Bogus shouted. “Pincushion spent too much time with the gnomes. The horses think she is their mother.”
“They do not,” Pincushion yelled and slapped Bogus on the arm to stop him from laughing. “You—”
“Hush,” Greta said quietly, and Pincushion hushed, but she slapped Bogus once more, just because. The men, who stopped and took a step back on the appearance of the dwarfs all saw how those same dwarfs answered to the lady in armor. They got doubly surprised when that same lady scolded the woman who got them out of the fort dungeon. “Mavis, why have you taken on your glamour of humanity. I thought you were going full elf in the wilderness.”
Mavis looked back once at the men who had stopped and turned a bit red. “These men are not so wild,” she said in a voice directed to Greta’s ears.
“Hush,” Greta repeated her word. “These men are plenty wild, and if they get ideas about a beautiful young woman, they will show you how wild they can be.” Greta snapped her fingers and Mavis’ glamour fell away to reveal the elf beneath. Mavis looked down, now fully embarrassed, but Hermes squeezed her hand in support. “Now,” Greta said to the men who stared at Greta with mouths open. “Venedi?”
“Olaf of the Goths of the Elba, but this town is Venedi. We came here to form an alliance against the barbaric Scythians who are stealing our land and raiding our crops, but the people betrayed us and threw us in the dungeon.”
“How do we tell one barbarian from the other?” Hermes whispered, as Alesander and Briana came up holding hands. Vedix still seemed determined to fetch the bones out of the water.
Chief Venislav put his hand up to the big Goth and took up the story. “They fed us for two days, but on the third day they claimed the terror from the south was coming and they abandoned their homes in fear and panic.”
“Cowards,” Olaf scoffed.
Greta could not help the curtsey. She still felt empowered from just being the goddess Amphitrite and from successfully overcoming the Persian. “I assume they meant me. Do I frighten you? I mean you no harm.” Greta saw the smiles on the strangers faces and knew the thoughts they were thinking were anything but frightening. “We are travelers on an errand of mercy in the north, to save my family and friends from the Land of the Lost.” The men lost that look and took another step back, like they knew the place and had lost friends or family there.
“The Wolv have come and rule the forest there,” Olaf said.
“Yes,” Greta sighed. “But one thing at a time. I am glad we could set you free. You are free to go, to retrieve your horses and return to your people in peace. I am Mother Greta, woman of the ways for the Dacian people, wise woman for the Romans and druid for the Celts. My father is the high chief of the Dacians in the Roman province and my husband is the governor appointed by the emperor himself. If you wish to make a friend in your fight against the Scythians, come talk to my husband and my father.”
Olaf shook his head though Venislav looked willing. Venislav clearly did not know the Romans except maybe by distant rumor, but Olaf spoke. “We want no Romans in our land. They are worse than the barbaric Scythians.”
Alesander stepped up and answered the man. “I am Alesander, a war chief among the Romans, and I can tell you Rome wants nothing of the Germanys or the steppes. Dacia provides what Rome needs and otherwise, Rome is happy with the Danube and the Rhine as borders. Rome wishes only to live at peace with her neighbors.”
“The Scythians know nothing about peace,” Greta added. “One man might die. Two might be injured, but three and four men can kill the wild bear. You need not give me an answer, but meanwhile, go in peace.”
The men looked prepared to do that very thing when Bonebreaker stepped up beside Greta. Hermes let out a little shriek and pulled Mavis aside to give the big fellow plenty of room. “Lady,” Bonebreaker spoke in a voice that encouraged the Goths and Slavs to take a couple of more steps back. “I feel much better. This is good.”
“It is,” Greta said, with a warm smile. “But your big, ugly, smelly self is frightening our new friends,” Bonebreaker lifted his chin a little at the compliment. “You need to go home now, and thank you for all your help.” Greta put some urgency in the go home part, and Bonebreaker felt strongly that going home was the thing he wanted most. He turned to walk off, but after two steps he vanished as Greta sent him home.
“If you pledge friendship, I will meet these Romans of yours,” Chief Venislav said. He looked like a man who thought it best to stay on Greta’s good side.
“I will think about it,” Olaf agreed with that much, and they and their men sought out their horses among the herd. What blankets, saddles and equipment they had got stored in the barn out behind the big building, though Greta could not swear they did not take some extra things. For her crew, Bogus, Pincushion, Mavis and Hermes found eight good horses.
By the time the Riders all stopped at the cave entrance, Vedix had all the bones he could reach stacked up with plenty of dry wood against the scorpion carcass. He set it on fire, pronounced a Celtic curse against the bones of an enemy, and they all rode through the cave before the smell got too bad. As expected, the tunnel led them to the back side of the hills and cliffs that penned in the river. There, the Goths went off to the northwest. The Slavs rode off to the northeast. Greta and her group headed straight north along a wagon trail.
Greta nodded since she had figured it out. “Carpasis, Oread of the Carpathian Mountains buried her pet dragon here. She probably created the hill to do it. That old dragon got loose in the end and ate his way straight across the Ukraine. He finally fell to old age, here in this place.”
“As you say,” Mavis said, and fell quiet.
“The road of dreams,” Briana called it, and she looked at Alesander like she might be dreaming about something.
“I seem to be missing someone,” Alesander said quietly to Greta.
“I told you,” Greta responded. “Lucius is a Mithrite. He kind of gave himself away back there. I hope we don’t see him again, but I bet he will follow us.”
Alesander nodded, and spurred up front to ride beside Briana. Hermes and Mavis rode behind Greta, and Bogus and Vedix took the flanks. Sadly, that put Greta next to Pincushion.
“I know how to handle these horses,” she spoke too loud. “But I never thought I would have to ride on one. My legs hurt already and my butt is going to be so sore in the morning it will probably swell up to three times its size.”
“Shh,” Greta said. “The baby is sleeping.” She patted her belly, and Pincushion got mostly quiet for a while. Mostly.
The Road of Dreams. Until then, Happy Reading