Time on My Hands Chapter 1 - It Begins

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Time on My Hands

by Jennifer Sue

Chapter 1: 161CE: It Begins

This story denotes years using currently accepted date abbreviations of BCE [before current era] and CE [current era] rather than Christian centric BC [before Christ] and AD [Anno domini - ‘in the year of the Lord’]. The dates are the same in both dating methods.

Much like the Romans never succeeded in subduing the Germanic tribes in the heavily forested steeply hilled area, when the Germans tribes started moving into the area about three hundred years BCE the native Celts were equally difficult to subdue. Over the years the incoming Germans and surviving stubborn Celts intermarried eventually absorbing the local Celts into the German tribes. As a result the Germanic Hermunduri clans living in those forests facing the Roman fortifications were tough and independent with a strong Celtic heritage. But they were beginning to feel the pressures of other peoples pressuring them to the their rear.

The border between the Roman Empire and the Germanic tribes (Germania Magna) had been fairly stationary for over a century and a half after three Roman Legions were wiped out by Germanic tribes led by Arminius in 9 CE. To the west the Rhine River served as the border. To the south the Danube River was the border. The area between the two great rivers, the forested mountainous area north of Switzerland, was demarcated by a string of Roman fortifications. Starting south of Remagen a line of Roman fortifications (Limes) was constructed at the edges of the relatively flat river/stream valleys before soaring up to the steep rugged slopes of the heavily forested hills on the east side of the Rhine. At the city of Mainz the fortifications headed further east following the flatlands north of the Main River for twenty miles until it turned south. At that point the Main River became the border until the town of Miltenberg. The fortified border then ran cross country in a fairly straight line south southeast for about ninety miles to Lorch on the Rems River. At that point the border went northeast for about eighty miles to Gunzenhausen. Then the border turned southeast for about fifty five miles to Neustadt An Der Donau on the Danube River.

The pregnancy had been difficult. The young woman serving as midwife, on her own for the first time, was clearly concerned. The contractions had been ongoing for nearly a day and a half. Despite her best effort, the soon to be first time mother moaned in agonizing pain as another powerful contraction hit. Fortunately the clan healer, a follower of Ianuaria, had been in a near by village and when summoned had hurried to assist the harried midwife. The Ianuarian let her hands roam over the young woman’s swollen belly and stroke her thighs in an effort to soothe the stress. Based on what she’d been told the young woman was at best only seven months pregnant but her belly was swollen beyond what she could handle. The gray haired forty five year old woman frowned as she searched her memory for possible solutions. Herbs and medicines could only do so much to ease the discomfort. The fourteen year old mother to be was simply too small to safely carry twins to term.

To complicate the situation, the twenty two year old father had recently been killed during a drunken brawl with itinerant merchants (who fatally learned their error). While the Roman Legionnaires seldom ventured beyond their fortifications Roman entrepreneurs often organized small trading parties to travel in Germanic tribal areas. Fortunately the village and clan would see that the mother and children would be supported.

It was another agonizing three hours before the mother finally dilated enough to begin the actual birthing. The first child emerged after another twenty five minutes of pushing and anguished screams of the distraught exhausted mother. Happily the healthy cries of the newborn boy were heard. The healer cleaned the small baby while the midwife tended the weary mother. There was a ten minute respite before the second twin started coming. Again the mother, clearly at the end of her endurance, screamed in pain. Thankfully the younger twin brother emerged in five minutes. His healthy cries made those anxiously waiting smile. The young teen mother was beyond exhausted and barely conscious. Knowing the mother was too far out of it to deal with the babies the village women took the small newborns and nursing mothers shared their bounty with the hungry newborn babes.

As the midwife prepared to expel the afterbirth she gasped. “Great Woden! There’s a third baby!”

The healer instantly turned her attention to the haggard mother who was clearly too far gone to be able to assist in the third birth. The midwife settled between the mothers legs as the Ianuarian began to massage the deflated tummy in an effort to manipulate the third baby from the womb. It took fifteen minutes until the child began to emerge. The first two babies were small, only two thirds the size of normal full term babies. The third baby was only half the normal size. The tiny baby feebly flailed but didn’t take a breath and began turning blue. The midwife was ready to write the tiny newborn off.

Seeing the fading newborn’s Emerald green eyes were open and intently watching her, the healer felt an instant connection. Gently she placed her open mouth over the baby’s nose and mouth and tenderly puffed a breath to inflate the lungs. Raising her head she cautiously pressed the tiny chest to expel the air.

The midwife and two attending women watched the healer fight to save the baby. Slowly the child’s blue tinge faded toward a healthy color. The entire time the baby stared into the healer’s eyes. After ten minutes the baby hiccupped then began a faint but undeniable cry.

Needless to say the women were awed by the tiny infant’s will to live. But they also knew that babies as small as the first two had a rough path to survival. No one had ever heard of or much less seen a baby as small as the third boy survive for more than a few days. The entire clan was surprised the young mother had carried triplets, a true rarity.

The village elders were not happy. It was accepted practice to assist fatherless children and widowed mothers. For them it truly took a village. But two babies, undersized and premature at that, would put a strain on their resources. Begrudgingly they shouldered the burden. However committing to raise the fragile third baby, a great deal smaller than the other two, caused them to grumble and complain.

Upon hearing their mutters the clan Ianuarian knew that a day or so after she left the tiny third child would mysteriously cease breathing. Such was common practice for infants deemed unfit and unable to eventually contribute to the clan’s well being. The well respected Ianuarian went to the elders telling them that while the child was small and weak it’s spirit was strong and that she felt the strength of Ianuaria in him. Then she added that since she breathed life into the near stillborn babe, if they gave their permission, she would accept raising the child as her own.

Naturally this surprised the elders. Obviously the Ianuarian sensed that something about the child was special. After sending the healer from their council they briefly discussed whether or not it would be prudent for them to raise the child. But in the end they decided the childless older woman could have the child thus relieving them of the burden while keeping the child in the extended clan.

The healer, Erminlinda, thanked the elders then asked them to see to the child’s needs overnight so the infant could be properly fed before making the trek to her home village. Erminlinda named the tiny baby Raben (raven) because of his intense inquisitive gaze. While they waited the healer searched for herbs and plants in the surrounding forests inviting all preteen girls to accompany her and learn.

Living with their mother, the two larger triplets were identical twins, Adalfuns and Adalbert, grew strong and healthy overcoming their size deficit at birth by their third birthday. Still young and beautiful plus having demonstrated her ability to produce sons the young mother soon remarried eventually having a daughter and son with her new husband. The youngest triplet, not identical to his bigger brothers, was noticeably smaller than his brothers. That first year Raben fought to survive. If he’d stayed in the village he most likely would not have survived. However his adoptive mother WAS the clan Ianuarian.

Erminlinda was recognized as the best healer in the memory of the entire tribe. With potions and herbs from his devoted adoptive mother he slowly grew stronger. In addition he seldom laughed or cried, often intently watching those about him as if analyzing their every action much like a sharp eyed Raven sitting on a branch. Many found his intense gazes unsettling.

Like many Ianuarians Erminlinda played the flute, often using the sweet melodies to soothe and relax patients. It was also a safe way to give advance notice that she was approaching a village. The often intense melodies fascinated Raben and for his second birthday she made a child sized flute for the boy. People were amazed that within a month he was able to play songs even mimicking the birds in the surrounding forests. Since he seldom left Erminlinda’s side by the time he was three, Raben had learned to recognize the plants and herbs that interested his mother helping her replenish needed medicinal supplies as well as how to prepare and store them. Like most healers Erminlinda spent about half her time in a small log cabin just outside her village {present day Gerlachsheim Google Maps 49.581057, 9.714466} where the sick could seek help without the naturally nosey villagers intruding. A healer’s privacy was a well respected tradition. The rest of her time was spent traveling through nine villages of her clan but often traveling further if needed. Raben accompanied Erminlinda on her rounds almost intuitively learning her skills and that a healer’s job was never done. Thus Raben regularly met his larger brothers and birth mother but at no time was he invited to rejoin their core family.

Erminlinda recognized the small boy’s inquisitiveness, intensity and quick intellect. Like the wily raven intently watching the world, Raben closely observed everything she did, every herb, potion, poultice, every reset bone, every stitched wound and every tune she played. By the time he was ten Erminlinda was an arthritic fifty five. The clan elders knew their chief healer was getting too old to continue making the rounds to the villages. Fortunately they also knew that for the last year she had been having Raben do the actual healing work while she observed, seldom needing to advise or correct him. Despite his youth and small size everyone knew Raben’s knowledge of herbs and plants was unsurpassed except, and then just barely, by Erminlinda.

At the age of twelve many boys, including his brothers, began puberty. For months Raben had felt an itching in his scrotum. Having seen many examples of male and female genitalia in his medical practice he realized his testicles were not normal and the scrotum was changing. Instead of a sack holding the testes, his were separated. The separation deepened until it became vaginal like and his scrotum morphed into pseudo labia with each side holding a small testicle.

Quietly he explained his situation to Erminlinda who verified his conclusions after examining him. “You are two spirited, both female and male yet neither,” his mother explained. “It is a rare but not unknown condition with many variations. Physically you may develop as a young man, as a young female or as both or neither. Your future is in the hands of the Gods. However, you will be safer if you keep this secret.”

By age fourteen Raben stood four feet ten inches tall and weighed 95 pounds. There was no sign of male puberty. His waif like appearance was androgynous. His flesh was smooth, hairless and soft. There was just the tiniest hint of breast development. The intense teen was slender but with wiry strength, superb stamina, tremendous agility and graceful suppleness. With long reddish hair and piercing emerald green eyes he was known by all in the clan yet had no true friends, nor, for that matter, any enemies. The youth could run like the wind, climb trees like a cat, even leap from tree to tree like a squirrel and climb rocky cliffs and outcrops like a mountain goat. In addition, his woodcraft was far beyond that of the best skilled hunters and warriors. He could silently run through the forest, and if downwind, was able to slip amongst grazing deer without startling them. His stamina was such that he could run for hours seeing all in the forests he traversed. Several people claimed they’d seen the wiry lad running and howling with the wolves! They knew the birds and rabbits had no fear of him. It was fairly common to see a bird land on his shoulder or a rabbit scamper between his legs.

It wasn’t unusual for those traveling through the forests to hear intriguingly delightful flute melodies wafting through the trees echoing through the valleys. Outsiders coming to the villages were surprised to see the short slender youth traveling from place to place making the rounds as a respected healer. Any who needed Raben’s skills were more than satisfied by his services. His ability to reset broken bones and stitch wounds without having them become infected was far beyond his years. His healing skills and herbal lore had long surpassed that of his adoptive mother, Erminlinda.

It was the middle of fall with colorful leaves falling from the trees. Raben was in a village {present day Wittihhausen, Google maps 49.581057, 9.714466 in the German state of Baden-Wurttemburg} tending to the people when several panicked out of breath women and children staggered into the village yelling that a mounted slave raiding party was attacking the clan’s villages. The raiders’ attack on the first village caught everyone by surprise. The next village, the one the women and children came from was warned by a handful of survivors fleeing the first village. They didn’t have enough time to mount a viable defense or fully evacuate before they were attacked. The people in the village Raben was in, along with the refugees, sprang into action swiftly gathering food and supplies. The women and children fled into the forest while the men sent out scouts and organized their fighting force in the forests along the path between the villages. They knew they couldn’t defend the village so they set booby traps throughout the village then slipped into the forests to ambush the slavers when they arrived.

Raben led the women and children into a tributary feeding the stream the village was built beside telling them to stay in the water to mask their trail as they climbed the steep valley to a safe hiding spot. The youthful healer was concerned about his mother/mentor. The home he shared with her was just outside the first village attacked. Knowing keeping his cool was important he shoved the fear down. Just as they stepped out of the water a half mile upstream the sounds of battle echoed from their abandoned village. The clash of metal was all too brief. No one had to warn them to remain quiet.

After fifteen minutes Raben eased back downstream to the village where he saw the mounted invaders had been victorious. He saw the mounted men start driving five men, three women and six children shackled in chains back down the trail along side the Wittigbach the way they’d came. Judging by the booty strapped to their horses the young mercenary commander let his men ransack the village before setting it ablaze. They knew the village had been warned of their raid and understood the remaining villages would soon be organizing stiffer defense and eventually a retaliatory raid. It was time for them to return to the safety of the Roman fortifications.

Raben silently followed cautiously checking the surrounding area and found a bit over half the village’s male defenders lying dead by the trail as well as eight slavers. As usual the slavers made sure they killed any of their own wounded who couldn’t be easily moved. Raben scurried back to the hidden women and children giving them the all clear and instructing them to head upstream to the next clan village to spread the news of the raid.

The second village attacked {present day Grunsfeld, Google maps 49.606186, 9.744039} was six miles downstream at the junction of the Wittigbach and Grunbach streams. This was the village that had received warning of the raid but hadn’t had enough time to organize. It too was a burned husk with dead lying about. Fear, anger and the need to help the injured fought inside his soul. As he surveyed the ruins a handful of women and children crept from the forest with one wounded warrior. While he desperately wanted to head downstream to the next village he forced himself to help the injured. Raben quickly tended to their wounds then advised the survivors to make their way upstream to the neighboring village and from their to the next clan village. This destroyed village was that of his birth mother and brothers. They were not amongst the survivors nor the dead. Obviously they had been captured.

Fearing the worst Raben headed downstream the three and two third miles along the Grunbach to the village outside which he lived with Erminlinda. It only took a glance at the modest cabin they’d shared to see the still smoldering remnants. The place he’d called home was gone. His adopted mother’s body was not outside the ruined cabin and there was no sign of a blackened corpse amongst the charred debris. Fear for his mother and mentor grew as he made his way into the village (present day Gerlachsheim). It was evident they had been caught by total surprise. All too many men lay where they fell. The village elders had clearly been executed as their worth as slaves was negligible. A quick search of the bodies revealed no sign of Erminlinda. Hope flared in his heart, perhaps her worth as a healer made up for her advanced age. No one came from the forest. Those not killed had most likely been captured. He could only assume they were now chained prisoners.

It was a bit after late afternoon. Raben knew if he followed he’d easily catch up to those he sought. Following too close during the daylight he’d run the risk of discovery. If he had any hopes of freeing his mother he’d have to do so after darkness fell. With trepidation he wandered back through the derelict smoldering village and out the other side. Numbed by the death he’d witnessed this day he slowly went through the ruins of his home seeking to salvage what he could.

Raben took the salvaged items to the nearby spring to clean them but stopped short in horror. Erminlinda hung from a tall pine tree... crucified! The beams of the late afternoon sun illuminated her bloody frail form. The distraught teen fell to his knees crying to see his mother/mentor treated so harshly! As he cried he saw her twitch... she was still alive!

The excited youth filled his water skin then shimmied up the back of the tree to the hand hewn plank crosspiece. Carefully he maneuvered about until he could get the waterskin to her mouth. Feeling the water against her parched lips she opened her mouth and drank. The water somewhat revived her. Looking up she weakly smiled to see her son/protégée.

“Raben, I’m glad to see you’re safe,” she whispered. “The Romans... killed... captured... so many.”

“I know,” Raben commiserated. “I can’t treat you up here and I’m not sure how to get you down. I can’t do it myself and...”

“No child,” Erminlinda croaked. “It’s too late to save me. Even if you got me down I’m too old and weak to survive.”

“But...” Raben pleaded.

“Ianuaria calls and I must heed. She needs me to heal the slaughtered,” Erminlinda soothed her student. “I ask you to give me hemlock to ease my death and end my suffering. Then go save those who were taken.”

“What can I do against them? I’m not a warrior,” Raben sniffled knowing her request for Hemlock was justified. “I’ll give you the hemlock, then get you down and give you a proper pyre.”

“A pyre can wait until you return,” Erminlinda gasped. “Evening is falling and you have much to do yet today. Ianuaria has blessed you with the skills of a healer. She also blessed you with intelligence, agility, stamina, and speed to travel soundlessly. You are skilled in the forests, you are easily the clan’s best hunter. As a healer you know where to land killing blows. Use those skills to destroy the Romans who attacked us and free our people. My son, I thank the Gods for letting me be your mother. You have already exceeded my abilities. I know you will be the greatest healer to have ever lived. Always remember I love you. Now, hurry, I want to die as the sun sets.”

Scrambling down the tree tears were flowing freely down his cheeks. Raben prepared the gift of death for his much loved adopted mother. Although they were both healers, they knew prolonging life was not always a good thing. Sometimes a healer had to assist those suffering end their life.

The sun was beginning to set when he climbed back up to his mother. Once more he had to rouse her. A feeble smile was the best she could manage. After a final kiss he administered the ultimate escape. Too weak to hold her head up, Raben tenderly assisted her to turn her face towards the setting sun. Comforted by the loving touch of her son, Erminlinda, her face wreathed in the last sunbeams of the fading day, smiled at her child as she slipped into death’s welcoming embrace.



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