Bonds of trust and friendship forged
Eric found that the only way to survive this new life he had chosen was to close off his mind from everything else save what he needed to learn. It was not easy in the beginning and he would often have to force his thoughts away from his family and that place he had called home once. Artorius would grimly remind him of what was most important by drawing blood with his sword. The wounds were not deadly but the pain would immediately bring his mind to the present. Artorius was cold and brutal in his lessons with Eric. He would bring him to ground with blade to his throat and calmly comment,
“Ahhh I did not save your life only to have you waste it because you are foolish! Just because you have Vampyre blood now does not mean you can not die again in battle. Would you prefer to lie out on some field in bright sunlight, your blood draining out from you and your skin frying through to the bone? Remember please, if you lose your head, you lose your life. Do not think you are invincible just because of your blood. There are still a great many painful ways for you to die.”
Eric was not foolish, nor was he stupid… Over confident at times, yes, but he was learning to control that as well. He learned to be a Roman soldier because he needed to survive, it was as simple as that. He had no loyalty to the Romans, and he slowly discovered that Artorius had little of that either. Artorius’ loyalties were owed to some other power that went far beyond that of Rome or the Vampyres. Artorius followed Rome because some other source set his path for him. Now, in these unsettled times, this other allegiance was setting his course. Eric knew of this only because of missives and messengers who would arrive in silence and disappear as quickly as they had come. He had watched just as silently and knew that there was something else going on that had little to do with the Romans.
Finally, one night he summoned his courage to broach the subject with Artorius. They were in Artorius’ sword room, where most evenings were spent. It was a constant process, keeping the weapons clean and ready for use, as well as the gear for the horses. Artorius was teaching Eric the necessities of these chores… which naturally involved Eric doing much of the work while Artorius supervised. His attention to detail was exacting and he never failed to point out the slightest nick or dullness on a sword. Eric was just as much of a perfectionist in these things as Artorius and was by now as well skilled as his teacher, but he most often would remain silent and allow the man to go on with his instructions even though he knew full well what needed to be done. It was during these times that Artorius would let his guard down, allow his cold blooded warrior demeanor to slip away, and they would talk as friends. Friends, that was what they were becoming.
It was a deep seated friendship based not on blood, not on necessity, or community. It came from the realization that they respected each other, they shared common interests and values, for all of their differences, they like each other and they trusted each other. It was for this reason that Eric felt he needed to know more, he needed to know what was going on. He felt is was a matter of trust between them, that Artorius should be willing to trust him with what ever this secret was. It bothered him greatly that Artorius had not trusted him enough to share this with him.
Eric put the last sword down and stared again as he always seemed to, at the sword on the wall. His attention was always grabbed by the sight of that sword and the red dragon shields surrounding it. It was not a sword that was ever used, but hung there more as a symbol, a seal of something for Artorius. Often, he would enter the room to find Artorius staring at it in thought, or in some reverence… speaking quietly to it as though he were offering prayers of some sort. Eric though that whatever Artorius’ secret was, it had to with this sword. So, on that night when he turned his eye from the sword and found Artorius still staring at it in that way, he found his voice and asked his friend about it. “What is this Sword and shield to you? What does it mean?” He asked the questions softly, not really expecting any answer. On a few other occasions, he had asked casually and received no answer save, “Someday, I will tell you.”
This night, he asked more seriously with a manner of needing an answer. Artorius turned to him and did answer him this time. “The time has come my friend for you to know, I think. Go find us some of that stronger wine and I will tell you of this Sword and what it means for both of us.”
Eric quickly returned with a jug of the strong blood wine that he had begun to acquire such a taste for. As they shared the wine, Artorius shared the story of the Sword and of the secrets it held. “It has nothing to do with the Romans.” He nodded his head, “Well, I should reword that, it has all to do with the Romans, and their leaving of this Isle.” He turned to look again at the Sword and paused for a moment to take a drink of the wine. “The Sword and the Shield are that of the one who will lead us after the Romans depart. It is of the one who will help us to be rid of the Romans in this place.” Artorius turned from the Sword to Eric and spoke softly and calmly. “As I have told you before, the leaving of the Romans will not be peaceful. In order for this entire Isle and it’s people not to be laid to total ruin and devastation, it will require a strong and just Warrior who can band the people together to fight as one to defeat the Romans.”
Eric nodded, yes he had mentioned of this before but what did it all mean? He asked Artorius now of what was happening, what was going on behind the backs of the Romans? Artorius smiled and nodded at Eric. “Yes, I know that you are wondering, you are suspicious of what is going on, yes? I only waited to tell you of all until I was sure of everything, and until I could be sure of your family’s safety before it all takes place.”
Eric showed his surprise and his concern at the mention of his family. He had tried not to think of them, the young women who were in such danger and may not even have survived their captures. Now, Artorius held out a hand to him, gripped it tightly and went on to reassure him of their safety. “Rest easy on that count for now, friend. I have found them all and they will soon be safely returned to the sanctuary of the Fairies.”
When Eric stepped in to insist on seeing them, Artorius was firm in his denial of that. No, it would not be safe to bring the women here, nor would it be safe or wise for that matter now, for Eric to venture north to see them. Eric was needed here for the battles to come and must set his mind to rest that the young women were safe.
Artorius did begin to share the fates of the women with Eric though, and shook his head at their stories. “I can assure you that the women of your family appear to be just as strong willed and determined to survive as you have been.” Four young women of Eric’s Clan had been seen by those Romans who attacked the place as high ranking and possibly suitable for some greater trade value in their capture. Eric held his breath as Artorius went on with the details. Artorius looked at Eric with some concern and curiousity as he asked of him,
“ Before I go on with their fates, I must know something. You had two sisters and a cousin…Yet, there were four of them which we found. Perhaps you will tell me more of just who this fourth one is that they deemed her of such high value to take her as well? It caused my men some amount of great difficulty in finding her once they realized that there was yet another who was being held. They would not have known even to search, except for the fact that the other women told them of her and threatened them with grave bodily harm unless they continued the search for this other young woman. It would seem that the women of your clan can be as fearsome and violent as the men!” Artorius eyed Eric with serious speculation as he waited for an answer.
The shaken look on Eric’s face was enough of answer for the man but he listened without comment or show of emotion while Eric’s voice shook as well. “She was not suppose to be there! I thought she was safe with her family but when I went back to them, she was not there. I thought she must be among those who had perished.” Tears came into his eyes as he recalled the mass destruction he had found on his return. Svein had made some attempt to clear it, but many of the bodies were so mangled with abuse before and after death, they were unrecognizable. Those bodies had been buried together in one mass grave. All who had lost relatives, had missing ones that they had not seen carried off by the Romans, assumed and even prayed that the missing were in that grave rather than with the Romans. Eric shuddered and took a deep breath before going on. “I could not find her anywhere, no one had seen her carried away, so I assumed like everyone else that she was in that grave.” He paused for a moment, tried to stop his shaking and looked at Artorius with some shred of desperate hope in his eyes.
“ Reina, Reina is my wife… she was with child when I left for the fighting. I left her with her family, with the Fairies.” His voice broke as he went on. “I told her to stay put with them in the forest, that she would be most comfortable and safest there with her own family than on the coast with my family. I knew that those women of my family would have enough to worry about in caring for Gisella, Svein’s wife, who was about to give birth at any time.” Eric swore to himself as he thought back to that time, to his young wife, who had no love of the sea. The smell of the ocean had affected her badly in her pregancy and he had wanted her within the comfort of the forest glen while he was gone. “Cursed stubborn girl she is…why did she not stay put!” He shook his head in frustration and fear, as Artorius had spoke not a word… His voice rose “What of my wife, is she well? What has happened to her?”
Artorius ran fingers through his thick dark hair and clenched his eyes shut. He took a breath and silently cursed the Gods that forced him to share this news. “I wish that I could share good news with you on this, other than the fact that she is yet alive. She is alive, but barely… and the child is lost.” He held on to Eric’s shoulders as the man fell into a wave of trembling and shock. He knew that his words would have little comfort but felt he needed to say them anyway. “Had my men know sooner about her, they might possibly have been able to go in search of her first. I do not think that it would have mattered much though. From what they described, she was ill already before being taken. That was the reason for her being with your family. Her family brought her to your Mother for healing, not being aware that your Mother was already ill as well. She was already desperately sick when they took her on their boat that day, and shortly thereafter lost the babe. The men who captured her wanted nothing to do with a sick woman and sold her away as quickly as they could. Fortunately, those who bought her did so out of concern for her life rather than need or want of a sick slave woman. She was placed with a healer who eventually nursed her to enough of a state to find of where she came from. My men were about to go out in search of her when word was sent of her fate by the healer. You should thank the healers of that group, the Druids for saving her life.” He stood close to Eric, frowned at some though and then spoke slowly. “I think now that maybe you should return there as quickly as possible.”
Artorius paused and his own voice wavered. “She is still gravely ill and I can not promise that she will even be alive when you get there. But, I understand now that you must go to her, even if it is only to say Goodbye to her.” Eric did not speak, he stood stone still trying to will his mind to accept what Artorius was telling him, trying to regain his senses. Artorius walked towards the door. “I will see everything ready, we will ride out immediately.” He looked back at his friend who stood still in his cold shock. “I would not send you out on this journey on your own. I will ride with you, my friend and will share your grief as my own.”