R6 Greta: The Road of Dreams, part 2 of 3

“Probably animistic.  I would guess they worship the spirits that inhabit the animals, the trees and the grasses and don’t think in terms of a larger picture that would include gods and such.”

“What?” Pincushion looked up from her cooking. “They worship the gnomes?”

“And others, more or less,” Greta felt uncomfortable with that thought, but Bogus, Vedix and Briana laughed.  “Rain is down to a drizzle,” Greta changed the subject. “We are going to have to put the fire out if the rain stops, even if it is in this sheltered spot.”

People objected to that idea until Hermes and Mavis returned from the horses.  “There are several campfires out on the steppes, two miles or so distant,” Mavis reported. “They are northeast, the way we have been heading.”  Mavis pointed, but of course no one could see anything but the shelter of the rocks and trees.  Besides, they were busy putting out the fire and preparing for another cold night.

They got up cold and hungry before the dawn and headed out into the dark. They saw no sign behind them of campfires, but they all guessed there were men out there, traveling to what end, no one knew.  They might have been friendly, but no one was going to stop and find out.  Vedix pointed out that hunting parties did not build more than one campfire, and Alesander reminded everyone that even the Gurt-groups, as they called them, were built around a single big fire at the center.

“This was definitely many fires,” Hermes said. “It looked like a small army. More than a raiding party.”

“I used to depend on Lucius for that sort of information,” Alesander said, with a frown.  Lucius had hardly been mentioned since the deserted village because Alesander became clearly upset with what he considered the betrayal of a friend. Alesander did not call Lucius a traitor, but that was what he meant and evidentially felt.

“Never fear,” Greta interjected.  “Lucius is out there, following.  He may not be right behind us, but he is out there, looking with the rest of them.”

As the sun came up, the group quickened their pace. It seemed the only way to shake off the cold, though the lack of good rest, the poor meals, and the exposure to the elements began to have an ill effect.  These were strong and hearty people.  Briana had the constitution of an elect.  Alesander and Hermes were soldiers, trained to hardship and long forced marches.  Bogus and Pincushion had the indomitable spirit of the dwarfs, and Vedix was a hunter, used to being in the wilderness at all times of the year, and for a week or more.  Mavis started wilting a little.  As a spirit, she could handle it, but she was an elf maid, not an ogre.  Greta was the one who suffered the most.  The thing that kept her going was believing that they were almost at the forest that marked the edge of the Land of the Lost.

The group stopped in a small copse of trees when the sun came fully up.  Vedix spoke as he shook his head.  “We spent two hours walking our horses in the rain northeast to angle away from the Road of Dreams.  Now, we have been about three hours riding northwest, and I see no sign of the road. Unless it curved to the west or came to a dead stop, I would say we lost it.”

“It was not much of a road anyway,” Bogus answered him.

“Quite right,” Greta spoke up.  “We just need to go north from here, and we should run right into the forest.  The rocks where we slept last night are on the edge of the change in the land.  The land here is rising and falling in little hills and showing rocks here and there like it previously showed trees here and there.   Soon enough, we should run into a great forest.  It surrounds the whole area where the rocks fall off and the River Muskva runs.  That forest is the Land of the Lost.  The great dome of the Ancient Master is just over a bend in the river.”

“The Wolv also live in that forest,” Briana pointed out.

Greta said nothing about that.  She mounted her horse and rode.  The others followed, and it seemed only a couple of hours before they reached the edge, like a hard line of unending trees that sprang suddenly out of the grasslands and stretched out to their left and right as far as they could see.  That whole area appeared to be still covered with snow because the rain apparently did not reach that far north.

Greta walked her horse along the edge of the tree line until she found an outcropping, where the rocks appeared to grow right up out of the grasslands.  The snow did not seem too deep in that area.  She dismounted, and the others followed her lead.

“It isn’t as nice as where we stayed last night, but it isn’t raining.  It will give you and the horses some shelter against the wind, and you can light a fire if you are careful.  I only need three days.  If I am not back by then, you must promise to return south, find Ulladon, and you will get home in about three weeks.  Do not stay here.  Do not follow, and if I don’t return in three days, promise me you won’t tell Darius or my family what happened.  They would only make a bad situation worse.”

Greta took a breath and everyone yelled at once in protest.  Greta chose to respond to Mavis.

“Not this time,” she said. “Mavis.  You must go back and be with your people.  You have been the best help and friend anyone could ask for.  Remember me.” Greta smiled for her, but Mavis began to weep.  Hermes stood right there to comfort her, and Greta thought she might never know what was between those two.

Alesander shook his head.  “I am pledged to follow you to the edge of the earth, even if it is round, like you say.”

“I’m going,” Bogus cut to the point and Greta nodded.

“Bogus and I will brave the land of the lost, alone. Berry and Fae are Bogus’ granddaughters, and Berry is still my ward, Hans is my brother and Fae and Hobknot are my special responsibility.  Alesander, I am counting on you to get everyone home, safe.  This is one time you must not follow me.”

“But you can’t ride right into the Wolv jaws,” Vedix protested and tried to sound reasonable.

“I don’t intend to ride in,” Greta said, but she would not explain.  “Pincushion, how about lunch?”

Pincushion shook her head sadly, but had a sudden change of mind and looked up with a smile that actually showed some of her elf mother’s beauty.  “Don’t worry. I’ll make your last meal a special one.” She set about gathering stones and wood for the fire, and reluctantly, the others helped.

R6 Greta: The Road of Dreams, part 1 of 3

On the first day out, they rode as hard as they could, as often as they could, to put some distance between them and the deserted village.  The so-called road hardly made a path in most places, even when they passed by farms and a hamlet.  Sometimes the path petered out altogether, but the direction remained steady and they picked it up again after a time.  They stopped late.  It got dark, and they ate a cold supper, but they saw no indication they were being followed.   Greta went back to questioning Briana.  Briana said she felt nothing behind them or ahead of them. Vedix wondered this time if the Wolv lost their scent, but Greta thought that would have been too much to ask for.

They rode just as hard on the second day and slowed only a few times when they walked their horses to give them a rest.  This time everyone insisted they stop early so they could light a proper fire before dark.  The hot meal did wonders for their morale, but the night got cold and the wind came up around midnight.

On the third day, it began to snow.  The group pulled off the so-called road to avoid making their passage obvious.  They plodded along slowly over the hard grasses and through the trees, often in single file, in parallel to the road, but always with one eye forward and one eye back, searching for signs of life.  Silence fell over the group with the snow.  Even Pincushion swallowed her thoughts as the world itself insisted on quiet. The birds hushed.  The squirrels and little animals went unheard and unseen around the trees that grew in clumps of brown here and there against the white. The leaves were turned but hardly all fallen since it was still autumn and not yet winter.  The sky remained gray and stayed low to the ground all day.  Once, they came around a bend and startled a small group of deer.  The deer paused to stare back at them before they scooted off to disappear in the swirling white.  Once, they saw a fox strut across their path, tail and nose raised like a haughty lord. Without a sound, the fox took its time before it whipped its tail like a salute and vanished behind a bush.

By four in the afternoon, they began to look for a place to stop.  The group had been very careful over those three days, not to leave marks or signs of passage.  Now in the snow, they had moved off the path, but stayed close for fear of losing their direction.  Greta let the others keep track of their course.  She spent the day, on and off, looking to the back and the front and overhead. Greta knew as long as it snowed, it would hide them and eventually hide their tracks, but she feared once it stopped snowing they would leave a trail all too easy to follow.

Greta heard a sound and paused.  Mavis moved up to ride beside her as a sign that she heard it too.  Bogus came in from the flank, his nose pointed straight up.  Pincushion also let her nose guide her eyes into the air, as Briana gave a sharp whisper.

“Move into the trees.”  She and Alesander lead the way to where they could hide from the road and from above.  The sound made sense in Greta’s ears at that point.  It sounded a shuttle from the Humanoid ship, moving slow, barely high enough to be above the trees.

Greta dismounted with the others.  She held her horse and gently stroked her horses’ nose to keep him quiet.  Mavis saw it first and nudged Greta who caught the search lights moving along the ground before she saw the vehicle.  Greta estimated it as a four to six-person Humanoid craft, and she felt sure its instruments could locate them no matter what they did.  Yet the craft seemed to follow the roadway, and after it passed their location, Greta gave thanks in her heart.

“Their fancy instruments must not be working,” Greta whispered and tried to keep her voice soft enough to not be heard beyond the group.  “But they can probably still see us and hear us if we get loud, or see our tracks if we are not careful.”

Once the lights of the ship fell out of range, everyone mounted, and Alesander felt inclined to lead them back toward the path they had been following, but Greta stopped him and pointed in a different direction.  She moved them off to the northeast, further and further from the Road of Dreams to where the others wondered if they would ever find the path again.  Vedix alone realized that given enough snow, they would lose the path in any case.

By six, as the sun behind the clouds prepared to go down, the snow changed to a cold rain.  The group came to a rock outcropping in the flat land, and everyone thanked their luck.  They found a big overhang in one place that acted like a roof.  It appeared sheltered all around by rocks and trees, so the snow had not reached the ground, and now the rain got held back by the rock roof. They felt secure enough in that place to light a fire, and though the space was not big enough so the horses had to suffer the wet, the people were able to get relatively dry and reasonably warm. Again, the hot food helped.  And once again, Greta thanked God in her heart because she knew the rain on the snow should obliterate any tracks they made in the snow up to that point.  It would also prevent their fire from glaring off the overhead clouds, a sure sign of travelers in the night that could be seen for miles.

Briana felt again that they were not being followed near enough to set off her internal alarms.  After encountering the shuttle, no one doubted there were those looking, but thus far no one had found them.  This land seemed thinly populated.  Over the days, they saw several distant groups of tents set in a circle around a central fire; but they were far enough away so no one came out from there to ask who they were or what they were doing.  Since they did not stop, the people ignored them.

“Ger-like dwellings,” Greta called them.  “They are more than tents, but not much more. Easily moved, they are the dwellings of a nomadic people, the horsemen of the steps.”

“Slavs?” Alesander asked.

“Maybe, or something like that.  They may be Avars, or some early intrusion of Hunnish people.  They are like bees in a sense.  If you don’t bother them, they won’t bother you.”

“At least they are not Mithrites,” Hermes said, as he got up to check on the horses.

R6 Greta: The Persian, part 3 of 3

Bogus shouted.  “Pincushion spent too much time with the gnomes.  The horses think she is their mother.”

“They do not,” Pincushion yelled and slapped Bogus on the arm to stop him from laughing.  “You—”

“Hush,” Greta said quietly, and Pincushion hushed, but she slapped Bogus once more, just because.  The men, who stopped and took a step back on the appearance of the dwarfs all saw how those same dwarfs answered to the lady in armor.  They got doubly surprised when that same lady scolded the woman who got them out of the fort dungeon.  “Mavis, why have you taken on your glamour of humanity.  I thought you were going full elf in the wilderness.”

Mavis looked back once at the men who had stopped and turned a bit red.  “These men are not so wild,” she said in a voice directed to Greta’s ears.

“Hush,” Greta repeated her word.  “These men are plenty wild, and if they get ideas about a beautiful young woman, they will show you how wild they can be.”  Greta snapped her fingers and Mavis’ glamour fell away to reveal the elf beneath.  Mavis looked down, now fully embarrassed, but Hermes squeezed her hand in support.  “Now,” Greta said to the men who stared at Greta with mouths open.  “Venedi?”

One older man with black hair and eyes stepped forward.  “Chief Venislav of the Moldav,” he introduced himself, Mavis translating, and another man, a tall blond stepped up beside him.

“Olaf of the Goths of the Elba, but this town is Venedi. We came here to form an alliance against the barbaric Scythians who are stealing our land and raiding our crops, but the people betrayed us and threw us in the dungeon.”

“How do we tell one barbarian from the other?” Hermes whispered, as Alesander and Briana came up holding hands.  Vedix still seemed determined to fetch the bones out of the water.

Chief Venislav put his hand up to the big Goth and took up the story.  “They fed us for two days, but on the third day they claimed the terror from the south was coming and they abandoned their homes in fear and panic.”

“Cowards,” Olaf scoffed.

Greta could not help the curtsey.  She still felt empowered from just being the goddess Amphitrite and from successfully overcoming the Persian.  “I assume they meant me.  Do I frighten you?  I mean you no harm.”  Greta saw the smiles on the strangers faces and knew the thoughts they were thinking were anything but frightening.  “We are travelers on an errand of mercy in the north, to save my family and friends from the Land of the Lost.”  The men lost that look and took another step back, like they knew the place and had lost friends or family there.

“The Wolv have come and rule the forest there,” Olaf said.

“Yes,” Greta sighed.  “But one thing at a time.  I am glad we could set you free.  You are free to go, to retrieve your horses and return to your people in peace. I am Mother Greta, woman of the ways for the Dacian people, wise woman for the Romans and druid for the Celts. My father is the high chief of the Dacians in the Roman province and my husband is the governor appointed by the emperor himself.  If you wish to make a friend in your fight against the Scythians, come talk to my husband and my father.”

Olaf shook his head though Venislav looked willing. Venislav clearly did not know the Romans except maybe by distant rumor, but Olaf spoke.  “We want no Romans in our land.  They are worse than the barbaric Scythians.”

Alesander stepped up and answered the man.  “I am Alesander, a war chief among the Romans, and I can tell you Rome wants nothing of the Germanys or the steppes.  Dacia provides what Rome needs and otherwise, Rome is happy with the Danube and the Rhine as borders.  Rome wishes only to live at peace with her neighbors.”

“The Scythians know nothing about peace,” Greta added.  “One man might die.  Two might be injured, but three and four men can kill the wild bear.  You need not give me an answer, but meanwhile, go in peace.”

The men looked prepared to do that very thing when Bonebreaker stepped up beside Greta.  Hermes let out a little shriek and pulled Mavis aside to give the big fellow plenty of room.  “Lady,” Bonebreaker spoke in a voice that encouraged the Goths and Slavs to take a couple of more steps back.  “I feel much better.  This is good.”

“It is,” Greta said, with a warm smile.  “But your big, ugly, smelly self is frightening our new friends,” Bonebreaker lifted his chin a little at the compliment.  “You need to go home now, and thank you for all your help.”  Greta put some urgency in the go home part, and Bonebreaker felt strongly that going home was the thing he wanted most.  He turned to walk off, but after two steps he vanished as Greta sent him home.

“If you pledge friendship, I will meet these Romans of yours,” Chief Venislav said.  He looked like a man who thought it best to stay on Greta’s good side.

“I will think about it,” Olaf agreed with that much, and they and their men sought out their horses among the herd.  What blankets, saddles and equipment they had got stored in the barn out behind the big building, though Greta could not swear they did not take some extra things.  For her crew, Bogus, Pincushion, Mavis and Hermes found eight good horses.

By the time the Riders all stopped at the cave entrance, Vedix had all the bones he could reach stacked up with plenty of dry wood against the scorpion carcass.  He set it on fire, pronounced a Celtic curse against the bones of an enemy, and they all rode through the cave before the smell got too bad.  As expected, the tunnel led them to the back side of the hills and cliffs that penned in the river.  There, the Goths went off to the northwest.  The Slavs rode off to the northeast.  Greta and her group headed straight north along a wagon trail.

“Under the heart of the goddess,” Mavis said.

Greta nodded since she had figured it out. “Carpasis, Oread of the Carpathian Mountains buried her pet dragon here.  She probably created the hill to do it.  That old dragon got loose in the end and ate his way straight across the Ukraine.  He finally fell to old age, here in this place.”

“As you say,” Mavis said, and fell quiet.

“The road of dreams,” Briana called it, and she looked at Alesander like she might be dreaming about something.

“I seem to be missing someone,” Alesander said quietly to Greta.

“I told you,” Greta responded.  “Lucius is a Mithrite.  He kind of gave himself away back there.  I hope we don’t see him again, but I bet he will follow us.”

Alesander nodded, and spurred up front to ride beside Briana.  Hermes and Mavis rode behind Greta, and Bogus and Vedix took the flanks.  Sadly, that put Greta next to Pincushion.

“I know how to handle these horses,” she spoke too loud.  “But I never thought I would have to ride on one.  My legs hurt already and my butt is going to be so sore in the morning it will probably swell up to three times its size.”

“Shh,” Greta said.  “The baby is sleeping.”  She patted her belly, and Pincushion got mostly quiet for a while.  Mostly.

************************

MONDAY

The Road of Dreams.  Until then, Happy Reading

*

R6 Greta: The Persian, part 2 of 3

The Persian waved his hand, and a scorpion appeared.  It looked the size of a rhinoceros, though flat and low to the ground like a true insect. The horn on this beast appeared, not on the head, but at the end of the multi-jointed tail where it waved slowly up and down, ready to strike at any moment.  Its six legs made the creature shuffle back and forth, and it made a great clicking sound with its jaws, but it did not charge.

“Oh, Lovely.”  Greta clapped like an excited schoolgirl.  “A teleport device.  I can do that.”  The Persian looked confused again as Greta called.  “Bonebreaker!”

The ogre appeared beside his goddess as he had no choice.  He looked confused about what just happened and where he was, but looking confused was not an unusual thing for an ogre.  The poor ogre looked cut up, a few deep cuts, and he looked burned in several places, but he lived and would heal.  Greta touched Bonebreaker’s upper arm, about as high as she could reach, and the ogre felt strength and healing enter his body.

“But you can’t do that,” the Persian protested.  “You are just an ordinary, stinking, mortal human.”

“And this is my ordinary, stinking ugly friend,” Greta asked the ogre a simple question.  “Bonebreaker, dear.  Would you smash the scorpion?”

Bonebreaker grinned, which made Alesander and Briana look away and made Vedix swallow to keep from throwing up.  “Yes, Lady,” Bonebreaker said.  Ogres lived to smash things.

The scorpion moved, but Bonebreaker leapt and both fists came down at once on the scorpion head.  He grabbed the clicking jaws and with a great roar, ripped them out. The scorpion insides and brains began to leak out on the dock even as the stinger struck Bonebreaker in the shoulder. Bonebreaker howled, but grabbed the tail below the stinger and yanked.  Reflex kept the stinger in attack mode, but Briana let out a great scream of her own and leapt.  One swing of her sword and her sword broke even as the scorpion stinger flew off into the bushes.

Briana landed hard on the ground, the wind knocked from her lungs and the strength gone from her arms.  Alesander raced up and grabbed her.  He carried her to safety even as she protested that she could walk.  He told her to shut-up and kissed her to keep her quiet.

It turned out a good thing Alesander pulled her back from the action, because Bonebreaker shifted his hands on the scorpion tail and began to swing the scorpion to the left and the right, smashing it against the ground on the left and on the docks to the right.  When the scorpion became sufficient pulpy, Greta said stop, and Bonebreaker stopped and fell to his knees.

Greta rushed up.  The scorpion venom started having its way.  Greta was not a goddess, but even as a human, she remained Bonebreaker’s goddess, and she was the woman of the ways for all the Dacian people, and not without training and some small power.  She prayed as she touched the big ogre on the shoulder.  She emptied her mind and focused as well as she could, even as Mother Hulda taught her, and the venom collected next to the wound and forced itself out of the hole in the shoulder.  It dribbled to the ground and the earth steamed where it landed.

“That’s not possible,” the Persian shrieked.  “You are not a god.”

“I am human, but as Mother Greta, you know I have some small power.”  Greta turned and her eyes were hard and cruel enough to startle the Persian.  Her hand once again shook a finger at the Persian like he had been a naughty child.  “You claim to be a god, a claim I dispute.  So let me put you to the test of water, fire, earth, air and ether.  We will see if you are truly a god or not.”

The Persian looked surprised, but soon enough the sly look returned to his face and he accepted the challenge.

“We are here by the river,” Greta said in her stern voice and left little time for the Persian to think.  “Since I am already soaked from the rain, let us begin with the water test.”  Greta sat down on the dock and dangled her feet over the side.  “Let us see which of us can stay longer under the water.”  She slipped off the dock and sank beneath the waves.  The fish gave her plenty of room as instructed, and the water sprites surrounded her with a bubble of air and kept her supplied with plenty of oxygen.  The Persian slipped into the water to stand beside her, a smug look on his face before he realized she tricked him again. The water sprites that protected Greta could also feed off the pressure at the bottom of the Marianas Trench, and they pressed in on the Persian and would have crushed him utterly, before he could react, if they were not followed by the Piranha.  It took less than thirty seconds to strip the Persian of every ounce of flesh.  Greta surfaced, as a spark of white light shot out of the water and zoomed into the north.  Then the gnawed bones floated up.

Greta looked at Alesander and Briana, but they were busy kissing.  All the same, she positioned Vedix between her and the lovers before she traded places with Amphitrite.  Amphitrite bent down to the water and thanked her water sprites first of all.  Bubbles popped up from the water and she petted his head like a mom might brush the hair out or her little one’s eyes. Bubbles turned from a gray-blue color to slightly pink and broke to water pieces.  Amphitrite looked up to the sky sprites, and made a point of thanking them as well as singling out the winds that helped.  She turned again to the water and called her Piranha to the surface.  When they jumped from the water, she sent them all the way home to the Amazon, a little less hungry.

“They would not have survived in these cold waters,” she said, and went away so Greta could come back.  “Better they go home,” Greta finished the thought before she added, “I wish we could go home.”

Vedix nodded.  “As you say,” he said, while he got a boat pole and hook and tried to fish the Persian’s bones out of the water.

“Lady!”  Greta heard Mavis’ voice and looked around.  Lucius was nowhere to be seen.  Greta walked off the dock and headed toward the fort where Mavis and Hermes started walking toward her, followed by a great host of hard looking men in leather armor, round wooden and some metal shields, long spears and great swords that hung from leather straps that fit over the opposite shoulder. Bogus and Pincushion came from the big building with dozens of horses in their trail.

R6 Greta: The Persian, part 1 of 3

The man’s cap looked like a wizard’s cone hat, but bent so it flopped over in the front.  It showed the image of a fingernail moon, while the man’s wizard cloak of the same color as the cap, a deep navy, almost black, looked studded with a thousand stars.  The man himself looked richly tanned and stared at her with dark eyes beneath full and black brows.

“Persian,” Greta called him, and Vedix came up to stand beside her.

“Kairos.”  The Persian returned a word to show that he certainly knew who she was.  Greta looked for Lucius and found him standing back, quietly watching.  Lucius had his sword put away and made no hostile move as the Persian talked and stepped toward the center of the room.  “That was a beautiful trick, sharing false information.  You have the Wolv all searching for you up river, but I saw through your clever ruse and now I stand between you and the Road of Dreams.”

Greta looked again at the Persian and understood what she had to do, dangerous as it might be.  “Jupiter is dead,” she said with a smile.  “He went over to the other side as all the gods should.  And your pretend Jupiter, the lion-headed freak is dead as well.”

The Persian paused, uncertain how to respond. Greta assumed from his perspective there was so much wrong with what she said, he choked on where to begin.  “He was not a pretend Jupiter,” the Persian spit out at last.  “He was the true god.”

“No,” Greta interrupted, with a kind and friendly shake of her head.  “If he was a true god he would have gone over to the other side some time ago with all the real gods.”

The Persian got flustered.  “He was a real god.”

Greta shook her head.  “Well, he was not exactly immortal.  Why, he was no more a god than you are.”  Greta forced a casual laugh.  “What are you, a third-rate magician?”

“I – I…”  The Persian stuttered before he threw his hands in her direction.  “This should have been done a long time ago.”

Greta felt herself turning into a donkey and quickly went away so Junior could stand in her place.  Junior was a true god of the Middle East as well as Egypt, and while he technically did not cover Persia, he had plenty of dealings there in ancient days and so imprinted his impression on the Persian people.  Junior shook his finger at the Persian, like the Persian was a naughty boy, and Junior smiled as the Persian’s eyes filled with a touch of fear and he took a step back.

“You picked up a matter transformer from the Wolv,” Junior said, like he was Greta speaking, which in a way, he was.  “Very impressive, but still just a trick.”  He tossed a bit of dirt in the air and Greta came back to have the dirt fall on her.  Immediately, the compulsion to become a jackass went away and she returned fully to her ordinary, human self.

“I have no matter trasfigurer, or whatever you said,” the Persian raised his voice.

“Sure,” Greta rolled her eyes.  “I forgot.  You are pretending to be a god.”

“But I am a god.”  Greta just stared at the man like the man had a few loose screws.  “But I am,” he repeated.

“I tell you what,” Greta said in a very casual voice. “I figure you have your tricks set up in this room so it would not be a good test.  Let’s go back out by the river, into the sunlight and see what you are made of.”  Greta grabbed Vedix’ hand and dragged him behind her.  She walked quickly, and the Persian followed, still mumbling.

“But I am a god.”

Outside, Greta waved to Alesander and Briana who stood, concerned, but then curious to see what she was up to.  When the Persian came into the light, and blinked at the sudden brightness, Briana drew her knife and growled like Vedix.  Greta thought it must be a Celtic thing.  She turned and faced the man only when she got near the docks.  The lion-headed one had been a god of the sky, the air and lightning.  The sun-runner, whichever that one was, appeared as a fire demon with a whip of fire.  Mithrasis, the Nymphus stood for Venus, the water one.  Greta wondered why women were always the water ones.  It hardly seemed fair.  But then the Roc flew over the beasts of the earth, quite literally from five thousand feet up, while the soldier stood over the human race, again of the earth, though it seemed like the Wolv were willing to play his game as well. That left the father figure, the Pater, but Greta figured he stayed above it all.  And the Persian, over the moon and the stars, had to be over the fifth element, ether.  That meant earth air water and fire were not his forte, so this might work.

“So, magician,” Greta turned and spoke up as soon as she reached the edge of the water by the ship and the dock.  “Lets see what you got out here in broad daylight. I’ll be watching to see if I can figure out the trick.”

“It is not tricks.”  The Persian turned from confusion and upset to anger.  This became the dangerous point and Greta had to be careful.  The Persian let his anger touch the sky and with a wave of his hand, dark, foreboding clouds moved in and lightning flashed between the clouds.  The thunder echoed through the village, and Alesander and Briana grabbed each other while Vedix jumped.  It began to rain, hard, but Greta laughed.

“That was very good.”  Greta knew a compliment would be needed to soothe the Persian’s anger. “I did not see how you did that, at all. Excellent.”  The Persian grinned.  “But really.”  Greta pointed to the sky.  “Five-year-old children on Katawba Three can change the weather with a push of a button. Weather control is old hat.”  The Persian looked deflated as Greta whistled for her air sprites and thought her instructions rather than speak out loud. The sprites began to push at the darkness and enlisted a couple of spirits of the winter winds to help.  The thunder stopped and the rain slowly slackened and stopped as the sun returned to the dock.

Greta felt glad of one thing, the one advantage she had in this game of wits.

“The Persian has no wits?” Festuscato asked in Greta’s mind.

“That’s wit with a “t”,” Gerraint said, and after a very brief pause, he said, “Twit.”

No, Greta thought to herself along with the words, “shut up.”  The Persian could not read her mind, thank God.  Given her knowledge of the actual future, sometimes called the most dangerous knowledge in the universe, even the gods were prevented from reading her mind, and that prohibition included the Persian.  He would have no way of knowing that matter transmutation was way beyond humanoid technology, so he could not have gotten a machine from the Wolv to do it. And it would be a thousand years in the future before the people on the planet of Katawba had the technical capacity to change the weather with the push of a button, but Greta was not going to be deterred by the details.  What the Persian did not know, she would not tell him.

“Hey!” Greta shouted as she leaned over and wrung her hair out on the dock.  “I may be willing to confess you are a real wizard and not just a magician with a bag of tricks. But if that is the case, where is your familiar?  I thought all witches and wizards had a familiar.”  Greta remembered there was something, like the lion-headed man had a serpent by his feet, but she could not exactly remember what the Persian had.

The Persian still looked angry as he watched his storm get pushed away, but soon enough, his expression turned to sly.  “Indeed,” he said, and he did not even protest that he was a god, not a wizard.  “You should meet my familiar.”

R6 Greta: Downriver, part 3 of 3

At four in the morning when people began to stir, Festuscato got his turn, and he did not gripe because at eight o’clock, Gerraint stepped in, which meant Festuscato still had the next turn.  The sun was due to come up, not that they would see it through the fog.  More important, the width and depth of the river changed overnight.  In some places, there were obstructions in the river and the place of safe passage narrowed.  Everyone needed to be awake and poles ready just in case they needed to fend off any rocks or other obstructions in the water.  Gerraint felt confident that his water babies would guide them safely to the dock, but it would be better to be prepared, just in case.

Gerraint picked at breakfast, and at eight o’clock he traded places with Diogenes.  Diogenes was not hungry, th-thank you.  He sat in the middle of the deck, pulled his sword and laid it across his lap.  Then he spent the next four hours making Lucius uncomfortable by staring at the man and trying to puzzle out just where the man’s loyalties lay.

At noon, Doctor Mishka took a turn.  She was more animated than most and did not mind sharing lunch and several stories from the future about the very land they were traveling through.  She kept her voice low, but she figured after all that snoring the night before, surely the Wolv knew where they were.  Unless, as she hoped, they were checking out the Muskva River awaiting their arrival.

There came one moment when the boat came rushing around a corner as it turned to the east.  The boat swayed and tilted heavily to starboard as it got caught in a side current.  Hermes almost slipped and fell overboard, but Mavis grabbed him and they both tumbled to the deck, laughing.  The rest of the group shouted Wee! and Aah! like they were on a log flume ride before the boat settled down in the new current.  The boat then slipped into the calmer waters behind a jetty, which had been built out into the river.  A short while later, they came around a second jetty, and there they came gently to the dock of a fine-looking village.  They did not exactly stop perfectly.  They felt a bit of a bump, but Vedix and Hermes jumped to the dock with the ropes and tied the boat fast.

“Where are we?” Alesander whispered, having spent the day without speaking at all.  People looked up and all around as the fog lifted from their immediate vicinity. They could still see where it clearly covered the river downstream and back upstream, but after twenty-four hours, the fog started to feel a bit suffocating.  People breathed, and looked all around.

The village where they docked had been carved out of the hills and short cliffs that penned in the river.  They found several buildings by the docks that looked to be warehouse buildings, and a three-story tower about where the central village square ought to be.  The houses looked odd, a style of building unfamiliar to both the Romans and the Celts, though to be fair, they had not gotten a good look at the houses of Samarvant. Mainly, there did not seem to be anyone around.  There were no signs of life in that village.

Mishka kept back to see which way Lucius might be interested in going.  He moved immediately to the left off the dock where the village actually ended at a kind of small fort.  The fort looked shut up tight and showed no one on the walls, so Mishka assumed the fort was as empty as the rest of the place.  True, she could not be sure about the dungeon.  She saw another big building there beside the fort, like a great hall for meetings, but it also looked to be closed, and probably locked. That building stood beside what looked like a cave entrance that let people inside the hill itself.  Lucius became self-conscious when he realized everyone followed him, and he said something to ease any suspicion the others might have had.

“I think we go this way.  I think the cave should take us under the heart of the goddess.”

Greta came back, letting the good doctor Mishka return to the future.  She looked at Mavis, but Mavis shook her head.  The only thing Greta remembered saying was they had to go north.  Neither Greta nor Mavis told anyone about the signs they had been following.

“Where is everyone?  Where are the people?” Hermes interrupted.

“Deserted the village,” Alesander suggested.  “Ran away, or headed downriver to get away.”

“At least there aren’t any half-chewed bodies in this place,” Vedix offered.

“Quiet,” Greta said, and they quieted and looked at her while Greta sighed at having to face her own cave.  I would rather have a bridge to burn, she thought, but she said something else.  “Alesander, Briana, stay out here and keep hidden.  Be prepared for us to come racing back out in case the cave is full of Wolv.  Bogus and Pincushion, see if there are any people around, but stay invisible.   My guess is this is a Venedi village, so they may become friends.  Mavis and Hermes, see if there are any horses here for the borrowing.  From here on we follow the Road of Dreams.  Lucius and Vedix, you go with me to check out Lucius’ cave.”  Greta turned to Lucius.  “After you.”

“Lady?” Mavis did not exactly protest, but Greta waved her off.

“It will be all right,” she said, as she stepped toward the darkness.

Lucius drew his sword, but Diogenes said in Greta’s head that it was for show.  Lucius walked slowly up what appeared to be a wide and well-kept path, not unlike the back-door path in the village of the Dragon Clan.  Vedix fingered his wristwatch shield, thinking worst case scenario.  Greta found a stack of torches by the entrance and lit two with her little bit of flint.  She handed one to Vedix while Lucius stared off into the dark.

They did not walk far before they reached a great chamber, like a massive entrance hall carved out of the dark.  It looked like a smaller version of one of the great dwarf halls they saw in Movan Mountain, but this looked strictly human made, with great columns regularly spaced to support the ceiling.  Greta saw the path continued up and out the back of the chamber, but first she became concerned to light the torches that she found spaced regularly around the walls.  She figured this would be the way her group had to go, and guessed that they were beneath the Heart of the Goddess, whatever that was.  She managed to only light the first torch before all the torches around the room came to life as if by magic.

Vedix growled like a true member of the Bear Clan as Greta’s eyes shot to the exit tunnel on the other side of the room.  A small man in a long cloak and Phrygian cap stared right back at her.

************************

MONDAY

Greta faces the second piece of Mithras, the Persian.  Until next time, Happy Reading.

*

R6 Greta: Downriver, part 2 of 3

Hermes paused at the side of the ship, bucket in hand. “I don’t want to accidentally scoop up one of those water babies.”

“It’s all right,” Mavis heard and responded. “It is what they live for, and you would not know if you did.”

“They live for?” Alesander asked, and Briana looked up as well.

Once again, Greta felt the need to explain. “Water sprites live to make a splash. They are the white in the whitewater, the ripples in the pond, the waves in the lakes and at sea.  They are very regimented wave makers.  They bubble up from deep beneath the earth in the springs and wells, and live to throw themselves up on the sandy beaches and against the rocky places which they eventually wear down to sand.  They have a symbiotic relationship with the air sprites who they meet where the steam rises and in the rain that falls.  In fact, falling with the rain has got to be the best water slide, ever.”

“But the rain splats on the ground,” Briana worried.

Greta nodded.  “And the ground takes them in where they nourish and bring life to all the plants and animals, or they evaporate and go up again to fall in a new rain, or they sink down deep to rise up again with the spring waters that find their way back to rivers, like the one we are on, and eventually they once again reach the sea where my lovely dolphins frolic and play.”

“Your dolphins?” Alesander asked.

Greta nodded, but did not explain.  She made sure everyone was present around the cooking fire and said something else.  “The water sprites in the river will take us safely to our destination, but you all must make sure you don’t fall overboard.  I cannot guarantee your safety if you fall into the river.” Everyone looked around and wondered why she had to mention such a thing.  No one had any intention of falling overboard, and Bogus looked like she jinxed everyone to do that very thing the minute she said it, but he did not say anything out loud.

“Now,” she continued.  “It has occurred to me, in case you have not noticed, that the Wolv, and the Scythians for that matter, have all focused on getting to me and have become confused when I borrow a different lifetime.”  Heads nodded.  They had noticed.  Greta also nodded and checked her armor.  It would adjust in size and shape to whatever lifetime she currently inhabited.  Then she finished her thought.  “It is an oversight I am sure Mithrasis will correct soon enough, but in the meanwhile, I will be other people for a while.  You will know it is me from the armor I wear, so do not be afraid.”

With that, Greta stood and went to the back of the boat where she turned her back on everyone, sat, and dangled her feet off the edge.  Mavis came to sit beside her, but Greta did not mind.  At the same time, a fog rolled in from both riverbanks until it swallowed the boat, whole.  It appeared thick enough to make sight difficult more than a few feet away, and it felt very unnatural, but comforting in a way, like someone laid a warm blanket down for the boat to silently sail beneath.

When Greta felt sufficiently covered, she traded places through time with Amphitrite, queen of the waters.  Mavis turned her head away from the goddess out of respect and began to worry her hands in her lap.  Amphitrite smiled for her, but said nothing.  Her mind wandered all the way to the other side of the world, to the savannah lands of the Amazon.  She found the school of fish she was after and insulated them against the cold waters of the River Heartbreak.  With a thought, she transported them to where she was, and tied them to the boat, to follow in their wake and not get lost.

“I felt something,” Mavis admitted.

“Hopefully unseen by bigger fish,” Amphitrite said and stood, so Mavis stood.  As they stepped from the edge, Amphitrite went away and the Storyteller came to fill her shoes.  He paused a moment to take a good look at Mavis, a real, live elf maiden, a privilege he did not have in his lifetime; though that, as they say, is a long story of its own.  “So how do I look?” he asked.

“Lovely,” Mavis said, and the devotion was so genuine, the Storyteller staggered.  He wondered why he could not show such devotion to the King of Kings.  He turned and spoke to the group, most of whom he could just make out in the fog.

“Howdy Folks.”

“He says hello,” Mavis translated the English.

“You kind of missed the impact,” the Storyteller said. “Words.  That is my business, you know.”

Pincushion interrupted.  “Lord, how can I cook in these circumstances?  I can’t hardly see the food.”

“Hush,” the Storyteller said and Pincushions eyes got big and her mouth closed.  “Just do your best.  That is all we can ever do.”  He sat and Mavis sat next to him to translate his words.  “This fog should keep the Wolv from seeing us and hopefully keep them from smelling us.”

“True enough,” Bogus interrupted.  “I can smell the trees along the river, but nothing beyond that.”

“I hope it will also interfere with their instruments. The only thing is, it will deaden the sound, but not stop it.”  The Storyteller whispered.  “We have to be as quiet as we can to avoid detection by Wolv ears.”

“Eats.”  Pincushion spoke up like she called a whole regiment for chow.  Everyone jumped.  Then everyone ate a fine lunch.

Four hours later, the Storyteller traded places with the Princess.  Somewhere in the back of her mind, the storyteller remembered that three or four hours was not enough to throw off the sleep routine.  She imagined if she remembered enough lifetimes, she could probably stay up for a whole week without ill effect as long as she traded places with another life every three or four hours.  So at four hours, he became the Princess.  That happened about four in the afternoon.  At eight o’clock, when people began to get ready for bed, she became Martok the Bospori, an alien life that looked relatively human for a man only five feet tall, if he did not show his eye teeth and kept his yellow cat-like eyes turned away.  At midnight, Gallena of Orlan took over, which was not a person to frighten anyone, despite the pure white hair and lavender eyes.  Those things were hard to tell in the dark and fog; but she did have to keep her six foot, six inch Barbie-doll body seated the whole time.  This was not a problem since, apart from the one on watch, the others were unfortunately snoring.

R6 Greta: Downriver, part 1 of 3

Greta slept in the moving boat while Alesander, Lucius, Hermes, Vedix, Bogus and Briana took turns with the poles and kept as much eye as they had on the dark riverbanks, at least to be sure they did not get too close in the dark.  Pincushion slept in fits, getting up and down through the night.  She fretted about how she could make food that anyone could eat. Her nose was good, and she said she would smell the Wolv if they got close, but that did not help keep them from starving to death.  Mavis got up several times in the night and spent Hermes’ shift with him.  She said her eyes were not made for the dark like Ulladon, but her ears were sharp.  She told them when she heard movement along the banks, but she said she sensed beaver and once a bear, not Wolv.

When Greta woke in the morning, Briana asked if maybe the Wolv lost the trail.  “Not a chance,” Greta answered.  “They have eyes like a fairy, I should say, like an eagle, ears like an elf or a bat, and noses like true dwarfs, like bloodhounds that can smell us miles away.”

“My turn,” Hermes butted up with a question. “I don’t understand why this boat was just sitting there untouched.  If Wolv attacked my city, escape by the river would be an obvious option.”

“Boat’s too big?” Briana guessed.

“Probably single people or maybe a family went for the river, but there were probably smaller boats for the taking,” Alesander added.

“This big freighter was probably more than one or two could handle, especially if the attack came at night.  We only got it because we had the hands.” Briana finished the thought.

“They probably came at night” Greta wanted to explain.  “But you must remember, they are like people, they are smart, they are not animals. They probably moved right away to cut off the river as an avenue of escape.  They maybe even swam the river to close the port first thing.”

“They can swim?”   Hermes looked from bank to bank, but he sounded a bit like Nudd.

“Doggie paddle.”  Greta nodded and she took a moment to sigh for Nudd.  “But wait.”  She had another thought.  “This boat does not exactly have a shallow draft.  You men don’t know this river, the currents or the deep-water channels. How is it we haven’t run aground?” Greta imagined that might be what the Wolv were waiting for, but Mavis knew the answer.

“Water babies,” she said.  “They came early in the night when we set out and promised to keep us in the deep water and away from the banks.”  Mavis let out a mighty grin because water sprites were the cutest things.  That gave Greta an idea.  She stood and called to the sky.

“Sky babies, please come and hear me.  Water babies, listen.”  Then she waited because they were not like ogres who had to be told everything twice.

It only took a moment for the waves around the boat to form into dozens of little gingerbread-like jelly babies.  The one who jumped up on the deck shouted, “Good Lady,” in a sweet baby voice

“Bubbles,” Greta called the sprite by name and offered a small curtsey.  “Thank you for your good care of my person.”

“Think nothing of it.  A pleasure.  A real pleasure,” Bubbles said before people were distracted by two small clouds that looked to be falling from the sky.

“Lady calls,” one cloud spoke.

“Calls to us,” the other cloud agreed.

“We are here,” the first said.

“Here we are,” the second agreed.

“Fluffer and Sprinkles, welcome,” Greta said, as the two clouds took on human-like form to stand on the deck.  They were not much bigger than Bubbles, and even though they had a head, arms, legs and such, they never lost the look of little clouds. The people on deck stared and Briana wondered if the clouds were male and female, though she had no way of telling, and when she asked Mavis, all Mavis could do was shrug.

“How can we help?” One of the cloud people asked.

“We want to help,” the other echoed.

“Now babies, I have a request.”  Greta got down on her knees and whispered.  She did not want Lucius to hear.  It took a little time, but when she finished, she stood and said, “Thank you.”  The cloud people reverted to clouds right away and rose again into the sky.

“We will do everything you ask,” one cloud spoke.

“All you need to do is ask and we will do it,” the other agreed.

Bubbles stood as tall as he could, just over a foot tall.  He appeared to salute as he made his way to the edge of the boat.  “You can count on us,” he said in his sweet voice.  “We will bring you safely to the place I am not talking about.”  He waved from the edge before he dove back into the water and disappeared.

Greta stood with the inevitable grin on her face. “No need to pole,” she said.  “The sweet water sprites will carry us safely.” The others smiled as well until Lucius broke the spell by asking where they were going.  Greta answered, and as the saying goes, she lied like an elf.

“When we join up with the Muskva, we will turn upstream for a few miles and pull in to the north shore at a place where I hope the Wolv won’t find us.”  Greta knew she was no good at telling lies.  Mavis, Bogus and Pincushion all caught the lie, and Mavis gasped, but Bogus spoke right up to provide cover for the words.

“Those water sprites will have a hard job pulling us against the current, but I am sure they are up to it.”

Greta wisely said no more about it, and Pincushion changed the subject.  “Lady. Did you arrange for us to build a fire somewhere?  I can’t hardly cook on thin air.”

“Let’s see what we can find,” Greta said, and she, Pincushion, Hermes and Mavis scrounged through the hold beneath the deck. What they came up with was a bronze shield that might work as long as no one stepped on the edge and tipped it. The fire would have to be small and stay centered, but Pincushion said she could work with that, even if she could not do much.

“We have two buckets,” Hermes said, and lifted them. He found some rope and handed one bucket to Vedix.  Vedix filled his right away while Greta, Mavis and Pincushion found a place amidships where they could lay the shield and prop it with other artifacts to prevent it rolling.

R6 Greta: Jupiter, part 3 of 3

Up close, it became clear the gate had been broken down, and burned from the look of it.  That much seemed obvious, even in the dark.  What Greta could not figure out was, how?  Explosives would have splintered the door.  A bulldozer might have done it, but no way this got done by a bunch of men with a battering ram.  It almost looked like it was pulled off the hinges from the inside, and that made Greta wonder if the enemy broke in or the towns people were trying to get out.

There were bodies and pieces of bodies everywhere inside the gate.  Men, women and children looked torn, shredded and partially eaten with an arm here and a leg there.  Vedix thanked the gods it was dark enough to disguise the full impact of the horror. Hermes held a cloth over his mouth and tried not to look too closely.  Even so, Hermes threw up when he tripped over a torso with the head still attached and one dead eye staring up at him; and Mavis almost joined him. Alesander and Briana could hardly force their eyes to look away, like rubberneckers on the highway.  By contrast, Nudd kept his eyes shut tight, and for once, Greta did not blame him.

Lord Crag lead them quickly to the drain grate. “The main lines are tall enough for a man to stand upright,” he told them, while a troll ripped off the cover. They heard a howl echo through the city streets and Lord Crag added a word.

“Hurry.”

Greta found the underground as dank and dark as advertised.  The goblins and trolls did not mind too much, being used to living in the swamp, but they turned up their noses against the smell.  Mavis did throw up a little then, and Hermes gave her his cloth to cover her mouth.  Bogus and Pincushion remained stoic the whole time, but walked like statues with their mouths open and their eyes bulging.  Greta knew dwarf eyes saw better in the dark than human eyes, and she figured Bogus and Pincushion saw plenty up above.

“There are lots of caverns that drip limestone and create pillars out of stalactites and stalagmites,” Bogus said.  “But the smell can get hard to handle.  We should be fine if this trip doesn’t take too long. Trust me, you would not want to see my vomit.  It would not be sweet and dainty like your handmaid.”

“I could vomit,” Ulladon volunteered.

“Never mind,” Briana said.  “How about some light.”

Lord Crag had several goblins light torches which were specially prepared to be smokeless.  He spaced his men between members of the group to give light for the journey.  Ulladon made a fairy light and floated it out front.  It had a slight green tint to it which did not help the queasy stomachs in the group.  Mavis also made a fairy light, but it appeared bright and warm like the sun.  That helped everyone’s disposition, except maybe the trolls.  Mavis let her light follow the group, but kept it in front of the ogre and the trolls who brought up the rear.  Bonebreaker did not mind the light, and fortunately he blocked enough of it to keep the trolls from protesting too loudly.  But then poor Bonebreaker had to bend over almost the whole way underground, and twice he had to squeeze through places where the tunnels had partially collapsed.

The group moved as fast as they could, and quickly came to one of those underground chambers.  When the two fairy lights raised toward the ceiling, they could see the drip, drip of the water they felt as they walked.  By the time they reached the far side of the cavern, they heard the howls behind them.  Lord Crag tried to hurry them up, but the group could hardly move fast by torchlight when their footing crossed wet and slippery rocks and broken bits of tunnel ceiling.  They were inclined to stumble.

“We should reach the next cavern soon, just before the river,” Rotwood said, though no one really listened as their ears all focused behind to hear sounds of what followed them.  The tunnel emptied out into a small cavern with a high ceiling that had the feel of a grotto by the sea.  They saw boulders all around on ground level which kept large sections of the cavern in the dark and made spooky, flickering shadows in the torchlight.

“The river is straight ahead,” Rotwood said. “We need to climb up here to get out of the drain by the docks.”  Lord Crag sent a half-dozen goblins up the walls to the drain to open it, check out the area, and see if there might be a ladder or something to help the humans.  Everyone else paced and looked back the way they came, expecting the Wolv any minute.

It honestly was not long, even if it seemed forever, before a long ladder came down from the drain opening along with a long rope.  Two more goblins went up first, one on the ladder and the other by way of the rope. With the all clear, the group began to climb.

Greta sent Lucius, Alesander and Briana up first saying, “Like in the wilderness, you take the point.  Find cover and guard the exit for the others.”  Vedix, Bogus and Pincushion followed with instructions to head for the docks and find a boat.  Hermes got prepared to start up the ladder with Nudd following, and Ulladon got half-way up the rope when Mavis balked.  She refused to go up before her mistress.  She said she would climb the rope when Greta climbed the ladder. Greta insisted she would be fine and right behind her, and anyway, she had Bonebreaker between her and the tunnel, but Mavis looked unmoving.  Then the Wolv arrived.

One Wolv came out of the tunnel and let out a yip-yip before it got tackled by the three trolls.  Greta could not watch, but she knew despite the shielding and laser-like weapon, the Wolv would not survive that encounter.

A second Wolv came from the tunnel and had time to look at Greta and drool.  Nudd, who had his eyes open to climb the ladder, pulled his sword and this time he charged before anyone managed to glue his feet to the ladder.  The Wolv appeared to laugh, but it got hit in the back by a steady stream of rocks that shot out from the dark behind a boulder.  The Wolv shield protected him from the impact, but the push from the rocks combined with the slippery rocks at its feet caused the Wolv to fall over.  Nudd raced passed the Wolv and headed for the dark, like he saw something the others could not see.  When the Wolv regained its feet, it roared and seemed to forget all about Greta as it bounded after the boy.

“Nudd!”  Greta and Mavis both yelled, but Lord Crag and the last goblin underground urged Greta to climb.

As a third Wolv stuck its head from the tunnel, Bonebreaker finally caught up with what was going on and had a thought, always a dangerous thing for an ogre, and he yelled, “I’ll save you.”  He charged, shoved the Wolv back into the tunnel, and roared a much deeper and more frightening roar than the Wolv could produce.

“Bonebreaker, no,” Greta said, but not too loud as Lord Crag and the goblin grabbed her and all but carried her to the surface. Mavis scurried up the rope and met her there, and they all hurried to get down behind the boxes and barrels that lined the dock and now would never go downriver.

There were a half-dozen Wolv in and around the warehouse buildings that sat back from the docks and provided the Wolv with cover. The Wolv were firing their weapons, but they were receiving return fire from Alesander, Briana, Vedix and Hermes. Lucius, Bogus and Pincushion were missing, but Greta could not worry about that just then.  The goblins, having recognized that their arrows were ineffective, were preparing to send some flaming arrows and set the warehouses on fire.  Two goblins had the magic to fire explosive arrows, which at least kept the Wolv back and wary.

It began to look like a Mexican standoff, and Greta wondered whose old and used up weapons would run out of power first, when a bolt of lightning crashed the front of two barrels. They exploded and sent splinters everywhere.  Greta heard a laugh, saw the man, lion head and all, just as she had seen him in her vision.  He was the Jupiter, the judge, and he was clearly not in the mood for play.

A second bolt of lightning struck the dock and made a gaping hole in the wood, and Greta stood, only it was not Greta.  Junior stepped into the fray and he threw a brick calculated to graze the lion’s head.  While the lion looked up to blast the brick, the brick turned into a dove and flapped in the lion face before it flew off.  That mesmerized the man-beast just long enough for Junior to arrive in the lion’s face.  One swing with Wyrd and the lion head bounced to the cobblestones.

An arrow just missed Junior’s shoulder and hit the serpent head, spoiling the serpent’s aim.  Junior forgot about the serpent that curled around the lion-man’s feet. It struck even as Junior struck, but Mavis fired at the same time, and before the serpent could gather itself for a second strike, Junior cut its head off, too.

The snake body became pinned by a dozen goblin arrows, and the goblins followed to chop the body to pieces while Junior went to work on the lion-man.  He first cut the man body in half at the waist and then chopped at the lion head. Mavis, Ulladon and Briana came up with the goblins and started slicing up the serpent head when Junior stepped back to look.  The Wolv all staggered and held their heads, like men suddenly loosed from a great enchantment.

Junior backed off completely.  The lion-man began to dissolve, like ice under a hot sun, and the serpent pieces began to melt making one big melted whole.  A spark of light broke free of the melted mass and rose above their heads.  As the melted mass vanished, or perhaps seeped beneath the cobblestones, the spark raced off to the north to disappear in the dark.

“Boat.  Hurry.” Bogus yelled from the dock. Alesander and Hermes raced to collect Briana and Mavis while Junior vanished so Greta could return to her own place.  Greta and Briana both paused to give Ulladon a thank you kiss on the cheek.  Mavis chose simply to smile and Ulladon returned a knowing smile that said they were friends but there were limits on how close a dark elf and light elf could get.

Vedix and Lucius held the boat with poles while everyone piled in.  When they shoved off, Greta said good-bye and waved to the goblins, knowing they would see in the dark.  The current took them quickly, but not before they heard the howls of frustration from Samarvant.  The Wolv were disoriented for a moment when Jupiter was ruined, but it did not take them long to pull themselves together.  Greta had no doubt they would follow the group along the shore and be there when they docked.

One down, six to go, Greta thought.

************************

MONDAY

They have to make it down the river without being caught by the Wolf, and all the while, Greta wonders what will be the next piece of Mithras she has to face.

Until Monday.  Happy Reading

*

R6 Greta: Jupiter, part 2 of 3

In the impossibly far future, Greta would live two alien lifetimes.  Gallena of Orlan, an exobiologist who could dissect the Wolv and name every part. More importantly, because of Gallena’s understanding of so many alien cultures and alien psychology in all of its rich variety, she might be able to predict Wolv behavior.  Greta imagined that could be useful.

The other impossible life, Martok the Bospori, lived as a mathematical engineer who looked at the weapons and shields of the Wolv like Greta might look at late Neolithic stone-tipped spears.  Martok could easily repair the Wolv craft and send them back out into space, if she could figure out how to get him close enough to do it.  Greta shook her head at the idea of getting close to the Wolv ship and in her thoughts, took a step closer to her own time.

Still in the far future, she remembered the storyteller who kept track of all that went on in this and her many lifetimes, though to be honest, if he did not write down the names and things, he could get as confused as her.  Still, he knew the history of Greta’s day and age, and in a broad way which Greta could not grasp because she sat in the midst of it, and in a sense stayed too close to the subject to see the forest from the trees.  Greta grinned as she thought that, but then apologized to the storyteller because he hated clichés.  Anyway, the storyteller knew what belonged in Greta’s day and what did not; and the Wolv definitely did not belong.  I know that much, Greta thought.

Doctor Mishka came from the century before the storyteller, or at least the lifetime before.  The good doctor taught her many things about healing that even Mother Hulda did not know.  As bad as it felt at times to not be allowed into heaven, to be constantly forced into a new life, to have to live over and over and still not get it right, there were some advantages to having lived so many times.  She reluctantly admitted that in her mind where she often refused to admit it in her heart.

Greta sighed and thought again.  In the near future, there were two more lives that she seemed to be living at the same time as her own, though they quite obviously lived in their own time and place.  Gerraint sadly learned all there was to know about battle, and Greta feared his expertise might be needed in her day before this all finished, and indeed, she had already used him in that capacity.

“I volunteered,” Festuscato spoke directly from the future into Greta’s head.  Greta felt startled, and looked around to see if anyone else heard.  She told herself to be quiet and continued with her not so private thoughts.

Festuscato had some talents at negotiation, especially in negotiating with pig-headed barbarians, if only he could restrain his glib tongue.  At the moment, he still whispered in her head and reminding her that it was his turn next. Like a mom, Greta could only answer, “We’ll see,” and she backed her thoughts into the past.

In the near past, she lived as a Greek princess, gifted to the hunt by Artemis herself and master of more weapons than Greta could name.  The princess did not have the strength and natural talents of an elect, like Briana, but she more than made up for it by her training and the spirit of Artemis that dwelled in her.  The storyteller once put on his best Festuscato accent and quipped that she could track bedroom slippers across a field of linoleum, whatever that meant.

Greta smiled at that image, but turned her thoughts to Diogenes, chief of spies for Alexander the Great, sometimes called Alexander’s Eyes.  Now, he was the consummate warrior and already knew enormous amounts about battle, but he also had a special talent which might be called the talent of a true rogue; rogue being a word which she thought would be nicer than thief.  He could get in and out of a guarded room with whatever he went after, and before anyone noticed.  The storyteller said he could spy out a party of dwarfs without their ever noticing.  It was a bit of an exaggeration, Diogenes being only human and all, but not too far from the truth.

Greta shifted her seat as she remembered the gods she had been as her mind wandered into the deep past.  She remembered that on four separate occasions she lived among the gods.  Sometimes that memory made her more uncomfortable than the aliens, Martok and Gallena.  But setting her personal discomfort aside, there were four gods that stood at the four corners of the earth, and the first she thought of was the nameless god.

Nameless, an earth god, grandson of Odin and a Prince of Aesgard.  They presently traveled through territory that belonged to Nameless before the days of the dissolution of the gods, and that was perhaps why she thought of him first. Greta wondered why she even worried about Gerraint learning about battle, and Diogenes being trained in Macedonian school for war.  Nameless’ father was Tyr, the Aesgard god of war, and his mother was Vrya, goddess of love and again, war.  Nameless knew everything there was to know about war and battle, and maybe even invented some of it.  It ran in his blood, but then Greta decided she did not want to think about that.

Danna, great-great grandmother of Rhiannon, a fire goddess whose father Hephaestus lived and worked in the lava fields of Mount Etna.  She carried the underground fires of the earth in her blood, but she also served as a fertility goddess, thanks to her mother Bast, the cat of Egypt.  In fact, in Egypt, they called her Amonette, the serpent of the Nile, and considered her a goddess of creation, but that was a long story. Suffice to say, Danna gave birth to a whole pantheon of her own, and Rhiannon, her great-great grandchild or whatever, was ticking her off.  Greta frowned and thought again.

Salacia or Amphitrite, the queen of the seven seas, having married Poseidon, the one called Neptune by the Romans.  Her heart desired only to play with the little fishies in her streams and lakes and her lovely dolphins in the deep blue seas, but Greta remembered that Salacia had another side.  Don’t piss her off or upset her, because her anger could easily rise to hurricane proportions.  “But then everything feels so good and clean after the storm has passed.”  Greta heard the words in her head, and shook her head to clear her thoughts.

Then she thought of Junior, a man Greta felt especially close to because of her recent access.  Greta waited, but Junior kindly said nothing.  Junior, a god of the air, and she thought that like Nameless, his mother Ishtar had been a goddess of both love and war, but unlike Nameless, Junior’s father was Amun, the one true ancient god of the Nile, the creator god who became the Ra, the king of the gods of Egypt.  Amun Ra.  This could be good, Greta thought, not the power part, but the creativity.  Greta might need some real creative thinking to deal with the seven broken off pieces of Mithras, and Greta herself was not especially good in panic situations.

Greta shook her head again and put down her food. She stared at the city, and Vedix finally stole her attention when he spoke.

“It will be all right.  We will find them and get them home, safe.”  Vedix referred to Berry, Hans, Fae and Hobknot.  He apparently reacted to the look on her face, but had no idea what she really worried about.

The lives among the gods that she lived in the past were usually unavailable, no matter what lifetime she lived and no matter what terrible thing she faced.  She knew they were not there to step in and fix all her problems any more than she was there to fix all of the problems for her elves, fairies, gnomes and goblins. She knew it strongly related to the idea that she had to fight her own battles and cross her own bridges when she came to them, or burn those bridges, as the storyteller liked to say.  But in this case, Nameless, Danna, Amphitrite and Junior were virtually tripping over themselves to come and help her out. That really worried her more than anything else.  She supposed it was because she was due to start facing the godly, broken off pieces of Mithras, directly.

Mithrasis and the others failed to stop her by more indirect means, by threat, by general Pontius, by Chobar and his Dogs or the Lazyges. They failed with the initial hunters of the Wolv.  They failed with the followers of Helios and the followers of the lion-headed Jupiter. But Greta knew she had no power in her small human self to face such things as gods or demi-gods or whatever the pieces of Mithras were.  She felt grateful to her godly lives, but scared all the same.  She said something out loud, though perhaps no one listened.

“Now it begins in earnest.”

“Lady.”  Mavis got Greta’s attention as soon as they left the shelter of the swamp and headed out across the grass toward the city.

“What are we going to do about Stinky?” Hermes asked. “He might not fit through the tunnels, and even if he does, it is not likely we will find a boat big enough to take him downriver.”

Everyone heard and everyone stopped where they were. Alesander began to unload the mule. He made packages and divided them as evenly as he could between the members of the group so no one person would be overburdened.  They would not let Greta carry any more than her medical pack.  She protested, but got told bluntly that she had a baby to carry.

“I won’t even start showing for another month, at least,” she said, but it made no difference.

When everyone had been loaded down, Alesander’s final act was to remove Stinky’s reigns.  “I can’t imagine he will survive long in this wilderness,” Alesander said.

“We won’t touch him,” Rotwood responded as the goblins, three trolls, and Bonebreaker stood, ready to go.  Greta knew that was right.  Several had received electro-shock burns in the night.

Mavis and Hermes said good-bye to the beast. Greta stepped over to kiss the mule on the nose.  Briana offered one last carrot, and Vedix offered a Celtic word of parting, though he said it in jest.  The group turned for the city.  Stinky followed them most of the way, but stopped short of the gate.  It was like he sensed what was inside.