(after Alexandros speaks with the reik Theodoric, and before he finds Agantyr the bowyer...)
“Oh, this is a wretched day!” Ermanerich paced nervously around the barn. Alexandros ignored him for the most part, concentrating on recovering his bag of personal items from the hands of the servants. The horses were already stabled and curried down. Out of habit, the Macedonian checked his mount, rubbing the brown’s nose and checking her hooves for stones. The stable-boys watched with approval from the hayloft, their bare brown legs swinging from the balcony.
“What troubles you? Things went well with your father, I think.”
“How so?” Ermanerich turned, his blue eyes fierce. The plaits of his hair bounced on his broad shoulders. “He will not agree to your plan! I could see in their faces – oh, that woman has influenced them, I know it!”
“Does your mother still live?” Alexandros’ question took Ermaneric off guard. The youth stared at him for a moment, then shook his head.
“No, she died in childbirth years ago. Why?”
“Hmm. Only a thought. No matter. You should not worry about this. I believe that the reik will allow us to raise our new, Gothic, army.”
“He will?” Ermanerich rubbed his chin in puzzlement. “But he won’t help us…”
Alexandros smiled merrily. “That is for the best. You will see.”
Slinging his goods over his shoulder, the Macedonian followed Ermanerich out of the stables and up into the king’s house again. As a guest, he rated a small room on the northern side of the building. It had a rush-strewn floor and a bed made of wooden boards and crisscrossed leather straps. Alexandros put his goods on the floor and looked out the small window. It was barred with wooden slats and had a shutter behind it to close when the weather grew cold. The room was dark and small, but it seemed that he was the only occupant, which was a sign of tremendous generosity.
Downstairs, the household would be sleeping three or four to a room.
“Tell your father that I am honored to be his guest.” Ermanerich nodded, still morose.
Alexandros threw his blankets on the bed and leaned a spear, his scabbarded spatha, and a Legion-style cavalry helmet he had brought from Rome against the wall. The Goth handed a large wooden bowcase to him, which Alexandros placed on the bed. Unlike the Gothic ones it was plain wood, entirely lacking in ornamentation.
“Tell me, is there a master bowyer in the city?”
Ermanerich brightened up.
“Yes,” he said, “Do you want another bow? I have several…”
Alexandros smiled. “I think that we will need quite a number of bows. Let us eat and then see this fellow of yours.”
The bowyer was named Angantyr and he lived in a long high-ceilinged building by the river. Two drying sheds and a laminating workshop formed a rough dirt square with his hall. It was late in the afternoon when Alexandros and Ermanerich reached it. They had eaten a heavy midday meal and had walked slowly through town. The Gothic prince had seen many friends and greeted them with cheer. Alexandros had smiled politely and watched, counting the numbers of idling young men that thronged the market or sat about the forum, gambling. What he saw pleased him.
Alexandros presumed that these were men lacking wives – here, as in his long-lost home, a man might have as many wives and concubines as he could support – thus the rich had many, and the poor few. All the better, he thought, for these fellows will be restless and eager for spoils, that they may begin their own households. Another mark against the restraint imposed by the Empire…
[ ...then, after his visit to the bowyer, Alexandros returns to the palace... ]
The feasting had already begun in the hall of the reik when Alexandros and his two companions returned to the house of Theodoric. Ermanerich and Angantyr expected to go directly to the hall, but Alexandros had excused himself. It had been days since he had gotten a real bath and this was a Roman-designed city. It was not a large bathhouse, little more than two bare rooms, but there was a slave to oil him and scrape the dirt from his body and it was enough.
When he finally reached the feasting hall, it was packed with men and women and children. Large dogs prowled under the tables, growling and tearing at scraps on the floor. Standing in the doorway, feeling the wash of heat coming off of all those bodies and the tapers burning to light the scene, Alexandros thought with regret of the civilized life of Rome.
But this is not Rome, he reminded himself, again. This is the Pella of my fathers.
With that he descended into the hustle and bustle of the hall, weaving his way through slaves carrying slabs of roasted ox and lamb, serving girls with damp pitchers of wine, loose children that danced around him, tugging at his cloak and tunic, drunken youths that hailed him with raised cups. At last, after making a half-circuit of the hall, he found Ermanerich and Angantyr seated below the royal table. They moved aside and let him squeeze onto their bench.
No sooner had he sat down than a copper cup of wine was in his hand and a slab of steaming, bloody meat was on a wooden trencher in front of him. Ermanerich half-stood and raised his own cup.
“Friends,” he shouted in a glad voice, “welcome our guest, Alexandros the Macedonian!”
A booming cheer rolled back from the assembled multitude. Everyone was deep in their cups and filled with good cheer. Alexandros raised his own cup in return, then drained it dry in one long convulsive swallow. This was Roman wine, and it burned as it went down. Another cheer went up from those that had seen him. The Goths were pleased with his welcome.
Another cup was placed before him. He raised it to the reik who sat a tables-length away, among a close circle of his confidantes and advisors. As before, Theodelinda and Geofric sat at his left side. The lady smiled faintly, then resumed her conversation. She was speaking to a Roman in the traveling cloak of a merchant. He was dark-bearded and sallow faced. Alexandros marked him, guessing him to be one of the woman’s spies. Then he drained the cup and held it out for more.
Again, the Goths cheered, then returned to their own drinking. It was a serious business.
Alexandros sat down, ignoring the meat on the trencher. Before entering the hall he had availed himself of freshly baked bread and cheese in the kitchen, watching the servants hurry to and fro. In this he had also made the acquaintance of the cooks and praised them for their efforts. Such things never hurt.