Read Casca 3: The Warlord Online

Authors: Barry Sadler

Casca 3: The Warlord

THE WARLORD

This is a book of fiction. All the names, characters and events portrayed in this book are Fictional and any resemblance to real people and incidents are purely coincidental.

CASCA: The Warlord

Copyright © 1980 Barry Sadler

Published by arrangement with the copyright holder

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ISBN 978163683344

Chapter One

The dank Boston fog wrapped itself around the stocky figure standing in the shadows, just barely visible from the firefly-glow of the street light on the corner. Even in the dark, the street had that aura of old money and wealth.

The man stood there, his broad shoulders stooped as if he were older than he looked; like some contemporary Atlas, he seemed to carry the weight of the world on his shoulders. He raised his eyes and looked down the street to the two-story brick house that had held his attention for the last two hours. Straightening suddenly, he shook his head and shoulders as if throwing off a fleeting chill, or perhaps making up his mind.

Stepping from the shadows, he made his way across the street to the steps leading to his objective. In the dull glow of the street lamp, he read the large brass plaque beside the door: JULIUS GOLDMAN, M.D. The light reflecting from the brass plaque shone on the hairline scar which ran from the man's left eye to the corner of his mouth, creating a slightly sardonic grin which never left him, except in a rage. A fleeting gold shadow was thrown across his eyes as he raised his hand to the brass knocker in the shape of a lion's head.
The Lion of Judah?

The sudden sharp rapping of the door knocker broke through the damp silence of the night. He waited and then knocked again. The door opened, revealing a severely dressed, middle-aged woman, her hair in a tight bun. She had the air of authority of a trusted and efficient housekeeper.

"Yes?" Her voice had the same severity as her looks with just a touch of snobbishness. "What is it?" she looked him up and down with that slight moué of distaste maitre d's often display when someone does not appear worthy of their attention. "Speak up, man." Then, not giving the man at the door a chance to answer: “The doctor sees no patients at home unless it's an emergency."

The man raised his eyes to the woman and locked them; the light grey-blue color of his eyes seemed even paler in the half-light of the open doorway. When he spoke, his voice was deep and masculine. "Woman, shut up."

The housekeeper began to retort indignantly that no one ever spoke to her in that manner. Then she saw the look of steel behind the man's eyes and ice water raced through her bowels. Her voice changed, taking on tones of submission and fear.

"I-I'm sorry, but the doctor has company tonight. Is he expecting you?" she carefully avoided looking into the intruder's eyes.

The stranger extended his hand to her, fist closed. As she looked at the back of the scarred knuckles and wrist, he said quietly, wearily, his voice almost a sigh, "Take this to your master. I believe he will wish to see me."

He stepped inside against her silent
protest, the deep strength of the figure transmitted through his bearing told her here was a man not to take liberties with. She took the small tobacco sack he extended and started to look inside.

"Don't,"
came the instant sharp response from the visitor. Again she had the icy feel of fear. Involuntarily she bowed her head.

"Yes, sir," she whispered and scurried away.

From the dining room the sound of laughter drifted back to the man along with the smell of rich food and good cigars. The housekeeper did her duty, handing the sack to her master and then rapidly excusing herself for the rest of the evening on the pretext she was feeling ill and would be in her room until morning.

Julius Goldman opened the sack. A small shining object fell into his palm, gleaming almost like gold. His heart skipped a beat as he looked at the bronze arrowhead. Sweat appeared instantly on his brow and upper lip. Standing so rapidly he almost knocked over his chair, he addressed his guests: "Gentlemen, I am sorry, but I have an emergency to attend to. Enjoy the food and wine; leave when you please as I don't know when I will be returning, this might take some time. Now if you will excuse me. . .

He turned, not waiting for any questions and made his way to the foyer where his strange guest waited. The sight of the square back and muscled neck brought the smell of blood back to him – blood from the hospital in Vietnam where he had taken the arrowhead from the leg of the man.

"Casey? Casey, is it you?"

The man turned, slowly and wearily he reached out and took the arrowhead from the doctor's hand put it into his own coat pocket. He smiled a crooked, almost shy grin.

"Good evening, Doctor, it has been a while. When we last met, I meant to leave the arrowhead with you, but thought it would be a good calling card if ever I needed to see you again. It seems there is a compulsion for me to finish what was started that night in the Eighth Field Hospital in Nam and again at the Museum. Do you wish to continue?"

Gulping, Goldman nodded in the affirmative, indicating the way to his study with a sweep of his hand. The man called Casey took his wet coat off and hung it carefully on the hall tree by the door.

He walked into the study scanning the well-stocked bookshelves, noting titles and authors. Touching a leather-bound copy of Machiavelli's The Prince, he commented: "surprising reading for a surgeon, Doctor Goldman. It's odd how this little book has survived and influenced so many people since he wrote it. I told him not to publish it, but he always did want things his way, though out of friendship he kept it in his desk for five years. After he died, however, he did have his way and it was printed. I believe you would have liked him as I did. He was quite bright, if somewhat of an opportunist and agitator." Goldman stuttered, then, clearing his throat, "You knew him? You knew Machiavelli?”

Casey chuckled deeply, "Yes, good Doctor. It appears we need to refresh your memory. Here, sit down and be comfortable." The irresistible quality of Casey's voice froze Goldman to his seat, unaware that he had obeyed Casey's command. Casey faced him, his grey-blue eyes seeming to fill the room.

"Yes, Doctor, I knew Machiavelli and many others. Remember me, who I am, what I am and where I am from? That's right, Doctor, come with me, back again to where our story left off. Remember Jesus and the Crucifixion?"

Goldman was aware of nothing other than the compelling voice and eyes of Casey as they drew him out of his present reality and threw him back into another plane of being, one in which the man called Casey had stood at the foot of the cross of Jesus and driven his spear into the side of Christ. The crucifixion scenario flashed again before him, the storm and wind, the darkness; the terrible face of Jesus as he looked down upon the Roman soldier who had just driven a spear into his side, a Roman soldier named Casca Rufio Longinus, born in the reign of the Great
Augustus.

The Jew's words struck at his mind again as he heard Casca repeat the statement that led to his fate. When the spear was withdrawn, blood poured from the side of Jesus and the Messiah looked down upon the Roman, his voice great with an unknown power, his eyes blazing: "soldier, you are content with what you are, then that you shall remain until we meet again. As I go now to my Father, you must one day come to me . . . soldier, you are content with what you are . . . then that you shall remain until we meet again."

He again saw Casca wipe a bloody hand across his mouth where the blood of Jesus touched his tongue, then fell into a spasm of burning anguish while his body was purified; the legionary lay whimpering like a hurt animal with the voice of Jesus echoing in his mind. "Until we meet again."

Like a speeding movie camera, Casca's voice led him through a rapid repeat of his history; slavery in the mines of Greece; the Roman arena where the tricks taught him by the Chinese sage led to his freedom and again to slavery in the Imperial War galleys; Parthia, where outside the walls of doomed Ctesiphon, a bronze arrowhead had lodged in his leg; Viking longships raced over the oceans to the land of the Teotec and Olmecs; the Pyramids; a mask of jade and daggers of flint and obsidian; cutting the beating hearts out of victims to be sacrificed to the gods.

Casca's voice drew him down again with the feeling of being in a plane, Flying low over the earth until the greater reality of Casca's existence wiped out his own.

He was there.

Waves as tall as mountains were raging and whipping the red-striped sails of the dragon-prowed longships into shreds, driving them on.

Chapter Two

The waves rushed over him filling his mouth with brine, trying to force air from his lungs, plunging him down into the dark and then raising him again, his grip locked in the lines of the broken piece of mast to which he clung.

His stomach and lungs emptied themselves repeatedly, spewing out salt water and bile. White storms of froth whipped up by the raging winds lashed his face and eyes until they were almost swollen shut.

The two Viking longships were long since out of sight, the storm pushing them on – to what?
Home or death? Their crews tried frantically to keep their ships from being dragged under the waves as the dragon-headed prows plunged into each succeeding watery mountain and rose again to face the next series of rising and falling mountains and valleys.

Casca groaned as the rope lines wrapped around his arms threatened to pull them from the sockets. Opening his mouth to catch a quick breath, he was dragged under again and again. The night seemed endless; but, as things must, it too came to an end when, with the grey light of the false dawn, the storm passed. The waters calmed into long rising swells and hollows and almost as quickly as the winds came they left.

With the easing of the storm, Casca pulled himself lengthwise onto the broken mast, legs and arms dangling in the water, unmindful of the daring, darting little fish that surfaced to take timid nibbles at toes and fingers and dart away to safety.

He slept.

By midday the sun had burned away the last remnants of the storm, the waves were now gentle steady swells, following the tides. A familiar sound broke through to Casca's subconscious, drawing him out of the dark of his mind back into reality. The sound kept pounding at him until he opened his salt-encrusted eyes, red-rimmed and sore. The sound of oars slapping the water in unison came to him, now punctuated by the distant cursing of the oarsmaster. From its apparent lack of a ramming beam on the prow, Casca assumed it was a trading ship. As it neared, Casca tried to yell, though to no avail as his throat was too swollen to get any appreciable amount of noise out. The sound issuing from his cracked and swollen lips resembled more of a squeak than a yell. It didn't matter. The oarsmen were shipping their tools and laying them on the sides, already regretting the future fact of the amount of labor it would take to get the ship under way again after stopping. The vessel's master, a tough-looking, barrel-chested, bowlegged Sicilian from Syracuse, had spotted Casca in the water and ordered the oars to stop their incessant slapping.

A line was tossed to him as the merchant ship wallowed in the swells. After several attempts, the ship and mast piece got their timing together and Casca freed himself from the safety line he had used through the night and grabbed the line from the ship. The wet hawser slipped between his hands, taking off chunks of skin from his swollen fingers, but a knot in the line was held as it tried to pass through, jerking him from the mast, back into the waves and then up again. Casca spit water while the captain and crew looked on laughed.

"Listen, you water dog, if you want out of the drink, you better hold on. I can't hang around here all day waiting for you to get on board. The Saxons have been raiding these waters for the last two years, so either climb that line and get your ass on board, or I'll cut you loose and you can make it to Britannia on your own; it's only twelve leagues to the port."

The thought of spending another night in the drink gave Casca the impetus needed to drag himself to the side of the ship where waiting hands hauled him on board. "None too gently," he thought. The captain laughed as the men tossed Casca on the deck minus a goodly portion of skin. His laughter stilled when he saw the short sword and scars.

"Well man, are you a citizen?" Then clearing his throat, “you're carrying a soldier's blade, so I presume you have done some fighting. Who are you and how did you end up here?"

Casca paused, giving himself time to think. Did he say the Saxons were raiding? Pulling himself erect, he faced the ship's master.

"Yes, sir, to both questions, and as to how I got here, it's simple enough. I was hired on as guard on a grain ship out of Messillia when Saxon raiders overtook us and we had to go off course to get away; then the storm hit and I don't know where the Hades we are, or if the ship went down or survived. I was washed overboard and spent the night hanging to the damned mast."

The captain nodded. The story made sense. Still, it was too bad the man was
freeborn, he would have brought a good price in the slave markets.

Lucanus Ortius put his hands on his hips as he addressed his new guest: "Well, you're in luck. We are only two days from the port of Dubrae. I'll put you ashore there. There's always plenty of work in Britannia for one who knows the way of the sword. And from the looks of those cuts on your hide, you have had plenty of intimacy with one, though that large one on your chest looks as if it should have done you in. But, no matter, you are welcome to my hospitality for the next two days. Find yourself a niche in the crew's section. They will have some dry clothes for you and a hammock. Then come and see me after you have fed and rested. Now, I have to get back to running this overaged scow and get her under way." Signaling the Hortator, the man began to beat on the skin drumhead. "Prepare to row, set your oars." The mixed complement of freedmen and slaves did as they were ordered with an understandable amount of grumbling.

Casca felt a twinge as they set the oar blades into the sea and began to pull in time with the beat of the drum. How long ago had it been when he slaved under the oarsmaster's lash on the war galleys of Rome?

Casca fed on pickled pork and thin wine and hit the sack, sleeping until the first light of the next day. Upon arising he felt refreshed. The Latin chatter of the ship's crew brought memories and left him feeling somewhat nostalgic. The crew was friendly enough though distant; the stranger had an aura to him that said move carefully around him and don't come up on his back unexpected.

Climbing out of the hatch, Casca went to the side of the single-banked ship and emptied his bladder into the coastal waters of Britannia. Land was already in sight through the low bank of clouds and fog that was hugging the water by the coastline. The wind was with them now and the bow was slicing clean through the waves. With a sense of smugness, he compared the wallowing trader of Rome with his own sleek ships and found the Roman version a poor second.

Already thoughts and memories of the last years were fading into the recesses of his mind. "Change, always change, but still the same . . . just different faces."

Making his way along the deck to where Lucanus Ortius stood by the tiller, he ran his eyes over the vessel. The condition of a ship and attitude of a crew and slaves could tell a man a lot about the master. Clean, neat ropes curled, no garbage on this deck. The crew looked healthy and that they did a little bitching – even the slaves – said this was a good ship. The master demanded performance, but appeared well-liked.

Spying Casca, the captain motioned for him to join him on the upper deck where the dark sailor from the Aegean guided the ship through the rocky coastal waters....

Ortius stood, a wine cup in his hand, the wind from behind whipping his leg wrappings, a turban of red linen protecting his balding pate from the elements.

"Welcome aboard the
Naida.
I can see you got your sea legs and from the way your hide's been burned by the sun, you have spent a long time in the eastern regions of the empire, right?" "Aye, Captain. I was on a trader out of Pireaus for the last few years and this trip was the first for me to these waters."

The captain
nodded, pleased his deduction was correct, "Your name, man?"

Casca caught his balance as the ship crested some white water, "Longinus, Casca Longinus."

Lucanus Ortius prided himself on being a judge of men. "From the looks of you, Master Longinus, I would say you have been around a bit; those cut marks on your hide look to be enough for five or six men to have died from."

Sea spray whipped over the deck, freshening Casca's face. "Aye, Captain, I have been carved up a bit, but they are not as bad as they look. Dull blades don't cut deep, just gouge out a lot of meat, and I still have some to spare."

Ortius liked the look of the man before him, a strong looking rascal and one you could not easily scare.

"Good enough. As a courtesy to a castaway, you will be my guest. Just don't start any trouble and we'll make port tomorrow. We lost some way in the night and the damned winds have shifted again; my oarsmen could barely keep their own against it and we couldn't set sails until just before dawn. Now, I have duties to attend to, make
yourself comfortable and perhaps we'll talk later. I used to have some shipmates who worked out of Pireaus, perhaps you'll know them." The bandy-legged barrel chested little Sicilian laughed at the memory. "Remind me to tell you about the whorehouse in the south of the village where a Greek whore tried to castrate me for short changing her."

Casca laughed; the scar running from his left eye to his cheek seemed to tingle.

The day turned bright and clear as they tacked first to port and starboard working against the cross angles of the wind as the sea miles dropped steadily behind. Casca spent the rest of the day cleaning his weapons, wiping the salt from his blade and honing down the edge of his double-edged dagger he kept in his leggings. During his years in the north countries, he had grown used to having them on and continued to wear them.

He looked out seaward back across the distance he had come on the Viking longship, wending its way to the safety of the Keep at Helsfjord. "Another part of my life gone. . . Wassail, Olaf Glamson, take my ships home, and if your father lives, tell him I still walk this earth
– though I believe he would know it anyway, that great ugly bear of a man. The wheel of life turned again."

In the flickering waters, for a moment, he saw the face of
Shiu Lao Tze, the sage from the lands of far Khitai, who had taught him the way of open-hand fighting. Automatically, he turned his head to face the East. "Khitai, perhaps it's time for me to see the lands beyond the Indus."

"Sail off the starboard," the lookouts cried.

Instantly, every head turned to see what vessel was approaching. Unable to make her out, the captain cried up to the lookout perched on top of the single mast, can you make her out?" "Aye, Captain. I will wager my bonus she's a Saxon; the cut of her sails tell me that and the wind is with her. She'll be on us in less than an hour."

The captain spit, "Saxons, damn them all to the bowels of the darkest pit in hades. One more day and we would have made port. Keep your eye on her and tell me if she changes her course. All hands on deck, prepare for boarders!"

The crew rushed to the weapons rack taking out their personal preferences from pikes to axes. Several had bows but not enough; with enough archers, they probably would be able to keep the raider at a distance until nightfall and lose them in the fogs that always came to the coast of this land when the dark settled.

"A good crew, no panic," thought Casca as he watched the look of grim determination set in on the faces of the crew and slaves alike.

The slaves too took up weapons, Ortius having made all his slaves a bargain: "serve me for three years and you will be given your letter of manumission." This bargain had been to his benefit in the past and was one of the reasons that he had so little trouble. From his slaves' part, they knew the captain would keep his word and it would still be better to be an oar slave than to be taken by those long-haired bearded devils called Saxons. It was said they ate the hearts of their prisoners and sacrificed them to their terrible gods.

Casca moved to the side of the captain. "Sir, have you ever fought the Saxons before?"

Ortius looked Casca in the face and saw a change that sent a shiver over him.
"No, but I have talked to those that have and they are wild animals. This day we win, or die."

Casca grunted, fingering his sword hilt. "I've fought them several times. They are poor archers, but when it comes to close quarters, they are the best axe men on the face of the earth. Most carry two or more throwing axes which they can throw in unison to keep their enemies undercover for a
moment while they rush and throw themselves like a pack of dogs onto their opponents, using a combination of axes and lances. The bastards are tough, Captain. But I have beaten them before and have no intention of losing this time either."

The Saxon ship was in sight now, closing fast. The faces of her wild crew became rapidly discernible, wild men with long flowing hair blowing to the front from the wind behind, their mustaches and beards giving them an even wilder look under the horned helmets and conical steel caps. Across the water, battle cries could be heard as they worked themselves into a killer frenzy.

Ortius ordered the cooking fire extinguished and all hands to stand by to repel boarders. The fat trader was no match for the swift raider. But Ortius was no coward and donned a breastplate of antique armor he had picked up in Bithynia. Casca recalled when it had been the newest style among the wealthy young nobles of the Eques, the Cavalry.

Casca placed himself, watching carefully for the spot where the two vessels would join and the raiders would toss their grappling hooks to tie them together in an umbilical cord of death.

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