Reflections Wlvn-13 part 3 of 3

Two days later, Wlvn explained to Raini about Kartesh, the life that came after Faya and before him. He talked about the dragons since Shana brought it up again, and the alarm sounded. Something came trudging up from below and Raini hardly needed a glimpse before she announced what it was. “An ice giant.” The ice giants were lesser Titans in the way Kartesh got made into a lesser goddess and charged with overseeing the relationship between humanity and the space faring Agdaline. A lesser Titan would not be a threat to a true god, but a demi-goddess, in particular an ancient one, and even a lesser goddess like Kartesh might be in trouble. And this one stood tall enough to look over the stockade. It looked bigger than the Cyclops, and it did not look nearly as friendly.

Wlvn cried out. “Carpasis and Sylvan, I need you.” He did not imagine the oreads would bother with him, but to his surprise they both showed up in an instant. They hugged Raini besides, as they were old friends. “Thank you Carpasis for being so kind to come, and Sylvan, thank you especially for the use of your chamber and your bed.” Raini raised an eyebrow at that, but Shana understood as did the oread. Wlvn gave Shana a peck on the lips, and she spoke.

“Who is it this time?”

Wlvn disappeared and Kartesh showed up because she had an idea. “Talk to it,” she said. “Just stall it for a bit and I will bring a pet for the lovely oreads to keep.”

Sylvan had her hand stretched out toward Kartesh and mouthed the words, “lesser goddess.”

Carpasis got more to the point. “A pet for me?”

“Yes, but one you will have to be careful with. They can be very dangerous.”

Carpasis smiled ever so slightly and looked at Raini. “No boredom in a little danger,” she said.

“I’ll be back,” Kartesh shared the smile and vanished from that place.

She arrived in Egypt in the mountains that sheltered the Great River from the worst of the desert storms. She let her senses fan out and soon found what she came for. She knew something of the story when Wlvn talked about her to Shana and Laurel. She remembered more when Wlvn talked to Raini. It happened in her last days, when Egypt became no longer a safe place for her to be. It remained unsafe. Set still hated her, but she hoped to fetch her prize and be on her way before Set discovered her presence.

Kartesh vanished again and appeared in some long-abandoned troll caves. She found a main chamber near the surface, and there she found the beast. The dragon was eating its mother, saved for last no doubt. Kartesh knew that the people nearby, with the help of the gods, killed the mother and all of her babies, but they missed one—one that had now turned nearly two hundred years old. That became old enough to be hard to control, but still young enough to be controlled with the right words and maybe with repetition it might yet be trained.

“Child,” Kartesh spoke sharply in the Agdaline tongue. “Attend me. No fire. Do no harm.” The creature left off eating for a minute and turned its head 180 degrees to stare at the lesser goddess. “Come. I have work for you,” Kartesh said, and the dragon left its mother and slithered up to face Kartesh. Kartesh felt pleased. The dragon appeared to be a big brute.

“I see,” someone said. “It is the words of the creatures from space that control it.” Set appeared and Kartesh took an involuntary step back.

“How did you find me, and so quickly?”

“You did not think you could come into my land without my knowing it. Curious, though, I heard you were dead.”

“I did die, some years ago. But I do get around in time, and as far as it goes, it is not your land. This land belongs to your brother, Osiris.” Kartesh stalled, though maybe it was not so wise to bring up the reason Set hated her. Still, she did not know what else to do. She feared she might die again when Set got done with her, but then it turned out he was not the only one who noticed her arrival.

“Amun!” Set said the word as he looked over Kartesh’s shoulder. Kartesh merely felt the presence.

“Go, my daughter.” Amun said. “I will hold this one in check for the moment.”

“Papi Amun,” Kartesh got the word out and even a little curtsey before she vanished and took the dragon with her.

When Kartesh and the dragon arrived, she saw Sylvan and Carpasis had called up several great slabs of stone to brace the stockade against the ice giant. He pounded on the stockade and whole logs were being ripped away. He roared. Raini roared right back and stabbed out at him with a long spear, but it looked like a bee stinging a bear. The ice giant hardly felt it. He also felt none of the arrows of Moriah and Laurel. They just bounced off his icy skin. Boritz had his club, and Badl had his ax at the ready in case the giant broke in. Wlkn had the women back from the action. In all, it looked like a real battle, but one that would be over as soon as the ice giant finished breaking in.

Both Kartesh and her dragon took to the air, and Kartesh gave explicit instructions. “Attack with fire and claw and when you are done, come back to me.” The dragon responded like a faithful puppy dog, albeit a pit bull, and on the first burst of flame, the ice giant’s face began to melt. It knew this was a real threat. It raised its hands and icicles sprayed the dragon. They crashed and shattered against the dragon’s armored chest without penetrating. A couple put holes in the dragon’s wings, but that just made the worm angry.

A second spray of fire got followed by a frontal assault. The worm’s stunted claws went for the giant’s face while its mouth snapped at the shoulder. Kartesh knew from the future that a dragon’s teeth and jaws could snap a steel lance in two. No surprise when the dragon came away with the ice giant’s arm.

The ice giant turned, but that just presented its back to the fire. It took a few more breaths, but in the end, the terrible giant got reduced to a puddle of water. The dragon only looked sorry that after all that work, he had nothing left to eat. It came back to Kartesh and whined while it settled in to wait. Kartesh reached her mind into the wilderness, found a nice fat, wild cow and gave it to the dragon for a treat. Then she tried to speak quickly because she knew the beast would not wait long.

“This pet fires my heart,” Carpasis shouted. “Like the river of red that runs beneath my snow-covered peaks.”

“It is magnificent,” Sylvan agreed. “I get a turn.” She looked at her sister.

“But what is it?” Raini floated down from her position by the wall to join them.

“Listen.” Kartesh insisted on their attention. “It is a dragon and almost too old to train. You must guide it every day until it becomes used to your voice and your commands. It is still young enough to respond to simple commands in the Agdaline tongue.” And she thought through many of the Agdaline commands in a way where Carpasis and Sylvan could catch the words from her mind. “Now, don’t let it up on the Were plateau. Feed it only deer and other animals of the forest. If it is let loose, it will seek out sheep and even men to eat. Better if it never tastes men so it never recognizes them as a food source. Give it a deep cave and fill it with nuggets of copper, tin, gold, and silver, and precious stones. That is how they nest, on the hard, shiny metal. Treat it well and it should live another eight hundred years at least.”

“Child,’ Kartesh turned to the dragon. “These are your mothers now. Listen to them.” She moved Carpasis and Sylvan to the front so the dragon could stick its head out to sniff them while they petted its head and scratched behind the ears which the dragon apparently loved. Then the three of them vanished and Kartesh vanished as well when Wlvn came home. Raini immediately reached out to hug him.

“Oh, thank you,” she said. “That was wonderful even if it did not last long.” She wept for joy, but Wlvn felt relief.

“The ice giant could only have been sent by Loki. No way he can blame the Titan for that one.”

“Quite right.” They heard the voice behind them only this time it was not Set. Vrya appeared, and she hugged her daughter Raini. No one who did not know would imagine the young one was the mother and the ancient one was her daughter. Raini just cried all the more as her joy became full and Vrya did her best to offer her comfort and not cry over a daughter she knew she would soon lose.

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

MONDAY

The conclusion of Wlvn’s story. The confession of the gods and the final showdown with the Titan. Until then, Happy Reading.

*

Reflections Wlvn-13 part 2 of 3

Snow covered the path up to the village, deep in places, and it made for slick going. Shana had to hold on tight, and Wlvn had to keep one eye on her at all times to be sure she did not slip. It made conversation difficult, and he only caught a glimpse of a couple of houses built by people who ventured down from the stockade to claim a bit of land for their own. Now that the whole world was not at war, it became safe to venture out, or anyway, safer.

“Lord, what do you expect to find here?” Laurel asked. She walked beside Wlvn, a bit wary perhaps in her words. Wlvn noticed she reverted to calling him Lord Wlvn or just Lord, and he dreaded the struggle Flern had to go through to get her to stop calling her “Lady.”

“I don’t know, exactly,” Wlvn admitted. “A rest from a bit of the winter, perhaps. Normally I imagine it is not such a good idea to return to a place where my grandchildren might still be running around, but in our case, there are not a lot of options.”

“Grandchildren?” The word came from Shana who listened in when she was not busy holding on.

Wlvn nodded. “According to the Storyteller’s estimate, Faya died in 4086 BC at the age of sixty. Faya’s cousin Raini would have been about fifty-six or so. Kartesh was born around the same year and also live sixty years. Then I was born around 4026 BC. That means Faya was alive here a bit less than eighty years ago. She could easily have grandchildren still around, or great-grandchildren anyway.”

“But Faya lived mostly with the Were, did she not? I was going to ask about Carolen,” Laurel said.

Wlvn nodded again. “Carolen is a grandson, but the Were have longer life spans. They generally live about 120 years to the human sixty.”

“And Raini, Faya’s cousin?”

“Vrya was honestly her mother. Raini, a beauty herself, also became a most capable warrior. I don’t know how long she lived, but she certainly had children. I met one of her descendants when I was in Flern’s time.”

“Kartesh?” Shana had a question that backed the conversation up a few steps. She did not keep up with all the nuances.

“Egyptian, originally,” Wlvn turned to her. “She helped the Agdaline, a people from space, return to the skies, and discovered dragons in the process.”

“Dragons?” Neither Shana nor Laurel knew the word.

Wlvn nodded once again. “A great and terrible flying worm that breathes fire. I believe there are a couple right now in Egypt and one or two somewhere in the Middle East or the Sinai. We barely escaped being eaten by one in Flern’s day. When they are small, they are a perfect defense for the slower-than-light ships of the Agdaline. Anyone attempting to board the ships will be eaten, while the Agdaline sleep peacefully in their cryogenic chambers. They were bred to respond to simple Agdaline commands, and when they are small, they are fascinating and obedient creatures if you speak the tongue. Of course, they live for maybe a thousand years, and when they get big, they are dangerous. Often, they develop enough minds of their own to ignore the command words. Even the Agdaline eject them from their ships when they reach a certain size and age.” Wlvn stopped talking. He clearly paused to think about the matter. He rejected the idea after a moment, because as big as dragons got, the big ones were too uncontrollable. Instead of attacking the Titan that they probably would not be able to defeat, they might take the easier route and just start eating the people and their horses. And then what would he do with them?

Laurel and Shana were meanwhile looking at each other. “I understood some of that,” Laurel said.

“Not much,” Shana admitted, and they both nodded like Wlvn.

By then they reached the gate in the stockade which stood open but guarded. They stopped, but when Thred stopped moving, Shana started to lose her seat. Wlvn caught her well enough, but that left Laurel to speak to the guards.

“Faya has come in the form of Wlvn to see if there are children or grandchildren he may visit,” she said. From anyone else it might have sounded ridiculous, but from the mouth of an elf it gave the guards something to think about. One whispered to another who ran off at top speed. Wlvn gave Laurel a stern look, but then he wanted to ask what the guard whispered, knowing full well that Laurel’s good elf ears heard. Laurel just smiled at him with her best elfish grin.

“Paybacks for threatening to find you a husband, huh?” Wlvn surmised. Laurel said nothing but kept grinning, broadly.

Some time passed before they saw people coming to the gate. An old woman came in the midst of the group and Wlvn could not believe his eyes. “Raini!” He shouted. She had to be nearly a hundred and forty years old.

“Faya?” The old woman looked up.

Wlvn took Shana’s hand and placed it in Laurel’s hand. Then he let himself slide into time so Faya could come and stand in his place. Faya flew through the gate, and no one dared to stop her. She hugged her old cousin who walked with a cane, helped by several gentlemen. She cried on Raini’s shoulder, and Raini cried as well. Everyone else backed away and the rest of Wlvn’s crew came up only to wait inside the gate.

When Raini could talk, and in her age, she had less tears than Faya, she asked a simple question. “So, what trouble have you brought us this time?”

“Oh, Raini. None I hope,” Faya responded as Raini started to hobble to the village center square. Faya helped her walk but knew the help was not entirely needed. Raini remained a demi-goddess after all, even if she got older than time.

“So you say, but trouble follows you as close as your little ones.”

“Not always. We had some quiet years,” Faya defended herself.

The old woman looked up at Faya as she walked. “Don’t get me wrong. I look forward to some trouble. I’ve been bored out of my mind these last forty years.”

“Raini!”

“Mother thinks I need some peace and quiet in my age, but the boredom is what is killing me.”

They came to the square and Faya saw her perch just where it always sat, and the big copper bell hung beneath. Raini needed help to step up on the small platform, but she needed no help to grab the bell clapper and ring the bell with authority. People came running, and soon the square filled with curious faces. After a moment, Raini leaned on her cane and spoke loud for all to hear.

“Beauty has returned to our village,” she said, and she hardly had to point out Faya because her beauty was obvious. “We are forewarned. I hope we will have peace, but I expect trouble will not be far behind. We need to double the watch on the walls and see what comes.” She turned to Faya and spoke quietly. “Now let me see what you look like in this life.” Faya looked at the crowd and hesitated. That was one thing the Kairos normally did not like to do in front of a crowd of people because people talked and one day, they would begin to write down the stories they talked about. “Come, come.” Raini insisted. Faya leaned over and gave Raini a kiss on the cheek and then got out of the way so Wlvn could return to his place and time.

“Pushy,” Wlvn said it before Raini could smile. A number of people in the crowd gasped, but at least none fainted. Faya had been known to be a shape shifter, after all, the queen of the Were.

“This is what Faya looks like now,” Raini said. “You will listen to him as you would to Faya or myself, especially when the trouble comes.” Raini stopped speaking and immediately started to get off the platform. Wlvn had to jump to catch her and help her. “So, what trouble are you into now? I just want to have some idea what we might be facing.” Raini started them back toward the gate.

Wlvn shook his head, but Raini squeezed his hand. Wlvn had strength given from Thor himself, but Raini, being a demi-goddess, made Wlvn quickly extract his hand with an “Ouch. Okay. I’m supposed to kill a Titan, one I would guess the gods have promised not to injure.”

“And?” Raini wanted the full story.

“And Loki is supposed to be spying on the Titan, but everyone knows he has his own agenda, and that involves keeping the Titan alive.”

“And?”

“And Eir is a prisoner of Loki, but one day Nameless will marry her, assuming things work out.”

“Faya’s reflection.” Raini knew who Nameless was, being his half-sister, both being children of Vrya. “And?”

“And that is it. Really.”

“Kill a Titan, deal with Loki, save the maiden. It is enough. I will think on this and meanwhile, let me meet your wife and friends.”

Reflections Wlvn-13 part 1 of 3

Wlvn woke up to find Mother Vrya bending over him. Shana sat close by his side when all of his missing memory rushed back into his head. That missing spring and summer got spent with the swan people. He married Shana in April. She sat, nearly eight months pregnant with their first, and she cried. He hugged her, and like Flern he had to reach around the baby to do it. Of course, that just made her cry all the harder, and Wlvn looked over her shoulder, but Vrya just smiled and shrugged.

“There are complications?” It became Wlvn’s first thought.

Mother Vrya shook her head. “Not so far, but the swan people and humans have not mated before. I just want to be sure. Don’t worry. Young Apollo has agreed to assist here on the edge of the world. He is over a hundred now and allowed out. Eir might help, but she is rather young and at present she is a little busy.”

Wlvn felt the anger rise up in his heart. It came mostly from Nameless, but not entirely. Wlvn, and every life he lived in time felt the anger because of Eir’s captivity to Loki and the Titan. They were outraged at the abject slavery of the people and determined to do something about it. Of course, Wlvn still felt afraid at the prospect of facing the Titan, but his determination to end things now became stronger than his fear. Wlvn wrenched his thoughts back from his feelings.

“What of my friends?”

“Here, but first you have to hear the truth of the matter.” Vrya put her fingers to her lips and let out a shrill whistle. Two people appeared, a young man and a young woman who did not look much more than a hundred themselves. Two hundred, perhaps, Wlvn thought as he smiled and recognized them. He turned to face them but left his arm around Shana’s shoulders to comfort and protect her in the face of the gods.

“Ares and Aphrodite,” Vrya introduced their guests, and Wlvn nodded. “And you have something to tell my son, even if he is not my son.”

Ares stepped up. “You seek the golden hind?”

Wlvn affirmed that with a nod and a word. “There is a Titan that is overdue to join his ancestors.”

“Father already burnt them all,” Ares shrugged.

“Zeus?”

“That’s him,” Aphrodite said, stepped up beside her brother and turned to Vrya. “These two are warm. Hot for each other.” Aphrodite smiled and the smile looked perfect on that perfect face. Mother Vrya just matched the smile.

“Sorry, kid.” Ares finished his thought as they all heard a banging sound begin outside the cave entrance. Wlvn smiled at who called who a kid, but he became too concerned about the sound to say anything. It sounded like someone hammering rocks to make gravel.

The gods moved to the cave entrance and Wlvn followed and held tight to Shana’s hand, so she came right beside him. What Wlvn saw shocked him for a second, but it did not really surprise him. A Cyclops, a giant about eighteen or so feet tall, had a club that looked like a tree ripped from its roots. And he yelled.

“Give me the red headed girl.” He said that several times and smashed his club against the rocks for emphasis. Wlvn saw that the horses had scattered across the field and his friends hunkered down in the rocks, except Boritz who kept sticking his head up while Andrea kept pulling him back down. The Cyclops had an arrow in his left cheek and another in his right shoulder, but he did not seem too bothered by them. And at least, after that bit of foolhardy courage, Moriah and Laurel appeared to be keeping their heads down with everyone else

Wlvn stopped. The gods looked at him, so he knew they were waiting for him to make the first move. He turned and shouted at the Cyclops. “Hey! Tub-o-lard. Yeah, you with the fat belly. Old one eye.” Shana stared at Wlvn like he had gone mad, but Aphrodite giggled, Vrya covered her smile and Ares let out a big guffaw.

“What?” the Cyclops turned to face the cave entrance when he realized he was being called.

“I hate picking on the defenseless,” Wlvn admitted to Vrya, and he shrugged in a way that indicated she would be welcome to intervene.

“What?” Ares did not catch what he said. “Your friends don’t appear to be damaged.”

“Don’t worry,” Vrya smiled for Wlvn. “We will send him home. Come on.” She took Ares by the arm, and they flew up to face the creature with the one eye.

“Husband?” Shana did not quite understand either.

“Aren’t you going with them?” Wlvn asked Aphrodite and pointed at Vrya and Ares. He imagined a moment alone with Shana.

“No,” she said. “I’ll just stay here and warm myself.” She stuck her hands out toward the couple and rubbed them gently. “Better than a cozy fire.”

“Oh?” Wlvn gave Shana a brief kiss and she looked like that would never be enough, but Wlvn had something in mind. “Excuse me,” he said, and left that place so Diogenes could be there. Diogenes turned to Aphrodite, caught her up in his arms and planted a passionate kiss smack on her luscious lips. Aphrodite did not resist. In fact, steam came out of her ears, almost cartoon-like. When he let go, he traded again so Wlvn could come home and kiss his wife.

“Hey! I wasn’t finished.” Aphrodite protested.

“Sorry,” Wlvn apologized to Shana, but she just grinned.

“I don’t mind. I did not marry Diogenes or any of the others. Just you.”

“Good,” Wlvn said, “Because me and my son only want to be with you.”

“And me with you.”

“And with you.”

Aphrodite stomped her foot. “Oh, kiss her already!” They were doing that very thing and Aphrodite grinned at them when Vrya and Ares returned, and the others vacated the rocks to run up.

“I think we better go,” Ares said as he took Aphrodite by the hand and dragged her off with her protesting.

“But I’m not finished.”

“Me too,” Mother Vrya said, and she gave both Wlvn and Shana a kiss on the cheek. “I have young ones to watch.”

“Gndr and Strn, are they behaving?” Wlvn asked quickly, though his eyes never left Shana’s happy face.

Vrya shrugged. “They are boys. But Brmr is very cute.” She vanished.

“Wlvn.” Wlkn became the first to name him.

“You’re back.” Moriah looked happy.

“Lord.” Badl tipped his hat.

Boritz’s eyes got big. “You look just like her, my Red I mean.”

“I had forgotten how much,” Andrea admitted.

Elleya said nothing and everyone paused to stare at her for a second to be sure she was all right. Laurel also said nothing. She just lowered her eyes.

“Laurel,” Wlvn spoke to her as if none of the others were present. “She is here, and here.” Wlvn touched his head and his heart. “And she says you will always be her friend and she can’t wait to see you again all grown up. Please don’t be sad.”

Laurel looked up and found a little tear in her eye, but she tried to smile.

“Everyone.” Wlvn turned his attention to the group. “This is my wife, Shana. And as you can see, we have been married for some time.” He placed a gentle hand on her tummy and the baby, and Shana let out her most satisfied smile.

Everyone said hello, welcome and congratulations, and then Elleya spoke. “You mean I don’t have to marry you?”

“No. I thought you were going to marry Skinny Wlkn.”

“Oh, yes, please.” She stepped up and grabbed the poor man and kissed him hard on the lips.

“Lost cause, that one,” Badl said only to find himself grabbed and put in a lip lock by Moriah. He did not seem to mind.

“Don’t look at me,” Andrea said. “I wasn’t going to marry you in the first place.” And she grabbed Boritz and dragged his head down to her lips.

“Poor Laurel,” Shana said, and looked up at Wlvn.

Wlvn rubbed his chin and tried to look serious. “Yes, we will have to find someone for her, don’t you think? It should be someone nice.”

“Yes, very nice.”

Laurel took a step back and raised her hands like she might be warding off a curse. “You wouldn’t. Oh no, you couldn’t. I’m too young. I’m just a child. Oh no, you wouldn’t, would you?”

Wlvn did not answer because Thred trotted up at that moment. Wlvn reached for the horse, but Thred ignored Wlvn and nosed up to Shana. His wife treated the horse like a loyal puppy, and Wlvn thought if Thred had been a puppy, it would lick her face with kisses.

“Well, I don’t blame you,” he said to the horse. “Maybe we should round up the whole herd and go visit the village Boritz and Andrea wanted to visit.”

“We aren’t going on?” Andrea asked and Laurel and Badl looked confused by the question as well.

“No point,” Wlvn said. “The golden hind are a dead end. Nothing to do but go back to square one.” He lifted Shana gently up to Thred’s back and helped her sit as comfortable as possible, sidesaddle, without a saddle. He understood at eight months, honestly no position could be comfortable, but he did what he could, and she was kind enough not to complain.

When the others arrived, he set out walking and leading Thred by the reins, and they all fell in line. Mostly they whispered, though he heard Boritz ask how Wlvn could know his name since they never met. He smiled because he and Flern were properly connected again, and he realized what an empty hole that left in him when she became inaccessible.

Wlkn inched up beside him, Elleya dutifully on his heels. “But square one is where the Titan is.” Wlkn looked scared.

Wlvn shrugged. He felt scared too, likely frightened out of his mind, but he had to do something. Everyone kept depending on him. Exactly what to do about it was the problem. He shrugged it off for the moment and went back to his thoughts about Flern. Of course, he knew Boritz. He knew what Flern knew and now Flern knew what he knew as well.

Reflections Wlvn-12 part 3 of 3

Flern needed a minute to collect herself. She still shook from the attack of the night creatures. The others, and certainly Wlkn could not blame her.

“Who is in there?” Andrea pointed at the cave as Boritz stepped up and took her hand.

“Mother Vrya,” Flern responded. “Sylvan, I suppose. I don’t know who else.”

“Well,” Badl said. “A bit of practical might help at this point. I say the rest of us need to camp here and wait. No telling how long she might be in there.” Moriah agreed, and they set about making a fire.

“I know this place.” Boritz looked up the mountain. “There is a mountain village not far from here. They might be encouraged to trade so we might get some supplies.”

“I think we should stay where we are,” Laurel said. “We can find our own supplies.”

“Vote on it,” Flern said.

“What does it mean, vote?” Elleya asked. No one was quite sure, so Flern explained.

“How many want to try the mountain village?” She asked. “Raise your hands.” Boritz, Andrea and Elleya all raised their hands. “Put your hands down. And how many want to stay here and wait?” Wlkn, Badl, Moriah and Laurel all raised their hands with Elleya. “Elleya, you can’t vote for both.

“I want to stay with my Wilken,” she said.

“All right,” Flern responded. “So the vote is five to two in favor of staying here. So everyone voted and you can stay here until I am done.”

“But what is to keep us from going to the village anyway?” Andrea asked.

“Nothing,” Flern said. “But the group voted to stay here so you will be going on your own. It depends on what you feel is most important, going to the village or keeping the group together.”

“I see.” Boritz rubbed his chin. “That certainly settles things much better than trial by wrestling.”

“Less bloody, too.” Badl agreed.

“You should go.” Laurel encouraged Flern and Moriah nodded her support over Laurel’s shoulder.

Flern shook her head, looked down at the dirt and spoke just loud enough to be heard. “I’m afraid.”

“Of what?” Boritz looked surprised. “Red, I can’t imagine anything in the entire world that you can’t handle. I have seen you in action. You fly, you are as strong as I am, you are faster than anyone, you carry weapons the like of which have never been imagined, and these little ones, as you call them, jump at the chance to do what you ask. Why, you just navigated the Were plateau safely. Hella’s lair, you got the Were to do your will besides. And that doesn’t even count the people you have stored up inside. I would think we have not seen the half of it.”

It was a big speech, but Andrea had to quiet the man as she saw it started having an effect on Flern the opposite of what was intended.

Flern’s face turned red, and her eyes began to glare. The anger did not take long to come out. “I failed,” she shrieked and threw her hands up. “I lead the ghouls straight to that innocent village and many good people died and many more were injured for me. Heck, I was not content with just getting people killed. I had to fetch a bunch of dwarfs to get killed, too. And all because I was afraid and wanted to be safe and protected. Then what? I lead us up the mountain and would have made things worse for you all if Carpasis had not interfered. All I did was make the giants angry. Then I did not dig the pit wide enough, and I wasn’t smart enough to think the night creatures might be burrowers. I would have got us all killed, again, if Father Vry had not shown up.”

“You helped the unicorn,” Moriah reminded her.

“Whoop-de-doo.” Flern rolled her eyes.

Flern spouted. “I honestly don’t even know why you are all still here. If it was me following someone who clearly does not want to lead and has no idea how to lead anyone except from one disaster to another, I would run for my life.”

“Now hold on,” Skinny Wlkn stepped up and Flern shut up for the moment. “I knew Wlvn since he was a little thing, and I came along to share my older head with him, but since I got young again, I learned two things. First, that Wlvn and I are now friends, and second, that Wlvn has a wisdom in him that I cannot hope to fathom; the same as I see in you. It helps me see that you two really are the same person after all. But then we found Badl and Moriah, and I feel they are here of their own free will, and to be sure, I don’t think you will be able to find one without the other after this journey.” Moriah looked at Badl and he puffed out his chest while she looked away and her elf ears turned scarlet. “She is his Moriah after all. But then we found Elleya, and I thought she might be happier with her own people, but I see that she is like the rest. She is here by her own free will.”

Elleya sat and she raised both hands and both feet. “See, I am voting to stay with my Wilken,” she said. “I make four votes because I have feet. I never had feet before, but I don’t mind as long as I am with my Wilken—”  Wlkn looked at her and she took a breath before she continued. “You see? I am learning. When my Wilken is saying something important, I have to be quiet and listen.” Wlkn put a gentle hand across her mouth, and she looked up at him and nodded before he removed it.

Flern let out a little giggle because the Storyteller kept quoting Bugs Bunny in her head. “Shad-up shadding-up.”

Wlkn continued. “Then we found Andrea and Boritz, and I think they found each other. And just so you know, no one would think less of them if they decided to go up to the village.”

“No,” Andrea spoke with only a glance at Boritz. “I think we will stay with the group and finish this adventure.”

Wlkn nodded. “And that leaves young Laurel.” He quickly waved off contrary comments. “Believe it or not, she is younger than me. But I think she has attached herself to Flern.”

“Attached like a remora to a shark,” Elleya interrupted. Not the best image, but Flern knew what she meant.

Wlkn nodded and had one more thing to say. “The only thing left is to tell you, Flern. We all care about Wlvn and are concerned about him. He has our devotion, though Boritz has not met him. But since you have been here, we have all come to love you dearly and I think we would do whatever we can to see you succeed at this quest. And Wlvn, just to be straight, you make a very fine-looking young woman.”

Flern felt the tears come up into her eyes and thought it best to turn toward the cliff. A moment later she spoke softly. “I love you all, too,” and she headed into the cave.

Flern did not walk very far before she heard a sound that made her stop still. It sounded like a girl, a young woman crying, and after a few quiet steps, Flern saw the girl around the corner, sitting on a rock. She seemed lovely. She looked beautiful despite the tears and maybe more so because of them. What Flern felt for this girl seemed very strange to her, but the only word she could use to describe the feeling was love.

Flern loved her friends, both here and back home, but that would not exactly describe how she felt at the moment. It was not friendship she felt. It felt like more. She loved Kined, when she got honest with herself, and had loved him for years. She would marry Kined, but that was not the kind of love she felt here, either. She honestly did not go that way, to quote Ydunna. She loved her family. That felt closer to the truth, but not exactly right. She loved her little ones, even the mean ones and the knuckleheads, and she loved her horse, and Wlvn’s horse Thred had been great, but nothing she could think of fit the parameters. Still, she knew she loved this girl dearly, even though this was the first she saw her, and what is more, that love brought a name to mind.

“Shana. Why are you crying?”

Shana stopped crying in an instant and stood up, startled. Flern saw that the girl was very pregnant. Shana took one look at Flern, and the wailing returned.

Flern stepped forward. ”But Shana, you are going to have a baby. You should be happy,” and she reached out to hug the girl, but Shana pulled back.

“No, Flern. Not you.”

“But where is your husband?” Flern asked, and Shana just wailed all the louder and flew into Flern’s arms. Flern did her best to bend around the baby and comfort the girl as words came slowly.

“He is gone. Maybe forever. The goddess brought me here. She said things are complicated. No Doctor. Apollo might help. My son.” On that last word, Shana stopped crying, grabbed Flern’s hand and put it to her belly. “Look,” she said. “Look, he is kicking.”

“I feel him,” Flern got caught up in the excitement. “Such a strong baby. Oh, good for you, I am so happy for you.”

“Uh-huh. His father is very strong, and wonderful.” Shana stopped and looked ready to fall back into tears. “But maybe I will never see him again.”

Flern found her own tears as she spoke. “It can’t be that bad. At least you will have a son to remember him. I have nothing. Kined and I never—and now I might never see him again. I want a baby.” Flern got ready to cry but stopped when she saw Shana with big eyes.

“You have a husband?” It sounded like something Shana never considered.

“I don’t know. He has not asked me yet. Now he might never get the chance to ask.”

“Oh, but that is wonderful.” Flern looked at Shana, like the girl might be slightly mad. How could her and Kined be wonderful if she might never see him again? “I never thought that you might have a man. All this time I thought you were a man that got changed into a woman.”

“No.” Flern smiled at the thought. “I was born a girl, or I will be about six hundred years from now. Wlvn is the man.” Flern stopped and stared as Shana started to grin. Flern pointed to the baby in Shana’s belly. “Wlvn?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Wlvn is your husband?”

“Uh-huh.” And suddenly everything became clear in Flern’s mind. She loved Shana in a way that perhaps no other human being in all of time might understand. Not the love for a friend or a spouse or family, though family might come closest to the mark.

“And you are the swan.” Flern got on a roll.

“Uh-huh.”

Flern rolled her eyes. “Leave it to Wlvn to turn down the mermaid, the lovely half-elf and the beauty of Greece for a Swan Princess.”

“Swan Princess?”

“Your father is the chief?”

“Oh, yes, though not exactly in the way you understand the word.”

“Uh-huh,” Flern imitated Shana. “Now I really have to go home so Wlvn can come back here. I would make a lousy husband. Besides, I want a baby of my own.”

“I don’t blame you. Mine is wonderful.”

“Mother Vrya!” Flern called.

“Goddess?” Shana sounded more tentative, but they walked deeper into the cave, hand in hand, like the best sisters ever.

“And there you are,” Vrya said. “Come Flern. Lie down.” They had a bed in the cave fitted between the stalactites and stalagmites and Flern found that a bit strange. She did as requested but immediately sat up.

“Shana said you said there are complications. Shouldn’t Doctor Mishka be here?”

“There is more than a month. It’s not time yet. Lie down.”

Flern sat up again. “But what are you doing.”

Vrya pushed her shoulders to get her down this time. “The same thing I will do six hundred years from now with Wlvn. Now, be good. This is not just an accidental double trade with two of your lifetimes. This is a trade of reflections and that seriously complicates things. Exponentially, as Martok might say.”

“Martok?”

“Hush. Sleep.” And Flern did.

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

MONDAY

Wlvn returns to find he will not get the help he needs and it is time to face the Titan, ready or not.  Until Monday, Happy Reading

*

Reflections Wlvn-12 part 2 of 3

Everyone looked startled, except Laurel, and the lions gave Andrea and Boritz a double start since they understood what lions were. At least Andrea did not shriek.

“Oh, yes,” Elleya clapped her hands. “They are lovely.” Wlkn thought that perhaps it might be because they moved with grace, like a fish in water.

“Good to see you again.” Andrea said to the lionesses, and they appeared to nod in her direction before they settled down beside a tree to watch. The old man sat comfortably by the fire and looked around the circle of faces before he spoke again.

“The god of light said our great queen would return to us and we should guard and protect her in her journey across the land. Some of us were unable to believe this word since she died some seventy-eight years ago now, in the days when I was just a little pup. Some of us remembered, though, that the Queen was the daughter of the god of light, so he ought to know, and we remembered the last time we crossed the gods. Those were difficult days, when Aesgard and Vanheim were at war. We were threatened with invasion and our very lives were at risk, so we all agreed to wait and see. Now I have come to clear up the mystery.”

No one said anything, but several fingers pointed at Flern.

“I see,” the old man said. “But the evidence is not clear. Your hair is much too brown, not Beauty’s flaming red, and though you travel with the spirits of the earth, the exact relationship between our queen and these spirits is unclear.” He waved generally at Laurel, Badl and Moriah. “They say Queen Faya counted among the gods in some way, and she could change her human shape after a fashion, even before she became as one of us.”

Flern looked down at the fire and at the moment she honestly did not care how much the others understood or not. “I was Faya in another life, but I cannot seem to reach her for some reason. The Storyteller says my first eighteen lives are out of bounds for the most part, like if I go back into those days, I might inadvertently change something vital in my character and make-up, though I don’t see how that would matter. I suppose it would be like changing your childhood in some way, you know, the root of your personality and such. I don’t know. Anyway, Nameless says he would not mind trading places for a bit. He has the red hair and black eyes—you forgot to mention the eyes, and he says he would not mind visiting with an old friend, if that is all right with you, Carolen. It is Carolen, isn’t it?”

The old man raised his eyebrows. He knew full well he had not given his name.

“Here, take my hand.” Flern said and reached out. “And Moriah, take my other hand.” Moriah had to scoot around to do that. “And don’t let go no matter what. Nameless says it is sort of a tradition.” Carolen the Were moved slow to hold this mortal’s hand, but he did at the last, and Flern went away and Nameless immediately took her place; but no, it was not Nameless. Faya herself, who had been there all along on the edge of Flern’s consciousness, waiting patiently for this time. Both hand holders let go despite their promises. Moriah had to put her hand to her mouth to avoid the shriek of surprise. Carolen had to turn because a great eagle landed, hopped up two steps and transformed into a young man. The lions got up at this sight and their tails began to twitch with agitation.

“Lord Carolen.” The young man spoke and gave a slight bow. “There are creatures in the valley of the harvest moon. Borello the bear stood against them, but they killed him with hardly a scratch on their hides. They stripped him of every bit of flesh in no time and have crunched most of his bones as well, and they are headed this way at a rapid pace.”

“How long before they arrive?” Carolen asked.

“Six hours, maybe five. It is hard to tell.”

“Enough time to set a trap.” Faya interrupted, and Carolen looked at her for the first time. He paused and swallowed while Faya put her hand to his cheek and stroked it gently. “You are my good little boy,” she said with a truly warm smile, and Carolen fell to his knees, weeping.

“Now, I need three owls.” Faya said. She turned to the lions and placed a slim, thoughtful finger against her cheek. “Do you children know where I might find them?” The cats did not hesitate to change to owls and receive their instructions. “Stay away from those nasty creatures, but I need to know their progress. Fly high and keep us informed. Be careful, my children.” And the owls took to the air and disappeared in the night sky.

“Now, I need diggers.” Faya spoke to the man who had arrived as an eagle. “You need to fetch that little army you have near here and on the double. It takes a deep pit to trap a tiger.”

Five hours later, the group stood at the far end of a large upland meadow apart from Andrea and Elleya who held the horses a hundred yards further back by the edge of the trees. There were lions and tigers, bears and bristle-backed boar, wolves and other predators all around the edges of the meadow, and there were eagles, falcons and hawks in the trees, watching. Any ordinary human would have been frightened to death to know what hovered around them in that field, but they hoped the night creatures would not see it as anything but nature and anyway, by that point, the humans who stood as bait were only frightened by what was coming.

An hour yet before sunlight, when the moon still stood in the sky, it shed its light on the meadow so shadows and movement could be seen in a twilight sort of way all across the field. Skinny Wlkn saw the night creature first, the scout that came in front of the others. The beast came to the center of the field, stopped still like a statue and a wail went up—a great sound of sorrow and helplessness. It echoed from the trees and got answered by the sound of a baby cry.

Ten minutes later, the first creature was joined by a second and in another ten minutes the rear guard came. The three night creatures edged forward together, but instead of the growls and roars the people expected, and the charge they anticipated, the creatures all began to wail and cry out like they lost their reason to live.

“They are looking for Wlvn,” Badl suggested.

Faya shook her head. “Loki knows at this point that Wlvn traded with Flern. I imagine these have been reprogrammed to look for Flern.”

“They probably tracked the group,” Boritz began.

“Perhaps the horses,” Laurel interjected.

“But they are likely hunting for Red,” Boritz finished.

Faya agreed. “Then we must give her to them,” she said it, but it took a moment of internal argument to convince Flern to return. Faya stepped forward to the edge of the semicircular pit that was twelve feet wide and twelve feet deep and she stopped. After another moment, Faya went away and Flern returned, trembling.

At once, the sound of the creatures changed from wailing to roaring and the charge was on. Flern steeled herself. She could not see them well until they were nearly in her face, but the first stumbled into the pit, the second tried to jump the pit and did not make it across, but the third one did. Flern immediately shot up into the air. She could not exactly fly like Wlvn, but she could float out of reach.

With a night creature beneath her feet, leaping to get at her, the whole plan went bust. They hoped to get all the creatures in the pit. Boritz, Badl, Wlkn, Moriah and Laurel would come with their bows while Faya floated up and let out a stronger light than Flern could produce. The Were planned to run from hiding and bring their bows as well, so altogether they could turn the night creatures into pin cushions. But one made it across the pit and now the humans were backing away and the Were did not know what to do.

Flern changed back to Faya all the same, which appeared to confuse the night creature at first. She let out enough of her natural light so everyone could see. It was the heritage of her father, Vry, god of the sun, but all it did was show the night creature as it turned to face Flern’s friends.  Then something rather unexpected happened. One of the night creatures in the pit had burrowed its way back to the surface, and the third appeared not far behind.

Faya chided herself for not thinking things through. Of course, these creatures had to be able to burrow into the earth to keep out of the light when the sun rose. Even as Faya prepared to change back to Flern and her friends looked ready to make a dash for the horses, a man appeared in their midst. The light that came from him looked like the thunderbolt Odin gave to Wlvn, but subtler, more filled with light than power. He made a light that made everyone blink and shut their eyes tight so only Faya could watch. Her eyes alone could handle the sun. All three creatures shriveled under the light, and the wails they let out were the cries of pain and death. Then it was over and Faya flew into the arms of the man.

“Father,” she said.

He grinned and gave her a big fatherly hug before he let her go and spoke. “But you should not be here,” he sighed. “I miss you very much and love you dearly, daughter, but you should not be here.”

“And I love you, Father” Faya said and let herself return to the past so Flern could return to the present.

“You know,” the man said. “Odin has forbidden us from interfering with the Titan, but I figured these were creatures of Loki and not strictly speaking the Titan. I may get in trouble.” The man shrugged as Flern found the courage to take the man’s arm and speak.

“Why should you get in trouble for coming to see your daughter?”

The man smiled, like that might be an angle he had not considered.

“Boritz, Wlkn, Moriah, this is Vry, Faya’s father.” Flern felt she did not have to introduce Vry to Laurel and Badl since the little ones instinctively knew the gods and since they were already down on one knee.

Vry patted Flern’s hand in a very fatherly way as he spoke. “Yes, but unlike my sister, I do not feel I have earned the right to call Flern my daughter even when she is not my daughter. My fault, I’m afraid.”

“An old story,” Flern assured him there were no hard feelings as she looked up at the man who hardly looked old enough to be anyone’s father.

“And a long one,” Vry admitted. “But now I believe my sister has need of you, and they all vanished from that place along with Andrea, Elleya and the horses and appeared at the foot of the mountains on the far side of the plateau. They found a big cave there, one that Elleya said would make a fine grotto in the sea, and Vry pointed to it as he spoke to Flern. “In there,” he said. “She is waiting.” And he vanished from their midst.

Reflections Wlvn-12 part 1 of 3

They did not go far that evening before they set camp on the edge of the plateau itself. The mountains around were alpine in flavor, filled with coniferous pine and spruce, but the plateau, surrounded by mountains on three sides, got made up of very wide hills and valleys and filled with deciduous trees, birch, oak and elm. The snow did not seem so evident, but it did pile up in drifts here and there, especially in the higher places.

Morning came before Wlkn asked the inevitable question. “So, what are the Were?”

“Shape shifters.” Boritz gave the short answer. He kept looking all around, alert and concerned. He felt it only a matter of time before they got spotted. He argued vigorously for the rough mountain path that went miles out of the way but skirted the plateau itself.

“They live mostly in human form, but they take the shape and characteristics of animals, especially for the hunt,” Badl said. “The most common forms are the eagle, the bear and the wolf, and they generally stick with the hunter animals, but of course they might appear as any animal, at any time.”

“Like that hawk?” Moriah asked, and pointed up into the dim light of the early morning sky.

Badl nodded. “They have probably already seen us.”

Laurel spoke out of her own experience. “I have come this way three times before, but always as a spirit of the earth, and the Were mostly respect the earth. I have never come with solid, flesh and blood people whom they consider intruders in their territory.”

“One thing you must remember,” Badl continued. “Some say when they take the animal shape, they actually become the animal, but they never stop being smart, so they are more than just the animal, and the Were are very smart.” By then, Wlkn, Elleya and Andrea had joined Boritz in looking around in every direction and wondered how long it might be before they had to defend themselves. Elleya let out her stress, verbally, and that prompted Flern to ride out ahead. Laurel followed.

“I need some time alone,” Flern protested.

“I know the way,” Laurel responded softly. “There are turns.” She said no more for a while, but when she saw the small tears in Flern’s eyes, she had to speak. “My Lady is thinking of her family?”

Flern nodded slowly. “And my friends,” she said softly. Human ears might not have heard the words over the sounds of the morning forest and the tromping of the horses across the meadow, but Laurel’s elf ears were not human ears.

“My Lord Wlvn will care for them,” she assured Flern.

“I know,” Flern said. “Even if I cannot get in touch with him just now—since we double traded—I know he will care for them as much as I care for this crew of misfits, and you, young as you are.” Flern gave Laurel a wry smile, but Laurel did not know how to take that, exactly. Flern went on, though she lowered her eyes and her voice as she spoke. “It’s just that I thought I might be falling in love, and maybe he was ready to love me, too. Wlvn can’t do anything about that, and…” She paused to wipe her eyes. “Now I may never know for sure.”

Laurel rode quietly for a long time before she spoke again. “I was thinking about falling in love, myself,” she said in her own soft voice, so Flern had to strain a little to hear. “It seems strange to me, an odd thing to be made, but wonderful in a way, I suppose. I never thought much about it before.” Flern looked up. Laurel was over fifty years old, but she never thought much about love? Then again, she did look to be closer to twelve or thirteen. Flern knew that for all of the wisdom these earth spirits gleaned over the centuries that they lived; they were nevertheless very slow on certain aspects of life—all that was not native to their work in the world. The gods, she knew, were even slower about some things, and Flern thought that there might be a law there, like maybe she could call it the law of compression. When fifty or sixty years was all you got, a lot of living had to be compressed into that short time. Humans did not have the luxury of time to waste, but then that thought just made her cry again. She kept thinking about Kined and kept missing him terribly, and she felt like she was losing her time. Kined was always such a good friend, so kind and wise, even when he chased after Elluin. He felt like a security blanket for her soul, and she needed him, especially in this harsh and primitive winter world into which she had fallen.

All that morning, no one saw anything for sure because the Were were indistinguishable from the animals they imitated. When lunch came, they found a nice, sheltered hollow where they dismounted, hobbled the horses, started a small fire, and all without saying a word until Boritz could no longer control his tongue.

“This is madness.” He barely breathed the words, even as an old hawk came swooping in, to light on a branch well out of reach. They all watched the hawk for a minute, but it did not appear to be going away. It looked content to preen its feathers and watch them from the safety of its perch. After a while, they all tried to ignore it.

“Should we hunt?” Moriah asked, having spotted some deer on a nearby hill, and at least one rabbit hole near the hollow.

“Dare not,” Badl said. “We might accidentally harm a Were and then that would be it for us.”

“I am no stranger to hunger, if it keeps us safe,” Wlkn said. He still looked at the hawk that looked at him.

Boritz took a stick and stirred the fire while Andrea sat quietly beside him. Elleya stayed unnaturally quiet beside Wlkn, and Badl just looked hungry sitting beside Moriah. Laurel spoke softly to Flern. “Any luck yet?” Flern shook her head, but in the gloom of that moment, everyone heard and so Flern had to explain.

“I am trying to get in touch with Faya, but so far I haven’t had any luck.”

“Who is Faya?” Andrea asked.

“Me,” Flern said, though it did not answer the question. “Faya was queen among the Were two lifetimes ago, I think. She seems to be the Nameless God’s reflection the way I am Wlvn’s reflection.”

“A goddess?”

“A half-goddess, I think, though I am not sure about her parentage. I am pretty sure, though, that she reflects the Nameless God in a lesser degree in the same way I reflect in lesser ways the gifts that have been given to Wlvn.”

“She might help?” Wlkn sounded ready to grasp at anything.

Flern nodded. “I think she might get us safe passage through the Were lands even if she lived a hundred years ago or so.” She looked at Laurel.

“Before I was born,” Laurel confirmed, and that meant at the very least sixty years ago.

“Anyway, I have not been able to touch her life, and Nameless is being stubborn. He won’t open a door for me. He says I have to reach her myself, or not as the case may be.” Flern scooted closer to the fire, leaned over to put her chin in her hand, and stared into the fire for a bit.

“Well, I could use something to eat,” Boritz said, and he got out the last of the food they brought from the village below the mountain. They had pitifully little, but even Badl knew not to complain. It would have to do.

When they started out again, they noticed that the hawk had gone, but Laurel and Moriah, and then Boritz, and soon all of them felt that they were being shadowed. “I can smell them,” Badl whispered to Moriah who nodded and with big eyes tried to spot what her elf ears picked up.

When they stopped for the evening, Badl added another thought. “I don’t know if we have gone far enough to escape the night creatures tonight.” Flern nodded, but they were interrupted by a shriek from Andrea. Boritz started running. Moriah and Laurel had their bows out in a wink and Badl grabbed his double-blade, copper-headed ax that he had traded with the dwarfs from Movan Mountain to obtain. Flern drew no weapon, but she became the second there behind Laurel, and Moriah came third, showing a burst of elf speed herself. Poor Boritz came in fourth before Badl. Wlkn dared not leave the safety of the fire which he built as high as he could, and, of course, Elleya stayed with her Skinny Wilken.

A dead deer, a fresh killed, sat not ten feet from the tree where Andrea had been squatting down. It looked torn with claws and had its throat cut by big incisors. “Two cats,” Andrea said. “Lions. They dumped it and stared at me. I stayed quiet. I tried to stay in the shadows, but I couldn’t help the shriek when they moved. They left. They left this kill.” Andrea seemed confused. She had no trouble falling into Boritz’s arms for protection, but she looked to Laurel, Badl, and finally Flern for an explanation since Laurel and Badl were both staring at Flern as well.

“Lionesses. Lions are lazy louts,” Flern said, while she thought about it. “A gift.” Flern decided and announced. “Thank you.”  She shouted toward the wilderness. She took out her long knife and handed it to Moriah. “Treat it with respect,” she said, but she did not explain whether she referred to the deer or the knife. Moriah acted respectful in any case.

They ate well enough, what with the greens they were able to dig out, even if those greens were more browns in the winter, and after they were satisfied, Badl spoke again about the creatures. “We may need some moonlight night movement tonight. I don’t know.”

“But won’t the Were go after the night creatures?” Elleya wondered. “I am sure the jellyfish would go after the sharks if they had the mind to do so. What?” Laurel, Badl and Flern all shook their heads. Badl said it out loud.

“The Were won’t go near the night creatures, if they are smart.”

“Say, but why don’t the Were morph into night creatures themselves?” Boritz asked.

“I don’t think they can.” Flern said, honestly enough. She knew she had to be getting something from Faya, but she still felt frustrated at being unable to reach her. “The night creatures are not native to this world, but then, neither are the Were, or the mermaids or centaurs or fauns or any number of things, come to mention it.” And that felt like more than just Faya speaking in her head, Flern did not wonder.

“Hold up,” Laurel said. “Someone is coming.” Everyone stood and looked around before wisely looking in the direction Laurel, Moriah and Badl looked.

“Pardon me.” An old man stepped forward but kept his distance at about ten feet. There were three dogs that looked remarkably like wolves around his feet. They wagged their tails and panted with their tongues rolling about. “It promises to be a cold night. May I join you for a bit?”

“Not the beasts.” Elleya spoke up quickly before anyone else could answer. She looked afraid and made no secret of it.

“Would you prefer kittens?” The old man asked.

Elleya looked up into the kindly old man’s face. “Maybe. I don’t know what kittens are.”

The old man merely looked at the three dogs and they transformed into lions, one male and two females.

Reflections Wlvn-11 part 3 of 3

The group left early in the morning. The poor villagers, still in a state of shock, began to grieve for the dead. Sadly, Flern could not do anything for them, and she feared the night creatures would show up and finish the job if they did not leave. They had a pass into the mountains to navigate.

Thred did not like the climb, and they often walked the horses as they climbed. There seemed little else they could do beyond struggling up the rough path at a gentle but steady pace. Wlkn looked back now and then, afraid of what might be coming next, but the others kept their eyes focused ahead and did not really have the strength to spare.

The clouds thickened all that day, so they were forced to spend a night among the rocks. Though they had food and managed a fire, it became a cold and miserable night all the same. Flern shivered by sunrise, and when she heard the baby wail in the distance, she shivered all the more.

The second day became a repeat of the first, only this time the legs and backs already ached. By lunch, it finally began to snow, and it came down in blizzard proportions for hours. Even Elleya got cold in the chill wind that seemed to sweep right up the mountainside with an unnatural strength. Boritz, who had been exceptionally quiet since the ghouls, gave her his shirt, and it helped. It covered her to well below the knees, almost like a dress. Andrea looked up at the big man and he looked down at her, sheepishly. Then she stood on her toes, and he still had to lean down a bit, and they kissed, and enough so the others had to look away to be polite.

“That is just for warmth,” Andrea said as she took hold of her horse’s reigns and started to walk again. Boritz said nothing, but he did appear to grin rather broadly, and continued to grin for some time after.

They reached the top of the pass just as the afternoon came to a close and the snow finally tapered off. Wlkn looked back and Elleya looked with him. Andrea and Boritz were trying hard not to look at each other. Moriah and Badl were looking at each other and congratulating each other on making the climb; though to be sure, they were far less tired than the others, apart from Laurel, who still appeared as fresh as a spring flower. Flern felt exhausted from the two-day climb, and all of the stress. She admitted that stress had a lot to do with her condition. She presently felt worn very thin. No wonder she reacted the way she did when the giants approached them—just ordinary ten- or twelve-foot giants, not Titans.

“We have no argument with you, grandson of Perun.” The blond leader of the group recognized Boritz and made a point of asking him to stay out of it. Boritz stood an impossibly big man in that day and age, but he stood several feet shorter than the smallest of the giants. Nevertheless, the giants clearly respected the man, or at least they respected the blood that ran in Boritz’s veins. “We just want the red headed girl. The rest of you can go in peace.” Loki had apparently figured out the switch.

“And do what with her?” Badl asked. Flern presently had her head in her hands. She started working on a whopper headache.

“We have no quarrel with the dwarfs or elves. You are safe here.” The chief said, and that was all he was going to say, but one of the giants in the back spoke up, though he probably should have held his tongue.

“The god said we could roast her, and when we were done, we should throw her remains off the cliff. Then he will bless us with all sorts of good things.” A young giant, he clearly looked forward to the good things, whatever they might be.

Flern snapped. She floated up off of Thred’s back and found the power to fly up to the lead giant’s face where he stood, one giant step out from the crowd. She wagged her finger sternly in that face and yelled. “My village got overrun with the enemy and my family may already be dead for all I know. I escaped to get help, but all I get is one stupid headache after another.” The giant took a step back in the face of her fury, but she followed him. “I was almost raped, and I had to kill him, and I resent whoever manipulated that poor slow mind in the first place. Then I got in a battle and plenty of good people got killed. Then I got tricked into looking into a mirror and I got sucked into this time period and I might never be able to get home. Now, I have lost all of my friends back home as well as my family.” Flern started to glow as her anger began to seep out of her pores, and the giant took another step back.

“But I got stuck here, only to get into another battle, and this time it was not with men, but with ghouls. Now, I am dirty, beat up, and worn to my last thread. I don’t have time to play with a bunch of stupid little giants, so you better hear this. Loki does not own me. I do not belong to the gods and do not bow to them because I have been counted as one of them for hundreds of years. Loki can promise you whatever he wants, but he cannot give me to you, and I will tell you right now you don’t have the guts to take me. You get the same warning I gave the ghouls, leave now and I will let you live. The ghouls did not listen and now they are all dead and here we are, safe and sound. So, leave now before I get really mad.” The giant took one more step back and ended in the midst of his group.

Laurel, Moriah and Elleya had their mouths open. Badl and Wlkn cowered, never having imagined that this sweet little red-headed girl could vent like this. Boritz stood calmly, cradled his big club in his arms like a baby, and Andrea reached up to take the big man’s arm and stand close to him. The corners of Andrea’s lips turned up ever so slightly, and she nodded, but otherwise she looked cool and calm in the face of the storm.

Flern began to weep, even as the chief giant yelled back. “Get her.” No giants moved to obey that command as the earth began to shake and rumble. A genuine earthquake. A sudden great gust of wind blew Flern back to her friends where she fell on to a pile of soft snow and let out her tears. She utterly ignored the rumbling beneath her. No one else ignored it. They all screamed and shouted at each other to hold on. The giants all fell to the earth except one who managed to spread his legs, lean over and place his hands on the ground. He looked like a jackass ready to kick, but he did not utterly collapse. Then rocks began to shoot up like spikes reaching for the heavens. They came up between the two parties and became like a wall so neither side could get at the other. When the wall became complete, the shaking stopped, and Badl, Andrea and Wlkn had a terrible time rounding up the horses.

A woman appeared beside the wall, but on Flern’s side of the wall. She stood too tall, perhaps a foot taller than the tallest giant, and while she wore a long dress that looked and moved like silk in the wind, she appeared to have gray skin and white, marble eyes that were nevertheless alert and aware.

“Who are you?” Flern looked up and feared that this might be yet another one of Loki’s surrogates.

“I am Carpasis, the oread of the mountain, and this is my pass. Greovic and his friends shall not determine who may pass and who may not.”

Flern let out a laugh, a small slightly hysterical laugh, while the Storyteller echoed instructions into her mind. “My name is Flern. I seek the Golden Hind, and my favorite color is red.”

The oread stopped moving. “The red suits you,” she said. “But I know who you are and what you seek. The goddess came this way only a day ago. She has gone on to visit my sister, Sylvan in the place where the river runs out of the plateau and down the far side on its journey to the Great River. You must cross the plateau, not go around as you have been thinking, and you must look for my sister when you arrive, before you descend into the Great River Valley.”

Flern took that as permission given and she immediately whistled for Thred who came bounding up like a faithful puppy dog. The others tried to get up on their horses. Only Andrea had a bit of a problem calming her horse enough to take Boritz once again. “Thank you.” Flern looked at the oread who looked startled for just a second.

“You’re welcome,” Carpasis responded, and then added one thought. “If my earth shake sent some of my children of stone into the valley below, and if one boulder happened to crush a night creature, it cannot be helped. There are still four behind you, though I cannot imagine they will bother you tonight.

“Thank you again.” Flern repeated and she started forward before anything else changed. Laurel caught up to ride beside her.

“The Great Lady of Love is most thoughtful to provide a way for us.” Laurel said, having guessed who Carpasis meant with the word, goddess.

“Yes, and I thank her every day.” Flern admitted.

Laurel paused before she spoke again. “So, we are going across the plateau of the Were after all.”

“Yes. Faya help us.”

Laurel said no more, she just clicked her tongue.

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MONDAY

The quest needs to cross the plateau of the Were, that is, werewolves, not to mention lions, tigers, and bears… Until next time, Happy Thanksgiving and Happy Reading.

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Reflections Wlvn-11 part 2 of 3

Moriah came up beside Laurel. “We did it,” Moriah announced. She looked covered in blood and held a hunter’s knife in her hand that still dripped purplish puss from the blade. Flern turned her head and went away from that place. Nameless came to fill her shoes. Laurel looked to the ground on recognizing the god. Moriah gasped, but Nameless smiled for her before he walked the village square and made certain that all of the ghouls in the village were dead.

Twenty ghouls had died, and none of them were merely wounded. They melted and left a purple-greenish puddle of puss on the ground. The village defenders had already made certain of that. Nameless sensed a half-dozen ghouls running for their lives, headed back to their home in the north, and he knew they would not come that way again, so he let them go. “Take the wounded to the house of the village chief,” Nameless ordered. “Carefully.” He underlined the word. “I will be along shortly to help.” He looked at his feet. The body of the village chief lay there beside the body of the chief dwarf. “Don’t worry. Don’t be afraid,” he said softly, as he knelt down to close the poor dwarf’s eyes. Then he called, and everyone stopped for a moment to hear as the sound vibrated in their souls before it left that place and scattered to the wind. It crossed over the mountains, even to the Great River, and sped north through the limitless forests, to the North Sea and beyond to the great peninsulas that hung down over the world like fingers from the ice cap. The call pushed across the east and south to the shores of the Black Sea, over the waves of the Crimea and to the wilderness beyond. And it went north, even to the Ural Mountains where more than one man lifted his head from the hunt to listen and wonder. There was one. She heard. She appeared in a flash of light and dropped to one knee without even looking up.

“Hilde.” Nameless knew her name and said it tenderly. Then the angelic-like form looked and saw the smile on his face and became very curious. “Hilde. First sister of many, I have a task for you which you alone can do.”

“I will, my Lord. But how is it that I know you and do not know you? How is it that I love you so dearly though I love no man? And how may I be the first of sisters when I have no sisters?”

“These mysteries will resolve in time. Be patient, only for now you have work to do.” Nameless pointed to the chief at his feet.

“The dwarf is gone beyond my reaching,” Hilde said. “It is so with all of the people of the spirit, from the littlest up to the gods themselves, yet this man is within my grasp should I choose him.”

Nameless nodded. “The valiant should not suffer in the pit with the wicked. I charge you, Hilde, and all of the sisters that follow after you to take the spirits of the valiant to the house and halls of Odin so that the Alfader may decide where to keep such men for eternity.”

“And the women?”

“Take them to my mother, to the House of Vrya and let her care for them as she will.”

“I will do this thing,” Hilde said as she stood. “It feels right, like I have been sleeping all of my days and have been waiting for this moment to come awake.” She returned Nameless’ smile at last, vanished from that place, and took the souls of the dead with her.

“Who was that?” Laurel still stood by his side, though Moriah had gone in search of Badl.

“The first Valkyr,” Nameless told her, and then he made her wait there a minute while he took two steps forward. Skinny Wilken ended up among the wounded and needed Doctor Mishka, but he had one more thing to do first.

Nameless reached out with his thoughts. “Loki. Play your games, do your tricks, make you mischief through your surrogates as you will. That is your business, not mine. I only want to remind you of the penalty for killing a god.”

After a pause, there came a response, one that felt cold in the mind. “I am in no danger, foolish boy. I would say it is that little girl of yours that is at risk if she should come up against the Titan.”

“Yes, but I kill more than one over the next several thousand years, so it is too late for me.” Nameless thought the words with a little coldness of his own. “But you should remember that the little girl is the Kairos, and the Kairos is counted among the gods.”

Another pause, but Nameless knew that Loki was still there. “But no one knows exactly what that means,” the response came.

“Even so, a little friendly advice. The Kairos will be coming for your big friend, and I would not recommend getting in the way.”

“That girl has a long way to go yet.” Loki responded more quickly that time.

“Just so we understand each other,” Nameless thought, and he cut the connection. He watched the escaping ghouls for a minute before something else caught his attention. Badl talked with the remaining dwarfs who were now leaderless. He took Laurel by the arm and walked to the meeting.

“Your mother was the daughter of a chief, and your father, though not strictly a dwarf, he was beloved by the goddess, and we need no better recognition than that. You could come with us and be our chief.”

“And if the Halfling can cook like you say, she can come, too.” A second dwarf interjected, and no one seemed to have an objection.

Nameless arrived and took Badl by the other arm. “Sorry friends,” he said. “I need him first. He can come to Movan Mountain after we are done.” He turned to Badl. “Time to go see Skinny Wilken,” he said, and he became Doctor Mishka as she walked toward a nearby house.

“How did we do?” Those were Wlkn’s first words, once Elleya took a breath. She mothered him, terribly, and told over and over how he saved her life. Apparently, a ghoul busted down the door to escape the carnage, but Wlkn got there first and sent a knife into the creature’s throat. The ghoul slammed Wlkn against the wall before it collapsed, and Elleya proceeded to beat the poor dead ghoul senseless with a frying pan, and no, she did not otherwise know what a frying pan was for.

“I’m not as young as I was, you know.” Wlkn pointed out, though he had no gray hair. “It felt like he tried to eat my youth with magic, if you know what I mean. I think the bite of apple I ate might have been too much for him, though.” Wlkn quieted as Mishka worked. She examined Wlkn and was pleased to find no broken bones, but then she had another duty.

Nameless returned and he told them all that he would be right back. He touched the dead ghoul at his feet, and both vanished to reappear in the woods outside of town. Nameless pulled his sword, and in a swift move, chopped the ghoul’s head off. Sure enough, he heard a moan as he did it. The ghoul had been trying to live off of Wlkn’s youth, and the last thing the village needed would be a ghoul resurrecting itself. Nameless threw the head into the mountains and left the body where it lay. It quickly shriveled and shrank until only a small greenish-purple stain remained. That was the way of ghouls, unless they were eaten. Nameless cleaned his sword, returned it to its place, and reappeared in the room to change immediately with Mishka once again.

Mishka said nothing as she finished examining Wlkn’s wounds, then she finally answered Wlkn’s question as she bandaged Wlkn’s head. “Even with the surprise turned to our side, and the arrows that decimated the ghouls before the fighting started, and an extra surprise of nearly as many dwarfs as there were ghouls, the ghouls managed to take as many with them as we killed. Twenty ghouls fell in the battle, and fifteen men and five dwarfs died. Plus, we have many wounded besides.”

No one spoke. That seemed a terrible toll, and Mishka knew that when Flern came home, she would be in tears because, in a real sense, all of those lives were given to protect and defend her, even if it was not the only reason for fighting. Mishka wiped her own eye and took Laurel and Moriah to check on the others. Badl stayed with Wlkn and Elleya until he needed to go out for a breath of fresh air and a bit of quiet.

Reflections Wlvn-11 part 1 of 3

Flern spent most of the day listening to everything that Diogenes, the Princess, the Storyteller and Doctor Mishka had to offer concerning the defense of the village. One of the first things would be to move the women and children up on to the ridge, a place from which they could escape up into the mountains if necessary. A few of the women stayed, but most, even those who wanted or were willing to stay, understood that their first duty was to the children. Of course, the children wanted to stay too, or at least some of the older boys, but for the most part the village elders said no. They said those boys had to watch out for the women and children in case they had to flee. Andrea stayed with Boritz and Moriah stayed with Badl. It seemed hard to tell exactly what Moriah might be thinking, because she seemed anxious for the fighting to start. That felt curious to many; but in truth, Flern understood that Moriah felt anxious for the fighting to be over, and she did not blame her for that. Wlkn volunteered to help the women and children on the ridge, but he got told, absolutely not. He got handed a bow and a hunting knife, both of which he knew how to use perfectly well, and he got told where to stay, and Elleya stayed right there with him.

Around two o’clock, a troop of twenty dwarfs came marching into the village, armed with axes with sharp copper heads. Flern told them that this was not their affair and she only wanted them to stay if they truly wanted to volunteer. “No pressure,” she said.

The chief dwarf looked at her and his first words were a great relief. “Don’t worry,” he said, and Flern relaxed a little. “We had a run-in with some of these ghoulish creatures a few years ago and everyone here is anxious for get backs.”

“Oh, but revenge is not a good thing.”

“Don’t worry.” The dwarf repeated himself with a fatherly tone that crept into his words. “Now, what’s the plan?”

A couple of hours later, Laurel had a question. “But will it work?” Flern knew the elf was not afraid, young as she looked and in elf terms truly was. Of course, she thought Laurel asked about all of their preparations and she could only shrug in response. “No, I mean do you think we can get in and out without getting caught?”

Flern paused before she shrugged again. “You can’t go invisible or immaterial with ghouls like you can with humans, and a glamour won’t fool them for long, either. You don’t have to come.”

“I’m coming.” Laurel said with the sound that it was already a settled matter. “They are fast, but not elf fast. Once I get moving, they won’t be able to catch me.”

“As for me, I don’t know how fast I might be, or not, but I can go up out of reach and maybe fly back, sort of, I think.”

“But you are the one they are after. What if they catch you?”

Flern shrugged again. “I’m not a red headed boy. Anyway, the village will probably be saved. It won’t be the worst thing.”

“Except for you.” Laurel generally did not like the idea.

Flern suddenly looked serious. “You didn’t tell anyone our plans?” Laurel shook her head and Flern relaxed. “Good.” Flern felt sure if the others knew they would either try to stop them or insist on going with them, or both.

An hour before sundown, Laurel and Flern went out from the village. They ran to the tree line. Laurel got surprised. Flern kept up, but Laurel said nothing as they moved more slowly and carefully through the woods. Laurel made no sound at all, and Flern made virtually no sound. She generally kept herself an inch or so from the ground and pushed herself along through the trees. When they got close, Laurel stopped. She turned up her nose, and then Flern smelled it, too. It smelled like the ghouls had roasted and eaten the two that she had wounded, maybe killed. Anyway, those ghouls were certainly dead now.

Flern put her finger to her lips and floated high into a tree. She caught a branch and pulled herself along, dancing from tree to tree like a squirrel until she was right over the camp, but well hidden in the branches and leaves. The cooking smelled nauseating from that vantage, wafting up as it did from the campfires below. Flern almost threw up, which would have ruined everything. Then again, she imagined the ghouls might not have noticed, or might have thought of it as manna from heaven. That thought did not help her stomach, so she decided to concentrate on her ears instead. She found it was not like in the movies. She heard no plans about how they were going to attack the village, and only knew they were planning an attack because she heard two in the grass talking about how much they were looking forward to eating some living, human flesh and sucking out the souls.

Flern backed out the way she came in, moving from upper tree branch to upper branch like a confused robin. When she reached the place where she left Laurel, she got miffed. Laurel was nowhere to be found, so she waited, but not for long. She heard where Laurel went before she saw her.

“It’s the elf! I knew I smelled something! Get her!” Laurel came running, and Flern stayed right on her heels. They soon left the ghouls well behind, but they did not stop running until they reached the barricade around the village. In fact, Laurel ran right over the barricade, and though Flern had to use a little flying lift, she followed right behind. Then she needed to breathe, and they were deep, heavy breaths. She might be fast, but that still made a long way to run. Laurel did not have nearly the recovery problem.

“Where did you go? Where were you?” People came running up including Boritz and Badl. Flern waved to Laurel because she could not talk yet. Laurel simply made an announcement.

“They are coming.”

“Are you crazy?” Badl started to yell at them, but Flern stopped his mouth when she put a hand on his shoulder.

“I was hoping they would go away. We just wanted to be sure.” Flern gasped, and then she felt better.

Two hours later, after the sun had set and before the moon came up, the village streets looked deserted. Several figures moved through the shadows. Several more figures appeared from another direction, and several more from a third place. They moved slowly toward the center of the village where a big open area, like a village square centered around a spring. The spring soon became a little stream that trickled off in the direction of the river. Flern stood completely still, nearly invisible in the darkness, her cape with the black side out, her hood up, her fingers twitching ever so slightly with nervous tension. She waited as long as she could, but then the ghouls spotted her, having perfect night vision. One shouted. Several shouted. But Flern already started rising like the moon, and she concentrated on letting out every ounce of glow Nanna the Moon gave to Wlvn. She felt like a little moon herself, thirty yards above the village, she bathed the square and the houses beyond in a soft but certain light. The ghouls were revealed. The people could see, and at once, arrows shot out from house windows and cracked doorways all around. Perhaps half the ghouls were killed or wounded in those few moments. Then the people came out with spears, axes, knives and clubs, and they came in threes and fours against each ghoul that still stood beneath the glowing girl. Boritz broke one in the back of the head with his spiked club. He smashed a second in the face, before he picked one up right off the ground and threw it against two more. Those three fell on their backs and became easy targets for the crowding men.

Flern shut her eyes and focused on the glow—float and glow, that was all she had to do. With light, the major advantage of the ghouls got stripped away, and the village had a chance, but screams of death came from every direction, and Flern could not shut her ears. She also could not do anything if a ghoul took a shot at her. She felt vulnerable in her legs, arms and face where she had to be naked to properly glow.

It felt like forever before Flern dared to open her eyes once more. The screaming became subdued, and some people milled about, no doubt wondering what just happened. The blood ran everywhere, and much of it looked like slimy, greenish purple in color, but plenty of it ran red. Flern preferred not to look, so she let her glow diminish as she floated back to the earth. The real moon rose in the late fall sky, and though the sky soon filled with heavy gray clouds moving in from the north, there came significantly more natural light than before. When Flern touched down, she fell to shivering. She had never been so scared in her life, and she could barely keep her head up when Laurel came running up.

“It worked, but barely.” Laurel said.

Reflections Wlvn-10 part 3 of 3

“Lady?” Laurel touched Flern’s arm gently and Flern closed her eyes for a minute. Laurel, Moriah and Badl all had their bows out and strung, and Flern knew there might be something she could do to gain the villagers the time they needed, but she felt reluctant, having so recently messed everything up with Wlvn. All the same, she let go of her place and time and let the Princess come to fill her armor, and the Princess first reached out with her mind and heart to any other little ones that might be within range of the village. She called to them to hurry and come. She knew how to do that much, even if Flern did not. Then she opened her eyes and pointed to some rocks off to the right.

“Badl and Moriah you need to take a position there. Laurel and I will stand in the trees to the left, but first we need some hunters from the village.” She turned and yelled. “I need six men good with the bow, right here. Right now!” Andrea did a double take on the person now wearing the armor.

“Ghouls have a very tough hide. They are hard to pierce. We will have to wait until they are close.” Laurel said. Moriah and the Princess nodded, even as three men and one woman came trotting out from the village. The Princess divided them, took the woman with herself, and instructed them in what they were to do, especially retreat to the village on her signal and without any arguments. Once that was settled, they barely got into position before the ghouls topped the rise. The Princess had a good hope of catching the creatures in a deadly crossfire by surprise; but of course, just then two more men came out from the village, and after some quick pointing, they ran, one to each side. Thus, their positions became completely compromised and the one who arrived by the Princess got told exactly how stupid he had been, and she minced no words. True, the worst of it was in a Greek language from so far in the future it could not be imagined, except by the elf maid, whose ears turned scarlet just to hear some of those words.

The ghouls hesitated when they were still out of range. The Princess had to remind herself how early the days were that she was in. This was around four thousand BC, and war and warfare were not exactly well known, yet. Then again, she had to remember that these ghouls were hunters, and being filled as she was with the spirit of Artemis, the goddess of the hunt, she knew these creatures would not be utterly taken in. She breathed some relief when the ghouls started up again, to climb the hill to the village, but at the same time she felt certain that a few of them had slipped to the side to come up on their positions, hopefully affecting their own surprise on the human defenders. The Princess let Badl know in his mind what she thought, and felt him confirm the message, though it seriously risked a headache on her part, and that was something she could not afford.

The ghouls stopped again, short of what they imagined as human bowshot range, and one stepped forward. “We only want the red hair boy. The god said we could have him for the feasting.”

The Princess stepped out as well, their cover already being blown, and after a brief talk with Laurel concerning whatever weak spots these creatures might have. Laurel listed the neck under the chin and under the arms, not places easily reached with an arrow. “No red hair boy here,” she shouted back.

One anxious ghoul stepped forward, bow ready. He let an arrow fly in the Princess’ direction, and the Princess responded in kind. The ghoul’s arrow struck the Princess in the chest but bounced off her armor without any ill effect. The Princess’ arrow struck the speaker in the neck. He had started to laugh, believing himself to be out of range; at least the Princess thought it might be laughter, but at the last minute he tried to duck. Too late. Several ghouls scooted up to drag their fellow ghoul back, and they all backed up several paces.

The Princess stepped forward while the others came out from the trees and rocks and some came from the village barricade to support her. Then Flern insisted, as much to Flern’s surprise as anyone else, and she let the Princess go back to her own time and place while she came home. The ghouls noted the transformation, and the stupid ones were for rushing in, but the smarter ones kept them back. Flern shouted.

“Loki can go jump at himself. He has no say over my life, boy or otherwise. Go eat Loki in your feast for all I care.” She took a couple more steps forward before she stopped. “Go now, and I will let you live.” Several ghouls ducked, expecting the wrath of the god to fall at any moment. Clearly, they did not at all like the way this girl mocked the crooked one, and they did not know what to think about the fact that she seemed to be getting away with it.

One ghoul, a big, ugly brute with true incisor teeth hanging out from his drooling mouth stepped forward and carefully laid his bow down on the ground. He waved a big hand to invite Flern to do the same. Flern did, but she laid her bow close to hand where she could pick it up in a hurry if she needed it. The ghoul took a few steps closer, spread its hands as if to pretend it had no other weapons, and smiled. At least Flern imagined it was supposed to be a friendly smile. She felt wary, but she could not have prepared for the onslaught of force that came from the creature. It came in a blue streak, like lightning, and Flern felt the electrical charge as it tingled in her fingers and toes. After a few second, it finished, and the ghoul balked. Flern looked unmoved. The shield that Frigga had given Wlvn reflected in her enough, so she remained virtually untouched; but the unwarranted attack did accomplish one thing. She got mad.

Flern let herself float up about three feet from the ground which prompted sounds of amazement from ghouls and humans alike, and then she put all of her anger into her own small reflection of the gift from Odin. The big ghoul had no Frigga shield, and even the mere reflection of the Odin gift in her appeared stronger than any magic the ghouls possessed. The big, ugly ghoul did not get reduced to a charred carcass as it would have been in the first second under Wlvn’s attack, but it got electrocuted to the point of smoking. When Flern stopped the attack, the ghoul collapsed like a rag doll, and Flern felt a brief moment of guilt, afraid that she might have killed the creature. Again, ghouls had to rush forward and drag the big ghoul back beside the one with the arrow in its neck.

Flern let herself return to earth and shouted again. “Second and final warning. Go home and give up this foolish idea, and I will let you live.” Some ghouls looked ready to do that very thing, if she read their faces correctly, but she felt concerned that the others might talk them out of it. They picked up their wounded and trotted back down the hill to disappear into the woods. That did not mean they were gone.

Flern picked up her bow even as Badl, Laurel and Moriah caught up with her.

“That was magnificent!” Moriah praised her and Laurel felt the same, but Flern minced no words.

“They will wait until dark and attack when they think we are sleeping.”

“My thoughts exactly,” Badl confirmed.

When they walked up to the barricade and the village, there was not the celebration Flern expected. Boritz provided the explanation.

“I told the men here to set a small watch and rest up during the day. I think we are going to be very busy tonight.”

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MONDAY

It is a busy night, and for the Valkyrie not the least, but then the ghouls are not the only trick Loki has up his sleeve.  Until Monday, Happy Reading

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