MORITURI TE SALUTANT
“What are you doing?”
Emily called out to Li Li and Stone in a hushed tone. She’d just caught up with them, in a sub-basement of the Roman amphitheater in Trier. They’d been scratching graffiti into the stone wall of a cell probably used in a previous millennium to hold gladiators before they found a death in the arena. A nearby sign in German seemed to announce some sort of prohibition.
“Don’t do that.”
Stone shrugged, but Li Li merely pointed to the many symbols and initials that had already been cut into the rock. “What about those? It’s not like lots of other people haven’t done it, too.”
Perry leaned forward to examine some of the etchings. “This one looks like Latin… morituri… something, I can’t quite make out this last bit.”
“Do you know what it means?”
“What am I, a Latin scholar?”
Emily punched his shoulder. “Don’t tell me you didn’t study it at whatever pompous private school you went to.”
Perry rubbed his chin and tilted his head. “It might mean something like we… or maybe they who are about to die…”
“You mean like the gladiator salute – we, the already dead, salute you?” Emily grinned at him, pleased with her epiphany.
“I imagine the gladiators were fatalists, but I don’t think they had anything on you.
Emily grunted and scanned the other walls, and drew her fingers across an elongated, sideways X with a curled leg. The central groove showed white at the bottom, though the edges had taken on the rusty color that could be seen on the fieldstones around the city. “This looks like one of those fish symbols. Some of these look pretty old. Do you really think the gladiators left these?”
“They look too old to be from tourists.”
Emily glanced back at the symbols Stone and Li Li had made, and realized what they were. “These are Chinese characters.”
“What do they mean?” Perry asked.
“This one looks like the radical, tian, for sky or heaven… or maybe… ama.” Emily touched the lines that formed a wishbone with two crossbars – 天 – and glanced at Stone. “Is this yours? It’s so sweet.”
Stone nodded and Perry tilted his head for an explanation. Emily touched the other symbol, the one Li Li had drawn, 月, and said “yuè.”
“It means moon, Emmy.”
“Sky and moon… does it have a special significance?” Perry asked.
Li Li laughed. “It’s Granny and Emmy.”
“Her full name is like this,” Emily said, and crouched to scrape two characters into the dirt floor – 天照. “It says, Amaterasu, the queen of heaven.”
“And she’s someone’s grandmother?”
Li Li giggled. “Of course, she is, silly. Princess Toshi’s.”
Even Perry had to laugh now. “You mean the little girl I carried on my shoulders at Itbayat?”
“The very same.” Emily popped up and kissed him on the cheek. “And don’t worry. She’ll remember your service when the time comes.”
Outside, in the sunlight, nothing remained of the benches that once formed the original seating area, other than a raised walkway around the central oval. But the grassy slopes of the surrounding bowl conveyed the acoustical effect Stone was interested in. He scampered from one spot to another, stopping only to wave his arms.
“It’s your turn,” Emily whispered, standing in the center of the amphitheater.
“How much longer do we have to do this?” Li Li asked.
“Hush. He’ll hear you.”
“Oy, Stone,” Li Li barked, and waved her arms back at him, and he let out a whoop and scampered further up the slope.
“Thank you, sweetheart.” Emily cooed in one ear and snaked an arm across Li Li’s shoulder. With the free hand, she signaled to Perry, and he trotted over to deliver the bad news to the boy.
Emily wanted to head back into town, since they’d already visited the cells beneath the stadium. At least initially, the morning had been fraught with heavy questions. Would the arena invoke frightful memories of the children’s captivity? Thousands of gladiators spent their last hours confined beneath the stones and beams of this palace of pain, but little remained to suggest anything other than the architect’s achievements here. All the blood that had been shed above their heads had long since seeped past the stones and left no trace. No spirits clung to the timber beams, howling an existential agony – at least none Emily could hear, and Li Li and Stone betrayed no sensitivity. It had been nearly ten years since Emily had rescued them from Colonel Park in Kamchatka, and thankfully any scars from the experience had long since scabbed over.
In any event, they weren’t here for that sort of soul-searching, nothing harrowing. Andie had suggested a light vacation for the kids, something to take everyone’s minds off “the recent unpleasantness.” Yuki had taken to using this expression, thinking it would spare the children’s feelings, though they hardly noticed. For Emily, of course, it had the opposite effect, recalling as it did the peculiar words of the Chinese president, when he described the coup attempt that had almost toppled his regime in the same words.
“People should just say what they mean,” Emily muttered to herself as she stared at the arch over the main entrance. Stone stretched his arms up to see if he could touch the keystone, and Perry nodded his head.
“It’s not true, is it, Emmy?” Li Li asked.
“What, sweetheart?” she said, trying to shake a sour mood out of her head.
“The keystone thing… you know, what Perry was just saying. Weren’t you even listening?”
Emily glanced imploringly at Perry for help, and then looked at Li Li. “You mean does the keystone support the arch? Yes, I think that’s true.”
“Just imagine if it was only this single layer,” Perry said. “If the rest of the stones on top weren’t there, all the stones on either side would lean in toward the center.”
Li Li cupped her hands to try to picture it, and Stone held his arms above his head in a wide circle.
“The only thing that would keep the stones on one side from falling is the stones on the other side, don’t you see. To reach the ground, they’d have to pass through each other.”
“But couldn’t the heavier one’s squeeze the other one’s out?” Li Li asked. “They might get pushed out of the way, sideways or even up.”
“Yes, that’s right,” Perry said. “If it were just a single row, they might do just that. But if there are lots of rows next to each other…” – they were halfway through the passageway by this point, and he gestured to the ceiling to make his point – “…there’d be no room for them to move sideways, and if you stack lots of layers on top of the arch, the weight would hold all the ones below in place.”
Perry was enjoying the engineering lesson, and Emily didn’t want to steal this little pleasure from him, but Li Li didn’t seem to get as much pleasure from it as Stone did.
“Maybe we should try to build one, when we get home,” Emily proposed, and Stone let out a little shriek. Perry cast a sidewise glance her way, as if to indicate that he knew what she was up to. It would be quite a chore to erect a Roman arch in the backyard, and the likely failures would give Li Li something to tease Stone about for days. But, in the end, they’d probably succeed, and their pleasure in the achievement would be shared, and all of today’s snark would be long forgotten.
Later, strolling around the market square near the Rathaus, or city hall, Perry observed from a discreet distance as Li Li and Stone negotiated with a street vendor and came away with a couple of “Schinkenkäsetosten mit Pommefrites,” which turned out to be grilled ham and cheese sandwiches with fries.
Signs posted haphazardly around the square seemed to announce some sort of event for 15:00, though Perry didn’t understand enough German to know exactly what it might be. The words Montagsdemonstration and Polimesse were printed prominently on several flyers over the letters DVU, along with what looked to him like figures dancing in traditional clothing. It didn’t help that the signs had been printed using the older, Gothic style lettering. Whatever it might refer to, they’d find out in a few hours.
Undeterred by the mystery, he took courage from the children’s success in finding food, and didn’t want Emily to mock him if he failed. So, he sought out a street vendor on his own. He found the children a few minutes later, sitting on the edge of the large fountain in the center of the square. A wasserspielen recurred throughout the afternoon, at the top of each hour – the sign on which this information was inscribed was easily transliterated into English – and he’d already seen the fountain send streams two stories high when they first arrived, and figured it would sprinkle, or soak, anyone seated nearby. He checked his watch and decided to risk sitting, and contemplated the sandwich roll he clutched in one hand with a suspicious eye.
“What’d you get?” Li Li asked.
“I’m not really sure. The guy kept saying Speckrollen, or something like that.”
“Looks like it has tomatoes in it.”
“… and mayonaise, I think.”
She giggled at his discomfort. “You may have to risk biting into it.”
Emily showed up a moment later, carrying a more elaborate meal in a sack, which she proceeded to unpack next to Perry. Several containers, one for soup, another held some sort of soufflé, and the last one a warm ham dish.
“You went all out, I see,” Perry said.
“All these places claim to have authentic Roman dishes, and I was curious. At least, I think that’s what eigentlich means.”
Li Li pricked up an ear. “What’d you get? Let me see.”
Emily passed the soup in front of Perry. “This is called tisana. It looks like lentils or barley, and those sausages smell like pine nuts, I think. Try it.” She handed the ham plate to Perry. “You might like this, ham with figs in some sort of sweet sauce. What did you get?”
Perry handed her his roll: “Speckrollen.”
Emily took a bite, and laughed. “It’s a BLT, and heavy on the B. You came halfway around the world, and this is what you want to eat?”
He gulped down a bit more of the ham and figs. “I’m liking this stuff just fine. It tastes like Christmas dinner.”
“Fine. You finish that, and I’ll eat your wad of bacon. Stone, you should try this pear thing. It’s sort of like a pie, only peppery. You’ll like it.”
After lunch, the four of them wandered the streets of the city for a couple hours. The nearby Liebfrauen Basilika and the Dom Trier captivated Stone who wanted to stay and draw the scene, which Li Li had no patience for. Perry agreed to stay behind while Emily and Li Li kept exploring. Of course, the girls would want to go into all the shops, and even he would find his patience tried by such an itinerary.
It turned out that Stone was particularly interested in sketching the Porta Nigra, or Black Gate. The three-story structure, built in the 4th century, is all that remains of the massive city walls constructed under the orders of Emperor Constantine. Perry had no objection to exploring it, and even sitting on a bench as Stone sketched it. He noticed more of the mysterious DVU posters, and still had no idea what they might mean, and awaited the girls’ return.
Traffic heading out of the city increased, and the noise of automobiles outside the gate began to reach Perry’s ear, just as Emily came into view. They retreated to the central market square, where the noise might be less, and there was plenty for Stone to occupy himself with sketching. Even Li Li seemed compliant with this plan or, at least, her feet were tired and sitting on a bench near the fountain must have seemed attractive.
The shopkeeper smiled as they entered, and they browsed his souvenirs and post cards. An elderly woman, probably his wife, scowled at them from behind the counter. Was this the usual German brusqueness CJ had warned them of, or was it something more, a resentment of Emily for being Asian? Perry shook his head and examined the snow globes on the rack in front of him. Emily glanced out the front window at Li Li and Stone, who seemed content on the other side of the square, and motioned him over.
“Wouldn’t your mom like something like this?”
“I don’t know, what is it?”
“It’s for holding soft-boiled eggs, silly. This side’s for the egg, and the toast goes here.”
“In, oder aus, Fräulein… bitte, in oder aus?” The shopkeeper reached for the roll-down security gate over the shop entrance.
Emily shrugged and glanced to Perry for help. “I don’t understand.”
“I think he’s closing up.”
“Bleiben sie hier, bitte, Fräulein.” He turned to the woman behind the counter, who scowled at him. “Für Sicherheit, bitte. Bleiben sie herin.”
“Closing up? It’s the middle of the day. Is he kicking us out?”
“Bitte, Fräulein.” The old man’s expression seemed sympathetic, Perry thought. The old woman grimaced, watching the scene. It might have been a smile, distorted by false teeth, for all he knew, but her eyes looked less than friendly.
The square had been almost deserted just a few minutes earlier, but a few people scurried past, and the muddled sounds of voices and feet caught his ear. Perhaps a tour bus had just disgorged its charges, who would probably have money to spend in the shops. But, then, why would the old man be so keen on closing his gate?
“Perhaps he thinks we’re shoplifters.”
Over her shoulder, Perry could see Stone sitting cross-legged, hunched over his sketchpad, while next to him, Li Li basked in the warmth of the afternoon and stared off into the distance. The two of them might almost have passed for a pair of Bedouins resting at an oasis from this angle, the way the sun glared on every surface. His loose shirt and cargo pants, and somnolent posture fit the image, though Li Li’s tennis shoes and short shorts suggested something rather different, perhaps a beach holiday, as the light glistened off her jet black hair.
“Oh my God!” Emily had squirted away before Perry realized, and the old man called after her: “Bitte, Fräulein.”
The first few young men, wearing black t-shirts signified nothing to Perry. But when he stepped further out from the shop entrance, he saw what she had seen – a sea of black shirts, arrayed in a more orderly pattern than the advance guard had been. Banners fluttered in the background, bearing a field of crimson with the letters he’d seen around the city earlier, now boldly marked in black and white: DVU.
The meaning was now unmistakable – the posters announced a political rally, and they’d stumbled into the middle of it – and the stark haircuts told Perry what he needed to know. These were neo-Nazis, and Li Li and Stone were about to be engulfed, and Emily was already trying to press through an increasingly resistant crowd.
“Wait.” He reached out for Emily’s hand. “We can go around.”
When she turned, her eyes were alight with an unfamiliar passion, could it be fear. “Fine. Let’s go your way.” She tried to squeeze by two men with heads shaved to reveal skull tattoos, one of twin lightning bolts, the other of a grinning skull. They moved to block her path, and one touched her hand.
“Bitte, gnädiges Fräulein.” His words seemed perfectly polite, but for the leering expression on his face. Perry readied himself to intercede, and for the inevitable consequences. But Emily merely pushed his hand away and glowered at him, and he stepped aside. The potentially bloody and uncontainable confrontation he’d half expected hadn’t materialized, and Perry could breathe again.
Men in green jackets had taken up stations around the square – these must be the local police, judging from the tension in their faces. Perry caught a glimpse of protestors preparing themselves on a side street, and officers in riot gear couldn’t be far behind. The security gates on all the shops had come down, and other men, wearing the drab formal suits common to federal agents everywhere, observed from a safe distance.
Once the column had reached the end of the square, and a leader had stepped on top of a wooden box to address them through a bullhorn, they spread out to fill the margins. This made it easier to circle around the back, but it also meant the kids were now completely surrounded.
As they ran, Li Li’s voice rang out, an embarrassed squawk: “Let go of me.” The men nearest her had taken an interest, and one held the end of her ponytail, while another had a hand on her shoulder, and Perry thought he could make out his words.
“Komm, schönes Schlitzaugenmädchen...“
Whatever his words might mean, these were not even as respectful as what had been directed at Emily a moment ago. Stone had been lost in his drawing, but as soon as he heard Li Li cry out, he dropped his pad and grabbed the man’s wrist. In the time it takes to blink, he’d twisted the man down and flung him aside, where he collided with several others before landing on the pavement. In the meantime, Stone had seized a second man by the throat and held him above the ground, legs and arms flailing about.
“Stop, my sweet boy,” Emily called out. “Don’t hurt him.”
Stone turned at her words, and tossed the man into a group of others. The crowd backed away, and began to take notice of the large young man in their midst, as if they’d just discovered a snake in the grass. But, soon enough, they’d have to take a different sort of interest.
“We have to get him out of here,” Emily whispered as loudly as she dared. “Before he hurts someone… or worse.”
Perry nodded, and pulled on Stone’s shoulders. But he was immoveable, glowering at the men who loomed around them, and refused to abandon his post.
“Take Li Li. He’ll follow.” With these words, Emily tugged on Li Li’s wrist and gestured toward an alley on one side. “We have to go, sweetheart… now.”
As soon as she started moving, Stone followed, just as Emily had predicted, and Perry herded them along from behind. But like hunting dogs, as soon as the men in the vicinity saw the strangers run, something like a prey drive kicked in, and they couldn’t help but chase after.
The alley was wide enough for five or six people to walk abreast, and more than comfortable for a small group to run through.
“Take them to the hotel… right at the end, and then left.” Emily nudged Li Li forward and stepped aside to guide Stone after her.
“What are you going to do?” Perry glanced over his shoulder to see her take a stand in the alley, feet planted one slightly in front of the other, hands out wide.
“I’m going to reason with them.”
“We can all make it to the hotel. It’s only a few blocks. Run now.”
Not the entire crowd, of course, most of whom were still listening to the man with the bullhorn bark out what sounded like slogans in an increasingly passionate voice – he could be heard even at the far end of the alley – but a couple dozen men in black shirts were running toward Emily.
“Go,” Perry shouted to Li Li, as he gave her a shove down the next street, still clutching the corner of a brick building, as if that would preserve some contact with Emily. “The hotel is that way. Do you remember how to get there?”
Li Li nodded, but didn’t move in that direction.
“Listen. You’ve got to get Stone to the hotel. Can you do that?”
Li Li’s eyes snapped into focus with the new responsibility. Taking care of Stone provided a purpose she could orient herself to. Reassured, or at least hopeful, Perry turned back into the alley.
That many men ought to have been able to push past Emily just on the basis of relative mass, and force of will. But for some reason, they had been brought to a standstill by a slip of a girl, a solitary woman, barely five feet eight inches tall, and at most a hundred sixty pounds. It occurred to Perry that he had no idea how much she weighed. For all he knew, she weighed a hundred thirty, or perhaps a hundred eighty.
No, she couldn’t weigh that much, since he weighed one eighty five, and he was six foot one. But she was deceptively strong – he’d found that out on several occasions, and strength doesn’t come without mass. Still, even if she weighed three hundred pounds, it wouldn’t be enough to hold back a mob of angry neo-Nazis… and yet…
The first man to lunge at her had already paid a heavy price, and lay in an awkward heap on one side, against a trash can. This must have given the others pause, since they seemed to be gathering themselves for a more concerted second attempt.
Emily took a long low step to her right and thrust her arms into a provocative position, one open hand held high, the other low and to the side. A second step brought her to the center of the alley and a different hand position. Two men tried to grab her, and she stepped away without breaking her rhythm, but pulled one over her hip. He screamed when he hit the ground, since she’d forced his shoulder out of its accustomed relation to the rest of his body in the process, and somehow managed to jam her trailing foot into the throat of the other man. When another tried to slip past, she pivoted into a low kick that upended him, and he landed on the back of his neck.
“That’s bagua-zhang,” Li Li said. Perry turned to see both kids standing directly behind him, staring as curiously as he was. “She showed me how to do it at Wudangshan.”
Perry found himself transfixed by this new style. Just when he thought he’d seen to the bottom of her bag of tricks, Emily had managed to pull out something entirely new. Her movements were a hypnotic mix of fluid and sudden – such self-control visible in every step – and eventually the mob was cowed by the fate of each man who took her on.
Judging from the tattoos, and some of the images printed on their t-shirts, Perry supposed they fancied themselves soldiers. Perhaps some really had served in the Bundeswehr, and even been posted to Afghanistan, where they might have seen limited action. But none of them could have seen combat on the scale Emily was used to, much less recognize the fact in this little alley.
She glowered at the men still standing and they shied away from her, until another voice rattled them from behind. A much larger man, stout and muscular, pushed his way through the crowd to see what had stalled their advance. Stone moved to re-enter the alley, but Perry and Li Li held him back.
“No, you mustn’t,” Li Li pleaded. “We have to go back to the hotel… please.”
Eventually, Stone relented and accompanied her away from the alley, and Perry turned back toward Emily for one last glimpse – until he saw how much larger the man facing her was. Could he really be twice her size, with arms as thick as her legs? Surely, he must have expected to backhand this girl out of the way, or perhaps allow the mob to vent its rage on her.
How strange, then, that he was unable to strike her at all. He slapped at her, swung his fists, even kicked at her, all to no avail. At one point, he seemed to have her in his grasp, but just as he tried to press his advantage, clutching her shoulder and preparing a strike, he felt the pressure of her thumb on the soft spot under his jaw. She pressed him back and peeled his hand from her shoulder, twisting down and out until he’d been forced to his knees. She glowered at the others as she tormented their champion who, for his part, tried not to cry out, with his face pressed into the pavement.
In a last effort to reclaim some respect, when she released him, he lunged at her, only to find himself once again ensnared in a pain-compliance hold. But this time, instead of a hard crouch, she sent him cartwheeling into a wall, where he lay motionless, groaning.
The noise from the main square had abated by now; the man speaking through the bullhorn had finished his address, and the cheers from the black shirts, as well as the shouts of the protestors, had gone quiet. Officers in green jackets had taken notice of a disturbance in the alley, and began to push through from the other end. Emily sneered at the perplexed crowd of Neo-Nazis and walked away, seemingly without a care.
Later, finally able to relax in the bathtub in their room, Perry’s thoughts kept returning to the instant ferocity Stone had unleashed in the square to defend Li Li. The boy was large for his age, which Emily insisted was only fourteen years, with broad shoulders and a thick chest, and only slightly shorter than Perry. Hell, he’d be large for a marine. Even more striking than his bulk was the speed of the transition from calm to extreme violence on display in the square.
How different was Stone, in this respect, from Emily? He’d seen her fight on numerous occasions, and he knew how to value the magnitude of her skills. But he also appreciated the unique shape of her fighting spirit, and its salient feature was the ability to rouse her fury quickly. She didn’t hesitate in the face of sudden danger, and often seemed to beat opponents ‘to the punch’ because they did hesitate. Though she could be rash, she was never paralyzed by fear. Perhaps she knew better than Stone how to return the ferocity of her heart to dimensions more suited to the ordinary bounds of social life.
Last night, in the Kaiserslautern Bierstübe, she had responded instantly to a threat she’d perceived in the behavior of a pair of BFV agents, while he had hesitated under the onslaught of Dieter’s sexual innuendos. And when she recognized the true situation, she reined in her passion and released Anneke before any real harm had been done.
From the first moment he met her, all those years ago in the Halsey Field House in Annapolis, he’d assumed her fighting spirit was the product of violent encounters, that she’d trained as hard as her skills suggested out of a fierce resilience born of trauma. Coach Parker had invited her that day, a mere high school senior, to school the karate team in the subtleties of what she called sen, and not everyone was receptive, at least initially. By the time she’d introduced the entire team, one by one, to the true meaning of elusiveness and sudden ferocity, nobody doubted her any longer. He sparred with her last, after the others had gone, and in the vast quiet of the empty field house, he fought harder than he ever had before, struggled to overcome her already extensive skills, even lost his temper at one point, only to discover the god of battles gleaming at the bottom of her dark eyes.
He lingered in the not so warm water of the bath a little longer, and turned over this new thought: if she was like Stone, and her ferocity hadn’t been built up out of harsh experience, but had come to her naturally, their children might inherit the same character – that is, if she’d ever consent to marry him. His father had worked hard to stiffen his spirit in the softly forested land of Vermont, and a few of the scars from that period could still be felt. But he might have to be a different sort of father, reining ferocity in rather than provoking it.Emily stuck her head around the bathroom door – “You almost done in here?” – and paused without thinking to consider herself in the mirror. She smoothed the robe down across her hips, tilted her head, and then retreated to the main room. Such an odd gesture for this consummate tomboy – he didn’t have the mental focus to follow the thought to its natural conclusion.
Continue to Ch 4