Dacia seemed a melting pot of people. Her own heritage, a mixture of Thracian Gatae and Germanic Venedi. Some Dacians had roots in the Sarmatian people and the Scythians that ruled the steppes. Others came from Panonia, Moesia, or still thought of Greece or Macedonia as the homeland of their ancestors. Then there were thousands of Romans that were encouraged to move into the province. More came every year: retired legionnaires, merchants of all sorts, and rich men in the mountains where imported Dalmatian miners dug out the precious gold and silver, and the iron that made Rome’s strong right arm. In these seven years, especially after the last rebellion, the empire settled thousands of auxiliaries along the border and to protect the roads where they built forts and fortified towns and villages. These auxiliaries came in from all over the empire, from as far away as Syria, North Africa, Gaul and Britannia. And these all spoke Latin where they could not otherwise communicate with one another. That tongue, a kind of lingua-franca of the province, began to affect all the other tongues and would one day lay at the foundation of the language they would call Romanian. Greta knew something of the far future. Too bad she could only guess what tomorrow might bring.
“Lady.” Mavis insisted until Greta accepted the cloak, graciously. She could still see the wagons slowly dragging down the road, but at that distance she could no longer make out where the Roman cavalry ended and the auxiliaries took over, much less see Darius or her father.
Greta pulled her wind-driven light blond locks out of her mouth and eyes and turned to follow the line of the ancient forest that ran as far north as her eyes could see. The Celts lived in the forest, and on the far western side of the mountains, in the hills that ran down from the Transylvanian plateau. Most of the Celtic land lay technically beyond the boundary, so officially outside of Roman control. Likewise, there were many Dacians, her own people, who lived outside the official Roman border. Most of the Dacians, like her people, were part Germanic, part Thracian-Greek, part Scythian and Sarmatian. Then there were dangerous Germanic tribes pressing on the border of the empire, like the Quadi, the Macromanni, the Bastarne and further afield there were Vandals and Goths. There were also Scythian descendants outside the province of Dacia, great tribes like the Lazyges, Roxolani, Costoboci and Carpi. And they all hated each other, fought and struggled for land, and distrusted and did unspeakable things to strangers. Greta decided she had to be mad contemplating the journey she had in mind.
Greta stretched out her senses. She knew the Romans were building a wall of men against all of the outside pressures that threatened to overrun the peace. Sadly, the Romans, and the XIII Gemina Legion safely behind their walls at Apulum, were not paying nearly enough attention to the struggles within the province. The melting pot of Dacia was going to boil over and the only question was when.
“Tomorrow and the next hundred years are always a mystery,” Greta said, mostly to herself.
“As you say, Lady,” Mavis dutifully answered, as they stepped off the battlements and made their way back to the Governor’s residence.
Greta hoped the outsider Dacians she would run into would be people she could relate to, people who might be able to guide her in the way she needed to go. Hans and Berry, Fae and Hobknot were not only gone for two years, it felt like they were taken right out of the world altogether. She could not touch them with her mind’s eye, not even Hobknot, a pure blood hobgoblin. It felt unnatural. All she knew was they were not dead. They were hidden, invisible, like they were prisoners of a great power, or maybe protected by a great power, but in any case, she would have to go and fetch them.
“Mother!” Greta called as she came into the house. Mavis took her cloak and Greta walked to the great hall where they took their meals and held all those boring state dinners. “Mother?” Greta’s mother sat there, feeding mush to two-year-old Marta. Four-year-old Gaius sat on the floor, playing with blocks and the children’s nurse, Selamine watched. Greta paused to give her son a kiss while mother spoke.
“Did the men get off? I worry about your father making such a long trip. Six months away is a long time, even if it is important, as he said.” Greta interrupted her mother by kissing her on the cheek before Mother finished her thought. “He is not so young now, you know, and the leg where he was wounded throbs sometimes, and he does not walk well.”
Greta kissed her baby with her whole heart, but made her stay in the chair to finish her mush. At the same time, her mouth spoke of other things. “Now that the men have gone, I must go as well. I am overdue in my own responsibilities. I have my own journey to make.”
“How so?” Mother asked. “Your place is here, with your children.”
“I am the woman of the ways for all of Dacia. Marcus Aurelius himself proclaimed me the wise woman for the Romans, and I have been named a druid among the Gaelic people of the forest. I have neglected my duties for far too long.”
“Nonsense,” Mother said, and shared a look with Selamine. “Mother Hulda never left her home by the woods. For the last fifteen years, pilgrims came to her doorstep. People came to her to learn how to be midwives and healers. Chiefs came to her for counsel. Ordinary people made the pilgrimage to her home to receive the words of her wisdom. You know this well from the many years you spent with her, and now the people seek you here. This is your place, at home with your children.”
Greta shook her head. “No mother. The Emperor himself charged me with responsibility for Drakka and all of the lives that I begged him to spare after the last rebellion. I have neglected this responsibility. I must check on Drakka and Liselle. I must go see Bragi, Karina and their children.” Bragi was Greta’s older brother, and Mother changed her thoughts as fast as a fairy.
“You are going to see Bragi and the grandchildren? Can I go with you?”
“Not this time,” Greta smiled, and offered her mother another kiss on the cheek. “But Bragi and Karina are not branded. Perhaps I can bring them and the children to come and visit you here.”
“Johannes.” Mother called for the house butler before she turned again to her daughter. “Does Darius know you are leaving Ravenshold? Does your father know?”
“I will be meeting them in Porolissum when they arrive in the north in a few months,” Greta said what she hoped would be true.
Mother put the bowl and spoon on the table as she spoke. “Marta needs cleaning, and so does the floor. Selamine, please take the children out to the green where they can play with their friends.”
“Very good,” Johannes and Selamine spoke more or less together while Mother framed her thoughts.
Gaius shouted, “Yea!” and knocked over the blocks. Greta took the cloth and dipped it in the bowl of water to wipe Marta’s mouth. Marta knew the routine and held out her hands, fingers spread
“But Greta,” Mother had one more word. “Porolissum is on the border and it is dangerous and full of dangerous men. There was a reason the rebels were given a choice, to lose their heads or be branded and guard the border, because the border is dangerous.”
“Exactly why I must go see Procurator Spato and Captain Ardacles to arrange an escort.” Greta kissed her children once more and stepped out of the great hall before Mother could think of any more objections.