“You have lovely children,” Rhiannon said, recognizing Karina’s continued distress. Poor Karina seemed to be deciding if Rhiannon was not a goddess, she ought to be. Poor Greta felt very ordinary. She had her yellow hair braided down her back at the moment because, while it was as clean and set as it had ever been, if she let it loose, it had a mind of its own and would never behave. Besides, she had freckles, and a big nose, and short legs and a big butt, and fat hands, and she constantly fought against getting fat like her mother, and she would have gone on for a while if she did not hear a call from the distance.
“Lady!” Mavis raced up, jumped before the horse even stopped, and fell into Greta’s arms for a hug. “I thought I lost you forever, too. But Pincushion said you were still alive, and I felt it.” Mavis cried.
Darius was the next to arrive, and Mavis stepped aside so he could throw his arms around Greta and squeeze her. All thoughts about life and war and death went away for a while so Darius and Greta could get lost in their kiss. When they took a breath, Greta scooted back a little and looked at her belly with a word. “You don’t want to crush the baby.”
“Are you? Did you?”
“Making good memories?”
“You made more than good memories,” Greta patted her belly which was beginning to bump, and grinned as she thought through her own memories.
“Hello baby,” Darius leaned down. “Are you Marcus or another girl?”
“I’m only half-way there, not even half,” Greta protested as if to say she had no way of knowing for sure. Honestly, she knew he would be Marcus, but she wanted to tease Darius first. Before Greta could say anything else, the crowd showed up. Bragi ran to her and Hans. Father tried to run, but his leg where he got wounded stayed stiff and uncooperative. Alesander, Vedix and Briana were all there. Pincushion even ran to yell at Bogus, but Hermes was not there. Mavis began to cry, and this time Greta ignored the others and went to hug her handmaid.
“He was like a father to her,” Briana explained later. “She said she had no father, since he died in the days of the Wolv invasion, which you didn’t tell us about. She said she followed her mother up here from Thrace a hundred years ago to escape the memory of their loss.”
“On Hermes’ part,” Alesander took up the telling. “He had a family in Greece, but they were killed by brigands who were pirates in the Aegean and sheltered in the Pindar Mountains. He joined the auxiliary troop to hunt down the brigands, and he succeeded, but then he had nothing to go home for, so he stayed with the military. He served all around the Black Sea and in Asia, including once in Syria, before his troop got assigned here after the last rebellion. He said Mavis reminded him of his daughter and was about the age his daughter would have been. I don’t know about that, but they were close.”
“Two Scythians drew their swords on us in the meeting. Hermes saved my life,” Vedix added.
“Lucius is the Mars.” Alesander blurted it out and stiffened his lip to speak without emotion. “He said he had been moving among the Iranian people for a hundred and fifty years and infiltrated the Roman ranks a hundred years ago. He said everything was ready to build the new Empire of the Gods, but he decided some time back that the others were just using him to do all the leg work and build the new army. He said it was easy to get lost in a Roman legion and attached himself to my century ten years ago in Gaul. But he was not surprised when I got transferred to the Gemina XIII in Dacia. The others conspired, he said, to position him for the plan.”
“What plan?” Greta wondered out loud. “That is the question.”
While Pincushion and Karina fixed supper, Rhiannon stepped up to Greta for a private moment. “I have all I need from here,” she said. “But I have stayed too long at the fair. I have my own work to do and must leave. Besides, Briana and Vedix will eat better if I am not seated at the same table.”
“So, what did you figure out?” Greta asked quickly before Rhiannon could vanish. Darius stepped up and slipped his arm over Greta’s shoulder while he smiled for their guest. Not to say it would have been possible to look at Rhiannon and not smile.
“No, no.” Rhiannon returned the smile and shook her finger. “That is for me to know and you to find out. But I will say, I think Mother may be right. It is past time to let go of the Gaelic enclave and Latinize my people. They need to be integrated into the Roman fold to avoid being wiped out by the Lazyges, if nothing else.”
“Sounds like work,” Darius said, not quite following the conversation.
Rhiannon smiled again at that thought. “I would rather have something to do. Sitting all day long, guarding the apples of Avalon and playing chess would bore me silly.”
“Who? No, wait. What brought the apples of Avalon to mind?” Greta got suspicious and Rhiannon’s face showed that she said too much.
“She was not one of your little ones, I could tell,” Darius said.
Briana ran up and pointed at the empty spot where Rhiannon had been. “That was—”
“Yes, it was,” Greta said, and she took Darius inside where she could get warm.
Supper became an interesting affair. Bragi borrowed a neighbor’s table and put it end to end with his own table to fit everyone. As it was, Father at one end had his back to the big fireplace, which he said he did not mind, cold as it was outside, and Bragi at the other end sat up to the door, and got cold, but he did not complain. Karina sat next to her husband on the kitchen side where she could fetch whatever was needed and keep one eye on the children who sat on the kitchen floor. Then came Pincushion, Karina’s fellow cook, followed by Bogus, Vedix, Greta and Darius next to Greta’s father.
Hans sat next to Father on the other side, followed by Berry, Alesander, Briana, Hobknot and Fae next to Bragi. Fae was a wise human woman for seventy years before she became a dwarf, so Greta figured her conversation should be safe for brotherly consumption.
Time get to work. The enemy is on the horizon Until then, Happy Reading