Only four years married, and Greta already started sneaking away from the house in the dark. Her husband Darius, the roman governor of the province of Dacia would go looking for her, but by the time he found her, she should be finished with her task and on the road home. Greta pulled the hood of her cloak over her face. She was the woman of the ways for the Dacians, called a druid among the Celts, and the wise woman of Dacia for the Romans as declared by Marcus Aurelius himself. It was a triple whammy which meant she could not hide in a crowd, any crowd. But this task felt important, so she covered herself as well as she could with her red cloak and hood, and tried to go unseen through the early hours before dawn. She feared Darius might try to stop the others if he found out what they were planning. He would certainly try to stop Greta if she had any thoughts about going with them.
Greta had no such thoughts. She just entered her eighth month with child number two. A daughter to go with her son. She smiled about that the whole way, and to her credit, she only once thought the others could have timed things better. She also tried concentrating on what was to come as her faithful Centurion Alesander led the ox cart along the new forest road. He would follow her to hell if that was where she was going.
They arrived late in the afternoon at the Celtic village of the Bear Clan. Greta rested at Mayor Baran’s house, as was her custom. Several men came to pay their respects, but Baran’s wife turned the rest away. The woman knew full well what the eighth month could be like.
In the wee hours before dawn, Greta got up and went out to the new stables beside the new inn. The Dacian who ran the place made a home brewed ale which seemed very popular with his Gaelic patrons. This was a good thing, Greta thought. Dacians, Celts, and Romans needed to mingle and not be so divided.
She made herself as comfortable as she could on a small stool. She waited, but she did not have to wait long. She heard a bang.
“Shhh! Quiet.” She heard a woman’s voice, one that Greta knew very well.
“Oh shush yourself, you old biddy,” the response came out of the dark.
“Old goat,” the woman came right back. “I hope that was your head and it knocked some sense into you.”
“It was my toe,” the man responded. “And if it wasn’t hurting I would use it to kick your butt.”
“Quiet, both of you,” a young woman spoke. “If you two don’t stop making love we’ll never get anywhere.” She called it right, and Greta heard a young man laugh.
“Ahem!” Greta cleared her throat. “Over here,” she said. She just turned twenty-two, a young mother in her prime. She could have easily gone to them, eighth month or not, but why? Let them find her. “Over here,” she repeated. They knew her voice, too.
Berry and Fae were the first to come out of the shadows. They came timidly, holding hands as sisters should. The odd thing was no one looking at them would imagine they were sisters, much less twins. Berry looked to be seventeen, and though fully human, she still reflected the beauty of the fairy blood she once bore. Fae now had all of the fairy blood, the inheritance of their half-blood father, which made her much smaller, but a fine-looking dwarf woman in her way, and a bit of an imp besides, a match for Hobknot, the grumpy old hobgoblin of the hardwood. She was seventy years old. They both were, but that is a very long story.
Hans and Hobknot came behind with Hobknot’s mouth running. “I told you it was no good sneaking off.”
“And I told you I was not going without saying goodbye to my sister,” Hans said. “But I was not worried. I knew I would see her.”
“Oh, you did?” Greta got up slowly. “Hansel.” She reached out and Hans came quickly to help her to her feet. She hugged him and whispered three words in his ear. She made him repeat the words over and over until he could say them perfectly. Meanwhile, she hugged all of the others, including Hobknot who turned a perfect red and covered his face with his hands in case she thought of giving him a kiss.
“So, where is your father?” Greta asked Fae and Berry.
“She knows,” Berry said with surprise.
“Of course she knows,” Fae said with certainty.
“From the dragon village we go north.” Berry spoke as if repeating a lesson. “We must go over the Toothless Mountain and beyond the Way of the Winds. Through the pass called the Ogre’s Jaw which is the only way through the Rumbling Ridge. Down the other side, we go through the Forest of Fire and pass the Lake of Gold which must be on our left hand. We must go through the Swamp of Sorrows until we reach the river called Heartbreak. From there we travel down the river beyond the Giant Rock and the Troll’s Eyes until we see the Mouth of the Dragon. The Mouth will take us under the Heart of the Goddess by the Road of Dreams and at last, at the end of the road, we will find the Broken Dome of the Ancient Master. It is there that a secret door leads to the Land of the Lost, and our father is there, still living among the lost.
“North over the Transylvanian Alps and plateau to the Ukraine. How far, then? To Kiev? All the way to Moscva?” Greta translated. “Sounds exciting, and complicated,” she said. “You will remember all that?”
“Oh, yes, Mother Greta. I will not forget,” Berry said.
“We will remember,” Fae insisted. “We seek our father’s blessing on our marriages.”
“You and Hobknot,” Greta teased, and Hobknot spun around several times in embarrassment before he settled on a spot with his back to them all. He turned scarlet.
“You didn’t have to tell her that part,” Hobknot protested. “Make me sound like a love-sick puppy.”
“But you are.” Fae, Berry and Hans all said more or less the same thing in near unison and then laughed.