Fae was lying down and looked very frail. Berry looked at a scroll, upside down. Greta bent over to search for Fae’s pulse, and she heard Marcus.
“Now there’s a woman built to carry children,” he said. It sounded like his way of suggesting she had a fat butt. Greta turned slowly. She pointed to the roof of the tent and Marcus foolishly looked. Her foot came down hard on his toes.
“Oaf.” She called him. “I’ll probably be as fat as Mama soon enough, and then even Darius won’t want to look at me and you boys can have all the fun you want.” Marcus laughed a hearty laugh, and that did not make things easy. Greta had to still her feelings. There were important things to do. She introduced Fae as the wise woman of the forest people. It turned out Fae’s Greek was passable, and she even knew some Latin. Then she found out Sergeant Gaius knew Gaelic well enough to recognize most of the words in the local dialect. There were rough spots, but she knew they would work things out and she really would not be needed.
Greta sighed and stared at an invisible Hobknot to be sure he stayed good. Then she went outside and took Berry with her for safe keeping. Darius followed, until Greta turned to face him.
“You don’t like me much. That is obvious,” he said. He got military, blunt and formal. “But I will be a good husband and never give you reason to complain.”
Greta shook her head. To his surprise, she took his arm and walked him to where they could have some privacy. Meanwhile, Berry said nothing, but followed a few steps behind with big eyes and open ears. “That’s not it,” Greta said. “I like you well enough. You seem to be a nice man, only I don’t know you very well. I never imagined myself with a Roman. It takes some getting used to, is all.”
Darius turned and placed his hands gently on her shoulders. He smiled a little and she let herself be drawn up into his deep eyes. “I can live with that,” he said. “I’m still getting used to the idea that my mother was one of your people, or I should say our people. I understand. Maybe someday.” He did not finish that sentence and turned to another thought altogether. “And, now that you mention it, I don’t know you very well either, I suppose. I like what I see, and I suppose I am guilty of assuming the rest will be equally wonderful.”
Greta blushed a little, and she hated the way it made her freckles stand out. She was not what she imagined as beautiful, and especially after so many days in the wild woods. She imagined she looked frightful, but that mattered less than she thought as she finally began to understand her reluctance. “But there are things about me that you know nothing about, and they are big and important things, and they would take a very special man to be able to deal with them, type things.”
He looked at her, and clearly wanted to reassure her that, whatever it might be, that he could deal with it. But she knew he had no idea.
“There are things you need to know while there is still time to change your mind.” She said, bluntly, and then for the life of her she could not imagine how to begin to explain.
After the longest time of silence, Darius took her hand and attention. “Perhaps you could begin by telling me who this cute little shadow of yours is,” he suggested.
Berry sat on the ground to run her hand across the top of the grass. There were all sorts of animals that grazed near the forest’s edge, so in spots the grass looke like a newly mowed lawn. Greta pulled herself together.
“This is Berry.” She introduced her. “She is my ward, and you had better get used to having her underfoot because she will be with me until she convinces me to let her marry Hans.”
Berry looked up at Greta with great big eyes. “Really? Oh, thank you Lady. Thank you, thank you.” She scooted over on her knees and took Greta’s hand and began to kiss it.
“Berry,” Greta said softly. “This man will be my husband so you had better get used to him, too.”
Berry looked first. “I like him,” she said, and she scooted over and took his hand and began to kiss it. “Thank you, my Lord. Thank you for giving me Hans.”
“Berry.” Greta spoke, and when she had the girl’s attention she finished her thought. “You must wait four years.”
“Four years!” Berry fell over, nearly fainted dead away.
“Not before he is eighteen, don’t you think so?” She looked at Darius.
“At least,” Darius said. “But don’t you think Hans ought to have some say in the matter?”
Berry sat straight up. “Why?” She asked in such a frank and innocent tone it seemed clear that she had never considered this thought before.
“I’m afraid he has no say in the matter,” Greta said. She covered Darius’ mouth with her hand to stop him from speaking. “You see, there are some things about me that you don’t know. Big things.” Darius stayed wonderfully patient. “Berry.” Greta spoke at last, though she never let her eyes waver from his and the expression on his face. “Please come up to my shoulder. I think there is a knot in my hair.” Berry looked at Darius and tried to get up on her tip toes for a look. “No, sweet.” Greta said. “I mean get little. It’s all right.”
Berry looked again at Darius and then flew straight to Greta’s shoulder. Her head and hands went immediately into Greta’s hair and left only her wings and backside exposed.
“Great Gods!” Darius croaked, but then he stood there and watched. He looked fascinated, and Greta felt glad he was not like so many humans who viewed the little spirits of the earth with fear and trembling.
“Hey!” Berry shouted, having forgotten all about Greta’s hair. She turned and put her little hands on her hips. “If you two are going to be married, what was that game you were just playing?”
“Traditional human mating ritual,” Greta said, without pause. Darius hid his grin.
“Well I hope I won’t have to do that with Hans,” she said. “I couldn’t remember all that foolish talk.”
Darius and Greta both turned a little red that time. “That’s enough, sweet,” Greta said. “You need to get down now and get big again.”
Berry did one back flip in mid-air and landed perfectly on her feet.
“I say.” Darius looked at Greta. “But is it safe having her around?”
Greta shrugged. “Ask her.”
Berry spoke right up. “Oh, I hope it will be safe. I have been thinking about it and I am a little afraid of being around so many clunky humans all day, every day. You will be there if I need help or get into trouble, won’t you?”
“Um, yes.” Darius said, though that was not what he had in mind. He cocked one eyebrow at Greta, but this time she hid her smile. “But now Berry,” he said. “Will you be a good girl, and always be honest with us and do right away whatever we ask?”
“Yes I will,” Berry said, but then she thought about it and lowered her head. “At least I will try very, very hard.” She answered more honestly.
“Don’t expect too much,” Greta said. “She is a teenager.”
Darius gave Greta a look and she stood up straight. “Seventeen and a half.” She lied. “But I feel so much older after these last couple of months.” Darius nodded to that.