New A-Slash Archive Entry


Bindle Stitch

by Trista


Unrolling the leather from his pack, the tall, grey haired man set out marking the leather. The young soldier, having no interest in any trade less prestigious than his own, took up his post outside the small tent. The shoemaker dropped all pretenses as the soldier left; he had no idea what he was doing! He had been walking on the beach at the Sea of Marmara, trying to decide what to do with his life. A traveler before him had fallen and he had covered the space between them at a run, to assist the old man. He needed to keep moving, but had stayed with the old man and talked to him as he died.

A childless shoemaker, fleeing the Romans and the village that he had buried his wife in, and his heart had failed in the arms of a stranger. Accepting the opportunity, the stranger had traded clothes with the dead man. When the Romans found him, he was a simple shoemaker and the world's most famous general lay dead at his feet. The Romans had not been kind to Hannibal's body, but history would be kind to his memory. That was the best a solider could hope for, wasn't it?

The new shoemaker had been pressed into service making sandals for the advancing Roman army. Some fast talking and he had a private, albeit small, tent to live and work in. Now all he had to do was figure out how to make Roman sandals without any training. Or he might be joining his memory sooner than he hoped.


Some hours after his evening meal was brought to him, Hannibal leaned back from the work table. He had used up all of the shoemaker's available leather, but had the soles and straps of a pair of sandals before him. It had been a long day and he was tired from the intensity of his focus. The plate of now cold food on the pile of his discarded bits held no appeal for him, so he decided to sleep. He'd get up in the morning and figure out how to stitch the straps to the soles, hoping it would hold long enough for him to figure out how to escape from the middle of a Roman encampment. The people of Carthage were more than willing to turn him over to the Romans, but he wasn't willing to be left to their tender mercies.

He knew he could have won that last battle on the Eurymedon River, if there had been one person in the Seleucid fleet capable of following his orders without having to have every detail explained to them. Besides wasting precious time, when he had to explain his plans the spies overheard and came up with countermeasures. How much better would his life be right now if he had one decent soldier to command? Settling into his bedroll, Hannibal considered that he still had the poison in the ring. He had told the Romans it was how `Hannibal' died, and the eager fools hadn't even looked for the ring. It was an escape from the Romans, but it was very final. As Hannibal found sleep, he considered that he didn't really have much to live for anyway.


Despite the lateness of the hour when he found sleep, Hannibal still rose with the dawn. A lifetime of being a soldier also had him stretching and exercising before doing anything else. A sleepy guard outside the tent escorted him to the privy and back. Finally awake, Hannibal sat back at his table to pretend to work while actually considering the defenses he had observed during his short walk. Instead he was distracted by the shoe he had made. The straps were sown to the soles, in neat and precise stitches.

There was no way he had done that in his sleep, and they had not been attached when he went to bed last night. That meant he had slept so deeply that somebody had come in, finished the sandals and left without him waking up. Hannibal was a light sleeper, a learned talent that had saved him from several assassins over the years. Looking around, Hannibal also found the food was gone, but the plate was there, so the slaves hadn't come for it. Selecting a tool at random, Hannibal went out to meet his guard.

"Excuse me, are there any other shoemakers in this camp?"

The guard narrowed his eyes under an overly large helmet and almost succeeded in keeping his voice from breaking when he spoke. "Why do you want to know?"

Hannibal was prepared and held up the tool. It looked like a two pronged fork with a wooden handle. It was still sharp and the young soldier eyed it wearily. He was right to do so, for Hannibal knew he could kill the boy with it if he wanted to. Instead, Hannibal gave him a friendly smile and weak voice. "My bindle-stitch needs to be sharpened and I thought another shoemaker might have the right stone."

"We have blacksmiths and grinding wheels, but no other shoemakers. We've been marching for almost two years now and desperately needed new sandals, that's why they were so interested in getting your services." The youth was relaxing as he stopped believing Hannibal to be a threat, so Hannibal pressed for information.

"Two years since you were home? Were you about twelve when they marched you away?"

"I was fifteen! Started out as a laborer but worked my way up to soldier." Hannibal kept the smile on his face so as to not let his irritation show. This kid was cannon fodder and didn't even know it! Young and impressionable, probably didn't question whose spot he was filling as a soldier or where the helmet came from, the one they hadn't taken the time to fit to him. Probably still had his predecessor's blood in it when they gave him this great honor. Hannibal had cared for the men he commanded and had little respect for other leaders who did not treat their men well.

"That's good work son! Just how many men will you have to lead when you make general of this encampment?"

"What is this man doing here?" The angry shout behind them brought the fearful soldier to attention even as Hannibal turned to the source. Seeing the advancing party lead by a weasel of a general, Hannibal had to force himself to act subservient. Bowing his head with a respect he did not feel, Hannibal tried to look like an innocent shoemaker. "Soldier, why were you talking to this prisoner?"

"Begging your pardon, general sir, I was asking about getting a tool repaired." Hannibal wouldn't kill the kid, but he was considering shoving this tool into the general's eye. The rest of the soldiers would kill him quickly, but they would probably `question' the kid afterwards.

"I didn't ask you! I asked my soldier." The general dismissed Hannibal to turn on the kid, who couldn't stop his voice from breaking as he replied.

"General Atticus, he wanted to sharpen a tool, Sir!" Hannibal tried not to squirm at the kid's words. He knew of Atticus by reputation and it was an insult to weasels to compare them to Atticus.

"Fine, but you are to keep him in his tent and working. It will go hard on you if he doesn't produce." Now General Atticus dismissed the young soldier to focus on the shoemaker. Hannibal resettled his grip on the tool and reevaluated killing the general with it. "Shoemaker, show me what you made yesterday!"

Fighting his instincts, Hannibal bowed and led the way into his tent. He forced himself to put the tool down before picking up the sandals. The General examined them in the light of the lamp hanging from the crease of the tent roof.

"Excellent work, but where are the others?"

Hannibal's cringe was real this time, but his brain was working. "Kind General, I did not have many supplies on hand when I began yesterday. As you can see from my own footwear, I usually make boots instead of the sandals I was order, um, requested to make. I used up my supply of leather to figure out the exact method for making those sandals. With more time and supplies I can surely do three or four pairs a day."

Atticus frowned down at Hannibal for a long time, before glancing down at Hannibal's feet. "Fine, I will see that more supplies are delivered. I expect six pairs a day, and you will make me a pair of boots like yours."

Hannibal bowed as low as he could to hide the look on his face. The sandals were leather and straps, that he could fake. But boots looked to be a lot more complicated, so he just might need to accelerate his escape plan. "Very good, General."

A thunk on the work table brought Hannibal out of his bow, to notice the General's foot on the table. About the time Hannibal figured out what it was doing up there, Atticus spoke. "When you are done admiring my legs, you can take my measurements for the boots."

Bowing and muttering apologies under his breath, Hannibal fumbled thru his stuff until he found a string with knots in measured lengths. Shortly after the general left, they brought in his breakfast. Hannibal ate mechanically as he considered the measurements he had written down. He had no idea what they meant; he had just measured everything he could think of. And there was the matter of the hungry shoemaker who had helped him last night. How likely was it that a trained shoemaker joined the army? If the shoemaker was a soldier, why had he been so hungry? Maybe he knew how to make boots?

When the leather came, Hannibal spent the rest of the day cutting out different size soles and leather for straps. As he only received two meals a day, it was hard to let his supper sit undisturbed. He'd dealt with hunger before though, and he would defeat it this night as well. His stomach grumbled as he settled onto his right side in his bedroll, but he was soon asleep. The light sleep of a professional soldier was broken by voices. Hannibal kept his eyes closed and listened as two voices argued over the food as they ate.

"I still don't see why we can't heat this up; it would taste so much better." This voice was light and cheerful, like he was making a joke instead of a complaint.

"As I have repeatedly told you; that would attract the Bacchae, who would then eat us." This voice sounded tired, but was patient and affectionate.

"Then why haven't my wings brought them? Can't answer that can you Facus?"

"Your wings run on Earth and not Fire. The Bacchae are sensitive to heat and dismiss Earth sources as growing plants." Hannibal wasn't sure that answer made any sense, so he swallowed to clear his ears and hear better. "Oh. You seem to know a lot about the Bacchae."

"Only what you told me."

"Really? I knew something? When?" A total lack of concern about the answer to his questions confused the listening Hannibal.

"Before your accident, Howlin, so let it go."

"Accident?" Howlin's voice rose with surprise, he was finally actually interested in the answer. "I had an accident?"

"Silence!" This commanding voice was new and harsher than the other two, but softer. "You don't want to wake him up, and you're getting loud."

"Really, Baam, you're paranoid." Facus sounded annoyed, but his voice was quieter so Hannibal had to tilt his ear off of his pillow to hear him. "What do you think a shoemaker could do to us?"

"I don't know, and that's why I don't want him to know we are here."

"If you didn't want him to know we were here, why did you finish the sandals?" Howlin was much more curious about Baam's reasoning than his own life.

"Score a point for Howlin! Answer that if you can, Baam."

"I'm not a thief, I pay for what I take."

"Hay! Don't make this personal, Baam. Just where would you get the stuff for your little toys if I had a defined sense of ownership?"

"You're getting loud." Baam growled softly back.

"Fine!" This was hissed at Baam, but Facus's voice was considerably softer. "How many sandals equal a bowl of cold stew? Your little act of payment now has him expecting us to do that mound of leather. We'll do two pairs, then we leave and don't come back again."

"You're the one complaining about the stuff Howlin makes. Where are we supposed to get meat and spices for your refined tastes with four Roman legions camped in our valley?"

"Have you thought of a way to make them leave?" Facus now sounded idly curious, but everyone who heard him knew he really wanted an answer.

"No. Have you?" Baam's snarl was angry, but mostly at himself for not having fixed this yet. Hannibal could understand that kind of self recrimination and how much stronger it was than having others blame you. Hannibal risked opening his eyes, but still wasn't sure if he was dreaming or not. Three men sat around the pile of leather scraps like it was a table, the empty bowl was in the middle of them. Two glared at each other, while the third toyed with the tools.

The harsh voice of Baam had to belong to the muscular guy in the dark purple vest and bright green pants. He had the dark skin of the African and his short sword had the curved blade of that region. From the side his dark hair and shaved skin had a striped look that accented the delicate points to his ears. Hannibal wasn't sure if that was something only Baam had, because Facus's golden hair hung down to his shoulders. His loose, sleeveless shirt showed off tanned skin and a light trail of hair down his chest. With a beautiful profile presented to him, Hannibal could only see one eye but it was far too ancient to belong in that young face. Facus looked like one of those statues of gods, untouchable but beautiful to look at.

Howlin also had long hair, though it was darker and receding from his forehead. Whoever had made the material for his shirt and pants had to be blind. Blinking a little in the dim light, Hannibal also figured the material had driven its maker and wearer insane. Madness would explain Howlin's delighted grin as he started juggling the sharp blades of the shoemaking tools. They were men, but unless Hannibal was going mad they were very small. Short, with pointed ears, talking about Earth and Fire like living entities, while on the run from Bacchae. That meant magic, and endless possibilities that gave Hannibal an idea.

"I know how to make them leave." They stared at him as the tools fell to the ground around Howlin. Hannibal sat up and grinned at them, enjoying the element of surprise. "Sorry to interrupt, but if you are magical creatures, I know how to get rid of the Romans."

Baam pulled out his sword as he stalked toward Hannibal, but Howlin jumped up and across the tent. He stopped just out of Hannibal's reach, crossed his legs and leaned forward. Hannibal could only blink as he realized the tiny man was floating in midair.

"Hi! I'm Howlin, who are you? It's been a long time since they let me talk to anybody, at least I think it has. I'm irresponsible and you have to watch me every minute according to them. We live in the hole under your tent and I hate it there! It's dark all the time but the Bacchae eat the wee folk, not that Baam will admit to being wee but he still doesn't want to get eaten by them. They suck blood from humans but eat our magic which is worse than death to us. We thought we could hide from them in this valley but the Romans showed up looking for someone and I heard they found him but they still won't leave which makes it hard for us to find food, especially without magic! The Bacchae hang out at the edge of the camp and pick off the strays but if they knew we were here they would come straight into camp and we don't want to..."

"Enough Howlin! Back off and let the man explain himself." A hand on Howlin's ankle pulled him back and Facus was leaning into Hannibal's face. The ancient eyes brought a maturity to his face that made Hannibal unexpectedly sad. "Explain well, or we will risk the Bacchae to punish you."

Facus was intense, and believable with Baam's glittering sword visible behind him. Hannibal turned off his grin to send his own intensity back at them. "It's my fault the Romans are here. I beat them, badly, over many different battles. They won the war, however, and demanded my life for the embarrassment I caused them. The General here thinks I'm a shoemaker, or he would take me back to Rome in chains. He's stupid and cruel, I know him of old. I would very much like to make him hurt. With your help, I can get rid of General Atticus and his army will leave."

Slowly, Facus pulled away to quickly glance at Baam. "We'll have to discuss it. Come, Howlin, we return to our hiding place."

"No! I don't want to go back into the dark, he's a nice guy and he won't turn me in or try to take my powers." Howlin flew up and backwards until he was hanging out near the light at the roof of the tent. "I like his plan, since he has a plan, so I don't see what we need to talk about and you won't listen to my ideas anyway so why should I have to go into the dark to listen to you two argue?"

"Howlin, stay out of his reach and don't let anybody else see you." Baam was giving orders even as he pulled Facus toward the corner of the tent. "Any problems and do what you have to. We will face the Bacchae together."

The ground under them moved and Facus and Baam were out of sight, with only Howlin's presence to prove they had been there at all. Hannibal grinned up at the cheerful little man, surprised at how easily the grin appeared. It might be from the delight Howlin expressed from not having to go into the dark, or it could have been Hannibal's happiness in finding fighters who needed a leader. He was a leader in need of fighters and he was very willing to believe in the magic that had brought them together. It wasn't the sword or their words that told him they were fighters. It was something in their eyes, something Hannibal had never been able to describe to another person. The closest he could come was the nonsensical phrase of riding music, and if he had ever met anyone to understand that, it was the guy flying inside a tent.

"Howlin, why are you the only one with wings?" Howlin grinned down at Hannibal before showing off his skills in the confinement of the small tent. As he flew he talked and Hannibal unconsciously grinned at every happy word.

"Elves don't fly, but Banshees and fairies do. Baam got annoyed at me for wishing I had become a creature of the air so he made me these. It's real easy for me to annoy Baam, I don't know why they let me travel with them. Maybe they plan on leaving me here, but I doubt it, they are really nice guys underneath it all. I try not to annoy them but my presence is enough to interfere with what they want to do, they have to watch me instead of being with each other, so I'm not sure why they keep me around. When Baam first made me the wings, I tried to leave but they chased me down and told me I'd have to stay so he could maintain them. Why would they do that if they didn't want me around, they wouldn't answer but you're smart, do you know?"

Hannibal blinked up into the silence trying to catch up with the words aimed at him. "No, I don't, but it's probably because they like having you around. If you don't mind, you said something I'd like to ask about. You wished you had become a creature of the air, so what were you before you became an elf?"

Howlin laughed as he circled the lantern like a large moth, so his words seemed to be for the light and not Hannibal. "They won't tell me, but I remember music. I know of them, though. Facus was raised by the elves. Nobody knows why but as a baby he was left on the mountains outside of Athens. When he was traveling as an adult elf, he found Baam under sentence of execution. Baam's mother was pregnant when she was taken hostage by a raiding party from Greece, so he never knew his father. When Baam was five, they took him from his mother and gave him to a blacksmith for a slave. When he was bigger than the blacksmith, Baam no longer felt the need to let the man beat him. He didn't even hurt the guy, just told him he would if he ever hit him again. I don't know how it works, but Facus made Baam an elf. Kept him from dying so I would think it was a good thing, but the other elves got mad. Told Baam he had to stop making things and use only magic. He did try for a while but Baam saw needs and started sneaking around making things. The elders agreed to exile him instead of taking his powers but were all surprised when Facus went with him. Facus left the only home he had ever known to be with Baam, but then I showed up and messed things up somehow and I think Baam hates me for that."

"No he doesn't!" Hannibal took a moment to get over his emotions. He didn't know Baam well enough to know what the elf felt for Howlin, but Hannibal had reacted violently at the sorrow in Howlin's voice. "If he didn't care, he wouldn't have told you to be careful before he left."

"Really?" Howlin brightened up instantly at this idea and pulled another easy smile from Hannibal. Rubbing his face, Hannibal wondered about the ache he found there. Howlin was prattling away about the number of trees used to make the tents in this camp, so Hannibal settled back into his bedroll. Had it been so long since he had honestly smiled that his face was out of shape? As a young soldier, he had enjoyed life greatly, knowing he might not live to see tomorrow. He wasn't fifty, so why should the thought of death now be a comfort, instead of an enemy?

It was only survival instinct and luck that had made him trade places with that shoemaker. He had carried that poison in his ring for close to fifteen years and long ago accepted the idea he would use it in the right situation. The Romans would kill him for his part in this plan, so if he was given the chance Hannibal would die just how history recorded it, poison from his own ring. Howlin and his friends would be safe for a while longer and that made the protector in Hannibal happy, so he could practice grinning in his sleep.


Hannibal woke to the sound of Howlin talking, something about the Oracle at Delphi. When Hannibal was done with his morning routine, Howlin had branched out to talk about the Far East. Hannibal used this strange segue to break into the flow of words.

"I've always wanted to visit the Orient. And Howlin? They are about to bring my breakfast, which you can share with me. Slaves never look up, so just stay at the top of the tent and they won't see you. But they will be able to hear you, unless you stay silent while they are here."

"Hey, silence is golden, and the only kind of gold an elf needs, unless Baam needs it for one of his projects and that's when Facus gets really creative with acquiring things. Don't get me wrong, Facus likes to be comfortable but nothing stops him from getting any little thing Baam wants, it's his special skill, talking beings into parting with their things. Which is why I don't understand the elves kicking Baam out, since making things work is his special skill."

Hannibal glanced up from his work table and jumped into the conversation when he saw Howlin's confused look. "What's your special skill?"

Howlin was smiling again as he landed on the table in front of Hannibal. There was a serious look in his eye as he laid a tiny hand on Hannibal's shoulder. "I want to throw you down on that pile of scrap leather and have my way with you, what do you think of that?"

"Sounds like a lot of fun, something that's been missing in my life lately." Hannibal jerked away from Howlin's hand, confused and shocked. He'd had his share of questionable affairs over the years, but at least they had all been human adults. Howlin looked like he was in his thirties, but was smaller than a five year old! Hannibal also didn't share his emotions with people he had just met, and judging by Howlin's look, he knew that about Hannibal.

"That's my gift, a little bit of magic and a lot of underestimation. People will tell me anything, even the truth." Before Hannibal could think of how to respond to that voices could be heard at the tent flap. Howlin flew upward as the bowed head of the slave brought in Hannibal's bowl of porridge. Hannibal thanked her and watched her shuffled out. When he turned around, Howlin was already sitting on the other side of the bowl with a tiny spoon in his hand. He managed to talk around large mouthfuls of the flavorless paste and Hannibal enjoyed the meal by not thinking about what had been said before the food arrived.

When Howlin tried to lift off after the meal, his wings fluttered briefly. He frowned, but wiggled out of them as he explained. Howlin's words were confusing because Hannibal didn't know much about magic but his actions helped Hannibal understand. Howlin talked about the Earth and Water as living things. Apparently, Earth magic was almost indefinite as long as it was connected to other Earth and Water. He pulled a small cube of pottery from the part of the wings that crossed his back. Howlin carefully emptied that pottery of dirt, and then moved to the other side of the tent to refill it.

His delicate wood and metal wings were beautiful, and powered by the dirt in his pottery. Howlin flew by his control of the Earth magic, but could deplete that magic over time. It was a simple matter to refill the Earth and he had slid the pottery back into the wings when more voices reached the edge of the tent. Panicked eyes had met each other over the wings, before Hannibal stood. With his back to Howlin, Hannibal hoped whoever was coming wouldn't notice the diminutive man or the mechanical wings. When the Tanner pointed behind him, Hannibal reached for the bindle-stitch.

"Slave, help bring in the leather." Hannibal turned to see Howlin behind him, dressed in plain brown clothes and taller than Hannibal! Hiding his relief, Hannibal set the bindle-stitch down on the table and went to examine the delivery. The three large bundles took up much of Hannibal's floor space, but he played shoemaker until the Tanners left. Hannibal sighed and sat on the nearest bundle as the tent closed behind them, grinning his relief up at Howlin.

"Nice trick, changing size." Howlin tilted his head to the side as he considered Hannibal, with a rather serious expression.

"You know, you're even better looking at this size." Hannibal laughed, amazed that made sense to him. Howlin slipped across the room and leaned into Hannibal's face. Hannibal stopped laughing and they moved together for a kiss. Lacking floor space, Hannibal pulled Howlin down on the bundles of leather as they fumbled at each other's clothes. Very quickly, there was evidence of desire and blessed friction. As Howlin moved downward, trailing kisses across a battle scarred body, Hannibal pushed his thoughts away. Some traitor in his mind was asking for more than sex, but Hannibal had long ago known he would never have that.

Hannibal's hands gripped the leather under him as he tried not to buck into the mouth that had found his penis. It felt so good, Hannibal wanted to last forever. But he decided Howlin's specially skilled mouth could do more than just get people to tell the truth, and Hannibal found completion. Spent but wanting more, Hannibal grinned as he flipped Howlin under him. Howlin was vocal in his appreciation for Hannibal's efforts, which only caused Hannibal to try harder. After he came, Howlin sprawled back on the leather and breathed. The silence and stillness seemed strange to Hannibal as he redressed them. As he went for the water skin, Hannibal wondered at that. He'd known Howlin for less than a day, and he missed it when the man's voice was gone.

"I see you've found a way to make him sleep." Hannibal had turned to Facus at the sound of his voice, but glanced at Howlin to confirm he was asleep. He had reverted to his small size and garish clothes, as if sleep had taken away Howlin's control of the magic involved. "Works out well, you can tell us your plan without him interrupting."

"Comments like that are why he doesn't think you like him." Baam and Facus exchanged surprised looks, and Hannibal wondered if Howlin's ability to make people speak the truth was still working. "Not that it matters to my plan; I just don't want him to be sad."

"Tell us your plan and leave him out of this." Baam sounded angry, but Hannibal was beginning to suspect he always sounded like that. Hannibal wasn't sure, but he thought Baam was actually sorry that Howlin didn't understand how they felt.

"Well, General Atticus wants a pair of boots. So with your help, I want to make him a pair of boots. Very special boots." Grinning yet again, this time at their confused looks, Hannibal laid out the specifics. The elves would interrupt to tell how the magic involved would work, but soon they had a workable plan. Facus was smiling openly when they finished, but Baam only let the corners of his mouth twitch. When Facus finally turned to Baam, it was about setting the plan in motion.

"I'll take Howlin so he can rest and absorb Earth energy for his part."

Baam nodded even as he spoke. "I'll figure out how to make boots."

Hannibal sat on the leather Facus removed Howlin from, and set to work sowing straps to sandals. Changing his size, Baam sat at the work table and began organizing things. Baam worked in silence and Hannibal soon found himself talking. Trying to draw Baam into a conversation was the only way Hannibal could keep himself from missing Howlin. Or thinking about how he no longer wanted to die. This plan would kill him, and he found something to live for. Typical.

"Why did you make Howlin an elf if you don't like him?" Hannibal surprised himself with the question. He'd been about to ask about Baam's haircut, so that question had just kind of slipped out. Baam stopped what he was doing to give Hannibal a dangerous look. He turned back to his work, but Baam spoke to the leather before him.

"When my tinkering got me exiled, Facus said it was our chance to see the world. We rambled up to Hibernia and met with the Keltois. We were interested in the gold the Leprechauns are said to have, so we went to listen to a famous Harper. Romans call them bards, but Murdoch was wildly renowned for his knowledge of the magical world. We listened to him sing and play, hidden in a tree. He was fantastic and very knowledgeable, but the Romans recognized this as well."

Already not liking this story, Hannibal kept his head down and stitched.

"Insitor, a Roman officer of some sort, was plotting to conquer Hibernia. He wanted to know more about them before making his move and he had a fondness for tales of magic. So he invited Murdoch to tell him about the island. Murdoch was clever and suspected what Insitor was up to, so he wouldn't talk. Insitor broke Murdoch's hands so he would never be able to play again. Then he forced Murdoch to dig a large pit, only to fill it up with animal wastes. All this Murdoch did with broken hands, which was impressive. Insitor told Murdoch he could either spend the rest of his life in the pit with the animal guts and manure, or tell his stories to the Romans. Murdoch grinned at Insitor and jumped into the pit."

Giving up on the stitching, as he was now bleeding, Hannibal stared at his boots.

"Outraged, Insitor had guards take turns throwing small rocks at Murdoch so he couldn't sleep or rest. Murdoch was not given any food or water, but sang insults at Insitor for days. Before the end, they broke more than his hands." Hannibal wanted to know more about the end Baam referred to, but dared not interrupt the story. "We try to help, but hearing his name brings back the pain. Every time hears music, he starts screaming, so we can't even go into towns. We gave him a new name and refer to it as his accident. Might not be the best solution, but it's all we could think of. He is our responsibility, our hero and our friend. Yes, he's crazy. But don't underestimate him; Howlin is highly intelligent with an excellent memory for things he wants to remember."

Hannibal found the bindle-stitch in his hand and began stabbing the leather beside him. When the tool was battered and broken, Hannibal dropped it. Baam was staring at him with a hand on his sword. Hannibal took a deep, calming breath before forcing himself to speak. "Baam, I've been searching for death for years now. Particularly a cause to die for that would give my life meaning. A stupid soldier's dream, I suppose. I finally found one, keeping you three safe, and now I wish for a chance to live long enough to see the Roman's fail. The Roman people are fine, but their leaders are greedy and selfish, hurting people because they can."

"A life worth living and a death worth dying. Sounds like what everybody wants to me." Baam shrugged and turned back to his work. "You don't know, you might live thru this."

"Ignore the moaning of an old man. What is, is." Hannibal rubbed at his face and took a few more deep breaths. Picking up a half-finished sandal, Hannibal asked about Baam's haircut.


General Atticus and his staff made their way thru the encampment, discussing the things they came across. He had finally received a reply to his message to Rome, about the death of Hannibal. In honor of his success, he was given permission to move his army south encouraging people to pay their taxes. Atticus liked these kinds of assignments, because the people fell in line like sheep and he had no superiors out here to keep his hand out of the pot. His second in command was talking about the logistics of moving camp, when a bored Atticus diverted into the shoemaker's tent.

The doddering old fool looked up in surprise and blinked at Atticus for a minute before bowing. Slowly, the three slaves in his small tent became aware of Atticus's presence and knelt. Atticus's eyes took a moment to adjust to the darkness so he didn't notice that all three of the slaves looked alike. "Shoemaker! Are my boots ready? How many sandals have you made for my army?"

"Magnificent General! Your boots are ready to be tried on. I had the slaves in to help me clean before offending you with my humble workshop."

Atticus could understand that, as the place was filthy. Stepping over piles of leather and sandals, Atticus sat on the shoemaker's stool. Looking up from taking off his sandal, Atticus saw his retinue huddled in the tent flap. "Fools, find some work to do! We have a camp to move tomorrow."

Atticus frowned his annoyance down at the shoemaker, who knelt before him to put on the boots. His soldier's instincts told him he had people surrounding him in a small space, but dismissed it as unimportant. Cowering slaves and an old shoemaker couldn't possible do anything to hurt a Roman General! The shoemaker was talking, as if he really thought the General cared what he had to say.

"I dare say these are the finest pair of boots I've ever made, and I know they will give you lots of wear. They seem to fit perfectly, but you must walk around in them to really get the feel. Are you ready to go, sir?" The shoemaker looked up, with a fawning desire for approval on his face but something else in his eyes. Instincts flared as Atticus looked to either side. The slaves on his sides were sitting up but had closed eyes in matching nondescript faces. Atticus recognized magic when he saw it and jumped to his feet. An unnatural scream reached his ears as something moved outside the tent. There were no cries of outrage or fear from his soldiers, so he looked to the grin of the shoemaker, who responded to his unasked questions.

"The Bacchae have come for your blood, I suggest you stop them."

"Bacchae don't exist!" Atticus's statement was punctuated by another scream that sent a shiver up his spine.

"You're only saying that because they only make themselves known to those they're about to kill." With exaggerated emphasis, the shoemaker held up his finger as he remembered something. "The magic boots we've just given you might also make you a really attractive target for them, but you've got an army to protect you."

"Strabo!" Atticus's voice sounded shrill to him as he called for his second in command. The man stumbled into the tent as Atticus kicked at the shoemaker. "Torture these men, but don't let them die! I will kill them myself after I've repelled the Bacchae invasion!"

"Sir?" Strabo was asking even as Atticus stormed past him, screaming at his soldiers to get into formation. Looking around the tiny tent, Strabo could only see the shoemaker huddled on the floor. Moaning as he turned toward Strabo, the shoemaker grinned around the blood streaming from his broken nose.

"Tell Atticus that I had to decline his gracious invitation."

The grinning shoemaker tossed something to Strabo, who caught it reflexively. It was a large ring with a clever little hinged compartment. Strabo looked down in time to see the shoemaker start to twitch and realized the compartment had held poison. Strabo found he couldn't blame the man for taking his own life instead of letting Atticus work him over; Strabo was considering doing the same. Atticus would be so angry to find the shoemaker dead when he returned that he would probably torture Strabo instead! But who else was supposed to be in the tent? Atticus had clearly meant more than one man, before going to fight creatures that didn't exist. Strabo didn't know what to make of this situation, but he prayed Atticus never came back.


There were three brothers in merry Scotland, In merry Scotland there were three And they did cast lots which of them should go, should go, should go, And turn robber all on the salt sea.

A deep voice rumbled out the tune, but grew louder with each word. He wanted sleep, more than he had ever wanted it before, but the voice was tugging at him. The voice was important, even if the words weren't.

"We agreed to take turns watching!" Facus sounded tired but smug about something even as he griped. "It's your watch, which means we get to sleep."

The resulting silence was a tease, as the voice soon started up again.

The lot it fell upon Henry Martin, The youngest of all of the three That he should turn robber all on the salt sea, the salt sea, the salt sea, For to maintain his two brothers and he.

"Enough fool!" Baam was finished with Facus diplomatic approach, it seemed. His growling voice was considerably louder than Howlin's singing had been. "I'm glad you want to sing, but not until Hannibal wakes up!"

Slowly Hannibal came to understand just what was wrong with that statement. He opened his eyes, but saw only darkness so he had to speak to the invisible bodies around him. "How can I wake up? I'm dead!"

Strong arms found him in the dark and pulled him to a warm body. "Hannibal is dead, long live Hannibal! I sort of did that somehow, but Facus wanted to wait until you were awake to explain it so he wouldn't have to repeat himself, plus we were all really tired. I wish you could have seen it! Your plan was perfect and hysterical to watch, at least as best we could from here but the Romans left early this morning, headed north Baam says. They think the whole place is cursed or something just because nobody could see whatever Atticus thought he was fighting! The rest of his army was out there waving their weapons around at thin air, just trying to look like they were doing something and the Bacchae..."

"Howlin!" Hannibal felt a moment of confusion before he realized both Facus and Baam had yelled at the same time, in an effort to curb their friend. Facus was the talker, so he continued. "Hannibal, your plan came together beautifully. Me and Baam enchanted the boots, which brought the Bacchae into camp to look for us. Atticus took out after them, but he was the only one who could see the Bacchae. Howlin grabbed us and hid us here, a spot well outside of that valley. When Atticus realized he was the only one fighting the Bacchae, he called for a retreat. His men left, but Atticus found he couldn't stop fighting. His new magic boots might have had something to do with that. The Bacchae drained his blood and went into camp. Most of the soldiers fled and after two days the new leader gave up on trying to find them all. They left this morning and I can't say I miss them."

Hannibal found his laugh wasn't the only one in the darkness, but he stopped first. Howlin laughed the longest, but this allowed Hannibal to adjust Howlin's grip so he could breathe better. "So where is here?"

Facus cleared his throat, which allowed Howlin to answer. "Here is this hollowed log. It's mostly buried in the dirt so we don't get seen but we've put a plug of dirt in the knothole toward that end, but if you want to get out and see the pond next to us all you have to do is move the dirt. I think of it as asking nicely but Baam has to..."

"Howlin! Let me speak just a little more." Facus sounded like he would have been laughing if he wasn't exhausted. "I'll tell you both what you need to know and then we can get some sleep."

"Yes please Facus, explain the mysteries of the world to me!" Howlin was excited, but sincere in his desire to learn. Whatever had happened to make Howlin so happy Hannibal would be grateful for.

"Magic is the science of knowing what something can do or be, and the willpower to convince that being it can change that way. At least that's how it makes sense to me, but I think everybody has to find their own way of understanding. Howlin is almost pure emotion. When he saw you take the poison, his emotions reached out and magically pulled you into this shelter with us."

"But I remember tossing the ring to that guy and the pain of the convulsions."

"You had to die for the magic to work, die to be reborn. Baam was executed before I could free him." Facus sounded apologetic for that and Hannibal knew he'd have to ask about that later. "It's not always that way; I was raised by the elves but not one of them. The spiritual advisor who took the most care of me bequeathed me his powers as he died. He was almost a thousand years old and only died from a battle wound."

"So I fit into a log because I died, and Howlin accidently turned me into an elf?"

"Accidently might not be the right word. It might not have been intentional, but magic is not accidental. Howlin needed to make you fit into his world. With respect and friendship, Baam and I managed to pull Howlin from a physical pit. In the two days since you died, Howlin hasn't stopped singing." Hannibal thought he heard hands clasping on the other side of a hollow log before Facus continued. "It wasn't until I met Baam that I felt magic in my blood. I don't know what the future hold for you and Howlin, but now you have the time to find out."

Hannibal pried a hand free from Howlin to reach up and feel the tips of his now pointed ears. The hand moved to feel the points of Howlin's ear under long, silky hair. Hannibal was smiling to break his face. The elves weren't the magic here, the love was. Kissing around the side of Howlin's head, Hannibal spoke for everybody to hear.

"Howlin, take me out to see this pond. We'll find something to do while they sleep." Howlin pulled Hannibal up and away from the wood, dancing with him toward the knothole. Baam and Facus started laughing but before Hannibal could ask the reason, Howlin was singing. Loudly, exuberantly, the words didn't matter; it was the tune of joy that escorted them into their new life together.

Come Day Go Day Wish in my heart it was Sunday Drinking buttermilk all the week And whiskey on Sunday


Historically, Hannibal the Carthaginian (with the elephants) was an exceptional general and statesmen. He restored much of the prosperity to Carthage and humiliated the Roman Empire. The Roman's demanded Hannibal be turned over to them and he voluntarily went into exile, rather than harm his beloved country. He also had a sense of humor, as cited by his Wikipedia entry (Snakes on a boat!). Unwilling to give him up, the Romans followed Hannibal in his exile. History does not record the exact year of his death, but believes he killed himself with poison he kept in a special ring, on the shore of the Sea of Marmara, near Libyssa.

Hibernia is the Roman name of Ireland, and Keltois are Celts. Gotta love that Wikipedia!

A Bindle-stitch is an actual shoemaker's tool and looks like I tried to describe it in the story. I'm not a shoemaker or tool expert, so I don't know what it is for. My knowledge of it comes from a TV show called `Due South' which is always worthy of watching again.

Bacchae are what they called vampires in Hercules and Xena, my main source for all things Greek. I'm sure we can all agree on how much research went into those shows (0.02).

The Shoemaker and the Elves is from the Brother's Grim and other collections of folk tales. The Red Shoes is from Hans Christian Anderson, as best I can determine.

Come Day Go Day - traditional Come Day Go Day Wish in my heart it was Sunday Drinking buttermilk all the week And whiskey on Sunday

Henry Martin - traditional There were three brothers in merry Scotland, In merry Scotland there were three And they did cast lots which of them should go, should go, should go, And turn robber all on the salt sea. The lot it fell upon Henry Martin, The youngest of all of the three That he should turn robber all on the salt sea, the salt sea, the salt sea, For to maintain his two brothers and he. Now they had not been sailing but a long winter's night And part of a short winter's day, When he spied a stout lofty ship ... , Come a-bibbing down on them straightway. "Hello, hello," cried Henry Martin, "What makes you sail so nigh?" "O, I'm a rich merchant ship bound for fair London Town, And if you please, we shall quickly pass by." "Oh no, oh no," cried Henry Martin, "This thing it never could be. For I have turned robber all on the salt sea, For to maintain my two brothers and me." "Come lower your topsail and brail up your mizzen, And bring your ship under my lee, Or I will give to you a full cannon ball, And all your bodies drown in the salt sea." "Oh no, we won't lower our lofty topsail, Nor bring our ship under your lee, And you'll not take from us our rich merchant goods, No, nor point our bold guns to the sea." And broadside, and broadside, and at it they went, For fully two hours or three, Until Henry Martin gave them the death shot, And straight to the bottom went she. Bad news, bad news, to old England came, Bad news to fair London town, There's been a rich vessel and she's cast away, And all of her merry men drowned.

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