Flern and her friends looked across the river and into their village. It looked very different, but familiar at the same time. The houses, barns, workplaces, and market square looked much the same, as did the great hall in the village center, but all around stood a great wall that no one imagined would be there. It looked like the greatest fence ever constructed, made of whole trees driven into the ground, with mortar of some kind filling the little cracks between. It had a walkway all around which would put a man on the inside of the wall, able to see over, some twenty feet down on an enemy.
“I see why they only made those few little stabs at the men,” Flern mused out loud.
“Little stabs?” Karenski, Venislav and Vilder, speaking for the young people, were all amazed at her description. Good men fought, and good men died. But Diogenes knew, and both Mishka and the Princess confirmed, and so Flern knew that the attacks of the Jaccar were no more than sorties, meant to test the strength and determination of the opposing force, and to probe for weaknesses. If the enemy got driven off, all good and well; but it had not been expected. The Jaccar had the village fortified and showed that any confrontation would cost many lives. Now, the Jaccar counted on the attackers being unwilling to lose the lives it would take to break the wall. Only the riverside of the village had no wall. No doubt, the Jaccar assumed the river would act as a wall of its own.
Flern thought for some time. She had goblins, trolls, dwarfs and ogres who could tunnel under the wall before a single night was over. She could call up fire sprites from the deepest depths in the earth and burn the wall, and probably the village, so that would not be a good idea. If she wanted to destroy everyone, her sprites in the sky could bring torrents of rain, and her water sprites could overflow the river. She could flood the village, and the wall would act as a retaining wall to keep the flood waters rising. But she would not do these things. She would never put her little ones in danger if she had another way. And besides, they had every hope that their parents and families were still alive. They planned to save them, not get them killed.
Flern waved to the old woman in the chair that faced them across the river. Then she dismounted and everyone dismounted with her. She went first to Pinn and gave her a hug without a word. She hugged Vilder and then spoke. “Whatever you do, keep the people together.”
“Why? What do you have in mind?” That came from Kined, the smart one. Flern smiled and added a great kiss to her hug.
“I have in mind to face the Wicca first and keep both armies out of it,” Flern said, and stepped back. “All of this fighting is giving me a headache.”
“No. But wait. No.” Several people spoke at once, but Flern turned quickly toward the river.
“It is my job,” she shouted. “I just have to be who I am.” A water bridge formed instantly over the river and Dinester, the naiad stood an imposing twenty feet beside it. That vision made everyone pause just long enough. Flern started over, and as she did, the bridge collapsed behind her so no one could follow her. She had on her armor and weapons, but hoped she would not need any of it, though she might. The Wicca was a power to be reckoned with. She had a thousand Jaccar warriors enchanted to do her will. She had the power to enchant people hundreds of miles away. She had power over certain monsters, even night creatures. When Flern thought about it, she imagined she had little chance against this woman, but she had to try. It might be better not to think about it.
The Jaccar kept a respectful distance as Flern stepped on land. She marched toward the woman in the chair and stopped some twenty feet away. This woman looked old. She looked fragile, with the brittle bones of age and that gaunt look that nevertheless got bloated with fat in certain places. She did not look long for this world. But with all that, Flern reminded herself that this woman remained a power to be reckoned with. She was half human and half god, and Flern thought she knew who that god might be, but thus far, she had only circumstantial evidence. Flern waited for the woman to speak.
“Do you dance?” the Wicca asked. Flern said nothing as the woman continued. “Circle, circle. We need a circle for the dance.” The Wicca raised a boney finger and slowly drew a circle in the air. The ground trembled and a circle, cleared of grass, slowly formed on the ground some forty feet in diameter with the chair just outside, but with Flern in the middle. “Let us see how my servants dance.” She clapped her hands, and a half-dozen imps appeared around Flern.
The imps immediately began to dance and chant. They reached down and pulled up grass and dirt to sprinkle at her as they danced. Flern put her hands to her hips and frowned. The imps were brought from the east, and like all the Wicca’s slaves, they were uprooted from their families. After a minute, the imps stopped, and one spoke to the Wicca.
“I doesn’t seem to be affecting her.” The Wicca did not look happy.
“Let’s see how you deal with their bigger companion.” She clapped again and an ogre appeared. The ogre needed a minute to get his bearings, and Flern covered her grinning mouth.
“Stonecrusher,” Flern named the beast. “Gods you are an ugly brute.”
“I am,” Stonecrusher said with a touch of pride. He reached for Flern, and he did not move slow, but Flern had some superspeed from one of the gifts given to Wlvn. She slapped that hand on the knuckle and the ogre yelped. “Ouch!” He pulled his hand back just as fast as he put it out and he stuck the whole finger in its mouth. He looked at Flern, dumbfounded.
Flern got tired of this game. “Stonecrusher, and all of you imps. You are free of the control of the Wicca. Now go home.” She did not clap her hands. She merely waved and they all vanished.
“No!” The Wicca stood in protest, but then sat again as she decided on another avenue. “Let us see how you dance with my pet,” she said, and with another clap, a great black bear appeared in the ring.
Flern immediately shot up some twenty feet in the air. Another gift to Wlvn, she remembered. The bear stood but it could not get at her. Flern pulled her sword and used the flat on the bear’s head, like she did once before in the wilderness. Even standing, the bear’s paws were too short to reach up at her. After a couple of good clonks on the head, the bear had enough. It whined, fell to all fours, and waddled off to the river where it swam around the village wall and headed for the wilderness.
Flern had her sword put itself away because she had not practiced doing that, and she figured it would be a good show for the watching Jaccar. The Wicca had something to say. “You cheat.” She clapped her hands again and ten ghouls surrounded her. “Try to cheat with these.” She laughed.
Flern only hesitated a moment before she began to run at super speed. But Flern did not run away. She ran in the circle, which made everyone watching her get dizzy, including the Wicca and the ghouls.
The ghouls tried to grab her, but they were too slow and awkward, a weakness. They began to bunch up, but eventually one thought to stick out his arm and let her run into it. Unfortunately for the ghoul, Flern saw, and she arrived filled with the strength of Thor. She grabbed the ghoul and dragged him around after her, before she ripped the arm right out of its socket. Flern had no sympathy for ghouls. They ate human souls.
Flern ran once around, slapping each ghoul in the face with the arm. The ghouls got knocked back, and she felt that gave her the room she needed. By the time the ghouls remembered their weapons, Flern already had her sword out. She did not use the flat side this time but cut a deep gash in the middle of every ghoul she passed until she came to a halt, once again in the center of the circle, now surrounded by ten puddles of purple and green puss. Flern, however, did not have time to amaze herself at the ease of overcoming ten ghouls since another creature already arrived on the field.
Flern took a step back. The night creature was the only thing she truly feared.