The following day, progress slowed, and Flern thought they could not go any slower. One wagon busted a wheel and that put any number of men out of commission for a time. The rest of the train eventually had to stop and wait for them to catch up. In the late morning, the whole train stopped and while the women cooked, the men went to hunt. Mostly, they found rabbits and pigeons, but it would suffice for a time. Because of the sparse game, several men stayed out on horseback and continued to look for bigger animals. They came into the camp after dark that evening, but they had managed to find an Auguar, a European buffalo, and that would sustain everyone for a day or two.
“You know, sometimes Wlvn has nothing to eat at all,” Flern said casually over supper. Pinn and Thrud heard and merely nodded.
“That was the end of the third day,” Vinnu reminded everyone. “Do you think the Jaccar will really come after us?” Among the girls, Vinnu was the soft and sweet one who hated confrontation of any kind
“Yes.” Tird said with some trembling in his voice. Among the boys, Tird was the worrier, and not the most courageous of souls.
Then Flern did not sleep well at all that night, despite her thoughts about dreamy Kined. Poor Wlvn rested on an island in a swamp, and she felt that surely the night creatures would catch him, and maybe eat him.
Flern awoke with a gurgling in her throat. She had to lean to the side to let the water drain from her mouth. Curiously, while uncomfortable, it did not restrict her breathing in the slightest.
“Are you well?” Arania stood right there to ask. Flern nodded, but then she understood. Njord, God of the Sea had just laid his hands on Wlvn, and it reflected in her just like all of the other gifts Wlvn received. She shook her head clear of her sleepies and became most pleasant during breakfast, but she wondered when this gift giving was going to stop. She felt afraid of what she could do already, and she worried about what the others might really think, especially Kined.
The next day seemed very much the same as the first, and in fact the countryside hardly changed a bit since the day they crossed the river. “So much for travel broadening the mind,” Flern said softly, but Kined heard and smiled. All that time, Kined rode beside Flern, but he said almost nothing. They looked at each other now and then, and smiled when they were seen, but the conversation became limited to commentary on the others and on the travelers. Once, Kined pointed out that Trell and Arania seemed to be hitting it off rather well, and Flern responded that she hoped so, but that became the end of that line of thought for the moment.
Around three in the afternoon, Flern cried out. Kined stayed right there, but Flern could hardly explain herself. “No, it’s alright,” she kept saying. Wlvn started breathing underwater, and after that, Flern smiled and enjoyed the ride, because for her it acted like a holographic helmet from the far future. It felt better than white water rafting, and she stayed in no danger at all. When it finished, Flern glowed again for a little bit. Kined simply looked at her. “Frigga.” Flern said, without any further explanation.
“Your father is the chief negotiator for the village. Chances are some of these village people know your father, and you by extension.”
“Oh, of course.” That made sense. She had her father’s auburn-red hair, and the same eyes as well.
When they arrived, they found an argument already going on. The villagers complained that the travelers had trodden over two newly planted fields. The travelers apologized, but only wanted a place to rest for a time, and trade. Vilder and Pinn stood back and held their tongues. They knew it would not be their place to get in the middle of whatever the elders wanted to say. In that respect, Flern, and all of her companions, were sort of like children, and they knew it well enough.
“You, come. Come.” Karenski stood there and pointed straight at Flern. Flern shied away, but Karenski insisted. “Come. Tell.”
Vilder and Pinn turned their heads to stare at her, and Flern knew then that it was unavoidable. She reached for Pinn’s hand and took Kined with her other hand to drag them forward. Vilder followed.
The village men stood, wary of some Traveler trick, and unhappy already in the extreme. Flern took a moment to compose herself. She saw the travelers had parked on this side of the river ford, and the village sat on the other side of the ford. To be sure, the plowed fields on the Traveler side of the river looked like little more than mud flats, but still…
“You may know my father.” Flern said, coming out with the first thing to enter her mind. “Our village is the first on the Dinester where it runs wide and deep.” She pointed in a general northeasterly direction. “You may know the small hill and cliff to the river that marks our land.”
Several of the villagers paused in their anger, and one in particular took a closer look at this girl. “I believe I do know your father,” he said. “How is it you are with these rabble?”
Flern put on her most serious expression. “The Jaccar have come,” she said, and then she had to wait while the villagers got over their fright. “But we have escaped, some fourteen of us young people, to find men and weapons to help set our village free.”
Flern nodded and looked at Vilder and Pinn. “Most of us believe the Wicca will send men after us to try and stop us.”
“Why would they do that?”
“Because they fear us. Because they know if we are able to get enough men and weapons, we will be able to defeat them and drive them back to the east from whence they came.”
“Are you sure?” Karenski asked.
Flern shrugged. “Let the travelers camp in a semi-circle on this side of the ford, parking their wagons close together like a wall. They will be the first line for the village against the Jaccar, and I am sure they will work with you to help repair any damage they may have accidentally caused to your fields. Then, maybe the village will share bread with the travelers for their willingness to do right by your fields and stand out front against the enemy. Sharing your best bread would not be too much to ask.” Flern got quiet and looked at her feet. That had been very hard for her. She did not see the village elder who thought he knew her father smile. That man only had to look once at the other elders behind to see the nods.
“We will do this thing,” he said and held out his hand. When there was a pause, Flern looked up and found Karenski eyeing her. She could almost see the wheels spinning in his head that maybe his people would just move on and leave the young people and this village well behind, thus avoiding the Jaccar altogether. But Flern knew that the travelers had come a long way and had been on the trail for some time. They were all worn out and desperately needed a time of rest. Besides, the offer of bread for no more work than simply fixing a couple of trodden fields and camping where they planned to camp anyway was too good to refuse.
“We will do this thing.” He shook hands with the village elder.
“And my friends and I will also help with the fields.” Vilder interjected. “We know something about growing grain.” He said this to Karenski, but the village elders looked happiest to hear that.
“For your kindness to us, children.” Pinn added with a smile, and Karenski paused briefly before he let out a belly laugh.
Flern, meanwhile, still held Kined’s hand as she had backed away from the center of attention. She looked up at the young man and asked an honest, heartfelt question. “Did I do all right?”
Kined just smiled and pulled her in close and kissed her for some time; and this time, Flern was not sure if her right foot ever touched the ground.
That evening, the young people stayed with the travelers, though they were invited to go into the village if they wished. Flern made a comment about how Wlvn finally arrived in their village, but no one heard her that time. Arania, getting adjusted to the girls, talked up a storm, not like Elleya, Flern thought, but close enough. Of course, she talked mostly of Trell, and the girls were all kind to listen; but then she also talked about getting back at the Jaccar and how she hoped the men would finally find the courage to do something.
“Oh, Flern always says you can’t count on a bunch of lazy men,” Thrud interjected.
“Oh yes,” Vinnu added. “Flern made us learn to ride horses and learn how to shoot a bow and arrows.” Flern imagined that Arania probably learned to ride when she was young, but the girl looked impressed by the idea of learning to shoot a bow.
“I’m not very good at it,” Elluin admitted.
“Better than Thrud.” Both Pinn and Flern spoke at the same time, and Thrud just stuck her tongue out at them and gave them the raspberries, even if it was true. With that, the last hour of daylight got spent teaching Arania how to string a bow and shoot at a target. Flern’s assessment was the girl was going to need practice.
“But did you really stand on a horse’s back and shoot a man so far away he looked smaller than your hand?”
“It wasn’t me.” Flern said, and she looked up at Pinn, Vinnu and Thrud. “Not exactly.” Flern did not bother to look over at Elluin. She figured that Elluin probably did not follow the conversation in any case.
That night, Flern woke briefly and staggered over to the pot, but she did not have to go. She looked at the others before she mumbled to herself. “Thor.” She went back to bed without ever fully waking up.
The next morning, a misty fog came up from the river. The girls crossed into the village and felt right at home, primarily because it looked like home. The boys went out into the fields and worked as hard as they could because everyone said it was going to rain and they wanted the fields done before the water came down.
When the rain started to pour, the boys found the girls in the common house at the center of the village—the big place where the village feasted when there was some reason for a feast. There would be a feast that evening, and they all made the obligatory noises about how the food would all be soggy, while they realized that in truth, it would probably be very good, and very much like home cooking for them.
Vincas, the local girl, daughter of the village elder Venislav, volunteered to show the boys the various houses to which they had been assigned. Drud and Bunder were going to one house, Tiren and Kined to another, Vilder and Gunder to a third, and Fritt and Tird would stay with her. She smiled at that thought, her being around sixteen or so, even if it was hard to tell, her being a chunky girl. Thrud nudged Flern when Vincas stood beside Fritt the Fat and whispered, “Don’t they make a lovely couple?” Flern just scolded her friend with her eyes.