Time on My Hands Chapter 25 - 240-250 CE: Relocating Zamrab

Time on My Hands
Chapter 25: 240-250 CE: Relocating Zamrab

Three days later Fenea had cleared up her affairs. They stocked the wagon, bought the animals, and set out following the coast with a days rest at each city/town. The family took turns walking behind the wagon to stay in shape. It took five days on the road to Gibraltar, four days to Malaga, three days to Motril, three days to Almeria, three days to Garrucha, four days to Cartagena, three days to Alicanta, three days to Xabia, three days to Valencia, five days to Sant Carles de la Rapita, six days to Barcelona, and five days to Rosa, the last stop in Iberia, arriving on February 5, 240. Each night they set up camp utilizing an enlarged canvas lean-to. They all learned just how light a sleeper Raben was whenever one of them stirred during the night.

They spent several days there relaxing and having the wagon wheels reworked. The two month trip had been done with few incidents. Feasa, Fenea and Gref knew that was due to Raben. He rode point with periodic rear treks. His bow and quiver was prominently available on the saddle harness. His sword was always on his hip with a double X bandolier with four sheathed knives on each side Although small, his ostentatious display of martial arms and his no nonsense demeanor kept the seedier elements of Iberian society at bay. Naturally he sought out local healers and treated any he saw that needed assistance.

They set out on the road on February 13 once more planing one day layover stops at each destination. They traveled five days to Narbonne in Gaul, three days to Montpellier and three days to Avignon on the Rhone River. They’d follow the river to Monthey. Then it was four days upriver to Valence, three days to Lyon, and three days to Champagneux and five days to Pougny. The route was a steady uphill trek. There was a steeper one day trek to Geneva where they stopped for three days. Over the next three days they followed the south shore of Lac Leman and into the flood plain of the upper Rhone river valley.

While the Iberians were accustomed to hilly terrain, the mountains they were traveling through were imposing. As the afternoon eased into evening the sun slipped behind the peaks casting shadows across the valley and its checkerboard farmland. At the village of Vouvry they emerged from the shadows thanks to a steep forested valley cutting through the mountains. The sun was visible at the apex of the valley with snow covered peaks on either side.

“The peak on the right side is the northeast corner of Barmaz Demesne,” Raben pointed out.

One of the kids asked, “You live all the way up there in the snow?”

“No, that’s the corner,” Raben explained. “There are valleys on the other side where we live.”

One of the other kids asked, “How do you get there?”

“From here that’s about a day’s travel,” Raben explained. “But we’re not headed there.”

“I thought we were going to the place you owned,” the first kid said.

“We are,” Raben smiled. “About six miles from here is the entry valley into the lands I own. I own the entire ridge line from here to there.”

They fell silent as they moved back into the shadow as they traveled the last portion up the Rhone to Monthey arriving at dusk. They were excited knowing that they’d be in the Barmaz Estate the next day.

They were up with the dawn. As they ate a light breakfast Raben pointed up the valley behind Monthey. “Do you see the wall atop the rocky cliffs on both sides of the valley?”

They all nodded as they packed the wagon for the last time. “How high are the cliffs?”

“The lowest cliffs are 300 feet high,” Raben smiled. “Where ever possible we’ll cut away excess rock to make similar cliffs. The wall is the boundary wall of Barmaz Bailiwick. Eventually it will expand all around the property. If you look at the Vieze, that’s the stream, you can see, we’ve built a series of stone chutes across the streambed. 250 feet back from the line of defense walls on both sides. Each chute is 100 feet long by 8 inches wide by three feet high with two feet of stone between each. There are three layers of chutes to handle the flow of spring ice melt. The wall is 100 feet wide built atop the chutes. The wall is indented at that point to provide overlook by the defense walls on either side. The wall will connect the plateaus at the same height on both sides.”

Soon the mules were hitched and they began heading for the cliffs. The Iberians were amazed by the narrow road cut through the towering cliffs of the plateau. As they entered the 30 feet wide cut the walls rose sharply up both sides soaring over 300 feet above them. Soon they entered the tunnel crossing beneath the wall to emerge in the cut on the inner side. It was an intimidating and easily defendable passage.

As they emerged at the top of the cut several people saw the wagon and rider. One person near the road recognized the rider. “RABEN! It’s Raben! He’s returned!”

Workers eagerly greeted Raben as he led the wagon deeper into Barmaz Bailiwick. Raben stopped the wagon just after they’d emerged from the trees after crossing a bridge. “We’re here. We’ve just crossed the Torrent de Fayot The mountain tops form a curve about this main valley and all the smaller valleys joining it. The mountain tops are the boundary of my property. Everything you see is the Barmaz Bailiwick.”

They looked on in amazement at the immense majestic vista fading into the distant heights. The forested areas leading up to the snow covered heights looked quite dazzling.

“You own it all?” Feasa gasped. “What about your family?”

“I’m the head of the family, actually I’m the Chief of the Clan Corvo,” Raben stated. “I’m the eldest person here having outlived my siblings. I managed to perfectly time our trip,” Raben smiled. “It’s the spring equinox when we celebrate the end of winter and the start of spring, the rebirth. We have a festival feast tonight where I’ll introduce you.”

As they traveled around the slope they saw patches of fields breaking up the trees. Before too long the road entered a small village, Val-d’Illiez. People emerged throughout the village heading for the road waving and cheering as Raben waved back. The people, his family, were clearly delighted to have their leader back home.

The family in the wagon were amazed at the greeting as they rode through the village. Once they exited Feasa asked, “They were all your relatives?”

“Some are, as for the others, their descendants will,” Raben replied. “When I bought the land the owners had a choice of moving away or staying. If they moved they received a bonus, if they stayed they received free rent. Members of my family moved into the vacated properties so those who stayed became close neighbors. Close neighbors marry.”

Feasa chuckled. “So you think we will marry into your family?”

“If not you or your children, then your grandchildren will,” Raben answered. “That is if you stay. No one is a prisoner. Life in Barmaz is safe and the pace slower. In this valley we’re isolated and out of the way. Other than climbing over the top of the mountains, there are only two roads into the Barmaz Bailiwick. You’ve seen the defenses at the main entrance. We’re building similar defenses at the other entrance. We have nothing worth mining and our farms are above subsistence but steadily improving. We have a simple good life by working together and sharing. We take care of each other. Slaves I’ve brought in are treated well and not overworked. I allow them to marry and their children are free. They can marry into my family. When they grow too old to work a place to live out their lives is provided.”

“You make it sound quite wonderful,” Fenea stated.

“It’s not perfect but I’m working on it,” Raben chuckled. “Fortunately with my Curse I hope to be around long enough to make it happen.”

As they traveled further the more farmland and high pasture they saw. After a few miles they crossed the bridge over the Torrent de Chavalet and rounded the corner of the ridge they saw more land stretching out before them as they reached Champery. The big stone building, home of the Corvus Scriptorium, the growing town, and down in the valley the dam and mills just as Fiach had described them. Many people recognized Raben and called out greetings. By the time they reached the scriptorium they were swarmed by people preparing for the evening feast.

Feasa, Gref, Fenea and her kids settled into life in Barmaz. Fortunately, as they had traveled Raben had spent time every day teaching them proper Latin as well as some German so they were able to communicate without difficulty.

Raben spent a year in Barmaz. Then in June 241 CE he headed to Rome. While there he met with the current Bishop of Rome, Bishop of Rome Fabian, who was impressed with Raben’s wide knowledge but confused by his unwillingness to be baptized. Raben received thanks for his efforts in copying Christian texts.

In mid-December Raben traveled to Alexandria arriving in early January 242 CE. What he saw upset him. The city, like much of the empire, was in turmoil. The young emperor was not strong enough to rule firmly and those who ran things in his name were out to make personal fortunes. The Sassinids in Persia were strongly probing the frontiers causing anxiety. Egypt was in political free fall. On top of that Alexandria was the center of early Christian writings with a lot of internal dissension. Wealthy business people were setting themselves up in their own fiefdoms.

Corvus Scriptorium was simply too close to the roiling cauldron in the city. Raben traveled up the canal linking Alexandria to the Nile. The Canal was integral in getting the grain Egypt exported to the city and then on to Rome. It also served as a water highway to get imported items into the interior. The canal was a somewhat natural branch of the Nile that had, over the last five centuries, been enlarged, channelized and kept open by human intervention to serve the Alexandria-Nile connection.

The canal went through Lake Mariout where the scriptorium had been built. The canal connected the port and the lake in a straight 2 mile long southwest line, it traveled through the lake for 2 miles then turned south for 5 miles before turning southwest for another 4 miles then turning southeast for 1 mile then resuming a south route. Raben selected a site on the western shore of that last turn for the new Zamrab [30.996260, 29.863522]. The location was 14 miles from Alexandria by water, being 11½ miles straight line from the harbor and 9 miles straight line from the current site.

The property was a square of 4000 feet per side. Centered along the canal was the rectangular building site 510 feet along the canal and 545 feet deep. Along the canal they excavated down 10 feet and 35 feet wide. The same was done along the perimeter of the building site for a width of 5 feet. Wooden pilings were pounded to a depth of 40 feet to provide a solid base for construction. From the first 10 feet back from the canal bank was solid stone to a height of 4 feet below normal water level to serve as docking space. The next 25 feet were built to a height 3 feet above the normal water line acting as a pier. Atop the remaining pilings, dual stone walls 2 feet wide with a 1 foot clay filled gap between were constructed to a height of 15 feet. The 500 by 500 feet interior was then filled with earth from an area of 1000 feet arc outside the wall leaving a 4 feet high interior wall. With the outer area thus lowered, it filled with water creating a swamp in which papyrus was planted providing the scriptorium with a source of writing material as well as food. The swamp and canal would be effective moats. The only access would be by boat. The new Corvus Scriptorium would be built atop the platform. A small settlement for the staff and their families would be built outside the swamp to the south with canal fed fields in the remaining area.

Raben stayed making sure the building was completed to his plans and the move accomplished. During that time his concerns of empire wide turmoil were proven correct. The Sassanid Empire took advantage of the chaos to attack the Roman frontier in Persia. Needing more troops Gordian recruited mercenaries from the Goths, taking them into Anatolia and Syria. Like many non Roman mercenaries, they brought their families with them. The bloody fighting raged back and forth until the Sassinids were beaten back by Roman legions in 243 with the young emperor present. On February 11, 244 nineteen year old Gordian was murdered by the dissatisfied troops and succeeded by Philip the Arab as emperor who negotiated a shaky peace by bribing the Sassanid representatives. The mercenaries were released from service, many of the Goths settled in Anatolia.

It wasn’t long until Roman soldiers discharged from service because of disabling wounds from the fighting began arriving in Alexandria. While the wounds had healed, the disabilities and limitations remained. Most had no job prospects, many became brigands. Traveling the streets of the city without armed guards became dangerous after dark. Raben took advantage of this situation. He understood many of the medically discharged soldiers were good men who had lost hope. By offering them jobs he gained loyal hard working employees.

Those who had lost legs or their use could write so Raben had them trained to be scribes. Those who had lost an arm or their use could, with pack harnesses, be porters to move items. Many became guards, farmers, crew on the boats, or workers in the papyrus paper manufacture.

As a physician Raben still treated the ill and injured in Alexandria doing as he always did, charging only what the patient could afford. Because of this he met the city’s lower class who were struggling to make a living. His efforts gained their trust, especially when word spread he was the son of Fiach whom many remembered fondly.

One late afternoon while preparing to return to Zamrab he heard screams. Never one to ignore those in need he ran toward the noise to find nearly a dozen men accosting a group of barely teen girls. Dropping his kit by a wall Raben charged into the back of the men. Knowing his small size would be ineffective he ran up the back of one man, stomping sideways on his head breaking his neck while using it as a stepping stone. Diving feet first as he pulled knives, he slammed into another man’s head knocking him unconscious while taking down two other men. It was only at that point the men realized they were under assault. The girls were abandoned as swords were drawn. The screaming girls dropped to the ground to huddle against the building as Raben quickly regained his feet with a bloody knife in each hand having plunged them into the hearts of the two men he’d taken down.

“Be afraid! Be VERY afraid”, Raben chuckled mirthlessly with big glaring eyes and a feral grin.

The eight remaining men saw the hungry fearless eager face on their small opponent. They also saw four of their number down and not moving. The group were ex-legionaries, they’d repeatedly faced the Sassanids in battle. But this was like facing a hungry lion with very sharp bloody claws.

Their hesitation was all Raben needed. With a roar he charged. The men formed shoulder to shoulder with swords raised confident they could take out their small opponent. At the last moment Raben jagged towards the wall, ran up the side and leapt over the men twisting to land facing their backs. The move clearly stunned them as their tight formation jumbled them preventing a clean turn. Raben dove into the center men sinking the knives into their kidneys, twisting and ripping the razor sharp blades free. Using one man’s body as a shield he pivoted plunging the knife into the upper arm of a third man severing the muscles and the brachial artery. As the three men dropped Raben danced out of the way facing the men. His blood splattered face made his predatory smile and glaring eyes even scarier. One of the five remaining men turned and ran. The remaining four quickly joined their compatriot in fleeing the demon.

The last three men Raben had attacked were moaning in agony knowing they were fatally wounded as they writhed on the ground in their death throes. Three others were already dead. The last man was still unconscious.

“It’s over,” Raben soothed the cowering girls. “Put yourselves together and I’ll escort you home.”

“Y... you’re the healer,” one of the girls stuttered as she and the other girls looked at the carnage.

“Like my mother Fiach and father Raben I’m also a deadly fighter,” Raben explained as he wiped the blood off his face.

People who had been hiding in their homes emerged as the unconscious man stirred. Raben knelt placing a knife against his throat.

“Move very slowly,” Raben growled as he pressed the knife. “Six of your friends are dead, the others ran away like cowards. I’ll make this very simple. If you strip naked I’ll let you go. If not, you die. You have ten seconds to begin stripping.” With that he released the terrified man.

Seeing his dead friends he began shedding his clothes. Once naked Raben waved him to run away. Seeing the denizens of the area already stripping the bodies, he ran.

Raben picked up his med kit then took the girls home. Their families were extremely grateful.

Because of this Raben was able to invite the daughters of the poor who had no dowery to travel down to Zambar to seek spouses from the now employed ex-soldiers.

Needless to say the parents were quite grateful to have their daughters escape the poverty and hopelessness of the city. Corvus Scriptorium benefitted from the goodwill by having an effective informant network in the city.

The new couples needed homes, quickly overflowing the small settlement Raben had anticipated. To provide more space for living and farming for self sufficiency he bought more land enlarging the site to a square two miles on a side with his original purchase in the northeast corner, all of it west of the canal.

Atop the raised platform the mud brick complex of Corvus Scriptorium was built. Some of the buildings were up to four stories tall with a lookout tower on the roof 65 feet above ground level. Since Alexandria and all the area around it was in the Nile delta the land was flat providing an unobstructed view for nearly 12 miles. The site was near the edge of the Nile delta with the western desert just 12 miles away to the southwest. The desert hills were just 20 miles beyond that.

In February 245 Raben left Egypt for Rome. It took several months to make sure Mazbar and Corvus Construction were on solid footing while staying outside of the never ending political intrigue. Corvus Scriptorium provided copies of Christian writings by the apostles that Bishop of Rome Fabian sent to Christianize the Gauls. In October, just before the snows closed the Poeninus Mons, Raben returned to Barmaz for a much needed rest.

For the previous three hundred years there was a near constant shifting, conquering, absorbing and migration of many German tribes in Germania Magna as well as the bordering Roman provinces Germania Inferior, Germania Superior and Raetia. This blending broke up traditional tribal affiliations. Many of the men joined the Roman military as auxiliaries and even formed whole legions. They brought their military experience home eventually forming a loose confederation of the splintered tribes mixing with incoming tribes. The new confederation called themselves the Alemanni.

The next few years Raben spent moving between the three Corvus Scriptorium sites spending at least six months in each. The Roman empire was in turmoil with the borders being threatened, the invaders often being bribed to back off. Troops were transferred from the relatively peaceful far western regions of the empire to the war ravaged eastern borders. Between paying the legions, paying bribes and the by then normal corruption, the empire was always broke. Emperor Philip the Arab, was sympathetic to Christians. With the coffers running dry Phillip ceased the bribe payments to the Carpi who promptly invaded Dacia. The financial crisis forced the devaluation of coins which created riots in Egypt which in turn cut off the vital grain shipments. Suddenly there was a serious food shortage. All these situations created a perfect storm... a plague began in the areas devastated by the near constant fighting, especially in the unsanitary camps of displaced civilians, the legions and the invaders. The plague spread through the empire and surrounding territories flaring up and dying down.



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