Greta sat up in bed when she heard a woman’s voice. “Stay away. Don’t come here.”
“Who is calling?” Greta asked. It did not sound like her mother’s voice. She looked once around her darkened room. She saw no one there at all. Even Darius was missing. In the back of her mind, she knew this had to be a dream, but she felt helpless to wake. Perhaps it came from all the stress of preparing for Darius and her father’s six-month trip around the province. Then again, Greta secretly prepared for her own trip, and she had to do so without letting on to anyone. That seemed stressful by definition.
“You must stay away,” the woman’s voice echoed in the night.
Greta went out from her room and wandered through the house, calling, “Hello. Who is there? Is anyone there?” The whole house appeared empty and dark.
“Hello,” the woman called. “Over here.” The voice sounded spooky with echoes, but it came from the Great Hall. Greta went into the big room slowly and carefully. It appeared as dark and empty as the rest of the house. Only a sliver of light from the fingernail moon slanted across the floor.
“Hello?” Greta called again and the response came from only a few feet away.
“Here you are,” the woman said, and Greta saw her, and gasped, because she had seen this woman before, only she could not say where.
“Who are you?” Greta asked, and she looked close. The woman had long black hair that curled over her shoulders. She had eyes that glowed with the color of the moonlight, and she appeared to be wearing a nightgown made of silk, see-through. It hid nothing. The woman’s breasts were full and firm, her waist slim, and her hips where her hands rested were well made to carry her long legs. Greta gasped at the woman’s beauty and felt very small and plain.
“I love your hair,” the woman said. “Your yellow-white hair sets off your soft brown eyes. I would call them beige, sparkling eyes. And the way you have your hair cut. It just fits your cute little round face.”
“Who are you?” Greta felt very wary. She felt strongly that she had seen this woman before, at least in her dreams, and of late they had not been pleasant dreams.
“Mithrasis,” the woman said, and stepped closer. “And I think if you came for me I might be able to work something out.” She moved her hands across Greta’s breasts, a quick caress, and snaked her arms around Greta’s back until they encircled her and pulled her in tight. Then the woman pressed her lips to Greta’s lips in a lover’s kiss. Greta’s eyes went wide and she wriggled her hands up to push the woman away. As Mithrasis staggered two steps back, Greta wiped her mouth, but Mithrasis laughed.
“Such a pity,” Mithrasis said. “So, we are back to stay away. If you want to live, stay away.”
“I will be coming, to get Hans and Berry, Fae and Hobknot, and I will bring them safely home.”
“Then I will stop you. I will probably have to kill you. True, the geis of the gods is still on you, Traveler, so it will have to be done carefully, but there are ways.”
“I might die,” Greta admitted. “I am a person of small magic.” She certainly had nowhere near the magic of Mithrasis to invade a person’s dream with such a real presence.
“Killing you would be a terrible waste.” Mithrasis winked and let out a sly grin. “Let me know if you change your mind and decide to share my bed, but otherwise, stay away.” Mithrasis began to glow until the light became so bright, Greta had to shut and cover her eyes. Then she sat up in bed.
Darius mumbled and put his hand out to touch her, but he did not wake. Greta spit on the floor and wiped her mouth again. She thought, another few months and she will have been married for seven years. She would be twenty-four soon enough, and she still loved her husband. She slid down under the covers and took his arm. She made him turn a little to his side and draped the arm over her waist. She snuggled and put her hand over his arm and on to his back. Then she got close to his face where she could hear and feel his long, slow, sleepy breaths.
Mithrasis could not be the witch Greta first thought. She had to be a goddess, and as such she did not belong there. The time of the gods ended some hundred and fifty years ago, but a few did refuse to go over to the other side. Greta should have been afraid to disobey a goddess, but as the Kairos, she had been counted among the gods for thousands of years. That was why Mithrasis needed to be careful. For a god, to kill the Kairos became an instant ticket to Hell, at least back when the gods were around and in charge of such things.
Greta shifted her head on the pillow and blew the hair away that had fallen into her mouth. Mithras, she thought. The great mascot of the Roman army. But he was a male. Who was this Mithrasis woman? She tried to put it out of her mind, except she thought that she really had no interest in that direction. She thought about Darius and fell happily asleep before she woke him to show him how much she loved him. He would have been happy to oblige her. He would be going away soon and he would be gone for months.
Greta stood on the battlements of the city and watched her husband and father ride off to the south, accompanied by a whole troop of Roman cavalry and auxiliaries. They would spend near two months touring the Danube and the land grants given to the faithful families after the last rebellion. It turned to early October, and they wanted a good feel for the harvest. The emperor himself wrote demanding as much, and Marcus Aurelius, the emperor’s son, added a note at the bottom of the letter. “Darius, my old friend,” it said. “Winters have been hard in Italy of late. You need to be sure every speck of grain that is due to Rome is sent. Pax.” So, Darius headed south and Greta’s father, the high chief of the Dacians, went with him.
They would spend the heart of the winter at Romula, the capital of Dacia Inferior, before they headed north all the way to Porolissum in the spring. Porolissum was where the rebels who were not given to the headsman’s axe were branded and told to guard the border at all costs.
This October, 151 A. D., as Greta thought of it, became the seventh and last year Darius would be imperial governor of the province of Dacia, after which he promised to retire. This also became the seventh year of Greta’s father being high chief of the Dacians, a dubious position the Romans allowed for the sake of peace—and there had been peace for seven years. But now Darius would retire, and her father started getting old and his strength started failing, and after they were gone, who knew what the future might hold. Greta smelled rebellion on the wind, and not like last time where a few hundred disgruntled young men took up arms around the capital. This smelled to Greta like the whole province might go up in flames.
“My Lady.” Mavis, Greta’s handmaid, stood dutifully close and held Greta’s cloak in her arms. It still felt early in the fall, but the wind came up and felt cold. Greta waved her off. She had too much on her mind and a simple cloak would not help against the chill she felt in the air.