Time on My Hands Chapter 7 - 195-196 CE A Haven, Eagle and Rome

Time on My Hands

Chapter 7: 195-196 CE: A Haven, Eagle and Rome

After a brief introduction the women prepared supper the men accompanied by the curious and energetic boy took Raben and Ulixes on a quick tour of Barmaz. There were several low piled stone fences around the farmstead and a few blocking off access to dangerous slopes. In the middle pasture there were fifteen milk producing cows for milk which became one of their cash crops of cheese as well as yogurt and cream with a few older cows sold off for beef each year to keep the herd young. Grazing amongst the cows were twenty goats which produced milk and cheese as well as wool and two donkeys each used to pull two wheeled carts down to the villages. The milk producing cows and goats were kept primarily in the middle pastures for ease of milking. In the upper pastures the bull and cows with calves as well as the buck goats and does with kids foraged. There were also one hundred sheep, raised for wool and meat. Twenty five pigs were kept in the smaller lower pastures. In the upper pasture were four scattered animal sheds to provide shelter during thunder storms. There were two smaller animal sheds in the lower pasture for the pigs. The farm was primarily pasture land with small vegetable plots for family use by the farmstead. About twenty five chickens, primarily for family use, lived in a coop at the side of the farmstead.

As they were returning to the farmstead from their tour the screech of a golden eagle rang out. They all looked to see the large majestic bird of prey swooping down upon a chicken that had wandered away from the protection of the buildings. Before anyone else could react Raben snagged the sling he carried in his belt as well as two round stones from a pocket. One stone dropped into the pouch of the sling as he began to twirl the sling. The eagle was flying away with a squawking chicken clutched in it’s deadly claws. At a distance of three hundred yards Raben let the stone fly, promptly loaded the second stone and began twirling again. Much to the amazement of those about him the stone struck the eagle. The stunned bird fluttered about but stayed aloft and maintained it’s grip on it’s prey but was unable to continue it’s escape. The second stone hit, dropping the eagle.

The big bird plummeted to the earth hitting with a solid THUNK. The farmers and Ulixes were amazed. Raben had launched two stones from his sling in less than thirty seconds, both hitting his target at three hundred yards. Trotting to the fallen birds Raben checked the chicken quickly noting the wounds were serious but not necessarily fatal. Gently he stroked the hen helping her calm down.

Raben looked to one of the boys. “Take the hen. Keep her cupped in your hands so she can’t move her wings. When we get my med kit I’ll treat her wounds and sew them closed after I’m done with the eagle.”

The amazed boy carefully accepted the chicken and his charge.

Checking the eagle Raben noted the bird was regaining it’s senses but had broken a wing. Acting quickly he pulled a leather bag from a pouch of his cloak and slipped it over the eagle’s head, gently tying the drawstrings to hold it in place as he softly spoke to the anxious bird. Almost instantly the panicking bird stilled. Pulling a rawhide string from another pouch he tied the talons together as a precaution. “I’ll try to reset the broken wing. If it’s successful we can release him back into the wild in about six weeks.”

“I’ve given up trying to make sense of him,” Ulixes chuckled. “When we first met I pulled him off his horse. He managed to knock me senseless. That evening I was getting drunk and he was in the tabernae eating. My buddies and I decided we’d teach him a lesson. Outside he took us on and knocked the crap out of all of us. As soon as we were down he opened his med kit and began patching us up, sewing up our wounds. That scrawny lad put the three Roman soldiers in the infirmary for a week. Turns out he’s a top notch healer, an Ianuarian in fact. Set up shop and treated everyone who needed help, never asked for a thing but accepted what they could give.”

The entire farmstead gathered round to watch Raben calm the majestic bird then gingerly reset the broken wing. After the judicious placement of a splint he used strips of cloth to bind the wing against the bird’s body. A twisted rawhide rope was wrapped around one leg just above the claws to tether the big bird while it healed. Trimming branches off several nearby evergreen trees Raben made a bird hutch away from the buildings with fresh water and meat. Raben sat before the eagle and removed the hood speaking softly to reassure the bird he would not be killed.

The eagle looked around taking in his surroundings, especially Raben. Reaching inside his cloak he pulled out his flute and played a whimsical tune. The eagle cocked it’s head about in several directions checking out the flute and the person playing it. When he finished the tune he held out his hand for the eagle to sniff. Much to everyone’s surprise the eagle then allowed him to stroke his feathers before showing it the food and water. Slowly he rose to his feet and walked away. The bird seemed to accept his situation.

Next Raben turned his attention to the chicken. After gently plucking the feathers adjacent to the wounds he carefully cleaned them then stitched them closed. Then he released the bird allowing it to return to it’s flock. By then while it was still daylight, the sun dipped below the multiple peaks of Dents De Blanches sending the valley into a long twilight.

Raben and Ulixes joined the inhabitants of the farmstead for their evening meal. The Bricius family managed Barmaz. The oldest was a wizened fifty nine year old woman, a great grandmother. Her gray haired craggy faced son was forty three. His grey haired weathered faced wife was thirty nine. Their son was a robust twenty three and his wife was nineteen. They had a five year old son, a three year old daughter, and a one year old son. The older couple had a fifteen year old son and a thirteen year old daughter. Raben explained his healing skills and his goal of heading to Rome and Corinth and possibly Alexandria to further his medical knowledge.

Each day Raben fed and exercised the Eagle. From the first day onward a female eagle flew over the roost screeching at the tethered male who would answer. Since eagles mate for life they all rightly assumed the female was checking up on her mate. By the second week the female would land and approach the male and spend time together. By the third week Raben was able to join the pair speaking softly and giving them treats. Those who watched were amazed.

During the next weeks the new comers learned about how the farm operated. Once a week they took a cart with cheese and other goods down valley to the market in Monthey, nine miles from the farmstead. Going down they covered the route in three hours and spent five hours in a market stall. Since the return was all uphill it took five hours. If the weather wasn’t too bad they could do the round trip in a day.

Everyone was fascinated by Raben’s natural affinity for animals and his skills as a healer. That he could so easily approach and tend to the majestic bird while it bristled at all the rest only reinforced his uniqueness. On a plank Raben wrote the Latin alphabet and taught the extended family rudimentary reading and writing. He left the scrolls he’d gathered over the years so they could practice.

Raben realized he needed a well off the beaten track place to serve as a base and safe house. Barmaz was perfect. There were no routes through it. There were no geological natural resources. The farm was barely above subsistence level. Barmaz was centrally located in Europe yet was a dead end in the high Alps, barely accessible with nothing worth fighting over. He also realized that Rome had reached it’s zenith and was on the verge of a long bloody decline. The so called barbarians were constantly pressing against the borders. With his never ending youth he would live through the decline. A safe place would help assure his future and give him a place to stash valuable objects. Gold, silver and jewels would be part of that. But if Rome collapsed, knowledge would also be critical. Raben decided scrolls would be a good investment for the future.

Realizing that with the upcoming turmoil, even if was a few hundred years away, a secure hidden hideaway would be critical. With that in mind he began looking for a secure yet accessible hiding place. After weighing the possibilities, he decided to use the scree from the cliff behind the farm buildings. The surface of the North east facing scree was 65 feet high and 65 feet deep lying at a forty five degree angle against the cliff that soared 150 feet high above the crumbled rocks.

The small stream draining the upper valley ran just outside the scree field, clearly having been forced out by the fallen stones. To do what Raben intended, the stream would need to be rerouted further away. Twenty five feet outside the scree field he and Ulixes dug a trench three feet deep and seven feet wide. Taking stones from the scree they lined the trench creating a trench five feet wide at the bottom two feet deep with tapered sides at a fifteen degree angle. At the upper limit of the scree field they built a low wall that diverted the stream into the new stone lined trench.

Unknown to anyone, he’d dug a secret pit just above the outer edge of the scree by the base of the cliff. The stone lined chamber was a cube of two feet accessed by a single large stone that completely covered the pit directing rain and melt water away. The chamber would stay dry and in it he stashed the coins and jewelry he’d taken from the Roman raiding party as well as half of what he’d earned during the trip and the precious spear tip.

Each day Raben carefully unbound the eagles wings and allowed the bird to move them. With the splint still on the bird didn’t attempt to fly. After six weeks everyone watched as Raben removed the splint and removed the tether. The eagle walked about keeping an eye on everyone. Once satisfied he was safe the bird spread his wings and tentatively flapped. Once he understood he was free he let out several loud screeches. In a few moments he leap into the air and flew off. The female swooped in to join her mate as they flew off to their eyrie.

On the first of July Raben and Ulixes bid the farmstead and Bricius family goodbye. The agreement made allowing the Bricius’ to stay was generous. They had to keep the farm and animals in good shape. They could sell the wool, cheese, and meat as they saw fit while maintaining the herds/flocks. They could keep any coin they earned but had to pay any taxes. Raben’s goal was to travel to Rome via the Poeininus Mons high mountain pass through the Alps, known today as the St. Bernard Pass.

It took a full day for Raben and Ulixes to return to Forum Claudii Vallensium (Martigny) at an elevation of 1575 feet. After spending the night they followed the Drance de Bagnes, another tributary of the Rhone, for eight miles to the village of Sembrancher, elevation 2375 feet, a rise of 800 feet. They then headed south along the Drance d’Entremont for four miles to the village of Orsieres {GM 46.025952, 7.145462}at an elevation of 2950 feet, a rise of 575 feet. They spent the night there having traveled twelve miles while climbing 1375 feet.

In the morning they traveled four and a half miles to the village of Liddes at an elevation of 4325 feet. They continued on another four miles to the village of Bourg St. Pierre {GM 45.950751, 7.207689} at an elevation of 5250 feet. Once more they stopped for the night having traveled only eight and a half miles but climbing 2300 feet. Still tired from the steep climb of the previous day the next day they traveled five miles to Bourg St. Bernard {GM 45.899821, 7.193759} at an elevation of 6400 feet a rise of 1150 feet. Since this was the last stop before the summit they decided to spend the night.

In the morning they set out on the last uphill leg. The four mile trek rose 1700 feet to the crest of the Poeninus Mons at an elevation of 8100 feet {GM 45.868661, 7.171415}. After a short break to enjoy the view they began the downward portion of the pass traveling four and a half miles to Praz D’Arc Chez Lugon at an elevation of 6475 feet a drop of 1625 feet where they spent the night.

The next day they traveled four miles through St. Rhemy at an elevation of 5250 for another four miles to St. Oyen at an elevation of 4425 feet for a total drop of 2075 feet. They spent the night in a shared tent. The next day they continued traveling five and a half miles through the Gignon at an elevation of 3200 feet then another five miles to Aosta at an elevation of 1650 feet for a total drop of 2775 feet. The following day they rode nineteen miles to Fabbrica at an elevation of 1300 feet for a drop of 350 feet. The last day of the trip over the Alpine pass they traveled 20 miles to Ivrea at an elevation of 825 feet and a drop of 475 feet.

The journey through the pass from Forum Claudii Vallensium to Aosta took eight days of steady travel. The road was busy with traders and other travelers moving to and from the outlying Roman Provinces and Italy. They had climbed 6475 feet from Forum Claudii Vallensium to the pass then descended 7225 feet to Ivrea. As the crow flies the distance from Forum Claudi Vallensium to the pass was seventeen miles, by the road it was twenty nine and a half miles. From the pass to Ivrea the distance as the crow flies was forty eight miles, by road it was sixty two miles.

The rest of the trip to Rome went smoothly. Their route followed well maintained Roman roads and they made good time. As they traveled Ulixes was instrumental in helping Raben learn about the turbulent recent history of the Roman Empire.

Marcus Aurelius became the Roman co-emperor along with Lucius Verus the year Raben had been born. Lucius Verus died of Antonine plague, thought to be small pox or measles, in 169. Marcus Aurelius was sole emperor until three years before his death from natural causes when his son Commodus became co-emperor in 177. With the death of his father in 180 Commodus became sole emperor serving eight years. During his reign corruption became endemic in the selling of positions in the civil government as well as the military. Commodus also styled himself to be Hercules reincarnated often fighting in the arena against both animals and gladiators. Fed up with his increasing megalomania Commodus was strangled in his bath on New years Eve 192 ushering in 193, the year of five emperors.

The praetorian guard installed Pertinax as emperor. Born the son of a freed slave he worked his way up the military ranks. From the moment he took over he tried to implement reforms to undo the corruption that brought down Commodus and to stabilize the currency. One of those was to institute reforms in the praetorian guard. Not liking those reforms they killed him after eighty six days. The praetorians then auctioned off the office of emperor.

Didius Julianus, the proconsul of Africa won the bidding becoming emperor. Upon his accession, Julianus immediately reversed the monetary reforms by devaluing the Roman currency. After the initial confusion had subsided, the population did not tamely submit to the dishonor brought upon Rome. Whenever Julianus appeared in public he was saluted with groans. When news of the public anger in Rome spread across the Empire, the generals Pescennius Niger in Syria, Septimius Severus in Pannonia, and Clodius Albinus in Britain, each having three legions under his command, refused to recognize the authority of Julianus and separately declared themselves emperor. Julianus declared Severus a public enemy because he was the nearest of the three and therefore the most dangerous foe. Severus secured the support of Albinus by declaring him Caesar and took the fleet at Ravenna. He defeated the Praetorian prefect who had been sent to halt his progress. The Praetorian Guard lacking discipline and training were incapable of offering any effectual resistance. Severus ignored all overtures and pressed forward, all Italy declaring for him as he advanced. The Senate passed a motion proclaiming Severus emperor and sentenced Julianus to death, having reigned only sixty five days. At the same time Niger rallied his allies in the east and began to march on Rome. Severus sent troops to stop him. In 194 Severus defeated and beheaded Niger then campaigned to eliminate all who had been Niger’s allies.

Thus the political climate in Rome was just beginning to settle down when Raben and Ulixes arrived in the capital in late July. The first few days were spent exploring the city. There was a lot of construction as a massive fire had swept through the city in 191. The huge buildings amazed Raben. Having lived most of his life in primarily timber buildings with stone foundations, he had been a bit impressed by the brick and modest stone buildings he’d encountered on his travels. Seeing the huge temples and coliseum left him in awe. The extensive viaducts supplying the city with water were an engineering marvel. Yet despite all that he found the crowded city uncomfortable and smelly. There were simply too many people crammed together. In the poorer sections the crowding inevitably led to unsanitary conditions.

They located and rented a modest apartment in a middle class enclave in a less crowded section of the city. While Ulixes enjoyed the pleasures the city had to offer, Raben sought out a forum to study medicine. Much to the surprise of the physicians, they found the youngster to be quite knowledgeable. His ability to diagnose and treat the sick and injured was positively noticed as was his herbal lore. Several older physicians, the old guard of Roman medicine, were jealous of his skills and practices which sometimes ran counter to their traditional methods and practices. When their vitriol failed to stifle the young newcomer rumors of plots to poison Raben began to circulate.

Raben knew the rumors were true since he was indeed poisoned six different times. While the poisons would have been fatal to normal men, Raben’s Curse let him slough off the deadly effects with no ill after effects. Well attuned to his physical well being, he sensed whenever he ingested a poison. At those times he confidently proclaimed he’d been poisoned, identifying the agent used. Each time he attributed his ability to withstand poisoning to the Goddess Ianuaria of whom he was a favorite. Those plotting against him grew wary of his claims, afraid they were true and backed off.

Galen of Pergamum, the aging personal physician of Emperor Septimus Severus, had also survived numerous plots against him by jealous Roman physicians. Impressed by Raben’s talents he invited him to accompany him as he made house calls to the wealthy including the imperial court. With that foot in the door of the upper echelons of Roman society, Raben Longinus quickly established a wealthy clientele. That’s not to say he didn’t treat the poor. He developed a reputation for successfully treating bad health situations for anyone in need. He followed the practice of Roman physicians to charge for services rendered based upon the wealth of the patient. It wasn’t long until many were indebted to the what they thought was a precocious youth. With his calm efficiency Raben’s wealth grew steadily. With wise investments, within a year of arriving in Rome he was considered quite wealthy.

With the goal of accumulating and safely keeping scrolls and manuscripts through any political upheavals, Raben wanted to establish a scriptorium where current scrolls, manuscripts, and other writings could be copied. By making multiple copies he could sell copies as well as secrete copies for safe storage. His male and female first names meant Raven. The Latin name for Raven is Corvus. He decided to name the new enterprise Corvus Scriptorium.

The Minius family were middle class merchants. After the founding patriarch died, the oldest son took over. Within months he had run the business into the ground. Debts grew to untenable proportions and the lenders demanded payment. In response the son took his own life. Everything the family had accumulated was seized to pay the debts. The surviving family was left homeless with only the clothes they wore but at least they hadn’t been indentured. Raben had been aware of the family’s misfortune but was surprised they had been mercilessly been put into the streets. Immediately he sought them out. There was an open apartment in the building where Raben lived and he offered to pay the rent.

By that time the matriarch had been thoroughly humiliated and humbled. Trying to keep her family together and fed while living on the streets had broken her pride. Eagerly she accepted the gift agreeing to Raben’s request she see to his laundry and meals. He gave her a stipend to pay for the food.

The widowed matriarch was forty five, her deceased son left behind a twenty year old widow and one year old child. In addition there were three sons ages fifteen, thirteen, and eight as well as three daughters ages sixteen, eleven and seven. Their short time on the street had disabused all of any arrogance. They knew Raben had saved their family.

Raben, accompanied by Ulixes, had been riding back to their apartment from a wealthy estate after saving a mother and child in a difficult birth. Their attention was drawn by loud voices on a hillside above the road. Several riders in armor were engaged in military training. As they watched one of the horses stumbled sending the horse and rider head over heels down the hillside. It was instantly clear it was a nasty fall. Without hesitation Raben urged his horse off the road galloping towards the debacle.

He reached it at the same time the fallen rider’s companions did. The rider was lying motionless and obviously suffered broken bones. The horse had a broken leg and was thrashing about squealing horribly. Raben was off his horse and at the fallen rider’s side before his companions throwing his body between the unconscious man and the thrashing horse.

“Kill the horse before he causes more injuries,” Raben ordered as he was struck by a flailing hoof.

The horse was quickly dispatched. Shrugging off the harsh blow he’d received Raben then began to check the fallen rider as Ulixes arrived. The rider was a robust teenager but his injuries were nasty. The priority was to control the bleeding. The bones of his left forearm had snapped puncturing the skin. The left leg was bent at an unnatural angle. Blood was trickling from the teen’s ears. Following Raben’s brusk orders slender trees and limbs were gathered. While Ulixes supervised the construction of a stretcher Raben secured the injured limbs and the youth’s head. A rider was dispatched to the estate villa with instructions to boil plenty of water, get clean bandages, some honey and lots of vinegar. An area with a sturdy table and plenty of light near the kitchen was also to be prepared. By the time they transferred the youth to the stretcher several people from the villa arrived.

A concerned distinguished elderly man was clearly the one in charge. His face blanched when he saw the injured teen. With his military experience he noted the bindings were professionally applied. “Who are you,” he asked Raben seeing that he was responsible for the triage. “More importantly, will he survive?”

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