Chapter 1

In his childhood years David was filled with a passion to persuade others to his point of view. It was not something that he planned or even understood with certainty.

Even when he was still very small, when he was told something was "impossible" he had this buried urge to prove everyone to be wrong and show them by doing it right in front of their unbelieving eyes.

Whenever he heard a new and unfamiliar word, he would study it from every angle and try it out in various combinations with other words until he was satisfied that he had the exact meaning right in his thoughts and then he would use it just to practice it when he spoke to those around him. His younger sister Ruth would try to get him into trouble by making up some fantasy about a mistake he had made or some chore he had forgotten. At first, he considered her duplicity to be cute but after he had felt the bite of his father's heavy belt on more than one occasion, he remedied her mean-spirited manipulation with an enthusiastic spanking that reddened her buttocks and made her cry ceaselessly for quite some time. Of course, he felt immediately filled with guilt at the possible over-reaction to his sister's naughty impact on his comfort zone but he noted that she did not repeat her nefarious tricks ever again.

As they grew up, Ruth became close to David and she was often seen running after him when he was trying to sell some of his mother's hand woven blankets to the travelers on the wide road into the nearby city and the residence of the ruling masters from a country far across the deep sea along the spotless sandy, white beach protected coastline.

He had seen these alien masters with their flowing togas and their expensive sandals made from animal hides from another place they also controlled with their iron fist. His father and mother and all of his many relatives came from a tribe that was not originally from this coastal town but from much further inland in a place surrounded by leagues of barren sand and very little water.

The road that stretched in both directions along the coastline was well-traveled and had withstood hundreds of years of shuffling feet and wheels of different carts and other conveyances from near and far away. He had no idea where the road came from and where it was going but the people that used it seemed to know instinctively that it was the best way to get to where they were going on their journey.

David was almost eighteen now.

His feast day was the following moon when all the farm folk gathered for the harvest and hoped for good weather to make it plentiful. He sometimes helped his aunts and uncles to bring in the harvest along with his sister at his side but this year he would be busy on the main road attempting to sell his mother's wares to the pilgrims and traveler's that mostly walked the route on foot for lack of funds to purchase an animal to use for transportation. Most of the transport was owned by the city merchants and the government workers that had to visit different areas of the Empire to check on adherence to the rules and regulations of imposed by their masters from the center of the entire civilized world. The recent change in Emperors had caused a ripple effect on the outer limits of the Empire and even the lowest ranked administrators were cautious in any move they made to rule the sometimes difficult populace.

David knew that his family and in fact his entire tribe was one of the least troublesome of the local seats of power and he could not understand why some of the other desert tribes were so reluctant to swear loyalty to the central government. He thought it was a matter of culture where some of the tribes were extremely war-like in their attitudes and seldom would go outside their huts without weapons and the means to make war on any enemy. The tribe of his forebears was more a cultured grouping with many farmers and craftsmen and women with the skills to produce necessary items for everyday use. His mother was a skilled blanket maker and his aunt was a sandal carver famed for her comfortable designs. His sister was being tutored by a widow with the knowledge of making belts and straps of all sizes and shapes from the skins of almost any animal and woven braids of hair and fabric stitched into sturdy dependable items of quality.

The officials from the city had recently attempted to collect the new taxes imposed to pay for the losses sustained by the Emperor in the land of the Franks and the people were grumbling about having to pay the higher rates for problems not of their making and with no visible change in their environment or way of life. Had the money been put to use in improving the road along the coast or in building a water way to bring drinking water to the residences of the inhabitants then the taxes would be gladly paid but the transfer of the wealth to some unknown purpose across the wide sea was an insult to the folk and their need to be part of a larger force of power too immense to visualize even in their wildest dreams.

He had always wanted to be trained in the ways of the warrior protectors of the freedoms that they all took for granted but his family was adamantly opposed to such foolishness and stated categorically that the soldiers of the Emperor were more than adequate to meet any threat that might arise around them. In a way, David knew that was probably a valid point but he still would have preferred to have his share of weapons and the knowledge of how to use them just in case something unexpected should happen like the rise of some foreign power that would defeat the Empire and make them all slaves in a strange and unfamiliar place.

Still, everything seemed to be working correctly.

The fishermen were still catching fish and they were plentiful in the marketplace.

The craftsmen were busy making their wares just like his beloved mother.

The pilgrims and the travelers were spending their money and they all received a share.

Even the sellers of spirits and the females who plied a different trade were busy in their little corners providing a service that would always be popular.

He decided maybe all was for the best and there were no need to think about making a change unless something should happen to throw it all off kilter and necessitate a way to reset things and start from scratch.

He knew that one of the principles of his people was that there was only one true God. That seemed a little short-sighted to him because it was closing the door on a lot of other supposed Godly entities that might be prayed to or even called upon when things got really difficult. David was the sort of person that believed in having a "back-up" when his options got narrowed down to almost none. Besides, it was not good business to ignore the Gods of the majority of the people that might be customers of his mother's fine products.

The Gods of the Roman rulers were many and they were sometimes demanding in terms of sacrifices and turning over of coins to the representatives of the heavenly elite.

Off in the distance, he saw a large dust cloud signaling the approach of a large camel train of travelers swaying in that particular rhythm that seemed to go nowhere in a hurry but somehow made good time on a long dusty road. Their goods and people were stacked securely on the camel's high backs and a long line of chained slaves moved in unison with the pent-up despair of lifetime servitude. He noticed that a lot of them were not of the desert tribes but Nubians from further south and even a contingent of white faces that must have been seafarers from the Northern places of cold snow and ice. It was fitting that they would be slaves because they were for the most part uneducated lumps of unwanted humanity not fit for any part of a cultured society.

If he had been the person in charge of everything, David would have built a high wall to keep them all out of his beloved country because they were nothing but trouble and a drain on the wealth of the entire nation when such expenses were not feasible considering the new taxes enacted by the Roman mentors. He would have much preferred the Romans took their mercenary troops out of the country and went back to Rome to take care of their many problems right at home.

He was surprised to see a number of the slaves were females because the traders seldom took the females on such long journeys because they were not as strong as the males in surviving the hard road. David took one of the desert drovers into conversation with his offer of some liquid refreshment and discovered the females were all intended for a gift to the Sultan in the far country of the Ottomans and the Persian rulers that were mostly subdued by the upstart Alexander.

David longed to take the long road in either direction hoping to find adventure but fearful that he would wind up in chains like the poor souls stumbling though the dust like shadows of a real human being.

His younger sister Ruth ran out of the line of huts toward him and he did his best to shield her from the sight of the shackled slaves because she was much too tender in her years to understand the darker side of mankind and he was in no mood to introduce her to the horrors of life in this time when the strength of one's family and tribe made all the difference in facing the world without fear or disgust.

When she saw the display, Ruth clung to him like she was part of his own body and he easily understood her dismay at seeing their desperate state on the edge of destruction ready to fall into the very pits of hell with very little encouragement.

It was enough to convince David that his desire to learn the skills of a fighting man was a wise decision because the shifting sands of the desert were just like the changing circumstances of their existence in an evolving world.

He did manage to trade two of his mother's blankets for several spears of good quality, a sword of Roman design with a double edge and a finely decorated bow that required a strong pull and was capable of sending an arrow a long distance with proper elevation to insure its flight.

David was incensed that the slave trader offered him the rental of one of the female slaves as part of the deal right in front of his listening sister not taking into consideration her age and innocence. Of course, he turned him down with a display of righteous anger but he knew that deep down inside if he had been alone, he might have succumbed to the temptation because he had found precious little of that sort of entertainment in the small town with ears and eyes at every window and behind every closed door.

He would go to the retired Roman soldier Antonius to arrange for lessons in using the weapons he had just purchased from the desert traders. His fond hope was that he would be able to excel in their use enough to at least defend his family from the disgrace of being set upon by the organized rabble from the adjoining territory of slavers and bandits not under the jurisdiction of the Roman Guard.

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