Wlvn returned to consciousness very slowly. The sun appeared to be ready to rise in the sky by the time he sat up and listened for sounds of pursuit. All he heard was the sound of a baby crying in the distance, and he remembered his experience from the last time he came to the edge of the land of the abomination, as Vrya called it. He arrived back in the spring, before he had eight months stolen from him. He decided that he still did not want to know what might be making those calls, because when he listened more closely, he concluded that it did not sound like babies at all. Thred dutifully stood there, not in a panic yet, so Wlvn knew the babies were not close enough to smell. He hoped they were not close enough to smell him and the horses. He considered that possibility as he took a good look around.
“I was beginning to think you were going to sleep forever, or maybe die on me,” Wlkn said, as he stirred the small fire he had built.
Wlvn said nothing. Wlkn had tied off Brmr’s, Gndr’s and Strn’s horses, and Thred stood close by, but Wlvn had to whistle for his second-best horse. The horse trotted right up when called, and Wlvn’s first thought was Number Two was not a very good name. On second thought, he looked in the direction where Number Two had been foraging and he saw that they were at the edge of the forest. A wide grassy plain sprawled ahead of them. One dip that rose again on the other side, up to some rocks—boulders, really, that protruded from the grass, but then the grass appeared to level off and it seemed to go on forever.
“We have to keep moving.” Wlvn spoke at last.
“Where?” Wlkn asked. “I don’t even know where we are.” He stood and looked around in a complete circle.
Wlvn grabbed Number Two’s reigns and climbed up on Thred’s back with only a slight groan. Wlkn shrugged and got up again on Brmr’s horse, having tied the other horses to trail behind. Wlvn had laid hands on Wlkn some time ago, so he knew about horses well enough, even if he never rode much and never wanted a beast of his own.
“Before the undead get here,” Wlvn added in the slightest whisper. He nudged Thred forward, knowing that the horse had already had more than enough work that day, but he only planned to walk the horses in a general south westerly direction, and he felt fairly sure that he had not recovered enough yet to do the walking himself. Thred did not seem to mind, so they passed beyond the trees, out on to the grasslands, and started down into the gully where they discovered a stream that bent around a corner and moved on its own in a southwesterly direction. Wlvn amended his plans and decided to follow the stream, thinking that at least they would not die of thirst.
Half-way down the dip, Wlvn heard a screaming sound above his head. A Gott-Druk shuttle shot down from the clouds, straight toward them. Wlkn let out a little screech. He did not recognize the craft from that distance, but he did not like the look of a bird that big. Wlvn surmised that the Gott-Druk hovered up beyond eyesight and scanned to see where he emerged from the trees. He turned Thred and kicked the poor horse to make the full effort but going uphill proved not nearly as easy as going downhill. Wlkn also turned his horses around, but he stopped when the mattress Vrya had made slid off the back of Gndr’s mount.
A high radiation particle stream came from the ship in a sudden burst. The shuttle appeared armed. Though the shot had not been well aimed, the shuttle not yet being close enough, it turned a boulder into gravel, vaporized part of the stream, and sent a great cloud of steam into the air. This convinced Wlkn to leave the mattress where it lay.
“Come on!” Wlvn shouted to encourage Wlkn and the horses in the climb. At least under the trees the Gott-Druk could not get at them so easily.
The shuttle fired a second shot. This one came closer, but even as Wlvn topped the hill, he saw an echoing shot of something strike back. The shot from the ground looked much better aimed, and more powerful besides. It tore through whatever screens the shuttle had and punched a hole all the way through the ship itself where it came out the top side to disappear in the clouds. The shuttle began to wiggle in the air and Wlvn guessed the lucky shot from their savior must have melted the stabilizers. Smoke poured from the back engines as the shuttle headed toward the far side of the rock ridge. The pilot tried to keep the nose up but could not. It disappeared behind the rocks and a ball of flame and smoke burst into the sky in the distance, like a mini-volcanic eruption. Wlvn and Wlkn heard the thunder of the explosion and the scream of twisted metal.
Wlvn turned again and let Thred walk down the hill to the stream. Wlkn wisely decided to stay put on the edge of the trees while Wlvn dismounted where Thred and Number Two could water. He used his own recovering legs to climb the other side of the gully as he wondered who fired that answering shot. He felt grateful, but it was a mystery because he knew the Elenar could not be anywhere near the Earth, yet. As Wlvn huffed and puffed his way to the top, a man stepped out from behind a boulder, a helper, a Gott-Druk. He looked cut, bruised and burned, and he appeared to limp, but he held the high radiation pistol in his hand steady enough.
Wlvn stopped and considered putting his hands up but changed his mind when he thought the gesture would be lost on the elder.
“Stay where you are,” the Gott-Druk spoke in a gravel voice. The pistol wavered as the helper cleared his throat.
“Gott-Druk.” Wlvn called the man by his proper designation and that got his full attention, and curiosity. “You were removed from this world in the time of the great disaster and no longer have a place on this planet. Leave.”
The Gott-Druk grinned and chomped his teeth which had been unnaturally sharpened and presented a horrifying sight. “We were invited, whoever you are.”
“I thought your kind was all vegetarian,” Wlvn said. The Gott-Druk were omnivorous, but not great meat eaters apart from the snow and cold days of winter.
The Gott-Druk broadened his grin. “You do not know everything, whoever you are. We are the Children of Layettee and have vowed to consume Adam’s flesh until your kind are no more.”
“You can’t have the Earth back. Leave, before it is too late,” Wlvn said, and with that, he turned to start back down to the stream. He knew his legs were shaky, but he figured the Gott-Druk was in no better shape to catch him.
“Stop!” the Gott-Druk yelled. “Stop where you are, or I will fire.”
Wlvn shook his head. “Your kind always shoots first. If that pistol had a charge, I would already be dead.”
The Gott-Druk roared and threw the pistol at Wlvn’s head, but Wlvn anticipated this and easily ducked. “I will catch you, and when I do!” The Gott-Druk hissed at him without finishing the sentence. He did not have to. Wlvn knew if the Gott-Druk did ever get his hands on him, the elder would probably tear Wlvn to pieces. The Gott-Druk were very strong.
“Save your strength.” Wlvn paused and turned to face the elder again. “The Elenar have been called. They will be here soon. If I were you, I would go back and get your crew and leave this world while you can.” The Gott-Druk’s jaw dropped, but he stared at Wlvn to see if Wlvn might be lying. Wlvn responded to the stare. “I may not know everything, Child of Layettee, but I know who your enemies are.”
The Gott-Druk roared again, but this time Wlvn heard the sound of frustration. The Gott-Druk began to limp in a different direction and headed down that side of the gully to where the stream turned into the woods. From somewhere in that direction, closer than last time, both Wlvn and the Gott-Druk heard the baby wail. Both paused and the Gott-Druk glanced back in Wlvn’s direction once before he took the short cut, down into the gully and up the other side to the woods. Wlvn decided that it might be a good idea to get away from whatever made those sounds.
When Wlvn got back down to the stream and horses, he had a surprise waiting for him. A man, an ordinary, human-looking man sat astride a horse of his own, only this strange horse had six legs. Wlvn shaded his eyes a little against the rising sun in order to take in the man’s face and features. He saw no eye patch, but the horse remained a dead giveaway. Wlvn knew who it was, and he named the man. “Odin. Alfader.”
“Should I do away with the elder one?” Odin asked. That felt strange enough. The gods never asked, especially young human, mortal boys.
“I should say not.” Wlvn spoke with certainty. “I want him to get back and take his people off this planet, preferably before the Elenar get here. The last thing I want is a space battle in the upper atmosphere with high radiation weapons shooting every which way. Better they should be gone so when the Elenar arrive, on not finding them, they may turn around and go, too.”
“Avoid the conflict altogether.” Odin sighed a little. “Probably wise.”
“Hello.” Wlkn came up leading the horses, having stopped long enough to retrieve his mattress. “We have company?” He shaded his eyes like Wlvn and looked up. The early morning sun that shone around the man on horseback seemed exceptionally strong.
Wlvn made the introductions. “Wlkn, this is Odin, the Alfader, king of the gods.”