It was dawn when the red-robed man arrived at the small wooden village that was the home of the warrior-priest Zierlus. The man deftly dismounted his horse and approached Zierlus’ quaint wooden home, utterly indiscernible from the others in the village except for the small runic inscriptions running along the exterior walls.
“Zierlus!” the man called out. Zierlus recognized the voice immediately as belonging to the Roman ambassador. For the past week, he had endured this routine. The ambassador arrived in the morning and Zierlus spent the day declining his offers of peace. He was weary of it, and didn’t bother to rise.
“Valerius, you’ve come again? We will not join your empire!” retorted Zierlus, his booming voice cutting through the morning air.
“I understand your hesitance, but I brought something to show you. Something I hope will change your mind,” he countered. Zierlus rose and grabbed his staff leaned up against the wall. The ensorcelled staff was six feet of solid larch with similar patterns to those etched along the house in a straight line from its base to tip. The middle had been smoothed over years of carrying, and spattered stains of blood gave it an interspersed glaze. He had only dealt with the Roman for a few days, but something in his voice urged him to arm himself.
As it occurred, his suspicions were well founded. The Roman ambassador smirked at Zierlus as he emerged into the morning sun. At the edge of town stood an entire detachment of Imperial Archers. Clearly the ambassador understood the negotiations had proven fruitless and had decided upon a more aggressive posture.
“Are you trying to coerce us with force?!” bellowed Zierlus. The smug Latin merely made one of his odd gestures, remarking only, “If that’s what it takes.” The blunt end of Zierlus’ long-staff caught him in the chest, knocking him to the dirt. In the distance, the Roman war trumpet blared. This was Rome’s final phase of diplomacy, and Zierlus stood ready. The villagers, having been stirred to action in the commotion, emerged hesitantly from their dwellings. Rested but groggy in the fog of morning, they turned to Zierlus for guidance.
“Quickly, grab your belongings and run to the forest!” he implored. The townspeople hurriedly went back in their homes, as a hundred flaming arrows rained down upon the settlement. The thatch roofs caught quickly and spread. The villagers rapidly fled their homes, the men carrying only their weapons and shields while the women and children bore the brunt of the supplies rescued from the enflamed remains of their livelihood. Zierlus sent them to the forest, ordering half the men to cover them and the rest to stand with him and put up some resistance to the besiegers.
Another rain of fire poured onto them, catching two of the men aflame. They ran off into the field, driven by their panic, and fell down. The flames and their lives were soon extinguished. Beyond where they fell, Zierlus saw a dozen men on horseback, riding toward the fleeing women and children. He called out to them, but his cries were drowned out by the cadence of horses’ hooves. They too soon fell by the steel of Rome.
The cavalry then turned their focus back on the burning remnants of the town. Zierlus now stood alone amongst the destruction; the fury burning inside him echoed in the reflection of the flames in his eyes. He knelt, tracing out the symbol for protection in the gravel. The cavalry were bearing down upon him, and he rose to meet them.
With a sickening crack, the first horse’s knee was shattered. It whinnied in anguish, throwing the rider from its back as it fell. Zierlus mentally apologized; the animal was innocent, it was the men he was after. Swinging upward wildly, he separated one after another Roman from their mounts. He was doing well, but he was vastly outnumbered, and a dead man could not avenge the lives of his countrymen. He separated yet another man from his horse and, using his staff, he vaulted to assume the vacated position on its back.
Zierlus drove the horse through the charred and smoldering remains to the woods. He easily lost the remaining Romans who pursued through the foreign forest. It was approaching midday now, and he was exhausted. Zierlus eased the horse to a halt and dismounted, leaving the horse to graze in the plain they had emerged upon from the forest.
Sitting in the shade, he passed into a deep meditation, seeking guidance from the spiritual realm for what he must do. In his trance, he saw his countrymen calling out in agony, Valerius smirking maliciously, his house left as smoldering ruins. His visions took their toll on his already weary body, and his abstractions were interrupted by bouts of haunted sleep.
After a few hours, Zierlus started back toward
the village. The horse had long since fled the pasture, leaving him only his feet to carry him. He hadn’t ridden far and returned to the smoke-filled expanse where his proud village formerly stood. The Romans had left, satisfied in their conquest, but not without further desecration of his brethren. As he walked through the field, he noticed several of the villagers’ blond hair had been cut, destined to become wigs for the extravagant Roman elite.
Crouching in front of his former home, he noticed the protective symbol he had quickly drawn in the sand still unscathed by the trampling hooves and feet of the pillaging Romans. It was the only thing left untouched. He lay down at his former doorstep, preparing to spend a last night sleeping in his homeland. The building’s remains smoldered, providing him a vestige of heat through the night.
Zierlus rose the next morning amongst the ruins of his life cold, tired, and sore. Black clouds approached in the northwest sky, carrying a foreboding feeling. He walked to the forest, grabbing a branch and cutting it into 24 strips, marking each with an appropriate symbol from the runic alphabet.
Spreading out a small, white cloth in front of him, he cast lots, looking to divine from spirit what he should do next. To the layman, he seemed to be playing with sticks, but to him it was a conversation with the will of spirit and the gods. Several times he scattered the pieces and studied their markings. Their message was clear to him. Zierlus collected the strips and secured them in the white casting cloth with some twine. He tied the makeshift tote to his waist and heaved himself to his feet with the aid of his stave. With the dark clouds at his back, he followed the tracks that the departed minions of Rome had left.
It would be many months before he would arrive in Rome, but his mind was set. Zierlus would extinguish his fiery passion for revenge in the spilt blood of the emperor.