“Breccan, are you even listening to me?”
He wasn’t, of course. His younger half-sister followed after him with a frown on her expressive face. She was just a bit shorter than him with dark red hair she kept tied back in a braid.
“Genovefa, I heard you the first time you said you don’t trust her. And I said she’s not a threat. She’s lost, hurt, and starving. Do you really think I can turn her away? Is that hospitality?”
“One of these days, hospitality is going to get you killed, Brec.”
“I don’t think so.”
When they got back to the house, the woman they’d been discussing was sitting on the floor with her red cloak wrapped around her shoulders. She looked up, fear in her eyes but her jaw clenched with determination. Breccan just smiled and spoke in his accented Latin.
“I brought dinner. Are you hungry?”
Octavia was waiting. Waiting for Breccan to return from his hunting trip, waiting for the right words to come to her mind, waiting for the sign she’d prayed for. She knelt before her small shrine and took down the statuette of Juno for the fourth or fifth time that day alone.
“Lucina Juno…What do I do? Please? I need something, advice, a sign, anything. I need to be sure before I tell him.”
Now, she paced again. Periodically glancing towards the horizon. He would be here soon. He’d promised. Last night had been the first night of the full moon and he’d promised to be here. She rested her hand on her stomach, wishing she knew the answer to tell him.
Breccan walked through the door with a string of rabbits in his hand and a smile on his face. He’d missed her so desperately while he’d been gone and now he could hold his Octavia in his arms again. He’d been later than he’d meant to, having had to hunker down for a few hours during a lightning storm, but now he was back. Octavia lay sleeping on their bed, tangled up in the blankets. He hung the rabbits by the hearth to deal with in a bit and sat on the edge of the bed, brushing her curly hair out of her face.
Octavia turned slowly, opening her eyes.
“Brec! You’re home!”
She sat up quickly, pulling him into her arms. That got a surprised laugh out of him and he kissed her forehead.
“Sorry I’m later than I planned on.”
“No, no, it’s fine. I have news for you.”
“Oh you do, do you?”
She made more room for him in the bed and impatiently waited for him to get his boots off before snuggling against him. She took his hands in her own and rested them on her stomach.
“I’m pregnant, Breccan. We’re going to have a baby.”
Breccan stood there sheepishly, holding a pot of something in his hands. Octavia looked up at him from where she was double-checking the edge on her sword.
“I know you said your lorica would protect you…but…can I?”
She stood slowly, coming over to see what he held. It was a pot of something blue and paint-like. Then she processed the swirling designs painted on his face, chest and arms.
“What is it?”
“Woad. It protects me in battle.”
She smiled up at him and pulled him down into a quick kiss.
“Then of course.”
His fingers were warm against her bare flesh, drawing an echoing warmth deep in her. She resolved then and there that once this battle was over, she was going to bring him back to this house of his, throw him down on the blankets and have her way with him, if just his touch could make her feel like this. His free arm went around her waist and she looked up.
“You were wiggling.”
“Oh, sorry.” She paused then. “What are you drawing, anyway?”
She could hear his smile even if she couldn’t see it.
“The symbols from your shield. The eagle, the spears, the lightning.”
She smiled and sat a bit straighter, letting him get to her lower back.
“You’re wonderful, Breccan. Thank you.”
Octavia saluted Breccan with the wooden training sword he’d given her and snapped her shield up into place as he came at her. He fought like no one she had ever faced before, all shouts and spins. He was fast and mobile, leaving her spinning to try to keep up with him. Finally, she locked his blade between her blade and her shield and slammed him to the ground with both. He went with a whoop of surprise and the wind left his lungs as he slammed into the ground. He lay there for a moment, dazed. When he came to his senses again, he realized she was standing over him with her sword point at his throat.
“Alright, alright, I yield.”
She tossed the weapon aside and offered him a hand up. Instead, he pulled her down into the grass and she laughed, letting him.
Breccan held his shield as comfortably as ever but felt odd with this strange and much longer weapon in his other hand. Octavia promised him he’d like the spear once he was used to it, that the range was worth the time it would take to learn to wield it well. It was also hard to focus with her hands on his arm, on his waist, on his shoulder. She kept moving, repositioning him and helping him through the movements until he was sure he must be as red as an apple or the paint on her shield. But he had to admit, he was starting to like this, if only for the promise of a great many more days of practice to come.
Octavia screamed, hurling curses in Latin at whoever it was who had grabbed her. He, it had to be a man with hands that large, tried to cover her mouth and she bit him as hard as she could. Then she slammed her head back into his face.
“Grab her, you idiot.”
Another set of hands grabbed her as her first attacker dropped. This time they were smart and more than one of them grabbed her, keeping themselves at a safe distance. Another man, one she recognized as disliking her presence in their village, came up in front of her and punched her in the gut as hard as he could. Her stomach lurched when she saw him pulling his fist back to do it again. But the blow never came. Instead, the man crumpled in a heap revealing Breccan standing behind him, casually spinning a staff.
“Let her go. Now.”
Octavia fell to her knees as they let her go and ran. When she looked up again, the sun was behind Breccan and he stood holding the staff in one hand with a raven on his shoulder. A shiver ran up her spine looking up at him and for a moment, she wondered if she’d been struck harder than she’d thought. But he really did look like a god in that moment, come down off his pedestal just for her. He knelt, gently wiping the blood from her lips.
“Are you alright?”
“I am now.”
He smiled and for a moment he lingered there, so close and yet so far. Then she reached out to put her arms around his neck and it was as though something in him broke. His lips crashed into hers. For half a second, she froze. She could feel him starting to pull back and clung to him, returning the kiss with an urgency she hadn’t known she had in her.
Breccan looked up from where he sat sharpening his sword and frowned. He could hear the voices of strangers over the normal sounds of the small village.
“-to march on Londinium.”
He cursed softly and stood, grabbing Octavia by the arm as he went.
“Get inside.” He whispered the words in Latin and she looked at him in surprise. They had largely switched to speaking his language as she’d been making progress on learning it.
“What’s going on?”
“There are strangers here from another clan. If they realize…”
“They’ll kill me.” She said it matter of fact and nodded. “What about my things? If they look inside…”
“I’ll make sure they don’t.”
“It will be fine, Octavia. Now please, just stay safe, alright?”
She nodded reluctantly and went into the house.
“Who was that woman?”
Breccan looked up from where he sat. The man speaking to him was a handspan taller than he stood and carried a spear in his hand.
“The one you just hid. Don’t lie to me, boy, I saw you.”
“I am no boy,” Breccan growled. Then he processed the rest of what was said and sent a silent prayer to his mother. “And the woman you saw is my wife.” The words tumbled out naturally and he hoped and prayed his lie wouldn’t be caught. “She’s got some Roman blood and I didn’t want there to be a misunderstanding.”
No, there certainly weren’t any lies in the last part. Octavia definitely had at least some Roman blood.
The man with the spear scowled, but when Breccan stood and met him look for look, the man backed down. But Breccan’s nerves were still humming. Too close. They had come too close.
Breccan burst into the small house as soon as the strangers were gone.
She looked up, concern plain on her features.
“Are they gone?”
“They are.” He closed the distance between them. “Are you alright?”
Octavia nodded silently, trying to hide the fear that had left her shaking while he’d been outside.
He smiled slowly and drew her into a quick hug, just assuring himself that she was alright. Much to his surprise, her arms went around his neck and she returned the hug like someone who needed one desperately.
The girl sat up out of bed and scrambled for the sword slung in its scabbard hanging from the peg by her bed. Then her father burst into the room.
“Octavia, you have to go. My horse is ready. You need to ride for Londinium.”
“The barbarians are storming the city. You only have minutes. Take your sword and go. Pray that your mother is watching over you right now. I’ll try to hold them as long as I can.”
Octavia hugged her father tightly and then slung the sword baldric over her shoulder and ran. The blue roan horse her father prized for its endurance even when he was in armor was saddled and ready, with a pack that she knew had to contain her father’s armor strapped to it, and his shield with a cover on it. Both had been presents from her mother and now they were all she would have of either of them. Pulling herself up into the saddle, she turned the horse in place and galloped hard and fast out of the city of Camulodunum.
There were two things the girl knew to be true as she reined her horse up. First, she was most certainly not at Londinium. Second, she had no idea where she was at all. Dismounting, she decided to take this moment to put her father’s armor on just in case she ran into anyone. A Legion would be best, and she could explain what had happened. But if it was barbarians she found, she would need the armor and shield ready to keep herself safe.
Breccan stepped lightly in the woods, tracking a herd of deer. His bow was in his hand though he didn’t yet have an arrow on the string. His straining ears heard the sound of an animal pawing at the grass and he smiled slowly, creeping closer. He was not expecting to find a beautiful horse and a tall girl standing beside it, half in Roman armor with a shield propped up next to her. He dropped behind a bush, watching her warily. Did the Romans have women among their warriors like his people did? He’d thought not, but perhaps he was wrong.
She heard the twig snap and her head shot up, one hand already on the hilt of her gladius. Standing in the brush with a bow in his hand was a young man about her age. She tensed, knowing that if he was a good shot then he could get her from where he stood. She met his eyes and silently prayed to whichever gods might be listening that these weren’t her last moments.