Reflections Flern-3 part 2 of 3

The Jaccar had their horses in the corral area as Diogenes supposed they would, putting them near the feed. He entered the barn and found the village horses still mostly in their stalls. He figured the Wicca, whoever that was, had not yet gotten around to dividing the spoils. “P-probably have to s-secure the village f-first,” he said to himself as he walked straight toward the four fat mares in the corner. “G-girls spoil these horses,” he added, pulling Thrud’s horse out first. The horse looked extra big and sturdy, and Diogenes smiled at his thought, or Flern’s thought. Thrud, the smallest of them all, topping out at about five feet or maybe five-one, stood even an inch or so shorter than Pinn who was no giant. Flern always thought Thrud looked like a doll on top of this big beast. She looked like Badl.

“Woah.” Diogenes calmed the horse and gained the horse’s confidence as he found a good length of rope. He tied the reigns of Pinn’s, Vinnu’s and Elluin’s horses to the rope and led them outside. They waited patiently inside the fence while he pushed the bales of hay brought out for feed up against the walls of the barn. The hay appeared very dry from being inside the barn all winter, and so he laid out a good line to give him enough time to get away. Then he pulled out Flern’s copper tinder box. She only had flint and a stone, but it always made a good spark. The hay caught immediately, and with a little blowing it began the journey toward the big pile. It would also take a moment before the Jaccar horses smelled the smoke and began to panic. Diogenes almost wanted to stay and watch what the Jaccar would do once that happened, and the flames started roaring, but he also knew the barn would go up, and he apologized in his heart to the village for their horses because few, if any of them would be saved.

“C-come on.” Diogenes grabbed the lead horse that had three more horses tied to it, and he mounted Thrud’s mare and went through the gate. He paused and closed the gate to trap the Jaccar horses. He mounted again and rode out, hardly caring if he was seen. The darkness of the night would swallow him soon enough, and then he would turn south to follow the path of the river, judging the distance in his mind, so he could hit the riverbank about where the others should be waiting. When he felt sure of his direction, he slowed for a second and made certain that he had a good grip on the lead. Then he went back to the Middle East far in the future, and Flern came home to take his place. Thrud’s horse balked, but only for a second. Flern, after all, had been the one to train the horse in the first place, and she gripped the reigns in her teeth to reach with her free hand and pat the horse’s neck. “Steady.” She said, softly.

Flern got half-way to the river before she heard the shouting behind her. The fire had gotten up and running, full speed. She could see the light reflected against the night clouds, and she could hear the terrified screams of the horses trapped in the corral. She hated that. Some would be injured, and again she apologized to the village because some of their horses in the barn would not survive at all.

By the time Flern got to the river, her arm was tired from dragging three horses behind her. “Pinn.” She shouted because she wanted to be sure she was heard and she figured with all the shouting in the village, the Jaccar might not hear. “Vinnu!” She got down and dropped the lead when she saw that the horses were content to stand and taste some of the spring grass at their feet. “Pinn.” Flern felt anxious to get going. The ford was several miles downriver and a head start felt imperative. “Vilder! Kined!”

“They are safe.” Flern heard the word and looked up, but all she saw was the river, until the naiad moved. Her watery form blended in perfectly with the river behind her. Flern smiled broadly at the sight, not because she expected help from this lesser goddess, but because the lady was so beautiful.

“Lady.” Flern curtsied politely, though that was not easy to do given the short skirt of her armor.

“No need for formality between us.” The naiad smiled. “I have watched you since you were a little girl, though I confess I was not sure it was you until you were old enough to recognize from the brief glimpse I once had. Even then, I was not certain until you spoke with the goddess of love and war and became clothed in this outfit of war.”

“You watched?” Flern wondered. “I hope you don’t mind if we cross your waters.” She thought looking down and looking appropriately humble. She found a watery finger under her chin. It lifter her face so the naiad could get a good look at her.

“I see why you need to cross in a hurry, though I must tell you, I have no great desire to allow a bunch of filthy Jaccar into my waters. Even now they are coming.” Flern shot her eyes back toward the village. “Yes.” The naiad confirmed. “The Wicca has seen your young people in her crystal, and she had horsemen ready to give chase when you showed yourselves.”

“The Wicca?” Flern had to ask.

The naiad raised her arms and a wall of water fell to the ground, poured back into the river, and revealed everyone waiting patiently on the riverbank, the girls doubled up on the horses of their men. “A powerful enchantress. The blood of the gods runs in her veins.” The naiad raised an arm and a bridge of water formed across the river. She let the sand and mud come up from the bottom to color the bridge and she let the muddy sides grow so the horses could cross, unafraid. It almost looked like a regular wood and stone bridge. “The Wicca has driven the Jaccar across the continent to satisfy her foolish, childish whims. As things are now, I would not give you and your friends much of a chance against her, even with Diogenes and the Princess to help you.”

“Thank you for the fair warning,” Flern said. “And thank you for whatever you are willing to do.” Flern could not be more sincere, but the naiad said nothing about it, having something else on her mind, which she spoke.

“You do look exactly like him, virtually identical apart from him obviously being a man and you being a woman. And I was right by the way; you do make a very pretty young woman.”

“Thank you.” Flern looked down again, not knowing what else to say and then she looked at the others who were all waiting for her. “Well?” She spoke up. “Come get your horses, and where is mine?” She whistled and Bermer came trotting right up. After the girls reluctantly got down from behind their men and mounted their own steeds, the Naiad standing quietly by that whole time, Flern noticed that they were still staring at her. “What?” she said. “I’m not in charge here.” And she looked at Vilder who simply smiled, and Pinn, who said, “Right,” with only a touch of Thrud style sarcasm in the word. Nevertheless, Vilder shouted.

“Let’s go.” And they started across the bridge, and none too soon. They could hear the thunder of horses behind them.

Once on the other side, Flern had to stop and watch, and because of that, the others all stopped for a minute as well. The naiad flowed up out of the water on their side of the river and stood beside Flern once again, standing as tall as Flern’s face, though Flern stayed on horseback. They watched together as the Jaccar hesitated only briefly before they started out across the bridge at a gallop. Once the twenty or so Jaccar were all on the bridge, the Naiad let the bridge collapse. She sent the water back into her waters, and the mud and sand back to the bottom. All of the Jaccar, their horses and weapons went in, and many went under, though Flern assumed they would come up again. She imagined most would swim to safety, but then they would have to travel several miles before they could find a safe place to cross.

“No, my dear. They will not cross.” The naiad had been peeking into Flern’s thoughts. “I have Odin’s permission. Starting with the sunrise, I will hold the Jaccar for three days and three nights. I cannot hold them any longer, but perhaps you will be out of reach by then.”

“We have met before, haven’t we?” Flern finally figured it out.

The naiad looked her in the eye. “Indeed, I was told you are not living your lives in strict chronological order. I should not have said all that I said.”

Flern smiled. “Don’t worry. I won’t tell myself.”

That elicited a smile from the naiad, and she touched Flern’s hand ever so briefly. “You are even pretty on the inside. I am glad,” she said, and melted back into the river. Flern turned away from the river, the smile still stuck on her lips. The others turned with her, but they only went far enough that night to be able to light a fire without its being seen from the village.

Reflections Flern-3 part 1 of 3

The Princess led the boys straight up alongside the river and stopped only when they came to a few trees and bushes where they could tie off the horses. They went on foot and Vilder expressed surprise that the Jaccar had no men out to watch, but the Princess figured as much. They probably had all of their men out on the other three sides of the village prepared to surprise any returning hunters or other such arrivals, but they probably figured they were safe on the river side where the river would be as effective as a wall.

The Princess handed her long knife to Kined with the hope that he would not have to use it. She handed her sword to Vilder and pulled out her bow. She noticed she had plenty of arrows, and they were good ones, too. A couple of arrows even had silver tips, so she knew Artemis was alive and well, somewhere in the world. After hunting and tracking, the Princess’ chief talent was with the bow, and hers had been designed by Athena and approved by Apollo. Once upon a time in the future, Artemis would gift the Princess as surely as Odin gifted Wlvn. Fortunately, she always carried the gift with her, even when she traveled back into the past. So, she could hunt and shoot like the goddess, and beyond that, she had practically been born on horseback.

“Why have we stopped?” Vilder interrupted. He appeared to be getting anxious, and that would not be a good thing.

“Patience,” she whispered in her military whisper. “Practice patience before you do something stupid. Now listen.” They were close enough to hear two Jaccar who guarded something or someone. The boys could not understand the language, but the Princess caught the gist of it which sounded something like this:

“You better stay extra sharp tonight. The Wicca says there are boys out in the wilderness, and she wants them alive when they return.”

“I know my job.” The second man sounded grumpy. “The Wicca wants everything, but it won’t be our fault if some of those boys get killed. You know that can’t be helped, sometimes.”

“Maybe I know that and maybe I don’t,” the first said. “But I wouldn’t say it again if you don’t want the Wicca to turn you into a frog like poor Chuang. You just stay alert, that’s all.”

“I know my job.” And the one man stepped away.

The Princess nodded and took back her long knife with instructions to stay put until called. She snuck up behind that alert man and cut his throat so he could not cry out.  A wave of her arm brought the others, and she wiped the blade clean and handed the knife back to Kined, who almost did not want to take it. He stared at the dead man.

“Don’t dwell.” The Princess risked another whisper. “It isn’t healthy.” She moved on.

“I can’t help it,” Kined said, as he followed. “I will see that even in my sleep.”

The Princess looked at Vilder. He got stoic. He looked determined. He also took her arm. “Pinn’s house is this way.”

The Princess shook her head. She pointed to Thrud’s house, which was where Pinn, Thrud and Vinnu should still be, probably worried to death. They hurried, pressured by Vilder’s nervousness, though the Princess should have known better. As they came around a corner, they bumped into three Jaccar. One got a knife in his chest. One got sliced across the guts, and the third had an arrow rammed into his throat. The Princess whipped out her boot knife even as the man cut in the belly began to raise his head. She made a near perfect throw into that man’s neck before he could cry out. Then she snatched her sword out of a stunned Vilder’s hand and finished the job before handing the sword back to Vilder. She raised her hand, and her long knife vacated the one man’s chest and flew to her hand. She cleaned it and handed it back to Kined again with some words.

“I would appreciate it if you would take better care of my things.”

“Now I’ve done it,” Kined confessed once his mouth closed. “Now I will have my own nightmares.”

The Princess leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. “That’s from Flern,” she said, before she retrieved her boot knife. “Now shut up and come on.” They moved more slowly then, and kept to the shadows, until at last they came to a window at the back of Thrud’s house. “Pinn. Thrud.” The Princess called through the window shutters. They could see a light on in the room, so they knew it was occupied.

“Who is there?” The voice sounded a bit loud, but they heard Pinn’s voice.

“Flern, sort of. Come on out. We have to get moving.”

“You don’t sound like Flern,” Pinn came back.

“Pinn.” Vilder sounded much too loud, and for his efforts he got the Princess’ boot pushed hard into his foot.

The shutters came open and Pinn popped her head out. “Vilder.” She seemed sensible enough to keep her voice down. The Princess turned to watch both sides of the house, an arrow on the string and her senses on full alert.

“Are Thrud and Vinnu there?” Kined whispered. “Hurry.”

Pinn came out first and dropped easily to the dirt. She had her bow and arrows, good girl. Vinnu followed and accepted Vilder’s help to the ground.

“No, Thrud, no!” Someone, a woman inside started shouting. “We are safe in the house.” They all heard a loud slap followed by some angry whispers. Thrud might not be the prettiest thing on two legs, but she was no dummy. Her mother would get them all killed if she did not shut up!

Even as Thrud clambered out the window with her bow, having forgotten the arrows, a Jaccar came around the corner, perhaps attracted by the noise. The Princess made her usual perfect shot, and the man went down without a sound. “Come,” she said, before Thrud’s feet were fully on the ground, and she led them back the way they came, even if it meant the girls had to notice all of the dead bodies. Once they were free of the last house, the Princess stopped them and spoke, still in her military whisper. Then again, she gave military orders.

“Vilder and Pinn. Work back to the others and mount up. Take my horse. I will meet you by the riverbank just this side of the hill, only stay out of sight and keep quiet.

Vilder nodded, and Pinn accepted his assessment and nodded with him.

“Who is that?” Thrud asked.

“I’ll explain in a minute.” Kined said as he handed the Princess her long knife. He took Thrud by the elbow and escorted her away from the village. Thrud kept looking back.

“What about you?” Vilder asked.

“I have one more thing to do. I will meet you. Go.” She took back her sword.

Vilder nodded again and led Pinn and Vinnu after Kined and Thrud. The instant they were out of sight in the dark, the Princess changed to Diogenes. Diogenes looked like the Princess’ perfect genetic reflection, like Wlvn and Flern, even sharing the same hair and eye color, what some have called an identical twin of the opposite sex. As such, Diogenes also reflected to a lesser degree whatever gift the Princess received from Artemis. He was known in his day as a great hunter and great with the bow. Though not as skilled as the Princess, in this case, he had mastered this type of covert operation. He was the one with all of the experience of sneaking into an enemy camp and causing havoc.

Diogenes considered the village, which he knew perfectly from Flern’s memory. He knew the fenced in field where the men were being held, but it was too far away to risk and probably heavily guarded. Much nearer sat the public corral and the big barn near the village center, the place where the whole village stored hay through the winter. Diogenes moved swiftly. He knew it would only be a matter of time before the dead men got found. Two guards watched the barn and corral as well, but they did not last long, and they never raised the alarm. Diogenes made sure of that.

Reflections Flern-2 part 3 of 3

She led them a short way down the hill to some open space broken by an old stump that she could sit on. For some reason, she felt like she might have to sit down for this, though to be sure, the boys were probably going to need to sit as well.

“Take my hands,” Flern said.

Kined took one readily, but Vilder had to speak as he acquiesced. He looked around and obviously did not see anything out of the ordinary. “Well?”

“Just listen first.” Flern was not sure how to explain all of this, and none of her other lives really knew how to explain it either. It was something that had to be seen to be believed. “I’ve lived before and I will live again after this life, in the future.”

“The goddess told you this?” Kined looked honestly willing to go along with her and try to understand.

Though the move got harder to see in the lessening light, Flern shook her head, even as her mouth said, “It doesn’t matter. Anyway, I have recently learned that I can trade places with those lives when the need is appropriate.”

“Trade places?” Vilder also tried to understand. She gave him credit for that much.

“I mean I go away into the past or future or where—whenever, and my other life comes here, to be with you guys.”

“What, in your mind?” Kined suddenly sounded worried, like Flern might be losing a grip on her sanity, but again, Flern shook her head.

“I mean actually, physically and everything, and what I want you to do is hold my hands when I do it and promise you will not let go no matter what.”

“You mean you actually become a different person?” Kined wondered.

“No. It will still be me, but it will be who I was in a past life, or in this case, in a future life. I am going to trade places with the Princess because she knows everything there is to know about hunting and tracking and sneaking up on an enemy encampment.” To be sure, she probably should have traded places with Diogenes, the spy, but she figured the male-female thing might be a bit much for these boys.

“The Princess?” Vilder sounded more than just skeptical. “What kind of a name is that?”

“Promise you won’t let go. It is tradition,” Flern insisted and squeezed both of the hands she held to emphasize her words.

“I promise.” Kined simply agreed.

“I promise.” Vilder easily agreed because he sounded as if he was certain nothing would happen. It only took a second and very light golden-brown hair replaced red hair, blue eyes replaced brown eyes, and though Flern was very pretty, the Princess looked absolutely beautiful. Both men let go. Kined fell down in shock and landed hard on his butt. Vilder snatched his hand back like he feared he might catch fire or something. When the Princess stood, she proved a good three inches taller than Flern as well, being almost as tall as Kined’s five-eight and Vilder’s maybe five-nine.

“So? How do I look?” the Princess asked, being careful to speak in Flern’s language with as little Greek accent as possible. She turned in a circle once, even as Flern had modeled the armor earlier. “Speechless?” She teased because neither boy said anything. “So, here is the plan. You two are going with me to fetch Pinn, Vinnu, Thrud and Elluin while the rest of the crew stays here. Then you are going to escort Flern south and over the mountains to fetch bronze weapons and raise an army on the way.” The Princess paused only to tap a finger on her chin. “I don’t know how that is going to work out, but that is the assignment. Clear?” On hearing no objection, she continued. “Now, you have to follow my instructions in the village without question and I will kick the first one of you that makes an improper sound.”

Just then they heard the sound of a twig snapping behind them. The Princess had her long knife in the air in no time and it sunk into a tree beside a man’s head. “Come out of there and show yourselves before I have to fetch you,” she said, without seriously raising her voice, which made her sound cold and very sure of herself, and which was probably more effective than a shout. Besides, she had her sword in her hand and at the ready, so she made an imposing sight in the dim light. The man stepped into the small clearing slowly, followed by another man and a woman. Drud, Bunder and Elluin came into the light, and the Princess sighed. “Elluin, I’m so glad you are safe.” She spoke this as an old friend, even though she knew the girl would not know her at all. She put her sword away and stretched out her hand. The long knife vacated the tree and jumped back to her waiting palm, at which point she put it away as well. “A virtue of its making,” she explained. “The same makers as Thor’s hammer.” She paused. She was not entirely sure they had made Thor’s hammer yet.

“Goddess.” Elluin went to her knees at this display of power. Drud and Bunder just stared, open mouthed.

“No.” Kined laughed, nervously. “It’s just Flern.”

The Princess shook her head. “You three, up the hill with the others and wait until we come back, is that clear?” She had underlined the word, “Wait.”

Drud nodded. “But if you are taking these two mortals down there.” He pointed toward the village. “You will probably get them killed. We had a hell of a time getting Elluin out, and Bunder had to kill a man.”

“Bunder, I’m so sorry.” The Princess sounded sympathetic. The young man just stood there, dull faced as usual. Though the Princess had killed more men than she dared count, a friend named Leodis constantly reminded her how hard it could be, even in war, and especially a first kill.

“We will wait.” Elluin got off her knees, but her attitude still said, goddess. As usual, she did not quite get it, and neither Kined, Vilder, nor the Princess had the time to explain it to her. She led the two boys up the hill, but once beyond the trees, Vilder grabbed the Princess by the arm and turned her to face him.

“Flern.” He started to speak to her.

“Princess,” the Princess interrupted. “Flern is who I was, or will be, but right now I am the Princess.”

“Princess. What does it mean?” Kined asked, accepting her hand to help him up. He asked because Flern’s language had no such word, so she used the Greek word.

“Chief over many chiefs.” The Princess explained. “Are we ready?” Vilder shook his head. He just could not grasp it all. The Princess said something to help steady him. “After we get the girls and some horses, I will be depending on you and Pinn to lead everyone safely to the bronze. You know Flern is no leader and does not want to be the leader. You and Pinn need to lead, only right now we need to fetch Pinn first. Okay?”

Vilder nodded slowly. Getting Pinn to safety came foremost in his mind, too. The Princess, knowing exactly where they were, led the boys to the horses.

“I was going to say the horses are this way,” Kined said, “But you knew.”

The Princess pinched the young man’s cheek. “And anything you tell me, Flern will hear as well.” She felt it only fair to warn them.

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

MONDAY

Flern needs to get her friends safely out of town,  They need the horses and need to escape, to get far enough away so the Jaccar cannot follow  Until Monday…

*

Reflections Flern-2 part 2 of 3

When Flern awoke, she found herself dressed in the same armor and weapons that Wlvn had been wearing. She thought of it as Diogenes’ armor, at least that was what she called it, but then that did not make much sense since Diogenes lived so far away in the future. It must belong to me, she thought again, to the Kairos I mean, all of my lifetimes throughout history; and that meant since this was her lifetime, it belonged to her. That felt good because she thought she might need the protection, even if she did not know what to do with the weapons. Flern sat up and felt for the long knife that rested across the small of her back. The knife poked her and woke her, though the sword sort of felt like sleeping on a metal rod. “Hey!” Flern shouted and pulled that long knife from its sheath. She looked at it closely and tried not to cut herself in the process. Bronze, she thought, and too bad she did not have a hundred of these. She put it back carefully in its sheath and checked the time. The sun looked about ready to set.

Flern stood, brushed herself off and thought that the armor felt remarkably light and soft. She reached carefully beneath her sleeve and confirmed that something came between her and the leather so wonderfully covered in chain mail. She touched her undergarment. She had a brief vision of elves spinning with spider webs and morning dew and she could not be sure what all else, but it made the garment extremely comfortable. The boots felt comfortable, too, as comfortable as her own ultra-soft winter moccasin boots, but with a hard sole and what she imagined as something like a steel toe. Of course, it isn’t steel yet. She knew that much.

Flern smiled and wished she had a mirror. She just started craning her neck to try and see herself from the back side when she heard a sound and stopped still. Voices, male voices sounded like they were coming up the hill. Flern panicked, afraid that she would surely be caught. She ran to the rugged side of the clearing where it became impossible to climb up or down the hill because of all the loose rocks and bramble bushes. She scrunched down to wait and see.

The first man she saw enter the clearing, Strawhead Trell, got followed in order by Vilder, Gunder, Tiren, Kined, Fat Fritt, and last of all, Tird, the skinny. “It is Flern’s horse, I tell you.” Kined spoke. “She must be here.”

“Flern.” Fritt called out, but not too loud lest his words echo off the cliff and reach some enemy ears. “Flern.” Others called, too.

Flern wanted to giggle, she felt so happy not to be alone, but then she could not resist a good tease. She lowered her voice as dramatically as she could and spoke into her cupped hands. “Who calls for Flern, the Elven Queen? Speak, or feel her wrath.”

Tird jumped, but the others recognized her voice despite her best efforts to disguise it. They mostly remained unsure of her location, except for Vilder and Tiren who looked straight in her direction.

“Not funny, Flern,” Tiren said.

“You could get in real trouble if the elves hear you,” Tird added.

Flern stood up and sighed. “Help me,” she said, unsure of her footing. Vilder and Tiren each grabbed a gloved hand and hauled her free of the brambles. “I didn’t know who might be coming. I was afraid it might be the Jaccar. What?” She asked what because no one said anything. They just stared at her in the light of the setting sun.

Flern understood, smiled, and spun once in a slow circle to model her armor. She asked, “Do you like it?”

“Yeah.” Three voices spoke at once, and three others spoke at nearly the same time.

“Is that a real sword?”

“What is it made of?”

“Nice legs.” That last word came from Strawhead Trell.

Flern’s leather skirt fell to just above her knees, and the boots that came up almost to her knees were form fitting. Normally, girls wore dresses that fell to the ground, so for Flern, this felt a bit risqué.

“We’re going to fight the Jaccar.” Fritt interrupted them all and wanted to get Flern’s attention back from Trell’s comment on her anatomy.

“What? The six of you and Tird against a thousand Jaccar warriors?” Flern scoffed.

“Hey!” Tird objected. He might not want to fight, but he would if he had to.

“We are waiting for darkness and plan to sneak in after the Jaccar are asleep.” Gunder gave the whole plan and Flern heard something else in the words. She touched the big man’s angry arm and reassured him.

“I am sure Vinnu is fine for now.” She broadened her assurances. “And Thrud, Pinn and Elluin. At least I did not see their heads up on poles.”

“What?” The boys all turned toward the village, still discernible in the dwindling light, and more visible in spots where the camp and home fires burned.

“What are you talking about?” Tiren asked because he was not sure he wanted to accept her plain words. “Heads on poles?”

Flern nodded and looked away as she felt the tears well up inside of her at the thought. “Some of the men have had their heads chopped off and they have been set up on poles in the village center.”

“What?” Both Trell and Fritt looked ready to tear down the hill and ride back to the village right then, but Gunder and Vilder stopped them. Then Vilder stepped up and took over asking the questions.

“How do you know there are heads on poles? We got as close as we dared, and we did not see anything like that.”

“Mother Vrya helped me see,” Flern admitted, and she saw no reason to hide that fact. “I have been up here all afternoon and I did not even know the Jaccar had come until she came and pointed it out.”

“Mother Vrya?” Kined asked. The smart one always got allowed to interject a question, even if the leader had the floor. Just to be sure, though, Vilder repeated the question.

“Mother Vrya?”

Flern nodded. “The goddess,” she clarified.

“And I suppose these are her clothes and weapons. Fit for a fight by the look of them.” Vilder said.

Tird tapped Vilder on the shoulder and Vilder looked at him as if giving a kind of permission to speak. “They say that Vrya is as quick with her sword as she is with her kiss.” Tird said, but now Flern shook her head again.

“No, actually, these are mine.” She touched her waist and chest. “Mother Vrya has her own, and very fine it is, too, I am sure.”

“Yours?”

Flern nodded again. “Vilder and Kined, I need to see you privately for a minute. I have something to show you before you make your mad dash into the village.” She tried to think of a way to keep the boys from committing suicide, and she felt sure that would be the outcome of any attack on the Jaccar at this point, even if they waited until it got really dark.

“All right.” Kined seemed game, but Vilder looked reluctant.

“No. You just need to stay here where you are safe. We will come for you later if we can.”

“Vilder.” Flern would not accept that. “I am not asking. You must come and see first, and then if you want to follow through with your madness, that will be up to you.”

“Come on,” Kined encouraged. Vilder frowned, but he made a general announcement.

“Wait here.”

Reflections Flern-2 part 1 of 3

Flern sat straight up in bed. Poor Wlvn just lost eight months of his life, somewhere in time. Hardly fair, she thought.

“Flern!” The reason Flern woke up from her afternoon nap became apparent when her baby sister came bounding into the room. Gurdi turned fifteen, hardly a baby anymore. The real baby in the family belonged to twenty-year-old Thul who already had a girl of her own. Flern felt glad for her older sister, and not the least because the infant took some of the pressure off of her to marry as soon as possible.

“Stenis is taking the young men out on a hunt this afternoon.” Gurdi spoke as she plopped down on the end of Flern’s bed. “Isn’t it wonderful the way he takes charge. He is so dreamy.” Gurdi looked up at the ceiling, so she did not see her sister’s frown.

“I’m going for a ride this afternoon.” Flern acknowledged that her nap had become impossible. “Alone.” She knew what her sister wanted. Gurdi wanted to take her to the market and make small talk all day long with a bunch of fourteen- and fifteen-year-olds, and maybe do some sewing or basket weaving with more gossip. No thank you.

“But Flern!” Gurdi bounced on the bed just to be sure Flern did not plan to go back to sleep.

“Not a chance.” Flern escaped the bed out the other side. “And yes, Stenis is dreamy, if you think so.” She would not quite concede that any sixteen-year-old boy could be dreamy. Flern dressed quickly while Gurdi exaggerated all of Stenis’ dreamy qualities, then Flern heard something that got her feet moving.

“Flern,” Mother called from the other room, and that meant there would be chores. Flern went to her window and stared hard at Gurdi. Gurdi crossed her heart and looked up once while Flern escaped to the outside. It did not matter what Gurdi promised. Flern knew her sister would tell Mother in the next few nanoseconds, so Flern had to hurry.

Flern ran to the stables and only snatched her bow and quiver along the way. No one rode or shot with her much anymore. Vinnu and Thrud were too busy being married, and Pinn stayed too busy not touching Vilder. Elluin also stayed too busy being stupid with Drud, and Flern’s stooges were not around much, thank the gods. Flern whistled from behind the barn. She did not dare step into the open for fear of being caught, and she let out a soft whistle besides, but she knew Bermer would hear. Sure enough, after a minimal wait, Bermer the mare came trotting around the corner. Flern got right up and took off for the river. She had in mind to ride up the back of the hill to the cliff’s edge, and maybe take her nap there where her mother and sister could not find her.

“Okay,” Flern confessed to Wlvn for the hundredth time as she rode. “So I named my horse after your sister, but only because she is the sweetest thing I could think of.” Then Flern stopped talking altogether. She did not want conversation at the moment. She wanted to be alone and undisturbed, and that included Wlvn and all of her other lifetimes, at least the ones she could remember.

Flern let her mind wander as she rode, the way Wlvn had when he rode to the edge of his universe. She realized that essentially Wlvn got it right about her and her friends. Pinn had her Vilder in a commitment, though they were not married yet, just engaged. Vinnu had her Gunder, and they were married, and Thrud, the not nearly as beautiful as her name might lead you to believe, had her Tiren, and they were about to be married. Elluin looked like she was not going to give up on Drud, though there was no official word there yet, and that left Flern with her three Bozo the Clowns. We are all Bozos on this bus, she thought.

Of course, there was Kined, even if Flern did not feel allowed to think of him in that way. He remained just a very good friend, maybe her best friend. He told her that, even as he seemed to finally be giving up on Elluin. In fact, the last time beautiful, blonde Elluin ran away from Drud, Kined had not been there for her, hard as it must have been for him. He confessed how hard it felt to his good friend Flern in private, and Flern did her best to comfort him. Hugging seemed to help.  Come to think of it, she and Kined spent a lot of time together in the last year; but Flern imagined it as no more than a sort of a misery loves company kind of thing. Kined seemed heartbroken over Elluin, and Flern needed some rest from her daily duty of telling her stooges, “No, I don’t want to marry you.” Good thing Bunder never asked. Actually, he never said more than two words to her in her whole life. She would have gone mad, though, if she had to say no four times a day.

~~~~~

Flern dismounted and climbed the hill to the little grassy spot at the top. The rocks still held a bit of ice, so she had to be careful, especially when she approached the cliff. She started moping by then and so she did not pay her full attention, but she managed not to slip. She had spent a year and a half badgering the Elders in the village to mount an expedition to go over the mountains and bring back the technology of bronze. At first, the Elders simply refused to listen to her. Then, the more she badgered them, the more stubborn they became against the idea. In the end, even some of her friends began to doubt what they had seen with their own eyes when they were, as they called it, “mere children.”

Couldn’t they see? This would be the only way they would have any hope against the Jaccar, and by then, no one doubted that the Jaccar were coming. Flern reached down to her side where she had begun to carry a copper knife. She said it helped cut her meat, but to be sure, it was the kind of knife with which she could skin her meat, not just cut it. She drew it out and used it like a pretended sword. She would be the woman warrior if she had to be, but her movements were awkward, and she knew it.

“Ga!” She spoke to herself. “All of the other lives I live are so dashing and capable.” She thought of the Princess as the true woman warrior, and Diogenes, sometimes called Alexander’s eyes, as a warrior in the extreme. Flern brandished her pretend sword again, pretending to be Diogenes, she cut down Persian after Persian. Doctor Mishka and the Storyteller had such skill, and they knew so much. “I ain’t got no edjumication.” Flern said, out loud, though whether it came out in her own tongue or the Storyteller’s English, it felt hard to say. Nor did it matter. She started to wonder why the goddess Amphitrite and the Nameless god put up with her as one of their lifetimes. What could she do? She began to cry, sat on the grass and felt like an ant, like a bit of temporal dust, totally useless. The women she had been in other days were all so beautiful, and the men were simply the best. Who was she?

“Now, now.” Flern heard a woman’s voice, and at first, she thought it might be the Princess. “You were just thinking about possible husbands and who might be a good father for your children. If you can handle that, surely you can handle a little southern vacation.”

Flern shook her head. “I’m not good enough to be the Kairos.” She felt shocked when she felt an arm slip around her shoulder. She looked, but all she saw at first was the cloak and the hood pulled up.

“My son,” the hood said. “Even when you are my daughter.” And Flern knew who it was; Vrya, mother of the Nameless god she would one day be. While she found it a little frightening at first to be held so tenderly by a goddess, that did not prevent her from having a good cry. Vrya pulled back her hood and let the girl cry it out while she spoke softly through the tears. “Sweetheart. We all don’t like ourselves, sometimes. Consider the responsibilities I carry. Many is the time I wished I was just a normal, mortal woman. After Od was taken from me, I thought I would be chaste and never have a child of my own, but here you are, even as you will be one day, and I am holding you and telling you that everything will be all right.” These were powerful words, coming as they did from the lips of a goddess. Flern could not help crying a little harder and burying herself in the warmth offered until she got it all out of her system.

After a while, Flern pulled back her head and tried to smile while she wiped her eyes. Mother Vrya smiled for her and brushed her red bangs back out of her eyes. “Feeling better?” she asked. Flern nodded. Of course, she felt the peace that so often comes after a good cry. Mother Vrya just nodded and tapped Flern on the forehead.

Flern immediately remembered the tap on Wlvn’s head all those years ago. “What was that?” Flern asked and looked up for a second as if she could see her own forehead, as if Mother Vrya pasted something there.

“I cannot stop you from being the Kairos and living one life after another after another. No god can stop you. You are not in our hands.”

“But I thought—”

“Every mortal human is in our hands, and even the half-humans, but not you. You live beyond the reach of the gods. You are a very special person despite what you may be feeling at the moment.” Vrya touched Flern’s nose and smiled as she spoke. “But what I can do is hide who you are for a time so others may not notice.”

“Like you hid Wlvn from Loki.” Flern got excited. She suddenly understood.

Vrya nodded. “Now then. I understand you have learned about the discovery south of the mountains. I would say you have a decision to make as to what you will do.” She turned Flern’s attention out over the Cliffside to the village and helped Flern’s eyes see what her eyes unaided would never have seen. The Jaccar had arrived, and it looked like they took the village completely by surprise. The men were already being herded into a hastily erected compound, though the women and children still appeared to be in their homes, for the present. Flern’s countenance dropped once again. She knew it was long past time she should have gone for the bronze, herself. She chided herself for waiting and pleading with foolish old men and believing that they would eventually do something. All this time, she should have known that it would be up to her. There wasn’t anyone else, and she felt like such a fool.

“Don’t be so hard on yourself,” Mother Vrya said. “Go and collect what friends you can and plenty of horses. Some will suffer while you are away, but you stand a good chance of getting there and back, and on your return, you should save most.”

“Most? A Good chance?”

“About fifty-fifty,” Vrya said, which did not sound all that reassuring. “In part, it will depend on how willing you are to be who you are. Don’t be slow to ask for help when you need it and do your best. That is all that anyone can do.” And Mother Vry simply was not there anymore.

Flern sat there for a little bit and stared down toward her village. She would have to go over the mountains herself, she decided, though Mother Vrya had been right about one thing: she needed to have her friends with her. She needed to wait until dark. With that, Flern curled up on the grass. Now she needed that afternoon nap more than ever. She tried not to think about it all, though she did not imagine her mind would let her rest. She actually fell asleep thinking, It’s the stress that gets you.

Reflections Flern-1 part 3 of 3

When Flern came to a screeching halt in front of her house, she found her big sister, Thul on the porch sitting out of the sun. “Come and see.” Thul shouted.

“Can’t.” Flern got short with her sister. “Where’s Father?”

“But it is my wedding dress,” Thul said with a bit of a pout.

“Father!” Flern called before she turned to her sister. “I can’t stop right now. Besides, your wedding dress will just make me so jealous I will scream. Father!” Flern ran toward the center of the village and the big council hall while Thul smiled. That was all she really wanted to hear.

“Father.” She saw him across the commons, talking to a stranger, and she ran up to them and rudely interrupted. “Where is the Chief? Where is the sword?” she asked

Father gave her an odd look. “What do you know?” Sometimes Flern knew things she had no way of knowing. Flern shook her head. She got busy catching her breath. “These are just traders.” Father meant to assure her. “They are not something you need to be concerned about.”

“But Vilder said the Chief has a sword that is as sharp as light and hard as stone.”

“Flern.” Father frowned, as the man he had been talking to turned and walked into the council chamber. “We are trying to negotiate right now. You have no business being here and interrupting.” That became pretty much as stern a scolding as her father ever gave. Then he smiled, warmly. “Go find your friends.”

“But.” Flern tried to protest, but Father would not listen. He interrupted with some real thoughts for a change.

“It is bad enough you shoot arrows and have taught all of your young women to ride, but swords need to be left alone.” He found determination in his voice, a sound that Flern almost never heard. “I mean it. A woman’s hands were not made for such things, and you will bring shame on your family if you don’t stop.” Flern flinched. Her father even looked serious and a little perturbed. Maybe something else, like something in the negotiations that got to him, but he did not hesitate to take it out on her, at least as much as was in him. He spun around and went into the chamber and left her standing in the street, wondering what she could do.

“Is this what you are interested in?” A man came up out of nowhere and held out the most glorious sword that carried the undeniable sheen of bronze. It looked crude, but bronze all the same, and Flern got ecstatic.

“Yes!” Flern’s face beamed, but when she reached out to touch it, the man yanked it away.

“Now, now,” he said, kindly. “You get your own.” Then he smiled down at her and regaled her with his story. “I struggled down the third river and faced terrible trials until I came to the cliff face beside the mountain pass. It was there that I climbed up into the hills to where the pass cut through the mountains and led me to a high plateau. Across that plateau of high hills and deep, wide valleys, I came to the far side of the mountains where I clambered down to safety. It was near the greatest river of all that runs on the far side of the mountains, deep in the south, I found men who have learned to make instruments like this.” He held the sword out again and Flern felt entranced.

“Wait a minute.” Flern shook her head. “Bronze? Where did they get the metal?” She asked the question out loud, or so she thought, though she did not expect to get an answer. She certainly got startled by the answer she got.

“There’s tin in them thar hills,” the man said, and flashed a terrific smile. Flern’s eyes shot to the man’s face. It seemed a good face and she liked it very much, but that sounded too much like something the Storyteller might have said. The man winked, a bit of body language completely unknown in Flern’s culture, but it caused Flern to lose her sense of wonder and take on a more skeptical attitude.

“Are you a good witch or a bad witch?” Flern asked.

“Me? Why, I’m not a witch at all.” He still smiled. He knew the allusion. Flern frowned all the more and then she saw the man’s missing hand.

“Fa…” She started to speak but changed the word. “Tyr.” She reached out for the gold cup where the hand had been. It had to be a recent loss, and Flern felt the tears well up in her own eyes for Tyr’s sake. She could not help it. The same Nameless life that became a raging storm when Wlvn found Eir a prisoner at the center of the universe now felt ready to cry a whole sea of tears. Flern still could not name that life, but she felt certain that it had to be a very emotional lifetime.

Tyr sheathed the sword to put his good hand on Flern’s shoulder, to comfort her. No doubt, something he had not intended to do. “Your Mother Vrya says you are her son even when you are her daughter. I can almost understand that. I am fine.” And just then, not to say that Tyr, the god of war, did not work things out that way, the rest of Flern’s friends came riding up in a bunch.

Flern felt pressed to ask everything at once. “But bronze. Why here? Why now? What are we to do?”

“Let me show you.” Tyr said, and he took a step back while the gang came up on foot. Even Drud, Bunder and Elluin came with them. Flern looked around. Normally, the village center stayed full of little children, women haggling in the market stalls, wagons plowing through; but right then, no one could be found around the center. All felt still and silent in anticipation. Flern imagined that she might be the only one who noticed; but then she almost missed it when Tyr made a canvas bag appear out of thin air.

“Now boys.” Tyr spoke. “You take these.” He pulled out a copper sword and handed it to Vilder. Fat Fritt got a big, stone ax. Strawhead Trell got a cutter—a piece of seasoned wood with sharp copper pieces around the head which made it like a medieval mace. Gunder got a big hammer, and he looked like the only one big enough to lift it. Everyone else stepped back when Tyr yelled, “Defend yourselves!” He grinned as they tried in earnest, and the boys did well, but the god disarmed them all and broke their weapons to pieces while he hardly put a scratch on his own sword.

“Convinced?” He looked squarely at Flern. He seemed to be speaking to her, personally. In fact, Flern could not be sure if Tyr’s mouth moved, so maybe she only heard the words in her mind. “The Jaccar on the other side have some supernatural help, so I thought this might even the odds a bit.”

“But why me? Us? Now?” Flern got curious.

“It’s my job.” Tyr said, and Flern remembered again that he was the god of war. Then she knew for certain that Tyr had not moved his lips and she growled, “Grrr.” She became determined to speak out loud, but Tyr merely laughed while the boys put the pieces of their broken weapons back into the bag. They did not seem fazed when Tyr easily lifted the bag and slung it over his shoulder. Not even Kined realized that the bag should have been too heavy to lift.

“But why just one blade?” Flern asked out loud and stared at the god as if daring him to answer her question in any way other than out loud. He laughed again and pointed to the river.

“I told you. You have to get your own. Go down to the third river, to the cliffs, up to the pass and over the mountains, and on the other side you will get to the Danube.” And with that, he turned and walked into the council chamber before anyone could ask anything else. The others were all replaying the battle, wondering at the marvelous sword, and amazed by the skill of the man. They got excited and loud, but Flern had to think. She scrunched up her face against the racket, and then it struck her.

“Hey! What do you mean supernatural help on the other side? What kind of supernatural help?” But, of course, Tyr had long gone from there. “Grrr.”

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

MONDAY

The Jaccar come.  Until then, Happy Reading.

*

Reflections Flern-1 part 2 of 3

Two of those stooges, Fat Fritt and Strawhead Trell, were among the first of the brood to arrive. They took seats leisurely near Flern as if honestly taking in the view. They were not fooling anyone, least of all Flern. To be sure, she could not imagine spending time with either boy, much less a lifetime. Fritt was, well, fat. She could think of no nice way to say it. And Trell’s dirty blond locks always looked ratted and stuck out in the strangest ways. She sometimes wondered if he had straw inside his head in place of brains as well. At least, he sometimes acted that way.

Next came Vilder, the tall, blond, good-looking leader of the brood, and Kined who came puffing up the hill from where they tied off the horses. Kined immediately asked where Elluin went.

“Drud.” Pinn spoke over her shoulder, but her eyes stayed on Vilder. She did not have to say anything more. It was enough for Flern to watch Kined’s face drop.

Tird and Tiren came next, and Tiren walked right up to sit beside Thrud. He would have kissed her if no one was around. They were engaged, though not officially. Tird, on the other hand, just stared at Flern for a minute, and stared at Fatty and Strawhead to see where it might be safe to sit down.

Gunder, the last to arrive, hauled his muscular bulk up the hill. He usually got stuck seeing to the horses. He sat beside Vinnu and slipped his arm over her shoulder. They were officially engaged, and Flern watched as Vinnu had to stand on her toes to give the ponderously big boy a kiss on the cheek. And she did it without turning red in the least, which impressed Flern.

“What news from civilization?” Thrud asked, as if Flern and the others had forcibly dragged her away from all comforts and into the deserted wilderness. She got busy working on the other braid and nearly had it completed.

“Horse traders in the village.” Tiren responded, as if telling everyone, but he kept staring at Thrud, and smiled. Thrud did blush.

“Otherwise, same fat ladies and balding men,” Tird said, and moved to look over Pinn’s shoulder, to the village; still not quite ready to sit down.

“Better than fat men and balding ladies,” Kined said, having recovered from his disappointment at missing Elluin. At least Fritt and Trell laughed. Then they jumped him in a kind of physical display, mostly for Flern’s benefit; but Kined proved too smart for them. Flern thought of him as probably the smartest of the lot. “Hey!” he protested. “Isn’t this Tird’s job?” That seemed all he really had to say. Tird’s eyes got big, and he took off into the woods. Fat Fritt and Strawhead Trell, whooping and hollering, ran fast on his tail.

Flern sighed. What good was the physical display for her benefit if she couldn’t see it?

“Horse traders?” Pinn got back to the subject as Vilder sat down beside her. Flern thought that Pinn and Vilder were the most engaged of all, but they were always so formal together. Vilder and Pinn never touched, but Flern sometimes amused herself by thinking what the volcano would be like when they finally did. She imagined they might need the whole river to put out the fire.

“But here is the best part.” Vilder spoke up. “They are not from the West or North. They claim to be from the far south, beyond the end of the river, beyond the other river and beyond the mountains themselves.”

“From the sound of their native speech and the strange way they pronounce some of our words, I can believe it,” Kined said, as he stood to stretch and dusted himself off from his brief tussle with Trell and Fritt. Flern watched. Kined always kept his black hair groomed and his eyes were just as blue as Elluin’s, and even easier to get lost in. Flern exhaled.

“Maybe.” Gunder looked up long enough to get the word in. He and Vinnu sat quietly with their backs to a tree. His arm draped around her shoulder, and she held tight to his hand.

“Well, I don’t believe it.” Tiren tore his eyes away from Thrud long enough to add his thoughts. “I have heard of the second river and even a third, but people have only seen the mountains in the distance. No one knows what is beyond the mountains. It is too far.”

With that, Kined had another thought, and he spoke as he sat again beside Flern, his friend. “I heard there is nothing but swamp and marsh between here and the mountains, you know, where the rivers overflow from time to time. I don’t suppose you can raise horses in a swamp.” Flern smiled for Kined. She thought of Elluin and felt sick for the poor young man. He deserved better, maybe even her, and it was not the first time she thought that.

“But that is not the best part,” Gunder the hulk interrupted Flern’s thoughts.

“Oh, yes.” Vilder sat up straight and his eyes got a little bigger than normal. “The chief trader has a sword of the strangest making. It isn’t copper, but some metal I have never seen before. It is dull to look at, but it is as sharp as a blade of grass, and it is hard, harder than stone I think.”

“Harder than stone?” Pinn could hardly believe that.

Kined had another thought. “If we all had weapons of that metal, the Jaccar would not stand a chance.”

“Maybe.” Gunder just grunted. Flern only half listened. Her ears stayed out in the woods at the moment where she could hear the struggle and Tird’s yelps. Just when Trell, Fritt and their quarry came into view, something struck home in Flern’s mind, and she shouted.

“Bronze!” She had to see for herself.

“What are you doing?” Thrud asked as Flern jumped to her feet

“Flern, where are you going?” Pinn asked at almost the same time

Flern ran and shouted back. “I have to see it.”

Vilder got up and motioned for everyone to follow. He had seen the sword and thought it would be worth the trip.

“What’s bronze?” Kined shouted after her, and Flern smiled. He was always the smart one.

Flern ran down the hill and almost tripped and tumbled down in her haste. When she reached her horse, she heard from her trio of clowns.

“Hey!”

“Wait!”

“What?” That last sound came from Tird who could not see what was happening because he had been tied to a pole, face down. Flern did not stop.

Ever since Poseidon gave Wlvn those horses, Flern also knew more about horses than anyone imagined, and the horses obeyed her in a way that seemed hard to explain. To be sure, not as well, but almost as well as they obeyed Wlvn. Flern imagined Wlvn as a boy about her age, and one that looked exactly like her. She imagined the same red hair and brown eyes, so he might double as a male version of herself. She imagined his story, sad, hard, and frightening as it was. She wanted to believe good for him, but that did not seem to be possible. Still, it was one thing to have an imaginary boyfriend, and quite another to reflect, in a small way, the gift she imagined he received—and from a God she did not honestly know. That felt hard to explain even to herself, unless her imagination reflected more reality than she thought. Flern did not feel prepared to go there in her mind, so she turned her thoughts to the bronze.

Flern leapt on her horse and almost tore her dress in the process. The gentle horse bucked in surprise, but only for a second, and only a little, and then it took off, running at full speed. Flern had not quite shown that ability before, though she was clearly the best horsewoman of the lot. She only hoped to reach the village before the traders moved on.

Reflections Flern-1 part 1 of 3

After 3440 BC, Ukraine in ancient days.

Kairos 29: Flern, the doe

“Actually, I sometimes wish I was a boy,” Flern said. “Then maybe I could fight the Jaccar.” Flern lay on her back in the grass, her red hair played out and her brown eyes looked straight up as she lifted her little fists to box with the clouds. The Jaccar had ridden out of the east some ten years ago. Fighting from horseback with their spears and copper points, the Jaccar swallowed village after village, and presently enslaved the natural inhabitants of the land. No telling when they might arrive in Flern’s village.

“At sixteen, you would not be allowed to fight anyone, even if you were a boy,” Thrud said. Flern rolled over and frowned at her. Thrud appeared to be trying to twist her impossible, frizzy black locks into a braid.

“Then Wlvn will have to fight for me,” she mumbled.

“Who?” Vinnu did not quite hear.

“Never mind,” Elluin said, as she pulled her long, blonde hair from behind her back. “Flern is just talking about her imaginary boyfriend again.”

“Grrr.” Flern growled at the girl and rolled again to take in the clouds. When Wlvn’s mother got selected, Flern asked her father what she could do about the Jaccar. She did not want any of her family disappearing. Father did not encourage her.

“You just take care of your mother and sisters,” he said, and he gave her the obligatory kiss on her forehead. Flern took him at his word and got some poor, second-hand bows and some arrows for practice. She made the girls practice twice a week for the last year. Pinn was probably the best after Flern, then Elluin, the dumb blonde. Vinnu seemed acceptably good, but she had no interest in the whole activity. She preferred to stay home and let the boys do all the fighting. Thrud proved to be a hopeless klutz, despite the encouragement of all the others. Flern looked over her head and noticed that Thrud was not doing well in braiding her hair either. Flern simply could not resist rolling into her. Of course, Thrud protested.

“No really, it was your elbow,” Thrud whined, and held tight to her knee.

“My elbow never went near you,” Flern gave the required response.

“Hey!” Pinn shouted and turned her sharp green eyes on them all. She sat on the edge of the short cliff with her legs dangling. The girls could see the whole village and beyond from that spot, though they rarely had anything interesting to look at. Flern and Thrud immediately stopped bickering on Pinn’s word, and Vinnu and Elluin both looked up as well. It had been that way since they were children. Pinn was the leader of the gang.

“The brood is coming.” Pinn pointed. All eyes shot to the village where a half-dozen horses headed out in their direction. Flern pulled herself up on her tummy until she lay beside Pinn, looking out over the fields. The boys got dubbed the witch’s brood when they were very young. “Your comedy trio should be along shortly.” Pinn smiled down at Flern where she rested on her stomach, her head propped up in her hands. Flern frowned again.

“Thanks a lot,” she said, and she reached up to jiggle Pinn’s shoulder to tease her about sitting right on the edge of the cliff. Pinn did not flinch; she just turned a hard stare on Flern who decided it would be best if she slithered off somewhere else. “I’m bored.” Flern shouted at the sky. “I got too much energy.” She decided to roll back and forth in the grass. “I want to do something.”

“Don’t you mean shoot something?” Thrud said, in her sarcastic best.

“Grrr.” Flern growled again as they watched the horses come on.

“I don’t mind the riding,” Vinnu spoke up from behind. Along with the bow, Flern forced the girls to practice riding, and that was not an easy thing to do since none of them had their own horse. Vinnu finished her thought. “I was thinking when the Jaccar come; maybe we can escape to the South or West.”

“That isn’t the idea.” Flern rolled back on to her stomach and scowled at her friend.

“I thought we were learning how to fight the Jaccar,” sweet, blond Elluin said, as usual, not following the gist of the conversation. Flern looked back at Pinn, but Pinn just shrugged and kept her green eyes on the horizon.

“Well, I finally got one braid done.” Thrud showed a grin of triumph.

Flern shook the girl’s knee as if trying to make her drop it, and then stood. She briefly considered spinning in circles and singing about the hills being alive, but quickly shut down that idea with another shout. “I want to do something!”

“I can think of something we can do.” The voice startled her. Drud, the boy she called Crud, stood beneath the shade of a tree at the top of the hill where the hill fell gently toward the river. He hid his black eyes in the darkness, eyes that Elluin said showed depth, but Flern thought looked evil. The one slobbering beside Drud was Bunder, a different matter altogether. “And Bunder here thinks of doing things with you nearly every day, isn’t that right, Bunder?” Drud paused for Bunder to speak if he wanted to, but Bunder just stared at Flern like she was naked and Flern felt obliged to sit down and put Thrud between them. Bunder never said much. He was a very nondescript brown haired, brown eyed boy, except that he stood taller than any of them other than Gunder, the giant.

“I think you were right about shooting something.” Flern whispered to Thrud, and not too quietly.

“Oh no.” Elluin jumped up to put herself between the potential combatants. “She didn’t mean it, Drud. Flern is always making jokes.”

“I know that,” Drud said. He slipped his arm around Elluin’s waist, and sad to say, Elluin responded with a toss of her blond locks and a flutter of her sweet blue eyes. “I was just kidding, too. Isn’t that right, Bunder?”

Bunder shrugged. He was not kidding, and neither was Flern.

“What do you two field suckers want?” Pinn stood at last, turned her small self toward the grassy hilltop to face the boys, and asked the question that came to everyone’s mind. Drud and Bunder were not normally part of the brood, though exactly when that separation occurred, no one could quite remember.

“We just wanted to take in the sights,” Drud said, not backing down one bit. He pulled Elluin close to his side and Elluin appeared to be willing, but Flern felt her stomach turn at the thought of poor Elluin. Flern prayed for her friend every night when she remembered.

“There is a good view about ten steps that way.” Thrud pointed past the edge of the cliff.

“Funny.” Drud responded without laughing, but with the sound of horses coming, he said no more. He and Bunder faded back into the woods, and they took Elluin with them.

“And Elluin is the pretty one, too,” Flern complained. She felt sick for the girl, but at least they weren’t married yet, and Elluin did break up with the boy every now and then when she showed up with a black eye and a thick lip. Sadly, she always went back.

“You’re not so bad.” Thrud said something nice. Flern dropped her jaw.

“Very pretty,” Vinnu confirmed. “Though it may be the red hair.”

“Yeah, prettiest one left. That’s why you got your what do you call them, the three stooges.” Pinn spoke with a sly grin as she resumed her seat let her feet go back to dangling off the edge. Flern just “grrred” to herself that time.

Reflections Wlvn-14 part 3 of 3

Wlvn, his family, and Laurel rode straight to the dome and dismounted just beyond the Titan’s reach. They looked in the distance. There were a couple of Elenar fighters in the air, zipping about, trying to get a clear shot on the Gott-Druk below. It looked hard, because Wlkn and company had gathered a hundred or more men who were trying to catch and kill any stray Gott-Druk they could find. Wlvn felt sorry there would be a human toll, but he prayed that this might be the end of the Children of Layette.

In another corner, Thor and Tyr had a protesting Loki by the arms, and Vry stood behind the group, just in case the god should wriggle free. Wlvn remembered the last time Loki wriggled free, they had to chase him down over half the earth. Of course, that would be about 2700 years in the future. Wlvn sighed. Sometimes he wished his memory would run in chronological order, but he imagined there was nothing he could do about that.

Baldur and Nana were by Eir’s cage and setting the girl free. She still looked to be about thirteen or fourteen years old, but Wlvn knew the gods aged slowly. She might be seventy, and she might have spent most of her life in a cage. Wlvn got angry and looked up at the Titan. Curiously, he had little room in his heart to feel afraid. When he went away and let Nameless take his place, the anger that filled him became a fire, and the earth itself trembled briefly beneath his feet.

Ymir stared at everything going on, but it looked clear that he did not understand what was happening. Laurel held the horses back, not that they needed the encouragement. Gndr looked petrified. He had his mouth open and drooled, slightly. Strn had his hands over his eyes. Brmr shot pure hatred at the Titan and looked like she wanted to prove the expression “if looks could kill,” but at the same time, she kept back where she could be surrounded by Shana’s protective arms. For one moment, Nameless saw the Swan Princess protecting her little gosling under her wing. That helped him settle his rage and brought the task into sharp focus.

He looked up and shouted. “Hey Moron! Ymir! Yeah you.”

Ymir looked away from all the confusing activity in the distance and looked down at something he could better comprehend. His mouth immediately began to drool and Gndr closed his mouth with a snap in response.

“Have you brought me treats little god? They look young and very sweet.”

“No, I have come to kill you,” Nameless said, and drew his sword.

Ymir paused and then laughed a great, rumbling laugh. “You cannot kill me. I have Odin’s promise.”

“So, you don’t mind if I take three chances. I tell you what, give me three tries, and if I fail, then you can eat the three children.” He mumbled, “If you can catch them,” but no one except maybe Laurel, heard.

“Wlvn. No. No!” Brmr and the boys yelled and called Nameless by the name they knew. But Shana wisely pulled Strn close and that made Gndr also move near, and she spoke.

“Trust your brother.”

“Maybe I eat them now,” Ymir said.

“Why? Are you afraid? I ask for three chances. Or do I need to tell everyone in heaven and on earth that Ymir is a coward?”

Ymir paused his hand. “I am not afraid.”

“Of course. You have Odin’s promise. So, I get three chances to try and kill you.”

Ymir paused to think. It looked painful on that face. “What is three?”

Nameless took Wlvn’s brothers and sisters and compelled them to stand apart and keep quiet while he touched each on the head. “One, two, three,” he said.

“Little god, you cannot kill me. I have Odin’s promise.” Apparently, that much got ingrained in the Titan’s head.

“Good. Are you ready for try number one?”

Ymir took a moment before he stood up straight and smiled. “I am ready, little god.”

Nameless leapt until he was above the Titan’s head. At the last moment, he traded places with Wlvn and brought the sword down on the Titan’s soft spot in his skull. The sword bounced off, and Wlvn barely held on to it as he got thrown back. He traded back to Nameless as he landed on his two feet beside the children. He did not expect Wlvn to be able to do the deed. He had been graced by too many of the gods.

Ymir laughed. “Haw. Haw.”

“That is the first try,” Nameless said.

“So, I eat one?” Ymir did not seem sure how this game would be played

“Not yet. I have two more chances.” He compelled Gndr to go with him to a spot just outside the Titan’s peripheral vision. “But we will put this one here, out of the way, so we don’t lose count.”

“I want to eat one.”

“Two more chances first. You don’t want to be called a cheater.”

Again, Ymir thought, and it looked like a headache coming on. “I will not cheat.”

“Ready?” Nameless said, and hardly waited. He leapt again, but this time he traded places with the Storyteller, the most human, unempowered, unmagical lifetime he presently remembered. The Storyteller thought of himself, “that’s me. Mister Dull.” Then the sword came crashing down, but again it bounced off and the Storyteller could not fly like Wlvn. He lost his grip on the sword, but Nameless returned to grab it and land once again on his feet. He thought, if mister dull could not make a dent, that explained at least something of what it meant to be counted among the gods.

Nameless brought Strn to stand with Gndr and effectively kept their mouths closed and their feet glued to the spot just outside the Titan’s vision. To be sure, he could not be exactly certain what the Titan saw. Ymir did not appear to have noticed the change in people pounding on his head. He checked his sword as he walked back to where Brmr and Shana stood. Brmr was in tears.

“Hurry up,” Ymir roared. “You are making me hungry.”

“But I have one more try. Isn’t this a fun game?”

“Fun when I feast.” The Titan grinned. Not a recommended sight. Fortunately, the grin did not last long. “But, hey! You said one more turn but there are more than one left.”

One and more than one, Nameless thought. Good counting system. He spoke. “Shana is a Swan Princess. She is not part of this contest. And Laurel is an elf. You only get the humans.”

“I could still eat them,” Ymir insisted.

“Maybe another time.” Nameless shook his head. “First we deal with the humans,” he said, and he hoped the boys were ready. He said it out loud, “Ready?” Ymir stood up straight and too tall.

“One more try,” the Titan said, and Nameless leapt, but as the sword came down he disappeared and Strn an Gndr found their hands on the hilt of the elf blade. With their utterly human guidance, the elf-forged blade easily sliced through the Titan’s soft spot at the forehead and continued through the brains until it disappeared inside all that jelly-like substance and the boys lost their grip.

Ymir put his hands up to his head, but the boys were already back on their feet beside Brmr and Shana. “Ungh” Ymir tried to speak before his eyes rolled up and he fell to the ground, stone dead. Loki voice became the only sound that could be heard above the crash and rumbling of the earth.

“Nooooo!”

Nameless briefly thought the god needed to deepen his voice for that real Darth Vader sound when Eir flew into his arms. She wrapped her legs around his waist, her arms around his neck, and planted her lips on his and did not let go. The only thing Nameless thought after that was this was no thirteen or fourteen-year-old kiss. They stayed that way while her parents, Baldur and Nana walked up to join them.

“He asked for her hand in marriage,” Baldur said.

“But she is just a child,” Nana protested.

Baldur nodded. “But she won’t always be so,” he added.

Then Brmr tugged on the skirt of Nameless’ armor. “Wlvn,” she called him. “You already have a wife.”

“Oh.” Nameless and Eir let go and slowly stepped away. They looked into each other’s eyes and all the promise in the world was there. Then Nameless spoke.

“You are right.” He went away and let Wlvn come home. Wlvn immediately turned to Shana. “Sorry.”

Shana came in as close as she could around the baby, having just had an example of how it was done. With a glimpse at Eir she said, “Nothing to apologize for. I didn’t marry Nameless. Only you.” And they practice their own version of a lip lock. In fact, they were still working on it when Wlkn and Elleya, Boritz and Andrea, Badl and Moriah rode up and thought to join them. All was quiet, until Gndr and Strn began to argue about whose hand mostly killed the Titan.

Brmr turned to Mother Vrya, who arrived and was the last god present, the others having gone their way. Mother Vrya put her arm around Brmr’s shoulder and smiled. “As my son has been known to say, I love it when a plan comes together.”

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MONDAY

The other half of the story.  Flern and her friends have their own quest ahead of them if Flern can find the courage to be herself.  Until then, Enjoy, and Happy Reading.

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Reflections Wlvn-14 part 2 of 3

It took a long day to reach the woods that served as the border to the domains of the Titan. Once they entered the woods and passed the one-way barrier, they would be trapped again in the land of abomination. Wlvn stopped the riders. Shana needed a rest.

“Why have we stopped?” Wlkn looked anxious to get home and see if any of his friends survived. After their abrupt exit from the land of the Titan, they feared dire consequences for their neighbors.

“It is getting late. We can camp here, and get home tomorrow morning,” Wlvn said before he focused on his wife. Mother Vrya took Brmr in hand and brought Strn and Gndr to the fire. Wlkn started it with the sticks that came to hand while Elleya supervised. Badl and Laurel went to the forest edge to gather some more wood and to check for whatever they might find that was tasty. Since Badl and Laurel were not human, they were not bothered or hindered by the barrier to the land.

Moriah and Boritz went out across the grasses in search of game. Moriah managed a fine cow and Boritz carried it. Andrea went to the nearby stream to fill the skins and then got her carefully collected spices ready to cook the cow. Of course, Moriah insisted on doing most of the actual cooking, and no one had any complaints.

Once people were settled for the night, content around the fire where they could watch as the remaining portions of the cow they cooked sizzled and send sparks toward the moon, Wlvn spoke again. “In the morning, we will pass through the barrier to the land. It should allow us to pass easily, but once we are inside the barrier, it won’t easily let us back out again—except maybe Badl and Laurel, and I don’t know about Elleya. The thing is you don’t have to go.”

“I remember getting out the first time,” Wlkn shook his head. “But now that I am here, I am anxious about my friends and neighbors.”

“Why would we not go with you?” Laurel asked.

“The journey isn’t finished,” Boritz added, and several heads around the fire nodded.

“I’m going,” Brmr spoke up. She sat on a log and rocked a little in the attempt to keep herself awake. Gndr and Strn already laid out on their blankets, and if not asleep, they were near enough.

Wlvn shifted in his seat. “What I am saying is I don’t know if I will kill the Titan or be killed. If I fail, and that seems likely, I asked the gods to take you to safety, but I don’t know that they will, and I would hate to see you trapped in hopelessness. Wlkn, if you and Elleya decide to follow the river to the sea, no one will blame you. And Badl, if you and Moriah want to make for Movan Mountain, that would be fine.”

“I’m going,” Brmr repeated herself.

Wlvn nodded for her. “I want my family with me, even if it means putting them in danger. I think it is a danger we need to face as a family. But the rest of you—”

“The rest of us,” Laurel interrupted. “It is up to us. And I am not leaving as long as I can maybe help.  If there is danger, that just makes it like the rest of the journey.”

“And the Journey isn’t over yet,” Boritz also repeated himself, and Andrea scooted in close and took his arm.

Wlvn gave his wife a kiss. “Shana won’t leave either,” he said and stood to walk away. “Brmr, go to bed,” he added even as Wlkn said the same thing. Brmr groused but got her blanket ready beside the boys.

Vrya met Wlvn just out of sight and earshot from the camp. Wlvn had tears in his eyes, and she waited patiently for Wlvn to speak. “I am crying for the people who have lived for so long in slavery and absolute hopelessness,” he said.

“It has been going on for a long time,” Vrya confirmed.

“No, not entirely. I am crying for my mother and father whose lives were consumed by Loki and the Titan and the Gott-Druk.” Vrya said nothing, so Wlvn asked what was on his heart and mind. “Will you go with us tomorrow into the land of abomination?” Before she could answer, he added a thought. “The truth is I am crying because I am afraid”

“I understand,” Vrya said. “And I will go with you in your heart, but I cannot go in the way you see me now. I have helped Brmr so she can stay on her horse, even if you need to run, and also your wife will be safe riding with Brmr so you can be free to ride if necessary. But from here on, it is up to you. I can do no more.”

“Before you leave.” Wlvn spoke quickly. “A question please.”

“One question,” She responded with a smile.

“Are there more night creatures and zombies that may disturb us in the night?”

“The night creatures that used to walk the perimeter have not been replaced, and the living dead have been shut down. Loki overstepped himself there in appealing to his daughter Hellas for help.”

“And what about the Gott-Druk?”

Vrya stood. “You have had your one question, but you don’t need me to tell you how stupid and stubborn the Gott-Druk can be,” and she vanished from that place.

~~~~~

In the morning, no one remembered or realized the goddess was not with them, and Wlvn opted not to tell them. He figured it would not go over well, psychologically, if they all thought the goddess abandoned them. So instead, he got ready in silence. He helped Shana up on the horse Brmr rode, as the goddess suggested, and when he got up on Thred’s back, he simply turned and walked his horse toward the woods.

Gndr and Strn fell in beside Brmr and Shana. The others followed, making a slow and silent line of horses, like a funeral procession. Even Elleya had nothing to say that morning, and it was in this solemn way they came to the edge of Wlvn’s village by midafternoon. Wlvn felt something most curious as he stopped and looked ahead to the abandoned huts and barns he once called home. He felt homesick. It felt odd to miss a place that he imagined he despised worse than any place he would ever despise, even if he lived a hundred lifetimes.

Gndr and Strn moved up to the front along with Wlkn and Elleya. The boys looked ready to ride ahead and dismount in front of the house where they were raised, but Wlvn had a bad feeling about the quiet, and he said so.

“Stay with the group and stay on horseback. The village has been abandoned so you won’t find your friends here. Besides, I smell the work of the fires from heaven.” As he looked more closely, he saw numerous scorch marks from the use of high radiation weapons. A few of the homes were burnt to the ground.

“Lord,” Badl spoke. “I can smell the Gott-Druk from here, but I don’t know if they are present, or it is just the leftover smell from the last time they came through.”

“Wlkn. Boys. I will go into the village first and alone to see what I can see. You keep everyone here. Do you know the path from here that skirts the village and leads eventually to the road to the center of the universe?” Both Wlkn and the boys said they knew the path. “Good. If the village is safe, I will call you to join me. If it is not safe, you will know. Escape by way of the path that leads to the road and make a camp for the night where you can watch the road but not be seen. I will get there when I can.”

“Wlvn.” Shana reached out for him in her concern.

Wlvn leaned over and took and kissed her hand. “I will be fine. I think they want me alive, but I think they will just kill all of you as unnecessary baggage.” He let go quickly and rode into the village before they could ask any more questions. He wondered if that was why Mother Vrya left as quickly as she did in the night.

Wlvn, dressed in his armor with his weapons close to hand, paused at the edge of the first house, not sure. Badl had been correct. Something did not smell right. The village certainly looked deserted, but it felt impossible to say what might be lurking in one of the unburnt houses or behind the trees that surrounded the dwellings. Wlvn’s village nestled in the trees, as far from the center of the universe as possible. The fields they cleared and farmed were back in the woods or along the road.

Wlvn patted Thred’s neck. The horse seemed anxious, no doubt smelling home, so Wlvn let Thred lead him into the open space at the center of the village. They stopped there. It turned out as Wlvn expected. Six Gott-Druk stepped out from the houses and trees to surround him. They probably picked up their movement on a long-range scanner and tracked them. The Gott-Druk Captain stood out front, a radiation weapon in his hand, and he spoke.

“They want you alive, but I would not mind if you tried to escape.”

“Why should I escape when you will take me where I want to go?” Wlvn only then noticed the Gott-Druk shuttle camouflaged among the trees. “But you know the Elenar are coming. After nineteen years at near light speed, they ought to be here by now.”

“Bah,” the captain said. “They are not coming. You are a liar.”

“Huh,” Wlvn responded. “Why do liars think that everyone is lying?”

The captain turned red and showed his unnaturally sharpened teeth. “I can always just say you tried to escape.” He fired. Wlvn got knocked from his horse, but the shield Frigga gave him protected him from harm. It would take more than a high radiation weapon to break through the shield of the goddess. Thred, however, had no such protection. Half of his face and his foreleg became dust and the horse fell to lie there smelling of burnt flesh and death.

Wlvn got pissed but paused at the sound overhead. A two-man Elenar fighter got attracted to the energy discharge. The first shot from the fighter turned the captain to a cinder. Wlvn only wondered if the captain had time to admit he was wrong before he died. Two more Gott-Druk were killed even as they scattered for the trees. Then the Elenar fighter backed off as the Gott-Druk shuttle sprang to life. Gott-Druk shuttles carried a powerful main weapon. Wlvn wondered why the fighter did not try to take it out while it sat grounded and vulnerable. His question got answered when he saw the Elenar cruiser coming in overhead. He did not want to be there when the cruiser melted the shuttle and set the forest on fire.

He ran at super speed and stayed to the road where he sometimes took to flight. When he reached the spot where the road joined the path around the village, he sped into the woods and stopped. He found a place where they could watch the road, be covered by the trees from overhead, and have something of a clearing in which to sleep. He figured he was the first to arrive. He waited for the horses. Then he was surprised to see only Laurel, Shana, Brmr and the boys. Brmr shouted to him before he could hush her.

“Wlkn has taken the others to another village to get help.” Wlvn got his little sister down with a hand pasted across her mouth. He helped Shana down and then wondered what help Wlkn thought he might get from another village, or even villages.

“I wished him luck.” Laurel spoke quietly. “He said whether they succeed or fail, the time had come to stop living in hopelessness.”

“Revolution!” Shana added, and Wlvn kissed her, happy to see her safe. But then he had to add a thought of his own.

“Wlkn has the least courage of anyone I know. A year ago, he would have run away from his own shadow. Succeed or fail, can I do less?” Shana just held him, one hand on her tummy.

“I am very full,” she said. “It is a wonder if I don’t go into labor right now.”

Wlvn nodded. He thought to make them move down the road in the night, under the cover of darkness, but instead, he decided to let them rest.

“No fire. No food unless Laurel knows of something. But we will rest for a time.”

The horses got tied off. Laurel did know something they could at least chew on. But it got very dark that night, as much from the clouds and fires of battle as from the night. Brmr did not stay up, but she had uneasy dreams. Laurel promised to watch the road. Wlvn watched the path and the forest, and Shana held on to him until she fell asleep, her head on his lap. Gndr and Strn, free of the watchful eye of the goddess, had questions which they asked through their yawns. Gndr especially asked about the Titan since he had seen Ymir, however briefly. He cried and thought of Wlvn as going to certain death. Strn cried with him, sure that they were all going to die.

Well before dawn, Wlvn woke everyone and got them mounted. Laurel took Brmr on Brmr’s horse so Wlvn could ride Number Two. Shana held on to Wlvn as well as she could, and she tried not to cry when the late afternoon arrived, and they came in sight of the great dome at the center of the universe.