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Rolfin's Orb
Book 13 - The Beginning
Chapter 1


      “Get up!” Astaroth Camille yanked the scratchy blanket off his two sons, who shared a bed. Both rolled onto the cold wooden floor. “The sun will be up any minute and we’ve got a busy day.”

Rolfin grabbed hold of the camel hair blanket and climbed back onto the bed.  He cocooned himself inside the warmth and watched as his father scratch himself. A snicker escaped his lips.

“Father, Rolfin’s laughing at you.” Bartolf, the elder brother by four years,  tattled, hoping to get ten year old Rolfin into trouble. He tried to tug the blanket of Rolfin, but the younger boy held onto his end and wouldn’t give an inch.  When Bartolf let go, Rolfin rocketed backwards, bumping his head on the wall. “Ha! You heard Father. Get up you lazy thing. Father, Rolfin drools in his sleep. It’s dried on your face, little brother, drool baby.”

            “Leave me alone!” With a yawn, Rolfin kicked off the blanket and slinked off the bed. After wiping the slobber off his cheek, he slipped on his clothes and moved to the window. The first sign of dawn broke over the horizon; golden bullets of light darted into the sky. The sea turned from a milky black to a brilliant blue. Rolfin threw the window open and breathed in the sea air. The sound of dockworkers loading ships mingled with gull’s squawks. He turned to see his father and brother whispering. They looked so much alike; both light-haired, blue eyed and thick boned. Rolfin was glad he resembled his dark-haired, dark-eyed mother. A knock at the door interrupted his thoughts.

            Astaroth wrenched the door open, sat on the bed and tied his leather sandals. A girl in her early teens entered the room with a platter of food. Her gaze caught Bartolf’s;  she smiled at him, batted her eyes and wiggled her hips just a little further to each side. She placed the wooden plates on a table between the unmade beds. “Your breakfast, Master Camille. If you need anything else, please let me know.”

            “That will be all.” Astaroth lifted the cloth covering and gazed at the variety of foods. “Tell Gadon we will be leaving after breakfast. I don’t want to be kept waiting so have the bill ready for me.” He glanced at his boys. “Get that look of lust off your face, Bartolf. It’s embarrassing.”

            The girl giggled to herself and glanced at the blushing boy. “Yes, Master Camille.” She closed the door behind her.

“You boys had better eat your fill. We’ve got a lot to do today and I don’t know if you’ll have an opportunity to eat anything else until supper. Put some of this bread in your pockets for later.”

Rolfin gobbled down three hard boiled eggs and a handful of olives, grapes, dates and nuts. He reached for an orange, but Bartolf grabbed it first. “That’s mine, little brother.”

“All right, boys. That’s enough.” Astaroth shoved the two boys out of the door. They scurried down the stairs into a crowded room. The aroma of baking bread enveloped them. “We’ve got to hurry to my appointment.” Gadon approached them with open hand. He whispered an amount to Astaroth. With a grumble the huge man tossed a few coins into Gadon’s hand.

Rolfin would much rather have stayed at the inn while his father and Bartolf went out. With a sigh of resignation, he closed the heavy wooden door behind them. The inn sat nestled between two larger buildings; a fabric shop and a street side fruit stand. As Rolfin walked past he saw rows and rows of imported silks in a rainbow of colors, reminding him of his mother, Ib, back in Hadrumetum. Men and women sat on wooden chairs at outdoor cafes; most busy eating Carthaginian pudding and fruit. “Hurry along, Rolfin. I’ve got a meeting with Hannibal Barca. I do not want to keep him waiting. You two go and sit on those barrels and stay there until I return. Keep yourselves out of trouble; I warn you.” Astaroth shook his fist at the boys.

Rolfin watched his father stomp off. His brother punched him in the upper arm.  “I’m not sitting here,” Bartolf said. “I happen to know where the elephant pens are.”

“Elephants? Why are there elephants here in Carthage?” Rolfin pulled up his legs as a man rushed by with a cart full of un-dyed wool.

“War elephants? You didn’t know about them? All of Carthage is guarded by elephants. Hannibal’s men train them to be ferocious.” Bartolf jumped off the barrel.

“Where do they come from?”

“South of here, in the jungles and savannah. I heard Father talking to one of Hannibal’s generals. They’re going to take some of the elephants over to Spain. Hannibal is planning on attacking Rome.” Bartolf scratched his leg. “Do you want to see them? It’s not far.”

“What if Father comes back and we’re not here? My bottom still hurts from the last whipping with his leather belt.” Rolfin rubbed his backside.

“Stop being such a baby. Come on.” Bartolf ran off, leaving Rolfin no option but to follow him. They wound through the streets, passing shops filled with pottery, perfumes, glass, ivory, bronze, gold, furniture and a Carthaginian raisin wine called passum. After crossing a bridge, Bartolf stopped. “We’re here.”

Rolfin looked around. He had no idea where they were. The azure blue Mediterranean Sea spread out before him, glistening in the sunlight. He caught a whiff of something and scrunched his nose. “What stinks?”

“Probably you.” Bartolf roared with laughter. “Don’t be so stupid. It’s the elephants.” He pointed at the huge pachyderms.

“Elephants; there are so many.” Rolfin stepped closer. Several dark-skinned men moved about in the pen, whipping the elephants that wouldn’t obey. The trumpeting noises nearly deafened Rolfin. “Why are they hurting the elephants?”

“To keep them in line; just like Father does to us. They have to learn to obey so they can be useful in the war. Let’s play a trick on them.” Bartolf picked a stick off the ground. He pulled the bark back and rubbed it on a stone until it came to a point. “This is going to be fun.”

Rolfin stayed where he was and watched Bartolf sneak up on the elephants. The older brother reached over the wooden post fence and poked the largest elephant on its back leg with the stick. The elephant swung its trunk like a whip trying to hit Bartolf. “Oh! You think you can hurt me? Just for that…” Bartolf poked the elephant again and again. It trumpeted in anger and rose up on its back legs.

One of the elephant keepers rushed over to Bartolf and grabbed him by the arm. Rolfin ran to his brother’s defense. The man grabbed Rolfin too. “What do you boys think you’re doing? Why are you hurting the elephants? I demand you stop it right now.”

           Bartolf  burst out laughing, fought his way out of the man’s grip and ran off. The man tightened his grasp on Rolfin’s arm.

“I didn’t do it. It was my brother. I didn’t do it. I like elephants.” Rolfin’s eyes filled with tears. “I wouldn’t hurt an elephant. Let me go.”

The man dragged Rolfin to the front of the pen. A group of men stood talking. “Do any of you know who this is? I found him poking the elephants with this.” He held up the sharp stick.

Rolfin struggled to wrench himself free. “I didn’t do anything. It was my brother.”

“Aren’t you Camille’s son? I’ve done some trading with your father. I recognize you and I don’t think he’s going to be pleased when he finds out what you’ve been doing?” Jabor took Rolfin’s other arm. “Let me have him. I’ll take him to his father.” He marched the boy down the main avenue lined on both sides with palm and eucalyptus. They passed gardens full of red hibiscus and pink bougainvillea. “You’ve got a mean streak in you, like your father.” Jabor snarled.

“I didn’t do it. It was my older brother, Bartolf. I was trying to stop him. He’s the one like my father, not me.” Rolfin scowled and tried to pull his arm free. He saw his father up ahead talking to a giant of a man dressed in a leather uniform. Both men stopped talking when they saw Rolfin and Jabor approach.

Astaroth shook his head back and forth. “What did he do?”

Jabor coughed to clear his throat. “I beg your forgiveness General Barca. Master Camille, your son was at the elephant pen causing a disturbance and trying to hurt them. I recognized him and brought him to you. You must learn to keep your son in line.” Jabor rushed away, afraid to stay around to see what would happen.

Astaroth pulled his son closer, grabbing a handful of the boy’s dark brown hair. Rolfin yelped in pain. “If you’ll excuse me, General Barca, I’ll take care of this family matter and meet you later at the docks.” Hannibal nodded. When Rolfin turned to look at the general, the man winked and grinned at him. Astaroth stomped through town, pulling Rolfin behind him until they reached the barrels where he’d left the two boys earlier in the day.

Bartolf was sitting on one of the wooden kegs, swinging his legs in innocence. “Father! Rolfin! I tried to keep him here, but he kept saying he wanted to see the elephants. I stayed right here, refusing to move. I always obey you, Father.”

The man threw Rolfin to the ground. “You embarrassed me in front of General Barca. I was in the middle of a business deal when you interrupted me. What am I going to do with you? You’re worthless; not at all like Bartolf. Come with me, both of you.”  They meandered through the streets until they reached the pier. Ships lined up against the wood on both sides. “Rolfin, I will warn you only once. You stay here with Bartolf. If you move one inch I will thrash you until you beg me to toss you into the sea. Do you understand, boy?”

Rolfin nodded, afraid to make eye contact with his cruel father. Once Astaroth had walked away, Rolfin turned to Bartolf. “I hate you. You’re a liar.”

“Stop being a baby. It’s things like this that make us men.” Bartolf left Rolfin standing on the pier and ran off.

Rolfin stayed where he was. He dangled his legs over the water. Several raft-like ships came into the harbor; each towed behind a warship. The sound of bellowing elephants raced towards him. The ground shook as the immense animals charged in his direction. They were tied together at the ankles with sturdy ropes in groups of four and led by the men Rolfin had seen earlier. The lead man held a whip in his hands. He stopped at one of the rafts and leaped onto the wood; tree trunks tied together. With rope in hand, he strained to heave the elephants, while the men behind the beasts hit them with bamboo poles and leather whips. “They’re scared!” Rolfin shouted, but nobody could hear over the din of the distressed animals. “Stop hitting them! Can’t you see they’re afraid?” Tears fell from Rolfin’s eyes; his heart torn apart by the cruelty shown to these wild animals. Seven-foot long tusks jabbed the air as the elephants tried to attack the men. “Stop it! Stop it! Stop it!” Rolfin jumped up and ran towards them. He darted in and out the flailing ivory and stomping trunk-like legs. A hand reached for his collar and pulled him to safety.

“What are you doing, boy?” Rolfin turned to look into his father’s eyes.

“They’re hurting the elephants. Elephants don’t like the water. They should be running around free, not forced to travel across the sea on a flimsy raft. They’re going to die. Elephants can’t swim across the sea.” Rolfin was sobbing by now.

Astaroth dropped his son in the dirt. “Are you a fool? Those elephants would have stepped on you without thinking. Where’s your brother?”

“I don’t know. Wherever he is and whatever he’s doing, I’m sure I’ll get blamed for it.” Rolfin scoffed.

Bartolf came running over. “Father, Rolfin. Where did you go? I’ve been waiting on the pier for you. I can’t believe you took off again, after Father’s warning.”

Rolfin kept quiet. He watched in silence as the first raft sailed away. “All those elephants are going to drown.” He turned way, not wanting to observe any more tragedy.

                                                ****

“Mother!” Rolfin ran into the woman’s arms. “I’m glad to see you.”

Radiant brown eyes met his. “It’s good to have you home. It seems like you’ve been gone forever. How was your trip to Carthage?” Her glance moved to her husband, who stood in the street, ignoring her. Astaroth and Bartolf didn’t come near the house. Without any acknowledgement, they turned and strolled down the streets of Hadrumetum, eager to make plans.

“I saw war elephants and met General Barca, but I think Father would have preferred it if I’d stayed home with you.” Rolfin smiled at his mother. “Is there anything to eat?”

“I wish you’d have stayed home with me, Rolfin. Where is your father going?”

“He and Bartolf had some business. They sent me home. I was dismissed from their company and I’m fine with that.” Rolfin pulled a pack off his back. “Here are some supplies. Can you untie the ropes?”

“Is this all of it?” Ib glanced at the ground.

“No. Father is sending a man with a cart. It should be coming soon.”

Ib slipper her arm around her son. “Let’s eat first. I’ve got some fish stew and hot bread. Does that sound good to you?” Rolfin nodded and the two went inside.

That night at supper, Astaroth put his spoon down. “Ib, I’ve been talking to General Barca and I’ve decided to go with him over to Spain. There are some Germanic merchants that wish to do business with me. The general has offered to set up a meeting with them. The wood from the Black Forest is superb for ship building. I’m taking Bartolf with me. The boy is fourteen years old; the right age to start learning the business.”

“What about his education? I thought we agreed that the boys would go to university.” Ib stood and paced the room. “Astaroth, what is the meaning of this?”

“Sit down, woman. You can send Rolfin to the university. Bartolf is going to take over my business some day. He needs to begin his training. I’ll have no more arguments. I’ve spoken and that’s the end of it.” Astaroth stormed out of the room with Ib on his tail. He returned a few minutes later. “Why didn’t the supplies get unloaded?” Ib opened her mouth to reply. “Never mind your excuses, woman. I’ll do it myself.” Rolfin’s mother ran out of the room, chasing after her ungrateful husband.

The food grew cold on the table as the two boys sat in silence. Bartolf stood and threw his chair over. “This is all your fault, Rolfin. You made them argue. I’m off to help my father.”

Rolfin laid his head on the table. He could hear his parents shouting at each other. A few hours later a tear-stained face mumbled in his ears. “Rolfin, you fell asleep at the kitchen table. It’s past your bedtime.” His mother took his hand and led the yawning boy to his bed. Bartolf lay snoring across the room, already sound asleep. Ib kissed Rolfin’s cheek and stepped into the hallway.

                                                                        * * *

           

Thirteen year old Rolfin helped his mother hang the Tyrean purple dyed fabric on a line behind their home. “These turned out perfect, Mother. Are you planning to sell all of this at the market?”

            “I thought I’d make myself a robe out of some of it. The rest I’ll sell to the traders. There are quite a few ships in the harbor today.” Ib glanced down the hill toward the sea. “It’s beautiful here, isn’t it, Rolfin?”

            A voice called from inside the house. “Mother. Rolfin. Where are you two?”

            “Is that Bartolf? He’s back after three years.” Ib rushed into the house. “Where’s your father? Did he come with you, or is he staying in Spain?”

            “Mother; Rolfin; sit down.”

            “What’s wrong, Bartolf? Did something happen to your father?” Ib clenched her hands together.

            “There was an accident. One of General Hannibal’s elephants kicked Father in the head. Something spooked it. He’s dead, Mother.” Bartolf walked over to the window and gazed outside.

            “Dead? That’s not possible. He’s got his business to run, sons to raise and a home here in Hadrumetum.” Ib wiped tears from her eyes. Rolfin held her as she sobbed.

            “I’ll take Mother to her bed and then we should talk. I’ve got some questions, Bartolf.” Rolfin took his mother’s hand and led her tenderly to her bed. He showed up a few minutes later, to confront his brother. “Tell me about the elephant. What happened?” Bartolf lowered his gaze. “You did it, didn’t you? You were probably goofing around, teasing the elephant and it got angry and kicked Father. Is that true, Bartolf, big brother?”

            “If you say one thing to Mother, or to anyone, I will kill you myself. It was an accident. I had no idea Father was there. I’m taking over Father’s shipping business. I made a lot of contacts when I was abroad. General Barca is in Italy with his war elephants. Romans are filtering into Carthage. They say Hadrumetum is in support of the Romans. Changes will be coming. I have a lot to do.” Rolfin didn’t speak. After a few moments of silence, the seventeen year old Bartolf left.


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