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Morrigan’s Brood: Madness

Morrigan’s Brood: Madness

By Heather Poinsett Dunbar and Christopher Dunbar

 

April 2011

 

Published by

Triscelle Publishing

Proofread by Jillian Rosenburg

Book Cover Art, Book Interior Art, and Website by Khanada Taylor

Triscelle Publishing Logo by Dayna Hartley

Copyright © 2011 by Triscelle Publishing

All rights reserved.

 

This short story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the authors’ imagination or have been used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

 

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Triscelle Publishing Black Raven

Morrigan’s Brood: Madness

 

(Rome 567 AD)


“Spring brings life to the land. Then summer comes and sees it grow to its fullest. Then in autumn, we harvest all ideas. All die in winter, and then the sun is reborn and all begins anew in spring.”

Patroclus stared down at Mandubratius, resisting the urge to kill the co-consul for mercy’s sake. Mandubratius remained in bed for the greater part of a year, and when he did not sleep or feed, he babbled nonsense, sometimes in Latin, sometimes in Gaelic, and sometimes in that peculiar tongue the Britons used over five centuries ago, the name of which Patroclus could not recall. The legate studied the opulent surroundings of Mandubratius’ hidden room. The sweet scent of frankincense disappeared long ago. Now it smelled like foul medicines. The danger of suspicious senators discovering the co-consul’s condition increased every night.

“Shhhh,” Amata shushed as she applied a compress to Mandubratius’ forehead. She turned towards Patroclus and the elder Lamia physician who tended Mandubratius’ condition. “This should have worked,” she complained, as she directed a glare towards the old blood-drinker.

Iason, the physician, stared down at Mandubratius and leaned in. Iason spread the co-consul’s eyes open. It seemed somewhat absurd that a Lamia would need the ministrations of a physician. The treatment processes employed seemed pointless.

“Let us wait a moment, co-consul, before you pass judgment,” Iason said.

“The tortoise formation is executed by a centurion giving the order of testudo and then…” babbled Mandubratius.

“It does not appear that he’s improving as a result of your latest treatment,” Amata interjected, interrupting Mandubratius, as she glared at Iason.

The physician raised his hands. “Perhaps we have not given the treatment enough time,” he suggested.

“I’ve reached my limit with this inept physician,” Patroclus hissed. “Clearly, none of your treatments have worked!” Patroclus exclaimed as he fixed his gaze on Iason. He desired to kill that little man.

“Patroclus, do not be so judgmental,” Amata growled at him, bearing her teeth. Her eyes began to turn red.

“No, this has gone on too long. We need… I need Mandubratius on his feet!”

“I will repeat what I told you before I started treating our co-consul,” Iason pleaded as he backed away a few steps. “I do not know what ails him. As a rule, we Lamia do not suffer illnesses of the body. With this last treatment, I’ve been able to conclude that this is not an ailment of the body. This ailment rests in Mandubratius’ mind, and I’m not skilled in treating illnesses of this kind. However, there is a Lamia physician who can.”

“Who?” Amata asked after rising from her place next to Mandubratius.

“I don’t know his real name,” Iason admitted. “We just called him Kosmos. He was a student of Hippocrates.”

“Then bring him here,” Amata ordered.

Patroclus tried to remember whether he knew this Kosmos, and then he recalled that his intelligence network had informed him that Mandubratius and Amata associated in private with many of the aged, Greek Lamia who remained in hiding, from others of their line, in Rome.

“Very well, I will seek him out. However, he’s not in Rome, so it may take a few nights,” Iason admitted with a slight shrug.

“Just find him,” Patroclus demanded. “More than your reputation is at stake.” He stared at the physician and watched fear register in the other Lamia’s eyes.

The elder Lamia left, scurrying out of the room.

Amata sighed, sat down next to Mandubratius, and began stroking his dark hair.

Mandubratius continued spewing madness-addled sentences, but Patroclus soon realized there might be some meaning to the co-consul’s gibberish.

“Beast with a banshee scream pummels the young man and takes his breath and the very beating of his heart,” Mandubratius continued.

“Poor Awvarwy,” cooed Amata, breaking the legate’s concentration. Patroclus felt some shock at hearing the old name.

Amata smiled at Patroclus as she took one of Mandubratius’ hands.

“So much of what he says seems meaningless,” Patroclus considered aloud for Amata’s benefit as he wrestled with the notion that Mandubratius might be trying to communicate with them. “Yet, I wonder…”

He stepped over to Amata and stared down at Mandubratius’ half-opened eyes. “Sometimes what he says seems truly random, and at other times, it seems to be true communication,” he commented.

Amata looked up at Patroclus. Her blue eyes seemed to turn violet. “Do you think we will be able to cure him?” she asked.

“Yes, we will,” he lied in hopes of soothing Amata’s nerves. Patroclus secretly feared that they would be trapped with Mandubratius in this condition forever, unless they made the decision to kill Mandubratius and end his suffering.

Triscelle Publishing Unkindness of Ravens

He felt a little disoriented. At first, he could discern no sights, smells, or sounds. Then he began to hear harp music and smell wood smoke, cooking meets, and mead. The harp music swelled, and Awvarwy opened his eyes. He stood in a simple, yet clean hall. As the odor of wood smoke indicated, a fire roared in the hearth.

The light from the hearth and from the oil lamps that hung around this simple hall revealed to Awvarwy that he stood within his home. Familiar faces turned toward Awvarwy. He struggled to remember their names, but soon uplifting music drew him away from those faces.

He nearly choked in emotion as he witnessed the fingers of his wife, Anna, glide over the strings of her harp. He lifted his arm and found a cup of mead in his hand. This seemed so very familiar and yet so different. He always held feasts at his home. This must be a feast from his past, but when…

His guests sipped at their drinks as the song came to an end.

Anna stopped playing, and everyone began to clap. Awvarwy joined in their applause and smiled at Anna as she approached his chair.

Her returned smile curved up into a mischievous grin as she strolled over to him with her harp in hand. He pulled her in close and kissed her, though the embrace was awkward, as she still held her harp. Awvarwy felt relief when a servant took her harp, and free of her burden, Anna hugged Awvarwy with both arms. Soon, he felt her hands stray from his back, and he released her from his embrace.

“My song, was it pleasing?” she whispered. Her eyes exuded doubt and unease, as if she doubted the quality of her music.

“Your music is always so moving,” he admitted. In Awvarwy’s recollection, no other harpist played with as much skill and emotion as his wife.

Anna smiled again and said, “I remembered you had much fondness for this song, Awvarwy.” She leaned in and kissed him on his left cheek, but soon she left his company, as their guests surrounded her, offering her praises for her music. As Awvarwy watched her take a cup of mead from another servant, a shadow fell across his face, and Awvarwy turned to look upon the source of that shadow.

A man stood before him, and Awvarwy recognized him as being his old friend, Gaelen. Gaelen walked up to Awvarwy, patted his shoulder, and said, “I truly appreciate this hospitality, my friend, but I fear the hour is late. I must retire. Tomorrow, I return to the fish.”

Awvarwy’s senses felt strong again. He must have fallen asleep during Anna’s song. He shrugged his confusion aside and embraced Gaelen, hoping he did not seem out of sorts. “I’m always happy to share what is mine with my neighbors,” Awvarwy answered.

Gaelen returned the hug before releasing him. “Have you seen Gwynfor?” he asked. Awvarwy recalled that Gwynfor was Gaelen’s son.

“I watched Gwynfor and Mabon join the other children earlier in a hurling match,” Anna interjected after finishing her drink. “I’ll go find your son and ours.” Mabon… Mabon was his son’s name. Awvarwy’s heart felt heavy as he contemplated seeing his son again.

Awvarwy watched his wife leave their home, trying not to ignore the gracious well wishes of his guests. Anna’s words outside to the lands distracted him. She soon returned, looking worried.

“I can’t find either of them.” Anna rubbed her hands together, as a cold wind chilled the air outside.

“They are probably just playing,” he said. “We shall look for them. Gaelen can go east, you can go west, and I’ll go the south into the forest. We’ll find them.” He took Anna’s hands and smiled. For some reason, he felt a strange contentment as he held his wife’s hands. “Come, the boys couldn’t have gone far.”

Gaelen passed out torches to the remaining members of the family and servants.

“When you find them, ring the bell once in the middle of the village as a signal to let the others know to return,” he instructed everyone.

Awvarwy watched the search party leave before departing his home. He began to meander through the forest. “Gwynfor? Mabon!” he called, hearing the boys’ names echo through the rest of the village.

He wandered down the hunting path, grateful for the light of the torch and a clear trail. After walking about a hundred paces, a light mist grew and began obscure the path into the forest.

“By the gods,” Awvarwy swore, as his toe found a solid rock or root. He lowered himself to the ground first to massage his injured toe, but while on the ground, he decided to attempt to find the boys’ tracks in the dirt, assuming they had come this way. Then a strange sensation gripped him, and he looked up at the forest crown. The trees and plants seemed different, somehow.

A bright light grew in the east, and he wondered how the sun could be rising now, since it had recently set, or so he thought. Could he have walked all night?

Awvarwy turned in the opposite direction on the path in order to return home, hoping that the others had found the boys by now, though he had not heard the signal bell. As he walked, the mist began to fade, and his path grew clear.

The strange passage of time worried him. Soon the sun climbed to its zenith, and it had not been long since dawn had kissed the night. After he reached home Awvarwy would speak to Meilyr, the druid, about this strange occurrence.

Awvarwy continued walking to the north when he realized that he approached a grove. He stopped at the edge and wondered how long it had been since the druids had last tended it, for vines, unchecked by sickles, spread throughout the trunks and branches, choking them. The ground lay littered with detritus.

He began walking the circumference of the grove, speculating on the diseased trees surrounding the stone altar in the center.

He approached the center altar and felt unease wash over him as he smelled death.

Awvarwy exhaled, trying to find clean air, and wondered why he felt this strange foreboding. Death was a part of life.

He continued walking without purpose, staring at the decay around him, when the firm ground became soft, creating a sucking noise whenever Awvarwy planted or lifted a foot. He looked at his feet and realized that he stood in a muddy puddle of blood. He followed the blood pool with his eyes and noticed that it came from the top of the center altar stone.

He walked toward the altar, taking care not to lose his footing on this blood-soaked ground. When Awvarwy arrived at the altar, he noticed that the top stone still held a large pool of vitae, which continued to pour in streams to the ground.

No small animal sacrifice could have produced so much vitae. Awvarwy shuddered in horror as he realized that this blood came not from an animal.

He backed away, fearful that whoever committed this act watched him even now. Awvarwy noticed light glinting off a metallic object in the grass. Curiosity overcame his concerns that malicious eyes watched him, and he began walking towards the glimmering metal.

A silvered blade reflected sunlight back to him. He approached the glowing radiance and found the blade, somewhat obscured by the grass. He knelt onto the ground, picked up the knife, and began to study it.

“You’re no druid’s scythe or boline,” Awvarwy spoke aloud.

A noise in the distance startled him, and Awvarwy looked up from his crouch, parting the grass so he could spot the source of the noise.

He then spied a large, green-eyed black cat staring at him from the edge of the grove.

The cat crouched towards the earth, flicking its tail back and forth, and it gazed at Awvarwy, its eyes ever steady.

The cat began to slink towards him, allowing its belly to remain close to the ground. While the grass obscured its approach, the cat’s tail remained elevated above the tall blades.

After a few seconds passed, the cat stopped five feet away from Awvarwy and began sniffing the ground.

Awvarwy’s curiosity grew as the cat continued examining the ground with great intensity. Now, with the cat so close, Awvarwy had greater opportunity to study it.

With the exception of a few small white hairs, the cat’s gleaming black coat reminded Awvarwy of a moonless midnight. It seemed much larger than most of the cats that lived in the village, and despite its size, it appeared fit and muscular.

The cat raised his head and began to approach him again. It held something in its mouth. It stopped a few inches away from Awvarwy before dropping something shiny at his feet. The cat stared up at Awvarwy as if it were a hunting dog presenting him with a trophy.

Awvarwy leaned forward from his crouch to examine what the cat had dropped. Awvarwy picked up a bracelet and began to examine it. Then, he noticed several drops of blood glistened from its shiny surface. He remembered how much his mother loved this bracelet.

Awareness hit him. He held his mother’s bracelet!

As he stood up in haste, he dropped the jewelry from his nervous fingers. Awvarwy realized that he remembered this place now. He had seen something here, somewhere in his past, and he wanted to forget every shred of this memory.

He just wanted to be at home, absent this recollection. His fear grew as bits and pieces of this fearful memory fused together against his will.

“You must acknowledge what happened, Awvarwy,” said a voice in his head. “Scream, and you’ll feel better.”

Awvarwy screamed with his eyes opened wide. All he could see now was Amata’s worried face as she stared down at him. The grove, the cat, and the bracelet disappeared. Now it was nothing more than a distant dream.

Triscelle Publishing Unkindness of Ravens

“Can you hear me, Awvarwy?”

Mandubratius’ screaming ceased, but his eyes remained focused on hers.

He began to blink, but then he stared up at Amata again. His madness seemed to have abated, if not purged.

“Amata,” he whispered, “where am I?”

“We’re at the temple in Rome,” she informed him. She hoped he would understand that much at least.

“Strange,” he said. His voice grew in strength. “A moment ago, I was elsewhere.”

“Awvarwy,” she said, “you’ve been here, in a delusional state, for over a year.”

“But I was in Briton,” he countered. “I was at home with my first wife and our children, the neighbors came by for a feast, and my wife regaled them with her enchanting harp playing.”

Amata leaned in and stroked his hair again. “That was a dream. It wasn’t real.” She worried that he would slip back into his delusional state.

Mandubratius reached up and touched the left side of her face. “But I was there!” His tone grew frantic.

Amata bit her lower lip. “Calm yourself, Awvarwy. I am telling you, you’ve been here all this time.”

Mandubratius lowered his hand, but continued to stare at her, confusion and disbelief evident on his face. “How can that be?” His eyes moved away from her, towards his feet. “Why am I in bed?”

“Because you were… unwell,” Amata informed him. He seemed more coherent than he had been since madness engulfed him.

“What ailment could have kept me abed for over a year?” he asked, though he seemed more composed than a moment ago.

“I told you that you were delusional. You were experiencing fits of madness,” Amata repeated.

Mandubratius stared up at her again. “You really do have beautiful eyes.”

She realized then that he still might be a bit crazed, but at least he could speak with her now. She felt her eyes begin to tear. “Oh, Awvarwy.” Amata rubbed her forehead.

“Awvarwy?” Mandubratius continued to stare at her. “You don’t usually call me by my given name.” He began to push himself up into a sitting position.

She scooted in closer and helped him sit upright. He shook his head a little.

“So, I’ve been delusional for a year. How… what happened to me, Amata?”

She felt her concern grow. “How could you not remember?” she asked. Her words turned sharp.

“Please don’t get angry with me,” Mandubratius exclaimed before resting his elbows against his raised knees.

“I’m not angry,” Amata cooed in what she hoped was a calming voice. She took a deep breath before continuing. “I’m just worried.” She closed her eyes for a moment and then opened them. “Perhaps it’s best that you don’t remember what transpired.” She rested her hands on his shoulders.

Mandubratius shrugged away her grip on him.

“I want to remember what happened. Why would I not want to remember?” His eyes began to turn red.

Amata rose from her seat and grabbed a chair, moving it closer to Mandubratius’ bed. She sat down and stared at him for a moment. He continued staring at her, his demand present in his glare.

“Because, Awvarwy, I’m afraid what happened to you before will happen again, if you remember.”

His expression turned from a fierce command to pained confusion. His hands moved to his knees, and his emotional state seemed to change from confusion to self-doubt and fear. He looked away from Amata and began staring at the far wall. She knew he needed some reassurance now, so leaned in and placed a hand on his.

“Awvarwy, look at me,” she said.

His eyes remained locked on the opposite end of room. He said nothing.

“Mandubratius, look at me,” she ordered, in the same tone and manner that Felician used for speaking to Mandubratius. She forced herself into her oldest friend’s head and visualized their sponsor.

Amata felt her mouth open in shock as Mandubratius pushed aside his blankets, rolled his legs off the bed, and stood up at attention.

“Yes, sponsor,” Mandubratius acknowledged in the clipped tone of a military subordinate.

She had doubted her manipulation skills, and yet he responded.

“Very good,” she said, continuing the manipulation. “A special physician will arrive soon to treat your medical condition.”

Mandubratius nodded.

“Until he arrives, I want you to sleep. Get back in bed, and either Patroclus or I will awake you when it is time to rise.”

“I shall obey.” Mandubratius sat down and reclined in the bed.

Amata restrained herself from assisting him. After all, Felician would never do such a thing for Mandubratius.

She glanced at her co-consul, looking on as his eyes fluttered and then shut.

She exhaled and felt relief that her manipulation had succeeded. Amata pulled open the door. Perhaps Patroclus had news about this Kosmos.

Triscelle Publishing Unkindness of Ravens

Patroclus sat at his desk in the office within the catacombs, hating his administrative duties. Someone had to administer the Lamia, and Amata always said that his talents allowed him to complete his duties quickly and without the mistakes that others made. Amata had no head for paperwork, and so these tasks fell to him.

He still managed to hear the whispers from others who showed a growing desire to take over the governance of the Lamia. Patroclus wondered whether a usurper would enjoy all the work that came with governance.

Their complaints were not surprising. After all, they had not seen Mandubratius in well over a year.

Patroclus closed his eyes, contemplating the games that needed to be played. He then opened his eyes and noticed Amata staring at him from the chair on the opposite side of his desk.

“Where have you been?” he demanded.

“You know very well where I’ve been,” she snapped at him. Amata lowered her eyes and began to redden, even though he doubted that she had fed in last few hours.

“Please forgive my rudeness,” she said.

He felt his own flash of guilt for his earlier annoyance with her.

“Have you heard from Iason or Kosmos?” Amata asked.

“No,” he answered. “Iason left immediately, so I hope he will arrive soon.”

Amata nodded her head. Her dark hair became a veil, covering her eyes for a moment.

“I’m not sure how much longer the Senate will accept our excuses regarding your co-consul,” Patroclus stated.

Amata’s eyes locked on his. “What do you mean? Has something happened?” she queried, as her voice rose in volume.

Sometimes he worried she might turn as crazed as Mandubratius.

“I’m not sure, but if someone listens…” he whispered, before motioning for Amata to lean in closer.

After Amata moved towards him, Patroclus continued whispering. “There is a rumor that the senators wish to select new consuls.”

Amata frowned. “Are you shirking your duties, Legate?”

“No!” he shouted. “You are not doing your job! I’m doing your job and the Briton’s job as well! I’m not a consul and I never wished to become one. My authority is not recognized, you realize. You must show your face at the Senate, instead of playing nurse.”

Amata lowered her eyes again.

“That may be possible now,” she said. “I was going to tell you sooner, but Mandubratius is awake and coherent, at least he was awake until I coaxed him into slumber.”

Patroclus felt his spirits rise. “He is! Why didn’t you say this first?”

Amata raised her eyes to his, and he felt a little fear as he witnessed her annoyed glare.

“Because you wouldn’t let me have my say,” she spat.

Patroclus closed his mouth, calmed himself, and continued. “Well, now you can have your say. How is he? Do we still need this special physician?”

Amata leaned back and crossed her arms over her chest. “He spoke, but I think he’s still somewhat affected by his madness.”

He felt compelled to ask how she knew this.

“He doesn’t remember what happened,” she added.

“What does he not remember?” Patroclus asked, afraid of the possible answer.

She glared at him, annoyance present in her features.

“How could he know what he doesn’t remember, Patroclus? I’m not going to ask!” she growled.

He felt confused.

“If he remembers what happened, he could be lost to us again. Even worse, if he does remember, he might insist on returning to Eire and finding the real Phallus Maximus. You know as well as I do that our army is decimated!”

Patroclus nodded. “I agree. It seems that the best option is to keep Mandubratius sedated until Kosmos arrives. I will stay with him so you can speak with the Senate if needed.”

Amata smiled. “You know, you are the only one I would trust with Awvarwy’s care.”

He wondered whether she should trust him at all, with Mandubratius alone and unprotected.

“The honor is to serve.” He met her stare, wondering whether she knew of his desire to do away with the co-consul.

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Mandubratius exhaled, reveling in his relaxation. He thought once no Baths could compare with those in Rome. However, Byzantium proved better than he believed it could be.

Julian would win this battle against the Persians. This victory would elevate the emperor’s power and influence.

Mandubratius closed his eyes. If he desired it, the slaves would bring wine, prostitutes, and even blood. The last few years had been most pleasurable. Mandubratius had shaped and formed Julian like clay between his fingers. Part of him wished he had travelled to Persia with the emperor’s army. If only Felician could witness this triumph, yet his foolish sponsor remained in Rome.

“Are you quite enjoying yourself, Mandubratius, or are you using that loathsome name your barbaric parents gave you when you arrived in this world?”

Mandubratius shivered and hoped Felician had not witnessed that. He opened his eyes and watched the other Lamia slide into the bath, opposite of him.

“Oh, this is quite wonderful,” his sponsor purred.

“This is indeed a surprise. I didn’t expect you here, Sponsor.” Mandubratius did his best to bury his surprise. Felician would exploit any hint of weakness.

Felician stretched in the water. “I didn’t think that you liked hot water. I seem to remember your preference for ice-covered streams.”

Mandubratius waited. Felician still had not made eye contact with him. His sponsor leaned back against the wall of the bath.

Mandubratius concentrated his senses on the others within the building. He perceived nothing but mortals, now.

“For some reason, I doubt you were expecting me. I think this is your attempt to hide your surprise. If you were expecting me, you would not be alone and naked in a bath house, would you?” Felician asked.

Mandubratius attempted to steady himself. “You make it sound as if I should fear you.”

“Fear me?” Felician asked.

Mandubratius wondered whether he should risk asking his sponsor what was on his mind.

Why is he here? Mandubratius asked himself deep in the recesses of his mind, fearful Felician could eavesdrop on his more protected thoughts.

“Have I done anything that would compel you to travel to Byzantium?” Mandubratius cringed inside, afraid that his sponsor would strike him, but instead, Felician smiled.

“Awvarwy, Awvarwy, Awvarwy, Gods below, I hate that name. It’s so clumsy and foreign. Awvarwy, when I first found you, I wanted to drain you dry, despite the fact that there was so little vitae left in you. I simply did not feel that any Briton could rise to prominence in the Lamia, but Amata wanted a toy, and I owed her…”

He wondered how Felician could be indebted to Amata.

“… so I sponsored you and trained you. I spend centuries training you, and then you reward my charity with betrayal.”

Mandubratius noticed his sponsor’s cold blue eyes begin to turn red. He felt like arguing with Felician, but Mandubratius knew it would be best to remain silent. Felician had beaten that fact into him many times over the years.

Felician did not blink. Mandubratius’ dread grew as he considered the possible reasons why his sponsor came here.

“There was a time when you did not know when to hold your tongue, and I would have to strike you for such behavior. So, Mandubratius, I shall give you leave to speak. I am certain you would like to explain yourself.”

Mandubratius steadied himself again. “For what reasons do I need to explain myself?” he queried while attempting to remain calm.

Felician smashed his fist against the water, splashing them both. “You betrayed me!” his sponsor growled. Felician’s eyes turned completely red. After a moment of intense agitation, the elder Lamia regained his composure. Mandubratius felt a strange satisfaction knowing he had cracked his sponsor’s calm facade.

“You sided against me. You helped that mortal… Julian rise to power when you knew that I wanted a theocratic empire under the rule of the pope, who I control. Everything was perfect! Our wealth, power, and influence grew by leaps and bounds! Since I brought that damnable Jewish cult to Rome, the masses remained under our domination!”

Mandubratius tried not to roll his eyes. That cult had arrived in Rome on its own, but he had to admit that Felician has had a strong influence in its dogma and its corruption.

“But you had to get that… puppy to bound into power, and you convinced it to become an apostate, of all things, and reject the faith! What were you thinking, Awvarwy?”

Mandubratius remained silent as he stared at the water. He heard Felician grumble under his breath.

“Permission to speak!” Mandubratius requested in a clipped, precise tone. Felician waved his hand in an impatient manner.

“Was I not doing what you taught me to do, to stand on my feet and gain power and influence, Sponsor? Is this not the way of the Lamia?” he asked Felician.

His sponsor leaned forward. “The way of the Lamia is to follow your Consul, who is me. You went against me, Awvarwy!”

After a moment of rage, Felician returned to his calm demeanor and closed his eyes. “Well, Mandubratius, despite your digressions against me… I forgive you.” Felician opened his eyes, stared at Mandubratius, and smiled.

Mandubratius sucked in a breath as the realization that Emperor Julian was dead dawned on him.

“Yes, Julian is dead,” Felician stated, as he continued to smile. “He was killed by one of his own soldiers who believed this to be a death ordained by God, although some will believe the Persians killed him.”

Mandubratius wondered for a moment whether Felician planned to kill him next.

“Awvarwy, I have spent so much time training you, so I will not toss you aside for such a small inconvenience. It is just one, miniscule emperor, after all. You show much promise, but I fear that you have demonstrated that you will never amount to anything. You will never accomplish more than I have. You are a failure, and I must accept some blame for that. However, your ineptitude as a Lamia could be because you are a Briton.”

Felician paused and leaned closer to Mandubratius’ face, staring into his eyes. “My only regret is that I should have killed you that fateful night on the beach in Eire. Your bath is over. It is time to return to Rome. There is nothing left for you here now.”

Felician climbed out of the bath and, with his back turned to Mandubratius, began to pat himself dry. Mandubratius felt relief that Felician was unable to see the tear in his eye.

Triscelle Publishing Unkindness of Ravens

Patroclus continued walking through the tunnels of the hidden, underground levels of the temple, contemplating what could be done should Mandubratius insist on returning to Eire. He always followed the orders of the co-consuls since the night of the great schism between the younger Lamia and the others who had supported Felician.

He stopped and peered at the purple-clad guards standing in front of Mandubratius’ chamber. They resembled the praetorians from centuries ago. Both guards saluted him, and he returned the gesture.

“Has anyone tried to come up since Amata left?” Patroclus asked.

The guard to his left shook his head. “No, legate.”

“Very well. Have a servant bring a pouch of blood. I’ll be inside.”

“Yes sir.” The other guard opened the door. As soon as Patroclus walked through the entrance, the guards shut the door behind him.

A few oil lamps and candles lit the interior of the large chamber. Mandubratius still slept. A sudden impulse compelled Patroclus to wake Mandubratius to see whether the co-consul would wake and be lucid. However, the desire faded away as he stared down at the sleeping Briton.

No one wanted to return to Eire. They all knew it would tear the Lamia apart again.

To save the Lamia, Mandubratius would have to die. Patroclus would assume the duty of executioner if it were necessary for the good of the Lamia.

Triscelle Publishing Unkindness of Ravens

The bathhouse and bath faded into mist, as did his sponsor. Mandubratius inhaled the scents of trees, berries, and fresh dirt. He stood in yet another grove, though this one hummed with magic and promise. Mandubratius took a few steps toward the east before hearing sounds of combat. Men and women screamed in battle, and he craved to run towards the fight.

“Going somewhere?”

Mandubratius turned around, looking for the familiar voice, but he could see no one who demanded words with him. Then a midnight hued movement caught his eyes, and Mandubratius discovered the same black cat from his earlier vision.

“You again.” He smirked at the cat. “What are you doing here, wherever here is?” Mandubratius asked as he knelt on one knee to get a better look at the cat.

As the black cat’s eyes narrowed, their brilliant, yellowed-green tinge grew deeper. “Do you not remember this place?” asked the cat, though as before, its mouth did not move.

Mandubratius rotated his head further to examine his current whereabouts. A rich carpet of green grass extended through the grove. A wet mist infused the air, and he felt the sensation of enchantment grow within himself. Soon, a remembrance swelled within his brain. “I’m in Eire, aren’t I?”

“Yes,” the cat purred, “but where and when?”

The noise of battle commands echoed through the grove and began to increase.

“This is Bonniconlon during our battle with the Celtic lines,” he answered. Mandubratius stretched his right hand to the cat. The feline stuck out his nose for a sniff before rubbing himself against his right hand.

“Very good,” the cat murmured. The animal tensed before leaping onto Mandubratius’ shoulder. The cat wrapped itself around his neck, continuing to purr.

“My feet hurt,” the cat whined as it leaned towards Mandubratius ear. “You may carry me.”

“Very well,” Mandubratius acknowledged before rising to his feet, wondering why he obeyed the cat. He noticed his clothing and realized he did not wear armor or weapons.

“Where’s my fighting kit?” he asked out loud, unsure whether he asked the cat or himself.

“You are not here to join the battle,” the cat informed him. “You are just in Eire to bear witness to what happened. You do remember this night, do you not?”

“We collected our treasure,” Mandubratius answered, though he felt a hard frown line his face. “However, it was little more than a fake.”

“Mmmmm,” the cat murmured, as if in thought. “Do you want to locate the real one?”

“Yes.”

The cat nuzzled his ear for a moment. “You remember nothing else?” it asked.

“What else is there to remember?” Mandubratius queried his guide in this dream. “We left.”

“Did you now? Did you leave in victory or defeat?”

“We found our prize, so we were victorious,” he answered, feeling much confusion.

“Clearly your recollection is flawed. However, you will soon be reacquainted with this recent history.”

Mandubratius could sense the battle move closer to their location. He feared that they might be surrounded by the enemy.

“Do not worry, they cannot see you,” the cat informed him, as if hearing his concerns.

Just then, a warrior passed through Mandubratius as if he were an apparition. Then a loud scream resonated through the land. Mandubratius jumped at the sound and felt great fear. All of the warriors stopped their combat and stared in awe at a blood-drenched figure.

“You remember that sound now, do you not?” The cat grew silent for a moment. “That sound is one of your greatest fears.”

Mandubratius stared at the ground. “That is Maél Muire.” He heard a response to the challenge in the distance.

“Yes, that is Maél Muire, but she’s not alone in that body,” the cat chortled, as if the very sight of this carnage seemed to amuse it. Its tail rubbed Mandubratius’ right ear.

“What do you mean?” He craned his neck to look at the cat.

“Shhhh,” the cat whispered in a soothing tone. “You should watch this grand skirmish.”

Mandubratius watched his other self dash towards Maél Muire, wielding a sword. The young Deargh Du seemed to draw forth strength to herself before landing a single blow to the middle of his duplicate’s chest. Mandubratius witnessed his duplicate form fly through the air. His own breath caught in his throat as he recalled the pain of Maél Muire’s attack. Then Amata joined his other self and ordered six of their men to carry him off the field.

The cat stood from his perch and kneaded Mandubratius’ shoulder for a moment before stretching.

“Now do you understand?” the cat asked.

The remaining shock of seeing Maél Muire pummel his past self made Mandubratius wobble a little. A sudden burst of pain progressed across his left cheek, and Mandubratius realized the cat had scratched him.

“What was that for?” he demanded while glaring at the cat.

“You were not paying attention to me,” the cat complained with a sigh in its voice.

“Well, you have my full attention now,” Mandubratius shouted at the feline.

“Do you not see, you foolish Lamia? This is what awaits you if you return to Eire to find your prize!” The cat’s voice grew and became a near-growl in his brain.

Mandubratius looked around the grove and the surrounding fields. Stacks and piles of the headless corpses of Lamia and Celtic blood-drinkers lay strewn through the field.

Clarity grew within. The pursuit of the treasure seemed pointless. Why had he wasted so much time on this goal? He could have spent those years furthering Felician’s church plans. Why didn’t the Lamia just kill him for this insane idea of his? Felician abandoned the hunt for the relic so long ago. Why did he continue with it?

Mandubratius knew he could never return to Eire.

“You have learned, and now you understand,” whispered the cat.

The battlefield grew silent, and the bodies of the dead warriors faded away with a strange, rolling mist.

“Yes, I understand,” Mandubratius acknowledged before raising his hand to rub the cat’s chin. The cat purred and began rubbing its nose against his neck.

“My work is done, then. You have an empire to rebuild.” The feline stood up again, crouched, and leapt to the grass. The warm spot on his shoulders soon grew cold.

The cat walked in a half-circle around Mandubratius before sitting down and staring up at him.

Mandubratius knelt again. “So, Lord of Cats, do you have a name?”

The cat smiled at him with a most human grin. “I do have a name, Awvarwy, but I am not telling you it. When you wake, you will not remember me at all, but you will remember the lessons from this realm.”

“I won’t remember you?” he asked the cat.

“That is correct. You will not remember me at all, but we will meet again, and I will tell you my name then. Now, it is time for you to wake up.”

Triscelle Publishing Unkindness of Ravens

Patroclus continued staring down at Mandubratius. If invading Eire again was the co-consul’s goal, then he would kill the co-consul. Now, should he go about doing him in?

Mandubratius’ eyes fluttered open, and his gaze focused on Patroclus. Clarity gleamed in those clear eyes.

“Patroclus,” Mandubratius called to him with a genuine smile upon his face. “It’s so good to see you.”

The legate tried to push away his guilt at the notion of killing Mandubratius, lest the elder Lamia sense it. “How is it that you are well?” he asked the co-consul.

“I don’t have an answer for that now,” Mandubratius replied. His eyes reflected a growing suspicion, yet it remained veiled behind his unusual joviality. “You were thinking about killing me, were you not?”

Patroclus bit his tongue and inhaled. “Only if it were necessary for the Lamia, co-consul,” he admitted.

Mandubratius sat up, and Patroclus backed a step away.

The co-consul continued smiling. Patroclus poured over Mandubratius’ condition. Was he cured? Was he still mad? What would he do? Perhaps these thoughts would be Patroclus’ last.

“I revise my statement,” Mandubratius began. “You had decided to kill me. I could tell by your reaction when I awoke.”

Patroclus nodded his head, wanting to avoid giving voice to the truth.

“And why did you take no action based on this decision, legate?” Mandubratius queried as he studied him. “I am still alive.” He stood up. “At least, I believe I am alive.”

Patroclus nodded and found words. “You are still alive because you have not yet given cause for me to kill you, co-consul.”

“Yet? You anticipate I will give you cause?” Mandubratius examined his fingernails as he spoke.

“Perhaps,” Patroclus replied. “Amata and I both believe you will soon give us cause to execute you.”

Mandubratius’ smile grew again. “Oh, Patroclus.” He shook his head, turned, and walked over to Amata’s chair before sitting down. “What heinous decision do you and the lovely Amata feel I will make that would give you justification to do away with me?”

This man before him seemed very much like the Mandubratius of the past. Patroclus held his breath and then calmed his nerves with an exhale. “Amata and I both fear you would want us to return to Eire to take the prize from the Deargh Du.”

Mandubratius raised his brows.

Patroclus believed this meant Mandubratius wanted to give him time to explain himself. Part of living and working with Mandubratius in the past involved interpreting the multitude of facial expressions from the Briton. Patroclus believed few others knew the true meanings behind the co-consul’s facial expressions.

“The army was devastated after the defeat,” he said to Mandubratius. Patroclus began to pace as he continued speaking. “We felt if you announced to the Senate that we were to return to Hibernia, civil war would break out.”

The legate stopped and looked at Mandubratius, gauging him for his reaction. The co-consul sucked on his upper lip and rubbed his bearded chin. Patroclus held back his desire to say that the campaign had been an utter failure.

“I think this business with the Phallus Maximus should have been left alone.” Mandubratius frowned for a moment. “It was folly, sheer folly. Felician warned me about going after the prize. That bastard was right.”

A wave of relief washed over Patroclus. His co-consul had regained his senses.

“I will not repeat that error, Patroclus. Returning to Eire to find the Phallus Maximus would be insanity.”

“You have been insane for over a year,” Patroclus blurted out.

Mandubratius grew silent. “Has it really been a year?” he muttered, before rubbing his chin again. “Yes, I remember not having a beard then.”

“We have trimmed it, from time to time,” Patroclus explained.

Mandubratius extended his left hand. “There’s a bronze mirror on my desk, Patroclus. Could you please hand it to me?”

Patroclus turned to his left and then found the mirror. He handed it to the co-consul.

Mandubratius stared at himself for a moment. “I like it,” he said as he set down the mirror. “Where’s Amata? I’m sure she’d be delighted to hear that I have new goals for our line.”

“She’s in the Senate chambers now, trying to convince the Senate not to elect new leadership.”

Mandubratius rose from the chair. “Well, perhaps I’m needed in Senate chambers, then. Guard!”

The praetorian opened the door, and, as he leaned in, his jaw dropped.

“Have the servants bring my clothing for me,” ordered the co-consul. “Please let the Senate know… never mind. I will surprise them.”

The guard saluted him, shouted, “Ave co-consul,” and left the room.

Mandubratius turned away from the door and examined the legate with a critical eye. “Patroclus, Patroclus. You just admitted that you and Amata were conspiring to kill me.”

A chill ran up and down Patroclus’ spine. The merriment had left Mandubratius’ eyes.

“However, I think your decision was not made for selfish reasons. You and Amata both believed that if I made the decision to return to Eire, the Lamia would have suffered. Therefore, I won’t punish you or her, though I can say that I’m within my rights to have you executed.”

Patroclus closed his mouth and nodded his head.

“Good.” Mandubratius turned away. “Well, you best dress for the Senate. You’ll be accompanying me.”

Patroclus found his voice again. “Thank you for sparing me, Mandubratius.”

“Now, if you don’t stop dawdling, you won’t be ready, and then I will execute you myself.” A good-humored light grew in the co-consul’s green eyes.

“Yes, co-consul, I’m going.”

As Patroclus left the room, he realized his face bore a mirthful grin. Mandubratius appeared to be fully recovered.

Triscelle Publishing Unkindness of Ravens

Amata bit her lower lip in exasperation. Who wouldn’t find a modicum of frustration with the male senators, who all spoke in hushed voices during her discourse?  They would soon start squabbling for rights to leadership, once she finished speaking. The few female senators in the chamber remained quiet and stoic. They were new additions to the Lamia government, though few of the men would listen to their suggestions or ideas.

Why would she worry about leadership when she might have to run for her life tonight? Patroclus would assist her in fleeing with Mandubratius.

She stopped speaking and then sat down. Glabius, one of the male senators, rose to his feet, about to issue a motion. As soon as his mouth opened, a clear voice bellowed from the other side of the senate chamber.

“I demand the floor!”

Amata turned and watched Mandubratius walk towards her. Patroclus marched behind him. They were both dressed in their best and wore weapons.

She inhaled, wondering what he would say to the rest of the Lamia gathered.

“My friends, I understand that some of you believe I am not fit to share leadership with our co-consul, Amata.”

Grumblings rumbled through the marbled hall.

“I am here to cast these doubts aside. I am here. I’m completely well, and I wish to present a new plan for our future.”

Mandubratius walked towards his chair and sat down next to her. Amata experienced a moment of doubt and anxiety, fearful that he would start speaking about Hibernia again.

Mandubratius smiled at her for a moment, revealing the confident smile she remembered.

“My friends, the Phallus Maximus is long gone. It would be madness to attempt to find it, and I am not mad. Instead, we are going to rededicate ourselves to expanding the Christian Church established here. Our church will influence all in the region, and our wealth will expand once again.”

A cautious burst of applause erupted in the senate chambers.

Amata closed her eyes as her apprehension faded. The senators began to ask questions about the renewed plans for dominating the Christian church, and Mandubratius rewarded them with poise and confidence.

Triscelle Publishing Unkindness of Ravens

Amata pulled Mandubratius aside as the senators finished filing out of the room. She had a feeling that their powers would diminish again with his renewed influence.

“I understand that you took care of me during my convalescence,” he said.

“It was my duty and my pleasure,” she said, unsure whether this was a wonderful dream.

Mandubratius’ eyes turned downcast, and his face grew serious. He took her hands. “It must have been very difficult for you to be there during my illness,” he whispered.

“Patroclus was most helpful.”

He nodded. “I know. We should consider promoting him.”

Amata uttered a snort. “He hates high positions of leadership. We should give him something else instead.” She stared deeply into Mandubratius’ green eyes. “After all of the doctors’ failures, how is it that you have recovered?”

“A miracle,” he answered. His eyes revealed playfulness again. “No, it was…” He seemed to search for words. “I had a curious dream, and Felician was there. He said something while we were in Constantinople.”

“What did he say in this dream?” she demanded.

Mandubratius’ eyes turned inward, before refocusing on her. “Felician said I would never amount to anything, and he said that I would never accomplish more than he had achieved.”

She nodded. Felician never saw the genius or determination in Mandubratius, not even his charms.

“I can understand how that might motivate you. The scale is tipped heavily in his favor,” she said.

He began walking with her again through the marbled halls and out into the incense-filled corridors. Rome awaited them.

“I can still add weight to my side,” Mandubratius boasted as he smiled once again. “He cannot.”

She wrapped her arm around him. “You know I will support you in tipping the scale.”

“I am certain that I can do little without you, Amata.”

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Continue the Journey with the short story,

 

Morrigan’s Brood:

Reckoning

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