The late autumn rain slowly trickled inside Peter’s cloak as he sat in the barge, still in shock over the upheaval of his life. Only yesterday, he’d been running his errands in the streets of Cologne. Less frequent ones, to be sure, since business had slowed since the summer as uncertainty over the papal dispute in the south made the people of the city less willing to spend coins. But nothing that presaged such a drastic change to his life.
Was it only yesterday that he had made that fateful delivery to Maria’s? To the same Clemens who now sat across from him on the barge, also bundled into a cloak that literally seemed to shed off rain, not becoming soaked by it like Peter’s was.
It had seemed strange enough that Peter had been asked for by name for the delivery. He should have known this was a bad sign. But the golden-faired man had been friendly the previous time, if a tad strange with all his questions. And he had been friendly as well this time around. His companion, however…
At first glance, Clemens’ companion looked like a prosperous foreign merchant, with silver rings on his fingers and expensive robes over an ample belly. Not fat, exactly, but certainly well-fed and rich. In the limited light within the inn, his hair and narrow beard looked black, as did his eyes.
“Sit down, Peter,” invited the Clemens. As with last time, Peter felt compelled to sit with the red-capped man. The inn was much quieter this morning; as with the rest of the city, Maria’s must be feeling the bite of uncertain times. “This is meister Octavius,” continued Clemens smoothly, as if unaware of the growing unease Peter felt, “who is passing through Cologne while on his way home.”
“That’s the boy?” Octavius’ abrupt question grates on Peter’s frayed nerves. At Clemens’ nod, the dark-haired man leans forward and grasps Peter’s chin with his thin hand, turning his head this way and that. “Be still,” hisses the man when Peter begins to struggle, looking into his eyes. Peter feels his body grow immobile, though the dark pools of the man’s eyes made him want to scream in terror. His soul was being stolen!
Octavius mutters some words in Latin as he makes strange signs, the air growing stuffy despite the open shutters. Then the questions begin…
“Don’t worry,” says Octavius in Latin as Peter leaves the inn, “he won’t be able to tell anyone what happened here. Or what little he understood of it, at least. I put a compulsion on him that will prevent him from doing so, at least for a time. Long enough for you to arrange for”
Clemens nods, “So I take it that the lad is suitable for your purposes, magister?” He takes a sip from his mug of ale, waiting for the magus to reach a decision.
After a moment, it is Octavius’ turn to nod, “He will do. He’s a bit old, and I would have preferred a more educated background.” A small grimace, “But I’ve waited long enough before taking an apprentice as it is. His Gift seems strong enough, at least. Whether he can be trained remains to be seen. Anyway, I thrust you can arrange to obtain the lad with a minimum of fuss?”
“Of course,” says the Redcap, “for the agreed-upon fee. I will need the silver now, but the rest can wait until I return with the lad. You mentioned that preferred for me to bring him to your covenant?”
“Yes, I will travel directly home and arrange for his tutors while you travel,” Octavius drops a heavy purse on the table as he rises. The magus doesn’t seem to notice the quick look Clemens gives to the other customers of the inn as he makes the purse disappear. Luckily, none seem to be paying the pair any attention.
“Very well, I should be there within the month,” replies Clemens to the departing magus.
“…seen like this, sure is…”
“…with father. Heard him … by name…”
His brothers’ whispers only register dimly with Peter as he sits at his workbench sharpening and oiling his tools. His mind is still in a fog -- he doesn’t even remember walking back home from Marie’s inn.
Suddenly his father is standing by his side, talking. “… has agreed to take you on as an apprentice. God knows I’ve tried teaching you my trade, but… well, with work so slow… this will be much better for you.”
The rest of the day is a blur, as your mother helps you back your clothing and few personal belongings. After that, the walk back to the inn, dinner with no-so-watered ale and uneasy drunken sleep. In the morning, the boy follows the red-capped Clemens to the docks, under a sky threatening rain, boarding the barge.
That threat of rain had become a reality shortly after the barge had cast off its moorings and begun following the river.
“M’lord,” the drenched boy finally speaks, “where are we going?” His voice cracks a little at the end, while the rain hides any tears that may have flowed from his eyes. Clemens looks at Peter for a moment before answering, his face sympathetic.
“We’ll go down the river for a while, until we get to the Lippe.” At Peter’s uncomprehending look, he adds, “That’s one of the big rivers that flow into this one. About 50 miles downstream, it is.”
“Then we travel up the Lippe until we get to Paderborn. I assume you’ve never heard of it?” A shake from Peter’s head confirms Clemens’ assumption. Since the boy seemed calmer, he decides to keep talking.
“Well, it’s a city, although smaller than Cologne itself. There are many springs around it, which feed the river. The cathedral is impressive.” Pointing to the steep banks of the Rhine, barely visible through the rains, he adds, “The country is not like here, though. Much more flat. Here you have plenty of hills and valleys.”
For Peter, who’s never given much thought about things outside of the city walls, these descriptions are fascinating. Clemens continues, “Of course, that doesn’t mean there is no terrain features at all. Plenty of low hills, particularly when if you go east into the Teutoburg Forest. Ever heard of it? Didn’t think so!”
“It is said that in ancient times, before the Roman legions left Germany, a battle took place in that forest. The story goes thus.” Clemens takes a moment to collect his thoughts, or perhaps just for effect. Peter, his plight forgotten for the moment, waits avidly for the story.
“At that time, the Romans were led by a noble called Varus. Varus had been sent to consolidate and expand the province of Germania under the rule of Rome. He had control of thousands of men in his army. One of his advisors was the son of a German chieftain, Hermann, who had been sent to Rome as a hostage, receiving a military education and eventually coming back to Germany to serve under Varus.”
“Now, you have to understand that Varus was a cruel man. He was known for his ruthlessness and for crucifying those who rose against Rome. The German tribes at the time were fragmented and did not trust each other.”
“But young Hermann had not forgotten his German roots. So he plotted in secret, meeting with different tribe chieftains and forging an alliance between them. Their goal was to throw off Varus’ tyranny and cruelty.”
“And so young Hermann planned and prepared. When he was ready, he told Varus of reports of an uprising. Varus, eager to crush these rebels, and led his army through unfamiliar territory. Hermann, under the guise of leaving to gather support from subjugated Germans to support the Romans, joined his troops and led them against Varus.”
“The night before the battle started, heavy rain had fallen -- some say called by the Germanic tribes’ sorcerers. No matter, this rain made the narrow tracks within the forest muddy and prevented the Romans from using their bows. The Roman army was stretched over miles within the forest, so when the tribes attacked it was devastating. Roman discipline, however, prevented them from breaking. They reformed; they fought; they broke through. They were attacked again and again, but refused to yield. The battles lasted for days.”
“But Hermann knew all the tricks of the Roman, having studied them when he was young. So he could counter them every time, keeping Varus’ army contained within the forest. The Germanic tribes were more numerous. In the end, the tribes prevailed. Varus killed himself with his own sword, in the way the Roman generals did at the time when defeated.”
“It is said that over 10,000 Roman soldiers were killed during that battle. Their bones still litter the forest floor. So if you ever visit the Teutoburg, be careful where you step…”