Another long winter draws to an end. Marcus and Annilio have hardly seen each other, because much of the time the snow was so deep that neither man nor animal could pass. But slowly the sun is getting warmer, the snow melts, and the first cowslips are flowering again. One morning before sunrise, Marcus’ family awakes to the sound of loud banging. Someone is beating on the entrance gate with all his might.
As Marcus’ father opens the gate, he sees that it’s Annilios father Ateualus. He looks harried and nervous. “Dear friend, we have to flee. There’s no time to waste. Villages are burning in the west. Hordes of Alamanni have crossed the Inn! We just got the message from friends living there. We’re not safe here, we’ll have to leave BERUNUM. Pack your things, we’ll take you to a safe place. But hurry! We’ll be waiting for you at the entrance to the Prien valley, at the foot of the hill.”
“And what about your clan?” asks Caius Terentius anxiously.
“The Bear Clan is paddling over to the big island in the Chiemsee; there’s an ancient fort there made by our ancestors. They’ll be safe.”
Caius Terentius nods. “Thank you, friend, for your help.” He runs back into the house and throws everyone out of bed. “Get up, quickly! The Alamanni are coming, plundering and burning everything in their way. Pack what you need! We have to flee. I want you to be in the courtyard, packed and ready to leave in a quarter of an hour. Ateualus and his family will lead us to a safe refuge. Hurry now!” he urges them.
Marcus springs out of bed with a start, his heart beating wildly. They have to flee! Everywhere, people are shouting orders and packing hastily. Marcus rolls up his sleeping mat and stuffs some warm clothing into a bag. His mother packs food, jugs and dishes. In the courtyard, the animals are being rounded up. Food, clothing, tools, cages with chickens and ducks, and three pigs in a pen: everything is hastily loaded onto two wagons. The mules are also loaded up. Marcus’ father puts all of their money into a chest which he fastens to the saddle of his horse. The rest will have to be left behind.
What a mayhem! A servant stumbles and swears: he’s broken a jar with oil.
Marcus tosses his bag and sleeping mat up to his sister and mother sitting on the wagon and climbs up to join them. And then they’re off with the wagons and the mules.
“We’re to meet Ateualus and his family at the entrance to the valley,” calls Caius Terentius to them and trots off at the head of the caravan. From the hilltop, they can already see pillars of smoke rising on the horizon.
“They’re not far off,” whispers Marcus to his mother fearfully.
The road runs southwards along the foot of the mountains. Then they turn away from the lakeside into the Prien Valley in the direction of the mountains. Where the River Prien flows out of the hills, there’s a mighty rock outcrop standing like a guardian over the entrance to the valley. That’s where Annilio, her big brother Ario, and her father Ateualus are waiting for Marcus’ family. Ario is a head taller than his father and has arms like tree trunks. To Marcus, he seems to be every bit as gigantic as the Celtic ironsmith from whom they’d bought a sword for Annilio’s uncle a year ago.
The horses pull the wagons up the valley from the guardian rock to the foot of a steep mountain slope. “From here on, we have to go on foot. We can lead the mules up too,” Ario instructs them. He is an experienced hunter and often goes into the mountains for days on end.
The fugitives unload the wagons and pack as much as they can carry on their backs. Marcus has a heavy pack on his back and additionally fastens his cloth bag, sleeping mat, a couple of leather bags, and some blankets to a rack which he carries on his shoulders.
Annilio walks beside him, she knows the way. They fight their way upwards through dense forests on a narrow path. Fear is written on their faces. Marcus is sweating blood and tears.
Annilio encourages him. “Come on, it’s not far now.”
Finally, they reach the edge of the woods. Looking out, Marcus is overwhelmed by the beauty of the landscape. Below him lies the big lake like a great blue mirror; beside him, the snow-covered peaks rise in the sky. He’s never been so far up a mountain in his life. His eyes wander over the familiar countryside, and suddenly he starts: “Look there,” he cries, pointing in the distance. “That’s ….” His voice breaks and he angrily wipes the tears from his eyes.
Annilio sees what he’s talking about: his family estate is on fire. A black pall of smoke rises in the sky. She tries to see what is happening in her village, but it lies out of sight. “The important thing is that we’re all safe,” she comforts Marcus. “Come now, we’ve just about made it. Up there is the entrance to the cave.”
The path now leads up steeply through slopes of scree and alpine grass. The children are glad that at least there’s no snow on the path. It’s not nice to think of what might happen, if one were to slip and fall. But finally they reach the safety of a large cave. The women of both families are already busy stowing away the possessions that they’ve managed to save and tying up the animals.
“Well done, son,” praises Caius Terentius, as Marcus takes off his big backpack and the rack from his shoulders, laying them down at the entrance to the cave. He puts his arm around Marcus’ shoulders. “We’re safe here, for now.”
Marcus rolls out his sleeping mat in a corner of the cave. Slowly, he’s starting to calm down a little. Annilio sits down on a pile of blankets and gives him a smile.
“We can hold out a while up here,” Marcus’ mother reassures him, stroking his hair. “We have food, warm clothing, and tools. We can light a fire without fear of being found, and we have fresh water. And most importantly, we have wonderful friends who warned us in time.”
For weeks and months, they live one day like the next. The children are not allowed to go far from the cave, because Ario has found bear prints nearby. Besides, the slopes are so steep that both their mothers have forbidden them to leave their sides. Smoke is still rising from fires down in the valley. It isn’t before the weather has become warm and summery that the two fathers and Annilio’s brothers risk returning to BERUNUM to see what has become of their houses. They come back three days later with bad news.
“Our estate is completely destroyed,” Marcus’ father reports furiously. “They’ve taken everything they could carry.”
“And they’ve burnt our village to the ground,” says Annilio’s father with anger smouldering in his eyes.
But at least they have each other. Living at close quarters in the cave has bonded the two families inseparably. Now Annilio’s and Marcus’ fathers, Ateualus and Caius Terentius Praesentinus, have decided to stay together permanently, moving their families over the mountains to a safe region in the south. Marcus and Annilio must sadly depart from their beloved home at the shores of the Chiemsee. But how good it is that they can remain together!