Time on My Hands Chapter 19 - 216-217 CE: Dealing With Corruption

Time on My Hands
Chapter 19: 216-217 CE: Dealing With Corruption

The bandits were stunned. Several were beginning to panic. There wasn’t supposed to be any problems raiding this sleepy village! “Get that little bastard,” an enraged Syphax bellowed. Several men rode towards the building Raben had climbed. Suddenly their antagonist raised up from behind the parapet with a bow. Almost instantly arrows flew with deadly accuracy, each taking down a bandit. Raben could accurately fire a deadly arrow every ten seconds. Eleven more bandits were quickly feathered. Syphax realized he was facing a devil and broke for freedom with the remaining six bandits. They galloped to the opposite side of the square to exit the way they had come in. Two more dropped with arrows feathering their backs as they fled.

With the swords in his hands Raben leapt from the roof, landed with a forward roll ending on his feet in a sprint pursuing the fleeing bandits. Syphax was in the lead with the four remaining panicked bandits on his horse’s tail. In seconds the rope trip wires did as designed. The horses nose dived throwing the riders forward to clothesline themselves on the upper rope. Screaming horses and riders were sprawled across the path. The three village men were stunned by the violence of the unhorsing and froze. Two of the bandits were not moving. Syphax and the remaining duo were moaning as they tried to understand what had happened. Raben reached them before Syphax could do more than stagger to his feet as he drew his sword. The two remaining bandits were writhing in pain from broken bones.

“Disarm and keep these two from escaping,” Raben ordered the still stunned villagers as he faced off against Syphax. “I gave you an opportunity to surrender but you wouldn’t do it. Your stupidity has cost the lives of twenty five men. Now it’s your turn to pay.”

Snapped out of their shock by Raben’s orders the three villagers sprang to action to do as they were told.

Gasping for the breath knocked out of him by the hard fall Syphax gasped. “Who the fuck are you?”

“I told you I’m your worst nightmare,” Raben sneered as they faced off. “Raben Corvo at your service. Former head physician for Emperor Severus’s troops during the Caledonian campaign. Ten months ago I accepted a personal invitation from Emperor Caracalla to dine with him. We had a most enlightening conversation.”

Unimpressed, Syphax launched a savage blow at Raben but only caught air as the lithe warrior spun away while at the same time flicking out his blade to slice the big man’s calf to the bone. Syphax bellowed in pain and rage as he unsuccessfully tried to stay on his feet. As he fell Raben darted in to hamstring his other leg. Again a bellow of pained rage echoed. The big man fruitlessly lashed out with a vicious swing. Raben did a somersault above the man’s blade as it swished harmlessly through the air where he’d been standing. As Raben was upside down in mid-air he sung his blade hacking completely through Syphax’s forearm bones. The bandit’s severed hand was still clutching the hilt of his sword as it hit the ground three feet away from his body. An angry pain filled bellow twinged with growing terror echoed into the otherwise silent night as Raben landed on his feet. Without giving Syphax time to regroup Raben once more swung his blades calmly hacking off the pain wracked man’s remaining hand which was clamped onto the stump of his other arm. An even louder bellow of pain echoed down the wadis as that severed hand fell to the dusty earth.

The villagers a mile down the wadi huddled upon the island shivered with outright terror at the horrific screams. They genuinely feared for their lives. They were bemoaning their sorry fate for allowing themselves to be talked into the crazy plan to stop the bandits.

“End it, you bastard,” Syphax raged as he managed to regain a smattering of self control, realizing Raben was merely toying with him.

“That won’t be happening,” Raben laughed. “I want you alive to testify against the Prefect in charge of Apollonia. You know him, your partner in crime?”

Syphax fell silent. He now understood his terrible wounds had crippled him but could be bound rendering them non fatal. He couldn’t walk and with both hands gone he couldn’t escape nor take his own life.

“Light torches so we can secure these three. I want those two kept separate from Syphax. One of you run down to the others to tell them it’s over and safe to return.” With that Raben grabbed the impomptu med kit he’d assembled to begin triaging the injured. The lopsided battle had taken less than ten minutes. Despite his wounds, Syphax had to be held down while Raben bound his wounds to keep him from bleeding out.

The villagers had difficulty believing the battle was over and the bandits destroyed. They really had difficulty believing the horrific screams had come from Syphax. Cautiously they returned to their village. They were aghast at what they saw in the flickering torch light. First were the twenty one nervous riderless horses milling about the square. Then it was the twenty one lifeless bodies of the bandits lying amongst the meandering horses. Several torches illuminated the path on which the bandits had entered the village. Anxiously peering between the buildings they saw two more dead bandits and five dead horses. Two tied up and bandaged bandits were secured against one building. Against the other building they saw the reclining figure of Syphax!

“None of the bandits escaped,” Raben declared as he walked towards the gawking villagers. “I killed twenty five, wounded and captured two, and crippled and caught Syphax. None of them will ever bother you again. There are five dead horses just past the trip wires. I’d suggest you gut and hang them to drain the blood tonight then butcher them tomorrow. You’ve got plenty of fresh meat. I suggest you dry most of it for future use. Make sure you post guards on the prisoners. They’re securely tied and gagged. Do not even attempt to communicate with them. I will be most displeased if you do! Gather the horses and secure them in a picket line. The dead can stay where they fell until daylight. Now I’m going to get some sleep. I’ll be up at dawn to discuss our next step.” With that he leapt up to swing onto a roof to nap.

The stunned villagers followed his instructions. Most were too wound up to do more than nap. The dead bandits spooked them. That Syphax had been so thoroughly trounced by the diminutive Raben unnerved them.

The rising sun awoke Raben who stood and stretched. Walking to the parapet he surveyed the village. With practiced ease he leapt to the ground then checked the two prisoners, rebound their broken limbs and gave them some water.

Syphax was quite depressed knowing he was being kept alive to confront the Prefect. He was bound sitting against a sturdy porch post with the stumps of his arms immobilized by splints while his head was tied immobile. Although he tried to refuse to drink, Raben forced his mouth open and poured water in while pinching his nose leaving him no option but to swallow.

“I know numerous ways to torture a man,” Raben sneered. “None are pleasant. You are going to do as I want. The only question is whether you do it the easy way or the hard way. I can guarantee your life is going to suck. How much it sucks will be up to you. If you cooperate you’ll be treated humanely. Resist and I’ll treat you like the mangy mongrel you are. It makes no difference to me.”

Slowly the village came to life. The horses were watered and fed, the dead bodies stripped, gathered and buried, the dead horses butchered. The mid day meal was roasted horse, enough to fill every belly.

In mid afternoon Raben had the nervous villagers gather in the square. The two prisoners were brought forward.

“I know some of you are concerned that I may take over the village,” Raben began. “I will not. I’ll take three horses, a selection of weapons, and enough food and water for three days. You can do what you want with the rest.”

The villagers were visibly relieved. Raben scared them.

“Now for the prisoners,” Raben began. “Bring Syphax forward and secure him on the table.”

Once the man was tied Raben approached. With a sharp knife he cut off his clothes. “The wounds I gave you have disabled your arms and legs, you are now a cripple. You were a bully and bandit. You’ve shamed all men by your heinous actions. Now I’ll take your manhood!”

The villagers watched in horror as Raben grabbed Syphax’s testicles as the big man screamed in terror. The same screams of terror they had heard the previous night. They had difficulty believing the man who terrified the village for so long had been reduced to such craven screams. With a deft slice Raben severed the essence of the now former man who responded with a horrific undulating scream. It was only then they noticed the bully’s hands had been severed. Once more they shivered with apprehension about Raben.

“I’ve decided to let you keep your now useless manhood,” Raben sneered as he jammed the severed flesh into the open screaming mouth instantly silencing him. Raben promptly treated the wound to keep him from bleeding out.

Raben then turned to the wounded duo. “Your injuries will heal so you have a choice. First is to become slaves to the village. That means I’ll gentle you by castration. Second is to be taken before the Prefect where you’ll be whipped and sold as galley slaves. The choice is yours. Which will it be?”

It was the devils choice. The men shivered at enduring either fate.

“Since they can’t decide their fate do you want two slaves?” Raben asked the villagers.

The uneasy villagers were afraid to answer.

“Then I’ll decide,” Raben declared. “You have two slaves. I’ll give them a small mercy. I’ll put them to sleep before I emasculate them.”

Two days later at the first hint of dawn Raben rode out of Zawiyat Umm Hufayn leading a horse with Syphax strapped upright and a pack horse. Two young men accompanied them on the seventy nine mile journey. Without stopping they traveled thirty one miles to the town of Derna where they spent the night. The next day they only traveled twenty five miles to the village of Athrun. Even though the last leg was only twenty three miles, evening was falling on the third day when they reached the gates of Apollonia. The guards on the gate gasped as they recognized the big man tied so securely to the second horse.

“Get the Prefect and the Centurion,” Raben ordered. “NOW!”

The gate sergeant recognized the authority in Raben’s bearing and voice, promptly dispatching men. Needless to say the Prefect and Centurion were not pleased to be summoned to the gate. The gate yard was illuminated by dozens of torches by the time they arrived. Both men were clearly surprised to see Syphax, bound, handless, bedraggled and barely conscious.

“Soldiers of Rome, hear me. I’m Raben Corvo. I was the head physician for Severus’ Caledonian expedition. Last spring when I dined with Emperor Caracalla he asked me to investigate corruption here in Apollonia. As you can see I discovered the rats and eliminated them. As you can also see I’ve quite literally disarmed the leader of the rat pack. I also unmanned him. In the process I discovered who has been handling the rats and am authorized to exterminate the vermin!” Raben then glared at the Centurion and the Prefect “Gentlemen, I’ll give you two minutes to save face by taking your own lives.”

The troops were well aware that Syphax was a brigand and tool of the Prefect and Centurion. To see the big imposing man so utterly defeated sent chills through them. They could see his hands were gone and judging by his shattered appearance they believed he had been unmanned. Invoking Emperor Caracalla’s name filled their hearts with fear. They had heard what happened in Alexandria when he and his legions had landed there.

The Prefect and Centurion glared at Raben disbelieving his audacity. Then the Centurion haughtily ordered: “Kill the upstart!”

The troops hesitated. It was only then the Centurian and Prefect sensed the uncertain mood of their troops.

“I order you to kill him!” The Centurion bellowed.

Raben used the distraction to snatch up a bow and arrow before shouting. “I don’t want to kill anyone but those guilty! If any of you even move to draw your weapons I will kill you!”

One man snatched up a bow but fell with an arrow through an eye before he could nock the arrow.

Raben snarled. “Does anyone else want to die?”

Shocked by Raben’s speed and deadly accuracy, the soldiers froze.

“Damn it, kill aaaghh,” the shouting Centurion was cut off by an arrow through his throat. Choking in his death throws he tumbled off his horse.

The startled Prefect watched as his partner in crime, the Centurion, fell. Almost instantly he gasped and looked down at the arrow protruding from his heart. Then he tipped sideways landing face first in a pile of fresh horse droppings.

The troops were beyond stunned. The three arrows had been fired in less than a minute and another was already notched.

“I can tell you were aware of the corruption,” Raben declared. “You may have participated in the corruption. If you did so under pressure step forward and confess and I will not hold you responsible. If you willingly cooperated, you’ll be punished. My preferred punishment is sentencing to the galleys. For now, lock down the city. In the morning we’ll start rounding up associates. I’m taking this man to the provincial offices for the night.

By the morning nearly thirty soldiers and civilian government workers were missing. It took three days for Raben to sort out the mess, appointing a temporary Prefect and Centurion. An arrest list of those who fled with rewards was drawn up and distributed east and west along the coast. The rewards came from the illegally gotten gains confiscated from the dead men’s estates. Raben kept a sizeable amount for services rendered. A full report detailing the corruption and the deaths of the conspirators was sent to Rome and the provincial capital (Provincia Creta et Cyrenaica) on Crete in the city of Gortyn (present day Agioi Deka). A roofed cage was placed inside the main gate to hold Syphax. Being on public display was to be his punishment. It would show the population that Rome would not tolerate such corruption.

Once the situation was settled and order restored, Raben caught a boat out of the port heading to Rome. His unexpected North African side trip had lasted fifteen days. The trip across the Mediterranean took another forty three days.

Raben’s arrival in Aosta at the end of May caused a stir on the docks. The battered ship on which he’d left Alexandria had limped into Malta for repairs then reached Aosta one week ago to report Raben and another passenger had been washed overboard in a fierce storm far from shore. Raben’s belongings had been sent to Mazbar along with the scrolls. To say the port master and many others were stunned when he casually strolled off the ship was an understatement. Tales of his miraculous survival swept the port town and into Rome.

Raben was greeted with cheers when he reached Mazbar as many had wondered what would befall their successful businesses and lives with their master gone. Those from the Clan Corvo had told everyone to be patient, assuring those who were beyond hope Raben could survive such a fate that the Demon Slayer could and would survive.

Once assured everything was okay in Mazbar Raben headed for Barmaz. The Clan Corvo was booming as the next generation was coming of age. Fortunately spouses were readily available from those who lived in the rest of the Vieze valley. Barmaz was secure and making a modest profit but he recognized another expansion would soon be needed. Raben explored the rest of the valley.
In October Raben headed back to Mazbar taking another nephew. By then Corvus Construction was busy. About a dozen slaves were purchased to do the grunt work under the direction of the more skilled hired employees. As with Corvus Scriptorium, the newer business had developed a good reputation for fast quality work at a reasonable price. While many other construction companies could underbid jobs, none could match the quality. Corvus Construction had already more than paid for the remodeling at the quarry and were turning a handsome profit. Neither Mazbar business wanted for work and their services were in high demand.

In November he headed back to Greece. The Alpes suffered occasional earthquakes and Raben wanted to ensure any stonework he might have built could survive. Over the next month he sought out stone masons who knew how to build earthquake resistant buildings. He hired four skilled masons and eight apprentices. The job offers included moving their families to Barmaz so he could begin building for the future. Forming a wagon caravan with their tools and belongings, he led them up the Roman roads by the Adriatic Sea to northern Italy.

The Empire was a roiling caldron of discontent and fear held together by the Legions. Caracalla’s policies emptied Rome's coffers and the empire was at war on several borders. In April 217 CE the inevitable happened, Caracalla was assassinated while campaigning against the Persians. Macrinus, the Praetorian Prefect, claimed the throne, promptly enacting reforms in an attempt to bring economic and diplomatic stability. He temporarily ended the incessant border wars by paying off the barbarian leaders. The additional monetary costs and subsequent fiscal reforms generated further unrest in the Roman military and population. Raben heard the news of Caracalla’s ignominious but not unexpected death when their wagon caravan past through Verona.

It was mid May 217 when they passed through Aosta and over the just opened Poeninus Mons into the upper Rhone river valley. Raben led the caravan into Barmaz setting them up in tents in Champery to rest from the arduous trip while he headed out to buy the remainder of the Vieze River valley upstream from Monthey. Since no one held title to the land, he visited every homestead informing the population he was buying the land and would be their overlord. Quite naturally they didn’t like that bit of news until he explained they could stay on the land living as they always had with no rent until he had need of the property. They were already aware of the Clan Corvo and that they were prospering. Several had relatives who had already married into the clan. Raben let them know he would give anyone who didn’t want to stay a set amount of coin and would do the same to any who might be forced out of their farm at a later date.

With the wisely negotiated deals to purchase the land Raben wanted to add to Greater Barmaz, he once more paid to have someone from the registrar’s office come out to notarize the deeds. Back in the Provincial capital in Forum Claudii Vallensium (Martigny) copies of the deeds were registered and filed. Since a new recorder of documents managed the office. Raben renewed his previous ownership papers. The only difference was that he identified himself as the previous owner’s son thus legally establishing himself as his own son. He also registered Fiach as the daughter of the previous owner with the brother and sister as co-heads of the Clan Corvo. The distinctive signet ring was also re-recorded as a symbol of the ownership for what was now the Barmaz Estate.

The Barmaz expansion took in the entire watersheds of a dozen streams feeding into the Rhone from the west. The highest part of the ridges, mountain peaks and saddles would be the boundaries. These streams, from Lac Leman south, were the Le Tove, the Fossau, the Le Passot, the L'Avancon, the Torrent de Mayen, the Fosse des Talons, the Torrent de Saint Loup, the Torrent du Pessot, the La Vieze, the Ruisseau de Chindonne, the Rogneuse and the Le Mauvoisin. All but the La Vieze were small streams with small drainage areas. The enlarged boundary followed the ridges and peaks of these watersheds. The Barmaz Estate eastern boundary where the mountains face the upper Rhone river valley would, as much as possible, be the 600 meter above sea level altitude or higher to allow a minimum height of 300 feet of mountainside between the boundary and the flat of the valley. Future plans were that where the streams passed through boundary, a series of cut rock chutes eight inches wide by three feet high with two feet of solid rock between each chute would be constructed with enough capacity to drain the waters at the height of the spring melt. If the valley proved too narrow, an second or even third layer of chutes would be built. A massive defensive wall would be constructed atop the chutes to keep the boundary wall from excessive zigzags. One other stream, the La Drance d’Adondance flowing east would be dammed at GM 46.305768, 6.678928 with similar water discharge chutes. The Abondance and the Vieze valleys connected through a short but deep narrow valley. Raben hoped to eventually build sturdy defensive walls with a continual 300 feet high Galcis at a 75° angle to fortify Barmaz along the boundaries.

While returning to Barmaz he realized that it would make sense to establish a branch of Corvus Construction in Barmaz which he promptly did. Raben moved the masons and their families to the tiny village of Champery which was located at the northeast corner of a small plateau along the road to Monthey. Flat land was valuable in the mountainous area so the first thing Raben wanted was to build all new structures on the slopes.



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