Anni stood on the walls of the temple of Eshmun at the heart of Carthage. She felt the blast of heat from where her people had set fire to the city so the Romans could not have her. She coughed on the sweet smell of the cedar, which had been brought from the great forests in Lebanon in the days when Carthage was truly the new town. The fire of her city burning was nothing in comparison to how angry she felt.
She had given birth and loved her children, and she'd rather have dashed her babies' brains to the ground than begged for Roman mercy after insisting that her husband insisted must resist in the first place. After ignoring her warnings. After convincing her not to flee the city.
Anni spat out curses at her husband, kneeling before the Romans in the plaza below.
Her little girl, Quetes, clung to her hand.
Behind her, Mother said, for the thousandth time, "We should have burned Rome when we had the chance."
Anni said, "It's too late for that." She picked up her crying daughter and jumped into the flames.
As they burned, Anni found herself standing next to the Roman general. He watched the people of Carthage jump one after the other into the fire rather than be captured. The bastard was crying. He quoted the Illiad, that jumped-up Greek epic, which he could only quote because the Phoenicians had given the world the alphabet. "A day will come when sacred Troy shall perish, and Priam and his people shall be slain." He wiped at the tears on his face. "All things die. Rome will come to this, too."
Anni flipped Astarte's horns at him as she came out of her vision. She blinked to reorient herself to the endless splash of grey waves and the red sails dull against the sky. She rubbed her arms to remind herself that she was not on fire. That she'd fled two years ago with those of her people who would follow and led them from friendless port to port ever since.
She looked around for Quetes, who was playing quietly with a couple of girls her own age.
Anni's father, Eros, sat on the railing of the ship. Given the way the ship was tossing, if he weren’t a god, he'd have fallen into the sea.
She said, "Father, why did you show that to me?" Her heart ached for… she just ached.
Father smiled, and she was reminded that desire was not always a pleasant emotion. "You were wishing that you'd stayed in Carthage. I showed you what would have happened if you'd stayed." He cleaned his fingernails with an arrow point. "I wanted to cheer my little girl up, and show her it was not all bad."
"You showed me killing Quetes out of pride!" She realized she was yelling.
Father winked at her. "I may have exaggerated." He disappeared like a bubble of soap.
"Mama, why were you yelling?" Quetes ran across the swaying ship deck and slipped her hand into Anni's. "Was it another vision? Has Great-grandmother told you where to go next?"
Anni sighed and hugged her daughter. "That was your grandfather reminding Mama what happens when she questions her Papa." She kissed the top of Quetes' head. "Respect your elders." She pushed her away, though all she wanted to do was hold her. "Go play with our friends."
She tried to run through the prayers she offered after each vision, but they felt false. She found herself merely staring at the wide grey sea.
Each vision had taken them somewhere they needed to go, just one step ahead of the fleets of Rome, but never to where they could settle. She'd been certain when Grandmother had shown her the Gates of Ba'al that they were to head for the fabled outpost of Hanno the Navigator down the coast of Africa.
But as soon as the little fleet made their way through the narrow point where the Mediterranean met the Atlantic, they'd been hit by the mother of a storm. Thankfully, while the refugees were mostly women and children, Phoenician blood ran in their veins. They knew how to sail. Actually, the two years sailing up and down the Mediterranean hadn't hurt either.
Still, they was no land in sight, and with cloudy skies blocking the stars, there was nothing for it. She'd have to ask for help from the dead.
She gathered the necessary materials in the prow of the ship. She burned each in turn in a small brazier. Everyone was watching her, even Quetes. Especially Quetes, who was being inducted into the mysteries a little earlier than she would have been had they remained at home. If there had still been a home to remain in.
Quetes squealed happily when Mother deigned to appear after the third summoning. Mother bent down and pretended to steal Quetes' nose. Mother looked as she must have when she caught the eye of Eros and then caught something else in her belly.
"Death agrees with you, Mother," said Anni.
Mother flipped her black oiled curls over her shoulder. "Oh, it's a terrible bore, dear. Nothing to do but gossip about the future and whose children remember them. You should have called me as soon as you got lost."
Anni did not say, "I'm not lost," – which was her first instinct – given that she was, in fact, lost. "Can you help us find the way to the settlement of Hanno the Navigator?"
"Oh, you're not going there, dear. Really, you should have called sooner. Still," she dusted her hands off, "better now than never. Follow me." She floated off the deck and into the sky to shine as a sort of star beneath the dull grey skies. They followed her light across the water.
When the star finally faded over a dark shape on the horizon, Anni did not break into song or dance. She was of a noble house. That now amounted to herself and an eight year old. She was the widow of a leader of Carthage. Who she admittedly had abandoned to flee the city. She was the daughter of a god. He was the god of desire and everyone who followed her had desired to live more than they wanted to fight. She was the high priestess of Astarte, which was admittedly rank nepotism, given that goddess was her grandmother. But she did not dance.
She was solemn and respectable as they rowed to the small village at the mouth of the river. It was admittedly disturbing to see the human heads arranged in a place of honour by the largest of the ornately carved wooden houses. But she whispered to the only three soldiers who had fled with the fleet, "Steady, boys. You are all that is left of the army of Carthage. Make me proud." They straightened their shoulders.
She was a proper matron when she was greeted by Slughadhan, son of Maelachlainn, chief of the village of Teutorigos, of the Aquitanni tribe, who in addition to his long name was an egregiously tall, handsome, very muscular Celtic barbarian with lime clay stiffening his long hair into points.
He greeted her in passable Phoenician, which was impressive given the differences in their languages. "I learn your language when I fight by your people for glory and gold in Iberia against the Rome." He laughed. "Romans fear death. They think to when Aquitanni set fire to Rome." He struck his very solid chest, which made his gold torc bounce. "I fear only silence of unsung name."
Quetes gasped. "Oh, he's so pretty!" She put her hand in front of her mouth. She was definitely a granddaughter of the god of desire.
"Name's a mouthful, though," said Mother.
"Hmmm…" said Father in a tone that instantly had all three soldiers turning bright red, "I know where I'd put my mouth."
Anni cast her eyes up. Though she had no idea why she expected Grandmother to rein Father in. "Slughadhan, don't mind them. They're..." she glared at her parents glowing on the river bank, "incorrigible."
Slughadhan's brow wrinkled. "I… do not… this word, how does it mean? Who are these…"
Mother waved. "I'm Astarte, a spirit, not the goddess. He's a god. No relation. Well, we fucked a few times."
Father winked, causing a young girl from the village to faint. "Anni, have fun, darling. Don't do anything I wouldn't do." He disappeared. Then he reappeared, scooped up Quetes, whispered in Mother's ear, and all three disappeared.
Anni sighed. "They're my parents." She pressed her legs together at the dampness gathering there and tried not to think that there was nothing her Father wouldn't do.
Slughadhan's eyes grew wide. "We must kill a cow. No. Three cows." Which apparently was Aquitanni for "Throw a raging party with a great deal of mead, sing about glory, and dance with a great deal of muscular bodies moving in the firelight."
Anni found herself giving Slughadhan a very private demonstration of the spring dances of Astarte in his carved wooden house, which quickly led to other demonstrations. As she rode him through their third round, he dazedly said, "I not come so often since I was boy. You must be daughter of a god." He held his pale hand against her own, far darker one. "Lion woman you are."
She bent to bite him just above where he was still wearing his torc. "Grandmother rides lions into battle. She's a goddess of love and war." She raked her fingers down his gorgeous chest and kept going.
By the time she fell asleep, she was feeling very, very good.
She woke up sore and naked in a stranger's bed. Both of their bodies were covered in scratches and bites. She found that her hair had tangled in his very exotic lime-spiked hair. She sighed, because there went her smooth exit. She was still untangling them when he woke up, and she somewhat forgot about hair for a while.
They were still breathing heavily with her head on his chest when he said, in a very conversational way, "Is true, yes, Carthage sacrifice babies?"
"What?" She tried to sit up, having forgotten about their hair, and painfully lay down again. She tried to decide what answer he wanted, but no vision came to give her the best answer. She picked some form of truth. "My people grow an herb that allows us to prevent children from growing in a woman's womb if she doesn’t want them. For some reason, people have a problem with that." She did not mention the sons she'd left behind with her husband. She couldn't.
"Oh," he said, as if disappointed he hadn't had vigorous sex with a baby-killing demi-goddess.
She decided not to tell him that her people hadn't had time to grab more than a few seeds of Silphium on their way out of Carthage, and based on what she'd seen before she'd left the party last night, her people were going to be making excellent progress on repopulating the Carthaginian people well before a new crop could be grown.
Once she parted hair from Slughadhan, she somewhat more sedately negotiated that the Carthaginians would build a settlement on the other side of the river's mouth. Many of the villagers of Teutorigos looked relieved that their guests weren't moving in, even if Slughadhan grinned and said, "I woo you incorrigibly, Lion Woman."
Anni found herself flushing and not sensibly telling him they had nothing in common beyond animal magnetism, a contempt for Rome, and a love of the sweet things in life. Instead, she spent a certain amount of time figuring out things they had in common.
Life settled into a certain rhythm as homes were built and crops were planted. Their village was christened New Carthage. Slughadhan was briefly confused, since Carthage meant new town, but was more interested in proudly introducing chiefs from neighbouring villages and helping her people trade with them.
Anni built a necessarily small temple to Astarte, swatted an invasion of Druids from her temple with a switch of mistletoe, summoned a dead chief to settle an inheritance dispute, and had some visions that seemed important to the local people she had them for. They admittedly made little sense to Anni, given they mostly involved hammers, ravens or cows, but the visiting Aquitanni seemed to appreciate them.
A year passed. The babies that it required no vision to predict were conceived and born and other infants summoned in the same way.
Anni even flattered herself that she was learning the Aquitanni language and their ways. At least she was learning the words for "Get that human head out of my temple," and "I'm going to ride you like a lion," since she was not adverse to Slughadhan's wooing, merely cautious, given the results of her last marriage.
When Slughadhan invited Anni for a picnic, she brought Quetes along. She hadn't told anyone yet, but she suspected that Quetes would soon have a need to get to know the father of her little sister or brother better. Mother tagged along, too, with a fairly evil smile. Of course she knew. She was dead. The dead knew everything.
They stopped at the edge of a meadow. Anni turned to Slughadhan. "What?"
He bounced on his very handsome heels and slapped his sword against his shield. "I show you I am worthy. Every head I take, I take in your honour? All the gold I take from the dead will be yours." He ran down the slight hill to join the other warriors lining up and shouting at each other. Anni had absolutely no idea who was fighting or why. She resisted for all of three rounds of shouting, and then asked her mother.
"How should I know? I'm not screwing a barbarian chief. It looks like the naked blue people are here to fight our local spiky-haired people." Mother stood up and shouted. "Kick their blue asses!"
Anni found herself getting into the spirit and shouted curses down on the blue people. At least until the fighting and the decapitating started. She said, "Huh." Anni pulled Quetes into her lap.
Mother said, "At least he's very good at it. Better than your husband."
Anni would have retorted, but the battlefield disappeared. Anni stood on the top of a white=capped mountain peak. The wind howled around her and frost crackled on her arms. Grandmother circled around her in a lion-drawn chariot. Grandmother pointed down by the base of the mountain, where a wave of Roman helmets swept down into Iberia. All of the Mediterranean fell under that wave. It swept north and over the place the Carthaginians had settled in an instant, and then across the sea to a small island, only to crest and recede at some point in the north.
Anni said very carefully, "It would have been nice if you'd sent me this vision before I slept with Slughadhan. For a year."
Grandmother shrugged. "You're getting this vision now. Dress warmly. It will be cold in winter. Summer, too, for that matter." She clicking her tongue and her lions ran off with a roar.
Anni blinked free of her vision and once more sat on a grassy, pleasant hill. She wondered how she was going to explain that they were leaving to Slughadhan.
Just then the chiefs of two other villages came up the hill, seemingly on break from the battle. Mother said, "Yoo-hoo, Macghbethain, chief of Glamiria."
"He's chief of Cawderix," said Anni, trying to cover up Mother's mistake. She looked at the heads tied to Macghbethain's belt. She said in her very best Aquitanni, "Look at those. I'm sure you'll be riche by the end of the battle." She was fairly proud that she'd managed such a long sentence.
Then it seemed a bit impolite to leave out the other chief. So she said to Banquici, "You don't have as many as Macghbethian, but I'm sure you'll have riche sons," because she had children on the brain.
She smiled brightly, while Quetes giggled. "Rich. Riche. Rich. Riche."
As they walked away, Anni said, "Stop that, Quetes."
"But Mama," said Quetes, "you called them kings."
"No, I'm fairly certain I called them wealthy," said Anni.
Quetes giggled. "Riche means king, Mama."
Anni rubbed her face, but brightened when she decided that really there could be no harm done.
Still, under the circumstances, it seemed wrong to leave the battle early. She ate bread and cheese and when Slughadhan bounded up the hill asking if she'd seen the javelin throw he'd made from the back of his chariot, she said, "Yes," and kissed him.
Over the next few weeks, she called herself all sorts of names as she prepared her people to quietly restock their ships and leave.
It was almost a relief when Macghbethian declared himself king, went insane and started burning down the countryside. The man actually came to her for a vision. She had a brief vision, and told him that he'd only be vulnerable to a man born of no woman, and would die only when the forest walked to his village.
Macghbethian seemed satisfied, despite living in a forest.
Slughadhan said, "He’ll be back by morning to kill us all."
Anni said softly, "Now who is the seer." She laid a hand on his arm. "We will kill all the cattle and feast tonight."
He smiled sadly at her. "Lion Lady, yes." They lost a little time kissing, but soon New Carthage invited all of the village of Teutorigos for a feast. It seemed in keeping with Aquitanni sensibilities to party while the world burned. The Carthaginians slaughtered the cattle they'd accumulated over the year they'd been there. They let the mead flow.
They drugged the mead, bundled everyone onto their ships while everyone lay sleeping, and set sail north.
Anni spent the night under clear stars that guided their way. She hummed hymns of praise to her grandmother and kept her hand steady at the rudder. She pointed out stars to Quetes and inducted her into the mysteries of the sky.
They were far from New Carthage by morning.
Quetes was asleep when Slughadhan blinked awake and sat up.
Anni waited for his response. She expected either rage for kidnapping him or rage for not being able to fight.
He smiled a wide smile. "Lion Lady, you cared enough to kidnap me when you sailed away on the ships you'd been preparing. I expected to wake and find you gone."
"I kidnapped more than you," said Anni.
But Slughadhan shrugged this off as a technicality. "Where are we going?"
"Far north of where any Roman will ever go." She reached out to take his hand and placed it on her belly. "Somewhere we can raise a family."
"Ah," his eyes widened, and he pulled her close. "Let us found a people who will be the terror of the Romans."
"Hmm," she said, and was glad for once not to be snatched from the moment by a vision. She was certain their descendants would be someone's terror. She kept her hand on the rudder steady as she sailed them past the oncoming wave of Rome.
She wished Macghbethian good luck with the Roman army, and wondered what Macghbethian knew about Caesarean births as practiced by the Romans. But she didn't wonder very much.
She had a new new Carthage to found.