After 128 A.D. Dacia
Kairos 91: Mother Greta, Woman of the Ways
Greta woke, sweating. Nightmares, she thought. Then she thought she needed to lose about twenty pounds. She sat up in bed.
Her mind shot first to her children, Gaius, Marta, Marcus, and little Hildi. Gaius became a handful when he turned eleven, but he remained her good son. He did what she asked of him, if she could pry him loose from his friends. Marta turned eight and could not decide if she wanted to be rough and tough or sweet. She was a pretty one. Sweet suited her better. Marcus turned five. He was her troublemaker. But he was smart, her own slick little bean. She saw his hands all over trouble, but he rarely got caught. Hildi entered her terrible twos and they were as terrible as reported. Greta concluded that she did not wake because of the children. If there was a problem, their nurse Selamine would come to fetch her.
Greta put her hand on Darius’ shoulder. He turned on his side, away from her. She did not mind. When he slept on his side, he did not snore so much.
Her mind turned to her father. Mother brought him to Ravenshold when he suffered his stroke. Mother brought him to Mother Greta to see what could be done. Mother Greta was the Woman of the Ways for all of the Dacian people. She was the only one in the whole province. The Romans called her the Wise Woman of the Dacians. The Celts called her a Druid. She could read and speak a half-dozen languages. She remembered the stories—the history of her people, and in the telling, provided social cohesion to the disparate people in the province. People, from the lowest slaves to the greatest chiefs came to her for counsel. She taught healers and midwives and served as apothecary and physician wherever there was need. But she could do nothing for her own father.
Mother cried but understood. They could make him comfortable, but he would not live long. The thing is, if he was a simple farmer, or even the chief of the Tibiscum tribe in and around the town of Boarshag, people would mourn, and that would be the end of it. But that was not the case. Greta’s father was the high chief of the Dacians, elected twelve years earlier by representatives of the many tribes that made up the Dacian people. The Romans refused the title, king. He was technically the high chief. But the Romans allowed that for the sake of stability and to maintain peace in the province. And he did his job, but he could not control the future once he died.
Mother Greta trained since childhood under the former Woman of the Ways. Mother Hulda taught her many things, including how to read the signs of the times, and extend her little bit of magic into the wind to see what she might see. Greta saw the sparks of anger and resentment against the Romans, and the thousands of Romans that moved into the province since Trajan. Ulpia Traiana, the capital that most Dacians still called by the old village name, Ravenshold, called Sarmizegetuza on some maps out of deference to the old Dacian capital, though it was not the old Dacian capital, was in truth a Colonia of Romans laid over the top of the old village. There would be peace in Ulpia Traiana—in Roman populated Ravenshold. But the rest of the province was another story.
Greta closed her eyes and held out her hand as if that might clarify her feelings. She suspected rebellion might come once her father died. The only thing that made the people hesitate was fear, not of Roman retribution, but fear of the tens of thousands of Scythians and other Iranian descended tribes that pressed in on the border—not to mention the Germanic tribes, like the Quadi and Macromanni, and the Goths—not to mention the more distant Slavs. The question became whether anger and hatred of the Romans or fear of being overrun by barbarians would win out.
Greta rolled out of bed and went to her desk. She got out a piece of velum, a jar of ink that looked mostly liquid, and a quill—the sharpest she could find. She would write a letter to Marcus Aurelius, Darius’ childhood friend. Marcus’ adopted father, Antoninus, was the Roman Emperor. She guessed it might be 157. She turned twenty-nine earlier in the year. Now, the summer was nearly over. She paused and looked at the side door.
Mavis, her handmaid, her elf-maid in her little alcove room was awake, no doubt. It had been a struggle, but after many years, Mavis learned to keep to herself and only come when called. Thank goodness. She put her quill to the paper.
Allow me once again to congratulate the Emperor, Antoninus Pius, your father, for appointing Marcus Sedatius Severianus at the end of 151 as a replacement for General Pontius over L XIII G., and to replace my husband Darius as governor of the province. The man had a brain and a heart and was not slow to take advantage of our drubbing of the Iranian tribes and Scythians in the north, at Porolissum. Between Marcus, Darius, and my father, the province has known peace and prosperity these six years, and much of that prosperity has flowed to Rome to enrich the empire.
Having praised you and your father, please allow me to point out that your new governor, Marcus Statius Priscus Licinius Italicus… Greta paused to make sure she got all the names correct. …is a moron, and a harsh, cruel, insensitive jerk who may be perfect for the empire somewhere else but is all wrong here. Instead of supporting the peace and prosperity of the people, he is driving the people to anger and hatred for Rome and Romans. I am sure that is not what you want. Please do not be surprised if the people rise up and kick the A-hole out on his A-hole.
Greta read what she wrote so far, before she finished. My father has suffered a stroke. He will not live long. I cannot vouch for what the people may do when he is gone. Consider this your warning. Please consider it also my plea for your father to have mercy on my people should that prove necessary. Remember that they are not responsible for the intolerable situation they are in. For the stubborn mule that is Dacia, the carrot works better than the stick. Besides, given our exposure, you can be sure the Lazyges, Roxolani, Costoboci, and many others are just waiting to see us divided and fighting one another.
Marcus. I pray all are well with you and yours.
The moment she signed her letter, Greta fell into a vision. Mother Greta was well known for having visions of what was to come. She managed to fall gently to the floor. She also managed to whisper “Mavis.” Her elf heard and came running. After only a moment, Darius woke and carried her to bed, but Greta focused on something else.
Lincoln, Alexis, Sukki, Katie, and Lockhart stood in a courtyard behind a makeshift fort, firing their weapons at an enemy. Romans and Dacians stood with them making a wall around the civilians behind them. The soldiers kept their javelins and swords in hand to face whatever got close. The fort consisted of a tipped over table, several chairs, and a dresser. The view pulled back. Greta saw giant vipers, and giant rats with them. The view pulled further back.
“Where are the others?” Greta yelled, even as she saw they were in a town. “Rhiannon,” her heart shouted for help. She imagined in the north. “Rhiannon.” They were in an old fort of some kind. She spoke out loud. “Where are the others?”
“The other what?” Darius asked.
Greta opened her eyes. Her hand grabbed Darius by the arm. “We have to go,” she said. “We have to go yesterday. Mavis…”
“I’ll start packing,” Mavis did not question the order, but Darius did.
“Go where? What about your father? What about the children?”
“Mother,” Greta said, as if that answered everything. “Mavis, get the troop up and ready.”
“Go where?” Darius blocked her way.
“North. I thought the giant spiders were the work of the witch. Apparently not.” She stepped around him to get to her dresser. She paused to calculate distance and days of travel and made an educated guess where the time gate might be. She closed her eyes and let her thoughts reach out seven days ride to the north. Chip and Snowflake sometimes visited in her brother Bragi’s house. She needed them to gather the winter fairies, to search and find the travelers, and guide them safely to Bragi and Karina’s house in Porolissum.
Greta cut the connection to the fairies. She began to weave, feeling dizzy. She put her hand to her head.
“Greta?” Darius reached out and held her up.
“I’m fine,” she said and went back to her packing. “I’m just going to get a monster headache.”