Three four wheeled, double-axle wagons, each drawn by a double team of horses—a terrible breach of the temporal order—stopped just outside the village beneath the mountain pass. Scores of gnomes of various sorts, some like imps and some like dwarfs, swarmed all over the wagons, greased every joint, checked all the stress points, tracked the cargo, and set the horses free to be groomed and fed.
Some hundred and twenty light elves: elves, brownies, kobold and various fairies came behind the wagons and camped at a distance beneath the village, along the Dnepr River. They would be joined by thirty elves from Miroven, the ones led by Laurel that Flern thought of as her own personal guardians. Fifty sturdy dwarfs with three ogres under Balken’s command would march beside them, down from Movan Mountain. In the night, more than a hundred dark elves, goblins mostly with a couple of trolls, would move down the mountain to guard the precious cargo in the hours of darkness.
That precious cargo in the wagons was the promised bronze, weapons in the first wagon – swords, spears and plenty of arrows. The second wagon carried mostly weapons as well, but on Flern’s insistence it also carried some plows, hoes and such tools that would benefit the people. The third wagon held the tools and pieces to put together their own forge along with enough raw material to get them started. Pinn and the boys had high hopes once they set their families free. Thrud and Vinnu were pregnant and just wanted to get home.
Eight young people and Riah the elf, wearing a glamour to make her appear human, with Goldenwing at rest and hidden in her horse’s mane, rode ahead to meet the village elders and the waiting travelers. The travelers spent six months moving down the Dinester and back up the Dnepr drumming up support in every town and village along the way. There were presently some four hundred people, mostly men and mostly hunters camped on the grasslands across the river to the east.
“Good to see you.” Venislav was the one who spoke for the village. “Our food stores are exhausted.”
Flern figured that. “I have people bringing game and bread from the Brugh and others bringing in a whole herd from the wilderness between the rivers.”
“Good to hear,” Tird said. He rode on horseback beside Venislav. Trell, hair greased down which made him almost unrecognizable, rode beside Karenski of the travelers.
“Where are the girls?” Pinn asked.
“Vincas and Arania?” Flern remembered.
“Measuring their tummies,” Trell said with a straight face before he grinned and gave a sideways glance at Tird who returned the grin.
“Vinnu and Thrud are pregnant, too,” Flern said
“Flern and I are still working on it,” Pinn added.
“Children.” That was all Karenski said before they turned to ride into the village. They were going to feast that night, pass out weapons in the morning, and from the way some of the elders acted, hopefully leave in the afternoon. Flern knew it would not be quite so easy.
It was Vilder who nudged Pinn and that got Flern’s attention. Venislav and Karenski also paid attention as it seemed they agreed to stick close to Flern. “There are campfires there at the foot of the pass.” Vilder pointed. Flern shook her head. It was not Movan or Miroven. She did not know who they might be. But it appeared as if three people headed their way.
“Ah,” Venislav made the sound before he spoke. “They came down the pass two days ago and claim to be from the other side of the mountain and the plateau, though I cannot imagine it. They say the plateau is full of monsters.”
“Hello!” One of the oncoming three waved and yelled. Vilder at least returned the wave. The other waited until they were close enough for Pinn to shout.
“Fritt!” When they got closer, Pinn’s word became a question. “Fritt?” Fat Fritt no longer looked fat.
“Nadia.” Flern recognized the girl and gave her a sisterly kiss in greeting before she remembered she never met the girl. Wlvn did. Nadia looked embarrassed, even if it had been explained to her. Fortunately, the third member of their party took everyone’s attention when he dropped to one knee.
“Mother of old,” he said.
Flern remembered the young man from her brief time on the plateau, or rather Faya’s time. “Horan. My name is Flern if you don’t mind. I’m not sure I like the old part.”
“From the plateau?” Pinn asked. She wanted to be sure.
Flern knew what she was asking. She nodded. He was Were, a shape shifter who had the good sense to appear human. “Come on,” she said. “We are going to eat food.”
At the door to the main building, which would not be nearly big enough for all the chiefs, Flern ran into Elluin. She also looked pregnant and very glad to see them. She made a point of saying that Drud had been good that whole time. Flern did not exactly believe her when she noticed that Drud stayed conspicuously absent from the festivities.
“I’m feeling left out,” Pinn complained. She did not have to spell it out that she wanted a baby. Flern took her arm as they went inside.
“We will just have to work at it harder,” she said, and got lost for a minute in her own thoughts.
In the morning took all day. They had a limited number of swords and spears to hand out and tried to get them into the right hands. They had the ungodly number of a thousand arrows with bronze tips. Everyone got two.
Miroven and Movan arrived in time for breakfast, which did wonders for the food supply. It also scared some of the locals and the travelers when they heard the food came from the Brugh. That great forest was seen as the land of ghosts and spirits and unnatural things. Flern wisely had the troops camp beside the Were, well away from the village and the sight of men.
It did not get much better when her gnomes brought in the herd from the land between the rivers that evening. Flern had a makeshift pen constructed that used a natural bend in the river. It gave all those men something to do other than sit around and gripe. But then, she insisted her gnomes stay invisible when they brought in the beasts, and it got hard for some of the men to watch the beasts they normally hunted willingly move into captivity unguided by any hands. Of course, some by then had settled on the idea that Flern was the witch. Curiously, that comforted many of the men, like they had a secret weapon.
As the sun set, Karenski took up speaking where Venislav left off. “I see you have men camped some distance below the wagons and have not brought them up to join the other men.” From a distance, they mostly looked like men.
Flern stood with Kined to watch the sunset and she took Kined’s hand while he spoke. “Not a good idea.”
“They don’t mix well,” Flern added.
Karenski looked thoughtful. “And also, I know the ones camped at the foot of the pass are more than we can see. We know them only by the fires they light in the night.”
“Best to leave them alone,” Kined said.
Karenski nodded. “But to be curious, may I ask how many fighters you have brought?”
“Enough to double the number of men camped on the grasses.”
“So many?” Karenski acted surprised, but it appeared to be an act. Venislav spoke then what was on his mind.
“We leave in the morning,” Flern said, and squeezed Kined’s hand. “It will take the men close to a week to cross the land between here and our village. The ones by the pass will stay above them the whole way and the ones below the wagons will stay below them. That way the Jaccar will not be able to sneak around and surprise the men from the side or from the rear.”
“Such wisdom, and from children,” Karenski smiled.
“I almost wish the Jaccar would get around behind the men in the night,” Kined said, and he grinned as he thought about it.
Flern quickly explained. “There is a third group who will follow behind the men. It would be best if you did not ask about them at all.”
“I see,” Karenski sounded thoughtful again. “I think I better go tell my people to stay close to their homes in the night.”
“Yes, me too,” said Venislav
“Good idea,” Flern said. Vilder, Gunder and Tiren were presently telling the men in the camp that very thing.