Fae held Berry from one side and Hans held her from the other as she covered her face and cried great sobbing tears. They sat on a big stone block that looked deeply weathered by age. Fae also looked teary eyed, and Hans looked ready to cry with them both. Hobknot stood there, too, shuffling his feet and looking uncomfortable with this great display of emotion.
“The dragon is your father, or was.” Greta heard a man’s voice, but only saw him when Fae turned her head to look. He looked like an elderly man, with gray hair and some small wrinkles around the eyes, but his concern for their distress seemed genuine. “Mithrasis transformed your father, and she uses him to go where she cannot go.”
“How are there places she cannot go if she is a goddess?” Hans listened.
“Ah, because this whole land is surrounded by a field of force first made by the Gott-Druk and enhanced by the old god Loki and by myself. It would be death for her to attempt to leave.”
“I have heard of such a place where those who enter cannot escape.” Fae spoke up as Berry turned to cry more securely on Han’s shoulder. “I had not realized we came this far. I should have known. The Land of the Lost.”
The old gentleman shook his head. “Your hearing is from recent history, about a hundred years. That is how long I have been trapped here. This dome, or rather these ragged stones and the opening where the great door once stood are thousands of years old. At the dawn of history, a Titan ruled from this place, and the people in all the land around here were lost, you might say, cut off from the rest of the world. They were enslaved, and worse. They were eaten. The Gott-Druk and Loki helped the Titan so even the gods were powerless to end his reign of terror.”
“What happened?” Hobknot asked since Hans stayed busy comforting Berry.
“Young hobgoblin, that is a long story, but I hope the same one who ended the terror of the Titan will come here now and save us all.” The man turned to look at Fae and Greta thought he looked directly at her. “It will be a long journey. I will send help when I can, but Mithrasis will try to stop you. Do not underestimate her.”
“Old man.” Mithrasis stood in the doorway, fuming, hands on hips, but she looked unable to come in. “Send the people back out to me.”
“Nymphus,” the old man called her. “We have guests. Be nice.”
“Greta.” Greta heard her name, but oddly, not one of the people present spoke. “Greta.” She heard it again coming from outside her vision and it impacted her actual ears. She opened her eyes. She saw Mavis. The women hovered around her. Greta grabbed Aowen’s frail arm.
“Fae is not dead, but she is a prisoner far in the north. I am going to try and set her free.” Greta caught her mouth. “Don’t tell anyone.” But Aowen began cry, and like Mother Hulda used to cry, she cried as though she saw something of the vision. Unlike Berry, Aowen was an old woman so the tears came soft, but Berry came there to comfort her—or, no it was Briana offering comfort, and Mavis stood right there with her too, crying in empathy, as so many little ones tended to do. Greta sat up slowly so as not to interrupt, but they had a party to attend before they could go anywhere.
At dawn, Mavis helped Briana pick out a horse for the journey. Within an hour, the group had saddled and got ready to depart. Briana would lead them to the village of the Dragon Clan. That was a long way, at the top of the plateau on the edge of the Carpathian Mountains. The men all said it would be safer on foot. On horseback, they had to cross several places where the Lazyges might be lurking, but with luck, horseback would be quicker. Greta gave a choice, but everyone, including Briana said they would stick with the horses.
Alesander rode out front with Briana to show the way. Greta stayed beside Lucius and let Mavis ride beside Hermes who tied Stinky’s reigns to his saddle so the mule actually brought up the rear. They moved better that way, as long as the wind didn’t blow from behind. Greta kept her eyes open, but she figured it was already too late if Mavis had any ideas. Meanwhile, she wanted to keep one eye on Lucius since she just could not convince herself to trust him. It was not his few words and naturally sour disposition, but the fact that came to her in the middle of the night. Lucius was a follower of Mithras. Many in the Roman army were.
Greta took Alesander aside, Briana and Mavis being right there, and she talked about her suspicions. Alesander said Lucius was foremost a top ranked soldier and not a devoted follower. “All the same,” Greta responded. “Don’t let your admiration of the man cloud your vision. If he says go left, don’t be surprised if we go right.” She considered sending Lucius on an errand back to the legion fort, but at last she decided he might be useful. If Mithrasis had his mind, Greta might be able to feed him misinformation about their path and intentions.
On the second day, they came to the first stretch of flatland. They saw a party of some thirty or forty Lazyges camped right in their path. Greta felt naturally suspicious by then, having ridden so long beside Lucius. She thought hard about it and remembered that Mitra, Varuna’s brother began in India but took up residence in Persia when Vishnu, Shiva and Brahma invaded the Indus. Mitra or Mita, sometimes Mica and then Mithras moved out of Iran with the Scythian people. She concluded that any tribes with roots in the Scythians would be tied to Mithras and thus Mithrasis. That put a lot of people in her path. Besides the Lazyges, there were the Costoboci, the Carpi, and the powerful Sarmatians.
“They are all Scythians,” Alesander suggested.
“Different battle tactics,” Hermes advised. “Scythians, like the Lazyges fire massive amounts of arrows from horseback. Sarmatians armor their men and horses and have big lances on horseback.” The others looked at him in wonder. “We served in several Roman outposts on the north shore of the Black Sea before being assigned to Dacia. It was rough duty, let me tell you.”
“Yeah,” Greta still thought out loud. “Horsemen with lances. Not a pretty sight, and three hundred and fifty years before King Arthur, I might add.” The dumbfounded stares shifted to her, but she did not explain. “I guess we have to wait until dark and make a run for it.”
“No, wait.” Alesander and Briana were both paying attention. They saw some commotion in the trees on the hillside across the open ground. “Get ready to ride,” Alesander said, and they scooted down off the small rise they were hidden behind to where Lucius and Mavis held the horses.
Alesander moved them into a small copse of trees by the grass and pointed them toward that hillside and waited. Greta squinted, but it looked to her like the Were people were back in business. It looked like bear and great cats and wolves moving through the trees. Then the arrows came from the trees on the hill, and the Lazyges got surprised. Three men went down before the Lazyges could scoop them up and ride out of range. Alesander did not wait.
“Now,” he said, and at least Greta hoped the bears in the woods would not turn their arrows on her. Greta left that place and the Princess returned to get a good grip on her bow. Alesander, Lucius and Briana each fired two arrows as they rode for the hill. Hermes, who swore he was not so good at shooting from horseback rode hard with Stinky’s reigns in his hand. The Princess and Mavis each got off three arrows, and they struck home. The Lazyges now had eleven dead or wounded men and several horses were injured as well. If they thought of a counterattack, it came too late when the group squirted into the trees and kicked their horses to get them up the hill. The Lazyges made one half-hearted attempt to follow, but many of the men in animal skins remained behind to discourage pursuit.
Greta returned right away when the Princess went home, and she got down from her horse to face their rescuers. The others joined her on foot as a big man in a wolf skin came to her. “Mother Greta?” He was not sure.
“You were warned we were coming, and thank you for all your help.” It became her way of asking how the men knew they were coming, but clearly the men knew so she did not turn it into a question. The man grinned as a few others came to stand beside him.
“It is not my place to question how a druid knows what they know, but I will tell you it was the goddess that warned us and told us you would need help to cross the long field.”
Which goddess? Greta thought that did not sound right. She figured Mithrasis sent the Lazyges to stop her and would not have sent the Celts to help her unless Mithrasis was seriously psychotic. She thought hard for a moment, but she said something else. “We best get moving before the Lazyges get reinforcements and follow.”
The troop moves north to the next village where they discover the elect and her cousins. Until Monday, Happy Reading.