Taranis and his men forage for the collected tribes of the Crow as they march against the Romans, but he brings back more than he bargained for when he frees a beautiful and mysterious prisoner, Alpnu. Together they face a power sealed in a cave for millennia and newly risen from Hell, in David Drake's story Up From Hell.
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About the Author
David Drake (born 1945) sold his first story (a fantasy) at age 20. His undergraduate majors at the University of Iowa were history (with honors) and Latin (BA, 1967). He uses his training in both subjects extensively in his fiction.
David entered Duke Law School in 1967 and graduated five years later (JD, 1972). The delay was caused by his being drafted into the US Army. He served in 1970 as an enlisted interrogator with the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, the Blackhorse, in Viet Nam and Cambodia. He has used his legal and particularly his military experiences extensively in his fiction also.
David practiced law for eight years; drove a city bus for one year; and has been a full-time freelance writer since 1981, writing such novels as Out of the Waters and Monsters of the Earth. He reads and travels extensively.
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Up From Hell
By David Drake, Robert Hunt
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2016 David Drake
All rights reserved.
I led my troop of foragers into the Crow's camp at midmorning, singing about Lillia from Massillia who could service a squadron — and their horses. We'd held up just out of sight to primp, braid our hair, and put on a bright sash or a gold torque. Most of my troopers were common warriors, but our incidental pickings let them dress like nobles.
Galo, my mother's sister's son, was calling the verses from the driver's bench of the cart full of loot we'd taken from the villa we'd sacked two nights before. The woman we'd taken at that place sat beside Galo, proud as a queen. She looked like a scarlet butterfly perched beside a cheerful toad.
Some foragers come in whooping and hollering, but that spooks the herd they're driving. My boys took care of business first, and anybody who didn't learn that right quick got the stuffing knocked out of him before I booted him from the troop.
"If you're good enough to ride with Taranis," they said in the Crow's war band, "you're good enough to ride back from Hell!"
Well, my boys say that, anyway. The rest call us cocky bastards, but they know that we generally bring in as much food as any two of the other foraging troops. Galo has an instinct for finding things.
Food was going to be even more important to the war band if the Crow decided to make an example of Caere. The city had good walls, and we might have to sit here till Esus the Wise knew when.
The line warriors might, that is. We foragers would be miles out from the crowds and the stink.
It had been raining off and on for a month. The ground had been soft when the Crow had set up here before I left on this drive. Now it was a bog, and even the few latrines that the band had dug were flooded out.
I hate marching camps. I could give lots of reasons why I prefer to lead foragers rather than a wing of the cavalry, but that's the real one.
I checked to see where the Crow's winged standard stood, raised on a high pole. It was a larger duplicate of the bronze rig on his helmet.
"Take charge of the billeting, Galo," I said as I dismounted. "I'll be back as soon as I report to the chief."
"We'll save you a jar of the good stuff, Top!" Matisco said.
I tramped through the camp, exchanging greetings with the nobles I met and nodding to warriors who bowed to me. In the field with my boys there's no nonsense about "yes, lord," and "as you wish, lord," but here it has to be different. I left Galo in charge in camp when I was gone, like now, because he had the rank to protect the boys even though his leg was twisted and he couldn't walk right.
Mind, my troopers knew to hop it when I gave an order.
The Crow's tent was pitched on a little hill, but the swale I had to cross to reach it was downstream of one of the abattoirs. I'd walked through worse places, but it didn't make me like the camp any better than I had before.
The Crow was with three of his thousand-chiefs, but when a servant whispered to him he turned to clasp arms with me. "Taranis!" he said. "Good pickings this time?"
The javelin in my left hand was so much a part of me in the field that I'd forgotten I held it until now. Embarrassed, I turned it to point down along my thigh.
"Good enough, Chief," I said. "Twenty oxen, a couple hundred sheep and goats. There were a few horses too, though nothing special that way."
"Any slaves?" asked Segolestes. He'd always struck me as greedy, but he wasn't a bad sort. Dubnoreix was the only thousand-chief I didn't have any use for.
I shrugged. "Twenty or so to drive the carts and badger the herd in," I said. "Any more would've been just useless mouths till we got far enough south to sell them to the Greeks."
I looked back at the Crow — looked up at the Crow; he's a hand's breadth taller than I am, and there's few enough I could say that about — and said, "We brought a woman too, Chief. She's a noble herself, but she says she was a prisoner."
The Crow tugged his left moustache. He had the face of a bird, but to me he was more of a hawk than a crow: thin and sharp, with eyes that saw everything. "Is there ransom for her?"
"I doubt it," I said, "but I didn't really talk to her. She speaks Gaulish and I can pick my way through Etruscan, but we had a scrap at the villa where we found her and, you know, that put me out of thinking beyond the next step."
"Romans?" asked Orgetereix, putting his right hand on his sword pommel. "They claim they're chief of all this region, you know."
"I leave politics to my betters," I said, which made the Crow snort. I don't swank around, but he knows me too well to think I'd call Orgetereix "my better" if I meant it. "We didn't see any sign of Romans. This was a villa. I figured to take their stock and let the rest be, but they wanted to make a fight about it."
It had gotten close to evening but Galo had kept pushing on, talking about "the beautiful woman." We weren't out for women and anyway, Galo isn't much interested in them most of the time. He has a good nose for cattle, though, so I let him take us farther than I'd planned to go that day.
Galo can ride well enough, but he has to switch horses pretty often because of his weight. He's got the chest and shoulders of two men despite his stumpy legs. Even the good one isn't long enough for his big torso.
He'd reached the top of the gentle slope we were climbing when he raised his hand to halt us, then waved me forward. The rest of the troop held up, checking their weapons soundlessly.
I walked my horse up beside him to where I could see over the top of the rise. The villa was on a downslope even shallower than what we'd just climbed. There was a good-sized sheepfold to the left of the main building with huts for the servants beyond the fold. To the right was a barn with a shake roof; a servant with a long goad stood by the double door, but the last of a file of oxen was entering without needing encouragement.
I turned, pointed to Matisco, and raised five fingers, then swept my arm around to the left. He immediately led his squad through the brush on that side. That would put them behind the huts to round up the servants when they started to run.
Like I'd told Segolestes, I wasn't out to take slaves. I'd sooner have locals doing the dog work, though. My boys appreciated it, and it left them free to deal with anything that happened to come up.
We didn't know this territory, and I'd heard the rumors too: that the Romans were going to stop us from taking the contract from the king of Syracuse. They were welcome to try, was how I felt about the Romans; but that didn't mean I wanted to stumble into a hostile army with just my troop of twenty.
It didn't take long for Matisco to get into position — we all knew the drill. He whistled and I brought the rest of the troop up and over.
I headed for the barn with three men. Seven more under Heune took the sheepfold, and Galo had the rest to use as the business started to play out. There was a four-wheeled wagon under a shed beside the barn. It would be handy for hauling the big jars the locals use to store food and wine.
Servants started shouting and running. The fellow with the ox goad looked like he might want to try prodding me with it. Holding the reins against the shaft of the javelin in my left hand, I howled and swung my sword overhead in a circle. He dropped the pole and ducked into the barn, pulling the door shut behind him.
It couldn't be locked from inside, of course. I jumped off my horse and stuck the butt-spike of my javelin in the crack, then levered the door open fast. My sword point was aimed toward the face of anybody who decided to come out and try conclusions, but nobody did. I was about to shout for the servants to give up before we had to go in after them, that nobody would get hurt —
And right then the landowner and what turned out to be six bodyguards rushed us from the main house.
Albos must've been nosing toward the house, which he shouldn't have done, so they were almost on him when they burst out the front door. He flung a javelin but it stuck in the shield of the fellow with the horsehair plume in the top of his helmet. Albos tried to run, but a guard speared him through the left thigh and he went down with blood soaking his trousers black in the sunset.
Another of the bunched guards brought back his spear to finish the job, but I hit the middle of them shouting, "The sky smites you down!" though they probably couldn't have understood the words even if they spoke Gaulish.
It might've been smarter to back away and see just what we were up against, but they'd have put paid to Albos if I'd done that. And anyhow, that's never been my way.
The leader was easy to spot from his plume and the fact that he was waving a sword while his guards just had spears. One of them thrust at me from the left, but I slanted his point away with my javelin shaft and swung down at the leader.
He hadn't managed to get either his shield or his short, hook-bladed sword up in time. I caught his helmet on the sweet spot of my blade, a handsbreadth back from the point. He went down like a sacrificed ox, and that was about all there was to the fight.
Javelins feathered the guards' shields. One man dropped and then Galo, still on his horse, swiped the left-end man with his massive iron prybar as he rode past. He hit the fellow's shield, dishing in the boss and cracking the wood so it folded over.
Those who still could run tried to now, throwing away their shields, but Matisco and his squad were coming around from behind. I started to pick up a dropped shield — I don't like them but believe me, a shield is a better choice than a javelin when you're charging a line of spears.
No matter. I'd been lucky, and I didn't need a shield now after all. All the guards were down, and my boys were cutting their throats to make sure they stayed that way.
"Top, are you all right?" Galo said.
"Yeah, I didn't get a scratch," I said, but as I turned toward him the bloody side of my tunic pulled at the track that spear had plowed along my ribs. The wool had stuck to the flesh. When I tore it away, it hurt like a demon was chewing it.
"It's all right," I muttered. Galo ripped cloth from the dead leader's tunic and tied it as a bandage under my own garment. That way seeping blood didn't make my clothes stick to me.
Galo paused to pull a small iron box off the leader's neck chain. It was iron too, but Galo just gave a twist of his big hand and broke the links.
I went into the main house, walking fast so that nobody would see how I was shaking. It's always like that afterward for me.
Albos had bled out anyway; the spear had split the artery in his thigh. You don't think about what's the smartest thing to do when you're in a fight, though; if you do, you're not a man. Also you lose, but losing a fight is nothing compared to losing your manhood.
The house had two rooms to each side of the passage in the middle and a big room in the back. Fabric hangings covered the side doorways, all but the farther one on the right.
I could hear women sobbing behind the hangings, but I wouldn't have worried about somebody coming out behind me with a knife even if several of the boys hadn't followed me. I still had my sword in my right hand, but that was because I wasn't sure I could find the mouth of the scabbard with the point until I stopped trembling so bad.
I'd meant to go to the end room where lamplight showed through the doorway, but I saw that the iron-bound door to the right was barred on the hall side. I decided to see what was there before I checked the end room. Using the butt of my javelin, I lifted the bar and pushed the panel open with my foot.
I didn't like the feel of the house. My shakes had settled, but I wasn't sorry for the sword in my hand.
A woman sat facing me in a straight-backed chair, lighted by the oil lamp hanging from a wall bracket. She didn't need an expensive red robe and gold clasps to show that she was no servant.
"Are you the owner's widow?" I said in Etruscan, just to make sure she knew where she stood.
"Mamurcus was my jailer, not my husband," she said, speaking in Gaulish and cool as you please. "Who are you?"
There were bars on the room's small window, though the bed was made of bronze and figured wood, and the chair legs had ivory inlays. Prisoner she may have been, but she wasn't a common criminal.
"I'm Lord Taranis," I said, switching to Gaulish — she had a Boian accent, but she was a lot more fluent than I was in Etruscan. "So far as you're concerned, I'm your lord and master!"
She smiled. "Taranis is good enough," she said. "Mamurcus was a noble and a great wizard, but I wouldn't call him my master. I'm certainly not going to do that for a trouser-wearing Gaul who's waving a sword at me."
I used the hem of my tunic to wipe the blade, then sheathed it at my right side. The garment was rags now. The spear cut could be sewn up and the blood washed out of the cloth, but I didn't want to be reminded of how close it had been every time I put it on in the future.
"Come on, then," I said. "We'll spend the night here and take you back to the main camp in the morning. We've made a good enough haul tonight that we don't have to stay out longer."
I grinned at her. "Unless you'd like to argue with me?" I said.
If she'd given the wrong answer, I'd have slapped her out of the chair. I didn't mind being called a trouser-wearing Gaul, since I was one right enough; but prisoners needed to know their place. I wouldn't put my sword through her as I would one of the servants if he got uppity, but I wasn't in the mood for an argument.
"I don't mind at all, Taranis," she said, standing up gracefully. I'd expected her movements to be as stiff as she sounded. "I'm grateful to you for freeing me from Mamurcus, which I was unable to do myself. My name's Alpnu, by the way. Lady Alpnu to commoners, but I think Alpnu to you."
I thought of tying her overnight — the servants we wanted for labor we shut in the barn — but she ate with us and went back to her room afterwards. In the morning I put her in the cart with Galo, though she said she could ride. She wasn't any trouble on the way back.
Now I looked at the Crow and tugged my moustache again. "I figure to talk to her today, maybe talk to the servants we brought back too. When I learn more, you can decide what to do with her."
"Are you staying long in camp?" said Orgetereix. "I'm worried about what the Romans have in mind."
Then you can bloody well go tramp through mud and watch them, I thought, but what I said was "I figure five or six days. I need to replace one of the boys; and anyway, the troop deserves some downtime. We've been in the field eight days out of ten for the past two months."
Which was fine with me, but some of the boys had regular arrangements with women in the train. Besides, we all wanted to get thoroughly drunk on the wine we'd been bringing in. You don't tie one on in the field unless you want to find your head decorating somebody else's trophy.
Right then Galo blew the alarm call. His dog-headed horn was tuned higher than most and had a whistle in the throat instead of a clapper.
"That's for me!" I said, turning and running toward the sound, just like I'd do in the field. I might have some explaining to do with the Crow when things settled down, but that was for later.
Now my troop needed me, and nothing — no one — would get in the way of that call.
* * *
I didn't draw my sword as I ran through the camp. When I got to Galo — he'd just climbed down from the cart, pretty much where I'd left him — I was glad of that: he was facing Dubnoreix.
Dubnoreix's brother Liscus was there too, leading his housemen. They all had their helmets and shields.
I wasn't afraid of them, but eleven to one was longer odds than I could win at even if I'd had my shield. Running up waving my sword would've given Dubnoreix an excuse to finish me the way he's been wanting to do ever since we were boys and I'd broken his arm with a branch I took away from him after he'd swung it at me.
Dubnoreix had backed the Etruscan woman, Alpnu, against the wagon. He turned to face me when I arrived, which let her sidle a little farther way. She wasn't cowering, but she didn't want to be any closer to Dubnoreix than she had to — for which I didn't blame her.
"Greetings, cousin!" I called. "I expected to see you when I reported to the chief!"
"Greetings, Taranis," Dubnoreix said. He looked flushed and was clenching and unclenching his right hand. "I was looking at your prisoner here, and she bit me. I think I'll take her to my tent to teach her a little discipline."
When we'd gotten to camp my troopers had headed off to get outside a few skins of wine, but they came rushing back at the horn call. They wouldn't get involved in a fight between nobles, though, and I didn't expect them to. I wasn't nearly so sure of what Dubnoreix's housemen would do, though, and Liscus was noble himself.
"Sorry, coz," I said, walking toward him. I wanted to gasp after my run back at the horn call, but I kept control of my breathing to seem nonchalant. "The chief and I were just discussing her. When we decide what to do, we'll let you know."
Excerpted from Up From Hell by David Drake, Robert Hunt. Copyright © 2016 David Drake. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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