Gerraint put away his sword, and when the titan fell dead on his face, he leapt up on the titan’s back, grabbed the lance, and finished pulling it all the way through. He thanked Hephaestus for the fingerless gloves that protected the palms of his hands, because the lance felt as hot as fire itself. Grassly had a bucket of water, as Rhiannon instructed him, and Gerraint stuck the point in the water and watched it steam for a minute.
By the time Stinky arrived, Manannan also arrived, and he had a pouch in his hand. “Poppy seeds,” Manannan said. “To help it sleep.” He tied the pouch around the lance point and held it until the lance stopped wiggling.
“Don’t go far away,” Gerraint commanded as was his nature as a king and a knight of the Round Table.
“Never far,” Manannan insisted, before he and the lance vanished.
“Lord,” Grassly shouted to him as Gerraint mounted the mule. “The knights and the enemy are about to meet.”
Gerraint said nothing, but he did not want to look. He felt sorry for the Sarmatians being, by comparison, such amateurs. Gerraint heard the titan deflate and saw it start to liquefy. He saw the spark of life leave the titan body and shoot up to the man-made ridge where the Pater, Mithras undoubtedly still stood. He thought about the thousands of men on each wing that were about to press the attack, but in the center of the field, with the gnomes all but invisible, it looked like only one man stood. One woman, he thought, and traded back to Greta’s life. He brought back her dress and red cloak, and she reached out to pet her mule.
“Walk gently, Stinky,” Greta said, though Stinky seemed inclined to do that very thing, and several of the gnomes accompanied her to help.
Greta almost got back to the Roman lines when she had company. A man appeared out of thin air. He rode on a plain horse and said nothing. Greta knew who it was without having to look, and for all of her efforts, she still did not like the man. It was a personality thing, she decided.
“I wonder if this was how Mary felt riding into Bethlehem,” Greta said. She shifted to ride side-saddle, and that relieved a bit of the pressure. Lucius made no response, but Greta knew Lucius had no doubt to whom she referred.
Greta had to dismount when she reached the ridge fortification. No way she could force her mule to climb that. The gnomes brought Stinky. Greta held her belly as she climbed. The man beside her dismounted when she did, and he saved the horse by letting it vanish and go back to where it came from. He offered to help Greta up the hill, but she withdrew. She did not want him to touch her.
Up top, Greta found the women standing to one side, Rhiannon out front. The men all stood on the other side, with Darius, Manannan and Alesander keeping a wary eye on the man in their midst. Mithras stood alone, in the same spot where he had been when he first arrived. The whip had gone, but his staff remained, and he leaned heavily on it. He looked every bit like a very old man who suddenly felt his age. Greta stopped, said nothing, and looked at the man as he spoke.
“Apollo prophesied that the seven pieces of Mithras would not be made as one until time herself lifted her hand against them. For a while, at first, I though the seven pieces meant I would have seven children. Even when I became shattered and I guessed Apollo was talking about you, the Kairos time, that did not make sense. You were a man, turning back an invasion of Wolv and fighting against Trajan and his weapons in Mesopotamia. Early on, when Mithrasis and I trapped each other in the north, I managed to persuade a young man to come north in search of his grandmother. I thought, just in case you came this way, you might make the effort to free your half-spirit of the earth, and him being only a half spirit, I knew I could hang on to him and force you to come. But then Mithrasis brought down a Wolv transport and I became forced to turn that man into a dragon for my own protection.
Suddenly, you were born a woman in this place, and I started to put it together, but I was trapped in the ancient dome and it seemed impossible to reach you. Then, entirely by chance or as you Christians would say, by providential grace, I discovered that my soldier-self, my Mars, felt ready to rebel. He tried to hide among the Romans, but I got word to him. He is the one who told Mithrasis about the leftover guns of Trajan that were hidden in the Temple Mount of Ravenshold. But when I saw how her plans failed so spectacularly, I truly began to despair. Then my soldier-self told young Hans and Berry where Berry could find her father. The rest you know, except let me say this, that I have never known such love or good company than I had these last two years with Hans and Berry, Fae and Hobknot. You, my dear, are a very lucky woman to have such a family to love.” Mithras wiped one eye where a tear wanted to fall.
Greta said nothing as Lucius stepped forward to face the man, Mithras. “It is time for us to go,” he said. “As was made clear to me often enough on our journey north; the old way has gone. The new way has come. The time for the gods is over and we must go over to the other side.” Lucius said no more as he reached out and hugged the old man.
“No, no.” Greta understood right away, and she felt awful about it and wanted to protest. She looked at her faithful Centurion, Alesander, but he could only look away. Darius would have done it for her, but he could not. Only she could do the deed. Manannan and Rhiannon showed no expression. Mavis cried.
With one hand on her belly and tears in her eyes, Greta called to her long knife, Defender. It appeared in her hand, and she shoved it into Lucius’ back where his heart ought to be. Neither Lucius nor Mithras made a sound. Greta pulled Defender back out, and Lucius began to crumble. They saw a flash of light, and Mithras stood alone on the ridge top. Greta cried great big tears while Darius ran to her, to hold her and offer every ounce of comfort he had.
“I am whole again,” Mithras said quietly. “I must think about the other side.”
“You can do it,” Greta interrupted her cry. “You have the courage. I have seen it.”
Mithras made no answer. He simply faded until he vanished. Curiously, Danna’s disobedient children who themselves had yet to let go of this life had also gone from sight.
Darius still cooed when Greta pushed back. “Oh, but Darius,” she pointed. The enemy on the wings were starting the attack, and though the Sarmatians withdrew completely from the battle, perhaps because they concluded the magic turned against them was too great for victory, there were some seven thousand Scythians determined to get some revenge for their beating the day before. That still added up to some twenty-one thousand men attacking some sixteen thousand human defenders. Greta knew, if it was not for the addition of her little ones, the defenders in their bunkers and behind their make-shift walls and ridge would be hard pressed to fight off such an attack. Greta buried her face in Darius’ chest. She did not want to watch. She did not do well in panic situations.
The Goths on the left, with their Roman and Celtic allies fought like the berserkers Greta called them. As they showed no quarter and drove back the Lazyges and Outsider Dacians with their fury, the Romans and Celts were impressed that these men were serious about war, and very good at it.
On the right, the Slavs, with their Celts and Romans had a bit more difficulty, in part because the Slavs kept attacking, like they were the aggressors, not the defenders. Small pockets of Slavs kept getting surrounded by the enemy, and it took some serious work to rescue them. When they did, they usually found a pocket of Slavs surrounded by dead bodies, and the Slavs laughing and ready to do it again. Indeed, Venislav seemed to laugh the whole time, even when he hacked an enemy in two. The Romans and Celts came away from there thinking that these Slavs were warriors and great fighters, but also insane. Eventually the enemy figured this out as well, and when they withdrew, no doubt some felt they were lucky to get away from those mad men.
In the center, Drakka, Bragi and the men of Porolissum were backed up by the Romans and Celts. Nudd and his brothers fought there, and Hans finally got to use that sword. Father was in charge, and when the Scythians dismounted outside the trenches and spikes, he charged, Slav style. The Scythians were not ready for that turning of the table, and they withdrew. Father ran his people back to their wall and bunkers, before the arrows started to fly again.
Father pulled that off twice, but by the third time he figured he might be pushing his luck and kept his men back to await the attack. It proved wise, because the third attack came with less men on foot and more men still in the saddle firing arrows to keep the Roman and Celtic heads down. Once the Scythians on foot got near enough to be in the way, the Scythians had to hold their arrows, and many of them dismounted and joined the attack. They got close, too close for many of the defenders, but this time, Father used his advantages. He let loose the goblins, the trolls, ogres and dwarfs with their big axes and their most frightening aspect. Most of the Scythians screamed, turned and ran to be picked off by elf and fairy archers, who rarely missed. Those who did not run right away became meat for the grinder. By the time the Romans moved out in formation, backed up by the Celts and Bragi’s locals, they only had some cleaning up to do.
Greta yelled at her father the minute she heard. How dare he put her little ones in that kind of danger. They were there, kind enough to back up the humans. They were not there to take the lead. Some of them got killed, and Greta did not talk to her father for a whole day. The only thing that made it palatable was the fact that the little ones all praised her father for what he did, and thought things like it was about time they got the chance to really fight, and said things about how they hated to always have to be in the background.
“You’re all crazy,” Greta shouted.
“So I keep saying,” Venislav agreed. “Your sprites are hard to trust and all crazy in the head.” Coming from Venislav, that did not help.
Greta is angry and upset, and the Scythians refuse to leave the battlefield, even though they know the tide has turned against them. Greta dreads what she will have to do to clean up the mess. Monday: Cleaning Up. Until then, Happy Reading.