R6 Greta: Home to Porolissum, part 3 of 3

“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?”

“Of course.  What did you think you were doing before you went away?”

“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.

“He saved all of our lives,” Briana said.

“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.

“Apollo took the last basket full I know of.  The rest are safe,” she was continuing to spout, and knew it.  “I have to go.”  Rhiannon vanished, and Darius opened his eyes as wide as they could open.

“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.

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

MONDAY

Time get to work. The enemy is on the horizon  Until then, Happy Reading

*

R6 Greta: Home to Porolissum, part 2 of 3

Rhiannon looked away as she spoke, and Greta caught a glimpse of the idea that there might be something Rhiannon was not telling, but then what she said made sense.  “Maybe the human war is not what you need to focus on.”

Greta wanted to ask what she meant and why she looked away, but they were at Hans and Berry’s door so she said, “Shh.”

Berry still lay in bed, sleeping on her face, her knees pulled up and her butt sticking up in the air.  Greta whispered.  “She used to sleep that way when she turned twelve and a wee winged little fairy.” Greta stepped up, but this time it took her whole hand to push and not simply her finger.  Berry fell over and immediately protested.

“No, Mom.  I’m still sleeping.”

“Time to get up sweetheart,” Greta boomed in her best mom voice.  “Time for school.  You don’t want to miss the school bus.”

Berry’s eyes opened and shot daggers as she crawled up to her pillows and pulled the covers over her head.  “I can’t go to school today.  I feel sicky.”

“Poor Hans.  He is all alone.” Greta let out a big sigh and Rhiannon covered her giggle.

Berry pulled the covers off her face. “Cheater.  But really, I feel sick.  I have thrown up every morning for more than a week, not a lot, but every day.”

“Oh Berry.” Greta sat on the bed and helped Berry sit up.  Rhiannon sat on Berry’s other side so she could not easily lie down again.  “Why didn’t you tell me you were going to have a baby?”

“I am?”

Rhiannon put her hand out to touch Berry’s belly, not that the goddess did not already know.  “Definitely.”

“Me and Hans?”

“Unless.”

“No, never,” Berry said.  “Me and Hans.”  She smiled a big smile for a second before she asked, “boy or girl?”

Greta stopped Rhiannon’s hand.  “Do you want to know?”

Berry thought for a second and shook her head. She gave Greta’s oft used response. “Healthy and happy is what matters.” and Rhiannon and Greta hugged her and helped her stand.

“Good,” Greta said.  “Now I can go back for more sausages.  Maybe a sausage and egg sandwich.”  Berry looked pale at the thought of food.  “There are wafflies, and apple cinnamons,” Greta said to tempt her. “And sausage on the side.”

“What is with the sausages?” Rhiannon asked.

“I think my son is going to be a carnivore.”

“I think my baby is going to be skinny,” Berry said and turned pale again.

“I would like—” Rhiannon started the sentence, but Greta cut her off.

“Don’t even think it.  You are not even supposed to be here, remember?”

###

After nearly a month, Greta could not wait any longer.  Darius and Greta’s Father were in Porolissum, the main settlement on the northern border of Dacia, having made the long trip from Romula in the winter rather than waiting until the spring as planned.  They brought up six hundred Roman Cavalry, and six hundred auxiliaries as their escort, only to have two hundred cavalry and a hundred auxiliaries rebel and try to take over the town.  Darius sent out half the escort on arrival.  They went out in groups of thirty to a hundred men to scour the mountains for the enemy and secure the passes that led to Roman land.  The Mithrites turned half of the remaining men and acted as soon as they saw a chance for success.  They raised the men of Porolissum and thought to turn them to their side, seeing that so many of them were branded rebels in the last rebellion; but the men of Porolissum remained loyal to their high chief and to the governor, Darius.  Led by Drakka and Bragi, they put down the rebellion at no small cost.  Now, they were working furiously hard in the snow and slush to fortify the town and the border against whatever might be coming in the spring.

Greta made a doorway between the Second Heavens and Earth.  She said good-bye to Avalon, the sanctuary she made for all her little ones back four thousand years before Christ.  It had become her sanctuary and place of peace against the storm that gathered on Earth, but she understood she could not put off her responsibilities any longer. She stepped out on to the Earth, dressed in her own ordinary dress and well-worn red cloak, and left her armor home in Avalon, just to make a point in her mind.  She wanted to arrive quietly and unobserved and chose a spot next to her brother Bragi’s home, along the side of the house where the grass got tall, but the whole community was up in arms and in such a bustle of activity, there were plenty of people who stopped and watched Greta, Hans, Berry and a bunch of strangers step out of a hole in the air.

One of the watchers, Karina, Bragi’s wife, had her two children, Kurt and Padma with her.  Karina opened her mouth until she recognized Greta and curtsied.  “Mother Greta,” she called her.  Greta frowned at the formality and hugged the woman.

“Just Greta,” she said.  “Just Bragi’s little sister.”

Karina returned the hug, but had more to say. “And wife of the imperial governor. And the woman of the ways who saved so many lives from the headsman’s axe, and who consorts with spirits and powers beyond my reckoning, and who is able to appear out of nowhere, out of the very air itself.”

Greta took a step back and thought she better introduce her crew to give some familiarity, to counter Karina’s distress. Karina kept staring.  “This is my friend Bogus,” she said.  Bogus had on his glamour to make himself look like the old prospector.  “He is grandfather to both Fae and Berry.  Fae.”  Fae stepped up disguised like an older woman, not nearly as old as she had looked when she lived as a human, but hardly young enough for Bogus to be her grandfather. “And her husband, Hobknot,” Greta added. Hobknot looked like an older man, but he kept tugging on the fairy weave clothes Fae made him wear, and he came across as very curmudgeonly.  He grunted his Hello.

“Hans, of course,” Greta said, and Hans gave Karina a hug.  “And Berry, and my good friend Rhiannon who is from the Celtic lands beyond the mountains.” Greta saw Berry and Rhiannon kneel and talk to six-year-old Kurt, with three-year-old Padma hidden behind her brother’s shoulder. The little girl kept grinning.  Greta looked again at Karina.  Karina had been the beauty of Boarshag, and Greta could not imagine how she ended up with her clunky, big brother.  That happened before Father got elected High Chief of the Dacians, as Greta recalled, so Karina did not go for anything like money, power or position. And Karina truly appeared beautiful in every human way, but then Greta looked again at Berry and Rhiannon. Berry lost none of her beauty when she stopped being a fairy and became fully human.  She remained fairy beautiful, and that went into another whole beauty category, far beyond human reach.  And Rhiannon!  She toned down her godly attributes to almost nothing so she could walk among the mortals, but she could not disguise her looks without real effort.  Rhiannon looked goddess beautiful, and it appeared breathtaking, impossible to focus on, and almost too much for a human mind to take in and comprehend.

R6 Greta: Home to Porolissum, part 1 of 3

Greta sat at the breakfast table and fretted.  Her whole world started falling apart and she felt powerless to do anything about it.  The Sun-runner and the Soldier were back on earth, gathering an army to invade Dacia.  The Roman legion, the one supposed to defend Dacia, under General Pontius’ leadership, might very well help the Scythians.  Greta managed to send word to Darius and her father, but some of the very men who escorted them around the province were Mithrites and could not be trusted.  Rome had become a mess, in far more danger from inside the ranks of her vaunted armies than she ever was from outside pressures.

“Greta.”  Greta looked up.  Hans woke up for breakfast.  Berry was missing.  Fae and Hobknot were also missing.  They disappeared almost immediately on their arrival.  Hobknot took her to see the sights and wonders of Avalon, and for the past week, Bogus paced and made grouchy faces and noises.  Willow was wonderful, but she and Thumbelin had lots of catching up to do, so Greta did not see much of her.

“Greta.”

“What?”  Greta answered her brother and had a thought.  “You haven’t had thirds yet.  You don’t want Missus Kettleblack to be insulted.”  Missus Kettleblack was the kindly old dwarf woman who ran the kitchen in the castle.

“I can’t eat like I used to,” Hans said.  “I just spent the last two years with nothing to do but eat and sleep and get fat.”

“I don’t see the fat,” Rhiannon came into the banquet room, and everyone seated at the various tables around the room stood out of respect for the goddess.

“Great Lady,” Hans offered a bow.  She might not have been a goddess for the Dacians, but she was certainly a goddess.  “Maybe you can answer my questions since I can’t seem to get my sister out of her sausages,” he said.

“And what questions might those be?” Rhiannon asked, but then she read his mind and answered without waiting for the questions to be verbalized.  “You know one of the crossed swords very well.  Excalibur.  I understand you carried it over the last two years.”

“I didn’t hardly get a chance to use it,” Hans griped.

“How fortunate for you,” Greta returned the gripe.

“Ahem,” Rhiannon cleared her throat.  “Excalibur was made for Diogenes, a young man who fought beside Alexander the Great.  The other sword is a bit smaller and thinner.  It is the sister sword, Caliburn, and it was made about a hundred years later for the Princess.  You have met her,” Rhiannon pointed out and Hans squinted and tried to remember. He felt sure he must have met her.

“And that is some of the finest work the elves of the mountain ever produced,” Lord Branworth spoke up from the accountants table. “Priceless artifacts.”

“Same crew that made Thor’s hammer,” Lord Deepwell of the dark elves said.

“Or their descendants,” Lord Darkvein of the goblins added.

“I am sure all of these weapons have fascinating stories,” Hans interrupted the background commentary.  “That is what I was asking Greta.”

“Indeed,” Rhiannon said.  “But not all of these belonged to the Kairos, at least in the sense that they were mostly used by others.  This great spear that hangs over all, for example, is the Seig of Lug, sometimes called the Lance of Lieu, or Slaughter.  It came from the deep south to Britain, Wales, and eventually Ireland. They say no battle was ever won against it and it always hit its mark.”

“Rhiannon,” Greta interrupted this time.  “We need to leave the Celtic treasures where they lay. The old ways have gone and the new ways have come.  And while I am sure you will do a wonderful job when you find a young man to train in the martial arts, I wish you would not encourage Hans.  He’ll just get himself hurt.”

“Greta!” Hans protested.  “There is no harm in hearing the story of the Lance of Lugh. Who was Lugh, anyway?”

“He was a great sun god.”  Lord Sunstone the elf wizard stood and walked toward Hans who was standing at the back wall, looking up at all the treasures hung around the fireplace.  “Lugh infused the lance with the very power of the sun.”

Greta rolled her eyes, took Rhiannon’s hand and pulled her into the hallway. “Hans has too much time on his hands.  We need to find his wife to distract him.”

“Young Berry,” Rhiannon named her.  “But I feel as if there is something else you wish to tell me.”  Rhiannon could not read Greta’s mind.

Greta shook her head to say no even as she spoke. “I feel guilty staying here as long as we have.  The world out there is massing for war and I can’t think of any way to stop it.  I can imagine ten thousand Scythians gathered by now, preparing for all-out war, and if they bring in the Lazyges, Capri, Sarmatians and others, that number could easily top twenty, even thirty thousand. And what is there to stand in their way? Will a few thousand Goths and Slavs take up the sword against such odds?  I doubt it. One look and I would turn my little army around.  And even if the Roman legion raised all the auxiliaries within reach, they would still be outnumbered two or three to one at least.  But it is worse than that.  Half of the legionnaires are probably Mithrites and would fight for the other side.”

“Not half,” Rhiannon said.  “Not more than ten percent, but do not underestimate the power of Rome and the pride of the Romans.  Even if they are Mithrites, many will still fight for Rome.”

“I hope,” Greta said.  “But I can’t think of any way to stop it.  And the Mithrites not only have the numbers, they have Mars and the Sun-runner still living and active and driving them forward to victory in a way that only the gods can do so well.  And the Pater.  I guess Mithras himself is the father figure.  I’ve been thinking that the Pater was just another aspect of the old man, like Mithras had seven small pieces break off from his person, like seven of his fingers; but now I think he broke completely apart, into seven whole pieces, and the one I was calling Mithras is in reality just another piece of the whole, no more than any of the others.  I guess Mithras is the head, but why the head should trap me into killing off the other parts of his own body, I have no idea.  Who can guess what game he is playing?”