Chapter 18 - Phelan's tale

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"And how did it happen, you and him?" Phyllis added, popping up beside Marcus. She held out her own cup, which Marcus filled too, casually letting the burgundy liquid trickle down while he waited for Phelan's reply. It was too good an opportunity to pass.

"I'm his son," Phelan said, watching with delight how the wine spilled as it poured over and made the startled couple spring apart. Phyllis side-stepped the flow, licking away the droplets that got caught on the purlicue of her hand. After a moment, Marcus held the amphora upward to stop the downpour, but his pretty face held nothing but horror.

"Really?" Phyllis asked, and she sank to the floor to sit down cross-legged on one of the many pillows at the sides of the wall, pulling Marcus down with her.  He went to the ground without a sound.

Phelan sat down in front of them. "For him, I am," he said, pointing at Marcus, who gave him a slightly unflattering open-mouthed stare. It was too much fun, teasing him.

Cornelis had returned a year after Phelan's forced departure from their village. Filled with Roman warfare intelligence, and clever Latin words that were to smooth the road between his noble family and the Roman bureaucrats that now ruled them. Under Raghnall's guidance it became dangerous knowledge for those who had provided it to Cornelis. Too dangerous or not dangerous enough, Phelan always found that hard to judge. And it was not his tale to tell.

But he told them of the aftermath. How, a year after both their family fathers were executed, Cornelis had turned up to settle the debt Phelan's own father hadn't been able to pay. Fifteen years old, Phelan had been free to go home. Cornelis had warned him it wasn't necessarily something to be grateful for, and Phelan had to admit that was true. Phelan had never considered himself of warrior-blood, but without a family name that held the power to protect him if the Romans came looking for human trade ware, he quickly found himself part of those who tried to strengthen the mangled defences of their village. Cornelis's drill would probably give Biancus a run for his money. And it had paid off. But being outnumbered ten to one on most occasions, they were forced to lay low.

'Cornelius of the Caleti,' was how Cornelis got listed into Roman administration, as head of a family that counted both Brenna, who was Cornelis's niece by blood, and Phelan himself, as an overgrown adoptive son, for he had been seventeen when it went to paper. He had found it a rather clever solution, one very beneficial for his freedom and future.

"But he can't..." Marcus started at one point in his story. He never finished his sentence, looking around to see who was listening to Phelan's tale. Which happened to be everyone. He had his talents.

"Never mind," Marcus muttered.

Phelan leant back, satisfied with the attention: "I have gained where the rest of our village lost. It makes me rather patient with the lot of you. Cornelis wanted that patience on the village council, but although everyone gets a vote, leading it and thus deciding the topics that get voted on, is still a matter of the noble families. The rich families."

"Same everywhere," Biancus nodded.

"You Romans have this cute adoption game to make sure hereditary lines don't bleed out." Phelan added. "We copied it."

"He doesn't seem very patient to me," Marcus muttered again, and Phelan had the distinct impression there were a million other things he wanted to say. Phyllis had tried to rest her head against Marcus's upper arm, which didn't look very comfortable since Phelan could see the muscles of his biceps clench and relax against her cheek in tune to his words, every emotion not visible on Marcus's face centred right underneath his skin. She gave up mid-way through Phelan's story, and he had her full attention now. Excellent!

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