“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
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
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
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
“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
“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
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
“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
“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
“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
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
“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.