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Authors: Poul Anderson

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BOOK: Gallicenae
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It seemed as if Martinus overwhelmed them, simply by being what he was. Gratillonius was unsure how much belief to give stories of miracles wrought by the holy man. They said he healed the sick, the lame, and the blind by his touch and his prayers, that he had even recalled a dead boy to life. They said that once, demanding a hallowed oak be cut down, he had accepted a challenge to stand, bound, where it would fall; as it toppled, he lifted his hand and it spun about and crashed in the opposite direction, narrowly missing and instantly converting the clustered tribesfolk. Maybe so. Gratillonius had seen strange things wrought by his Gallicenae.

He thought, though, most of the force must lie in Martinus himself. The bishop was humble as well as strong. He dwelt outside the city, in a community of like-minded men whom his reputation had drawn to him. Mainly they devoted themselves to worship and meditation.
When they went forth evangelizing, Martinus never ranted or threatened. People told Gratillonius that he spoke to them in their own kind of words, quiet, friendly, sometimes humorous. They told of an incident: he and his followers had torched a Celtic temple, but when the flames were about to spread to the landowner’s adjoining house, the bishop led the firefighting effort.

He had never desired his office. When it fell vacant, a trick brought him from his peaceful monastery elsewhere, and a crowd fell upon him and carried him off, willy-nilly, to be consecrated. That was the second time he had been conscripted. The first was long before, he a lad in Pannonia who only wanted to enter the Church, borne away at the instigation of his pagan father and enrolled in the army. Not until the twenty-five-year hitch was up could he give his oath to his God. Thereafter he had been clergyman, hermit, monk—Had that God chosen this means of training him for his mission?

Or was it only, or also, that the Gods of the land were failing, that in some secret way folk knew they had no more reason to honor Them? Gratillonius remembered what Forsquilis had said in Ys….

He re-entered the main room as the kitchen help were bringing out supper. Martinus’s entourage sat at table. They amounted to four men, younger than their leader but tonsured and dressed like him. The bishop sat offside, on a three-legged milking stool he had evidently taken along, and ate from a bowl on his lap. The food he had ordered for them consisted of vegetables, herbs, and a few scraps of dried fish stewed together. Prayers preceded the repast. A reading from the Gospels, by a brother who fasted that evening, accompanied it. Gratillonius ate his robust fare in silence.

Afterward Martinus beckoned him over, proffered a bench, and said cordially, “Now, Centurion, do you care to tell us what you’ve been doing? You must have many curious adventures under your belt.”

Gratillonius dug in his heels against liking the man, found himself dragged toward it anyhow, and settled down. “I am… on business of state, reporting to the Emperor,” he said.

“I thought so. And we are bound home after business with him. Maybe we can help each other, you and I.”

“Sir?”

“I can give you an idea of what to expect. There’s been trouble at court, a most cruel strife. God willing, it nears its end, but you’ll do best to avoid certain topics. For my part, I’d be very interested to learn more about how things are in Armorica… and Ys.”

Martinus laughed at Gratillonius’s startlement. “Obvious!” he continued. “In Treverorum I heard incidental mention that Maximus Augustus’s prefect at the mysterious city was coming. Who else would you be, you who identified yourself as belonging to a Britannic legion? Take your ease, have a fresh cup of the excellent local wine, and yarn to us.”

He and his companions did not join in, sipping merely water, but Gratillonius got from them a sense of cheer, the sort that men feel when they have completed a hard task. He used his own call for more drink to buy time for thought.

How much dared he relate? He had shaded his dispatches to the Emperor, omitting details of religious and magical practices. He had spent hours on the road rehearsing in his mind how he should reply to various possible questions. He would not give his commandant any falsehood. But if he provoked outrage and cancellation of his commission, what then?

“Well,” he said, “you must be aware that we’re getting matters under control in our part of the country. We’d like to help with that over a wider range.” The tale of his brush with the Bacaudae and the deliverance of Bishop Arator, augmented by the exclamations and thanksgivings of the monks, took a usefully long while. He went on to remarks about the revival of trade that was beginning, and finished quickly:

“But it’ll soon be dark, and I want to start off at daybreak. You mentioned things I might need to know. Will you tell me?”

Martinus frowned. “The full story would take longer than till bedtime, my son.”

“I’m a simple roadpounder. Can’t you explain enough in a few words?”

The ghost of a smile crossed Martinus’s lips. “You ask for a miracle. But I’ll try.” He pondered before he started talking.

Nonetheless Gratillonius was bewildered. He could only gather that one Priscillianus, bishop of Avela in Hispania, was accused of heresy and worse. The centurion knew that “heresy” meant an incorrect Christian doctrine, though it was not clear to him who decided what was correct and how. In a vague fashion he was conscious of the division between Catholics, who held that God and Christ were somehow identical, and Arians, who held that They were somehow different. Mithraism was an easier faith, its paradoxes a part of the very Mystery and in any event nothing that directly concerned mortals.

This Priscillianus preached a canon of perfectionism which Martinus felt went too far; fallen man was incapable of it without divine grace. Yet Martinus also felt that this was no more than an excess of zeal. Certainly it spoke against those charges of fornication and sorcery that the enemies of Priscillianus brought. There might have been no large stir had not people by the hundreds and perhaps thousands, despairing of this world, flocked to the austere new creed. As was, Bishop Ambrosius of Mediolanum got the then co-Emperor Gratianus to issue a rescript banning its adherents. They scattered and concealed themselves.

Priscillianus himself and a few followers went to Rome to appeal to the Pope. Among them were women, including two friends of the consul Ausonius. This gave rise to nasty gossip.

The Church had adopted a rule that when internal disputes arose, the final appeal would be to the bishop of Rome. Pope Damasus refused
to see Priscillianus. The accused proceeded to Mediolanum, where through an official who was an enemy of Ambrosius they got a rescript restoring them to their churches.

Then they took the offensive, getting charges of calumny levelled against their principal persecutor, Bishop Ithacius of Ossanuba. He fled to Treverorum and found an ally in the praetorian prefect. Intrigues seethed. Maximus revolted and overthrew Gratianus. Ambrosius travelled north to help negotiate the treaty that divided the West.

Ithacius brought his allegations against Priscillianus before the new Augustus. Maximus ordered a synod convened at Burdigala to settle the matter. Much ugliness ensued, rumors of immorality, a noblewoman stoned by a rabble. In the end, Priscillianus refused to accept the jurisdiction of the synod and appealed to the Emperor in Treverorum.

Prelates flocked to the scene, Martinus among them. While he did not say so, Gratillonius got the impression, which later conversations confirmed, that he alone did not fawn on Maximus. Rather, he argued stiffly for what he held to be justice. When the Augustus had him at table and ordered the communal wine cup brought first to him, Martinus did not pass it on to Maximus, but to the priest who was with him; and the Augustus accepted this as a righteous act.

Ithacius saw his religious accusation of heresy faltering, and against Priscillianus pressed the secular, criminal charges of sorcery and Manicheanism. Martinus took the lead in disputing these.

He won from Emperor Maximus a promise that there would be no death penalties. However much the Priscillianists might be in error, it was honest error and deserved no worse than exile to some place where they could meditate untroubled and find their way back to the truth. Gladdened, Martinus started home. The whole wretched business had caused him to neglect his own flock far too long.

—“‘Wretched’ is the right word,” Gratillonius muttered.

“What?” asked Martinus.

“Oh, nothing.” Gratillonius’s glance went to a window. Deep yellow, the light that came through it told him that it was time for his sunset prayer to the Lord Mithras. Besides, after what he had heard, he needed a few lungfuls of clean air. “Excuse me if I leave,” he said, rising. “I’ve duties to see to before nightfall.”

The monks took that at face value, but Martinus gave him a look that held him in place like a fishhook before murmuring, “Duties, my son, or devotions?”

Gratillonius felt his belly muscles tighten. “Is there a difference?”

“Enough,” said Martinus. Was the motion of his hand a blessing? “Go in peace.”

2

The squadron entered Augusta Treverorum by one of two paved ways passing through a gate in the city wall. The gate was a colossus of iron-bound sandstone blocks, more than a hundred feet wide and nearly as high, with twin towers flanking two levels of windows. Behind it, structures well-nigh as impressive showed above roofs closer to hand, basilica, Imperial palace, principal church; and approaching, the men had noticed an amphitheater just outside that was like a shoulder of the hill into which it was built.

Facades reared grandly over streets, porticos gleamed around marketplaces, where people in the multiple thousands walked, rode, drove, jostled, chattered, chaffered, exhorted, quarreled, postured, pleaded, vowed, were together, were alone. Feet clattered, hoofs thudded, wheels groaned, hammers rang. The noises were a veritable presence, an atmosphere, filled with odors of smoke, food, spice, dung, perfume, wool, humanity. Litters bore a senator in purple-bordered toga and a lady—or a courtesan?—in silk past a Treverian farmer in tunic and trousers, a housewife in coarse linen carrying a basket, an artisan with his tools and leather apron, a porter under his yoke, a guardsman on horseback, slaves in livery and slaves in rags, a pair of strolling entertainers whose fantastical garb was an extra defiance of the law that said they must remain in that station to which they were born—

Gratillonius had seen Londinium, but it could not compare with this. Abruptly Ys seemed tiny and very dear. He got directions and led his soldiers in formation, giving way to nobody. Before their armor the crowds surged aside in bow waves and eddies.

Space was available at the metropolitan barracks. Maximus kept a large household troop and a substantial standing army. Their cores were legionary regulars, drawn from border garrisons as well as from Brittania. However, more men, auxiliaries among them, had departed for the South with Valentinianus. Thus total Roman strength in Gallia was much reduced. Echoing rooms and empty parade grounds, in the midst of civilian wealth and bustle, roused forebodings in Gratillonius. The Mosella had only about a hundred miles to flow from here before it met the Rhenus, and east of that great river laired the barbarians. Many were already west of it.

He made arrangements for his men. Several whooped joyously when they recognized acquaintances from Britannia, and everybody was chafing to be off into town. “Keeping them taut won’t be easy,” Gratillonius warned Adminius. “Temptations right and left, starting with booze and broads, leading on toward brawls.”

The deputy grinned. “Don’t you worry, sir,” he answered. “Ill let ’em ’ave their fun, but they’ll know there’s a ’and on the tether.” He cocked his head. “If I’m not being overbold, maybe the centurion’d like ’is own bit o’ fun? I’ll soon find out where that’s to be ’ad.”

“Never mind,” Gratillonius snapped. “Remember, I want you reporting to me regularly at my lodging.”

He proceeded alone to the government inn where he would stay. Temptation—aye, he thought, it simmered in him too; and he realized he had been thinking in Ysan, while certain of his wives stood before him, unclad and reaching out, more vivid than the walls and traffic around.

The room he took was clean and well furnished, if a little time-faded. He unpacked and got busy. First he must notify the palace of his arrival. He had already prepared a note to that effect—writing never came easily to him—and now tied it together with a commendation that Bishop Arator had given him. The letter was embarrassingly fulsome, but explained his not coming sooner and, well, should do his career no harm. Escape from the curial trap—

After he was finished in Ys, if ever he was—

He didn’t want to pursue that vision. Hastily, he sought the manager of the house, who dispatched a messenger boy for him.

As Gratillonius then stood wondering what to do, a uniformed centurion entered from the street, stopped, gaped, and shouted his name. “Drusus!” he roared back at the stocky form—Publius Flavius Drusus of the Sixth, whose unit had side by side with his fought its way out of a Pictic ambush. They fell into each other’s arms, pounded each other’s backs, and exchanged mighty oaths.

“I’m staying here too,” Drusus explained, “waiting to deliver a report. Since we won his throne for the Augustus, my vexillation’s been stationed at Bonna. Reinforcement for the Fifth Minervia. The war whittled that legion pretty badly, not so much through casualties as because most of it stuck with Valentinianus. The Germani got so uppity that at last we made a punitive expedition. I’ve been sent to tell how that went; pretty good. Come, we’ve daylight left, let’s go out on the town.”

“I’m supposed to report, like you,” Gratillonius demurred. “I’d better be here when they call me.”

Laughter rattled from Drusus. “Your heels will freeze if you just sit waiting, old buddy. I thought today I’d finally gotten my summons, but no, they told me there the Emperor was suddenly too busy again. You’ll be lucky if you’re called inside this month. And if the word happens to come when you’re out, no sweat. Everything’s scheduled hours and hours in advance, because whenever some backlog of state business can get handled, there’s so much of it. Enjoy while you’ve got the chance. I’ll go change clothes and be right with you.”

BOOK: Gallicenae
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