The Jaccar had their horses in the corral area as Diogenes supposed they would, putting them near the feed. He entered the barn and found the village horses still mostly in their stalls. He figured the Wicca, whoever that was, had not yet gotten around to dividing the spoils. “P-probably have to s-secure the village f-first,” he said to himself as he walked straight toward the four fat mares in the corner. “G-girls spoil these horses,” he added, pulling Thrud’s horse out first. The horse looked extra big and sturdy, and Diogenes smiled at his thought, or Flern’s thought. Thrud, the smallest of them all, topping out at about five feet or maybe five-one, stood even an inch or so shorter than Pinn who was no giant. Flern always thought Thrud looked like a doll on top of this big beast. She looked like Badl.
“Woah.” Diogenes calmed the horse and gained the horse’s confidence as he found a good length of rope. He tied the reigns of Pinn’s, Vinnu’s and Elluin’s horses to the rope and led them outside. They waited patiently inside the fence while he pushed the bales of hay brought out for feed up against the walls of the barn. The hay appeared very dry from being inside the barn all winter, and so he laid out a good line to give him enough time to get away. Then he pulled out Flern’s copper tinder box. She only had flint and a stone, but it always made a good spark. The hay caught immediately, and with a little blowing it began the journey toward the big pile. It would also take a moment before the Jaccar horses smelled the smoke and began to panic. Diogenes almost wanted to stay and watch what the Jaccar would do once that happened, and the flames started roaring, but he also knew the barn would go up, and he apologized in his heart to the village for their horses because few, if any of them would be saved.
“C-come on.” Diogenes grabbed the lead horse that had three more horses tied to it, and he mounted Thrud’s mare and went through the gate. He paused and closed the gate to trap the Jaccar horses. He mounted again and rode out, hardly caring if he was seen. The darkness of the night would swallow him soon enough, and then he would turn south to follow the path of the river, judging the distance in his mind, so he could hit the riverbank about where the others should be waiting. When he felt sure of his direction, he slowed for a second and made certain that he had a good grip on the lead. Then he went back to the Middle East far in the future, and Flern came home to take his place. Thrud’s horse balked, but only for a second. Flern, after all, had been the one to train the horse in the first place, and she gripped the reigns in her teeth to reach with her free hand and pat the horse’s neck. “Steady.” She said, softly.
Flern got half-way to the river before she heard the shouting behind her. The fire had gotten up and running, full speed. She could see the light reflected against the night clouds, and she could hear the terrified screams of the horses trapped in the corral. She hated that. Some would be injured, and again she apologized to the village because some of their horses in the barn would not survive at all.
By the time Flern got to the river, her arm was tired from dragging three horses behind her. “Pinn.” She shouted because she wanted to be sure she was heard and she figured with all the shouting in the village, the Jaccar might not hear. “Vinnu!” She got down and dropped the lead when she saw that the horses were content to stand and taste some of the spring grass at their feet. “Pinn.” Flern felt anxious to get going. The ford was several miles downriver and a head start felt imperative. “Vilder! Kined!”
“They are safe.” Flern heard the word and looked up, but all she saw was the river, until the naiad moved. Her watery form blended in perfectly with the river behind her. Flern smiled broadly at the sight, not because she expected help from this lesser goddess, but because the lady was so beautiful.
“Lady.” Flern curtsied politely, though that was not easy to do given the short skirt of her armor.
“No need for formality between us.” The naiad smiled. “I have watched you since you were a little girl, though I confess I was not sure it was you until you were old enough to recognize from the brief glimpse I once had. Even then, I was not certain until you spoke with the goddess of love and war and became clothed in this outfit of war.”
“You watched?” Flern wondered. “I hope you don’t mind if we cross your waters.” She thought looking down and looking appropriately humble. She found a watery finger under her chin. It lifter her face so the naiad could get a good look at her.
“I see why you need to cross in a hurry, though I must tell you, I have no great desire to allow a bunch of filthy Jaccar into my waters. Even now they are coming.” Flern shot her eyes back toward the village. “Yes.” The naiad confirmed. “The Wicca has seen your young people in her crystal, and she had horsemen ready to give chase when you showed yourselves.”
“The Wicca?” Flern had to ask.
The naiad raised her arms and a wall of water fell to the ground, poured back into the river, and revealed everyone waiting patiently on the riverbank, the girls doubled up on the horses of their men. “A powerful enchantress. The blood of the gods runs in her veins.” The naiad raised an arm and a bridge of water formed across the river. She let the sand and mud come up from the bottom to color the bridge and she let the muddy sides grow so the horses could cross, unafraid. It almost looked like a regular wood and stone bridge. “The Wicca has driven the Jaccar across the continent to satisfy her foolish, childish whims. As things are now, I would not give you and your friends much of a chance against her, even with Diogenes and the Princess to help you.”
“Thank you for the fair warning,” Flern said. “And thank you for whatever you are willing to do.” Flern could not be more sincere, but the naiad said nothing about it, having something else on her mind, which she spoke.
“You do look exactly like him, virtually identical apart from him obviously being a man and you being a woman. And I was right by the way; you do make a very pretty young woman.”
“Thank you.” Flern looked down again, not knowing what else to say and then she looked at the others who were all waiting for her. “Well?” She spoke up. “Come get your horses, and where is mine?” She whistled and Bermer came trotting right up. After the girls reluctantly got down from behind their men and mounted their own steeds, the Naiad standing quietly by that whole time, Flern noticed that they were still staring at her. “What?” she said. “I’m not in charge here.” And she looked at Vilder who simply smiled, and Pinn, who said, “Right,” with only a touch of Thrud style sarcasm in the word. Nevertheless, Vilder shouted.
“Let’s go.” And they started across the bridge, and none too soon. They could hear the thunder of horses behind them.
Once on the other side, Flern had to stop and watch, and because of that, the others all stopped for a minute as well. The naiad flowed up out of the water on their side of the river and stood beside Flern once again, standing as tall as Flern’s face, though Flern stayed on horseback. They watched together as the Jaccar hesitated only briefly before they started out across the bridge at a gallop. Once the twenty or so Jaccar were all on the bridge, the Naiad let the bridge collapse. She sent the water back into her waters, and the mud and sand back to the bottom. All of the Jaccar, their horses and weapons went in, and many went under, though Flern assumed they would come up again. She imagined most would swim to safety, but then they would have to travel several miles before they could find a safe place to cross.
“No, my dear. They will not cross.” The naiad had been peeking into Flern’s thoughts. “I have Odin’s permission. Starting with the sunrise, I will hold the Jaccar for three days and three nights. I cannot hold them any longer, but perhaps you will be out of reach by then.”
“We have met before, haven’t we?” Flern finally figured it out.
The naiad looked her in the eye. “Indeed, I was told you are not living your lives in strict chronological order. I should not have said all that I said.”
Flern smiled. “Don’t worry. I won’t tell myself.”
That elicited a smile from the naiad, and she touched Flern’s hand ever so briefly. “You are even pretty on the inside. I am glad,” she said, and melted back into the river. Flern turned away from the river, the smile still stuck on her lips. The others turned with her, but they only went far enough that night to be able to light a fire without its being seen from the village.