The Anandogna

8 Oct

The aged druid was startled by what he was hearing.

“Brother Bituis,” said the large, burly villager,”I have no doubt in my mind what this stranger is. A Roman of his kind is a danger to our people. He is a person who walks about like a normal human being, but in reality he is nothing but a disguised anandogna. That is what I believe.”

The tall, slender Celt in the brown cloth of a holy man stared at the peasant asking for his help. His dark eyes glowed with an unearthly light.

“There is not much that I can do except to throw a spell on him, should what you fear turn out to be true,” replied the druid in a soft, sympathetic voice.

“All of us would appreciate such action by you against this threat from a Roman, yes indeed.”

Bituis nodded. “I will make an attempt this very night, but I have no great hope of success in ridding us of this kind of foe. The Romans are said to possess extraordinary powers within them.”

A town in central Gaul with a small population of Celts, Alesia served as central capital of the tribe called the Aedui. It rarely saw an authentic Roman, so that the trader named Tiatus sensed that native eyes were watching him with curiosity and suspicion at all times. What is the strange foreigner here among us for? the residents of the town and the rural cultivators seemed to be asking themselves. No one knew that for certain.

Bituis, the local druid and spiritual leader, was surprised when the trader in a Roman tunic came to the door of his small, rustic cottage.

“I wish to speak with you, honorable one,” said the foreigner in the Celtic tongue. “May I come in?”

The stunned druid moved out of the way to one side, letting the visitor step in. The Celt was too shocked and overwhelmed to say anything.

Without spoken invitation, the Roman sat down on a small stool and gazed up at Bituis.

“My name is Tiatus. Although I was born to a father who was Roman, my mother was a full-blooded Celt like you and the people of Aedui. I am therefore a Gaul, at least half of me is.

“As a trader, I am in this country to carry out exchanges of the commercial variety. Every item that I buy will be paid for with true Roman coin.”

“I have nothing that I can sell to you, sir,” interrupted Bituis.

The newcomer smiled. “Let me explain. My purpose in coming to you is to request your aid in obtaining knowledge of what you practice, the role of druid. In other words, my aim is to learn the secrets of your profession so that I can perform them on my own. Of course, I am willing to pay you for what is shown me. Would you agree to reveal the mysteries of druid arts to me? I vow to you that I will not use these secrets for any evil purpose.”

He stared at the stunned Celt with his large dark Roman chestnut eyes.

Perplexed and in great confusion, Bituis hesitated as he thought over the proposal.

Was there any alternative to cooperating with the half-Roman? He could see none.

“Very well,” the druid said at last. “If that is what you want, I shall provide it for you.”

Bituis took a second stool and the first lesson began at once.

Each day, the pair met in the roles of teacher and pupil.

Tiatus came to learn the many skills of a druid: prophecy, sacrifices, natural curing of illness, and the casting of supernatural spells.

Bituis always kept an observing eye on his Roman student. He did not forget the frightened warning that was given him by the villager. But there was nothing alarming about the newly met trader, so far. Were there evil possibilities cleverly concealed by this unknown person who had come to Gaul from so far away? Who could say?

The man who called himself Tiatus claimed to be on the hunt for wisdom through enlightenment from a native druid. It appeared that trading was merely a means of paying his travel expenses into the recently conquered province. His goal seemed to be obtaining arcane wisdom for himself.

“I would go anywhere in our world,” claimed the Roman, “for the sake of gaining new knowledge.”

“We druids carry out practical labor as soothsayers and judges on crimes and disputes,” explained Bituis. “Do you have any hopes of actual activity of your own in such cases?”

The other suddenly frowned. “Yes, I must admit that I have a practical goal in all this that I am learning. The purpose of my journey to your province is to acquire skill in hunting down demonic creatures and forms. People of the Roman lands are lacking in such knowledge, compared with the Celtic druids of Gaul. I have to confess that our priests are far inferior to the adepts that live here.”

Bituis grinned with sympathy and understanding. “The demons are rare and unseen in our land,” he said with pride. “It would take much time and great effort to uncover their evil shapes.”

“But there are methods of destroying and defeating them, I have been told since I was a child. That is where my interest lies,” pleaded Tiatus.

“I have only general, never-used knowledge, my friend.”

“That is all I seek,” said the Roman with a grin.

That night, the talk of the two entering into the most secret, arcane areas of Celtic folk knowledge, Bituis experienced a deeply disturbing dream. It was centered on the subject that most interested Tiatus: the most evil creature that the druids faced and fought, their most formidible foe.

The horrid face that the druid saw had a sickly green cast to it. Two long teeth hung out of a large mouth. They resembled animal fangs. The eyes were a ghastly brownish red, unlike any that Bituis had ever seen or imagined.

He was able at once to recognize what this entity was. The older generation of druids, his teachers and mentors, had described for him the legendary flesh-eating anandogna, a beastly danger to any human being who crossed paths with it.

I must awaken at once, the druid instructed his horrified mind.

If the nightmare were to continue, he would certainly go mad. Immediate escape was necessary.

Bituis shook himself into consciousness. He had to warn his Roman student, he realized, of what he had envisioned.

Sitting opposite his instructor in the druid’s cottage, Tiatus listened with rapt attention to what Bituis had encountered in his frightful dream.

“Can such a creature be fought and overcome?” asked the excited Roman.

“I believe there exists a method of doing that. We would have to make a sacrificial offering first, though. Who among the multitude of gods might provide rescue? I choose the divine Ogmios as our champion. He walks with a club in one hand and bow and arrow in the other. Within him is enough power and strength to overcome any foe facing him, including a anandogna.”

Tiatus pursed his lips. “I have heard of him. He resembles the hero whom the Romans refer to as Hercules. Yes, with him on our side we would be invincible. But what sacrifice could we make in order to win his favor?” He looked at Bituis with desperation on his face.

The druid’s voice answered as if a hollow echo from elsewhere.

“There is more than one way of making the necessary offering. We could drown someone in a big cauldron according to Celtic custom. But any such vessel would be very expensive to obtain. We might stab someone to death, but then the body has to be hung up on a sacred oak tree in order to have any effect. Or a sacrificial individual could be incinerated, but in that method the fire must occur inside a special wooden cage holding the person meant to die.

“A lot of thought will be necessary. We cannot be hasty in such an important matter.”

“You are right,” agreed Tiatus, “we have to take our time.”

A growing apprehension seized hold of Bituis in the days that followed.

He was uncertain how or why it rose, but it concerned the true inner character of the Roman who had asked to be taught the craft of a druid.

Should he have been so open with Tiatus, or should he have been more guarded? Why had he trusted a stranger from another land so easily?

Vague premonition developed into concrete idea in the druid’s mind.

It became necessary to have matters out with the Roman who had come there to learn secrets. A quiet evening at the cottage lit by candles was the time of his choice. That would provide him the opportunity he needed and desired.

“Tell me, please,” Bituis began, ” what is the unsaid purpose of your journey to Gaul and your study of druid ways? Is it something that you hesitate to describe openly? I have no idea what it could be. But I wish to provide you opportunity to disprove the suspicions taking root in my mind concerning what you are seeking, Tiatus.”

The latter stared at the druid with sincere surprise in his eyes and on his face.

“The bitter truth is that I myself am an anandogna,” he announced without emotion.

A silence, though brief, fell over the room.

“Why did you ask for my help, then? What were you after, if you knew your own nature?”

Tiatus looked away, avoiding having to look at the druid. “I wanted to find out how to defend myself here in your country. It will be to my benefit to know how druids might combat me among the Celts. You see, my plan is to move and reside in this province of Gaul. But I need to know how to protect myself from the methods and weapons of those such as you.

“I believe that I now possess the knowledge of how to survive here, my dear Bituis.”

In a fraction of a second, the half-Roman, half-Celtic demoniac rose out of his stool and lunged at the druid with strength beyond that of any human person.

Tiatus left Alesia on foot the following morning, desperate to get away before what he had done to Bituis with his teeth was discovered. He was now completely certain of future success for himself in conquered Gaul.

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