Reflections Flern-6 part 3 of 3

“The Jaccar will wait until morning at the very least,” one big man said. Vilder, Tiren, Gunder, Borsiloff and Karenski all looked at Flern, and she did not disappoint them as she shook her head most firmly. She heard from Diogenes and the Princess, her two experts in this sort of thing, and she spoke as well as she could, and with an uncharacteristic decisiveness.

“The Jaccar may wait until morning or until the rain stops, but we cannot count on that. My decision would be to press forward in the bad conditions because I would expect my enemy to become lax and lazy. I say double the watchers in the night and be sure they can keep watch on each other as well. That way, if some sneaky, grass covered Jaccar takes out one watcher, the other can raise the alarm.” Flern looked down at her boots. She felt sure that whether in the night or in the morning, good men were going to die to protect her. The Jaccar seemed only interested in getting to her, after all. “Maybe we can plan a surprise for them in the morning,” Flern said offhandedly. “A good bit of morning fog might help.” She looked up toward the sky, full of rain clouds. She started toward the tent, not wanting to argue with anyone. Vilder called after her to ask where she was going, and she did not mind telling him. “Doctor Mishka needs a nap,” she said. “And so do I.”

Flern woke up before sunrise and sat up to very little light. It took a few seconds of eye adjustment to discern that the other girls were all present and sleeping. The rain had stopped, and the clouds had cleared off, so the light of the nearly full moon helped a lot. What is that knocking at my door, Flern wondered. “Who is there?” She asked out loud, but soft enough to not wake the others.

“Miroven.” The answer came quickly, and a message came with it. “The Jaccar have arrived in force, nearly a hundred, and they are preparing to move.”

Flern jumped up. “Show time!” She shouted, and everyone in the tent began to stir, slowly. Flern called for her weapons and felt surprised to learn that she now knew how to use them. Of course, she understood that head knowledge and hand knowledge were two different things. She felt the other gift, too—the one from Baldur. Wlvn received the gift of speed. She knew, but it probably would not help her fly. “Show time!” Flern shouted again. “Hurry up!” She said, as she left the tent.

Flern listened to Miroven as she walked to what she called the command tarp. “We are presently arrayed behind their position. If they pull back, we will have them.”

“I hope by the time we are done, there will be none left to pull back,” Flern said, and she cut the connection and found that her headache did not feel as bad as before. Perhaps, in time, she thought she might be able to do this without any headache at all. Flern had gotten up when Mishka awoke, and she arranged things before she put herself back to bed. Now she would see, and she let her thoughts drift up to the sky, and the few lazy clouds that remained there.

“Little friends in the sky, come down now. Bring the clouds to make the wall and I will be so grateful.” That was all she thought before she came to Karenski and the lone village elder who presently had the duty. Gunder stood there as well to represent the young people, and they all looked at her for what to do. “Get the men up and moving,” Flern said. “They are coming.”

“Are you sure?” Gunder asked, and Flern frowned. She did not need her own people questioning her. She was not used to this command business, and such a question might make her question herself.

“I am sure.” That seemed all she could say. Fortunately, it was enough. As the men went off to their appointed tasks, Flern floated up to the top of the nearest house wagon. She looked up briefly and said thank you to Nanna, the moon goddess for the flight, and again as she felt the light of the moon rise up inside of her. When she raised her hands, she still did not know if it might work, but sure enough, light came from her hands and then from her eyes, and it looked like several spotlights of moonlight, like moonbeams that she could move back and forth. To be sure, it looked dim, not much better than spotlight flashlights, but it looked strong enough to reflect off the gathering fog bank. The bank looked more like two hundred yards off rather than a hundred yards, but it should still work if the sky sprites made it thick enough. If the Jaccar came on foot, she figured the travelers and villagers would have an advantage, being able to deploy some of their men on horseback. But if the Jaccar came on horseback, she felt they would be in trouble. A cavalry charge would overwhelm the poor defenses of the village. This artificial fog bank created by her sky sprites should make a cavalry charge impossible. The Jaccar would have to slow considerably to get through the fog lest they become disoriented and begin crashing into each other.

Flern turned off her lights when they began to simply reflect back from the fog. She scared herself a little because it took a minute to figure out how to do that. “Entering the fog on this side. They are on foot.” Flern heard from her elf spy while she floated back to the earth. “There are thirty horsemen down the riverbank. I suspect they will charge once the footmen engage your forces.” Flern’s panic must have been palpable as she ran to where Vilder waited, Pinn beside him.

“Vilder. They have horsemen downriver. What are we going to do if they charge our flank?”

Vilder might not have known what a flank was, exactly, but he moved quickly to draw one in five men on the wall of wagons to reinforce that side. The sides of the wall had been virtually deserted to strengthen the center where they all felt sure the Jaccar would strike. Now, the downriver side of the wall got staffed again. “We can’t do more,” Vilder said. “We can only hope that if they charge, these men will be able to hold them until we can send more help.”

All of a sudden, poor Flern became a nervous wreck. She felt sure that this would not work, and good men were going to die needlessly, for her, to protect her. “Pinn?” She looked to her friend, the strong one on whom they always depended.

“There isn’t any more we can do. We are as ready as we are going to be. I only wish it was over,” Pinn said, and walked away to catch up with Vilder. Flern followed more slowly and dragged her feet but started when she heard from Miroven once again.

“They are coming to the edge of the fog bank and should present targets soon.” Flern ran.

“Get ready!” She yelled. “Get ready!” she shouted down the wall and jumped-floated up again to the top of a house wagon. She saw the first, and then more and more, coming on slowly and carefully. There seemed so many of them, Flern had to hold her breath and listen very closely to the words inside her head. She had to bite her lower lip to keep from screaming despite Diogenes repeating his phrases, “Be patient. Not yet. Be patient.” When Diogenes finally said, “Now!” She almost did not hear it. Then she shouted, and while the barrage of arrows turned out to be an intermittent thing, there were enough arrows all at once to pin more than one Jaccar to the ground.

The Jaccar charged as arrows continued to rain on them. Flern’s hunters knew how to shoot a bow and hit their target, even if they were not warriors and did not have the experience at war that the Jaccar had.

“Again!” Flern shouted, and she let her moonbeams fall on those places where the Jaccar were bunched up. Any archer attracted to the light could hardly help hitting someone with an arrow. Then the arrows stopped, not all at once, but in a ragged sort of way as the horsemen from the villagers and travelers pushed out between the wagons and, spears in hand, affected a counter charge. These men were chosen for their ability to hunt with their spears from horseback, and they cut big gaping holes in the Jaccar charge, but there were still plenty of Jaccar coming on, screaming and yelling in a way that would frighten the villagers and travelers, not because the Jaccar were courageous, but because they were giving voice to their own fears. The screams were the sounds of terror and imminent death. Many were going to die.

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

MONDAY

There is a battle and Flern runs away, but then the mixup happens and Flern ends up vanishing.  Wlvn takes her place and there does not seem to be a way back. Until Monday, Happy Reading.

*

Reflections Flern-6 part 2 of 3

Vincas’ father, Venislav turned out to be as verbal as his daughter. “That young man saved my life. He saved us all.” He reached up with his good hand and patted his daughter’s hand and smiled for her when she came over to watch. Venislav’s other hand rested in his lap. His arm broke, but it did not hurt much as long as he kept it still. Mishka smiled and sent Borsiloff and Thrud off in search of what she needed for a splint and sling. A broken bone in those days often did not heal right and it meant loss of some use in that limb, if it did not cripple, but it would not be that big a deal to one who knew her anatomy. The big deal would be keeping it immobilized until the bones knit together. She distracted Vincas and her father with a question.

“Pivdenny Bugh, it used to be all woods. What happened to all the trees?”

“The Brugh?” Venislav said, before he squinted and groaned softly as Mishka made sure the bones lined up correctly. It had been a clean break and should heal completely. “We cut them, for our homes and to make our fields and, well, everything we needed.” Vincas spoke up in her father’s place.

“Our forefathers did.” Venislav corrected his daughter while a few tears dropped from his eyes. “That was well before my time. Anyway, if you go further up into the hills, the woods are still there. We hunt there sometimes, but nobody goes very far into the woods.”

“Why is that?” Mishka asked as her things arrived and she began to immobilize the arm. Venislav watched the doctor work, so Vincas spoke up again.

“Because the woods are full of ancient spirit people, elves and dwarfs.” Her eyes got big as she spoke. “And they have magic and play terrible tricks on the poor souls who get lost in the woods.”

“Silly superstition.” Venislav spoke when he saw that the Doctor was not going to hurt him anymore. “It is just too easy to get lost in the woods, that’s all.”

Doctor Mishka nodded. She heard what she wanted to hear, and now all she needed was to charge Venislav with every terrible thing she could think of to be sure he left his splint on and his arm in the sling long enough to properly heal. When she stood, she told the others she needed a break before seeing any more patients. She had treated the worst, so no one would die on her.

While they walked outside, Doctor Mishka asked Flern a question. “Would you like me to do it?”

Flern took a minute to come out of whatever spaced-out condition she rested in, and she realize that she knew everything the good Doctor said and did, so while Flern might not be in her own time and place, in a way she still was. “No.” Flern responded in Mishka’s mind. “It is my life. I should do it myself.”

“Doctore.” Pinn pronounced the unfamiliar word imperfectly. “Thrud, Arania and I are going back to the wagon wall to check on the boys. Vinnu and Elluin say they can help here, but we feel kind of useless.”

“Mishka,” she said. “And that would be fine. I will be along, shortly.”

“See ya, Flern,” Thrud said, with a broad grin.

Just for that, Mishka smiled and instantly changed back to Flern, startling Thrud and almost making her stumble. “See ya,” Flern said, and she watched Pinn laugh, turn the girl in the right direction, and watched them walk away.

I have to concentrate, Flern thought to herself as she looked away. She was going to try and contact the earth spirits that might not even be there. It could not be harder than contacting the water spirits, she thought, but then, if they were there, they would be terribly far away. “Miroven.” The word popped into her head, and at first, she did not know what it meant. She understood it as a name, but whose? She shrugged. She called. “Miroven.” Nothing happened. She tried again, and a third time, and still nothing happened. She felt frustrated, because she felt sure something was supposed to happen, so on the fourth call, she shouted, and in her heart, she demanded some response. She jumped in her skin when the response came into her mind. She had heard from other lives she had lived, but this felt different. It sounded clearly like a voice outside of herself coming, she imagined, on a very private wavelength.

 “We are here, my Lady.” Miroven said. “We knew you were coming, and we have prepared. There are thirty of us, all volunteers, who will help in this struggle, and more who will help to defend the river and keep the enemy from crossing over.”

“What? Prepared? Thirty?” Flern looked around, but she did not see thirty people or thirty elves.  “No, wait. Don’t come here. I will come to you, but I don’t know when.”

A long pause followed before Flern heard an answer. “We will not come there if you do not wish it, but we are very close if you need us.” That felt like enough. Flern cut the contact and put her hand to her head. She was going to have a nice headache.

Vincas took that moment to come out of the common house, and she came up to Flern, immediately. “Are you well?” she asked, sweetly. Flern smiled for the girl, though a weak smile, and she nodded, though it did not help her throbbing temples. “Maybe if you became the Dokter—the healer again.” Vincas suggested. Flern nodded and made the change, and Mishka’s smile felt more genuine.

“Trouble is,” Mishka said. “When Flern comes home, she will still have a headache, I believe.”

“Oh.” Vincas clearly did not know what to say. She had no idea how it worked and simply felt overwhelmed on watching the transformation from one person to what looked mostly like a completely different person.

Doctor Mishka eventually made her way over to the house where they kept the Jaccar prisoner. His wounds were the worst of all, and she knew he did not have much time to live. If he did, she felt sure the village elders would be getting out the rope; but the village healer, more or less a shaman for the people confirmed her diagnosis. She questioned the prisoner, which surprised the shaman. None of them had been able to talk to the man, and Mishka figured Flern might not have understood the words either, but she had access to a lifetime that Flern did not yet know, so she got the language and got to ask her questions. It soon became clear that the man seemed normal in all respects, except he seemed convinced that serving the Wicca and doing whatever she asked was the most important thing in his life. He asked Mishka several times if she knew where the young red-haired girl might be. He spoke very frank in saying that his only desire was to find this girl and kill her. This is what the Wicca asked, and so it was what he must do. Even in his half-dead condition, Mishka felt certain that given the opportunity, the man would try.

“It is a very powerful enchantment,” the healer said, when Mishka explained the situation. “I have no way of undoing something so strong.”

“Nor I,” Mishka agreed, and she gave the Jaccar some pain killers so at least his last few hours would not be so painful. When she went back outside, she saw that it started raining again. She returned to being Flern, the right person in her own time and place, and Flern suffered with her headache all the way back to the wall of wagons. Pinn and the others sat there under a hastily erected tarp. Karenski, also present, said nothing. He just looked at Flern the way he did. Flern started getting used to that. Two of the village elders were also present, and they were currently arguing that now that the rain returned, and now that it would soon be dark, surely the Jaccar would not do anything.

Reflections Flern-6 part 1 of 3

The river ford ran by the back of the camp. Flern walked in up to her ankles and stopped. She knelt down to place her hand in the water. The naiad had spoken to Wlvn about the water sprites, and Wlvn went under the impression that they were part of his responsibilities since Kartesh, when the Kairos got made responsible for the little spirits in the Earth. They were sprites, or spirits in the air, the fire, the water, and the earth, but at the moment, she had to try and get in touch with the ones in the water, this water, if there were any. It turned out to be easy, and in almost no time a little gelatinous head popped up from the current.

“My Lady,” the sprite said with deep respect, despite the squeaky little voice. Elluin and Vinnu looked a little frightened at this sight, but Pinn, Thrud Arania and Borsiloff all looked fascinated. Flern had to do everything in her power to keep herself from reaching out and hugging the cute little thing.

“I have a dangerous thing to ask you,” Flern sounded like a mother who might speak to a child. “And I will be just as happy if you say yes or no.”

“Please tell.” The water sprite spoke in a voice as cute as his looks, and he looked anxious to please his Lady.

Flern put on her most serious Disney Princess face and shook her finger. “I mean it now. This is a free choice, and I would not want to see any of my water babies hurt.” She could not help calling them water babies. She thought that the instant she caught sight of that cute little head. “Do you know who the Jaccar are?”

“Dirty muddy creatures,” the sprite answered, with a look meant to say he did not think much of the Jaccar, but which in reality made him look cuter than ever.  “Some swam in our good waters in the night.”

Flern nodded. “Well, if any more try to swim the river, you have my permission to stop them and wash them back to their own shore, and if you cannot stop them, you must come tell me right away, before they reach the village shore.”

“We will!” The sprite smiled and appeared to dance in the water. “Thank you, Lady. We will! You will see.”

“Thank you, Sweetwater.” Flern called the sprite by name. She was not sure how she knew the sprite’s name, but if these water babies were indeed part of her responsibility as it appeared, it would only be natural for her to know them all by name. Flern cut off her thoughts in that direction before she did know them all, and all at once. She felt rather certain that such an influx of information would have incapacitated her mind for some time.

“Now Tird?” Flern looked back at Pinn for guidance.

Pinn smiled very broadly. “Now Tird,” she assured her. They started to cross the ford at that point, but found their feet lifted from the water so that it felt like crossing a bridge, an invisible bridge made of water itself, and Flern heard Karenski in the distance as he now yelled at men to get up on those wagons!

Vinnu looked afraid to cross the river at first, but Flern took her hand and helped her. “They are sweet and will never hurt you,” she assured her friend. Vinnu looked like she was not quite sure.

When they got to Venislav’s house, Flern suggested that all of the wounded be brought to the common house to be tended for their wounds. Any number of people were wounded, not just Tird, and even one Jaccar survived the night raid. No one moved, though, until Pinn insisted on it, and then she insisted that the healthy men get out to the front line with the travelers and the young people.

The village elders that helped bring the wounded to the common house stood there, ready to protest that the Jaccar might swim the river again and they needed to protect their families. Borsiloff and Thrud tried to explain, and Pinn eventually took over explaining how Flern had solved that problem. They looked at Flern, and since she was waiting for that moment, she took advantage of it by instantly trading places with Doctor Mishka. Mishka was even an inch taller that the Princess, and her brown hair, a genuine brown, but the most startling thing, for those who noticed, was seeing Flern’s fawn brown eyes turn suddenly blue. The Princess had blue eyes as well, but no one watched that transformation.

“My friends are on that line.” Mishka spoke right up. “You would not want it said that on that day, the children showed more courage than their elders.” That stung a couple of the elders, and the rest wisely held their tongues. “Go, go. Now, go.” Mishka waved them off like she might dismiss a class. “Borsiloff, I need you here in case I need to send word to Karenski. I am Doctor Mishka, from Saint Petersburg. I had the dubious honor of learning my trade in a world war and practicing more than a lifetime in the Second War as well. Just remember, I am no miracle worker. Sometimes people die despite our best efforts, is it not so?” They all nodded, more or less. “Now let us see who we can help.” Mishka called to that same place her armor came from, and a little black bag appeared in her hand. She knew that with some of the equipment and medicine in that bag she tempted time and there might be a danger of changing the future, but she remained a careful person and her things never went far from her hands. Besides, this far in the past, more than likely they would not even recognize what she was doing, and no way they could duplicate her equipment. “Go, go,” she said. “See who you can help.” Elluin, Vinnu, Arania and Borsiloff went to see what they could do, but Pinn and Thrud shadowed the doctor.

When she came to Tird, she saw the terrible gash down his leg. It had been bandaged after a fashion, and it had stopped bleeding, so he appeared in no immediate danger of bleeding to death. Vincas sat right there with him, holding his hand, letting him squeeze her hand every time the throbbing pain in his leg became unbearable. “He saved my life.” She kept saying it over and over.

Tird said nothing but, “Who?”

“Flern,” Thrud answered.

“Mishka,” Pinn corrected her friend.

“Your healer,” Mishka clarified as she removed the bandage and spread an ointment over the whole area which had the effect of anesthetizing the leg in a few seconds. She pulled out a scalpel, a hemostat and a pair of tweezers and shocked everyone by first opening the leg. “We must make sure there is no stone or metal inside to poison him.” Mishka explained. “You should be around in the days of lead bullets and powder burns.” Seeing that the wound was clean and assuming it bled clean, Mishka got out her needle and self-dissolving thread. “A dermal regenerator would be better, but we use what we have,” she said, and sewed up the leg as neatly as sewing a tear in a dress. “You must stay off it for a week,” she instructed. “If you do, it should be good as new.” Then she polished it off with some antiseptic and a clean bandage and told Vincas how to be sure the bandages were always clean. “Boil them. Boil them.”

Reflections Flern-5 part 3 of 3

Flern knew exactly when the moon goddess touched the head of her reflection. “Grrr.” She had to say it. She wondered what Mother Vrya meant about her willingness to be herself. How could she, with all these giftly interruptions? But that was what Vrya said. Flern did not know what that meant, but she would willingly give it a try if she could.

She turned down Arania’s last dress. They were all too big for her anyway. She was the tallest one after Elluin, but she had nice long legs and a short waist and was really a petite—a petite with long arms, so very hard to fit. Flern called to her armor, though she took off her sword and long knife, and then she lay down on her blanket and hugged her weapons like a child might hug a teddy bear. She let her exhaustion overwhelm her until she fell asleep.

No one woke Flern for breakfast, though the girls never left her alone for a minute. Thrud sat there when she awoke, and Thrud stayed uncharacteristically quiet. She did not even make a crack about Flern being lazy, and that made Flern very suspicious.

“What?” Flern asked. “Out with it,” she commanded, but Thrud looked reluctant to say anything at all. Flern heard nothing until Pinn and the others returned from breakfast, and then she heard it all. The Jaccar had come in the night. A dozen Jaccar had swum the river and came up into the village, searching for the girl with the auburn-red hair, as if Flern could not guess who that was. There were nearly a dozen villagers, along with a number of women and children dead, and that was a great toll in a village that supported barely over three hundred all told. One attacked the house of Venislav. He wounded the man and threatened Vincas, but Tird showed up and put the man down. Fritt arrived to stop the flow of blood, but the village healer says Tird may lose his leg.

“Tird?” Flern could not believe it.

“Worse,” Elluin said. “They have poor Bunder staked out. His screams are terrible to hear.”

Pinn, Thrud and Vinnu all hushed the girl, thinking of Bunder as the last one Flern needed to hear about, but Flern showed no emotion at all at the news. She called for her weapons. Her sword and long knife flew up to attach themselves to her armor, and she walked at a firm pace toward the wall of wagons. The others followed her. She hardly got out the door before she heard the wailing in the distance. She drew her ebony, elf-made bow from the secret pouch in her cape and found it looked much improved from the bow Wlvn once used.

“Revenge?” Pinn’s word made Flern pause for just a minute. She shook her head.

“Maybe mercy,” she said, and she did something that she knew she could do, thanks to Nanna, the moon. She floated up and forward just enough to land with both feet on the top of the nearest house wagon. No one screamed, and in fact Flern heard no noise at all from the girls or anyone else who might have seen.

Bunder, out there, looked tied to a cross of two logs, lashed together in a great “X.” Flern rose up again and moved to a house wagon that stood directly out from that spot. She noted that she could fly, sort of, or float anyway, and again she noted that she only reflected the gifts given to Wlvn, and in a lesser degree. Once she landed on her feet, she took a closer look. The Jaccar had not been content to merely crucify the boy. They had skinned him in several places, and they had peeled back his lips, ripped out his cheeks, and peeled the skin away from his eyes expertly so he appeared to have a skeleton head, with eyes that were still alive. Of course, he could not speak. He could only wail, but Flern imagined what Bunder would say if he could speak. Two words: “Kill me.”

Flern put her hood down. “The Jaccar have men in the grass!” A man shouted up to her. It was Borsiloff, and she waved to say she heard, but she had already seen the men. The Jaccar had taken the green paint of Karenski one step further. They had grasses and branches from bushes tied to their clothes so they might not be noticed unless one went looking for them. Flern looked, and one of the Jaccar inched closer with the intention, no doubt, of getting a good shot at her. Flern only thought for a second. Though not bad with the bow, the Princess had been, or rather would be the best with the bow in her generation, and maybe in any generation. So, with three arrows in her hand, Flern reached out through time and traded places with the Princess. All that anyone below might have seen was Flern’s hair, shining red in the morning sun, turn to such a golden brown it almost appeared blonde. That, and the fact that the Princess stood three inches taller, now being an inch taller than Elluin herself.

The Princess made three shots without the space of a breath between them. Three Jaccar were struck dead on, beginning with the one who inched up close. The other Jaccar wisely began to back away, and the Princess pulled out a silver tipped arrow she found. She kissed the tip with a prayer. “Artemis, strengthen me.” She did not know if a Greek goddess could reach into Odin’s jurisdiction, but she gave it her best try and intended to give it her best shot. Poor Bunder suffered just out of bow range. The Jaccar were obviously well practiced at this, keeping the boy just far enough from the camp so the best archer and strongest arm could not reach him. Dying, surely, but the longer he screamed, the more demoralized the locals tended to become. The Princess saw several arrows in the grass where men had tried and failed. A few were close, but not close enough. The Princess would need the strength of Artemis, and she took aim and let the arrow fly. It did not exactly hit Bunder in the heart as she hoped, but it hit near enough so he would be gone in a minute or two. At least his agony would not be prolonged into the afternoon, screaming until he got hoarse, until his peeled lips dried out like two worms in the sun.

The Princess spun around. She could not fly like Flern, but it did not appear that far to the ground. She jumped and used her legs to cushion the fall. This became the first close look in daylight the girls had, and the Princess could not help smiling for them as she set her hand on Pinn’s shoulder. “We may need to move from this place,” she said without too much of a Greek accent.

“Princess,” Pinn said, but she said no more. She stared.

“Karenski!” The Princess turned to the side. “Get some men up on those house wagons. You can see the Jaccar clearly from there, even in their grass suits; and tell them to keep their heads down.” Quite unlike Flern, in certain situations the Princess did not get into the habit of asking. She did the telling. “Borsiloff!” She turned again. The man had wandered down the row for a better look at her work, but he looked up as she called. “Come with me. We have to get the village men out here to hold the line. No telling how many Jaccar are out there.”

“The village men say they have to stay in the village and protect their houses in case the Jaccar swim the river again.” Borsiloff said as he jogged up. He arrived about the same time as Karenski. Both did a double take on the armor with a stranger inside. The Princess had already turned and used her own long legs to make for the village. She changed back to Flern without breaking stride, but then stopped and turned when no one followed.

She eyed Karenski. “Well?” She shouted, still having the spirit of the Princess with her like a ghost image. “Get the men up,” she insisted. “And come on.” She looked at Borsiloff, but when she turned her eyes on the girls, she added a thought. “We have to see if we can help Tird, don’t we?”

Pinn and Thrud smiled at each other. Dear old Flern.

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

MONDAY

Flern does everything secant prepare the village and the travelers for battle, and she reaches out to the natural world to see what help she can get from that direction. Until then, Happy Reading.

*

Reflections Flern-5 part 2 of 3

Pinn and the others decided to stay with Arania in the big tent, and Trell also stayed with the travelers, under Karenski’s watchful eye, but he wanted it that way.

“No offense to the village,” Pinn told Vincas and her father. “But I feel some of us need to stay with the travelers.” Venislav said he understood, but Flern thought that someone needed to stay to be sure they kept a good watch for the Jaccar. It would not do if the Jaccar came and surprised them.

After the boys settled in, and the girls did what they could to help prepare the feast, mostly under Vinnu’s urging—Thrud taking every opportunity to get lost and hide—everyone returned to the common house for the feast, and a number of travelers came as well. It was as the young people expected, the food tasted great and proved plentiful. Vilder got to tell the story once again of the fall of their village and their escape to the south. This time, though, he managed it without as much finger pointing at Flern, for which she felt grateful. Flern imagined Pinn got to the boy, and she appreciated having such a good friend in high places. Karenski told of their encounter with the Jaccar, the time he lost his wife and Arania’s mother, and the villagers appeared deeply touched by his words. After that, the room broke down into smaller conversations. The men discussed what they could do to fend off the Jaccar, and the women talked some about the men and some about domestic matters, some villagers and travelers even exchanged the equivalent of recipes.

“So, you like him?” Thrud asked and Arania’s face reddened, just a little. “Can’t be that much. You’re not nearly as red as Flern when we talk about Kined.”

Flern nudged her friend in the arm. “Not a fair comparison. My red hair just makes me look redder.”

“No, it’s fair.” Pinn teased from across the table and as if in response, Flern’s face flushed.

“But I do like him. Trell and I share so much in common, and we share so many ideas, the same.”

“I never knew he had any ideas,” Thrud said.

“Thrud!” This time both Flern and Vinnu scolded her.

“Okay, okay. Sorry.”

“Don’t pay attention to Thrud,” Pinn said. “You go ahead and like whoever you want.”

“You don’t mind?” Arania looked at Flern and asked straight out. Flern felt surprised at first, but soon felt the need to encourage the girl.

“Be my guest,” she said. “By all means. He is all yours.”

“Oh, good,” Arania said, sweetly. “Because I think I am going to have him ask me to marry him.”

The others paused.

“A bit quick, do you think?” Vinnu suggested, but Arania just smiled and bit her lower lip a little and shook her head like it was already a done deal.

“So that leaves just Fritt and Tird,” Flern said softly.

“So you can concentrate on Kined.” Thrud looked for the red face, and Flern obliged.

“Vinnu has Gunder, and Pinn has Vilder. Why don’t you pick on them?” Flern responded.

“Because we are not going to have to pry them apart with a big stick,” Thrud said. Flern’s jaw just dropped.

“Maybe Pinn and Vilder,” Vinnu said, and they were all more shocked by the fact that Vinnu said anything like that at all, than they were by what she said. Even Pinn put her hand to her mouth, while it became Vinnu’s turn to blush. Vinnu could not believe the words came out of her own mouth.

The rain stopped for a time after the sun went down, though it rained on and off all night. During a lull in the storm, the girls repaired to the Traveler camp. Their conversation did not change, but Flern wanted to be sure the travelers had watchers out as Karenski promised, and she easily enlisted Pinn to help her check.

“I think they will be there, since it to their benefit to be forewarned if the Jaccar show up,” Pinn said.

“Agreed,” Flern responded. “But not everyone takes threats the same, and this is just a possible threat. Karenski only promised to put men out for three nights because he said if the Jaccar had not arrived by then, they were not coming. If these watchers believe the Jaccar are not coming, they might not really be watching.”

“I understand,” Pinn said. “And you know, you have gotten smarter about things like this lately. Vilder and I discussed the situation, but we never thought to check on the watchers, obvious as that is.”

“I’ve never fought anyone,” Flern responded in all seriousness. “But the Princess, Diogenes and Doctor Mishka have all been in war. Trust me, I am not getting smarter, I am just leaning on other people’s information.”

“Other versions of you,” Pinn said. Flern did not deny it; she just pointed to the left while she went to the right.

“It was a dark and stormy night,” Flern mumbled to herself. It would be hard to see much with all the cloud cover. Even if the moon came up almost full, as it did for Wlvn, it would do them no good in watching for Jaccar. She found one man, Borsiloff by name, who seemed to be vigilant in his watch. She talked to him for a bit and found out that he lost loved ones in the last Jaccar attack. She assumed most of the travelers had.

“You will have to keep your ears open,” Flern told him. “And don’t be afraid to shout for others even if you are not sure what is making that sound. Don’t wait until it is too late.”

Borsiloff nodded and went back to his late supper while Flern crawled out from beneath the wagon and started down the row. She felt good about this watch and just hoped every man stayed as alert as Borsiloff, though she suspected they would not, when hands came out of the dark and grabbed her from behind. One hand clamped firmly across her mouth, and Flern could hardly breathe. The other hand grabbed Flern by the arm near the shoulder and squeezed her muscles until they hurt, as the man shoved her toward a nearby tent where a single blanket laid out. Flern’s eyes went wide. She felt the sweat break out in salty little beads on her forehead. It matched the sweat on the man’s hand. Flern had not yet struggled, being surprised, and since it all happened so fast. It happened much too fast, and yet, at the same time, it happened in a kind of slow motion as one might see in a movie. With that, Flern felt a kind of detachment from the whole event, like she was merely watching it happen on a big screen. Flern got shoved on to the blanket, and the man slipped around to land on top of her. He pushed the air from her lungs as she fell and forced it out her nose along with whatever else might have been in her nose. Not a pretty thought. It covered the man’s hand while still attached to her nostrils. It got hard to breathe with the weight on top of her. She could hardly move, but then she caught sight of her assailant. Bunder, on top of her, kept one slimy hand across her mouth while he pawed at her breasts with his other hand.

“No!” Flern screamed a muffled scream that would be hard to hear from outside the tent. The screaming in her head sounded much louder, almost deafening. She tried to bite Bunder’s hand, but Bunder seemed too excited or too drugged up by something to feel it. He reached down to pull up her dress and at the same time, with his one free hand, he tried to pull down his pants. He tore at his rope belt and tore the front of her dress to expose her breasts.

“No! No!” Flern bit and screamed and felt something well up inside of her. “No!” She said that last to herself. For all of her fear and pain, she did not want to be guilty of frying Bunder with the gift of Odin. Something else bubbled up, though, and just as her dress became shredded, and it looked like Bunder’s rope belt might finally come loose, Flern found her hands against Bunder’s chest and her small reflection of the strength of Thor rose up. She shoved with all of her strength. Bunder flew straight up, pulled the tent with him into the air, arched over the nearest wagon and fell outside the line of wagons altogether, probably terribly hurt. Flern could not think of that right then. She got too busy screaming, crying, and trying to breathe, and she did not know what really happened until she felt Pinn’s hand take a cloth to wipe her nose. She felt humiliated and tried to cover herself as well as she could without having to look at anyone at all. She wanted to die in that moment.

By the time the men arrived, Flern had calmed down a bit. The watchers on the wall of wagons said they found where the boy landed, but he must have run off. The men started a search through the village and the traveler’s encampment—no one condoned rapists in those days—but as Flern and many suspected, they turned up nothing. “He won’t get far on foot.” Several of the men assured her. “We will surely get him in the morning.” Then Kined came in, but he hesitated. He did not know how to react or what to do. He could not hide his rage, but for the rest of it, he looked afraid to so much as touch Flern. Flern solved his dilemma by grabbing him and holding him as close as she could. She cried into his shirt, chest, and shoulder. She may have cried for an hour without stopping, and Kined stayed wonderfully patient that whole time.

When Flern let go, she let go all the way and backed up to wipe her eyes and nose. She turned her back on Kined, felt self-conscious, and wondered if he would think badly of her. She felt ruined by the whole event and wondered if they might all think terrible thoughts about her. Could she have done something to avoid this? Did she somehow ask for this? She felt so powerless, so hopelessly overwhelmed, and in a way, so dirty. It seemed very hard to explain just what she felt, but through it all, she knew one thing. Maybe she did not feel this way at the moment, but she felt certain the feeling would return in time, so she voiced her one certainty.

“Kined. Don’t ever leave me.”

“I won’t,” Kined said. “I will always be here for you, Flern.” And Flern felt that then and there he wanted to tell her that he loved her, but something in him said it was not the right time, and she probably could not have heard it right then. Poor Kined. He got stuck, back between the place where he wanted to hold her and comfort her and tell her that everything would be all right, and at the same time, not touch her for fear that she might break altogether. “I must go,” he said at last, and quickly left the tent. With that, Flern cried some more. She ached for Kined, but she dared not touch him as well. She felt afraid to touch any man and felt withdrawn into her secret self where no one could ever find her. So, she just cried some more, and all of the girls cried with her as well.

Reflections Flern-5 part 1 of 3

The following day, progress slowed, and Flern thought they could not go any slower. One wagon busted a wheel and that put any number of men out of commission for a time. The rest of the train eventually had to stop and wait for them to catch up. In the late morning, the whole train stopped and while the women cooked, the men went to hunt. Mostly, they found rabbits and pigeons, but it would suffice for a time. Because of the sparse game, several men stayed out on horseback and continued to look for bigger animals. They came into the camp after dark that evening, but they had managed to find an Auguar, a European buffalo, and that would sustain everyone for a day or two.

“You know, sometimes Wlvn has nothing to eat at all,” Flern said casually over supper. Pinn and Thrud heard and merely nodded.

“That was the end of the third day,” Vinnu reminded everyone. “Do you think the Jaccar will really come after us?” Among the girls, Vinnu was the soft and sweet one who hated confrontation of any kind

“Yes.” Tird said with some trembling in his voice. Among the boys, Tird was the worrier, and not the most courageous of souls.

Then Flern did not sleep well at all that night, despite her thoughts about dreamy Kined. Poor Wlvn rested on an island in a swamp, and she felt that surely the night creatures would catch him, and maybe eat him.

Flern awoke with a gurgling in her throat. She had to lean to the side to let the water drain from her mouth. Curiously, while uncomfortable, it did not restrict her breathing in the slightest.

“Are you well?” Arania stood right there to ask. Flern nodded, but then she understood. Njord, God of the Sea had just laid his hands on Wlvn, and it reflected in her just like all of the other gifts Wlvn received. She shook her head clear of her sleepies and became most pleasant during breakfast, but she wondered when this gift giving was going to stop. She felt afraid of what she could do already, and she worried about what the others might really think, especially Kined.

The next day seemed very much the same as the first, and in fact the countryside hardly changed a bit since the day they crossed the river. “So much for travel broadening the mind,” Flern said softly, but Kined heard and smiled. All that time, Kined rode beside Flern, but he said almost nothing. They looked at each other now and then, and smiled when they were seen, but the conversation became limited to commentary on the others and on the travelers. Once, Kined pointed out that Trell and Arania seemed to be hitting it off rather well, and Flern responded that she hoped so, but that became the end of that line of thought for the moment.

Around three in the afternoon, Flern cried out. Kined stayed right there, but Flern could hardly explain herself. “No, it’s alright,” she kept saying. Wlvn started breathing underwater, and after that, Flern smiled and enjoyed the ride, because for her it acted like a holographic helmet from the far future. It felt better than white water rafting, and she stayed in no danger at all. When it finished, Flern glowed again for a little bit. Kined simply looked at her. “Frigga.” Flern said, without any further explanation.

“Well, you better come.” Kined told her, and she followed him, having completely missed their arrival at the village. “Vilder and Pinn think you should be there.”

“Me?”

“Your father is the chief negotiator for the village. Chances are some of these village people know your father, and you by extension.”

“Oh, of course.” That made sense. She had her father’s auburn-red hair, and the same eyes as well.

When they arrived, they found an argument already going on. The villagers complained that the travelers had trodden over two newly planted fields. The travelers apologized, but only wanted a place to rest for a time, and trade. Vilder and Pinn stood back and held their tongues. They knew it would not be their place to get in the middle of whatever the elders wanted to say. In that respect, Flern, and all of her companions, were sort of like children, and they knew it well enough.

“You, come. Come.” Karenski stood there and pointed straight at Flern. Flern shied away, but Karenski insisted. “Come. Tell.”

Vilder and Pinn turned their heads to stare at her, and Flern knew then that it was unavoidable. She reached for Pinn’s hand and took Kined with her other hand to drag them forward. Vilder followed.

The village men stood, wary of some Traveler trick, and unhappy already in the extreme. Flern took a moment to compose herself. She saw the travelers had parked on this side of the river ford, and the village sat on the other side of the ford. To be sure, the plowed fields on the Traveler side of the river looked like little more than mud flats, but still…

“You may know my father.” Flern said, coming out with the first thing to enter her mind. “Our village is the first on the Dinester where it runs wide and deep.” She pointed in a general northeasterly direction. “You may know the small hill and cliff to the river that marks our land.”

Several of the villagers paused in their anger, and one in particular took a closer look at this girl. “I believe I do know your father,” he said. “How is it you are with these rabble?”

Flern put on her most serious expression. “The Jaccar have come,” she said, and then she had to wait while the villagers got over their fright. “But we have escaped, some fourteen of us young people, to find men and weapons to help set our village free.”

“The Jaccar?”

Flern nodded and looked at Vilder and Pinn. “Most of us believe the Wicca will send men after us to try and stop us.”

“What?”

“Why would they do that?”

“Because they fear us. Because they know if we are able to get enough men and weapons, we will be able to defeat them and drive them back to the east from whence they came.”

“Are you sure?” Karenski asked.

Flern shrugged. “Let the travelers camp in a semi-circle on this side of the ford, parking their wagons close together like a wall. They will be the first line for the village against the Jaccar, and I am sure they will work with you to help repair any damage they may have accidentally caused to your fields. Then, maybe the village will share bread with the travelers for their willingness to do right by your fields and stand out front against the enemy. Sharing your best bread would not be too much to ask.” Flern got quiet and looked at her feet. That had been very hard for her. She did not see the village elder who thought he knew her father smile. That man only had to look once at the other elders behind to see the nods.

“We will do this thing,” he said and held out his hand. When there was a pause, Flern looked up and found Karenski eyeing her. She could almost see the wheels spinning in his head that maybe his people would just move on and leave the young people and this village well behind, thus avoiding the Jaccar altogether. But Flern knew that the travelers had come a long way and had been on the trail for some time. They were all worn out and desperately needed a time of rest. Besides, the offer of bread for no more work than simply fixing a couple of trodden fields and camping where they planned to camp anyway was too good to refuse.

“We will do this thing.” He shook hands with the village elder.

“And my friends and I will also help with the fields.” Vilder interjected. “We know something about growing grain.” He said this to Karenski, but the village elders looked happiest to hear that.

“For your kindness to us, children.” Pinn added with a smile, and Karenski paused briefly before he let out a belly laugh.

Flern, meanwhile, still held Kined’s hand as she had backed away from the center of attention. She looked up at the young man and asked an honest, heartfelt question. “Did I do all right?”

Kined just smiled and pulled her in close and kissed her for some time; and this time, Flern was not sure if her right foot ever touched the ground.

That evening, the young people stayed with the travelers, though they were invited to go into the village if they wished. Flern made a comment about how Wlvn finally arrived in their village, but no one heard her that time. Arania, getting adjusted to the girls, talked up a storm, not like Elleya, Flern thought, but close enough. Of course, she talked mostly of Trell, and the girls were all kind to listen; but then she also talked about getting back at the Jaccar and how she hoped the men would finally find the courage to do something.

“Oh, Flern always says you can’t count on a bunch of lazy men,” Thrud interjected.

“Oh yes,” Vinnu added. “Flern made us learn to ride horses and learn how to shoot a bow and arrows.” Flern imagined that Arania probably learned to ride when she was young, but the girl looked impressed by the idea of learning to shoot a bow.

“I’m not very good at it,” Elluin admitted.

“Better than Thrud.” Both Pinn and Flern spoke at the same time, and Thrud just stuck her tongue out at them and gave them the raspberries, even if it was true. With that, the last hour of daylight got spent teaching Arania how to string a bow and shoot at a target. Flern’s assessment was the girl was going to need practice.

“But did you really stand on a horse’s back and shoot a man so far away he looked smaller than your hand?”

“It wasn’t me.” Flern said, and she looked up at Pinn, Vinnu and Thrud. “Not exactly.” Flern did not bother to look over at Elluin. She figured that Elluin probably did not follow the conversation in any case.

That night, Flern woke briefly and staggered over to the pot, but she did not have to go. She looked at the others before she mumbled to herself. “Thor.” She went back to bed without ever fully waking up.

The next morning, a misty fog came up from the river. The girls crossed into the village and felt right at home, primarily because it looked like home. The boys went out into the fields and worked as hard as they could because everyone said it was going to rain and they wanted the fields done before the water came down.

When the rain started to pour, the boys found the girls in the common house at the center of the village—the big place where the village feasted when there was some reason for a feast. There would be a feast that evening, and they all made the obligatory noises about how the food would all be soggy, while they realized that in truth, it would probably be very good, and very much like home cooking for them.

Vincas, the local girl, daughter of the village elder Venislav, volunteered to show the boys the various houses to which they had been assigned. Drud and Bunder were going to one house, Tiren and Kined to another, Vilder and Gunder to a third, and Fritt and Tird would stay with her. She smiled at that thought, her being around sixteen or so, even if it was hard to tell, her being a chunky girl. Thrud nudged Flern when Vincas stood beside Fritt the Fat and whispered, “Don’t they make a lovely couple?” Flern just scolded her friend with her eyes.

Reflections Flern-4 part 3 of 3

While they waited, Flern found herself walking with Elluin; a girl that Flern had hardly seen in the last year since Elluin seemed determined to stick by Drud. To be sure, Flern would have walked with anyone at that point to get out from the scrutiny of the travelers. She felt sure that there were some who did not believe their tales and were probably quick to accuse them of being boastful liars. Flern wanted no part of that argument and the trouble it might cause. So, she walked beside the stately, blonde beauty, and made small talk, until Flern asked a question.

“Why did you never stay with Kined? He seemed to love you well enough.” Flern could not help herself. Kined stayed generally on her mind those days.

Elluin looked down at Flern and then looked at her hands which she clasped in front of her dress as she walked. “Because he was never really interested in me,” she said. “Drud loves me. I know he does, but who else would have me? Not Kined.”

“What do you mean, not Kined?” Flern did not understand this girl. Kined was bright, kind and very loving. Poor Elluin had the lowest self-esteem Flern had ever seen. “But Drud is very unkind to you.” Flern wanted to point out that Drud beat the poor girl, but she dared not say it out loud.

“Only when I am bad,” Elluin said. “Like my father.” A light went off in Flern’s head. Suddenly she understood something she had never seen before, and she wanted to say something about it, but she had to ask something else, first.

“But why not Kined? He loves you well enough.”

“No.” Elluin denied it. “Whenever I was with Kined, all he talked about was you, but he said you had your hands full since childhood, and someday you would marry Trell or Fritt or Tird and that would be that.”

“What?”

“Aren’t you going to marry Trell?” Elluin asked, and Flern held her hair out as if it was sticking straight up. She made a face, and Elluin smiled. “Well, Fritt then.” Flern puffed her cheeks and put her arms out to her side like she was holding her girth and she waddled a little for the effect, and Elluin did smile, but covered her mouth as if smiling might be a bad thing for which she should be beaten. “Well, Tird?”

“Please!” Flern’s word said that idea would be the most ridiculous of all. “He is such a Tird,” she said, without the explanation.

“So then…” Elluin started to speak; but paused to put her finger to her chin to tap it, as if she tried to figure something out. She stopped walking and Flern stopped with her. They were in among some trees, away from the camp, and Flern thought they honestly had wandered far enough. Of course, Flern kept thinking about poor Elluin being beaten by her father and the Kined issue had not yet added up in her mind; but Elluin came to a decision.

“Come on.” She took Flern by the arm, let out a real smile, and turned them straight for the camp. Unfortunately, it was not exactly on the same path by which they arrived among the trees, and after only three steps, both girls fell up to the waist in a puddle of muck. At first, they laughed about it and tried reaching for the solid ground to pull themselves out, but that proved impossible. The mud started dragging them down.

“Help! Help!” They shouted and were very lucky they had not walked farther than they did. Kined, in fact, became the first to arrive, having watched the two of them wander off, side by side. He went straight for Flern, which surprised her a little, and he pulled a branch down from the nearest tree and told her to hold on as others came to help Elluin. Flern held tight to the branch and came a little bit out of the muck, though the muck seemed reluctant to give her up. But then Kined could catch her hands and between his pulling and tugging, and Flern’s squirming and kicking, he managed to get her free.

Poor Flern immediately embraced him. That had been a terrifying experience in its way. Kined held her with a good will, and then she looked up into his sparkling blue eyes and he looked down into her fawn-colored eyes, and they kissed, and Flern lifted her right foot and pounded her toe into the dirt several times before they parted.

“You are glowing,” Kined said. And Flern backed up a little to let her one hand hold tight to his hand while her other hand tried in vain to wipe the smile off her face.

“I’m not surprised.” She thought he was only kidding.

“No. I mean you are really glowing,” Kined assured her.

“What?” Flern looked at her hands and indeed, they glowed ever so slightly. “Wlvn is tasting his golden apple desert,” she said without explanation. She looked up at Kined who looked content just to watch her glow. “Do you mind if I change?” she asked, considering how the glow failed to take away all the muck.

“You mean with the swords and stuff?” Kined needed clarification.

“Uh-huh.” Flern nodded. “I don’t have another spare dress.” Kined nodded in return, and he only got a little startled when Flern became instantly clothed in her armor and the dress went away. He looked a little sad that there was no moment, however brief, when he might catch her with nothing on at all, but Flern looked curiously at her feet. She stood barefoot, she decided, because her legs needed cleaning from all that muck. “You don’t mind?” she asked, while Kined still looked her up and down. He said nothing, but clearly, he did not mind at all. Flern turned with him, took a firm hold on his hand, and bumped right into Karenski and several of his men. Karenski reached out to see if her glow could be touched, and though it could not be touched, he seemed satisfied with something, and perhaps with many things. Flern just started thinking that she would probably glow for several hours when Karenski spoke.

“Maybe we help you with your village. Maybe,” he said, and they all went back to camp.

Flern held tight to Kined’s hand the whole way and smiled as much as her face allowed. With great reluctance, she let go of his hand in the end and went into the tent with the women where she could wash her feet and legs.

They set up a curtain to wall off part of the tent against unannounced visitors, and Elluin and Flern stripped down to nothing and confirmed that Flern glowed from everywhere. Vinnu seemed especially taken by Flern’s under things. “Fairy weave,” Flern called it, though she did not exactly understand the term.

“Whatever it is, the mud won’t stick to it.” Vinnu said, and everyone had to touch it and check it out with appropriate “ooos and aaahs.”

As soon as Flern felt human again, she had a thought about fairies and about Badl, who said he belonged to Wlvn in some way, and she called out for her dress. Her armor and weapons went away, but the dress arrived, and it appeared cleaned and pressed, not only looking like it never got dirty, but indeed, like it had been made brand new. Arania fell to her knees before this glowing girl with such great magic, but Flern made her stand and then took that moment to yell at everyone.

“Just because Vrya has been kind to me, that does not mean anything. I think she just wants to be sure we succeed against the Jaccar, that’s all. She happened to pick me, but she might have easily picked any one of you. Don’t start thinking it makes me special in any way. I’m still just Flern, and honestly, I almost wish she had picked one of you.” Though not strictly true, and Flern, and at least Pinn knew it, it got Arania to stand up and it felt like just the sort of thing Flern would say. The others did not doubt that Flern honestly wished the goddess had picked someone else.

“She probably picked you because you did not want to be picked,” Thrud said.  She meant it as a joke, but one that stayed close to the truth.

“They say I glowed for three days when Gunder asked me to marry him, but I didn’t glow like that,” Vinnu pointed out.

“It will wear off,” Flern growled, and she got dressed and went to curl up on the nearest blanket.

“Bed.” Pinn announced, and everyone complied but for the little conversations that went on for some time. Arania participated in little of the conversation, though, because she was going to sleep beside Flern and watch to see if the glow indeed wore off.

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

MONDAY

They arrive at a village and after negotiating, they settled in for a while, to wait. They fear the Jaccar are coming, and the forgotten one, Bunder, makes his move.  Until then, Happy Reading

*

Reflections Flern-4 part 2 of 3

Around three, during the hot part of the day which Flern thought plenty hot for the first of May, they saw a train of people down toward the bottom of a little hill and debated vigorously about whether to join those people or avoid them at all costs. The vote to join them won easily, since the train appeared headed in their general direction.

“Besides, I though part of the plan was to get people who might be willing to help us against the Jaccar,” Pinn said. They got all bunched up on top of their little hill by that time and thought nothing about whether they were seen. They supposed the people in the train might be wondering the same sorts of things about them, whether to contact the people on the hill or ignore them and hope they went away. The gang on the hill certainly did not want any trouble. But, even as the sound of Pinn’s voice finished echoing across the hillside, two dozen men on horseback with spears came out of nowhere, virtually up out of the ground, and they surrounded the young people.

Everyone froze, afraid to say or do anything in the face of so many spears; until an older man detached himself from the crowd of spears and rode up to the group. He looked hard at Pinn, Flern, Vilder, Tiren, Thrud, and Vinnu who looked away for fear. He stopped in front of big Gunder. The man’s long gray hair was slicked back with sweat. He had green stripes painted on his cheeks, and Flern thought he looked mean.

“You are not Jaccar,” he said. His accent sounded thick, but his words were understandable.

“Do we look like Jaccar?” Thrud asked, with a sharpness that betrayed her nervousness. Normally, her sarcasm got delivered deadpan.

“I bet Flern killed a dozen Jaccar all by herself.” Gunder said and pointed. The old man looked up, but Flern shook her head.

“It wasn’t me,” she said, and technically it was not her flesh and blood that did it.

“Our village just got overrun with Jaccar.” Vilder spoke, while Pinn reached out for Flern’s hand. “We escaped, and now we are seeking the weapons and friends to help us set our village free.”

The old man paused to scratch his beard. “Children.” He pronounced the word with some disdain. “Come.” And that was it. They were escorted to the train by the armed men, and rode together, mostly in silence for another two hours, flanked at all times by men until the train halted for the night.

The old man returned after they stopped and conferred with the chief guard before he approached the group. “You are no danger.” The old man concluded. “Day after tomorrow, we will come to the Piddy River. There is a village there. Maybe they will be your friends with weapons. Now, come. You stay with us, and we eat.”

Flern and Kined started to dismount but paused when the others did not move.

“Come, come.” The old man said and tried to smile. It was hard to tell under the bush he had for a moustache. “Young boys like to eat. Come eat and you tell us your story.” Trell, Fritt and Tird got down, but the rest waited a second longer until Vilder and Pinn dismounted together. They came to a big tent, one still being set up, and they smelled the cooking fires already burning and roasting something for supper. They got ropes with which to hobble the horses and got escorted into the big tent, but not before Flern had a chance to take a good look around.

Flern had thought at first that these people might be refugees from some other village the Jaccar attacked, but now she saw that she was mistaken. The dozen wagons pulled by pairs of oxen were little houses built on top of the wagon. She decided that these people were not settled people, and that notion got confirmed when the old man finally introduced himself.

“I am Karenski. We are travelers. We have fought the Jaccar on two occasions and moved on from those places. They push, always we move west, but they follow, and some say soon there will be no more west to go.”

“Someone needs to push them back.” Strawhead Trell was the one who said that, and the old man gave him a strange look, even as a young girl came in under the tent door and interrupted them all.

“That is what I keep telling my father, but he says I am just a girl and don’t understand.” Flern let out a little “Grrr,” and Kined patted her hand to keep her quiet.

“My daughter, Arania.” The old man made the introduction. “She is your age, a child.” The girl looked to be about fifteen, or sixteen at the most which made her younger than everyone, but this old man seemed determined to lump them all under the same umbrella of being children, and who were they to argue?

“You are welcome in our tent,” Arania said, in her formal best, and she smiled, but it seemed to be for Trell.

“Now, tell while we wait for the food.” The old man insisted as his daughter took a seat beside him, and Vilder, with a little help from Pinn, told of their adventure thus far. At first, Flern shook her head violently, but she need not have worried about Vilder revealing anything that might be best kept secret. On the other hand, Flern turned red by the end of the telling and refused to look at anyone. Vilder credited her with the raid on the village, the kindness of the naiad, saying that she and the naiad appeared to be old friends. And he praised her for killing both Jaccar on the following morning. Flern turned beet red at last, but at least she did not have to explain about the Princess. When they were finished, Arania wept softly and Karenski comforted her.

“Her mother was killed by the Jaccar,” he said, all the while never taking his eyes off Flern. “We raided them back, but you cannot kill them all. I think they are without number.” Flern felt grateful, then, because several of women and several men brought in plenty of food for all and stayed to join in the meal. It made their quarters rather tight because the big tent was really built to accommodate maybe a dozen or so. There were twice as many at present for that meal and they had to avoid bumping elbows.

After they had begun to feast, Karenski asked a simple question, still not having taken his eyes off of Flern. “Do the young men confirm this tale I have heard of this woman in your midst?”

Every man in the group nodded, and Kined took a breath. Flern who continued to look down, being too embarrassed to look up, stomped on Kined’s foot to quiet him, but he spoke up anyway. “She is friends with Vrya, goddess of love and war. It was the goddess who warned her and us of the Jaccar, and I am sure she also helped our escape.”

“Ah!” Karenski said. “The new lady of Aesgard.” Far from disbelieving what Kined said, this seemed to clarify some of the other questions in his mind. “You are of Vanheim, then?” He asked, but the question got directed at Flern.

“I am an independent,” Flern said, quietly. “I seek the well-being of all the gods.”

Karenski pursed his lips and nodded. “Very wise for one so young,” he said, and then he turned the conversation to other matters. He spoke of the hunt and the way of the bear and the beaver. He did pause now and then to glance at Flern after that, but he also got occupied with glancing at Trell and his daughter who seemed to be having their own glancing contest going on. It became quite a dance of the eyes.

After supper, the young people vacated the big tent while suitable arrangements were made for them to sleep in the night. The girls got to be housed with Arania, and the boys were to be given a fire, outdoors. The weather stayed good, not threatening rain, so the arrangement felt more than acceptable.

Reflections Flern-4 part 1 of 3

Flern nodded. “There are other lives,” she said. “But I don’t remember most of them, you understand.”

“But some of them are men, aren’t they?’ Pinn became very insightful. “Like maybe this Wolven you sometimes talk about?” It might have been a question.

“Wlvn.” Flern nodded and tried to say the name the right way, the way she had practiced it. It came out sounding more like “Ulvin.” “But he is from the past, about five hundred and eighty-six years ago.”

“I thought it might be something like that,” Pinn said, before she grinned a little. “I had an imaginary boyfriend when I was younger, but mine wasn’t real.”

“But yours did not turn out to be yourself from long ago,” Flern countered.

“It was me, in a way,” Pinn said, wisely, and Flern understood. They sat and watched the arguments for a while longer before Pinn spoke again. “So, can I meet this Wulvin? I assume you can find him the way you found the Princess.”

“Maybe someday.” Flern shifted in her seat and felt a bit uncomfortable about it all. “But only if the circumstances are right.” That was not strictly true, but she felt she had to explain, and only wished Vilder could hear as well. They were the leaders of this expedition and needed to know how it worked. “You need to tell Vilder. I can’t just make the Princess show up because someone thinks she might be needed for some reason.” Pinn raised her eyebrows again, so Flern continued. “This is my life. None of the others—the other lives I have lived don’t have any business being here at all. I am the one who has to go over the mountains and fetch the weapons—the bronze. I have to try and raise an army and come back and face the Wicca and her Jaccar warriors. That has to be me, and I have to make all of the decisions along the way, myself.” Flern dropped her eyes and yanked out a handful of grass. She slowly let it run out between her fingers as she finished her thought. “No other life is going to die in my lifetime and in my world. If it is my fate to die on this journey, I have to be there to do it.”

Pinn lowered her eyebrows. “A morbid thought.” She patted Flern’s hand and Flern took that action to grab Pinn’s hand and look at her straight on.

“I’m still just Flern, just a girl who started from nothing like any other person in the world. Pinn, we were babies together. I didn’t even know I had any other lifetimes until just a short time ago, and really not until I talked to Mother Vrya.”

“Mother Vrya?”

“Not for a couple of thousand years, but it is not what you think.” Flern honestly could not remember exactly when Nameless would be born, but she felt that was fine, because she decided it would be best if she avoided too many details about that life.

“The goddess of love will be your mother?”

“It’s not what you think.” Flern repeated herself.

Pinn nodded. “But it is what some of the others are beginning to think,” she said.

“Well, don’t let them.” Flern sounded determined and hoped Pinn would catch it. Flern dropped her eyes again. “I couldn’t stand it if everybody started treating me different—if everybody stopped being my friends.”

“How about if Kined started to think of you differently?” Pinn asked. Pinn nudged Flern in the ribs, even if it was not a physical nudge.

“Grrr.” Flern responded in her way before she confessed. “I wouldn’t mind if he thought of me differently. But not like that. Really, Pinn, sit on them if you have to.”

“I understand,” Pinn said. She patted Flern’s hand again before she took hers back to wrap her arms around her knees. “So, Mother Vrya. What is the goddess like?”

Flern smiled, broadly. “Lovely, and a wonderful person. You would like her, and I am sure she would like you very much.” Flern paused and imitated Pinn in raising her own eyebrows. “She probably already does, I suppose.”

Pinn nodded. “I guessed as much. You know, I used to pray to her every day when I was little.” Flern looked at her friend. Pinn had a big nose, little, squinty green eyes and lips which were too thick for her face. She kept her ordinary brown colored hair cut off at the shoulders because otherwise it would be as ratty and unmanageable as Strawhead’s. She might not be ugly, exactly, but out of all the girls, she was certainly the farthest away from pretty. Flern looked over at the boys. Vilder, on the other hand, had the clean-cut, sculpted look of a quarterback, or maybe a model for a trashy romance novel.

“She gave you Vilder,” Flern said in all seriousness.

Pinn let a few little tears well up in her eyes. “I know. It is all I ever wanted.”

Flern leaned over and hugged her friend. She felt happy for Pinn, and Pinn hugged Flern right back. They would remain friends, no matter what. They stood together without another word and got into the middle of how to cook the liver without a pot to boil it or a pan to fry it.

They did not leave that place until noon, and by then Flern started chomping at the bit as surely as the horses. She said if two of the Jaccar could swim to this side of the river, despite the assurances of the naiad, maybe others could, too, and they were risking another confrontation every minute they stayed. “And maybe this time one of us will get hurt,” Tird added, and Vinnu stood right there to agree with him.

“Yes, but maybe those two just wound up on our side of the river after being dumped. Maybe the naiad did not want to drown them. She seemed nice, I think,” Elluin offered.

“I feel we can trust her. She did seem nice,” Kined agreed.

Flern frowned but did not growl. Odin’s permission meant a lot. She doubted that even any of the gods would dare go against that; but still, she felt anxious and got worse by the hour. Vilder ended the discussion, however, when he became very practical.

“We have a long way to go and no telling when we might get a next meal. It is only sensible to take as much of this animal with us that we can safely smoke and burn in the short time we have.”

“Salmonella on a stick.” Doctor Mishka called it, but Flern deliberately did not listen to any of her other lifetimes at the moment. She felt seriously afraid of losing her friends, and maybe losing herself in the mix of so many lives and so much information. She did not want to stop being Flern, and she did not want to be alone.

They rode through the afternoon, though never at the pace Flern wanted. She knew they had no spirit guide like Badl to take them by the short cuts, so she feared the ground they covered could be made up easily by the Jaccar who were well practiced at moving in force at great speeds. She consoled herself by thinking that at least they were not being hunted by night creatures, slim consolation as that was. It would not be hard to understand why she did not sleep well that night in the wilderness. She dreamed about night creatures, and some of them were werewolves, and some of them were giants, and all they wanted to do was eat her friends and laugh at her in her loneliness.

The following day repeated the first, a slow and regular pace that did not help Flern’s stress. The area remained unchanged, being a gentle, rolling landscape where the meadows, grasslands and occasional swampy areas got broken up by mixed forests of oak and fir. The girls all enjoyed the ride, pointed out the lovely spring flowers at every chance, and the boys got frisky, not seeing the spring in the flowers but feeling it in their bones. The couples had agreed for the sake of Flern and the single young men that they would camp with separate boy’s and girl’s areas, but that did not keep the couples from riding side by side and whispering sweet thoughts all day long.

Pinn stayed all day beside Vilder in front, and Bunder brought up the rear, so sometimes it felt hard to remember that he was there. Thrud and Tiren came next to the front, but Vinnu and big Gunder wandered off sometimes into the woods. Flern’s stooges were not averse to showing off, pretending to be the great horsemen, which they were not. It actually became comical and entertaining, but it would have become really annoying if Flern did not have Kined beside her for most of the morning to offer his color commentary. Flern and Kined talked softly, but sadly all that day, and it was nearly all about her clowns and the fact that Elluin had seemingly trained her horse to ride a half step behind Drud. Flern found that disgusting. Kined called it sad.

They finished off the deer at lunch and Vilder started talking like he might stop them around the middle of the afternoon so they could hunt. Flern objected strongly. This was day two. The naiad only promised one more day and then the Jaccar would surely be after them.

“You don’t really think the Jaccar will follow us, do you?” Drud said, and he said it as if to suggest that Flern might be crazy to think it.

“I do,” Flern said, despite the threat of ridicule. The group actually split on that possibility, about down the middle. “They know what we are doing. The Wicca cannot afford to let us escape and raise a resistance against her. It will make her further expansion to the west much more difficult.”

“But we have come so far,” Thrud insisted. “Surely they would not come this far just for us.”

“Some have escaped before,” Kined pointed out, and Flern nearly growled at him. She counted on his support.

“A few ragged refugees,” Flern countered. “The Wicca probably let them go to spread fear of the Jaccar. That would make her job easier. That is not what we are about.”

Once again, Vilder ended the argument by being very practical. “Whether they follow or not, we still need to eat. We will have to stop long enough to hunt and gather.” Still, Flern pushed for them to ride as far as possible, and she spent the early afternoon wondering if Badl might still be alive and around somewhere, and if maybe she could find him, and he could lead them by swifter spirit ways so they could put some real distance between them and the Jaccar.

Reflections Flern-3 part 3 of 3

Flern woke when she heard a rustle in the bushes not far from where she and the other girls slept. She got up slowly, thinking at first that one of the horses may have wandered into the woods and away from the open, grassy area in which they rested. To be sure, the grassy area where they slept came merely at the edge of the grassland that stretched all of the way back to the river. They stopped when they reached the trees. Common sense told her if the horse was inclined to wander anywhere it would be deeper into the grasses, yet the rustling came from the woods, and it sounded large. She thought of a horse, in part, because she did not really want to consider the other possibilities. Several had been afraid the horses might wander off in the night, but Pinn had kept the rope Diogenes found, and it seemed long enough to tie all fourteen horses to the rope and tie the rope to a tree. So, it could not be a horse, Flern thought to herself. She reached for her sword and long knife as a comfort. She certainly did not know how to use them. Then she supposed that the horses were not tied comfortably. The rope did not seem long enough for that. One horse might have pulled free, or it might not have been tied well in the first place.

Flern heard the rustling again. The rustling came from the leaves. Vinnu stuck her head up to listen. “A bear?” Vinnu asked in a shaky whisper. Flern just shook her head, though whatever it was, it had to be big. She imagined night creature big. She looked around the camp. Fritt, Trell and Tird were missing. Flern supposed it could be them, but why didn’t they just show themselves? Unless they were joking around.

Flern put down her blades and reached into the back of her cloak. She found the bow there, the one the Princess used in town. A true, ebony wood, elf bow, with plenty of arrows, and Flern at least felt she knew something about using the weapon. She notched an arrow and backed up from the sound to listen once more.

“What’s up?” Tiren called from the far side of the fire, and he called much too loud.

“Quiet!” Vinnu hushed him with even more volume, and everyone started to stir. At once there came a great rustling of leaves. Two Jaccar stepped out from the trees. They looked like they had spent half the night underwater. One charged the campfire, but Flern’s arrow caught the man dead center. At that distance, she could hardly miss. Kined and Tiren jumped on the man, and he did not live long. The other man went for the horses, and brandishing a blade, he cut one free. He mounted on the run like a well-trained horseman, and everyone started yelling at once, but Flern no longer stood there. The Princess came to take her place.

The Princess called to her weapons, and they rose up, the sword attaching to her back, so it stuck out over her left shoulder, and her long knife attaching across the small of her back just before it jumped into her hand. She cut Flern’s horse free, mounted like the expert horsewoman she was, and rode after the man. She passed Vilder and Gunder on the way as they ran across the field, yelling.

The Jaccar looked back once, but the Princess already had an arrow on her string. She stood on the back of the galloping horse, like some circus act, but not for showing off. It was the only way she would get a clear shot. It only took one shot. The man, struck in the back, peeled off the back of the horse that immediately slowed to a trot and then to a walk. The Princess finished the journey more comfortably in the seat and finished the man with her long knife before she let Flern return to her own time and place. Flern immediately mounted again and rounded up what turned out to be Thrud’s big steed. “Lazy as her mistress,” Flern said to herself. Then she started to cry as she rode back to the camp and decided that she did not like killing at all. The only thing that made it palatable was the certainty that the Princess did not like killing either.

“That was amazing, incredible, I knew you were good, but…” Most of the camp looked ecstatic, but Vilder and Kined stayed quiet. They saw that it was the Princess, and so did Pinn, apparently, but with her hood up, Flern imagined that all of the others saw her back and they just assumed Flern. Drud was hard to read. He stayed quiet but kneeled and stared into the fire. Who knew what he might be thinking?

Flern cried a little more as she dismounted, and after a moment of rejoicing, Elluin and Vinnu offered their condolences. Not long after that, Fat Fritt, Strawhead Trell and Tird came waltzing into the camp. They bagged a deer and expected massive congratulations. What they got instead was regaled with Flern’s adventure, as they were calling it. Flern took out the long knife the Princess used to slice the man’s throat. She threw it into the side of the deer, and it sank, almost to the hilt.

“It’s like a Ginsu knife, you know, never need sharpening,” she said, and she stepped off into the woods where she could have some privacy to relieve herself and cry some more.

Flern hardly stayed alone for long before she felt a tingling in her hands and a rumbling in her gut. Anyone else might have thought they were getting sick, but Flern felt suspicious. She looked up at the sun to gauge the time and mumbled two names. “Wlvn. Odin.” But why should she be feeling the effects of Odin’s gift to Wlvn? Surely, he did not mean to empower the Kairos forever.

“That gift isn’t in me.” The Princess spoke into Flern’s mind.

“Or me.” Diogenes and the Storyteller each confirmed.

“Perhaps because you are Wlvn’s genetic reflection, you are also reflecting his gifts.” Doctor Mishka suggested. “You certainly received his gift for horses.”

“But not to his extent.” Flern often tried to deny the gift even if it became self-evident.

“So, Odin’s gift may also be reflected in you to a lesser extent, but it is being reflected in you all the same.”

“But I don’t want it.” Flern confessed, and all she could see was the minute she started throwing thunderbolts around, she would have no friends left at all, and Kined would not want anything to do with her. She refused to do that, and she tried to make the feeling go away, and tried not to think about it at the same time, which proved very hard to do. Eventually, she remembered how to send her armor and blades back to wherever they came from and recall her own dress from that same place. The poor boys probably had a bit of a shock when her long knife disappeared, but she figured they were well skilled with their copper instruments and her long blade, while more than up to the task, had not really been designed as a butcher’s tool.

After a while, Flern went quietly back to the camp where she could sit on the grass and frown. The boys still argued about cutting up the deer and the girls argued about how to cook it. They all paused to look at her in her regular dress, and Kined spoke.

“Your knife,” he said.

“I know,” she responded, and that ended it. They all went back to their arguing, except for Pinn, who came over and sat beside Flern. She said nothing, so after a while, Flern spoke.

“Bunder is staring again. Dunder head.” Flern added the insult when she pointed at the boy who all but drooled.

“Maybe your Princess could beat him up. I assume that was the Princess, earlier,” Pinn suggested and Flern did not reject that suggestion. “Who is she, anyway?”

“Me.” Flern gave the simple answer and looked at her friend. “But I won’t be born as the Princess for three thousand, two hundred and twenty-four years, according to the Storyteller’s estimate.”

Pinn raised her eyebrows. “Three thousand years in the future?”

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

MONDAY

Flern and her companions find the first people beyond their village. They are nomads, an unsettled people heading in their direction, an they have had run-ins with the Jaccar, twice. Until Monday, Happy Reading.

*