Around three, during the hot part of the day which Flern thought plenty hot for the first of May, they saw a train of people down toward the bottom of a little hill and debated vigorously about whether to join those people or avoid them at all costs. The vote to join them won easily, since the train appeared headed in their general direction.
“Besides, I though part of the plan was to get people who might be willing to help us against the Jaccar,” Pinn said. They got all bunched up on top of their little hill by that time and thought nothing about whether they were seen. They supposed the people in the train might be wondering the same sorts of things about them, whether to contact the people on the hill or ignore them and hope they went away. The gang on the hill certainly did not want any trouble. But, even as the sound of Pinn’s voice finished echoing across the hillside, two dozen men on horseback with spears came out of nowhere, virtually up out of the ground, and they surrounded the young people.
Everyone froze, afraid to say or do anything in the face of so many spears; until an older man detached himself from the crowd of spears and rode up to the group. He looked hard at Pinn, Flern, Vilder, Tiren, Thrud, and Vinnu who looked away for fear. He stopped in front of big Gunder. The man’s long gray hair was slicked back with sweat. He had green stripes painted on his cheeks, and Flern thought he looked mean.
“You are not Jaccar,” he said. His accent sounded thick, but his words were understandable.
“Do we look like Jaccar?” Thrud asked, with a sharpness that betrayed her nervousness. Normally, her sarcasm got delivered deadpan.
“I bet Flern killed a dozen Jaccar all by herself.” Gunder said and pointed. The old man looked up, but Flern shook her head.
“It wasn’t me,” she said, and technically it was not her flesh and blood that did it.
“Our village just got overrun with Jaccar.” Vilder spoke, while Pinn reached out for Flern’s hand. “We escaped, and now we are seeking the weapons and friends to help us set our village free.”
The old man paused to scratch his beard. “Children.” He pronounced the word with some disdain. “Come.” And that was it. They were escorted to the train by the armed men, and rode together, mostly in silence for another two hours, flanked at all times by men until the train halted for the night.
The old man returned after they stopped and conferred with the chief guard before he approached the group. “You are no danger.” The old man concluded. “Day after tomorrow, we will come to the Piddy River. There is a village there. Maybe they will be your friends with weapons. Now, come. You stay with us, and we eat.”
Flern and Kined started to dismount but paused when the others did not move.
“Come, come.” The old man said and tried to smile. It was hard to tell under the bush he had for a moustache. “Young boys like to eat. Come eat and you tell us your story.” Trell, Fritt and Tird got down, but the rest waited a second longer until Vilder and Pinn dismounted together. They came to a big tent, one still being set up, and they smelled the cooking fires already burning and roasting something for supper. They got ropes with which to hobble the horses and got escorted into the big tent, but not before Flern had a chance to take a good look around.
Flern had thought at first that these people might be refugees from some other village the Jaccar attacked, but now she saw that she was mistaken. The dozen wagons pulled by pairs of oxen were little houses built on top of the wagon. She decided that these people were not settled people, and that notion got confirmed when the old man finally introduced himself.
“I am Karenski. We are travelers. We have fought the Jaccar on two occasions and moved on from those places. They push, always we move west, but they follow, and some say soon there will be no more west to go.”
“Someone needs to push them back.” Strawhead Trell was the one who said that, and the old man gave him a strange look, even as a young girl came in under the tent door and interrupted them all.
“That is what I keep telling my father, but he says I am just a girl and don’t understand.” Flern let out a little “Grrr,” and Kined patted her hand to keep her quiet.
“My daughter, Arania.” The old man made the introduction. “She is your age, a child.” The girl looked to be about fifteen, or sixteen at the most which made her younger than everyone, but this old man seemed determined to lump them all under the same umbrella of being children, and who were they to argue?
“You are welcome in our tent,” Arania said, in her formal best, and she smiled, but it seemed to be for Trell.
“Now, tell while we wait for the food.” The old man insisted as his daughter took a seat beside him, and Vilder, with a little help from Pinn, told of their adventure thus far. At first, Flern shook her head violently, but she need not have worried about Vilder revealing anything that might be best kept secret. On the other hand, Flern turned red by the end of the telling and refused to look at anyone. Vilder credited her with the raid on the village, the kindness of the naiad, saying that she and the naiad appeared to be old friends. And he praised her for killing both Jaccar on the following morning. Flern turned beet red at last, but at least she did not have to explain about the Princess. When they were finished, Arania wept softly and Karenski comforted her.
“Her mother was killed by the Jaccar,” he said, all the while never taking his eyes off Flern. “We raided them back, but you cannot kill them all. I think they are without number.” Flern felt grateful, then, because several of women and several men brought in plenty of food for all and stayed to join in the meal. It made their quarters rather tight because the big tent was really built to accommodate maybe a dozen or so. There were twice as many at present for that meal and they had to avoid bumping elbows.
After they had begun to feast, Karenski asked a simple question, still not having taken his eyes off of Flern. “Do the young men confirm this tale I have heard of this woman in your midst?”
Every man in the group nodded, and Kined took a breath. Flern who continued to look down, being too embarrassed to look up, stomped on Kined’s foot to quiet him, but he spoke up anyway. “She is friends with Vrya, goddess of love and war. It was the goddess who warned her and us of the Jaccar, and I am sure she also helped our escape.”
“Ah!” Karenski said. “The new lady of Aesgard.” Far from disbelieving what Kined said, this seemed to clarify some of the other questions in his mind. “You are of Vanheim, then?” He asked, but the question got directed at Flern.
“I am an independent,” Flern said, quietly. “I seek the well-being of all the gods.”
Karenski pursed his lips and nodded. “Very wise for one so young,” he said, and then he turned the conversation to other matters. He spoke of the hunt and the way of the bear and the beaver. He did pause now and then to glance at Flern after that, but he also got occupied with glancing at Trell and his daughter who seemed to be having their own glancing contest going on. It became quite a dance of the eyes.
After supper, the young people vacated the big tent while suitable arrangements were made for them to sleep in the night. The girls got to be housed with Arania, and the boys were to be given a fire, outdoors. The weather stayed good, not threatening rain, so the arrangement felt more than acceptable.