To warn you all now: while there are pieces of this which draw on real concepts it's still historical-ish. I love Roman history and I think it has some great parallels to draw with the Naruto universe but I'm not going to pretend like this is a faithful recreation of the 100s or 200s ACE which I was roughly targeting. Given that, I hope you like swords and sandals. This is for my fabulous associate garfieldsieuquay232 who told me to write what I want when I offered a gift. Probably not what she was expecting but I take absolute creative freedom rather literally. Uh oh.
Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto or its characters, I just build silly stories around personalities
As Sakura brushed her hair that morning, she wondered if there would be proper baths in their new home. The fine, not to mention expensive, red dyes were fading from her hair making it look dark pink and she wondered what her friend Ino would think back in the capital. She could hear her friend's chiding voice, tears stinging behind her eyes while she told herself to toughen up. Letters traveled regularly and well and she had been able to pass off three letters with mail carts since the beginning of their journey when the early spring thaw allowed them to make fast time north. Being on the road had not meant an end to cleanliness per se, but her father had told her to prepare herself for hardships on the road, and Sakura did the best she could to anticipate.
Ino, the consummate city girl, had been horrified when Sakura had told her she was leaving with her father for the northern territories.
"What could anywhere possibly have that could compare to Rome? Everything is here; the whole world wants to be here!" Her long blond hair was being twisted into an elaborate hairstyle as she talked, and her face contorted when her servants pulled a little too hard. Sakura often laughed at Ino's 'any price for beauty' attitude.
"It's only for a few years; 3 years will pass like an eye blink. He was requested specifically by the Senate because the governor wanted the best medical professional around. Naturally my father's name came up, and it seemed exciting for him. Nothing's been exciting for him lately." Sakura picked at her robe, still the black of mourning. Losing her mother and what turned out to be her baby sister at the same time had been devastating.
Ino huffed as her hair was finished and she crowded closer to the wall to bask in its radiant heat. The winter was unusually cold this January and Sakura heard her father complain of the fuel costs, which he did every year. It would only be colder in the north and she wondered how they would adapt.
"Your mother never would have agreed to this. You can always stay here, you know. Some nice families were asking about you after that last party we attended. I know you're not a fan of Lee, but he isn't the only guy around who had an eye on you." Ino waggled her eyebrows in caricature of their childhood friend. Negotiations for a marriage were not too far in the future for either of them, a prospect that excited Ino and terrified Sakura.
Sakura gave a short laugh and fiddled with her dangling gold earrings, a nervous gesture that had taken the place of rubbing her forehead after years of scolding from her mother and Ino both. Mourning had the only blessing of making romantic overtures tacky for a few more months yet.
As Ino had applied her makeup she had launched in to the usual gossip and more than a month later Sakura strained to remember what she had heard. Months old gossip might as well be ancient history but that's what was available to her right now: memories and medical texts her father had packed. She had read them all many times before, but her interest had waned after her mother had passed. Medicine didn't seem so all powerful now.
Weaving a tight but practical braid, she wound it onto her head and fastened it with a gold clasp in the shape of a bird. It had a tiny ruby eye, and Sakura mused anew how weird it felt to use her mother's jewelry now. The few things that were her own from before seemed more natural, but her father insisted as if the gaudy gold would keep her on their minds.
"The fog isn't letting up but we need to get moving." A small, sturdy man you'd never know her father had seen to the wounds of thousands of soldiers and citizens. He never carried himself with importance. "The light is too low for reading, I don't know what you expect to get out of that scroll."
"You're the one who said scholarship doesn't sleep." She was so wretchedly bored travelling with the new governor and his train of people. It felt like a small city moving with them and Sakura and her father at its center with the relatively young but morbidly obese man who needed so much attention to his hypochondria that he couldn't see that a brisk jog would solve many of his ills.
They used to talk more. There was a time when her father would have quizzed her on her studies, while their mother would chide him for teaching her useless facts about his trade. Women don't become medics, and what use would be knowledge of sewing skin when she would be better served knowing how to sew clothing. Humors, herbs, how to look for signs of infection and how to clean a wound or talk to a patient… as long as she could also balance a household account and negotiate with a vendor her mother had been satisfied. Now, when it made the least sense to stop teaching her, he found he was disinclined to share his trade.
He practically disappeared into the fog. Sakura, felt like that's how it was all the time these days with or without the weather. Anger sparked in her, she might as well be wearing mourning for both her parents as things stood. The scroll crinkled in her hand as she gripped it tightly. In a rare flare of rage her fist lashed out and struck the side of their covered cart. The pain was little solace, and in fact amplified her feelings. She wanted to go home, she wanted to run away, she wanted to turn back time, but all that was in front of her was the grey morning and the sound of people packing up camp.
Then the screams began.
The sounds seemed to come from everywhere at once, overwhelming her with uncertainty. Following her gut, and the training of more than a decade, she ran towards the sounds of misery but only after grabbing a bag that carried tools her father always used when he visited homes in Rome.
It felt like energy was flowing through her, even as the sound of horses and swords clashing mixed with the misery of the wounded and possibly dying. Whatever had descended upon them was working quickly. Screams seemed almost animal as men and women fought for their lives. The fate of women to bandits fleetingly passed through her mind with a dozen other worries, but her focus was to find the wounded. Wherever the dying were her father would be there too and that gave her strength. He would need his tools, she could help him. Purpose gave her confidence where her ignorance of battle gave her a false bravery.
Coming across the first man, a guard of the travelling governor who seemed especially young, she saw bone sticking up from his leg. More than that, he had the stunned look of a man caught by surprise on a head that was only partially attached to his body. The leg did not surprise her, but the sight of his other injury stunned her. The brutality of it all, the gore, the blood everywhere… it was so harsh and so real that the stories she had heard from her father about the battlefield suddenly became too real and too grim. A medic served the living not the dead, she had to steel her nerves and locate her father.
Fog was everywhere and she caught glimpses of savage men in unfamiliar clothes fighting Roman soldiers and chasing down other civilians and members of the governor's household. Carts were being looted, noise was everywhere but visibility was impossible. Her father would go to the governor first, she was sure, and she ran as fast as she could while trying to remain blind to the carnage around her.
Sure enough, intense fighting was going on around the governor with her father attending a fallen Roman man next to it all. It seemed insane, but she darted through the flying swords to land heavily next to him. His eyes widened in surprise, but as soon as he saw the bag he nodded and demanded a knife and a clamp from her. In the midst of the shock she felt the swell of pride, this was what she had trained for and she was making him proud.
The tenor of the fighting changed. It seemed as if there were people everywhere. Confusion, the cries of animals and people blending together, working intensely with her father to treat wounded men defending the governor: Sakura felt like if this was how they were going to die then maybe it was fate. The buzzing in her body, and how clear and simple the tasks were in front of her, the fatalistic thoughts were cut short when a man broke through the ranks and swords descended on them. A rough laugh echoed so close to her ears as her braid was grabbed, and it unwound from her head only to serve as a rope to drag her with.
She couldn't hear him over the din, but she saw her father scream her name as men surrounded him and the wounded and struck. The governor fell at the same moment, she suspected, yet for some reason there seemed to be more people than ever and the fighting continued. The fog was obscuring everything quickly as the pain in her head momentarily overwhelmed everything.
Yelling and laughing, in a language she couldn't understand, she knew where she was headed in the hands of these barbarians. The surgery knife she was still clutching wouldn't help her as her legs tangled in her robes preventing her standing. Thinking quickly, she grabbed the base of her hair and with a fast sawing motion severed the braid of hair that had been her only source of vanity.
Suddenly deprived of the weight, the man dragging her lost his footing and fell which gave her enough time to stand and sprint. After only a few steps she flew headlong into a bandit, and the knife she was clutching in front of her easily slid into his leather armor until it was hilt deep in his stomach.
At his cry of pain several more men appeared, as well as her first attacker who still held her braid in his hand but threw it down with a sickening smile when he spotted her again. All the men exchanged looks and when they spotted what she had accidentally done to their compatriot first they laughed and then one of them struck out at her hard with a slap that spun her to the ground. She regretted that the knife was in the man now slowly dying on the ground and not in her hand. Her face throbbing, she wondered how slowly and painfully she would have to die when she heard a scream right above her.
A swift kick to the ribs had her tucking herself into a ball, but it seemed it had been incidental because when she looked up all the men that had been surrounding her were now surrounding someone else. It wasn't anyone she knew from the caravan and if her spinning head could come to any conclusion all she could think was this was an evil spirit come to life. It moved too fast to be believed, cutting men down with a long sword. Covered in blood, it carved a path through the men like they hardly mattered, then methodically moving through the fallen ones to deliver death blows. It felt inhuman to bear witness to death like this, efficient and indiscriminate. Once they had been dispatched it moved swiftly towards her as if distance could be covered at the speed of thought.
This horrible grinning spirit looked down at her, bloodlust clearly unquenched, and she thought of the stories of the horrible things soldiers did in battle when they were possessed.
"Make it fast." She said, thinking soon she would see her family in the life after this one.
Her words seemed to startle him, his smile faltered and faded into a grim line. In the distance there were still the sounds of battle but nothing seemed close. The mist around them made her feel as if she were already dead, and this was some other world only occupied by her and this red warrior. His hand gripped the hilt of that long sword so tightly his dirty knuckles still looked white and she wondered if this was murder or mercy as she closed her eyes, body shaking with nerves more than fear.
The only pain she felt was in her jaw as his rough hand grabbed her face too hard. Her eye flew open to find him inches from her face, inspecting her coldly with his green eyes. His hands ran over her face, then down her arms, and he grunted softly when the blood covering her smudged to reveal nothing but minor scrapes from when she was being dragged. Her side was beginning to ache in earnest, but she wasn't about to invite him to touch her there.
When he seemed satisfied that she was fine, mouth still set into something that wasn't quite a scowl, he stood quickly and proceeded to wipe his sword on the grass.
"Come." Was all he said to her in Latin that she understood but was accented in the way of someone who had learned it after his native tongue. His armor screamed Roman cavalry, but everything else about him seemed foreign.
As she followed him into the dissipating morning mist all her overstimulated brain could do was wonder if his hair was red naturally or because of all the blood he was still covered in.
Picking herself up from the ground, Sakura looked down at her braid of hair with the gold pin winking at her as sunshine began to pierce the fog. It seemed dead and sinister, like a bad memory, and she wanted to leave it behind but then a better idea occurred to her and she grasped it tightly to her. Following the red warrior meant stepping past the bodies of her attackers, and her ribs throbbed with pain as she stepped past nearly a dozen corpses. How could one man cause such havoc?
As she emerged from the copse of trees she had been taken to and found the caravan's wreckage she saw the extent of the damage and felt the first stirrings of emotion. She clamped down on it, realizing that to give in to it now would make her a useless mess and she had to maintain the alert sense of danger until she knew what was going to happen to her. She could fall apart later, as she knew she would, but being Roman was about being strong and all she had left in this world was herself.
There were many men dressed like Roman infantry wandering around, but they had the same strange foreign looks as the red warrior. They spoke to one another in a language she did not speak, and she saw that while some were picking through the caravan's wreckage others seemed to be helping the few survivors of the bandits attack. Of the bandits there appeared only corpses, and she assumed any of them left alive had fled.
It occurred to her that the bloodstained man had stopped and was staring at her. Some of the infantrymen were glancing at them, and then quickly away and she felt self-conscious of the oblique attention. She stood there dumbly until he narrowed his eyes and gestured behind him at the caravan in general.
"Gather your things. Only what you can carry." He took a slightly more casual stance and appeared to be observing the infantrymen. She took that to mean he would wait for her, though she wasn't sure this was promising or alarming. Soldiers sometimes took women, she had heard, and she feared what the implications were of his attention. Maybe she should gather her things as he said and flee into the forest. If she hid until the next cart going south passed by then perhaps she could barter for passage back to Rome. While not rich, she was also not without enough means to reward a merchant or mail cart for safe passage. A lump formed in her throat as she thought of how she was now her family's sole heir.
Not the time to fall apart, Sakura. In her mind's eye she felt like wailing and rending the clothes from her body as she screamed her grief and rage to the gods. In her imagination, as she carefully sorted through her trunk, she was destroying every scrap of her old life in an attempt to deny this nightmare. In reality she had found a satchel and was putting the barest of necessities in it. Her gold and emerald jewelry, a bag of money, a brush, her skin scraper and oils, a small mirror, a few small family mementos… it turned out there wasn't much of a life that could fit in a single bag.
Her robes, covered in blood as they were, had to go and she drew the curtain over the cart as she found another robe, black as they all were right now, of the finest material she owned and dressed herself. Her skin was still scratched and bloodstained but nothing could be done with that for now. The man who had saved her was waiting for her, she assumed. It had been most of an hour as she scrounged what defined her life and packed it away.
Once Sakura had rejoined her warrior he nodded and started to move away quickly when she called out to him. "Wait! There's one more thing I need to do." He turned to her as if he didn't understand her properly. She motioned for him to follow, and for a second she thought he was going to leave her but then he seemed to reconsider and she led him to the main carriage where the governor's body still lay.
Her father was where she had left him. He was slumped over the body of his patient, blood surrounding them, but as she suspected the bag of tools had made it through untouched. Nothing there had looked valuable, and perhaps to other hands it truly wouldn't be, but she couldn't leave it behind.
From under her arm she produced her braid, brooch and all, and placed it upon his back. She didn't want to see his face, she didn't want to remember him any other way than alive and smiling at her and instead she handed the coin for Charon to the man next to her.
Hand outstretched she looked at him pleadingly, her own green eyes finally watering and betraying her. "Please, the blond man in black, can you put Charon's fee in his mouth for me?" Her voice wavered as she asked again. "Please?"
His hand covered hers for a moment, lingering, then he took the coin and while he did the requested task she picked up the bag of medical tools and saw they were all accounted for but for the longest blade still embedded in one of the bandits. She ticked it off in her mind as lost. Without turning around she asked, "Will your men burn the bodies today?"
"Yes." The curt answer brought her no comfort. A grand tomb next to her mother is what he should have had, not an ignoble cremation in the middle of nowhere.
The tears were flowing now and she couldn't stop them. In a haze she followed the man to his horse and mounted behind him. He said nothing to her and she cried the entire way to his camp, gasping in pain occasionally as he rode too hard for her bruised ribs. In a daze, she was shown to a tent where she collapsed onto a long chair and slept.