Cleaning up after the battle proved a grizzly and horrifying job, but all the same, Greta worked long into the night. The battle had been terrible. Her side had won, but the price had been high. The surviving Quadi were allowed to leave with pledges that they would not return, for all the good those pledges would be, but the Romans and Dacians together were not able to hold more than a few of the Quadi leadership. There were simply neither the men nor the facilities to do more.
Greta found out that shortly before her arrival in the village of the Bear Clan, Samartin raiders attacked the far northern Dragon Clan. That really convinced the Celts that their time of isolation was over. They had to choose, and though Fae’s courage helped, in truth they had already chosen the known evils of Rome and the Yellow Hairs over the unknown. With the Romans as mediators, they would keep their own land and retain their own way of life; but there would be trade, and in time, marriages, and life would go on.
Of more immediate concern to Greta was the fate of the rebels. She sent an early plea for mercy to Marcus and General Pontius, and on that basis, she met with them early the next morning.
“Come in,” Marcus said. “Sit down.” He sat at a large writing table. General Pontius stood behind him and leaned over his shoulder.
Greta was grateful for the seat. She felt exhausted.
“You know,” Marcus continued before she could speak. “I cannot really tell my father that I pardoned the rebels on the basis of their being bewitched.” He stopped writing to look up. “Even if we both know there is some truth in that.”
“Personally, I hate it when someone reads over my shoulder.” Greta said, and slumped down in her chair. Marcus looked up over his shoulder. The General looked at Greta and took a large step backward.
“By the way,” Marcus spoke, as he went back to his letter. “Whatever happened to the lady?”
“She made an ass out of herself,” Greta said. “She is no longer around.”
Marcus did not understand exactly what she meant, but he accepted her at her word. “Just as well,” he said. “I’m not sure it would have worked out in any case.” Greta felt she had been right. Lady Brunhild would not have been able to control him. Then something occurred to her.
“I thought you promised to stay out of the fighting,” she said. Marcus turned red, but she sat straight up. “You lied to her.”
The red deepened. “I don’t lie.”
“Then you changed your mind only a second after you promised,” she teased.
“Yes, I did,” he said. “Let us remember it that way.”
An awkward moment of silence followed. Greta just framed her thoughts when Marcus spoke again.
“The other proposal of yours does have some merit. I can personally vouch for seeing many rebels pour off the Mount and attack the Quadi from behind. I am sure they fought as bravely as any patriot on the battlefield.”
“It is one thing to have internal disagreements,” Greta said. “But quite another to be invaded by outsiders.”
“Lady,” General Pontius interrupted. “This was not internal disagreements. This was outright rebellion.”
Marcus held up his hand for quiet before Greta and the General started arguing. “Kunther, Eldegard and the known leaders of the rebellion have already lost their heads.” Marcus said. “That is a done deal.”
“I’m sorry,” Greta said, and slouched again. “I feel Eldegard really came around to our side at the last.”
“Then let the gods show him mercy.” Marcus continued. “In any case, your proposal that we spare the lives of the rest on condition that they take land along the frontier, North of Napoca, and be first in line to defend the border. This is an idea which I think I can sell to the emperor. The only adjustment is that all of the rebels be identified and branded.”
“Branded?” Greta asked. “Like slaves?”
“Their lives are forfeit,” Marcus explained. “This is a way to keep track in case they get out of line. Besides, I don’t believe Rome will go for it, otherwise.”
Greta had a sudden concern. “Bragi?” she asked.
“Your brother is a special case,” Marcus said.
Greta sat up again, fearing the worst. “What do you mean? He stopped Kunther and saved your life,” she reminded him.
Marcus shook his head. “Technically, he threw Drakka to the ground. But I won’t quibble. He is being remanded to the custody of your father. Your father is very strict, but fair, like the emperor, my father. I imagine that is why your people made him high chief.”
“Strict is right,” Greta said, as the relief made her slouch once more.
Marcus paused. “Come, now. You are his only daughter, and it is different for girls. I am sure a few tears from you and he will do whatever you ask.”
“I wish,” Greta groused.
Marcus let out his smile. “I am sure your father will punish your brother in far more appropriate ways than I could imagine. In any case, it would not be politically wise to behead the son of the high chief. As wife of the new provincial governor, you must learn these things.”
“I am recommending that Darius be made governor here,” Marcus said.
“But he is a soldier,” Greta protested.
Marcus actually became tender for a moment, but whether that was for her sake or the sake of his childhood friend, was not clear. “Actually, now that his parentage is known, he will never rise above his current rank. He will never be a General. He will never be given his own legion.”
“His strict but fair father will not be happy about that,” she said.
“No,” Marcus agreed. “And you can be sure my strict but fair father will be very aware of his father’s unhappiness. Making Darius Governor of the province, however, should satisfy.” Marcus fell silent and stared at Greta. It took a moment for her to get it.
“Why you stinker,” she shouted. “You’re sticking me in the middle between Darius and my father. I’ll spend the rest of my life having to choose sides.”
“You’re the wise woman,” Marcus said. “Choose wisely.” Greta growled, but Marcus could only continue to smile. “Besides, can you think of anyone better to be in the middle?”
Almost anyone, Greta thought, but she changed the subject instead. “What about Drakka?”
“You tell me,” Marcus said and lost his smile. “The son of Eldegard. He kidnapped the son of an Elder of the Bear Clan. He tried to kill me, only he shot you instead. He would be dead already if you did not specifically mention him in your note.”
“He was not a rebel,” Greta said, firmly. “He was a late comer who followed Hans and I through the forest.” Greta paused. The big, strong, handsome son of the blacksmith. Hard to imagine why she once thought she loved him. “He only did what his father told him,” she said. “We all answer to our fathers.” Liselle was pregnant, though Marcus would hardly be moved by that. But Liselle had been an only child because her mother had several miscarriages and died shortly after Liselle’s birth. Greta feared the same for Liselle if Drakka was not there to support and love her. “Besides,” Greta concluded. “The frontier farmers are going to need a good blacksmith. I bear no grudge against his taking his shot. I know what kind of expectations fathers can have and what kind of demands they can make. I am sure once he marries Liselle and they have their baby, he will settle down.”
“He will be branded,” Marcus said. “My every instinct says he should be crucified. But if you vouch for him, I will let you have him on your responsibility.” That appeared to end the interview as Marcus returned to writing his letter.