The stories were right. I didn't feel it at all. Until I saw the blood run into the design my mother had painted on me. I am ashamed to admit I wailed in fear. I knew better, I knew I wouldn't die that day. I had Seen myself later in my life.
My uncle raised the knife in the air again. And stopped, his hand up above his head, because there were three swordpoints at his neck, and one pressing against his belly.
The interpreter kneeled down next to me. I was frightened, I was in pain, I felt he wished me ill. Perhaps my reason left me for a while. Whatever the cause, I screamed and punched him in the eye before I tried to scoot away.
It was Genrul who calmed me, who probed at the cut that extended from my right shoulder to my belly, who determined that nothing vital had been pierced. My mother picked up the pins out of the dirt where they had fallen; and snatched the last two out of my hair.
I didn't care. Let her have them.
The Old One shuffled up to us. "The gift is given," he said. "It cannot be undone."
I hoped Genrul didn't see the Old One wink at me before he shuffled away.
I was carried into the tent. I never saw my family again.
It was a servant, Sisro, who washed and dressed my wound. He tried to wash the paint from me as well, but it was part of my skin by then. It would have to wear off. He spoke the entire time, pointed to himself and told me his name, pointed to the scars on his face as he told me his story, talked and talked, as if I understood everything he was saying.
I heard Genrul speaking with the other men, the other tribe leaders that wore his symbol; the eagle, the beautiful scavenger, the carrion bird from far away. I thought, he will come to see me later. He is busy now, but later, he will remember me. I fell asleep waiting.
Sisro woke me, wrapping me in a blanket. He carried me outside, down the corridor of tents to a small one, laid me in another bed, spoke a few words, and left. A woman with a tired face looked up from her sewing for a moment while he was there, and nodded.
It wasn't difficult to slip unseen from that place when the woman's hands dropped to her lap, and her eyes closed. It wasn't difficult to find Genrul's tent again, or to sneak into it. The difficult thing was to know what to do once I was inside.
If I crept into bed with him, I might wake him. Some men dislike being woken. Anyone who woke my father from a sound sleep ran the risk of being tossed across the room. And I didn't know if I would be welcome or not.
The fire was low. I was cold. My teeth chattered. I was tired. The cut hurt now. I thought I might have begun the bleeding again with sneaking and crawling.
I wrapped myself in one of his cloaks while I thought about what to do. Sat on the floor next to his bed listening to him breathe, in and out, deep and regular, my own nose buried in the cloak, drinking in the scents of his sweat, his horse, a splash of wine…….
I pondered the mysteries of this life, of the will of the gods. If not for my uncle's groundless fears, I wouldn't be here. If he hadn't injured his leg so long ago, he wouldn't have been there in the village to make the decision to give me to the Romans. Was the bear (or the badger) sent by a god so that I could be here in this place, at this time? Had it all been planned in Heaven at the time of my birth? It was almost too much to think about.
But one thing I knew. I belonged to him. That was how it was meant to be. I had not Seen it, but I Knew it was so.
Had I fallen in love with him so soon? No. But I believed then that I had. I loved him as fiercely as a young girl can love someone she's only just met. All my thoughts, all my infant desires were for this man I had met only hours ago.
His wealth and position meant nothing to me. It was the timbre of his voice that moved me, the clear light in his eyes, the confidence in his stride.
He was my Genrul, and I would be his woman. It had been written in the stars.
I fell asleep again wrapped in his cloak, and slid down onto the floor during the night. I dreamed of love and nobility, of courage and devotion. And love-making, glorious, incredibly intense love-making……at least my girlish notions of love-making.
The morning began badly. Genrul swung his legs over the side of the bed and stumbled over me when he stood. He shouted for Sisro and grumbled at him while he waved me out of the way. Sisro handed me a garment, and I put it on, took the cloak away from me and frowned at the smudges on it from the floor.
Breakfast was not cheerful. It was very early, the sun wasn't up, yet; Genrul growled and grunted, and if I had been Sisro, I would have been worried, but he looked as though it didn't bother him at all. I was still eating when the interpreter appeared. Genrul gave him his orders, and stood up for Sisro to help him into his armor.
"You disobey," the young man said.
"Yes, you were to stay with……with……woman…"
"I didn't want to. So I didn't."
"You must obey Genrul. He says go. You will go."
Genrul turned to me. Sisro continued buckling his buckles, tying his ties. Genrul looked full into my face. Very serious, he said, "Yes."
He sighed. More orders to the interpreter, who flushed and spoke angrily. I waited for Genrul to lose patience, to raise his voice. He didn't. He stopped in the tent opening, and said something else, an order not to be argued with, and he was gone.
"Where is he going?" I asked. I watched Sisro filling packs with food and other small things. Horses' hooves clattered all around the tent.
"I must make you gone before he returns." The interpreter sat down and took some bread.
I didn't like the sound of that. I narrowed my eyes. "If you touch me, I'll hurt you."
He shrugged. "Not me. I tell others." He poured himself a cup of wine. He looked up. "No worry. He says I can't kill you."
"Where did he go?"
The interpreter stood. "To war."
I was bound and carried to other places 7 times. The last time it took three days for me to find my way back. The camp was quiet when I crept back in. Most of the tents had gone with the soldiers, and it was harder to remain unseen during the day, but after dark it was easier. I was too tired to light the fire. I threw some blankets on his bed, crawled inside…….
……..and Dreamed. Men screaming, swords flashing, the smells…….blood and fear and horse manure. I Saw Genrul on his horse, so much more fierce than I could have imagined. I Heard his war cries, I Saw him hack and slash. And then I Saw someone behind him with a bow, loose an arrow…..Saw it strike his shoulder……Saw him fall……
My grandmother had the Sight when she was alive. She was never wrong. I had been a woman less than a year, so it was too soon to say for sure, but I believed I was the same. When I Saw children, they were born. When I Saw death, it occurred.
I Saw Genrul fall.
My screams brought men with axes. The interpreter came with them.
"You." He sent the other men away. "I give up. Stay." He turned to go.
"Wait! Wait! Genrul is dead!"
He hesitated. "Who told you that?"
He didn't believe me when I told him how I knew. I wasn't surprised. I remember hearing my grandmother curse men for idiots, because of their disbelief.
But he didn't leave. He stood and watched me sob into the blankets.
"You saw him hit with arrow?"
"Genrul wears armor."
It took a moment for that to penetrate my sorrow.
"When he comes back, I'll tell him you saw him die. He'll laugh." And he left.
Four days later, he rode into camp. His armor was covered with stains, his cloak was ripped, his face was covered with dust. He was dirty, smelly, and tired. I thought he was beautiful.
I don't think he was happy to see me.
He was a man. He was full of disbelief. I would have to show him we were fated to be together.
When Sisro lifted his armor off of him, I saw the dent on the shoulder of the back plate. "Arrow," I said. I pointed to the dent, and then pretended to be an archer.
Genrul nodded. I knelt by the chair Genrul dropped down into. I pointed to my heart, and then to my eyes. "I Saw it." He closed his eyes, and let his head rest against the back of the chair. I don't know if he understood or not.
When his bath was ready, I tried to wash him, but he took the cloth from my hand, and washed himself. Took no notice of me when he rose out of the water, reached for the bucket of clean water, and poured it over himself to rinse. I hovered, he pushed me out of his way. I brought the jar of scented oil to rub into his skin, he took it out of my hand and put it on the table. He was trying to pretend I wasn't there.
It wasn't until the interpreter came in, looking apprehensive, that I began to understand.
Genrul wrapped a long linen robe around himself and began to speak in a hard voice. I didn't have to know the words to know what was being said. The interpreter, the young man whose name I had never bothered to find out, had been told to "make me gone." Been given orders. The orders hadn't been carried out. Genrul wanted to know why. The interpreter was blaming it on me-and rightly so-and asking forgiveness.
It wasn't his fault. I didn't care about him one way or the other, but it wouldn't be honest to let him take the blame for something I wasn't ashamed of. I held my arms out across the table so Genrul could see the marks of the straps on my wrists, so he would know the silly boy had tried.
Genrul took a deep breath and let it out. He didn't say anything. The interpreter suddenly looked frightened, knelt down in front of Genrul's feet. I assumed he was begging for mercy.
I gave him a shove. "What's the matter with you? Be a man. Get up off your knees." I grabbed the front of his clothing and dragged him up. "Tell Genrul that it was I who decided not to leave."
He pushed me away. "I told him that."
"Tell him again."
The young man spoke in the Roman tongue. Genrul spoke, the interpreter said, "Genrul wants to know why you want to stay."
Before I answered, I sat down again. I breathed in and out. It was a serious matter. It deserved a moment of gravity. "I have Seen it in a dream. I am to be his wife, and bear his child. That is why I am here."
A moment of silence and the interpreter laughed. Out loud. Hooted. "You?" He laughed some more. "Genrul already has a wife."
That was a hard blow to absorb. "He does not."
"He does. I've seen her. A wife with big beautiful breasts, and round hips, and---"
Perhaps the interpreter was lying. "There's no woman here. If he has a wife, where is she?"
"You're a silly girl. He would not bring his wife here, to a place of war. He cares for her, he keeps her safe." He turned to Genrul and spoke, and laughed some more; I expected Genrul to laugh as well, but he didn't.
"Can you leave now?" the young man asked. It was his own question, Genrul had not said anything.
I couldn't answer him. I was grieving. For what? Perhaps for my silly dreams.
I had been as big a fool as my uncle. Neither of us knew anything of the world outside our village; we should never have left it.
There was no way for me to stay here now. I would have to go. I Looked ahead, and Saw nothing. I had nowhere to go, no one to care what happened to me. My Sight had been wrong. I had Seen Life, but there was only Death for a girl alone in the wild between the armies of the Romans and the Germans.
I rose and walked out of the tent.