Saturday 18 June 2022

'Surus' by Jennie Treverton

Imagine an elephant wading through these marshes. I know you’ve never seen an elephant either, have you Sabina, but you know what they look like from coins and those wall-paintings we used to laugh at in the cookshop of Ampliatus. Think of a mountain slowly moving. He had walked for three days and nights without rest and he was in great pain. Insects chewed the webbing of his ears and mud sucked his rotting feet. His tusks hung with pondweed, his nose barely above water. He carried Hannibal the Carthaginian and he was the only elephant still alive.

He passed within sight of this very spot. We would have heard the groans of his rider, who had his own agony with a putrefying eye. These marshes took Hannibal’s eye, and all of his mules, and hundreds upon hundreds of his soldiers.

You see, Sabina? That’s the strength of this place. He came nearer to defeat by these waters than by any army he’d met along the way. The great general Hannibal, he fought off the Alpine Gauls and he made Rome very embarrassed at Cannae but the losses inflicted here were heaviest of them all. And that’s why we’ll be safe here, you see? We’ll treat this place nice. Nobody will find us, ever. His mistake was in trying to barge through like that. She won’t have you barging through. Try it and you’ll find she’s more hostile than Bellona. Listen to her: what do you hear? Crickets and birds and yes, that low boom. That’s a bird called a bittern. I always thought she sounds just like a distant military trumpet.

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