Time on My Hands Chapter 18 - 216 CE: Libyan Desert Adventure


Time on My Hands
Chapter 18: 216 CE: Libyan Desert Adventure

In the fall Raben returned to Mazbar with a seventeen year old niece. There she fell in love with another young man, a step-grandson of Ulixes. They married the day before Raben sailed to Zamrab at the beginning of December. The reception he received from the Alexandrian Corvus Scriptorium staff was one of utter gratitude for warning them to avoid politics of any sort. They quickly explained what happened when Caracalla had landed a month before in Alexandria.

Someone had written a satire mocking Caracalla’s claim he killed his brother in self-defense as well as his pretensions of being Alexander the Great. The elite of Alexandria laughed. After leaving Ravenna with his troops Caracalla traveled to Alexandria on his way to Parthia. Upon landing the prominent citizens and governor greeted him at the docks. Having learned about the disrespectful satire, he responded by slaughtering the deputation of leading citizens. Then for two days he allowed his troops to loot and plunder the city. Following the massacre in Alexandria, Caracalla moved east into Armenia. Situated in the lake, Zamrab was the only area of the City that was spared deprivation.

In March 216 Raben boarded ship to return to Rome. Nine days out the sky clouded over, the winds dramatically increased and the waves grew. As the afternoon faded into night the full force of the storm struck. The ship was tossed about and waves crashed over sides. The passengers clung to the sturdiest part of the ship they could as they were tossed about by the capricious waves. The crew stayed at their stations trying to keep the bow turned into the waves so they wouldn’t be swamped while others desperately operated the pumps. Several times the ship almost turned over, the side rail dipping into the churning water before bobbing upright.

A young man near Raben was hysterical and screaming. With each wave breaking over the ship the salty water smashed into his face and open mouth, usually causing him to swallow and/or inhale the fluid. Raben unsuccessfully did his best to talk the horrified man down. Finally a wave forced the choking man, gasping for breath, to lose his grip on the rail. As the water swept him away Raben grabbed a flailing arm as he went over the side. To do so Raben had to loosen his grasp, trying to maintain a tenuous hold with his legs. The panicked man, fully over the side, desperately grasped his savior tying up Raben’s arms. Another wave broke over the ship dragging both over the side.

The man sank pulling Raben down with his death grip. It took nearly two minutes for the man to die. Only then was he able to free himself from the man’s frozen death grasp. Raben swam for the surface shedding most of his sodden clothes. When he burst into the air he took a deep breath. There was no sign of the ship. He knew he survived only because of the Curse. Instead of trying to swim, he conserved his strength by floating while tossed and swept about like a human cork in the tempest swept seas.

By the time the storm passed on, Raben was exhausted. As dawn brightened the sky Raben could see nothing but water. Knowing that an average day’s sailing was fifty miles he estimated they’d
traveled four hundred fifty miles which would have put them off the African coast near Derna. With the sun rising in the east he began to swim south at a slow but sustainable pace. Periodically he’d stop swimming to float and take cat naps. At night he floated unless, judging by the stars and moon, he was confident of proceeding south.

When his thirst grew too great he sparingly drank the salty sea water. Although the taste nearly gagged him he drank to keep his body hydrated hoping the Curse would treat it like a poison allowing the harmful portions to pass through his system. The salt didn’t quench his thirst, in fact it aggravated that situation. However it did keep him from totally dehydrating. The Curse also enabled him to endure the sixty eight degree water temperature.

For three days and four nights he’d been heading south. Already past exhaustion, Raben floated in the fairly calm Mediterranean waters, his mind in a meditative trance. At first he didn’t notice the sounds changing. Slowly the sound grew louder until it roused him from his resuscitative meditation. It took a few moments for his mind to fully engage. Turning to the sounds he saw land! The sound was small waves swishing against the sandy rock strewn shore. At once he began swimming but quickly realized he was too exhausted to expend a lot of energy. Too much and he wouldn’t have enough left to crawl from the water. Instead he simply floated, gently guiding himself shoreward.

It was mid morning when he felt the cresting waves lift him, shoving towards the shore in a sort of primitive body surfing. Finally, as the current wave he was riding broke he felt his skin grind against sand. Putting his arms down he barely had enough strength to look at the rocky shore and the high cliffs. The next breaking wave shoved him further up the rough shore. Expending the last of his energy he crawled from the water collapsing a few feet out of the waves. {GM 32.636937, 23.098643 Libyan coast in the Derna district.}

Several hours later he awoke. Again thanks to his Curse, the rest had slightly re-energized him. Slowly he pushed himself upright until he stood on wobbly legs. Looking about he saw a rocky shore with a gravel and rock shelf beach varying between ten to twenty feet deep. The rock cliffs were nearly vertical between fifteen to twenty five feet high. If he was in good shape he could have climbed them with ease, now, attempting do so was impractical. With a sigh he looked east and west along the coast trying to decide which way he should travel hoping to find a way inland. Unfortunately the shore was too jagged to see more than a quarter mile in either direction.

Although the coast of Libya was mostly desert, there were caravan trails and tiny villages eking out a meager living. Based on his map knowledge he guessed he’d come ashore somewhere between Apollonia {PD Susah} and Tobruk. After a bit of internal debate he began moving east. The going was slow as he had to travel in the water line to avoid the larger rocks. After a hundred feet there was an eroded cleft in the cliffs but it was still too difficult to ascend. Trudging around the hundred foot wide cleft he went a hundred fifty feet to find another inaccessible fifty feet wide cleft. With growing fatigue he continued on around a fifty feet wide promontory to discover another fifty feet wide cleft that was unscalable. However, on the other side of that the cliffs seemed to recede. Making his way around the cleft he began to climb the slope. By the time he reached the flatter land atop the escarpment, he was worn out. With night falling he found shelter behind a rock that provided a bit of protection from the chilling desert wind.

The rising sun warmed his night chilled body. Thirsty and hungry he struggled to his feet and began staggering south into the desert intending to find the caravan path he knew ran parallel to the coast. By 10:30 his shambling gate had covered three miles at which point he found a little used trail running southwest to northeast. With his hopes buoyed he followed the track southwest.

After a quarter mile the terrain and trail began to dip. As he reached the crest his heart soared. A bit more than a quarter mile ahead was a tiny village, built atop a small promontory in the ‘Y’ formed by two wadis joining! More importantly, both wadis were green with vegetation... WATER! While he wanted to run the best he could do was shamble forward. His parched throat too dry to call out.

As he approached the closer wadi he could see trees and crops growing in fertile terraces, in the bottom of each backed up by a low stone wall that would trap the infrequent rains. The region’s annual precipitation was only ten to eleven inches, most of which ran off the baked rocky desert, flooding the wadis. The low dams retained the water allowing it to soak into the terrace before overflowing into the next terrace. While he wanted to run the trail sloped harshly and he knew he’d fall. Valiantly he stumbled onward.

He had almost reached the fields at the bottom of the Wadi when he was spotted. The residents promptly called out an alarm fearing that anyone arriving unannounced might be a diversion for a bandit raid. Like a well oiled machine the men ran for weapons as the women gathered children. Older boys spread out in all directions staying in visual sight of the village to act as lookouts. A few men cautiously approached the nearly naked bedraggled figure. It didn’t take them long to realize the person was a youth in bad shape, nearly starved and dehydrated with raw cracked lips and red sun blistered skin. The men stopped about half way across the two hundred feet wide wadi. The lookouts signaled all was clear but maintained their posts. By then the exhausted youth, who on his own presented no threat, reached them.

They noted his reddish hair and green eyes, which told them he was not a native of the area. The leader spoke. “Where do you come from?”

Bleary eyed from the desert sun, starving, and beyond thirsty, Raben opened his mouth in a useless attempt to speak.

One of the men pulled a small water skin from his robe belt, uncorked it and offered it to the wavering lad.

Raben managed a weak smile as he took the skin raising it to his lips. Instead of gulping down the life giving water he took a sip, swished it about his mouth, then spit it out. Only after cleansing the dust out of his mouth did he take a small sip. “Thank you. I don’t know how much longer I would have lasted.” He croaked in a raspy voice before taking another small sip. “My name is Raben. I was sailing from Alexandria to Rome. The ship encountered a big storm several days ago and a huge wave washed me overboard.”

“That storm was five days ago,” the leader frowned as he signaled the lookouts to be vigilant. “Are there others about?”

“I have no idea,” Raben answered after another small sip. “I was drawn under the water and when I surfaced I saw no signs of the ship or others. I don’t know whether the ship sank or not. I swam and floated for four days before fetching up on the shore north of here. This morning I set out south hoping to find the caravans. Your village is a godsend.”

“You swam for four days?” The leader frowned deeper. “That’s impossible. You would need supplies and sleep.”

“I’m a trained physician as well as a warrior and athlete,” Raben managed a smile. “I’ve learned to pace myself and to relax enough that I could float while sleeping. Look at me... you can see I’ve been starved and without water. My skills and knowledge helped me endure the test.”

“You’re too young to be any of those things,” the man scowled.

“You’ve lived in the desert all your life,” Raben stated. “Have you ever seen a person as thirsty as I am not guzzle water when it was offered?”

The men had to agree. Even their own people who knew the dangers of guzzling water when parched failed to keep themselves from doing so. They could also see the young stranger was perking up. His body was clearly recovering as they watched. What disturbed them was when they saw his cracked lips begin to heal. “He’s a demon,” one man gasped as they all stepped back.

“I’m not a demon,” Raben sighed realizing his rapid healing was frightening them. “I was cursed when I was fourteen with eternal youth and health. It’s almost impossible to kill me. I was the chief physician to the legions that Severus led into Caledonia.”

“But that was eight years ago,” the leader raised his sword. “You were too young to be there let alone be head physician.”

“I’m fifty five years old,” Raben declared as he stood taller. With lightening speed he reached out, snatching the sword from the unprepared leader’s grasp, pivoting about the man while getting him in a chicken wing arm hold with the sword against his neck.

The man’s eyes were filled with terror as were the eyes of the other two men. Never had they seen someone do what had just been done. Raben’s actions had been a blur.

“I came in peace seeking assistance,” Raben declared as he gently released the man and handed his sword back. “I intend no harm, I just need food and shelter for a few days to let my body fully recover. If anyone needs medical assistance I’ll be more than glad to do what I can.”

The men were quite wary of Raben but led him back to their village, Zawiyat Umm Hufayn. For the next few days Raben kept the entire village entertained with stories of his travels and exploits. When they doubted the veracity of his martial skills he asked for a bow and arrows and a horse. After setting up an obstacle course with targets at various locations he rode through twice to get the feel for the horse. Simply riding the horse surprised them as they gave him the orneriest animal they had, one that few could ride and only then with difficulty. Raben slowly approached the agitated horse while neighing and nickering. Much to the surprise of the onlookers the horse pricked up his ears and answered. Raben patted the horse on the side of it’s head. In response the horse lowered his head until Raben could place his forehead against that of the animal. Now the villagers were stunned.

Holding the reins Raben leapt up on the horse’s back. With only the tiniest movements he set the horse in motion, walking at first, then trotting and finally galloping. The people were stunned as Raben rode back to pick up the bow, quiver and arrows. With a brisk “HIYA” the horse broke into a gallop heading into the obstacle course. With practiced ease Raben loosed arrows at the targets spread out on either side. Every arrow found it’s mark. When he returned to the villagers they were amazed.

Borrowing a sword, he repeated the run striking a deadly blow to each target. Dismounting, he borrowed a sling and stones. Standing just outside the gathering, he fired stones at each target spread out across the course once more hitting every one. Finally, with a knife in hand, he set off at a full run around the course stabbing each target. While doing so he leapt up boulders, somersaulted over obstacles, leaping and diving, springing to his feet.

“Does anyone still question my martial abilities?” Raben asked with a smile.

“How can you do that? We’ve never seen anything like it!”

“I grew up in the forests of Germania. I could scamper up trees, leap boulders and streams, and run for hours while hunting. I practice every chance I can to keep my skills honed.”

The villagers spoke amongst themselves before the village elder spoke up. “Do you think you could help us?”

“If I can I will,” Raben declared.

“There is a bandit, Syphax, in the area who regularly raids us taking what he wants. We are always on the edge of survival. The Prefect in Apollonia ignores our pleas for relief. We found out the hard way that every time we asked for help, Syphax finds out and punishes us by raping our women.”

Raben grew solemn. “When does he come around? How many men does he have? Does he always come from the same direction?”

“He usually comes with the new moon,” the elder answered. “Usually with twenty to thirty men and always from the west behind the village.”

“That’ll be in two days,” Raben smiled. “Excellent. I’ll need your help to prepare a trap. They most likely scout the village the day before to make sure you’re still sheep willing to be shorn.”

The village was built in around a central square. The doors and windows of the buildings would need to be sealed. Raben had them construct rope trip wires, one a foot off the ground and another just above head height of the horses between the buildings to entrap the bandits in the square. The ropes wouldn’t be visible from a distance and invisible in the darkness. The village was a mile from the sea, the last third mile was quite swampy shore where the wadis opened to the sea. The swampy area was about a mile wide with a small roundish island about five hundred feet wide. Raben had them take some food, water and blankets to the island explaining as soon as it grew dark, the villagers would silently move to the island to wait out the fight. Although the men wanted to help him, he explained their presence would only hinder him. He did allow three strong young men to stay behind. Their main duty would be to install the rope trip wires across the bandits entry path thus trapping them inside. Their secondary job would be to club any unhorsed fleeing riders.

As the villagers followed his instructions Raben climbed atop the roofs checking to see how sturdy they were. He placed bows and quivers of arrows atop several. He equipped himself with two short swords and half a dozen daggers as well as placing several slings and supplies of stones about the area.

The villagers were clearly frightened wondering how one person could hope to successfully take on thirty bandits. Yet they saw nothing but confidence in Raben as he scampered about. They were amazed at his ability to jump from the ground to grasp the edge of a roof and effortlessly haul himself up. His stamina also surprised them. The children were the only ones without doubt.

Finally the night of the bandit raid arrived. As darkness fell the village silently evacuated to the island in the marsh. The three men charged with hastily erecting the rope trip wires were terrified as they hid. Raben nonchalantly strolled about the square awaiting the bandits. It was a cloudless night and the light of stars created just enough light for Raben to see.

A bit after midnight the sound of approaching hard riding echoed into the square. Twenty eight riders burst into the empty square. They were surprised to see a lone teen casually emerge from the shadows to stand on the path between the buildings they’d just rode through. The three villagers anxiously set up the trip wires as Raben challenged the bandits drawing their attention.

Based on the description of the bandit leader Raben had no problem identifying the nearly seven feet tall three hundred plus muscular pounds man. “Which one of you asswipes is Syphax?”

His bold challenge had the desired effect of stunning the bandits.

“Who the hell are you?” Syphax angrily demanded. “Where are the villagers?”

“Who am I? Why I’m your worst nightmare,” Raben laughed at the big man. “I’ve killed a lot of better men than you and your motley crew. Throw down your weapons and I’ll let you live.”

“You’re a cocky little bastard,” Syphax snarled. “Obviously you’re insane. Run home, little boy and I won’t kill you!”

“I can’t say I’m not insane,” Raben chuckled. “But I can say I’m deadly. I’ve killed over two hundred men. In my first battle I killed ninety eight in one night. In my last I killed sixty. Killing that many men tends to make you crazy.”

The bandits grew nervous at the weird conversation. They kept looking around wondering about the unusual silence. The normal sounds of a village were absent. “Kill the brat!” Syphax ordered. Five of the bandits moved forward.

Raben moved like a cobra. A twirling sling appeared in his hand and a stone flew. A bandit grunted as the stone slammed into the bridge of his nose. The man was dead before he hit the ground. A second man was tumbling off his horse before the bandits fully comprehended what was happening. Raben launched a third stone taking out another man before tucking the sling and drawing both swords. With a maniacal laugh he charged into the milling horseman. The laugh startled and confused the horses as well the bandits. He was utilizing his ability to communicate with animals to frighten the horses adding to the chaos. Striking left and right as he danced and twirled through their ranks, six men dropped by the time he reached the other side of the square. Tossing the swords atop the building he leapt to the parapet and pulled himself up and over



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