Fireball by John Christopher Read Free Book Online

Book: Fireball by John Christopher Read Free Book Online
Authors: John Christopher
astonishment the glare cracked into a broad grin, displaying broken and missing teeth. A hand tightened on his shoulder, but the grip was plainly friendly. The big man spoke again: “Est mihi nomen Bos.”
    That was amazing, too. For the first time sincethey had been catapulted into the past he understood something clearly. “My name is Bos.” Smiling in return, Simon tapped his chest.
    â€œEst mihi nomen Simonus.”
    Bos nodded approvingly, repeated “Simonus,” and went on into a stream of growling Latin in which Simon was immediately lost. He had something tattooed on his chest: a fish? It didn’t matter. Nothing mattered except that he had found, for the moment at least, an ally in this bewildering and frightening world.

    O VER THE NEXT FEW DAYS Simon hardly stopped congratulating himself on his luck in meeting Bos and on the fact that for some reason Bos liked him. Under his protection Simon felt very safe; it was obvious that no one in the dormitory was going to tangle with Bos if he could possibly help it. The Celt in particular kept well out of his way, contenting himself with a silent vicious glare at Simon when Bos happened not to be looking.
    Nor was it just protection; he got help and guidance from the big man, too. By sticking close to him,Simon was able to pick up quickly the tricks and routines of barracks life. Even on the exercise ground Bos kept an eye on him, and the instructor, who spent a lot of time bawling out the other new recruit, gave Simon an easy time. He, too, though superior in rank, obviously did not want to run the risk of Bos’s getting riled.
    The advantages were manifold. Bos took him to get fitted with boots and tossed aside the first pair offered as unsatisfactory; the man issuing them was quick to produce another pair, over which Bos, after a close examination and some twisting of the leather with his powerful fingers, nodded satisfaction. And Simon noticed that when they queued for food, it was not only Bos who was given larger and better portions, but he as well.
    Gradually he was picking up the language. Bos seemed to find his ignorance amusing. He willingly supplied the Latin name for things Simon pointed out and was patient in repetition. It was possible he felt flattered at being asked to help: Latin, as Simon was to learn, was not his native tongue, and while he was not at all stupid, his mental powers fell a long way short of matching his physical strength.
    Towards the end of the second day on the exercise ground, while they were taking a short break, a supply cart rolled in through the main gate. Simon pointed to it, in inquiry. It was pulled by two white oxen, and he asked the name of the animals.
    Bos grinned at him in an odd way.
    â€œBoves,” he growled.
    Of course, Simon thought—how could he have forgotten that? He remembered old Gargoyle explaining the origin of the word bovine. From bos, bovis —an ox. Bos was still grinning with delight, and suddenly he got it. Bos! He pointed to the animal and then to the man.
    Bos roared with laughter, slapping his hands on his huge chest. He was obviously proud of the name he had acquired.
    The training was partly general physical exercising, partly weapon training. Simon was given a wooden sword and in the first instance had to wield it against a wooden dummy, called a palus. He slashed away enthusiastically but a bit aimlessly, and the instructor had to put him right as to the kind ofthrust or slash that was needed and the appropriate spots to aim at.
    Simon for his part did his best to follow instructions. He realized that there was an ultimate objective—that the skills he was learning were meant to be applied in due course to blows not against a lump of man-shaped wood, but against a live human being. He did not let his mind dwell on that prospect. Before an army went into battle, it had to get to the place where the fighting was to take place, and

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