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.”

###

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.

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

MONDAY

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

Until then, Happy Reading

*

R6 Greta: Going, Regardless, part 2 of 3

Dacia seemed a melting pot of people.  Her own heritage, a mixture of Thracian Gatae and Germanic Venedi.  Some Dacians had roots in the Sarmatian people and the Scythians that ruled the steppes.  Others came from Panonia, Moesia, or still thought of Greece or Macedonia as the homeland of their ancestors.  Then there were thousands of Romans that were encouraged to move into the province.  More came every year: retired legionnaires, merchants of all sorts, and rich men in the mountains where imported Dalmatian miners dug out the precious gold and silver, and the iron that made Rome’s strong right arm.  In these seven years, especially after the last rebellion, the empire settled thousands of auxiliaries along the border and to protect the roads where they built forts and fortified towns and villages.  These auxiliaries came in from all over the empire, from as far away as Syria, North Africa, Gaul and Britannia.  And these all spoke Latin where they could not otherwise communicate with one another.  That tongue, a kind of lingua-franca of the province, began to affect all the other tongues and would one day lay at the foundation of the language they would call Romanian.  Greta knew something of the far future.  Too bad she could only guess what tomorrow might bring.

“Lady.”  Mavis insisted until Greta accepted the cloak, graciously.  She could still see the wagons slowly dragging down the road, but at that distance she could no longer make out where the Roman cavalry ended and the auxiliaries took over, much less see Darius or her father.

Greta pulled her wind-driven light blond locks out of her mouth and eyes and turned to follow the line of the ancient forest that ran as far north as her eyes could see.  The Celts lived in the forest, and on the far western side of the mountains, in the hills that ran down from the Transylvanian plateau. Most of the Celtic land lay technically beyond the boundary, so officially outside of Roman control. Likewise, there were many Dacians, her own people, who lived outside the official Roman border.  Most of the Dacians, like her people, were part Germanic, part Thracian-Greek, part Scythian and Sarmatian.  Then there were dangerous Germanic tribes pressing on the border of the empire, like the Quadi, the Macromanni, the Bastarne and further afield there were Vandals and Goths.  There were also Scythian descendants outside the province of Dacia, great tribes like the Lazyges, Roxolani, Costoboci and Carpi.  And they all hated each other, fought and struggled for land, and distrusted and did unspeakable things to strangers.  Greta decided she had to be mad contemplating the journey she had in mind.

Greta stretched out her senses.  She knew the Romans were building a wall of men against all of the outside pressures that threatened to overrun the peace.  Sadly, the Romans, and the XIII Gemina Legion safely behind their walls at Apulum, were not paying nearly enough attention to the struggles within the province.  The melting pot of Dacia was going to boil over and the only question was when.

“Tomorrow and the next hundred years are always a mystery,” Greta said, mostly to herself.

“As you say, Lady,” Mavis dutifully answered, as they stepped off the battlements and made their way back to the Governor’s residence.

Greta hoped the outsider Dacians she would run into would be people she could relate to, people who might be able to guide her in the way she needed to go.  Hans and Berry, Fae and Hobknot were not only gone for two years, it felt like they were taken right out of the world altogether.  She could not touch them with her mind’s eye, not even Hobknot, a pure blood hobgoblin.  It felt unnatural.  All she knew was they were not dead.  They were hidden, invisible, like they were prisoners of a great power, or maybe protected by a great power, but in any case, she would have to go and fetch them.

“Mother!” Greta called as she came into the house. Mavis took her cloak and Greta walked to the great hall where they took their meals and held all those boring state dinners.  “Mother?” Greta’s mother sat there, feeding mush to two-year-old Marta.  Four-year-old Gaius sat on the floor, playing with blocks and the children’s nurse, Selamine watched.  Greta paused to give her son a kiss while mother spoke.

“Did the men get off?  I worry about your father making such a long trip.  Six months away is a long time, even if it is important, as he said.”  Greta interrupted her mother by kissing her on the cheek before Mother finished her thought.  “He is not so young now, you know, and the leg where he was wounded throbs sometimes, and he does not walk well.”

“Mama,” Marta threw her hands up for some of those kisses and knocked the spoon.  The mush dribbled to the floor.

Greta kissed her baby with her whole heart, but made her stay in the chair to finish her mush.  At the same time, her mouth spoke of other things.  “Now that the men have gone, I must go as well.  I am overdue in my own responsibilities.  I have my own journey to make.”

“How so?”  Mother asked. “Your place is here, with your children.”

“I am the woman of the ways for all of Dacia. Marcus Aurelius himself proclaimed me the wise woman for the Romans, and I have been named a druid among the Gaelic people of the forest.  I have neglected my duties for far too long.”

“Nonsense,” Mother said, and shared a look with Selamine. “Mother Hulda never left her home by the woods.  For the last fifteen years, pilgrims came to her doorstep.  People came to her to learn how to be midwives and healers. Chiefs came to her for counsel. Ordinary people made the pilgrimage to her home to receive the words of her wisdom.  You know this well from the many years you spent with her, and now the people seek you here.  This is your place, at home with your children.”

Greta shook her head.  “No mother.  The Emperor himself charged me with responsibility for Drakka and all of the lives that I begged him to spare after the last rebellion.  I have neglected this responsibility.  I must check on Drakka and Liselle.  I must go see Bragi, Karina and their children.”  Bragi was Greta’s older brother, and Mother changed her thoughts as fast as a fairy.

“You are going to see Bragi and the grandchildren? Can I go with you?”

“Not this time,” Greta smiled, and offered her mother another kiss on the cheek.  “But Bragi and Karina are not branded.  Perhaps I can bring them and the children to come and visit you here.”

“Johannes.”  Mother called for the house butler before she turned again to her daughter.  “Does Darius know you are leaving Ravenshold? Does your father know?”

“I will be meeting them in Porolissum when they arrive in the north in a few months,” Greta said what she hoped would be true.

“Lady?”  Johannes arrived and bowed to the wife of the high chief and to Greta, the mistress of the house.

Mother put the bowl and spoon on the table as she spoke.  “Marta needs cleaning, and so does the floor.  Selamine, please take the children out to the green where they can play with their friends.”

“Very good,” Johannes and Selamine spoke more or less together while Mother framed her thoughts.

Gaius shouted, “Yea!” and knocked over the blocks. Greta took the cloth and dipped it in the bowl of water to wipe Marta’s mouth.  Marta knew the routine and held out her hands, fingers spread

“But Greta,” Mother had one more word.  “Porolissum is on the border and it is dangerous and full of dangerous men.  There was a reason the rebels were given a choice, to lose their heads or be branded and guard the border, because the border is dangerous.”

“Exactly why I must go see Procurator Spato and Captain Ardacles to arrange an escort.”  Greta kissed her children once more and stepped out of the great hall before Mother could think of any more objections.

R6 Greta: Going, Regardless, part 1 of 3

Greta sat up in bed when she heard a woman’s voice. “Stay away.  Don’t come here.”

“Who is calling?” Greta asked.  It did not sound like her mother’s voice.    She looked once around her darkened room.  She saw no one there at all.  Even Darius was missing.  In the back of her mind, she knew this had to be a dream, but she felt helpless to wake.  Perhaps it came from all the stress of preparing for Darius and her father’s six-month trip around the province.  Then again, Greta secretly prepared for her own trip, and she had to do so without letting on to anyone.  That seemed stressful by definition.

“You must stay away,” the woman’s voice echoed in the night.

Greta went out from her room and wandered through the house, calling, “Hello.  Who is there? Is anyone there?”  The whole house appeared empty and dark.

“Hello,” the woman called.  “Over here.”  The voice sounded spooky with echoes, but it came from the Great Hall.  Greta went into the big room slowly and carefully. It appeared as dark and empty as the rest of the house.  Only a sliver of light from the fingernail moon slanted across the floor.

“Hello?”  Greta called again and the response came from only a few feet away.

“Here you are,” the woman said, and Greta saw her, and gasped, because she had seen this woman before, only she could not say where.

“Who are you?” Greta asked, and she looked close. The woman had long black hair that curled over her shoulders.  She had eyes that glowed with the color of the moonlight, and she appeared to be wearing a nightgown made of silk, see-through.  It hid nothing.  The woman’s breasts were full and firm, her waist slim, and her hips where her hands rested were well made to carry her long legs.  Greta gasped at the woman’s beauty and felt very small and plain.

Greta blinked and they ended up back in her bedroom, and Greta realized she wore much the same slinky, silky night dress.  She fought the urge to look in the full-length brass mirror.

“I love your hair,” the woman said.  “Your yellow-white hair sets off your soft brown eyes.  I would call them beige, sparkling eyes.  And the way you have your hair cut.  It just fits your cute little round face.”

“Who are you?”  Greta felt very wary.  She felt strongly that she had seen this woman before, at least in her dreams, and of late they had not been pleasant dreams.

“Mithrasis,” the woman said, and stepped closer.  “And I think if you came for me I might be able to work something out.”  She moved her hands across Greta’s breasts, a quick caress, and snaked her arms around Greta’s back until they encircled her and pulled her in tight.  Then the woman pressed her lips to Greta’s lips in a lover’s kiss.  Greta’s eyes went wide and she wriggled her hands up to push the woman away.  As Mithrasis staggered two steps back, Greta wiped her mouth, but Mithrasis laughed.

“Such a pity,” Mithrasis said.  “So, we are back to stay away.  If you want to live, stay away.”

“I will be coming, to get Hans and Berry, Fae and Hobknot, and I will bring them safely home.”

“Then I will stop you.  I will probably have to kill you.  True, the geis of the gods is still on you, Traveler, so it will have to be done carefully, but there are ways.”

“I might die,” Greta admitted.  “I am a person of small magic.”  She certainly had nowhere near the magic of Mithrasis to invade a person’s dream with such a real presence.

“Killing you would be a terrible waste.” Mithrasis winked and let out a sly grin. “Let me know if you change your mind and decide to share my bed, but otherwise, stay away.”  Mithrasis began to glow until the light became so bright, Greta had to shut and cover her eyes.  Then she sat up in bed.

Darius mumbled and put his hand out to touch her, but he did not wake.  Greta spit on the floor and wiped her mouth again.  She thought, another few months and she will have been married for seven years. She would be twenty-four soon enough, and she still loved her husband.  She slid down under the covers and took his arm.  She made him turn a little to his side and draped the arm over her waist.  She snuggled and put her hand over his arm and on to his back.  Then she got close to his face where she could hear and feel his long, slow, sleepy breaths.

Mithrasis could not be the witch Greta first thought. She had to be a goddess, and as such she did not belong there. The time of the gods ended some hundred and fifty years ago, but a few did refuse to go over to the other side.  Greta should have been afraid to disobey a goddess, but as the Kairos, she had been counted among the gods for thousands of years.  That was why Mithrasis needed to be careful. For a god, to kill the Kairos became an instant ticket to Hell, at least back when the gods were around and in charge of such things.

Greta shifted her head on the pillow and blew the hair away that had fallen into her mouth.  Mithras, she thought.  The great mascot of the Roman army.  But he was a male.  Who was this Mithrasis woman?  She tried to put it out of her mind, except she thought that she really had no interest in that direction.  She thought about Darius and fell happily asleep before she woke him to show him how much she loved him.  He would have been happy to oblige her.  He would be going away soon and he would be gone for months.

###

Greta stood on the battlements of the city and watched her husband and father ride off to the south, accompanied by a whole troop of Roman cavalry and auxiliaries.  They would spend near two months touring the Danube and the land grants given to the faithful families after the last rebellion.  It turned to early October, and they wanted a good feel for the harvest.  The emperor himself wrote demanding as much, and Marcus Aurelius, the emperor’s son, added a note at the bottom of the letter.  “Darius, my old friend,” it said.  “Winters have been hard in Italy of late.  You need to be sure every speck of grain that is due to Rome is sent. Pax.”  So, Darius headed south and Greta’s father, the high chief of the Dacians, went with him.

They would spend the heart of the winter at Romula, the capital of Dacia Inferior, before they headed north all the way to Porolissum in the spring.  Porolissum was where the rebels who were not given to the headsman’s axe were branded and told to guard the border at all costs.

This October, 151 A. D., as Greta thought of it, became the seventh and last year Darius would be imperial governor of the province of Dacia, after which he promised to retire.  This also became the seventh year of Greta’s father being high chief of the Dacians, a dubious position the Romans allowed for the sake of peace—and there had been peace for seven years.  But now Darius would retire, and her father started getting old and his strength started failing, and after they were gone, who knew what the future might hold.  Greta smelled rebellion on the wind, and not like last time where a few hundred disgruntled young men took up arms around the capital.  This smelled to Greta like the whole province might go up in flames.

“My Lady.”  Mavis, Greta’s handmaid, stood dutifully close and held Greta’s cloak in her arms.  It still felt early in the fall, but the wind came up and felt cold.  Greta waved her off.  She had too much on her mind and a simple cloak would not help against the chill she felt in the air.

R6 Gerraint: Claudus, part 2 of 3

Gerraint found he could see better than he used to in the dark.  He imagined it like the dwarf nose and the elf ears.  He tried not to let the thought bother him, and turned to Manskin who stood beside him in the dark.  He had come up from Bringloren with the complaint that he did not know Gerraint planned to have so much fun toying with the humans.  His goblins and the few trolls they brought with them wanted in on the action.  Gerraint allowed it on the condition that they be gone by dawn.  He let them haunt the Roman line and keep them awake, especially at the end of the lines where the attacks would come.  He knew the Romans would be half broken by the time the attack came, and Manskin just kept grinning like the cat who caught the mouse.

Numbknuckles, the dwarf chief, Ringwald and Heurst came up to report that the elves and dwarfs were ready.  Gerraint already knew that Lord Birch and young Larchmont had the fee in the trees on the edge of the Vivane, ready to fly to whatever point on the line they might be needed.  More effective than reserve cavalry, he thought, and suddenly doubled over from guilt. He despised putting his little ones at risk, even if they were happy to do it.  Percival came over when Gerraint moaned.  The little ones vanished as Percival expressed his concern.

I’m all right,” Gerraint responded.  “I just don’t like the killing part.”  He tried to smile.  “Twelve thousand years, past and future, and I pray I never get used to it. Now I have a special task to discuss with my two-fifty.”  He mounted his horse and rode to his men.

When the sun began to rise, the horsemen came out from behind the line of archers and bunched up a little on the edge of the plains. Clearly, the Romans expected an infantry charge and set themselves to defend the field.  Also, clearly, they expected the Celts to be tired after charging across that long field, thus adding to their advantage.  A cavalry charge appeared unexpected and the Romans did not know what to make of it.

The knights of the lance came last to the field and formed a perfect arrow head shape.  They appeared an incredibly imposing sight, reflecting back the sunrise into the eyes of the Romans.  Each Knight sported a symbol on the small flag at the top of their lance, on their shield and on their tunic.  Every knight sported a different symbol—no two alike, and Gerraint surmised it would be the only way to tell one from another.  The Knights did not wait for the horsemen to fill the space.  Gerraint and Percival barely got to shout. “For Arthur!” and hear it echoed by Arthur’s men before they started at a brisk walk.

A third of the way across the field, and the knights stepped it up to a brisk trot.  Two thirds of the way across, they began the charge and every lance came down in unison.  The Romans did not like it one bit, disciplined or not, and the whole center of the Roman lines on both sides broke and ran.  The knights and their fifteen hundred followers did not make nearly the noise at impact Gerraint expected.  He looked for a thunderclap, but the sound did not overwhelm the sound of running, screaming Romans.

When the horsemen broke through, they divided well enough.  The RDF set ahead of time which men would go which way, and they divided fairly evenly, taking their lances as close to the front as they could.  Arthur’s men went left to support Arthur.  Hoel’s men went right for Hoel.  Both Arthur’s and Hoel’s foot men charged the flanks.  It came late according to the plan, but Gerraint imagined they were in awe of the cavalry charge and probably did not think to move sooner.  It hardly mattered.  The flanks quickly fell apart, especially when the horsemen charged from their rear, and that left only one way for the Romans to run, across the field and up the rise toward the waiting bowmen.

Some of those Romans did make it to the line of archers, but they were so beaten and tired, they put up little fight, all except one man and his followers.  The man had to be seven feet tall and looked broad in the shoulders besides.  He swept Arthur’s and Hoel’s men aside with a sword altogether too big.  It looked like he and his followers might make it to the shelter of the forest and escape, but an eight-foot ogre came bounding out of the trees.  He tore the man’s sword out of his hand, along with his hand, and hit the big man on the head with his fist, crumpling the man’s helmet and the top of his skull as well.  Then he knocked the man down and stomped on him until he became mush.  A number of Arthur’s and Hoel’s men ran on sight of the beast, but some had the good sense to cheer and renew their efforts.  At that same time, young Larchmont and his fairy troop arrived, assumed their big forms, and shot every Roman in the area, so in the end, none escaped.

Gerraint knew none of this.  He held his two-fifty back from the fray and watched the knights of the lance.  The Roman cavalry had not moved, like men stunned to stillness, and the knights of the lance took advantage of the moment to form four long lines.  They charged the Romans, and Gerraint caught a whiff of divine wrath in their charge.  The Romans fled with all speed, and did not stop at the Frankish border.  Gerraint noticed the Franks brought up a small army, no doubt to watch and critique the battle, and he knew the Roman cavalry would not last long.

Gerraint turned his eyes to the camp and auxiliaries. Claudus was there in his chariot, a fine Roman affectation, but useless on the modern battlefield.  He looked busy arming and rallying his auxiliaries to charge the back of Hoel’s horsemen.  All those cooks and teamsters were slow to get organized, but Claudus had some Visigoths in his auxiliaries, and it began to look like Claudus might bring a credible force to bear.  Claudus watched his army be destroyed.  For him, it seemed an unparalleled disaster.

Gerraint turned and got his two hundred and fifty lancers ready to charge, but the knights of the lance got there first. They slammed into the auxiliaries, cracked shields, knocked men down made men run in absolute panic.  They tore up tents, knocked over wagons and threw everything into such disarray and confusion it would be impossible for Claudus to mount a charge.  Gerraint watched the knights pop out the other side of the camp and disappear, going back to Avalon from whence they came.  Gerraint also noticed that the knights killed no one.  They had not killed the Roman cavalry.  They just drove the enemy into waiting Frankish hands. In fact, Gerraint doubted they killed anyone in the initial charge.  They likely went through them like ghosts, the way they stood on men and tents that the men never noticed the afternoon before.

Gerraint turned to his men and said, “We must fight our own battles.”  Then he turned toward the Roman camp and yelled, “For Arthur!”  They charged on the echo from the men.

Two hundred and fifty men against roughly three thousand auxiliaries did not make good odds, even if the auxiliaries were not the best soldiers.  Fortunately, Lancelot saw and pulled a great horn from his belt.  He let out a blast which got Bohort’s attention, and he charged, Bohort and roughly three hundred men and half of the RDF on his heels.

They fought, faced plenty of resistance, but soon enough the auxiliaries surrendered in droves.  It may be because many of them saw Claudus’ chariot dancing around the battlefield with Claudus shot full of arrows.  Surrender was accepted.  And in fact, by then, Romans were surrendering and pleading for mercy all over the field.

R6 Gerraint: The Lady of the Lake, part 3 of 3

The horse looked bigger than any horse they had ever seen, its nostrils flared, and its breath came in great puffs like mist in the dawn of early spring.  The horse looked covered in a blanket that sported great crosses embroidered in the fabric.  The rider appeared covered head to toe in plate armor so that no part of his flesh could be seen.  He sat on a saddle with a high front and back, and stirrups for his armored feet. And he sported the biggest, longest lance they could imagine, with a simple flag tied to the lance that showed a figure eight on its side, the symbol for infinity.

“About eight hundred years ahead of yourself, wouldn’t you say?”  Gerraint was the first to speak.  The Knight lowered his lance and touched the ground in Gerraint’s direction.

“Who is this magnificent looking warrior?” Lancelot seemed enthralled.

“One of the knights of the lance from Avalon, the same place Excalibur came from,” Gerraint answered.

“Good sir knight,” Arthur started but Gerraint interrupted.

“No.  They don’t talk.  A vow of silence.”  He added that for Lancelot and took a step forward.  “And the answer is no.  No way. Tell Yin Mo no way.”

“No way what?” Lancelot asked.

“Is he volunteering to help?” Arthur, who had been around Gerraint for some time and knew better how to read his shorthand speech, guessed.”

“Yes,” Gerraint answered roughly.  “And a thousand more just like him if I let him.”

“But that would be perfect.”

“No.  It was bad enough endangering the kobold, brownies and fee under Lord Birch, but they were just scouts and kept their bows in the background.  They didn’t attack the enemy directly.”

“But.”

“No.”  Gerraint hesitated.  “Tell Yin Mo I will think about it.  Now please, if you don’t mind.”  He waved off the Knight who raised his lance, turned his horse, and in a few paces disappeared into the trees and the mist.  Even the sound of the horse crunching through the leaves vanished.

###

When Percival and his crew returned in the afternoon, there were six riders instead of five.  Bohort and Lionel went straight to Lancelot.  They had a lot to catch up on.  Gawain and Uwaine still talked about something.  Gerraint did not pry.  The sixth horse took his attention.  It was Meryddin, but he looked old and drained.  Gerraint greeted him normally, and he returned the greeting, but Meryddin made no indication that he thought Gerraint might be anything other than the fourteen-year-old boy he first met outside of Londugnum.  Arthur would barely talk to the man, and when he did it came out in cold, short words.

Percival, not really knowing why Arthur would not be overjoyed to see the old man, sought to reassure Meryddin.  “Be patient,” he said.  “Arthur will come around.”

Meryddin sighed and said he had an appointment. He took the big staff he sometimes carried and stepped into the woods of the lake.

“I wonder how the Lady of the Lake will find him,” Arthur whispered.

“Maybe she will keep him out of our hair for a while,” Gerraint whispered back and said no more about it.

Two days later, the horsemen of Claudus and his advance troops arrived.  It took all that day and all the next for the rest of the legions to catch up.  They immediately took up a defensive position across the open fields, dug trenches and built fortifications around their camp and auxiliaries, but left the field free so the legions could form up and move freely in phalanx formation.  Looking at the way they camped, it became clear they would form up in a kind of upside-down “V” shape, one legion to either side, like the open jaws of a great lion, one man called it.

“More like the paws of a great bear,” Hoel said, when they went into conference.  “The weak point is at the top of the formation where the majority of their troops angle away from each other.  That is the temptation, to attack the center only to have the paws of the great bear close and crush us.”  Hoel had two old men with him, Lord Feswich and Lord Grummon.  Both were in their late forties, Hoel early fifties, and they spoke like they were old and wise and well-seasoned warriors.  Arthur, by contrast, had not yet turned thirty. Gerraint, a year younger, and Percival three years younger at just twenty-five.

“This time, when we hit the enemy from the side and rear we will only drive them to cut deeper into our own men,” Lord Grummon added.

“Excuse me,” Gerraint said.  “But as I understand it, last time you abandoned the plan and went chasing after pockets of Roman Cavalry.”

“That was important,” Lord Grummon defended himself. “We had to make sure the Romans did not regroup,” he said, but then fell silent.

“Maybe we could have the men attack only one legion head on,” Feswich tried thinking.

“And leave the other legion at our backs?” Hoel rejected that idea.

“Well, at least this time we have the advantage in horses,” Feswich said with a nod to Arthur.  “We should be able to deal with the Roman cavalry well enough.”

“That is not what the horsemen must do,” Arthur finally spoke.  “And the foot soldiers need to do something different as well.”

“What?” Feswich shook his head.  “Footmen fight footmen and horse men fight horse men. You are young, but I tell you that is the way it is done.  The stronger arm gains the victory.”

Arthur ignored him and looked at Hoel who looked willing to listen.  “Chieftain, you invited me to your company to take advantage of my experience.  You know we have fought Saxons, Angles, Picts, Scots and the Irish, and we have never lost a battle.  That is because we have not followed the old way of doing things. Listen, and I will tell you how we must fight this battle.”  Arthur paused.  Hoel nodded and kept his men quiet.  Arthur returned the nod and turned to Gerraint.  They had discussed it, but Gerraint could best explain it.  Besides, it would be his knights of the lance out front, and Arthur could step in if needed to negotiate any objections.

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

MONDAY

Claudus:  Arthur and Gerraint order the battle formation.  The Knights of the Lance are ready.  Claudus and his revived Romans await the attack.  The fighting will be fierce.

Until then, Happy Reading

*

R6 Gerraint: Amorica, part 3 of 3

By mid-afternoon, the town looked totally in flames, and even the wall in some sections looked on fire.  The stream of refugees which became a river when the bombardment began, dried up around noon.  The brave men manning the walls kept waiting for the assault, but it would not come.  Gerraint packed up his catapults and lead his men east.  He left strong groups of little ones behind, the kobold, the brownies and Larchmont with his fairy troop.  They would be sure no soldiers or otherwise would attempt to follow, or go in any direction other than south.  After two days and several attempts, the defenders of the town went south by horse and by foot to catch up with the refugees and left the smoldering wreck behind them.

When Gerraint’s men reached the village on the inland road, they found a surprise.  A Frankish troop of about a hundred had moved in and they were enjoying the local ale and entertainment.  Gerraint and Lord Birch went alone to confront them.  There were arguments, not the least from Bohort and Uwaine.  Sergeant Paul wanted to send a troop of escorts, but in the end, Gerraint prevailed.

No one stopped them at the village edge.  The villagers were too busy cowering in their homes.  The Franks watched them, but did not interfere as they rode to the one inn in that village and dismounted.  Several Frankish soldiers greeted them there, or rather greeted their horses and began to discuss what fine specimens they were.  Gerraint ignored them and entered, then took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the dim light and his nose to adjust to the abundance of alcohol.

“Who is in charge of these soldiers?” Gerraint asked. Lord Birch repeated the question in the Frankish tongue.

“Who is asking?” a man said, rudely.

Gerraint went through the litany.  “I am Gerraint, son of Erbin, High Prince of Cornwall, Knight of the Round Table, sometimes called the Lion of Cornwall, and in the name of Arthur Pendragon of all Britain, Cornwall and Wales I ask again, who is in charge of these soldiers.”

The man stood, but Gerraint made an imposing figure and this man did not look nearly as impressive.  “I am,” the man said without giving his name.  “I have heard of this Arthur.”  Gerraint waited for no more information.

“You should not be here.  I am working here right now and I don’t appreciate the interruption.  You need to stay on Frankish lands.”

“This is Frankish land.”

“Not until I am finished.  Listen, and tell your king.  Arthur and Hoel have no designs on the Atlantique.  When we have forced Claudus to bring up his army and we destroy his army, you can play with the Atlantique province all you want, but not before.  You are just getting in the way.  You can kill any Romans who enter fully into your territory, or do what you like with them, but not here on the border.  Right now, you need to go away.  Am I clear?”

A man grabbed Lord Birch, but Gerraint raised his hand and an electrical charge sprang from his hand like lightning and threw the man hard against the men at the side table. The two who had gotten around Gerraint and were about to grab him hesitated, but then Gerraint went away and the Nameless god came to fill his boots.

“Lord Birch.”  Nameless tapped his shoulder and Birch reverted instantly to his true fairy form and took a seat on that shoulder.  “Let me repeat,” Nameless said, as if he was the one who did all of the talking, which in a sense he did.  “Go away until I am finished here.”  Nameless did not wave his hand like Danna or wiggle his fingers like Amphitrite.  He did nothing overt, but a hundred Frankish soldiers, their horses and equipment instantly found themselves deposited a thousand yards into Frankish territory outside of the village.  They rode off in panic, but the commander of the Franks had a thought.

“He did say we could kill any Romans who came on to Frankish lands, didn’t he?”  He heard an answer, out loud and in his face.

“Yes.”

He tried to make his horse run faster.

Gerraint returned with Lord Birch to the camp.  He did not say much as he turned his men to head back to the coast.  After that, he did not bother with the inland road.

Gerraint gave his men a week around Samhain.  It remained time in the wilderness, but the men started getting tired.  They took a village around the winter solstice, and Gerraint stayed for what he called Christmas week.  The only grumbling he got from his troops came because he made them all go to church on Sunday.

Things continued then until late January.  Long range reports said men started marching out of Vascon lands.  Close by, five hundred Roman cavalry got sent to find the Lion and his men.  It did not turn out fair, in a way.  The Romans camped in a large clearing not far from the main road.  It had snowed in the night and threatened more snow all day, so the Romans were not going anywhere for the moment.  Of course, Gerraint knew exactly where they were thanks to his fairy spies, and they had no idea where he might be.  So, it was not really fair, and in some sense too easy.

Gerraint mapped out where the lancers would reenter the forest on the far side.  Then he lined up two hundred of his men and they rode straight through the enemy camp at dawn.  Tents got burned, horses run off and men got run through the middle.  Some lances were lost and some got shattered, but Gerraint did not stop to fight.  He rode his men out the other side of the camp and back into the woods to be swallowed up by the deep shadows under the deep gray sky and the light fog that filtered through the trees.  Then he let his remaining men, all his best hunters, join with the elves in target practice.  As long as they kept to the woods and moved around so as not to be caught, they could shoot as many as they could reach.

One group of twenty Romans on horseback charged a section of the woods where the kobold stood.  One horse, devoid of rider, made it to the tree line.

At noon, the Romans abandoned their tents and equipment and rode hard for the main road.  Gerraint had his eyes watching, but on reaching the road, the Romans went south so Gerraint let them go.  He returned to the abandoned camp to count one hundred and thirteen Roman bodies. Gerraint had some wounded and lost three men in the charge.  They were the last casualties Gerraint suffered in the campaign, and they were remembered.

Uwaine had a comment as they sent out men to round up as many locals as they could find.  “Next time we need to bring more arrows.”  They put the locals to work digging a great trench beside the road. The Romans got buried there, laid out, but in a mass grave.  When they got covered, they made a nice little mound.  Gerraint had simple wooden crosses planted, one hundred and thirteen to mark the graves, and then he left the Roman armor and equipment laid out like it was ready to be worn by the dead.

“You are too kind,” Bohort said.  “You should have left the men hanging from the trees.  That would have sent a much stronger message.” Gerraint sighed.  Bohort was not particularly bloodthirsty, it was the age they lived in.  They had a chance to do that very thing when they caught several groups of advanced scouts from Claudus’ army.

Gerraint affected an orderly withdraw, giving up ground only as fast as the army approached.  He sent fifty men with Sergeant Paul to the inland road and sent Larchmont and his troop with him.  They had to watch ahead and behind, and also be sure the Franks stayed away. He had no trouble, but Gerraint wanted to be sure Claudus did not get the idea of sneaking up the back road in order to get behind him.

Gerraint sent a hundred men with Uwaine to the coastal road.  They found a few places where the locals snuck back to rebuild, but he left them alone. His job was simply to make sure Claudus did not send any more cavalry units in an attempt to get on their flank.

Gerraint kept the last hundred and fifty with him on the main road, though by then it had become more like a hundred.  They had taken some casualties over the year.  He backed up slowly.  Bohort called it terminally slow.  Gerraint understood that the army of Claudus did not feel motivated.

The Romans built the roads so they could move men and equipment quickly.  The men of Claudus were clearly not Romans, despite the publicity, and they despised the road because they did not want to move quickly.  They counted two full legions coming, roughly ten thousand men, though only about six thousand were actual fighters, the others being supply and auxiliary troops.  They were being led by Claudus himself, but even with all that preparation and leadership, they moved like snails.  Gerraint got to calling it the escargot army, though no one knew what that was.

Gerraint sent messages to Hoel and Arthur as soon as things were confirmed.  Apparently, Claudus also managed some messages to his men that were still in Amorica. Gerraint could not imagine how, except maybe by boat.  Arthur and Hoel had been having slow success all year and just about had the land cleared, but whatever Romans remained at that point withdrew and went beyond the Vivane forest to hide in the hills and knolls of the open land, as close to the Frankish border as they dared.  There, they no doubt planned to await the army of Claudus.  Gerraint wrote that they should be taken out, but Arthur and Hoel decided that would take more time and effort, and risk more lives than it would be worth.  So, the allies settled in on the edge of the Vivane forest and waited in the snow.

Hoel lost most of his army when the Romans vacated the land.  The men went home for the winter, but they would be back in the spring or when called. Arthur’s men did not have the luxury. They camped on the cutoff that came down from the north-coast road and skirted just below the mysterious Lake Vivane. That road met the north coast at a very good port where Thomas of Dorset was able to supply the men with many of the comforts of home in lieu of their actual homes.  Arthur kept the men busy with a building project they started in January.  He wanted a fort literally on the other side of the road from the lake to take advantage of the lake to help keep out any invading force.  They just about got the fort finished when Gerraint arrived.  Claudus came a week behind, and Hoel’s men still straggled in.  Gerraint guessed it would be another week to ten days before the deadbeats all caught up and the two armies settled in to face each other. In that time, Arthur had a notion, and he would not be talked out of it.

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

Next Week: The Lady of the Lake

M T & W, 8 o’clock, EST

Lake Vivane, is not haunted, as the locals claim, but it does have its secrets, and Arthur and Gerraint can’t resist a look.  They recover a young man that everyone thought was dead, and Arthur sees his first real medieval castle as well as his first real knight.  MONDAY.

Until then, Happy Reading.

*

R6 Gerraint: Amorica, part 1 of 3

Gerraint came into the great hall at Caerleon wondering what was up.  Enid stayed in the nice home they bought in town, feeding one-year-old Peter and having all the fun.  Worse. She started making sweet little noises in the night and getting very touchy-feely, which suggested she might be pregnant again.  Gerraint did not want to miss that.  He hoped whatever this was, it would not be something that would send him far away from home.

“Gerraint!”  Several men hollered as he came in and he mumbled something about “Norm!”  He glanced at the door that lead to the back rooms and the now greatly enlarged room that held the Round Table.  Gerraint guessed this would not be Round Table business, which meant an appeal from someone not part of the club.  He could not imagine.  The world had been at relative peace for the last five years.

“What’s up?”  Gerraint got to ask his question.

“Sit.  Sit.” Arthur said.  “Hush.”

“Gwyr is about to read the letter,” Tristam said.

Gerraint looked at the table.  His old master Pelenor looked ready to nod off.  Peredur and Ederyn looked sprightly enough. Percival, seated beside them looked so serious.  Kai looked pensive.  Bedwyr grinned.  Gerraint sat next to Gwillim and Gwillim’s brother, Thomas the Sailor, but as he thought about it, he would have guessed Kai would be the grinning one.  Kai came all the way down to Caerleon from the north to show off his new, young bride, Lisel.  She was much younger than Kai and blonde in the worst cliché sort of way. Enid and Gwynyvar said spending time with the girl felt like going into battle.  Constance, Bedwyr’s wife, and a proper woman of grace who had eight years on Enid, said Lisel did not have enough brains to be stupid.  Gwynyvar and Enid professed they were shocked to hear their thoughts expressed aloud.

Gerraint looked again at Kai.  He definitely looked pensive, but then Gwyr started reading.

“You may not yet be aware of Claudus, a cruel and wicked man who is the latest to dream of reviving the glory of Rome. This one, unlike the host of others, may have both the military skill and cleverness to succeed.  Beginning in Provence, he has taken Septimania and Vasconia, carved out a chunk of Aquitaine including Bordeaux, and taken all of the Atlantique coast for his kingdom.  He has halted the Franks in their inevitable advance, and beat the Visigoths back over the mountains.  Now he has trained his eye on Amorica.  I believe it is his plan to swallow up our pleasant land before turning against the Franks in Paris.

“It was some years back when my father Budic gave sanctuary and comfort to your father Uther in the days of Vortigen the Usurper. What is more, he gave Uther the means and support to raise an army to return to Britain and remove the plague from your land.  Now, we are the ones in need, and I have sent my son Howel to you in the hope that you will remember the kindness my father showed to your father.  Furthermore, I request that you may seek out those men who fought for your father and stayed in your good land, and that you may tell them of our need and ask if they may be willing to come home to aid us in our fight. We are hard pressed, and I appreciate whatever help you may deem right and proper.”  Gwyr looked up from the paper before he finished.  “He signed it, your faithful friend and ally, Hoel.”

“Is Howel outside?”  Kai asked straight out.

“He is,” Arthur said.  “But I would hear your opinion first.”  Arthur looked around the table and no one especially had an opinion. His eyes ended on Gerraint, and the other eyes at the table looked as well.  Gerraint stood and threw his gloves to the tabletop.  He paced for a moment and made noises like a man in pain. Everyone stared at him when he yelled.

“All right!”  He lowered his voice and leaned on the table.  “Okay.”  He calmed himself.  “So, when do we sail for Amorica.”  All the men present tried talking at once, but Arthur just grinned like maybe he became the man with a trophy wife.  Kai looked distraught.

Things did not take long to straighten out.  But Kai mentioned that the Scots were getting above themselves, like maybe they defeated the Picts.  And worse, Loth in some ways appeared to be encouraging them. He thought he better stay at Guinnon. Bedwyr got prevailed upon to stay at Oxford as well.  Arthur told Pelenor, Peredur and Ederyn that they would have to keep vigilant while he was away.  Then Arthur decided to take only volunteers with Gerraint being the first lest he decide to stay home with that lovely wife of his.  Finally, Arthur instructed Gwyr to put something in the letter encouraging those who came from Amorica and fought for Uther, or their descendants, to consider returning to Amorica to fight for Hoel.

Once that got settled, Arthur called in their visitors.  There were many details to work out, not the least procuring the ships and supplies they would need, but the basics were done and he was able to greet the men as honored guests.

Howel, at eighteen or nineteen, got escorted by a mere six soldiers, one of whom at least appeared to be a well-seasoned sergeant named Grist.  Howel came accompanied by two brothers, both Chiefs in Amorica, called Bohort and Lionel. Lionel was Howel’s age, or maybe twenty.  Bohort, the elder at twenty-three or four, did most of the talking.  Gerraint felt suddenly old at twenty-seven.  Then he thought of being home with Enid and the baby. Then he thought of Enid being all touchy-feely.  And then he thought he better pay attention.

“It is worse than you may have heard,” Bohort said. “The Romans of Claudus are playing with us like a cat with a mouse.  They strike here, but by the time we arrive they have vanished to strike there.  They will not give pitched battle, but once. They are softening us up and wearing us out.  They have overrun two thirds of the land this way, by nibbling us to death.

“One battle?”  Percival asked.

“On the plains near the mysterious Lake Vivane, he tested our strength in battle.  That happened four years ago.  We won the battle and won the test, but I figure he just sent some expendable troops and did not really care who won, though I am sure he would have been happier with a victory.  I lost my father and his brother in that battle.  My young cousin, just sixteen got lost in the woods around the lake.” Bohort took a moment to shake his head before he continued.  “That was when Claudus hit on the strategy of eating us alive, piece by piece.  I don’t know how much longer Hoel may hold out.”

“It is settled,” Arthur announced, and that was that.

Gerraint stepped outside and Uwaine met him on the steps.  “About time,” Uwaine said.  “I was really going mad this time.  When do we go?”

“Preparations.”  Gerraint shrugged.  “Then I go, but where you go will be up to you.”  Uwaine raised an eyebrow, so Gerraint answered his question.  “I have prevailed on Arthur to knight you and Gawain before we sail.”

“So?  That changes nothing.  If you have taught me one thing, it is the safest place in battle is right next to you.” Gerraint made no answer.

###

Six months later, Thomas of Dorset contracted a hundred ships for a minimal fee to deliver a cargo of two thousand men and horses to Amorica.  Roughly a quarter of those ships would continue in the months ahead to supply the troops.

“We don’t want to beggar our hosts,” Gwillim said.

Gerraint stayed in Cornwall where he moved his wife so she could be around his mother, her own mother having died a year earlier. Marcus Adronicus started making noises like he had become an old man and Gerraint needed to be prepared to take over. Gerraint could not worry about that. All he wanted was a safe delivery of his second son, James, and the knowledge that Enid was in good hands. With that assured, he took three hundred of Cornwall’s finest, a good Festuscato number.  They were men all trained to the horse and the lance, and he sailed them out of Plymouth to catch up with Arthur.

Arthur was in the field, in a big tent with Hoel, and discussed things.  Percival sat out front, and his take was, “Don’t go in there.”  Uwaine also sat up front, but he only shook his head.

Gerraint took a deep breath.  “Wish me uck-lay.”  He explained before anyone asked.  “I’m practicing my Pig Latin for use on the revived Romans,” not that anyone understood what he was talking about.  He went in.

There were greetings and pleasantries before Arthur explained the situation.  “We are having limited success in driving the forces of Claudus back.  We have almost doubled Hoel’s numbers, and with the RDF, trained to move quickly and quietly, we have routed out a number of pockets of the enemy.  They have come up and overrun village after village, but then remain hidden in the wilderness.  They require the poor, decimated villagers to supply them with food, sending men from their hidden camp to collect it.  We have had some success in following those men back to their base and then we have gone in and finished the job.  But the men of Claudus, like Saxon raiders, are in many small groups and scattered all over the countryside.  Mostly, they simply hide whenever we come near with a large force and reappear after we have gone.”

“But we are succeeding, slowly, but succeeding,” Hoel said.

“Yes, but at this rate we may be bogged down here for two or three years.  Now, my plan is to take a third of our force and invade the Atlantique.  In that way, Claudus will be forced to call out his army, and we can finish this much more quickly.”

“But if you take so many, our efforts here will be badly hampered and we may soon be back to stabbing at ghosts,” Hoel objected.

Arthur looked at Gerraint and knew to wait while Gerraint thought.  Hoel fidgeted.  At last, Gerraint spoke as plainly as he could.

“So, I have come up with three hundred fresh troops, the veterans being mostly RDF trained and able to bring along the young ones. My men, one way or the other, will not be significant here, but I see no reason why Cornwall cannot turn the tactics of Claudus against him in the Atlantique.  I have people who know something of the province, and while it would not be an invasion, it may be enough to force Claudus’ hand.”

“How can you know the province?” Hoel asked. Gerraint saw that Arthur understood, but he had to give Hoel his best, human answer.

“Cornish sailors have been trading all along the coast for generations.  Amorica has been our chief trading partner after Wales and Britain, but many have also traded down the Atlantique and learned the area.”

“Not much portage there,” Hoel said.

“But some,” Gerraint answered and quickly changed the subject before Hoel thought too long about it.  “I said turn the tactics of Claudus against him, but I don’t plan to leave small groups hidden in the woods to keep the people oppressed. More like true Saxon raiders, I plan to burn the villages and their crops and food supplies and drive the people south as refugees.  Hundreds, hopefully thousands of refugees fleeing south out of the Atlantique province should force the hand of Claudus well enough.”

“A good plan,” Arthur agreed.  Hoel looked like he might object.  Gerraint could read the man’s mind, thinking that the addition of Gerraint’s men could speed up the success they were having in Amorica, but Gerraint got up to leave before Hoel could fully frame his thoughts.  Gerraint knew his three hundred would not hold the pass for long, but they might wreak havoc in Persia.