A man’s voice shouting, “Vibius,” roused Catrin out of the Raven’s mind. The sudden switch from the spiritual realm of the Wall of Lives to the mortal world disoriented her. She teetered on her feet until her mind cleared, and she found the Roman guard, Gallus, staring at her.
“Why didn’t you answer when I called for you?” he asked sharply.
“My mind sometimes wanders in other worlds since I hurt my head,” she replied.
“You know the commander will have my head if you escape. I’ve been too lenient, allowing you to gather herbs without shackles.”
Gallus’s brusque voice disquieted Catrin. He had been the only Roman soldier who had treated her kindly, almost like a brother. Most of the other soldiers resented that Tribune Decimus Flavius, her master, had ordered the medicus to treat her life-threatening wounds with the same care given to Roman soldiers. She still didn’t understand why Decimus had taken such valiant efforts to save her life.
She humbly lowered her eyes. “Forgive me. I won’t do it again.”
The raven’s sudden screeching diverted Gallus’s gaze to her hands.
“What are you holding?” he asked.
Catrin opened her hands to reveal the fledging that immediately opened its beak for another meal. “I saw it fall from its nest and found it under a bush. Its parents are dead . . . so I thought … I’d keep it.”
“Throw it away!” Gallus snapped. “The men will think it’s a bad omen.”
Another soldier, whom Catrin recognized as Quintus, approached them. A stout infantryman with a hawkish nose, he had a reputation for sniffing out defenseless creatures to torture.
“What you got in your hands, eunuch?” Quintus demanded.
“I’m a boy,” Catrin said, wary of what the vile soldier might do if he discovered she was a young woman. “Call me by my Roman name, Vibius, as my master commanded.”
“You are nothing but a slave with nothing between your legs,” Quintus retorted. “I don’t care if Decimus keeps you around as his pet. Answer my question. What’s in your hands?”
“A raven I found for the medicus to use in his healing rituals,” Catrin finally admitted, holding the chick tighter while maintaining a steel-hard mien.
Quintus cocked an eyebrow. “A raven?”
“The medicus uses ravens to cast out evil spirits from sick men,” Catrin said, hoping the explanation would put a stop to the infantryman’s advances.
Quintus regarded Catrin for a moment, then smirked. “Is that so? Drop your trousers.”
Catrin protectively clutched the raven with one hand as she shoved Quintus in the chest with the other. “Decimus gave strict orders. No soldier lays a hand on me.”
“Brash words from a slave!” Quintus said with a growl to his voice. “Let me see what attracts Decimus to you.”
“Leave him alone,” Gallus snapped, gripping Quintus’s arm. “Decimus told me Vibius casts evil spells. Be careful. This slave speaks directly with the sun god.”
Quintus scrunched his brow. “What? This eunuch? I want to see the slave’s magic for myself.”
“Are you sure about this?” Catrin asked, an idea seeding in her mind on how to deflect the despicable guard from any future advances.
Quintus glowered. “Yes.”
“If you insist,” Catrin said, stretching out her hand to reveal the hatchling to Quintus. “Touch my raven’s head.”
Quintus jerked his head back. “What for?”
“So you see my magic. Are you afraid of a baby raven?” Catrin mocked, masking her underlying dread that Quintus could rape her.
“No! I could snap its head off!” Quintus said, reaching for the fledging. Sparks shot from the bird’s beak into his hand, and he screamed, “Dark gods below!”
“I curse your man part to shrivel into a little worm,” Catrin said, extending her fingers at his crotch. “Leave me be—or forever be cursed.”
Gallus shoved Quintus in the chest. “You heard Vibius. Leave him alone. Or we’ll both be cursed. We need to get back. Now!”
“I’ll tell Decimus you let Vibius wander unshackled.”
Gallus pressed up to Quintus. “If you do, we’ll have words.”
Quintus backed down and stomped away.
Relieved, Catrin put the baby raven on an upper branch of a tree, confident it wouldn’t be eaten by a predator and could survive on its own, as she had been forced to do.
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