although showing on the map as part of the "empire", it should not be thought that the region in which our story is commencing had many of the imperial features of order, security and gracious living so celebrated by modern authors like gibbon. and in such a backwater as the old soldier barentius had established himself, the rough, hardly "roman", roads between farms and towns offered little more safety than that of daylight itself, such as it might be said to offer comfort to the senses of the traveler.
probus, the servant despatched to the village to summon the priest, father propertius, had gone about halfway when he felt a cramp in his leg. he sat down beneath a tree by the side of the road, to give himself a few minutes to recover - a luxury he would never have allowed himself, or the rough recruits under him, in the vanished days of his career as a sergeant at arms. when he awoke, darkest night had fallen. a pale sliver of moon was barely visible through the trees. and he was thirsty.
"ah," he said aloud to himself. "i should have taken aquilina." he was referring to the old, cantankerous mare that barentius' s sons had offered him. he had preferred the surer method of walking, to her unpredictable and potentially disastrous ways.
"did you say something, old man?" came a female voice from the darkness.