AN UNWANTED MEETING
“There has rarely been rain like that which fell last evening,” muttered Owongus to Bern, Mirumtia and the boy-turned-into-a girl, Paulina when they woke up next morning. "And never such bright lightning or roaring thunder!"
And he spoke the truth. The four of them, including my two-thousand year ancestors Owongus and Mirumtia, had been walking for the best part of a night followed by at least half a day, and had covered a great distance bearing in mind the terrain they'd been struggling through (especially difficult and dangerous at night when the moon got covered by layers of ever-thickening clouds), and had decided to finally rest-up before the child fell asleep mid-stride.
“It's going to be hard,” Bern had warned them, grimly, when they had set out. “But then, anything worth winning is difficult, Honky-tonks. So come, on, step along with me, and when we get far enough away from this accursed corner of the Empire we can rest up for several days, if need be.”
A gentle rain had started falling and they all felt so tired they might have gone to sleep as they walked had they let their eyes flicker shut. As it was, they had all forced one leg in front of the other and completed mile after mile as mind-dead as four people could get.
As the rain showed signs of worsening they found a hollow tree almost immediately, which was just as well because besides the rain an unnatural early darkness was descending onto the world..
It had once been a mighty oak, majestic and probably a thousand years old, and hollowed by the passage of a great number of years. There was what amounted to a room of crusted timber inside its rotten trunk, and the four of them squeezed in, just as rain started falling. And it not only fell but battered the world, cascading from the heavens in sheets that made the four humans huddle together as far from the hollow tree's opening as they could get.
And it was that rain which Owongus alluded to when they looked out next morning.
“I have never known rain like it,” murmured Mirumtia. “I thought we were going to get washed away by it.”
Bern cleared his throat. He looked very different now that he was dressed more normally, and his kilt, small on him, suited Paulina very well indeed, making Paulinus look very much like the girl they wanted him to appear to be.
“I will go out,” he said in little more than a whisper. “I need to take a look around, and maybe I'll find something for us to eat. You must all be terribly hungry, and hungry Honky-tonks would never be able to walk far when the time for travel comes around again.”
Owongus nodded. “I'll come with you,” he said.
But Bern shook his head. “No!” he insisted, “I feel that there are Romans near, and Romans are enemies, and we must never think otherwise. I will go out alone, and if anything happens and I don't return the other two will need you, Owongus. So you will stay, I insist, and all three of you – keep as quiet as you can. Behave as though a thousand soldiers were coming this way, intent on looking for you. Be that quiet!”
Owongus, unhappy and feeling useless, nodded. “All right,” he said, reluctantly.
“It's for the best,” whispered Mirumtia. “And, Owongus, I need you.”
He looked at her, and took in the troubled light in her eyes.
“All right,” he murmured. “But don't be too long, Bern. We ought to stay together, and you're more valuable than the rest of us put together, for you know these lands and how to pass through them.”
“I'll be ultra-careful,” promised Bern, “and remember, if I don't return for some reason you are to travel north. That way I'll know which way to go when I get free again.” And with those few words he slipped out. Owongus watched him go from the craggy entrance to the hollow tree. It seemed to Owongus that he merged with the world around him, and then was gone.
“He's a brave man,” he told the others.
“I think he's wonderful,” whispered Mirumtia. “You know, Owongus, I'm so hungry...”
“Me too,” put in Paulina.
“I'll see if I can find something,” suggested Owongus. “I won't go far – no further than you can see.”
“You shouldn't,” said Mirumtia, holding both hands up in horror.
“I'll be all right,” Owongus assured her. “I'm sure I saw some pears dangling from a tree just yards away. I'll fetch some of those and we'll at least get something inside us.”
And he slipped out of the hollow tree.
He should have looked first.
For he walked straight into a column of soldiers of the brave Roman army, and there was no doubt at all.
They had seen him.
© Peter Rogerson 26.08.12