[Amy sez: DJ has gathered Fudge’s story thus far into a box over on your right.]
Abou woke about an hour later and the man in charge, a physician I gathered, asked him in halting Egyptian if he spoke either the Roman language or Greek, to which Abou replied in the same halting voice, “Read both, yes. Speak each a little”. Abou had had enough contact with them to pick up a few words and phrases.
“My head hurts. Where am I and why have I been taken?” Abou continued.
In Egyptian, the physician continued, “Hit on head. Commander needs help. You there. Now here. I put herbs and cloth on head to help.”
From underneath the cot, I projected enough images to Abou so he would know exactly what had happened to him. Once understanding the headache, Abou questioned the physician about the poultice on his head. Through words in three languages and gestures, he learned that it was an herb found in mountains that the Greeks had discovered healed bruises.
“You healer?” inquired the physician.
“No, scribe,” Abou replied. “Like knowledge.”
“Ah. Explains trierarch’s interest. He like knowledge, too.”
The physician turned to another patient and the older man I had seen earlier walked into the room. After inquiring as to his sailors (some would live, others it was doubtful), he inquired if Abou was able to be moved.
“Yes. He has a bump on his head and a headache but otherwise will be fine.”
The older man gestured to Abou to follow him. We did. In silence.
Back in the older man’s quarters, he indicated that Abou should sit and finally noticed me. In perfect Egyptian, he said, “I am told you are a magician. You may serve me in such a capacity or be a slave and help row this ship. Your cat is welcome here – we have too many rats.”
Abou had never done much physical labor and, truthfully, had retained his scrawny build. Rowing would probably have killed him and he knew it. However, he also knew something of Roman life.
“How would I serve you? Magic is forbidden in your culture. Perhaps dying as a slave would be preferable to dying as a magician.”
“I am Greek. My culture accepts magic. In the Roman culture, magic is technically forbidden but only black magic is prosecuted. My man tells me you can call water. As trierarch or captain of a ship, being able to manipulate my ship through water with ease would earn me great rewards. I assume you have other skills I could put to use, as well.”
Abou was nothing if not truthful. “Although I can work with Water, it is not my true element. I will do my best to help where I can but I may not be able to do everything you ask.”
The captain thought for a moment. “I will take every edge I can get. If you can call a wave of water to fight a fire, you should be able to do whatever it is I will require. I will keep you.”
So, their partnership began. Technically, as a captured barbarian, Abou was a slave. Practically speaking, the captain had just garnered himself a librarius and exceptor. Abou became the official keeper of financial records and scribe. Secretly, Abou was the captain’s mage…helping the seas move the ship, easing the burden of the rowing slaves which kept them in better health; surreptitiously helping the medicus treat injuries to some of the trierarch’s favored sailors with healing spells; causing difficulties aboard an enemy ship; and basically making himself useful wherever the captain deemed he could be of use. It did, indeed, earn him accolades and financial reward.
I was put to use, as well, but not always helping Abou. Rats were common aboard ships. Although everything was stored in clay jars with stoppers, grain spillage was common and the vermin feasted on it. I ate well and the cook gave me treats of fish to reward my efforts.
For five years, we didn’t set foot on dry land. Even when the ship was in port to offload and load cargo, take on supplies, or assist the Roman legions with one of their many skirmishes, Abou wasn’t given shore leave with the freeman crew but locked away with the rest of the slaves. The captain didn’t want him running away although I wasn’t sure where we would go – we sailed throughout the Mediterranean but never saw Alexandria again.
Finally, the captain decided he’d earned enough to retire. Rather than going back to his native Greece, he purchased a house near Tharros, Sardinia, which allowed him a view of his beloved sea. He kept Abou, the ship’s cook, and several other slaves. The ship and the rest of the crew were sold to another Greek who also wanted to earn his rewards working for the Romans.
The captain brought his wife, three daughters-in-law and several grandchildren from Greece to the house in Tharros. His sons, also ship captains, visited when they were able. It was a crowded household and the grandchildren had the strange idea that I was nothing more than a pet. I would be snatched from my spot near Abou’s desk to be cuddled and petted at a moment’s notice. It was enjoyable to a certain extent but it quickly became tiresome.
Abou had read enough in the library and spoken with enough Romans and Greeks in our five years aboard ship to learn of their ways of magic. Although he was known as the captain’s scribe, his reputation as a mage rapidly spread. Neighbors and friends of the captain and his household would ask permission to consult on various personal matters.
My human had learned to be flexible in his workings: inscribed lead sheets were given to the captain’s Roman friends, amulets to the Greeks, various incense mixtures to all. After years of working mostly health, fair winds and money spells, he added legal matters, love and even race-fixing to his repertoire. I found the human needs interesting.
Abou added to the captain’s coffers even on dry land so except for the collar denoting him as a slave, Abou had a life almost as comfortable as the captain’s. We had our own room in the house rather than sharing accommodations with the other slaves; Abou ate the same rich food as was prepared for the family; and he was free to decide which requests for magical assistance he would take on and what the captain would receive for his services.
The captain was not a young man when he’d taken Abou aboard ship and nothing was going to halt the ravages of age, inactivity and overindulgence on a human body. Abou tried his best to assist the physician in his efforts to save the captain after a massive heart attack, to no avail. Unfortunately, those efforts were also the downfall of Abou. Not a young man himself and despite my warnings, Abou drew too much energy into his body in an effort to save his master. His heart stopped moments after the captain was declared dead and I found myself in the ether.
To be continued…
[Amy sez: Fudge is a built-in history lesson. I didn’t know the Romans hired Greeks and their ships because the Greeks were much better sailors.]