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From Chapter One

     The Tenchteri tribe into which I was born holds the belief that one’s life begins not at birth, but at the moment which defines a man’s destiny. In my long travels through this life, I have learned that different cultures hold different opinions regarding this matter. If I keep to my tribe’s view, however, my life began when a platoon of Roman soldiers, accompanied by a band of Chauci warriors, entered our village, and a chieftain swung his sword blade through my father’s neck, then raped my mother before beheading her . . . after the rest of his platoon and the Germanic warriors followed his leading deed upon her. These events occurred when I was but a little boy, and they are the collective moment that forged my destiny.

     My name is Bern—or that is the name I was given by my captors. I was a short and stout tree-trunk creature who plodded behind the cart to which my neck was tethered. I was one of eleven survivors of my people’s first and only encounter with emissaries of the Roman Empire.

     “Why do we take the wee one? He slows us down!” barked a warrior.

     “We sell him and the others south of here. Then we are rid of them and have that much more silver in the bargain,” answered the chieftain who ordered my parents killed.

     “But who will buy him? Who needs a dwarf bear?” The warrior yanked on the cord, causing my feet to leave the ground and my neck to nearly break. “Dance, bear!” All the soldiers and warriors shared a nice laugh.

     “Little bear,” mused the chieftain. “Kleiner Bern . . . You can never tell . . . He could prove amusing for the right customer.” With my shaggy mane of blond, I suppose I resembled some sort of baby golden bear.

     “I wonder,” said the warrior who released the cord, “who the lucky owners of those two will be.” He leered at the cart where my cousins Frida and Linza, the youngest girls of the six taken along with five boys, lay bound and hidden from view. He licked his lips.

     “Put it out of your mind,” the chieftain said. “Virgins bring a higher price, and those two remain virgins.” He smirked. “Besides, you should be satisfied after this morning.”

     “And I’m sure I speak for the lot of us when I thank you for removing her head. She was screaming so much I could barely concentrate on my business!” They all roared at that.

     Only hours earlier, though, they were not such jovial fellows.

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