“Hobknot.” Greta called him and gently compelled him to come to be sure he did not run away and hide for the next fifty years. “You are also the eldest,” she said. “And a little one with a good, sensible brain. Use it. I expect you to think clearly if the way gets muddled, and speak sense, even if the way appears nonsense.” Greta took off the ring of Avalon. It had the seal of the Kairos. She put it on Hobknot’s thumb and it fitted itself snugly there so it would not come off. “I am trusting you to speak in my name. Just make sure it would be words I would actually say. I want you helped, not hindered along the way.”
“Hear that, all of you?” Hobknot said, proudly. “My lady says you got to listen now when I talk sense. I speak for the lady.”
“Fae.” She called her over. “Don’t let it go to his head.”
“Never worry,” Fae said. “If his head swells up, I’ll just knock him down and sit on him until the swelling goes away, I will.”
“Listen everyone,” Greta said. “Don’t forget Fae knows truth from lies. Listen to her carefully, especially when she warns that someone is lying.”
“I wish I was there when the messenger came,” Fae said. Greta agreed.
“Fae, dear. I made a small bag for you. It has salves, physics, bandages and potions in it. Everything is labeled, and since you served your people for seventy years as their druid, I know that you know the good they may do.”
“I do not know your future,” she told her. “I don’t know what all you will face. I had to guess what you might need. There are no miracles in the bag.” Greta felt very inadequate.
“Quite all right, Lady.” Fae answered graciously. “You would think after all of those years I would have thought of this for myself, but I didn’t. So, you see? I had nothing, but now I have everything.”
“Hans.” She made him repeat his three words again.
“But what do they mean?” Hans asked.
“Stop. Do no harm. Friend.” Greta told him. “They are Agdaline words. Very hard for the human tongue.” Greta paused to look at the fading stars above. She supposed they did not need to know who the Agdaline were, nor that those strange people never expected their little pets to get loose, get big, and go wild. She spoke again. “They are Dragon-speak,” she said. “They are in the ancient tongue to which all dragons are bound to obey,” she said, hopefully. Sometimes when dragons went wild, they got mighty slow in the obedience department. Still, it had been bred into the beasts. It was genetic, and even if they only paused on hearing the words, it might be enough time to let the quest get to safety.
Hans said the words once more and Greta felt satisfied that he said them well enough. Agdaline was not easy. Then she gave Hans a gift.
“Here,” she said. “Take good care of it. It is the sword of Avalon.”
“You have more than one sword?” Hans looked surprised, though when he thought about it, he decided he should not have been surprised.
“I have had several,” Greta said. “My very first got broken when Sekhmet took it and started to wipe out every living thing in Egypt. Then I lost one up the nose of the wolf.”
“The wolf?” Berry asked. She slid closer to Hans.
“Fenrus.” Greta nodded like no big deal. “Loki’s son. Then there is Wyrd, and Salvation, swords that you know. This one is special. It usually hangs over the fireplace at home and has not been used very much since the days of Alexander the Great.”
“Why is it special?” Fae asked.
“It was made by little ones, not actually by the gods, but under contract, if you know what I mean. The same crew that made Thor’s hammer.”
Greta nodded again. “Excalibur,” she named it.
Hans drew it out and even in the dim light of the dawn, it glowed and glistened, almost as if it had a fire of its’ own. “Wow.”
“Don’t cut yourself,” Greta intoned.
“We must go,” Berry said, stepped up and took Greta’s hands. Berry had become a strikingly beautiful human woman.
“You are very young,” Greta said. “As is Hans.”
“Older than you when you stepped into the haunted forest,” Berry reminded her.
“Yes, but I had encouragement and help that you do not have. I am only twenty-two even now, but in a special way, I may be the oldest person presently on this earth. You, on the other hand, have only your hope, faith, and wits to guide you.”
“We will find him,” Berry said and squeezed Greta’s hands. She firmly believed what she said.
“And I believe you too.” Greta smiled for her. “But here, let me give you my heart.” Greta wore a small, Celtic cross on a simple gold chain. She had two made four years earlier in anticipation. Vasen, the old priest of Odin never took his off, and now she gave hers to Berry. “Let my God be your God. Look to the source to guide you and be your shield. He is an ever-present help in time of trouble.” Berry placed it around her own neck and then hugged Greta.
“I love you Mother,” Berry said.
“Oh look,” Greta interrupted and placed Berry’s hand on her tummy. “Little Marta is saying good luck.”
“I feel her moving,” Berry said with delight. Her eyes went straight to Hans. He did not catch it, but then everyone crowded in close.
“Tight in there,” Greta said. “Not much room to move around.” Greta looked once more at the four. “Go on,” she said, “before I change my mind.” She turned without looking again and went into the inn to rest. Alesander sat waiting for her there, and Darius sat with him. She had not told Darius, but somehow, he found out. He always did.
“I pray that she will,” Greta said. “But who can know the future. It isn’t written yet, more or less.”
Darius hugged her and they kissed and hugged some more while Greta’s eyes caught sight of a Celt who walked straight up to the Dacian innkeeper. The Celt held out his hand and the innkeeper grasped it in a strange handshake while the Celt said, “Pater.” Greta knew they were Mithraites, members of that ultra-secretive cult, and something in her heart turned cold, but then Darius finished with his hug.
“And you.” He stared into her eyes and his eyes were dancing with joy. “You should not be running off this close to delivery. I worry about our son.”
“Daughter,” Greta said, and tried to shake the image of coldness from her heart. “And there is another month yet, at least.”
“And how is my son today.’ Darius spoke to the baby.
“Daughter, Marta,” Greta said.
“Son, Marcus,” Darius said, and Greta let him have the last word because she knew a month or so later she would have a little girl, and she did.