R6 Greta: Porolissum to Work, part 3 of 3

The men in the field were given the option to be arrested as traitors and locked up to await trial, or to return to their duty to protect the gold and other mines and the people of Dacia.  The auxiliary units selected by General Pontius were given a similar option, to return to their places on the roads and their village forts and guard the roads and the people, or face execution.  Everyone chose to go back to work with the understanding that any action to support the Mithraic rebellion would mean instant crucifixion.

“We can’t keep this many men locked up in Porolissum,” Festuscato explained.  “These are mostly good men and good soldiers outside of their perverse worship.  Rome can’t afford to lose good men.  But here is the thing.  If the Scythians and whatever Mithrites they bring to the border can overcome us, Rome will be in far more trouble than whatever these few hundred men and half-dozen auxiliary units can do.  But if we beat back the Scythians, and I have every good hope that we will, then we will also have saved some good men for Rome.”

“Your confidence is contagious,” Alesander said.

“But what do we do about the general and his staff and officers?” Centurion Hadrianus, leader of the escort cavalry troop asked.

“Well,” Festuscato drew out his answer.  “If I was home, I would turn them over to Gildas. He has a favorite expression. “Kill the Bastards.”  Festuscato looked at Darius and smiled.  “But as a Senator of Rome, steeped in Roman tradition to the point where the pot has boiled over, and carrying a small reflection of a spark of Justitia as I do, I understand justice has to be considered. I recommend you hold them in irons and refuse to hear their case on the grounds that you might not be objective, and I would send them back to Rome at the first opportunity with a letter explaining their duplicity with the Scythian Mithrites.  Let Antonius Pius hear the case, and may he have mercy on them; but at least they will be out of Dacia.  Then I would write a letter to your friend Marcus Aurelius and suggest he send true Romans as replacements, and you would not even mind Christians if he wants to get the Christians out of Rome, but if he sends more Mithrites, you will just send them back.”

“Sounds reasonable,” Darius thought about it. Festuscato made a pucker face.

“So do you want to kiss me now or wait until we get back?” Darius jumped back.  Alesander laughed, and Centurion, soon to be Tribune Hadrianus raised both eyebrows.

###

Rhiannon walked up to Greta and Mavis who were seated in chairs that Greta had the morning guard bring out to the battements. “The enemy looks endless,” Greta sighed and began to plan for an orderly withdrawal and evacuation of the town, should that prove necessary.  Scythians were riding off the distant mountain in one long line, and they were settling on the hill across the valley.

“We will have to find the tail of that dragon and feed it to the mouth so it can consume itself.”  Rhiannon waved her hand and a third chair appeared.  She sat carefully in her armor.  It was well made chain and leather, not unlike the armor Greta wore when she wasn’t busy being pregnant, but it did not look worn very often so it appeared a little stiff.

“Gobinu’s work?” Greta asked, and Rhiannon nodded. “Thank you again for raising the Celts. Every bit helps.”

“Twenty-five hundred from the hills beyond the mountains isn’t very much, but they do need to start integrating.  I am glad I remembered the auxiliaries from Britannia, Gaul and Hispania scattered around the province.  I can weed out the ones like Chobar and his Dogs from my people. I’m sorry.  I can’t vouch for the Egyptians and Syrians and others.”

“Quite all right.  Four thousand total almost doubles our number.  With Bragi and Drakka raising a thousand local Dacians, that gives us ten to their ten.  The Scythians do have ten thousand, don’t they?”

Rhiannon nodded again, but she said nothing out loud.

“Ladies.”  Father stepped up and Rhiannon waved her hand to make a chair for him.  “Very considerate,” he said and sat with a great sigh.  “I’m disappointed with my own people.”  He stepped right into the conversation.  “But I understand their reluctance to fight for the Romans.”

“They think if they stay home they can defend their farms if the Scythians get that far,” Rhiannon suggested.

“Even the large number of Romans that have emigrated to the province are more interested in the price of grain than they are in the price of a good sword,” Greta added.

“Sergeant.”  A watchman interrupted their conversation.  “We got more coming from both the left and the right.  They must have come through the mountains in other places.” He pointed, the Sergeant swore, and called several men to send word to different outposts and to the command tent.

Greta shaded her eyes and took a look to the left and right.  “Mavis,” she said, and Mavis took a good look.

“I see sun symbols and lion-headed representations on the left.  I can’t tell on the right because the sun is glaring.”

“You can see that far?” Father squinted.

“Lazyges and outsider Dacians on the left,” Rhiannon said.  “About ten thousand.  And on the right, Costoboci, Capri and Roxolani.  Another ten thousand.  You’re welcome.”

“Not fair,” Greta complained.  “We paid the Roxolani to stay away.”

“My guess is they used the money to buy weapons,” Father said.

“Sergeant,” Greta called.  The Sergeant came over and listened carefully while she explained the new arrivals.  Rhiannon had gone and took her chair with her.  Father stood stiffly, and his chair disappeared.  Greta and Mavis stood and Greta watched as the messengers returned and went right back out again.  Greta waved to a soldier and thanked him for the chairs while Mavis took her arm and Father’s arm and walked them back to the house for lunch.  After lunch, Greta planned to take a nap.  Then she had to work on a serious plan of escape, should that become necessary.  Greta was not good at panic situations, and tomorrow was going to be a long day.

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

MONDAY

The Battle Lines are drawn and tested.  Until then, Happy Reading

*

R6 Greta: Porolissum to Work, part 2 of 3

“Scythians.  Thousands of them on the main road just over the mountains.  They will be here in three days, and it is just Chip if you don’t mind.”  Chip, older than Snowflake, appeared as a fifteen-year-old in his big form.  That made him a full-blown teenager, and Father had practice dealing with those.

“Mavis,” Greta nudged her handmaid who had hardly left her side since Greta arrived in Porolissum.  “Take Chip to find Darius.  Give Darius the message and then come back here.”

“What are you thinking?”  Greta’s father asked and waited for Greta to answer.

“General Pontius left the legion fort two days ago. He will be here right at the same time as the Scythians.  How did he know when to start for Porolissum?”

“He had to have got word from the Scythians to time things so well.” Father came to the obvious conclusion, and Greta confirmed as much.

“Darius, Alesander, Bragi and the others have been arguing about whether or not to trust General Pontius.”

“I have heard the arguments,” Father admitted.

“I would say this is circumstantial evidence, but it says don’t trust him.”  Greta moaned a little.

“The baby?” Father asked and held out his arm for her before he paused to rub his own leg.

“My ankles are swelling in this cold and rainy weather,” Greta answered.  “I calculated the middle of June, but I may have miscalculated.  I may be entering my eighth month now.  I may be due in the middle of May, about six, not ten weeks from now.”

“I could limp you home,” Father offered.  He did that, but as they got to the door, Greta had to ask.  “So, no questions about the fairy?”

“Only if you want to tell me,” he said.  “I decided a long time ago some questions were best not asked.  I decided that back when Mother Hulda died, and then that awful woman, Brunhild came to town, and then you disappeared into the haunted forest.”  Greta reached up and kissed her father on the cheek.  “Of course, if your mother was here, I would ask her.  But that is safe because she doesn’t know anything.”

“Papa!”  Greta protested and went inside only to find Snowflake in her natural fairy size, wings fluttering, riding a wooden toy horse across the kitchen floor while Padme followed with her doll and Karina stood at the wash basin on the kitchen counter where she was washing up the breakfast dishes.

“Careful, young woman.”  Karina spoke kindly to the fairy.  “You are supposed to be watching Padme, not encouraging a madhouse.”

“Icechip came by a few minutes ago,” Greta said as she found a chair to sit while Father went into the other room to rest by the fire.

“My Icechip?” Snowflake asked, excited, and Greta nodded.

“Another fairy?  How many fairies do you know?” Karina asked and dried her hands.

“A very big number,” Greta answered.

“All of us,” Snowflake said.  “And elves and dwarfs and spooky dark elves and everyone.”

“Lady,” Mavis came in, followed by a streak of light. Chip caught Snowflake and they circled and danced in mid-air while Karina scooped up Padme.  “Everyone is coming to discuss what to do,” Mavis finished her announcement.

“Father,” Greta called, and she heard the moan of an old man who would rather be taking a nap.  “Snowflake.  You need to sit on my shoulder and be quiet.”  Snowflake flew over, Chip beside her.

“Yes, Lady,” Snowflake made herself comfortable. Father did not have far to go to sit in the end seat.

“Chip.  You need to sit on my father’s shoulder, and please don’t say anything unless you are asked a question.”

“Yes Lady,” Chip said, and to Father he added, “It is an honor, sir.”  Father brushed off his shoulder with one hand and when Chip got seated, Father found he had a few questions after all.

As Darius, Bragi and the others came in for the meeting, Karina spoke just loud enough for Greta to hear.  “Padme and I will be in the back, sitting on the pot.   I am sure we will be more productive than one of your meetings.”

###

The troop rode through the night and arrived at the legion camp well before dawn.  Everyone had their assigned tasks, and they moved swiftly after swearing the guards and the night watch to silence.  The word they put out was the Scythians had been spotted and they were there to discuss the situation in Porolissum, just in case word went ahead of them.  There always seemed to be one suck-up who would go running to the General.  They claimed to be gathering the officers for a conference, but in truth they rounded up two tribunes, six centurions, a dozen top sergeants, a standard bearer, a trumpet master, three scouts and several other commanders, and they arrested them along with the General.

Mithraism remained a religion whose ceremonies and sacraments were closely guarded secrets of the initiates.  But Mithraism itself got on the list of officially approved religions of the empire because Mithrites could also claim to worship the traditional gods of Rome, and even sacrificed to Antonius Pius’ dead wife, the love of the divine emperor.  Because of this, many men were open about admitting they were Mithrites. Christianity, by contrast, did not get on the acceptable list, primarily because Christians only worshiped Christ. Christians refused to participate in the pagan worship and festivals around them and steadfastly refused to sacrifice to the emperor.  This regularly got painted as disloyalty to Rome, true or not, and at times Christians got killed as traitors no matter how much they protested.  Thus, Christians tended to keep to the shadows in most places, but in this case, Darius and Alesander sought them out.

One hundred confessing Christians brought down from Porolissum now formed the foundation for the guards who held eight hundred Mithrites in an open field.  General Pontius had been working on his legion over the years, but affecting the various transfers seemed a bureaucratic nightmare and a very slow process. The general’s staff all got arrested, but some of general’s officers and troop commanders appeared to be Mithras free.

“Of course, we will still have to watch them.” Alesander stated the obvious.

R6 Greta: Porolissum to Work, part 1 of 3

Briana seated next to Hobknot the hobgoblin might have made her supper a bit strange, but Hobknot wore the appearance of an elderly man, the same as he appeared whenever he and Fae came to visit Berry in Greta’s home in Ravenshold, so this was not entirely a new thing for him, and Greta assumed that Briana, having been exposed to dwarfs, elves, fairies and goblins, would be nonplused and pleasant with the grumpy old hobgoblin, but spend most of the night with her attention on Alesander in any case.

“It is the best I could do,” Greta told Mavis.

“And exactly why I want to eat on the floor with the children,” Mavis said.  “Your brother and sister-in-law deserve to hear all about your adventures, and the children make me happy, and you know I am good with children.”  It was true.  After their nanny, Selamine, Gaius and Marta loved Mavis best.”

“If they make you happy,” Greta said and Mavis sniffed, but nodded.

Tales were indeed told, and the dwarfs, elves, fairies and goblins all got a human scrubbing to make them palatable to human ears. When it came to the Wolv, however, no one held back.  And no one hesitated to talk about Mithrite fanaticism.  “They will not hesitate to give their lives to further their cause,” Alesander said, which Father and Darius listened to closely where they might have argued with one of the women.

“But what is their cause?” Father asked.

“To crush the Germans and overrun Rome.  To turn the Empire into the Empire of Mithras,” Alesander concluded, and he stated it like a fact.  He did not say I think or I believe or I feel.

Darius took a breath and looked at Greta. Father looked at Darius and spoke. “I think they will find that Rome is not so easily overcome.”

Greta responded to her husband’s look. “General Pontius is a confirmed Mithrite.  You say he has the legion on alert in Apulum and is waiting to see if the Scythians come and where they strike.  I tell you, when the Scythians strike, General Pontius may bring the legion to fight on the Scythians’ side.”

“Surely not,” Darius said, and Father opened his mouth but remained silent.

“Surely so,” Greta countered, and Briana added a thought.

“You already tasted rebellion in the Roman ranks. Why should your legion not suffer the same?”

Father got it and stood.  He almost knocked his chair back into the fireplace.  “By the gods, we will stop them here,” he shouted.

Greta had grabbed Darius’ hand to keep him seated. Hans got Father’s chair and helped him sit again.  Alesander added fuel to the fire.

“The gods are working on it, I think,” he said. “But they will not do it for us. It is up to us.”  he looked at Greta who nodded for him and for Darius.

“We must cross our own bridges when we come to them, and if we have to build the bridge first, so be it.”

“Grandfather,” Berry interrupted with a look at Bogus. “What are you mumbling about?”

“I was just thinking your great-aunt Pincushion could win them over with a few good meals.”

“Great-aunt?” Fae looked up.

“Yes,” Greta said, grateful for the change in the subject.  “Pincushion and Bogus are half-brother and sister.  Same father.”  Pincushion and Bogus both nodded.

Fae and Berry stared at Greta.  Berry asked, “How did you know?”

Vedix spoke.  “It is not our way to question how the druid knows what she knows.”

###

The town became heavily fortified by the end of March, and none too soon.  Darius had pulled his troops back from the frontier passes to shore up the border defenses in January on condition that Greta send her little ones to spy and give word of any enemy advancement.  For that, Greta turned to Willow and her winter fairies.  Most of the fairies volunteered for the mountains, like their home in the Urals, but some were willing to keep an eye on Apulum and the legion fort.

April first arrived; a day when the sun stayed behind the clouds, but no more snow fell.  It was a day when the wind whipped and turned the cheeks red before a person walked ten steps.  Greta walked with Karina and the children when a bright streak of light came up from the south and stopped in Greta’s face.  Karina stopped moving, but Padma reached out with both hands from her mother’s hip where she rode.

“Fairy,” Padma spoke first.

“Lady,” the fairy spoke in a young woman’s voice. “The whole legion is on the road. They will be here in five days.” The girl’s voice shrieked with happiness.  “I remembered the whole thing!”

“Snowflake, get big,” Greta commanded.

“Fairy,” Padma reached for her.

Snowflake got big and appeared as a twelve or thirteen-year-old girl.  The girl looked shy and began to blush until Mavis reached for the girl’s hand to steady her.

“Mavis, take Snowflake to find Darius and tell him the message.”

“Yes, Lady,” Mavis responded and she coaxed the fairy to move away, even as the fairy recognized the children and began to reach for them.  Kurt did not buy it, but Padma looked upset to see the fairy go.

“Berry.”  Karina had a sudden revelation.  “She was a fairy.”

“She was, but completely human now,” Greta said. “Poor Hans.  He never stood a chance.”

“He doesn’t seem to be hurting,” Karina said and thought while they walked back to the house where she verbalized one thing. “And you have other strange friends, I guess.”

“They are not so strange.  Mostly good people once you get to know them.”

“I’ll have to take your word for that,” Karina opened the door and Greta waddled inside to sit by the fire.  She seriously wanted some tea.

Two days later, when it started raining instead of snowing for the first time in months, the boy, Chip, came racing into town.  He zoomed up to Greta’s face right in front of her father, and hovered for a second to catch his breath.

“Look out,” Father yelled and swatted at what he imagined was the biggest fly in history.

“Father.  No,” Greta stopped his hand and turned on the boy.  “Icechip, get big.”  It was not a request.  Father’s eyes got big along with the fairy, but he said nothing.  “Speak,” Greta commanded.

R6 Greta: Home to Porolissum, part 3 of 3

“You have lovely children,” Rhiannon said, recognizing Karina’s continued distress.  Poor Karina seemed to be deciding if Rhiannon was not a goddess, she ought to be.  Poor Greta felt very ordinary.  She had her yellow hair braided down her back at the moment because, while it was as clean and set as it had ever been, if she let it loose, it had a mind of its own and would never behave.  Besides, she had freckles, and a big nose, and short legs and a big butt, and fat hands, and she constantly fought against getting fat like her mother, and she would have gone on for a while if she did not hear a call from the distance.

“Lady!”  Mavis raced up, jumped before the horse even stopped, and fell into Greta’s arms for a hug. “I thought I lost you forever, too.  But Pincushion said you were still alive, and I felt it.”  Mavis cried.

Darius was the next to arrive, and Mavis stepped aside so he could throw his arms around Greta and squeeze her.  All thoughts about life and war and death went away for a while so Darius and Greta could get lost in their kiss.  When they took a breath, Greta scooted back a little and looked at her belly with a word.  “You don’t want to crush the baby.”

“Are you?  Did you?”

“Of course.  What did you think you were doing before you went away?”

“Making good memories?”

“You made more than good memories,” Greta patted her belly which was beginning to bump, and grinned as she thought through her own memories.

“Hello baby,” Darius leaned down.  “Are you Marcus or another girl?”

“I’m only half-way there, not even half,” Greta protested as if to say she had no way of knowing for sure.  Honestly, she knew he would be Marcus, but she wanted to tease Darius first.  Before Greta could say anything else, the crowd showed up.  Bragi ran to her and Hans.  Father tried to run, but his leg where he got wounded stayed stiff and uncooperative.  Alesander, Vedix and Briana were all there.  Pincushion even ran to yell at Bogus, but Hermes was not there.  Mavis began to cry, and this time Greta ignored the others and went to hug her handmaid.

“He was like a father to her,” Briana explained later. “She said she had no father, since he died in the days of the Wolv invasion, which you didn’t tell us about. She said she followed her mother up here from Thrace a hundred years ago to escape the memory of their loss.”

“On Hermes’ part,” Alesander took up the telling. “He had a family in Greece, but they were killed by brigands who were pirates in the Aegean and sheltered in the Pindar Mountains.  He joined the auxiliary troop to hunt down the brigands, and he succeeded, but then he had nothing to go home for, so he stayed with the military.  He served all around the Black Sea and in Asia, including once in Syria, before his troop got assigned here after the last rebellion. He said Mavis reminded him of his daughter and was about the age his daughter would have been.  I don’t know about that, but they were close.”

“Two Scythians drew their swords on us in the meeting.  Hermes saved my life,” Vedix added.

“He saved all of our lives,” Briana said.

“Lucius is the Mars.”  Alesander blurted it out and stiffened his lip to speak without emotion. “He said he had been moving among the Iranian people for a hundred and fifty years and infiltrated the Roman ranks a hundred years ago.  He said everything was ready to build the new Empire of the Gods, but he decided some time back that the others were just using him to do all the leg work and build the new army.  He said it was easy to get lost in a Roman legion and attached himself to my century ten years ago in Gaul.  But he was not surprised when I got transferred to the Gemina XIII in Dacia. The others conspired, he said, to position him for the plan.”

“What plan?” Greta wondered out loud.  “That is the question.”

While Pincushion and Karina fixed supper, Rhiannon stepped up to Greta for a private moment.  “I have all I need from here,” she said.  “But I have stayed too long at the fair.  I have my own work to do and must leave.  Besides, Briana and Vedix will eat better if I am not seated at the same table.”

“So, what did you figure out?” Greta asked quickly before Rhiannon could vanish.  Darius stepped up and slipped his arm over Greta’s shoulder while he smiled for their guest.  Not to say it would have been possible to look at Rhiannon and not smile.

“No, no.”  Rhiannon returned the smile and shook her finger.  “That is for me to know and you to find out.  But I will say, I think Mother may be right.  It is past time to let go of the Gaelic enclave and Latinize my people.  They need to be integrated into the Roman fold to avoid being wiped out by the Lazyges, if nothing else.”

“Sounds like work,” Darius said, not quite following the conversation.

Rhiannon smiled again at that thought.  “I would rather have something to do.  Sitting all day long, guarding the apples of Avalon and playing chess would bore me silly.”

“Who?  No, wait. What brought the apples of Avalon to mind?”  Greta got suspicious and Rhiannon’s face showed that she said too much.

“Apollo took the last basket full I know of.  The rest are safe,” she was continuing to spout, and knew it.  “I have to go.”  Rhiannon vanished, and Darius opened his eyes as wide as they could open.

“She was not one of your little ones, I could tell,” Darius said.

Briana ran up and pointed at the empty spot where Rhiannon had been.  “That was—”

“Yes, it was,” Greta said, and she took Darius inside where she could get warm.

Supper became an interesting affair.  Bragi borrowed a neighbor’s table and put it end to end with his own table to fit everyone.  As it was, Father at one end had his back to the big fireplace, which he said he did not mind, cold as it was outside, and Bragi at the other end sat up to the door, and got cold, but he did not complain.  Karina sat next to her husband on the kitchen side where she could fetch whatever was needed and keep one eye on the children who sat on the kitchen floor.  Then came Pincushion, Karina’s fellow cook, followed by Bogus, Vedix, Greta and Darius next to Greta’s father.

Hans sat next to Father on the other side, followed by Berry, Alesander, Briana, Hobknot and Fae next to Bragi.  Fae was a wise human woman for seventy years before she became a dwarf, so Greta figured her conversation should be safe for brotherly consumption.

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

MONDAY

Time get to work. The enemy is on the horizon  Until then, Happy Reading

*

R6 Greta: Home to Porolissum, part 2 of 3

Rhiannon looked away as she spoke, and Greta caught a glimpse of the idea that there might be something Rhiannon was not telling, but then what she said made sense.  “Maybe the human war is not what you need to focus on.”

Greta wanted to ask what she meant and why she looked away, but they were at Hans and Berry’s door so she said, “Shh.”

Berry still lay in bed, sleeping on her face, her knees pulled up and her butt sticking up in the air.  Greta whispered.  “She used to sleep that way when she turned twelve and a wee winged little fairy.” Greta stepped up, but this time it took her whole hand to push and not simply her finger.  Berry fell over and immediately protested.

“No, Mom.  I’m still sleeping.”

“Time to get up sweetheart,” Greta boomed in her best mom voice.  “Time for school.  You don’t want to miss the school bus.”

Berry’s eyes opened and shot daggers as she crawled up to her pillows and pulled the covers over her head.  “I can’t go to school today.  I feel sicky.”

“Poor Hans.  He is all alone.” Greta let out a big sigh and Rhiannon covered her giggle.

Berry pulled the covers off her face. “Cheater.  But really, I feel sick.  I have thrown up every morning for more than a week, not a lot, but every day.”

“Oh Berry.” Greta sat on the bed and helped Berry sit up.  Rhiannon sat on Berry’s other side so she could not easily lie down again.  “Why didn’t you tell me you were going to have a baby?”

“I am?”

Rhiannon put her hand out to touch Berry’s belly, not that the goddess did not already know.  “Definitely.”

“Me and Hans?”

“Unless.”

“No, never,” Berry said.  “Me and Hans.”  She smiled a big smile for a second before she asked, “boy or girl?”

Greta stopped Rhiannon’s hand.  “Do you want to know?”

Berry thought for a second and shook her head. She gave Greta’s oft used response. “Healthy and happy is what matters.” and Rhiannon and Greta hugged her and helped her stand.

“Good,” Greta said.  “Now I can go back for more sausages.  Maybe a sausage and egg sandwich.”  Berry looked pale at the thought of food.  “There are wafflies, and apple cinnamons,” Greta said to tempt her. “And sausage on the side.”

“What is with the sausages?” Rhiannon asked.

“I think my son is going to be a carnivore.”

“I think my baby is going to be skinny,” Berry said and turned pale again.

“I would like—” Rhiannon started the sentence, but Greta cut her off.

“Don’t even think it.  You are not even supposed to be here, remember?”

###

After nearly a month, Greta could not wait any longer.  Darius and Greta’s Father were in Porolissum, the main settlement on the northern border of Dacia, having made the long trip from Romula in the winter rather than waiting until the spring as planned.  They brought up six hundred Roman Cavalry, and six hundred auxiliaries as their escort, only to have two hundred cavalry and a hundred auxiliaries rebel and try to take over the town.  Darius sent out half the escort on arrival.  They went out in groups of thirty to a hundred men to scour the mountains for the enemy and secure the passes that led to Roman land.  The Mithrites turned half of the remaining men and acted as soon as they saw a chance for success.  They raised the men of Porolissum and thought to turn them to their side, seeing that so many of them were branded rebels in the last rebellion; but the men of Porolissum remained loyal to their high chief and to the governor, Darius.  Led by Drakka and Bragi, they put down the rebellion at no small cost.  Now, they were working furiously hard in the snow and slush to fortify the town and the border against whatever might be coming in the spring.

Greta made a doorway between the Second Heavens and Earth.  She said good-bye to Avalon, the sanctuary she made for all her little ones back four thousand years before Christ.  It had become her sanctuary and place of peace against the storm that gathered on Earth, but she understood she could not put off her responsibilities any longer. She stepped out on to the Earth, dressed in her own ordinary dress and well-worn red cloak, and left her armor home in Avalon, just to make a point in her mind.  She wanted to arrive quietly and unobserved and chose a spot next to her brother Bragi’s home, along the side of the house where the grass got tall, but the whole community was up in arms and in such a bustle of activity, there were plenty of people who stopped and watched Greta, Hans, Berry and a bunch of strangers step out of a hole in the air.

One of the watchers, Karina, Bragi’s wife, had her two children, Kurt and Padma with her.  Karina opened her mouth until she recognized Greta and curtsied.  “Mother Greta,” she called her.  Greta frowned at the formality and hugged the woman.

“Just Greta,” she said.  “Just Bragi’s little sister.”

Karina returned the hug, but had more to say. “And wife of the imperial governor. And the woman of the ways who saved so many lives from the headsman’s axe, and who consorts with spirits and powers beyond my reckoning, and who is able to appear out of nowhere, out of the very air itself.”

Greta took a step back and thought she better introduce her crew to give some familiarity, to counter Karina’s distress. Karina kept staring.  “This is my friend Bogus,” she said.  Bogus had on his glamour to make himself look like the old prospector.  “He is grandfather to both Fae and Berry.  Fae.”  Fae stepped up disguised like an older woman, not nearly as old as she had looked when she lived as a human, but hardly young enough for Bogus to be her grandfather. “And her husband, Hobknot,” Greta added. Hobknot looked like an older man, but he kept tugging on the fairy weave clothes Fae made him wear, and he came across as very curmudgeonly.  He grunted his Hello.

“Hans, of course,” Greta said, and Hans gave Karina a hug.  “And Berry, and my good friend Rhiannon who is from the Celtic lands beyond the mountains.” Greta saw Berry and Rhiannon kneel and talk to six-year-old Kurt, with three-year-old Padma hidden behind her brother’s shoulder. The little girl kept grinning.  Greta looked again at Karina.  Karina had been the beauty of Boarshag, and Greta could not imagine how she ended up with her clunky, big brother.  That happened before Father got elected High Chief of the Dacians, as Greta recalled, so Karina did not go for anything like money, power or position. And Karina truly appeared beautiful in every human way, but then Greta looked again at Berry and Rhiannon. Berry lost none of her beauty when she stopped being a fairy and became fully human.  She remained fairy beautiful, and that went into another whole beauty category, far beyond human reach.  And Rhiannon!  She toned down her godly attributes to almost nothing so she could walk among the mortals, but she could not disguise her looks without real effort.  Rhiannon looked goddess beautiful, and it appeared breathtaking, impossible to focus on, and almost too much for a human mind to take in and comprehend.

R6 Greta: Home to Porolissum, part 1 of 3

Greta sat at the breakfast table and fretted.  Her whole world started falling apart and she felt powerless to do anything about it.  The Sun-runner and the Soldier were back on earth, gathering an army to invade Dacia.  The Roman legion, the one supposed to defend Dacia, under General Pontius’ leadership, might very well help the Scythians.  Greta managed to send word to Darius and her father, but some of the very men who escorted them around the province were Mithrites and could not be trusted.  Rome had become a mess, in far more danger from inside the ranks of her vaunted armies than she ever was from outside pressures.

“Greta.”  Greta looked up.  Hans woke up for breakfast.  Berry was missing.  Fae and Hobknot were also missing.  They disappeared almost immediately on their arrival.  Hobknot took her to see the sights and wonders of Avalon, and for the past week, Bogus paced and made grouchy faces and noises.  Willow was wonderful, but she and Thumbelin had lots of catching up to do, so Greta did not see much of her.

“Greta.”

“What?”  Greta answered her brother and had a thought.  “You haven’t had thirds yet.  You don’t want Missus Kettleblack to be insulted.”  Missus Kettleblack was the kindly old dwarf woman who ran the kitchen in the castle.

“I can’t eat like I used to,” Hans said.  “I just spent the last two years with nothing to do but eat and sleep and get fat.”

“I don’t see the fat,” Rhiannon came into the banquet room, and everyone seated at the various tables around the room stood out of respect for the goddess.

“Great Lady,” Hans offered a bow.  She might not have been a goddess for the Dacians, but she was certainly a goddess.  “Maybe you can answer my questions since I can’t seem to get my sister out of her sausages,” he said.

“And what questions might those be?” Rhiannon asked, but then she read his mind and answered without waiting for the questions to be verbalized.  “You know one of the crossed swords very well.  Excalibur.  I understand you carried it over the last two years.”

“I didn’t hardly get a chance to use it,” Hans griped.

“How fortunate for you,” Greta returned the gripe.

“Ahem,” Rhiannon cleared her throat.  “Excalibur was made for Diogenes, a young man who fought beside Alexander the Great.  The other sword is a bit smaller and thinner.  It is the sister sword, Caliburn, and it was made about a hundred years later for the Princess.  You have met her,” Rhiannon pointed out and Hans squinted and tried to remember. He felt sure he must have met her.

“And that is some of the finest work the elves of the mountain ever produced,” Lord Branworth spoke up from the accountants table. “Priceless artifacts.”

“Same crew that made Thor’s hammer,” Lord Deepwell of the dark elves said.

“Or their descendants,” Lord Darkvein of the goblins added.

“I am sure all of these weapons have fascinating stories,” Hans interrupted the background commentary.  “That is what I was asking Greta.”

“Indeed,” Rhiannon said.  “But not all of these belonged to the Kairos, at least in the sense that they were mostly used by others.  This great spear that hangs over all, for example, is the Seig of Lug, sometimes called the Lance of Lieu, or Slaughter.  It came from the deep south to Britain, Wales, and eventually Ireland. They say no battle was ever won against it and it always hit its mark.”

“Rhiannon,” Greta interrupted this time.  “We need to leave the Celtic treasures where they lay. The old ways have gone and the new ways have come.  And while I am sure you will do a wonderful job when you find a young man to train in the martial arts, I wish you would not encourage Hans.  He’ll just get himself hurt.”

“Greta!” Hans protested.  “There is no harm in hearing the story of the Lance of Lugh. Who was Lugh, anyway?”

“He was a great sun god.”  Lord Sunstone the elf wizard stood and walked toward Hans who was standing at the back wall, looking up at all the treasures hung around the fireplace.  “Lugh infused the lance with the very power of the sun.”

Greta rolled her eyes, took Rhiannon’s hand and pulled her into the hallway. “Hans has too much time on his hands.  We need to find his wife to distract him.”

“Young Berry,” Rhiannon named her.  “But I feel as if there is something else you wish to tell me.”  Rhiannon could not read Greta’s mind.

Greta shook her head to say no even as she spoke. “I feel guilty staying here as long as we have.  The world out there is massing for war and I can’t think of any way to stop it.  I can imagine ten thousand Scythians gathered by now, preparing for all-out war, and if they bring in the Lazyges, Capri, Sarmatians and others, that number could easily top twenty, even thirty thousand. And what is there to stand in their way? Will a few thousand Goths and Slavs take up the sword against such odds?  I doubt it. One look and I would turn my little army around.  And even if the Roman legion raised all the auxiliaries within reach, they would still be outnumbered two or three to one at least.  But it is worse than that.  Half of the legionnaires are probably Mithrites and would fight for the other side.”

“Not half,” Rhiannon said.  “Not more than ten percent, but do not underestimate the power of Rome and the pride of the Romans.  Even if they are Mithrites, many will still fight for Rome.”

“I hope,” Greta said.  “But I can’t think of any way to stop it.  And the Mithrites not only have the numbers, they have Mars and the Sun-runner still living and active and driving them forward to victory in a way that only the gods can do so well.  And the Pater.  I guess Mithras himself is the father figure.  I’ve been thinking that the Pater was just another aspect of the old man, like Mithras had seven small pieces break off from his person, like seven of his fingers; but now I think he broke completely apart, into seven whole pieces, and the one I was calling Mithras is in reality just another piece of the whole, no more than any of the others.  I guess Mithras is the head, but why the head should trap me into killing off the other parts of his own body, I have no idea.  Who can guess what game he is playing?”

R6 Greta: Land of the Lost, part 3 of 3

“The big bird is after the big worm,” Bogus said it, and they all ran to the door in time to see the dragon grabbed by the bird beak and tossed into the trees.  The dragon protested with fire, and it looked like it held its own for a while, but the bird kept grabbing it and shaking it and banging it against the trees, until at last, the big worm ran out of strength.

The bird picked up the worm with its claws and headed into the sky.  It punctured something, as the people smelled the gas.  The hydrogen bladder that ran along the whole belly of the beast had a leak. The dragon waited until they circled enough to gain some altitude, then Nameless said a quiet, “No.” as the dragon flamed himself.  There followed a massive explosion. People screamed at the horror.  Pieces of dragon rained down on the forest along with all of the insides of the Raven.  The bird plummeted in a streak of flame, and Berry and Fae raced out to where the dragon fell.  The rest of the crew followed.

Nameless saw something in his mind, picked everyone up with a thought and transported them to where the dragon head had turned into a very old and broken man.  Nameless also caught sight of the spark of light that came from the Raven.  It shot to the south, well beyond the dome, but he said nothing as Berry and Fae fell down beside the broken old man and began to cry.

The man could hardly speak, but he looked first at Bogus and breathed.  “Sorry father.”  Then he spoke to the girls.  “You have my permission and blessing.  They seem fine men, such as they are.”  Then he turned to Nameless and stumbled over his thoughts.  “None of the parts of Mithras mean good for the human race. They want to be the new gods and they all want to lead their way.  Beware Mithras.  He is the Pater.”

The old man’s voice trailed off and Nameless raised his head and commanded attendance.  “Willow,” he called, and his command went all the way to the Ural Mountains where a snow fairy vanished and reappeared at Nameless’ side.  The fairy spun around several times, but halted on sight of the Nameless god.  “Your grandson,” Nameless pointed to the old man, “And your great-granddaughters.”  He stepped back, and let Willow find her own way.

Willow flew up to face the old man.  She took on her big form, which made her appear like a beautiful, older woman, perhaps just shy of fifty.  She knelt beside the old man and looked briefly at Fae and Berry before she smiled for the man and spoke.  “You are Oren?”

“I am,” Oren whispered.  “And now my days are complete.”

Willow took Oren’s hand, the one Berry was not squeezing, and found one tear to protest.  “But you are so young.”

“More than a hundred,” Nameless said softly. “More than long enough for a half-human.”

Willow looked up at Fae and Berry.  “Berry,” she said.  “Queen Thumbelin has told me wonderful things about you, and young Mab said you were all right, which I think at her age is a great compliment.” Berry’s eyes teared up so she could not say anything.  “And Fae. I have heard from far away, from my dear old friend, Thissle, that you are a kind and wonderful person.  How you ever got involved with the old stinker, Hobknot, I will never know.”  Willow paused to wink at Hobknot, who scowled appropriately in return.  Clearly, they had some history.  “But love is a strange and wonderful thing, and that is worth holding on to.”  Willow turned her eyes toward Bogus who stood that whole time, quietly worrying his hat.

“Mother.”  He spoke when her eyes fell on him.

Willow smiled for her son.  “Sometimes love takes us places where we could never imagine. Love had its way with me and your father, and though it was only for a short time, he gave me you, my son.”

“I’ve been not much of a good son,” Bogus said. He lowered his eyes and shuffled his foot.

“But you have.”  Willow smiled for her son. “I have been thinking about it now for more than a hundred years.  I was wrong. You loved your human woman, Clarissa. The Kairos has taught us that we are not to mingle with human mortals, but even she knows that love will have its way. I treated her badly.  I was terrible.  I was wrong, and I went away, and I am sorry.  I missed my grandson’s whole life, and now I can never get that back.” Willow looked down and a few precious fairy tears fell to dampen Oren’s side.  Oren extracted his hand from Berry’s grasp and with a great effort, he covered Willow’s hand and patted it twice.  Bogus found a few tears of his own and stepped up to hug his mother. Nameless spoke.

“There are only two things in life that everyone experiences.  Love and death.  And we have no control over when they will come.”  Nameless went away so Greta could return and finish the thought.  “Who would have thought I would end up with a Roman?”  She stepped up and looked down at Oren.  “Sleep now,” she said.  “The old life has gone.  The new life has come.”  Berry reached for the cross she wore around her neck and Oren closed his eyes and stopped moving.  Immediately, they heard a howl.  The Wolv were not far away.  Greta lifted her voice to the sky.  “Nameless! You are mean.”  He brought her back to face her own Wolv.

“What are we going to do?” Hans asked.

“Oh, Hans.”  Greta stepped to the side and amended her word.  “Hansel.”  She grinned as she waved her hand in the air.  A great archway formed, a doorway to Avalon in the second heavens.  Greta and Berry had been there once.  Now, the others were coming, but then her little ones were always welcome.  “Hans and Hobknot, carry Oren,” Greta commanded.  “Quickly now.  Through the door before the Wolv catches us by the heel.”

People scrambled as another howl came, closer than before.  They heard the yip-yip of the Wolv before they crossed the threshold and stepped out on to a perfect, green lawn beneath a beautiful blue sky and a magnificent castle on a hill.  A small river ran through the grasses and emptied into the sea at their backs.  To their left were great rock pillars, like guardians against the sea.  To their right stood a field full of grain ready to harvest.  The air felt crisp in the late fall, but they saw no snow to cover the ground.  Directly behind them all, in the doorway to Earth, Greta stood and waited.

A Wolv ran up, but stopped as it tried to make sense of where it stood as opposed to what it saw through the archway.  A second and third Wolv arrived and stopped as well.  The third Wolv looked like an old gray-haired Wolv.  Greta spoke to the gray hair, and since she spoke from Avalon, she knew her message would be understood.

“You know this planet is off limits.  Your fleet will be destroyed in space before it can arrive if your commander is foolish enough to come here.  As for your transport, I have other tasks to perform, but as soon as I am free, I will attempt to repair your ship so you can leave. You would be wise to confine yourselves to the forest of the dome in the meanwhile.  Do not interfere with the war between the humans, unless you have a wish to die and be no more.”

Greta snapped her fingers and the door to Avalon blinked out of existence.

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

MONDAY

After a stay on Avalon, Greta and her family need to visit her brother who lives on the north border of Dacia.  She sees only blood being spilled, and fears the war to come.  Until Monday…

*

R6 Greta: Land of the Lost, part 2 of 3

“I was able to bring in food and we have blankets and such things, but I did not have the power to take us out.  My power is greatly diminished and the more so when I am blocked by the Nymphus.”

“You are broken, old man,” Greta responded.  “Why have you not gone over to the other side?”

The old man smiled a little, but it did not look like a warm or welcoming smile.  Greta saw something calculating in that smile.  “How can I pass over when I am not every whit whole?”

Greta shook her head.  “Your brother Varuna would be very unhappy with you.”

The old man’s visage changed.  He gritted his teeth and furrowed his brows.  He did not expect that comment.  “My brother surrendered to the invaders and gave everything to that moron, Indra.  My brother got reduced to the lowest of the low, a simple god of the sea, not even allowed to set his foot on the dry land.”

“Your brother saved millions of people and ended a war among the gods that might have killed every living thing.  And Amphitrite says she does not appreciate your prejudicial attitude about sea gods.”

The old man looked startled, but then he softened. “Yes, I forgot.  She would see things differently, though as I recall, she did not get counted among the gods of Olympus.”

Before Greta could respond, a voice came from the doorway.  “Get him. Kill him so we can end this.”  Mithrasis showed up.  She stood in the doorway and pounded once on the invisible door that kept her out.

“Where is that dragon?” Mithras responded sharply. “The agreement was to keep you away and I care for his daughters.  Nymphus, you have no part in this conversation.”

“But she does,” Greta interrupted.  “I intend to put her in her bed.”

“What?”  Everyone but Fae asked.  Fae kept her mouth closed.  Mithrasis looked seriously interested.

Greta, who wore her armor since Samarvant, called for her weapons.  They appeared, attached in their proper places, so the sword called Salvation rested on her back with the handle sticking out over her left shoulder, and the long knife called Defender rested comfortably across the small of her back, or as she thought, across the top of her big butt.  Greta looked at Mithrasis.

“Let me in,” Mithrasis yelled.  The Nymphus liked Greta, but paused when Greta went away and Nameless stood in her place.

“And I intend to put her in her bed, personally,” Nameless said.  Mithrasis paused before Nameless heard the click and Mithrasis doubled her effort to get in.  “But first, Mithras, I want to know what game you are playing.”  Nameless whipped out defender and put it to Mithras’ throat faster than anyone could see or react.

Mithras dared not move, but he spoke.  “I am an old man, as you see.  I should be on the other side, but I am not whole.  I thought if I could get your help, you might find a way to repair the damage and set me free.”

“He lies,” Fae said softly.  It was her one true talent, to tell truth from lies.

“Kill him, and we will all be free,” Mithrasis yelled.

“She lies,” Fae added.

Nameless raised one brow.  “I don’t believe anyone has told the whole truth this whole time. And whose stupid idea was it to pull down a Wolv transport?”

“Hers.”

“His.”

Nameless merely waved his hand and the force field around the dome ruins came down.  Nameless stood in his element, so to speak.  In the Land of Aesgard he was counted as a Prince.  As the last child of Aesgard in his own jurisdiction, his will became final.  Neither Mithras nor Mithrasis could overrule what he decided.  At least that was how it was before the time of dissolution.

Nameless held out his hand as Mithrasis tumbled into the circle.  She hesitated and squinted at Nameless’ hand, but Nameless was a love god on his mother’s side, and that became too hard to resist.  Mithrasis took the hand and while she did not exactly snuggle up to his shoulder, it was near enough.

“So what game are you playing?” Nameless asked again.

“Kill him.  Be done with it,” Mithrasis whispered in his ear.

“It is no game,” Mithras said.

“Then let me put Mithrasis in her bed,” Nameless said, and he turned, and once again in a move too swift to follow, he slipped Defender up under Mithrasis’ ribs and into her heart.  Nameless did not want to lie for fear Fae might inadvertently say something, but he thought the whole time of putting Mithrasis in her death bed.

Mithrasis’ eyes got big.  She began to shake, like one suffering an internal earthquake, and she began to sparkle, like the light inside her started burning out.  “But I’m on your side,” she said, even as she fell apart.  This time, they all saw the one spark of light rise up from Mithrasis’ crumbling remains and shoot into Mithras’ mouth.  Mithras let out a great shout, and he collapsed, unconscious to the ground.

“This is the third time we have seen this,” Hans said, while Fae knelt down to check on the old man.  “He should stay out for several hours.”

Hobknot stepped up and spoke to Nameless. “Lord.  We spent the other two times arguing about whether the Mithras was a friend or foe.”

“But he fed you, and cared for you, and kept you all alive,” Bogus said.

“So said the women, but young Hans and I had our doubts.”

“And I questioned some,” Fae said.  “It was not that he lied, but he told such half-truths as fit his agenda.  I could not help wondering if the whole truth might speak against his agenda.”

“A true progressive politician,” Nameless said, and turned toward Berry, but before he could speak to her, a giant shadow fell on them.  The Raven, the giant bird, the Roc, appeared to be coming right at them.  “The shield has been removed.”

“Wait,” Hobknot said.  Nameless waited as Hobknot pointed.  “It is not after us.”

R6 Greta: Land of the Lost, part 1 of 3

“Son,” Bogus began like he had a long speech prepared, but there came shouts and a great commotion among the horsemen in the distance.  The horses at the parley screamed and swords got drawn, and a hundred men broke from the ranks of horsemen and charged.

The dragon turned and slithered up between the two giants.  It rose up and held itself a matching twenty feet from the ground.  The snow and cloud giants looked briefly at the dragon while it looked back and forth between the two, then all three let loose with everything they had in the face of the oncoming charge.

The snow giant shot sharp pointed icicles, like a machine gun.  Those icicle bullets penetrated everything, wood, bronze, iron, leather, horsehide and human flesh.  The cloud giant let loose one lightning strike after another.  The ground, people and horses exploded, and the thunder boomed for miles.  Greta mumbled.

“There was a reason the ancient gods put all the little ones, the sprites in her hands.  They would not give them to another immortal because it would have made that immortal too powerful.”

The dragon, of course spewed flame and created crispy critters, but after only seconds, that whole line of horsemen turned and ran for their lives.  Greta shouted up.

“Oren, you must take us now.”

The dragon turned.  “I feel the strong urge to cook you and eat you,” Oren said.

“You are still half mine,” Greta responded.  “You have a powerful half that belongs to the sprites of the earth, and you can resist the control over your human half.”

The dragon turned its head up and shot flame into the sky before it lowered its neck for Greta and Bogus to climb on board. “Hold tight to my scales,” the dragon said.  “You will not hurt me.”  They held tight, and as they rose into the air and circled several times to gain some height, Greta got a good bird’s eye view at what happened down below.

The Scythian horsemen made a massive army. Greta feared for her friends, even if they had two giants protecting them, but then she caught sight of an army coming from the east.  Slavs, she thought, and quickly turned her head to see an army coming from the west. “Goths,” she shouted.  Then she looked once more and saw three horses racing back from the parley, and then she saw no more as they shot out over the trees.

After that, Greta looked side to side, but decided she would rather not look down.  She looked for Mithrasis, and felt surprised the goddess had not already picked them up.  She decided that she guessed correctly.  As long as Mithras and Mithrasis canceled each other out, they were vulnerable to more ordinary things.  Mithrasis probably feared the dragon fire, not to mention the dragon claws and teeth.

Greta finally looked down when she felt the dragon begin to circle for a landing.  She saw the river and had to think about that.  Four thousand years ago the river came down more from the north, above the dome.  Now it had shifted to south of the dome which no longer appeared a dome.  She saw no more than a few dozen blocks of stone, even if they were ten ton blocks, but even they started crumbling under thousands of years of relentless weather.

They landed, a rough landing for Greta and Bogus, though one the dragon probably thought of being as soft as he could make it. Bogus said nothing as he slid to the ground and raced into the gap between the stones.  Greta paused.

“Thank you, Oren.  I hope I live long enough so I can bring your grandmother here for a visit.” She wanted to say she would change the dragon back into a man, but she was not sure how to do that, and besides, the gods never made promises.  Greta learned that four thousand years ago when the dome was whole and the Titan who lived in it still lived.  She could do one thing though, and she leaned over carefully and kissed the dragon on the nose.  A great, hot tear rose in the dragon eye before they both heard something that made Greta jump and made the dragon lift its head.  The distant howl of a Wolv echoed through the trees, and someone started coming through the bushes.  Greta ran through the gap in the stones that let her inside.

Bogus closed his mouth.  He had been yelling at his granddaughters, and mostly Berry whom he knew so well from her years among the little ones of the forest.  But when Greta popped into the room, he quieted and everyone stared for an instant of absolute silence before they shouted and Berry ran into Greta’s arms, tears in her eyes.  Fae followed Berry, and a grinning Hans and Hobknot began to nudge each other, like they had some sort of bet.

Greta took a moment to look around that great round space.  Most of the wall looked one block high, though plenty of places still had part of a second block on top, or two whole blocks which made a wall as tall as Greta. A couple of places were three blocks high where Greta could begin to see the slight curve in the stone that once rose up to the top of the dome, but there were not many three block places. There were more blocks and worn down blocks and partially crumbled blocks on the floor of that space, and Greta could see where they were turned into seats and tables for their furniture.

“I never stopped believing,” Berry managed to say before she started to cry again.

“We all kept believing,” Fae said.  “It’s what kept us going on those long winter nights.”

Greta nodded, but she moved Berry into her grandfather’s arms so she could face the old man who sat quietly in the corner. He stood and spoke when Greta’s eyes focused on him.

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

Greta sat alone.  She still had plenty to think about and she was not at all finished with her worry.  There were no guarantees here and she imagined a million things could go wrong. She felt panic coming on, but fought the feeling.  She did not do well in panic situations.

She thought she might be leaving her moody stage and entering her paranoid stage.  She wished Darius was there.  He always made her feel like everything would be all right, even if he had no way of knowing. He was her rock, and she missed him. She took a deep breath of the cold, fresh air, and set her mind to the task.

It did not add up.  She understood Mithras and Mithrasis trapped each other in the woods. When the two gods cancelled each other out, neither one could work many miracles.  She knew it had nothing to do with the old Gott-Druk electric fence because that equipment had surely rotted away after more than four thousand years, and she could not be sure if it had been picked up and moved to Avalon all those millennia ago.

Greta considered Avalon, her home in the Second Heavens, the Castle of the Kairos, her little island sanctuary where all her little ones were welcome to come and rest from their labors.  She looked at her companions who sat quietly, enjoying a wonderful meal.  She briefly thought she could open a door to Avalon, go there, and open a new door in the dome of the master, to step out and thus avoid the woods of the Wolv entirely. But she would not do that.  It would go against her every rule. Somehow, the need to burn her own bridges included walking her own walk.  As she often said, if she was supposed to die on the road so she could be born in her next life, then she had to be on the road to do it.

Greta blanched and thought again about Mithrasis. Mithrasis did not exactly threaten her life, truth be told, though she said it might come to that.  The Nymphus really just wanted to prevent her from coming. Then there was Lucius.  At first, Lucius kept trying to convince her to return to Roman lands.  True, he got a bit carried away with the rock slide, unless it really was the accident he claimed, but otherwise he did not get hostile, uncooperative, or even unhelpful. Jupiter seemed to want to kill them, but then he proved not as accurate with his lightning strikes as he got in her nightmare.  Maybe he just wanted to scare her.  She wondered. Certainly, she felt a strong urge to go home before she had that nightmare.

Greta stopped.  She started getting confused.  But she could not help thinking that even the Persian did not outright attack her, not counting that jackass thing.

“Lady?”  Her faithful centurion, Alesander, got her attention.  Greta looked up and appreciated his faithfulness over the years more than he would ever know.  She saw that Briana still sat by the fire.  She tried not to be obvious, but clearly, she payed strict attention, so Greta knew it was something she and Alesander discussed.

“And what have you and Briana decided?” she asked, and watched Alesander turn red.

“How did you—?”

“It is not our way to question how the druid knows what she knows,” Vedix spoke up.  Vedix sat nearby and listened in.  They probably all listened, especially Mavis.

“I cannot marry you two before I go into the Land of the Lost.  There is not enough time.  My ride is already on the way.”  Greta paused and stood.  “And we have company.”  Her eyes stared off to Alesander’s left so he turned to see what she looked at. Everyone looked.  An army of horsemen stretched across the south from one end of the horizon to the other, and they were drawing near.  Lucius appeared out front, leading them all, and Alesander spit, but held his tongue.

A fine mist followed by several clouds drifted down from overhead and formed into the shape of a giant between them and the oncoming horde.  The cloud formed figure stood twenty-feet tall, and inside the cloud they saw sparks and a kind of blue flame, which said the cloud giant had started to build up enormous amounts of electricity.  The horsemen in the distance slowed.

Then the snow gathered, even from beneath their feet, and it built itself up, higher and higher, until it made a kind of twenty-foot-tall snowman.  It had a grin with great, sharp icicle teeth.  A very small head, upper torso, and arms stuck out from the butt of the snowman. “We came down with the snow.  We were worried about you.” The baby snow person grinned and his own ice teeth filled the grin in a frightening way.

“Bubbles,” Greta named the sprite who disappeared again into the mass of the giant snow body.  Greta went on to speak her thoughts out loud while the rest of the crew got ready to defend her.  “I need to be gone.”

“They look to be sending out a group to parley,” Hermes pointed.  The horsemen stopped a thousand yards off and three men followed Lucius to a spot half-way between the horsemen and the giants.

“Briana, Hermes and Vedix,” Alesander took charge. “Get your horses.  Bogus, Pincushion and Mavis, guard your mistress.” The horses had to be saddled before the horses walked between the giants toward the meeting.  As the horses moved out of earshot, there came a great flapping sound heard from behind, like the leather wings of an enormous bat.  A dragon came over the tree tops and landed beside Greta.  It looked easily forty feet, perhaps fifty feet long, and it raised its head ten feet up to stare down at Greta’s party.  The snow giant and cloud giant paid close attention, but no one made a hostile move.

“Do no harm.  No fire,” Greta shouted in the dragon tongue that all dragons were engineered to obey.  Of course, when they got as big and old as this one, they tended to develop selective hearing.  “No harm.”

The dragon cocked its head, turning it much further than a human neck could turn.  “I still understand the words.”  The dragon spoke in the Gaelic tongue of the people of the forest.

“We need your help,” Greta shouted.  “Your father and I need to reach the dome to save your daughters.”

The dragon turned its head further until it stared, upside down.  It looked hard at Bogus.  “Father?”

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MONDAY

Greta and Bogus enter the Land of the Lost.  Until Monday, Happy Reading

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