Greta stepped next door to the governor’s offices which were mostly filled with accountants and tax collectors. Several men acknowledged her with a slight nod of their head and downturned eyes as she passed. She ignored them, as did Mavis, her shadow, who walked a step behind and still carried her cloak. Anyone else shadowing her would have driven Greta crazy, but Mavis was not only her handmaid, she was in reality an elf maiden, a house elf covered with a more or less permanent glamour of humanity. Darius arranged that, knowing his wife as he did.
Greta whispered as she went straight for the governor’s office. “So, what do you think? Do you think Mother bought it?” She knew Mavis would hear the whisper with her good elf ears.
“Masterfully done, my Lady,” Mavis directed her voice to Greta’s ears alone as only an elf can do. “Not one untrue word, even if the unsaid outweighed the said. But what humans believe is beyond my ability to understand.”
Greta nodded with a slight grin. “I swear Darius picked you because you are a politician at heart.” Mavis said nothing, but let out the slightest bit of her own elfish grin in response.
The guards knew better than to block Greta’s way, and in fact, one opened the door for her. The Procurator Brutus Lacivius Spato, a kind of lieutenant governor, and Captain Ardacles, head of the auxiliary troops posted at the capital were worrying over a map laid out on the big table by the desk. Fat Brutus and skinny Ardacles brought Bluto and Popeye to mind, but Greta decided she could not be Olive Oil because she hardly looked anorexic. In fact, she still had a few pounds to lose after giving birth to Marta, two years ago.
“You worry like that and it will give you permanent lines and wrinkles in your face,” Greta quipped, as her eyes examined the other man in the room, an older man, who sat quietly in a chair by the wall, waiting his turn. He returned a kind of Socrates smile through his beard, and it gave him the appearance of a nice man.
“Mother Greta.” Captain Ardacles was inclined to acknowledge her place among the people quite apart from her being the wife of the provincial governor. In all of Dacia, there was only one woman of the ways, and she was it.
“I have come to arrange an escort to Apulum. The village there is growing like a wildfire. People are attracted to the protection offered by the legion fort but are not finding it to their liking. I must go and see that the people are settled peacefully.”
“No need,” the procurator said. “General Pontius is doing a fine job settling the people.”
Greta scoffed. “With all due respect, General Pontius is a hard-ass military jerk who has no sensitivity for people’s needs. I heard he whipped a few people who did not do what they were told. We want peace, not people who want revenge.”
“There isn’t any—” Captain Ardacles started to speak about limited military resources for an escort, what with Darius and her father gone, but Greta interrupted.
“Then I will go there alone, first thing in the morning.” The captain and the procurator looked at each other. They could not argue about the description of General Pontius.
“Does the governor know your plans?” The procurator wisely did not add, because he told me nothing about them.
“I can arrange an escort, but the day after tomorrow,” the captain added. Greta chose to respond to the captain’s comment first.
“Then the escort will have to catch up,” she said before she thought to reassure the procurator. “I cannot imagine I will be in any danger with a whole legion to protect me.” Then she changed the subject. “So, who is your visitor.”
“Ah,” the procurator turned and introduced the man as the man stood and smiled again. Greta understood that the procurator was glad to have the subject changed. He served as an administrator who kept the rules, but as a man who had little stomach for conflict and confrontation. Greta had no doubt he would eventually write to Darius and mention her trip to Apulum, but the letter would say all is well and assume Darius knew all about her trip.
“Allow me to introduce P. Cassius Andronicus, newly arrived from Rome. Lord Darius’ father sent him to be a tutor for your children.” The procurator became all political smiles. He knew Darius’ senator father had the ear of the emperor, and in fact Darius and the emperor’s adopted son, Marcus Aurelius grew up together.
Greta walked slowly to the man to examine him more closely. She imagined several questions and began with “What is the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter?”
“Archimedes Constant is 22/7,” the man said even as he looked surprised that she knew about such a thing.
“3.1429 is not bad, but Archimedes himself knew the constant should be a smidgen less than that. You should read Ptolemy’s Almagest which is just written, or will be written any day now. He has determined pi to be 3.1416 which is about as good as you can get with Roman numerals. Thank you Martok.” She said that out loud, but was in fact thanking her internal prompt from a lifetime she would live impossibly far in the future. She thought to turn the questioning. “So, tell me about the shape of the Earth.”
“It is round, like a ball.”
“Actually, it is more egg shaped, but I won’t quibble. Seen from space, it looks round enough. Thank you, Jennifer.” Greta thanked another future lifetime and returned the scholar’s smile. “But tell me, if I were to sail west, beyond the pillars of Hercules, into the Atlantic, and continued west, always west, where would I end up?”
The scholar looked serious before he spoke. “I suppose in the belly of some serpent or monster of the deep.” His smile altered this time to say he was joking. “But assuming fortune smiled upon you, and assuming you brought enough food and water to make such an impossibly long journey, eventually you would end up around India.”
“Cathay, actually, the Land of Silk, after you got passed all the islands and Nippon. Of course, there is another whole continent between us and them, but as I said, who am I to quibble? The important thing is you did not say I would fall off the edge of the earth.” Greta returned the scholar’s smile to assure him she was also having fun. “If you said I would fall off the edge, I would have hit you.” The scholar bowed to the lady and exposed a small necklace that held an ichthys. “You have my approval,” Greta spoke quickly. “Teach the children well, and God willing, there may be more.” The scholar realized he exposed himself with the bow, put a hand to his chest to hold the ichthys inside his shirt, and wisely said nothing.
“What would be wrong with saying you would fall off the edge of the world?” Captain Ardacles tried thinking.
“Earth is round like a ball,” Greta said as she started toward the door. “Where’s the edge?”
Procurator Spato added a thought as he brought the captain’s attention back to the map. “She didn’t ask him about Greek punctuation. My teacher always wanted to know where one thought ended and the next began.”
“The ichthys will one day take over the world?” Mavis spoke just as soon as they were in the hall. She started thinking out loud, but directed her speech as she did before so only Greta could hear.
Greta didn’t worry about who heard. “He already has,” she said. “Only the world doesn’t know it yet.”
Greta packed for a long journey. She was supposedly going to spend several cold months away in the dangerous north. She avoided her mother, not wanting an argument, and because she did not want to lie, but her mother had no idea how dangerous the north would get once Greta left the safe border of the Empire. Mithrasis threatened to kill her, and the goddess might be able to do it, geis of the gods or not. There were ways, as Mithrasis said. Greta might well die.
She dressed for bed and felt glad she had a nightgown that covered her and kept her warm as opposed to the slinky, see-through number that would be embarrassing to wear, even in private. She touched Darius’ pillow and said a brief prayer for his safety, and got ready to crawl under the covers when Marta came running in as fast as her little legs could run.
“Mama, mama.” She climbed up on the bed and squirted under the covers before Selamine could catch her.
“It’s all right,” Greta told the nurse. “I will be away for a long time.”
“Very good,” Selamine said and turned to check on Gaius; but Gaius came barreling into the room and managed to avoid being grabbed. He got in the bed on Greta’s other side and hid his face under the pillow. Selamine said nothing this time. She got a blanket and curled up on the rug beside Mavis who at least pretended to be asleep.
“Mama?” Gaius asked everything with her name, and Greta felt astounded by the insight of her children. Daddy had gone away, and now Mama was going. Even two-year-old Marta understood that, intuitively.
Greta snuggled down and held her children in the night. She kissed them plenty and cried, but just a little. It felt true. She might die on this journey.
Greta loved her children and squeezed them in their sleep. Then she wondered if she might be pregnant. Darius really gave her a workout in the last week before heading south. Greta imagined she probably was pregnant, family planning being what it was in her day, though she would not show for a long time. Then she thought, now she would never get those last couple of pounds worked off! Then she mercifully fell asleep.
Greta discovers breaking free of Roman persuasion is not so easy.
Until then, Happy Reading