R5 Greta: Woman of the Ways, part 3 of 3

“I believe you,” Caesar said, as they set his chair upright.  Caesar seemed to need to sit down, so Bodanagus joined him.  “Salacia?”  Caesar added. He remembered what Bodanagus had said.

“Amphitrite.” Bodanagus named her in the Greek. “I lived her life, what?  Sixteen hundred years ago at least.  It was before Akalantas sank into the sea.”

Caesar hardly knew what to say.  He sweated and looked dazed.  “How many others?”  He asked at last.  Bodanagus understood well enough.

“Many, but I only rightly remember a few.  There is Candace of Nubia and Lydia of Tarsus, but neither of them has yet been born. There is Ali among the Arabs in the East.  He, too, will face his Caesar in Trajan in the days to come.  And then there is the Princess and the Storyteller, Doctor Mishka, an excellent field surgeon from the Russian front, 1914, and Diogenes of Pella. I did mention that I was once Alexander’s cousin, didn’t I?”

“Yes, you did,” Caesar said, and his face brightened at last.  Clearly, he had great admiration for Alexander the Great. “Do tell me about him.”

Bodanagus shook his head.  “There will be time for that.  We make peace first.”

After a brief moment, Caesar nodded.  He became his pragmatic self again.  “I must hold what I take, but no God will interfere?”  He checked.

Bodanagus nodded.

“And how will this be enforced?” Caesar wondered.

“I will be going with you,” Bodanagus said, without emotion.

“But will you not return to your people and your home and family?” Caesar asked.

“I will return to conclude the peace, but I no longer have any family.”  Bodanagus felt the deep stabbing wound of the loss of his wife, now seven days gone.  The grief nearly overwhelmed him in that moment, and it might have if he had not forced himself to think of something else.  He thought of Sheik Ali, the Arab in the days before Islam.  Rome would have her limits, he thought, and they would be set by a Spirit infinitely greater than the gods.  Still, there was much work yet to do.

###

Ali looked out from his hilltop hideaway over the camp of the Roman armies.  Panic gripped the camp as the massive explosions shook the earth itself.  The factory that made the weapons of Trajan became rubble, but there was much work yet to do.  He remembered.  All of this had to be cleaned up to the last detail lest some future archeologist flip out. Amphitrite volunteered to help, and Ali felt grateful.  At the moment, he remembered the grief of Bodanagus, and his own grief due to his own losses in his own war with Rome mingled in, like salt in the wound.  He reached out through time and Amphitrite came to stand in his place.  The goddess looked first to the moon, full and bright overhead.  Ever so briefly she thought she saw the face of Artemis in the sculptured face of the moon; but then it had to be her imagination.  The time of dissolution had long since passed.

“You missed a wagon train of guns and ammunition.”  Artemis seemed to say.

Amphitrite nodded. “My Greta will have to deal with that. The guns will never reach Rome. They will be hijacked along the way and I feel my Greta may be my next life after Ali.

“I miss you.” The face of Artemis beamed down and looked to be filled with tears.  Amphitrite cried for her very best friend in all the world.

###

Greta opened her own tear filled eyes and saw the full moon shining down.  It appeared full, her Artemis moon.  She had always called it that, only now she knew why. Then she saw the creature in the window and frail Mother Hulda holding it at bay with her broom.

“Werewolf,” Greta cried, and her hand sprang up, almost of its’ own volition.  A
bright light, light as day, streamed out from her hand and struck the creature square in the face.  The wolf howled and became engulfed in flames.  It turned and raced back into the woods with all speed.

Mother Hulda turned at last and gasped at what she saw.  Amphitrite was still present in the room for an instant before she vanished and Greta came home.  Greta considered what a strange birthday she had just before she collapsed to the floor. She remained unconscious for three days.

###

When Greta woke, she found herself at home and in her own bed.  Mama hovered there.  She rushed to the bed the moment Greta breathed for her.  Hans appeared there too, and very sensibly brought her some water. Greta felt dehydrated.

“Thanks.” Greta spoke through Mama’s tears. Hans spit on his two fingers. Greta had no spit but she touched his fingers with her own and smiled as well as her cracked lips allowed.  They were a team.

Mother Hulda came in quickly.  She had moved to their house when Drakka, Rolfus, Sanger and Koren carried Greta the two miles to her home.  Mother Hulda said she had seen the gifted pass out for a time after a particularly draining experience; but after two days she became as worried as the rest. Outwardly, she kept up a good appearance and claimed she only wanted to be near in case Yani went into labor.

Once it became clear that Greta would recover, Hans quickly wagged his tongue.  “Absolutely everybody has been by to see you. Vanesca and Yanda have been here every day, and Venice, Karina and Liselle came by.  Karina is absolutely beautiful.  And all of the young men, the older ones, I mean.  Koren carried you some of the way and he has been here every day. And Sanger carried some, I think, but Drakka carried you most of the way by himself.  He said it would just not be right not having you around.”

“Drakka said that?”  Greta breathed.  “What else did he say?”

“That’s pretty much it,” Hans said, before Mother Hulda and Mama made him go away.

“Let her rest,” Mother Hulda said, and Mama brought Greta some broth and a little bread, if she felt up to it.

It took three more days to recover, and all the while, Greta refused to talk about what she had seen.  In part, she felt afraid if she talked about it, it might all come crashing down on her head again.  It all seemed so real, Nameless, Danna, Salacia, though she had not experienced living their lives.  Then there was the Princess and the Storyteller, Diogenes and the good Doctor Mishka, and Bodanagus and Ali, of course.  And her fear was not helped by her staying in bed.  While there, she discovered two more lifetimes, and her feelings of closeness to them was especially distracting.  One was Festuscato, Senator of Rome, and the other, Goreau, or rather Gerraint, Prince of Cornwall, and they felt very close, indeed. This time, though, she only had dreams.

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

MONDAY

R5 Greta, The Little Mother. Greta begins to move into the position of the Woman of the Ways, as Mother Hulda encourages her.  But, as always, in the life of the Kairos, nothing is ever so simple.  Until Monday, Happy Reading

*

R5 Greta: Woman of the Ways, part 2 of 3

After a rather late supper, Mother Hulda brought out her tonic and made Greta have some.  Then at last, when they were fed and relaxed, Mother Hulda reached for Greta’s hands.  They were going to see what they could see, if there was anything in the wind that night.  Greta felt the electric warmth of Mother Hulda’s touch, and she let go of her thoughts and feelings as she had been taught.  One could not will the sight or make a vision when there was nothing to be seen.  One could only open oneself to the breath of life and if something came, it came.  If not, they would likely be asleep in half an hour.  Even as she relaxed, the wood cracked in the fire, sparks flew across the room, and Greta found herself somewhere else, altogether.

###

Bodanagus entered the tent and let the flap down slowly.  A man stood at the table studying what appeared to be a map.  The map, lit by two braziers, one to either side, and a candle the man had on the table.  It seemed as if he could not see clearly, but whether that was the map or some way out of a dilemma seemed uncertain.  He had little pieces of wood cut to various shapes and sizes which he moved around the map like pieces on a chessboard, and then he would pause, shake his head, and move the pieces again.

Bodanagus waited patiently.  He examined the tent itself.  The good, sturdy canvass got divided by silk streamers behind the table that no doubt portioned off the man’s sleeping quarter from the rest of the tent. Bodanagus recognized the red dye as common enough, but he thought the purple stripes were a bit ostentatious. Then again, he remembered that what Caesar wanted, Caesar got.

“You’re not Marcellus or you would have spoken already.”  Caesar said, without looking up.  “And you’re not a guard because you did not beg my pardon.”  He looked up.  “You also cannot be an assassin or you would have tried me already.”

“I am a man of peace in search of peace.”  Bodanagus said.  His heart broken for his beloved, now lost to him forever.

“Your armor and weapons call your lie.”  Caesar squinted at him.  “May I ask how you evaded the guards?”

“A magician never reveals his secrets, only they should not be punished.  No man could have done better,” Bodanagus said.

“Punished? Oh, they will be.”  Caesar insisted and he put down the paper he was holding.

Bodanagus shrugged.  “You are Julius Caesar, soon to be dictator of Rome in all but name,” he said, as if to imply that Caesar could do whatever he liked.

Caesar looked serious for a moment.  He looked away before he looked in Bodanagus’ eye.  “I will not be dictator.  All I do is for the people and the glory of Rome.”

Bodanagus shrugged again, and the two men stood in silence for another long moment, eye to eye, to see what might come.  At last, Caesar returned to his map and moved a piece.  “Clearly you know who I am.  Who are you?”

“Bodanagus,” came the response.  “Brother of the King and General of all the Nervii.”  Caesar immediately looked up again, sharply.  He looked surprised, a bit confused, and then squinted again at this intruder.  “I have come seeking peace,” Bodanagus continued.  “There has been enough killing.”

Caesar seemed to accept Bodanagus on face value.  He had looked into the man’s eyes; the only man ever to have fought the great Caesar to a standstill.  “A brilliant move, the way you charged the hill before my defenses were ready.”

“While your men were working and tired, and not ready to defend themselves,” Bodanagus said.

“Yes,” Caesar confessed.  “I will set a better watch from now on.”

“Your camp and fortification procedures overall are too predictable,” Bodanagus said.  “I have followed your campaigns since you crossed the Alps.”

“Indeed?” Caesar did not know whether to be complimented or to kick himself for not foreseeing this possibility.  “I must say, the way you came out against my cavalry was.”  He paused for the right word.  “Artistic.”

“You still have cavalry?” Bodanagus quipped, but he grinned.

“Yes.” Caesar did not take that personally. “But I understand your allies have deserted you.”

“Your spies are misinformed,” Bodanagus responded.  “I sent them home by telling them I intended to make peace.  I could recall them if you want to have at it again.”

Caesar took another long moment before he shook his head.  “No need.  If I had not rallied the tenth and seventh that day, you would have eaten me alive.”

“As it was, a strategic withdraw seemed best, even if it took a couple of hours to affect. My people are not as disciplined as you Romans,” Bodanagus admitted.

Caesar simply nodded.  “So, what will you offer in this search for peace?”

“All of Gaul. Iberia apart from Galacia and Leon. And the island of the British, but only up to the Firth of Fourth, and including Wales, Cornwall and Lyonnes if you can hold them.”

Caesar gave him a dazed look, and then laughed as if given a good joke.  Clearly, he did not believe a word of it.  “And what will you require in return?”

“The assurance and protection of Rome, to make all of the other tribes and Rome herself respect the territory of the Nervii.  And when Amorica is cleared of Veneti, to let my people, all who are not happy with the King, my brother, emigrate into that land.”

“So, what? I should have Nervii to the East and to the West?  I think not.” Caesar said a bit too quickly.  “The Veneti?” he questioned.

Bodanagus did not explain.  Instead, he turned the point.  “Divide and conquer.  I thought that was Caesar’s way.”

Caesar paused and put his hand to his chin.  “Divide and conquer,” he said, softly.  “This is a sound strategy.”  He looked up. “May I quote you?”  Bodanagus shrugged again.  Then Caesar laughed once more.  “But I already own Gaul and Pompey took Iberia some time ago.  You speak like a fool, though I had not thought that of you.  The world is not yours to offer.”

“But it is,” Bodanagus said, in a simple, straight-forward voice.  He did not wait to be invited, but took a seat on a nearby stool.  “Rome holds these places at present because the gods have been willing to wait and see. Rome can be driven by defeat and disaster as quickly as she can rule by victory.  You can be ruined, or I can grant you the geis of Alexander.”

“Geis?  Alexander?”  Caesar appeared intrigued enough to hear the man out.

“Alexander the Great, my erstwhile cousin,” Bodanagus said.

“Yes, I know Alexander,” Caesar said quickly and came out from behind the table to take a seat opposite his intruder.  “What is this geis?”

Bodanagus waited until Caesar got comfortable, and then he explained.  “They called it ambition, but in fact, Alexander, and his father Philip, were more sensible than the Spartans before them.  Alexander knew the Greeks in Asia would never be free unless he brought down the Persians and their empire.  When he set his sights on this goal, however, he caused a stir in the heavens.  The gods of Olympus, of Asia and Egypt gathered together and debated.  At last they agreed.  They would neither help nor hinder the Greeks nor Persians.  If the Persians could drive back the invasion and overrun Greece, so be it.  If Alexander could succeed against the Persians, he could keep whatever he could hold. This is the geis of Alexander.”

“And so.” Caesar had to think hard about it. “What you are claiming is you have the authority to grant this geis to me?”

“To Rome,” Bodanagus said.  “But there are other players in this part of the world.  Zeus, er, Jupiter has granted me the right through Salacia to speak for the Latins.  I can also speak for Egypt and North Africa through Zeu-Amon.  If the Gauls, united, can drive you out and overrun Rome as they did once long ago.”  Bodanagus shrugged.  “But if you and Rome can take and hold the lands of the Celts, then the Gods of the Celts will not interfere.  But let me add, though my mother herself was German, I dare not speak for Odin.”

“Odin?” Caesar was thinking before he threw his hands to the air.  “But what you say is mad.  No mortal has such authority.”  He might have laughed again, but Bodanagus still looked so serious.

“This is true, but then I have lived some very few lives in the past which were not exactly mortal lives.”

Bodanagus went away and a woman sat in his place.  She appeared tall and dark and very beautiful, and she continued speaking as if she was the same person, which she was.

“You see, I am the Danna, the Don, Mother of all the gods of the Celts, or I once was many lifetimes before Bodanagus.  My children will listen to my voice.”

Caesar leaped back and knocked over his chair.  He found himself on his knees.  It is one thing to give deference to the gods as if they are mere stone statues, objects to worship, but quite another to come face to face with one of them. Caesar trembled ever so slightly, overcome by feelings of dread and awe.  He could not help it.  He hid his face as events unfolded, but his ears never stopped working.

“My Lord.” Danna acknowledged Odin as he appeared. “Grandmother.”  She acknowledged Frigg through her marriage relationship and curtsied ever so slightly to the King and Queen of the North.  “And the crooked one.”  She mentioned Loki, though the feeling of wanting to punch the fellow in the nose was hard to resist.

“Lady Danna,” Frigg said.  “How good to see you again.”

“Let me see my grandson,” Odin insisted.  Like a true grouchy old man, he had no time for the nice things, and instead got straight to the point.

“Of course.” Danna curtsied again and she traded places through time with the young man, another life she once lived, a more recent lifetime, though one still long before Bodanagus.

Nameless squinted for a moment and then growled at Loki.  It was the usual greeting and Loki smirked his crooked smirk in return.

“Rome is not welcome among the Germans.”  Odin spoke bluntly.  “And not among the peoples of the North Sea.  I have plans for them.”

“The time for dissolution is near,” Frigg interrupted.  “Your father Tyr of the one hand is delayed by some geis of his own making, but your mother, the beautiful Frya says she is ready for the journey to the other side.  Would that we all were.”  She cast a sideways glance at Loki before she continued.  “We are counting on you.”

Odin interrupted. “You are to keep Rome out of German lands if the dissolution comes soon.”

“But Grandfather,” Nameless objected.  “You know how it works.  My lifetime came and went long ago.  This world belongs to Bodanagus.  If you wish to work in his lifetime, you must work through him.”

Frigg smiled and nodded.  She knew full well how it worked.  Odin looked frustrated.  Loki rarely betrayed his feelings, and almost never his honest feelings.

“Bodanagus, then,” Odin commanded.

“At least his mother was rightly German,” Loki pointed out and that mollified Odin a little.

Nameless nodded without another word, and went away to leave Bodanagus once again in his own time and place.  There was little more discussion, and certain things passed between the Gods and the General of the Nervii, and then it was over.  The Gods were gone, and Bodanagus helped a prostrate Caesar to his feet.

R5 Greta: Woman of the Ways, part 1 of 3

Mother Hulda sat quietly on her front porch, sewing something.  She appeared a bent and grizzled old woman, balding in a few small places where her white hair had given up.  Yet, despite her years, her eyes and ears remained sharp, as were her senses overall.  The way she could read the hearts and minds of people seemed astounding.

“I was starting to wonder if you would make it today.  The sun is already beginning to set.”  She spoke as if she had been expecting Greta.  Only an hour ago, Greta decided to come, but Greta said nothing. She did not question Mother Hulda’s sight.  Instead, Greta looked to the sun which was indeed beginning to redden in the west. She came up beside Mother Hulda and sat facing the southwest.  From there, with her back to the house and woods, she could see the long meadows and newly planted fields that stretched out to the horizon.  Some two miles off, she saw the billows of smoke sent up by all of the cooking fires in Boarshag, and beyond that the hills rolled gently into an indistinct gray line.  Greta thought it looked like the sea rolling away to a distant shore, or that was how she imagined it.  She had never been to sea.  Greta noted that she had been imagining a great deal of things lately about which she had no direct knowledge.  She decided it had to be something connected to the gift of sight.  She did not worry about it.

“Been crying about your boy?”  Mother Hulda interrupted her introspection.

“Only a little,” Greta answered.  “I’m seventeen today,” she added.  She had long since ceased to wonder how Mother Hulda knew such things.  She might have recognized the tear stains on Greta’s face, and what else would a young woman cry about?

Mother Hulda began to pick up her sewing.  “And how are our relations with the Romans these days?” she asked, fully expecting an answer.  Greta had to think about it for a minute and Mother Hulda always stayed patient.

“Lord Darius, the new centurion of this year, has escorted a young Roman lord to Ravenshold. I am not sure, but I suspect that the Romans have some offer in mind with which they hope to stall the rebellion.”

“All fine and well.”  Mother Hulda frowned.  “But what are you feeling?”

Greta paused again to search before answering.  “I feel the sparks in the air,” she said.  “They are hot and sharp everywhere.  There is much anger.  People are tired of giving tribute to Rome and deference even to the least Roman, soldier, merchant or otherwise.  There is the beginning of rage and a spirit of fighting back rising in the people which will be hard to quench without blood.”  Greta stopped for a moment though she clearly still considered things. Mother Hulda kept quiet.  “I feel the women, especially the older women, are fearful of the losses to come.  Too many still remember the last uprising in the years before my birth.”  Greta finished.

“Very good,” Mother Hulda said; but then Greta interrupted to continue with a thought of her own.

“I hope the council will trust the Roman offer and be satisfied.  Lord Darius, this new centurion, is one I feel I could trust.

“Ah!” Mother Hulda let out her breath, but she did not explain what she knew.  Instead, she side-stepped the issue.  Greta could tell.

“This is wise.” Mother Hulda said.  “See what the Romans have given us in turn.  The aqueduct that feeds Ravenshold, alone, is worth twice fifty years of the little tribute we pay.”  She stopped talking and packed up her sewing while Greta thought about Mother Hulda being taken to Rome along with many other men and women when the Emperor Trajan first conquered the land.  After twelve years, with the ascension of Hadrian, she, and many of the others, were allowed to return home; a decision that the Romans later regretted. True or not, though it came a good eight years later, the Romans blamed the uprising on that homecoming.

As for Mother Hulda, she learned a great deal in Rome about being a midwife and a healer, and about her other gifts and talents, and she came away from her twelve years of captivity with a far different perspective than most.  It was clearly different from the people who stayed here and only thought of the Romans as their oppressors and the Evil Empire. Though not in the least Romanized, Mother Hulda nevertheless had a great respect for Roman ways and knowledge. Evidently, she debated Tacitus more than once concerning his epic work Germania,which he had published barely seven years before her arrival. She also taught Greta both Greek and Latin, and taught her letters so Greta could read and write in both. Every now and then, Mother Hulda would drop into one of those languages so she and Greta could converse and keep up their skills.

The sun nearly set when Mother Hulda spoke again.  “You have had a new vision.”  She made it a statement rather than a question.

Greta nodded. “And it is getting very confusing. The present and the future are beginning to blend together in ways that suggest there is no truth in what I am seeing.”

“How so?” Mother Hulda prompted.

“I saw weapons,” Greta responded.  “Weapons that should not be for another thousand years, at least.  There is no way what I saw could be true.”

Mother Hulda paused.  “The weapons of Trajan,” she said, quietly, in her most introspective and thoughtful voice. She shook herself a little.  “Or perhaps the time has come when you will begin to know yourself, child,” she said, in a more hopeful voice, and she looked at Greta and nodded as if changing her perspective.  “You are becoming a true woman and no longer the child you were.  In any case, we must go in.  We will not be able to sit out tonight with the stars and see the face of the goddess rise-up in the sky.  The wolf has been prowling about the edge of the woods of late, so it is not safe to be out after dark.  Let us go in and cook those sausages you brought.”

“How did you?” Greta stopped herself in mid-sentence. She knew better than to ask.  She looked at her basket still covered with its’ cloth.

“No magic.” Mother Hulda smiled.  “I smelled the meat when you came up, and now it is beginning to drive me crazy.  I have not tasted meat in a fortnight.”

Greta helped Mother Hulda to her feet and began to feel very guilty about not coming often enough and not bringing her things as often as she should.  She vowed that she would make a mental list of some of the things Mother Hulda might need and remember to bring them soon.

Once inside, the door secured, and the windows latched tight, Mother Hulda put the sausages in the kettle and turned it to the coals.  Then she added some wood and stoked up the fire.

Greta looked around.  “Mother!” She only scolded the old woman once and then she spent the better part of an hour cleaning and straightening out the one room house.  She knew it would never really be clean until she came during daylight hours and scrubbed the floors and ceiling and everything in between.

R5 Greta: Birthday Girl, part 3 of 3

They got muffins from the baker because he had not yet made any cakes.  They got sausages which needed to be boiled, but they were well wrapped and would keep all day before cooking.  Greta thought she would pick up the eggs last so there would be less chance of breaking them before she got home; but first, she gave into Vanesca’s pressure and did what she intended all along.  Vanesca grinned and bubbled the whole time.

“Hello Drakka,” Greta said, to grab his attention.  He was working, and probably had been at work for some time to take advantage of the cool morning hours.  He stopped for a moment to say, “Hi,” while his friend, Rolfus stoked the fire. Then he went right back to what he was working on.  Greta waited.

Drakka stood tall and dark, a young man of twenty-one, and terribly strong.  Greta watched, breathless, as his muscles rippled in his work and the sweat on his clear skin glistened in the morning light.

“Steady,” Vanesca whispered and put a hand on Greta’s shoulder before Greta lost it altogether.

At last, Drakka finished and picked up a cloth to wipe his hands.  He came over for a visit while Vanesca kindly lost herself.  Greta had no idea where Yanda went.

“What brought you by so early this morning?” Drakka asked with a smile.

“Market.” Greta gave her one word answer and lifted her basket to show him the bread and sausages.  Her eyes and attention were all his.

“Ah, sweet sausages.”  He smiled again when he reached her.  “Hey Jodel.” He shouted over her shoulder. Greta turned and saw Jodel and Yanda talking beside the old oak that stood out in front of the shop.  Jodel looked up as Drakka spoke.  “That yoke is not going to fix itself.”

“Be right there.” Jodel excused himself and turned back to Yanda.

“They make a nice couple,” Drakka said, as he turned back to Greta.  “Now, I’m sorry, what were you saying?”

Greta did not really get upset by the interruption.  Rather, she decided it was now or never.  She picked up her courage and spoke.  “Today I’m seventeen.  I was wondering if you could take a break and walk me to the farmer’s market.  I have to pick up some eggs and things.”  Greta looked up into his eyes and she knew he would see hope in hers.  She only hoped he would not see the strength of her desire.

Drakka paused before he spoke.  “I’m sorry, Greta,” he said.  “With father gone off to council with your father, I just have too much work to do. Hey Jodel!”

“Coming.”

“Anyway,” Drakka said.  “Happy birthday.”  He put his hand to her shoulder and gave her a pat before he turned back to his forge.

He did not see. Just as well.  When he touched her, Greta’s eyes rolled up in her head, her eyelids closed and she became stiff, but pliable.  Her good friend, Vanesca, knew the symptoms and came out of hiding to guide her to where she could not be seen from the shop.  She sent Yanda back for the basket.

Greta had a vision, hardly the first time it happened.  Indeed, it was no secret that she had the sight like her grandmother.

Greta saw herself standing in a field in front of a jagged, rocky hillside which appeared to be part steep hill and part cliff.  From a great cave at the top, water poured out, making little waterfalls and steep mountain rapids.

The dead and dying surrounded her in the field, as if some great battle had just taken place. Greta felt she knew some of the dead men, but she could not see their faces clearly.  This spooked her, and the vision turned ugly.

Drakka stood there, and he had a rifle in his hands.  That felt terribly, irrevocably wrong.  He pointed the rifle at the Romans, the Lords Marcus and Darius. Then Greta became confused. Instead of encouraging Drakka to slay their foreign rulers, she tried to save the Romans, like Drakka was the enemy.

“No!”  Greta shouted louder and more utterly than she could ever shout in normal space and time.  She heard a distinct click and bang as the gun went off.  Then she woke up.

“You all right?” Vanesca asked.  Yanda just held her and offered every ounce of support she had. Greta nodded.  She could not speak yet, but she did indicate that she needed to sit quietly for a few moments.

“Drakka.” Greta heard Liselle’s voice.

“Liselle!” She heard the enthusiasm in Drakka’s voice.  She felt crushed.  Liselle was one of the beautiful ones Lord Marcus had mentioned.  She and Venice and Karina were pretty and popular.  Greta, who thought of herself as rather plain, felt stuck with the great mass of ordinary and desperate girls.  She wanted to be one of the greats, but she did not qualify.  Then again, she did not fit in with the masses, either; at least not since she was twelve.

At twelve years of age, Greta started to study with the Woman of the Ways, Mother Hulda, the old wise woman who lived at the very edge of the forest.  Greta would be expected to take over for Mother Hulda when the woman passed away, and as a result, she did not really fit in anywhere. Greta knew she was the right choice, perhaps the only choice to follow Mother Hulda, but the older she got, the more estranged she became from the everyday and the normal.  Even her friends were beginning to treat her different, and she felt tears form because of it.

“Steady,” Vanesca said, even as Liselle spoke.

“Are you ready?”

“A moment to wipe up and off my apron,” Drakka responded.  Greta saw them walk off together in the direction of the market.

“He’ll get tired of that flashy face soon enough.  You’ll see,” Vanesca said, but Greta understood the regular girls said that sort of thing all of the time.  She hated herself for knowing better.  Sometimes those little lies could keep a girl going.  Greta looked at her friends.  Vanesca smiled.  Yanda still looked concerned.

“I’m fine.” Greta patted Yanda’s hand to return some of the assurance she had been given.

“What did you see?”  Yanda asked about the vision.  She either missed the whole human drama that played out like a worn cliché right in front of her, or for once she showed good sense to change the subject.  Greta wanted to believe the latter, so she hugged her.

“I’m sorry,” she said.  She hugged Vanesca, too.  “I’m sorry if I ever thought bad about either one of you.  You are my two best friends in the whole world.”  As she spoke, Greta wiped the few little tears from her eyes and stood to wipe her dress and cloak.

“You’re my best friend, too,” Yanda said with a smile.

“What bad thoughts?” Vanesca asked through her own smile.

They did not go back to the farmer’s market.  They went home, and Mama had to go to the market herself, but she did not mind.  Not much later, Mama and the girls were all laughing, cooking and preparing a great birthday feast.  Hansel, or rather, Hans came in followed by three of his friends, Beliona, the prodigious Burtha and Vabona.  The women played with the youngsters like wives and husbands, and the young men seemed to enjoy the game well enough.

“Woman!” Fat little Burtha roared.  “Bring me drink, woman!”

“Yes, my Lord.” Vanesca responded with a curtsey. She brought a small cup of goat’s milk and dumped it on his head.  Burtha licked the drips.

“Selvanus’ beard, woman!” he roared again.  “At least it could be fermented.”

“I’ll have no drunks in my house.”  Yanda pulled the phrase out from her own experience at home, and she rapped Burtha on the noggin with a wooden cooking spoon.  Burtha dutifully pretended to go unconscious and slid under the table, which made everyone laugh, until Vabona interrupted by holding up his empty plate.

“More sausages!” he shouted.  Burtha immediately got up and looked angelic.  He was not about to miss out on thirds.

“Please.” Hans added for the sake of Greta and Mama.  The women rolled their eyes, but set out the rest of it.  Ten seconds and a half loaf of bread later and the boys headed toward the door.

“Thanks,” and, “Happy Birthday.”  Those were the last words out of them.  Beliona belched and they were gone, the door not quite closed behind them.

Vanesca and Yanda stayed to help clean up, but then they also needed to get home, and Mama had chores in the garden.  Greta had chores as well, only she did not feel like doing them.  She moped around for a while, missed Papa and Bragi and tried not to think about Drakka and Liselle; but at last she could not stand it any longer.  She packed her basket with a loaf of bread, some greens and the two sausages she had saved without knowing why.  She donned her red cloak and pulled up the hood against the wind, as she so often did. Then she laid a cloth on top of the basket to keep out the bugs and went to kiss Mama.

“I’m going to Mother Hulda’s,” she said.  “I should be back tomorrow.  I don’t know when.”

Mama nodded. “Yanda told me you had a vision this morning, but she did not say what you saw.”  Greta shook her head.  “Quite all right,” Mama said.  “Sometimes my mother would go years without a word about what she saw.  You go to Mother Hulda.  Maybe she can help.”  Mama turned back to her gardening but added an afterthought as she dug.  “Besides, Yani is due to have her baby any day now and I am sure Mother Hulda could use the help.  She is not exactly young, you know.”  Greta stooped down because Mama worked on her knees.  She pulled her mother’s hair back and kissed her cheek. Then, without a word, she headed for the main road.

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

MONDAY

R5 Greta, the Woman of the Ways… where Greta has more than a simple vision.  Time itself opens up for the Kairos and Greta discovers she is not alone, and learns something worth knowing.  Until then, Happy Reading.

 

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R5 Greta: Birthday Girl, part 2 of 3

By the time Greta got home, her attention turned back to her tasks.  She needed to sew the tear in her little brother’s pants.  This was not the first time she had to sew it, but Mama said the way he kept growing, he would need new pants soon enough. They needed to make the old ones last as long as possible.

Greta pricked her finger with the needle.  She made no sound, but tasted the blood when her finger jumped to her mouth.  She would be seventeen in only two more days, and she missed her father and her older brother, Bragi.  Father went to the council in Ravenshold and he said that Bragi, nearly twenty, could go as long as he kept his mouth shut.  The council got called to elect a new high chief, but Papa had been gone three weeks and the people could not imagine what might be taking so long—unless there was war talk.  That talk had been bandied about for some six years, ever since the people found out that Hadrian died and Rome had a new emperor in Antonius Pius.  No one, however, had spoken such words seriously. For one, there had been plenty of rebellious days since Trajan conquered the land some forty years earlier.  The last time, however, the people had been mauled so badly, some wondered if Ravenshold would ever recover.  And then, the last high chief would hear none of the rebellious talk, so people kept their opinions in check.  Now, with the ascension of a new high chief, Greta feared that might change.  Some people seemed convinced that only war talk could delay the council so much, and they were beginning to fear that the Romans might find out.

Greta did her bit. She learned that Lord Darius was escorting this Marcus to the capitol.  Unfortunately, they had left within an hour of her encounter, so there was not much more she could learn.  And she still did not know who this Marcus might be.

Greta mended Hansel’s pants and caught him as he came bounding into the house.  “Hansel.”  She stopped him.  “Try these on.”

“Not now, Greta,” he protested.  “The gang is waiting.”

“This will only take a minute,” she insisted and held the pants out to him.

Hansel rolled his eyes and huffed, but he dropped his one pair of pants to try on the others. “You will make a great mother someday,” he said, in his most annoying voice.  Greta imagined it was the worst insult he could think of.

“Thanks.” Greta took it as a compliment, and felt rather pleased with herself, as she sat down to check the stitching.

After another huff, Hansel spoke again in his most serious voice.  “Sis.”  Greta knew it was serious because he never called her that unless he wanted to lean heavily on the familial relationship.   “Could you maybe call me Hans and stop calling me Hansel?  It’s embarrassing.”

Greta smiled. “Mama will never stop calling you Hansel,” she said, and it was true.

“I know.” He understood.  “But it’s different for grown-ups.  You expect that kind of thing.”

“Why is it different?”  She teased a little.  “I’ll be seventeen day after tomorrow and that is practically all grown up.”

“And I’ll be fourteen in three weeks,” he said in a loud and exasperated voice.  “Please, Sis.  It makes a difference when it is someone who is close, I said, close to your own age.”

Greta stared at him for a moment. He had such puppy-dog pleading in his eyes it made her want to hug and squeeze him like she did when she was seven and he was four. Time seemed frozen in that moment. He waited ever so patiently for her response, and she loved him so dearly.

“All right,” she said to his relief.  She handed back the pants he had been wearing and took back her work.  “I will try to remember, Hans.”  She had to say it out loud because it sounded so strange to her ears.

“Thanks Greta. Pact?”

“Pact,” Greta said and she spit on her first two fingers while he spat on his.  They touched fingertips.

“And you will be a great Mama someday,” Hans said.  This time he meant it as a compliment.

Greta smiled. “You just be a great Hans, and everyone will be happy.”

“I will,” he spoke again in his flippant, teenage voice.  He let out a shout as he burst out of the door to join his friends.

But Greta could not be entirely happy.  She would turn seventeen and her Papa would not be there.

###

When that special morning came, Greta felt determined to make sure someone knew it was her birthday.  She had a certain someone in mind and because of that, she kissed Mama good-morning, had a hurried breakfast, kissed a sleepy headed Hansel, and left.  Hans, she corrected herself, as she slipped on her red cloak and went out the door.

“Greta.” She heard the voice but did not stop. “Greta, wait up.”  Greta stopped and frowned.  Vanesca and Yanda caught her; the ones she sometimes secretly, though not unkindly, thought of as Bubblehead and the Village Vegetable.

“Where are you going so early?” Vanesca asked.

“Market.” Greta gave a one word answer.  She turned and resumed her walk as the girls came up alongside.

“Going to see Drakka?”  Vanesca prodded.

Greta’s frown deepened.  “No,” she said.  “Mama wants some warm muffins and eggs that aren’t all picked over and cracked.”

Vanesca nodded to Yanda.  “She’s going to visit Drakka.”  The words were matter-of-fact.

“No,” Greta protested.  She pulled up the hood of her red cloak while she tried to think of something to prove her case.  “I am going to buy some sausages.”  It was the most outlandish thing she could think of.  Naturally, she had no money with her.  All she had was her basket, and as she thought of it, she was not sure her family had any money at all.  It did not matter.  Greta had made up her mind.  She would get some sausages.  Vanesca, however, took Greta’s outlandish statement as confirmation of her delusion.

“Oh, Drakka, definitely, and it must be important.”  Vanesca nudged Greta in the side.

Yanda’s words came from a half-step behind.  “Why would you visit the blacksmith’s son?” she asked.

Greta and Vanesca came to a complete stop.  Yanda bumped into them before she stopped herself.  The girls gave Yanda a look before Vanesca spoke.  “I’ll explain it to you when you are older,” she said, and Yanda screwed up her face.  They could almost see the water wheel working overtime, trying to pull the water all the way to the top.

“But I am older,” Yanda said.  “I’m eighteen and you and Greta are only sixteen.”

“I’m seventeen today.”  Greta smiled and turned to Vanesca.  “It’s my birthday.”  She said that to suggest that this was the real reason for her early trip to the market and for her sausage buying.  Vanesca did not quite buy it, but she said, “Happy birthday,” and they kissed like sisters.

“Ah!”  Yanda got excited.  “We have to get sweet sausage and some of those little cakes at the bakers.”

“Careful Yanda.” Greta spoke over her shoulder. “You will be eighteen and weigh a hundred stone.”

“What’s wrong with that?”  Yanda asked, and in some strange way it seemed a reasonable question.

R5 Greta: Birthday Girl, part 1 of 3

It was one of those blustery spring days when the wind grabs everything it can lift and scurries it half way across the village before it can be caught.  Greta purposefully braided her hair on both sides, tied both braids off with her heaviest ties, and pulled them in front just to keep her hair from whipping into her face and eyes with every turn of the wind.  That particular spring day was also wet and heavy from recent spring rains, so she pulled her dress up at times and watched where she put her foot to avoid the puddles and piles of mud.  It all made for very slow progress.

Even that early in the morning, there were others in the village square and the signs and sounds of life were all around.  Several horses paraded across the road on their way to hillside pastures, and several Romans grunted and groaned in some kind of physical exercise at the far end of the square, beyond the fountain.  Greta, though sixteen, felt sure the horses were more interesting than a group of sweaty soldiers.  She got upset when the wind caught her scarf and carried it right into the midst of the Romans.  She felt more unhappy with what she heard when she walked carefully from the fountain to retrieve her property.

“Hey, hey.” A man spoke and pointed and the two wrestlers stopped grunting to stand and watch her progress.  Greta felt glad that at least they had modest cloth coverings and did not wrestle in the naked Greek style.

“Here comes one now, Lord Darius.  She is not the most beautiful I have seen, but more than just pleasant to look at. Nice Tits.  Good butt.  I bet she squeals in bed.”

“Marcus!”  It felt hard to tell if Lord Darius was offended or just pretending.

“What?” Marcus defended himself.  “Hardly one of these barbarians knows a smattering of Greek.  I am sure none of them knows any Latin at all.”

“That may be,” Lord Darius responded.  “But that is still no excuse to be crude.  This is a young woman worthy of respect.  Note the downcast eyes, demure in maidenly virtue.  A virgin, I’ll bet.  See the slim waist of a youth not yet fully mature, and yet the hips are well rounded, awaiting only a child to carry, and the breasts are full and firm, awaiting the child’s cry to suckle him with the milk of life.”

“Waaa!”  One of the men in the crowd spoke up and most of the rest snickered.

Marcus had a grin on his face when he rebutted his friend.  “I say her downcast eyes are because she knows her place in the presence of her master and she knows where her pleasure lies should she please him. Her ample breasts are waiting her lover’s caress, and her slim waist and hips are surely designed to be a handle for a man’s hands.  Note the lips beneath the small, sharp nose, how full and thick and red they are. They await only her lover’s kiss to remove the pout so seductively formed there.  And the twists in her braids that adorn her golden hair, they say, tell how many lovers she has taken to her bed.”

“I’ve heard it tells how old she is,” Darius retorted.  “Nothing more.”

“Women lie about such things,” Marcus responded, still smiling.  “You can’t trust the braids.  Besides, I like my version better.”

Greta arrived and stopped.  Her eyes still looked down because she had them focused on her scarf which sat under Marcus’ feet, and she wondered how hard she would have to kick the man to get him to move.  Lord Darius put his hand to her chin and gently lifted her head to look into her light brown eyes.  Darius’ eyes were Roman dark, but his hair looked nearly light enough to pass for one of the people.

“What can we do for you, maiden?” Darius asked, in his best Dacian.

“Both of you poets lack grace,” Greta responded in perfect Latin.  “Though what you say, Lord Darius, may be nearer to the truth. My eyes were downcast, however, to avoid stepping in something unseemly, and otherwise I am simply waiting for your crude friend to get his fat foot off my scarf.”

Darien let go and he and the others present laughed, loud.  Marcus turned sunburn red, looked down and jumped back rather awkwardly.  He and Greta both began to reach for the scarf, but Greta pulled up sharply, not wanting to knock heads with the man.  Marcus brushed off the scarf and handed it over, still red, though the laughter had subsided.

“Pardon, m’lady.” Marcus spoke most humbly.  “It appears as if I have been clumsy in more ways than one this morning.”

“Thank you.” Greta spoke out of courtesy, but then she could not help herself.  “You big oaf.”

The men snickered again, but Greta turned toward Lord Darius.  “My Lord.”  She curtsied a bit.  It felt appropriate.  Lord Darius was the centurion and commander of the little troop that regularly camped at Boarshag, her home.  Besides that, he was reported to be a good man, never harsh with the people, and he kept his soldiers in line.  Greta appreciated that.

“My lady.” Lord Darius gave a slight bow and grinned, deeply.  Greta turned, then and lifted her dress above the mud, revealing her ankles, though she knew it would get a reaction from the men.  She kind of wanted a reaction, and she was not disappointed when one man whistled. It got cut off quickly by an, “Ow!” Greta did not know if Marcus or Darius hit the man, nor did she care.  She did glimpse Marcus slap Darius on the shoulder and heard what he said, his volume probably due to his embarrassment.

“Live and learn, eh Darius?”

“Yes, my lord.” Darius answered, and suddenly Greta wondered who this Marcus—this Lord Marcus might be.  He was certainly no ordinary soldier.  One recently arrived from Rome?  He seemed too young to be a high dignitary.

Boarshag, called Tibiscum by the Romans, was a small but important village on the Tibuscus River.  It rested on the main road half way between the Danube and the capital of Dacia at Ravenshold, a place the Romans called Ulpia Traiana.  On the maps the capital got called Sarmizegetusa, but no one locally, including the Romans, called it that, because the true Sarmizegetusa, the old capital of Free Dacia, was thirty miles away and razed to the ground by Trajan and his legions.  So, it became Ulpia Traiana to the Romans, but mostly it was Ravenshold.

The main road from the Danube wandered three days through the valley and into the lowland hills where it passed through rich fields of grain and luxurious pasturelands. It wandered, a very non-Roman road, even if it had been paved after the Roman style.  After that, the road began to climb, sometimes going around but often going over the low hills, three more days to Boarshag.  The fields around Boarshag were not nearly as rich and their pastures were rock-strewn, yet Greta had a good life, and in most years they had more than enough to spare; a reality not missed by the Roman tax collectors.

Above Boarshag, the road continued due east for two miles where it came face to face with the primeval forest.  The old Dacian road then turned abruptly south, as if the forest presented an impenetrable wall, and there followed roughly a seven-day arc along the main branch of the Tibiscus River south to east and north, to Ravenshold.  No one went into the old growth forest, much less through it. They said if you could walk due east, it would cut the trip to Ravenshold down to three days.  Some said two, but no one went into the woods to test it out.

The most recent story told about a century of Romans in the days of the last rebellion, when Hadrian was emperor.  The century, now often called a whole legion, went into the woods to make a swift, surprise attack on the capitol from an unexpected quarter, to catch the rebels unprepared and make a quick end to the rebellion.  The Romans never came out the other side, and the story said the Romans continued to wander aimlessly among the trees.  There were, of course, other stories about witches, goblins, ghosts and all sorts of devils who inhabited the darkness under the canopy.  Some were said to drink blood or feed on human flesh, or on the soul, or change luckless people into stone or stumps or mad animals of the darkness such as wolves or bears.  Though Greta would be seventeen in two days and no longer a child to be frightened by such stories, she figured even an ordinary forest full or ordinary wolves, bears, and perhaps even a few big cats would be dangerous enough for ordinary folks.  No one went into the forest.

R5 Greta: Over the River and Through the Woods

Monday (Tuesday and Wednesday)

8 AM EST, for the next 23 weeks

From the book: R5) Rome Too Far

The Story of Greta, wise woman of the Dacians in the days of Roman rule.

Greta is a middle child stuck at home in Boarshag, with her younger brother, who wants to be called Hans rather than the childish name of Hansel.  Meanwhile, her older brother gets to be with her father and all the men in the capitol of Ravenshold.  The high chief of Dacia has died, and the men need to select a new high chief, with Roman approval, of course.  Sadly, Greta, as a woman, even as the wise woman in training, has no say in that matter.  The men will argue for weeks, as only men can do so well.

Since Greta inherited some of her grandmother’s sixth sense, she got selected at a young age, by old Mother Hulda, to train as the Woman of the Ways for all of Dacia.  There is so much to learn.  Greta, not one of the beautiful people, figures she will have a full life learning and working for her people.  But then her father comes home.  He has been elected to be the new high chief, and suddenly, Greta is betrothed, and to the enemy, a Roman officer.  And sadly, she has no say in that matter, either.

That much alone would make any young woman’s life complicated and difficult.  But the life of the Kairos is never so normal.

Decades ago, in the days of the Emperor Trajan, there were guns–yes, guns and ammunition that the Kairos destroyed but for one caravan that never made it across the Adriatic.  Now, the wind of Dacia smells of rebellion.  Greta’s Roman officer must ride to confront the rebels.  Greta, with terribly mixed feelings, must walk the short-cut to Ravenshold.  She must cross the haunted forest.  Of course the forest is haunted.  And she must find the guns and destroy them before the rebels find them and turn a rebellion into a slaughter.

Worse, the rebellion appears to be led by the Dacian war chief’s mother, a true wicked witch whose power dwarfs Greta and her small magic.  And thousands of Germanic Quadi sit on the border, just waiting for an excuse to overrun the province.

There are fairy tales within this fairy tale of an adventure.  Enjoy.  Welcome to the forest, and Happy Reading.

 

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R5 Festuscato: The Sword in the Stone, part 2 of 2

Someone shouted for Constantine, and many picked up on the thought.  Festuscato said, “Constantine,” but Dumfries spoke into his mind for a third time and said he was all set.  Constantine stepped up and looked around at all the anxious faces.

“I hope this works,” he confessed quietly to Festuscato, and put his hand to the sword. It came out easily.  People hushed.  Then the Germans said he should put it back.  Festuscato stalled.  He called over the Archbishop, Meryddin, and a Saxon Holy Man.  He talked about priests, temples, churches and sacred ground, and Constantine pledged to punish any man who harmed a priest or holy man going about their sacred duties and any man who desecrated the sacred places. Archbishop Guithelm said he accepted Constantine as high chief and war chief of Britannia, and he stepped forward to anoint the man.  Meryddin, aware of the political implications, also laid hands on Constantine. The German looked at his people and said nothing.  Then Dumfries gave the go ahead, and Festuscato urged Contantine to put the sword back, carefully.  Constantine clearly felt it when the stone sucked the sword out of his hand.

“And there it will stay until the next time it is needed,” Festuscato said quickly.

“Wait.” Gregor stepped up and put his hands to the hilt.  He pulled and let out a roar.  He pulled hard enough to move the boulder a smidgen, but the sword held fast.  “Just testing,” he said with a big grin.

“Who will pledge to Constantine?”  The Celts were all in.  Hellgard was right there with them, and Hrugen the Dane and a man named Cadal, a Pict, joined the Celts as well, though Cadal and Hrugen were more symbolic being able to speak only for themselves.  The Germans and Gorund the Jute were not interested.  Festuscato stopped them before they walked out.

“You understand what having a war chief mean?”  Several men nodded.  “Then listen close.  This is my island.  The Hun overstepped his place and got thrown off my island to never come back.  But I want peace, so here is the word.  Londinium will remain in British hands, but outside the walls will be neutral ground where men of good faith can trade and live in harmony.  Britain also claims five miles on either side of the Thames from Oxford to the sea.  Be careful not to settle along the river. Other than that, you can negotiate a fair boundary for your land.  Once that is settled, stay behind your boundary and live in peace.  Do you understand this?”  The men said they did.  “Do you accept this?”  All but Gorund agreed.  “The Hun will not be forgotten.”  He stared at Gorund.  “Do you accept this?”

“Yes,” the man said angrily as he walked out, and the Germans followed him.

“I see trouble in time,” Constantine said, as he stood beside Festuscato’s elbow.

“Don’t worry about the future,” Festuscato smiled.  “Today’s troubles are enough.”  He raised his voice.  “Where are the boys?”

The men got their boys and gathered around, and Festuscato explained what a squire was. To learn about the world, to hunt and fish and camp, and cook something on a campfire worth eating.  To learn about weapons, and about the care and feeding of horses, “Because the lords of Britannia should be mounted for battle.” To learn how to read and write in Latin. “Because the next generation of young lords ought to be able to communicate with each other no matter where they are from.”  He explained many things, and was surprised to find both Meryddin and the Archbishop thought it a wonderful idea.  Then Festuscato gave sons into the keeping of their neighbors and other Lords. Meryddin tried hard to suggest certain Christian boys be given into the charge of men who were strong believers in the old ways, but Festuscato would not have it.  He had his list written on paper.  When he had done, he reminded the men to visit home at least twice a year so the boys could visit their mom.  He did not worry about the Latin because there were still enough people of Roman decent around who conversed in the tongue.

When all got done, Festuscato hardly ate a thing.  It had been a long day, and he felt exhausted.  He hardly talked, even to Constantine, though he encouraged Constans who had Anwyn’s son from Caerdyf as squire.  The boy was fifteen, and Festuscato told Constans how terrible he was at that age.  He walked off, and Mirowen who just found him said, “Fifteen is a wonderful age.  Why don’t you take him to visit King Ban of Benwick?  He can learn how to respond properly to other lords and ladies.”  Of course, she knew Constans would really want an excuse to visit Ivy, but having spent time with the girl, she knew the girl felt the same way.

Father Gaius came up to Festuscato when things started winding down for the night.  He came with Bishop Lavius, newly ordained Bishop of Caerleon in Wales.  He also had a man in his thirties beside him who appeared to be a priest, but dressed more like a monk, like a priest ready to travel.  Gaius introduced him.

“This is Patrick. We were wondering if you might be tempted to go anywhere near Ireland.”

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R5 Festuscato: The Sword in the Stone, part 1 of 2

It got closer to July fifteenth before everyone gathered.  The monks hoped to keep everyone housed and fed, but after the generous donation Lord Agitus gave for the building of Saint Paul’s Church, the Archbishop said it was the least they could do.

Festuscato spent that last month going over his list and checking it twice.  Pinewood gave him the list of young men and Lords that were expected.  After the success against the Huns and at York, quite a few were expected. Festuscato felt a little concerned about the Saxons, Angles and Hellgard’s older brother, the self-proclaimed King of the Jutes, but he tried to think positive.

All the men gathered around the courtyard that would be laid between the Church and the Monastery.  Right at the moment, it was just a big open space with a big stone in the middle.  A loadstone Bogus found and Dumfries provided proved a strong enough magnet to hold the sword.  The slot had been prepared, and Caliburn properly fixed so it would stick fast.

“But what if they want Contantine or his son to pull the sword?”  Festuscato got concerned.

Bogus the dwarf and Dumfries the Dark elf went off for a while to work on that problem. What they came up with was a spell to temporarily remove the spell that allowed Caliburn to be caught by the magnet. “But I don’t know if it will work more than once,” Bogus admitted.  It was not the way Festuscato remembered it in Gerraint’s time, but he dared not interfere with history.  It would have to do.

The first order of business became the sword.  Festuscato stood at the center of a circle of men and raised his hands.  Caliburn appeared in his hands, even as he glanced to the side and saw Meryddin eyeing him closely.  Gorund the Jute, Hellgard’s brother, scoffed and said he had a magician who could do better tricks than that.

“This is the sword of Britannia,” Festuscato ignored the Jute and went on with the program. “The one who wields this sword in the rightful high chief and dux bellorum of all Britannia.”  He spun and slipped the sword into the cut so it looked like he actually shoved the sword into the solid rock.  He felt it grab when it got about half-way in, and he got the message from Dunfries that it was all set.  No one would to pull it out if he had to reach up and hold on to it himself.

“Gentlemen. By all means, be my guest.”  He invited men to try it.

Cador and Ban could not pull it out, but someone said that was a set-up. and they were just pretending.  Gildas said, “I won’t pretend.”  He spit on his hands and hurt himself trying to tug on it.  Eudof, the Welshman also tried, and then Meryddin stepped up, and people paid attention.

“Trickery,” Meryddin announced.  He sprinkled some kind of dust on the stone and chanted.  Festuscato worried for a second, but he heard from Dumfries again, speaking right into his head, that he tried the wrong sort of spell and would not overcome the magnet.  Meryddin tugged, but the sword stayed stuck fast.

One of the Saxons stepped up.  “Can’t expect a Celt to do a man’s work.”  He laughed, but he couldn’t budge the sword.

“Weakling.” Gorund the Jute stepped up and got mad when he could not pull out the sword.  He pulled his own sword to hack at the sword in the stone, but a blue light hit him in the chest, knocked him back ten feet, and knocked him senseless.

R5 Festuscato: The British North, part 3 of 3

The following morning at dawn, four thousand foot soldiers came up on the eastern wall of the city.  Macreedy cheated.  He brought his elves in close, covered with glamours to look like men, and he kept a withering fire of arrows up on the city wall.  The Picts dared not stick their heads up, which would have left them staring into the sun in any case.  Festuscato noticed when Constantine’s men made it over the wall with so much ease, and he yelled and made Macreedy’s elves back off.  But by then, the east gate swung wide open, and the defenders of the city started fleeing to the fort, hoping only to get out of the city alive.

Hellgard and his Jutes were ferocious and cut off a large number of Picts.  They slaughtered the Picts, and as reported, it ended when an old British woman came running from her burned home and threw her arms around the Jute in gratitude.  Festuscato only felt sorry that photo journalism had not yet been invented.

Emet of York and his men tried to take the gate to the fort where the Picts were streaming in, fleeing the city.  He lost his life, his men got beaten back, and Festuscato yelled at the whole council as soon as he had them together.

“I understand Emet’s concern for his wife and children, but you agree to a plan and you stick to the plan.  Emet was a moron, and if the Picts had not killed him, I would consider doing it myself.” Everyone got stunned and silent. “No, that is not true.  There must always be room for initiative, but common sense and reason have to be considered as well.  Sometimes, if some of you show some initiative, it might not work out.  Sometimes it will.  In this case, Emet should have pulled back when the enemy turned on him in the gate, but he let his heart overrule his mind, and he paid the full price.” He fell silent, having put a pall on the celebration.

The men took a time to congratulate one another.  For all Festuscato told Hellgard about peace, he knew the quickest and best way to build camaraderie among the peers, and among the men for that matter, was to fight side by side.  If Rome had learned one thing while depending on so many different Germanic tribes to defend the border, it was that.  When things quieted a bit, Festuscato knew one more thing was important to say.

“Constantine, you did an excellent job.  Every man here had an opinion and got a fair chance to express it.  You followed the best ideas, found the weak point in the wall, and put the sun in their eyes.  You used your knowledge of the city to cover the various sections of the city and root out the enemy, and overall at the least cost to your men. Very good.  Now Wainus can have another chance to surrender, and while he thinks it over, you have two things to decide.  First, you can plan for what to do if he does not surrender.  The fort will be a tough nut to crack.  Second, you can plan for what to do if and when he does surrender.  Keep in mind there must be consequences, not only for the Picts to remember, but for your own men to get some satisfaction for their losses.  Not too little, but not too much.  You need to decide just what consequences will cause peace to happen, hopefully for a long time to come.  Good luck.”  Festuscato walked out and left it in the hands of twelve men.

Noon the following day, the body of Wainus got thrown from the top of the fort wall above the front gate.  The Picts laid down their weapons and came out.  Constantine took one in ten, and made an effort to get one in ten of the chiefs. Three hundred and seventy-six men lost their heads.  The rest got escorted back to Hadrian’s wall.

Constantine went first to Edinburgh, above the wall.  It had been the cornerstone fort designed by the Romans at the end of the Antonine wall.  It got staffed in Roman times by auxiliary troops, which meant British troops with a British Lord, and even when the Romans left Britannia, it never got deserted. The British auxiliaries were supposed to keep an eye on the Scottish settlements in the lowlands, build a buffer state against the Caledonians, and give warning of any Pictish incursions. They had mixed success.  For one, the fort was only accessible at present over Scottish lands, and in troubled times, it could only be reached by sea. Manned by a thousand soldiers, it was supposed to control the Eastern Lowlands down to the River Tweed, but since the start of the Fifth Century, it did well to control a twenty-five-mile safe zone around the fort.  In some ways, it became an example of Roman overreach.  It sat too far north, and since the Antonine wall got abandoned two and a half centuries earlier, many wondered why the Scots had not already taken it.

Lord Luthanel ran a tight ship, as Hrugen the Dane said, but Luthanel did not have the manpower to do much.  Constantine assigned four hundred Amoricans, effectively doubling Luthanel’s forces. They were to restore control to the southern boundary at the Tweed and force out any enterprising Scots who refused to acknowledge the Lordship of Edinburgh or refused to pay the taxes. Luthanel pledged to be vigilant, to watch the Picts, control the flow of incoming Ulsterites, and keep an eye on the Danes who were pushing up toward the River Tyne.  It felt like a lot to expect, but time would tell.

Hadrian’s Wall had some thirty forts and mini-forts along those eighty miles of stone. Most of the forts had been abandoned over the last forty years, but the few on the main north-south roads were still in operation.  All of the north-south trade and immigration happened there, and the men who manned the forts were able to collect tariffs, fees, and taxes from the people passing through.  It became a lucrative business.  Constantine put an end to that business, twice by spilling blood, and he found volunteers among is own Amorican soldiers to man the forts properly and use the funds to upkeep the wall.

“You have given away half of your own troops,” Festuscato pointed out, but Constantine merely rubbed his chin.

“With their families, they will form the foundation for a strong defense of the north. And a thousand men at Cadbury is more than I need to pay for,” he said.

When they arrived at the western end of the Wall and the great fort Guinnon, they found it occupied by Scots.  Nothing indicated of what happened to the former occupants.  In this case, the Scots were no fools.  Seeing an army of some four thousand men approaching encouraged them to abandon the fort and run back north of the wall.  Then, even as the local British subjects cheered and celebrated, Constantine felt like he got in a bit of a fix.  He did not have the men left to man the fort with his own troops.

“Counsel,” Festuscato said.  “Counsel.”

In counsel, Aidan from the British Highlands volunteered to bring ten thousand men women and children out of the highlands and to this dragon free land.  He promised to man the fort and oversee the manning of the wall, and Constantine did not hesitate to invest him right there as Lord of Fort Guinnon and Defender of Britain.

“Counsel,” Constantine said later.  “No. I’ll never get the job right.”

“You will,” Festuscato encouraged him once more.

After the delivery of the Picts north of the wall and the grand tour of north Britain was complete, they came back to York to find the men left behind had made a good start on restoring and rebuilding both the fort and the city.  Everyone pitched in for a month, and Constantine invested Hellgard the Jute to take the Lordship of York.  He spoke to the Danes and offered a generous settlement, but one with a definite boundary, and he charged Hellgard to keep a good watch.  Then the main part of the army retraced its steps to Oxford, where Constans got charged with building a strong fort to guard the ford and the road to Londinium.

Constantine got tired of moving by then, so the army went home.  Men were satisfied with what they accomplished and felt good about working together for once rather than fighting each other.  But Festuscato strictly charged every lord and chief to come to Londinium on July fourth.  He said they had to bring their sons, thirteen or near thirteen and older, and in some cases their grandsons. He would not explain why, but he said it would be a good thing, and he found a tavern by the docks and enjoyed himself, and looked forward to a warm fall and winter.  That was where Mirowen found him, in bed with a sweet young girl.

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Monday: The Sword in the Stone.  I am sure you guessed.  It was inevitable, but there remain a few twists in the road, so don’t miss is.

Happy Reading

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