Thick smoke could be seen for leagues, black and unseemly,
filling the noon sky as the small Erinian city burned. Shouts and
screams could be heard from the town square, women and children
crying as their homes burned and their belongings perished. Around
the city, in the many grain fields and orchards of olive trees,
cattle lowed and goats brayed in panic. Fear filled their nostrils.
War and death were on the wind.
Roldan watched impassively with lightning colored eyes as
tongues of flame licked the blue and green-tiled rooftops of the
city, embers floating on the warm air as the salt-flavored wind of
the sea fanned the flames even higher.
Every town they sacked was the same. Blood and fire. It never
changed. And he wearied of it.
He removed his helm, the ungainly bronze growing warm from
the heat. His thick straw colored hair fell around his broad
shoulders, contrasting with his honey colored skinwhich was now
matted with soot. Roldan thought of removing the battered leather
harness he wore and his armor, also, but thought better of it.
Sighing, he hefted the great spear he carried and strapped his great
shield to his back, the great sea-eagle symbol of Corinth painted on
it in bright red. He made ready to meet up with his cohort of men
when an anguished scream rent the air from the next street over.
Roldan's sandaled feet slapped the hard cobblestones of
Sybota's main street as he ran, his shield and spear forgotten weight
as he swiftly made his way, tanned legs a blur. He found the next
street, espying what his instincts had told him all along.
A squad of Basillius' men had a woman.
Grimfaced, Roldan hefted his spear as he ran, never slowing
The woman was gowned in white, a belt of gold around her
waist and a laurel of holly leaves on her brow. The men lofted her
down the steps of a great temple, the ambient glow of the white
marble columns of the structure standing out amongst the thick smoke
filling the air.
"Hera will destroy you all for this!"
Roldan could hear the woman's panicked screams as he got
closer, see the terror in her strangely blue eyes as the men pawed at
her and tore at her clothes.
He increased his pace, only yards away when their eyes met.
Roldan felt a surge of electricity, a jolt of incomprehension.
Eternity rested in those eyes, a depth of understanding and wisdom
that he had never felt before, one he could not fathom. Calmly, he
took his spear and put it through the chest of the closest man.
The keen bladed spear punched through the man's harness
easily, standing out through the man's chest, who only looked down in
surprise. The other five men stood gape-faced in shock at the soot
covered demon in their amidst, even as Roldan drew his blade.
His shield crashed into the face of one man, bones crunching
as his face became a bloody ruin, while his sword sliced the neck of
another man, arterial blood coating the woman's gown in crimson. The
man clutched as his throat as he fell, blood flowing through his
The three men remaining dropped the body of the girl, drawing
their own blades.
"We will have your guts for this, dog!" one of the men
screamed, a hulking giant with long black hair and a scar down his
Roldan ignored him as steel clashed on steel, his sword
meeting the blade of a pock-faced man who's shorn head was marked by
Dacian tattoos. Roldan blocked one stroke with his shield, delivering
a great stroke that split the man's clavicle in half, crumpling him
to the ground.
A long-jawed ox of a man slashed at Roldan, his blade
clanging off his breastplate, putting a great rent in it while the
black-haired giant stabbed at him with the great spear he carried.
Tired now, Roldan felt his muscles burning and could hear his breath
coming in great sucking gasps as he fought and danced . . .
Deperate now, he delivered a staggering blow that rent the
sword of the long-jawed man in half, shattering the blade. His eyes
widened in disbelief as Roldan's sword pierced his side, finding his
heart. The glow in eyes quickly faded as his blood spilled on the
steps of the temple.
Roldan had no time to reflect as the tip of a spear stabbed
into his thigh.
He turned, laughter in the voice of the man with the
scar. "Come on, pig! Dance with me and die!"
Pain erupted as he moved, blood running down his leg in
rivulets from his wound. He blocked a thrust of the spear with his
shield, delivering a swipe with his sword that the glanced off the
man's helm. They circled and thrust, dancing and weaving as they
struck at each other. Blood coated the steps, making his footing
treacherous. A great thrust of the man's spear knocked his shied from
his grasp, sending it clanking down the steps.
He waved his sword, batting around the man's spear, his arms
burning with fatigue.
"Time to die," Scar Face shouted.
Roldan readied himself for one last strike when a shocked
look came into Scar Face's eyes, before the light left them all
together. He toppled forward, his body rolling down the steps, his
armor striking sparks from the great marble steps as fell.
The woman stood with a knife in her pale hands, blood dripping from
the blade, anger and hatred in her eyes.
Roldan stared dumbly, before falling to the steps, the world
spinning around him.
The smell of incense and spices greeted his nostrils when he
Roldan's eyes fluttered open, espying the guttering torches
on the wall and the silken tapestries that lined the small bed-
chamber he was in. Painted tiles were on the floor, the high ceiling
brightly painted with scenes of Hera attending her sacred herd of
white oxen that resided in the Poppy Fields of Hades.
He arose, feeling the bandage that encircled his thigh. He
wore nothing but his small clothes. And he had been bathed, his skin
smelling of rich oils and saffron. His hair was tied back with a
leather band, his blond locks braided like was the local custom
"You are awake, my champion."
Roldan stared at the woman he had rescued . . . and the woman
who had rescued him.
"Where am I?"
The woman stood in the doorway, the white gown she wore doing
little to disguise the curves of her body, the light shining behind
her. Roland felt his warmth go to his face and he averted his eyes in
The woman smiled . . . as if she could read his thoughts.
"You are in the temple of Hera, Roldan Gallia."
Roldan nodded, before realizing she had spoken his
name. "How do you know my name, fair lady?"
There was just a tinkling laugh as she stood, looking at him,
her stare penetrating and unreadable.
He looked away, that familiar heat rising to his cheeks. "My
She walked to a laquered chest, removing a richly embroidered
white tunic and fine leather sandals. "These are for you. When you
have dressed, dine with me."
Roldan nodded and could only stare at her as she left, a deep
sense of forboding taking hold of his heart.
The main hall of the temple was wondrous and spacious. A
floor of polished marble reflected the many torches hanging in
sconces on the wall while great columns of lapis stretched to the
roof, lost in the great eaves. Great polished beams of oak adorned
the ceiling carved with elaborate friezes whose workmanship Roldan
had never seen the like of.
At the head of the temple sat a towering statue of Hera. It
was flawless, the alabaster white skin almost pulsing with life, the
solemn eyes full of wisdom and love. Roldan marveled at it, before
turning at staring at the approach of sandaled footsteps.
"She guides and protects us."
Roldan nodded at his mysterious benefactor as she motioned
him to the small divan that sat in a shadowed corner, amongst a
richly woven rug and a sea of pillows. A slow table sat filled with
fruit and olives, cheese and bread. He didn't realize until that that
he was famished. How long had it been since he had eaten? Two days?
Three? He could not remember, his last meal being a handful of figs
and some wine he had drank before they had put ashore in their boats.
"Eat, Roldan. Be at peace."
"How do you know my name? And who are you? Why did you save
me?" he asked.
"There will be time for questions later, fair Roldan," the
dark-haired priestess intoned, waving him to a cushion. "Now is the
time for feasting and merriment."
He sat warily, eyeing the knives on the table, his hand
itching to take one. He felt naked and vulnerable, and uncomfortable
itch crawling up his back. Was he a prisoner? Being held here until
the elders of the town came for him to execute him as a prisoner?
Holding him until the provost from Corinth arrived? He did not know.
Two young women in white robes appeared as he sat. They
filled up a flagon with dusky colored wine before departing,
disappearing back into the shadows, neither having made a sound or
spoken a word.
The priestess stared at him, her eyes crinkling with
"I amuse you, Lady?"
"Not you, my champion, but your discomfiture. No one will
harm you here, I assure you. You are safe and under the protection of
Roldan snorted. "That isn't very comforting, milady. The
Gods are fickle and so is their favor. At least, that is what I have
seen in my wanderings, leastways."
"Don't hold back what you really think," the priestess
laughed. "I will not argue with you. Zeus and his ilk are a
scurrilous, conniving, meddlesome lot. They ever have been. Mortals
usually face the brunt of their indiscretions and irresponsibility.
But not all the Gods are so useless. Do you agree?"
Roldan shrugged. "I have no quarrels with any at the moment,
especially fair lady Hera. She meddles less than most, I suppose."
The priestess laughed. "Such clarity of thinking for a
fighting man. There is much more to you than it seems, Roldan."
He smiled. "There is much about me beyond the sword, Lady."
She nodded. "Indeed. It is why my Lady bade me tend you and
safeguard you here. The Elders would have hung you surely if they had
found you. Their love of the Corinthians is not great, nor their love
of mercenaries such as yourself."
Roldan nodded. "Aye. I would have suspected as much. I could
not gainsay them if they did mean me harm. The town burns and many of
her men lay perished in the streets, cut down by my once companions,
though they be no friends of mine."
"You are a man of honor, Roldan. A rarity in these days."
"Not so honorable, milady. I've done some dark deeds in my
life. And will be cursed for them when Hades finally takes me away."
The priestess laughed. "You are such a buffoon."