Chapter 20: The Search for Eggs and Castra Taurorum

I found a piece of stone that was approximately the size and shape I wanted. I gave it a dirty look that caused it to split precisely the way it should have. That gave me a latter-day version of a hand ax, along with a feeling of accomplishment. I used that to get to work on the deer. I’d never have made a caveman; despite having drained the blood from the doe, I managed to get the residue all over myself.

Tekoni woke up as I was working at skinning it, having emptied the body cavity. There are ways to dress a deer, but what I was doing wasn’t one of them. “May I help, dominus?” she asked timidly. Her use of the term reminded me that I had stolen her from the Wizard. That meant she was mine. Slaves were property. My own family were my chips in the bet that I could keep her – and them.

I wasn’t sure that made any sense to me, but Kogwahee was mine as well, and for the same reason, same bet. In a physical conflict, as we had had with Sabina’s owner, the loser might end up client to the other side, along with all his worldly goods. It was a tough old world, there in the Pax Romana. In the absence of machinery somebody’s still got to do the work.

I was still having a hard time digesting the whole slavery thing on moral grounds that were rooted in my own culture. Still, I had to work with what I had. This was a different culture, with a wildly different system. I welcomed Tekoni’s help, mainly because I’d never dressed a deer with a rock. She was soon as smeared as I was. She’d never dressed a deer with a rock either. She was also weak as a kitten, which made her really clumsy. I sent her to rest some more when she cut the ball of her left palm. It was just a slip, but her hand was in the way. It was the kind of wound that in an emergency room would take four or five stitches. It took that many minutes before I could make it heal all the way. Nevy was a much better healer than I was, unless I was working on myself, and her mother was better than she was. Neither would have left a scar.

“Our family will be here in a few minutes,” I told her, setting the half-skinned deer aside while she sat staring at her palm every thirty seconds to make sure I was still healed. I think she was deciding that wizards might have their uses. “Nannakussi and Kogwahee both have proper knives and we’ll let them finish up. Let’s get cleaned up and gather some firewood. You need some decent food.”

Tekoni was more than agreeable to the thought of getting clean and eating something she could keep inside herself. She set off to gather firewood after wading in the river to get the gore from her slip with the hand ax and our unintentional butchery off. I decided I’d clean up a little later. I started a fire and carefully cut some very small chunks from the deer’s chest area, found an appropriate stick, and started toasting them. If she didn’t get her tummy in shape she wasn’t going to keep our bigger meal down, or maybe in.

She was coming back with an armload of deadwood when our magic blanket came in sight, soaring gaily (in the old sense) through the sky, descending from a few hundred feet. Tekoni stood open-mouthed and dropped the whole armload of wood on her foot, watching as they made their landing approach. I guess it was pretty unusual for her – not that I’d ever actually seen a blanket fly myself. It was just an idea I had. Malnutrition causes you to bruise easy, so I was repairing her foot as the blanket finally settled on the ground.

Dominus Asmogee!” called our Little Bird, hopping off as soon as the blanket touched down and flattened itself out, as though it was the most routine thing in the world. Her face was one great big smile. She didn’t even glance back to see if her parents were coming. She ran toward me and gave me a hug.

“Did you miss me, Sweetie-girl?” I asked her in English.

“Yeah! Did you miss me?” she responded in the same language. She had even less accent than Nevy did.

“Thought about you all the time,” I assured her, as my sweet darlin’ came to join me, followed by the rest. Kogwahee looked surprised that he couldn’t see through me. He was seeing me for the first time in the actual flesh. He hadn’t been sure I really had any. Nevy and I exchanged dominus et domina-style chaste pecks on each cheek. We both made unspoken promises with our eyes of some major messing around as soon as we could get some privacy.

“I can’t leave you alone for a minute, can I?” she laughed, glancing at Tekoni as though an emaciated teenager was competition for her. The child was sitting naked on a deadfall, her foot in my hand, her other leg splayed for balance. Neither of us had noticed, but she had gone past naked to pornographic.

“When I wasn’t thinking about Little Bird, I was thinking about you,” I assured my love virtuously. Since Tekoni’s bruising had gone away and she wasn’t going to lose her big toenail, I set her foot down. I hadn’t even noticed what was between her skinny legs, which was totally unlike me. “Your flight was okay?”

“It was wonderful, my love. We have to do that more often. Why all the blood? Didn’t you drain the deer?” she asked.

“Tekoni sliced her hand open. Took me awhile to heal her, and I didn’t have anything to blot up the mess.”

“Do you need lint?”

“It’s all better now. She had a bath. I still need one. No worries, as they say in Australian.” She had no idea what Australian sounded like, even what Australia was, but she could understand “no worries.” “Then she dropped the firewood on her foot when you guys were coming in for a landing,” I continued, “and I healed that for her. Don’t let her get close to sharp objects for awhile. She’s a little clumsy. The deer chunks toasting on the little fire are for her. Don’t let the Little Bird steal them.” The Little Bird stuck her tongue out at me and made donkey ears.

I introduced the gang to Tekoni, both by my nickname for her and by Tekon-Wena-Harake. She and Kogwahee were soon chattering away in some mutual dialect of Iroquois while she rested. I watched the boy; he and the girl were of an age, and – probably because they were the only ones who spoke their language – they seemed to hit it off well. I think he was disappointed when Sabina got the girl into a loincloth. Nannakussi loaned me one too, so people wouldn’t spend the afternoon staring at my buttocks. I didn’t want to ruin anyone’s dinner.

Little Bird, looking virtuous, fed the kabobs to Tekoni, who ate them, somehow combining ravenously, gratefully, and cautiously into a single package – “cautiously” because malnutrition loosens the teeth.

With proper knives and a hatchet we soon had the deer butchered. Nannakussi split the head for the brains, and he took the sweetbreads I’d already set aside for him. They went on the flat rock “grill” I was doing the veggy-less kabobs on. I left preparing the deer to the rest of them. Nevy and I took a basket each, and I led her in the direction of the old village. It wasn’t all that far, and I found where the winter supplies were buried, even though I couldn’t quite smell the place where I had peed to mark it.

“She’s a pretty girl,” my love observed diggingly, as we were filling the baskets we’d brought with us.

“Not too bad,” I agreed. “A bit young for my taste. Putting another thirty or forty pounds on her might draw the masculine eye. Plus she’s sick as a pup, as in ready to give up the ghost sick. I prefer statuesque blondes, myself.”

“You’d better,” she warned. “I visited Millie,” she added. “I scared her half to death when I appeared at her hut.”

“See? It wasn’t that hard, was it?”

“Hah! Watch this!”

There wasn’t anything to watch. One moment she was there, the next she wasn’t. A few minutes ticked my on my imaginary watch. Then she was there again.

“What did you do and how did you do it? And what did you do with the beans?” I demanded. “We were going to eat those!”

“I dropped them off with Sabina. Think about it, sweetheart: Thou cast thyself to where I was, right?”

“Uhuh.” I thought maybe I should write a novel: “The Bluetooth Suitor.”

“The first time thou did it,” she continued in Saxon, “I could see all the way through thee. Thou scarèd my decurion Quintus almost to death. Thou scarèd his men even worse. Their horses likèd it not either. They thought thou wast a ghost. So did I. I thought thou had been killed and eaten by Flying Monkeys. I thought our ship’s captain was going to have a stroke, and thou wast not even so transparent as the first time thou appearèd.”

“Chulëntët had already scared them,” I defended, “floating along like a balloon. What’s scarier than that? All I did was tip them over the edge.”

“Right,” she said, rolling her eyes. “Then when thou met us the last time, thou wast almost solid. The people in Graviscae didn’t even notice. Hardly, anyway. So I just did the same thing, only I went the rest of the way.”

“The rest of the way?” That sounded ominous.

“I just didn’t leave any of myself behind.”

“Huh!” I responded brilliantly, sitting down on a log. And I hadn’t thought of that. I’d even asked if she knew of a way to do it, before she’d figured it. “Our children are going to be geniuses if they take after you, you realize that, don’t you? In the English sense of the word, not the Latin.”

“More likely they’ll be little wizards and witches,” she confirmed, sitting next to me and looking prim. “Or little demons. Or imps. How many children do you want?”

“Nine or ten, at least,” I suggested. “Three witches, three wizards, three demons and maybe an imp, if we can stand the heat.”

I’m editing out the messing around that followed. A certain amount of privacy is called for every now and then, you know. Nevy retained her required professional qualifications, but just barely. My girl had the nicest protrusions a man can imagine. Her butt was a work of art; she’d have driven Michaelangelo crazy. She wasn’t at all shy about exploration either, as long as it was with me. She was absolutely fascinated by the differences between boys and girls.

We popped back into visibility at our camp on the banks of the Mighty Lechewuekink. That caused four women and one young man to jump about three feet into the air and one little girl to loudly demand to be told how to do it. Leofgif looked disapprovingly at my brand new hickey. She sniffed but she didn’t say anything. Harry Potter had nothin’ on us, and we didn’t even need wands. And Hermione didn’t give him hickeys. Or was that Ginny? I couldn’t recall. Maybe I was just feeling distracted.

We handed over the corn meal. I poked through the cooking stuff we’d been lugging around with us and found the salt and flour. “No eggs?” I asked.

No eggs. Nannakussi and Winky and Sabina had the fire going and were basting the venison with rough-and-red and fish sauce and a couple spices, one of them crushed rosemary. We had a choice: Eat porridge, or bread the venison, or go to the “store” for eggs. It was too late in the season for wild bird eggs. Besides, I was still burping worms; it would have felt like cannibalism. I got one of the baskets and asked Nevy and Little Bird if they wanted to come along.

“Just for practice,” Nevy insisted.

“Teach me how!” Our Treasure demanded loudly.

“Teach me how, please, dominus,” her mother corrected.

“Teach me how, please, dominus,” Chulëntët repeated dutifully. She even went so far as to bat her eyes a few times.

“Who’s driving?” I asked. “Pay attention, Little Bird.”

“You drive,” Nevy responded. “I’ve done it twice. Three times. I came back from Mildrith’s. Four. I came back after delivering the beans. You’ve only done it once.” She was pretty colloquial with English by now, but her mental arithmetic sometimes stumbled.

I “drove” and we were standing in the Graviscae cornfield a moment later, the same spot they’d flown away from. “Could you see how it was done?” I asked our Chulëntët.

“No, dominus. You have to tell me how!”

“Probably just as well,” Nevy sniffed. “Once you learn you’ll probably go to Africa or Hind (India) or Sīnae (China) or someplace.”

“I promise I won’t!” Chulëntët promised, probably insincerely.

“You need to know where you’re going,” I explained to her, starting her lesson. “If you don’t know someone who’s there, or you’ve never been somewhere yourself, you won’t go anywhere. That’s one of the rules. You key on the spot or the person, then gather Power and push.”

”See? I couldn’t go to Hind anyway,” she complained, trying to look grumpy by poking out her lower lip. “I want to see an elephant!”

We found a nice Saxon lady with a chicken yard and a pig sty. She lived on the edge of Graviscae, by the neglected earthen wall. We bought three eggs from her at a nummi apiece. She also had some grayish lard for another nummi. I sniffed it and smelled bacon. She had a bunch of scallions for a nummi, and some cloves of garlic, which coincidentally cost us another nummi. I thanked her and we three headed back the way we came before we found something else to buy for a nummi. Since we hadn’t haggled the prices would probably be higher next time. Nevy had had her eye on a large chunk of cheese that I could smell from six or seven feet away, so it could have been more and worse. As we were walking through the corn field she disappeared for a few moments and we waited. Then I waited alone as Little Bird disappeared. I wondered how I was going to explain losing her to her parents.

Luckily, Chulëntët was back before her mistress, with a basket of fried fish fillets she had bought in Centumcellae. “Do that again,” I grumbled, “and I’m telling your nuxa. You only think you’re thirty five years old and six feet tall. Take someone with you. Remember the Evil Wizard!”

“Yes, Asmogee,” she replied, sincerely, I think. Then Nevy was back with the Stinking Bishop – that was the name of the cheese – and before I could stop her, Chulëntët said, “Do that again and dominus will tell your mother, domina. You should always take someone with you! We’re after an Evil Wizard, you know!”

Nevy looked at Our Treasure, then at the fish, then at me. She kissed me on the cheek. “Yes, dominus,” she said dutifully. “You’re right.” Her breath said she’d had sampled the cheese.

I let Chulëntët take us back to our camp. I mixed the corn meal with some flour, a pinch of salt, an egg, and water in a wooden bowl. Nevy repositioned our flat rock to heat up a little better. “You know we have to tell her parents,” I grumbled when I was sure they couldn’t hear us.

Nevy started to answer but she fell quiet as Nannakussi approached. He squatted next to us, looking worried. “Our Treasure has figured how to travel on a wish, lord,” he told me.

“I saw that,” I agreed. “We were just trying to figure how to tell you and Winky without scaring you to death.”

“We aren’t scared,” he told me equably. “I’m a Wit, remember? My first grandchild will be named Robert. What kind of name is that?”

“English,” I told him.

“Her husband’s name will be Darren?”

“I didn’t know that,” I replied, relieved. “I’ve Seen only Robert and his sister Tabitha.”

“Darren is ‘English?’” He still wasn’t clear on the difference between English and Saxon, two branches of the same tree, two verbal peas in a pod as far as he could see.

“The name Robert is Norman English. Among my people they pick names indiscriminately. You might find someone named Pocahontas and she’ll have freckles and red hair.” I thought about a couple friends of mine who were so Italian they bled spaghetti sauce. They’d named their children Dylan and Ryan. I thought of them as the O’Mariani boys.

“We will go with you to your realm,” he stated. It wasn’t a question.

“True,” I replied. That had been the first vision I’d had. I’d had others since, of he and I and our wives bow hunting wild hogs in Texas, of us getting roaring drunk together after a football game.

“It is good, dominus,” he smiled.

“Very good, amicus,” I replied.

Nevy put the dried beans on for a late cena; the beans were pintos and they needed to be soaked. Leofgif had studded the venison with garlic and the scallion whites. The greens from the scallions, some of the venison fat and some chunks of the meat, plus a slightly aged tomato they’d brought with them would go into the pot with the beans. I thought Tekoni was going to swoon when I gave her the first tortilla. The second one went down her throat almost as quickly, barely cool enough for me to pick up with my fingers.

I didn’t have the heart to tell her to take it easy on the appetizers. She did pause to at least chew the third tortilla. When she hastily withdrew to the woods it was because she had eaten too much on an entirely empty digestive tract, not because of food poisoning. It simply fell right through the pipes.

I noticed I was pretty hungry too. It occurred to me that I’d been living on worms and birdseed for awhile, with a deer throat as a snack. I wished the rest of the deer would hurry and roast. At least it was in pieces, rather than the whole thing slowly roasting over the fire; that would have taken hours, maybe days.

“Tekoni told me that her home town was called Flavilia,” I told the rest of the crew as we waited, trying not to sniff the increasingly inviting smells coming from the cook site. “It was raided by Flying Monkeys. There were maybe a hundred people kidnapped. Are you familiar with the town, Kogwahee?”

He shook his head. “I’ve heard of it, dominus, but I’ve never been there. It’s on the bank of the Muh-hekun-ne-tuk.” Nannakussi told me that was a Mohican name for what I’m pretty sure was the Hudson River. Kogwahee told me the name means “River That Runs Both Ways.” Tekoni, back from her trip to the woods and looking paler and hungrier than ever, said that was the place. A bit more description made me guess it was near what I’d have called Yonkers, or maybe Canarsee. It had been a Munsee Lenape settlement, but an epidemic had caused it to be abandoned. It was clean by the time it had been resettled, first by Mohicans, then by others.

“The people were auctioned off at a place called Castra Taurorum,” I continued. “Is it far from here?”

“Very close to here,” Nannakussi said. “Maybe one day’s walk?”

“You’ve been there?” I asked.

“Aye, dominus. Once, with the Lord Venenarius.” He used a Latin word for wizard, which means specifically an evil magician, as opposed to a magus, which can be good or evil. A venenarius carried more the meaning of “poisoner,” with an implication of black magic. It was like the distinction between a wizard and a warlock, only more so.

“North, south, east, west?” I demanded.

“To the northwest,” Nannakussi said. There followed a discussion about whether he meant northwest or north by northwest, then whether it was a day’s walk of twenty five or thirty miles, or forty if we hurried. Listening to Onondaga and Unalichtigo argue could eat up an entire day, I thought. I was afraid it was going to boil down to who could holler loudest. Kogwahee was still just a kid, but he wasn’t what you’d call retiring. Iroquois men were warriors, regardless of what they did for a living; Iroquois boys became men at thirteen.

“I’ll look for it from the air,” I decided, interrupting them both. I guessed tentatively that it would be somewhere around where White Haven was in my reality stream. Little Bird and I could scope it out. Nevy too, as soon as she learned to turn herself into a bird.

I looked at Our Treasure. She was being such a good little girl. She helping her mother with dinner, basting the deer with mixed wine and herbs and fish sauce. In between she was feeding Tekoni bits of doe-kabob and fresh corn tortilla. I heard her tell Tekoni not to eat too much too fast or she would make herself sick, and to try some of her fish fillets. She was being supervisory in the way five year old girls have. Then I started laughing and I couldn’t stop myself.

Nevy poked me, though not hard enough to leave a bruise for a change. “Tell me what’s so funny,” she demanded.

“Chulëntët,” I replied, snickering.

“And what did the Little Bird do this time?” she asked, ready for the worst.

“She hasn’t done it yet, my love,” I replied.

“And what is she going to do?”

“She’s going to marry a man named Darren.”

“Ah! You’ve Seen this?”

“Nannakussi has. And she’s going to have a little girl named Tabitha,” I added. “I’ve Seen her twice now.”

“I’m still not laughing,” she told me, curious.

“And her English name in our realm is going to be Samantha.”

“What kind of name is ‘Samantha?” she asked, not getting the joke for cultural reasons.

“It’s a combination of ‘Samuel’ and ‘Anthea,’ not that it really matters. Actually, I think somebody made it up because it sounds nice. When I was a kid, I used to watch a show on television… Like a movie, which you still haven’t seen. You’ll have to take my word for it. It was about a witch named Samantha, and her husband Darrin, and they had a baby named Tabitha…”

“And she was at War with Stars?”

I kissed her quickly, despite her cheese breath. “I think you’ll have to see it to understand it,” I sighed, giving up. “She used to wiggle her nose and disappear, or cause chairs to disappear when someone was going to sit down.”

“Sounds hilarious,” my love sighed, not getting it at all, since she could do that if she wanted, without even having to wiggle her nose. “I’ll have to see that one. It sounds like the sort of thing Chulëntët would do.”

Leofgif checked the deer and announced it was ready to eat. I’d been cooking tortillas all the while we talked. We tucked in for the main course, and Tekoni kept it all down and in. Nevy fed her all the Stinking Bishop she could hold to make sure.