~*~“Vicarius Christi Killer!”
With the bellow in the local Vulgar Latin, vigilance tightened Leonard’s frame, but something hit his forehead before he could react. He fell back against the stone structure behind him, partially stunned. Fear, self-preservation, and training gave him enough presence to pull his sax. With the handle of the short sword’s pointed blade in hand, his fear eased. He took deep breaths, trying to loosen the pain above his left eye.
More of the same shouting with variations continued. “Murderous barbarian! Are you here to steal from us like your kind have before? We will not let you.”
As the shouting continued, he realized someone had thrown a rock and it had hit his face. The fist-sized stone lay on the ground at his feet smeared with his blood. More rocks struck his body in painful pelts, falling to the ground in loud thunks on the stone paving surrounding him. He shook his head once to toss off the pain and clear his thoughts. He turned his head, feeling blood spill down his nose off his left temple, searching for his attackers. He blinked to clear his eye and quickly swiped his left hand across the soreness. Blood covered the back of his fist.
A woman behind him screamed, briefly drawing his attention. A stray rock had hit her. One hand grasped her other arm, and a loaf of bread lay shattered on the roadway. She and others near him backed away, some running and shouting to leave the area. Three young men, older than himself but not as tall, stood near the eastern support walls but outside Constantine the Great’s Arch. Two wore scabbards as he did.
With all his exploration walks, other than trips to the palazzo, this was the first time he had ventured so far southwest of his lodgings. Really, he had only wanted to fulfill his desire to walk the perimeter of the Coliseum. His discovery of the arch had delighted him. He also remembered having seen those three men on other jaunts and had seen them along his way today. They had targeted him.
Radulf had warned him to be careful. His father would be disappointed in his laxness.
He stood on the western side of the arch just inside the tunnel the structure created. The three assailants wore common Roman dress, but in their garments, he recognized quality far beyond most citizens’ garb. They stood on the edge of the rubble running along the crumbling via’s edges as it approached the arch. While the area around him cleared, a curious crowd also gathered. He guessed to watch whatever violence took place. Some in the crowd shouted to spur on his opponents.
The one he thought the leader of the three threw another sizable rock. Leonard easily ducked the missile. When the young man pulled his sword and took steps toward him, Leonard switched the sax to his left hand and pulled Gabrielus. Without a shield, the single blade sax, his forearm in length, was better for fending off other blades and for close up fighting. The young man laughed, but his friends did not. They spread apart. He knew they attempted to circle him, not an easy task in his location. The second man possessing a scabbard also pulled his sword, and Leonard snorted in disgust at seeing the old-fashion gladius-style sword. Each of his opponents held his weapon in one hand. Leonard knew his opponents’ swords lighter than his and the wielders less well trained.
The leader bellowed and charged him with his sword gripped with both hands as he swung his weapon above his head. With his opponent’s fast forward movement, Leonard swung the sax, breaking the other blade’s direction with a wicked screech of metal on metal, bringing them face to face. Using Gabrielus, he sliced the man’s leg. His opponent’s expression changed to shock and doubt, stopping the man’s action for an instant. He back stepped as he looked down at his bloody leg. He sneered at Leonard and raised his blade again. Leonard’s attack never faltered. As the man slammed his blade forward, he crashed Gabrielus down on it with the clang of steel. Leonard’s greater strength deflected the blade’s direction.
His opponent pulled back, preparing for another swing, but Leonard swiveled on one foot and kicked him in the knee of his unwounded leg. The man shouted in pain as he fell to the stones paving the road. Another rock hit Leonard on the shoulder, but he heard footsteps rushing toward his back. He swiveled again, swinging Gabrielus. His blade hit the other weapon coming behind him in a squealing sound all the way down to his opponent’s hilt guard. At the same time, he swung his left arm.
The sax entered the flesh of the man’s shoulder with the ease of a needle. Blood spurted in pulses from the wound. The man looked shocked and backed two steps, his fingers losing their hold on his weapon. It fell with a weak clang against the stones at his feet. He grabbed his shoulder screaming as blood seeped between his fingers. Leonard turned to the third man, the rock-thrower.
He watched the man swallow hard, drop the rocks in his hand, turn and run. Silence fell among those watching the fray, which made the groans of the two men on the ground seem louder. Then he heard running steps approaching. The crowd quickly scattered. He turned. Uniformed Roman guardsmen came to a halt in front of him. They demanded Gabrielus. Two grabbed his arms. He did not resist.