Time on My Hands Chapter 10 - 199-200 CE: The Trip to Alexandria


Time on My Hands
Chapter 10: 199-200 CE: The Trip to Alexandria

With that Fiach reached over to pull her knives from the belts of the shocked guards. Once more she showed the knives were sheathed. “I can be quite deadly. However, like my husband Raben I’m a healer. I don’t like killing but some people can’t be talked out of being stupid.”

With that she did a back flip off the table kicking the leg of the tipped chair spinning it into the air, catching it, putting it upright before the table and sitting down... all in one fluid motion. The guards were clearly unnerved, stepping back from the little wildcat. The captain shivered knowing he and his men could have been easily killed by Fiach. The fantastical story the witnesses had told of the deadly whirlwind that engulfed the six much larger thugs was suddenly believable.

“While your method of explanation is unorthodox it is certainly effective,” the captain managed to reply as he recovered his composure and tried to save face. “It would be greatly appreciated if you left the city tomorrow.”

“I’ll be leaving with the caravan I arrived with in the morning,” Fiach assured the captain as she once more stood. “Now, if there’s nothing else, I’m going to turn in for the night.”

“I have no more questions,” the captain nodded before turning to leave.

Fiach made her way to the room she had for the night. The silence in the room lasted until she left, then exploded as they rehashed what had occurred.

In the morning Fiach was with the caravan as it left the city. Word had spread of the tiny mysterious woman who had killed the six thugs and humbled the oft arrogant captain of the guard. Everyone had learned of the girl’s well hidden deadly side. Many locals had gathered hoping to catch sight of the deadly she-cat. Most had great difficulty believing the small girl on horseback could have done what was claimed.

The men of the caravan who had been testing and teasing her were silent. No one wanted to rile the diminutive lass. While the bow that hung from the back of her saddle had been a joke they now wondered just how skilled she was with the bow.

Other than treating any injuries or illness, Fiach had little interaction with the rest of her traveling companions. They treated her politely but were too intimidated to get any closer. This situation suited the faux girl as she was able to observe and document her environs. At each overnight stop she sought out a local healer to exchange information. Unfortunately she was usually blown off. Still she did pick up some local herb lore, even managing to get seeds of plants that might be medicinally useful.

Traveling through the steep mountains of the interior regions of Anatolia heading for Ankara, outside of being more arid, was not much different from traveling through the Alps around Barmaz. The sinuous roads and pathways wound through the valleys of the mountains. Small villages were abundant on the larger plateaus and in the broader flat portions of some valleys. Farming and herding were the main occupation of the natives. The further away from the area’s cities, the more lawless the areas became. The Pax Romana kept any open rebellion in check but the rough mountainous terrain aided small bands of bandits, many of whom were also farmers supplementing their meager income. This was especially true in the boundary areas of the provinces. The forces of one region did not want to interfere with the authorities of an adjoining area. The bandits wisely limited their attacks so as not to draw in troops making sure to leave no survivors to report to the authorities. It was not unusual for entire caravans to completely disappear.

It was about late afternoon, nineteen miles from their start that morning and five miles from their evening stop. Everyone was tired and bored by the monotony of the trail. About a mile past the side road to Dereneci, a tiny village on a small plateau above the caravan road, the valley made an open ’u’ curve {GM 40.593070, 32.555815}. The steep northern flank on the outside of the curve soared 800 feet above the valley floor. The slope and sparse vegetation made it virtually impassable except by foot and then only if unencumbered. The south flank, the inside of the curve, was only 130 feet high at half the slope leading to a small tree covered plateau before climbing 1000 feet higher. The trees served as a perfect hiding place for bandits.

The bandits waited until the small caravan was in the belly of the ‘U’ before they struck. The sun was shining into the eyes of caravan further shielding the bandits. Arrows flew from the tree line on the southern slope striking at the unprepared armed guards riding at the front and rear of the fifteen wagon column. Of the three guards at the back of the column, one was struck down, another had his horse dropped, the third turned and fled gallopping back the way they had come. The guards in the front fared worse. The three horses were hit and two of the men were struck down. The horse of the third man dropped pinning him beneath it. The horse of one of the fallen men was also killed while the wounded third riderless horse bolted. A second fight of arrows swept in aimed at the first and last wagon striking with deadly accuracy killing the teamsters and injuring the oxen. The oxen bellowed in pain and rage. The front team was prevented from proceeding forward by the fallen horses while the way forward for the rear wagon was blocked by the wagons in front of it. The wounded near crazed oxen of the rear wagon tried to turn around in the narrow road only succeeding to flip the wagon on it’s side.

The remaining wagons were trapped. The teamsters leapt from their seats taking cover behind their wagons as chaos reigned. The caravan master attempted to rally his men ordering them to retrieve their weapons and await the inevitable assault. Fiach tucked her horses behind a wagon and slipped from her steed grabbing her bow and quiver. Then their already precarious position grew worse. Hidden behind rocks and bushes on the northern slope several bandit archers fired into the organizing teamsters. Only one dropped but it was enough to send the rest to ground.

Fiach quickly strung her bow then took aim at the archers on the north slope. As they rose to shoot they were greeted by an arrow. She took out two bandits before those remaining realized they were being targeted. Unaccustomed to finding accurate resistance they turned their aim to her. Fiach deftly jumped aside as their arrows swept past her as with deadly accuracy she took out another archer. When the remaining two rose to fire, she calmly dropped another. The last bandit panicked and tried to flee only to drop as an arrow feathered his back.

Confident the members of the caravan were pinned down by their archers on the north slope the bandits on the south slope charged. Much to their surprise a small figure climbed atop one of the wagons and began firing arrows. The mysterious archer was firing an arrow every twenty seconds. The caravan master took advantage of the distraction to rally his crew who scrambled to pull out little used old swords and axes. The charging bandits paid the archer little heed since they saw no one fall. Knowing that would be their reaction, with deadly accuracy Fiach calmly picked off those at the rear of the charge so those at the front were clueless.

By the time the bandits reached the wagons their numbers had been reduced by nine. They were surprised to be greeted by the then armed crew hiding behind the wagons. To reach the caravan crew the bandits were funneled into the narrow space between wagons and still hitched oxen forcing them into single file. The angered teamsters made quick work of those few who tried to force their way through the narrow gap.

Fiach saw the bandits regroup and mass at three wagons up the line to force passage. After loosing her last three arrows dropping more bandits with each, she let out an undulating war cry that echoed off the sides of the canyon as she dropped her bow and quiver and charged forward. The oxen were not happy when their backs were used as stepping stones. Startled by the savage high pitched war cry everyone paused to look up at the source to see a girl literally dance across the wagons and oxen. When she reached the wagon where the bandits had rallied Fiach leapt into their midst. The steel of her knives flashed as she flew through the air. Two were going down with their throats cut before she even impacted the group. Her speed and momentum took down three bandits, none of whom realized they’d been fatally stabbed until they felt their lives ebbing. Like a wildcat she leapt to her feet lashing out at the confused bandits as she gamboled amongst them cutting a deadly path through them with ease. Needless to say she broke up their planned assault as she continued to wreak havoc in their midst.

When the bandit leader fell those who remained broke and fled. With calm deliberation Fiach pulled out her sling and began dropping the fleeing bandits. None escaped.

Following the orders of the caravan master, the teamsters joined Fiach on the southern side of the wagons. Several were dispatched to check the fallen bandits. Seven bandits were captured, all had been knocked out, disabled by the sling stones. They rounded up four others who had been wounded with arrows. None of those she engaged in hand to hand combat survived.

The caravan had consisted of fifteen teamsters, six mounted guards, the caravan master and Fiach. Of the six guards only one survived unscathed. Three of the guards were killed, one had his leg broken by his falling horse, one fled at the start of the attack never to be seen. Of the teamsters, four were killed and three wounded leaving eight unharmed. Of the twenty three who entered the valley, only eleven remained unharmed. Of the thirty oxen five were killed or put down and three were wounded. Of the nine horses, four were killed and two missing, one of whom was wounded.

The bandits fared far worse. Eleven were wounded and captured while thirty four had been killed... all but six by Fiach. The teamsters as well as the surviving bandits were literally in awe of her. She was covered nearly from head to toe by the blood of those she’d slain. While she had several nasty cuts and bruises, she simply ignored them knowing they’d quickly heal.

“We can go no further today,” Fiach stated the obvious as she looked at the caravan master. “Make camp and boil a lot of water so I can begin treating our injured and wounded. Butcher one of the dead oxen for fresh meat. I suggest you send the remaining guard and three teamsters up the hill to check out the bandit camp. We may find some supplies and, if they left no guard, their horses.”

Not even the caravan master questioned Fiach’s orders. The caravan master issued the orders as Fiach had the wounded gathered. The oxen were unhitched and tethered with the wounded animals segregated. The crew watched in amazement as the demon warrior so efficiently tended to the injured. The arrows were removed, the broken leg set and splinted. Then she tended to the injured oxen with just as much care. Night had fallen as she turned to minister to the wounded bandits.

The teamsters had unloaded the tipped wagon, righted it, then reloaded it. The oxen and horses injured too severely to move on their own were slaughtered and the meat loaded on the wagons. Those sent out found the bandit camp and returned with forty five horses that had been picketed. The horses would be hitched to the wagons that had lost oxen. Several teamsters complained when she treated and fed the bandits saying they’d just be hung by the authorities.

“They are still human,” Fiach responded. “They should be treated decently.”

No one argued. Fiach then began gathering up spent and unused arrows to replenish her quiver.

In the morning they loaded the dead bandits on top of the wagons or draped across horses. The wounded bandits were tied up and tied to the horses. The horses were then tethered in a line behind the wounded but mobile oxen. Fiach, mounted on her horse, followed the bandits with her bow ready across the front of her saddle. The horses pulling the wagons were not accustomed to such work. The caravan master, the guard and the eight remaining teamsters drove wagons. The five uncrewed wagons were pulled by press ganged horses. Those horses were firmly tethered to the rear of the crewed wagon in front of them. The wounded caravan members rode beside a teamster.

It was mid morning by the time the wagons were ready to roll. They made their way slowly down the valley, moving at one third their normal pace. It was mid afternoon by the time they reached the next village, Yanik, which had been their previous day’s destination.

The people of the village were upset when they saw the bandit dead and prisoners. They were all locals or known to the villagers. The tension was quite palpable.

“You recognize these bandits,” Fiach declared. “They attacked us yesterday thinking this was just an ordinary caravan. They didn’t count on me. Of the thirty four killed I personally killed twenty eight. I also wounded all eleven prisoners. Once we get to Ankara I’m sure the governor will want to talk to you as well as hang our prisoners.”

The villagers were grumbling as they tried to decide if they should attempt to free the prisoners and wipe out the caravan.

“If you’re stupid enough to try to overpower me, the prisoners know how deadly I am,” Fiach continued. “While I don’t like killing, I am quite efficient. In my homeland I’m known as the Demon Slayer. By trade I’m a healer. I’ve treated the wounded, including the animals. The caravan master knows he and his men and the caravan are still alive because of me so he’ll agree to whatever I say. Now, I’m prepared to make a deal.”

“What deal,” an older man brusquely asked.

“We lost five oxen and four horses,” Fiach began. “We butchered them and will give you most of the meat. We will keep the horses we captured as payment for our dead. We will release the dead bandits so you can bury them. We lost five oxen... you will give us five oxen or the coin to replace them. For each ox replaced or paid for, we will release two of the captured bandits. You will also supply five wagon drivers to get us to Ankara where we can hire replacements. In exchange we will not report the bandit attack.”

Suddenly Fiach produced her sling and launched a stone at the roof of a building behind her. A man was standing on the roof holding a bow with a noched arrow pointed at Fiach’s back. The stone struck his head with a sickening THUNK. The bow and arrow dropped from his lifeless hands as he pitched forward to hit the ground with a solid SPLAT.

Fiach sighed loudly then searched the startled eyes of the villagers. “Now you have another to bury. Does anyone else want to test me?”

“The terms I’ve offered are quite generous,” Fiach continued. “Also know that I’m just as ready to kill everyone in this god forsaken village and take everything you have while your bodies rot. The choice is yours. We’ll spend the night here. By dawn have the five oxen or the equivalent coin and five drivers or I’ll begin killing everyone.” Then she turned to the caravan crew. “Dump the dead and the excess meat. We’ll camp by the well.” Then once more she spoke to the villagers. “Bring feed and fodder for the horses and oxen. If you do so we’ll let a family member talk to the prisoners. We’ll let women and children draw from the well.”

With that she rode around the caravan meeting the eye of every villager. The children were clearly terrified, the women were worried, the men intimidated. The teamsters handed the dead down from the wagons to the villagers, then did the same with the excess meat. The wailing of the families of the dead echoed across the village.

The fifteen wagons were drawn into a circle around the well. The oxen and horses were tethered inside. Slowly people brought fodder and feed. Others came to draw water from the well. A few came to speak to the prisoners. All looked at the diminutive girl not believing she was so deadly.

While the crew of the caravan stayed within the wagons. Fiach wandered about the town. Everyone avoided her. As night fell she returned to the wagons.

As dawn chased away the night a delegation of villagers approached the wagons. They had three oxen. Fiach and the caravan master greeted them.

“We don’t have any more oxen,” the village elder explained clearly upset at giving up the three presented. “We only have enough coin to pay for one ox.”

“You may pick eight of the prisoners to be released,” Fiach explained as the wagon master accepted the payment. “The other three will be sold as slaves when we reach Ankara. Bring the prisoners forward.”

When the prisoners were lined up Fiach spoke. “The villagers are only able to ransom eight of you. The remaining three will be sold as slaves in Ankara. The villagers will select which of you to free.” Then she turned to the villagers. “Make you choices.”

Several women stepped forward to select their sons or husbands. Each was released from their chains and allowed to leave. Finally the three destined for slavery stood shackled.

“If anyone wants to bid these three farewell, do so now,” Fiach declared.

No one stepped forward.

“Very well,” Fiach spoke to the sullen villagers. Then she looked to the wagon master. “Prepare to break camp. The prisoners will ride on horses at the rear of the column with me.” Then she again turned to the villagers. “This has been a harsh lesson for you. You’ve lost thirty eight men to death or slavery. You’ve lost three oxen and forty five horses. You purchased the lives of eight but doing so has drained what few resources you have. The reality is you have gotten off lightly. If we had taken the prisoners to Ankara and reported the attack, they would all hang and the governor would have sent troops to occupy your town. Think about how much worse this could have been.” With that she turned and headed back to the assembling wagons.

An hour later the caravan with five reluctant teamsters headed out of the town. Fiach, like the rest of the caravan crew, kept careful watch on the surrounding mountains to make sure their would be no more sneak attacks.

The pace of the caravan was slightly reduced. Fortunately the villagers were wise enough to not attempt an ambush. The wounded grew stronger with each day. The wounded teamsters paired up on wagons, switching driving as needed to keep from over extending themselves. By the time they reached Ankara it was clear Fiach and the caravan would part company. They were simply too spooked by her efficiency as both a healer and a killer. When she claimed the three wounded bandit prisoners as her slaves and thirty three of the captured bandit horses as hers no one argued, especially when she supplied the coins to replace the last ox and seven captured horses for the caravan to replace those they had lost. The remaining five horses were giving to the reluctant teamsters to ride back to their village. The caravan master hired replacement teamsters, guards and oxen and after a stay of one day continued his expedition.

Once separated from the caravan, Fiach looked at the three ex bandits. “I have a choice to make. Should I sell you on the slave market or keep you? I have no doubt your lives will be difficult and short if I sell you. Between the two farms I own back in Rome I already own twenty slaves. I treat them well, they are well fed, clothed, and housed. I let them marry and their children are born free. I’ve promised to look after them in their old age. I’ll do the same for you but you’ll have to follow my orders. You can rest assured I will work you hard but will not abuse you. If you’re willing to swear before your god to obey me, I’ll keep you. If you will not swear... or if I feel you are lying, you’ll go on the auction block. Make your choice now.”

All three dropped to their knees and pledged themselves to Fiach.

Fiach kept the best six horses and sold the rest as well as their tack and harness. Then she bought supplies and packs for three horses. Two days after the caravan left Ankara, Fiach and her three slaves mounted their horses with each guiding a pack horse to set out continuing her journey to Alexandria. The slaves were pleased that she armed them but they realized she could easily kill them if they rebelled.

Caravans with wagons and carts traveled about twenty five miles a day. Travel on horseback could average thirty five miles a day. The fourth day out of Ankara Fiach and her slaves caught up to the caravan. The greetings were stiff but cordial.

The next day Fiach set out before the caravan, never to meet again. As they approached the Mediterranean they passed through the city of Tarsus, the hometown of the Apostle Paul. Each large city she’d passed through had a minority population of Jews and Christians. While the Jews were open about their faith the Christians seemed to be reclusive. Still, she spent an extra day to seek them out, buying copies of their religious texts, letters and treatises. She also made arrangements with many to exchange future writings with those in Alexandria and Rome.

After emerging from Anatolia her route took her around the eastern most tip of the Mediterranean. They passed through the mountains crossing into Syria pausing in the city of Aleppo. Again she met with local Christians exchanging texts. From there she moved south to Damascus to again meet local Christians. By then the three slaves had healed their wounds and were pleasantly surprised they were treated well eating the same food and sleeping in the same inns as their mistress.



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