The Power of the Gods
I gazed down at the gold and red iron pack approaching the foot of the mountain, who beckoned doom louder than a tribal drum. I sighed with irremediable despair, wanting to weep silently in infinite solitude. But my duty was not yet over, my oath was not fully fulfilled. Fear spread through my limbs, like a disease chewing my bones, but I managed to slowly turn around, to look at the frightened faces of the innocent Gauls, and to remind myself of my final purpose in this life.
It would not have been long before the invaders would reach us, as the climb was not overly steep and not too daunting. However, it would undoubtedly slow them down, to allow us to relish the sublime gift of life for a few more moments. I walked reluctantly back to the group, not rushing for there was nothing to hope for. I despised the feeling of seeing pain and misery on other people's faces, and that is exactly what I had for the past few months. We ran and we ran, for all of it to just end like this.
The snow crunched softly underneath my leather boots, startling a few sleepy children as I passed by. I smiled at their little worried faces, attempting as best as I could to hide the woe that burnt inside me, and to slightly reassure them as to all was not yet lost.
"Don't worry, everything will be fine. Just sit tight, and everything will be over soon," I said softly, trying to fill my supposedly empty words with the last ounces of compassion that I still possessed. The little children just looked at me wide eyed, not showing a hint of emotion, as if they knew that the icy hand of Death was coming to take them away. I lowered my head, and continued to walk along.
The blizzard raged with fiery passion, striking and slicing at our faces. It swept and whirled randomly, causing a wild tornado of menacing fury, recreating the hate that the Romans had against us. We were witnessing at first hand this pitiful hate, and not even by their actions.
I approached a group of women, who were kneeling on the freezing snow, in forlorn and sacred prayer. They all mumbled a few words that created a storm of verbal cushion, but also a strange melodic symphony that appeased and lightened the soul. I asked one of them what they were doing, and she quickly replied that they were asking the various gods for aid. Among these goddesses a few that I recognised included Epona, the Goddess of horses, and Teutates, the God of the people. These gentle women had not yet given up hope, and I decided to respect their beliefs. Walking back a little, I drew a plain red rose from a wayward basket, and placed it in front of the small statuette of Epona, paying my respects as I did so. The women continued to mumble silently, but I managed to see a few smiles break onto some of their faces.
All of a sudden, as I walked cautiously away from the worshipers, I heard a sharp flute being blown with worried haste. The flute persisted viciously, and the men were easily roused, trying to find who was sounding the alarm, and for what reason. The legionnaires would still be climbing, and could not possibly be near. The flute continued in a wild confusion and everyone was on edge, their muscles tightened and their eyes searching. We were all crouching, ready to leap on anything that approached. Quickly, I turned my head, preparing a plan of action for the potentially impending danger.
Gaesum," I silently whispered to some nearby tribesmen, demanding a spear. That single word sliced through the air, and it was met with immediate response, as a spear was thrown onto my right hand. I grasped it carefully, now treading ever so carefully to where the flute noise originated. It drew nearer and nearer with every step that I took, and I finally perceived the alarum keeper. He stood rooted to the ground, petrified and staring at some unknown target, only able to blow into his little fine flute. I approached him with care, not wanting to startle him, or his menace.
I tapped his shoulder softly, and he abruptly stopped whistling into his instrument. He was shivering uncontrollably, and his breathing was laboured, like that of a wounded beast. The wind suddenly gave a vicious push, and he exhaled loudly, forcing himself to point his finger in front. I tread past him slowly, now not wanting to disturb what awaited me. I raised my spear into an offensive position above my head, ready to strike upon occasion.
My legs froze all of a sudden as I heard the previously afflicted man whisper a single word. If I had hear correctly, the word was "Art", meaning "Bear", and with his stuttered and mumbled whisper, he transferred his fear into me.
I stayed rooted at the spot, my spear still offensively raised. My muscles grew weary and my mind became tense, but I maintained complete concentration for the good of the tribe, to offer them an image of courage, an image that they could look up to. I dared not move, and eventually, the supposed bear decided to act by himself. Staring in front, I saw a large four legged beast immerse from a seeming cave. I could not see an entrance, but the mighty bear seemed to ascend from bellow, and he was uncovered and untouched by the vicious elemental weather. His fur was of a sublime blood red, different from the scarlet red of the Romans, and far different from the snowy white of the usual mountain creatures. Dumbstruck, I gaped at the bedazzling creature as he slowly approached me, searching me with his wise and learned eyes. A few feet away he stopped, and launched a mental attack inside my mind.
I dropped my spear, clutching my head immediately as pain surged inside me. Some images flashed through my mind, striking a blow at every appearance. I grunted, trying to understand what I was seeing, but it was all so confusing. The images altered rapidly, but a few continued to reappear, as if they haunted like a fear hungry phantom. The picture of the bear pounded like a hammer, whilst the small statuette of Epona ripped through at certain times as well. Devastating fires and crippled bodies lay on the floor, and I even recognised some of the served heads and bodies. I forced my eyes to open, to look at the mysterious bear that continued to hold my gaze.
And then, it hit me. Quite literally, the image of the statuette and of the bear melded into one; they fused and merged inexplicably to create perfect sense. The wondrous creature in front of me was Artaius, the well known Bear God. As soon as that thought sprung in my mind, the bear grunted calmly, and unleashed me from my mental bond. He walked slightly forward, but did not seem to care too much for my presence.
"Artaius", I said to myself. The thrill and awe inside of me was fiery, wanting to burst out like the vicious lava stored in a molten volcano. His simple presence and refusal to harm any of us could only mean a single thing: that he came to save us, or to die fighting with us till the very end. My joy could not be contained, and even though I had resisted the pending urge with much concentration, my legs took control and advanced towards him. It may have been sacrilege, or against some divine law, but I could not resist from stroking his apparently bloodied far, and to feel the raw power emanating from his mortal form. Fortunately, he did not mind, but I heard many gasps rise from the mouths of many of the tribe folk.
Now, I forced myself to temporarily part, and I picked up my spear with a new feeling of pride and courage. With this resurrection, we had a new hope at survival. After all, we had the element of surprise, and we knew this terrain and lieu far better than the pitiful Romans. Confidently, I started shouting a few orders, telling some of the men to prepare their weapons and to huddle together, to discuss some possible defensive tactics. Even though we should have started to prepare before, at least now motivation and hope ran through our veins, our blood pulsing eagerly. For the first time in what seemed an eternity, I actually saw pure joy on the faces of the remnants of the Gaulish race.
I barked some orders, half viciously to exert strength and half encouragingly to fill the men with enthusiasm. Artaius was not only a heroic and mythical warrior in bear form, but he was also a heathen presence; I experienced at first hand what his pure image could strike into a man, and could only imagine what mental impact his relinquished hate would have upon the legionnaires. Upon hearing his name, the soldiers beamed with excitement and pride.
All the orders were understood and executed swiftly; the previously huddled group dispersed proportionately into different packs, spreading out in different areas. I advised some to stay, and to lead the women, children and wounded into a deeper part of the mountain, possibly closer to its peak.
We decided to descend into a more strategic position. Even though we were heavily outnumbered, we still had the element of surprise. With the addition of Artaius, and carefully executed guerrilla offensives, we could change the fearsome tides of battle. Not far below stood an abandoned bridge, a desolated area filled with solitude. The river underneath the bridge had dried up, and it was now used as a road to pass the mountain. That specific road was the main route to our refuge, and the Romans would be sure to use it.
I trod back to the ledge on which I previously stood on to see the position of the Romans. They were much closer now, and the immensity of their force was quite clear. But still, we had some time for some final preparations and surprises, and so we set off to the bridge.
As we walked down, possibly to our doom or possibly to a new beginning, I remembered an ancient chant that I used to sing in my childhood, without really understanding the meaning of it:
"Fear not and hold onto your good senses,
The brave warriors grab their spears.
The automaton of war commences,
Dear Epona, keep safe your tears."