A man opened the flap to a crude tent and stuck his head out. “Rua!”
From behind a tree stepped a boy not yet seven years old, his face burning with a long fresh scar that ran from his temple to his chin. “Yes, uncle?”
“Go to the river and fill this with water!” the man shouted and tossed a copper cauldron that rolled through the grass and stopped right at the boy’s feet. The child stood staring at it.
“Go!” the uncle yelled angrily, “Your father is dead and now you must be a man!”
Rua hurriedly grabbed the bowl by the handles and dragged it backwards through the encampment. He could hear the cries of his mother as he moved off. The sound of her grieving was soon drowned out though by the wailing that issued from many of the tents he passed on his way to the river. For a year and a half, his people had pushed their way through Western Europe and now, in the north of Italy, malaria was devastating them.
As he neared the river, he noticed a group of horsemen slowly approaching from the other bank. He recognized some of them immediately; they were the King’s brothers. But the strangely-dressed ones that rode beside them filled him with wonder. The one in the white conical hat especially affected him. Their eyes met for a moment as they passed each other and Rua thought he recognized a rare look of sympathy.
It was at the end of a long hot summer, around September 16th, 452, and the man in the hat changed the course of western history, or more aptly saved it. Pope Leo, without an army, would turn back Attila the Hun at the river Mincio and secure the city of Rome.