R6 Greta: The Swamp of Sorrows, part 2 of 3

Greta looked hard at Lucius before she continued. “It was by trick, and with some help, I got Mithras out of the land of the dead.  He faced down Baal again, and this time he won, and Baal got sent over to the other side, and the world was saved, Hooray!  But Mithras got badly broken.  At the time, I had no idea how badly broken he was, but you know, I had a different life too, at that point in history.  Lydia had other worries, like her own husband and children, and trying to get the Han and Roman ambassadors to meet and peacefully discuss trade rather than posture from too much testosterone.”

“And Mithras did not volunteer to go over to the other side after his task was done,” Treeborn interjected.

“No,” Greta nodded.  “He went to Apollo.”

“The sun god?”  Hermes breathed.

“Yes, but Apollo, father of Aesculapius, was also a great healer.  He helped Mithras heal, though Mithras was technically dead, but Apollo could not heal the brokenness.  Apollo went over to the other side, and I wept for him.  He took his sister, Artemis, and I still weep for her because she is my best friend in the whole world, forever.  But Mithras would not go.  Instead, he fell apart.  Seven pieces of him formed themselves like a new pantheon of gods.  There is the Raven Mercury; the Nymphus Venus, Mithrasis as she calls herself; the Soldier Mars who has brought many into submission, including the Wolv; and I no longer think the Wolv are being controlled by Mithrasis. Then there is the Lion-headed man with the serpent at his feet, which is Jupiter, the judge; the Persian who is the moon and the stars, a powerful person of Magic who carries the sickle of death and rules the scorpion of the sky; Helios, the sun-runner, a demon who holds the whip of the fire of the Sun; and the Pater, Saturn, the father of them all.” Greta stopped talking, and it took a moment before anyone dared ask another question.  It was Bogus in the end.

“And what are we supposed to do about them?”

“We have to kill them, to finish the job.”  Greta spoke in a very flat voice.  “Anyone who wants is welcome to quit and go home.” Greta pulled up her blanket and laid back down where she would not have to look at them.  She was serious.  She would not blame them if the whole gang just left her to her fate.

###

Another day later, they still moved in and out of the trees.  The steppes, Greta recalled, were not necessarily endless grasslands.  Just before four in the morning on the third day, about an hour and a half before sunrise, reports came in that enemies had been sighted on the treeless section they had to cross, both to the left and to the right.  The horsemen to the left were likely Scythians.  They were the people with the sun symbols on their tunics. The horsemen to the right were the Dacians from the other day, heavily reinforced if the report proved correct.

“That is a pickle,” Hermes said.  “And when we are almost there.”

“We try to cross to the swamp and we will be crushed between the hammer and the anvil,” Briana suggested, and Alesander praised her.

“Good image.”

“We cross now,” Greta said, without a second thought.  “Pack the camp and be quick.”  She called for the fairy King.  “Treeborn, I need two volunteers, and they must be genuine volunteers because I cannot say they will come back alive.  And not you.” Treeborn’s face fell.  He thought of being one of the two.  It took a moment before two old warriors of the fee arrived, and she instructed them one at a time.

“Go seek out the chief of the Scythians and tell him the followers of the Lion, Jupiter are across the field.  Tell him the Lady and her quest will be crossing the field at dawn and point out to him that the favor and reward of Mithras cannot be shared, and then get out of there and come back to join us, and turn your natural light down so they cannot follow you with their eyes.”  The message became the same for the Dacian chief, but to suggest that the worshipers of Helios, the sun-runner were going to get the prize first if the Dacians did not move to stop them.

“Ready.”  Grassly stepped up to Greta.  Mavis had her medical bag, and Greta put it on her shoulder, over her head, and looked to see that her blanket got picked up.

“Time to move,” Alesander said, and Greta felt glad the Romans had the discipline to break camp quickly.

“Vedix and Bogus out front,” Greta said.  “Fee to the left and gnomes to the right. Come on Stinky.”

Moving as fast as they could during that hour and a half of darkness got them half-way across the field.  Then the sun touched the horizon.  They heard the horses, and should have been plain as day to the riders, but the fairies and gnomes put up a powerful glamour to make the people appear like bushes blowing in the wind, and all but invisible to the human eye. The horses pounded the earth in a full charge and Greta, and several others yelled.  “Don’t stop.  Keep going.”

Greta avoided screaming when the Dacians rode through their line.  The horses were able to sense the people and the mule and managed to avoid them, but it felt terrifying to be in the way of a cavalry charge.  A great roar split the air when the Dacians and Scythians met, fifty yards off.  Greta and her group kept moving.

They were a thousand yards from the forest at the edge of the swamps when thirty Scythians, still on horseback, and some fifty Dacians, mostly on foot, moved to cut them off from their goal.  It seemed someone woke up and remembered what they were there for, and Greta felt out of options.  The group stopped moving

“Shields on,” Alesander yelled, and the five who had shields clicked the button on their wrist-watches.

“Nudd, stay behind me,” Greta grabbed the boy and pulled him back while everyone got out their bows and swords.  They walked forward, slowly, while the Scythians got down from their horses and pulled their own bows and swords.

A volley of arrows came from the Dacians who were off to the side, in the direction of the battle.  The arrows missed or bounced off the shielding, and one bounced off Greta’s chain mailed breast and would leave a slight bruise.  Stinky bucked as one arrow grazed his flank.  Fortunately, a second volley did not follow as the Dacians charged.  Treeborn’s fairies raced out to meet the Dacians after the men only took a few steps, and they sped around the heads of the men until the Dacians began to get dizzy. Then they backed off as the gnomes stepped up.

The gnomes stood only two and three feet tall, but with their fairy weave clothing they were all but impossible to see in the tall grass.  That negated any advantage the men might have had due to size and reach, and it gave the gnome’s long knives a field day.

When the fairies backed off a few yards, they took on their big form and looked resplendent in the morning sun.  They were man sized, but wore armor and breastplates that glistened in the sun.  They began to walk forward in formation, and the Dacians decided it was not worth the effort.  Soldiers were disappearing into the grass as three and four gnomes took down one after another.  Now faced with these fairy warriors, the Dacians wisely turned and fled.

Meanwhile, the Scythians ranged themselves between the people and the swamp woods.  They looked ready to charge the oncoming group as Greta and her people walked slowly forward, but the Scythians paused when Treeborn and a half-dozen fairies landed in front of the group and took on their big size.  Grassly and a dozen gnomes stepped up with the fairies and made themselves visible.  Greta knew, unless the Scythians concentrated on them, her group still looked like bushes blowing in the wind.  But when the Scythians caught sight of what happened to the Dacians, the got back up on their horses.

“Ready for a cavalry charge,” Alesander yelled and the soldiers, Briana and Mavis made sure they had their bows and arrows ready. Greta thought she had suffered the better part of valor, and Festuscato complained so loudly that it was his turn, she just had to oblige.

“Stay behind me,” Greta told Nudd in her own voice before she went away and let Festuscato fill her boots.  He came with the helmet of Mars and all the weapons any unreasonable person might need.  He also held tight to his bow, a bow that sadly had seen plenty of action.  Mavis stepped up beside him, determination on her face.  She looked ready to die beside her mistress, even if her mistress was a man at present.

The Scythians had spears which they lowered in Samartian fashion, like Arthur and his lancers, and they were well disciplined to wait until the others crossed most of the ground on foot. They looked ready to charge when a horse and rider got tossed twenty feet through the air to land in a lump on the ground.  The Scythians started to scream, and Nudd joined them, but he only screamed once before he closed his eyes.  A whole family of ogres came tumbling out of the swamp-woods behind the horsemen.

Scythian bows and arrows were of no use at such close range.  Swords cut the ogres, but not bad or deep into their rock-hard skin, so that only made the ogres mad.  The spears were all pointed the wrong way, and when the Scythians tried to turn around to get some weight behind their spear thrust, the horses knew better and ran.

It was all over very quickly.  A dozen Scythians were down and torn up, several with their heads popped from their shoulders.  Three horses had to be put down, and the gnomes got terribly upset by that.  In fact, Grassly and his people were ready to attack the ogres right then for their carelessness, and would have if Greta did not return and yell.

“Grassly.  Take your people home and leave the ogres alone.”  She yelled to the ogre father.  “Bonebreaker, take the horses and take your family home, now.  Take your family home.”  She repeated it because ogres were not always quick to get the message.  Greta never would have been heard by people with all the yelling and screaming and thundering horses, but Greta knew her little ones would hear her loud and clear, and she hoped they heard the determination in her voice.  “Thank you Grassly.  Thank you Treeborn and Goldenrod,” she added and walked toward the tree line, Mavis beside her and Nudd stumbling behind.  Mavis had reached out and grabbed Nudd’s hand to pull him along, since he still had his eyes closed.

“And you were?”  Mavis asked quietly.

“Festuscato, Senator of Rome, and he felt disappointed that there was not a good fight.  Even now he is arguing that the turn did not count because he did not get to do anything.”

“Indeed?”

“He is weird,” Greta said.  “And a future me.”

They paused the conversation as they stepped among the trees and the morning sun faded and then vanished altogether, hidden above the canopy.

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