R5 Greta: The End of the Day, part 3 of 3

They were in the tent with Darius who was lying down, recovering from his many small wounds from the battle.  Bragi was not present, but Salacia decided that would be just as well.  She let the first wave of forgetfulness pass by unhindered.  They forgot all about the guns.  But she protected them from the second wave.  Darius would have a place among the little ones and needed to know. Hans would marry one, though she had become fully human now.  And Berry could hardly be allowed to forget.  There would have been almost no Berry left if she forgot her little ones.

“Greta?”  Hans remembered.

“Yes,” she said.  “Amphitrite.”  She looked at Darius.  “Salacia.” She spoke to him.  She felt a bit anxious.  She did not know exactly how he might react and prying into his thoughts and heart would have been extremely improper.

Darius smiled and held out his hand.  “It’s all right,” he said.  “Berry explained it to me.”

Salacia took his hand but spoke honestly.  “I do not love you as she does, you know.  I still love my husband, though he is now gone from me.”

Darius seemed to think for a minute, but he got it. “I understand.” he said.  “I certainly would not be interested in any of the men you have been, either.”  He laughed, a little, almost.  “But seriously,” he went on.  “You must know how I feel.  I don’t suppose I could live without her at this point, but she has been so hot and cold. Does she really love me or not?”

Salacia smiled.  “But if I tell you that, I will be mad at myself for years.”  Darius thought again, but he did not quite understand what she meant.  “Let me say this,” she went on.  “You are not the problem.  In the past, her love sometimes got met with derision.  She does not think highly of herself, and especially the way she looks.”

“What is wrong with the way she looks?”  Darius asked.  “I think she is beautiful.  I think she is perfect.”

“Perhaps she had better tell you.”  Salacia said and went back to her own time to let Greta stand awkwardly on her own two feet, still holding Darius’ hand.

“Well?”  Darius asked.

“Well,” Greta said and looked down at her too big feet. How could Amphitrite do this to her? Too late.  She did get mad at herself for having a big mouth, one the size of the Pacific!  “Well, its’ my eyes.  They are just ordinary brown, and my nose is too big and my hair is like wild straw, and there is too much of me, and I don’t want to talk about it.”  She paused to sniff so she wouldn’t cry.

Darius took her by the chin and lifted her face to his.  “I see golden hair and eyes to match, sparkling with life.  I see a small and dainty nose.  You should see the ones in Rome.  And lips, so full and red which I have kissed.  I would not trade them for all the gold in the world. And as for the rest.”  He paused to look.  “That will have to wait until we are married,” he teased.  Of course, she threw herself at him and he did nothing to resist.  After only a moment, though, they parted.  Hans and Berry were in the room, after all.

“I love you,” Greta said.

“I love you, too,” Darius returned.

They both grinned like fools until Greta had to turn and run from the tent.  Her feelings would not let her walk.  She found Hans standing by the tent door and Berry some distance away, sitting alone, looking sad, almost desperate.

“What is it, sweet?”  Greta asked, feeling oddly maternal in a strange way she never felt before.  She put her arms around the girl and hugged her.

“My tummy hurts.”  Berry said.  “And now I am bleeding a little.”  She reached over to hold on.  “Am I going to die?”

Greta laughed.  “No, sweet.  You are not going to die.  You are human.  That’s all.” And she sat and talked with Berry while the ripples of forgetfulness did their work.

At last, Greta knew she had to get back to Marcus. She stood and traded places once more with Amphitrite.  She gave Berry a quick kiss on the forehead and floated off, invisible to all the world. She let her consciousness search far beyond the battlefield.  The ripples had done the job.  But she spied Greta’s Papa on the road, and Mama came with him.

When she entered the room, Centurion Alesander was there with Sergeant Lucius, examining the men.

“What magic is this?”  Alesander asked.

“I don’t know.”  The sergeant answered.  “But I don’t like it.”

The goddess slowly let herself come into focus.

“Salacia.”  Alesander named her and fell to his knees.  He had worshiped in her shrine all of his life as had his mother and father, and she loved him for it; but Sergeant Lucius took a couple of steps back.

“Mithras defend me,” the sergeant said.

Salacia placed her hand on Alesander’s head and blessed him, and with a final thought she changed the writings of Marcus and General Pontius to reflect the new gunless and fairyless reality.  Then she looked up at the Sergeant and spoke sternly.

“I told someone just yesterday morning, Mithras does not come here.  It would be his life if he did.”  She waved her hand to set Marcus and General Pontius free and vanished, to appear again as Greta, just outside the door.

“General.”  The sergeant spoke.  “Salacia was here.  Probably drawn by the creation of the new lake and streams.”  Greta knew the General was another Mithrite.  She remembered the Roman army was full of that pretender’s disciples.

“Nonsense,” Marcus spoke, sternly.  “The gods, if they even exist, would not be drawn to these back woods no matter what happened here.  What is it, Greta?  I thought our business had finished.”  Marcus sounded cordial, but stiff.  The joy and play were gone from him.  He did not seem inclined to give in to any emotion, and Greta felt that reality like a cut to her heart.

“Papa and Mama will be here this afternoon,” she said.

“I know,” Marcus responded flatly.  “I sent for them as soon as I assessed the situation here.  I thought your father might end this trouble in a bloodless way, but that was before the Quadi showed up.  Been listening to my guards?”

“No,” Greta said.  “I saw them from above when my mind was in the clouds.”

Marcus grimaced.  “Of course,” he said.  “Wise woman talk.”  He looked down at his papers.

“But what right did you have calling him here when he should to be home, healing?” she asked.

“He is a man who knows his duty,” Marcus said as he gave Alesander a sharp look.  “But I would not expect a woman to understand that.”

Greta swallowed several things she wanted to say. She helped Alesander to his feet, and she still had enough of Salacia’s aura about her to make him respond.

“Did you see her?” Alesander asked.

“No,” Greta said, honestly enough.  She helped the Centurion to a place where he could have some solitude for a time, and then she hurried off.  She wanted to get back to Darius, but some soldiers stopped her on the way.  They reminded her of her duty to the wounded, and especially in the makeshift hospital she had made of the Roman fort.  She cursed, but for old time’s sake and for Berry’s sake, she could not help sticking her tongue out at Marcus, no matter how many rooms away he was at that point.  Women don’t understand doing one’s duty?  What an idiotic thing for Marcus to say!

Years later, Darius thanked Greta one night while they sat before the hearth in the governor’s mansion.  He said because of all the magic and wonder that surrounded her life, it saved him from becoming an emotionless statue, like Marcus.

“Was it just the magic?” she asked, and he showed her that it was not.

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MONDAY

It would not be right to leave you without some thoughts concerning what is to come for Greta, Berry, Hans, Fae, and Hobknot.  As I said, the work of the Kairos never seems to be over.  There is always some witch, creature, or monstrosity knocking on her door…especially on Halloween.  Until Monday, Happy Reading.

 

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R5 Greta: The End of the Day, part 1 of 3

Cleaning up after the battle proved a grizzly and horrifying job, but all the same, Greta worked long into the night.  The battle had been terrible.  Her side had won, but the price had been high.  The surviving Quadi were allowed to leave with pledges that they would not return, for all the good those pledges would be, but the Romans and Dacians together were not able to hold more than a few of the Quadi leadership.  There were simply neither the men nor the facilities to do more.

Greta found out that shortly before her arrival in the village of the Bear Clan, Samartin raiders attacked the far northern Dragon Clan.  That really convinced the Celts that their time of isolation was over.  They had to choose, and though Fae’s courage helped, in truth they had already chosen the known evils of Rome and the Yellow Hairs over the unknown.  With the Romans as mediators, they would keep their own land and retain their own way of life; but there would be trade, and in time, marriages, and life would go on.

Of more immediate concern to Greta was the fate of the rebels.  She sent an early plea for mercy to Marcus and General Pontius, and on that basis, she met with them early the next morning.

“Come in,” Marcus said.  “Sit down.”  He sat at a large writing table.  General Pontius stood behind him and leaned over his shoulder.

Greta was grateful for the seat.  She felt exhausted.

“You know,” Marcus continued before she could speak. “I cannot really tell my father that I pardoned the rebels on the basis of their being bewitched.”  He stopped writing to look up.  “Even if we both know there is some truth in that.”

“Personally, I hate it when someone reads over my shoulder.” Greta said, and slumped down in her chair.  Marcus looked up over his shoulder.  The General looked at Greta and took a large step backward.

“By the way,” Marcus spoke, as he went back to his letter.  “Whatever happened to the lady?”

“She made an ass out of herself,” Greta said. “She is no longer around.”

Marcus did not understand exactly what she meant, but he accepted her at her word.  “Just as well,” he said.  “I’m not sure it would have worked out in any case.”  Greta felt she had been right.  Lady Brunhild would not have been able to control him.  Then something occurred to her.

“I thought you promised to stay out of the fighting,” she said.  Marcus turned red, but she sat straight up.  “You lied to her.”

The red deepened.  “I don’t lie.”

“Then you changed your mind only a second after you promised,” she teased.

“Yes, I did,” he said.  “Let us remember it that way.”

An awkward moment of silence followed. Greta just framed her thoughts when Marcus spoke again.

“The other proposal of yours does have some merit. I can personally vouch for seeing many rebels pour off the Mount and attack the Quadi from behind.  I am sure they fought as bravely as any patriot on the battlefield.”

“It is one thing to have internal disagreements,” Greta said.  “But quite another to be invaded by outsiders.”

“Lady,” General Pontius interrupted.  “This was not internal disagreements.  This was outright rebellion.”

Marcus held up his hand for quiet before Greta and the General started arguing.  “Kunther, Eldegard and the known leaders of the rebellion have already lost their heads.” Marcus said.  “That is a done deal.”

“I’m sorry,” Greta said, and slouched again. “I feel Eldegard really came around to our side at the last.”

“Then let the gods show him mercy.”  Marcus continued.  “In any case, your proposal that we spare the lives of the rest on condition that they take land along the frontier, North of Napoca, and be first in line to defend the border.  This is an idea which I think I can sell to the emperor.  The only adjustment is that all of the rebels be identified and branded.”

“Branded?” Greta asked.  “Like slaves?”

“Their lives are forfeit,” Marcus explained. “This is a way to keep track in case they get out of line.  Besides, I don’t believe Rome will go for it, otherwise.”

Greta had a sudden concern.  “Bragi?” she asked.

“Your brother is a special case,” Marcus said.

Greta sat up again, fearing the worst.  “What do you mean?  He stopped Kunther and saved your life,” she reminded him.

Marcus shook his head.  “Technically, he threw Drakka to the ground.  But I won’t quibble.  He is being remanded to the custody of your father.  Your father is very strict, but fair, like the emperor, my father. I imagine that is why your people made him high chief.”

“Strict is right,” Greta said, as the relief made her slouch once more.

Marcus paused.  “Come, now.  You are his only daughter, and it is different for girls.  I am sure a few tears from you and he will do whatever you ask.”

“I wish,” Greta groused.

Marcus let out his smile.  “I am sure your father will punish your brother in far more appropriate ways than I could imagine.  In any case, it would not be politically wise to behead the son of the high chief.  As wife of the new provincial governor, you must learn these things.”

“What?”

“I am recommending that Darius be made governor here,” Marcus said.

“But he is a soldier,” Greta protested.

Marcus actually became tender for a moment, but whether that was for her sake or the sake of his childhood friend, was not clear. “Actually, now that his parentage is known, he will never rise above his current rank.  He will never be a General.  He will never be given his own legion.”

“His strict but fair father will not be happy about that,” she said.

“No,” Marcus agreed.  “And you can be sure my strict but fair father will be very aware of his father’s unhappiness.  Making Darius Governor of the province, however, should satisfy.”  Marcus fell silent and stared at Greta.  It took a moment for her to get it.

“Why you stinker,” she shouted.  “You’re sticking me in the middle between Darius and my father.  I’ll spend the rest of my life having to choose sides.”

“You’re the wise woman,” Marcus said.  “Choose wisely.”  Greta growled, but Marcus could only continue to smile.  “Besides, can you think of anyone better to be in the middle?”

Almost anyone, Greta thought, but she changed the subject instead.  “What about Drakka?”

“You tell me,” Marcus said and lost his smile. “The son of Eldegard.  He kidnapped the son of an Elder of the Bear Clan. He tried to kill me, only he shot you instead.  He would be dead already if you did not specifically mention him in your note.”

“He was not a rebel,” Greta said, firmly. “He was a late comer who followed Hans and I through the forest.”  Greta paused. The big, strong, handsome son of the blacksmith.  Hard to imagine why she once thought she loved him.  “He only did what his father told him,” she said.  “We all answer to our fathers.”  Liselle was pregnant, though Marcus would hardly be moved by that. But Liselle had been an only child because her mother had several miscarriages and died shortly after Liselle’s birth.  Greta feared the same for Liselle if Drakka was not there to support and love her. “Besides,” Greta concluded.  “The frontier farmers are going to need a good blacksmith.  I bear no grudge against his taking his shot.  I know what kind of expectations fathers can have and what kind of demands they can make.  I am sure once he marries Liselle and they have their baby, he will settle down.”

“He will be branded,” Marcus said.  “My every instinct says he should be crucified. But if you vouch for him, I will let you have him on your responsibility.”  That appeared to end the interview as Marcus returned to writing his letter.

R5 Greta: Battle, part 2 of 3

Men still fought in the distance, nearer the raised lake which had been the mount, but nearby there was the scene.  Kunther and Drakka were to her left with rifles in their hands.  Kunther screamed.  “Kill them! Kill them!”  He sounded like a man for whom all had been lost, but he pointed the rifles at Marcus, Darius and Gaius.

“No!”  Greta screamed in return, and with a run and a leap she threw herself in front of Marcus, turning her back on Kunther.  The guns went off.  A bullet struck Greta square in the back.  She fell into Marcus’ arms, who went to set her down gently, but she saw that Gaius went down and Darius knelt over him.  She wiggled free of Marcus, but had to practically crawl over to Gaius.

“My Lady.”  Gaius said, but he could say no more.  The bullet came out his lungs.  Marcus saw and found tears in his eyes.  Darius stayed strong, but stoic.

“Gaius.”  She spoke quietly.  She had the wind knocked out of her as well.  “Do you know the Icthus?” she asked.

“I know the cult.”  Gaius said through his pain.  The bullet had clearly nicked his heart as it bounced off his ribs.  There was not much time.

“Set your mind and heart on him,” she said. “And when you see him, tell him that I love him and I am tired, and I want to come home.”  Greta could not be sure how much of that Gaius heard.  She cried with Darius and Marcus, both of whom were on their knees.  After a moment, she found Darius holding her and she cried in his shoulder.

“Are you all right?”  She heard Bragi’s desperate question but she took a moment to respond.  “Greta!  Answer me. Drakka said he shot you by accident.”

“I’m fine,” Greta sniffed.  “He hit me square in the spine.  I’ll just be stiff for a little while is all.”

“Where?”  Bragi examined her cape.  It had not torn, and her armor had not been penetrated.  She caught his hand.

“It’s all right,” she said.  “Athena said the cape was bullet proof and many things proof. And anyway, Hephaestos’ chain would have stopped the bullet even without the cape.”  Darius got quiet and Bragi stared at him and his sister in the Roman’s arms.

“Darius.  My brother Bragi.”  Greta did the introductions.  “Bragi, this is my betrothed.”  Together, they helped Greta to her feet and shook hands which she thought was a good thing. “But Darius,” she said, sure that she looked a wreck.  “If you don’t want to marry me, now, I’ll understand.  I mean, now that it is over.”

“It is not over.”  Marcus spoke first.  Greta had not known he could cry, and she did not know he could get so angry.  Somehow, that did not seem to be the Marcus Aurelius history remembered.  “Men will be crucified for this.  I swear it!”

Suddenly, Greta knew her job became to save as many lives as possible.

“Lady, oh lady, I found you.”  Hobknot, almost visible, did not seem to care.  “Please help me.”  Greta saw that he was about to cry and it broke her heart.

“Dearest Hobknot.  What is it?” she asked.

“It’s the grumpy old lady you gave me to watch.” He howled and several men looked up in a moment of fear.  “The old biddy took an arrow and I am afraid she is dying.  Her crotchety old frame can’t handle it.  Lady, she is the only female I ever met with a brain.  Please, goddess, don’t take her from me yet. Please.”  Hobknot howled again.

“Fae!”  Greta spoke sharply.  “Bragi help me.  No, Darius, help Marcus and for Christ’s sake, don’t let him crucify anyone until I get back.”

“Christ?”  Darius asked.

“Later,” Greta said, and she walked as fast as her spine and cut, bruised and banged up body would let her.  Hobknot led all the way.

When they arrived back at the outpost, she found Fae in her tent and back in the same bed she had been in almost since they arrived.  Berry sat there, weeping and wailing in Han’s arms.  Bragi looked at his little brother, but Hans shrugged.

“We’re engaged,” he said.

“You have all been busy since I have been away,” Bragi whispered.

Greta went to Fae’s bed.

“Lady,” Fae said.  “You should have seen it.”  Her words were weak and the wound might well kill her, but not for some time. “It was glorious.”

“Tell me,” Greta said and took her hand.

“I knew when I heard the drums.  I knew they were war drums, but I knew my people were still hesitant.  I had to go out with Vilam and the others.  I had to be seen supporting my people.”

“I tried to stop her,” Hobknot said.  “But she is mule stubborn and pig headed.”

“Oh, quiet you old goat,” Fae shot at him.

Hobknot started to say something in return, but wilted under Greta’s stare.  “Go on,” Greta told Fae.

“When the enemy first charged, they seemed countless, but the Roman cavalry struck them dead center and split them nearly in half. The Romans on this side and near the city took care of some, but I could not see the road.  I only know when the enemy reached there, they were in disarray. The Roman cavalry then turned and came here, to the outpost.  It could not have been better timed, for just then, men from the mount came up to attack us. The cavalry struck them so hard from the rear that despite their weapons, they were forced to flee back to the mount.  They were on foot, you understand.

“Then I saw the thing that worried me greatly. The first charge of the enemy was only the beginning.  The main army, much, much larger, was beginning to charge.  Their numbers appeared so great I feared we had no chance at all.  Then I saw these men and horses shining in the morning sun like saviors sent by the goddess herself.  They were followed by many men on horseback, but they still looked so few compared to the enemy.  Still, as I was watching the lines draw closer, the Mount exploded.  There came a tremendous fire and then a great burst of water utterly destroyed the Temple and blew out the sides of the Mount itself. Great boulders flew through the air, and most on this side crashed into the enemy.  They became confused.”  Fae grinned.

R5 Greta: Connecting the Dots, part 3 of 3

“No.  I said, no.”

“My lady.” Yin Mo began, but Greta put her hands to her ears.

“La, la, la,” she said.  “I’m not listening.”  But fortunately, she looked.  “No!” She screamed.  Marcus stayed his hand.  He got ready to lift the visor on one of the Knights.  “You don’t want to do that.  You don’t ever want to do that.”  She insisted, and with such vehemence, Marcus decided to believe her.

“Please.” Darius sounded like a child, and Greta hid her smile because it certainly seemed a case of elf overdose.  He would adjust.

“This is not a please matter,” she said.  “I am not going to risk harm to my little ones on a transient human event.”

“There is the matter of Sir Burns, Lord Madwick, young Scorch and the lovely Miss Spark,” Yin Mo said.

“That’s different,” Greta said, but it was not really different.  “They are specifically involved in the business of the Kairos.”

“No.” Madwick’s muffled voice came from the statue.  “I think he’s got you there.”  Greta quickly ran to the statue

“Shh!”  She commanded and sheepishly grinned at the others. She was not about to reveal to Marcus that her intention was to try and destroy all the guns and gunpowder.  “Oh, Pandora’s stupid box!”  She swore.  “All right. They can lead the charge, riding like a gaggle of geese in flight.  They are the only ones I would trust to keep the shape.  But they are not to strictly engage the enemy.”

“I know,” Yin Mo said.  “Just cut like a hot knife through butter.  They divide the enemy and push them toward the waiting archers.  I heard.  A thousand.”

It took a moment for Greta to understand, and when she did, she gasped.  “Fifty at the most.”

“Five hundred at the least,’ Yin Mo said.

“A hundred and that is my final word.  Let them cast lots or flip a coin or whatever, but if you say two hundred, I will hit you.”  Yin Mo bit his tongue.  Greta stepped to the three knights and spoke directly.  “Is this agreed?”  She did not have to ask, and of course they said nothing out loud, but Greta heard all the same.  “Good,” She said, and without dramatics, she sent them back to Usgard or Avalon by letting them all fade away.  Greta finally pulled Thissle from behind her legs and picked her up to her hip as she might have held a small child.  Quill covered Thissle felt almost afraid for Greta at first, but then she realized her quills would not and could not hurt Greta.  No little one could hurt her, even inadvertently.

“Goddess, is it?” Marcus quipped.  “The Lady has been promoted?”

“No, she’s always been our goddess.”  Thissle said in her innocent, out of turn way.  “Except she doesn’t like the “G” word, so she is our lady.”

“Only to my little ones.”  Greta looked squarely at Marcus.  “As far as the rest of the universe is concerned, I am simply a seventeen-year-old human female with a Mama and Papa and brothers, and I am going to be married to a fine man, whom I love.  And we will grow old together.  And, while I think of it, does anything get by you?”

“I don’t miss much.”  Marcus admitted.  “So that’s it, then.  Our plans are set thanks to Gaius and the Lady who doesn’t like the “G” word.

“Ahem.”  Hersecles cleared his throat.

“Yes, I almost forgot.”  Greta handed Thissle to Darius with a word to stay out of trouble.  Darius and Thissle looked at each other and wondered which one Greta was talking to.

“Hersecles is the only one who is right as far as it goes,” she said.  “The Temple Mount is the key to everything, but even if the Legion were here and the Quadi were not, we would have insufficient strength to take it from determined, gun-toting defenders.  I remember once facing a similar situation with regards to the heights overlooking Athens.  The Princess had to deal with gun toting defenders then, too.

“When was that?” Marcus asked.

“Some three hundred and fifty years ago, give or take,” she said, deep in thought.

“What did she do?’ Gaius asked.

“I had my little ones tunnel up from the inside, beneath their positions.  We took them completely by surprise.”

“What a marvelous idea,” Marcus said.

Greta shook her head.  “There isn’t time, even as fast as some dig.  And besides, it would not work.  The Temple Mount is full of underground water and it is under enormous pressure.  That is why the whole area is full of so many natural springs and bogs.  You can’t dig through water.  So that just leaves me, alone, to go up the hill with my graven idol.”

“Sir Burns, Lord Madwick, young Scorch and the lovely Miss Spark,” Marcus said.

“Thank you, my Lord.”  The female voice came from the dolphin while Greta and the others took their first real look at the statuette under the earthly sun.  Greta saw that what looked a bit ostentatious in the Second Heavens, looked beyond reason under the first.  It might have put the crown jewels of almost any nation to shame. Greta quickly covered it with the cloth she had brought, and she rebuked the fire sprites to keep silent one last time.

“Wait,” Gaius said.  “You can’t go up to the Temple all alone.”

“I must go with you,” Hersecles said more directly what they were all thinking.

“No, Hersecles,” Marcus said.  He stared at Greta but spoke to the others one by one.  “You have to teach a bunch of berserker Dacians and stubborn Romans to ride in formation in one day.  Gaius, you have fortifications to build.  Gunwart, you need to take men and keep the Quadi off our backs.  And Darius, you need to execute a couple of short and sweet sorties from the city.  I, on the other hand.”

“You need to see Vilam and the others,” Greta interrupted.  “The Celts will be coming through the forest soon enough.  If they come to help, you need to organize that help so you can keep your thousand legionnaires in reserve instead of in the forest.  But if they come to watch, you need to make an alliance and convince them to help, if you can.”

Marcus kicked the table.  He knew she was right.

“But wait.” Darius put Thissle down and suddenly came to his senses.  “You said you loved me.”

“Did I?”

“Yes you did.” Thissle spoke right up.  “Called him beloved, you did.”

Greta turned and ran from the room, recovered statue in hand.  It was true, though, and there no longer seemed any reason to deny it. She let her feelings run free for a moment and thought she might be on the verge of passion.  If only he was not so Roman and she was not so Barbarian.

It turned out that Greta did not get allowed to leave the city until Marcus could escort her as far as the outpost.  Once there, she pulled Hans and Hobknot aside at the first opportunity.

“You two are not allowed to fight,” she yelled, plainly.  “If the fight comes to the outpost, I want you two to get Berry and Fae to safety, is that understood?”

“Wait.” Hans started to object, but Greta interrupted.

“I trust you will use your judgment, but I also trust you don’t want to see Fae and Berry hurt. The forest should provide some safety, and Hobknot knows the quick ways to avoid pursuit.”

Hans laughed. “Who would have thought of the haunted forest as a place of safety?”

“Lady, I have no intention of getting involved in this human squabble.”  Hobknot folded his arms as he spoke.

“Then we are agreed.”  Greta said. “And good thing because I’m hungry.” It felt like lunchtime.

Fae still lay in bed.  She looked very old and frail.  She claimed to need only a little extra rest, and Greta was good not to let on to Berry and the others, but both Fae and Greta were feeling that she might not be around much longer.  Marcus, however, got completely taken by her, and she seemed suitably impressed with him.

“I never lie.” Marcus said to Greta.  “But I do sometimes stretch the truth in order to shape reality.  Fae has a wonderful talent, but there are times in political life when it would not be wise to have her around.”  Greta understood.

By early afternoon they still heard no word on when the Celts might arrive, how many might come, and what their intentions might be when they got there.  Vilam, Vedix and Cecil were firmly in the camp and would fight alongside the Dacians and Romans, but how their fellow Celts might behave was anyone’s guess.  At last, it reached the point where Greta had to go.

“They will not shoot their woman of the ways,” she told the others.  “I cannot guarantee anyone else’s safety, but I should be safe enough, at least to not be killed outright.  I may become a prisoner, but I cannot imagine they will shoot their woman of the ways.”  Greta exuded confidence, and she believed what she said sufficiently to keep Fae’s objections at bay.  On the other hand, she thought Lady Brunhild might be looking for a chance to shoot Greta. Then it could truly be only Lady Brunhild’s ways.  Besides, no telling what poison Brunhild spread among the rebels.  It was not without fear that Greta approached the Temple Mount.

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MONDAY

Greta has to brave the entrenched rebels alone.  She figures anyone with her would be shot on the spot.  She has to get her idol to where the guns and powder are stored.  She has no idea how she might do that, but he has to try.  Monday: The Temple Mount.  Until then, Happy Reading

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R5 Greta: Desperation, part 2 of 3

The physician who came with Papa showed contempt from the beginning, but his contempt got abated a little as Greta pointed out his work and named everything he did in both Latin and Greek.  In truth, she spent all that while examining the wound.

Papa stayed respectfully quiet and only said “Ouch,” in the appropriate places. Meanwhile, Hans came in with arms full of moldy bread, and Vanesca returned at about the same time with the water. Greta set them immediately to preparing the penicillin which would be taken orally, though they hardly knew what they were doing, or why.

Papa’s leg had not yet become infected, but it seemed rapidly headed in that direction. She examined Papa’s hands.  When the assassin struck, he missed the target, struck only Papa’s leg; but the sword went to the bone and even cut a hairline fracture.  As Papa cried out, he grabbed the sword and held on to the blade so the assassin could not draw it out and strike a second blow.  Papa demonstrated and explained.  “Then Marcus tackled the man and had him tortured.  That was how we found out about Kunther’s rebellion,” he said, and Greta knew that was also how they found out about the guns.

Papa’s hands did not look to be cut too badly.  They were already healing.  But not every soldier was scrupulous about keeping his weapon clean.  Some blades even developed a keen edge of rust. Soldiers routinely died, not from the wound, but from the infection that developed.  Greta well understood why the Roman physicians recommended removal of the leg.  His chances for survival were not good if he lost the limb, but if his leg turned green, his chances became zero.

Greta finally stood up.  Everyone waited.  “You missed a sliver,” she told the physician.  “Did the sword break?”

“No.” Darius spoke up.  “But it had notches in several places, like a sword that had been in hard battle.  I suppose a piece may have broken off against the bone, isn’t that possible, physician?”

“I suppose it is possible.”  The physician admitted.  “But we can do nothing about that now, certainly not with the wound already closing. The leg is ready to green, and there is nothing we can do about that either, except remove the leg and burn it off and hope for the best.”

“No,” Greta insisted.  “We get out the sliver and then treat the leg against infection.”  She sounded so sure.  “Papa.  You will have to follow my directions for the next twenty-one days.  If you do, you will get well.”  She sounded very stern and he raised his eyebrows.

“I mean it.” Greta spoke with everything she had. “Do you understand?”

“Yes, Mother.” Papa nodded.

“Good,” Greta said.  “Physician and Hans stay.  Everyone else out.”  Vanesca and Darius looked up.  “Sorry,” Greta said.  “This is necessary and important.”

They agreed, and as they left, Greta made her Papa drink the sleeping potion.  Then she got a bowl of fresh water and got the physician to start cleaning the wound while she stepped outside.  Marcus paced there, with about twenty men waiting as well as they could.  Gaius mounted and Darius followed.

“You brought up the entire cavalry troop?” Greta asked.

Darius and Gaius looked at each other.  Romans did not easily share such information, but Marcus did not hesitate.  “Three hundred,” he said.  “And about an equal number of auxiliaries and of your own people.”

“Vanesca!”  Greta shouted before Vanesca got out of earshot. “Go fetch Yanda’s father and tell him I need him here, on horseback, and dressed for war, immediately.”

Vanesca waved.

“Immediately!” Greta repeated herself to be sure.

“The whole legion is following?” she asked Marcus.

“Pretty much,” he admitted.  “The legion in Apulum is spread all over the countryside, but VII Claudia is mostly intact and coming up from Vimiacium on the Danube.”

“Take Yanda’s father with you,” she said.  “His name is Hersecles.  He is too old for much of a fight, but he has the respect of all who know him, and that is a lot of people.  What is more, his whole heart is for peace with Rome and against rebellion.  He can replace Eldegard if Eldegard should prove false.  I am not saying he will turn false, mind you.”  Marcus nodded, and Greta felt terrible suggesting it because Eldegard was Drakka’s father.  “I know Papa picked him,” she went on.  “But he was on the fence.  Part of the reason for Papa’s pick was to bring him over to the side of peace.”  She had nothing more to say, and after that, they waited, and waited until Marcus could barely contain his impatience.

“If I had a copper for every time I had to wait,” Gaius quipped.  “Do you know how rich I would be?”  Marcus nodded, but it did not help.

They waited, and the Roman physician came out to report.  “The wound is clean, your father is asleep, and the boy is bored.”  He related things in his own order of importance.

“Fine,” Greta said, a bit sharply.  She felt uncomfortable, not because of the wait, but because Darius kept staring at her. Finally, she could stand it no longer. “What?”  She shot the word at him, and it distracted Marcus for the moment.

“Nothing.” Darius sat upright.  “Did I say something?”  He asked Gaius, not expecting an answer.

“Damn it!” Greta felt unhappy with herself. She wanted to hate herself, but she had to say it.  “Damn it!” She repeated.  “Just don’t get yourself killed, all right?  It wouldn’t be much of a wedding without you. Okay?  I said it.”  Greta felt herself flush red from anger and several other conflicting emotions.

“Bravo!” Marcus shouted.  Then Hersecles chose that moment to show up so she did not get a response from Darius, if he had one.

Greta made the introductions and gave Hersecles her instructions before they raced off to catch the troop which was already well ahead of them.

“He doesn’t look like much of a warrior,” the physician noted.

“Better than I thought,” Greta responded, and she brought the physician back inside the house.

Hans sat by the bed watching Papa snore, but the minute they came in he asked the question which had been pressing on his mind.  “Will my Nameless be able to help?”  To his disappointment, Greta shook her head, and then explained.

“This is not a spiritual matter.  It is strictly a matter of flesh and blood.”  Greta saw that the wound looked tolerably clean so she said, “Thank you” to the physician.

“But can you do this alone?” Hans pressed.

“No,” she admitted.  “But Doctor Mishka can.  She is a trained battlefield surgeon and she operated on far worse after Tannenberg, and even here in Dacia, though they did not call it Dacia in 1915.”

“Who is Mishka?” Hans asked, responding on the one thought he grasped from all that she said. Greta could see the same question forming in the physician’s mind.

“Take my hands,” Greta said.  “It is sort of a tradition.”  And she grasped Han’s hand and held the physician’s hand firmly.  She closed her eyes and reached out, not with her mind or heart, but with her spirit, and not in space, but sliced through time, even to the twentieth century.  All at once, Greta no longer stood there.  The Doctor stood in her place and felt much too snug in Greta’s dress.  The Roman nearly ran, but Mishka put her arm out and Hans restrained him.

“My surgical garb.”  Mishka called, and like the armor, it replaced Greta’s dress.  “Better,” Mishka took a deep breath.  “My black bag.”  She called again and the bag appeared in her hand, and she felt ready.

“Doctor Nadia Illiana Kolchenkov.”  Mishka introduced herself to the Roman and shook his bewildered hand.  “Colonel, late of the Army of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.”  That was 1945, not 1915.  This seemed an older Mishka than Greta had envisioned.

“Flaminius Vinas,” the Roman said, meekly.

“Pleased to meet you,” she said.  “Now you must assist.”  She winked at Hans who smiled broadly.  In this one he could see at least a little of his sister.  He could never pinpoint a particular feature.  Even the hair and eye colors were different.  But his sister was in there all the same.  “We make a fine troika,” Mishka said.  “But my brother must finish his potion as instructed, yes?”

R5 Greta: Betrothed, part 1 of 3

It took nearly three hours just to wash and braid Greta’s hair, and apply ever so little make-up. She hardly had time to fix her dress before she had to leave, and that was with Vanesca and Yanda helping all the way. Mama felt too nervous to be any help, but she did corral the girls, and at the last minute, wove a spring flower into Greta’s hair and dabbed some essence in several places.  Then she began to cry.

Greta walked slowly with her girlfriends, and tried hard not to think of it as a funeral procession.   They found a great crowd gathered at the central town square, but the crowd parted for her and she heard several mumble, “Little Mother.”  She saw Lord Darius immediately.  He was in the open center, astride a horse, in front of the fountain. She had to admit, he looked rather attractive in full armor, flashing gold in the midday sun.  Thoughts of Troy returned to her mind and she decided she must have been there in some other lifetime.  She also decided that Darius looked a little like glorious Hector before the walls, ready to hold the line against all challengers.  Hector the glorious, yes, but the enemy all the same.

Darius faced a temporary platform which had been set up for the occasion.  Papa, Lord Marcus, and several other men sat on the platform.  The rest, both Roman and Dacian, stood around the outside of the square, in near silence, ten or twelve deep in some places.

Greta left Mama and the girls at the edge of the crowd.  She crossed the open space slowly, thinking she should have a horse as well.  She resented the lowly status of women standing beside the man at the level of his feet; but there was no helping that.

When she reached the horse without stumbling or making a fool of herself, she breathed and placed her hand gently on the horse’s neck to steady herself.  Then she looked up.

Darius looked down and their eyes met.  She saw him visibly brighten and lose the worried look on his face.  He almost seemed happy to see her.

“I was hoping it would be you.”  He whispered in Latin so only she could hear.  Most of even his own troops only spoke Greek.

“I?”  Greta dropped her eyes.  She did not know how to respond to that, and besides, Papa started introducing the son of the Emperor.  Marcus droned on about Darius’ Senator Father and great family line and so on. At last, Greta got introduced as the daughter of the new high chief, and that was all.  Greta did not quite understand.  Marcus was smarter than that.  He should have made a lot more noise about just who she was in the community and to all of the Dacians.  Then she knew what he had in mind as she heard a commotion behind her and saw the crowd part.  Mother Hulda moved slowly through the midst of the people.  She came to Greta and held out her arm.  Greta took it and helped the old woman the rest of the way to the platform steps.

“My embarassement.”  Marcus called Greta that to her face.

“I have forgiven you,” Greta said.  “Get over it.”

Marcus gave a little bow.  “Truly you are a wise woman.”

“I am,” she responded with a smile.  “Now move, you big oaf.”

Marcus almost started to laugh, but backed up a step or two before he lost his composure. Meanwhile, Mother Hulda, with Greta’s help, reached the top of the steps.  Then she let Greta go and turned to face the square.  It felt almost quiet enough to hear the people breathe.

“You know the Little Mother.”  Mother Hulda said in Dacian and then repeated everything in Greek.  Greta turned red as all eyes in that big crowd glanced at her. “Your future is in her hands, and I will tell you the gods have chosen her beyond anything ever before seen or heard. The Nameless god himself has vowed to protect her and be her champion.  The Alfadur, Frigg, and even the trickster Loki have acknowledged her and blessed her.  And not only the gods of the Venedi, but Danna, the old mother goddess of the Celts and Salacia of the Romans have also recognized her above all others.  There is a greater power and authority in her than I ever dreamed of seeing in my lifetime.  But then, I did not come here to speak of the Little Mother.”  She paused until even Greta worked through her crimson color and looked at her with curiosity.  “No.”  She went on. “It is Lord Darius about whom I must speak.”  She paused again and people wondered.  What could she possibly know about Darius?

“You Romans honor him for the blood of his father and his family which is great in Rome. This is right.  But now I also ask the people to honor this man for his blood.” She caught her breath before she spoke loud and clear.  “Lord Darius is the son of my niece.”  She said in both Dacian and Greek.  “His grandmother was my sister.”  She said that only in Dacian, but that was all she had to say.  She turned instantly for the steps and Greta, without really thinking, turned with her to help her.  She glanced at Marcus and felt surprised.  He did not know.  He did not know everything!  Then over the noise of the crowd which still sounded out its’ own surprise, Marcus looked back at Greta and spoke his heart.

“Gods, I love this universe!”  He began to laugh loud, almost uncontrollably, as if to say the universe just played a tremendous joke on him, and he got it.

From the steps, Greta saw Darius spur his horse and ride out of the square, forcing some men to stand aside in order to let him pass.  Of course, that meant Lord Darius did not know this himself.  Mother Hulda had surprised absolutely everyone.

Greta and Mother Hulda walked all the way back to Greta’s house without a word between them. Once inside, Greta insisted they sit and rest.  Mother Hulda looked older in that moment than Greta had ever seen her.

“Are you mad at me?” Mother Hulda asked at last.

“No, Mother. How could I ever be mad at you?”

“Are you mad at your father?” she asked.

“No,” Greta answered honestly enough.  She got up and put their empty water cups beside the bucket.

“Are you mad at yourself?”  Mother Hulda asked a third question.

“No Mother.” Greta sighed.  “Why do you think I should be angry?”

“What are you feeling?” Mother Hulda asked.

Greta paused to search everywhere she could search.  “I love my family,” she said.  “I love you, too, but otherwise I feel very confused.  I do not know what I am feeling, exactly.”

Mother Hulda nodded, satisfied.  “I must go home now,” she said.  “I want to be there before the visitors come.”  Greta could only guess who those visitors might be, but she imagined there would be several, including Papa and Lord Marcus.  She walked Mother Hulda home and then returned to her own home to wonder what could possibly happen next.

About an hour after sundown, Greta abandoned her thoughts.  She decided to get ready for bed when there came a knock on the door. Mama assumed another one of the women arrived.  They had been in and out all afternoon, talking of the wedding.  They would talk for another six weeks before anything would be done, and naturally, Greta had no say in the matter.  Fine with her.  Greta felt rather proud of herself for successfully avoiding every visitor, so far.

When Mama opened the door, she took a half step back.  A Roman soldier stood there, and Papa had not come home yet.

“Compliments m’lady.”  The man spoke right up without coming inside.  “My name is Sergeant Gaius.  I have been instructed to tell you that young Hans will be escorted home shortly, but alas, the Lord Vaden will likely be at the festivities until the small hours.”

“They will probably have to drag Hans home kicking and screaming the whole way,” Greta said, only half under her breath.  She watched her mother visibly relax and respond.

“Yes, thank you,” she said, and then Greta prevented her mother from closing the door.

“There is more,” Greta said, and Gaius nodded as if to say he had a respect for Greta that went beyond her marriage position.

“Of course,” Mama said.  “Please come in.”  She stepped back and the old soldier stepped into the light of the doorway but came no further into the house.

“Lady Greta,” he said to gain her attention, and in the light, she looked over this big, gray haired, grizzled old warrior.  He had the kind of aura about him that young men would follow into battle, if they knew what was good for them.  But then, he also appeared to be oozing with loyalty, a man who could be trusted, and once he set his mind on friendship, he would prove as loyal as the most loyal lap dog.

Gaius straightened up until he almost stood at attention.  “The Lord Darius requests the presence of his betrothed this evening for a brief time of conversation.  I have been sent to escort the lady, and I will return her safely on my life.”  He said that last to Mama.  Mama looked at Greta while Greta stood up as tall as she could, which was not nearly so tall.

“I do not appreciate being fetched,” she said.  Mama put her hand to her mouth.  Gaius did not discernibly flinch.  “Nevertheless, I will visit Lord Darius.  I have some questions as well.”  She picked up her scarf, long since free of mud and put her red cloak over all, leaving the hood down, though the night air could still have a chill.  Gaius stepped outside and she followed and reminded herself that it was still early in the spring.  A lot could happen before mid-summer.