A Practical Guide to Monsters #1

In Sight of Ravens (2)

The outlaw awoke, heard the twitter of birds in the air, felt the breeze on his face, and saw the old the Sheriff’s guard lying next to him, dead, on the forest floor.

Robyn of Locksley grunted to his feet, his movements brought back the pain and memories of the night before.

This was the first of them to seek him out—part of him hoped it wasn’t the last. There was a new price on his head; one of two hundred pounds and fourscore golden angels.

This mercenary had ambushed him in the night. Robyn Hode had thought it a different sort of night-terror. It took him too long to realize this foe was an ordinary man.

It was only the far-off cry of “Sir Richard!” That had drawn the mercenary’s attention. Robyn Hode steeled himself toward his cause and shot an arrow through the man’s heart before he could turn back to him.

Presently, Robyn buckled his swordbelt, threw his bow over his shoulder and set off.

The highroads crawled up steep hills and then dipped over crests that were sharp-cut with hedgerow and shaggy grass. Soon, a company of his yeoman had come upon the outlaw. “What news?” Robyn called.

“Little John has gone to Sherwood in search of someone to pay our fare. It’s said the Bishop of Hereford rides coming through Sherwood this day!” said Will Stutely, approaching Robyn. “It has been decided that we go west to find another, that way may increase our earnings.”

Robyn’s smile came easily, but did not touch his eyes. “Give Little John my thanks!” Robyn shouted back. “Let us away!” And he gestured for his yeomen to follow. They wound down the highroad until they came behind the hedge, and there they waited. Robyn knew for a surety that someone would come soon. It was a sunny spring day, and men of riches were never rare in such weather.

As if prophesied, a man came riding over the hill and down the stony road toward hedge where Robyn lay hidden. As he came closer, Robyn saw he had a horse and armor. He smelled of rose petals mixed with the sweat and dirt of the highroad.

He was a nobleman. This could not be mistaken.

Robyn called from the hedgerow, He loosened his sword in his scabbard, arose and crossed the road. “You there!”

The knight reined back at the sight of Robyn. His hand leapt for the pommel of his sword.

“Hold, sir!” Robyn spoke, “Might I convince you to tarry for a time? Mayhaps I could treat with you?”

“What man are you to stops a traveler on the king’s road?” the knight fumed.

“None other than Robyn of Locksley.” The outlaw bowed. “And what man are you that travels on the king’s road?”

The knight bit back a smile, “You have great pride, Locksley. And if the rumors of you in Nottingham are true, you are a good man. My name is Sir Richard of Lea. What is it you wish of me?”

Robyn laughed and called his men from the hedgerow. “Come!” he cried. “This man means no harm. Truly, he knows what favor good words may bring. Pray, come with me to Sherwood Forest, and we will give you a feast better than any you’ve ever tasted. Though since you seem a favorable man, I must tell you that guests are few and far between. And for one of such high status, I would needs impose a dining fee.”

The knight seemed to consider this, and a moment later he shook his head. “If I go, you would find me a sorrowful guest. Please, let me pass on my way in peace.”

“A sorrowful guest?” Robyn laughed, “You hardly seem the sort. Why do you say such a thing?”

“Because I have only ten schillings in my purse. Because of this, I am being hunted.”  He tossed his purse at Robyn’s feet, staining it with road-dust. “Take it, if you are so keen to rob me.”

Robyn snatched the purse and tossed it back to Sir Richard. “Far be it from me to doubt the word of a knight. You have my apologies. Please allow me and my men to assist you—if you come with us to the greenwood, I will forsake any fees I would impose on another man.”

The knight considered this for a span of three heartbeats, and then booted his horse forward, its hooves like drumbeats on the road.

As they traveled, Robyn spoke. “Sir Richard, I do not seek to trouble you—”

“—Then do not trouble me.”

“—but God willing, would you share your sorrows with me?”

“Why would you care?”

Robyn’s throat tightened. “I told you—I seek to aid you. I would have you share your story with me, that I may be of further use.”

“If you truly seek to aid me, then know this: my castle and lands are in pawn for a debt that I owe. Three days hence the money must be paid or else my estate is lost forever, for then it falls into the hands of the Bishop of Hereford.”

Robyn grimaced, but bade the knight go on.

“Last year I went off to a clergyman to appeal that my debt be forgiven. I cited my service under the King in Palestine. But in a fortnight I was approached by the Bishop, who told me that I had impure thoughts, and he had sent my son to Palestine to cleanse him of any influence I may have had on him.” The knight laughed mirthlessly. “Such is the way of the priory.”

“You have my sincerest apologies,” Robyn said. “How much do you owe them?”

“Four hundred pounds.”

Robyn’s knuckles went white, and through a clenched jaw he muttered, “The bloodsuckers! They’re slowly bleeding us to death!”

The sun was setting when they arrived at a clearing in the greenwood. And in the distance Robyn descried Little John, who had returned with a guest of his own who was hauling his packhorse behind him. “This ought to be fun,” said Stutely.

“Indeed,” Robyn agreed, he started forward to meet the new arrival.

Dark Business


“How many histories does Morgad have?” The riddle went, “The city bereft of the sun. How many histories does the dark city have?” “A thousand histories and none.”

It’s a riddle that brings to mind my incident with Mammie Maria.  

The rumors had already spread through the darkness of Morgad that the leader of the gang called the Sorrowful Guild (who ruled the streets of Gutter Row) had a power-knife slipped between her ribs.

My own gang: the Murder of Crows had heard such whispers, “Mammie Maria is dead.” People gossiped, “The Black Wolf gang left their tower and cut her down, they say. With the Sorrowful in disarray, there’s one less gang to contend with.”

So we waited in the Elysium District, whose streets I ruled, for the Sorrowful Guild to seek our aid; For the Murder of Crows and the Sorrowful Guild had always been friends and allies.

We resided in a great hall at the time when they came to us at last. I and my Murder of Crows heard clack-clack-clack of a visitor’s cane as she navigated the darkness.

Canes were common in Morgad. It was how we moved about the city we could not see–for you gain a keen ear in the darkness. With nothing to see, you learn the subtleties of sound—the pitch of a cane against marble sounds different from a strike against granite. Everything you touch or strike is translated into your own little world.

Me and my gang listened to the visitor’s progression. Her cane-clacks were as swift as her footfalls were slow, as she made her progression through my hall.

But the visitor’s footfall stopped in the middle of my hall, and she groaned like a tree before falling. Then she spoke, toothless gums smacking. “Lordess Isora, I bring news,” the visitor said with the voice of a rusty old woman and the suckling sound of wet gums. “You’ve heard how the Black Wolves killed Mammie Maria in Gutter Row?”


“Well it appears I’ve some unfinished business, for I’ve risen as a Wraith.”

Some of my Crows snickered at that, but I could not deny there was precedent. A Crow named Davion once received a sharpwand through his ribs. But he rose as a Wraith for days until I took vengeance on his killer and his body finally turned cold.

I snapped at my Murder of Crows to be silent and turned my attention to the woman. “You are Mammie Maria?” I asked.

“That is so.”

“And you rose as a Wraith?” It was a Crow named Azoc who asked the question.

“She stinks like the dead,” another Crow, said.

“And it’s not unlikely the Black Wolves would attempt to revenge their gang,” Mammie Maria added. “And the Black Wolves are like to come for each of you.” I heard her spittle spatter the ground.

“We will avenge you,” I said, rising. “The Black Wolves cannot hide in the tower forever. An eye for an eye, as they say.”

“I’d like that,” Mammie Maria said, “Take a few Crows we’ll go to the Black Wolves.”


The band of Black Wolves reside in the tallest tower in the Foul District. Because of their fortification, reprisal from other gangs is next to impossible. And in the darkness of Morgad, underestimating the strength of their tower could prove to be fatal.

I felt the gate, poking my hand through careful of the smell of rust.

I heard a crunch of boots on stone and cane clacking around the corner. I reached for my sharpwand only to hear the distinct voice of Azoc’s thrice-broken nose. “I just finished checking. There are no guards here. Perhaps we can find a way in if we go around?”  

“And try to get through the barbican without a safe-conduct?” Mammie Maria said, “They’d send Kur himself!”

I shuddered at the thought of facing Kur, the Lord of the Black Wolves.

One of my Crows rattled the gate, wordlessly. “Why would the guardsmen leave?” my Crow asked.

Before anyone could answer, there came the clack-clack-clack of canes navigating through the darkness.

“Someone’s coming,” my Crows were whispering. “Isora, what do we do?”

“Do you hear that?” Mammie Maria broke in.


“That thumping. Not their canes, not their boots. The thump, like a walking stick.”

“They hits the ground heavier–with a faint rattle, too.” Retcha said. I myself wouldn’t have heard it if I wasn’t listening for it.

“They’re pikes.” I said.

“Guardsmen?” another Crow suggested.

“Too many for that,” Mammie Maria said. “There are a dozen of them at least.”

“Perhaps one of them even has a key to the gate,” I suggested. “Get back,” I said, crowding my Crows. “Get back and be silent. Nobody move!”

The footsteps grew louder, until one of them shrieked—unless that was the gate. “Where are the guards?” One of them asked.

“They’ve been killed,” another Black Wolf growled. “By the thrice-damned Sorrowful Guild.”

Before anyone could stop him, Azoc darted through. He had a distinct run and the flutter of his cloak was deeper than most.

Someone cursed, and then with a growl there was another pair of boots following his rhythm. But Azoc had always been fleet.

His cane clacked against the world. He had one of the keenest ears in my gang—his footfalls stopped for a moment and I worried he’d been cut down. But there was a thump and his footfalls returned. He had only hurdled against an obstruction.

“What are you waiting for?” I said, “Let’s go!” I drew my sharpwand and followed Azoc past the gate.

I heard metal clash against metal and clacked my cane, ringing, on the gate, and then entered the yard of the band of Black Wolves.

There came a grinding sound and then a smash. Far off in the yard, a slab of stone had fallen. There was silence, save for the vvmmm sound I’d heard only in tales.

The power-knife glowed where the stone had fallen, yet not bright enough to pierce Morgad’s darkness. It gave off an acrid smell as it hummed. The Black Wolf growled sounding like his power-knife. “What brigands are invading my tower?” It was the voice of the Lord of the Black Wolves: Lord Kur. “Dispose of them!”

A slsshing sound came, and one of my Crows cried and then came the smack against the ground

I struck my cane about me, dashing along the unfamiliar yard. There were shouts and grunts of lethal maneuvers amidst the darkness. I could not find the combat and I rushed to join the fray.

And then the yard was no longer beneath my feet.

I suppose I hadn’t focused enough on the path ahead. I was counting on Black Wolves ambushing me from the side that I hadn’t noticed someone in front of me. I collided full on with a Black Wolf and then the ground rushed up to greet me.

The Black Wolf was solid and his power-knife hummed. But I focused on the sound of his breathing. It was dim enough to determine he wasn’t looking at me.

Another Black Wolf shouted through the darkness. It was a woman’s voice, rough like the crunch of glass underfoot. “What was that?”

“Somebody ran into me!” the Black Wolf shouted. “Gone now, whoever they were.”

I lay still on the ground, not even daring to breathe.

“This is the Mammie’s doing, I know it. You must tell them the truth or there will be war on the streets.”

“My Wolves will be upon me if they discover I failed. I would rather keep my head off a spike.”

“They will know soon, in any case. The Mammie has sent agents to your yard!”

“I know that, Lieutenant.” He was much nearer now, so I didn’t dare make a noise. Thankfully, not daring to even breathe becomes quite easily when the breath has been driven from your lungs. I managed to roll quiet enough without being heard through the din. Then I tripped and almost fell, and stifled a cry before it could pass my lips. I’d almost fallen into a ditch. I felt through the darkness until my hands found a stone slab. I crawled out of the ditch and hid behind it. From there I listened for them again.

I heard two pairs of boots and canes clacking down the way.

The woman spoke then, not two steps away from the stone where I crouched. “Hold them off, Wolves,” she shouted.

But I heard the hum of the Lord Kur’s with the power-knife and watched it change hands. “Take it, Lieutenant,” he said.

“I’ve never used one, Lord Kur,” she protested.

“Take it, you may need it. Get out of here, now. You can still deny that you knew of my failure.”

I heard the hiss of steel running along a leather holster. I realized he’d drawn his sharpwand, then.

I heard a sharpwand whistling through the air and then and then another—both, presumably, from the two who had approached with Lord Kur.

The Lord of Black Wolves made an “Urk,” sound and then spoke. “Two against one. I don’t stand much of a chance, eh?

“I’m sorry,” one of his opponents said.            

“I have to say, your Mammie’s killing ritual is more than a little tedious.”

“I’m so sorry,” he said.                

I heard the rest in an instant. Lord Kur did not reply. I heard the quick, precise whistle of his sharpwand moving back and forth as if it were ticking in the air.

“Fight together and we’ll have him,” one of them said. His voice cracked mid-sentence and I realized these two were just boys out to avenge their Mammie.

But their steps came irregular—almost hesitantly. I heard a sharpwand whistle through the air. Someone smacked the ground and then there was a clash of steel. There was a shout and then both shuffled against the grass, away from each other.

“Let’s hope you fare better than your brother,” Lord Kur growled.

There was another clash, then two, then three. Then Lord Kur gave a short, sharp shout, and then fumped into the ditch.

His opponent spoke in the voice of a rusty old woman. “My brother? I have no brother. Only children.”

I can’t say why I did what I did next. After all, the Murder of Crows had sworn their sharpwands to the Sorrowful Guild for generations. Perhaps it was the talk of failure regarding Mammie Maria, or maybe it was Lord Kur’s willingness to die to protect that woman—his Lieutenant. It felt precious to me. Even as I did it, I leapt out from behind the stone and raised my own blade half pretending that it would strike Lord Kur through the heart.

But his simple stumble changed all my intentions.

So as Mammie Maria whistled her sharpwand back, I grasped the hilt almost by reflex and found myself kicking and struggling and striking.

Mammie Maria fought with youth and I began to wonder how old she was, truly. “You can’t kill a Wraith!” She’d grunted. “My business is unfinished.”

But all I could think of was what Lord Kur had said. If the others discovered his failure, his head would be on a spike.

I decided that I would ensure that he didn’t fail.

“Then this shouldn’t bother you!”  Quite suddenly it was over. I held my sharpwand, now bloody. Mammie Maria, beneath me, wasn’t moving or breathing.  

I heard Lord Kur grunt. His sharpwand hissed back into his holster. “Who are you?”

I turned, the din of battle was dying down. “Crows! Stand down!”

Lord Kur spoke, then: “Black Wolves, lay down your arms.” And then, quieter, to me: “You belong to the Murder of Crows?”

“I am their Lordess, Isora.” I said, “And I’m sorry.”

“Here.” He dragged my arm toward him and put something in my palm. A disk—no, a coin, small and smooth and greased, almost flat.

I listened to Lord Kur walk away, clutching the coin the whole way.

I liked to think that we invent our symbols. But after that, I understood that our symbols invent us and bend us to their will. I did not know that then—rational people know that things act of themselves or not at all.

I knew nothing when I dropped the coin into my pocket. I had no idea what I would tell the Murder of Mammie Maria—that she’d lied about her status as a Wraith? That she’d used us? I couldn’t let the darkness keep my knowledge shrouded, too.

It was in this fashion that I began the long journey by which I have strengthened the rule of my gang: the Murder of Crows.



Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow


They call me Celts, which must be my name—I don’t remember having one before that.   

I can remember some things, though. I remember growing up here on a cold island of rocks and goats. I had a Father and Mother—whose names, as far as I can remember, were Father and Mother.  

Eventually I sailed to the mainland and found myself in service to an army. This army, I think.

I don’t like to do that too often. It makes my head hurt. A physician told me something called a Roman was the cause of the pain. He also told me he’d been treating me for two weeks.

I guess I didn’t think about that, either, because I have no memory of it.

“You can’t seem to remember anything for longer than a day,” the physician told me. Can you write?” I told him I could, so he brought me some scrolls.

“You must write often,” he warned me. “It’s the only way you’ll remember anything from now on,” he told me as he shooed me away. “Hannibal needs all the men that can be mustered.”  

Continue reading “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow”

An Absent Fire


Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: the Higher Powers choose a young, innocent farm boy to be their weapon of war. They put fire and magic in his veins and send him off to stop the Great Evil. And he does so, at the cost of an eye or a hand and quite a few friends.

But then the war’s over, and the Higher Powers can’t have someone with that much power just traversing the land. So they tear the magic and the fire out of your veins, they heal you up and restore you missing hand or eye, and they ship you home to your old farm to live out your life in a plain shire. And you’re always cold, because there’s no more magic inside you to keep you warm.

But at least they let you keep the sword.

 * * *

I’ve got a small farm, a Ma and a sister. It’s summertime now—whenever I go outside, I try not to wear a cloak or to shiver in the absence of fire within. The Higher Powers tore it out of me, but they made me a weapon and taught me their tricks. Sometimes I can access a space between spaces and tease the fire. Not enough to pull it into the world. But enough to keep me warm. But it’s hard to concentrate on something like that and till a field at the same time.

Most of my time is spent staring at maps. Ancient maps some of the neighbors had collected from old scrolls. I always wished there were more maps. I would track my path from this shire to the small town of Bailiwick—I remember getting there and thinking that was quite the trek!

And then I would trace where I went when I was being chased by the Riders. But most of the maps don’t match the land I remember, or the mountain city is labeled Barad Yuen instead of Rivenrock. Such things shouldn’t frustrate me, yet they do—even though I can’t quite understand why.

I would overhear gossip as I tilled my fields—rumors about what happened in all the different battles. I wanted to correct the children, but it was better to let them have their fantasies. Sometimes I would hear about things we did when I was off on my own quests.

I was a good soldier. That was good enough.


One morning my Ma awoke me one day, but she went about it the wrong way. She pushed at my side where the Great Spider’s pincers had pierced my flesh. The Higher Powers had removed the wound but not the memories.

So when my Ma pushed at my side to wake me up, I reached for my the sword by my side and swung.

By the time I realized there was no spider, I’d shaved three hairs off her forehead. She stumbled back and I dropped my sword. “I’m sorry,” I said. “Ma, I’m sorry.”

She was wide eyed and I don’t know if she knew that she wasn’t blinking. “It’s all right,” she said in a tone that implied it wasn’t. “I shouldn’t have woken you.” She rose to her feet.

“What is it, Ma?”

“I was just thinking,” she smoothed her dress, “Do you remember when I told you the horse was to stay in the town stable? It was only to be used when we had to ride into market?”

I nodded. I knew what she was going to say, but it would be easier if she said it herself.

“I think you should be allowed to ride out as you wish. Visit the markets or other towns as you wish.”

“Yeah?” It was all I could say. I was still shaking. Still thinking of the Great Spider and my Ma’s three strands of hair. I wasn’t sure if she couldn’t see my trembling or just didn’t want to notice.

“Yes. I’ve felt for some time you should be able to do this.”

“Have you?” I asked. Venom seeped into my voice. “Retcha convinced you, didn’t she?”

“No. I just thought you deserved it.”

“Right,” I said, sitting up in bed. “I’m sure Retcha had nothing to do with it.”

“I’ve made you two breakfast,” Ma said, “It’s in the other room. Will you come and get it?”

“Just let me get dressed, Ma,” I said.

She left without another word.

I came into the kitchen for breakfast soon after. Ma had made lemon cakes, roast onions dribbling with gravy and honey-roasted chicken.

I had taken a map from my room to examine and traced the landscape as I ate.

“Davion,” Ma said, “Please don’t spill on the maps. You promised the neighbors you wouldn’t make a mess of their maps.”

“I won’t make a mess of it, Ma,” I said. I was dimly aware she was sitting across from me.

“I want to talk, Davion,” she said. “Please put down that map for a minute.”

I put down the map, if only to avoid an argument and looked at her.

“Have you decided what you’re doing to do? Now that you’re back here—now that that whole mess is over?”

Mess. The word echoed in my head. Was that what she thought that was? A war against a Great Evil? Just a mess, I suppose. But I didn’t voice it. I just told her, “No.”

“Don’t you think it’s time?”

She didn’t mean it to sting, but it did. I tried not to take it too personally. She didn’t know. “I just hadn’t thought about it,” I said.

“The Higher Powers have a plan for everyone,” Ma said. “None can sit idly by in Their land.”

I clenched my fists and spoke through my teeth. “It’s not Their land.”

“We are all in Their land. We must all make the best of our circumstances, Davion.” She had the right of it. If I wasn’t in Their land, I’d still have the fire and magic. I wouldn’t be cold and focusing on keeping my teeth from chattering. But Ma seemed to notice the look on my face, and placed her right hand over my left.

But I pulled away, my hand tingling with the memory of the sorcerer who had burned it to ashes. “I’m sorry,” I said. “This must seem so strange to you. I didn’t always have this hand.”

“I’ve worried about you too much, Davion,” Ma went on as if she hadn’t heard. “I understand what you’re going through. I know how weak Men are to the Higher Powers. I’ve prayed months since your return that you would get better. I pray for you all day long.”

I picked up the small knife she’d given me for the honey roasted chicken. “Do you know how they pray to the Higher Powers in Greyfallow? They skin goats alive and then burn it as it screams. It’s rare their prayers are even answered, but they take that chance because they’re desperate.” I leaned across the table. “You don’t have enough goats, Ma.”

I turned to leave, but she said “Retcha is worried, too,” and I stopped in the doorway.

She wasn’t going to bring my sister into this. “She’s not worried.”

“She thinks you’re losing your passion. You don’t have any goals anymore. You’re just floating through life.”

“If that’s what you think, Ma, then say so. Don’t tell me your worried by pretending it’s Retcha who thinks all this. Now,” I said, “Is that all?”


I started to leave, but she spoke again. I made the mistake of turning around and seeing the tears rimming her eyes. “Do you love me, Azoc? Do you love your Ma anymore?”

She reminded me of the apparition the Temptress used to conjure to try and stop my advance to retake the city she’d conquered. But I had shattered her apparition. I would shatter this one, too. “I don’t love anyone.”

I shouldn’t have said it. She couldn’t understand how cold I was. No matter how hard I tried. I had only hurt her.

She kept crying. On and on it went. I went over and knelt beside her to hold her. “I didn’t mean that,” I said. “I was just angry.”

She kept crying.

“I was just angry. I’m sorry. Do you believe me?”

She kept crying.

“Please believe me, Ma. Please.”

And the Higher Power must’ve let me access the fire in my veins one last time, for I must’ve conjured an apparition–because she said yes. She believed me.

And I felt nauseous. She believed my illusion. And I would have to keep lying. I would be lying for the rest of my life.

I decided I’d go the stables that night and ride the horse into Bailiwick. It had seemed so far away, long ago. But with all I’d seen since then, it would be a short ride.

I’d have to bring my cloak, though. Even in the kitchen holding onto my Ma, I was still shivering. And I couldn’t even tease out some fire for warmth.

The Hound


The Centurion trampled across the great plain that passed south of Nazareth, with three horsemen under his command.

The prisoner was dragged behind them, stumbling along through the sand. He had been bound about the wrists with the other end of the rope tied around a horse’s neck. He was a young man–Ezra of the house of Ben-Geber.

He was off to Jerusalem to be sentenced, but he did not intend to let that happen. He was looking for his dog.                                                                                 

The Romans dragged him on, stumbling through desert, for the latter part of the day. The path was treacherous, turning from sand to rock to green bracken minute by minute. Uphill and downhill they dragged him.

At one point as they descended a hill of grass and rocks, Ezra fell, dragged and bruised. He pulled on the rope that bound him in a clumsy attempt to find his footing. The horse reared and the Centurion reached for his sword.

But one of the horsemen–a boy, almost of an age with Ezra, shouted to his Centurion. “He’s fallen!”

“Let him be dragged,” the Centurion said.

“He cannot be tried for his crime if he is dead,” the lad protested. “He is a citizen of Rome, he must be sentenced. We aren’t barbarians.”

“Hold your tongue!” The Centurion snapped, but with a grunt, he signaled his retainers to halt their progression. “Help the Jew to his feet, if you’re so keen to aid him. But speak to me in such manner again and you’ll be walking beside him.”

That night, they camped amidst tall grass and a dry wind that bent it toward their progression. Ezra was shuffled away from the fire, and the boy was made to watch him.

“Look at you,” the Roman boy scoffed. “The house of Ben-Geber was once one of King Solomon’s twelve district governors. How low you’ve been brought.”

Ezra looked up. “You know of King Solomon?”

“I read,” The Roman shrugged and bit back a smile. “There are few ways to pass time when all you do is guard an outpost.”

“Why did you help me?”

“Because a Roman does not kill a defenseless man—not a subject of the Empire, at least.”

Ezra looked away and whispered a quiet, “Thank you.”

“I saw your dog,” the Roman boy said. “That day, when the consul came by in Gilead.”

“You know the truth, then?” If the Romans were to be believed, Ezra’s dog, Caleb, had attacked a noble consul as he marched through the street. He and Caleb had fled to Jezreel after the incident, where they had caught him.

The boy shook his head. “It happened too fast. It is true, the consul was armed, but I couldn’t tell if your dog attacked because the consul swung, or if the consul swung because he was attacked.”

“I know my dog was attacked,” Ezra said.


“I just—I just know. The same way I know he’s following me.”

The boy knitted his brow at this. “He couldn’t follow you through all this. You can’t know that.”

“But I do—I sense it. Perhaps It is Elohim telling me this. Perhaps not. I am bonded to Caleb, I think. I can’t quite say how. But he is nearby. I know it.”

“Why do you care so much for it? Caleb, you named it?” The boy asked, “It is a dog—I’ve yet to see another such as you show any respect to such creatures.”

“One such as me?” Ezra laughed. “You mean a Jew, yes? But you won’t say the word—why is that?”

“That’s not what I asked.”

“All right,” Ezra acquiesced, “Yes, my people think such animals lower carrion crows. But Caleb—I found him in an alley injured one day. His fur was crusted with dried blood. I could see his skull…he looked such a pitiful thing. I passed him by. He was a dog, after all.

“But the next day I saw him in that same alley, still whimpering, still looking up at me with those pitiful eyes. I saw him the third time when I came home from market that day. I decided I couldn’t let him rot there, so I healed him. And ever since then, we’ve been one.”

“One?” The Roman echoed. His eyes went wide.

“Not like that,” Ezra laughed. “Don’t let your Centurion fool you. We don’t lie with our dogs. It’s stranger than that. I can tell what he’s thinking…” He groped for the right words. “I can sense when he’s close. Sometimes I dream of him on the hunt and wake up with the taste of raw chicken and blood in my mouth.”

“Can you tell where he is now?”

“Close,” Ezra said.

“How close?”

He allowed himself a smile. “Close,” he said again.

That night, while the Roman boy was busy with his meal, Ezra heard a whine off in the distance. He jerked about, looking for the direction it had come from.

It sounded again, a tiny squeak of a noise. He pulled on his rope, careful to notice when it had gone taut. And when it had, he peered into the dense grass–but he could see nothing, save the fat black flies that swarmed about his head. He resisted the urge to swat them away. He had to know the source of the whine.

So the boy took a deep breath and closed his eyes. The flies settled in his hair and on his face, though he did not seem to notice them. In his mind’s eye, he saw himself, sprawled on the ground, and the Centurion with his three Roman horsemen greedily eating their rations. A primal place within him told him to go toward the camp. Attack the Romans and cut himself free.

But another part of his mind told him that would be suicide. He was unarmed and any assistance would be easily cut down.

He opened his eyes and shook the flies from his head. Through the grass he saw a hound with mottled gray fur. He could see his reflection in its eyes. He said nothing, but mouthed the words ‘I’m sorry.’

The hound nodded, seeming to understand.

“You!” It was the Centurion’s voice. “Jew!”

He looked at the Centurion marching toward him, and then toward the dog. “Go,” he whispered.

“Trying to sneak away?” the Centurion growled.

Ezra’s hands closed around a large rock. “Go,” he whispered again. But the dog had not moved.

A callused hand sifted through his hair and squeezed. He craned back, yowling. “You’re still to be sentenced, Ben-Geber!”

His knuckles went white around the rock. “Go!” He swung it, and it struck the Centurion about the temple. Red ran down the Roman’s cheek as he stumbled back and landed heavily against a stone with a sickening crunch.

Ezra was distantly aware dimly aware that Caleb was bounding for the camp. The Romans were reaching for their weapons. He scrambled to the Centurion and, twisting awkwardly, managed to unsheathe his gladius and cut his bonds.

He locked eyes with the Roman boy for a moment, who sat frozen, watching him.

But he could not hold his attention for long. One of the three horsemen was closing in on Caleb, who had already felled another horseman.

Ezra flung himself upon the Roman, hacking wildly with the Centurion’s sword, until he and the Roman both fell in a tangle of limbs.

When he regained his composure, he saw Caleb bounding toward the boy, who was still frozen from where he had watched Ezra. “Caleb!” He called. “Amode!”

The dog skidded to a halt, growling. The boy looked from the dog to Ezra and back again. “What did you tell him?”

“I told him to stop,” Ezra said as he stripped a fallen soldier of his cloak and tunic. “He only takes commands in Hebrew.” He buckled a gladius about his waist. “It seems smart choice, in foresight.”

“You killed them,” the boy said.

“Would you have done differently in my position? Do you think I had a chance of being cleared of my charge?”

The boy shook his head. “But why did you spare me?”

“Because you saved my life.” He offered his hand. “Your sword, please.”

The Roman boy clasped his hand around the hilt of the gladius, but did not draw it. “I can’t.”


“If I give it to you, you’ll kill me.”

Caleb growled. Ezra drank in his dog’s anger. He had spared the boy. Could he be so ignorant? “Come now. We are not barbarians.”

The boy stood, but still did not hand Ezra his sword. “Where are we going?”

“Away,” Ezra said. “Gilead, perhaps. We passed Nazareth on our way here.”

The boy’s knuckles went white around his gladius. “Nazareth is under the sway of Judas of Gamala who urges insurrection against my folk. Their welcome will be fatal.”

“So you don’t think me a proper Roman, then?” Ezra asked. The dog walked forward, sniffing at the boy’s ankles.

“What do you mean?” the boy asked.

“You said Judas of Gamala despises your folk. Meaning Romans. But this morning you called me a Roman.”

“It saved your life, did it not?”

Ezra decided to let the matter go. “I still need your sword.”

No!” The boy barked. For half a moment, his sword-arm tensed, but before he could clear his weapon of its scabbard, Ezra had raised the Centurion’s sword, and his dog leapt on top of the boy, sending him to the ground. The dog let out a long, steady growl as it stood over the Roman boy.

Ezra paced the makeshift camp and seemed to remember the three corpses for the first time. “Tell me truly–if I spare your life, will you tell your officers about what happened here?”

The boy looked at the dog, his great jaws slavering, and then to Ezra. “I…it is my duty, Ben-Geber.”

Ezra spat. “I hate you.” To his own surprise, he laughed. “You spared my life. You’ve shown me what little kindness you can in your position. Yet you would undo all that for your sense of honor and duty. You would bring a legion down on my head.”

“I don’t have a choice.”

Ezra raised his eyebrows. “I’ve heard that before.” Caleb licked the boy’s throat and Ezra tasted salt in his mouth. “Caleb’s heard it, too.” He scratched his dog behind the ear. “Shev, Caleb.”

The dog sat.

The Roman boy brought himself shakily to his feet. “If I give my blade and follow you, I will be killed upon sight. Your people have no love of me–”

My people?” Ezra seized the boy by the collar. The dog war barking, nipping up at the two of them. “My people have spent generations stooped under the lash that changes hands. First Pharaoh, now Caesar. Elohim alone knows who will take up the lash after you. Our backs have been bloodied for centuries. And yet you speak as if you deserve the love of my people?” He tossed him to the ground. “You’re mad.”

Ezra turned away, and heard: “Are you going to kill me, Ben-Geber?”

The boy asked the question with confidence, not fear. Ezra respected that. But under the weight of such a direct question, he lapsed into silence and thought.

So the boy filled the silence. “You can’t return to your house in Gilead. Your life is forever changed. You know this. It is futile to bargain with a man who has nothing to lose. So I ask again: are you going to kill me?”

“Yes.” Ezra hadn’t expected the answer to come so quickly. But the Roman boy nodded and said nothing. Ezra wondered if he had accepted this fate. “What is your name?”

“Domitus,” the boy said. “Why?”

“Because I want to remember you, Domitus. And because I’m sorry.” He closed his eyes and saw through Caleb’s eyes. Domitus was kneeling and waiting. He was distantly aware he was growling–or was the Caleb? He saw himself, standing with his back to the camp. Then he turned his attention back to Domitus and remember the taste of salt in his mouth.

Caleb hurtled toward the boy’s neck, jaws open wide; Ezra returned to himself before the jaws shut, tasting blood that wasn’t in his mouth and grinding his teeth.

Ezra whispered to the beginning of the Kaddish–the prayer of mourning for the dead. “May His great Name grow exalted and sanctified…” He turned, his cloak a crescent in the wind, and the knelt beside Domitus’ body and spoke the words in Hebrew. “Yit’gadal v’yit’kadash sh’mei raba…

He finished the prayer, traded the Centurion’s gladius for the boy’s, then wrapped his cloak about himself, his dog bounding after him.