In Apulum, Greta paid her respects to General Pontius at the legion fort and then spent the next week in the growing village. She reconciled several land disputes, but like most such things, finding a compromise left no one entirely happy. She renewed her acquaintances with several women trained by her as midwives and in the healing arts, and one older woman who had been trained by Mother Hulda and remembered the dear mother very well. She presided over a wedding and gathered people to tell the stories of their heritage and remind them of their history. She felt embarrassed by the requests to hear of her adventure traveling with Hansel through the haunted forest. She was not one to talk about herself, though in particular, the story of the hag and her oven became well worn. When she could, she selected stories that emphasized peace and harmony among the various people that made up Dacian blood, but she could feel the resentment like fire sparks that reached for the night sky, and it all came out one night in a local tavern.
It had rained over two days. The ground stayed wet and the sky still overcast which made the dark night especially dark. Several Romans ate in a local tavern, drinking and rowdy as soldiers tend to be, but these went overboard. The innkeeper’s daughter, a young girl of about fifteen summers, got accosted out behind the inn. She got raped in the dark and left for dead. She survived, thanks to Greta, but the town then and there prepared to rise up and attack the legion fort, a sure act of suicide. Greta called for calm and convinced the village elders to let her first seek justice. After lunch, after it seemed settled that the young woman would survive, she stormed General Pontius’ office, escorted by the Centurion Alesander, the officer of the day.
“The men responsible have been reprimanded,” General Pontius said flatly, as if that should be the end of the discussion.
“Not good enough.” Greta spoke through her teeth. Mavis held her hand so Greta could not make a fist. Greta took three deep breaths while the General stared at her, dumbly. “The only thing that will settle things at this point is crucifixion.”
“What? Are you mad? These men are Roman citizens, volunteers to come so far from home. If they get a little excited, we need to allow them some leeway.”
“Rape is not a little thing.” Greta saw that at least two of the three officers in the room did not disagree with her. “Your volunteers are here to defend the people and maintain the peace so the province can continue to send grain and gold and precious metals to Rome. Your volunteers are not here to abuse the people and encourage rebellion. These men should be crucified as a sign for the people and for your soldiers that this sort of behavior will not be tolerated.”
The general looked up at his officers and the Centurion Alesander dared to speak. “The headsman’s axe would make the point.”
“You are all mad,” the general said.
Greta took another breath and calmed enough for Mavis to let go of her fist. She felt she no longer had an option, so she spoke plainly. “I had to beg the townspeople not to storm the legion fort before I had a chance to seek justice. Reprimand means nothing. I am telling you plainly that if these men are allowed to live, the rebellion will begin here and it will be on your head. I have already written as much to the emperor and to my friend Marcus and to my husband, the governor, and to his senator father. You remember my friend Marcus, don’t you? Well, you have today to decide what you will do. I cannot guarantee what will happen after the sun goes down.” Greta turned and stormed back out of the room. She felt sure the four soldiers seated quietly outside the door were the guilty ones. She hated the killing, but to be sure, there was no other way.
Greta and Mavis went to a room off the great hall of the fort where she expected Alesander to find her. He stood in the gate when she arrived so they had a chance to talk briefly before she attacked the general. He asked to see her after. She paced a little, but eventually calmed down enough to breathe.
Alesander did not come for a long time, but no one bothered them. When someone did finally come, it was not her friend. A young tribune asked her to follow him. He sounded polite, but guarded, and Greta’s senses flared when she looked back at the two legionnaires sent to escort them. She smelled something, but she still felt filled with her feelings about the rape. She knew the soldiers would not be happy seeing their fellows executed. She assumed her escort felt that, but in truth she did not look close enough.
“Just so you know,” the tribune said. “The men have been beheaded in the public square. The soldiers are not happy about it but the message is clear. There should be no more incidents.” He stood aside to let Greta and Mavis enter a small bedroom and a second sitting area that had a balcony that looked out over the fort battlements. The tribune did not follow her in, but stood and spoke from the doorway. “Meanwhile, you will be kept here. You will not be writing any more letters, and you will not be allowed to continue your journey. The general has had a vision from the divine Mithras himself. You will be kept here until you can be taken under armed escort back to the governor’s residence where you will be kept under guard until your husband and father return to keep you there.”
“Am I a prisoner then?”
“You could say that.” The tribune closed and locked the door, and Greta did not doubt the two soldiers got posted to guard the door. She turned toward the balcony.
“Mithras has many firm believers in the ranks of the Roman legions, including General Pontius. I would guess this is not about forcing his hand. As much as I hate the killing, the people got their pound of flesh so there will be peace for a while, and the general knows that.”
“The general did not strike me as a stupid man,” Mavis said softly.
“He does not want to be transferred to the Syrian front lines in the war with the Parthians and Persians. A few heads are better than his head.”
“So, he really had a vision?”
“He knows our journey is not finished, even if he doesn’t know our real goal. Even though we told him our intention to visit the people in Porolissensis, he obviously knows that is not our final destination.”
Greta nodded and stepped out to the balcony to judge how far away the battlements were and if they could devise a way of reaching them. At the same time, she imagined the vision actually came from Mithrasis, Miss “stay away.” Greta spoke softly. “Now I know two things. One is all the subterfuge about visiting Bragi and the rest did not fool Mithrasis one bit. The goddess knows we are headed right at her and we have no intention of staying away. The other is, we were right not to trust anyone but each other with the true plans.” She could be sure of the elf, but Mithrasis appeared clearly capable of turning humans against her. “At least anyone who is a true believer can be corrupted,” she said quietly.
“Yes, Lady,” Mavis agreed.
Greta thought about the cult of Mithras. There were seven levels of initiation, which she only knew because a couple of Mavis’ cousins went in under cover. First was the Crow, Mercury the messenger. In her vision, she imagined it looked more like a Roc than a raven and she would rather not face the beast if she could help it. Second was the Nymphus, the female groom who called herself Mithrasis. She stood for Venus, and she was trying to stop her from coming into the north. Third, Mars, the soldier, and Mithrasis could build quite an army. Not only had the cult penetrated the Roman legions and auxiliaries, but Greta imagined every tribe of Iranian descent, like the Lazyges, Samartians, Scythians in general would be hers to command. And Greta would walk right into that. Then came the lion, Jupiter; the Persian Magi that stood for the Moon and the stars; Helios, the sun runner; and the Pater, the father Saturn.
“Oh, what I have to look forward to,” Greta breathed and plopped down on the bed.