Historical setting: A dark age along the channel off Gaul
We’re landing at Aletum near a rumored haven for pirates. Two of us are assigned the night watch, I, in my hemp tunic, and he in his leather gambeson, tunic of chain mail, fine plumed helmet, scarlet cloak, shield and a clean, sharpened broadsword. He also hides a dagger. His Roman shoes lace to his knees over his britches. I don’t envy the fashion, but as we step onto the stones in the tide-wash I wish most for a pair of sandals.
The others go to the shelter with their gear while this guard and I report to the garrison. These ports of call are mostly left from older times and now many have local militia stationed, so my fears of being sent to the pirates alone and nearly naked, an unarmed pacifist, are greatly eased by the simple reality. Not only that, I find that this fully armed older man I seem to be partnered tonight is not, as I imagined, infuriated to be stuck with the least useful of us. He tells me he actually requested this assignment.
“I’m called Nic, or Nik. (The difference is Nic has a more gutteral ‘c.’) And I guess you’ve already heard the names they call you – Godman, but sometimes, sounding a bit like Goddamn.”
I hadn’t heard. But I’m not surprised. I’ve enough life-sense to know that a tonsured pacifist isn’t a likely hero among the troops. Not only am I useless in war, they might suppose I’m measuring them all for some kind of holy judgment.
“I’m called Lazarus.” In the awkward silence of ‘so what?’ I start, “So, I hear we’re in it for twenty-six years.”
“Not I. This is my last run.”
“You’ve been patrolling the sea for twenty-six years?”
“I signed on when Justinian was promising to rebuild the empire. We had hopes. Apparently he put all the power and the glory forever and ever in the east, building the grandest of all churches in the rubble of Constantine’s dream.”
“Really?” I’m trying to recall. Surely I would know of such a thing.
“They call it the Holy Wisdom, the mind of God.”
“Yes, that’s what it’s called in Greek. It is said to be shining bright as heaven, but it is all the way across the seas on another shore.”
“How do you know these things?”
“When they were finished gathering the materials needing so many ships, sailors were sent on to other duty. Some came here.”