'The River and the Bridge'
Marcus's vineyards prosper and,
as Vectis would put it, his business diversifies. As the years pass,
there are many different occasions for celebration and joy--and,
alas, for Vectis's promotional verses. But the story ends where
One dawn, a week before Marcus's wedding commenced,
the night guards at the vineyard were awaiting Prunec and the first
shift of labourers. Prunec arrived in some agitation. For some days
now, all of the others had been helping Marcus to prepare for his
celebrations. This meant that, for the first time, Prunec was in
sole charge of the vineyards. Even now, however, Marcus had a habit
of dropping by to inspect progress, and there was a strong rumour
that he might appear that morning. In fact, the manner of Prunec's
arrival suggested that Marcus was hard at his heels. The gardener
was almost beside himself. Everything had to be just right--and
stay that way. What if something untoward happened on his watch?
Why couldn't at least one of the others be there--Currerus or Solatius,
preferably, since they were his fellow professionals at the vineyards?
Clearly eager to start his rounds, Prunec exchanged breathless greetings
with the night guards: 'No trouble?' he asked mechanically. There
had been no raids for a while and, assuming that the answer would
be 'no,' he was about to move off when one of the guards took his
arm: 'Far alley, Prunec,' he said. 'Nearest the river. We can't
tell how many--we only spotted them just before you came. Hidden
deep, they are--no movement at all.'
All Prunec's fears sprang as one into his mind. Wonderful! No, no--truly
it was: Marcus's wedding preparations in full swing; the bridegroom
himself possibly descending any minute; his own abilities suddenly
at stake. Damned Silurian raiders! Or could it be--? For a moment
he pictured Diplomus as an evil grin between parted vine-leaves:
'Ah, my dear Prunec,' he was saying. 'After all these years. Now--I
trust you have enjoyed your liberty.' Then a maniacal cackle rang
out in his head.
This fancy saved the day. Ordinarily, Prunec would have dropped
in a dead faint at such imaginings. But something new stirred in
his heart--indignation--anger! How dare Diplomus or the Silures
or any creature, real or fantasical, test him thus! Did they think
him unequal to his charge? Did they assume in their demonic way
that he would let Marcus down? To the astonishment of the guards
and labourers, he instantly armed himself with axe and stave, exhorting
them to do likewise: 'Come on!' he cried and set off towards the
far alley. 'I thought we'd sorted all this nonsense out once and
for all!' Unbeknownst to all of them, Marcus was just riding up.
The party passed entrance after entrance along the alleys, until
one of the guards whispered, 'In here, Prunec' and motioned to the
last alley before the river meadows.
'Right, you rabble!' yelled Prunec into the thickets of leaves.
In his dreams, he'd long been rehearsing a speech of excoriation
for just such an incident, while assuring himself that he would
never have to use it. He had withering oaths arranged in order,
as well as a paean to the virtues of good, honest toil. As he launched
into his monologue, a figure emerged several yards up the alley
and stood foursquare, arms akimbo. Prunec's troop gestured menacingly
with their weapons. For himself, the gardener was a little peeved.
He was just hitting his stride and only one Silurian oik had shown
himself. Now he'd have to stop and demand that the rest appear.
'So--let's be having you all, then!' he cried, and suddenly found
himself being lifted clean into the dawn air: 'Ambush!!' he screamed,
mortified at the sudden peals of laughter around him. 'Diplomus
and his creatures are among us!!' he tried then. 'The earth's opening
'Indeed it is, good Prunec,' said Marcus, setting him down on his
feet and releasing him. 'And I cannot believe what it has yielded.'
When Prunec regained his balance, he saw that the guards and labourers
had gathered behind Marcus, whispering incredulously, gasping in
amazement. As for the felon in the alley, he was now walking forward,
clearly ready for an embrace.
'Apologies for my tardiness,' said the stranger. 'Gaul had to shelter
me for longer than I wished.'
Marcus was now speechless, as though the impetuous trick on Prunec
had drained all of his energy. The long embrace over, he stepped
back for a full view of the gardener's felon. 'You've grown,' he
'It's called entering manhood, brother.'
The word 'manhood' reminded Marcus of how many years had flown by
since their last conversation in Cremona. Once more his heart was
too full to speak. Though charged with happiness, the silence among
the vines became hard to bear. At last, Prunec gestured round the
alley and chanced his new, forthright manner again:
'You've . . . you've put your name to a rare wine, sir' he said
to Alacer. Now it was Alacer's turn to fight rising tears. Prunec
cursed his mouth, telling himself that he should stick to his dreams
of routing Silurian ne'er-do-wells. But his words galvanised Marcus,
who turned to him:
'Prunec, my deep apologies for that little prank just then. Call
it an excess of joy. You, sir, have bravery in your gift, whatever
you may think--as well as the power to find the right words of welcome.'
Then, he again fell upon Alacer's neck, embracing him fiercely,
giving dawn-shattering thanks.
Alacer told his tale that very day. It surprised
Marcus--and, indeed, everyone--that he had somehow realised his
childhood ambition and become a lawyer. For his was a tale of wandering,
of seeking out shadows, of finding shelter in the dead of night
and taking the next strange road before cockcrow. Gravis had arranged
that, at the first sign of Imperial menace against his family, a
close friend should take the boy into Antiochia. The man was a merchant,
and his intinerant business, Gravis reasoned, would keep the boy
on the move and reduce all dangers. It soon became clear, however,
that Alacer's very existence imperilled the man's fortunes on the
road and his loved ones at home. Thus did the boy learn, early on,
that one human being can unwittingly blight the destiny of another.
For two months he remained at the merchant's side; when they parted,
the man provided him with as much money as his situation would allow.
There followed for Alacer a journey whose mapping would have taxed
the brains of a dozen Curreruses put together. Aegyptus, Galilee,
Byzantium, Corcyra--the streets and walls of all these and more
were darkened by his fleeting shadow. Now he was a camel-driver;
now, a bellows-man at a forge; now, even a minstrel and juggler.
Slowly, painfully, he worked his circuitous way towards Gaul. As
he went, he managed to weave a web of contacts, men and women who
could be trusted with whispered confidences. These kept him informed
of his older brother's life and progress--and of the dangers that
lay in any untimely attempt to join him. As Marcus listened, he
remembered Salvius's words from the day that they took their walk
at Glevum: it seemed that Alacer had indeed found many welcoming
brakes and thickets in Gaul, guarded by those who still revered
the Spatula name.
'Two such send their salutations,' said Alacer. 'Spesis and Balatrus.'
At this, a cheer went up, followed by whistles and murmurs of amazement.
'What news of them?' asked Currerus.
'Very little that I can tell. Like me, they were fugitives from
Empire. No doubt this will sound strange to you, but we had an agreement
not to share too much personal history--only what was needful. I
did sense, though, that their road was a hundred times more winding
than mine.' He smiled. 'But they promised that, if humanly possible,
they would descend on you one day and tell all themselves.'
Alacer's own road had led, two months before, to a night crossing
and landfall at a bay near Noviomagus. He had made his way through
the south and then swung towards Cambria.
Currerus pondered his route: 'It sounds as though you might have
passed through Diplomus country.'
'Diplomus?' asked Alacer.
'No talk of him,' interrupted Marcus, shivering inwardly at the
possibility that his dear Alacer might have unwittingly spoken with
that treacherous noble--or even his monkey of a factotum. 'Alacer
is here. The pattern is complete. Though I own that, for me, it
will be many, many a long day before his tale sinks in. Or his presence.'
After everyone else had retired to bed, the brothers talked on.
'I had hoped,' said Alacer, 'that Vinitor would step out of the
vines with me this morning.'
Marcus started at the name of their father's loyal vineyardist,
then looked enquiringly at his brother. Alacer shook his head:
'The poor, bewildered fellow survived as far as Aegyptus,' he said.
'Then his old ghost gave up. I assure you, Marcus, that his burial
was as fitting as I could manage.'
Click here to go to Part 2 of Chapter
Terms used in Chapter XXVI
Antiochia: Antioch, ancient commercial centre and capital
of Syria (300-64 BC).
Noviomagus: the Roman name for Chichester.
Aegyptus: Egypt. Byzantium: Constantinople; renamed Istanbul
Publius Vergilius Maro: the Roman poet Vergil (70-19BC),
best known for his epic work, The Aeneid.
Mensis Iunius: the month of June.
Worcester City Museums