It will be the second All-Women’s issue of The Gathering Anthology from Greyhaven comics. And, no, not co-writing or anything with Gail, just taking pages in the same book.
My story is yet another short tale from my alternate history Seneca series. It has its origins in a short tale I wrote as part of an exercise years ago on the just cherry writers yahoo loop. Essentially, it’s a character study of Tabor, the Roman commander of Seneca.
The art is by the lovely Romina Santana. I especially love the borders. It’s a four-page story in total.
Tabor is the one character in the Seneca series who never gets a point of view but he keeps haunting my thoughts. So, since I thought it would be fun, I present the short story that the comic is based on. (And Tabor haunts my thoughts so much that my next tale will feature him and Dinah, in the untold story of how they both ended up in Seneca.)
Tabor rapped on the door, applying too much force for a polite knock. As he intended, the door swung open, and the ropes holding the door together creaked against the wood frame.
Gladys rushed the few feet from the cooking area to the door. Her hand went to her mouth in shock. “Lord Tabor, I didn’t expect you…”
He took advantage of her discomfiture to walk through the doorway, forcing her to step backward. Her face was a mixture of awe and apprehension and her hands rubbed her deerskin dress, flicking off dust that was not there.
Tabor let the door swing shut behind him and watched Gladys, to see how fast she would collect herself. The inside of the home was as modest as the outside, built along the lines of a long house favored by the People, a style adopted by many of the poorer Romans of Seneca.
So, Gladys was not doing this to enrich herself. A misguided compassion? A need to feel important? It would be important to determine which.
The woman straightened and pushed a stringy hair away from her face. “I’m honored, Lord. What may I do for you?”
Her gaze shifted from him to the shelves above her wooden dining table. “May I get you something? Something to warm you?”
Tabor brushed snow off the cloak that was flung over his shoulders. “A seat by the fire will do, thank you.”
Gladys pulled a stool from under her table, trying to shield the shelving with her body. The rumor was true, Tabor decided. He would have to be careful to not give away himself.
She took his cloak from him and hung it on a hook, all the while sucking on her lower lip, perhaps biting down words she wanted to say. Courtesy, of course, demanded that she wait for him. And he intended to make her wait.
He settled himself on the stool, legs out in front of him, crossed at the ankles. He let the heat from the fire chase away the chill before turning away from the flames to Gladys.
“What may I do for you, lord?” she said.
“You know why I am here.” Let her hang herself.
She rubbed her hands together. “I don’t understand what I do has to do with you?”
He snapped to attention, knocking over the stool as he did so. “I am the one responsible for the safety of Seneca. Safety which you endanger.” He advanced a step and she shrunk back, as if trying to blend in with the wall. He was terrifying her. Good, because what she was doing terrified him.
“What you are doing is unauthorized.”
She pushed herself away from the wall, causing small bits of soil to fall to the floorboards. “I am helping. And I cannot see how providing medicine to those who are ill is wrong.” She jerked her chin up, defiance warring with fear.
“You are a fool if you cannot see what is wrong.” He crossed his arms. “There is a reason I do not allow unauthorized trading with the People.”
“Because you wish to have all the wealth to yourself.” She pointed a long finger at him.
He smiled. This was better, far better. He much preferred her angry than afraid. “No. Because the balance between Seneca and the People is…” He walked over and put a hand on the edge of her shelf, where she presumably kept her ill-gotten medications, “…precarious. You may think your trading for medicine only helps those who are sick. But if the People do not trust us. That is why the trade is regulated.” He picked up a ceramic jar, curled his hands around the base. “If you cheat them, they will complain. It could tip us back into war.”
He tossed the jar up into the air. She gasped, would have run forward to catch it. But he put out one arm to prevent her, and caught it with his other. She whimpered and he placed the jar on the table.
“No more,” he said.
“I need to-”
“Stop this.” He gestured with his hand, taking in the whole of her small home. “I could have sent the garrison soldiers in here, ruined your home, confiscated your medicine, left you with nothing.”
She moved past him, snatched the jar and held it to her. “And what do you leave me with now?”
“Your health. And the promise of your trading being authorized, if you will let me take your supply to my physician, to verify that it does help and not hurt.” He took a deep breath and spread his hands in front of him. “You must give it all to me.”
Her fingers gripped the jar, almost to the point of breaking it. “That is your offer?”
“No, that is my order. And the next one will be to take what you have by force.”
“And what is this?” Her shoulders hunched forward, her arms went around the jar even more, as if trying to conceal or cover it completely.
“It is myself, as Lord of Seneca, asking for your trust, and for your word to follow my law. If you cannot do that, then your unauthorized trading could be a fatal offense.” He stepped forward, placing both hands on her shoulders, careful to offer comfort, not violence. “I have kept Seneca safe while its’ children
grow. Trust me that I have your best interests at heart.” Trust me, so I do not have to hurt you. And so I do not have to confess all to you.
Gladys shuddered, but uncoiled herself from the jar. Her fingers slid free as he took it.
She stood in silence as he put his cloak back on. He walked past her, took another jar from the shelf, the match to the one he already possessed.
He nodded to her. “I will send word if you may continue.” He turned to leave.
“Your wife is very ill, is she not?”
Tabor shook his shoulders, so his cloak fell around him. “Yes. She is.”
Gladys clasped her hands together, fingernails digging into her skin. “Then why did you not simply ask?”
“Because what you are doing is very dangerous.” He turned again to leave, thought better of it, and turned back to face her. “And because to ask is not my way.”