A/N: This story is anachronistic. It's a fiction device used by writers to misplace events, languages, characters and technologies. It means the story timeline is inconsistent with real world history.
Cerwen - Kerwin
Gaius - Guy-us
Owyn - Owen
Seamus - Shaymus
Scipio - Skippy-oh
Amor Vincit Omnia
(Love Conquers All)
Sabina was cold. She loathed this country far from the seven hills of Rome. But the warmth of the fire would put her in proximity to her familias. She shivered.
Nearly six weeks ago, she had committed treason against the Emperor, for whose mother Sabina had been named. Now her career in the Imperial Roman Army was dung. And for what? The barbarian family that she had just been told about.
"Are you going to eat, Sabina?" Her father's voice was a deep rumble. She turned to him. In the darkness his Roman features faded into the background. His sharp nose and strong chin were the hallmark of his ancient Patrician blood. He and his ancestors conquered this world they knew. Her father had been nicknamed Britannicus because he had subdued the Celtic hordes in Britain.
She raised herself up to military posture and stood before him, clutching the wool scarlet cape of an Imperial officer against the chill of the German spring. She was still trying to digest the fact that instead of being a true Roman, she in fact was half Celtic. It did little to dwell on the past. It changed nothing, certainly not the fealty she owed to her father, the Master of the House.
When he summoned her, she abandoned her post at the head of the legion. She was sure the Emperor had placed a priced on her head by now. Her properties were confiscated and slaves executed, as she will be if she is captured. When I am captured, she thought grimly.
"Cerwen says you are too thin because you are not eating," her father said.
With great difficulty, Sabina fought the urge to lash out at the mention of Cerwen's name. She was the healer among the group – a most insolent and presumptuous woman who had little regard for Roman ways. Her father Owyn was no better and he tested Sabina to the very limits of her patience.
This rag-tag group of about thirty mostly Britons were being pursued by Sabina's own army. Among the group were four of her relatives and she had sworn to her father the first night that she would see them safely back to Britannia.
But Owyn fought Sabina's strategy at every turn. Had she been in Rome, Owyn would have found himself inside the belly of a warship tied to an oar, rowing to Africanus.
Her father cleared his throat, bringing her back to the present. She was grateful for the darkness. It was unlike her to allow the swell of anger to cloud her judgment. Sabina had been a Proconsul in the Roman Army with command over two legions. She left it to help her father.
When she did not respond to his comments, Gaius decided to goad her more. "Damnation, Sabina! You are what you are. A Celtic Roman. There are worse fates. And as for Leptis –"
Sabina's head jerked up to her father's lean face. No one dared to call the Emperor by his birth name. "Have a care, Gaius," she warned out of habit. It really did not matter what her father called the Emperor here in the middle of Germanicum Inferior.
"Nonsense. It is likely has stripped you of Roman citizenship as we speak. What is certain – the Flavius Felix Legion, your very own – pursues us now."
This was true. Her father, who had abandoned his post in Dalmatia three years ago to return to Britannia, knew the cost of treason. He would not allow himself to be separated from them anymore. His citizenship had been ripped away from him. He paid the price for his family. Now Sabina would pay as well.
She sighed and gestured to the fire. She sat with a bowl of some British gruel. Tasteless and pale. Just like these Britons to whom she found herself related and allied. She scooped the gruel into her mouth and clamped down on her jaw to keep from spitting it out. Maeve, her mother she had thought long dead, sat next to her, patting her knee in a maternal fashion.
Sabina stared angrily at her mother's hand.
"I am thankful you are eating," Maeve whispered, offering a small smile to Sabina. "Cerwen says we need you."
Sabina felt her face suffuse in fury. She directed her gaze back to the crackling fire. Athena! How she hated Cerwen!
"I regret how you...found out about me, Sabina," Maeve whispered.
Sabina kept her sights on the fire, spooning the thick stew into her mouth reluctantly. If she kept her mouth full then she could remain silent. Maeve bowed her head trying to capture her daughter's eye. Failing, she continued to speak, keeping her hand resting on Sabina's knee.
"Your brother was grateful for your allegiance to your father. Otherwise, he believes you would have tried to run him through with your sword. He even believes you may have succeeded."
Under the cover of night, a bearded man with golden hair had stolen into Sabina's villa in Rome. Her steward Crispus had found him. Arturis was the exact image of their father, but he had light hair instead of Roman darkness. Of course, Sabina believed him. Why she agreed to forsake her post, she did not know. Now the Fates had trapped her with this group of defenseless Britons, trying to run home with a legion on their tail.
This was their predicament. They had been on the run with only a few horses for weeks. Half of their numbers were children. And they were fatiguing. And no manner of convincing from Sabina had altered their course to the English Channel. Sabina estimated they would be overtaken in Gaul, just shy of their goal.
"Are you still angry, Sabina?" Owyn asked as he sat besides her, offering her a cup of beer.
Sabina gave a half turn of her head and regarded her nemesis. The old man had a cap of white hair and was as pale as salt.
Sabina looked into the cup he offered her but couldn't see much. She took a swallow and spit it out into the fire. "What is this swill?" she barked, wiping her mouth against her tunic sleeve. Her English was heavily accented with Latin intonations.
Owyn let out a loud belly laugh. Cerwen emerged from the shadows behind him to sit across the fire from Sabina.
"Have you never had beer?" Cerwen inquired. "It's fermented wheat."
"The taste is like fimus."
"Shit," Gaius replied from behind his wife, Maeve. "I required Sabina to be tutored in English, but she has never had to practice."
Sabina ignored her father. "Do you not have vino?"
Cerwen shook her head in amusement. "Beer is liquid bread. Food from the gods."
Sabina mumbled a curse in Latin. Then she cursed the English language with its short nasal vowels and its absurd diphthongs. "I require water then," she said, holding up to the cup Cerwen.
The Celtic woman crossed her legs and arms, as if digging into the spot. "Have you no manners, Sabina?"
Sabina suppressed another flash of anger. She was a Patrician, unaccustomed to asking. "Please," she finally said.
After Cerwen returned, Sabina gestured at her with cup in hand. "You do not have leave to call me by my nomen, my familial name. Proconsul will suffice."
At Cerwen's laugh, Sabina shot her a furious glare.
"Your mother said Romans were quite peculiar about their names. Protective to a ridiculous fault."
Sabina glanced sidelong at her mother. Her dark, hawkish eyes narrowed on the woman sitting next to her.
"Your father is the same way. He is just now accepting his British name, George."
Sabina could not stifle the gasp. They were descended from Roman leaders who founded the Republic a millennium ago. To discard the names they had handed down in honor was a slap in the face.
"Oh, Sabina," her mother intoned. "You are very similar to him."
"When my legion overtakes us two weeks hence, the lot of you will learn more of the Roman character. How many ways we have invented to execute barbarians."
Cerwen shook her head. "You're half barbarian, Proconsul. What would your precious Emperor think of that?"
Cerwen studied Sabina's profile, as the Roman gazed at her parents. The Proconsul was quite lovely. She had large dark eyes, framed with thick black eyelashes, a perfect noble nose, full lips, a chin cleft and thick, dark hair that fell to her shoulders in ripples. She was simply stunning in her highly polished Roman armor. Cerwen had the pleasure of admiring the Roman's rangy form, fitted with a breastplate that hugged her prominent breasts and flat stomach. A gold inlay of the goddess Athena decorated the chest of the armor. She shook her head, trying to get the image of the perfect body out of her head.
"Perhaps they will kill me as well. Better than to face the Emperor I betrayed," Sabina muttered to the fire.
Cerwen shook her head; her auburn hair had beaded braids at the temples. "Romans... embrace death too quickly. That's your flaw."
Sabina gave her a look of disdain. She was merely the village healer. Owyn was the leader. Sabina addressed him.
"We should have gone east, Owyn. They would not have expected that."
Gaius had counseled Owyn to put Sabina in her place early. Sabina had been educated and trained to lead. It would be difficult but it would be the only way to integrate her into the more egalitarian British society.
Owyn stood, dusting himself off. "My decision was made, Proconsul. East would put us a year behind. Maybe more."
If they would have gone south and east, they would have eventually come to the Mediterranean Sea, where they would sail west past the Straits of Gibraltar, arriving on the British coast just as the storms were to begin. But Sabina had argued unsuccessfully they could have holed out in Hispania until the storms subsided.
"Why is it your decision, old man?" Sabina asked him.
"Ahh," he purred.
"English, Sabina," her father whispered.
Sometimes Sabina forgot to think in that damn language. "Why?" she said at last to Owyn.
"You do not recognize my authority."
Sabina shook her head.
"Sabina," her mother said, intruding. "Owyn is our king."
After a moment of silence, Sabina stood, dusted herself off and muttered that Owyn was not her king and they were damned fools for not heeding her military advice. Then she stormed off.