Historical background tidbits:
- The Romans invaded the British Isles shortly before Christ was born. Their presence and rule was radically rejected by the northern Pictish nations (Cruthnae peoples).
- The Cruthnae tribes were fierce, deadly warriors, experts at ambush and lightening attacks.
- Hadrian's wall and other walls were built as an attempt to stop or limit the constant attacks decimating the isolated Roman troops and colonies. But it took hundreds of years for the Romans to eradicate the Cruthnae tribes.
- Tradition tells us that early in Christian history, monks and others traveled through the northern parts of the British Isles.
- We know from Scriptures and history that numerous Roman soldiers became followers of Christ. Some of these men were certainly sent to isolated places in the first 3 hundred years after Christ.
- If you've read this much, I'll let you in on a secret: These are actually the first two chapters from a book (maybe movie too) I'm writing called "Tarandi".
Part 1 – Walls of Grey
375 AD - near Hadrian's Wall, northern Great Britain
The low fog, seeping through the trees and blanketing the field beyond, hid the ground and made the stillness even more eerie in the dim morning light. Marcus Silvanus was sure he had heard the slight thump of a weapon against a tree, but the pounding of his own heartbeat in his ears seemed loud enough to block other slight noises. Afraid to move his head even a fraction of an inch, so as to not give his position away, his grip tightened on the cowhorn at his side. As he thought about moving it slowly up to his lips, a sudden spray of bark stung his face and made him jerk his head back from the tree. The quivering shaft of a very deadly and decidedly close arrow, protruded from the edge of the massive oak. Flinging himself behind the tree, he immediately shattered the silence with the triple blast of an attack warning. The screams of the enemy punctured the grayness and he heard the crashing of bodies through the brush as he dropped the horn and jerked his sword from the scabbard. Falling on one knee with his back to the thick trunk and his helmeted head now level with the brush around him, he waited for the crashing to come closer. As the first of the wild tattooed bodies leapt over the bushes to his left, he spun around and chopped a fur-clad Pict across the throat. Without waiting to see what happened, he leaped back to the tree and grabbed his shield just as another wild-eyed warrior ran around the other side. Bringing his spiked club down on Marcus' upraised shield with a mighty blow that almost knocked him to his knees, the veteran Roman soldier instantly thrust his sword into the man's unprotected chest and spun to the side. He quickly swung the sword around and down across the hairy neck. Knowing he didn't need to waste any further time with the falling body, he dropped to one knee and with his shield held firmly before him, took in the battle below him. He saw the dim glint of armor from the main body of Roman soldiers as they stood together against the massive onslaught of the screaming Picts. The tightly held shields and the protruding spears were taking a fearsome toll on the loosely organized wild men and the disciplined Romans were keeping them back with their defensive formation.
Marcus moved cautiously down through the trees and towards the surging bodies, but as quickly as the attack began, it now suddenly melted back into the fog. The Roman soldiers did not follow the shadowy forms leaping back into the forest, but lifted their shields and weapons and shouted the victory cry:
"Hail Rome, the great victor…hail Caesar the Lord."
Marcus did not join in their words, but looked at the now-still bodies of the men lying on the ground near him. Dropping to one knee, he set down his shield and sword and bowed his head.
"Lord, forgive us for killing these men. I know you died for them and would much rather that I told them of You. Forgive me."
Rising to his feet, he heard a low groan from the bushes in the direction of the Pict retreat. Pushing his way down through the wiry branches, he almost tripped over the prostrate body of a young Pict warrior. Head bloody from the fearsome wound that had peeled back his matted scalp, Marcus could see the wound was not mortal. The light, patchy beard told of an age of no more than 14 or 15 years old, and he had probably just witnessed his first battle. Marcus squatted at his side, then pulled the outstretched arms in and deftly rolled the muscular figure over onto his stomach. Crinkling his nose and almost gagging at the fetid smell of the unwashed body, he pulled out his dagger and began cutting a strip of the rough, thick leather skin from the bottom of the boy's covering. Quickly tying the hands together, he cut and made another strip for a hobble to keep him from easily running away. As he worked, he noted the heavy silver chain around the tattooed neck and pulled it off to study it. A circular star sign disk of some deity or clan hung from it and Marcus stuffed it in his leather pouch.
"Found a live one, eh?"
The rough voice of Quintus rolled ahead of his footsteps as the muscular soldier made his way through the bushes.
"We'll have a good time with him tonight, you can be sure of that!" Quintus spat at the groaning form, then kicked the boy over to see his face.
"So, they send their children against us too? Soon it will be the women as well, then we'll really have some fun!"
His loud, raucous laughter soon attracted the other soldiers and the seasoned warriors encircled the boy's now slowly moving form. Suddenly opening his startlingly blue eyes, the still figure looked up at them. Picking up his shield and stepping back, Marcus saw there was no fear in the young man's eyes, but his senses seemed still dulled by the mighty blow to his head. Some of the soldiers began to kick him and laughed when one kick glanced off his shoulder and touched the wound in his scalp and he screamed from the pain. Marcus quickly stepped forward and set his shield down hard between the boy and his tormentors.
"I, Marcus Silvanus, claim my right to take this prisoner for Rome. From this moment on, he is the property of Rome."
He looked the men in the eyes and saw their disappointment. Marcus had probably just saved the life of the young Pict warrior, as the men still had the blood lust upon them and wanted vengeance for the lives of their fallen comrades.
Quintus sneered at Marcus, then said, "Saving him for Rome, or saving him for yourself?"
Some of the other soldiers chuckled at this crude joke, but Marcus noted that his brothers in the Way were not laughing and several looked at him curiously. He felt other eyes on him and glanced down at the young man. Meeting the icy gaze, he realized the young warrior knew he had saved his life, but he saw no gratitude there, only anger and hatred. His heart fell and he wondered if he had done the right thing…
Part 2 – The Chieftain
377 AD - near Hadrian's Wall, northern Great Britain
"Hipitosh lalech ma'hind groandand. Translated into your language, it is 'The High Lands touch the sky and become the pathway for the gods.'"
With a broad gesture, Tarandi swept his hand across the sky and gazed at the mountains to the north. His eyes reflected the deep blue of the sky as he turned his head to look steadily into the eyes of the Roman.
"My people will come again and again until you are gone. You Romans can never take the highlands from us and you will never make us bow to Rome. We will always be free!"
His square chin jutted out defiantly and except for his tattooed face, he looked like a painting from some Roman fresco. Marcos noticed the tight muscles twitching in his jaw and answered quietly:
"Tarandi, neither you, nor your people, nor the Romans are free. No man is truly free until Jeshua sets him free. The word of the Holy One of God to us is: 'If the Son sets you free, you shall be truly free.' He told us that everyone in the world is really a slave to the Twisted One, the Deceiver of all men.'
His gentle but insistent way made Tarandi's face soften as he stared at the older man’s wrinkled face. His questioning look caused Marcos to explain more carefully:
"The Twisted One is the same one that makes your people think they have to kill their children in sacrifice to him. He is the same one that makes Romans want to take slaves and use them like animals to fight in the arenas. He is the same one that made the Jews want to kill the Perfect Son of God. He is the one you Picts carve into the rocks as a snake and gives your priests the power to do harm to others, but does not truly heal them. His very name is Deceiver, for he will do anything to keep men from knowing the Truth that sets them free."
" But Novantae Cruthnae are slaves of no one!" Tarandi indignantly stated.
"Tell me Tarandi, when your people drink the strong heather brew, do your women not run into the bushes with the children to hide? Why do they hide? It is because they are afraid the men will hurt them! Why would they want to hurt their own families? When you sleep at night in your houses, why do you put logs against the door? It is because you are afraid of the spirits! When a man sneaks into another man's house and visits that man's wife secretly, why does he do that? He knows that man will try to kill him when he finds out! Why does he do it even though he has his own wife? It is because all men do wrong things and the Enemy keeps them chained with fear. You are very right when you say the Picts are mighty warriors and very fierce, but they are also like all men everywhere and really serve the Twisted One, not the Creator of everything."
"But you serve Rome and kill others for her, why are you any better?" The Latin was halting and mixed with the Pict language, but Marcos understood the bitter verbal thrust.
Tarandi's question burned into Marcos' heart and he looked down at his sandaled feet. The young Pict felt a flash of shame at his cruel question and he regretted it immediately. He had grown fond of the older soldier with his strange words that seemed to stab like knives into his heart. He saw the struggle on the lined face of the old centurion as the tanned face lifted to face him.
"Tarandi, I have asked my Lord many times why He wants me here. I know He loves your people and my heart is grieved within me at my life of war. I pray everyday for God to somehow help me use the Sword of His Word instead of the sword of Rome. The Word is a sword that gives life, not takes it away."
As the shadows lengthened like dark fingers from the trees, the two men stood up and Marcos again felt a pang as the clink of chains came from the young man's feet. His manacled ankles were scarred and even the wraps of cloth around them did not hide the short chain that kept the captive young warrior from running away. Tarandi grabbed the ragged piece of cloth tied in the center of the chain, lifted it and turned to walk slowly towards the wooden lean-to along the wall, straightening his back and trying to walk with as much dignity as possible.
Raising to his feet, Marcos gathered his light toga more tightly around his shoulders. It was cool tonight and the fires would need stoking to keep him warm in his hewn-block shelter. He glanced once more down the long, gray wall, disappearing into the evening gloom. He looked for any guards manning the wall again tonight. Discipline was growing harder and harder as the men lost hope. Rome was going under and they would soon be totally on their own. It had been months since they had heard anything and the men were growing anxious to head further south, away from this useless wall Hadrian had built. It certainly didn't stop the Picts and only served to keep them in one place as easy targets.
He looked down at the silver chain with its star-shaped clan sign in his hand and breathed a deep sigh. He had planned to give it back to Tarandi tonight, but had forgotten after the young man's verbal thrust. Marcos flipped it over his neck so he wouldn't forget to give it back tomorrow, then slowly walked to the gatehouse and ducked to enter the low doorway. His two best friends and brothers in the Faith were singing a beautiful hymn about Jesus in a garden. He sat down on his cot to listen and soon joined in the musical praise. He knew they had been praying again for their families and for Marcos as he taught the young Pict warrior about Jesus the Christ. With the riots in Rome becoming more obvious from the last reports they had received, they were almost sick from worry for their families. Marcos thought of his own elderly parents and prayed silently again for their protection. He prayed also for someone to tell them about his Jesus. He knew they had been disturbed by his attempts to explain about Jesus, but he knew they had been tremendously impressed by the changes in him since the day he had come to believe.
His mind on the far away hills of Rome and his praise to the Lord, Marcos missed the first quiet thump of feet on the ground. At the sound of more feet hitting the earth, his friends jerked up and he snapped back to the present and leaped from his wooden cot. Jerking his sword from its sheath, he grabbed his helmet from its peg by the door and thrust it down over his head as he and his two friends ran outside. The war cries of the swarming hoards of Pict warriors were all around them and he braced himself for the first wave of wild-eyed men as they rushed upon him. His two friends had their backs to each other as they fought impossible odds and as he saw them fall before the massed warriors, and prepared to meet his Maker. The rushing, fur-clad Picts suddenly stopped only a dozen paces from him and the screaming, jeering faces of a dozen warriors surrounded him. They were like a pack of wolves, delaying the kill to heighten their thrill. He moved forward to put an end to their fun and die with dignity, but a mighty blow smashed into his helmet from behind and he only dully felt the rushing ground as he crashed face down. He sensed savage kicks to his body, but was thrown suddenly onto his back as a large, blue-eyed warrior flipped him over with his foot. The giant barbarian grasped his gleaming long sword with both hands to plunge it downward, and Marcos stared into the man's face as he waited for the finishing blow. The muscular figure above him looked at his chest and suddenly his wild, contorted face changed to one of unbelief. He reached down with one hand and yanked the chain off Marcos' neck. As he looked more closely, Marcos saw great pain, then a look of utter hatred and anger filling his eyes. The gnarled gray-haired warrior raised his face to the heavens and screamed a long, almost animal scream of emotion. Once again raising his sword with both hands, he looked down at Marcos before he plunged it into his body. A sudden voice called:
"Padrenti! Padrentri! Leh hamen biernyon." Marcus recognised Tarandi's voice and the word "father" and "your child". The frozen figure above him turned to find the voice and Tarandi again spoke:
"Biruchna tawand romantsa. Padrenti cowant kratskit." "The Roman saved me. Father spare him!" Tarandi cried.
The rugged, bearded face again registered unbelief and shock and as Tarandi pushed through the men, he spoke quickly to assure his father that the shaven-headed large youth before him was really his son. Finally recognizing his now-older tattooed son, he cried out and leaped over Marcus to embrace the young man. Almost as tall as his father, though slimmer, his wide shoulders promised a powerful physique. The wooly group of warriors pressed round the father and son and Marcus was left on the ground to nurse his splitting headache. He closed his eyes tightly against the burning torches and winced as he pulled his helmet off to relieve the pressure of the rapidly swelling bump on the backside of his head. Carefully moving his head to one side, he opened his eyes the merest slit and saw the crumpled bodies of his two spiritual brothers lying just beyond the noisy crowd. He closed his eyes again and began to pray for the families of the two slain Roman soldiers. It was hard to even think when his head felt like it was being split in half from throbbing pulses, but he managed to pray even for the hairy warriors around him.
The rumble of many questioning voices faded in and out from the milling mass of warriors and Marcus felt himself on the very edge of consciousness again. He had no idea how much time had passed, but the ground was growing colder beneath him.
"Marcus, are you still alive?" Tarandi's voice came from above him and he slowly forced his squinting eyes open enough to see the face of the young Pict staring worriedly down at him.
"I'm not sure yet..." came his croaking reply.
Relief flooded Tarandi's face and he squatted down to look into the rapidly swelling face of the older man. He reached down and carefully pulled the Roman to his feet and Marcus swayed as he tried to open his eyes enough to peer at the blurry figures standing before him. The powerful form of Tarandi's father swam into his view among the tattooed warriors in the front of the silent crowd, and the heavily muscled man stepped forward as his commanding voice suddenly boomed out in the language of the Cruthnae:
"Because you let my son live, I will let you live! Because you chained him, his chains will now be yours. Because you taught him the ways and speech of Rome, you will learn the ways and speech of the Novantae Cruthnae. Because you treated him well, we will also treat you well, but you will never return to your land or to your people." The proud figure looked straight into Marcus' eyes for a few seconds, then turned and walked away.
Tarandi translated, though Marcus realized he could already understand many of the words. The young man spoke to him directly:
"It looks like your God has given you what you want! The bite of your chains will be bitter, but you say your heart is free no matter what happens to your body! I want to know more of your God. Now you will tell me all this in the land of the Cruthnae, since your days of war are forever over."
Marcus gazed back at the serious young man, then looking beyond him at the swarm of hostile eyes, he huskily forced out a reply:
"No, Tarandi, my days of true warfare are just beginning, but not with swords or spears. God is sending me to your people and I will now fight for your souls. With chains, or without."
Tarandi looked down at his soon-to-be-removed chains, then after a glance back at the blackening eyes of his former captor, turned to follow his father. Marcus bowed his head briefly to give thanks for his life, then also turned to follow his new owner into the Land of the Cruthnae.
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