further into corners of Britannia we hoped they'd forgotten, and in their wake came the slavers...”
“It was the same for me,” muttered Owongus, chewing hard.
“I guessed as much. Anyway, the slavers took several of us without so much as a by-your-leave or do-you-mind, Honky-tonk! We were taken in chains to the heart of Empire and sold to the highest bidder. I, Bernard of the High Havens, was sold to become a duster-wielding ponce! But I escaped, and escaped is what I mean to stay.”
“We feel the same,” put in a chewing Mirumtia.
“The thing is this, there are many escaped slaves, and the Romans are a canny lot, you can give them that much. Sometimes they disguise their own kind as escaped slaves, even brand them sometimes, for the real touch, and roam in search of people like us, to entrap. So be warned, Honky-tonks, be very warned, and slow to judge. Not all you meet will be as we are. Some will be after our blood, and we don't want them to...”
He broke off at the sound of a rattle and a snuffle at the door, which was squeakingly being pushed open from outside.
In the daylight that streamed in they saw they had a visitor, little more than a child, a boy of perhaps ten summers.
“Hello,” he said in a small but cultured voice, “help me, sirs and lady: for I am a slave and I am escaped and lost!”
© Peter Rogerson 21.08.12
Now, for the benefit of any new readers to whom my nonsense is a mystery, here is a comprehensive set of links to all the rest so far:
(This first part sets the scene).
And then the first 20 episodes about Owongus and Mirumtia.
7. The Brothel
And you might be interested to know that Owongus had ancestral predecessors. There was the hominid (pre anything human) called Owongo and the Neanderthal Owongoo.
Here are links to them if you're interested:
Then on to the Owongoo stuff:
Whenever I create a series of nonsense that are related in some way to each other, I periodically update this list.