The Isle of The White Lady in Tales of Cthulhu Invictus: Britannia

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/golden-goblin-press/britannia-and-beyond-a-regional-guide-for-cthulhu-invictus

Golden Goblin Press is running the Kickstarter for their book Britannia & Beyond, a Roman setting campaign supplement for the Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game and the newest stretch goal is Tales of Cthulhu Invictus: Britannia, a fiction anthology which contains the last of my Macula and Damis stories, The Isle of The White Lady.

Readers may remember mystic talisman seller Damis of Nineveh and his bodyguard Macula’s printed adventures began in the first Cthulhu Invictus anthology with The Unrepeatables, and continued in The Apotheosis of Osirantinous .

This story sees Damis and Macula returning to frontier Britannia where they first met, to confront a terrible threat drifting south on winds of freezing snow.

Here’s an excerpt…
———————————————-

 

Modius Macula had never suspected he would return to the grey, rain-soaked hills of Britannia, let alone to the dismal little vicus of Vindolanda itself. Yet here he was, leaning in the doorway of a shabby tavern, watching the Tungrian auxiliaries march east along the Stanegate Road.

He closed his eyes and listened to the clink of the auxiliaries’ gladii. Preparations for Antoninus Pius’ invasion of the Caledonian Lowlands were in full swing. The new stone fortress at Corsopitum was nearly complete, and the Vindolanda garrison was lending three hundred men to the coming campaign.

It was unseasonably cold for Martius.

Macula drew his woollen cloak closer about his shoulders. He felt the keen pangs of a veteran among young soldiers too busy to think him anything other than some faceless, idle civilian. This dredged up in him the old envy of the fighter whose campaigns had ended.

He heard a prolonged, deep cough from behind, and glanced at the table where his employer, the venerable Damis of Nineveh, sat hacking into his balled fist. He should never have allowed his friend to make this journey.

Damis should have been in Rome making a killing off graven images of the newly deified Empress Faustina in his talisman shop on the Vicus Cesaris, but the old Assyrian had been plagued by disturbing, prophetic nightmares since the start of the year.

“A terrible doom is moving, Macula,” Damis had moaned one night in a sweat. “I saw a strange grey flame consuming all Britannia. Over everything it passed it left a blanket of white ash. It spread to Rome herself. Apollonius took me up to stand on the orb of the Moon. I saw the whole world smoking like a ball of pitch.”

Being a Pythagorean, Damis had never been one to dismiss a dream, particularly when his late master, Apollonius of Tyana was involved.

Twenty years ago, while touring the province with Hadrian, Damis had stopped an incursion of foul little creatures that still slashed their way through Macula’s nightmares by negotiating a peace between Rome and an isolated sub-tribe of Christian Brigantes. Part of that peace had involved the secret installation of talismans in the milecastles along the border wall, to keep the things from migrating south.

Damis had petitioned the Emperor for permission to journey north to Britannia and inspect the eighty talismans. Pius had finally issued him an imperial assessor’s writ.

They had travelled thirty nine inclement miles between Maia and Vindolanda this past week. They’d found none of the talismans disturbed so far, but the intensity of Damis’ nightmares had increased. He slept little. Macula attributed it to a fever the old Assyrian had contracted from exposure to the chilly northern weather.

Macula watched the last of the auxiliaries pass up the road, drained his dregs, and rejoined Damis.

“You look like shit, old man,” he observed.

“Forthright as ever,” Damis grinned weakly.

That the old Assyrian had survived this journey at all Macula could only attribute to his Pythagorean diet and asceticism. Yet it was clear Damis had reached his limit.

“You can’t take another week of this. Let’s go to the valetudinarium.”

“Submit myself to the proddings of some Greek-hating alcoholic army bone cutter?” Damis shook his head. “No, just some warm colostrum, I think. Then we can be on our way again.”

“We should rest until the weather warms,” Macula said.

“The weather will never warm,” said a voice with a thick Brythonic accent. A youth stood over them, in a robe of dingy white sackcloth, dirty blonde hair dangling from beneath his hood.

Macula held up his cup.

“More beer, boy,” Macula growled. “And a word of advice. It’s not polite to insinuate yourself into a private conversation.”

“Are you Damis of Nineveh?” the youth asked, ignoring Macula.

Damis looked up.

“Do you know me?”

“I’m Gildas, son of Driskell, smith of the Textoverdi.”

“Tex-to-ver-di,” Damis repeated slowly.

“You came here one dark night, when I was a boy,” said Gildas. “You took shelter in my father’s hut.”

Macula looked hard at the young man now, going over the coincidence in his mind. He had just been thinking of that dark night twenty years ago, when he and Damis had hid in a Brigante roundhouse near here. He still remembered the smell of unwashed bodies and peat fire, and vaguely, the frightened eyes of a dingy little boy peering out behind the skirt of his mother.

“I remember,” said Damis. “Please.”

Gildas sat between them.

“The Bishop of Albion, Josaphus ben Joseph, was killed that night,” Gildas went on, in a conspiratorial tone. He looked about quickly, then took from his tunic a rude bit of wood shaped into a fanciful representation of a fish; an icthys, the sign of the Christians.

Macula remembered Josaphus too; a priest of that Jewish sect, slain by an overexcited centurion. Before dying, Josaphus had taught Damis the charm that now warded every mile of the Wall.

“This was his?” Damis said, reaching out to touch the holy symbol.

“The very one,” Gildas confirmed, returning it to his tunic.

“Has the Wall failed?” Damis asked anxiously, gripping Gildas’ upper arm.

“Against that which threatens Britannia now, it could never hope to stand,” said Gildas, producing a leather pouch from his cloak.

As he undid the strings, Damis and Macula leaned closer to see.

Gildas removed a small wooden box from the pouch, and from that, using the folds of the leather, he gingerly lifted out a foggy white stone with a bright purple glow in its center. He set it on the table.

“Some kind of jewel?” Macula asked.

Damis touched it, but recoiled and hissed, jamming his fingers into his mouth. He stared in shock at Gildas, then drew the sleeve of his tunic over his hand, as though he were touching a pan hot from an oven, and held the stone up to the lamplight.

There was a purple flower perfectly preserved in the center.

“Ice,” Damis said in hushed awe. “Ice that does not melt. So cold, it burns.”

“A Caledonian was found with this, on the banks of the Verda,” said Gildas, “skin blackened, half-frozen. Before he died, he spoke of a living light moving south, like the pillar of flame that guided the Hebrews. Anything caught by it, anything that breathes in the air, animals, men, even the birds of the sky,” he snapped his fingers and stabbed at the frozen flower. “Like this.”

“What is it?” Damis mumbled.

“Bishop Alain believes Satan is marching up from the coldest depths of hell, to punish those who have strayed from Christ,” said Gildas.

Macula was vaguely aware that Satan was a vindictive underworld god in the Christian pantheon.

Have you strayed?” Damis asked.

Damis was no Christian, but the cult was something of a hobby for him.

Like most good Romans, Macula didn’t care overly for Christians. Jews were at least tolerable in that they kept their unbearable self-righteousness to themselves. Macula had mashed the nose of a zealot named Justin when the fanatic had tried to lead a frothing mob to vandalize the talisman shop over some heretical symposium Damis had hosted there with his mind-numbingly loquacious Christian philosopher friends Valentinus, Marcion, and Cerdo.

Yet by his own adventures with Damis, he knew the Christian god was as real as any other.

“Some of us have begun worshipping the old goddess Satiada again,” said Gildas, “with blood sacrifices led by a strange White Lady. Bishop Alain says that Satiada is a name by which Satan goes, and that the White Lady is the Whore of Babylon.”

That, at least, sounded interesting to Macula.

“My father told me you were a very wise man,” Gildas finished. “When I learned you had returned, I had to find you. Will you help?”

Macula grimaced over the boy’s shoulder and shook his head furiously at Damis.

“Macula,” said Damis, “it is nearly the start of the campaign season. How many of the provincial legions has Lollius Urbicus committed to the drive against the Caledonians?”

Macula lowered his eyes. All along the Wall the talk among the soldiers had been about the governor’s preparations for Pius’ expansion of the northern border.

“All three,” he said. Nearly fifteen thousand men, to say nothing of auxiliaries. He had an image of those men encased in ice like this purple flower.

“I don’t want to die in Britannia, old man,” Macula sighed.

Image result for winter roman britain

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