fox_confessor: (Maraon)
[personal profile] fox_confessor
Disclaimer: A work of fiction; the recognizable people in the story belong to themselves and have never performed the actions portrayed here. I do not know the actors nor am I associated with them in any way. If you are underage, please do not read this story. I am not making any profit from these stories, nor do I mean any harm.

Title: Maraon. 2
Authors: [ profile] rynalwyn and Danielle
Pairing: bb/dm
Rating: PG-13
Warning: violence, implied past sexual, emotional and physical abuse...
Summary: a Roman soldier fights for his life in the Scottish wilderness and meets a local
Archive: Rynalwyn's site, [ profile] escribo, anywhere else, please ask
Notes: Thanks to Kia for the very thorough beta. This AU is set very loosely during the Roman invasions of Scotland in the 1st and 2nd centuries. Please do not go in looking for a lot of historical accuracy. Part: one

The lone traveler stopped at the crest of a hill, rested his shoulder against a tree and took a deep breath. The cold autumn air stung his lungs and made his eyes water. Although it was early in the season, he expected snow and hoped to reach shelter before it came. He readjusted his heavy pack by the straps around his shoulders, trying to ease some of the strain. His stomach growled loudly; his last meager meal had been at daybreak and the next would not be for many hours yet. He smiled grimly at the thought of disturbing the peace of the surrounding wood, then trudged on once more, keeping the weak morning sun to his back.

William, as he was called by those who knew him well, had made the journey in search of plants and herbs that would ward off the winter fever that always so devastated the children and elders of his small village. Years before, when he was but a lad, William’s grandfather had taught him a tale of a woman who had endowed the Scots with knowledge and taught them how to keep themselves well using the offerings of the earth. It was from her that his family had descended, a line of gifted healers and powerful chieftains. William thought of her, as he tramped across a field of heather, and of his grandfather, lost to him the previous summer. His grandfather had trained him to be a healer and had often taken him into the wild to collect the plants they needed. Gently, he would explain what each part of the plant was used for, when and where he could find it. They would spend many days together, alone in the wilderness as teacher and student. William smiled fondly at the memory, remembering how proud his grandfather had been, proud of how far he had come along. Though he was confident of his increasing skill, it was the first time he had made a journey into the distant Southern regions on his own. The ever growing Roman presence made the journey more difficult. With his mentor present it had been different, less worrisome.

Before the Romans had come to that land, a man had been able to walk far and wide without encountering another soul. But the southern lands seemed crowded, and more than once he had had to skirt around detachments of Roman soldiers. Everywhere there were signs of their occupation; cleared fields, scorched forests where they sought to clear land, felled trees that seemed to serve no other purpose than to create deadfall. William had heard many tales of their cruelty and understood the fear they instilled. The Romans were a scourge upon the Scots’ land. The Southern clans had held them back in the past, but William wondered how long it would be before his own people would be forced to fight.

He stopped at a rushing stream and knelt down, cupping his hand to take long draughts of the frigid water before filling his leather water bag. It was another two days journey to his village, longer if the Romans were still encamped at the ford of the river. William looked up at the gray sky and cursed the Romans. A detour would add another four days to his journey and increase the chance that he would be caught in bad weather. He scowled at the thought of such a delay.

Since losing his grandfather, William’s village depended on him to protect them and he took that responsibility very seriously. The winter fever devastated the mountain peoples every year, and each clan often suffered heavy losses amongst their children and elders. The tiny plant he carried would help save those children who contracted it, but it was difficult to find, moreso since the Romans had destroyed so much of the vegetation where it was usually found. With the supply in his pack, he could at least insure that the children of his village would live through to the spring, though each leaf would be precious.

Worries for his people filling his mind, William pushed aside his hunger and the cold, and marched on, knowing there were some miles yet before he would be able to rest. Readjusting the straps of his pack, he pulled it further up his back and continued his trek through the woods.

After traveling another couple of hours up the treacherous path, he stopped to rest again against a fallen log. He brought his flask to his lips and drank greedily. Wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, he looked around the quiet wood, frowning at the light snow that was beginning to fall. If the Romans had not broken camp, he would have to find shelter to wait out the storm. Wrapping his plaid closer around his body, William hitched his pack higher onto his back and gripped his walking staff, setting out once again at a quickened pace.

He had only gone a short distance before he heard shouts through the forest. Roman voices. The language was unmistakable, even though he knew little of it. Cursing under his breath, he backtracked to the fallen tree once more, crouching down to hide behind its bulk. His hopes to pass through that country quickly were dashed; the shouts were coming closer. He eased his pack off his shoulders and hid it carefully. Silently, he removed his bow, nocked an arrow, and waited.

Soon, William saw a man, dressed only in a tunic and britches, emerge from the cover of the trees; unprepared, it seemed, for the swift changes in weather that were so common in that land. He was running swiftly, stumbling frequently as if tired, and looking over his shoulder. A moment later two Roman soldiers appeared, pursuing him from behind, while two others sought to cut off his escape from the side.

William was sure if he remained motionless that he would not be detected, so distracted were the Roman soldiers by their prey. He knelt, his back against the log, weapon in hand, and watched. The quarry would soon be caught, he could tell. The Romans, it appeared, were having sport with him as his captivity was assured. From here it was impossible to see what kind of man this was; a slave, perhaps, a captured Scot from a southern clan, escaping the brutal Romans. William felt the first stirrings of anger. All his life he had heard stories of how the Romans treated those they captured. Among his people it was considered better to die fighting than to be at the mercy of a Roman.

As they drew closer, William could see that the man was already injured, his face a patchwork of cuts and bruises. One of the soldiers let loose an arrow and the man staggered on the uneven surface of the forest floor, his arms flailing out in front of himself to break his fall. The man turned his body away from the advancing soldier, too weary it seemed, to rise up and run any further. He lowered his head to rest his forehead against his arm and his body seemed to shake with the cold, the pain and the effort of pulling air into his lungs.

The soldiers yelled to one another, laughing and slowing down when they seemed sure the man would not rise. William couldn't make out most of what they said since his familiarity with their language was poor, but he did catch a name--Laeca--that seemed to be directed to the fallen. The man's face was contorted in pain and he grasped at the ground with battered hands, trying to drag himself away. As the soldiers neared the injured man, William raised his notched arrow, undecided. Any movement would surely give his position away and he would be forced to fight, something he would rather not do, but could he watch as this man was killed?

As if hearing William's thoughts, the injured man raised his head and met his eyes before the first blow fell on his back. He collapsed into the dirt again, shuddering but not crying out. The second blow landed on his injured leg. The third he never felt.

The eye contact was brief, but all William needed to act. He stood slowly and aimed for the soldier closest to the fallen man. He loosed the arrow and seconds later it lodged firmly in the soldier's throat. The soldier clutched at it and fell. William drew another arrow and took aim quickly before the others had a chance to recover from the surprise attack. A second soldier fell, this time with an arrow in his chest. The remaining soldiers spotted him then, and quickly advanced on him with swords drawn.

With no time left to load and fire another arrow, William tossed down the bow and drew his claymore from the sheath on his back. He smiled grimly at the soldiers' hesitation. It was an impressive weapon, nearly taller than he was. They slowed their advance, circling and trying to get William between them. He had the advantage, however, and kept his back to the thick line of trees behind him.

Movement at the corner of his vision distracted William, and he cast a quick glance at the fallen man. One soldier took that opportunity to strike, but the greater reach of the claymore was no match for a Roman dirk. With all his strength, William brought his weapon down onto the soldier's neck and he crumpled, nearly beheaded.

Silently, the remaining soldier and William faced one another. William's arms shook from the weight of his sword but still he advanced, willing to meet any challenge. The soldier, fear showing on his face, took one step back, then turned and sprinted for the trees. Muttering a curse, William dropped his sword and again nocked an arrow. He hesitated only briefly before letting the arrow fly. It wasn't his way to kill so casually, but none of the soldiers could be allowed to escape and bring down the wrath of the army upon his village. The arrow hit its mark and the soldier cried out, falling forward with the arrow in his back.

For long moments, all was still. William waited for his heart to slow and the shaking of his limbs to ease. He hated killing, though by necessity, he had learned to fight just as every other man of his village. Slowly, he cleaned his sword on the tunic of the fallen soldier in front of him, sheathed it, and turned his attention once again to the young man the Romans had been chasing.

William knelt next to the injured man, feeling for a pulse. Assured that he was still alive, William gently rolled him over onto his back, feeling for the extent of his injuries. Pleased that nothing seemed to be broken though worried about the gash on his thigh caused by the arrow, William retrieved his pack and pulled out a piece of cloth to bind the wound. When he was finished, William sat back on his haunches, looking at the lad before him. He didn't look like a Scot, with his cropped hair and strange clothing. But that meant little. He wondered if he was even of age yet, he looked so thin and vulnerable. Romans usually killed the men and boys of the villages, though sometimes, as it seemed now, they took slaves. He fingered the tattered cloth of the tunic the boy wore; the material was a fine weave. William was surprised that the Romans would give a slave something so fine to wear, but he had long since given up trying to understand their ways. As fine as it was, it offered little protection from the cold. He wondered when the boy had escaped and how long he had been alone in the wild.

Looking away from the boy, William glanced up to the darkening sky. The snow was falling heavier, and the temperature had been dropping steadily. A storm was coming. He sighed. It was not the time to try to figure out where the boy had come from. They both needed to find shelter before the full force of the blizzard descended upon them. Knowing there was a cave nearby that would at least provide some shelter, William looked down at the lad again, this time wondering how he would get him there.

Standing up, William settled his pack onto his back and secured his claymore. He pulled the boy up, dragging him to his feet. He moaned in pain, his head falling heavily forward.

"Shh, young one. I will help you but you must also help me. I can not carry you to safety." William knew that the boy probably could not understand his words, so different were the languages of the northern and southern clans, but hoped that his soft tones would ease his fear. As the snow began to swirl heavily around them, they began the long ascent to the cave.

* * *

William sat for a moment in front of the small fire, giving his aching muscles a moment to rest. It was a wonder they had made it to the little cave at all, but there would be no rest, at least not yet. They were secure enough for the night, a makeshift door of twigs and moss blocked the worst of the howling wind, and his little fire was heating the small enclosure enough so that they wouldn’t freeze in their sleep. William checked on the water over the fire, willing it to heat faster. Laying on the floor of the cave, the boy was unconscious again, exhausted from his exertion during their hike. Not that he had been much help. Leaning heavily on William, his feet had mostly dragged the ground though he tried to walk on his own. Though William knew he must have suffered, the boy had made the journey quietly,

Moving to lean over his unconscious body, William began to undress the boy. He wondered again which clan he had come from and how he had managed to escape. He was surprised to find the chain and pendant around his neck, surprised that the Romans had not taken it. Perhaps, William thought, he was the son of a clan chief and the Romans sought to ransom him. He set about tending his wounds, glad that he had saved the boy.

Carefully raising the shirt to check for injuries, William drew his finger down the lad’s thin chest. Beyond the bruises and other marks of the beating he had witnessed, the boy had not been well cared for and was painfully thin. He wondered at the cruelty of the Romans who would treat even the young like this. He tugged the lad’s britches down, gently peeling them from the wound on his thigh and bent his head closer to it, glad that it did not look deep.

Dipping a piece of cloth into the water, William cleaned the boy's wounds, doing his best to avoid causing any further pain. He carefully removed bits of cloth and dirt from the wound on his thigh, wiping away the dried blood as gently as he could. He bandaged it securely, too tired to make a proper poultice for it, but he hoped it was cleaned well enough to wait until morning. During all this, the boy never really woke but cried out weakly in his sleep, a mewling sound that made William angry at those who had abused him.

William dressed the lad again and wrapped him in his plaid. The air in the cave was chilly but no longer cold and William hoped that the boy would be comfortable enough to rest well. Sitting back on his heels near the fire, he removed the brewing tea from the heat, hoping it would provide the boy some relief from his pain and ensure a good night’s sleep. Once it was cool enough to drink, he lifted the boy up, wincing at his moans, and helped him to sip at the tea.

Checking one last time to make sure the boy was as comfortable as he could be, William finally banked the fire for the night and lay down near the entrance of the cave, his back to the cold air. Too fatigued to give more thought to the boy’s identity, William fell into an exhausted sleep.

* * *

Dominic woke to the smell of a wood fire. He lay quietly for awhile, surprisingly warm and comfortable, and tried to gather his thoughts to piece together exactly what had happened. He remembered abandoning the shelter of the trees, the pursuit of the soldiers, the arrow slicing into his leg, and falling. He remembered the mocking voices of the soldiers as they grew nearer. After that, all was shrouded in a haze of pain and exhaustion.

Opening his eyes, Dominic realized that he was in a cave, though he couldn’t think of how he came to be there. His body felt sore and stiff as he moved experimentally. There was a dull throbbing in his thigh where he knew the arrow must have hit him. His stomach growled, reminding him that he had been days without food and he felt suddenly ravenous and thirsty. He turned onto his side, groaning with the effort but froze at the sound of movement nearby.

Dominic sat up cautiously; wincing at the pain the movement caused, and looked at his surroundings. Huddled on the far side of the cave, Dominic could just make out in the dim light the figure of a man. To his back was the cave entrance, partially blocked, and in front, a banked fire responsible for the scant light and warmth in the cave. Beyond the cave entrance he could see snow falling, thick and steady. There seemed to be no other sign of anyone other than Dominic and the sleeping man.

Dominic pushed back the blanket that covered him and struggled to his knees, biting back a cry when he put his weight onto his injured leg. Cautiously, he crawled across the floor, trying to see who his mysterious companion might be. He immediately discovered that it was certainly no Roman soldier. Shaggy blond hair fell in disarray over his face, and a patterned blanket covered him almost to his nose. Nearby a long sword leaned against the cave wall, and on the ground beside it was a small knife and bow.

A new kind of fear settled in the pit of Dominic's stomach, and he backed away as quickly as his injured leg would allow. When he had the cave wall against his back, he stopped and stared at the man, cursing himself for not recognizing what he was immediately; one of the northern barbarians that Dominic had come with the Imperial army to subdue. A Scot. But how had this happened? Surely one barbarian was no match for four Roman soldiers, even burdened as they had been with their unconscious prisoner. He had been recaptured; there was no doubt in Dominic's mind about that. His escape had been the result of a twist of fate and he had expected to be recaptured or die in the wilderness. But how had he gone from being recaptured to being the prisoner of a lone Scot?

Stories of the barbarians began to crowd his mind, of days past when the Romans had tried to conquer with trade and friendly relations rather than force. Trade had been established in many things; medicines, fabrics, jewelry...and slaves. Dominic's horror grew as he pieced together what must have happened. Returning through the hills, weary of their burden, the soldiers had encountered this lone Scot and made a deal. Dominic speculated what this man carried that had so tempted his captors. He wondered for what price his life had been bought.

He stumbled clumsily to his feet, clinging to the cave wall for support. His head pounded as he stood and sweat trickled down his back, despite the cold air. Limping badly, Dominic made his way across the cave and picked up the knife. The snow still fell steadily, and Dominic knew he didn't stand much of a chance of survival out there, lost and injured, in a strange, inhospitable land. But as he glanced down at the Scot, anything was better than being a slave to this barbarian. A cold, miserable death from starvation or illness, alone in the wilderness, was preferable to being worked to death under the yoke of the barbarians.

Almost to the cave entrance and his freedom, a wave of dizziness swept over Dominic and he stumbled heavily into the cave wall. He leaned against it, trying to calm his breathing, waiting for the dizziness to pass. When he finally straightened, he turned to find the Scot sitting up and calmly watching him. He began speaking to Dominic, his voice low and even as he stood slowly.

"Get out of my way," Dominic snarled, sounding braver than he felt.

The man paused, brow furrowing in concentration. He stretched out a hand to Dominic and looked pointedly at the knife. "Give," he said. His voice was heavily accented but unmistakably Dominic's own language. Dominic hid his surprise and shook his head, backing slowly away.

"Give!" the Scot said again, more forcefully this time before continuing to speak in his own language.

Dominic's arm shook; his limbs felt heavy and wooden. He had no patience for a debate, wishing only to be free to die in peace. "No," he yelled, and lunged for the Scot. They collided, and Dominic's momentum bore them both to the ground. Surprised, the Scot recovered quickly and grappled with Dominic. Momentarily freeing the hand that held the knife, he slashed at the Scot and was pushed violently away. Dominic fell against the cave wall and blinked the stinging sweat out of his eyes. He watched as the Scot looked down at the gash on his arm and back up to him, eyes glittering dangerously. Without warning the Scot leapt at Dominic, easily overpowering him in his weakened state. He knocked the knife from his hand, and before Dominic quite knew what had happened, he found himself tied hand and foot.

* * *

Shocked, Billy backed away, looking at the man as he struggled with his binds. He could see now that this was a man, not a helpless boy as he had previously thought, but a soldier. And he wasn't a Scot, he was Roman. A Roman soldier. He reached up and cupped his injured arm, feeling the wetness of blood seeping through the thick wool of his sleeve. A dangerous and desperate man.

The man rolled away from him and brought his bound hands up to cover his face. Billy could see that their struggles had caused his leg wound to begin to bleed again. He worried that the flush on the man's cheeks was caused by more than exertion but was hesitant to approach him again. Still, a fever would indicate that an infection may have set in. William watched him, torn between his innate desire to help anyone who needed it, and his wariness born of a lifetime dealing with Roman cruelty. The young man had already proven that even in his weakened state, he could be a lethal adversary.

He checked the cut on his arm again. It wasn’t deep but was painful. He picked the knife up and stowed it in his pack. Seeing the bundle of plants, he knew he should make a poultice for the Roman's leg and his own wound but hesitated. Every leaf he used was one less for the children of his village. He could not justify using any on a Roman. He started to replace the bundle but the thought of his grandfather made him pause. He could almost hear the familiar brogue telling him that he was a healer to all who walked upon this earth and could not simply leave someone to die. William was frustrated with himself; whatever else the man may have, he was alone, hunted, injured, possibly ill, and frightened; he needed care. Cursing under his breath, he ignored the Roman’s glares and began preparing a broth to fight any fever the man be suffering. Using one of the precious leaves, he made a poultice in case there was an infection in his leg and laid out several more clean strips of cloth to bind the wound.

By the time the brew was finished, he turned back to find the Roman watching him intently. Pouring a small amount of the broth into a bowl he carefully edged closer to him, holding out the bowl and speaking in what he hoped was a soothing, persuasive tone. The Roman stared at him and at the bowl, confusion plain on his face. William reached out to help him sit up. Suddenly, the Roman snarled and struck at William's outstretched hands with his bound ones. The bowl flew out of his hands, striking the wall and falling to the ground with a clatter.

William watched in disbelief as the precious broth sunk uselessly into the dirt. He stood up, his head almost touching the ceiling of the cave. He retrieved the bowl and crossed over to the other side of the fire and knelt next to it. He glared at the Roman, furious about the wasted medicine.

William watched the Roman as he glared back, his chin jutted out in rebellion, practically daring him to try it again. Thinking about the precious leaves, he decided not to make any more medicine only to have it wasted again. Hearing the storm raging outside, he knew that he would be lucky to make it back to his village; he would never make it back for more leaves. He crawled back over to his pack and brought out some strips of smoked mutton. Moving back to the fire, he prepared himself some tea and food and ate, consciously not looking at the Roman again. He tried to think of something else, of his family back in the village, of the children he had promised to teach to play music. Thoughts of his grandfather entered his mind unbidden. Everyone had looked to him for guidance as well as medicine, William especially. His grandfather would never have let someone lie in pain, suffering from wounds.

A small whimper brought him back to his present situation. He looked back over to the Roman and saw that his cheeks were flushed and a fine sheen of sweat covered his skin. William cursed to himself, all too familiar with the beginnings of an illness. He looked down to the man’s leg and saw that the wound from the arrow was once again seeping and the material of the Roman's britches was soaked in fresh blood where William's earlier bandage had come loose during their struggle. The man was mostly still now, his jaw clenched in obvious pain.

William was overwhelmed once again with compassion and pity for this man, upset with himself for losing his temper. He knew that his grandfather would be disappointed in his stubbornness and felt that he was in some way failing him by not caring for the man properly. Shaking his head, he poured another portion of the medicine into the bowl and moved quickly so that the Roman didn't have time to react. Straddling him awkwardly, William pinned his bound hands to his lap with one knee and poured the broth down his throat. The injured man spluttered, trying to spit it out but was forced to swallow as William dropped the bowl and pinched his nose while covering his mouth.

Satisfied that at least some of the medicine actually made it inside of the infuriating Roman, William released him and sat back nearer the fire. He ignored the glares and turned his attention to the leg wound. There was no way to bind it again without undressing him, and William doubted the angry man would lay back and make it easy for him. Reaching for the poultice he had prepared earlier, he added a bit of water and began mixing it again, trying to think of a way to make the man cooperate. Suddenly, he remembered the name he had heard the Roman pursuers calling out to him. He hoped that hearing it would be soothing and began talking, knowing the Roman wouldn't understand his words but hoping that his low tones would help keep him still.

Dominic watched warily as the Scot crawled back on his knees towards him. He was speaking in quiet tones in his language trying to calm him, he assumed. Exhaustion was overwhelming him again, and as angry as he was about being forced to drink the medicine, he didn't think he had the strength left to fight him again. Bringing his hands up to his chest, he rested on his back, his eyes never leaving the Scot.

William set the bowl down out of his reach. He tested the binds around his ankles, assuring himself that the man would not be able to use his feet. Continuing to talk, he tried a few words in Latin, knowing his pronunciation would be difficult to understand but hoping that the Roman would understand that he was not trying to harm him. “Relax. I won’t hurt you. I have medicine.”

Dominic lay on his back, his muscles tense as he watched the Scot tug on his binds before moving to kneel next to him.

“Just relax, Laeca.”

Seeing the Scot reach out to the ties on his britches, and hearing the hated name, Dominic panicked. He began to struggle against his ties again, fear lending him new strength. He struggled to roll on his side, away from the barbarian, desperate to avoid being taken by him.

William was surprised by the panicked reaction but did not waste time trying to identify the cause. He worried that the struggling would make his wound bleed more profusely and began to fight with him, trying to force his legs still. Using his own leg to hold down the Roman’s, he forced him to roll onto his back and grabbed at his thrashing hands, locking them against his chest. The man still struggled, though weakly, and William lost his temper, yelling at him.

Dominic recognized that anger and stilled his body; shaking from more than the fever now. He heard the Scot begin to talk again, still using the despised name. Dominic choked back a sob and turned his face as far away from the Scot as he could. He felt the Scot tug at his britches and tried to will himself away, praying that it would at least be quick.

William noticed the man’s odd behavior and wondered at it but took advantage of the situation to tend to the wound. Pulling down the britches, he quickly inspected the wound before pressing a clean piece of cloth over it to stop the bleeding. He looked at the Roman’s face, observing how strangely quiet and compliant he had become, the exact opposite of how he had been moments ago. He reached up and brushed the sweat from the man’s forehead, feeling him warm with fever. The poultice smelled foul as William spread it over the wound. He pushed the Roman’s legs apart, applying a thick layer of the medicine. The Roman covered his face with his hands and William began to believe his reaction was from the pain of his wounds and sought to soothe him. Reaching a hand up, he stroked Dominic’s hip lightly and began to sing a song his mother used to sing to him when he had been sick as a lad.

Picking up a strip of clean wool, he wrapped it around the wounded leg, binding the gash. When he finished, he dressed the young man again, still singing in a low soothing voice. He pressed a hand to his chest and told him as best he could in the Roman's language that he needed to lie quietly or the wound wouldn’t heal. Slowly, he gathered up the discarded blanket and draped it over the shivering man, careful not to move too quickly and frighten him further.

Dominic shivered under the blanket, watching the Scot in confusion. He was grateful that the barbarian seemed uninterested in using him the way Laeneus always had, but that fact did nothing to soothe his fears of being a slave to him. There were plenty of unpleasant reasons why the strange man might be so keen to see Dominic recovered. Stories of captured soldiers being used as workers in the Scots' fields, or even as sacrifices to their strange, wild gods were common in the Roman camp. The medicine was making him sleepy, and Dominic was unable to fight its effects for long. But as he drifted into sleep, he resolved that he would not meekly submit to the ministrations of this Scot. He would not be such an easy slave to tame.

* * *

In the days that followed, Dominic was true to his resolution. Every drop of medicine the Scot managed to force down his throat was fought against; there was no doubt in Dominic's mind that more of it soaked into their clothing and the ground than reached his belly. When the Scot tried to check his leg wound, Dominic struggled against him so fiercely that finally he made no more attempts. More than once, the Scot lost his temper, and Dominic was certain each time that he would take up his blade and rid himself of his troublesome prisoner. Each time, however, he would stalk away for awhile, then return, calm and determined as ever.

But his resistance was beginning to take its toll. Even as ignorant of the mysterious world of medicine that he was, Dominic knew that he wasn't getting enough medicine to help him. He could feel his body growing sicker, and when he wasn't struggling against the Scot, he was lying on the ground, shivering and trying not to notice how sick he really was. His fever seemed to burn hotter with every heartbeat, and the wound on his leg throbbed painfully.

By the end of the third day, Dominic knew his strength was all but spent. The snow still fell thickly and the wind howled outside the makeshift door of the little cave. Dominic huddled under his blanket, shivering helplessly despite his burning skin. He rolled onto his back and turned his bleary eyes towards where the Scot had collapsed into an exhausted slumber on the other side of the cave after returning from an unsuccessful hunt. He was desperately thirsty, and the water skin that the Scot left for him was only a couple of lengths away, easily within his reach. He stretched his bound arms out towards it, but was too far away; he needed to sit up if he wanted to reach it, but was sure he'd be sick if he moved. He looked across the fire once again at the Scot. Helpless anger filled him, and he squeezed his eyes shut against tears of frustration. He did *not* want to ask the Scot for anything. But he was so hot and thirsty, and the water would be cold and sweet and soothing. He opened his eyes and decided that a drink of water would be worth the humiliation of asking a barbarian for help. He opened his mouth to speak, but the words came out as less than a whisper. Licking his lips, he tried to force the words through a mouth and throat that felt as dry and coarse as sand.

"Please..." he whispered towards the Scot, "Please, I can't reach the water."

The Scot slumbered on, too sound asleep to hear Dominic's whispered plea. Whimpering in frustration, Dominic rolled away from the Scot and let his tears fall, too exhausted and ill to care about showing weakness to his enemy.

* * *

William woke with a shiver. The air had grown noticeably colder and the fire was much lower than it had been when he laid down. He glanced outside but couldn't tell how long he had slept. The soldier had exhausted him in the last two days, fighting him with every meager bit of strength he had left. Several times, William had been very tempted to gather up his things and leave the man there, but that kind of cruelty wasn't in his nature. He stoked the fire, warming the air a bit, and then turned his attention to the Roman. He was shivering violently and, although asleep, was moaning in obvious pain. The wound had begun seeping again, and William berated himself for allowing the soldier to keep him from tending to it. Quickly, he prepared more medicine and crawled over to him. Usually the Roman was alert enough to note his approach and begin to twist away, but this time there was no reaction. William placed a hand on his shoulder and shook him gently to wake him. Although he'd always before reacted badly to being touched, the soldier only moaned and turned half open eyes towards him. Frowning, William laid his hand on the Roman's forehead, and found him burning with fever.

William cursed under his breath. The wound had to be infected; the medicine he'd been forcing him to drink would have dealt with a fever alone. He returned to his bundle of plants and prepared a more potent medicine, ignoring the twinge of guilt at the dwindling supply. He told himself that what he had left would be enough, if he was careful. He brewed the potion and lifted the soldier up, letting him drink alternately from the medicine and the water.

Soon, the entire draught had been drunk. When the soldier had fallen into a deeper, more restful sleep, William turned his attention to the wound on his leg. The soldier did not move as William took the binds from his ankles, carefully removed his britches, and took the bandage from his thigh. He turned his head away, covering his nose with his shoulder. He was furious with himself for not forcing the soldier to remain still so that he could care for him.

He returned his attention to the oozing, open wound, knowing that such an infection could result in the loss of the man’s leg. He gently cleansed the wound, watching the man’s face for any sign of discomfort. After several long minutes, William was finally satisfied and, after pressing a clean cloth to the wound, went to the fire to begin preparing another poultice. He could not begrudge the man help, not anymore. He was stubborn and infuriating but without it he would die. William could not let even a Roman solider die when it was in his power to help. Killing in defense was different, he reasoned. This one would not have harmed him if he had not felt threatened in some way. He looked over his shoulder to where the man lay shivering beneath William’s plaid. He picked up another piece of firewood and threw it onto the fire before going back to mixing the poultice.

Taking two of the precious leaves from his pack, William crawled over to the soldier and removed the cloth, pleased that the gash seemed to have stopped oozing blood and pus. He applied the leaves directly to the wound and then the thick poultice over it before wrapping a fresh piece of wool around his thigh. Putting his hand over the soldier’s forehead, he whispered a small prayer for his recovery.

William spent the long, sleepless night watching over the Roman, helping him to sip water and keeping an eye on the wound. Finally, near dawn, the fever broke. William gently washed the sweat from his body, lingering thoughtfully over the scars on his back. The man wasn't a slave but the scars were whip marks, there was no doubt about that. Relief that the man was finally recovering, and that he was free from such cruelty, flooded him. He stroked his fingers through through his dirty hair, singing soothingly.

The Roman opened uncomprehending eyes and stared at William.

“You will be well now, Laeca. And not give me anymore trouble about your medicine.” William knew the man could not understand him but hoped that his words were true. He slipped his arm underneath the Roman’s shoulders and sat him up so that he could drink more of the mixture. “There. This way you will feel better soon and perhaps be able to put a matching scar on my other arm.”

Laying him back down, he continued his song until the man finally closed his eyes and fell into a deep sleep once again. William sighed and tried not to think of the leaves that could not be replaced. Need was need, and there was nothing else to be done about it.

Too weary at last to sit up any longer, William stretched out next to his patient, wanting to be nearby in case he was needed. Sleep was slow in coming, and he lay for a long time, consumed by worry, both for the young man and for his village. William was finally at the edge of sleep when the man cried out sharply. Heart racing, William sat up and looked around the cave and then to the man. Pulling the blanket back, he checked on the wound and found it clean and healing. He replaced the blanket and laid back down. Again the man cried out, struggling to move his arms as if to ward off an attack.

“Hush. Be still,” William murmured before beginning his song again. The man quieted, his hands falling to his side. Suddenly he turned and blindly burrowed into William's body, seeking comfort. Surprised, William hesitated, then draped his arm around the Roman's body. Yawning, his eyes sliding shut, William murmured, “You’re safe now, young Laeca. Sleep well.”

* * *

Dominic leaned against the cave wall, peering out at the snow covered landscape. The Scot was struggling up the hill, carrying some small animal he'd managed to catch for their meal. Something had changed in him during last day and night. He remembered little of it; most of what he could remember was hazy and indistinct, having only woken briefly during all that time. What he did know is that he'd been closer to death than he had ever been before, even when waiting in the quartermaster's tent under a death sentence. There was no doubt in Dominic's mind that, had he been there alone, he would not have survived. Even now, he was so weak it was all he could do to sit up against the wall, and he'd never have managed that if the Scot had not been there to help him. Why the man had gone to such lengths to take care of him, Dominic couldn't fathom.

The Scot came in and tossed down the animal--a plump rabbit--and set about building up the fire and preparing the rabbit for cooking. While it was cooking, he prepared the foul-smelling brew that Dominic had been forced to drink. He'd woken, exhausted and weak, and found he had no desire to struggle when the Scot checked his wound and fed him the medicine. A bit stronger, he found he still had no desire to fight him. Perhaps he was a slave, but the barbarian had been kinder to him than Laeneus ever had. Perhaps being bound to him would be a bit more bearable, if only for the novelty of being treated with respect and a sort of gruff kindness.

The Scot's voice, awkwardly speaking Dominic's own language, drew him from his thoughts. "Laeca feel..." he paused as he searched for the word, "...not sick?" He shuffled over to Dominic on his knees, holding the bowl of medicine carefully out of Dominic's reach and watching him warily.

"Better," Dominic replied quietly. He wished the soldiers had told him Dominic's real name. Hearing it, even now, away from the Roman camp and Laeneus, only caused him pain.

The Scot nodded, satisfied. He reached one hand out to touch Dominic's forehead, and Dominic instinctively shrank away from the touch. Frowning, the Scot sighed and held out the bowl to him. Dominic took it carefully, balancing it awkwardly in his bound hands. "Laeca, drink. Feel more not-sick soon." He turned and began to shuffle back to the rabbit. "Wait," said Dominic, before he could stop himself. Maybe he could, at least, rid himself of that hated name. Dominic wasn't sure if he understood the word, but at least it made him pause. "My name is not Laeca," he said, hoping the man would understand.

The Scot turned back, clearly puzzled. "Not....Laeca?"

"No," Dominic replied, watching the Scot frown at him. He shook his head vigorously, set the bowl down carefully, and tapped his chest. "My name is Dominic."

Leaning forward, the Scot placed his own hand over Dominic's, flat against his chest. "Dominic."

Dominic smiled weakly, nodding. "Yes, Dominic."

The Scot nodded, and drew Dominic's hands to his own chest, spreading the palm flat on his chest and covering Dominic's hand with his own. "William," he said.

Dominic nodded and hesitantly repeated the unfamiliar name. William smiled briefly and nodded, turning back to tend the fire. Dominic fumbled with the bowl, trying to pick it up without spilling it. William quickly retrieved the bowl from his hands and held it out to him. "Drink, Dominic," he said. "Drink all of it."

Nodding, Dominic brought the bowl to his mouth, noting that the Scot--William, he reminded himself--watched and waited until he drank it all. Handing the bowl back, he settled back against the wall and watched William prepare the rabbit he'd caught. It occurred to Dominic how long it had been since he'd had a proper meal; William had mostly only fed him the broth since he'd been here, and in the days before that he'd had virtually nothing. His stomach growled loudly, and William chuckled softly. "Soon, Dominic," he said. "Not much, but soon."

Trying to ignore the persistent pain in his leg, Dominic shifted and watched William. How, he wondered, had this barbarian come to know his language? He accepted the food William handed him and ate silently, trying to fathom what was in store for him with the strange, baffling man.

* * *

The next few days passed in much the same way. William would make him drink the medicine and then check his wound. Dominic didn't fight him anymore, though he did seem to hate letting William that close to him. Sensing his discomfort, William worked as quickly as he could, keeping his touch light and impersonal. Much of the pain that Dominic was in was the fault of his own stubbornness, but it couldn't be helped.

As William’s patient slowly grew stronger, he began to wonder what he would do with him. Though Dominic had been docile enough since the night he was so ill, William was still wary of what he might try were he free to do so. Keeping him bound was distasteful, but necessary. Too many people depended on William and the medicines he carried to take any chances with an unpredictable Roman.

The sensible thing, of course, would be to untie him, point him in the direction of Rome, and see the end of him. William had always been good at doing the sensible thing. Until that moment. He glanced at Dominic, standing outside the cave, face turned up to the sky. Nothing he had done in regards to the Roman so far had been sensible. He sighed heavily, secured his pack and his sword, and grasped his walking stick. Perhaps some wisdom would come to him during the climb down the slope to the valley floor.

* * *

The weather had improved over the past days, and though it was still cold, the snow was nearly melted. Dominic was strong and well again, and he watched William pack up his belongings, preparing to leave. William had untied Dominic's feet and he stood just outside the cave, enjoying the feel of the sunshine after so many days of being confined, either by his illness or the snowstorm. The wind was bitingly cold, but William had wrapped him in a patterned wool garment much like his own, and he barely felt it. He turned when William came out, carrying his pack and clutching his walking staff in one hand. William held the staff out to Dominic. "Walk easier with this. You'll be tired."

Dominic accepted the staff with a nod and, though unsure of where they were going, wordlessly followed William down the path. Soon they came to the valley floor, and Dom's stomach flip- flopped as he recognized the place--the valley where the soldiers had run him down. He slowed, memory of fear and pain overwhelming him.

As he looked around, something glittered in the sun, drawing him near. A short knife, the kind the Roman army carried, lay half hidden in the grass. Nearby, one of the distinctive Roman helmets lay, and beyond that, another. Bones--some in small pieces, others larger and whole--lay scattered all around. Dominic knelt, unaware of William walking slowly back to him. He examined the knife more closely. The hilt was engraved, not the standard weapon issued to every soldier. The writing bore a name: Sennius. This knife, then, belonged to a Roman that Dominic knew; one of his pursuers. The realization struck him like a lightning bolt. They hadn't sold him, he'd been stolen. This man, who had cared so well for him, had killed them all.


William's soft voice startled him badly and he lurched to his feet, stumbling a few steps away before stopping and staring at the Scot in shock. "You killed them."

Seeing the knife in the grass, William understood Dominic's shock, and nodded.

"You killed them all. Why?" Fear gripped him again. He hadn't thought that one barbarian could defeat four seasoned Roman soldiers, but this one had. And all to capture him.

William shook his head, motioning Dominic forward. "Come."

Dominic didn't move, still staring at William and the debris in the grass. William sighed heavily and set his pack down on the ground. Taking his own long knife in hand, he reached for Dominic's hands and sliced through his bindings. Replacing his knife, he pulled from his pack a small bundle and a water skin. He handed the bundle and the skin to Dominic and, retrieving the knife from the grass, slid it into Dominic's belt. Dominic watched all this, confused.

After he'd outfitted Dominic, William pointed south. "To Rome," he said, and then, turning Dominic the other direction, he pointed north, over a vast expanse of rocky, uneven ground that held no trees. "To home." With that, he stepped away, walking backwards for a few steps. "Goodbye, Dominic."

Dominic watched William walk away, absently rubbing his wrists where the ropes had chafed them and trying to figure out what had happened. If William hadn't bought him, then he must have taken him when he found the Roman soldiers. But why? Why would he go to such trouble and then release him? There were far too many questions. He glanced in the bundle. William had given him food, enough for several days. And water, and a weapon.

He turned towards the path to Rome. He was free, and he knew he could get far enough now that he'd reach a Roman village, resupply himself, gradually make his way to a friendly city and, one day, all the way back to Rome. But what awaited him there? He was a fugitive accused of murder. His father might buy off enough of the Senate to allow him to keep his life, but at what cost? Having brought shame upon his family, he would be as good as dead in Rome. No one would associate with such a man. His friends, his family, all would shun him. And if Laeneus had actually sent word home, telling his father the things he'd promised to tell...Dominic shuddered.

Slowly, he turned back and watched William walk north. Soon, he would be out of sight over the low hills. William was a Scot, and if he followed him, he'd soon find himself in a Scottish village. A Roman among the Scots. Dom knew first hand what the Romans did to the Scots. Would he truly be any better off there? In Rome, at least the worst of the scorn and hostility would be masked in the interest of not offending his father, but in a Scottish village, he would have no such protection, thin though it would be. Unless...his gaze once more found William.

William had cared for him, beyond any reasonable explanation that Dom could find for doing so. He'd borne Dominic's anger, treated him kindly if a little gruffly. More kindly than anyone else ever had, and much more than he deserved, given the way Dominic had struggled against him. He hadn't even taken any real revenge for Dominic's attempt on his life. And all at once, the memory of waking up in that cave for the first time returned to him. He'd been unbound, and William's weapons had been within easy reach. Would a man capturing a slave have been so careless? Dominic didn't think so.

William disappeared beyond the rise of a hill, and Dominic was startled into action.

"William!" He began running, making his still-tender leg ache. "William! Wait!"

Reappearing at the crest of the hill, William waited and watched as Dominic finally caught up to him, breath coming in gasps. Dominic tried to catch his breath, grateful for the steadying hand William put on his arm.

"Wait," he managed after a moment. "Wait. Let me come with you." William looked puzzled. Dominic pointed north, and tapped his chest. "Let me come with you."

William looked at him thoughtfully. For a moment, Dominic was sure he was going to refuse. But then he smiled briefly and nodded. "Come then, Dominic." He turned and headed back down the hill, Dominic following close behind.



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