R5 Greta: How May Miles to Avalon? part 3 of 3

Greta did not answer.  She got busy helping Fae up the little hill.  Berry also got preoccupied, back on Greta’s shoulder, sticking her head out behind and sticking her tongue out at the receding ogre.

“Fascinating,” Fae said.  “Such a big and frightening brute.”

“Yes, I know,” Greta said.  “I’m sorry.” As if she was personally responsible.

“And yet, very child-like in a way,” Fae concluded.

“In a way,” Greta agreed.  “After a fashion.  Oh, let’s face it, most ogres are not even the sharpest spoon in the drawer.”

“Fascinating,” Fae said again.  “And I know what you say is true.”

When they reached more level ground, Greta ventured a question.

“Bogus, you are Berry’s uncle?”

“Yes, I am,” Bogus said.

“He lies.” Fae got right on him.  Greta, Berry and Bogus all looked at her.

“Well, no.” Bogus took a side step.  “Actually, I am more like her great uncle.”

“He lies.” Fae said, and Bogus looked very uncomfortable.  He looked inclined to say no more, but Greta felt curious.  They all were.

“What, exactly is your relationship to Berry?”  Greta asked.

“Yes, what?” Berry wanted to know.

“It is kind of complicated,” Bogus hedged.

“He—” That was all Fae could get out before Bogus yelled.

“All right! I’m her grandfather.  Got it?”

Greta could tell this came as news to Berry.  “You are her grandfather,” Greta confirmed.

“Yes, look. We need to stop here a minute.” Bogus quickly changed the subject. “You can rest and I will be back in a minute, I promise,” he said, and looked at Fae, pleading.

“He does not lie,” Fae said, so Greta nodded.  She would not mind a minute’s rest.  She felt sure Fae would not mind.  Berry quickly jumped to Fae’s lap.  She knew Greta had questions.

“So, who was the flyer in your family?”  Greta asked.

Berry shook her head, and then perked up.  “Bogus has wings, but he never uses them.  I don’t think they work right,” she said.  She thought some more.  “Bogus said his mother was a flyer.”  She looked proud to have remembered that.

Greta nodded. It did not make sense to look at them, but it made perfect sense in the folded, convoluted universe of the little ones. She got ready to say something when Fae spoke.

“There is a chill in the air.”  Greta felt the same, and it caused her to look around.

“It’s a bodiless.”  Berry named it, and Greta shrieked as the ghost came out of the tree right beside her. She had to stand and scoot back to keep the ghost from walking right through her.  It looked like a Roman, and an officer at that.  They all saw him well enough, but oddly, he did not seem to see them.

“Roman,” Berry said.  “I should have remembered this was his place.  Roman!”  She called to the ghost and the ghost stopped.  At first the ghost looked around as if something did not quite penetrate. “Roman.  Why are you here?  You frightened us.”

“Little mistress?” The Roman communicated after a fashion.

“Where are you going, Roman?”  Berry asked.

“Round and round. I do not know.  I cannot find my way.  It is so dark.”  The ghost seemed to look at Greta, and then more nearly looked through Greta.  “Do you know the way out?” he asked.

Greta let go of her little prayer and spoke.  “The rebellion is over.  Rome has won. The emperor says to come home, now. You are ordered to come home.”

The Roman took off his helmet and appeared to put his hand through his hair.  It appeared as only a slight wind.  Berry flew back beside Fae.  This seemed new to her.

The ghost smiled for a minute and they all caught the sense of home.  Then the ghost vanished altogether.

“What did you do?” Berry asked, and leapt for the protection of Fae’s hair.  “Where did he go?”

“She sent him home,” Fae answered, even as Bogus showed up.

“Back like I promised.”  Bogus said, but he eyed Greta harder than ever.  “You must be made of stronger stuff than most humans.”

“No,” Greta said. “Same stuff, just a little more experienced is all.”

“So, who are you?” he asked.

“A sister who wants her brother,” she answered.  “You know the instructions of the goddess.  Now, no more tricks.”

“Oh sure.” Bogus almost sneered as the sarcasm crept into his voice.  “And I suppose you always do what your god tells you.”

Greta could not fairly answer that with Fae around.  “All the same,” she said.  “I want my brother back and the day is drawing on.”

“Little do you know,” Bogus chuckled and rubbed his hands.

“Bogus,” Greta got through fooling around.  “You must take me to my brother, right now.”  She compelled him.

“Well, if I must I must,” he said, and he started to walk.  “Though my better nature asks why?”  He mumbled again.  “If I were in my right mind I wouldn’t do it.  Not in a million years.  So that’s it, then.  I’ve gone completely bonkers.  Lock me up and throw away the key.  See, my feet are moving, and in the right direction, too.  I must be mad.  Well, here we are.”

Greta stepped up and saw Hans dancing with a woodwife while two little imps made wild music on a pipe and a drum.  Several woodwives stood around, clapping and waiting to take their turn at the dance. Hans had been dancing for nearly three days and three nights.

“Greta.” Hans saw her.  “I’m sorry I left the camp, but isn’t this wonderful?”

“Stop.  Stop the music,” Greta insisted, and the music stopped.  “And how long have you been dancing?”

“Not more than a few minutes,” Hans said.  “I was about to come back.”  He collapsed. Greta rushed up to put his head in her lap, but he had already fallen asleep.

“Hey Bogus.” Greta heard one of the imps. “What happened?  It’s still today.”

“What?  Not possible,” Bogus said.  “I’ve been walking them in circles for days.  It must be the day after tomorrow at least.”

“No, it’s still today, I tell you.”

“Ragwart.” Bogus called for a second opinion. “How many days since we left the river?”

“Same day,” Ragwart said.  “Just like Gorse told you.”  Gorse nodded and Bogus turned to face Greta but Greta spoke first.

“We need food,” she said.  “Hans must be absolutely starving.  And then I want to go straight back to the river without tricks.  I want to be back in the village before dark.”  She did not want to spend another night in the haunted woods.  Gorse and Ragwart volunteered to fetch the food while Bogus tried one last time.

“Who are you?” he asked.

“I am the Traveler, Greta,” she finally told him.

“The Kairos, the goddess,” Bogus said.  “Pots and kranky bits!”  He started to swear, though he had actually figured it out, but he stopped as Greta held up her hand, having more to say.

“More important,” she said.  “Fae and Berry are both your granddaughters.”

“What?” Bogus jumped about four feet straight up.

“Not possible,” Fae said.  “I am seventy years old and Berry can’t be more than thirteen.”

Greta shook her head while Berry spoke up.  “I’m seventy,” Berry said.

“It’s true,” Greta said.  “The little ones age much more slowly, but twins were born and Fae stayed with the humans while Berry was given to the fee.”

“Honkin beans!” Bogus yelled.  “Great horned butt headed goblins and ogre snot!  I’ll be the laughing stock of every spirit between here and Davy Jones.”  His language got rather colorful after that as Ragwart returned.

“Eats is ready,” Ragwart said, having missed everything up to that point.

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

MONDAY

Playing with the sprites is all fine and well, but at some point, Greta has to return to reality.  he has guns to deal with, and a rebellion getting out of hand in Ravenshold.  Next week, Back to the World.  Until then…

*

R5 Greta: How May Miles to Avalon? part 2 of 3

“You must be Bogus,” Greta said, while a quick image flashed through her mind. Basically, she thought if he took her home to where there were six others that looked just like him, she would hit him.

“And just who are you?”  Bogus asked. Danna had hidden the truth from him so he honestly did not know.

“Greta,” she said. “Plain old Greta.”  And she thought real hard at Berry to keep her big little mouth shut.

“Oh, no,” Berry said.  “I’m no tale teller.  No I’m not.”

“So, what exactly do you want?”  Bogus asked.

“I want you to take me to my brother, Hans.  I appreciate you looking after him, but it is time that he and I finish our journey.”

“I don’t know any Hans.”  Bogus sounded very sincere.

“Just take me to him,” Greta insisted before Fae could say a thing.

“All right,” Bogus said, as if he suddenly changed his mind.  He turned, but stopped in mid-step.  “Why am I doing this?”

“Just…” Greta started.

“Oh, I’ll do it,” Bogus said, and started to walk again.  “I just don’t know why, that’s all.”

They walked slowly because Fae could not walk very fast, and all the while, Bogus mumbled. “I protect my people.  I work out a fair deal, a fair deal, mind you.  And we take the wyvern, the bogie and all of the other not so nice on our side.  And then all we get is squeezed between the river and the road, but that’s all right because at least there is a little room for us to be free, and what happens?  A mere seventy years later, a measly seventy years, mind you, and the goddess shows up out of nowhere and Poof!  It’s all gone.  Then she says I gotta give this dumb girl her dumb brother back besides.  I tell you, what is the world coming to?”

Greta looked around briefly to see how Fae and Berry were getting along, but when she looked back, Bogus had gone.  Instead, there came a tremendous roar and a vision of horrible ugliness that towered before them.  It stood right in the path, and all three women screamed, and Fae at least feared that Bogus might have been eaten.  Greta jumped forward without thinking to get between Fae and the beast.  She was not sure how Fae’s old heart could stand it.

“Stop that!” She yelled at the beast without really thinking about what she did.  She just reacted.  “Bad, bad ogre!”  She yelled, and then she slapped the ogre in his outstretched arm, truly without thinking. Curiously, the ogre wilted under her scolding and, though he would not have felt a human slap, he howled in pain at Greta’s touch.  Then Greta remembered that ogres were included among her little ones, though they could hardly be called little.  “Bad, bad.” She said again, and the ogre winced as if under hammer blows.  Then Greta felt sorry for the beast.  Berry was hide-ed in Fae’s hair, and Fae, while clearly repulsed, at the same time, she seemed fascinated with the sight.

“You scared us badly,” Greta said, a bit more softly.  “You really are an ugly, scary ogre.  I bet if you saw your own reflection you would even scare yourself.”

“I did once,” the ogre proudly admitted, and he turned a little red from embarrassment.

Fae drew her breath in sharply as Greta stepped up and put her hand right up to the ogre’s mouth; but Greta had no fear.  “Oh, I knew it.”  Greta praised the creature and he turned ever redder as she began to scratch beneath the fold of his chin where his own hammy hands could not scratch.  Ogres develop a kind of moldy fungus there which otherwise only grows on rocks.  It is not painful, but it itches terribly and Greta imagined that might be why ogres were sometimes so mean.

“Have you always been this scary, or did you grow scary when you got older?”  She made polite conversation.  At the moment, he was thumping his leg against the ground like a puppy dog.  The ground shook a little and Greta felt obliged to stop scratching to let him answer.

“Always,” he said and stuck his chin out for more.

“What’s your name?” Greta asked, not offering any more scratches.

“Thunderhead.”

“Well, Thunderhead, you know you are not allowed to scare humans.”  She almost scolded again and that took his attention from his chin.

“Bogus said it was only fairies.  He said it was a prank.”  Thunderhead defended himself in the classic way.  He blamed someone else.

“No, Dunderhead.” Berry jumped out and began to scold him herself.  Evidently, she knew him.  “No hurting the humans.  It is not permitted.”  He listened, but at the same time he made a couple of slow attempts to grab the sprite darting in front of him.  It looked a bit like trying to swat a fly with a wrought iron lamppost.  Greta backed up a little to avoid the flailing arms. “Don’t make our goddess mad at you,” Berry said.  “You have had enough scratchies.”

“No telling,” Greta insisted.

“I’m no tale teller.”  Berry said, and she fluttered back to hover between Fae and Greta.

“What do you do, Thunderhead?”  Fae asked out of curiosity.

“I make sand,” the ogre said, frankly.  “I crush the rocks to make the soil good.”  He made a fist, like he was showing her how it was done.  “But sometimes my hands get tired so I crush them with my head.  But right now, I got terrible itches.  Maybe you scratch or I eat you, rule or no rule.”

Greta’s jaw dropped.  “Of all the nerve!”  She got a little angry, and the ogre wilted again under her lashing.  “You frighten my friends, but I make nice.  I compliment you and scratch under your chin, and what do I get?  You threaten to eat us anyway!  Serves me right for being nice to an ogre!  Now move, you big, ugly oaf!”  The ogre raised his arms as if to ward off her tongue, but she slapped his arm again, and this time he felt something electric in her touch.  Thunderhead howled and jumped back about eight feet.

“You sound like Bogus,” he confessed, while he sucked on his arm and eyed Greta with awe.

“Yes.” Greta started building up a good head of steam.  “Bogus! Bogus the Skin!”

“What? Who?”  He appeared right in front of her.  “What am I doing back here?”  He got confused, at first.

“The goddess said take me to my brother and she meant safely.  She did not say I should be threatened by an ogre!”

Bogus deflected her anger by turning on Thunderhead.  “Thunderhead.  What have you been doing?”  He began a scolding of his own, but Greta interrupted before the ogre could speak.

“He only did what you told him to do,” she said.  “Yes, I know the truth.”  She added before Bogus could lie about his innocence.  “Now get moving.  I want my Hans back, and Thunderhead.”

“Me?” Thunderhead paused in his sucking. He looked visibly shaken.

“Go make some sand, and maybe, if you are real good, just maybe your itchies will go away for a while.”

“Yes,” Thunderhead said.  “I will. I will.”  He did not know what to make of her, but he felt sure that she was one he ought to listen to.

“Move,” Greta said a bit more softly as the steam began to run its’ course.

“I’m moving,” Bogus said.  “What is the world coming to?  And who are you, anyway?”

R5 Greta: How May Miles to Avalon? part 1 of 3

“Oh, no, my Lady.”  Berry jumped up.  She remained full sized, and Greta decided that perhaps Berry was thirteen after all. “But that would mean, Bogus, oh dear.” Berry finished without saying anything at all.

Greta spoke up loud as the men picked themselves off the ground.  “It would be a great kindness to me if you would clean up the three in the lock-up and feed them so they are ready to travel when I return.”

“It will be done.” Baran spoke graciously.  He dared not speak otherwise.  He behaved like a politician, after all.

Greta smiled, but turned to Fae.  “Coming?” She asked.  She stepped over to help Fae to her feet the way she used to help Mother Hulda.  At first Fae looked reluctant to have Greta even touch her, but at last she accepted Greta’s help even as a small tear fell to her feet.

“Where are we going?”  Fae asked.

“To see Bogus the Skin.”  Greta answered.  “This foolishness has gone on long enough.”

“Oh, oh, but oh!” Berry tugged on her own hair as if trying to hide in it, pacing in a quick two step back and forth, and not sure of where to go or what to do.

“If you get little again, you could hide in my hair.”  Greta suggested.

Berry looked at her with astonishment.  She had not thought of that.  Immediately, Berry flew to Greta’s shoulder and stayed hidden from view.  This caused Greta to consider her hair.  It felt frizzled and badly frayed and in need of washing, and so was she, but it couldn’t be helped.

“Vilam?” Greta looked up.  “Will you and your son kindly escort us back across the river?”  Vilam said nothing.  He doffed his hat, nodded to her and to Fae, and went to fetch his son.

They made a quick trip back across the water, and though Finbear continued to stare at Greta, he did not give her the same discomfort as before.  Greta believed he kept trying to catch a glimpse of the fairy on her shoulder, but Berry stayed firmly hidden in her hair.  Every now and then, when Finbear’s attention would waver and he would look down at his pole for a second, her little head would pop out and so would her tongue.  By the time he looked up, Berry would be hidden again, so Greta could not be sure if he ever actually saw the sprite.

When they reached the other side, Greta asked Berry which way to go.  “All ways are equal,” she said.  “All roads lead to Avalon if it is your heart’s desire.” Greta understood.  They would not find Bogus the Skin so much as he would find them.  They said farewell to Vilam and Finbear who headed back for a called council of the Bear Clan.  They did not know it, but Danna made sure that representatives from nearly all of the other Clans would be there by the time the council got into full swing. Only the Dragon Clan in the mountains lived too far away for such short notice.

They waved, and then Fae, who was hardly of the age for a long journey, asked very sensibly, “How many miles to Avalon?”

“Three score miles and ten,” Berry said, without hesitation.

“Can I get there by candlelight?”  Greta asked.

“Yes, and back again.”  Berry completed the story and clapped her hands and giggled.  Fae did not get it, so while they walked in the direction of the fairy circle where Greta and Berry first met, Greta tried to explain.

“Usgard above Midgard is my home, in a sense,” she said, naming the place in her own tongue. “It is a small point of relative stability in the Second Heavens, a universe which folds in and back on itself in ever new, kaleidoscopic fashion.  It is anchored by the seven isles of Elfhome, Dark Elfhome, Dwarfhome and so on.  They act sort of like the tail on a kite, and the innumerable isles stretch out beyond that. All the same it is a small place in the infinitely large and infinitely small universe that divides Midgard from the throne of the Most-High.”

Fae shook her head and did not follow.  “I know of Avalon,” she said.  “It is among the oldest of the stories of my people, but it was always said that Avalon could be found just around the next bend, or just over the horizon, or at the end of the rainbow.”

“Or here and gone in a blink.”  Berry chimed in.  “Or the way you didn’t go, or…”

“Enough,” Greta said, and Berry sat, quietly.  “Mostly it is home for the little ones, much more in the Second Heavens than here under the first.”

“Have you been there?”  Fae asked.

“No.”  Greta shook her head.  “But maybe someday, perhaps, but now, what was I saying?”

“How far is it to Avalon?”  Fae prompted.

“Three score miles and ten.”  Berry shot right back and she would have gone through the whole rhyme again if Greta had not covered her little mouth with her finger.

“It is right there all the time for the little ones.”  Greta said, remembering Fae’s quarter blood.  “It is accessible simply by being there.”

Fae looked very sad.  “How often I felt it was right there before me, and I would reach out and stretch out my hand, but always it stayed just beyond my fingertips.  And when the Villy, the imps of the boon, the spirits of the earth, the sprites of life were in the fields and trees and sky and the moonlight, I could almost see them and almost hear the strange, magical music by which all life danced.  But I never did until today, and now I dare not speak her blessed little name for fear that she will vanish away and prove once again to be only a dream.”

“What?  My name?”  Berry asked, actually following the conversation.  “But my name is easy to say.  You just say “Berry” and I say, “What?”

“And I promise that she won’t vanish,” Greta said.

“Your name is easy, too.”  Berry wasn’t finished.  She squeaked, “Fae.”  She spoke in her normal voice.  “Fae.” She dropped her voice an octave. “Fae.”  They stopped moving.  Berry stood on Greta’s shoulder with her hands on her hips, looking very miffed. Fae just looked at Berry in wonder until she shook herself free.

“What?” Fae asked.

“Yippee!” Berry shouted and did a back flip, landing perfectly again on Greta’s shoulder.  The wings helped.  “Now it’s your turn.”

Fae hesitated, but at last she pulled herself up.  “Berry.”

“What?” Berry yelled as loud as she could. Greta put her hand to her ear, but Berry could not help it.  It all built up inside of her, and with that much built up in that little body, it just had to explode.

“You know,” Greta said.  “Maybe this conversation would go better if you rode on Fae’s shoulder for a while.”

“Oh, may I?” Berry liked the idea but she wanted to be sure it was all right.  She knew the rule that the little ones and humans were not supposed to mingle.

“Yes, if it is all right with Fae,” Greta said.

“Oh, please,” Fae said, and Berry waited for no more invitation.

Good, Greta thought, perhaps now they could get moving again.  She no sooner turned around, however, when she saw a little one standing in the path, baring their way and looking very cross.

R5 Greta: The Old Ones, part 3 of 3

“Woman.” Baran turned his wrath on the old woman. “I think age has finally caught up with you.  She speaks crazy and you say it is the truth.  I do not even understand what she is saying.”

Fae simply looked at the man until he backed down.  “I understand little myself.”  She said. “But what she says is truth.  She does not lie.”

“Tell us about the wolf,” Vilam spoke up.  “Tell us about Liam.”

“I killed the wolf.”  Greta spoke plainly as she recognized that in a sense this became like a visionary moment for her.  “He did not suffer.  And I buried him twenty feet beneath the earth and solid rock.  Do not dig him up lest you become infected like he was. Let him rest in peace.”

“You killed the wolf?”  Baran only caught the first part of her answer.

“She speaks true.” Fae almost went unheard.

“But you said the Nameless god of the Yellow Hairs killed the wolf.”  Vilam objected.

“The Nameless god did kill the wolf.”  Greta said.

“But how could you both?”  Vilam got confused.

“That doesn’t make sense.”  Baran still protested.

“She does not lie!”  Fae said, with sudden strength.  Everyone looked at her.  Greta also looked and saw that the old woman started looking at Greta in a very different way.  She guessed that the quarter of Fae’s blood which belonged to her little ones saw something her human three quarters never dreamed possible.

“The Yellow Hairs will be made weak by the loss of their woman.”  Baran wasted no more time.  “Put her with the others.  We will bring them to the bogie beast this very afternoon.”

“The bogie beast? The hag.”  Greta understood.  “That won’t be possible.”  She spoke before they could grab her.  “I killed the Hag.  I baked her in her own oven.”

That really got their attention because they knew all about the chimney and, of course, the oven.

“She does not lie,” Fae said, and Baran looked astonished.

“That is why the smoke stopped,” Vedix said, as if confirming her story.  He started looking at Greta with different eyes as well at that point, and not without some fear.  Greta showed considerable restraint not to say anything especially since Salacia kept urging her to ask if Vedix would like to spend the rest of his life as a sea slug.

While Baran conferred with several of the men, Greta considered the stockade around the village.  Such a structure could not ultimately keep out a hag, or bogie beast as they misnamed it. Such creatures returned to the same village, and often to the same house as their last feeding.  But then, a regular flow of sacrifices might keep one at bay and even fix the beast on a new place for feeding.

Baran turned angrily and spoke without preliminaries.  “Tie the woman in the swamp and leave her for the banshees.”

“I destroyed the banshees, the wyvern.”  Greta spoke without hesitation, but lowered her eyes as if not wanting to remember what she saw.  “They are no more.”

“She.”  Fae began to speak, but Baran interrupted her.

“Old woman, I swear you are senile and don’t know what you are saying.”  Then he turned his anger back to Greta.  “I suppose you can prove it!” he demanded.

“I have a witness.”  Greta answered, as calmly as she could in the face of the man’s storm.  She had amazed even herself up to this point in the things that she said, but now, suddenly, she felt completely alone.  She did not hear a peep throughout time, and she knew she had to do it herself, whatever that might be.  In truth, she could only think of one thing to do.  “Berry.”  She called softly.  She steadied herself and decided how things needed to be.  “Berry.”  She insisted. “On my shoulder.”  And Berry got compelled to vanish from wherever she was and appear on Greta’s shoulder.  “There, there.”  Greta said immediately.  “I won’t let anyone hurt you.”

Berry let out a little shriek and instantly hid in Greta’s hair, but not before everyone in that place saw her.  Most just stood and stared, including Baran who appeared to be frozen with his mouth part way open.  Fae, however, fell to her knees, placed her face in her hands and wept.  It seemed as if seeing Berry became the fulfillment of her every hope and dream.

“Just talk to me.” Greta said.  “Come and face me and speak up good and loud, Okay?”

Berry hesitated and shook her little head.

“You can put your back to all of the people so you don’t have to look at them.”  Greta pointed out.

Berry thought about that and decided she could do that.  She flitted out to hover and faced Greta, and Greta did not hesitate to get her talking instead of thinking about being on display.

“Did I go into the swamp yesterday morning?”  Greta asked.

“Yesterday? I have to think.”  She put her little finger to her temple and tapped. “Think, think.  Oh, yes!  You know you did and I almost stopped you, but Bogus the Skin said I was supposed to just watch.”

“And you followed me?”  Greta made it a question.

“I watched like I was told.  I do good what I’m told.  So I fly from leaf to leaf and you don’t see me because I hide-ed.”

“You hid.”

“I sure did. I do good what I’m told.”

“Then what happened?”

Berry flitted back and forth several times very fast before she settled down again.  “I don’t like to think that part.  The suckies came.”

“The banshees? The wyvern?”  Greta suggested both the Celtic and Dacian names for the succubus.

“They been called that.”  Berry said. “But you got the big god sword and POP! One is no more.”

Then you did something very brave.”  Greta praised her, and Berry puffed up her chest in pride.

“I showed myself,” she said, and then added, “But not so brave.  I knew you would save me, and you did.  You powered them with more than magic, like fire and lightening herself, and they turned like fish bubbles and POP!  POP!  POP! They were no more.”  Berry smiled and then frowned.  “But four still chased you.  They did not chase me so you could not power them.  One got popped on the God sword, but three surrounded you and I was afraid for you.”

“And what did I do?”

“You went into tomorrow or yesterday and the big man came.  With the god sword and the long knife, you one, two, threed them and they were no more.”  Berry thrilled at the memory of them being no more, and everyone present felt it. Berry did a back flip in mid-air and zoomed right up to hug Greta’s neck and kiss her cheek.  Then she pulled back and looked serious as if she just remembered something very important.

“Oh, but Lady. I’m not supposed to be here.  No, no!  Bogus the Skin made a greement.  The mortal, clumsy trompers get this side of the river and we get the other.”

Of course, it was nonsense.  Greta knew that Berry and plenty more were over on the human side all of the time. They were in the grain, the trees, the flowers, the animals, but she supposed they always hide-ed.  They had a comfortable freedom in being able to go about without always having to be invisible; but then those days were over since the dissolution.  The days of dividing the land into separate realms was over.  The earth was one, now, and it belonged to the lowly human race.

“And what was this agreement?”  Greta asked. She was not entirely surprised to hear Baran answer.

“It would last until Danna herself, the Earth Goddess, the mother of all the Gods should end it herself, and what can you do about that?”  Everything had gone so badly for him thus far, he wanted to mock her, as if that might still give him some power over events.  Greta simply looked at the man without blinking.  Then she went away into the winds of time, and Danna, herself came to take her place.

Some ran. Most hid.  Some fell to their faces.  Berry got big and got down on her knees beside Fae, but she could not contain herself.  She slowly inched forward to where she could hug Danna’s knees, and Danna reached down and gently stroked Berry’s hair.

“All right.” Danna said.  “The agreement is now ended.”  And she made sure that Bogus the Skin and all of the little ones heard as well. “The whole forest now belongs to humanity which at present means the Celts, Dacians and Romans in equal measure.” She paused to let that sink in before she turned to the leader.

“Baran, you think if the Romans and Dacians fight each other it might weaken them and be to your advantage, perhaps even give you the opportunity to reclaim your land. Foolish man.  The Northland is terribly overcrowded.  Even now Germans of many tribes and nations are jostling each other and pushing against the soft side of the Roman Empire.  Even as we speak, the Quadi stand poised to invade. If the Romans and Dacians weaken each other, only the Quadi and Samartins will gain, and the next invasion will not stop at the borders of the forest.  For your own survival and for the sake of your children, I implore you to make yourselves known to the Romans and Yellow Hairs.  You must join with them to strengthen and defend the border. There may yet be a hundred years of peace, but I leave that in your hands.”  She paused again, but only to stroke Berry’s hair.

“Now Vedix.” Danna said, and Vedix appeared before her, instantly.  A number of people gasped and several screamed.  They were startled, but not surprised when Berry appeared earlier. They almost expected such things from the Vee Villy.  But to think that it could happen to a man!  “You kicked me this morning.”  Danna said.

Vedix fell to his knees.  His heart beat too fast, his palms sweating and he looked ready to pass out.  Poor Danna had to tone down her nature to almost nothing at all, and even then Vedix barely eeked out a response.

“’Twasn’t you,” he said, and fell on his face.

“’Twas.” Danna responded in kind.  “Not Danna me, but Greta me,” she said.

“Oah!” Vedix moaned.

“This is your punishment.  Hear me!” Danna threw her arms out compelling attention and the sparks flew from her hands and eyes.  Vedix certainly had to hear her because she had the power to send him to where a thousand years would barely begin his torment.  All she did, however, was speak.  “You must learn to treat others as you would wish to be treated if you were in their shoes.”  She paused before adding, “No sea slug.”  And she waved her hand once more and sent him back to the place where he had been trying to hide.

“I must go,” she said, and smiled, which suddenly warmed every heart present.  Many people looked up, but only Berry had the presence to speak up.

“Must you?” she said and flitted to another thought.  “Is it time for my Greta to come home?”

“Yes, sweet,” Danna said.  “This is my Greta life, not my Danna life.  Only, be good to her.  You know my Greta is just as human, mortal, and fallible as Baran.”  She paused for effect.  “Well, perhaps not that fallible.”  And she vanished into the winds of time, and Greta did come home, still speaking as if finishing Danna’s very thought.  “Still, Baran, I would appreciate it if you would stop trying to sacrifice me to myself.  That would be too strange, even for me.  Now, I hope to make peace instead of war, but even if I fail at that, I must still destroy the weapons of Trajan.”  Greta shook her head.  These people had no idea what those weapons might be.  “But first.”  She looked down at Berry, “I’m going to fetch my brother Hans.”

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

MONDAY

R5 Greta goes in search of Hans, but he is in the territory of the Wee Willies, and they are not inclined to cooperate with mortal humans.  As she really begins to learn her place, and what it means to say they are her little ones, it becomes a very heady experience.  Sadly, she does need to return to the real world to finish her quest.

Until Monday, Happy Reading

*

R5 Greta: The Old Ones, part 2 of 3

After that, there only passed snatches of conversations until it got dark and their captors brought some mashed meal and water.  It hardly seemed enough to sustain them, and Greta felt faint from hunger, having gone all day again without food.  One meal a day was not easy.  On the other hand, she imagined she might be losing some weight.  She really did not want to get round, like Mama. That thought did not help much.

Each person found a place to lie down, alone.  Drakka became the first to sleep.  As soon as Drakka began to snore, Koren crawled over beside Greta.  He shook her because her back was turned, but she was not asleep.

“Greta,” he whispered.  “Greta, I want to tell you why we are here.  Greta.”  She stopped his hand.

“I’m listening,” Greta whispered in return.

“It was Drakka’s father, Eldegard.  When the men rode out of the village after Lady Brunhild, he told us to keep an eye on things.  He feared Jodel’s father or one of the others might raise more men to swell the ranks of support for the Romans.  He said we were to watch and stop anyone who headed out for Ravenshold.  He said if we could not stop them, we were to kill them. Then you left town to cross the forest to Ravenshold.  We followed.”

“Drakka’s father, Eldegard?”  She got a clear picture, and her suspicions had been correct.  Darius was riding into a trap, to be squeezed between the hammer and the anvil.

“I want you to know.”  Koren went on.  “I only came along to see that Drakka did not hurt you.  I-I wouldn’t like it if you were hurt.”

Greta looked at him and he looked away.  She kissed his cheek.  “Thank you, Koren,” she said, while he turned scarlet.  “But you need to get some rest now.  We should all try to get some sleep.”

“Yes, you are right,” Koren said, while Greta scolded herself for sounding exactly like her mother talking to the children.  “I’ll be over here.  Good-bye, I mean, goodnight Greta.  I’ll see you later, in the morning.  Goodnight.” He crawled to the other side of the room and Greta glanced at Rolfus.  Rolfus’s eyes were open.  He faced her and as far as she could tell, he heard everything.

“What?”  She shot at him and tried hard to push her mother words away.  She wanted to know if he had a problem.

“Who can sleep with that racket?”  Rolfus frowned and pointed at Drakka, who snored.  He turned over and presumably shut his eyes.

Greta also scooted down and tried to get comfortable on the bare floor.  As she did, she got the distinct notion that Danna not only spoke to her, but said that she would probably have to pay a visit to the people in the morning, and perhaps visit this Bogus the Skin as well. Greta pulled back from the thought. What did that make her?  Far from fighting her own battles, she felt in danger of becoming no more than a pawn of the gods.  Nameless fought her enemies, Salacia kept her safe, and now Danna, to do what?  Gerraint said he was supposed to fight his own battles.  That only seemed fair.

“Is it wrong that Nameless, Salacia and Danna should seek to make peace between Dacian, Roman and Celt?” someone said.

“No.”  She almost responded out loud.  “But what does that make me, just a vessel for the gods to use and trash when they are done?”

“Greta will have to deal with the guns in her day.”  She remembered what Salacia said a lifetime ago, and sighed.  She turned away altogether from such thoughts and just as quickly, she found herself somewhere else.

Marcus, Darius, the Centurion Alesander, Herzglaw and Eldegard stood around a table in a tent of grand Roman design.  They were no doubt arguing about how they should enter Ravenshold in the morning. As soon as Greta saw them, Darius picked a cloth from a pocket in his cloak and went out into the night air.

“M’lord?” Gaius stood by the tent door, faithfully on duty.

Darius waved off his questions.  “They’ll argue a while longer, but in the end Marcus will have his way,” Darius said.

“M’lady?” Gaius asked another one-word question.

“It’s strange, Gaius, but despite being so far away I can almost sense her watching over me,” Darius said.  “But I suppose that is the way of it.  Foolish men go off to fight over foolish things while women stay home and wait and watch.”

Greta felt sure Darius spoke of his true love in far-away Rome.  She imagined that cloth as her token.  With a sudden surge of anger and hurt, she nearly lost the sight, but she settled herself and looked again.

“Women fight, too,” Gaius said.  “And just as much, but in other ways and on other battlefields.”

Darius nodded, as if to say Gaius was probably right, but he said no more.  He walked away from the campfires for a minute and stood under the natural light of the stars and the moon.  Suddenly, he came sharply into focus.

“The road is an ambush.”  Greta’s thoughts came quickly.  “Beware of Eldegard.”  Those thoughts poured out of her, again and again.

Darius’ eyes shifted, and for one brief moment it seemed as if they were looked eye to eye.

“Not tomorrow, but next morning.  Look for me. Look for me.”  She saw Darius lift his hand as if to touch her face and then she saw no more.  Someone kicked her.

“Get up!” The voice yelled.

Greta got up quickly, blinking against the bright morning light that streamed in the doorway. Drakka and Koren were being kept back by two men with swords.  Rolfus was still lying down, saying things in Dacian which made Greta hope the guards did not understand the language.

Despite Greta’s willing compliance, the one who kicked her also shoved her out the door. She spoke her feelings in his language.

“Don’t do something you might later regret,” she said.

“Shut-up.” He responded with a slap across her face.  Drakka and Koren both jumped but the door got slammed shut in their faces.  Drakka let out some epithets, but he got ignored. Greta felt the blood in the corner of her mouth, but she barely had time to touch it before she got dragged down the street.  She was not given the option of walking.  When they reached the center square, she ended up thrown face down in the dirt.

“I said fetch her, Vedix.  I didn’t say damage her.”  Baran spoke. He stood in the square with a number of men and one very old woman who was allowed a chair in which to sit.

“Sorry.” Vedix retorted with a laugh.

“He lies,” the old woman said.  The woman looked at Greta with a touch of sympathy as Greta got herself up and did her best to brush herself free of the mud.

“Fae.” Greta remembered the woman’s name. “I am pleased to meet you.”  And she was glad, indeed, to see another woman in the midst of all the men.  She hoped they might hear a woman’s counsel, and she also hoped that she and this druid, or wise woman might find some mutual ground on which to bond.

After a brief pause, Fae spoke softly.  “She does not lie.”

Greta looked at Baran and her curiosity must have shown.  He nodded, and explained.

“They say her grandfather was of the Vee Villy, though some believe he may have been one of the other spirits who haunt these woods.  Her father, the child of that rape, was never right.  He used to run off into the woods and disappear for days at a time.  Some said he went to dance to strange music in the fairy circles in the wilderness, under the moonlight.  Some say his other half needed time to live as well.  Other times, he seemed more normal.  They say when we escaped to these woods some seventy years ago, had it not been for him and his power over the animals and growing things, we all would have starved.”  Baran paused to shrug.  It all seemed mythology to him.

“In one of his more human moments, he impregnated a girl who gave birth to twins and promptly died in the birthing.  He disappeared, though some say he ran away and was lost in the mountains of Agdala, the Dragon.”  He shrugged again.  “But for us, the question was what to do with the twins.  After long debate, it was decided to give one to the Vee Villy in the hope that they would continue our prosperity without him here.  That prosperity has continued to this day.” He paused to take a breath.  He did not strike Greta as a believer in the earth spirits, but most of his people did believe, and as a politician, he blew with that prevailing wind.

“As a young woman, Fae went off with the people who wander the face of the earth forever and who have no home of their own.”

“Gypsies.” Greta named the people.  “It is so diluted now as to be almost nonexistent, but they, too, have the blood of the Vee Villy in their ancestry and have been cursed because of it.”

Fae’s eyes widened to imagine Greta knew anything at all about the Gypsies.  “She does not lie.”  Fae said. But Baran gave Greta a hard, cold stare.

“Sorry,” Greta said.  “Please go on.”

“Our Fae returned to us as you can see,” Baran continued.  “And she has served her people well for more years than any can remember.  But her greatest service has been to know when someone is telling the truth and when someone is telling lies.  She knows without fail,” Baran said, and he looked like he might be gloating.  “So be careful how you answer.”

Greta, however, read the man more deeply than he imagined.  She knew this was all show.  If she hung herself, that would just make things easy, but if she did not, he had already decided her fate.  It really was not fair, not the least because she was still having a hard time responding well in pressure situations.  Don’t panic, she told herself.

“What is your name?”  Baran asked. The lie detector always got the easy questions first.

“Greta.” She responded.  “The Watcher over History, the Traveler in Time, Greta, and I am also called the Kairos, but as the Kairos I have had and will have many names.”  She looked up.

“What?” Baran gave her a stern look, but that stern look changed to surprise when he heard Fae give a little gasp.

“She does not lie.”

Baran tried again. “How old are you?”

“I am seventeen.” Greta said to Baran’s satisfaction, but she had not finished.  “And I am over four thousand six hundred years old, though I cannot say exactly how much over.”

“What does that mean?”  Baran threw his hands up when he heard Fae.

“She speaks the truth.”  Fae looked at Greta with a strange and curious look on her face.

Baran gave it one more try.  “You are the Wise Woman for your people?”  He asked.

“I am, as you call it,” she said.  He almost looked smug again.  “And much more besides.”

“What more?” Baran asked without waiting for Fae to verify her honesty.

Greta herself did not know where these thoughts came from, but she repeated them with certainty.  “An experiment in time and genetics, a safety valve for the gods, the Watcher over History, the Traveler in Time, goddess to the little spirits of the earth, Lady of Avalon…”

“Shut-up.” Baran roared.  He threw his hands at her as if to say she started speaking nonsense, but Fae spoke clearly.

“She does not lie.”

R5 Greta: The Old Ones, part 1 of 3

“Not too tight.” Greta said, but her captors ignored her. Then Greta realized her mistake. Gerraint and Festuscato both told her. These were old Celts, the people of the land before the Dacians moved against them.  That had to be three hundred years ago, or certainly since the days of Decebalus, some seventy years ago.  The old Celts once filled the entire border land between Olympus and Aesgard, stretching all the way from Gaul to Galatea in Asia Minor.  She realized that she understood their language the night before and could speak it now if she chose, because she received help from another life.  Danna, the mother of the gods of the Celts, filled her with this new tongue.

“Not too tight.” She repeated in the local Gallic dialect.  They stopped. The woman nearly dropped her end of the rope which had the noose around Greta’s neck.  The old man stepped back, though he did not loosen his grip on her shoulders.  The young man gave up trying to tie her wrists altogether.  Greta looked closely at the young one.  He looked to be about twenty-eight, but from the look in his eyes and the grin on his face, Greta could tell these people were in trouble from too much inbreeding.

“My hands are healing hands.”  Greta said. “If you damage them, I will be no use to help others.”

“You are a Druid?” The gruff man asked.

“I am the Woman of the Ways.”  Greta said, giving her own name for the position.  “And I am willing to go with you freely without the need for any ropes at all.”

The old man looked at her.  He scrutinized her face and looked deeply into her eyes.  He made a command decision and removed the rope from her neck.

“Is that wise?” The man’s wife asked.

“Kindness is never foolish.”  Greta answered.  The old man laughed at his wife, and the young man laughed, too, though he was not sure what he was laughing about.

“She even sounds like a Druid.”  The old man said, and added, “Follow.”  They walked, skirted the bog, and headed right back to the old road where Greta started that morning.

Her captors were Vilam of the Manclugh, his wife, Mayann, and their son Finbear, and they were indeed the remnants of the Gaelic peoples who hid in the great forest at the coming of the Dacians—the Gatae and the Yellow Hairs.  Despite Greta’s own experience in the forest, she felt certain that these people were the main reason why those who entered the woods were never heard from again.  They had the secret of their existence to protect and what better way than to make sure no one got out alive?

“We are the only ones who live on this side of the river.”  Finbear talked without stop, much like Hans sometimes talked, except Finbear kept staring at her in a way that made her feel very uncomfortable.

“This side belongs to the Vee Villys,” he said.

Greta looked curiously at Mayann who looked clearly unhappy with Greta’s presence, but who spoke out of courtesy.  “The Old folk, The Spirits of the night and day, the Good People of the Earth, the blessers of true believers.”  She said that last rather loud, but Greta understood.  Her own people lumped them all together as elves of light and dark, and then as an afterthought, put dwarfs in between the two elf types.

“How is it they let you live here?” she asked Mayann, but Finbear answered.

“We cut the trees,” he said.  “Father says it is so the trees do not get too overgrown and dangerous when the fire comes, but all I know is the Vee Villys mark the trees and we cut them.”

Ravenshold, that is, Sarmizegetusa is probably a good market for lumber.”  Greta thought out loud.  “And they probably don’t ask too many questions.”

They stopped. Vilam looked at her in a way which confirmed her thought, and he did not look too happy that she had guessed correctly.

“This is the way.” Vilam said, but Greta stopped him. She touched his arm when she recognized the rise.

“No, up there. I need to show you something,” she said. “I need to show Mayann.”

“Come now.” Vilam said, gruffly, though with kindness still in his voice.  “You said you would go freely without ropes.”

“This will only take a minute.  It concerns Liam.”

“Liam?” Mayann spoke and started up the rise. The rest were forced to follow.

From the top, they could see the cross some distance down the other side.  “That new grave is Liam.  The Nameless god had mercy on him.  He did not suffer.”

Mayann ran down the hill and fell on the grave in tears.

“Gvidion’s praise.”  Vilam said, before he turned curious.  “Why would the Nameless god of the Yellow Hairs do good for Dagda’s people?”

“Because he cares about all of the people in the land,” she suggested.

Vilam was not slow to grasp her suggestion.  “You Yellow Hairs, and those Romans, too, have no business here.  This is our land.”

“But we are here,” Greta said.  “Business or not.  So why can’t we make peace and make life better for all?”

Vilam shook his head, but Greta did not wait for a response.  Her duty at the moment turned her to Mayann.

After a while, she helped the woman rise and walk.  She assumed they were headed for the village which she rightly supposed would be on the other side of the river.  Vilam gave her that look again, but she explained herself.

“Finbear did say you were the only family living on this side of the river in the territories of the Wee Willies.”

“Oh, yes.” Vilam nodded.  “I forgot that he said that.”  He looked relieved, but Finbear had to correct her pronunciation.

“Vee Villys,” he said.  “I have never seen one, myself, but they say they are like ghosts, frightening and strange, and they can be invisible, so they might be anywhere and you would never know it, and they do terrible tricks on those who displease them.”  He tried to scare her.

“Trick or treat!” Greta said sharply to him, which surprised him, and he jumped a little, having scared himself.  Greta smiled but otherwise kept silent.  She did not feel in the mood to argue with the young man. Somehow, she could not imagine Berry as frightening and strange, or playing terrible tricks on people, though there was the matter of Hans.

When they reached the river, Vilam uncovered a log raft which had been well hidden in the bushes. They had two long poles to go with it, and though it seemed easy crossing the calm water that slowly worked its’ way out of the swampland, it was not exactly dry going.  If she stood, she felt too wobbly and unsteady.  If she sat, her dress got wet.  Finally, she decided to sit.  The dress would dry.

“I like her, father.”  The ever staring Finbear spoke over Greta’s head as if she was not even there.  “I want her.”

“No.” Mayann rose to Greta’s defense. “She is not for you, my son.”

“Father?” Finbear was not for giving up, but Vilam only laughed, except that the laugh seemed to Greta to carry the unspoken words, “We’ll see,” as if he actually considered it.

From the river, it did not appear far to the village gate.  Greta saw fields there that stretched out beyond her sight, carved out of the forest and irrigated by ditches that drew water straight from the river.  The village itself sat behind a strong wooden stockade, so it looked like a fort from the outside.  The gates were open, however, and there were several men and dogs in the gate.

Ever since seeing Sanger, Greta had a good idea who the village captives might be.  Drakka, probably Rolfus and maybe Jodel, she was not sure.  She only hoped she was not too late.  The word “sacrifice” scared her.

After Vilam talked privately with the men in the gate and pointed to Greta several times, Greta got brought to the central square.  After a short wait, a man came out from one of the houses, followed by one of the men from the gate.  The man from the house had a chicken leg in his hand, and he appeared to be annoyed at having his lunch interrupted.

“Well, Vilam. Quite a catch.”  The man spoke as he walked around Greta and eyed her with a mixture of suspicion and lust.

“Baran, I claim the right of capture,” Vilam said.

“Yes, we’ll see,” Baran responded.  “A druid you say.”

“Yes.”  Both Vilam and Mayann spoke up at the same time, which caused Baran to pause and raise an eyebrow.

“Liam’s dead,” Mayann said.  “She showed us the grave.”

Baran looked again at Greta with suspicion.  “Maybe, and maybe not,” Baran said.  “Fae has been sent for.  We will test her when Fae gets here in the morning.  In the meanwhile, put her with the others.”  Baran went back into his house.  He had nothing else to say.

“Father?” Greta heard Finbear raise his voice while two ruffians led her away.

“Hush son,” Vilam said, as he watched.  “Can’t do anything until morning.”

The men who escorted Greta were not cruel, but they hurt her arms all the same. Fortunately, the hut without windows was not very far away.  The door got unbolted, and Greta got pushed in.

“Hello?” Greta heard the word in the tongue of her people.

“Who is there?” She whispered in the dark.

“Greta?” She felt a strong set of arms surround her and hug her hard.  It was Drakka.  She did not have to see him.  “Greta, why are you here?  Don’t you know we are to be sacrificed tomorrow?”

“I came to save three fools,” she said.  “Who else is here?”

“Save us?” She heard Rolfus’s voice.  “I think you just became another body for the feed.”  He laughed, but it did not sound like a pleasant laugh.

By then, Greta’s eyes started adjusting to the dark.  The slats in the hut were not perfect so some light leaked in.  She saw Koren in the corner, weeping softly, and she thought that at least Jodel had the good sense to stay home.

“Why did you follow me into the forest?”  Greta asked straight out.  Drakka almost flinched before he lied.

“Because I love you more than life,” he said, and subtly kicked Koren to keep him quiet. “I was afraid for your safety.”

Greta stared. He said the words she always wanted to hear, but she knew in her heart that it was a lie.  She became angry with herself for not believing him.

“Well, then,” she said, and sat down.  “I will just have to save you from the sacrifice.”

“Impossible.”  Rolfus responded.  “But at least Sanger escaped.

“No, he didn’t.” She paused because she did not want to remember that vision, not in the dark, alone.  Yet, she decided she had to tell them since they all looked at her, waiting.  “Sanger is dead, not by the hands of these people, but by the succubus in the swamp. I saw his body, shriveled and emptied of life.”  She put her head in her hands and shuddered.  Then she began to cry.  It all got to be too much.

Rolfus made a sound of absolute revulsion and horror and turned away.  Koren looked filled with fear.  Only Drakka seemed unmoved, except he said he was sorry, and how horrible it must have been for her, and he sat down beside her and willing held her and let her cry on his shoulder.  And that was no lie.  He had a heart.  That was what she knew and loved about him.  Somewhere beneath it all, he had a good heart.

R5 Greta: Nowhere to Run, part 3 of 3

The armor adjusted automatically to Greta’s shape and size, and as she thought on it, it felt very comfortable, and not at all too heavy.  The cloak of Athena also felt much warmer than her poor red cloak, and she could make it longer with a thought, so it got long enough to act as a blanket.  She lay down on the heather and added her own “Thank you” to the moon, her Artemis moon. She slept, and this time, she slept peacefully, and without dreams.

Greta woke in the morning feeling much better in her mind and heart.  She had faith that somehow that morning everything would work out. She had hope, even if she felt terribly thirsty.  A bit of breakfast would have been nice as well.

She smelled the air.  It smelled fresh and clean.  She looked all around and felt that the Sylvan River had to be fairly close.  She started out in that direction and was not even aware that she wore her armor until she stopped to relieve herself. She decided to wear it for a while. It really felt that comfortable, and she did not mind the feeling of protection it gave her.  Besides, it became hers for her entire lifetime, and this was her lifetime and she would live it for all it was worth for as long as she could.

Greta came to a spring fed stream and had a long, cold drink.  Why did she head toward the river?  She could not imagine the reason, but there had to be one.  If nothing else, she decided to see where the path let out.  It did not take long, though, before she started to get bogged down in a swampy area. The fact that she wore water-proof knee boots rather than sandals helped a lot, but after a while it still became rough going.  She kept thinking any moment she would break out on to the riverbank, but the bog continued, and she could see no end.

Something caught the corner of her eye and the hair came up on the back of her neck.  It wasn’t Berry.  She considered pulling Salvation, the sword Nameless had graciously left her.  She might have brandied it as a warning, but she could not be sure if her arms were strong enough, even for this sword made for a woman.

She stepped around a tree and a man blocked her way.  He shimmered in the dim sunlight and looked beautiful to behold.  Greta felt an instant attraction to the man which felt so strong, she almost rushed to his feet.  She had to struggle to check herself.

“What do you want?” she asked.  The man said nothing while a second man stepped out from the shadows.  He looked very different, but in his own way, he appeared as attractive as the first.  Greta felt herself flush with desire and excitement.

“What do you want?” she asked more sternly.

A woman stepped forward.  Hers seemed an unearthly beauty beyond anything Greta ever imagined.  Greta felt the urge to fall into the woman’s arms and kiss her passionately.  That felt wrong.  She was one who never had any inkling in that direction, and the thought repulsed her a little and returned her to her senses.

“No,” she said.

“Come to me,” a third man spoke.

“Come share my love.”  A second woman came into the light.

They are not real people, Greta said to herself, and she started to back away until she realized a fourth man and two more women stood behind her.  She got surrounded.  The ones behind her, however, had the morning light behind them, and she could see through them in a distorted sort of way.  They looked translucent, and whatever else they might be, they were certainly not people.

Greta closed her eyes for a brief moment and cleared her mind and heart as well as she could.  The first rule of magic was to let be what must be.  When she looked again, she saw demon faces where she had seen beauty, and ghostly, floating figures where their bodies had been.  They still called to her, but she could no longer hear them. Instead, she found Salvation securely held in both of her hands.  She decided the adrenaline helped, but the sword proved not nearly as heavy as she had imagined.  Several of the demon faces appeared to laugh.  They had faced swords before and such weapons were ineffective against them. Greta swung clumsily at the one nearest to her.  It neither moved nor ducked, apparently expecting the sword to simply pass through. Instead, as she cut the creature, it bubbled and fizzed for a moment like carbonation in a glass of ginger ale, and then popped and vanished altogether from the world.  The others backed up significantly, and the smug looks on their faces changed to sheer cruelty.

“Help!” Greta screamed on the inside, but no one answered.  She did hear the word, “Wyvern” followed by “Succubus.”  So she knew what she faced.  “Thanks a lot,” she said out loud.  She tried to back up and swung her sword as much as she could, but these creatures were no fools.  They had let her come way into the swampland before they approached her.  Her arms would tire long before she got out of their territory, and even as they did tire, the Succubus began to close in. She caught no more of them with her wild swings.

Suddenly, a beautiful young girl of about twelve years of age stepped out from behind a tree. “Wyvern,” she called.

“Berry, no!” Greta shouted.  She knew who it was, even though she had never seen Berry before in her big form.

“Lifegiver.” The Wyvern called out, and they all turned instantly from Greta to attack the little spirit of life.

“No!”  Greta screamed as did Berry, but just as they came at her, something like fire poured from Greta’s hands and eyes.  The Wyvern were instantly on fire, and they began to fizz and pop all over the place.  Berry stayed untouched.  Then Greta had to jump and cut one with Salvation, because while she got distracted by her concern for Berry, one came right up to her face.

She still faced three of them that the flames missed.  One floated in front of Greta, one to her right, and one behind her.  Berry, her small fairy self again, went up the tree to her left and Greta knew the little one would be safe for the moment.  Greta doubted she could deal with these last three. They seemed to know that as long as they did not threaten Berry, they were safe, and it would not be too much longer before Greta would be unable to keep her sword up, much less resist them.

“All right.” Greta heard a voice as clear as day in her head.  It could not have been someone outside talking to her because it sounded unquestionably like her own voice.  At the same time, though, it sounded like a male voice and that confused her for a moment. “I’ll take it from here.”  Greta gladly and gratefully let go, vanished, and let him come down through time to stand in her place.  Gerraint, son of Erbin appeared, but older than she remembered. This Gerraint was already a Knight of Arthur’s Round Table.  “Always willing to help a lady in distress,” he said with a grin.

The Wyvern recognized the change and began to flee, but already too late for them.  Two popped on the tip of Salvation’s point. Then Defender got whipped from its’ sheath.  It flew faster than sight and pinned the last Succubus against a tree, catching it square in the center.  The Wyvern bubbled, fizzed, popped and became no more, and Gerraint patted himself on the back because it appeared a near perfect throw.  “Practice.”  He told Greta, as he left and she returned in his place.

Greta had no time to respond as Berry attacked her from the tree, flung her little arms around her neck for a big hug and cried and then laughed because her little self could not reasonably do more than one at a time.

“I knew it. I knew it.”  Berry got excited.

“Knew what?” Greta asked.

“I knew you were my Great Lady,” she said.  “The stories all said the fee were sometimes permitted to ride on the shoulder of their goddess, and you let me ride on your shoulder, and you could still see me even when you were not in the circle, and one of the gods came to fight for you, even though I missed you when you went away.”

“Hold on,” Greta interrupted.  “I’m no goddess.”  And she did not want to be one.  Nameless always came courteously restrained, but she had been Salacia in a moment of havoc. That seemed a power beyond anything Greta could handle, and a responsibility she would never want.

“But you are,” Berry insisted.  “Even when you are completely mortal and human, you are the goddess for all of the little spirits of the world.  And you will be our goddess in your next life, too, and the one after that, unless you are our god.”  Berry had to pause to puzzle her way through that thought.

“But you took an awful chance exposing yourself like that,” Greta said.

“No-oh.” Berry insisted again.  “Even when you are mortal, human, you have everything you need to protect and defend us.”  She became serious for a moment.  “And you make the rules and teach us and keep us on the path of righteousness.”  She paused again to swallow and her little eyes became big.  “And sometimes you punish us when we are bad, and they say your wrath is a terrible thing to behold, and I have to go now.”  Greta blinked and Berry no longer fluttered there.

Greta shrugged. Faster than a speeding bullet, she thought.

She considered Defender, stuck ten feet up the tree.  She supposed she could call to it and it would jump to her hand, but instead, she sent her armor and weapons home, wherever that might be, and became clothed again in her dress and red cape.  She found her dress cleaned and pressed, and sewn where the little tear had been.  She wondered if her little ones did that.  She supposed they did, and she felt grateful, though calling them her little ones would take some getting used to.  She wondered what on Earth she could do that would be even half as nice for them. She felt very warm and loved at that moment.  Then she saw him.

She gagged.  Sanger sat with his back to a tree.  She felt sure it was him, but he looked like a raisin or dried prune.  His eyes were rolled up in his head and his mouth hung open in a scream.  It looked like every ounce of life had been sucked out of him.  She turned away, but saw the bones of others.  Some looked like they had been tied or chained. Sacrifices, she thought.  There were some rusty old Roman weapons, too, and she knew why that Century of Romans never made it to the other side of the forest. She could not stay there.  She had to get out of that death swamp; that succubus graveyard.  She fled and felt terribly sick to her stomach.  She ran until she found herself scooped up by the arms of the gruff old man of the Bear Clan.

“There, there,” he said.  It seemed as if he knew she had been scared by something and he came there to protect her. In the next moment, she felt a rope slipped around her neck and the young man started to bind her wrists.

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

MONDAY

Greta is taken captive by the old ones, and they almost make her prefer being with the monsters.

Until then, happy reading.

*

R5 Greta: Nowhere to Run, part 2 of 3

Greta knocked, but since she got no answer, she poked her head inside.  “Hello?”  There did not seem to be anyone home.  The table nearby, however, had been set with roast goose, boiled potatoes and three big jugs of beer.  She did not feel particular at that moment about what might be too hot or too cold. She just helped herself until she became stuffed.  She had been starving, and now she let out a little burp.

She felt guilty afterwards.  This would not make a good first impression.  She decided she had better wait for her hosts to return and apologize for helping herself.  She found three chairs in front of the fireplace, and she fought the urge for the longest time.  She really did.  But at last she surrendered and stood up on the little chair until it broke, just as it should, and she knew she would be in big trouble.

Greta stood there for what seemed like the longest time.  Then she knew the story, and chided herself for wasting time.  Her rough sleep under the oak and all of her upset at losing Hans now combined with a warm home and a full stomach.  She really had no choice.  She climbed up to the loft, found the right bed, but opened the window just to be ready, before she fell asleep.

Greta saw the romans in her sleep.  The roman governor in Ravenshold looked besieged in the tower.  The fort had already fallen, and Kunther had placed men with rifles on the walls, facing the tower.  Lady Brunhild stood there, and that seemed what she saw.

“Mother. Too much of the powder has degraded, and too many of the weapons are rusted and useless.”  That had to be Kunther.

“All the same.” Lady Brunhild spoke with authority. “You must take some of the good powder and force an opening in the tower.  The romans and their traitorous allies cannot be more than two days behind. We must have the romans cleaned out of Ravenshold and the governor in hand by the time they arrive.”

“It would not be good to have an enemy at our backs.”  It looked like Bragi who spoke!  Her own brother Bragi, betraying papa!

“Listen to Vobalus’ good son,” lady Brunhild said.

Kunther banged his fist on the table.  “but we must save as much of the powder and weapons for when the full legion arrives. We must be able to destroy their legion. Without their army, we will be able to sweep the romans out of Dacia and beyond the old river.

“Time for that, later.”  Lady Brunhild insisted.  “We must secure Ravenshold and deal with the roman cavalry and the traitors.”  That appeared to be how they were portraying the people riding with the romans, as traitors.  It made Greta’s heart sick to think of it.  The people were divided and fighting each other, just as papa had predicted.

“You take care of the tower and take the governor alive.  Thuldores has set the defense of the road against the cavalry, yes?”

Bragi nodded, but another man verbalized.  “Yes.”

“Good, then Gareth.”  That was the other man.  “Take the message to Eldegard.”  Forget Kunther, Greta thought.  Lady Brunhild gave the orders.  “You will have to hide and wait until they pass to make it appear as if you are chasing them from behind, from Boarshag.”

“What’s in the message?”  Kunther wanted to know.

Lady Brunhild merely smiled, wickedly.  “The traitors, many of them, may yet be turned.  We may not have to waste any of your precious powder or bullets on the roman cavalry.”

“Ugh.” Greta said in disgust and turned away. She did not want to see any more, even in her sleep.  She saw Hans. He appeared to be dancing and having a lovely time.  She turned again, believing that for the moment he was in no immediate danger. The stars came out and the moon came up full.  It was her Artemis moon.

Greta found herself standing at the bottom of a path which looked cleared of trees.  It ran a hundred yards straight up a little rise to where the moon rested low on the horizon.  She got ready to walk to the moon when a man appeared at the top of the rise.  He stood between her and the light so she could not see his face.  All she could see was the shimmering outline of his figure. He howled.  It was not a man.  It was the wolf.  He got down on all fours and charged.  Greta heard berry scream.  Greta wanted to run, but her legs felt like lead, so she screamed, too.

Greta sat up in bed and all was quiet.  Then she heard a voice downstairs.  Someone started coming in the door.

“They have taken three for the sacrifice, but the other one escaped.  They will catch him, though, or the wyvern will have him. They have taken the dogs out.”  It sounded like a very gruff voice.

“Father, can’t we go search, too?”  A younger man spoke.

“Son, you know it is not safe at dark with the wolf about.  The men with the torches and dogs should be safe enough, but we are too few here.  The wolf would have you for supper.”

“I wish you would not talk about my brother that way.”  A woman’s voice spoke.  “Even if it is true.”

The door closed. “Someone has been here,” the woman said. “Liam?”

“Not your brother,” the gruff voice responded.  “He even used a cloth to wipe his mouth, and the house is still in one piece.”

“My chair is broken,” the young man said.

There came a moment of silence and Greta felt afraid to move for fear of making a sound. “In the loft!” the gruff man shouted. She heard a scramble for the stairs and Greta had to move.

“Yellow hair,” the young man yelled, but Greta popped out the window and slid down the barn roof in the dark.  “It’s a girl.”  She heard the young man say, as she ran into the woods.  She would not be another one for the sacrifice, she told herself.  And when she had run as far as she could, and had to stop to catch her breath, she thought, bear clan, indeed.  They came dressed in fur against the cool of the night, and with their dark and wild looking hair, they looked very much like actual bears.

Greta got lost again in the dark, and very afraid.  Even the trees around her felt hostile, no doubt due to the cutting, and they were not at all kindly disposed toward her like her great, old oak.  She became teary-eyed, but she refused to start crying again.  She began to walk.  She had no idea where she headed, but she went away from the cabin and that felt like all she could do.

After a while, she heard a voice in the back of her mind.  It was not her, or any other lifetime as far as she could tell, and so she decided it was really not there at all, except in her imagination.

“The boy is lost, the maid will weep, but fairy dust will make her sleep,” the voice said.

Greta sneezed and kept walking.  She felt miserable, and wondered if she might be coming down with a cold.

“The sun has gone into the ground and will continue round and round.  A hundred times its’ days to keep, and still the maiden lays asleep.”

Greta sneezed again, twice.  She brushed away what felt like gnats in her face.  The voice became stern and determined.

“The boy is lost, the maid does weep, ‘till fairy dust makes her to sleep!”  Greta held her breath and brushed the dust away.

“I heard you the first time,” she said out loud, without really thinking of anything but her misery.

“Run!”  She heard, and then it struck her that this was not just her imagination.

“Hey!” she shouted.  “Wait a minute.  Don’t leave me!”  But it was too late.  The spirit or imp or elf had gone and she got left alone.  Then Greta began to cry for her ignorance and foolishness.  She had been so preoccupied with her own troubles she missed a great opportunity.  She felt the earth should swallow her up for her stupidity.  Then she stepped out of the trees and came to a green path which might have been an old road of some kind.  It rose gently for a few hundred yards and over the top of the rise she saw the moon.  It looked full enough.  She paused and remembered her dream even as the man stepped to the top of the rise. For a moment, she thought it might be one of the bear clan in his fur out chasing the fourth sacrifice, but then the man howled and she knew.

“Nameless, you promised,” she screamed.

That was not strictly true, but nameless took her place all the same.  “So I did,” he said.  He came dressed in his armor and he already had his bow strung and in his hands with an arrow on the string.  The first shot caught the beast in the shoulder and the wolf reared up. With superhuman speed, nameless grabbed a silver tipped arrow, a gift from Artemis herself in ages past, and fired. The arrow clipped the beast’s heart. The beast fell to the ground, writhing in agony.  It screamed and howled, and finally fell silent.

Nameless called the silver tipped arrow back to his hand, and blood began to squirt from the wound.  Even then, Nameless felt that he could heal the man, take away the terrible curse, and return him to his sister, but the half-man, half-beast looked up and spoke one last lucid thought.

“Kill me,” he said.  “I don’t want to remember.  Please kill me.”

Nameless saw the wound around the heart already healing over.  He strung the silver arrow and shot more accurately.  The heart of the beast exploded, and he died.  It happened quickly, but made a bloody mess.

With a wave of his hand, the nameless god opened a pit twenty feet deep.  The beast, and all of his blood floated down into the hole. Then he laid a boulder on top before piling on the dirt.  He did not want anyone digging the man up and becoming infected with the micro-virus. He imagined the man’s sister carried the gene and also her son.  They might already be infected, but not active.  Surely one touch of this one’s blood would trigger their condition to active status.  That did not need to happen.

Nameless took two pieces of lumber, cleaned and treated the wood with a thought and used stone to nail the pieces together in the form of a cross.  He burned the name “Liam” on the cross piece and set it up to mark the grave.  Then he paused to consider.  He knew it would not be long before men came up from the south in evangelistic zeal for the one raised on the third day.

Nameless floated to the top of the rise and looked up at his Artemis moon.  He saluted, “Thank you for the gift of the silver arrows.” For a moment, he almost heard a response from the other side.  “I am sorry I am not there to give you more.”  Nameless knew his day, and the day of the gods was over.  They were all gone, now, mostly.  A few pretenders hung around, like this Abraxas fellow, whoever he was.  He knew what Greta had not realized.  The hurricane of Salacia put Abraxas, and perhaps others on notice.  They would not bother or interfere with Greta and her mission again.

“Meanwhile.” Nameless spoke out loud.  “That will not prevent flesh and blood interference.” He made a hedge around the spot so at least Greta would not be disturbed in the night, and he caused soft heather to grow up for a bed.  When all was ready, he traded places with Greta, but left the armor with her.

R5 Greta: Nowhere to Run, part 1 of 3

When Greta sat up, the sun already poked above the horizon.  She got angry with herself for sleeping when Hans needed her, and yet she felt calm, now, after some rest, and she could think clearly.  In the light, she might stand a reasonable chance of finding Hans.  In the dark night, and in her panic, she recognized she had no chance of finding him. She had behaved foolishly in the night, leaving the camp, screaming until she became hoarse, getting herself lost in the process.  She chided herself.  She really needed to learn to respond better in panic situations.

The first thing she did, after shaking out the stiffness, was climb the old oak.  The hill proved to be not very far away, and with careful inspection, she felt fairly sure she knew where the stream came cascading down the hillside.  It appeared so close, in fact, she realized that she must have been going in circles all night.  When she thought about it, she actually felt glad she had not gone too far from the camp.

It took nearly an hour to find her way there.  It looked like someone or something had kicked the fire into the stream.  While she refreshed herself with a drink from that clean, cold water, the image of Smokey the Bear floated up in her mind. She knew, then, that the lives she had lived in the past and the future had not abandoned her as she supposed. Indeed, they only waited for her to decide what she would do.  What she still wanted was to snap her fingers and have Hans appear beside her, safe and sound, but she had no such power to do that.  So, she decided to find where he left the camp in the night, and follow his trail until she found him, and pray that he might still be alive.

The wood that Salacia neatly stacked had been scattered here and there along with the stones that encircled the fire.  It looked like someone took great pains to make it seem as if no camp ever existed. Han’s backpack and blanket, and her basket were gone, of course.  There would be no breakfast, she told herself.  Still, at least she had her red cloak.  She had slept in it against the chill of the night, and now, on a cool spring morning, at least she would not freeze.

Greta began to search the perimeter of the camp for telltale signs of passage.  She found where she had run into the woods, and a moment later, she found where someone else had crashed through the bushes.  The Princess, gifted by Artemis herself, looking right there in her eyes, pointed things out.  The Princess, and Diogenes, who once got called Alexander’s eyes as his chief of spies, and who Greta imagined knew everything there was to know about tracking men in the wilderness, seemed to be right there with her all the time. Neither one traded places with Greta through time, though they could have, but they helped her see what she, on her own, would never see, and she felt grateful.

She followed Han’s path for a good distance.  He had not been very careful about where he tromped.  He tore up branches and bushes in the dark as if running.  Was he being chased or was he chasing something?  She did not know.  Neither the Princess nor Diogenes saw any signs of what it might have been.

At last the trail led her to a small meadow atop a very small rise.  She could follow his steps no further.  “Hans, Hans.”  She called out in a reasonable voice, because her throat still felt sore from the night before.  She walked toward the center of the meadow.  “Hans.”  She called once more, before she gave up calling.

Greta found a circle of polished and rounded stones very near the center of the meadow. A fairy circle.  She knew just what it was, and with that realization, she had a terrible notion of what might have happened to Hans.  She took a deep breath and stepped into the circle.

At once, all of the world around her became more vivid.  The colors became more solid and real, the greens being greener, and the blue morning sky much bluer.  Something caught the corner of her eye, and she turned, but it turned, too, so as not to be seen.

“Come out,” Greta said.  “Let me see you.  I won’t hurt you.”  She stood still and waited for a very long time.

Greta saw the little girl’s face peek several times before the fairy finally fluttered all the way into view.  She appeared a little thing, small enough to sit comfortably on Greta’s shoulder, and Greta imagined she was the most precious thing she had ever seen.  Greta loved her, instantly, but oddly, she felt sad for her at the same time.

“I’m Greta,” she said, softly.

“I’m Berry.” The fairy responded in a rather young voice.

“I am pleased to meet you, Miss Berry.”  Greta smiled.

“Oh, no, just Berry,” Berry said in a serious voice, as she hovered a few feet away. “I’m not nearly old enough yet to be Miss Berry.  Why, I’m not even, just barely seventy years old.”

Just a teenager, Greta said to herself, translating fairy longevity into human terms. “Still, it is very nice to meet you. Will you be my friend?” she asked.

“Very nice to meet you,” Berry said.  “And yes, I will.  Good-bye.” Berry started to fly off.

“Wait,” Greta said, and Berry stopped as if she ran into an invisible wall.  “Have you seen my brother, Hans?” she asked quickly, and Berry came back.

“Was he as big as you?” the fairy asked.

“Almost,” Greta answered.

“Did he have the same yellow hair and soft brown eyes as you?”

“Yes.”

“And was his complexion ruddier than your milky white skin and without your freckles?”

“Exactly.” Greta knew that Berry had to have seen him.

“And did he walk tromp, tromp through the forest so as to hear him from miles away?” Berry went on.

“I suppose.” Greta had to cut this short. “Have you seen him?”

“No,” Berry lied, and Greta knew it, but Berry quickly covered herself with a suggestion. “But maybe the old killers of the Bear Clan can help you find him.  I will take you to them.  Come. Step out of the circle and come this way.”

“Killers?” Greta had to ask first.

“They kill the trees that Bogus the Skin marks for them.  They show no mercy.  It is chop, chop, chop.  And they drag the poor trees through the bushes, crushing all of the life and my poor flowers.”

Greta could tell that Berry got upset at the thought, but Greta had another question. “The Bear Clan?”

“That is what they say,” Berry said.  “But come on.”

Greta knew she would get no better answer, so she stepped from the circle, but kept a wary eye on Berry the whole time.  Sure enough, the instant she got out of the circle, Berry started to fly off at great speed.  “Wait.” The wall went up and Berry stopped, cold.  “Come back here,” Greta insisted, and Berry came back.  Greta could read fear on Berry’s little face.  It would have upset Greta to think that she, of all people, would cause this little one to be afraid, but Greta knew that in a moment, the fairy would flit to a completely different emotion.  Those little spirits could barely hold one real emotion at a time.

“You can see me,” Berry said, and sure enough she became very curious.  “You are not in the circle, but you can still see me.”

“Yes I can,” Greta said, without thinking much about it.  “But it is no good flying off like that.  I will never keep up.”  Greta sighed. “There is nothing else to do.  You will just have to sit on my shoulder and hold on to my hair.  Just don’t pull my hair, Okay?”

Berry gasped and made a lovely little shrieking sound.  “That’s just like the stories,” she said, and she quickly settled down, took hold of Greta’s hair and whispered in her ear.  “Thank you.”

“Which way?” Greta asked.

Berry pointed, but then realized Greta would not be able to see from the side of her head, so she spoke.  “Straight for a while.”

Greta started walking as carefully as she could, and she asked, “What stories?”

“Thumpy, thumpy, thump.”  Berry giggled in her ear.  “The stories never said it was such a bumpy ride.”

“What stories?” Greta tried again, and she could almost hear Berry’s little mind working.

“No, no,” Berry said.  “I’m not telling.  I’m no tale teller, that’s for sure.”

“Are we going in the right direction?”  Greta tried a different question.

“No, it is back over that way.”  Berry said, and when Greta figured out what Berry meant, they started walking again.

They walked quietly after that for some time while one thought kept running through Greta’s mind. Finally, she asked.  “You’re not a full blood flyer, are you?”

“No.”  Berry instantly lamented.  “My mother was human.  Father named me Berry because he had hopes for me, but I can’t make things grow or ripen at all.”  She had to stop and sniff her little tears.  “I’m just good for nothing.”  She blew her nose in Greta’s hair, but since it was such a little nose, Greta did not mind. “Father left when I was just a baby. His people went off to some new ground. He said I had to stay with Mother, but then Mother got caught by the Wyvern in the swampland and I have been alone ever since.”  Berry began to cry like a baby, and Greta never felt the need so strong in her life to mother a child.

“There, there,” Greta said as the magic in the fairy emotion made her cry a little with Berry. “Is there no one to take care of you?”

“There is Bogus the Skin,” Berry said and brightened a little.  “He is my Uncle, and I always do what he says, no matter what. Oh, we’re here.”  Berry jumped from Greta’s shoulder and flew off, quickly to disappear among the trees and into the late afternoon sun.

Greta’s stomach growled as she realized how late it was.  It must have been noon by the time she found the fairy circle, and well after one by the time she made her bargain with Berry.  Now, it was probably four-thirty, nearly five.  Greta decided she had no choice but to go and ask for food and shelter from the Bear Clan, whoever they might be.

Greta found what looked to her like a genuine log cabin in the clearing.  There were two oxen in a corral in front of the barn which sat beside, but attached to the house.  Otherwise, there did not seem to be any life about the place.  She sniffed.  She felt no magic in evidence.  Anyway, she told herself, it seemed too late to do anything about that now, and she felt too hungry to go on without a bite of something.  Daniel Boone, here I come, she said to herself, as she marched up to the door.

R5 Greta: The Fire and the Dark, part 3 of 3

Greta woke around midnight.  The fire had burned down and Hans was not there.  At first, she thought he must have stepped off to relieve himself.  She put two good sized logs on the fire and stirred the ashes to life.  Those logs ought to see them through the night.  She did not like the forest at night.  It got too dark, with the moon and stars hidden by the branches.

“Hans?” Greta called after a while.  Hans did not return, and she started to get worried. “Hans?”  She called again a little louder.  At last she got up and walked all around the camp, peered into the gloom as far as she could and looked for any sign of her brother.  “Hans?”  She called. “Hans!”  She began to call in earnest, but still no one answered and she began to be afraid.  What if he wandered off and got lost in the dark?  What if he tripped in the dark and hurt or cut himself, and became unconscious? “Hans!  Hans!”  She called loudly when she decided she needed some distance from the fire to give her night vision a chance to search nearby.  She walked into the trees until she got beyond the sound of the stream, but she felt as long as she could still see the distant firelight, she would be all right.  “Hans! Answer me.  You are worrying me.  Hans!”  She called and looked and started in a wide semi-circle around the camp.  “Hans!  You’re not funny.  Answer me. Hans!”  Only the spark and crackle of the fire responded, and the sound of the cascading water when she got near enough again.  “Hans!  Hans!” She really yelled, now, and begged to hear him in return.

All at once, the fire went out.  The light simply vanished, and the sound of the waterfall vanished as well, as if someone turned off the faucet.  She felt something behind her and she spun around several times screaming, “Hans!  Hans!” Until her direction became utterly confused.  She stopped calling for a minute.  She stilled her heart and breathing.  She listened to the dark.

Somewhere in the distance, a wolf howled.  Greta cringed.  If Hans was in trouble, he needed her.  But if she headed toward the wolf and Hans was not there, would she simply be walking herself into those jaws?  She waited, and another wolf responded to the first, only this one sounded out behind her. Now she felt completely confused. “Hans!”  She screamed as loud as she could.

She started to walk in the direction where she thought the camp might be and hoped by some stroke of divine providence, she might stumble upon it, or at least come across the stream.  It did not take long, though, before she realized that was not going to happen. She screamed, “Hans!”  And now she added tears to the mix, and they were bitter tears, for Hans and for herself.  “Hans!”

She tried to seek help through time, but time seemed as silent as the forest in the night. The message that came through was there was nothing anyone could do for her that she could not do for herself. That felt like a lie, she told herself, as she continued to cry out and weep until her throat hurt and her voice became hoarse.

“What can I do?” Greta wondered, and she felt herself corrected.  The question became, “What will you do?”  She didn’t know.  Any one of the gods in time, Nameless, Salacia or Danna she imagined, could snap their fingers and Hans could appear, safe and sound beside her.  But that would not happen.  “What will you do?”  She didn’t know what to do.

She continued to weep and cry out until her voice became no more than a whisper.  It felt like forever, but it did not take long after that when she stubbed her toe on a rock, tripped over a root, and fell face down in the dirt at the foot of a very large and very old oak tree.  She just stayed there and cried until she could not cry any longer.  Then she scooted up and put her back to the tree and whispered because it was all the voice she had left.

 

“Old tree,” she said.  “How I wish it was like the old days before the gods and greater spirits went over to the other side.  If only you were here now to come out of your shell, to walk and talk with me.  I would know, then, that everything would be all right. I remember the great dance of the trees in the days of Heracles.  We danced for a day and a night until all of the dead land in that place came alive again and covered with green.  I remember what comfort you once gave me in my hour of need, touching my tongue with your life-giving sap, salving my wounds, covering me to hide me in your protective bark.  How dear you were and how deeply I came to adore you.  I remember I stayed with you all the rest of those days.  I remember the door you made for my Nameless self, when he was, when I was young and uncertain.  You let my little ones go and warn the gods of the rebellion of the Titans in the east.  Old Oak, how good and kind and gentle you always were.  It is no wonder you were loved by both Zeus and Odin.  And even with the mistletoe you sometimes carry, how my children, my Danna’s children, honored you above all.

Greta’s eyes closed.  “I suppose they are my little ones now.”  She thought, but she did not think of home.  She felt too exhausted.  Then, for a brief moment before sleep, or just after in a dream, she thought she saw the shimmer of a kindly old face in the tree, and the branches circling gently around her in a most loving and protective way.  She knew the wolf would not get at her on that night, and she slept.

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MONDAY

R5 Greta: Greta’s brother is lost and Greta hardly knows where to turn.  She knows the terrors of the woods, or at least the stories.  Now, everywhere she turns, she finds herself pulled deeper into those terrors… Happy Reading

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