Time on My Hands Chapter 9 - Dancing With a Caravan


Time on My Hands

Chapter 9: 198-199 CE: Dancing With a Caravan

Behind the main buildings on the middle pastures a finger of the mountain ridge surged skyward. The ridge ended in a cliff running northwest to southeast soaring 150 feet high. There was a rockfall scree 600 feet wide, 65 feet high at the cliff sloping down at a 45° angle. Tents were set up for the slaves and the things Raben had brought. The trees that had grown atop the scree were cut down for logs and lumber. A bridge of sturdy logs with a plank surface was built over the diverted stream Raben and Ulixes had created years before. Starting in the middle of the scree, Raben had them dig out the footprint for a sturdy stone and log building that he named the Elder House. The layout would be half into the scree and half beyond.

When completed the ground floor was 25 feet wide by 40 feet long by 10 feet high built of stone. Two doors 8 feet wide were built in the center of the front and back walls. A 1 foot wide center floor trench 2 feet deep was dug between the doors. Flush with the floor cap stones ½ wide drain slots between each stone were put in place. The floor gently sloped to the center drain. The drain continued underground beyond the building ending in the channelized stream under the bridge. Two stone 3 feet square pillars each 1/3 the distance of the 40 feet length were built to support the 18 inch square main beams across pillars. Smaller squared beam floor joists covered by thick planks completed the 1st floor. The ground floor would consist of 3 equal walled zones. The right side would be a stable, the left side would be temporary storage for the codex boxes. The center would include the stairs to the upper levels and firewood. The next 2½ stories would be made of thick logs built atop the walls of the stone ground floor. The 1st floor would be a common area & kitchen. The 2nd floor was for bedrooms and the attic a barracks type sleeping room. When te building was completed they moved in packing away the tents. Raben explained that he would be sending more boxes for storage as well as funds to keep the farmstead solvent.

At that point the real work began. The entire scree would be removed. Gravel and dirt would be piled in one location, stone suitable for building would be in another spot. The rest would be in a third location. Wooden forms would be used to build the arched tunnels. The completed tunnels would be 8 feet wide with walls 6 feet high with an arch 4 feet high connecting the two side walls. Drains similar to the one in the building were to be installed under the flagstone floors. That work would be done during the winter when exterior work would be too difficult. Once sections of tunnel were completed, newly excavated scree material was backfilled into the spaces.

The plans were quite involved. The only access tunnel was to built from the rear door of the Elder House back to the cliff face. Starting from and parallel to the cliff face three matching tunnels each 500 feet long with eight 10 feet long cross tunnels and a 50 feet long main access tunnel in the middle from the ground floor of the Elder House. The 2nd level had two matching 500 feet long cliff parallel tunnels with five 10 feet long cross tunnels. The 3rd level was 1 matching 500 feet long tunnel. That yielded a total of 3200 feet of interconnected tunnels in 3 levels hidden in the rebuilt scree now 550 feet wide. The scree would be just 1 foot below the top of the rear stone wall of the Elder House. As they built upwards, a ventilation shaft three feet square connecting to all three levels would be built to the surface of the scree. Rock shelves eighteen inches deep would eventually be built along walls of the tunnels to hold the codex bearing boxes. Again that would be work for winter. Trap doors and shafts four feet square were installed to serve as dumbwaiter access to the upper levels in the main front to back access tunnel.

The master plan included waterproofing the three story tunnel complex. Starting at the cliff face six feet above the top of the completed third level and after all non tunnel areas were backfilled to a forty five degree slope, five inches of gravel would be placed on the exposed surface. Flat rocks were then to be laid atop the leveled gravel like slate shingles to direct ground water away to keep it from penetrating further into the scree. Three successive gravel and slate rock levels were to be constructed. The top slate level was also to be covered five inches of gravel creating a triple redundant roof five feet thick. Where the bottom of this underground roof reached the original ground level a French drain had been constructed channeling any water seeping down the slate stones to empty into the central drain in the main access tunnel. Fourteen feet of remaining excavated scree would be placed atop to recreate the original appearance of the scree. Rocks and debris would camouflage the opening of the ventilation shaft where it emerged at the top of the scree. Any remaining scree would be dropped over the cliff between the middle and the lower pastures. Needles from the pine trees and other dead vegetation would be scattered atop the scree and new pine trees planted so that in thirty years all evidence of having trifled with the scree would be hidden.

Confident the well treated slaves were content and they understood his plans it was mid September when Raben set out to return to Rome. The place to hide and preserve knowledge during any possible dark times to come was well underway.

Ulixes and his new family were happy to see Raben return. The in demand healer spent two months adding to his finances and arranging for his by then quite profitable scriptorium to continue to make two sets of duplicate scrolls for his two secret stashes. Arrangements were also made for pack trains to take shipments of two hundred codex filled boxes through the Poeninus Mons (St. Bernard) pass every month from the time the pass opened in the spring until it closed in the fall, the trains would attach themselves to larger commercial trade caravans. Arrangements were also made with local estates to breed mules for the pack trains.

Although anxious, Raben set out to sail to Corinth in Greece. Corinth was the capital of the Roman Provence of Achaea. Having little experience with sailing and seas in general, the experience was exciting and a bit terrifying. His first experience would be short. Unless the need was urgent sailing the open seas in the Mediterranean was limited to the months of May through October. Winter was the time of storms and the weeks leading to and from that was usually cloudy. Since accurate open sea navigation was dependent upon the sun and stars, open sea sailing during that period was curtailed. Some sailing was done but the sailors always did their best to stay within sight of land. Since it was December when Raben set out, he traveled overland from Rome southeast to the port city of Brindisi on the heel of Italy. The longest open sea stretch was crossing the Adriatic Sea, about forty five miles at that point. The best speed merchant vessels made in favorable conditions was six knots an hour or about seven mph. The sailing distance to Corinth was about three hundred sixty five miles. Best time possible was fifty three hours, average time was four and a half days.

Traveling by ship was anything but luxury. There were on passenger vessels. Vessels were first and foremost cargo ships who only incidentally carried passengers and provided no food nor services. With few exceptions there were no cabins. Deck passage was usually the only available choice This meant passengers stood, sat, and slept on the open deck. If they wanted shelter they had to bring their own small tents that needed to be taken down and set up each day. The traveler also had to supply their own food and drink. This meant taking enough food for the voyage, which could vary greatly depending upon the winds and weather. This meant that to be safe seven days worth of supplies was required.

Needless to say Raben was quite laden with supplies when he stepped aboard. He’d had a dock laborer assist him in carrying everything aboard. He’d packaged the texts he wanted in a crate. The writings were stacked and bundled together, wrapped in waterproofed skins which were tied closed, then sealed with wax. That was then placed inside the wooden crate. The crate shipped as cargo in the same vessel he rode.

Fortunately Raben did not get seasick unlike some of his fellow travelers. Delving into his healer kit he concocted and sold brews to soothe the ill guaranteeing success or refunding the fee. The crew kept an eye on the busy youth as he tended the ill. The sailing master was impressed with the Raben’s entrepreneurial skills and the effectiveness of his concoctions. While Raben retained ownership he sold the right to utilize the herbal formula to the sailing master so he could duplicate it for his passengers.

Most passengers found sailing to be unending boredom with nothing to do but to stroll about the crowded upper deck and look at the sea or coast if it was within sight. After becoming friendly with the ship’s master, Raben spent his time learning all he could of sea lore. The master was impressed because the inquisitive youth picked up on things quickly often making intuitive intellectual leaps. By trips end Raben had learned the basics of navigating by the sun and stars. He also learned how to handle the sails and steering oars. With Raben’s never ending quest for knowledge the six day voyage went quickly for the entire crew.

Bidding farewell to his new friends Raben disembarked in Corinth. The harbor was busy and the city bustling. Raben found an inn and had his crate sent there. The next two weeks were spent exploring the city and, as a prominent Roman physician, meeting prominent citizens. The effervescent perpetual youth turned a profit selling his services. Using names he’d received from the Christians in Rome along with a letter of introduction, Raben met with the Corinthian churches and leadership sharing communications. He delivered letters the Roman Christians sent to their Corinthian compatriots. They were quite intrigued by Corvus Scriptorium in Rome promising to forward any new letters and documents they found or received to his copying enterprise.

Hiring a wagon and driver, Raben set out on the overland route to Athens. After crossing the six mile wide Corinthian Isthmus they continued another twelve miles along the Magara Gulf on the first day stopping overnight in the small town of Kineta. The second day they traveled twenty miles traveling past the island of Salamina then moving around the gulf of Elefsina stopping overnight in the town of Elefsina. It was mid afternoon on the third day when they reached Athens. Briefly he stayed at an inn before renting a small home at the base of the Hill of the Nymphs, 1600 feet northwest of the Acropolis in January 199.

Two women and a man were hired to staff the modest home on a tree covered lot. A few days were then spent seeing the sights before he sought out fellow physicians.

Raben was surprised to learn his reputation as a first class physician was known. In turn his apparent youth surprised those he met. It didn’t take long until he was invited to consult on difficult cases. Discussions abounded as ideas were exchanged and debated. Most of what Raben advocated fit in with current medical ideas although a few ideas seemed far fetched. However, Raben’s success in treating difficult conditions was admired. They most admired his lack of bragging. Anything he said he was prepared to back up. If a condition stumped him, he readily admitted it rather than attempt treatments that might adversely effect the patient. However, if he had an idea that a certain treatment might work, he voiced his opinion but let others decide if they wanted to pursue his oft unusual or unorthodox suggestions. By the end of his first month in Athens he had a steady income and was always in demand for consultations.

Much to his surprise he found the attitude of the medical professionals in Athens, while steeped in prideful history, was more open to Raben’s medical knowledge that their compatriots in Rome. Unfortunately, despite proving his practices were effective, they didn’t quite fit in with current medical theory. Greek medical knowledge had grown far from the primitive ‘punishments’ and ‘gifts’ from the gods, to believe health was affected by the ‘humors’, gender, geographic location, social class, diet, trauma, beliefs and mind set. Centuries of real life experience in their literate society allowed theories to form and be tested against symptoms and results.

Humorism was the culmination of medical theory. The theory declared the human body is filled with four basic substances, called humors, which are in balance when a person is healthy. Diseases and disabilities resulted from an excess or deficit of one of the humors. Disease resulted from the corruption of the humors. These deficits were thought to be caused by vapors inhaled or absorbed by the body The four humors were blood, yellow bile, black bile and phlegm. It was also theorized that gender played a role in medicine because some diseases and treatments were different for women than for men. Moreover, geographic location and social class affected the living conditions of the people and might subject them to different environmental issues such as mosquitoes, rats, and availability of clean drinking water. Diet was thought to be an issue as well and might be affected by a lack of access to adequate nourishment. Trauma, such as that suffered by gladiators, from dog bites or other injuries, played a role in theories relating to understanding anatomy and infections. Additionally, there was significant focus on the beliefs and mind set of the patient in the diagnosis and treatment theories. It was recognized that the mind played a role in healing, or that in some cases it might also be the sole basis for an illness. From Hippocrates (460-370 BCE) onward, the humoral theory was adopted by Greek, Roman and Islamic physicians to become the most commonly held view of the human body among European physicians until the advent of modern medical research in the nineteenth century.

While the Greek physicians accepted Raben’s healing capabilities, by and large they did not adopt his practices. The long ‘civilized’ Greeks were fascinated by the obvious medical skills and knowledge of the youthful erudite Romanized German ‘Barbarian’ physician but their sense of superiority prevented them from ‘lowering’ themselves to accept what he had to offer.

Frustrated by the polite tolerance of the Greeks, Raben made arrangements with a prominent Athenian Scriptorium to have copies of Greek medical scrolls sent to his Corvus Scriptorium in Rome while he sent Roman scrolls to them. The Christian community was small but eagerly exchanged letters and documents.

In mid-July Raben arranged passage to travel with a wagon caravan heading overland to Egypt. In exchange for their protection he’d serve as healer for the crew. The expedition was to travel around the Aegean Sea to the city of Augusta Antonina. The city was in the process of being rebuilt by Emperor Severus, having razed the city of Byzantium to the ground in 196 AD for supporting a rival contender during the civil war. The new city was named in honor of his son Antoninus, the later Emperor Caracalla. The name was quickly forgotten and abandoned as the city reverted to Byzantium after the assassination of Caracalla. There they crossed the Bosporus Strait leaving Europe and entering Asia. They would travel 1500 miles overland across Asia Minor, through the Roman Provinces of Bithynia, Galacia, Cilicia, Syria and Judea into Egypt to Alexandrea. The seventy five day trip would be exhausting but very enlightening.

Before setting out, Raben packed up all his scrolls and codexes shipping them to Ulixes in Rome. A letter explaining his intention to travel overland to Alexandria accompanied the manuscripts.

Upset by the dismissive way the Greeks treated him, Raben decided to make the trip as his alter ego Fiach. As his male self he’d made the travel arrangements for his young ‘wife’ who, he assured the caravan master, was a skilled healer in her own right and quite capable of taking care of herself. The arrangements included providing access to feed, fodder and stabling for the two sturdy horses Raben bought for the arduous trip. Having purchased a small wardrobe of female clothes but wearing the hooded cloak, bracers and gloves, Fiach would alternate riding the two horses with the animal not ridden serving as pack animal. The caravan crew all chuckled to see the bow and quiver attached to the back of the diminutive girl’s saddle.

For the first five days the teamsters tested and teased the young woman. Most of them had difficulty believing the girl was the eighteen as she claimed, she looked about twelve or thirteen. Still, they were in a Roman cosmopolitan area and had to abide by Roman laws. The rough men were impressed with her horsemanship and stamina but kept her at a distance. None wanted to be tempted to violate a married woman. The way they treated her was not unexpected. For her part, she told everyone to call her Fiach. Most nights the caravan stayed at a caravansary. The sixth night they were at the city of Claudiopolis {present day Bolu, GM 40.731684, 31.619659}.

At every stop she’d faced the same reception. Being the only female she found herself the target of rude and lewd comments and plenty of unwanted invitations, all of which she ignored. As was her custom, after eating, Fiach returned to the stable to check on her horses. Twilight was darkening into night as she emerged from the stable heading back to the inn. A group of shady looking local men had followed and waylaid her. Seeing six men suspiciously standing in the courtyard, all of whom were staring at her while smiling lasciviously, she knew there would be trouble. Even before she fully stepped from the stable she had a knife in each hand hidden inside her sleeves.

As the men closed in Fiach smirked. “Gee, I wonder what your intentions are? Well, if you value your lives you’ll back off. I promise you won’t like dancing with me.”

The men were clearly surprised she fluently spoke their local language but laughed at her blunt threat. “There are six of us. You’ll soon be dancing with us, alright... on your back!” With that they rushed her.

Her blades flashed as she stepped forward to meet their assault. Her charge caught them by surprise as blood sprayed from the nearest two as she sliced their carotid arteries as she pirouetted between them. Both stumbled to their knees clutching their throats as their lives gurgled away. Without pausing she slammed a knife upward under the ribs of a third attacker piercing his heart. As he dropped to his knees the first two toppled forward dead. Upon seeing the unexpected carnage the other attackers paused in shock.

“I thought you wanted to dance,” Fiach taunted with a predatory smile. “Obviously your friends WERE extremely poor dancers. If you’re afraid to dance with me you must not be very manly. Pfft! Run along little boys!” She accented her dismissal with a disdainful flick of her wrist.

Their apprehension quickly turned to anger as she so flippantly called their manhood in question. With shouts of fury they rushed her. Two quickly staggered and collapsed as the knives Fiach simultaneously threw buried to the hilt in their throats. She sidestepped the third man grabbing his wrist as she did so. With a deft twist she dropped to the ground throwing him over her prone body to land face first on the ground. His breaking neck made a sickening crunch as she rolled to her feet. The two men with knives buried in their throats collapsed to their knees before keeling over.

Looking up she saw fifteen stunned men, half from her caravan including the leader, standing outside the entrance to the inn looking at her with their mouth’s agape. With a coquettish smile she spoke. “Would anyone else like to dance? These six macho attackers were extremely poor dancers... they didn’t even last a full minute. Is no one interested in dancing with me?” As she spoke she calmly retrieved the knives she’d thrown from the throats of the men who caught her deadly pitches, almost innocently wiping the blades clean on their clothing. “You disappoint me. I really like dancing but it’s so hard to find anyone who can dance with me! Oh well, I guess I’ll go inside for a goblet of wine. Just send the town watch inside when they get here.” With that she smiled as she walked through the intimidated men who parted like the sea Moses parted.

Night had fallen by the time the captain of the city guard and several of his men arrived at the inn. While fatal fights were not uncommon, especially at the inns catering to caravans, having six killed in one brawl was unusual. After checking the dead the captain recognized them as local thugs. What’s more it looked like they had tangled with experienced fighters. That none of the dead men’s opponents had died only made their deadly skills even more evident. The thugs were not stupid, normally they avoided tangling with skilled outsiders. After interviewing the first witness he thought the man must have had too much to drink. By the third witness he was growing angry assuming he was being pranked. He knew there was simply no way one woman could have taken out the six hoodlums. Not that he regretted their death... if anything the streets of the city would be a bit more settled without them. After hearing virtually the same unbelievable story from all the witnesses he began to doubt his initial conclusion that one woman, unassisted, would be unable to take out the six.

The captain, with two men, entered the inn looking for an intimidating Amazon. The normal raucous conversation was quite muted. Other than the staff there was only one woman, a girl really, in the crowded room. Strangely, there was an obvious space around the cloak clad young lady seated by herself at a corner table with her back to the wall. Needless to say they were shocked when they were directed to the young diminutive girl.

Fiach watched the three men enter, deducing from their uniforms they were the city guard as they looked around the crowded room. Upon seeing their clearly surprised faces as they realized she had to be the female they were seeking she barely suppressed a grin. Instead she intently gazed at them almost challenging them.

“I assume you’re the one who killed the men outside?” The captain asked as, flanked by his guards, he stood before her table doing his best, and failing, to intimidate her.

“They wanted to rape me,” Fiach replied with a deadly smile. “I told them to walk away but they didn’t listen. They charged, I took them out.”

“Do you really expect me to believe a little thing like you would be able to take out six thugs?” The captain growled clearly angered by the small girl’s surly attitude. “Who are you covering for?”

The room had fallen silent and all eyes were upon the confrontation.

“You really need to reign in your contempt,” Fiach calmly replied. “Sometimes what seems improbable is possible.” Before the men could react the chair she’d been seated upon flew backwards as Fiach leapt upon the table. Simultaneously knives flashed from each sleeve of the cloak as they thrust firmly into the guard’s belts. The captain reached for his sword only to freeze as his head was wrapped into a one armed headlock as another knife appeared pressed against his throat. “I guess it’s lucky for each of you I kept the knives sheathed.” Fiach slowly moved the knife from the captain’s throat letting him and everyone else see it was sheathed. “I apologize for my actions just now however I figured it was easier to prove what I’m capable of doing rather than try to explain it to you.”



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