Fur Gerlind! by Chris Bone and Paul L. Mathews

Alaric refused to tell them his real name, so they called him Manlius.

He would never forget Gerlind. She was three summers old when the Romans had come to his village deep in the forests of Germania. They destroyed it all. He could still remember the screams and the flames, and his mother pinned naked to an oak by Roman spears. He could still remember his father surrounded and stabbed by Roman pilums as he flailed with his axe, cursing them for dogs and snarling like a hound. He could still remember Gerlind being picked up by a soldier and swung by her tiny legs against the trunk of a pine tree. He remembered her skull cracking like an egg and its contents running down the trunk to mingle with the damp earth.

He would never forget.

He would never forget Marcus Galienus Coponius. Thrown into a caged wagon with the other prisoners, ‘Manlius’ was taken—shackled and chained—all the way to Rome. There he was sold into the service of Coponius, a wine merchant from Narbonensis. For seven years he stoically received Coponius’ drunken beatings. But Coponius could never break Manlius’ spirit. He prayed daily to Wuotan and to Donar to give him the strength to survive and to set him free. Donar had listened to his prayers and—one hot summer—he sent a thunderbolt to strike the Coponius’ villa, setting it ablaze. The dry winds spread the flames through the vines and, in the confusion, Manlius seized the opportunity to escape. He remembered it still.

He would never forget.

He would never forget the great port of Massilia. He arrived there, by chance, after fleeing the villa. He stowed away on the first merchant ship he found anchored at the dockside. The vessel was bound for Ostia. There, hidden by darkness, he had jumped ship and made his way along the bank of the River Tiber until he eventually arrived at the city of his hated enemy, Rome. He remembered it still.

He would never forget.

He would never forget Prudentius. The agente found Manlius living like a feral animal, eating rats and smothering himself in horse shit to keep warm. Prudentius coaxed him with food and spoke to him in his native tongue. He then installed Manlius in the Red Wolf, a tavern of some repute under the management of Brictius of the Palatine. Prudentius gave strict instructions that Brictius was to train the German as a fighter, and that the German would then assist Prudentius on his many ventures. He remembered it still.

He would never forget.

He would never forget Brictius. The fighter took Manlius’ primal fury and brutality and honed it into a fighting spirit and a keen skill. Brictius’ tutelage saw Manlius’s reputation and standing grow amongst the Palatine gang. Able to give and take almost preternatural levels of punishment, he took particular pleasure in beating any enemies he knew to be ex-legionaries. “Fur Gerlind!” he would roar before emasculating them and cutting their throats. He remembered it still.
He would never forget.

He would never forget Coponius. Prudentius. Brictius. He would never forget their part in his torment, and in his grief. He would destroy them all.

For Gerlind.

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