Baptism and Netherby Fort
Manzio is awoken from a deep sleep early the next morning with a resounding knock on the door. An elderly Danagrim is waiting for him outside dressed not in Romanic armour but instead, the white robes of a priest. An intricate metallic wreath rests upon his head, with Danagrim runes intricately carved into the subtle metalwork. A thick lustrous white moustache and beard cascade onto a grey cloak, the Danagrim’s bulbous nose suggesting multiple breaks.
‘Sorry to bother you boy but I have been sent by his holiness the Archbishop to accompany you. He is waiting for you on the shores of Vindolanda Lake.’
Manzio, still half-asleep grunts and quickly dresses before accompanying the stout Danagrim priest.
The walk is quick as the lake is not far outside the fort. Tradesmen, even at this early hour are arriving to set up their wares in the marketplace although the Danagrim’s crucifix is enough to provide sufficient space for the pair as the crowds respectfully part.
There is a chill wind blowing in from the north, whistling over the Wall as Manzio approaches the lake. The surface ripples, as the blustery weather conditions pick up and ahead, Manzio spots the Archbishop, surprisingly on his own, stood on a small wooden jetty jutting out into the lake.
Waiting patiently wishing he had taken his cloak against the surprising chill of the morning, Manzio and his Danagrim chaperon stand behind the jetty. At first, Manzio suspects that the Archbishop is unaware of their presence but after what feels like an eternity, the old man begins to speak, though he does not yet turn to face Manzio.
‘A chill wind blows from the North.’
Manzio looks to the Danagrim waiting to see if he will respond but the big priest simply puts his index finger to his lips, denoting silence.
‘My prayers have been troubled. Troubled for quite some time if I am entirely honest. From time to time I am blessed, though some would call it a curse with visions of what is still to come. Of late, I have seen much snow and cold, the like of which we have not seen in centuries. I fear that ancient sorcery is brewing in the north and with it, a new dawn for us all and perhaps a sunset or two.’
Turning, the Archbishop beckons for Manzio to approach. The Vesuvian steps forward onto the creaking bridge, remaining a respectful distance. Reaching for Manzio’s hand, the Archbishop takes a step from the bridge, dragging Manzio with him, both immersed in the chilly waters, up to their chests. In a loud, ringing voice, the Archbishop begins a prayer, his eyes closed, the waters lapping up against his white stole, sodden in the waters.
‘God has called upon us today to witness the rebirth of one Manzio Alfredo, son of Alberto Alfredo. With the power vested in me, I, Roger de Pont L’Évêque, Archbishp of York name Manzio Alfredo, Raphael, Inquisitor of the North by my hand and decree.
Loria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto. Sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper, et in saecula saeculorum. Amen.’
Gently, the Archbishop places his right arm behind Manzio’s back and pushes him backward with his left hand. Surprisingly, the old man still has great strength and immerses Manzio beneath the chilly waters. Manzio is surprised that despite the chill, he is totally at peace with himself, relaxed and able to see the watery form of the Archbishop above the surface of the lake. Time stands still and just for moment, he hears a voice speak to him, as though from the waters.
‘Look for the emerald fires in the ice and chill to come.’
Manzio looks to his right and just for second, he sees a beautiful female face, spectral.
‘The rebirth is complete. Rise Raphael, Inquisitor of York. Amen.’
Manzio returns to the jetty, still dripping wet and questioning is own sanity. The Danagrim priest offers fresh robes for both the Archbishop and the Vesuvian whilst close at hand, an entire entourage emerges from the nearby trees armed with dressers brought forth to offer a changing space for both men. Manzio notes the imposing figure of Guillaume de la Croix stood close at hand, his stoic face scanning right and left, ever protective of his holy charge.
Standing behind his own elaborate dresser is none other than Uther. His tabard newly cleaned and even his wounds all but healed, the bruises finally faded, his eyes full of joyful tears.
‘I am proud of you brother.’
Who am I, Manzio or Raphael?
‘Brother Raphael, if I may?’
The Archbishop, freshly clothed is sat on a makeshift chair, the Danagrim priest positioned close at hand and an additional chair readied for Manzio.
‘Please, sit. We have gifts for you.’
The Danagrim priest hands a scroll bound by the seal of the Archbishop himself.
‘Thank you Brother Francis.’
The Archbishop looks Manzio in the eye. ‘With this scroll, doors will open for you in the north of England, Brother Raphael. Use it well, use it with a just heart and above all use it in my name.’
Manzio goes onto one knee, his right fist clasped to his heart. ‘You do me a great honour Archbishop. I do not know what to say. I have nothing to offer for such kindness and trust.’
The Archbishop smiles and beckons for Manzio to once again sit. ‘On the contrary boy. You have done much for me already but I will have to ask you for more. Much more. We face troubled times the like of which the north has not seen in centuries. Alas, that I am no longer hail in body, though my spirit and mind are unbroken. It will have to be enough and let us pray that the Lord works miracles through my aged body, for miracles will be needed in the times to come.’
Manzio, rather disturbed by the Archbishop’s words, looks to Brother Francis and sees the Danagrim looking beyond to the lake. Grim faced, there is no comfort to be had from the old Danagrim priest.
‘Now. I am not finished yet. An inquisitor will face many trials and tribulations.’
Brother Francis reaches into his robes and hands the Archbishop a wooden box of tiny phials, stoppered like miniature wine bottles.
‘Allow me to explain the contents of these four elixirs. These two sacraments represent the blood of Christ. They will offer you additional protection when in battle for you will be light to the darkness. Use them wisely and only when in grave peril.’
Manzio once again nods his appreciation, unsure how to respond. ‘I thank you once again.’
The two transparent liquids offer you healing. The Lord’s blessing will give you strength when weakness strikes.’ The Archbishop hands the box across to Manzio, closing the lid as he does so.
‘Brother Francis, if I may speak with Brother Raphael alone for my final gift.’
The old Danagrim priest takes his leave, patting Manzio on the back.
‘Bother Francis will depart on a crucial errand on the morrow. So will you. Alongside Uther of course,’ adds the Archbishop, noting the alarm in Manzio’s eyes. ‘But first, you need protection from prying eyes.’
Reaching beneath his fresh alb, the Archbishop unclasps a silver Saint Christopher, tied to an intricate necklace, much like tiny pieces of chain mail attached together.
‘Finally, you will need this. There are magical means by which the enemy can scry upon your every movement. This icon is said to have been blessed by Christopher himself. You should take it for my prayers have revealed that you will have need of it, in the many great labours ahead.’
Taking the icon, the Archbishop personally fastens the necklace and then stands back to inspect his handiwork.
‘Good. Very good.’ For a moment, a strange light enters the Archbishop’s eye and he observes Manzio with a quizzical gaze.
‘When I pray about you Brother Raphael, you are shrouded in shadow. Shadow, as an old friend once said to me, is not necessarily evil. But shadow without light can lead to evil. When you enter the shadows, do not forget the light.’
For a moment Manzio feels a strange sense of timelessness as though looking at the Archbishop via a mediated state. Past, present and future merging into one. With it a new and profound sense of respect for the old man.
As though guessing his thoughts, the Archbishop smiled fondly at Manzio.
‘Actually, I have immediate work for you to complete. First, I would have you ride to Netherby, preferably today. Inspect the readiness of the troops for war. Uther will help. Make sure the Danagrim and Templars have a strong bond. Feel free to send your report via a runner…it is not far. Secondly, I’d like you to ride further west. I have received disturbing reports of two promising young Templar knights. In short, they have disappeared. Mysteriously. Richard Tarraby and Simon Etterby. Both carry their family name and the village they hail from.’
So it was that as dusk set on the very same day, Uther and Raphael arrived at Netherby having acquired two fine stallions for the short trip separating the two forts.
The day had been poignant on several levels with Manzio sensing a change in his relationship with Uther. The gruff, earnest knight always quick to criticise his younger companion was already more patient in their conversations and respectful as though the apprentice was now senior to his mentor.
Uther quickly gained a room in the Templar’s barracks; a modest affair set outside the perimeter of the old wall but surrounded by a new wall encompassing several new buildings including a half finished Hospitaller facility.
Uther and Manzio were given some stew in the deserted dining hall when a striking Templar knight wearing a circlet entered, embracing Uther in a bear like hug.
‘Inquisitor Raphael, may I present Jean de Carcassonne.’
Jean immediately struck Manzio as a highly charismatic leader. In response to the Archbishop’s errand, the Templar, speaking with a strong French inflection provided a detailed and articulate response.
‘Netherby Fort is manned by nearly 1000 Danagrim accompanied by the Knight’s Templar and from time to time, additional mercenary companies depending upon our funding. The fort is commanded by General Valernus, whilst the Priesthood by Bishop Spiranus. As with the situation at Vindolanda, Spiranus operates using a Papal Bull though he is elderly and of late increasingly his duties delegated to Brother Kanute.
General Valernus stands like a figure straight from Roman legend. He is a commanding figure and well respected. Valernus commands 10 centuries. Each century operates a half-day shift, with the central fort manned by one and forts either side situated a mile apart also manned. Of the other seven, two each are spread across western and eastern sections of Hadrian’s Wall covering a further 10miles in either direction. The Vindolanda garrison covers the largest section of the wall at 30miles and the Eastern garrison the remaining 20miles. An eighth century acts as relief and two centuries act in an auxiliary manner as part of a 5/1/1 working routine. (1 day of leave, 1 day as auxiliary relief) The town of Netherby contains about 5,000 civilians of which 1,000 are young Danagrim and Templar knights in training. The rest are women, children, traders etc.
The elder stone is locked deep beneath the central Netherby fort having been placed nearly 100ft beneath the surface. An additional century of Danagrim trained for subterranean combat is permanently garrisoned as the final protection against would-be attackers. It is said that a series of trap doors, flooded cells and poisons are at the ready for any foolish enough to attempt this seemingly impossible feat!
You should also be aware Inquisitor that the Sheriff of Cumberland, Roger de Vallibus is visiting the fort at present arriving earlier today from Carlisle. You would be wise to pay him a visit for he is a stickler for decorum and etiquette. Be careful. Both Vallibus and his ally, Brother Kanute like the degree of freedom enjoyed by the Netherby clergy, operating as they do outside of the Archbishop’s diocese.’
That night, Manzio finds it difficult to sleep on the wooden pallets provided, tossing and turning, often staring into the rafters overhead slightly disturbed by the chain of events leading him to such an unusual position.
Am I cut out for politics?
The following day Manzio and Uther request an audience with the prominent officials mentioned by Jean de Carcassonne but few have the time nor offer the support provided by the Templar.
Manzio finds Roger de Vallibus a cold, calculating man with body language quickly betraying his disinterest in the Inquisitor’s visit. He does however provide a map of both Netherby and Etterby with directions for the pair.
‘You would do well to depart sooner rather than later Inquisitor, for it may be that the longer you tarry, the colder the scent will grow.’
Bishop Spiranus offers Manzio and Uther his blessing but in their meeting he is curt and a little dismissive when the Vesuvian shares the Archbishop’s fears.
‘I have faith in both God’s protection and the strength of the Danagrim, not to mention the Templars within our fort.’
Later that evening, Manzio completes the first of his official tasks as Inquisitor. By candlelight, he works late into the night, laboriously writing a letter containing his observations of the fort. Uther has already procured the services of a fellow Templar, one Johannis de Beueriuille, trusted and discreet. Indeed, early the next morning, all three men set out together on the Carlisle road before Johannis bids the Inquisitor farewell, salutes to Uther and cuts cross country toward Vindolanda with Manzio’s letter safely stored in his saddlebag.