R5 Greta: The Lady’s Doom, part 1 of 3

The morning came quicker than Greta imagined. When they opened the door, the sun looked ready to rise, and even though the light remained very dim, it took Greta a moment to adjust.

“Come out,” Lady Brunhild commanded, and Greta stumbled out to see a girl barely older than herself.  Instead of attacking her, though, the Lady surprised Greta by twirling around in her dress like an excited school girl, and asked, “How do I look?”

Greta frowned.  The young Brunhild looked very beautiful, and Greta, by contrast, felt rather ordinary and plain looking.  Then Thissle’s words came back about the need to outshine, and she could not help herself. “You have a zit.”  Greta said.  “On your nose there.”  Greta pointed.

“What?”  Brunhild went into an absolute panic.  “Bring me a mirror,” she demanded.  “Hurry!” Her finger went along her nose to try to feel it.  When the brass came, Greta started snickering.  Then the Lady surprised Greta again by genuinely laughing when she saw her clear skin.  It seemed a pleasant laugh, too, and she did not appear to be mad at Greta at all.

“Too bad,” she said.  “Under other circumstances, you with Darius and me with Marcus, I think we might have been friends.  I reminded myself last night that you are no fool, and I would dearly love a friend who has a semblance of a brain, not to mention someone who knows what I am talking about when I mention India or China.”

“Too bad?”  Greta asked, thinking she would no more be friends with this woman than she would with a succubus.

Brunhild nodded.  “Too bad I have to kill you,” she said, sweetly.

“So, what shall we do?”  Greta asked.  “Pistols at ten paces?”

Brunhild genuinely laughed again.  “A sense of humor, too,” she said.  “It really is too bad.”  She walked toward the back of the temple near the altar and statue of Odin, but where the wall looked clear and uncluttered.  Everyone else followed.  “First we see what is happening down below.”  She waved her hand against the wall.  A picture formed on the wall like a movie or a television picture, but it appeared like they looked from the Goodyear blimp.  They zoomed down to the road where they could hear the noises and see the fortifications.  Greta noted with glee that a morning attack would force the Quadi to ride near enough into the morning sun.

“Such a pitiful few horses the Romans have,” Brunhild said.

Greta did not think it looked that pitiful, but then she realized that Brunhild could not see the knights of the lance, though the way they gleamed at sunrise, they became almost all that Greta could see. And it looked like more than a hundred! Greta began to count, but before she could send a stern word to Sunstone, the scene shifted.

“But see?”  Brunhild said as they zoomed over to the Quadi line.  “Three thousand men in the first wave.  They are expendables, really, designed only to break your lines.” The picture zoomed further back behind the first wave.  “You see? Ten thousand warriors ready to ride in the second wave.”

“I see.”  Greta said, and she thought Yin-mo saw as well, though she could not be sure. Brunhild looked at Greta as if sensing the subliminal message, but before she could speak they got distracted by the sound of drums.  The Quadi also heard the drums, and their front line had a hard time holding their horses in check.

“What is this?”  Lady Brunhild looked genuinely surprised.  She zoomed over to the forest and tried to peer down between the trees. The drums, so many drums, sounded as if they were getting louder and louder.  “I see.”  The Lady said as she must have seen something.  “Very clever. Outflank the Quadi.  Who will win?  But then, who cares.  I will win.” She laughed, and this time Greta heard no pleasantry in her laughter.  “All the same, it is exciting, isn’t it?”  Brunhild touched Greta’s hand in girlish excitement, but Greta pulled her hand away, feeling that she might have to scrub her hand with a Brillo pad.

“It is not exciting,” Greta returned.  She knew war too well.  “What if Darius gets killed?” she asked.

“That should hardly matter to you at this point.” Brunhild shot at her, taking Greta’s snub, personally.  Then she appeared to soften, like a snake.  “But if it is any consolation, I will find someone nice for Darius’ bed.  He will not be unhappy.”

“Aren’t you afraid Marcus may be killed?”  Greta asked.

“Oh, no,” Brunhild said.  “Marcus will not be fighting.  I have seen him already, and he has promised to stay out of it.”

“No!”  Greta leapt forward to get her hands around the woman’s throat.  She wanted to break Brunhild’s neck before this went any further. Unfortunately, two men grabbed her and held her by the arms like the night before.  They could do this easily enough because they were going after Greta, not her armor.  Even so, Brunhild took no chances.  One who grabbed her was Vasen the Priest.  The other was Bragi, her brother.  Both were deeply enchanted and Greta almost wondered how they could even see out of eyes so glazed.

“Bragi.  What are you doing?”  Greta asked and put what little she had into the question.  Bragi did pause, but then answered firmly.

“I do what the Lady wants,” he said, and Lady Brunhild laughed again and made no effort to disguise the wickedness in her laughter.

Greta had to close her eyes for a minute.  She found Thissle safe but not sure what to do. The rocket was already sticking straight up at the ready, where Bragi had set it the night before.  Thissle, Greta thought.  You will have to light the fuse when I tell you.  Then run straight to Berry.  Stay away from the fighting and horses, and stay invisible.”

“Yes, Lady,” Thissle said, and Greta felt sure this time that the little one heard her.

R5 Greta: Confrontation, part 3 of 3

Immediately, the two men who held Greta’s arms jumped back. This proved good, because Greta needed to collapse to the floor and take a moment to herself, to recover from the brink of death, and fortunately, Lady Brunhild gave her that moment.  The woman stared at her and seemed to be recovering a bit of her own strength as well, but outwardly she appeared to be examining the armor as if deciding what to do.

“I must tell you.”  Greta breathed as she struggled to her feet.  She would have appreciated the opportunity to pass out, but she was not about to stay prostrate before the woman.  “The armor belongs to the Nameless god.”  She spoke of the one with whom Brunhild and the men with her were most familiar.  “Defender and the sword, Salvation, have a mind of their own.  I do not want you to be hurt.”

Even as Greta finally got to her feet, Lady Brunhild spit in her face.  “Strip her.” She ordered.  The two who had been holding her arms stepped up and touched her.  Greta cried out.  She felt the power surge through her.  It struck the two men like lightening and shot them twenty feet through the air where they crumpled, unconscious, if not dead.

Greta caught her breath again, but found it much easier this time, as if the armor protected her from more than just arrows. Lady Brunhild stared hard at her and began to pace, once again to decide what to do.

“Ruby slippers,” Greta said, and Brunhild squinted at her, not understanding.

“I saw these weapons and this armor in a dream.” Brunhild began to speak.  “It was before Boarshag and it may be why you startled me so at the time.  The great God, Mithras, bless his name, revealed to me that if I could take them from the one wearing them I would receive riches and power beyond counting.” She stopped in front of Greta’s face and Greta tried to smile for her, and it would have been a truly obnoxious smile if her cheeks were not hurting.  “Give it to me, now!”  The Lady said and threw her every ounce of compulsion behind the words.

This time, Greta hardly felt it, though she knew it had to be very draining for the Lady.  She knew Lady Brunhild would sleep well that night, but for Greta, she merely smiled more broadly.  The Lady, however, did not attack Greta.  Greta remained as vulnerable and human as ever.  But the Lady went after the armor of the Kairos, and as such she had zero chance of success.  Greta watched the Lady’s face flush and she could almost taste the anger that rose up in the woman’s veins.  By contrast, Greta stood very calm and resolute, and smiled as much as her cheeks allowed.  Finally, the Lady grabbed the hilt of Salvation which stuck up over Greta’s shoulder. This time, the charge appeared sufficient to glue the Lady’s hands to the sword.  The more the Lady tried to pull, the more she got drained, until a small surge kicked her free before she killed herself.

“I told you, you cannot have it,” Greta said, and something rose up in her from all the days in the ancient past.  “And your Mithras will not help you.  He has no given authority in this region, and he knows if he shows his face he will be killed for real, and this time I will not be there to bring him back.”  Nameless got tired of the game, and he was a master game player, arguably second only to Loki among the northern gods of old.  Indeed, some of the men thought they were hearing directly from the Nameless god, the reported owner of the armor, and they would not have been wrong in that assumption even though Greta remained where she stood.

Meanwhile, Lady Brunhild fainted in Kunther’s arms. “Watch her tonight,” she said and promptly passed out.  They took Greta away at sword point because no one would touch her.  To Greta’s disappointment, however, they did not return her to the room with the others.  Instead, she got driven into a real storage closet which did not even have a window.  When they shut the door, she sat in utter darkness.

The state of grace Greta had felt, left her with the light.  She tried to reach out to Yin-mo.  She tried to tell him it would be all right to plan for the morning attack, as he thought best, but please limit his and the knight’s contact with humans as much as possible.  She felt he acknowledged her, but she could not be sure.

She searched for Thorn in her mind’s eye, but he seemed to be asleep.  Thissle, on the other hand, seemed awake and curious.  She and Bragi were half-way down the Mount on night watch.  They had been busy.  Thissle left the glamour that Lady Brunhild found.  She left it to fool the guards when Bragi stole the real statue and took it to the diggings.  After hiding the statue beside the powder, they talked to any number of men. Thissle tired from all of that. More than once she had to step up and break the spell Lady Brunhild had set like a glaze over the men’s eyes. That seemed the only way they could be sure about the men, and then Bragi went on duty with a rocket-like flare which would be the signal for all of the men to vacate the Temple.

All at once, Greta seemed to be seeing out of Thissle’s eyes and hearing with her ears.  Thissle yawned and Greta yawned with her.

“But in reality,” Bragi said.  “I think Karina is so very beautiful, it has made her shy. She is shy around men and shy about outshining all of the women around her.”

“Silly boy.”  Thissle yawned again.  “Human women live to outshine each other.  Why, for some, if they can’t outshine their neighbors, life is hardly worth living.”

Greta jumped back into her own skin.  That felt like a strange experience, and now Greta had a monster headache on top of her hunger and all of her other pains.  She did not expect to sleep.

She tried to reach out to Berry, to see how she was.  She imagined her and Hans, Fae and Hobknot all sitting in Fae’s tent worrying about her. It seemed a sweet thought, but then, Greta felt sure it was only her imagination.  Greta smiled at the thought and got struck with a vision, like the opening of a curtain on a scene that looked all too real.

She saw a young woman, screaming and terrified. She looked about Greta’s age, perhaps seventeen, but absolutely beautiful.  Greta well understood her terror.  A worm, a dragon hovered over her, looking at her like a tasty morsel.

Bragi stood there, yelling at the monster. Greta could not hear the words. But no, it was not Bragi.  She heard the young woman.

“No, father.  Please!  Hans, help me!”

It was Hans, but Bragi’s age.

“Berry!”  Greta snapped out of it, shouted the word out loud.  But how did she age so much in her big form?  She should have still looked thirteen, even if Hans looked eighteen or nineteen.  It seemed a mystery.  She would have to puzzle it out somehow, but even as she began to think, she fell fast asleep.

R5 Greta: Confrontation, part 2 of 3

“You really are an ordinary looking girl,” Brunhild said at last, squeezing Greta’s cheeks.  “Funny that you should have gotten so close to power and then failed at the last.”

“Whatever do you mean?”  Greta asked through fish-like lips.

“Silly girl.”  Brunhild smiled wickedly and let go, scratching Greta’s face with her nails. “My god, the Lord Mithras, blessings on him, has pledged to take over the whole world, beginning with Rome.  I shall marry the next emperor and rule the world, my dear.”

At first, the idea of Rome taking over the world brought a bad episode of Star Trek to mind; but then Greta’s eyes widened. “No,” she said.  “You cannot have him.  He will not serve you.”

“So, you know.”  Lady Brunhild mused.  “Yes, I must remember that you are no fool.  At first I thought my Lord wanted me to use Trajan’s weapons against Rome, ironic as that would have been.  But now I see that in his all-powerful turning of fate, all of this, the rebellion, certain Romans being here in this hinterland, the Quadi, all of it was simply to bring Marcus to my side.”

“No.”  Greta still shook her head.  “It won’t happen that way.”

“Why, yes, my dear.”  The lady had a flashy grin.  “And when I put my Germanic peoples together with the Romans, no force on earth shall stop us.”  She laughed. “Now don’t you think Marcus will make a good puppet?”

“He will make a good emperor.”  Greta spoke carefully.  “But he will never be the puppet you imagine.  Be careful, lest you end up serving him.”  Greta shook her head.  “Oh, I forgot.”  She spoke with determination.  “You won’t be there with him.”

Lady Brunhild slapped Greta’s face and started her lip bleeding again.  Then her smile returned and she pinched Greta’s cheeks once more.

“Now, what makes you think that?” She asked.

I’ll stop you, Greta thought, but she said nothing. All the same, Lady Brunhild laughed. She might not have been able to read Greta’s mind, but she could easily read Greta’s face.

“Let’s see your toy.”  The lady said, and scratched Greta’s face again as she turned toward the altar.  She looked carefully, and so did everyone else.  Lady Brunhild slowly circled the altar until she stood right behind it. Then she laughed again and waved her hand right through the object.  The statue wavered for a moment in the wind, like a vision of heat rising from the rocks, and then it vanished altogether.  “Very good.”  Lady Brunhild appeared impressed.  “I knew you had some power by blood, though I thought it was only a little from your grandmother.  I had no idea you were capable of such an illusion.  Such magic!”  She was not really impressed, but spoke to Greta like a mother might speak to a toddler. She came to pinch Greta’s cheeks a third time, and now it started to become very painful, but there seemed nothing Greta could do about it.  Her arms were still held tight.  “You may even have something of a lesser Spirit about you and that may be why I can’t quite catch your thoughts.”  She let go once more, and the scratch in her face began to bleed.  “But no matter.  My power has been granted to me by a god, by the Divine Mithras himself, blessings on him.  You startled me well in Boarshag, but I was not nearly so strong then as I am now. Perhaps this time I can startle you.” She giggled a very girlish giggle at her own thoughts and it made Greta want to gag.

“Mother.”  Kunther interrupted at no little risk.  “I mean, Brunhild.  These are the result of no illusion.”  He brought forward the man with the burned hands.  Brunhild touched them and closed her eyes.  Greta could see the strain on Brunhild’s face, but slowly, the blisters went away, the blackened flesh turned red and then fair again, and soon enough, all of the red had gone.  The man began to weep in gratitude, but Lady Brunhild brushed him off.  She had to catch her breath.  She clearly looked worn.

“There are other ways to burn a fool than by a spurious statue,” Brunhild said.  “As you told me, he dropped the statue, but the fire stayed on his hands.”

“That’s true.”  Several men confirmed, and Lady Brunhild brushed off any further discussion on that matter as well and turned back to Greta.  Greta steeled herself, calmed her insides and wondered what would happen next.

“That armor you manifested that day in Boarshag.  I would have it.”  She came right out with it.

“It is not mine to give.”  Greta responded.  It was hers, but only in her lifetime.  In truth, it belonged to her greater self, to the Kairos, and got passed down from Traveler to Traveler, from life to life.

“Manifest it now!”  Greta felt the power of Lady Brunhild’s demand hit like a brick.  It struck her mind and twisted her gut. Greta had no power like that.  She could not resist, but the armor resisted. It remained rooted too deep in the works of the gods of old.  Lady Brunhild might kill her, Greta thought, but the woman would never have the armor.

“Now!”  The Lady got impatient, and Greta could see her straining.  She forced the issue and Greta nearly went unconscious.  Then voices came into Greta’s head.

“She would do better if she relaxed and kept herself free of her emotions and impatient will.”  Danna spoke through time.

“I would not suggest it, though.”  Salacia quipped.

“Go ahead and show her the armor.”  Nameless finished.  “Trust.  You are the Kairos now.”

Greta did not exactly understand what Nameless meant by that, but she understood that her work throughout history was always a struggle, full of human foibles and failings.  Invariably she had to trust in the source, as the gods used to call it. She knew now, and for the last hundred and fifty years or so, what she had always known but was never allowed to speak about.  She knew what Gerraint knew, what Arthur learned despite Merlin, and what Festuscato knew as well.  She had to trust in the source, now called the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, which is to say, the God of the gods.  She called to her armor, and the call sounded strong, though she had nearly fallen into a coma.  She could always call for her armor, she knew, whether she found herself beneath the ocean or sucked into the vacuum of space, her voice would make the sound, and her armor would come.

R5 Greta: Confrontation, part 1 of 3

Something bothered Gregor.  “And where will you be in all of this?” he asked.

“I have to confront the Lady Brunhild,” Greta said.  “Which reminds me, Thissle.  Under no circumstances are you to be in the same room as Lady Brunhild.”  She turned to Bragi.  “I do not know the extent of her powers, but I will not risk Thissle, Okay?”

Bragi nodded again.

“I understand, my Lady,” Thissle said.  “I don’t like witches.  No, no, no.”

“She said that right,” Bragi interjected. “Lady Brunhild is a witch.  She bewitched us all.  I know you have the sight, but you have no power like hers.”

“She turned one man into a dog,” Gregor said. The others looked at him as if he had lost all sense, but he insisted.  “It is true.  Hagen confronted her and she turned him into a dog right in front of my eyes.”

“You can’t confront her,” Bragi said.

“But I am the only one who can,” Greta responded. “And this rebellion will never be over until Lady Brunhild is finished, one way or the other.”

“Bragi.”  The guard stuck his head in the door.  “The Lady is returning from the Quadi camp.  You need to get out of there before Kunther finds you.”

Greta gave her brother a last hug.  “Good luck,” she said.  “Take care of my Thissle.”  Greta let go, and Bragi left with the invisible Thissle beside him. The door got shut and bolted once again.

After that, Vasen became full of questions for Thorn. Curiously, no one questioned her authority over these gnomes except for Vasen’s one comment near the end.

“Truly you are Mother Greta.”  Gregor started it.  “Only the woman of the ways would know such things.”

Vasen shook his head.  “There is more here than mere tales of the woman of the ways.”

“Yes, that’s right.  Much more.”  Thorn started, but Greta hushed him.

“You don’t want to be a tale teller,” she said, as she went over to examine a tapestry on the wall.  Thorn shrugged, but got the message and got quiet.

“There is a lot of fairy work in the wall hanging,” Thorn said after a while.  “I can smell it.

“Yes,” Greta agreed.  “Grandfather Woden had it on the wall when this served as his hunting lodge.  The haunted forest started as his hunting preserve, you know.”  Thorn smiled.  Greta rolled her eyes and slapped her hand to her mouth almost hard enough to start it bleeding again.

“Grandfather Woden?”  Vasen caught it.

“The wise woman keeps silent, but the fool’s tongue cannot keep still,” Greta said through her fingers just before they heard a sound at the door.  “Thorn. Behind the tapestry.”  The little one complied.

Four guards stepped in and then stepped aside to let Lady Brunhild enter.  She looked as haughty and cruel as ever, Greta thought, yet something else as well. It disturbed Greta to look at the woman because she could not pinpoint what was wrong with the picture.

Lady Brunhild glanced at Greta, looked at Gregor who had a scowl on his face, and looked briefly at Finbear who did not look sure he knew what was going on.  Vasen turned his back on the Lady, but she stared at him, and he knew it as everyone saw the back of his neck turn red.  She walked casually to the tapestry and examined it, as if she sensed something.

“An exquisite piece of work,” she said. “Don’t you think?”  Greta heard something different about the woman’s voice as well, but it still eluded Greta’s grasp.

“Fairy work, one might say.”  Greta spoke pleasantly.  “It is very finely done.”

“Indeed,” the lady said.  Her hand came away from the tapestry to focus more fully on Greta. “I have been smelling the annoying things all over the Quadi camp all day.  No wonder they were in no condition this morning to mount an attack.”  She took a few steps closer and looked at Greta as if trying to penetrate her mind, but Greta, or more precisely, the Kairos would not let her in.  “Why do I feel you know something about all of this?” she asked.

Greta shrugged and smiled.  The woman would not read her thoughts, and after a moment, Lady Brunhild gave up trying.  She turned quickly toward the door.

“Bring her,” the Lady commanded.  Two men grabbed Greta roughly and seemed to delight in dragging Greta into the sanctuary.  It felt like Vedix all over again.  They returned to the alter which got towered over by the Odin statue, and there the men held her and did not let her so much as touch the scab forming on her lip. Greta saw her own small statue still on the altar, but then she realized it was only a glamour left by Thissle to fool the men.  The real statue had already gone.

Kunther also stood there along with a half dozen other men, including the man with the burned hands.  “Mother.”  He started to speak but became silent when she looked up at him, sharply.

“You must remember to call me Brunhild, Kunther dear, now that I am younger than you, Mother will not do.”  She said it.  That was it!  Lady Brunhild was no longer an elderly woman in her late fifties.  She was now no older than twenty-five, or perhaps twenty, and she spoke as if she expected to get even younger.  She walked up to Greta and squeezed Greta’s cheeks with her boney fingers. She caught the moment of recognition on Greta’s face and thought she might try once more to penetrate Greta’s mind; but no way she could.  Lady Brunhild had obviously gained a great deal of power and strength since their last meeting.  She was probably even more powerful than the Hag at that point, but the Traveler knew too much about the future.  Greta’s mind had been covered under the contract, so to speak, that the ancient gods in unison made millennia ago in the halls of Karnak.  It was the same contract which allowed her to manifest a power far beyond her natural abilities in relation to the little ones for whom she had been made responsible at that same meeting.  For Brunhild, no matter how strong, the attempt to read Greta’s mind became like a fly attempting to penetrate a concrete wall.

R5 Greta: The Temple Mount, part 3 of 3

Gregor confirmed that Kunther was a fool and Lady Brunhild wielded the real power behind the rebellion.  She had presumably bewitched most of the rebels, but he was no longer fooled.  He had lost family up by Porolissum to Quadi raiders.  He said there were others who felt the way he did and Greta felt glad to hear that Bragi was among them.

“What I don’t understand is what she intends to gain,” Gregor said.

“Obviously, the people did not rise up in support of Kunther’s rebellion, so she had no choice but to look for help from the outside.”

“Yes,” he said. “But if the Quadi overrun the land, what place will there be for her?”

“I don’t know.” Greta wondered that, herself.

After about an hour, she heard Bragi at the door demanding to see his sister.  The guard did not sound unsympathetic, and said he could go in as long as it was brief.  Bragi and Greta hugged for a long time, and Greta cried just a little. Despite her outward bravado, Greta still felt very scared and everything about her, her face, her shoulder and her hip throbbed with a kind of dull pain.

Soon, Bragi and Gregor started exchanging notes and planning.  They must have mentioned two dozen men who were firmly with them and the only disagreement became whether to effect a rebellion within the ranks and sue for peace, or to contact the Romans first and bring them into the Temple for a surprise attack on Kunther.  Bragi saw the political implications and imagined the penalty the Romans might require for traitors.  He argued for bringing the Romans in as early as possible.  Gregor, however, argued for rebellion within the ranks. A successful rebellion would convince the Romans whose side they were really on more than any talk, he said. Greta imagined the man might have a personal grudge, though she never asked what that might be.

“No.”  Greta pulled herself together at last and stood to gain everyone’s attention.  “Priest. I take it you have not been cooperating of late.”

“Not since Boarshag,” Vasen said, and the others confirmed this.

“You know where the weapons of Trajan are stored?”  She shot straight to the point.

“Yes, good Mother,” Vasen said, but he wondered what she was after.

“They are in the cavern and diggings beneath the Temple,” Gregor said.  “But it is very damp down there.”

“Most of the weapons are rusty and useless,” Bragi added.  “And the powder is not dry enough to use, either.”

“Is any of it any good?” Greta asked.

“Some.” Bragi shrugged.  “But not enough of it to turn the tide of battle, even if our people got all of the good stuff.”

Greta closed her eyes and cleared her heart before she spoke.  “Thorn and Thissle.”  She commanded, and they appeared a few feet away.  It took them a few moments to orient themselves.  Then they hugged as if they had not seen each other lately, and they turned together to face Greta.

“My gracious, lovely lady,” Thorn said, with a bow, and Thissle curtsied as well as she could in her new form.  Bragi jumped in fright, but stayed beside his sister.  Vasen looked delighted as if, like Fae, they represented something he had longed to see all of his life.  Finbear looked curious.  He had seen Berry fluttering around and had also seen the goddess, so he did not get especially surprised.  Gregor let out a short shout and jumped to the wall, but he made no other noise for fear that the guard might hear.

“Thorn, how far away is General Pontius?”

“He should be here by morning,” Thorn reported.  “And Gumbeater the Hobgoblin of the lower hills says the Celts are moving through the woods in great numbers.  They should also be here by morning.”

“Thissle. Can you make yourself invisible so only Bragi can see you?” Greta asked.

“I don’t know,” she said.  “That is very hard to do.”

“Bragi is my brother.”  Greta explained, and Thissle brightened.

“Sir Bragi,” she said with a little bow.  “For family of the goddess, if his heart is true to you as with your brother Hans, he will be able to see me.”  She vanished from the sight of the others.

Bragi looked up after a minute to see everyone staring at him.  “Is she?  Oh.  I still see her, but there is a glow about her that I did not notice before.”

“The invisible spectrum, some call it,” Greta said, and Bragi understood.

“Thorn.  Can you open this door when the time comes?” Greta asked.

Thorn examined the door.  He made himself small enough to squeeze through a mouse crack, and then he came right back.  “There is a guard,” Thorn said.  “But the door should be easy to open.”

“I’ll deal with the guard,” Gregor growled while Greta explained things to Finbear. Finbear also pledged to help with the guard and extended his hand to Gregor.  It made Gregor pause, but then he accepted Finbear’s hand and Greta smiled for them.  They were all in it together, now.

“When the time comes and Thorn opens the door, you must follow the Priest.  I am sure he knows the quickest and safest way down the Mount.  Do you all understand, Thorn?”

“Yes, Lady,” Thorn said and looked at the floor.

“Good,” she said. “Now Bragi and Thissle, here is what you must do.  As soon as you can, you must take the statue to where the good powder is and leave it there. Put it as close as you can to the dry powder, and leave it there.”

“The statue?” Bragi asked.  “The one you brought?  Is it safe?”

“You won’t be hurt,” Greta said.  “I have told them, I think.  But just to be sure, Thissle, tell Burns and Madwick they are not to harm Bragi.”

“Scorch and Sparky too?”  She asked.

“Scorch and Sparky, too,” Greta answered.

“I’ll make triple sure,” Thissle said, and there came an interruption.

Vasen had finally moved close to Thorn.  “Do you live in Elfhome?” he asked.

“No,” Thorn answered.  “Thissle and I live in the forest.  Her family is from Elfhome, but my people all come from Mid-elf-land.”

“Quiet.” Greta insisted.  She turned again to her brother.  “Don’t bury the statue or put it under anything, but hide it behind something, behind the powder if you can.”
“Who are Spark and those others?” Bragi asked.

“Fire sprites.” Thissle started to speak, but Greta hushed her.

“Never mind, just trust me and do what I ask,” Greta said.  “And when the statue is in place, gather your friends, the ones who have had a change of heart, and wait until Thissle gives the signal.”

“What signal? For what?”  Bragi asked.

“It will probably be something like, “Get Out!”  You must hurry down the Mount as fast as you can and head for the Roman outpost and surrender yourselves.  Don’t worry about Gregor and these others.  Thorn will get them out all right, and they will have the same message. Do you understand?”  She looked at Thorn and Thissle, but everyone nodded, including Finbear who had no idea what he nodded for.

************************

MONDAY

Greta has been lucky so far, in one sense.  That terrible, powerful witch, Lady Brunhild, has been missing.  Hopefully, plans can be put in motion before she returns, but she will return.  Next week: Confrontation.  Don’t miss it, and Happy Reading

*

R5 Greta: The Temple Mount, part 2 of 3

“Sabazios Dyeus, grant us wisdom and courage,” Greta spoke as she walked.  “Zalmoxis, shine your light into our darkness. Artemis Bendi, defend the powerless on this day, and Selvanus, bring healing to all who do what is right.”  At the end of the sanctuary, there stood a giant statue of a man.  It looked like Odin, and Greta gasped to recognize him.  It had been carved from a single granite block, and it stood over the altar as if keeping a watchful eye on all the proceedings.

Greta set her meager offering on the table.  When she uncovered it, there were collective gasps and exclamations from the crowd. What the statue lacked in size, it more than made up for in priceless quality.  It appeared a magnificently crafted work of art, and the fact that Greta knew it got made in only one day felt almost unbelievable.

“This was made by the people who live in the forest,” she explained, not specifically naming the Celts.  “The lioness represents the Don, the Mother Goddess of the Gaelic people.  The dolphin is for the Romans, for Neptune, and in particular Salacia, Queen of the sea, to remind us that the Romans came to us from across the sea.  The bear is for the beloved grandson of the North, the Nameless god, the result of peace between the Vanir and Aesir.  If the gods can make peace, can we do less?”

“And the horse?” Vasen asked while Kunther nodded as if to say he had the same question.

“Let the horse in the middle be for all of us, and let it be a symbol of unity and peace. When well treated, the horse is a strong, loyal and tireless servant, and so we should serve one another in the cause of peace.  If there must be a fire, let it come from our unity, and let it be a fiery passion to defend our land, our loved ones, and our children who may yet harvest a legacy of peace and security for all.”  She pressed down on the horse’s tail and the horse rose up and showed flame from the eyes, nose and mouth.  When she let the horse down, the flame appeared to go out.

“Why, this is marvelous.”  Vasen said, and he tried the horse for himself.  Scorch behaved, but Greta hoped the Priest would not do that all night. Scorch would surely become sea sick.

Kunther walked once around the object.  He looked reluctant to touch it and Greta supported those feelings.  “This belongs to the temple, now,” she said.  “It is an offering to the gods and ought to be touched only by the priests.”

“Very well. I see no harm in the trinket, but as for you.”  He hit her in the mouth, knocked her down again and brought blood to her lip.  “I am sure Mother will want a word with you.  Put her in with the others,” he ordered.  “And take the Priest, too.”

Greta’s jaw hurt, her nose also bled a little along with her lip, and she feared she might get a black eye, but she refused to cry and shook off Vasen’s attention as several of the men took them to a back room in the temple.  When the door got shut and locked, Greta also knew that there were guards on duty.

The room itself seemed fairly large.  It appeared to be a place where the priests could retire for a time of meditation and prayer, and it held many of the priestly vestments as well as many artifacts of their work.  This was not a mere storage room, however, but rather a place for easy access to the sanctuary.  On one side, a door lead to the priest’s quarters.  It had been locked.  At the back, an opening and a rather small balcony unfortunately overlooked a cliff of considerable size.

Greta already found two men in the room.  They were the “others” Kunther had mentioned.  One, a Dacian named Gregor, had been accused of speaking out against the rebellion, and Kunther, and specifically against making any deals with the Quadi.  The only reason he stayed alive was because Kunther hoped to ferret out any others who might feel the same way, or cow those others into submission.  The other man in the room was Finbear.

“Lady!” Finbear made a beeline for Greta. “I almost lost hope.”

“Finbear.” Greta hugged him, which raised the eyebrows of the other men in the room.  She spoke for a moment in Gaelic which the others could not understand.

“Your father is in the Roman camp with Fae, Vedix the hunter and Cecil of the Eagle clan. They have allied with the Dacians and Romans in the field, but he does not know you are here.  He thinks you have gone home to care for your mother.”

“Yes, they have a right to know what has happened to me,” Finbear said.  “That is the only thing that kept me from jumping off the cliff. I do not think these people know what to make of me, but I think one recognized me as the son of the woodsman. I don’t know what your friend may have told them.”

“He is not my friend.”  Greta decided and confessed.  “I thought I was in love with him, once, but now I don’t think I even like him, and I assume he told them everything, about your people in the forest and everything.” She turned toward him and he noticed her bloody lip.

“But you are hurt,” he said.  “I do not understand.  Won’t the Don come now and set us free?”

“No, Finbear. It doesn’t work that way.”

“But the Don will come if you ask her,” he said, puzzled.  “I saw how she came to the village.  She revealed herself through you.  It must be something to be possessed by a god, even if only for a short time.”

Greta almost laughed.  It had to be about as interesting as a goddess being possessed by a Greta, she thought, but she said something else.  “You know how the gods work.  They put us in these impossible situations and somehow expect us to work our way out, all on our own.”  Finbear looked downcast.  He understood well enough.  “But don’t worry,” Greta added.  “We will find a way out.  The answer may be at the door even as we speak.”

They paused, but heard nothing.  That would have been too much to expect.  She did not have the timing of the little ones.  She was only human, after all.  She patted Finbear’s hand in reassurance, turned to Gregor and found him very informative.

R5 Greta: The Temple Mount, part 1 of 3

Greta was met at the bottom of the Mount by two men.  She did not recognize the older one, but the younger, the one who hugged her, turned out to be her brother Bragi.

“You should not be here.”  Bragi spoke plain.

“Who is this fool?” the older man asked.

“She is my sister,” Bragi said.  “The young Mother in Waiting.”

“Mother Hulda is dead.”  Greta told them both.  They had not heard.  “I am the woman of the ways now.”

Bragi hugged her again.  “I’m sorry, Greta.  That must be a terrible loss for you.”

“What is your business here?”  The older one asked rather than demanded, though he clearly did not seem overly impressed.  He knew Mother Hulda.  He did not know Mother Greta.

“You should not be here,” Bragi repeated himself.

“My business is a peace offering for the gods.  This statue is consecrated to the gods and it is for the high priest, Vasen, and for his hands alone.”  She spoke with as much authority as she could muster, but it fell on deaf ears.

“Give it. Let me see.”  The man sneered and grabbed the cloth covered statue from Greta’s hands.  When she tried to hold on to it, he shoved his straight arm into her shoulder, bruised her shoulder and knocked her to the ground where she fell on a fairly sharp rock.

Bragi stepped between and protested, but the older man stared him down.  Bragi’s fist clenched and unclenched before he turned to help his sister.

“That is dedicated to the gods.”  Greta spoke up.  “How dare you touch it.”  The man, however, uncovered it and his eyes nearly leapt from his head for all of the inlaid gold and precious stones.

“I am sorry for you, but you must consider your hands forfeit.”  Greta said.  It had been a part of the plan which she had hoped she would not have to activate. The Lords Burns and Madwick shot from the statue and attached themselves to the man’s hands.  The man screamed and dropped the precious object, but too late. The fire got on him.  He could not put it out or shake it off or rub it out on the grass, or in any way save his hands.  His screams brought other men who stared, helpless and horrified.  Greta picked up the statue.  Burns and Madwick sped quickly back into the bear and the lioness, and Greta covered the statue again before anyone else got too close.

The man wept. It all happened rather fast.  Even in that short time, the man’s hands were red, full of blisters and with a couple of blackened spots.  “This is a peace offering consecrated to the gods.”  Greta repeated herself for the others who had come. “It is for the hands of the priest. It is not for you to touch.”  She considered the men around her.  She pointed to one and gave the man a small jar of salve she had prepared for this possibility.  “I cannot heal what the gods have decided, but this may help soothe the pain and suffering a little.”

“Yes ma’am, thank you,” the man said, and took the jar most carefully.

“Mother Greta,” Bragi announced.  “Mother Hulda is dead.”

“The Little Mother,” someone said.  Greta did not see who, but she guessed it was a man from Boarshag.

“Please escort me to the temple.”  She decided it would be better to ask for an escort than have some newly arrived fool repeat the mistake of the first one.  Bragi took his sister’s arm.  Greta tried not to limp, and after a short way she walked better.  Everyone else walked either in front or behind, and kept their distance, besides.

“Papa was right,” Bragi whispered.  “War is not the answer.”

Greta nodded. “You fought?”

Bragi took a deep, shaky breath.  “I killed a man,” he said.  “During the battle I felt nothing, but after, I felt something I never felt before and never imagined feeling.”

“What was that?” Greta had to ask.

“I felt ashamed,” he said, and Greta put her arm around his waist to return a bit of his hug. They walked in silence for a minute, but near the top, Greta felt she had to speak, quickly.

“Much has happened since you came here with Papa.  None have spoken, but many wonder why the son of the high chief opposes his father.”

“Kunther is the high chief,” Bragi said.  “Papa is a sham meant to fool the Romans.”

“No, Bragi.” Greta spoke quietly but clearly. “Papa is the true high chief, and that is how nearly all of the people see him.  That is why the people have not risen up to Kunther’s call, because the high chief has told them not to.  And Papa would be here, himself, fighting Kunther, if he were not wounded.”

What?” This all came as news to Bragi, and the important thing being Papa’s wound.

“Yes,” Greta said. “Lady Brunhild tried to have him assassinated.”  Greta had to be quiet, then, and Bragi could not respond.  They were at the door to the Temple, and Kunther stood there, waiting. Obviously, word had run ahead.

Kunther looked her over closely as Vasen got escorted forward.

“Mother Greta,” Vasen said, and gave her the respect due, heedless of the dirty look Kunther gave him.  “You should not have come.”

“Only I could come, safely,” Greta said, and gave Kunther a look that said he had better not do something stupid; a look with which Kunther seemed all too familiar, having seen it in his mother’s eyes so often.  “I have been given this gift of peace, dedicated to the gods and for service in the temple.”

Kunther turned away to examine the hands of the man from below, so Greta simply walked in. She got followed by Bragi and Vasen, and then the whole crowd, but altogether they barely filled a fraction of that great, pillared shrine.  The Temple looked like an enormous building, more like a medieval cathedral than a pagan temple.  She did not doubt that Rome was impressed.  She felt impressed, herself.

R5 Greta: Connecting the Dots, part 3 of 3

“No.  I said, no.”

“My lady.” Yin Mo began, but Greta put her hands to her ears.

“La, la, la,” she said.  “I’m not listening.”  But fortunately, she looked.  “No!” She screamed.  Marcus stayed his hand.  He got ready to lift the visor on one of the Knights.  “You don’t want to do that.  You don’t ever want to do that.”  She insisted, and with such vehemence, Marcus decided to believe her.

“Please.” Darius sounded like a child, and Greta hid her smile because it certainly seemed a case of elf overdose.  He would adjust.

“This is not a please matter,” she said.  “I am not going to risk harm to my little ones on a transient human event.”

“There is the matter of Sir Burns, Lord Madwick, young Scorch and the lovely Miss Spark,” Yin Mo said.

“That’s different,” Greta said, but it was not really different.  “They are specifically involved in the business of the Kairos.”

“No.” Madwick’s muffled voice came from the statue.  “I think he’s got you there.”  Greta quickly ran to the statue

“Shh!”  She commanded and sheepishly grinned at the others. She was not about to reveal to Marcus that her intention was to try and destroy all the guns and gunpowder.  “Oh, Pandora’s stupid box!”  She swore.  “All right. They can lead the charge, riding like a gaggle of geese in flight.  They are the only ones I would trust to keep the shape.  But they are not to strictly engage the enemy.”

“I know,” Yin Mo said.  “Just cut like a hot knife through butter.  They divide the enemy and push them toward the waiting archers.  I heard.  A thousand.”

It took a moment for Greta to understand, and when she did, she gasped.  “Fifty at the most.”

“Five hundred at the least,’ Yin Mo said.

“A hundred and that is my final word.  Let them cast lots or flip a coin or whatever, but if you say two hundred, I will hit you.”  Yin Mo bit his tongue.  Greta stepped to the three knights and spoke directly.  “Is this agreed?”  She did not have to ask, and of course they said nothing out loud, but Greta heard all the same.  “Good,” She said, and without dramatics, she sent them back to Usgard or Avalon by letting them all fade away.  Greta finally pulled Thissle from behind her legs and picked her up to her hip as she might have held a small child.  Quill covered Thissle felt almost afraid for Greta at first, but then she realized her quills would not and could not hurt Greta.  No little one could hurt her, even inadvertently.

“Goddess, is it?” Marcus quipped.  “The Lady has been promoted?”

“No, she’s always been our goddess.”  Thissle said in her innocent, out of turn way.  “Except she doesn’t like the “G” word, so she is our lady.”

“Only to my little ones.”  Greta looked squarely at Marcus.  “As far as the rest of the universe is concerned, I am simply a seventeen-year-old human female with a Mama and Papa and brothers, and I am going to be married to a fine man, whom I love.  And we will grow old together.  And, while I think of it, does anything get by you?”

“I don’t miss much.”  Marcus admitted.  “So that’s it, then.  Our plans are set thanks to Gaius and the Lady who doesn’t like the “G” word.

“Ahem.”  Hersecles cleared his throat.

“Yes, I almost forgot.”  Greta handed Thissle to Darius with a word to stay out of trouble.  Darius and Thissle looked at each other and wondered which one Greta was talking to.

“Hersecles is the only one who is right as far as it goes,” she said.  “The Temple Mount is the key to everything, but even if the Legion were here and the Quadi were not, we would have insufficient strength to take it from determined, gun-toting defenders.  I remember once facing a similar situation with regards to the heights overlooking Athens.  The Princess had to deal with gun toting defenders then, too.

“When was that?” Marcus asked.

“Some three hundred and fifty years ago, give or take,” she said, deep in thought.

“What did she do?’ Gaius asked.

“I had my little ones tunnel up from the inside, beneath their positions.  We took them completely by surprise.”

“What a marvelous idea,” Marcus said.

Greta shook her head.  “There isn’t time, even as fast as some dig.  And besides, it would not work.  The Temple Mount is full of underground water and it is under enormous pressure.  That is why the whole area is full of so many natural springs and bogs.  You can’t dig through water.  So that just leaves me, alone, to go up the hill with my graven idol.”

“Sir Burns, Lord Madwick, young Scorch and the lovely Miss Spark,” Marcus said.

“Thank you, my Lord.”  The female voice came from the dolphin while Greta and the others took their first real look at the statuette under the earthly sun.  Greta saw that what looked a bit ostentatious in the Second Heavens, looked beyond reason under the first.  It might have put the crown jewels of almost any nation to shame. Greta quickly covered it with the cloth she had brought, and she rebuked the fire sprites to keep silent one last time.

“Wait,” Gaius said.  “You can’t go up to the Temple all alone.”

“I must go with you,” Hersecles said more directly what they were all thinking.

“No, Hersecles,” Marcus said.  He stared at Greta but spoke to the others one by one.  “You have to teach a bunch of berserker Dacians and stubborn Romans to ride in formation in one day.  Gaius, you have fortifications to build.  Gunwart, you need to take men and keep the Quadi off our backs.  And Darius, you need to execute a couple of short and sweet sorties from the city.  I, on the other hand.”

“You need to see Vilam and the others,” Greta interrupted.  “The Celts will be coming through the forest soon enough.  If they come to help, you need to organize that help so you can keep your thousand legionnaires in reserve instead of in the forest.  But if they come to watch, you need to make an alliance and convince them to help, if you can.”

Marcus kicked the table.  He knew she was right.

“But wait.” Darius put Thissle down and suddenly came to his senses.  “You said you loved me.”

“Did I?”

“Yes you did.” Thissle spoke right up.  “Called him beloved, you did.”

Greta turned and ran from the room, recovered statue in hand.  It was true, though, and there no longer seemed any reason to deny it. She let her feelings run free for a moment and thought she might be on the verge of passion.  If only he was not so Roman and she was not so Barbarian.

It turned out that Greta did not get allowed to leave the city until Marcus could escort her as far as the outpost.  Once there, she pulled Hans and Hobknot aside at the first opportunity.

“You two are not allowed to fight,” she yelled, plainly.  “If the fight comes to the outpost, I want you two to get Berry and Fae to safety, is that understood?”

“Wait.” Hans started to object, but Greta interrupted.

“I trust you will use your judgment, but I also trust you don’t want to see Fae and Berry hurt. The forest should provide some safety, and Hobknot knows the quick ways to avoid pursuit.”

Hans laughed. “Who would have thought of the haunted forest as a place of safety?”

“Lady, I have no intention of getting involved in this human squabble.”  Hobknot folded his arms as he spoke.

“Then we are agreed.”  Greta said. “And good thing because I’m hungry.” It felt like lunchtime.

Fae still lay in bed.  She looked very old and frail.  She claimed to need only a little extra rest, and Greta was good not to let on to Berry and the others, but both Fae and Greta were feeling that she might not be around much longer.  Marcus, however, got completely taken by her, and she seemed suitably impressed with him.

“I never lie.” Marcus said to Greta.  “But I do sometimes stretch the truth in order to shape reality.  Fae has a wonderful talent, but there are times in political life when it would not be wise to have her around.”  Greta understood.

By early afternoon they still heard no word on when the Celts might arrive, how many might come, and what their intentions might be when they got there.  Vilam, Vedix and Cecil were firmly in the camp and would fight alongside the Dacians and Romans, but how their fellow Celts might behave was anyone’s guess.  At last, it reached the point where Greta had to go.

“They will not shoot their woman of the ways,” she told the others.  “I cannot guarantee anyone else’s safety, but I should be safe enough, at least to not be killed outright.  I may become a prisoner, but I cannot imagine they will shoot their woman of the ways.”  Greta exuded confidence, and she believed what she said sufficiently to keep Fae’s objections at bay.  On the other hand, she thought Lady Brunhild might be looking for a chance to shoot Greta. Then it could truly be only Lady Brunhild’s ways.  Besides, no telling what poison Brunhild spread among the rebels.  It was not without fear that Greta approached the Temple Mount.

************************

MONDAY

Greta has to brave the entrenched rebels alone.  She figures anyone with her would be shot on the spot.  She has to get her idol to where the guns and powder are stored.  She has no idea how she might do that, but he has to try.  Monday: The Temple Mount.  Until then, Happy Reading

*

R5 Greta: Connecting the Dots, part 2 of 3

Greta made sure Thissle stayed invisible, because she half expected to find the hall full of men eating and arguing about what to do.  It turned out that they had some food, a veritable feast for the locals, though it looked meager compared to the work of Mrs. Kettleblack.  But the only men she found were Marcus, Darius, Gaius, Hersecles, and Gunwort, a Dacian from Ravenshold, and they were worrying over a makeshift map.  Greta listened for a few minutes to catch the drift of the arguments before she entered the room.  She carried the statue with her, but set it on a table before she came fully into their presence.  The men were polite enough to pause in their argument as she came close, and she took advantage of the silence.

Reaching out, she first called to her armor.  It came to replace her dress and it fit her perfectly.  She had Salvation over her shoulder and Defender across the small of her back.  She wore the cloak of Athena over all, but she left her helmet on Usgard.  The men all jumped, except Hersecles who had seen this trick in Boarshag.

Greta quickly took in the map and spoke.  “The Quadi have camped to the north of the city and have slowly worked their way around to the east and south, leaving only the road and the big open field west of the city as unoccupied.”  The men nodded.  She checked her facts.  Between the outpost on the forest’s edge and the city wall sat a long, flat field. The Temple Mount, the Kogaionon or Holy Mountain rose up out of that field beyond the northwest corner of the city. That seemed one of the reasons the Temple Mount appeared so impressive, rising out of the flatlands as it did.

“We must stop them here.”  Marcus pressed his knife into the table where the west field showed on the map.  “We need to protect the road in the southwest for the arrival of the Legion and General Pontius.”

The others started to object, but Greta yelled.  “Quiet!”  And they all quieted.  “I have heard the arguments,” Greta said.  “Lord Gunwort wants to withdraw to the city, behind the walls, and wait for the legion. I know he wants to protect his city and his people, and that is laudable and reasonable, but it might make matters worse if the Legion has to fight its’ way through to link up with us.  Caesar, that is Julius and I once discussed the notion of divide and conquer.  Right now, we are the divided ones.  We need to minimize that division, not cast it in stone.  Two small mouthfuls are easier for the Quadi to swallow than one big lump.”

“Here, here!” Darius supported what she said.

“My beloved Darius wishes to strike the main camp of the Quadi in the north.  He believes a strong sortie will scatter them sufficiently so that by the time they pull themselves together, the Legion will have arrived.  Unfortunately, he has failed to sufficiently consider the enemy.  This is no sedentary, standing army such as you might face in Gaul, Iberia, Africa or the East.  These are migratory people, mobile people, and for the most part they are on horseback.  They are used to moving from place to place, and sudden enemy raids, and setting up camp quickly, and breaking camp just as quickly.  You can sortie all you want and within an hour they will be right back where they started and entrenched against you besides.”

“At some personal risk, I say, here, here!”  Marcus grinned.

“Lord Marcus,” she said.

“I knew it!” He snapped his fingers and grimaced before she even began.

“I am sorry, but yours is the worst idea.  That is exactly what they want and unfortunately there may be no choice.  As I have said, this is no standing army. They have no catapults and siege engines, and won’t build any unless they have to.  They are not trying to encircle the city.”

“But then why have they moved into the fields east and south of the city?”  Gunwort asked as if to suggest that she was wrong, so she explained.

“Look at the land there.  It is all small farm fields punctuated by bits of woods, rocky outcroppings, springs and bogs.  It is small hills and ridges.  It is land where a foot soldier might stand a fighting chance against horsemen.  They have taken that option away.  The only option left is Marcus’ wide, flat open meadow in the west.  They don’t care how many legionnaires you bring up, or how well trained they are. On that flat terrain, they know their overwhelming number of horsemen have the total advantage.”

“So if all ideas are bad.”  Marcus no longer grinned.  “What then can we do?”

“Gaius?” She did not hesitate to call on the old soldier.  He was the only one who had said nothing thus far.

Gaius stepped up and looked at the map, but Greta knew he already had something in mind. “I would double fortify the road,” he said.  “Give them the field and don’t even man the fortification on that side of the road, only build it tall enough to keep their horses from jumping it.  That should blunt any cavalry advantage.  They will have to dismount and tear down the first fortification to get at us while we rain arrows down on them from the second line of defense.  Have a group of locals who know the terrain harass the Quadi in the south which are not many but would otherwise be at our backs while we are building.  Also, a couple of quick sorties to the north, not to break them as Lord Darius suggested, but just to keep them off balance and prevent a serious attack until we are ready.  Then, when the Legion arrives, send a thousand into the forest along the edge between the road and the outpost.  Hopefully, they will be unseen.  When the Quadi finally attack, we will have them outflanked, not only by the city wall, but with a thousand bows in the trees as well.”

“Mostly good,” Marcus said.

“But the field is wide.”  Darius spoke before Marcus could frame his objection.  “What if they charge down the middle out of bowshot from both sides? They could overwhelm the road by sheer numbers and we would still be divided and maybe even easier to conquer.”

“You need a flying wedge,” Greta said, and when they stared at her, she had to explain herself again.  “It is an old football term.  Call it an arrowhead with a wide base, pointed at the enemy, using your far fewer horses than a normal cavalry charge

“Not to engage the enemy,” Marcus said, catching on quickly.  “But to push through them, as it were, to divide them and conquer, to force them to the edges of the field and within bowshot.”

“Exactly,” Greta said.  “Like a hot knife through butter.”  Greta did not like using the expression, but there were reasons why some expressions became clichés.

“I like that,” Marcus said.

“I don’t.” Greta spoke honestly.  “But you get the idea.”

“Lady.” Thissle tugged on the skirt of Greta’s armor which hung down just below the knees.

“What?” Greta looked down at her and then looked up when Thissle pointed.  The elf wizard, Sunstone and Yin Mo, lord of the knights of the lance were standing near, patiently waiting.  “Show yourselves,” Greta said.  “What is it? Is there trouble in Usgard?”

Yin Mo and Lord Sunstone appeared as if out of a mist.

“Me, too?” Thissle asked.

Might as well, Greta thought.  “Yes, you, too,” she said, and Thissle appeared, though nobody much noticed except Darius who smiled.  Gaius and Hersecles were busy for the moment keeping Gunwort from fleeing the room.  Marcus, however, appeared fascinated.  It was not clear if he stood fascinated by the fact that they were elves, though they looked quite human, or whether he became fascinated by Yin Mo whose features and dress appeared strikingly Asian.

“My lady.” Yin Mo walked up to Greta and dropped to one knee.  He took her left hand and placed it on his head.  “Goddess.  We come on behalf of the knights of the lance.”

Greta went with her impulse, even if it did not sound quite right to her own ears.  “They are not happy with the new arrangement for the defense of the land?”

“No, lady.” Lord Sunstone spoke quickly.  “They see that as a perfect solution and have organized themselves as a second line of defense which is the perfect work for them given their limited numbers.”

Greta took her hand back.  “Stand up, Lord Yin.  Stand up and tell me plainly what they want.”

Yin Mo stood and looked once at Lord Sunstone, then he craned to look quickly at the map, and then he spoke.  “They want to participate in your battle.”

Greta did not pause.  “No. No way.”  She sounded firm.  “Their vow is to defend Avalon, not fight in a human battle.”

“You are Avalon,” Yin Mo countered.

“But maybe I am supposed to die,” she said.  “Defending me might interfere with what is supposed to happen.  Besides, I have no intention of being in the battle.”

“But you also wish to defend Lord Marcus and Lord Darius,” Lord Sunstone said.

“Not necessarily. I have no knowledge that either is in danger.  The Masters don’t appear to be around, just some old guns.  It is just something I wonder when someone of note crosses my path.”

“Who are the knights of the lance?”  Darius asked.

“Killing machines,” Thissle said, with a bit of a shiver.  Some of the little ones were afraid of the knights.

“You met one,” Greta told Darius.  “In my room.”

“He killed the night creatures,” Thissle said.

Darius’ eyes got wide.  “You mean there is more than one of him, them?”

“Many more.” Yin Mo said.

“Yes!” Darius got excited.  “Two dozen could change the whole complexion of this battle.  Marcus, you have to see them.”  He almost danced a little jig and Greta wondered if he might temporarily be suffering from elf overload.

“Can I see?” Marcus asked.

“Of course,” Lord Sunstone said, and before Greta could speak, the wizard waved his hand and three knights, horse and all, appeared in the hall looking for all the world like late medieval warriors in full plate armor from the top of their plumed helmet to the tips of their stirrup shoes.  Though they were the size and shape of men, there really was no telling what might be inside all of that metal, except that it seemed at least clear that they were marvelous horsemen.  Their horses hardly moved at the sudden, shocking change of scenery. The knights tipped their lances to the ground in salute.  Each lance had a different ribbon, a red dot, orange waves, a blue lion, and it matched the markings on their helmets and shields.  It appeared the only way to tell them apart.  Having saluted, then, they dismounted and dropped to one knee before rising to stand at attention, while Thissle hid behind Greta’s legs.

R5 Greta: Connecting the Dots, part 1 of 3

“Thissle!” Greta saw the little one and wondered what she was doing there.  She was invisible, so in no immediate danger from the men in the room, but still…

“Gods you’re beautiful,” Darius said.  It took a moment for Greta to realize he was talking about her.

“I am not,” she said.  “Have you been here all night?”

“Yes he has. Just about,” Thissle said.

Darius recovered himself.  “Nice outfit.”

“What, this old thing?”  Greta joked, but when he laughed she rebuked herself.  She was not going to play lovers games with him.  “All right, Thissle.”  She turned her back on Darius.  “What is this all about?  Why are you here?”

“You see?” Greta heard Darius interrupt.

“I see, but I don’t believe it.”  The Roman guard answered in Greek.

“Agreed.” The Dacian also knew some Greek.

Greta knew what they were talking about.  Thissle stayed invisible after all.  “Do you want to see?”

“No Mother.” The Dacian responded quickly and in Dacian.

The Roman sounded more thoughtful.  “If Lord Darius has not been talking to himself all night, I really do not want to know it.”  Berry laughed and started to hand him a tart.

“No!”  Greta jumped.  “That’s fairy food,” and to the Dacian she said, “Food of the elves.”  The Roman politely said, “No thank you,” and stepped back while Greta closed the door to Usgard above Midgard, and let it dissipate and disappear.  Darius asked the guards if they would rather wait outside, and they readily agreed. But Berry had not finished.  She offered a tart to Darius who examined it carefully, and sniffed it.

“Is it safe?” Darius asked.

“It’s too late for you,” Greta answered.  “You might as well enjoy it.”  At which point he took a bite and lost himself in contented munching sounds. “Well?”  Greta turned again to Thissle, confident that this time she would not be interrupted.

“Well, Lady.” Thissle curtsied.  “Thorn and I were awakened around sundown by the sound of a whole army setting up to camp beside the road.”

“Thorn?” Greta asked.

“Yes, it’s just Thorn, now, if you please,” Thissle said.  “And, well, we did not know if they were goods or bads, so we thought we had better come and warn you.  He knows all the ways, you know.  Forwards and backs and overs and unders.  We got here around midnight, I guess, and my Thorn found us all the way to your room.”

“The legion is still a day and a half away,” Darius interjected.

“My Lord thinks so, but Thorn and I think it is more like two days the way they move so slow and all,” Thissle continued.  “But then when we got here, you were not here, but the door was, so we figured out where you were.”

“You figured it out, Miss Thissle,” Darius said.  “I heard you say she’s gone to Avalon.”

Thissle reddened a bit and turned to Darius.  “It was a lucky guess, is all,” she said.  “But then came the real surprise.  You saw us plain as day, you did.”  She turned back to Greta.  “Thorn said to stand still and quiet and maybe he just saw a glimpse or heard something like the wind, but he walked right up to us and he said we had better come right in and tell him who we were, he said, “My lady will want to know why you have come, but she won’t be back until morning.”

“I could go fetch her,” Thorn said, but my lord blocked his way.

“No, she said I was the only one to fetch her if she needed to be fetched.”  And as the doorway was closed, there wasn’t much else we could do except sit down and explain ourselves.  Lord Darius caught on real quick.  He knew we were invisible to the guards, but he just ignored them and talked free as if he did not care if they thought he was crazy.  We told him all about the army and he figured out from some of the things we said that it was his seventh legion.  So he got a paper and wrote some words, and then took Thorn to wake up his friend Marcus so Marcus could put his seal on the paper. Then Thorn is up and gone to take this message to General Pontius, and my Lord is back here to keep me company all night.”  Greta looked at Darius and she did not give him a soft look.

“I outlined the situation here with a note that we might be able to hold them for a day, but once they broke into the city, they would be fortified and able to mount a real defense.  Then it would be impossible to dislodge them except at great expense.”

“How could you do that to Thorn?” she asked.  “He will be in as much danger with you Romans as he would be with the Quadi.  Do you trust this General not to stick him in a cage and do—who knows what?”  Out of deference to Thissle, she did not suggest that the General might roast him for supper.

Darius nodded thoughtfully.  “General Pontius is a true believer.  He would not dare hurt Thorn, especially since Marcus wrote at the top of the letter, if you hurt one quill on my little friend, I will have you crucified.” Darius seemed to think that would answer everything.

“My Lady.” Thissle spoke innocently, but out of turn.  “You must love him very much for him to have such authority to see us invisible and all. And here, you are only betrothed and not even properly married and all.”

Greta felt embarrassed, and with her fair skin that became easy to see.  It made her freckles stand out and that felt even more embarrassing.  “I don’t,” she lied.  “This wedding was not my idea.”

“Well it wasn’t mine, either.”  Darius shot right back.

“But you’re a soldier, and a loyal Roman,” she said, sharply.  “What do you want with a wife?”

“Look at you, wise woman.”  He also returned her tone.  “With all of your little ones and every man and woman of the Dacians doting on your every word, what need do you have for a husband?  What am I?  Just some burden you have to bear.”

“What do the Dacians matter?  I suppose you will want to live in Rome.”

“I thought about it,” he answered honestly.

“Well, you can forget it.  I’ll never be your submissive, obedient little wife to stay at home with the servants, cooking and cleaning your villa so you can run off to your Roman lover.”

Darius gave her a hard look.  “That’s not fair.  I never asked you to cook or clean.  You never asked what I want, so don’t start putting words in my mouth.”

“You said yourself that you wanted that Roman woman.”

“That’s not fair, either.  I haven’t even thought of her for almost a month.  But what about that lover boy of yours?”

“He’s a jerk,” Greta said, in all honestly, and with a bit more softness in her voice.

“And she never answered any of my letters.”  He also softened his response.  “It was all one sided.  She may even be married by now.”

“So, where does that leave us?” Greta asked.

“Where we started, I guess,” he answered.

“Ahem!” Berry interrupted.  “My Lord Darius, I mean, Darius, would you make an escort for me and Hans to visit my sister, Fae?”

“I can do that, Berry,” Darius said.  He still looked at Greta but took Berry’s hand.

“Wait.” Greta stopped them.  She stood on her toes and planted a quick kiss on Darius’ lips.  Then she stepped away and looked down.  “I’ll see you in the hall.”  She could not tell the expression on his face.  She could not bring herself to look up at him.

“I’ll see you at breakfast.”  He touched her hair, but she still would not look at him.  She did hear Berry, however, as they left.

“I hope me and Hans don’t have to say those things.  I could never ‘member all that.”

Greta looked at Thissle and almost laughed.  “You love him and he loves you,” Thissle said.  “You humans are the strangest creatures in all creation.”

Greta did laugh, and she also cried, smiled and sniffed.  “I do love him, you know.  I tried calling him the enemy and the oppressor of my people and whatever awful thing I could think of, but he is all I can think of no matter what I do.”

“Not like my Thorn,” Thissle said.  “We spent a hundred years, hardly able to touch each other, praying that we would find you, and praying that you would help us when we did.  And you did help us.  But then there is you.  Lady, all you need to do is help yourself.  He is already as much yours as anyone can be.”

Could she really give up her friends, her family, her home?  Could she really be a Roman wife and not feel a traitor to her own people? “But if I help myself, I might be…” She started to speak her thoughts but they all sounded hollow and foolish.

“Might be what?” Thissle asked rhetorically.  “Might be happy?  Yes, you might.”  She answered herself.

“Hear hear!” An echo came from the statuette. Greta had forgotten about Madwick and the others, covered as they were under the cloth she brought, but they had been privy to everything.  Greta pulled down the cloth.  “Please to make your acquaintance, Miss Thissle.”  Lord Burns popped his head out.  Greta had to introduce them all, but then she reminded them that they were supposed to be a dead idol, and she covered them again, picked them up carefully and headed toward the Great Hall.