Wlvn spent the afternoon riding out front, alone, as Fritt brought up the rear by himself. Kined and Riah rode side by side, and that was fine. It gave Wlvn some time to think things through.
This Wicca and her army of Jaccar warriors seemed a terrible thing to have to face, but in his heart, he knew it was something Flern might be able to handle on her own. He knew Flern had no business going up against a Titan, and he marveled at the revelation of how he was one person through time and yet many different people. Each life he lived not only had a different skill set and different abilities, they also had different personalities, and in some cases, they were very different. It might all still be just him, but the differences could be striking. Being male or female of course was the obvious one, but upbringing and culture were massive. In different places and times throughout history, he, or she saw and responded to the world in startlingly different ways. God, he hoped he was never content to be part of someone’s harem.
With that strange thought, he glanced back at Kined. He genuinely liked Kined, and he wondered if the reverse of what Kined said might also be true. He was not sure he could dislike, much less hate Kined as long as Flern felt the way she felt about the young man. Then again, he did not know exactly how Flern felt since she remained out of touch. That disturbed him. Maybe he still just vibrated the feelings she felt before they double traded. He supposed she might change her mind, given the chance, only he could not imagine a way she might have that chance. There had to be some way they could double trade back, but he could not imagine it, and none of his other lifetimes knew how either—at least the lives he could currently touch.
The night crept up on them and they almost stopped too late in the day. Riah found a roe deer that she said practically got handed to her. “The spirit of this forest, old Firblog was being kind, and I thanked him,” she said.
“Firblog?” Fritt asked. He still tried to fit into the group, though he told Vilder he felt a bit like a leftover.
Riah nodded as she swallowed her bit of liver and spoke. “These are dwarf woods, the woods of Movan Mountain. They run up to the Pert and the river bridge we came over. The elf woods of Miroven are the woods of Lord Oakvein. This side of the Pert belongs to Firblog. His woods rise up to the plateau itself and cover all the land between the Pert and Sware Rivers. Of course, the humans call the whole thing the Brugh, like they can’t see one side from the other.”
“You are right about these being dwarf woods,” a voice came out of the dark and startled everyone. “It makes me wonder why a young elf maid and these humans might be traipsing through my woods.”
“Firblog?” Vinnu asked.
Wlvn shook his head. “Show yourself,” he said, and just like his dwarfs, he smelled them all around. A very short looking creature stepped into the light. He might have looked like a man but for being just four feet tall, and he might have looked like an elf except his pointed ears folded down, his nose looked too bulbous, and he had far too much hair on his face. “Balken.” Wlvn named the creature but said no more as he waited for the dwarf chief to speak.
Balken looked around the circle of faces before he made his pronouncement. “You appear to be missing one. A girl with red hair, I believe.”
Wlvn nodded. “He is looking for Flern, as I suspected. I can feel the enchantment, can you?” He spoke to the others but looked at Kined and Riah. Riah shook her head. Kined did not seem sure. Wlvn spoke up, loud. “Put down your arrows and come into the firelight so we can see you all. Now. And stay by the fire until I give you leave.” Balken stared at Wlvn, and wonder crossed his face. Wlvn stared back and said one more thing while they waited. “You are free from your enchantment.” He did not speak it loudly, or wave his hand, or flash a wand, or anything associated with magic, but both Riah, and in a lesser way Kined felt a power beyond calculating. The only way to describe it would be to say this was not a derived power like magic, but a source power, the kind of power from which all other magic is derived.
Balken responded by rolling up his eyes and collapsing.
“Hey!” More than one incoming dwarfs reacted, but Wlvn reassured them. “Your chief is fine. Just come here so we can see you.” There were eleven so Balken made it an even dozen. These others were all clearly dwarfs. Their ears were more normal, but their noses were extra large. The tallest stood a bit less than four feet tall, and their stocky builds and long beards completed the look.
Wlvn knew exactly who he was looking at, by name and family history if he cared to look. He found one who stood shorter than most, barely topping three feet, but who had an uncanny nose. He could track and find about anything with that nose, and the dwarf only hesitated a second when Wlvn said, “Come here Bricklebrains.”
“L-lord?” Bricklebrains certainly smelled something.
“The rest of you are free of the enchantment.” Wlvn waved his arm that time, and all of the dwarfs collapsed even as Balken got up, rubbing the back of his neck.
“What hit me?” The dwarf chief asked. No one answered because they were too busy watching.
“Can you smell the enchantment?” Wlvn asked Bricklebrains.
“Y-yes,” Bricklebrains stuttered as he whipped off his hat and worried it in his stubby fingered hands. He looked frightened, and Wlvn responded to that. “Don’t be afraid.” He smiled for the dwarf.
“Your Lordship, yes. I smell it, but I can’t do nothing about it. I want to kill the red headed girl and I can’t help it. Please, I don’t want to kill anybody.”
“The Wicca?” Pinn asked. She and Vilder were beginning to get it. This was not all about a Jaccar army.
Wlvn nodded but kept his attention on Bricklebrains. “Be free of the enchantment,” he said softly. “But be able to still smell it on others.”
Bricklebrains stumbled. Riah and Kined caught him, and he turned his head farther than any human could and said, “Thanks other Lord,” to Kined and, “Creepers, I got elf cooties,” to Riah.
“Balken.” Wlvn spoke to the dwarf chief. “Tell your father I am sorry our path does not take us to Movan Mountain, but I hope when we return he will send any who are willing to volunteer for the fight against the Jaccar. I am going to borrow Bricklebrains for a while, but I plan to return him in one piece.”
“Good to know,” Bricklebrains whispered quietly to Kined who started practicing his elf grin.
Balken meanwhile stared at Riah. “So Lord, you are traveling freely with the one who stole my mother’s name?”
Riah reacted. “My mother and yours were best friends.”
“So I heard,” Balken said, but clearly, he did not appear pleased with Riah being named Moriah. “I didn’t recognize you at first. You have grown.”
“You haven’t,” Riah shot back.
“Thank you,” Balken responded, much to the surprise of the others, but then Wlvn spoke up.
“I have given Moriah the name Riah for this journey, and you must remember she is innocent. She was given her name as you were given yours. She had no say over what her name would be.”
Balken put his hand to his beard and stroked it. He had not looked at it in that way. “The Lady Laurel and I may speak one day.”
“And it better be a nice talk,” Wlvn said, sternly. “Meanwhile, please take yourself and your fellow warriors home.”
One of the dwarfs spoke up. “Can’t we stay for a bit?”
“There is too much deer for this group,” another interjected.
“We could like help them fix it proper.”
“And build this pitiful fire into a real fire.”
Wlvn looked around at the others and saw no serious objection. “They are immune to fairy food and no tricks or stealing but treat these like your friends and I have no objection.”
Balken nodded slowly before he sent his people here and there to gather wood and food for a real feast. Then they partied, and Wlvn eventually had to sneak off to get some sleep. That was about the time the humans realized that two of these dwarfs were women.
With Bricklebrains along to sniff out any enchantment, they visit a village beneath the mountain pass and find a couple of key players swayed by the distant Wicca. Until Monday, Happy Reading