R6 Greta: The Elect and Her Cousins, part 3 of 3

One of the Wolf Clan men turned out to be Nudd, and after minding his own business all day, he cornered Greta when they stopped to camp for the night.  Nudd could not say how happy he was, and he could not thank Greta enough for removing what he called the curse around his mother and his home.  Nudd came across as a very agreeable fellow, and Greta realized that being agreeable was what Nudd was best at.  Nudd began to tell all about the women Devon and Hyfer were seeing, and that turned to farm life and the oft repeated refrain that one day Nudd hoped to find a good wife, too.  He only punctuated his one-sided conversation with occasional glimpses at Mavis.  He did not seem to notice how Briana covered her grin every time that happened.

Greta got rescued when Dunova and a few of his men came over to request a story. She gladly told the story about how Beauty in the ancient days found her cousin Raini in this very wilderness with the help of an old dwarf named Bain.  She told how they sheltered from a terrible storm in the house of a Troll, and lived to tell about it.  She told how they came safely home and Raini met Beauty’s birth-mate and fell in love.

“His name was Koren,” she said with a glance at Briana.  She saw Briana listened, but her attention was all for Alesander.

“Tell us how you and your brother made it safely through the forest of the Bear Clan,” Dunova said.  And with a look at Nudd, for once Greta did not mind telling the tale. After seven years, it had become what Mavis called an elf perfected story so it was a good one, punctuated in all the right places.

On the second day, they passed an invisible line into what Dunova called Raven territory.  The hamlets and farms all looked the same to Greta so she would never know.  At the end of the day, they came up to the expected stockade, behind which lay the village of the Raven Clan.  Like before, word had somehow gone ahead, and the whole village, and many from the countryside turned out for yet another feast in Greta’s honor.

Greta’s only comment was, “I really should get out more often.”

Dunova and a chief man of the Raven Clan, brought the women straight to the house of the woman healer.  They had a man in the village by the name of Gwydden, who they called the village healer.  The woman Eofach was the midwife, and presently, she seemed too busy to talk.

Greta stopped in the doorway to give a blessing before entering, but her nose added a thought.  “I smell pain killer and a sleep aid.”

Eofach looked up from her mixing and cooking.  A right good chemistry set, Greta thought.  “If you can tell that from the aroma, you may be the druid they say,”

“I have some drugs already prepared.  How far along is the patient?”

Eofach stopped and appeared to concede something in her mind.  “Ardwyn is in labor, but her mother ran long so I expect her to do the same.  Her husband Meloch will fetch us if we are needed. Gwydden the healer is with her to watch, though I would not expect the man to deliver the baby.”

“You are concerned because there has been distress with the mother and child,” Greta surmised.

Eofach nodded.  “I fear the baby is turned the wrong way, and if that is so we may lose both mother and child.”

“So, let me help you here, and then we will go see what we might do,” Greta said, and Eofach nodded again before she turned back to her brew.

“Lady, there is a feast for you and for the goddess tonight,” Mavis spoke in her soft way.

“Briana.”  The young woman still stood in the doorway, basking in the late afternoon sun and watching. “Tell the men I will be along once this matter is settled, one way or the other.  You will have to stand in for us until we can get there, whenever that might be.  No promises,” Greta sent her armor away and recalled her dress, her red cloak and hood, and a medical bag that she wore on her shoulder like a purse.  She turned to Eofach.  “I carry no miracles.”  Eofach closed her mouth and nodded again.

“The baby’s heart is erratic,” Mavis said as they entered the home.  Meloch paced and worried outside of the bedroom.  Apparently, Gwydden the healer threw him out.  Greta pulled the stethoscope from her medical bag.  It had been a gift of her little ones in ancient days.

“She is not full sized yet,” Gwydden said, referring to Ardwyn’s state of dilation. Eofach nodded as the three women entered the bedroom.  Mavis went straight for the towels and took them out to get the water boiling, not that Greta had any hope they might be made sterile.  The cleanest ones she would keep dry to wrap and warm the baby after birth.  Mavis had done this work before.

Greta took Eofach by the hand and helped her listen through the stethoscope, first to Ardwyn’s heartbeat, and then the baby’s heartbeat while Greta checked the woman’s pulse.  Then she let Gwydden listen and insisted he stay when Eofach wanted to throw him out.

“If a twelve-year-old boy got injured in battle, which of you would seek to help him?”  Greta spoke as she helped Ardwyn turn to her side.  Gwydden and Eofach looked at each other before Gwydden answered.

“We both would.”

“And so you should work together and stop this his-work, her-work business.  One day, Gwydden may be needed to save a life of a young mother and Eofach may save an old warrior from certain death, even if not today.  Today, the baby has turned, but there is compression on the umbilical cord.  Pray it isn’t wrapped around the baby’s throat, because Doctor Mishka is prepared to perform a caesarean if necessary, but it is not preferred.”

“I once saw a baby cut from the mother’s stomach,” Eofach said.  “But the mother had already died.”

“It can be done so the mother and baby both have a chance for survival, but it would be better not to risk it.  Sometimes, just changing the mother’s position can relieve the pressure on the cord.”  Greta listened again with her stethoscope as Mavis came in with cups of very strong tea.

************************

MONDAY

After things get settled in the village of the Raven Clan, the crew heads toward the last Celtic village in the north, the Dragon Clan, but they find they are not alone.  The Wolf and the Wolv.  beginning Monday.  Meanwhile, Happy Reading.

*

R6 Greta: The Elect and Her Cousins, part 2 of 3

Greta felt pleased with the way things turned out, and would have said so if she had not been interrupted by a scream in the distance.  The men on the wall were turned toward the bonfire and clapping along with the music instead of watching for the enemy.  As feared, the Lazyges did gather reinforcements and brought them up into the hills.  One wall watcher fell off the wall inside the stockade and another yelled, “Plainsmen,” even as everyone could see the plainsmen perfectly well, scrambling over the wall in that spot, and sporting swords and long knives, ready to do battle as they came to the ground.

Greta sent her dress and red cloak away again as she recalled her armor, this time with all of her weapons.  Then she vanished as Gerraint, son of Erbin, a six-foot virtual giant for that day and age stepped into Greta’s place and immediately drew that big sword from his back.  Even as people were screaming and running away, some of the men searched for a weapon, and Mavis let loose three arrows from a bow that no one knew she had. Three Lazyges went down before Gerraint waded into the invaders.  He put three more down almost before Gwen could draw a breath and the boys could close their mouths.  Then the Lazyges made some mistakes.  One fired an arrow back at Mavis, not that he had any chance of hitting her.  One got a good right fist into the eye of Briana and knocked her head to the side.  Briana got mad, struck him back and the man went straight to the ground.  And one Lazyges let out a pirate worthy laugh as he cornered three young women against a wagon.  Gerraint went away, and the Nameless god stepped into his shoes.

“Enough,” Nameless shouted a shout that reverberated all through those hills.  Every Lazyges inside or outside the wall froze in place and could not move. Nameless let his godly senses search the area and found the leader of this raiding party still outside, sitting comfortably on his horse, waiting for his expendable men to make it safe for him to enter the village.  “You.” The Lazyges leader instantly found himself inside the compound, suspended a foot off the ground, Nameless’ hand wrapped around his throat.  For only a second, Nameless let the man glimpse the deepest pits of Hella’s domain and experience the hopelessness of Tartarus.  The man caught the idea that Nameless could leave him there, and he came back to the compound without the same degree of sanity he had a second earlier.

“You.”  Nameless’ own word was turned on him as there came a flash of light and the sound of thunder beside the bonfire.  A woman appeared, tall and beautiful with a haughty, arrogant look on her face and fire in her moonlit eyes.

Nameless tossed the Lazyges leader twenty feet away and marched straight at the woman.  She lifted her chin and tried to show courage in the face of this man, but it did not look like he was going to stop.  When he got real close, she staggered back a step, but he caught her around the waist, pulled her in close and planted his lips on hers.  Her eyes got big for a moment before Nameless heard something go click in the woman’s mind.  Nameless was, after all, the son of Vrya, the Aesgard goddess of love, and he poured all that love into the woman’s heart before he let the woman go.  The woman took a couple of steps back and stared at him in silence.  This time, her eyes showed a layer of deep confusion over the fire of deep desire. She wiped her lips with the back of her hand and slowly faded from sight.

“Go,” Nameless said and waved his hand.  The Lazyges found themselves back outside the wall, seated on their horses.  Their leader screamed a scream that sounded only slightly sane, and he rode as fast as his horse would ride in the dark, certainly faster than would be safe, but his men followed without complaint

The man of the Wolf Clan that had been stabbed and thrown off the wall got tended to by Gwen, and the boys were right there, helping. Nameless smiled.  They were honestly good people.  He went away with that thought and took his weapons with him. Greta came back, but she kept the armor because it felt safe.

“Lady?”  Mavis came right to her elbow, her bow long since vanished, because people did not bring weapons to a feast.

“Come,” Greta said.  “We have to praise Briana for the effort, even if she gets a black eye, and then we need to find where Alesander, Lucius and Hermes are hiding.”

“Lady!”  Mavis scolded Greta for her thoughts.

###

In the morning, Elder Dunova had ten men of the Wolf Clan, all volunteers, ready to escort the party, first to the village of the Raven Clan, and then to the Dragon Clan.  The men were all on horseback and had two mules of their own because Alesander assured them his group would not be going on foot.

“So, it’s the low road.  That is mostly safe.  The Lazyges would have to be stupid to attack a party of fighters.  Even against merchants and simple farmers, they always lose men whenever they come up on to the low road.  Of course, no one ever said the Lazyges were smart.”  Dunova grinned, and Alesander returned an honest smile.

“As long as the lady is safe.  My men and I and Briana have pledged to take her safely to her destination, wherever that may be.”

“So, you think she will not stay with the Dragons?” Dunova asked, but Mavis with her good ears reported curiosity in the question, not probing.

“Druids do not stay long in one place,” Alesander said honestly enough.  “She did mention wanting to visit her brother at Porolissum.”

“Back into Roman lands,” Dunova nodded.

“At least he did not say that like a swear word,” Mavis reported.

“Good,” Greta responded, and made Mavis ride beside her all that day.  Mavis stayed good, and only looked back now and then to where Hermes and Lucius followed. Alesander and Briana rode in front of them and seemed to be getting along well.  Greta imagined if it had just been the six of them, they might do well enough, but to be sure, she felt safer surrounded by the men of the Wolf Clan.

Greta spent the day observing the hamlets and many farms they passed along the road.  The west side of the mountains and the foothills were hardly the unpopulated wilderness it might appear to an outsider.  It really was a bulwark against the wild Lazyges, the plainsmen that rode the steppes that started where the hills petered out and stretched to the horizon.  She remembered there were some two thousand Celts that came through the forest to aid the defenders of Ravenshold against an invasion of the Germanic Quadi.  She wondered how many of Dunova’s ten men of the Wolf Clan might have been there.  It only happened seven years ago.

R6 Greta: The Elect and Her Cousins, part 1 of 3

They walked their horses the rest of the day, surrounded by men of the Wolf Clan.  Greta felt comfortable enough to send her armor away and recall her plain dress and red cloak.  The elder of the Wolf Clan saw and blinked before Hermes interrupted.  He sounded Greta’s note and said when he first saw the men of the Wolf, he thought of Greta’s story about the Were people changing into animals.  Greta assured him the Were people were all gone, but if he happened to come across a human werewolf, he could unfortunately blame that on the Were people.

Like the other villages of the Celts, the village of the Wolf Clan had been surrounded by a strong stockade.  This one had six feet of stone at the base into which whole trees had been set and bonded with some kind of mortar.  This time, their big guide, an elder among the Wolves named Dunova, volunteered to bed the men for the night.  He took the women to Briana’s cousins.  Briana’s grandmother belonged to the Wolf Clan.

“Lynnux is gone, taken by a Lazyges arrow, but Gwen, the lady of the house keeps a good home, and she has three strong sons to fetch whatever you might be needing.”  With that, Greta, Mavis and Briana were left alone, and Greta stepped up to the doorway to offer a word.

“Blessings be upon this house and all who dwell herein.”

Gwen welcomed Greta warmly, and her three sons, Devon, Hyfer and Nudd fawned over Mavis even as they made sure Greta stayed between them and Briana.  Poor Mavis hid her head in Greta’s shoulder, embarrassed at such attention.  Curiously, Gwen ignored Briana, and Greta felt the snub right away.

She felt the ill will in the air, but Briana kept her thoughts to herself as she removed her sword and set down her bow and arrows. They all felt the cold quiet in the house apart from Gwen’s prattling on about being so honored to have a true druid in her home, and a woman besides.

“So, when are you going to give your niece a hug and welcome her to your home?” Greta interrupted in a voice that almost sounded rude.  Gwen frowned before she pasted on a fake smile and reached for Briana. Briana shared the hug.  Briana seemed willing, but uncomfortable.

“Please explain,” Greta insisted as she sat at the table.  Mavis looked up to listen even as Gwen looked down at her feet.

“It is my sons,” Gwen confessed.  Devon, Hyfer and Nudd wisely let their mother speak first. “They are all fine boys and any one of them would make a fine husband, but Briana has refused them all.”

“She said she would marry the one who bested her,” Devon spoke up.  “And she offered the sword, the bow, or just to wrestle.”

“We all tried,” Hyfer added.  “She broke poor Nudd’s arm.”

“I can’t lift it higher than this,” Nudd said as he lifted his right arm as high as his head but no further.

“She hurt my boys, her own kin.”  Gwen said, stiffly.

“You mean she hurt you,” Greta countered and reached out to gently pat Gwen’s hand.  “Your boys should be married, and you know it.  But you are stubborn and punishing them because Briana turned them down. You know Briana is not for your boys, and you have known that for some time now.  You need to let her go and let them go.”

Gwen turned red and angry, but Greta’s words were so kindly spoken and so evidently true, there seemed nothing she could say in protest.  She began to cry, softy.

“Mother.” Devon reached for her, but Mavis got there first.  As an empathetic elf, she had a magical touch in the comfort she offered as well as the tears she shared.

“Boys,” Greta got their attention.  “Find a nice young woman and be faithful to her.  Don’t let anyone prevent you from the pursuit of happiness.”  And Greta judged from their expressions that Devon and Hyfer already had nice young girls in mind.

“I could—” Briana began to speak, but Greta hushed her.

“You have always been more like a sister to these boys,” Greta said, and she saw in the faces of the boys where her words rang true.  “Now if you boys will excuse us; I need to have a talk with your sister.”  She stood, took Briana by the elbow and escorted her outside.

“But I know a couple of young women,” Briana said, with a look back.

“I think Devon and Hyfer have already been selected by a couple of young women, and I doubt they had much to say about it. Nudd is the only one that might need help.”

“Oh, but he is the hard one,” Briana thought.  “Not too bright,” she explained.

“But faithful and honest, I bet.  And stubborn like his mother.  He does not give up easily which is why you had to break his arm.”

Briana looked down just like Gwen.  “I am sorry about that.  I’ve said I am sorry a thousand times.”

“A gazillion times,” Greta said, as she factored in inflation.  It became a distraction that allowed Greta to reach out and catch Briana’s face in her hands. She looked into her eyes.  Greta emptied her own thoughts to see what she might perceive.  She caught sight of a man, and caught something of the training Briana received, and from a woman, a goddess, but before the pictures became clear, someone in her future blurted out, “Vulcan mind meld.”  Greta responded. “Not funny,” and let go of Briana’s face as she framed her thoughts.

“There is a man for you, and you know him.  I offer no advice on that.  But you also know that you are an elect, a one-in-a-million warrior woman, and as such you are faster and stronger and better with a sword and bow than any farm boy.  You are like Atalanta, but you are not Atalanta.  You played a silly game with an unfair advantage, and I feel you need to apologize.”

“Me apologize?”  Briana did not imagine she did anything wrong.

“Yes,” Greta said in her most firm and certain voice. “You need to apologize to your Aunt Gwen for not being honest with her from the beginning.”

“I tried, but she would not hear it.”

“So, you needed to try some more and try harder, but even so, her hearing you or not is no excuse for not being honest about your feelings.  You dragged the boys into your game, and now she has berated them to no end, and they are miserable.”

“But what can I do about that now?”

“Apologize and just tell the truth.”  Greta smiled and headed back to the door.  Briana followed one step behind.  As they came in, Gwen paused in her tears and looked up. Briana took a deep breath and spoke from the heart.

“Aunt Gwen, I’m sorry for not being honest with you from the beginning.  I love your boys very much, but like brothers, not like husbands, and no amount of time is going to change that.  I played a silly game which I see now gave you hope that something might be worked out.  I am sorry.”

Gwen got right up and grabbed Briana for a big, genuine hug.  “It’s all right.  It’s all right,” she said it twice.  “You are like the daughter I never had, and I love you very much.  All I want is for you and my sons to be happy.”  The tears were still leaking from the corners of Gwen’s eyes, and now they appeared in Briana’s eyes as well.  All the boys could do was smile.  This was what they had been praying for.  The tense atmosphere in the room deflated and everyone relaxed whether they realized it or not.  Mavis grinned ear to ear, almost too much for a human face, but then she got serious again as she spoke.

“Oh, but lady, we have a feast to attend.”

“Quite right.”  Greta hardly felt immune from the good feelings that now filled the room. “Boys, please escort you mother and sister.  We need to celebrate.”  She turned and lead the way back to the open ground just inside the front gate where the bonfire had already been lit and the sound of laughter could already be heard. She only stalled her progress to get a last word to Devon and Hyfer.

“Listen well, your mother will soon fall back into the bad habit of berating you and preventing you from spending time with your young women in any way she can.  You must not let that stop you.  Marry those women, and your mother may soften some when she has grandchildren.” They appeared to understand.

R6 Greta: Briana, part 3 of 3

Fae held Berry from one side and Hans held her from the other as she covered her face and cried great sobbing tears.  They sat on a big stone block that looked deeply weathered by age.  Fae also looked teary eyed, and Hans looked ready to cry with them both.  Hobknot stood there, too, shuffling his feet and looking uncomfortable with this great display of emotion.

“The dragon is your father, or was.”  Greta heard a man’s voice, but only saw him when Fae turned her head to look.  He looked like an elderly man, with gray hair and some small wrinkles around the eyes, but his concern for their distress seemed genuine.  “Mithrasis transformed your father, and she uses him to go where she cannot go.”

“How are there places she cannot go if she is a goddess?” Hans listened.

“Ah, because this whole land is surrounded by a field of force first made by the Gott-Druk and enhanced by the old god Loki and by myself.  It would be death for her to attempt to leave.”

“I have heard of such a place where those who enter cannot escape.”  Fae spoke up as Berry turned to cry more securely on Han’s shoulder.  “I had not realized we came this far.  I should have known.  The Land of the Lost.”

The old gentleman shook his head.  “Your hearing is from recent history, about a hundred years. That is how long I have been trapped here.  This dome, or rather these ragged stones and the opening where the great door once stood are thousands of years old.  At the dawn of history, a Titan ruled from this place, and the people in all the land around here were lost, you might say, cut off from the rest of the world. They were enslaved, and worse. They were eaten.  The Gott-Druk and Loki helped the Titan so even the gods were powerless to end his reign of terror.”

“What happened?” Hobknot asked since Hans stayed busy comforting Berry.

“Young hobgoblin, that is a long story, but I hope the same one who ended the terror of the Titan will come here now and save us all.”  The man turned to look at Fae and Greta thought he looked directly at her.  “It will be a long journey.  I will send help when I can, but Mithrasis will try to stop you. Do not underestimate her.”

“Old man.”  Mithrasis stood in the doorway, fuming, hands on hips, but she looked unable to come in.  “Send the people back out to me.”

“Nymphus,” the old man called her.  “We have guests.  Be nice.”

“Greta.”  Greta heard her name, but oddly, not one of the people present spoke.  “Greta.”  She heard it again coming from outside her vision and it impacted her actual ears. She opened her eyes.  She saw Mavis.  The women hovered around her.  Greta grabbed Aowen’s frail arm.

“Fae is not dead, but she is a prisoner far in the north.  I am going to try and set her free.”  Greta caught her mouth.  “Don’t tell anyone.”  But Aowen began cry, and like Mother Hulda used to cry, she cried as though she saw something of the vision.  Unlike Berry, Aowen was an old woman so the tears came soft, but Berry came there to comfort her—or, no it was Briana offering comfort, and Mavis stood right there with her too, crying in empathy, as so many little ones tended to do. Greta sat up slowly so as not to interrupt, but they had a party to attend before they could go anywhere.

###

At dawn, Mavis helped Briana pick out a horse for the journey.  Within an hour, the group had saddled and got ready to depart.  Briana would lead them to the village of the Dragon Clan.  That was a long way, at the top of the plateau on the edge of the Carpathian Mountains.  The men all said it would be safer on foot.  On horseback, they had to cross several places where the Lazyges might be lurking, but with luck, horseback would be quicker.  Greta gave a choice, but everyone, including Briana said they would stick with the horses.

Alesander rode out front with Briana to show the way. Greta stayed beside Lucius and let Mavis ride beside Hermes who tied Stinky’s reigns to his saddle so the mule actually brought up the rear.  They moved better that way, as long as the wind didn’t blow from behind.  Greta kept her eyes open, but she figured it was already too late if Mavis had any ideas.  Meanwhile, she wanted to keep one eye on Lucius since she just could not convince herself to trust him.  It was not his few words and naturally sour disposition, but the fact that came to her in the middle of the night.  Lucius was a follower of Mithras.  Many in the Roman army were.

Greta took Alesander aside, Briana and Mavis being right there, and she talked about her suspicions.  Alesander said Lucius was foremost a top ranked soldier and not a devoted follower.  “All the same,” Greta responded.  “Don’t let your admiration of the man cloud your vision.  If he says go left, don’t be surprised if we go right.”  She considered sending Lucius on an errand back to the legion fort, but at last she decided he might be useful.  If Mithrasis had his mind, Greta might be able to feed him misinformation about their path and intentions.

On the second day, they came to the first stretch of flatland.  They saw a party of some thirty or forty Lazyges camped right in their path. Greta felt naturally suspicious by then, having ridden so long beside Lucius.  She thought hard about it and remembered that Mitra, Varuna’s brother began in India but took up residence in Persia when Vishnu, Shiva and Brahma invaded the Indus.  Mitra or Mita, sometimes Mica and then Mithras moved out of Iran with the Scythian people.  She concluded that any tribes with roots in the Scythians would be tied to Mithras and thus Mithrasis.  That put a lot of people in her path.  Besides the Lazyges, there were the Costoboci, the Carpi, and the powerful Sarmatians.

“They are all Scythians,” Alesander suggested.

“Different battle tactics,” Hermes advised.  “Scythians, like the Lazyges fire massive amounts of arrows from horseback.  Sarmatians armor their men and horses and have big lances on horseback.”  The others looked at him in wonder.  “We served in several Roman outposts on the north shore of the Black Sea before being assigned to Dacia.  It was rough duty, let me tell you.”

“Yeah,” Greta still thought out loud.  “Horsemen with lances.  Not a pretty sight, and three hundred and fifty years before King Arthur, I might add.”  The dumbfounded stares shifted to her, but she did not explain.  “I guess we have to wait until dark and make a run for it.”

“No, wait.”  Alesander and Briana were both paying attention.  They saw some commotion in the trees on the hillside across the open ground.  “Get ready to ride,” Alesander said, and they scooted down off the small rise they were hidden behind to where Lucius and Mavis held the horses.

Alesander moved them into a small copse of trees by the grass and pointed them toward that hillside and waited.  Greta squinted, but it looked to her like the Were people were back in business.  It looked like bear and great cats and wolves moving through the trees.  Then the arrows came from the trees on the hill, and the Lazyges got surprised.  Three men went down before the Lazyges could scoop them up and ride out of range. Alesander did not wait.

“Now,” he said, and at least Greta hoped the bears in the woods would not turn their arrows on her.  Greta left that place and the Princess returned to get a good grip on her bow.  Alesander, Lucius and Briana each fired two arrows as they rode for the hill. Hermes, who swore he was not so good at shooting from horseback rode hard with Stinky’s reigns in his hand. The Princess and Mavis each got off three arrows, and they struck home.  The Lazyges now had eleven dead or wounded men and several horses were injured as well. If they thought of a counterattack, it came too late when the group squirted into the trees and kicked their horses to get them up the hill.  The Lazyges made one half-hearted attempt to follow, but many of the men in animal skins remained behind to discourage pursuit.

Greta returned right away when the Princess went home, and she got down from her horse to face their rescuers.  The others joined her on foot as a big man in a wolf skin came to her.  “Mother Greta?”  He was not sure.

“You were warned we were coming, and thank you for all your help.”  It became her way of asking how the men knew they were coming, but clearly the men knew so she did not turn it into a question.  The man grinned as a few others came to stand beside him.

“It is not my place to question how a druid knows what they know, but I will tell you it was the goddess that warned us and told us you would need help to cross the long field.”

Which goddess?  Greta thought that did not sound right.  She figured Mithrasis sent the Lazyges to stop her and would not have sent the Celts to help her unless Mithrasis was seriously psychotic.   She thought hard for a moment, but she said something else.  “We best get moving before the Lazyges get reinforcements and follow.”

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MONDAY

The troop moves north to the next village where they discover the elect and her cousins.  Until Monday, Happy Reading.

*

R6 Greta: Briana, part 2 of 3

A head popped out of a bush, startled Alesander and spooked Lucius enough to make him jump back.  “It’s Mother Greta,” the man shouted, and twenty men came slowly up on to the road from all directions.

“Was it me or the armor?” Greta asked coyly, as she stepped up and made sure Lucius did not react in the wrong way.

“Both,” the man said.  “I remembered from the road.”

“Peace, everyone.  Put up your weapons,” one man shouted to the rest of the group.

“We have been watching the low road since the Lazyges came through two weeks back,” another man confided to Greta.

“But what brings you to our land?” a third asked.

“I’ve come to see my good friend Cecil, and to offer Danna’s blessing on your homes and fields.”

“We are honored,” the first spoke again, and the group lead their horses as they walked up the hill to a path in much better shape than the old road.  It took less than an hour to get to the village itself which rested behind fields, harvested in the fall, and flocks of sheep that grazed lazily on the hillsides.  The village sprang up suddenly on the mountain, hidden behind a well-built wooden stockade and butted up to a tall cliff. They no sooner entered the gate when all sorts of noises split the air.  People ran and shouted and a ram’s horn got blown from the town hall.  Word had evidently gone ahead of them, and a crowd gathered around them, but Greta held one man’s attention so he led them to Cecil’s house.  Mavis stayed close to Greta’s side, like her shadow, her eyes lowered, not being entirely comfortable in the midst of all these strange humans.  Greta assured her that it would be all right, and she watched Alesander, Lucius and Hermes.  They gaped at everything that happened around them, and pointed here and there to both familiar and unfamiliar things.

“Looks like we’ve returned to Gaul, if you ask me,” Lucius said.  “I even recognize some words, or at least the sound of them, though I couldn’t tell you what anyone is saying.”

“Ancient history,” Alesander told Greta.  “A brief tour before we were moved into Dacia.”

“They are a lively people, I must tell you,” Hermes said, and they arrived.  They found a woman in the doorway.  She looked young, maybe Greta’s age of near twenty-four, or a little younger, and dressed in a leather jerkin and britches.  She had a bow over her shoulder and a sword at her side.

“Father is not here,” she spoke right up.  “Our home is small and our meat is no great bounty, but you are welcome to share in all that we have.  My name is Briana.”  Briana’s Latin sounded passable.

“Maybe we should set our own camp and not burden the young woman,” Hermes suggested in his native Greek.

“That would be rude,” Greta responded in the Greek before she turned to Briana and spoke in Briana’s native Gaelic.  “Thank you for your hospitality.  If you be willing, the men may wish to sleep outdoors.”

“Nonsense,” a young man stepped up on the porch to stand beside Briana.  The young people shared a glance that only best friends can share, but they did not touch in any way like lovers.  Greta decided they were probably birth-mates like Beauty and Koren of old.  Briana even had a bit of red in her auburn hair. Of course, Beauty had been fire red.

“Koren,” Briana introduced the man and Greta just nodded at the name.  History did tend to repeat itself.

“I will take the men, and we will see to their needs,” Koren said as other men came up to take the horses and the mule that Greta had taken to calling Stinky.  Lucius and Hermes were reluctant to part with their animals, but with a nod from Greta, Alesander insisted so they had no incident.

“Gentlemen,” Greta turned to the soldiers.  “Follow this young man.  His name is Koren and he will see you bedded for the night.”

“Bedded, yes.”  Koren’s Latin sounded better than Briana’s.  “But the elders are planning a feast tonight so there might not be much sleeping.”

Greta listened to what Alesander said in response before she followed Briana into the house.  He said they were old soldiers, certainly older than the young man leading them.  “And after our journey, please don’t be disappointed if we sleep more than the elders planned.”  Koren laughed and took it with a good will, just as the other Koren would have taken it.

Greta shook off the visions of history and paused in the doorway.  “Blessings be upon this house and all who dwell herein.”  She stepped into the little two room house and it reminded her of Mother Hulda’s house by the woods, and it looked just about as messy.

“Father went south on an errand,” Briana said, while Greta sat at the table and Briana hung her bow, arrows and sword in their places on the wall.  “I must dress.”  Briana got ready to go into the back room when she paused.  They saw a shadow at the door.  “Aowen,” Briana named the old woman.  “Aowen is our healer, now that Fae is gone to us.”  Aowen scowled and leaned heavily on her cane, a sure help in her advanced years.

“You were close to Fae?” Greta asked.  “She was such a dear and lovely woman.”  It was not the time and place to mention that Fae still lived, only transformed into a dwarf wife as her half-fairy blood finally had a chance to express itself.

Aowen grunted and stepped into the house. Apparently, Greta said something right, and it helped when Greta stood and offered her seat.  Aowen grunted again and sat heavily.

“Mavis, fetch a cup of water.  Aowen has something to tell us.”  Mavis smiled at having something to do, and Aowen stared at Greta while Greta took another seat at the table.

“You are the wise woman of the Dacians?”  Aowen prodded.

“I am a woman of the Dacians,” Greta responded.  “Whether I am wise or not remains to be seen.” Greta reached out to touch Aowen’s hand, to show friendship, but her hand did not get that far.  She stiffened, and Mavis grabbed her, knowing the signs.

Briana came from the other room, dressed in a long tan dress with a green apron.  Now she looked like every other woman in the village, except for being young and pretty in a certain Celtic way that Festuscato would have loved.  She noticed nothing at first, but Aowen spoke sharply and got her attention.

“Put her on the cot.”  Mavis did and Briana asked what was the matter.

“She is having a vision,” Mavis explained.

R6 Greta: Briana, part 1 of 3

When Greta and her followers came to the place where Captain Ardacles made them lunch on the way up, the place where they ran into the Celts of the Eagle Clan, the day was on and Greta got ready to stop. She thought how happy she was for Gerraint, Enid seemed very nice.  She did not pay close attention to where they were going.  Actually, she simply felt tired and ready to stop

Alesander made them bring the horses well off the road as a precaution, just in case they were being tracked.  He and Lucius did their best to disguise the camp while Hermes collected the stones he needed to build a ring for a fire.  Mavis made a passable cook, better than Greta, but Hermes proved to have a real talent for making things over a campfire that actually tasted good.  Alesander let him build up the fire and have at it, but warned him that the fire needed to be extinguished by dark.

That evening, Alesander pulled out a skin of wine he had been saving.  He said, “Without a fire, we need something on these cold fall nights.”  The conversation became pleasant, all about family and friends, and growing up.  Greta felt she talked too much about her children, but in lieu of photos in her wallet, she had to do something.  Finally, Greta slipped a note into the conversation which she thought sounded casual and she thought might slip by, unnoticed.

“So, Alesander.  If I remember, you once said you were raised by the shrine of Salacia and you, and your parents used to go there often.”

Alesander looked at her for a moment as if trying to remember when he might have said something, but he nodded.  “That’s right.  Salacia is special to me, so much so, you would think I would have joined the navy rather than the army.”

“Eh?”  Hermes did not follow.

“Amphitrite,” Mavis gave him the Greek name for the goddess and glanced at Greta because she knew who Amphitrite was.

“Ah,” Hermes got it.  “She has not many shrines in Greece, but many on the shore and who make their living from the sea remember her. They say when Poseidon gets in an angry roar, she is the only one who can calm the waters.  Many prayers go up to Amphitrite when the seas get rough, let me tell you.”

“She has her moments,” Greta said, with a small, internal grin.  “But how about you.  Do you hold any of the gods dear?”

“For me it is Ares,” Hermes said.  “That’s Mars to you Romans.  Though I have been used to carry messages on the battlefield, for some reason my namesake Hermes doesn’t come to my heart.  Ares is the one who has kept my arms strong and my back stiff.  He has seen me through many a battle, let me tell you.”

“For a grizzled old warrior, I would expect no less,” Alesander said, and saluted with his wine.

“Not so old,” Mavis protested, softly, and Greta turned quickly before she lost the conversation.

“And what about you Lucius?”

Lucius was not one to speak if he could help it. “Me?  I try to remember all the gods of Rome.  Safer that way.”

Greta frowned.  What he said sounded true enough, but he seemed to leave much unsaid.

“What about you, Miss Mavis?  Who do you hold dear among the gods?”  Hermes sounded genuinely interested.

Mavis squeaked like a mouse and looked down to worry her hands in her lap.  Her voice came out very soft.  “I worship my Lady, and I always try to do what is right, good and true, and she has blessed me more than all the others combined, and I sometimes catch my breath just to know that I am near to her.”

“Near and dear,” Greta said, with her warmest, most motherly smile.

“Such devotion,” Alesander grinned.  “But what of the Lady?  Being in such a delicate position between the governor and your father, I am sure like Lucius you acknowledge all the gods of Rome and Olympus and maybe even these strange German gods I have heard of from the land of Aesgard.  Or, being the wise woman of all the Dacians, perhaps you keep your devotions close to home and worship the Thracian Hero and his Lord, Zalmoxis, Sylvanus of the woods, and the Nameless god who is the light for heroes and the bringer of conflict and war with one hand and peace and love with the other.  Or do you focus on the women and maybe worship Bendi, the one the Celts call Epona and we call Diana?”

It became Greta’s turn to look down and worry her hands a bit.  “To be honest, for millennia, Artemis was my best friend in the whole world.  She and my Princess were especially close. Artemis gifted the Princess with a spark of herself.  Artemis still is my best friend ever, though she is lost to me now.  But as for worship, it is only for the Christ.”

“I have heard you speak of this one,” Alesander turned serious for a moment.  “In fact, you were the first I heard speak of this new way which is sweeping across the empire like one of Neptune’s storms at sea.”

“But let us not speak of that now.  Instead, let me ask you something.  These woods and hills and mountains, do you know who used to live here?”  They did not, so Greta told them the story of the Were people who once ruled the Transylvanian Plateau and Beauty who became their queen when she married her beast.

###

The Princess took over in the morning and it only took until lunch to finally get the others to call her Princess instead of Greta.  The spark of Artemis the hunter inside the Princess helped her follow some thirty men of the Eagle Clan over what for her seemed a rather easy trail.  By the end of the day, they came to a rough road in the wilderness.

“The low road,” the Princess surmised, and she stayed with them through the night.  The Princess needed to sleep.  Greta would be fresh in the morning from the sleep she had two days earlier.  Midday, on the third day out, Alesander called the party to halt.  The road started to peter out again and Greta began to think the Princess might have to return to find the way.

“Probably an old road not used for years,” Greta guessed. “Rubobostes drove the Celts out of Dacia, when?  Three hundred years ago?”

“I wouldn’t know,” Alesander mumbled as his soldier’s sense told him that an enemy was near.  He fingered his sword and looked around in the trees and bushes, seeking a sign of passage and listening for some rustling in the leaves.  Lucius reacted as well, old soldier that he was. He dismounted to stand beside his centurion and would have drawn his sword if Alesander did not put his hand out to keep Lucius calm.  Meanwhile, Mavis spoke softly to Greta and to keep Hermes calm as they also got down from their horses.

“These are the same that met us on the road.  I sense no ill intention, only caution.” Greta nodded, knowing that Mavis’ elf senses were far more attuned to the advent of humans than the soldiers could ever hope for.  Her ears and eyes were far better as well, and she spoke again after a short wait.  “Lady, they are here.”

R6 Greta: Roman Persuasion, part 3 of 3

An hour before dawn, Greta heard a loud clank on the balcony.  Mavis sprang up and got on the balcony in a flash.  Greta took a bit longer, human that she was.

“It is the centurion.  He wishes to know if we can climb down the rope,” Mavis reported.

Greta took a good look.  They were only three stories up.  She could probably fall from that height on to the cobblestones and survive well enough.  “Tell him we will be coming down in armor, to be safe.”  Mavis directed her voice so only the centurion would hear and then turned to see Greta in the armor of the Kairos, complete with fingerless gloves, boots to her knees, and the Greco-Roman looking helmet that she normally only wore in battle.  She left off the weapons.

Greta wore fairy weave against her skin, under her leather, a miraculous material that could be shaped and colored at a word. Mavis only wore fairy weave, and immediately Greta touched Mavis’ dress and began to thicken the cloth to something more like her leather.  Greta thought, too bad the material could not imitate the chain mail Greta had over her leather.

“Lady,” Mavis protested at Greta’s motherly attention, and Greta stepped back to let the elf do it herself.  Mavis made tall boots and elbow length gloves much like her mistress, but her helmet looked like an American football helmet from the nineteen-thirties.  Mavis left the luxuriously soft weave against her skin, but hardened and stiffened the outside of her outfit into hundreds of overlapping pieces.  It felt like leather, or more like Kevlar, and would be hard for a javelin or arrow to penetrate.  She kept it deep blue as opposed to the rich, deep brown, almost black Greta wore.  She left off the cloak as Greta left off her own cloak.

Mavis took a small brush from some unknown pocket in her clothing and stepped into the room to look in the brass mirror. She painted her lips with a very soft imitation of the same rich blue of her outfit, the same color as her eyes, and then she turned with a smile.  “Ready.”

“I don’t suppose you have pink,” Greta asked as she saw her own reflection.

“Yes, Lady,” Mavis said and pulled several things from her pocket.  They spent the next ten minutes fixing Greta’s face before they went back to the balcony.  Mavis scurried down and did not appear to seriously touch the rope.  Greta, again, moved in a more human way.  She checked to make sure the metal hook on the end stayed secure, and then she climbed down slowly, hand under hand.

Alesander paced, dressed in plain traveling clothes and a long flowing cape in hunter green.  “Why does it always take you women so long to get ready?” he asked, but it sounded like a rhetorical question.

He started right out for a side gate in the fort and stuck to the shadows most of the way.  The women followed quietly in his steps.  Mavis changed her fairy weave helmet into a long cape of her own, complete with a soft hood, that she kept down around her shoulders.  She colored it a darker blue than her armor to make a good contrast, though one could hardly tell in the dim light before dawn. Greta sent her own helmet back to Avalon and called for her cloak, the work of Athena herself, which proved proof against many things, including bullets, not that she expected that to be a problem a hundred and fifty-one years after Christ.  She kept the black side out and pulled up her hood to cover her platinum locks which might reveal their position, even in the starlight.

Greta smelled the horses before she saw them. There were five, saddled and ready to ride, and a mule burdened down with all sorts of supplies.  Alesanders’ sidekick, Sergeant Lucius stood there, no surprise, but Sergeant Hermes was unexpected.

“I let the men go in case Captain Ardacles was in a bad mood and decided to charge me with desertion,” Hermes explained.  “But I also sent a reminder that he ordered me to stay with you at all costs.  Those were his exact words, and so maybe he will allow that I am just following orders.”

Greta nodded and watched Mavis smile for the elderly Sergeant.  It made her roll her eyes as she turned to Lucius.  She felt something about Lucius that made her uncomfortable, but at the moment she had no time to puzzle it out.

“Me?” he said.  “I figure I followed Centurion Alesander these last ten years and he always did right by me.  I see no reason to change just because he resigned his commission.”

“You resigned?”  Greta was concerned.

“Not what you think,” Alesander spoke softly. “My time of service finished up a year ago.  It is not unusual for an officer to take some time before his tribune or general urges him to take another term of service.”

“In this case, I suspect General Pontius won’t be happy with you.”

“No,” Alesander admitted.  “But I have some money on account in Ulpia Traiana, er, I should call it Ravenshold, and some in Rome.  Maybe I’ll buy into a gold mine here.  Maybe I’ll take a wife.  I see it hasn’t hurt Lord Darius any.”  Greta grinned at her thoughts.  She really liked Alesander.  He was truly a good and faithful friend.  “We go north?”  He knew enough to ask.

“North,” Sergeant Hermes said as he mounted his horse. “If we ride hard we can be in Potaissa before the General even knows we are missing.”  Greta looked up at the man.  It was two days through the hills and mountains to Potaissa.  Greta felt sure the General would know of their escape by breakfast, or at least by lunchtime.

“I figured we were going north to fetch Miss Berry, your brother Hans, Miss Fae and that strange old fellow, Hobknot,” Alesander said as he also mounted his horse.

Greta looked at Mavis but she pleaded innocence. “No, Lady.  I told no one.”

“Am I that transparent?” Greta groused as she joined them on horseback.  “We go south,” she decided.

“South it is.”  Alesander did not question her.  He knew she had something in mind.  Besides, the General would likely only look north, whether he believed she headed for Porolissum to visit her brother Bragi or further north to seek her younger brother, Hans.  “Stay mounted and covered with your cloaks.  The men at the gate think I am taking out a scouting party to seek out the reported Lazyges raiders.”

“How convenient,” Greta said.

Alesander waited a moment before he responded.  “I was officer of the day, so I set the night watch.”  He spurred up to lead the group.  Greta made Mavis ride next to Lucius so she could ride next to Hermes.

“Lady,” Mavis protested.  “I just meant normal nice.”

“Tiberius.  Open up.” Alesander raised his voice when they approached the gate.

“Sir.”  The big Sergeant responded and the men dutifully opened the gate.  Greta saw an Ichthys tattoo on the arm of the Sergeant and relaxed.  The tattoo remained something he would keep covered in Rome, but out here in the hinterland, no one looked at it twice.

Once outside the gate, Alesander headed them toward the village.  “Anything to fetch?”

Greta shook her head.  She wanted to check on the innkeeper’s daughter but she dared not take the time.  “Hermes,” she said.  “Back the way we came.”

“Just follow the cobblestone road,” Hermes reported. The cobblestones would run out and turn to mud from the recent rain in about a mile, but meanwhile, Greta imagined it should have been a yellow brick road.  Again, she hardly had time to puzzle out where that thought came from because they rode, hard.

Greta thought instead about her husband and children. Gerraint should marry, she decided. She did not know what to do about Festuscato.  If only he was not such a cad.

************************

MONDAY

Greta and her friends head for Celtic lands, and seek a guide in the village of the Eagle Clan.  Until next time, Happy Reading.

*

R6 Greta: Roman Persuasion, part 2 of 3

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.”

“So, he knows.”

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.

R6 Greta: Roman Persuasion, part 1 of 3

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.

“I think Sergeant Hermes is nice,” Mavis said.

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.”

“Now miss—”

“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.

“So I pray,” Greta responded as the head of the eagle clan butted in.

“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.

R6 Greta: Going, Regardless, part 3 of 3

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.

“Lady Greta.”  The procurator kept things formal with Darius away.

“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.”

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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.

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MONDAY

Greta discovers breaking free of Roman persuasion is not so easy.

Until then, Happy Reading

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