Late in the afternoon on the following day, the group came to the edge of the swamp. From there, after a short bit of grassland, they saw the stone city wall, two stories high in most places. Nudd called the city Samarvant, and he pointed off to their right where the road went up to a gate, the road they would have taken if they traveled the normal route, twenty-one days on the high road from the village of the Dragon Clan. Off to the left, they saw the river that Nudd called the Olevant. The little ones called it the river Heartbreak, but Greta had another name for it.
“The Scythians own the Ukraine, but I hope we are beyond their area now,” she said. “These great swamps and bogs and woods cover the border area, and they rest on higher ground where a thousand streams join together to form the river. The river on the future map that the Storyteller is looking at is called the Oka, it runs due north for a long way before it detours to the east where it runs straight into the Muskva River, and that is where we are going.” Everyone looked at the river where it skirted the swampy area they were in and ran north along the edge of the city. Everyone looked at the water since it was the route they would have to take, but the water was not the only thing they were looking for.
“Over there,” Alesander pointed toward the southeast side of the city where the wooden roof of a tower could just be made out. It looked burned.
“I see the scorch marks on the stones,” Mavis reported. “But I see no one on the walls or around the gate and I hear nothing to indicate life.”
Bogus shook his head. “I smell trouble, but I cannot say what kind. I think Wolv, but…” Bogus shrugged. “Too much lime smell.”
“No cooking fires,” Pincushion added. “This time of day I should smell cooking fires.”
“Briana?” Greta turned again
“I sense danger.” That seemed all she could say for sure.
“I recommend we wait until dark,” Ulladon said.
“Why wait?” Lucius spoke up. “No reason why we can’t find our way to the docks and grab a boat before they even know we are there.”
“Better after dark. We can’t protect you until after the sun sets,” Lord Crag interrupted. “Rotwood,” he yelled in a voice that gave Nudd the willies. “Run back and get the trolls and Bonebreaker, and hurry.” Rotwood hurried, and Greta sat, so everyone found a spot and sat with her.
Pincushion, Ulladon, Hermes and Mavis set about building a fire to cook some supper. Briana sat with Alesander and they looked at the city wall once in a while. Lucius sat near them and stayed quiet except for the comment that he thought they ought to just go, now. He said they would be all right and let the subject drop, but Greta wondered how he would know one way or the other, and surely caution would be called for. She considered Lucius on this journey. He had not betrayed them. He had not done anything overtly to indicate he might be under the spell of Mithrasis, if she did not count almost being killed by his rockslide on the Rumbling Ridge; but there were subtle signs. He urged them to return to Roman lands at the Dragon Village. He went out all day from the elf village and Vedix said he and Lord Horns separated from him for a time, but that did not mean he met with anyone or set up any ambush. Now, he urged a lack of caution, like he knew something but would not tell. There were probably other things as well, but her mind felt clouded.
“Lady,” Bogus and Vedix interrupted her thoughts with an argument. “I thought maybe Chobar and the Dog Clan came up before us, and maybe that is the dog smell we are sensing, but Vedix says even if Chobar brought every dog, there would not be enough to attack a city like this.”
“I wish it was something as simple as Chobar and his dogs, but no,” Greta said. “This is a city of the Bastarne people, as Ulladon said, and that is a Germanic people. I thought one or more of the outlying Scythians types might have attacked the city, like maybe the Capri or Costoboci, but no.”
“Why not?” Vedix wondered.
Greta pointed. “That roof is still smoldering, so whatever happened, it happened in the past day or two at most. And there are no dead bodies or equipment, broken or otherwise, to indicate an assault on the city.”
“Maybe it got taken by stealth and subterfuge,” Bogus suggested.
Greta shook her head, but said, “Maybe.” She twirled her right-hand pigtail, considered how light her blond hair was, and wondered if she could get away with being ditzy and feigning ignorance about the world. No way, she thought. Not if she knew words like feigning. She sighed and considered their predicament instead. No one said the city got razed by Wolv, but it was what everyone thought. Greta was probably the only one who knew that it would not take more than a dozen Wolv to kill a thousand men, women and children. The Wolv had shielding and advanced weapons, and true, the weapons were pretty old and worn out, but even with their claws and fangs, and speed alone, they were pretty unstoppable.
“Lady.” Nudd interrupted Greta’s thoughts this time. She looked at him, but still had her mind wandering through La-la land. Poor Nudd. He had not left her side since just about Movan Mountain, and she could not be sure if he opened his eyes even once in the swamp. “Lady,” he repeated, which got her to pay better attention. “I’ve been thinking about Samarvant. I was very young when I came here, but I remember some. I remember they built big underground tunnels, drains they called them, to take away rain water and filth from the streets. I remember because they scared me when I thought about getting lost down there. I feared wandering around forever and never finding my way back up again.” Nudd got lost in his own memories, and from the look on his face, they were probably memories of nightmares he had as a child about getting lost in a labyrinth of underground tunnels. Greta paused while the information sank in. Then she shouted.
“Alesander. Bogus. Lord Crag. There may be a way through the city.” She softened her tone to speak again to Nudd. “Do the drains empty out into the river?”
“Yes,” he said and shivered. “And sometimes they flood the tunnels to clean them out.” He closed his eyes and turned away while the others came to listen.
It took almost no time to figure their route. Lord Crag’s people explored all the tunnels when they were first constructed, including their path through a couple of natural underground caverns. Crag and his people wanted nothing to do with those caverns since they were so wet and full of stinky limestone, and since the townspeople sent flood waters through every now and then, but his people knew all about the tunnels, and several had maps in their heads and claimed they could take them right to the drain opening next to the docks on the river.
“The only problem is we will have to enter the city by the gate to get to a drain opening,” Lord Crag said. “The ground beneath the city wall is solid, and you folks can’t walk through solid rock.”
“They will smell us,” Greta pointed out, though no one had yet said Wolv with certainty.
“If we move quick, we should make the drain, unless they are standing on it, and the underground smells only of limestone,” Lord Crag countered.
“Indeed,” Bogus spoke up. “I can smell it from here.”
With that, they settled in for a good supper while they waited for the sun to go down. Mavis, Ulladon and Briana made sure Nudd got more than enough to eat. They seemed determined to overstuff the poor boy. Ulladon even called him the poor and needy son she never had. Briana smiled at that description. Mavis let out a true elf grin, and Greta smiled for them, even if she felt a bit left out.
Feeling left out felt like nothing unusual for Greta. She remembered when she turned ten and eleven-years-old and started to seriously study with Mother Hulda, the woman of the ways. People treated her differently almost from the beginning, though her childhood friends hung on for a time. She only turned sixteen when Mother Hulda died in a night, and the burden of the people fell on her shoulders. She felt unprepared for that. She felt like she hardly knew enough to come in from the rain, but the people had no one else.
Greta looked at Mavis, Ulladon and Briana. They were becoming good friends, but sadly, Briana thought of her as one who spoke to her goddess Rhiannon like Rhiannon was the child in need of instruction. This did not make Mother Greta appear like a normal woman, like a person one could have as an ordinary friend. As for Mavis and Ulladon, Greta was their goddess, and no doubt that had seeped into Briana’s thinking as well. She could never be just friends with any of them. She remained the Kairos. She had lived too many lifetimes over too many years if she added it up, though it did not honestly add up that way.
Greta paused to think through what it meant to be the Kairos, the goddess of history, though out loud she insisted on being called the Watcher over history. She claimed only to watch history, but she admitted that sometimes it became a struggle to get it to turn out the way it was written. It felt curious how that written history extended as much into the future in her mind as into the past. As an ordinary human, she had no idea what tomorrow would bring. The next hundred years or so always stayed a mystery. But through whatever future lives she currently remembered, she could understand how things turned out and look back to see what endangered the present. Things were happening that could throw the whole of history out of whack if she did not act. A Mithraic pantheon of gods ruling over Rome was not in the books. Greta sighed and considered the future more closely.