R6 Greta: Cleaning Up, part 1 of 3

Greta took her seat on the battements and stewed all afternoon.  She kept her eyes on the enemy in the distance and fretted.  There did not seem to be much movement, not much to see, but they were still there.  They did not look to be leaving anytime soon, and that worried her.  She knew she should have been tending the wounded. That was her real job, not the Kairos’ job, it remained Greta’s job, but she felt bloated, and rotten like the weather, and drained from a day that seemed too long already.  She slept briefly in her chair, a cold afternoon nap, but woke up covered in blankets, a pillow on the ground, which she guessed had once been put behind her head.  Someone cared.

Pincushion made her eat some soup which was not hard because it tasted really good, and Greta had the good sense not to ask what was in it.  Then Pincushion, Karina and Snowflake went off to play with the children.  Greta got grumpy.  She missed her children.

Goldenrod and Oreona checked on her and told her Ulladon was sleeping in the deeps.  They were happy that things went so well, but Greta added, “so far,” and she did not feel sure how well things really went.  The reports she got in passing were a thousand defenders dead and a thousand who would be dead soon enough.  Darius told her there were as many as five hundred or so, a rough estimate, who might be saved if the Roman physicians and various tribal healers could hack off enough limbs before they got infected.  Greta knew in practice, more than half of them would die as well.

The rest of the men were in good spirits, her Father told her.  She listened. He said beyond their casualties, there were as many as a thousand more among the various groups of people who would survive and heal, but who were wounded seriously enough to where they would not be fighting much.  He said both Hans and Bragi fought well and she should be proud of her brothers.  He said he was glad Mother stayed with the children, far away from there.  Icechip, still riding on Father’s shoulder, picked up something of Greta’s distress.

“I never knew what war was like before.  I’m sorry so many had to die,” he said, and it sounded heart felt.

Greta sniffed and turned her back on them and Father left with a word that he would check on her again, later.  She missed her children.

Mavis went off with Hermes and Captain Ardacles’ troop to clean up the mess, as she called it.  Wagons went out over the field all afternoon collecting the dead and wounded.  By two o’clock, it began to drizzle softy and Rhiannon showed up.  She said nothing, but made something like a beach umbrella against the rain so Greta could continue to sit and stay dry.  It felt like Rhiannon wanted to say something, but she did not.  She looked sad when she disappeared into the misty rain.

Vedix and Bogus came and sat with her for a while. Neither said much, not even to each other, and after a time they quit the rain and went to find shelter. Alesander and Briana showed up moments later and Briana had an announcement.

“We want to get married.”

“And this is news?” Greta asked.

“Her father has given his blessing if it is all right with you,” Alesander said, and kissed Briana on the cheek.  She responded with a loving and happy face.

“I have said a thousand times, I will not be the decider of such things.”  Greta sounded angry, though she did not mean to be.  “You know what marriage is.  The union between one man and one woman is not to be entered into lightly, but if it is what you want, it is not my place to approve or object.  Personally, I wish you nothing but happiness, but you make your own decisions.”

“So, yes?” Briana asked.

“Yes.  Go on. Have fun.  Get fat.  Have babies. Scat.”  Greta snorted and looked across the field, though in the drizzle, she could hardly see the enemy.  She knew Briana and Alesander stood and kissed for a while, but she ignored them and paid no attention when they left, holding tight to each other and laughing at the rain.

It became four, or close enough.  The sky got ready to turn a dreary afternoon into the equivalent of an early night, when Greta thought she finally saw some movement in the distant camps.  She listened in her mind and caught words first from Longbow, the elf.

“The Scythian chief has convinced the others to make one last try.  He says they damaged the defenders in the first attacks and now the defenders are weak and ready to fall.  He says they would all be cowards if they ran away.  One good drive against the center, and the Romans will break and fall apart is what he says.  He knows the Legion in Porolissum is the only serious Roman presence in the whole province, and once they break through there will be nothing to stand in their way all the way to the Danube.  All of the outsider tribes are leery, but the Scythian has convinced half of the Sarmatians to lead the charge.  That is about five thousand lances.”

“The other tribes will follow,” Treeborn the fairy King interrupted.  “They are preparing as we speak.”

Lord Horns added one thought.  “Though they no longer feel the urging of Mithras, I think the Scythian chief is interested in what he calls the mountain of gold that the Romans have mined and guarded so carefully.”

“Don’t I know it,” Portent peeped, and Greta cut off the long-distance conversation.  Now she had a headache and was not sure if it would turn into a migraine.

Greta stood alone when she stood.  She looked over at the men’s side where Tribune Hadrianus had a tarp erected against the rain.  The constant drizzle actually stopped an hour earlier, but the sky remained as dark and dreary as it had been all day, and water continued to drip now and then off the edge of the tarp where the water had collected.

Darius, who spent the day watching her from a distance and feeling powerless to comfort her, noticed right away when she stood. Cecil saw and pointed.  Olaf, Venislav and Hadrianus all looked and genuine concern covered their faces.  “Darius,” Greta called, and he came to hear what she had to say.  The others followed out of curiosity,

“They are preparing for another attack.  The Scythian chief will not let them wait until the morning for fear they may desert in the night.  They believe the legion here is the only thing standing between them and the riches of Dacia.  They believe the legion is the only form of Roman power in the province. They are wrong.”  Greta scooted up to Darius and gave him a quick kiss with a word.  “Pardon me, my love.”  She went away, and Amphitrite, the one worshiped as Salacia by the Romans, the wife of Neptune, god of the sea, came to stand in her place.  Olaf, Cecil and Venislav all took a step back.  Hadrianus looked too stunned to move, but Darius grinned and hid his grin as Salacia shouted at the sky.

“Fluffer, Sprinkles, Bubbles, get ready for a wild ride.” Salacia raised her hands, reached into the sky and took hold of the clouds.  She caused a great wind to blow over her shoulder, and another to come pouring over the distant mountains.  They crashed over the enemy camps with hurricane force, and Salacia squeezed her hands.  Torrents of rain fell and whipped through the wind.  It drove the men back and some men drowned from the fury of the liquid assault. A number of tornados formed from the contrary winds, and men panicked.

Many men scattered and fell to the ground in fear, or were lifted by the winds and slammed again on the ground or blown for miles. Tents were ripped up and shredded. Horses stampeded.  Some men, horses, wagons and equipment got caught in the tornadoes and tossed away, sometimes landing on other men.  When Salacia really got things going, she began to dance with glee on the battlement.  The wind ripped up whole trees and threw around wagon-sized boulders. The rain came with hail the size of bowling balls and sleet that fell in whole sheets of sharp edges.  Then at once, Salacia decided it was enough, and it all stopped, instantly.

Salacia let her face appear on the clouds where she could look down on the devastation she caused and the survivors who cowered all over the ground.  They looked so puny and helpless, but Salacia thought there still might be something to say. She said two words.  “Go home,” and the words were not only heard and understood by all, but they reverberated for a moment inside thousands of minds. Then Salacia returned in her power to the battement on which she physically stood.

“Forgive me father, for I have sinned,” Salacia said, almost too softy to hear, but she grinned as she thought of Festuscato, and she frowned as she thought of all those ships and sailors who died at sea when her temper flared after Poseidon did something stupid.  Then she smiled again as she remembered her cult had always been one to care for the widows and orphans of the sea, a small payment for her guilt, and she thought of her friends and her own children, Triton, Proteus and Nyssa.  She frowned again when she remembered poor Orion, and how she lost him in a terrible accident, and even as a goddess, she could not do anything to save him.  She went away and let Greta return, and Greta reached up to Darius for another kiss, which Darius was happy to give.

“Sorry love,” she said, and with one hand on her belly and without another word, she turned and walked slowly back to Karina’s house where she had the best sleep she had in years.  When she woke up the next morning, there was not an enemy to be found, and she finished Salacia’s thought about children by admitting she missed her own.

R6 Greta: The Sun Runner, part 3 of 3

Gerraint put away his sword, and when the titan fell dead on his face, he leapt up on the titan’s back, grabbed the lance, and finished pulling it all the way through.  He thanked Hephaestus for the fingerless gloves that protected the palms of his hands, because the lance felt as hot as fire itself.  Grassly had a bucket of water, as Rhiannon instructed him, and Gerraint stuck the point in the water and watched it steam for a minute.

By the time Stinky arrived, Manannan also arrived, and he had a pouch in his hand.  “Poppy seeds,” Manannan said.  “To help it sleep.”  He tied the pouch around the lance point and held it until the lance stopped wiggling.

“Don’t go far away,” Gerraint commanded as was his nature as a king and a knight of the Round Table.

“Never far,” Manannan insisted, before he and the lance vanished.

“Lord,” Grassly shouted to him as Gerraint mounted the mule.  “The knights and the enemy are about to meet.”

Gerraint said nothing, but he did not want to look. He felt sorry for the Sarmatians being, by comparison, such amateurs.  Gerraint heard the titan deflate and saw it start to liquefy.  He saw the spark of life leave the titan body and shoot up to the man-made ridge where the Pater, Mithras undoubtedly still stood.  He thought about the thousands of men on each wing that were about to press the attack, but in the center of the field, with the gnomes all but invisible, it looked like only one man stood.  One woman, he thought, and traded back to Greta’s life.  He brought back her dress and red cloak, and she reached out to pet her mule.

“Walk gently, Stinky,” Greta said, though Stinky seemed inclined to do that very thing, and several of the gnomes accompanied her to help.

Greta almost got back to the Roman lines when she had company.  A man appeared out of thin air.  He rode on a plain horse and said nothing.  Greta knew who it was without having to look, and for all of her efforts, she still did not like the man.  It was a personality thing, she decided.

“I wonder if this was how Mary felt riding into Bethlehem,” Greta said.  She shifted to ride side-saddle, and that relieved a bit of the pressure.  Lucius made no response, but Greta knew Lucius had no doubt to whom she referred.

Greta had to dismount when she reached the ridge fortification.  No way she could force her mule to climb that.  The gnomes brought Stinky.  Greta held her belly as she climbed.  The man beside her dismounted when she did, and he saved the horse by letting it vanish and go back to where it came from.  He offered to help Greta up the hill, but she withdrew.  She did not want him to touch her.

Up top, Greta found the women standing to one side, Rhiannon out front.  The men all stood on the other side, with Darius, Manannan and Alesander keeping a wary eye on the man in their midst.  Mithras stood alone, in the same spot where he had been when he first arrived. The whip had gone, but his staff remained, and he leaned heavily on it.  He looked every bit like a very old man who suddenly felt his age.  Greta stopped, said nothing, and looked at the man as he spoke.

“Apollo prophesied that the seven pieces of Mithras would not be made as one until time herself lifted her hand against them. For a while, at first, I though the seven pieces meant I would have seven children.  Even when I became shattered and I guessed Apollo was talking about you, the Kairos time, that did not make sense.  You were a man, turning back an invasion of Wolv and fighting against Trajan and his weapons in Mesopotamia.  Early on, when Mithrasis and I trapped each other in the north, I managed to persuade a young man to come north in search of his grandmother. I thought, just in case you came this way, you might make the effort to free your half-spirit of the earth, and him being only a half spirit, I knew I could hang on to him and force you to come. But then Mithrasis brought down a Wolv transport and I became forced to turn that man into a dragon for my own protection.

Suddenly, you were born a woman in this place, and I started to put it together, but I was trapped in the ancient dome and it seemed impossible to reach you.  Then, entirely by chance or as you Christians would say, by providential grace, I discovered that my soldier-self, my Mars, felt ready to rebel.  He tried to hide among the Romans, but I got word to him.  He is the one who told Mithrasis about the leftover guns of Trajan that were hidden in the Temple Mount of Ravenshold. But when I saw how her plans failed so spectacularly, I truly began to despair.  Then my soldier-self told young Hans and Berry where Berry could find her father.  The rest you know, except let me say this, that I have never known such love or good company than I had these last two years with Hans and Berry, Fae and Hobknot. You, my dear, are a very lucky woman to have such a family to love.”  Mithras wiped one eye where a tear wanted to fall.

Greta said nothing as Lucius stepped forward to face the man, Mithras.  “It is time for us to go,” he said.  “As was made clear to me often enough on our journey north; the old way has gone.  The new way has come.  The time for the gods is over and we must go over to the other side.” Lucius said no more as he reached out and hugged the old man.

“No, no.”  Greta understood right away, and she felt awful about it and wanted to protest. She looked at her faithful Centurion, Alesander, but he could only look away.   Darius would have done it for her, but he could not.  Only she could do the deed.  Manannan and Rhiannon showed no expression.  Mavis cried.

With one hand on her belly and tears in her eyes, Greta called to her long knife, Defender.  It appeared in her hand, and she shoved it into Lucius’ back where his heart ought to be.  Neither Lucius nor Mithras made a sound.  Greta pulled Defender back out, and Lucius began to crumble.  They saw a flash of light, and Mithras stood alone on the ridge top.  Greta cried great big tears while Darius ran to her, to hold her and offer every ounce of comfort he had.

“I am whole again,” Mithras said quietly.  “I must think about the other side.”

“You can do it,” Greta interrupted her cry.  “You have the courage.  I have seen it.”

Mithras made no answer.  He simply faded until he vanished.  Curiously, Danna’s disobedient children who themselves had yet to let go of this life had also gone from sight.

Darius still cooed when Greta pushed back.  “Oh, but Darius,” she pointed.  The enemy on the wings were starting the attack, and though the Sarmatians withdrew completely from the battle, perhaps because they concluded the magic turned against them was too great for victory, there were some seven thousand Scythians determined to get some revenge for their beating the day before.  That still added up to some twenty-one thousand men attacking some sixteen thousand human defenders.  Greta knew, if it was not for the addition of her little ones, the defenders in their bunkers and behind their make-shift walls and ridge would be hard pressed to fight off such an attack.  Greta buried her face in Darius’ chest.  She did not want to watch.  She did not do well in panic situations.

The Goths on the left, with their Roman and Celtic allies fought like the berserkers Greta called them.  As they showed no quarter and drove back the Lazyges and Outsider Dacians with their fury, the Romans and Celts were impressed that these men were serious about war, and very good at it.

On the right, the Slavs, with their Celts and Romans had a bit more difficulty, in part because the Slavs kept attacking, like they were the aggressors, not the defenders.  Small pockets of Slavs kept getting surrounded by the enemy, and it took some serious work to rescue them.  When they did, they usually found a pocket of Slavs surrounded by dead bodies, and the Slavs laughing and ready to do it again.  Indeed, Venislav seemed to laugh the whole time, even when he hacked an enemy in two.  The Romans and Celts came away from there thinking that these Slavs were warriors and great fighters, but also insane.  Eventually the enemy figured this out as well, and when they withdrew, no doubt some felt they were lucky to get away from those mad men.

In the center, Drakka, Bragi and the men of Porolissum were backed up by the Romans and Celts.  Nudd and his brothers fought there, and Hans finally got to use that sword. Father was in charge, and when the Scythians dismounted outside the trenches and spikes, he charged, Slav style. The Scythians were not ready for that turning of the table, and they withdrew.  Father ran his people back to their wall and bunkers, before the arrows started to fly again.

Father pulled that off twice, but by the third time he figured he might be pushing his luck and kept his men back to await the attack. It proved wise, because the third attack came with less men on foot and more men still in the saddle firing arrows to keep the Roman and Celtic heads down.  Once the Scythians on foot got near enough to be in the way, the Scythians had to hold their arrows, and many of them dismounted and joined the attack. They got close, too close for many of the defenders, but this time, Father used his advantages.  He let loose the goblins, the trolls, ogres and dwarfs with their big axes and their most frightening aspect.  Most of the Scythians screamed, turned and ran to be picked off by elf and fairy archers, who rarely missed.  Those who did not run right away became meat for the grinder. By the time the Romans moved out in formation, backed up by the Celts and Bragi’s locals, they only had some cleaning up to do.

Greta yelled at her father the minute she heard. How dare he put her little ones in that kind of danger.  They were there, kind enough to back up the humans.  They were not there to take the lead.  Some of them got killed, and Greta did not talk to her father for a whole day. The only thing that made it palatable was the fact that the little ones all praised her father for what he did, and thought things like it was about time they got the chance to really fight, and said things about how they hated to always have to be in the background.

“You’re all crazy,” Greta shouted.

“So I keep saying,” Venislav agreed.  “Your sprites are hard to trust and all crazy in the head.”  Coming from Venislav, that did not help.

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

MONDAY

Greta is angry and upset, and the Scythians refuse to leave the battlefield, even though they know the tide has turned against them.  Greta dreads what she will have to do to clean up the mess.  Monday: Cleaning Up.  Until then, Happy Reading.

*

R6 Greta: Battle Lines, part 3 of 3

The Scythians knew their business.  They made a line several men thick and swept from left to right across the face of the defenders, firing arrow after arrow at anything and everything.  When they reached the far end of the wall the town erected, having ridden outside the trenches and pikes set out against cavalry, the Scythians turned away to circle around and get in line for another go.  Roman, Celtic and Elf archers all returned fire when they could, but they mostly had to keep their heads down because the Scythians were very good at this tactic.

The Dacians and the Roxolani on the ends became the first to attack.  The other outsiders followed them and then several thousand Scythians joined them in the center while their fellow Scythians continued to send wave after wave of arrows over their heads and into the Roman and Celtic lines.

The Romans built well, as always.  The enemy could not bring their horses up through the pikes and ditches to impact the fight.  They had to dismount and charge on foot, a great disadvantage for horsemen forced to charge uphill.  The Romans in particular had the height and the skill, training and equipment to hold the line at all costs.  The fighting became intense in several places, but it did not last long.

When the Scythians started to withdraw, the Celts could not contain themselves.  They followed the retreating enemy with a charge of their own, so the Celtic Auxiliary units, which contained most of the Celtic horsemen, felt obliged to back them up. Then the Roman cavalry wanted some of that action.  Then several cohorts of the legion followed, and the orderly retreat of the Scythians turned into a route.

When the Scythians reached their hill, they thought to turn and drive the Celts and Romans back, but they found a surprise waiting for them.  Thousands of Goths and Slavs had come up in the early morning, just itching for a fight. The rout of the Scythians turned into a slaughter, and the Scythian line busted in two, with some fleeing to the Lazyges and others fleeing to the Roxolani.

“Bring them back,” the Princess said.  She stood on the battlement beside Darius, Cecil and the others.  “We don’t have the men to hold the center.  We are spread too thin to hold the town.”

“Alesander.”  Darius shouted.  “Sound the recall.”  Alesander did that, and trumpets blared out across the field in the late morning. Cecil agreed and signaled his men to sound the drums.  The Romans returned in order, and the Celts in disorder, but they returned, and the Goths and Slavs followed them at a safe distance.

The Princess went away.  Greta returned and gave Darius a great big kiss.  Then she asked for his help down from the battlements.  He asked, “Where are we going?”

“To introduce you to Olaf and Venislav.  Then you need to figure out how to fit a bunch of berserker Goths and barbaric Slavs into the line of defense.”

“Thanks a lot,” Darius said, but Greta already turned to the next thought.

“Redbeard.”  She spoke in her normal voice, at normal volume, but she knew the dwarf, a half mile away, would hear her.  “Get your men back here.”  The dwarfs were searching for surviving Scythians in order to finish the job, an act of mercy, they said.

###

The afternoon started quiet enough.  Darius, Alesander, Hadrianus, Olaf, Venislav and Cecil, a most odd command group, discussed a serious strike on the Roxolani wing where the large number of diverse tribes might make it hard for them to work together in a coordinated defense.

“We are pretty diverse,” Hadrianus pointed out.

“But we work together with you Romans pretty good,” Venislav nudged the Goth.  “Do you think my friend Olaf?”

“I like the idea of a quick attack, but I am not sure about pulling back again,” Olaf said, ignoring Venislav.

“Like a sortie from a city wall,” Darius explained.

“A feint,” Alesander said further.  “The object is to draw them into the hollow where two thousand archers are waiting.  The elves and fairies rarely miss, and we use our strengths and turn their numbers and many tribes stumbling over each other against them.”

The sound of laughter interrupted the meeting. Greta, Mavis, Berry and Briana were sitting in chairs not far away.  Venislav stepped up to Alesander and named them.

“Mother Greta, her elf maid, the beauty of the land and your woman?”

Alesander nodded.  “Just as soon as her father gives his blessing,” he said.

Cecil frowned.  “I’m still thinking about it.”

Olaf got it and let out a loud guffaw.  He slapped Cecil on the back and guffawed again.  “I think maybe we do this feint.  My father taught me to never trust the Romans, but this time we fight on the same side, eh, Venislav.”

“From what I see, I think fighting on the same side is better than fighting on the against side.”

Naturally, things did not exactly go as planned.  To prevent incidents of what Greta called friendly fire, Darius assigned the Romans, Celts, Goths and Slavs four different points in the enemy camp so they attacked four different tribes.  When the recall got sounded, the Romans were disciplined, and the Goths and Celts responded well enough, especially the Celts who were mostly auxiliary troops, but the Slavs took their time.  Their enemy tribe collapsed and ran right into a fifth tribe, and it looked for a bit like the Slavs might end up routing the whole enemy field, but the Roxolani stood firm, and when the Slavs rode back as fast as they could, they had a host of people chasing them, and the Slavs appeared to be laughing and whooping and having a great time.

The Slavs rode right through several large groups of men who were already pinned down in the archery area.  By luck and hastily shouted orders, only three Slavs got hit, and none fatally.  When the big group of men that were chasing them arrived, they took the men already there for the enemy and as hoped, Mithrites killed Mithrites.  The archers simply had to keep them penned in.  To be sure, it did not take long for the enemy to figure it out and hastily retreat from the hollow, but by then, the enemy dead outnumbered the allies by three to one, at least according to the fairies that flew over the enemy camps.

Everyone shouted for joy until Bogus put a damper on the celebration.  “We need to do that every time, since they outnumber us three to one.”  The numbering was actually closer to two to one, but the point got made and the men sobered.

All this while, Greta and her friends watched the Scythians move warily back up on the center hill across the valley.  The Ladies Oreona and Goldenrod got chairs and joined the group and they were invaluable in describing what happened on that far hill; Goldenrod in particular with her fairy eyes.  There were arguments down in the Lazyges and Dacian camp.  The Roxolani, Capri and Costoboci still licked their wounds and were in no condition to mount an offensive.  And the Scythian burned their dead.  Greta concluded.

“It’s about two o’clock.  Plenty of sunlight left, but I doubt there will be another attack today.”

“We do seem to have put them off their intentions,” Father said as he walked up and kindly acknowledged all the women, human and non-human alike.  “Bragi and Drakka have already sent the local men home for the night, to come back to position before dawn.”

“Fair enough,” Lady Oreona said.  “Our enemies were decidedly unsuccessful today.  With any luck, some of the tribes may rethink this whole enterprise in the night and begin to pull back by morning.”

“Once the sun sets, I am sure Ulladon and her people can handle the night watch just fine,” Briana said.

“The Romans can take the afternoon well enough,” Mavis agreed.

“Wait a minute.  What is that?”  Berry saw something and pointed.

“I was wondering myself,” Goldenrod said.

A flash of light, and Rhiannon arrived, and Karina and Padme in her arms arrived with the goddess.  Padme shrieked and giggled and clapped her hands at disappearing from one place and instantly reappearing somewhere else.  Karina looked a bit disoriented, but Rhiannon spoke.

“Sarmatians.  Their horses and men are armored and they have big lances meant to crack the Roman phalanx.  Another ten thousand, as you say.”

“Fudge,” Greta said, and she really said fudge. “And we’ve come such a long way already.”

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

MONDAY

The SunRunner shows himself, and some Wolv…  Until Monday, Happy Reading.

*

R6 Greta: Porolissum to Work, part 3 of 3

The men in the field were given the option to be arrested as traitors and locked up to await trial, or to return to their duty to protect the gold and other mines and the people of Dacia.  The auxiliary units selected by General Pontius were given a similar option, to return to their places on the roads and their village forts and guard the roads and the people, or face execution.  Everyone chose to go back to work with the understanding that any action to support the Mithraic rebellion would mean instant crucifixion.

“We can’t keep this many men locked up in Porolissum,” Festuscato explained.  “These are mostly good men and good soldiers outside of their perverse worship.  Rome can’t afford to lose good men.  But here is the thing.  If the Scythians and whatever Mithrites they bring to the border can overcome us, Rome will be in far more trouble than whatever these few hundred men and half-dozen auxiliary units can do.  But if we beat back the Scythians, and I have every good hope that we will, then we will also have saved some good men for Rome.”

“Your confidence is contagious,” Alesander said.

“But what do we do about the general and his staff and officers?” Centurion Hadrianus, leader of the escort cavalry troop asked.

“Well,” Festuscato drew out his answer.  “If I was home, I would turn them over to Gildas. He has a favorite expression. “Kill the Bastards.”  Festuscato looked at Darius and smiled.  “But as a Senator of Rome, steeped in Roman tradition to the point where the pot has boiled over, and carrying a small reflection of a spark of Justitia as I do, I understand justice has to be considered. I recommend you hold them in irons and refuse to hear their case on the grounds that you might not be objective, and I would send them back to Rome at the first opportunity with a letter explaining their duplicity with the Scythian Mithrites.  Let Antonius Pius hear the case, and may he have mercy on them; but at least they will be out of Dacia.  Then I would write a letter to your friend Marcus Aurelius and suggest he send true Romans as replacements, and you would not even mind Christians if he wants to get the Christians out of Rome, but if he sends more Mithrites, you will just send them back.”

“Sounds reasonable,” Darius thought about it. Festuscato made a pucker face.

“So do you want to kiss me now or wait until we get back?” Darius jumped back.  Alesander laughed, and Centurion, soon to be Tribune Hadrianus raised both eyebrows.

###

Rhiannon walked up to Greta and Mavis who were seated in chairs that Greta had the morning guard bring out to the battements. “The enemy looks endless,” Greta sighed and began to plan for an orderly withdrawal and evacuation of the town, should that prove necessary.  Scythians were riding off the distant mountain in one long line, and they were settling on the hill across the valley.

“We will have to find the tail of that dragon and feed it to the mouth so it can consume itself.”  Rhiannon waved her hand and a third chair appeared.  She sat carefully in her armor.  It was well made chain and leather, not unlike the armor Greta wore when she wasn’t busy being pregnant, but it did not look worn very often so it appeared a little stiff.

“Gobinu’s work?” Greta asked, and Rhiannon nodded. “Thank you again for raising the Celts. Every bit helps.”

“Twenty-five hundred from the hills beyond the mountains isn’t very much, but they do need to start integrating.  I am glad I remembered the auxiliaries from Britannia, Gaul and Hispania scattered around the province.  I can weed out the ones like Chobar and his Dogs from my people. I’m sorry.  I can’t vouch for the Egyptians and Syrians and others.”

“Quite all right.  Four thousand total almost doubles our number.  With Bragi and Drakka raising a thousand local Dacians, that gives us ten to their ten.  The Scythians do have ten thousand, don’t they?”

Rhiannon nodded again, but she said nothing out loud.

“Ladies.”  Father stepped up and Rhiannon waved her hand to make a chair for him.  “Very considerate,” he said and sat with a great sigh.  “I’m disappointed with my own people.”  He stepped right into the conversation.  “But I understand their reluctance to fight for the Romans.”

“They think if they stay home they can defend their farms if the Scythians get that far,” Rhiannon suggested.

“Even the large number of Romans that have emigrated to the province are more interested in the price of grain than they are in the price of a good sword,” Greta added.

“Sergeant.”  A watchman interrupted their conversation.  “We got more coming from both the left and the right.  They must have come through the mountains in other places.” He pointed, the Sergeant swore, and called several men to send word to different outposts and to the command tent.

Greta shaded her eyes and took a look to the left and right.  “Mavis,” she said, and Mavis took a good look.

“I see sun symbols and lion-headed representations on the left.  I can’t tell on the right because the sun is glaring.”

“You can see that far?” Father squinted.

“Lazyges and outsider Dacians on the left,” Rhiannon said.  “About ten thousand.  And on the right, Costoboci, Capri and Roxolani.  Another ten thousand.  You’re welcome.”

“Not fair,” Greta complained.  “We paid the Roxolani to stay away.”

“My guess is they used the money to buy weapons,” Father said.

“Sergeant,” Greta called.  The Sergeant came over and listened carefully while she explained the new arrivals.  Rhiannon had gone and took her chair with her.  Father stood stiffly, and his chair disappeared.  Greta and Mavis stood and Greta watched as the messengers returned and went right back out again.  Greta waved to a soldier and thanked him for the chairs while Mavis took her arm and Father’s arm and walked them back to the house for lunch.  After lunch, Greta planned to take a nap.  Then she had to work on a serious plan of escape, should that become necessary.  Greta was not good at panic situations, and tomorrow was going to be a long day.

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

MONDAY

The Battle Lines are drawn and tested.  Until then, Happy Reading

*

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.