Captain Ardacles decided to escort Greta himself. “I did not want to risk your safety with a lesser officer,” he said. Then he had a fit when Greta refused to ride in the wagon. She had her horse saddled, and the horse Mavis rode as well. Greta had practiced on horseback, and Mavis was an expert horsewoman, so Ardacles’ childish behavior did not last long. There really seemed not much he could say or do about it. Finally, Captain Ardacles assigned his Sergeant, an older man named Hermes, and three guards to stay with the women at all costs. He yelled, “At all costs.” They tried to box the women in, but there were places on the road where more than two could ride abreast, so that was not always possible.
“Sergeant Hermes,” Mavis attempted to speak sense now and then. “We are not going anywhere.” Mavis would have appreciated the chance to let her horse out now and then, at least to trot.
“Right you are, Miss,” the sergeant responded over the sound of plodding horses. “You are not going anywhere.”
At the end of the day, Greta finally spoke. “Sergeant. Since we were good all day, you can get your men to set up our tent and camp, and be quick about it.”
Sergeant Hermes did not know what else to say but, “Yes mum.”
In the morning, he did not even ask. His men packed up the camp without a word, and Greta confided to Mavis. “As long as we have to put up with them, we might as well get something out of the deal.
Greta’s eyes narrowed. “Don’t you start. We don’t need those kinds of complications”
“Yes, Lady,” Mavis said softly, and lowered her eyes. “I only meant nice.”
Greta nodded and accepted the word on the basis that children, dogs and elves had a kind of sixth sense about people. She decided not to push the subject.
Shortly after noon, before everyone mounted up for the afternoon ride, the two men sent to the point came riding back in a sweat. “Men on the road,” they reported. “About thirty on foot and armed.”
Captain Ardacles inhaled, but held his tongue when Greta grabbed his arm. Greta called for her armor. It fit her perfectly, and included the full array of weapons at her back, even if she did not know how to use them. The Captain clutched his heart on seeing the transformation. “Get half your men up the trees on both sides of the road,” Greta ordered. “Have the other half ride back around the bend in the road. No hostile moves unless I say so.”
“I’m not asking. That’s an order,” Greta said, and she went away from that place to let the Princess fill her shoes. Captain Ardacles fainted. Fortunately, Sergeant Daemon was able to take up the slack and began doling out orders. “Mavis. You take the riders,” the Princess finished her thought.
“Very good, my lady,” Mavis spoke softly and then she raised her voice to command proportions. “Sergeant Hermes. I need your men now, mounted and ready, and ten more with you. Be quick.” Mavis leapt on her horse, bareback. She had produced a bow and quiver of arrows from nowhere and hardly used her horse’s reigns to ride back behind the bend in the road. Sergeant Hermes and the rest of the troop were a bit slow to catch up.
Ardacles’ company might have only been thirty strong, but they had all the advantages with horses ready to charge and men off the road ready to catch the enemy in a surprise crossfire. The Princess got Ardacles to stand, and then she told him to shut up as the men in the distance came around the bend and stopped within a few feet.
“Celts.” The Princess announced. “What brings you out of your forested hills and so deep into Roman land? Are you dog clan or eagle clan?” The Princess could not be sure because Greta, looking through her eyes, did not feel sure.
“Eagle clan,” the front man said. “We have been four days chasing a Lazyges raiding party. They snuck passed us in the night on the low road beneath our village. We quit the chase last night and are returning to our homes. Good thing we found you, though. A lone Roman and his lady, even a lady warrior would make easy pickings for the plains riders.”
“I am Greek, not Roman,” Ardacles said.
“You fight for the Romans,” the eagle man countered.
“These Celts are allies,” the Princess told Ardacles and laid a soft hand on his arm as if to keep his sword in its sheath. “And I am Greek too. A princess.” She gave him her lovely smile.
“And we are not alone,” Ardacles continued with an effort to control his adrenaline.
The Princess frowned. A testosterone confrontation would not help anyone. “Put your arrows down and come out,” the Princess took the initiative and shouted. “Mavis. We have friends.”
The Celts were not inclined to move, especially when the soldiers began to come out of the woods and Mavis lead the troop back to stand behind the speakers. Mavis dismounted and came up to her mistress even as a man in the midst of the Celts shouted in Gaelic. “I know that armor.” Men stepped aside to let the man through, and he stepped up and went to one knee. “Mother Greta, even if you aren’t Mother Greta at the moment.” Most of the Celts visibly relaxed on hearing who she was. They knew the Dacian name for the one they thought of as a true Druid.
“Cecil.” The princess, or at least Greta recognized the man. “But I am Mother Greta,” the Princess responded in the same tongue and left that place so Greta could return and stand in her own shoes. “Captain Ardacles, meet Cecil, my very good friend.” She reached out and helped the man back to his feet, and Cecil held out his hand so the captain had to shake the hand or appear rude.
“So how is your brother Hans and the women, Fae and Berry?” Cecil neglected to ask about Hobknot because Greta remembered that knowledge of the little ones got cleansed from the minds of most after the battle in the last rebellion concluded.
“Lost,” Greta said, sadly. “Fae and Berry went into the far north in search of their father, and Hans went to guard them, but they have not been heard from in two years. All I know is they are not dead. We are waiting.” Greta added the near lie and let her voice fall. She dared not say any more.
“I am sorry to hear that. Pray that Danna may send them home soon,” Cecil said.
“Mother Greta.” He smiled, few teeth that he had, but they matched the few gray hairs on his head.
Greta caught the man’s eyes. “On behalf of my husband, imperial governor of Dacia, I appreciate the effort your people make in keeping the Lazyges horsemen on their plains. Do not hesitate to call on us as friends and allies. Rome is strong to war, but peace and friendship are better.” The man reached up to rub his hairy chin and think about it while Captain Ardacles proved for a military man that he was not without some political understanding.
“Stand off to the side of the road,” he shouted to his men. “Let these good men pass in peace. They have homes and families waiting for them.” And the Romans stepped aside while the Celts moved on, Cecil alone insisted on a hug first. Greta betrayed nothing, but Cecil seemed a wise man in his own way.
“Good luck,” he whispered, so Greta imagined he figured out something of her real journey.