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Chapter 6 A Tryst with Destiny: Tarsus

  • Tarsus was the lowest of the lowborn. He had a low-given name. Even the street peddlers of Pago would not name their children so. The slaves of the outer city, Fugi, had more honorable names.
  • The boy did not remember his parents. They had abandoned infant Tarsus when they had fled Pago during the floods of 221 ND. He was found on the steps of a temple of Aion. That was how Empousa had recounted his past.
  • Old man Empousa was a middleman trader in the southern suburra of Pago and had raised the boy as his own. His wife had died young, and he had never remarried. Instead, he had decided to foster over a dozen orphans in his villa.
  • It was late afternoon, but the air was breezy. Carrying a bison carcass on his right shoulder, Tarsus entered the ‘cuppa’ marketplace through the south gate. He was seventeen years old, with short, dense raven-black hair and a height of six feet and two inches. The boy’s build was not akin to someone who had just come of age. It was rather like that of a seasoned warrior. Women of his suburra would argue, perhaps with exaggeration, that Tarsus had turned out in the manner of a god. However, others would laugh at such a suggestion because the boy was the lowest of the low-born. Why else would he have such a low-given name?
  • To haul the burden presently on Tarsus' shoulder would require the strength of three grown men. Nevertheless, the boy carried it effortlessly. He had had exceptional strength since he was a child. When Tarsus was five years old, he had pushed a bogged down barrel-cart from the mud to solid ground. Empousa had attributed it to strong bones.
  • “Your parents were very hard-working folks,” he had explained. You have inherited their strong bones. Even so, don’t you go around flaunting your strength to every mother’s son! Furthermore, please stay away from the Magistrate’s office where they test for peculiars. The Patricians will bundle you off to Modo and make you do their bidding.”
  • Tarsus had thus developed the habit of suppressing his superhuman power. When carrying heavy loads, he would grunt and curse, as most men did.
  • Work hard, get married, make a dozen children- was Empousa’s motto.
  • When Tarsus turned seventeen the previous month, Empousa made a routine of introducing him to a new girl every week. After a day’s work, the boy would return home to find a poor colleen ready to serve him bread and drink. It was a test of her obedience as a potential wife.
  • “An obedient wife makes a dutiful husband,” Empousa would say.
  • However, Tarsus took little interest in those antics.
  • Despondent over failure to get his ward married to a woman, Empousa brought a young man to meet him the previous week. The next day, Tarsus sat down with his old man and explained that he indeed liked women. However, he would like to choose a bride by himself and that too in due time.
  • Cuppa was the busiest marketplace in the south-suburra of Pago. The region being closest to Fugi had a rich supply of produce and merchandise. Merchant and craft guilds primarily ran Cuppa. The main path was at the least ten-man wide. Essential perishable items like grains, vegetables, fruits, flowers, and seeds were sold on the main path. At the same time, the inner alleys cooped up the spinners, smiths, tanners, butchers, and carvers. Near the north gate were the taverns and brothels. Towards the middle of the market, a few sophisticated establishments of the bankers and lenders stood out prominently, like thumbs.
  • Tarsus took a few turns from the main path and reached the butchers’ enclave. A varied spread of meat was laid out. Patrons gathered like bees around pork, beef, goat, wild boar, rabbit, geese, among other choices.
  • His acquaintance was a fifty-year-old skinner, Macellus. The latter hailed the boy on sight.
  • “Ave, Tarsus! Come, lay it down here by the slaughterhouse!”
  • “Ave, Macellus!” Tarsus greeted him back while doing the bidding. “This one came in fresh from the marshes of southwest outlands,” he added, referring to the bison.
  • “He may have told you so. Empousa! I do not trust your master, Tarsus. He brings meat from the farms of Fugi and brands it as game from the outlands.”
  • Tarsus laughed and picked up one of the bison’s legs by the hoof. “You see, Macellus. There is dark-red soil deep inside the hooves. Fugi’s soil is pitch black.”
  • “Fine, fine, you are too sharp for your age, boy,” Macellus grumbled, giving up the haggling. “Your word is enough for me. How about five pieces of silver?”
  • “Ten.”
  • “Seven.”
  • “Done,” both said at the same time, shaking hands. Thus, the exchange was made.
  • “It stumps me every time,” Macellus offered as Tarsus was about to leave. “You carry a bison all by yourself with no sign of exhaustion.”
  • “Strong bones, Macellus,” Tarsus explained.
  • “Why don’t you get yourself examined at the Magistrate’s office, eh, my boy? You have come of age. All that unnatural brawn! Perhaps you are a peculiar after all! You could appear in the Labors next year.”
  • Tarsus chuckled again and shook his head.
  • “I will never leave Pago, old man. Besides, I have no wish to become a god. Farewell.”
  • The boy returned the way he came, to retake the main path.
  • He strolled on, taking in the offerings of cuppa- its vibrant colors, rackety noises, and strange smells. He felt content with himself. Tarsus vowed for the umpteenth time to never leave Pago.
  • ‘What does Macellus know about the world, boxed in his slaughterhouse all day?’ he thought. ‘I will work every single day of my life like this, go back home, have a hearty meal, and sleep until dawn. One day, perhaps, I will find a wife and have a dozen children. That would pacify old man Empousa.’
  • The sun hung low on the horizon. ‘I can use a drink,’ Tarsus decided.
  • There was a tavern that he frequented near the north gate.
  • The signboard by the entrance always made him laugh. On the way, he ran into some familiar faces, and together they headed to the tavern.