The spear slid out of the darkness.
It was a lean black shape in the air. Then it dipped and its iron point ran into the flesh of the young man who was bent under the burden of a heavy hide sack. The spear transfixed him so that he gave only a grunt before his knees went slack under him and he pitched forward into a berry bush lining the hillside path. He lay there like a dead man.
A man in armor ran up to the fallen youth, put a foot on his chest, and yanked free the pilum. A red crest surmounted his Roman helmet and here and there on his silver cuirass could be seen his military medals, his phalerae. He wore a cloak of red wool, expensive stuff that was decorated with silver thread. He stood a moment staring at his quarry, then lifted a booted foot and kicked him full in the face. The thick leather sole of the military boot ornate with leopard fur left a bloody streak on the inert jaw.
“A good cast, Gaius,” a voice said softly from the shadows of the great oak forest covering the wooded slope. “But there are better things to look on than that meat there. The woman and the girl . . . .”
Thick laughter in the shadows rose up from other throats. The tribune Gaius lifted his face to the cool wind blowing against his flushed face. Always, death by his own hand acted on his blood like a draught of rich Falernian, flushing his features and driving a wedge of desire into his vitals. The woman and the girl! He had seen them in the marketplace of Pydna far below—by turning his head he could make out the red fire-lanterns that marked the landward gate—and had marked them for his own.
He lifted the spear, poised it a moment above the youth who lay bleeding out his life before his military boots. Meat, Bacchius had called this dying thing, dead meat. No need to waste more time on it. There were women in the farmhouse up on the hilltop, handsome women whose bodies he had assessed with his own eyes where they had sold farm produce—leeks, beans, cabbages—at their market-square stall, two days ago.
Gaius let the pilum fall.
The older woman had looked like his own mother, Vipsania Agrippina, called The Elder, and the young one like his sister, Drusilla. Gaius Caesar had loved his mother, as he loved his sisters, with a terrible hunger of which he was ashamed. As nephew of the emperor of Rome, Tiberius Claudius Caesar, he had a position to maintain; someday he might even be emperor. Until then, he owed his future the dignity of some restrain in his private affairs.
But here on a Thessalian hillside. . . .
His eyes lifted toward the farmhouse. Three men, a father and two sons—one son lay dying at his feet—were all that stood between himself and the women. The father and the son were as good as dead, for he had brought four men with him this night, besides himself. Five Roman blades against two unarmed Greeks; these were odds that gave him no concern.
“Lucian, bring the men. Come on!” he cried.
He ran lightly for all his size between the treeboles, bending beneath the branches. He was a tall man with powerful muscles he had inherited from his father. Early in life his fate was tied in with that of the Roman army. The general Germanicus, whose son he was, determined that Gaius should be a military man, and had seen to it that the boy was trained by experts.
The Roman ran easily, for his strength was great. He came out of the sheltering oaks and trotted across the neatly furrowed fields that held the cabbages, reversing the spear as he ran so that he might use its butt on the door-planks His breath was shorter now, for he was thinking of the women in the house. Soon, now! Very soon, the father and the son would die as the older son had died back on the hillside path. The mother and the daughter would belong to him and his men for the entire night—it was still early, being only the twelfth hour—and when they were done with them, they would kill them so there would be no witnesses to say what had taken place.
The farmhouse was of stone, with a thatched roof. It was strongly built, kept neat and clean. The Roman owned farms of his own, back in Italy, and recognized a fine steading when he saw it. Even as he shifted the pilum in his hand, he let his eyes study the low stone fences, the yard pump, the heavy wagons loaded with produce for the marketplace on the morrow.
The spear-butt lifted. Gaius pounded it against the door. “Open in there, open to a Roman officer! This is official business!”
A curtain was flung outward above his head. A man stared down at them with fear etched on his face. A grizzled beard covered his jaw, and his head was partly bald. There were heavy muscles in the great arm that held open the leather drape that served as a window, and the Roman noted a resemblance to the youth he had left on the path.
“What business?” the older man quavered.
“It concerns your son, Thalos. He has been fined for trouble-making at the inn of the Golden Goat. The fine will be two sesterces.”
A female voice sounded from the room above, and Gaius smiled. The mother, undoubtedly, much younger than her husband and with fine hips and a good pair of teats on her, the Roman touched dry lips with his tongue. Impatience almost made him bang the pilum butt against the door again, but he schooled himself to wait. It would be easier if they opened the door themselves.
He shouted, “Hurry up, hurry up! I'm doing your son a favor, coming here like this. Hurry it along in there!”
He smiled coldly in the shadow of his helmet. No Roman ran errands for a Greek farm boy, but his anxious mother and father would not know that. No, in their stupidity they would believe his lie. Yes, they were coming now.
The door was flung open. The father stood just inside the doorway, a lighted lantern in a hand. Beyond him, his wife was touching sparks from flint and a wedge of steel to an oil-boat The brightening flame showed her only half-clad in a thin shift against which her buttocks made round mounds. Gaius drew a deep breath. He lifted the spear and pushed the man aside.
“Here, now,” protested the farmer.
The Roman officer moved into the room. It was walled with stone blocks hung here and there with heavy draperies. There were three windows in the walls; and a great hearth, deep enough to hold four men standing upright, took up much of the south wall. From the wooden beams hung big cheeses in mesh nettings, bunches of leeks and garlic, many wrappings of beans and spelt. The smell in the room was fragrant with herbs tied up and set on wooden shelves lining the walls. Gaius the tribune had no eye for such commonplaces.
His gaze could see only the woman in the thin shift. Her breasts were clearly outlined and their large, dark nipples pushed the thin linen away from her slim middle. Where her hips widened out the cloth, he could see the smudge of darkness at her groin. The shift was short enough, falling to the middle of her somewhat heavy thighs, to show that her legs were just as shapely as the rest of her.
The Roman said, “Perhaps we can forget the fine. We may be able to work out a better plan.”
He stepped closer to the woman, lifted his hand and touched her thick black hair. His palm ran over her hair, down to the gentle rondure of her buttock. His hand cupped her, stroking gently.
Gaius relished the terrible fear in the dark eyes staring so widely up into his face. Cruelty was a part of his nature; he had been told so often enough in his early years, by governesses and by tutors. Yet he had never denied himself the opportunity to practice it. Now that he was a grown man, with the badge of tribune on his cuirass, he could indulge on human beings the cruelty he had shown only to animals when he was a boy.
The farmer said hoarsely, “Take your hand away!”
Gaius looked back at him. There was no fear in the man, he saw, only a hot rage and a terrible pride. It might be fun to break the spirit that stared from those eyes at him. Deliberately he placed his hand on the thigh of the woman and ran it up under the shift. The woman stood like a statue, scarcely breathing.
The man howled and leaped.
Behind him, Lucian the centurion drove the end of a pilum against the man's head with a solid thump. The farmer fell like a poled steer, the scream of the woman loud in the room. He lay at the feet of the officer, who smiled gently down at him.
To the woman, he said, “No harm will come to him if you—and your daughter—behave yourselves.”
The woman whispered, “Not the child, not the child.”
Raised eyebrows in a mocking face confronted her. “Child? That one? True, she has not your delicious maturity, but—she has a deliciousness all her own. Dollabella, go fetch her!”
The woman fell to her knees, putting her arms about the Roman's legs. Her upturned face was white, ashen. Through trembling lips she whispered, “Me let me please you but—not the girl. Not my baby. I beg. . . .”
Gaius Caesar patted her head. “Be easy, be easy. We shall see, we shall see.” He saw hope dawn in the wide black eyes beseeching him, and this pleased him in some obscure way. It was so pleasant to see the hope grow and grow and then die out in dawning horror. It added a sauce to his cruelty that made it all the more enjoyable.
There was a scream from above-stairs
Gaius called up, “Easy there, Dollabella. Go easy.”
He lifted the woman, held her against him so that her hip pressed into his groin. The pressure was as pleasant as was the anticipation of having these two women. With his fingers he reached under the shift and began to stroke her gently. When she shivered, he smiled to himself.
The Roman soldier came down the narrow wooden stair with one big hand holding the wrists of the girl. She was naked and the lantern light on her olive skin cast dark shadows as she moved past the railing and the posts that supported it. A hanging cheese made a dark brand on her thigh a moment before the soldier yanked her downward.
Then she was standing, crying and cringing, as the soldier named Dollabella posed her for his commander. With long fingers twining in her brown hair, he yanked back her head, making her stand upright.
The tribune feasted his stare on slender legs and somewhat fuller thighs. His eyes lingered at her virgin loins before moving up over the gentle mound of belly and its navel to her firm young breasts.
“Bracchius, you reprobate—you tell me! Is she ripe to pay her tribute to the god Eros?”
A heavyset man with much hair on his arms below the white sleeve of his tunic grinned. His face was round, almost cherubic, and the thick curling black hairs on his head made him seem only a boy. His tongue ran around his thick lips as he stared at the girl.
Finally he nodded. “Ready ripe, highness.”
“No,” whimpered the older woman.
The tribune kicked the man lying on the hard-packed dirt floor. “Throw water over him.” He looked around the room. “There's another son, one besides Thales, that is. Where is he? Albinus, go find him. He may be in the barn.”
The man named Albinus left at a lope, running with a heavy stride flat on his heels. His skin was very dark, and his scant black hair was streaked with gray. As he ran he put a thick-fingered hand on his short sword and drew it. He enjoyed these little excursions of his tribune, whom his men called Caligula from the military boot he wore, the caliga. There was always fun of one sort or another, mostly with women and wine, and occasionally there were even some denarii to be added into the bargain.
Their affairs had to be kept secret, naturally; Roman commanders frowned intensely on escapades of this sort, for it roused up the people and the people had rights under the Roman law, even those who were not citizens. Angry people made for revolts and revolts cost the emperor money, and an old roue like Tiberius begrudged even a copper minimissimus taken from his money coffers.
So Albinus ran swiftly but silently, hungering to find and capture the second son. He was not in the house, that was almost certain. Dollabella had made noise enough to wake the dead, bringing the young one downstairs. The tribune had been right. The boy probably slept in the barn.
When he was twenty yards from the big stone building, he moved more slowly, gripping his pilum for a quick blow. No light, here, neither tapir nor lantern. He must move in darkness. Barns were no novelty to him, he owned a little land in Etruria where he had been born; when he retired he intended to go back there and raise onions and grapes.
He stepped between the wooden doors, left open for a passage of air. The smell of piled straws and oats opened old memories in his mind. He had slept in a barn like this before he had left the farm to join the army, in the upper loft where the softest hay was and where he could look out the curtainless window and see the stars and wonder what life would bring to him.
He moved forward. There was a ladder here, pegged to a thick barn post. Hand on a rung he listened. Yes, very faintly from above, there was the sound of breathing. Slowly, Albinus began to climb the ladder.
At the edge of the upper loft, he peered between the piled hay at a boy of twelve, big for his years. He seemed even younger, sleeping so peacefully. Albinus scowled. He was a farmer, he could share a sympathy of sorts for the man being wakened to a nightmare of existence. Five Romans to take his wife and daughter, to slay him and his son before dawn, was enough to drive him mad. Venus knows he was no Stoic to put away the pleasures of life, but that was a little too much, even for his strong stomach.
Albinus sighed, remembering the naked girl. He was a Roman, and Romans owned the world. These people were his own personal slaves, that was the only way to think about them, not to think of them as Roman citizens like himself. They were a lesser people because his people had conquered them. It was that simple.
He stepped up onto the loft and nudged the boy with the flat of his blade. The boy sat up, staring wildly at him, then around the hayloft. With a cry he began rising to his feet. Albinus took aim with his blade and swung it. The flat steel drove hard against the boy's poll. The boy dropped and lay unmoving in the hay.
Albinus pushed him with a foot to the edge of the loft and over. He landed like a straw man on the hard dirt floor, limp and boneless. It made no difference if a few of his bones were broken. By morning he would be dead.
Slowly he went back down the ladder. With blows and kicks he roused the boy to some semblance of consciousness and prodded him out of the barn ahead of him with the point of his gladius. The boy stumbled, almost falling. There was a dark bruise on his shoulder where he had landed on the floor and bloody streaks on his buttocks where Albinus was pricking him. All the boy wore was a cotton loincloth, for the summer night was warm and sultry.
Once the boy stumbled and fell to his knees. At this moment, the Roman thought he heard a voice cry out in the darkness where the forest was, back along the trail they had come. He waited, listening. The cry was not repeated. No, he must have made a mistake. There was no one on the trail below. In relief, he turned and yanked the boy to his feet.
“Get a move on, youngster. The tribune Gaius is waiting!”
As they came into the big room, Albinus saw the farmer, his face and shoulders still wet from the water that had splashed him into wakefulness, being roped to a thick upright beam to one side of the hearth, which helped support the upper floor. The naked girl was sobbing in the arms of Flavius Dollabella who was kissing her neck and holding her front pressed against him so he could stroke her soft buttocks. The older woman was pleading with the tribune, tearfully.
“Please don't harm my babies, either of them,” she was whispering, softly, her words hurrying after one another like frightened mice running from a burning hayrick.
“But I'd looked forward to a night of fun,” Gaius pouted like a spoiled child. “My friends and I . . . .”
“I'll give you your fun,” she said hurriedly. “On the god Dionysos, I swear it. Just don't hurt them, just let them alone.”
Gaius had her before him, so that her buttocks pressed into his groin. He was moving lazily against her softness, bending his head to kiss her smooth white shoulders as they talked. Both his hands were out of sight under the thin shift. From the doorway, Albinus could see how he held her heavy breasts in his clutching fingers.
“Mamma,” shrieked the boy in front of him.
Albinus cuffed him, tumbling him to the dirt floor. The woman was staring at her son in horror. She was almost crazy with hysteria, Albinus thought. She tried to wriggle free, to run to her son, but the tribune was holding her too tightly. She could only hold out her arms and whisper endearments, unaware in her mad terror that Gaius was pushing her shift down past her shoulders and upper arms, baring her flesh to the eyes of everyone in the room. Albinus drew in his breath when her thick brown nipples peeped over the edge of her single garment.
She was a handsome wench! Trust the tribune to pick a sleek piece. He was forgetting any sympathy he might have had for the farmer, looking at those big white mounds the tribune was exposing. Ah! And as the shift went further down, he could see the soft convexity of her belly and then the glistening white skin of her hips and upper thighs.
The boy screamed and lunged.
Albinus stood staring in utter shock as the boy dove for the tribune, gripping his left arm, swinging it away from the woman, bending his head to fasten white teeth in its hairy muscularity. The tribune screeched with pain.
His cry woke the others. Albinus was across the room in three strides, his blade swinging. The sound of the flat hitting the back of his skull made a hollow sound. The boy slid down and lay without movement.
“The little bastard bit me,” complained the officer, showing his arm. There was blood on it. His face tensed, the lips drawing back from his teeth in an insane grimace, his eyes almost bulging in the wild fury that shook him. “He dared to attack me—me, Gaius Caesar, nephew of the emperor Tiberius! He dared! Albinus! Bacchius! Lucian! Dollabella! Crucify him!”
“No! Ah, gods of Hellas—no!” screamed his mother.
She fell before the tribune, grovelling, not caring what her husband or her daughter should think. “Please, no. Please, please! I'll do anything you say, anything you ask. Anything—only don't hurt him . . . my baby boy. . . .”
Her hands were under his uniform kilt, stroking and caressing. Gaius smiled down at her; slowly, the insanity faded from his face and eyes. He breathed heavily but normally, cheeks flushed in sudden pleasure. He did not push away those pleading hands, the gentle fingertips. Slowly he began to nod.
“Very well. If you do everything I say—and your daughter too—then I shall have mercy on you. I swear it!”
The woman gave a glad cry and turned to the naked girl cringing back against the wall to one side of the staircase. With a hand the older woman thrust back her heavy hair, staring at the girl.
“You hear, Clea? If we do what the Romans want, they'll let us all live. He has sworn it!”
Her husband rasped, “You fool! Don't believe that one in the silver armor. I know about him. He carries on in the city like a mad boar. He hires inns and makes prisoners of their customers, good men and women all, for the entire night. He compels them to obey his every command or have their throats slit by his bullies. Then when he's had his fun, he kills a number of them anyhow—to keep them in fear, to prevent them from talking to the commander in the fort.”
The woman stared at the tied man, still on her knees, both hands holding her thick black hair away from her face. “What do you want, Charippos? If I don't do as they ask, they'll rape me anyhow—and kill us all into the bargain.”
“Let them rape you, then! Let them kill us!”
“Not Clea, not Demos!” she whimpered.
The tribune stood above her, his head turning from the man to his wife and back again. He was enjoying this interplay of words—oh, so much! Let them talk themselves mute. He would not be swerved one iota from the path he had set his feet. But if they thought he might and hoped—and that hope were smashed utterly for them by sunrise—his own delight would be so much the more.
Watching the face of the man, he lifted the woman to her feet and ran his hands over her nakedness. He could feel her flesh respond to his caresses, her breasts grew swollen and even bigger, and she was breathing in shallow fashion. Her spirit might not want him, but her body did. The husband groaned in the ropes that held him, his twisting lips mouthing curses and blasphemies against the gods of this land that had supported him and his ancestors before him. He writhed, convulsing, as he watched the tribune lift the breasts of this woman who was his own wife and very gently kiss them.
The man closed his eyes. Almost instantly, a dagger-point was under his chin, pressing upward. “Keep them open,” a voice whispered. “Or I'll slice off your eyelids so you'll never be able to close them.”
He opened his eyes and kept them open.
Two Romans brought a table and covered it with a blanket. Then the woman was lifted onto it naked and the soldiers crowded around her, caressing her with their hands, bending their lips to kiss her flesh. In a little while, she was moaning frantically. Hard hands were holding her breasts, shaking them, while other hands were stroking her soft legs, moving them up and down and wide apart. Off to one side the tribune Gaius was stripping off his cuirass, dropping his tunic across a chair.
His last garment was the cotton subligaculum about his loins. When this was gone, he was naked and moving toward the table and the quivering woman who awaited him. His men had done a good job rousing her. She wanted him just as badly as he wanted her.
He looked beyond the woman to her daughter, where Albinus and Flavius Dollabella were holding her, sharing her flesh between them, yet keeping her entranced stare always on the table. The girl was panting harshly. Albinus was fondling her young thighs gently, stroking up and down on them, while the centurion toyed with her breasts.
The tribune moved forward. The woman raised to meet him.
On the hillside path, the youth with the gaping wound in his side stirred fitfully. He moaned and his body shuddered convulsively. As consciousness came to him, the pain of his wound went through his nerves so that he lifted his face and howled. Half a mile away, Albinus heard that cry, and waited for it to be repeated.
Thalos did not scream again. His body quivered as agony from his wounded side ate into him, but he clamped his teeth shut and let them grate together so as to stifle any sound. Twice he tried to move before he managed to arch his back and raise a thickly muscled arm before him. His fingers closed down on the root of a tree.
He pulled himself toward the tree, belly scraping the dirt of the woodland path. It felt as if his side were on fire, but an inner fury made him forget the pain to writhe forward on the ground past the tree and toward a clump of berry bushes to one side of the path.
The bush was a large one, and he fought to remember when he and his sister Clea had come here to gather those succulent berries in a big pail. Thinking about his recent boyhood made it a little easier, somehow. His side was wet and bleeding, he knew that, but the thought of the farmhouse so near filled him with a psychic strength. Once he got to the house, once he roused up his father and his mother, he would be all right.
His father was known for his healing powers with his farm animals. This night he would use those same powers on his son. A copper vase for the altar of Aesculapius in Pydna, if he made it before dawn tinted the sky! He crawled on, pausing many times to lay his cheek in the dirt of the forest path and rest, dreaming a little, half delirious with the pain and his loss of blood.
The darkness was an eternity laced with fire. His usual common sense was gone, fled away before the nightmares that infested his dreaming brain as he crawled, slowly and without end along the path. Then he was at the edge of the woods and he could see the stone farmhouse and the open doorway and through the doorway his sister naked in the arms of a Roman soldier who was laughing and kissing her, bending her backward across a table. She was screaming and that hurt Thalos worse than the wound in his side. He made a big fist and battered it into the grass to one side of the path.
He saw many things in this queer, dreaming state. There were four Romans in the house and an officer with queerly ornate military boots, half covered with fur and what seemed to be solid silver. An important man, that one! And the soldiers were laughing and getting drunk on the wine-sacks that they must have found in the spring-house and . . . .
Thalos groaned and buried his face in a hazel thicket.
It was a dream, it had to be a dream. His mother was naked as was his sister and the Roman officer was doing things to both of them, framed in the lighted doorway, laughing insanely. His sister was lying back on the table and his mother was kneeling and. . . .
After a time he grew aware that his lip was bleeding where he had been biting into it. He must look! He must look and remember what he was seeing so that he could search out and kill those five men. He sought to stay conscious but he had lost a lot of blood. His eyes rolled back in his head and he fainted.
A wailing cry woke him to the red dawn in the sky over Mount Lynx. He lay with his face pressed into the ground and he heard an awful screaming and the sound of a hammer hitting metal.
The screaming went on and on.
Thalos raised his head. A boy lay outstretched on two wooden beams in the shape of a cross. Three Romans were kneeling on him, holding him down so a third could nail his hands and feet to the wood. After a long moment, Thalos recognized him for his little brother, Demos.
He wanted to scream, himself. He had not the strength.
Nor could he turn away his head from the sight of the cross being raised and shaken so the crucified body bounced a little and the hoarse shrieks of his brother rang in his ears. The butt of the cross went into a hole and was held there while two Romans wielded shovels. The cross and the body on it showed black against the red, rising sun.
The officer came out of the house with a burning torch in his hand. Another Roman—a centurion with his vine-stock strapped across his back—emerged from the house carrying a naked woman in his arms.
A voice cried, “You promised! By the gods, you promised!”
The elegant Roman turned and said something. After a moment he raised his voice so that his words carried to the wounded youth on the rim of the woods.
“Tie her to the old man, then! Burn the house down around them both. We'll offer up their sacrifice to Mars for being so kind to Roman soldiers.”
A burst of ragged laughter answered him. A woman screamed inside the house. Thalos shivered, lying helpless on the ground. His mother was in the house, being tied up with his father and—the Romans were setting the thatched roof on fire! Already several of them were hurling blazing torches high. Thalos watched them roll along the thackwork until they came to a stop, and where they had rolled a thin line of flame was eating.
Thalos bunched his muscles, sought to lift himself to his feet, to run. The sweat stood out on his forehead and ran down his chest to his belly but he could not move. It was as though his legs were no longer a part of him, he could not stir them, he lay there like a hamstrung beast.
The Romans let his sister go, standing to one side of the burning house—there was no sound from it, and that silence hurt Thalos worse than screams might have done—so that she stood alone, naked and trembling. Her eyes went to the house, then to the cross.
As if she saw Demos for the first time, little Clea put her hands to her lips gnawing at the knuckles. Above them, her eyes were enormous. Stumbling, half falling, she ran to the cross and leaned against it, putting her hands up to touch the bleeding feet of the boy and the thick iron spike that transfixed them.
Behind her, the tribune took a javelin into his hand and poised it for the cast. Thalos saw him, opened his lips to call a warning.
The pilum came up, was held a moment, then hurled forward with the ease of long practice. Its iron point went into the girl, pinning her to the lower half of the cross. She arched her back, lifting her face upward and her mouth came open.
A terrible shudder ran the length of her white body. Then she slumped, her hands falling from the bloody feet which she had been caressing, and lay limp with only the impaling spear to hold her upright.
Thalos whimpered, “Your lives for theirs, Romans!”
The man in the silver armor drew his cloak about him as if feeling the morning chill for the first time. He began his walk away from the burning farmhouse, head lowered and eyes staring at the ground ahead of him. Thalos watched him until he was gone behind the stone fence on the rim of the woods. Then he turned his stare on the others.
His eyes shone with the brilliance of fever but he felt no sickness, no pain. His flesh was caught up in an exaltation of the spirit. See their faces, know their faces, the manner of their walk and the way they carry their bodies! This was his order to his mind, and to all his senses.
A tall man with a wry quirk to his lips, in the garb of a common soldier and who limped a very little, favoring his left leg, followed the tribune. Beside him a squat giant with muscles and a balding head who walked heavily and lifted his head often to sniff at the farm smells all about him: a farmer? Thalos moved his eyes.
The third man was a centurion, heavyset and with curly black hair clustering on his head below his pushed-back helmet. His eyes were black and he moved them this way and that, out of fear or curiosity, Thalos could not say. There was an old scar-mark below his kilt that ran curving around his leg and ended near the calf muscle. A thin, foppish man strode beside him, his cloak cleaner and his armor brighter than those of his companions. His steps were mincing, almost effeminate, and his scant beard was neatly trimmed. His attitude was haughty; suddenly Thalos felt sorry for any slaves this one might own. He was almost as great a monster, he felt, as the tribune himself.
Then they were gone, walking slowly out of his life, disappearing into the wood, silent and preoccupied. The farmhouse burned. The boy on the cross shivered several times and then lifting his head to the morning sky howled once, terrifyingly, like a dog, before his muscles strutted and he went limp.
Thalos lay and sweated.