Deadly Warrior Games
Belinus stared at Marcellus like a crazed boar and snorted, “I accept your challenge. We will then see who the better warrior is.”
Marcellus tensely watched the Celtic barbarians feast on roasted boar, the juices dripping down their chins. The boisterous men readily helped themselves to wine and ale, the aroma so thick he could get drunk off the fumes. He would make a toast to these savages, if only he knew how to speak their guttural language. He wondered what was taking Catrin so long. At least, he could have an amiable chat with her. Now he questioned his sanity for volunteering to be a hostage, imprisoned in the musty royal suites guarded by a one-eyed cat and a foreboding raven.
The warrior called Cynwrig said very little and spoke only Celtic, but his tattooed lightning bolts and demeanor thundered his ferocity. Not wanting to appear unfriendly, Marcellus raised his wine-filled goblet to him. “Gaudete omnes.”
Cynwrig grunted and raised his brass goblet in salute. Marcellus acknowledged him with a nervous smile. Then his eyes turned to a group of warriors moving to his table. Each one greeted him with a snarl, their bodies covered with a menagerie of tattooed monsters and animals. Looking more closely, he noticed several of the men had shaved their chests. He had to admit that was, at least, one admirable Roman trait. That was where the similarity ended between Britons and Romans.
Except for the king and his commander, the men had long lime-bleached hair and unruly mustaches shaped like tusks. If it were not for the king’s fair skin and straw-colored hair, he would pass as a Roman. Marcellus was surprised to learn that his father had known King Amren as a young man being educated in the Roman culture. Though the king did not appear to accept the Roman patriarchal view toward females, Marcellus could not understand why the Roman emperor and the Senate were so disgruntled with their client king.
Looking around the table at the drunken warriors teetering on their seats, guffawing, Marcellus resigned himself to indulge in their barbarian celebration. The tribune’s words “show no fear” emboldened him as he fingered the raven figurines curiously gawking at him from the cup’s handles. He gulped down his wine and poured some more from a flagon with a bronze duck on the spout that appeared to be paddling in the red liquid.
“Nunc est bibendum,” he cried out. “To Bacchus.”
Cynwrig and the other warriors grunted and raised their goblets for another toast.
After awhile, Marcellus began losing track of how many “sloblets” of wine and flasks of ale he had washed down since Catrin had left. The sweet scent of honey mead would have intoxicated his nostrils if it were not for the stench of sweat clinging on the men’s bare chests pressing against him. The sunny warrior, Belinus, now next to him, refused to speak Latin. Instead, he set a bone-handled dagger on the table and garbled some fierce-sounding Celtic words. Eyeing the weapon, Marcellus rubbed his throat that still throbbed from the thin cut that Belinus graced him with at their first encounter. Every time the wild savage pounded his goblet on the table after each swig, he snorted maliciously, making Marcellus flinch. He again recalled the tribune’s advice that to gain these warriors’ respect, you must not show them any weakness. Hence, the best way he could demonstrate this was to join in their drunkenness and games. That should not be any problem, he figured, except the Britons drank their wine straight, unlike Romans who diluted it. There had to be something more in the mead and wine that made him feel as if he was Mars. Praise Bacchus for whatever that was. The foreign revelers almost seemed like old friends at one of his drink fests in Rome, except for the weapons’ glints winking at him.
Across the table, Cynwrig was hungrily nibbling at the neck of his red-headed wench. She moaned with delight as she drank in Marcellus with her chestnut-brown eyes. Another table slam from Belinus made Marcellus jump off his seat.
At last Belinus spoke familiarly. “Cynwrig challenges you to an axe fight.”
Marcellus gawked at Belinus. “Cynwrig? You mean the warrior across the table?”
Belinus answered with a sneer. “We call him the Red Executioner.”
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