Time on My Hands Chapter 23 - 239 CE: The Nerva of It!

Time on My Hands
Chapter 23: 239 CE: The Nerva of It!

Again with his speed and agility Raben quickly outdistanced the troops. By dawn he was alone about a mile from the northern tree line. Creeping to the top of a denuded hill he searched for signs of pursuit. Hundreds of soldiers were spread out across the devastated landscape clearly searching for him. Mounted troops waited where the roads entered the trees looking for him. It was clear they were not about to give up and he was effectively cut off from where he could easily slip away. It seemed nearly the entire garrison had been deployed.

For several minutes he tried to decide what to do. If he continued towards the forest he’d be spotted and swarmed. The mounted troops could cut his escape route until the foot troops reached him. With his battle skills it would be a bloodbath before they took him down. While he knew he’d resurrect, the pain and discomfort of dying was not something he relished. In addition, he knew the bloodied troops would take delight in slicing up his body and putting it on display. If he resurrected while being displayed... the thought was simply untenable.

Finally he decided to attack. Slowly, staying in valleys and gullies, he made his way back towards the town and the approaching troops. The closer they approached each other, the further Raben was away from the mounted troops and the cover of the trees. By mid morning he crouched in a gully as he listened to the crunching gravel of approaching of soldiers. Judging by the sound there was an eight man squad and they too were in the gully, out of the line of sight of the nearby troops. Raben stood with his bow at the ready loosing arrows with deadly accuracy. The two men moving along the top sides were feathered before any could react. Even as the remaining men began shouting another two dropped as they charged. Slipping the bow onto his back he drew his sword and a dagger ready to fight as the first man reached him. With a quick sword parry he pivoted inside the opponents reach slitting his throat as he slipped past. The remaining men continued their disorganized charge giving their target time to take them down one at a time.

Raben didn’t wait as he sprinted down the gully past the dead soldiers. The hailing shouts of the troops to either side of the squad he’d taken out went unanswered. Each squad stopped while sending two men to check the missing men. By the time they saw the annihilated squad Raben was out of sight around a twist in the gully.

The alarm was raised and spread as troops rushed to their dead comrades. Confusion reigned for several moments. Since their target had not been sighted, they had no idea if he’d headed up or down the gully. Finally three squads headed in each direction as others spread out on ridge tops hoping to sight their quarry. Trumpets sounded summoning more troops to converge. It was nearly ten minutes before Raben was spotted heading around and behind their lines heading towards the distant tree line. All foot troops headed towards him while the mounted units galloped to cut off his escape into the trees.

After allowing himself to be seen Raben switched directions to head back towards town. With his lighter weight and agility Raben had an easier time running through the gravel and slag than the pursuing heavier armor clad soldiers. As he distanced himself from the troops he became more cautious. When approaching the saddle of a hill he crawled and literally rolled over the top maintaining as low a profile as possible. Peering back he saw the soldiers en mass heading towards where they thought he was fleeing. His deception had worked allowing him time to make his way undetected back to Nerva.

As he moved Raben realized he’d made a grave mistake by revealing his past to the magistrate. Fearing the man would send a report to Rome he realized he had no choice but to kill him. While doing so went against his nature, he realized if his identity was verified, his family would be in grave danger.

Once close to town he carefully circled the town to come in on a road on the side opposite the searching soldiers. At a slight bend of the south road just outside of town he paused making sure he was safely out of sight. Digging in his kit he removed the set of women’s clothes he always carried. After changing he rearranged his hair in a feminine manner, then keeping some coins and a few knives, buried the rest of his weapons and kit. Minutes later Fiach innocently slipped onto the road and openly walked unchallenged into Nerva right by armed soldiers guarding the road.

While exploring Nerva when Raben first arrived he’d stopped for a meal at a small inn operated by a widow. The food had been okay and the place clean but the woman had almost more to do than she could handle. Groveling and dirty, Fiach approached the woman. “Ma’am, I was traveling with my father, a merchant, but a day ago we were attacked while we slept. He was robbed and killed while I managed to slip away and hide. The thieves took everything, I have no belongings, no money and no place to stay. I’m willing to work and all I ask is food and a place to sleep.”

The woman looked Fiach over. While slender she looked sturdy enough to work. “I’ll give you a chance, but screw up and you’ll be out the door. You can sleep in the kitchen and can start by washing the dishes.”

“Thank you,” Fiach fawned and set to work.

Over the next three weeks Fiach worked diligently earning the respect of the widow, Feasa Persa. She was allowed to keep the few meager tips she was offered and turned down the many requests for sexual favors. A lot of older soldiers patronized the inn every day, enjoying the drinks in a gentler environment than the more rambunctious taverns in town. The towns rumor mill was rife with talk of the demon who slipped away from the encircling troops after killing eight soldiers. At night Fiach slipped out to spy on the magistrate and captain when the pair got together every night.

Using her stealth skills Fiach explored the walled and guarded governmental compound. Avoiding the troops’ barracks she concentrated on the troop captain’s office as well as the magistrate’s offices and dwellings. By the second day she discovered the pair were in cahoots siphoning off significant amounts of silver from the shipments being sent to Rome as well as extorting bribes from the mine and local business operators. The pair were accumulating quite a fortune. It took another two days until she found the vault hidden beneath the floor of the magistrate’s office. The next night she began pilfering seventy - one pound bars of silver from the stash. She brought in seven pieces of lumber each equal in size to ten bars of silver swapping the lumber for the bars while leaving a veneer of silver bars.

At the same time she learned from their conversations that Feasa hated her business and the town but had no other means of support. She longed to return to her sister in Cadiz. During this time Feasa realized there was a lot more to Fiach than she’d said. The girl worked too hard, never slacked off, and always seemed to have a ready smile yet she slipped away every night.

At the end of the fourth week Feasa couldn’t contain her curiosity so asked, “Where do you go when you slip away each night?”

“My father was killed by the soldiers of the magistrate,” Fiach admitted. “I seek knowledge and plot my revenge.”

“What you do is not my concern,” Feasa sighed. “Just don’t involve me.”

“I can help you move to Cadiz to be with your sister and get my revenge at the same time,” Fiach confided.

Feasa was clearly interested.

“It should come as no surprise the magistrate, with his troop captain, are ripping off the silver shipments and extorting bribes from the mine operators and businesses,” Fiach explained. “I’ve seen you pay. I intend to take their ill gotten gains and kill them.”

“Really? A tiny girl like you? You really think you can take their silver and kill them and get away with it? Girl, I thought you were smart,” Feasa scoffed.

“I am smart and stealthy,” Fiach replied as she brushed the dirt away in a corner of the dirt floored kitchen to reveal several boards. Removing the boards revealed a large hole containing dozens of one pound silver bars. “This is only a small part of what I’ve already liberated from their hidden stash and they have no idea it’s missing.”

The widow’s eyes grew wide and she gasped.

“This is more silver than you’d ever see in your entire life,” Fiach explained. “If you really want to get out of Nerva, first, you need to announce you want to sell the inn, letting everyone know you’ll be moving to your sister in Cadiz. Once its sold you buy a sturdy wagon and a pair of mules. While you do that I take the rest of their silver and hide it all in the bottom of the wagon. We load a few chairs, a table, your bed and anything else you want to take, on top. That night I kill the captain and magistrate. At dawn the next day we simply ride out of town heading to Cadiz. We’ll be innocently heading down the road while the soldiers are scouring the area for the murderer. The troops will spread all over the region looking for the killers. I’ve been around soldiers enough to know the troops and officers know what was going on. They’ll be tearing the town apart searching for the missing silver. When the searchers reach us on the road, they’ll recognize us and know all about why you’re leaving. We play our part as citizens shocked by the assassinations whenever they look in the wagon. They’ll charge off down the road while we simply travel on our way.”

Feasa just shook her head. “It’s a devious plan yet so simple it might just work.”

Fiach pulled out a smaller purse filled with copper and silver coins. “I’ve liberated these too. It will be your seed money to buy the wagon and mules. When we get to Cadiz, you move in with your sister, I’ll take the wagon onward. I’ll leave you more than enough coins to live comfortably for the rest of your life.”

Feasa thought about the plot for a few days, asking questions as they arose while receiving satisfactory answers. This hellish place had taken her husband and four children, none of whom were older than four. She was left with no one. She decided to cooperate with Fiach.

No one was really surprised when the inn was put up for sale. There were several interested parties, the issue was none of them had the asking price.

Each night Fiach stealthily slipped past the guards into the magistrate’s compound carrying a bag with wooden boards and leaving with seventy bars of silver. The greedy magistrate and the captain never suspected the daily switch was being made.

Finally, after two weeks, someone managed to gather enough coin to make a viable offer which Feasa accepted. For the next week Feasa showed the new owner the ropes. During that time all but the veneer of the stash of bars had been pilfered. After buying the wagon and parking it behind the inn Fiach carefully created a false bottom then layered the real bottom with silver bars. After sleeping all day she made repeated trips to strip away the veneer bars, hiding them in the hay of a small stable near the walls of the compound. After collecting the last bars, she rifled the office taking all the gold and silver coins, more that she could carry in one load. Before leaving with the last coins she spread lamp oil throughout the building and lit a fifteen minute fuse. Just as the morning light began to brighten but before the sun actually rose, the fire ignited, quickly engulfing the building.

As the chaos spread, the soldiers and civilian staff ran about trying to fight the raging fire in the cramped magistrates office complex. The initial fire was so intense it quickly spread to the adjoining buildings in the compound creating an inferno. Naturally the fire drew a crowd of observers. No one noticed the quiet teen making repeated trips between the small stable and the wagon behind the inn.

There were 3159 one pound bars of silver under the false wagon bottom. The wagon could easily handle the weight as could the mules if the pace was easy with adequate rest breaks. After a morning nap Fiach helped load the furniture into the wagon. The still burning fire was dying down but naturally the talk of the town. The smoke and smell of the conflagration blanketed Nerva adding to the normal stench. Feasa spent the afternoon saying goodbyes, nearly everyone commiserating wishing they could get out of the polluted hell hole.

After another nap and with night having fallen, Fiach, clad in her stalking clothes, slipped away. Heading out of town she retrieved her weapon stash which she had previously moved to a closer secure site. With the bow strung and across her back she began her hunt. Slipping from shadow to shadow she slipped through the uneasy town climbing to the roof of the public bath across the town square from the still smoldering magistrate’s compound.

As she expected, she saw the troop captain and the magistrate directing a crew of men digging through the smoking remains of the office. Fiach could tell they were attempting to reach the hidden vault where the silver bars had been held. Shaking her head with disgust at their greed she prepared. Hidden by the darkness and at a range of three hundred feet she stood. The first arrow slammed into the back of the captain. Staggered, the man grunted in shock and pain looking down at the bloody arrowhead protruding from his chest. Before he had a chance to crumble to the ground another arrow was on its way. The magistrate was clearly stunned upon seeing the point of an arrow sticking from the chest of his co-conspirator and froze in place. The second arrow ripped into his back causing him to stagger forward while making a pained gasp of surprise to see a bloody arrowhead sticking out
of HIS chest. Without making another sound he pitching forward atop the dead captain, quickly joining him in Charon’s embrace. It had not yet reached midnight.

As soon as she loosed the second arrow Fiach dropped flat to the roof. After verifying the flight of the arrows had been true she made her way to the rear of the building out of sight of those who had been with the now dead duo. With everyone concentrating on clearing the rubble, no one immediately noticed the two had been struck down. She was clambering down the back of the baths before the alarm was raised. She had no problems making her way back to the inn and the wagon where she hid her weapons under a pile of blankets. After changing back into a dress, she then calmly laid atop the blankets to sleep.

Shortly after dawn the widow emerged from the inn for the last time. The town was once more swarming with soldiers searching for the murderer of the captain and magistrate. Fiach fetched the mules from the stable theyd been kept and hitched them to the wagon. They had to wait to exit the alley from behind the inn as soldiers were conducting a building to building search. Feasa and Fiach were familiar faces and the soldiers knew they were leaving so after a cursory look into the wagon the females were allowed to head on their way. Both had feigned shock to learn the captain and magistrate had been assassinated.

Fiach slowly, calmly and with care drove out of Nerva, handling the chore with the ease of a practiced teamster. They were stopped and casually checked three more times, the last at a checkpoint established on the town line before they passed into the devastated countryside. Once they were clear of town with no one around Feasa relaxed and closely watched Fiach as she calmly drove the heavily laden wagon.

After they were three miles out of town Feasa sighed. “You’re the demon they were looking for several weeks ago.”

“I’m not a demon,” Fiach replied seriously. “But I have been called such many times. Do you really want to know the truth?”

“Yes,” the woman nodded.

“I’m an adult human,” Fiach explained. “I’m just small and youthful.”

Feasa was clearly surprised. “You certainly don’t look like an adult. How old are you?”

“My seeming youthfulness has allowed me to be easily dismissed as a child, just as you did when we first met,” Fiach admitted. “I grew up with a healer in the forests of Germania Magna and am a skilled Ianuarian. I also became a skilled huntress and fighter there. I can move stealthily and hide in shadows.”

Feasa was clearly surprised. “Germania Magna, isn’t that outside the empire?”

“Yes, I crossed the border and after several years returned for our mother and siblings,” Fiach sighed. “They settled in the province of Alpes Graiae Et Poeninae but they knew I didn’t want to settle down. I’m way too independent and as I healer I can support myself so I’ve been traveling since.”

Feasa judged Fiach to be speaking from her heart. “Why didn’t you ever settle down?”

“I’m often not taken seriously and my skills create jealousy,” Fiach stated. “I’ve found it necessary to move around. I heard about the terrible health issues here and came to see if I could help. I approached the magistrate about making changes to bring about health improvements. He agreed the health issues were bad but insisted the empire would not allow anything that impacted the flow of silver and lead, a fact I already knew. I assume he feared my ideas would cut into his corruption. After I left he decided to have me arrested. I fled but he sent the soldiers after me. I killed the soldiers in self defense. The rest you know.”

“If I didn’t trust you I’d be terrified,” Feasa declared. “How much silver did you take?”

“It’s best you don’t know,” Fiach said. “I promised to give you enough coins to live in comfort and I will. The word will spread amongst the Romans about the magistrate’s extortion and death. They wont let it out to the public but anyone who tries to sell a bar of silver will be arrested and brutally questioned.”

Feasa had no doubt Fiach was right. “I’ll take the coins and be happy. But how will you sell the silver?”

“That’s easy, I wont sell it,” Fiach chuckled. “I don’t need it so I’ll take it back to my family and hide it. My grandnephews and nieces can sell it.”

“That will work,” Feasa laughed. “How will you get it back to your family?”

“Just like were traveling now,” Fiach answered. “I’m in no rush. Slow and easy will do it.”

“You’ve got guts, I’ll give you that,” Feasa replied.

Traveling at an easy pace with regular stops to rest and feed the mules, they traveled about twenty miles being stopped twice more by soldiers. They set up camp, sleeping under a lean-to attached to the side of the wagon, just inside the tree line outside the area of worst contamination. Over the next three days they were stopped at least once a day but only received cursory inspections. Each night they camped along the road thus being able to stay with the wagon. Fiach played her flute.

The fourth day they were unmolested setting up camp and relaxing in a well watered grove. As an experienced hunter Fiach was a light sleeper. During the night Fiach heard noises. Instantly awake, she gathered her sword and knives which, like every night, were by her side. Moving silently she rolled onto her tummy and peered into the darkness. There were five men creeping towards them while another tried to keep the mules quiet as he untied them. In the dim light Fiach noted the glint of weapons in the mens hands. Fiach stayed still waiting as the men pounced.

Feasa started and attempted to scream as her assailant grabbed her covering her mouth. The man who grabbed Fiach grunted as her hand darted out to slit his throat. As his blood geysered he fruitlessly clawed at his severed throat as she shoved him aside. The man on Feasa heard his companion’s gurgling death rattle a second before his throat was opened. Feasa was coated in his spraying blood as his hands released her allowing her to let loose a blood curdling scream.

Fiach was on her feet, a thrown knife thudding into gut of the man by the mules. He sank to his knees grasping the grip of the six inch knife blade sunk into him. His mouth moved wordlessly as he found the strength to pull the knife free. As he did so blood spouted from the wound. As he did that Fiach leapt at the three totally surprised men totally catching them off guard. One man’s headless body stood for twenty seconds. Unfortunately less than two seconds later another man screamed as he was gutted. The last man cried out in fear turning to flee but Fiach was quicker.

He’d only gone a few steps when Fiach pulled back on the stroke that would have brutally sliced his hamstring. She sensed this person was not evil like the others. Instead she just gave him a nasty cut on the back of his thigh. Crying in pain and panic he stumbled forward face-planting in the grass. Fiach stepped over him, grabbed his hair yanking his head back and placed her sword’s blade against his throat.

“If you want to live stay very, very still,” Fiach hissed.

Other than pissing himself the whimpering terrified wounded man didn’t move.

Fiach took the sword away from his neck and released the hold on his hair. His face once again dropped into the grass. Stepping to the side she quickly disarmed him before he could attempt to move. It was at that point she realized the person wasn’t a man but a terrified teen. Quickly she tied his hands behind his back before binding his wound. “Don’t move. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”

With a browbeaten whimper the shivering teen nodded his head.

Meanwhile trapped beneath the dead man, Feasa was still screaming in absolute terror.



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