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The Guest Star (4), Lissus

Hero felt they were no closer to the answers after they left Ioannis a week ago. Before Cnoso, he was sure that maybe if he could find the original text from the Tiberius' note, it could shed some more light on the meaning of the guest stars, but if it meant that the old record would be written in ancient pictographs in its entirety, it would be more than challenging, to say the least. He would need somebody who would know how to translate the ancient text to the newer Serican language and then to Latin or Greek. Ioannis said that he heard from the silk merchants in Phaestus about dozens of Serens who sailed with them along the new route in previous years, but they mostly left the ships in Egypt, and they did not know where they went. They were also merchants who did not trade in silk, but in something else, something of a technological nature.

They left Cnoso the day after their visit of Ioannis' school and the old ruins and rode to Hersonissos, the main Cretan harbor on the north shore. Unfortunately, their luck ran out when it came to shipping by sea. All the larger merchant ships had already left and the only ship that received them was a small corbita, a Navis oneraria class which was almost half in size comparing to the one they sailed from Alexandria. Dimitris, the owner of the ship, allowed them to board only on the condition that Hero help them on the deck with everyday tasks, as they were one man short in the crew.

The cargo area was also almost full and their accommodation was also not as good as it was before. The only good thing was that the sea was calm and they sailed along the coast most of the time, so Lucia didn't have much trouble with the dancing floors of the boat. Hero, on the other hand, was overtired almost every day and used every minute of his free time to rest and sleep. The twelve-day voyage was about halfway through when the ship docked at the island of Korkyra, the first town where almost entire cargo was planned to be unloaded. Hero helped with unloading and then with loading more goods for the rest of the trip. After that, they had the afternoon and evening free, before they had to continue their journey the next morning.

As the trip progressed, Lucia's mood seemed to change and she became more withdrawn and silent. At first Hero thought it was her reluctance to travel by sea, but with each passing day he was more and more certain that something else was bothering her.

They went to a local taverna, not far from the port and ordered two sofritos with beef and rice, a local variant of a Roman specialty, which gained popularity again, especially since rice arrived to the empire and represented something completely new and rare on the menu in the Roman Empire. They ate in silence.

"You are absent." Hero tried to be considerate. "Is it because I did something?"

She didn't look up.

"I wasn't honest with you Hero." Her voice was soft and apologetic.

He didn't say anything because he didn't want to rush her. He couldn't even dream of being in the company of Lucia on a journey like this, but everything happened so fast and Hero couldn't understand everything, especially how she showed up on the ship that morning. And why.

"It's Cassius.." She reluctantly started, but obviously unsure how to continue.

He was afraid of what she was going to say next. Cassius was always there for Hero and he was genuinely saddened if he had somehow contributed to Lucia being here and not in Rome.

"He.." She hesitated. "He asked me to marry him." Her gaze was still on the table and her voice shivered. "He planned everything for us. From the moment we arrive in Rome. Where we will live.. What we will do.." She hesitated. "I had no idea."

Hero straightened up. He wanted to say something. To ask what was in his mind. But he couldn't. He was just looking at her.

"I said no." She looked up. Her eyes were filled with silent tears, and her chin was trembling slightly.

At that moment he was taken aback. They were dating for more than a year and even though he was a little envious, Cassius was his best friend. The least he wanted was to be of any influence to his private life.

"But.." Hero wasn't sure how to react. "But.. Why?" He instantly regrated the question.

She fixed her eyes to his for a couple of moments. Her face was truly unreadable to him. He could see confusion, sadness, hope, even a little disappointment, all in the same time. She wiped the tears with her bare hand, stood up and just left.


But she was already out of sight.

He called the owner and arranged to pack the food they barely touched and ran after her. He found her sitting on the bench at the stern watching the small islet across the harbor. Her hair fluttered in the gentle breeze as she wiped her tears and sobbed softly.

Hero sat down next to her and put the food aside. He hugged her and gently touched the top of her chin. "Lucia, I am so sorry. You can count on me and I will always be there for you." He paused. "You mean too much to me."

Lucia couldn't bear any more. She rested her head on his shoulder and cried for a long time.

* * *

Five days later they arrived in Lissus, one of the largest cities in the Roman province of Macedonia. It lay on the northern border of the province with strategic importance, above all because it was located opposite Brundisium, the main imperial port for all travelers who traveled to Rome by sea, especially from the direction of the eastern Mare Nostrum. Two major roads led east from Lissus, via Egnatia which led in direct line to province capital, Thessalonica and further to Byzantium, and via Danubius, which intersected with the via Militaris at the city of Naissus and led directly to the Danubius river and the northern border of the Empire.

Dimitris showed up at the bow and helped them with the luggage. "The town is pretty safe. There's always lots of military roaming in every direction, but I advise you not to travel alone. Try also to avoid suburb areas. There are a lot of robbers in the city and organized bandits along the roads." He tossed the travel bags to Hero from the deck. "Farewell, my dear boy. Take care of Lucia and if you change your mind, I am always in need for men like you."

They said their goodbyes and left toward the Cursus Publicus office.

There, they were greeted rather unkindly by Livius, who was visibly nervous about the presence of so many waiting for the journey who were obviously neither military nor postal officials. But, it lasted only until Lucia showed her certificate. That piece of papyrus instantly changed the behavior of the young postal clerk. Apparently, he rarely had the opportunity to see something like this in the hands of civilians.

"Unfortunately, I can't allow you to travel alone." He apologized. "Government policy, but I am sure you already know this. You will have to wait for the next mail convoy."

"When do you have the first shipment to Naissus? Or Ratiaria?" Hero asked.

"Nothing until next week."

"What about the military ride?" Lucia pointed to the legionaries in front of the office. "Where are they going?"

"No, sorry. They are heading toward Epidaurus. To the north." Livius found the schedule on the table. "But the day after tomorrow, there are two contubernium units heading your way. Of course, to travel with them, you will have to get the permission from both of their decanus commanders. I don't think they will mind. At this hour, you can find them in the House of Taulantii."

"Is that..." Lucia hesitated to finish the question.

"Oh, no, no, no." Livius understood. "The House of Taulantii is a great place if you want to eat local food. Actually, I recommend it, if you are hungry."

It was not far, just couple of blocks north of the forum. They indeed found lots of soldiers in the taverna, mainly low rank officers and legionaries. They easily spotted Vitus and Caelius, two commanders of their eight-men squads. In fact, the Roman army was required to provide escort services to Roman civilians in all respects, especially on long journeys, except in times of war of course, but even without that rule, both of them were more than kind to Lucia and Hero and were genuinely looking forward for their mutual travel.

They found the empty table in the garden and ordered from the daily menu and two glasses of the Illyrian red wine from widely known Dalmatian vineyards. In the previous five days, they didn't talk much. It was probably the most uncomfortable part of the voyage, as the ship departed from the Mare Ionium and entered the Mare Adriaticum, a strait known for its often rough currents and bad weather. Hero spent almost every day and most of the nights on deck helping the other sailors.

Compared to their last visit to a tavern, this morning was like they reversed their roles and it was Hero's turn to act strangely, and from the moment they stepped onto the pier, Lucia sensed his restlessness. He was quiet on the way to the taverna and often looked back towards the forum. He seemed more interested in the happenings in the town which seemed more lively than usual, probably due to the open market they saw in the distance towards groups of people and lots of children were heading.

"Hero.." She put her hand on his. "Please don't be like this. I am very sorry for what happened in Korkyra. Everything just came together for me all at once.." She looked at him asking for forgiveness. "It will never happen again. I promise."

"It's not that." His gaze was still fixed at the street and further towards the forum.

"What is it?"

"I think someone is following us." He looked back at her at last.

* * *

There were many Roman soldiers around them and they felt safe. The food arrived and they stayed to enjoy lunch and wine. The daily menu was baked salty bread with slices of lamb and cheese. It was around noon and the food portions were not too big. The Roman style of skipping large meals during the day with a larger dinner later in the evening apparently carried over to the provinces as well.

"Who did you think you saw?"

"I am not sure, but there was a group of merchants on the other pier who were looking at us, when we docked." Hero tried to remember the details. "It seemed to me that one of them was pointing in our direction. Then, I saw the same group later when we left the Cursus office."

"Did they followed us here?"

"I couldn't be sure. When we entered the forum, I was looking for them, but there were too many people and I lost them." He finished the wine and realized it was very good, almost as good as the one Cassius had brought when they had watched the night sky outside the southern walls of Alexandria eight months ago. "I don't know. Maybe I'm just paranoid."

"Dimitris said there are many thieves." Lucia said after they ordered more wine. "We were the new faces in the port. They probably tried to see if we were easy targets. If they followed us to here, they probably saw the soldiers and gave up."

"You are probably right." Hero admitted. "Let's take his advice and be careful. То stay close to the legionaries and to try to always be surrounded by a crowd."

An hour later they left for the forum accompanied with couple of soldiers who left the tavern and headed for their camp on the other side of the harbor. They also hoped to find some rooms close by. At the exit of the forum continued the square where the market day was held. Probably on the occasion of some local holiday or as Hero pointed out, as in his home town of Antioch, more likely it was held once a week during the summer.

The day was beautiful and merchants formed multiple rows of stalls selling everything from food and spices, textiles and clothing, various tools and even weapons. There were also lots of stalls with wooden toys and lots of children around them. A couple of them offered scrolls, wax tablets, thin sheets of wood, blank papyrus and lots of quills and ink. They covered the market with cloth above the aisles in different colors representing different types of goods.


Lucia made her way through the crowd and spotted a stall with handmade ornaments for clothes as well as lots of tastefully made bronze figurines and jewelry.

"What do you think?" She took two earrings decorated with amethyst and light pearls and held them with her hands under her ears.

"I think everything looks good on you."

In fact, Lucia and her travel certificate saved them a lot of money. Probably the biggest expense of their trip was paying for horses and ships. When he planned the trip, he had foreseen this expense, but now, traveling with Lucia, he saved a lot. He was already thinking about how to make it up to her and these earrings seemed perfect.

He was about to ask the price when he heard a loud turmoil from the people behind him. He heard somebody screamed. He quickly turned around but everything happened so fast and all he saw was a heavy object hitting him directly in the head. He fell onto the cobblestone struggling to stay conscious, knocking over a jewelry stall on the way. He tried to get up when he was hit hard in the stomach.

As he gasped for air, out of the corner of his eye he saw the three men he thought he had seen earlier in the port putting a sack over Lucia's head and carrying her towards the end of the street knocking over more stalls and pushing people away.


He managed to shout, get up and run after them. But the pain was too heavy and he only made it as far as the corner before falling again. Hero took a few moments to recover so he could go after them, but he was too late. He ran to the end of the next corner and looked around, but they were nowhere to be seen.

"Lucia!" He shouted again, but to no avail.

He leaned against the wall thinking what to do, and after a while he turned and ran back to the House of Taulantii.

* * *

"Vitus! Caelius!" Hero shouted from the corner of the street where the tavern was. "Thank Gods, you are still here!" He paused at their table, catching his breath. "Lucia was taken away! At the market.."

"Hero, you are bleeding!" They both stood up. "What do you mean taken? By who? Where?" Vitus was first to ask.

"In the middle of the market. I don't know who. They hit me from behind with something heavy and... they grabbed her and carried away towards the harbor."

>Hero sat down to try to get his grip. But he knew he didn't have the time to rest. They had to act fast or Lucia would be taken in who knows what direction. Vitus and Caelius started issuing orders to their legionaries, and Caelius was already ready to go with his men as soon as they mounted their weapons and armor. Only minute after, they marched toward the market to start the inquiry.

"If they headed for the port and not the suburbs, that just means they're going for a ship and not out of town by road." Vitus said while sorting his squad. "Come Hero, let's not waste time."

"Where would we be going?"

"To the port office. They have information of all ships sailing from and to Lissus." Vitus turned to Hero. "Now, this is important. Tell me everything you remember about the kidnappers. Did you managed to see what were they wearing? What did they look like? Did they look like they were from the east or the north? What was their skin color? Any details would be helpful."

"My vision was blurred. When I get my consciousness back, they were already far away. I think there were three of them." Hero tried hard to remember exactly what and how it happened. "But I saw a group of several men who followed us from the Cursus office to here. We thought it was just local thieves preying on us, but I can't be sure if it's the same people."

Vitus gave him a military bandage to put pressure on the wound. "Come on, if you are ready, let's go. We should stop by the market first, to see if Caelius found someone who saw them clearly."

Soon after, they met Caelius and his men who were already talking to the people who had gathered by the fallen stalls. When he saw them approaching, he met them halfway. "There were three of them. They seem to be sailors from a larger merchant ship. The big guys, probably the ones who handle the oars. One bald, two bearded. Long boots. People said that they were not wearing cheap clothes. Probably a merchant ship from Ostia or some other wealthy colonial port."

"That's them!" Hero turned the bandage to the cleaner side and press to the head again. "The ones I saw outside of Cursus."

"Let's go to the port office. To check who docked recently and from where."

In the summer period, maritime trade was intensified in all imperial ports, and one of the size of the Lissus served thousands of ships entering the port throughout the season. On any given day, the port handled up to a hundred merchant ships of all sizes. The port was built to do this in the most efficient way and the warehouses were located as close to the sea as possible. Lissus had seven piers up to one hundred feet long and all bigger corbitas were always docked to the end of the piers and some, after being unloaded were anchored at the safe distance from the wooden constructions.

Hero stood near Vitus as he reviewed the port documents of all docked ships currently in the port. He classified them according to the days of docking and the size of the ships.

"Ok, here it is." He said after he finished. "We have twelve larger corbitas here. Five of them docked today and their cargo being unloaded as we speak. Of the remaining seven, four were loaned to the Roman navy, with no civilian sailors on board. They only transport legionaries. We came with one of those couple of days ago. Remaining three... Let's see.." He took the papyrus from another pile. "One came from Alexandria owned by a wine merchant and two are from Ostia on their way to the silk route." He grabbed more papyrus from the table. "Hmm, maybe we should expand the search for medium size ships as well."

"Can I see the chart of that Alexandrian ship?" Here asked.

"Sure." Vitus moved aside to give Hero a better view of the table.

The chart was small in size and it said that the ship had no cargo at all. It seems to have taken the wine to Alexandria and now for some reason docked at Lissus on the way back. The home port was Ostia with offices in Rome owned by... And then he saw it.

"Oh, no..."

* * *

Lucia was tied to a chair and left in the empty cargo hold of the largest ship she had ever been on. She remembered being taken from Hero from the market with a sack on her head. She also recalled screaming a lot when the huge man put her over his shoulder and carried her away. But then.. Nothing, she couldn't remember anything after that. Her memory was blank from that point to this.. She looked around at the empty space. Wherever she was now.

And then she remembered what happened to Hero. They hit him hard with a large ladle they probably picked up from the kitchen stall. She saw a bald man kicking him in the stomach after he tried to stand up. "Oh.." She felt a pain in the back of her head and moaned out loud. She tried to touch the sore spot, but couldn't. Her hands were tied to the back of the chair and she couldn't move.

She looked out the distant windows and saw that it was getting dark. She was thirsty. She must have been knocked out on the way here and transported to this ship in some empty crate or judging by the smell of her hair in a large salt fish sack. That was the only logical thing, otherwise someone would have seen her being carried on the busy piers. She was probably unconscious for several hours.

But why would someone kidnap her the way he did. She knew well enough that this often happened on the outskirts of the empire, but not in the busiest and largest cities full of military. And so in the middle of the open market in front of hundreds of people.

On the other hand, she knew very well what the fate of the kidnapped women was. She will surely end up in some brothel in the middle of nowhere. Or sold as a slave. Most likely both. Hero will never find her. If he was alive.. At that thought, Lucia lowered her head in surrender and felt tears forming in her eyes.

She sat in that position for probably an extra hour when she heard footsteps behind the door, which most likely led to the upper deck. The door opened and several sailors appeared, including her captors. They spread to the left and the right of the door leaving room for the ship's captain to enter the hold. He walked towards her and stopped about ten feet from her chair. She couldn't believe her eyes.

In front of her stood Cassius' grandfather.


Other than calling out his name, she was speechless and utterly confused about everything. But she knew his reputation well and hesitated how to address him. Cassius described him as a rather raw and a man who had no sense of humor, but he never said anything bad about him.

He pulled over another chair and sat opposite her. He just stared at her without saying anything.

"What.." She hesitated with the question. "What is the meaning of this?"

Gaius continued to stare at her but not at her eyes. She couldn't read his face. He had short gray hair and a short gray beard and this might be the first time she had looked at him seriously. She met him on several occasions in Alexandria but it was only casual and he was always nice to her. She also didn't know that he and Cassius were so attached to each other. Although, in all these years she had never met his parents, only Gaius when he visited Alexandria.

His expressions hinted that it could be that he himself was a bit taken aback by how it all played out. But then again, it was also clear that he was the one behind it. He got up and without a word went to the window and stared at the shore. She didn't understand.

"What is the meaning of this!!" She suddenly gained strength and shook the chair furiously.

Only then he turned his direct gaze to her.

"The meaning of this, young lady, is that I am taking you back to Rome." He said it with a hint of contempt in his voice. "Where you belong."

"Release me!" She shouted desperately. "Please..."

He went for the door. His sailors went out before him, and he paused in the doorway. He gave her a scorn look. "I will release you tomorrow after we set sail for the open sea."

"Did Cassius talk you into this?"

He left and shut the door.


She was desperate.


* * *

The twilight ended quickly and was replaced by the pitch black night when they finally departed the port. Two small boats commanded by Vitus and Caelius, each carrying eight men per boat, plus Hero sitting next to Vitus in the first, rowed silently up the fourth pier towards the corbitas anchored at the harbor exit.

Gaius' ship was the last in the line of four heavy vessels and they had to pass each one in hope that no one would see them and raise the alarm. It was a good development in a way, as most of the time they would be hidden from the sailors on the upper deck of Gaius' corbita, who might expect an incursion and watch towards the shore.

Heavy weapons and armors were out of the question because boarding the high hull would be next to impossible, so they were wearing only tunics and their small gladius swords and tools. The heavy ship had two anchors, one at the front of the bow and the other behind the stern, so they split and Vitus' boat went for the stern rode.

Almost at the same time they began to crawl along the thick rope of both anchor rods and silently boarded the ship from both ends. The sailors put up minimal resistance, and even if they had opposed them more seriously, the fight against the trained legionaries was futile. After only a few minutes they all surrendered and were surrounded in the center of the bulky ship.

"Who is in charge?" Vitus asked Gaius' men who were all kneeling in front of them.

No one answered. He moved a few feet closer to them and raised his voice. "I said, who's in char.." At that moment there was a loud scream that came from below deck.

"Lucia!" Hero rushed towards the captain's cabin, but it was locked. He kicked the door open, stepped in and opened the hatch to reveal a wooden staircase leading down.

"Hero, wait!" Caelius grabbed his shoulder. He waved with his free hand and four soldiers entered first through the opening. Hero followed, but they were soon stopped by another locked door at the end of the hallway. Another scream followed by a loud struggle came through the door. This door was heavier than the previous one and required more force to break through, but it soon gave way and the legionaries rushed inside.

Gaius and one of his men were covered in blood and lying motionless on the floor. In the center of the warehouse stood a bald, bulky sailor, who had knocked out the Hero in the marketplace. He held Lucia tightly with one hand, gagged her while doing so, and held a knife to her neck with the other.

"Stand down!" He shouted. "Or I'll cut her throat!"

The soldiers did not back down. They obviously recognized the severity of the situation and Hero only hoped that they knew what to do next as he definitely didn't know what would be their next move. This man killed Gaius and his sailor in cold blood. He was clearly out of his mind and certainly wouldn't hesitate to kill Lucia, even at the cost of his own life.

He took a step closer to the soldiers.

"I said, stand dow.."

What happened next Hero couldn't anticipate. The small arrow flew past his ear, close the distance to the captor in an instant, and hit him in the middle of his forehead. He fell lifelessly to the floor, dragging Lucia with him. Hero turned to see Vitus and two of his soldiers at the door frame. He was holding a crossbow.

He ran to Lucia and helped her up. She was in shock, her expression was one of total confusion and fear, but apart from that she was physically fine. There was blood on her stola, but it was not hers. She looked deep into his eyes and in that moment he was sure she was going to be fine.

He hugged her tight. "I thought I was going to lose you."

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