The day’s afternoon was bright and brilliant and all the more beautiful for my having spent its morning kissing Mael in the Forgotten Vale. But inside my house in Durovernum—the house that I once shared with Sorcha—it was dark. I let the heavy leather door curtain fall closed behind me and moved through the room lighting the lamps.
Over the years, Sorcha had collected more than a dozen of the things—shining, delicately wrought metal or carved alabaster or clay painted with jewel-bright glazes—and hung them from the ceiling poles in our cozy little house on chains of different lengths. My favorite was the one shaped like a bird, with bits of blue and green glass set into the wings that made it glow with a fey light. The lamps had mostly come from far away, as had most of my sister’s precious things, brought over in ships by traders from places across the sea. Places like Gaul and Greece and Aegypt. And Rome.
As much as Sorcha had taken delight in professing her hatred for Caesar at any opportunity, that hate hadn’t influenced her fondness for fine and decorative things from the lands his legions had conquered. Just another one of my sister’s many contradictions, I suppose. I once saw a mosaic in a trader’s stall, and that was what imagining Sorcha was like—a multitude of sharp, shining pieces that, taken together, made up a whole image. Told a whole story.
As I lit the last of the lamps, I thought about the day they’d told me my sister was dead, killed by the Romans. The women of the tribes of Prydain—Cantii and Catuvellauni, Trinovantes and Iceni—could choose to fight alongside the men or not. Many did and with such skill that they were feared as much as the men—more so, even. The legions thought that the women warriors of the Island of the Mighty were demons, aberrations whose corpses they burned in heaps after battles so that their black souls could never escape to inhabit another body. Of course, I knew just how ridiculous that was. A primitive superstition. The fighting women of the tribes of Prydain were as good as they were because they worked at it. I worked at it—hard.
It was as simple—and as complicated—as that.