Greta, Mavis, Darius, and their small troop of soldiers left the city, but not at first light. Greta had to settle things at home before she could go anywhere. The sleeping children were easy enough to kiss, and Selamine, their nurse, would watch them well. Father and Mother were another issue.
Father sat up, awake in his bed. That was not unusual, as he woke and slept at odd hours. Mother sat by the bed, nodding from exhaustion, until Greta came in. Greta kissed her father and explained what she would be doing.
“Friends of mine. Ancient friends appeared in the north and are coming down to meet me. But they are in trouble, and I have to go to them, or they may not survive the journey.”
“Appeared?” Mother interrupted.
“Like the gods. They appeared out of nowhere,” Greta said.
“Trouble?” Mother did not like the sound of that.
“I will be fine. It is them I am worried about. Lord knows they will not stay in Porolissum where they are safe. I am sure they will try to bring me the terrible news as quickly as possible.” She began to think out loud. “Maybe I can reach Willow and convince Hans and Berry to go with them. That should slow them down so I can get there.”
“But Greta, what about your father,” Mother protested, no doubt still thinking about the trouble. “You need to stay and take care of him.”
Greta looked at her father, and he gave it his best half-smile. He tried to talk, but the words slurred, and everyone strained to catch the gist of it. “I once tried to stop you from going into the haunted forest. I learned my lesson. You do what you must, Mother Greta.”
Greta leaned over to give her father another kiss. A tear formed in her eye. “You just be here when I get back.” She turned to leave, but Marcus, her five-year-old came racing into the room and jumped into her arms. She said, “Ugh,” loudly, as she caught his embrace. Selamine followed, carrying two-year-old Hildi, and Greta wondered what Marcus did this time.
Darius came in. “The troop is ready,” he reported. Mavis followed him and brought Greta’s well-worn red cloak.
Greta put Marcus down, and put her foot down in such a way, the boy thought it safest to go stand by his grandmother. “Darius. Mavis and I need our horses. We will not be riding in the wagon. Mavis, get the cook up and get something for the road. Selamine, you have the children, and Marta can help watch the little ones. Tell Gaius I expect him to help Johannes with the house and grounds, and he better be a good help, or I will hear about it. Mother take care of Father. There, did I forget anyone?”
People shook their heads.
Greta walked to the door, walked back to give her mother a kiss, tussled Marcus’ hair, and kissed Hildi’s cheek on the way out where she raised her voice. “At this rate, we will be lucky to make it to Aquae by nightfall.” More softly, she added, “Well, at least I can get a good bath there.”
In the late afternoon, the travelers arrived at a big house in town. The fairies, Willow and Reed stayed with Katie and Lockhart. The young fairies, Icechip and Snowflake raced ahead to loudly announce their arrival.
Two women sat on the front porch, sewing and talking. The older one, a beauty in her mid-thirties, introduced herself as Karina, Bragi’s wife. It was her house, she said, greatly expanded since they had some trouble on the border some years earlier. The younger one in her mid-twenties, almost too beautiful for words, was Berry, Han’s wife. Lincoln had to explain that Hans and Bragi were Greta’s brothers.
“Welcome,” Karina said. “I’m sorry the men are not here to greet you properly. Nad-fia! come here and greet our guests. My daughters, Nadia and Sofia.” The twins, five-year-old girls were sneaking off, but came back with sour expressions on their faces until they saw Willow. They beamed for the fairy. Apparently, Icechip and Snowflake were old news.
“Karina has girls. I have boys,” Berry sighed and pointed to the two at her feet. “Lucas is four. Andri is two. And Lavinia is the best help in the world. I don’t know what I would do without her.” Lavinia, the young elf, blew at the hair that had broken loose from her bun and straggled down in her eyes. She tried to smile but caring for two young boys was dirty business.
Boston removed her own glamour of humanity and stepped up to encourage the girl. Lavinia recognized her, lowered her eyes, and said, “Princess.” Boston did not appear to know how to respond. Sukki grinned for her, and after a moment, Nanette joined in the grin.
“More like a Disney Princess,” Alexis said with a grin of her own, as she, Katie, and Willow followed Karina and Berry inside. Boston stuck out her tongue, even if Sukki and Nanette did not understand the reference. The men, Tony, Lincoln, and Lockhart had to take a turn with the horses, once Berry pointed out where to take them.
Something very big, like a giant Raven flew overhead. The men were taken by the size of the shadow. The women also looked and dropped their jaws at the size of the thing. Lavinia grabbed the two-year-old and hugged him, while the four-year-old shouted the second century Latin version of “Cool.”
Decker and Elder Stow stood between the two groups, and Decker pointed to where he could barely make out the wraith, leading the bird. She appeared so pale in the glaring light of the setting sun, she almost looked invisible.
“If she sky-writes Surrender Dorothy, I’ll kill her,” Decker said.
“We probably need to,” Elder Stow agreed, not understanding the reference. “But I think the big bird needs to come first.”
Both men got their weapons. Elder Stow kept his handy after the bear. Decker never let his get out of reach. Two men ran up in time to see Elder Stow fire and slice the sky with his weapon. The energy stream stopped moving when the bird head fell in the street. The bird body fell on a house several blocks away.
Meanwhile, Decker laid down a pattern of fire. He tried to lead the wraith, like a hunter might lead a bird in flight. He did not imagine he hit the wraith, but he heard her shriek and race off into the light. Decker would have to fire into the setting sun, so he lowered his rifle.
The younger man shouted, “Wow. What kind of weapons are those? Where did you get them? Can I see them?” Decker shook his head while the older one asked a question.
“Where did the bird fall?” He eyed the bird head, not a hundred yards away.
“Probably on a building,” Elder Stow said. “I hope nobody got hurt.”
“Great!” the older one threw his hands up. “The magistrate will blame me, and I’ll have to clean it up.”
“Free food,” Decker said. “Unless you charge so much per pound.”
“I hadn’t thought of that,” the older one said, rubbing his beard in anticipation.
“Come on in,” The younger one said. “I want you to meet the wives.”
Elder Stow and Decker followed without mentioning that they already met. Boston followed after the boys got settled, and the other men followed after the horses had their turn. Lockhart made an announcement when he ducked under the door lintel and came inside.
“We can’t stay here. It is for your own protection,” he told Karina, Berry, Hans, and Bragi. Willow, in her big size, clearly the most beautiful of them all, responded.
“Lady Greta suggested you might stay here until she can arrive, but I told her about the bird, and she said you should meet her in Potassia in three days. She is riding up to meet you, and she says, be careful.”
“We will go with you,” Hans said, reaching for Berry’s hand. “We wat to see Father. He is sick and may be dying.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Alexis said. “Maybe I can help.”
Hans shook his head. “Greta calls it a stroke.”
“What about the children?” Katie asked.
“Lavinia will come to help with the boys,” Berry said. “Karina and her children will be staying here for now.”
“Yes, that’s right,” Karina confirmed.
“Yes,” Bragi, the older brother agreed. “I’ll have to stay and clean up the bird.”
The travelers and their new friends head for the midpoint in Dacia, but are followed by the wraith, and Greta tries to get there in time. Next time. Happy Reading