Godric and Eric. Northern Italy, circa 1150. AU.

Whether we descend from the great houses,
Or drift unprotected under the naked
Sky, it's all one; we are sacrifices
To Death, not well known for compassion.

- Horace, 'Bring Roses and Cardamon' [tr. Robert Bly]


One man armed with naught but his bare hands should not have been able to overwhelm us, yet I watched as you slew our bodyguards, and then ripped the larynx like a wet rag from my master's throat, just as he was getting down on his knees to beg like a dog.

(That was how I knew.)

You were taller and broader than any man I had ever seen, even the Normans who were my sometime-instructors, sometime-lovers, in Sicily. Your plain clothing flecked black with the blood of my companions, the campfire illuminated too your bare arms and the broken script scratched upon that chalk-white canvas; it stirred my memory.

I stared, deafened by the sound of my own breathing, reminding me that I was yet alive. (I should have been afraid; I wasn't.) Until I realised you were waiting for me to speak.

'Are you Death?' I said, not in Greek, or Latin, or Arabic -- not in any of the civilised tongues I was trained in, to my master's great expense -- but in the language of my fore-bearers, and the land of my dead mother before she was taken into slavery. I thought, until now, it had been beaten out of me. You seemed to understand.

'I am,' you replied, with a single, approving nod. You had a thick accent that I could not place.

'Have you come to kill me?' (I knew the answer already, I read it clearly on your body, but still I asked.)

'Boy,' you said, and crouched down, long legs folded beneath you, until my eyes were at a level with your sharp, dagger-like teeth. 'If you teach me all you know, not only will you live, but I will set you free.'


26 August 2009