Once they got away from the elf camp, they settled into a morning lineup where Badl and Moriah rode out front on Number Two followed by Flern and Laurel side by side. Andrea came behind, next to or in front of Wlkn and Elleya who generally brought up the rear when they rode single file. Laurel had been given Brmr’s gentle mare, so Elleya had to double up with Wlkn which was all she wanted since Moriah started riding with Badl. Laurel said she felt uncertain about riding at first, but she sat the horse well and quickly got the hang of it.
“I’m sorry. I can’t give you a knowledge of horses just by laying my hands on your head like Wlvn can,” Flern apologized. “I only reflect his gifts, and in a far lesser degree, I think.”
“Don’t apologize,” Laurel responded. “Since the day Wlvn broke the ice with his horses, all of the little ones have gotten the idea that some of these beasts may have uses we never before imagined.”
“So, you have horses in your camp? I did not see any.”
“No, Lady Flern.” Laurel confessed before her face filled with a wild grin. “But one day I became overwhelmed with a spirit of adventure, and I managed to ride on a wild one. It was scary, but fun.”
Flern nodded. She felt surprised that Laurel did not break her neck doing a crazy thing like that; but then she knew that all of the little ones, and some gnomes especially, had a natural affinity for the beasts which the little ones themselves were just beginning to learn about and explore. Flern supposed the wild horse was not nearly as wild with Laurel as it would have been with a human rider.
By lunchtime, Flern liked this elf very much. Laurel seemed a sweet girl, young as she looked, and Flern hoped they could be friends. She thought about it. This was not the result of the love, care, and sometimes concern she had for all of the little ones, as goddess of the little ones; this felt like something personal. Flern felt that person to person they could be close, even if she remained technically Laurel’s goddess. Now, if only she could figure out a way to get Laurel to stop calling her Lady Flern or my Lady.
When they stopped for lunch, Badl nudged Flern while the meat cooked. Flern looked up to find a branch in the gnome’s hand, one cleaned of all the little twigs, so it looked something like a long club. “Do you know anything about those weapons you are carrying?” Badl asked.
“A little.” Flern hedged. “I used to make the girls practice with the bow. Thrud was terrible.” She laughed at her memory. “But for the sword and knife, I only learned about them a little when you laid hands on Wlvn that one time. The gift of Tyr. Remember?”
“I remember.” Badl nodded. “You said as well as being Wlvn’s reflection in female form, you reflected his gifts a bit, so I’m thinking you know more than you are telling, but I was also thinking that Wlvn started giving himself lessons. Knowing how to do something and being able to do it are two different things.”
“They are,” Flern confirmed.
“But you have the weapons and know about how you are supposed to use them. I figure all you need is to practice some before we get to lands completely unknown. Some of us here may have to depend on you to protect them.”
“No.” Flern protested and sat up straight. “That’s not fair. You said I would have to kill the Titan. You did not say anything about having to defend this whole crew.”
“There is that, too. The Titan, I mean,” Badl said, with a wry smile. “I am sure it will be good to know something about these things when you face the monster.”
“Grrr.” Flern felt trapped again. “I am trying not to think about that.”
“Come now. A little practice won’t hurt.” Badl nudged her with his branch.
Flern put her hand to her shoulder where he bumped her. “I can’t. The sword is too heavy.” She made excuses and did not know why. She always wanted to get her hands on a real sword.
“Come now. No excuses.” He tapped her lightly on the head.
“Ouch. Cut that out,” she said.
He tapped her thigh a little harder. “Not until you at least try.” He poked her shoulder again.
“Grrr!” Flern got up and pulled out her sword as Badl backed up. She did not really get mad, and it became evident when she expressed amazement rather than anger at holding the sword of the elves in her hand. It seemed much lighter than she remembered. It felt very much lighter, and then she remembered why. She reflected the strength that Thor gave to Wlvn, and she thought, maybe she could do this after all.
Badl came at her with three quick strikes: left, right, left. Flern easily knocked away the branch all three times. It seemed easy since knowing what to do, and being young and flexible, and apparently strong, made the actions simple. But then Badl came at her with a more complicated move, and when she thought his branch would be one place, it ended up somewhere else and it tapped her lightly on the head.
“Ouch,” Flern said, and she put her hand to her head. “I wonder if my little ones might be willing to make me a helmet?”
“More than likely,” Badl said, and he came at her again, thinking to knock her this time in the knees, but Flern shot up into the air, higher than the dwarf and his branch could reach, and she floated there for a minute, razzing the poor gnome.
“Ha, ha! Missed me! Nyah-nyah.” She came back down.
Badl frowned and came again with the same move he used before. Again, he knocked her on the head, like she had not learned anything, and at once Flern felt two things. First, she realized that she would never be as skilled as the Princess or Diogenes. Certainly, not Diogenes. They trained day in and day out for years, until this kind of thing came automatically. The Princess would have disarmed the gnome on the first pass, and knocked him on the head, too. The other thing, she felt embarrassed, and that made her angry. Wlkn and Badl did not help.
“He got you again that time,” Wlkn pointed out the obvious.
“Hush,” Moriah spoke from the cooking fire. “I would like to see you try.”
“Well, she is only a human female after all, you know,” Badl said.
Flern got angry and thought to chop that stupid branch in two. She needed a good, level swing with plenty of follow through. She temporarily forgot about the strength from Thor, and she also forgot about the gift of Baldur. That was speed, and while it did not become superhuman speed in her as in Wlvn, she later found out that she could keep up with Laurel in a foot race and being able to run with an elf was really saying something. In this case, the sword swung much faster and harder than Flern intended, and she spun all of the way around three times before the sword slipped completely out of her hand. It just missed Andrea. It might have clipped her if she was taller. It sunk a good six inches into a big old oak tree where the tree looked covered with ice.
There are creatures to meet along the path and at least one more to join them on their journey. Until then, Happy Reading.