Accept

by Pierce Nahigyan

Max looked up from the latrine ditch, at the city wall. He had some little time to jump back up the shore before the body hit the water, and sent cascades of wine-colored sludge and worse into the air, to the banks. Aemelius was not as fortunate. He was still standing with his pants tugged down to his scrawny knees when the full spray of offal & ichor drenched him. He let out a belch. Otherwise, he was undeterred.

He finished making water and tied up his pants, then slogged back to the shore to Max. Max offered him a shred of soiled felt from the cart but Aemelius waved him off.

“You’re covered in that filth, you are,” said Max.

Aemelius stretched his jerkin off his damp shoulders. “Day’s warm,” he said. “Dry me out.”

Max spat. He picked up the reins and swung himself up onto the driver’s bench. Aemelius patted the ox on its stony haunch, taking their leads in his hands to get their eyes back on the road. After two slow minutes he pulled them into their plodding paces. They marched like furred mountains.

Aemelius waited for the cart to pass him and then pulled himself up next to Max. “You sit in the back,” said Max. “I don’t want you stinking up the air all the way to Gaul.”

“Gaul won’t smell no better,” said Aemelius. “You’ll have to accept that, just like that poor dead fella dropped in the bog’ll have to accept wandering outside Hades.”

“Ey?”

“Didn’t burn ‘im,” said Aemelius. “He’s gonna get up to be all rotted and lost, coming for those as wronged ‘im.”

“He’ll never,” said Max.

“Not a decent thing, wiping off a man’s last bits as he leaves the mortal world. I’ll keep his guts on me to Gaul.”

“Respectful like,” said Max. “So’s he won’t take offense.”

“Aye.”

“You stay downwind, just the same.”

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