The forest enveloped me as I ran in a long, loping stride while watching my footing along the game trail. Branches tore at me unnoticed as I let the seething anger in my breast drive me forward, expending it in the physical exertion of separating myself from the Roman camp. Following the game trail let me make good time, but it also rendered me somewhat easier to follow… except that I knew Rufus would not pursue me. I slowed once I felt the mad rush of anger waning?why run when none followed? I was near my altar clearing and I set myself to pass to the northwest. It was unlikely anyone was there, but I had no desire for a confrontation. I needed to reach one of my camps and collect myself.

The first site I approached had been looted, doubtless by Rufus and his hunting party. I struck out to the east from there, away from the river valley, only to find yet another of my regular haunts thoroughly tossed. From there I traveled north, walking into the early evening until I came to the cave I sought. This was unmolested, though I spent another hour circling carefully, ensuring there was no sign any person had approached it.

It was sparsely provisioned?just clothing and blankets and tools. I was famished, but still too agitated to set about hunting. Instead I eased my hunger with berries and great draughts of water from a nearby spring. I built a fire and set about fletching arrows for my bow as darkness descended on the forest, the fine fingerwork easing my mind and returning focus to the world.


It was but a whisper in the rustling leaves, but it set my heart to leaping and I struggled to contain myself, closing my eyes and listening, my thoughts floating free on the shifting breeze caressing the forest.


“Loghaz,” I whispered, a smile on my lips, “I have missed even you…”

I have no name your lips are worthy to speak. But I know your name?liar and whore!

The voices of the gods seldom made themselves heard when mortals were about. Even when I was captured and taunted by the Romans, they had abandoned me. I had longed for even the worst of their voices when trapped among the Romans. But now, as I listened to the demon-God Loghaz’s voice upon the wind, I found myself faltering.

“I am Tiwazō…”

You are a slave. Your Roman snaps his fingers and you jump and spread your legs like a pampered concubine.

I snarled at him, striking my fist out in rage at the empty air. All he offered in response was laughter. Yet, while there was hot anger in my breast, I still felt some satisfaction at the return of these solitary companions, these spirits who were such an integral part of my everyday existence, whom I had come to know for so many lifetimes. I resolved not to argue with them, but to rebuild the shambles that Rufus had made of my life regardless.

That night I did my best to commune with the mother-goddess. I ached to hear Her words. Once She spoke: You shall endure my sister. But it was only once, and She sounded almost uncertain, then She fell silent and did not answer my calls. I curled into a ball that night and quietly prayed for Her voice until I fell asleep.

She did not touch me in my dreams, either.

By day, the only voice I heard was Loghaz. I tried to ignore him, or taunt him in return, while I spent my days attempting to restore my surroundings to their virginal beauty. Cleaning up the violations as I went, I began hunting and collecting useful belongings from my few remaining campsites. It was clear the Romans had looted the first site I revisited, but I could tell that others besides the Romans had desecrated my other sites. Each site I returned to brought the icy laughter of the demon back to my thoughts, as I wondered whether it was the Romans or my own people violating me in each case. In either case, Loghaz’ gloating ridicule grew with each passing day.

You fear him, little fool. His mark is burned deep within you.

It angered me to suffer the taunting of this deceiver while all other voices remained lost to me. The mother-goddess Nerthō refused me even when I went to the unheard of extreme of killing a stag and making an offering to her. Worse, Loghaz shrieked in derision as I did so. The sudden sense of shame I felt in that that moment was so alien and so overwhelming to me I heard myself sob.

I endured this taunting. I also endured Nerthō’s rejection of me. Despite them both I forged ahead, preparing to reassert myself over the people I had owned for so long. I knew them as the Darrihardōz although apparently they no longer called themselves that. There was much else now that I realize I had not known about them. They had changed over the centuries while I had not, so I avoided any direct confrontation with them for now as I contemplated how I might reassert my power over them.

They were mine! If I had to kill them all I would do so, but they would be made to worship me again. Yet night after night, the voices would not respond, and I could not bear the thought of so much as facing another mortal, and I could not clear my head enough to plan how I would re-take their worship.

Then Loghaz invaded the night realm of my dreams, his demon’s voice conjuring images of shame and despair that tore me screaming from my slumber. He tormented me with images of Rufus, and the memory of Rufus’ hands upon me, and the pleasure I felt that last night with him even as I struggled to resist the urge to tear out his throat with my teeth.

Why sleep when your master’s touch awaits you? Or does he await his death at your hands, were you not such a weakling coward? Yes, you are a coward, coward and weakling and pathetic whore…

But this time, I quieted and simply listened to the demon’s taunting. Instead of arguing or shutting him out, I just listened. He seemed almost disappointed, and soon quieted himself as I felt resolve grow within me. Like a moth to a flame, I knew where I would go. Even as I set out that morning I knew what I would find, and I feared it in a way I had not permitted myself in so very many years. As I journeyed, silence was my only companion.

There had been much coming and going around the clearing where my altar had stood. Taking my time I circled the site, satisfying myself that no one was lurking nearby. As I came to the south I could taste smoke in the air, and I knew it to be a campfire for I could detect the scent of meat upon it.

I stopped, crouching, listening for any sound carried upon the breeze, but there was nothing of any note. I advanced carefully, watching my footing, staying to the shadows until the clearing was in sight. There was a single tent, Roman, and a campfire with simple cooking accoutrements set to one side. There was movement in the tent and I settled down to watch. After some time Rufus emerged and set about tending his fire.

His arrogance angered me, but did not surprise me. Whatever he was, he was not one to give up easily. He desired something from me, something more than my body or my obedience. Memories of whispered gloating in the night chilled my heart. I could not accept that this man might be my equal?the very thought of it was absurd. At that moment all it would take was the lifting of my bow and the setting of an arrow. I could take him in the leg, then the arms, then let him struggle towards his weapon as I strode up to him. Knife in hand I would kick him over onto his back so he could see my face as I slit his throat…

I wonder even now: what would have been the course of my life had I done just that?

I watched unmoving as he went about his small chores with the efficient precision of one well accustomed to living in the wild. He maintained his fire, buried his scraps, gathered more wood, refilled his water gourd from the nearby stream and tended to his bodily needs. It was boring routine, yet I watched him in utter fascination, as if by taking in these mundane things I could divine the inner secrets of his soul. Not once did I raise my bow. As the day wore on towards evening he partook of bread and what had to be salted meat along with a generous portion of wine- taking a small part of it in a cup and pouring it over the fire as he spoke quiet words of ritual.

When he finished his meal he stood and stretched, his magnificent form straining as his muscles tensed and bulged. As he relaxed his gaze wandered about the clearing.

“I know you are out there,” he said, his voice firm, but not shouting. “This is my sixth night here. The first five you were nowhere near this place, but tonight you are here. I can feel you.”

My heart leapt up into my throat and I forced myself to cease the trembling that threatened to betray me. I turned my head, listening for signs of anyone approaching, but the forest was undisturbed by anything other than Rufus’s voice. He turned, slowly scanning the edge of the clearing, his eyes trailing past the spot where I sat concealed.

“Had you come to kill me you would have done it by now. Since night is falling and I still live, you must have had another reason. Do you know what it is?”

That I did not understand why I had not killed him made the question almost intolerable to hear from his lips, and he went on, his voice friendly, even jovial as he spoke to the darkening gloom of my forest. Eventually he fell silent, and with a rueful shake of his head he retreated into his tent. I waited, keeping quiet counsel with myself as the moon crawled up the sky, a bare sliver of the waning light casting a light silvery glow upon the forest.

Nothing stirred for long hours and finally I rose to my feet, quietly stretching the cramped muscles in my legs as I carefully slung my bow over my back and drew my knife. I crept forward, taking a half step every few heartbeats, circling my way into the clearing and towards the tent. As I drew closer I could hear his deep rhythmic breathing as he slept. I circled his tent, but I could not bring myself to enter it.

It was not fear, nor was it mercy. I knew that should I retreat into the forest the brutal spirit haunting my dreams would return, his derision and scorn redoubled and well-deserved. Why could I not act? How had he done this to me? My forest, my people, my world?all now bore the mark of this man. He had torn all the rhythms of my life asunder and I could not make them whole again so long as he lived. For the first time in a very, very long time I was afraid of what songs were sung on the night breeze. My place was not certain, my understanding unclear and at the center of it was this magnificent, arrogant enigma.

Trembling with renewed anger I stepped to the tent flap and carefully drew it aside.

For the first time that day Loghaz spoke.

Kill him, little whore. Will it set you free, or destroy you? Kill him and see.

The choice was made so suddenly I hardly had time to think as I dropped to one knee and scraped my mark into the soil outside the opening to his tent and then backed away slowly until I reached the edge of the clearing. I turned and fled into the forest as a dark, malicious laughter tainted the air and hot tears stung my cheeks. I ran as hard as I could, trying to make a reckless pace and the sound of my passing drown out the words I knew that dark spirit spoke, but to no avail. I reached my camp and he was there, just a wordless laughter amongst the rustling leaves, dripping with contempt.

Sleep was elusive, as it had been for days. I would close my eyes and it would steal over me?the sensation of being watched. So strong was the feeling that I would start suddenly, my heart racing as I gazed about. I knew there was nothing to be seen, but the certainty of danger in the once-comforting darkness was lodged in my mind and would not be cast aside. And so I spent yet another restless night, finally falling into a light slumber as the birds began their chirping to greet the coming dawn.

Rufus touched me, his strong hands urging me over onto my back and I gazed up at him, clad in his shining breastplate, the gleaming helm upon his head, its crest a brilliant crimson, flowing over his shoulders. He touched me and my body shuddered even as the anger burned in my heart. I shouted at him, Why are you here? He simply smiled and reached out to me, clasping my hand in his and drawing me to my feet, my body so light I seemed to float in his grasp. He spoke to me in a whisper?I strained to hear, then recoiled as I recognized the bleak, grating voice: I know what you are…

Laughter rang in my ears as I was startled to wakefulness and I leapt up, confused and frustratingly frightened until the sound fell into place? merely birds. I went to the entrance of the cave and found hundreds of birds in the trees twittering and chattering at each other. Fear and anxiety were replaced by the low, burning anger that had settled in my heart since the day I awoke and found myself Rufus’s captive. In turn that opened the door to shame and confusion. Why had I not taken his life? Why?

I wrestled with that question for the next two days and through it all the demon laughed at me, stripping all my pretenses bare until I wept tears of anguish, begging him to be silent just one night, just one hour…

It is not for me to choose silence, fool. It is for you to silence me.

It was as if I were trapped, as thoroughly bound and imprisoned as I had been in Rufus’s camp. I could strike out in any direction and take myself far from this place but the memory of Rufus and my humiliation at his hands could not be left behind. It was as I came to this point after another long and sleepless night, followed by half a day of wrestling with the demon’s laughter, that I heard other voices, voices unlike those that tormented me, the voices of people.

I fetched up my bow and followed the sounds, knowing what I would find. I came upon them by a stream that fed into the river another day’s walk to the southwest. There were five of them, women. My people. Following the stream they were gathering berries and anything else of interest, an activity that in and of itself was not unusual; however, they had not approached my altar. This was most likely due to the man camped there, but I could tell there was more to it for they were blissfully unconcerned. Surely they knew I had escaped the Romans? They should have been cautious, and wary of the shadows, but there was no hint of unease about them.

I could have changed that. They were women, and unarmed other than the long knives they used to chop back the brush and take whole branches from the fruit-laden bushes. I could easily take them with my bow. Delivering their heads in a sack to their village would serve as ample warning that I truly had returned and would not countenance disrespect. Yet I felt fear at the thought of approaching them, and anger at my own fear. These were my people, mine by divine right! Yet I could not face them even to destroy them. It was maddening.

It is because such things avail you nothing whilst your master awaits you. He takes his ease in your sacred place- there shall be nothing for you here so long as he lives.

That dark and demanding whisper?it came now without the breeze to give it voice. It mocked me with words I knew to be truth. These women did not represent a challenge to me. Not yet. Not so long as Rufus dwelt in these woods. Not so long as he lived.

I turned away from them, leaving them to the chores that defined their short lives. I had business this evening with an arrogant creature whose hand still gripped my thoughts and haunted my dreams. He who had no right to hunt me, to hold me, to gloat over me and then offer me my freedom as if it were his choice, his decision: to accept that from him, that was the weakness in me that now drove the madness, forcing me to hear little but the dark and malicious spirit who now mocked my every thought and deed.

Once the choice was made silence again became my companion. As I made my way directly to the altar clearing my mind became so very settled and calm. I slipped into the icy detachment of my familiar mien, embracing it with joy as my murderous resolve invigorated me, setting me to running that I might reach the clearing before darkness fell.

Everything fell away from me, all my anger, the doubts since I had left the Roman camp, and the fear and confusion of my dreams. The calm focus in my mind centered on that single thing required for me to be whole once again.

I reached the clearing while there was still some daylight remaining. Approaching warily I took up a position on the eastern edge, directly across from the opening of Rufus’s tent. He sat within, his tunic gathered about his waist, his chest and shoulders uncovered as he worked a stone along the edge of the short blade of his sword. I watched him for some time until he finished with his task, cleaning the blade and returning it to its sheath before he stepped out of the tent and stretched, much as he had that night before. His eyes turned toward where I crouched… and they stopped.

“I spent the past days learning every shadow and tree surrounding this clearing,” he said, speaking directly to me, “and now there is a shadow that does not belong. Perhaps you might care to share my supper, sparse as it is?”

I said nothing and he sighed after a moment, shaking his head slowly as a smile touched his lips.

“As you wish. Crouch in the shadows if that is your desire, but I’ll make you pay a price for your loitering about. I am going to enjoy some wine, and I am going to tell you a story.”

With that he turned his back to me and picked through the bundles laid out before the tent, fetching out a leather bottle and a loaf of bread. He made a show of settling down to eat, again pouring a small portion of wine into his cup and offering it to the fire before tearing off a piece of bread and beginning to eat. I watched with some curiosity as I debated whether to take him down with my bow, or to risk his strength and face him again with my knife.

“The Greeks,” he began, “named her Artemis. To my people she is Diana. To both peoples she is The Huntress, amongst other things. When I was born my father took me to a seer, one who purports to understand things unknowable to other men. That oracle proclaimed me to be one whose fate was known to the Huntress, and that through Diana I would find greatness and power. My father took great care in seeing that my path was set to honor Diana, and through that I have achieved some fame, and yet, it seems there must be more. I know I yearn for more. I feel the eyes of the goddess upon me.”

He stopped then and partook of his wine. Despite my purpose this day I was fascinated, for Marieko had spoken of the gods of the Greeks and Romans, but had never mentioned this. Watching Rufus I knew there was no deception in him and in the light breeze touching the leaves there was nothing?no laughter, no mocking, no dark spirit urging me forward. Intrigued by his tale, and enthralled with his beauty I awaited his next words.

“My father was a man with powerful friends. They took an interest in me and recommended me to the Praetor of Spain, he himself a man of influence and friend of my family. I came and took the commission offered for I believed the frontier was the place to find glory that might propel me further towards my ultimate goals. It was there that I first encountered an old man, a barbarian from beyond the borders, who told a tale of a beautiful Witch both ageless and cruel who killed with a bow made unmatched and deadly by the gods.

“I dismissed his words, but I did not forget, and as life in Spain grew tiresome and repetitive I began to wonder if I had made a mistake. Some few years had passed and the tale of the Witch came to me again, this time from a trader, a Roman of low status, but good bearing. He told of peoples who lived in fear of the Huntress. I was ready to dismiss this as well, but then the Praetor asked that I undertake a mission, visiting the peoples beyond the frontier. I was given some two hundred men-at-arms and sent out to follow the frontier and take the measure of what lay beyond it.

“That mission led me here, and allowed me to see if this Witch was a creature of myth, or of fact. When I saw you that first day, standing proud and arrogant over the bodies of my men, your bow clutched in your hand, your eyes fixed on mine… all doubt left me then. I knew that fate had brought me here, had brought us both here, so that we might meet, and contest. Our destinies, yours and mine, are bound together. I can never achieve the glory I am due without you. You can never be more than a frightening and murderous witch skulking in the shadows without me.”

He stopped then and I found myself regarding him in a new light. Rufus was my enemy; of that there was no doubt in my mind. I hated him for his arrogance, and his presumption of the right to call me his own. Yet his words… his words rang true. It was frighteningly clear to me that he believed what he said, and if anything that fanned the flame of resentment even hotter within me. I listened to the forest, straining for some hint that he was lying, that he was a fool, but the voice that had driven me forward was now mute. Just as before, with Rufus aware of me, speaking to me, the gods abandoned me. And what did that mean?

“You presume much, Roman,” I said, speaking in a low, contemptuous voice as I rose from my crouch with my bow in hand, and arrow at the ready. “My only desire is to claim your life, and have my freedom.”

“Yet you are free, are you not? I gave you your freedom without hesitation or reservation. Turn and go from here. I’ll not follow.”

“You gave me nothing!” I spat, “You sent me from you with the promise I would be free, yet you haunt my dreams!”

He stood then; his eyes fixed upon mine and said, “Then we have another thing in common between us.”

We stood there regarding each other for a very long time. Curiosity warred with anger in my breast as I tasted the words he had spoken and the admission he had just made. My own dreams, the restlessness borne of mocking words that filled the air when I was parted from him, it all possessed a kind of symmetry when I took his claims into account. He believed these things, was willing to place his life in my hands to share these notions with me. I remembered my thoughts as he had pursued me so relentlessly, driving his men by sheer force of will: I had thought he must be a god himself. Could it be that simple?

Moving carefully, deliberately, I lifted my bow, turning to the right as I drew the arrow back until my hand rested just below my jaw. I sighted on the center of his belly, a target impossible to miss at that range. I watched him as he stood unflinching, his eyes hard as granite as he awaited my choice. He was confident, and arrogant, and beautiful…

My arm trembled as I allowed the bow to relax and then slipped the arrow into the quiver on my back. I was by no means certain of my choice, but there was no other way. Were I to kill him now there would be no way to be certain he was not telling the truth. I strode into the clearing until I faced him from across his campfire.

“Why?” he asked. Just that one word.

“I don’t know why. Tell me more.”

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