R6 Greta: Cleaning Up, part 3 of 3

Three days later, the Nameless god, last of the gods of Aesgard, stood beside Mavis and watched the Wolv transport rise in the atmosphere.  The ogres and trolls Danna brought to protect them for three days while Martok did the repair work were home and safe.  They only had to kill six Wolv that lost patience and tried to eat Mavis or Martok, or whoever worked on the ship at the moment.

The gray-backed Wolv kept most of the Wolv under control for those three days.  There were only forty survivors by then out of the original hundred on the transport, and most of them were women and children, but the gray-backed Wolv understood, even if the others did not, that Earth was one planet that would not be won, even if they mounted a full-scale invasion.  They tried that once already, and failed.  It was not because Earth was full of unbeatable monsters, though from the Wolv perspective it seemed to be, but because the human race had reached just the right sort of primitive development where it had disciplined armies and effective weapons.

“Will they survive?” Mavis asked as she shaded her eyes against the sun for a better look.  The four hundred-year-old transport smoked a little as it rose.

“They should make it out of the solar system. How far they will continue into deep space remains to be seen,” Nameless said.  Nameless felt something then he had not felt in a long time.  He put his arm out toward Mavis in case he needed to draw her under his protective wing.  An old man appeared, in his robe, holding his staff, and Nameless named the man. “Mithras.”

“You have always been a good one to clean up the messes made by the gods,” Mithras said, as he turned his eyes to the diminishing spot in the sky.

“As Lord of the sprites of the earth, air, fire and water, I kind of had to specialize in cleaning up messes.  Even if I don’t know what tomorrow may bring, history is already written and the future is already set.  Keeping that written word on track mostly involves cleaning up messes.”  Nameless blinked and brought the three of them to the place of the ancient dome.

Mithras appeared startled.  “I am not used to being carted around by another god.  That is not easy to do.”

“But it is,” Nameless said.  “This remains Aesgard land, my land, and you are an intruder who does not belong here.”  He turned to face the old man.  “Your place is Persia, and I will not begrudge you the Indus or the Tigris-Euphrates, but you are no longer welcome in the land of Aesgard.”  Nameless traded places with Danna.  “And you must stay out of the West and the old lands of Vanheim as well.”  She traded again with Junior.  “The Near East, Egypt and North Africa are off limits to you.  You have no place among the Jews and the Christians.”  He traded again, and Salacia filled his shoes.  “In fact, the whole Greco-Roman world including the Mediterranean and all the lands and islands around are now off limits to you. Stick to your own place, but not for too long.  You should be on the other side as you know perfectly well.”  Salacia went away so Nameless could come back again.  He whispered to Mavis, “Now I am dizzy.,” but they looked at Mithras and saw him begin to cry.

“I’m afraid,” he said.

“I am not the judge,” Nameless said.  “But I would say on the scale of things, you have not done badly.  You should not fear.  The new way has come and it is full of mercy and grace.”

“But am I subject to the new way, or am I stuck in the old ways?”

“We are all subject, even the gods.  Only you must decide which way you will go and which path you will follow.”  Nameless turned to face the last broken blocks of what was once a magnificent dome in the wilderness.  “Grandfather Odin wanted this to remain as a reminder that the gods should not make promises.  He is gone now.  The old ways are gone now, and this particular reminder of the ancient world should go with them.”  As a true god of the earth, Nameless reached far down below and drew up the great stones of the underworld.  The stone broke through the surface and Nameless shaped it into a bit of a line where it might one day serve to remind him of the past, a reminder no one else would understand.  Then he crumbed the great blocks of stone to dust with a thought and blended the stone dust into the stone from below until they were made one.  Then he stood back and spoke again.

“One day, men will come here.  They will build other domes and rule and worship in this place.”  He stepped back, and Mithras had a thought.

“I spent a hundred years trapped in this place. It would not be a bad place to die.” He looked at Nameless.  It took a moment for Nameless to figure it out, but when he did, he took a step back.

“No way.  Greta killed enough for a lifetime, and Lucius became a horror for her.  She will never get over that.”

“You killed Mithrasis.”

“I made my contribution, and Junior killed your Jupiter, and Gerraint killed the Sun-runner, and Salacia killed the Persian and far too many men with her fury, the fury prompted by Greta who had to kill Lucius.  No, I will do no more killing.”  Nameless stepped back and watched Mithras cry.  “And for the record, don’t even think about trying to manipulate me into doing the job.  I will not be manipulated again, and any innocents you kill will be a mark against you in the eternal ledger, and I don’t believe you can afford that.” Nameless paused to think before he added, “It will be five hundred years before a man convinces a whole nation that the Almighty will somehow reward people for killing the innocent.  That darkness will spread from that day far into the future, but that is not this day.”

Mithras paused in his cry.  “The Don?  She has not had a turn.”

“Danna has her own reluctant and disobedient children to worry about.  You just need to let go of your flesh and blood yourself, and be done with it.  It won’t be so bad, and I am sure your brother Varuna, who loves you, is waiting with arms open to welcome you to paradise.”

Mithras nodded and faded from sight.  Mavis finally opened her eyes and lifted her head to look at the most noble face of the god beside her, and he smiled for her and said, “Let’s go home,” and they returned to the grassy place beside Bragi’s house, this time when no one stood there to watch.  Greta returned with the smile still on her lips.  She took off her red cloak for Mavis to hold, since after all, it had become a warm early spring day.

“And in six to eight weeks,” she said to herself. “I will be welcoming a new life into the world.  Marcus.” She had to get used to the name. “Now Mavis,” she spoke up.  “Let’s go inside.  I feel like cleaning something.”

“As you say.”

END

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

MONDAY

We begin a Christmas story, in twenty-one posts, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of each week, for the next seven weeks. The final post will be on Christmas day.

A Holiday Journey

The London Symphony Orchestra

And I hope they don’t have lawyers (solicitors) who want to behave stupidly.  The website/blog is not amortized (there is no money).  The stories I post here are free reading, like a Christmas present all year long.  I am sure the CD Guys won’t mind because they will probably sell more CDs.  But unless someone buys one of my books, and there are presently only a few of the first Avalon stories up on the bookseller sites, there is otherwise no compensation for me.  That’s okay.  I hope you enjoy the stories.

Don’t worry, we will get back to the Middle Ages soon enough.  After A Holiday Journey, the plan is to post Avalon, Season Six over twenty-four weeks.  Then, about the beginning of next summer, we will return to Light in the Dark Ages.  Festuscato will meet Beowulf.  Gerraint will search for the Holy Graal.  And Margueritte… She will struggle with ogres and unicorns, fairies and knights, dragons and witches–just about everything a young medieval girl could hope for.

I hope you enjoy your holiday journey.  Merry Christmas in advance.  (Give someone a Christmas hug), and until Monday, Happy Reading.

*

R6 Greta: Cleaning Up, part 2 of 3

When Greta woke, she did not want to move. She rested in Darius’ arms, and she wanted to just stay that way forever.  Sadly, they were in Kurt’s small bed, so they had no room to move. One move of her arm, and Darius woke, and Mavis woke from her place on the floor.  Greta considered that at least her bed was bigger than Padme’s bed where Hans and Berry were sleeping.  Berry slept on top as Han’s blanket, which she would not be able to do much longer, when she began to show.  Kurt and Padme squeezed into bed with Bragi and Karina.  Father slept in the chair, which he did not mind since he often slept sitting up to reduce his snoring.

“My family,” Greta sighed softly, and got up. Darius wanted to hold her some more, and that made her smile and kiss him before she killed that thought.  “We both have work to do,” she said, and he reluctantly understood.

Pincushion, in the other room, had already started cooking things that smelled wonderful.  That was what woke her, and Greta knew the others would come stumbling out of the back room soon enough.

“I have work, I don’t know about you,” Darius said. “We will probably spend the next week burying the dead, and Hadrianus and the elders of Porolissum have plans to turn our temporary battements into a permanent city wall.  They want it big and made out of stone.  I have to write letters to Marcus and the emperor telling them everything that happened here and about our plans.  I am going to ask for a second legion in the province since we are sticking out the way we are into enemy territory and have the longest, most indefensible border in the whole empire.”

“I understand,” Greta said as she sat beside him and took and squeezed his hand.  “And the enemy?”

“We watched and got reports in the dark that they all moved off.  I suspect by this point there won’t be one in sight.  They had orders to wake me if that was not so.”

“Just as well,” Greta said, and pecked at his lips.

Greta paused while Darius seriously kissed her.

“I got that feeling that you were about to go somewhere,” he said.

Greta nodded, but Pincushion interrupted.  “Not before breakfast.”

Then Mavis interrupted. “Not without me.”  And Greta sat and waited as others came out to join them, and they all ate wonderfully well, and too much.

After breakfast, Greta took Darius out the front door, Mavis following, and Greta explained her intentions.  “I may be gone a few days.  I don’t know how badly the Wolv transport may be broken.”

“All right.  But come home as soon as you can.  I am going to need your wisdom to craft the letter concerning General Pontius and his followers.”

Greta shook her head.  “Mithras will probably keep the cult alive as long as he is alive, but it won’t be the same.  The rituals will become just that, rituals, and the compulsion to devotion will be gone. I hope he will find the courage and be willing to end his journey in the next hundred and fifty years or so.”

“You were shaking your head?”  Darius knew her.  She had something else in mind.

Greta smiled and tapped on his chest.  “You, Mister Governor who is not yet retired, need to work on turning the Goths and Slavs into serious friends and allies for the future.”

“Not the Celts?”

Greta shook her head again.  “I have a feeling the Lazyges may become ornery in the next twenty or thirty years and the Celts may try to blend in with the Latin population of Dacia, and maybe extend the western border a little to include them, for their own protection.”

“So they should be like citizens of the Province?”

“Ask Rhiannon if you can catch her, but I think so, more or less.”

Darius nodded and stepped back, ready to move out when they saw Alesander, Briana, Hermes, Vedix and Bogus coming down the road, a loaded down Stinky trailing along behind.

“No, no,” Greta said.  “Not this time,” and she went away so Danna could take her place, and Danna grabbed Mavis’ hand and they vanished from that place altogether.

###

Danna was able to make sure no one watched when she and Mavis appeared just outside the Great Hall of the Governor’s residence in Ravenshold. Danna traded back to being Greta before anyone noticed, and Mavis let go of Greta’s hand so she could carry Greta’s red cloak.

“Mother,” Greta called as she stepped into the hall, and for one moment it felt like she never left.  Mother was right there, feeding Marta, and Gaius sat on the floor with Selamine, playing with his wooden soldiers.  That moment ended with shouts and running

Greta had to kneel down to hug Gaius, who got there first.  She felt sure she could not lift the big five-year-old in her condition. Fortunately, Selamine scooped him up so Greta could stand and hug her mother who wept.  Then she picked up Marta with a word.

“Careful.  Ugh. You don’t want to hurt the baby.”

“Greta!”  Mother noticed.  “Boy or girl. Oh, but now you are home, and just in time I would say.”

“I hope it is a boy,” Gaius piped up.

“I hope it is a girl,” Marta said, just to be contrary.

“Sibling rivalry?  But they have gotten so big.  Mother, I have missed so much and I will never get it back.”

“Hush,” Mother took Greta’s hand and helped her to the table where she returned Marta to her chair and took one for herself. “You are home now.  That is all that matters.”

“But I am not home now,” Greta said.  “I am not really here.  There is still unfinished business, but I missed my children so much.” Gaius wriggled out of Selamine’s arms so he could come up and put his hands on his mother’s thigh and look up into her face.  She tussled his hair.  “He is starting to look like his father.”

“I look like you,” Marta said and reached her hands out for another hug.  She was dark haired like a Celt or Roman, not very light blond, and she had a skinny face instead of Greta’s round face, and she had clear skin without a freckle, so the truth was she did not look at all like Greta.  Greta imagined Marta would grow up to be a beauty, but Greta hugged her and she scooted Gaius up on to her lap and only moaned a little.

“What do you mean you are not really here?” Mother was thinking.

“I mean word has not reached here yet, but in a couple of days, riders will arrive from the north and say Porolissum is under attack. Well, it already happened and everyone is all right.  Hans and Berry are home safe, and Bragi, Karina and their children are all safe. The legion from Apulum with some help from our Celtic friends and others defeated the enemy and drove them off.”

“Your father?”

“Father is fine,” Greta smiled.  “And I hope we will all be home soon, safe and sound. and you know what?”

Gaius knew enough to say, “What?”

Greta talked to him. and poked his little nose. “Your aunt Berry is going to have a baby too.”

“What?”  Mother sounded surprised.  “But they are just children.”

“They are growing up, and so are my children. Gaius is getting to be a big boy.” Gaius squirmed for a more comfortable seat and Greta moaned and smiled at the same time.

“Now, that’s enough.  Selamine.”  Mother spoke and Selamine picked up Gaius again.

“Mother, I really have to go,” Greta said as she stood. She kissed Marta, her mother, and Gaius, though Gaius turned shyly from the kiss and buried his face in Selamine’s shoulder.  Greta started toward the door, Mavis on her heels, and she thought to distract her mother with a question.  “How is that new tutor, P. Cassius Andronicus working out?”

Mother had to stop walking to think a minute. “Not much for him to do, so far,” she said, but by then she came a dozen steps behind.  By the time she got out the door to the Great Hall, Greta had vanished with her handmaid and her red cloak.

R6 Greta: Cleaning Up, part 1 of 3

Greta took her seat on the battements and stewed all afternoon.  She kept her eyes on the enemy in the distance and fretted.  There did not seem to be much movement, not much to see, but they were still there.  They did not look to be leaving anytime soon, and that worried her.  She knew she should have been tending the wounded. That was her real job, not the Kairos’ job, it remained Greta’s job, but she felt bloated, and rotten like the weather, and drained from a day that seemed too long already.  She slept briefly in her chair, a cold afternoon nap, but woke up covered in blankets, a pillow on the ground, which she guessed had once been put behind her head.  Someone cared.

Pincushion made her eat some soup which was not hard because it tasted really good, and Greta had the good sense not to ask what was in it.  Then Pincushion, Karina and Snowflake went off to play with the children.  Greta got grumpy.  She missed her children.

Goldenrod and Oreona checked on her and told her Ulladon was sleeping in the deeps.  They were happy that things went so well, but Greta added, “so far,” and she did not feel sure how well things really went.  The reports she got in passing were a thousand defenders dead and a thousand who would be dead soon enough.  Darius told her there were as many as five hundred or so, a rough estimate, who might be saved if the Roman physicians and various tribal healers could hack off enough limbs before they got infected.  Greta knew in practice, more than half of them would die as well.

The rest of the men were in good spirits, her Father told her.  She listened. He said beyond their casualties, there were as many as a thousand more among the various groups of people who would survive and heal, but who were wounded seriously enough to where they would not be fighting much.  He said both Hans and Bragi fought well and she should be proud of her brothers.  He said he was glad Mother stayed with the children, far away from there.  Icechip, still riding on Father’s shoulder, picked up something of Greta’s distress.

“I never knew what war was like before.  I’m sorry so many had to die,” he said, and it sounded heart felt.

Greta sniffed and turned her back on them and Father left with a word that he would check on her again, later.  She missed her children.

Mavis went off with Hermes and Captain Ardacles’ troop to clean up the mess, as she called it.  Wagons went out over the field all afternoon collecting the dead and wounded.  By two o’clock, it began to drizzle softy and Rhiannon showed up.  She said nothing, but made something like a beach umbrella against the rain so Greta could continue to sit and stay dry.  It felt like Rhiannon wanted to say something, but she did not.  She looked sad when she disappeared into the misty rain.

Vedix and Bogus came and sat with her for a while. Neither said much, not even to each other, and after a time they quit the rain and went to find shelter. Alesander and Briana showed up moments later and Briana had an announcement.

“We want to get married.”

“And this is news?” Greta asked.

“Her father has given his blessing if it is all right with you,” Alesander said, and kissed Briana on the cheek.  She responded with a loving and happy face.

“I have said a thousand times, I will not be the decider of such things.”  Greta sounded angry, though she did not mean to be.  “You know what marriage is.  The union between one man and one woman is not to be entered into lightly, but if it is what you want, it is not my place to approve or object.  Personally, I wish you nothing but happiness, but you make your own decisions.”

“So, yes?” Briana asked.

“Yes.  Go on. Have fun.  Get fat.  Have babies. Scat.”  Greta snorted and looked across the field, though in the drizzle, she could hardly see the enemy.  She knew Briana and Alesander stood and kissed for a while, but she ignored them and paid no attention when they left, holding tight to each other and laughing at the rain.

It became four, or close enough.  The sky got ready to turn a dreary afternoon into the equivalent of an early night, when Greta thought she finally saw some movement in the distant camps.  She listened in her mind and caught words first from Longbow, the elf.

“The Scythian chief has convinced the others to make one last try.  He says they damaged the defenders in the first attacks and now the defenders are weak and ready to fall.  He says they would all be cowards if they ran away.  One good drive against the center, and the Romans will break and fall apart is what he says.  He knows the Legion in Porolissum is the only serious Roman presence in the whole province, and once they break through there will be nothing to stand in their way all the way to the Danube.  All of the outsider tribes are leery, but the Scythian has convinced half of the Sarmatians to lead the charge.  That is about five thousand lances.”

“The other tribes will follow,” Treeborn the fairy King interrupted.  “They are preparing as we speak.”

Lord Horns added one thought.  “Though they no longer feel the urging of Mithras, I think the Scythian chief is interested in what he calls the mountain of gold that the Romans have mined and guarded so carefully.”

“Don’t I know it,” Portent peeped, and Greta cut off the long-distance conversation.  Now she had a headache and was not sure if it would turn into a migraine.

Greta stood alone when she stood.  She looked over at the men’s side where Tribune Hadrianus had a tarp erected against the rain.  The constant drizzle actually stopped an hour earlier, but the sky remained as dark and dreary as it had been all day, and water continued to drip now and then off the edge of the tarp where the water had collected.

Darius, who spent the day watching her from a distance and feeling powerless to comfort her, noticed right away when she stood. Cecil saw and pointed.  Olaf, Venislav and Hadrianus all looked and genuine concern covered their faces.  “Darius,” Greta called, and he came to hear what she had to say.  The others followed out of curiosity,

“They are preparing for another attack.  The Scythian chief will not let them wait until the morning for fear they may desert in the night.  They believe the legion here is the only thing standing between them and the riches of Dacia.  They believe the legion is the only form of Roman power in the province. They are wrong.”  Greta scooted up to Darius and gave him a quick kiss with a word.  “Pardon me, my love.”  She went away, and Amphitrite, the one worshiped as Salacia by the Romans, the wife of Neptune, god of the sea, came to stand in her place.  Olaf, Cecil and Venislav all took a step back.  Hadrianus looked too stunned to move, but Darius grinned and hid his grin as Salacia shouted at the sky.

“Fluffer, Sprinkles, Bubbles, get ready for a wild ride.” Salacia raised her hands, reached into the sky and took hold of the clouds.  She caused a great wind to blow over her shoulder, and another to come pouring over the distant mountains.  They crashed over the enemy camps with hurricane force, and Salacia squeezed her hands.  Torrents of rain fell and whipped through the wind.  It drove the men back and some men drowned from the fury of the liquid assault. A number of tornados formed from the contrary winds, and men panicked.

Many men scattered and fell to the ground in fear, or were lifted by the winds and slammed again on the ground or blown for miles. Tents were ripped up and shredded. Horses stampeded.  Some men, horses, wagons and equipment got caught in the tornadoes and tossed away, sometimes landing on other men.  When Salacia really got things going, she began to dance with glee on the battlement.  The wind ripped up whole trees and threw around wagon-sized boulders. The rain came with hail the size of bowling balls and sleet that fell in whole sheets of sharp edges.  Then at once, Salacia decided it was enough, and it all stopped, instantly.

Salacia let her face appear on the clouds where she could look down on the devastation she caused and the survivors who cowered all over the ground.  They looked so puny and helpless, but Salacia thought there still might be something to say. She said two words.  “Go home,” and the words were not only heard and understood by all, but they reverberated for a moment inside thousands of minds. Then Salacia returned in her power to the battement on which she physically stood.

“Forgive me father, for I have sinned,” Salacia said, almost too softy to hear, but she grinned as she thought of Festuscato, and she frowned as she thought of all those ships and sailors who died at sea when her temper flared after Poseidon did something stupid.  Then she smiled again as she remembered her cult had always been one to care for the widows and orphans of the sea, a small payment for her guilt, and she thought of her friends and her own children, Triton, Proteus and Nyssa.  She frowned again when she remembered poor Orion, and how she lost him in a terrible accident, and even as a goddess, she could not do anything to save him.  She went away and let Greta return, and Greta reached up to Darius for another kiss, which Darius was happy to give.

“Sorry love,” she said, and with one hand on her belly and without another word, she turned and walked slowly back to Karina’s house where she had the best sleep she had in years.  When she woke up the next morning, there was not an enemy to be found, and she finished Salacia’s thought about children by admitting she missed her own.

R6 Greta: The Sun Runner, part 3 of 3

Gerraint put away his sword, and when the titan fell dead on his face, he leapt up on the titan’s back, grabbed the lance, and finished pulling it all the way through.  He thanked Hephaestus for the fingerless gloves that protected the palms of his hands, because the lance felt as hot as fire itself.  Grassly had a bucket of water, as Rhiannon instructed him, and Gerraint stuck the point in the water and watched it steam for a minute.

By the time Stinky arrived, Manannan also arrived, and he had a pouch in his hand.  “Poppy seeds,” Manannan said.  “To help it sleep.”  He tied the pouch around the lance point and held it until the lance stopped wiggling.

“Don’t go far away,” Gerraint commanded as was his nature as a king and a knight of the Round Table.

“Never far,” Manannan insisted, before he and the lance vanished.

“Lord,” Grassly shouted to him as Gerraint mounted the mule.  “The knights and the enemy are about to meet.”

Gerraint said nothing, but he did not want to look. He felt sorry for the Sarmatians being, by comparison, such amateurs.  Gerraint heard the titan deflate and saw it start to liquefy.  He saw the spark of life leave the titan body and shoot up to the man-made ridge where the Pater, Mithras undoubtedly still stood.  He thought about the thousands of men on each wing that were about to press the attack, but in the center of the field, with the gnomes all but invisible, it looked like only one man stood.  One woman, he thought, and traded back to Greta’s life.  He brought back her dress and red cloak, and she reached out to pet her mule.

“Walk gently, Stinky,” Greta said, though Stinky seemed inclined to do that very thing, and several of the gnomes accompanied her to help.

Greta almost got back to the Roman lines when she had company.  A man appeared out of thin air.  He rode on a plain horse and said nothing.  Greta knew who it was without having to look, and for all of her efforts, she still did not like the man.  It was a personality thing, she decided.

“I wonder if this was how Mary felt riding into Bethlehem,” Greta said.  She shifted to ride side-saddle, and that relieved a bit of the pressure.  Lucius made no response, but Greta knew Lucius had no doubt to whom she referred.

Greta had to dismount when she reached the ridge fortification.  No way she could force her mule to climb that.  The gnomes brought Stinky.  Greta held her belly as she climbed.  The man beside her dismounted when she did, and he saved the horse by letting it vanish and go back to where it came from.  He offered to help Greta up the hill, but she withdrew.  She did not want him to touch her.

Up top, Greta found the women standing to one side, Rhiannon out front.  The men all stood on the other side, with Darius, Manannan and Alesander keeping a wary eye on the man in their midst.  Mithras stood alone, in the same spot where he had been when he first arrived. The whip had gone, but his staff remained, and he leaned heavily on it.  He looked every bit like a very old man who suddenly felt his age.  Greta stopped, said nothing, and looked at the man as he spoke.

“Apollo prophesied that the seven pieces of Mithras would not be made as one until time herself lifted her hand against them. For a while, at first, I though the seven pieces meant I would have seven children.  Even when I became shattered and I guessed Apollo was talking about you, the Kairos time, that did not make sense.  You were a man, turning back an invasion of Wolv and fighting against Trajan and his weapons in Mesopotamia.  Early on, when Mithrasis and I trapped each other in the north, I managed to persuade a young man to come north in search of his grandmother. I thought, just in case you came this way, you might make the effort to free your half-spirit of the earth, and him being only a half spirit, I knew I could hang on to him and force you to come. But then Mithrasis brought down a Wolv transport and I became forced to turn that man into a dragon for my own protection.

Suddenly, you were born a woman in this place, and I started to put it together, but I was trapped in the ancient dome and it seemed impossible to reach you.  Then, entirely by chance or as you Christians would say, by providential grace, I discovered that my soldier-self, my Mars, felt ready to rebel.  He tried to hide among the Romans, but I got word to him.  He is the one who told Mithrasis about the leftover guns of Trajan that were hidden in the Temple Mount of Ravenshold. But when I saw how her plans failed so spectacularly, I truly began to despair.  Then my soldier-self told young Hans and Berry where Berry could find her father.  The rest you know, except let me say this, that I have never known such love or good company than I had these last two years with Hans and Berry, Fae and Hobknot. You, my dear, are a very lucky woman to have such a family to love.”  Mithras wiped one eye where a tear wanted to fall.

Greta said nothing as Lucius stepped forward to face the man, Mithras.  “It is time for us to go,” he said.  “As was made clear to me often enough on our journey north; the old way has gone.  The new way has come.  The time for the gods is over and we must go over to the other side.” Lucius said no more as he reached out and hugged the old man.

“No, no.”  Greta understood right away, and she felt awful about it and wanted to protest. She looked at her faithful Centurion, Alesander, but he could only look away.   Darius would have done it for her, but he could not.  Only she could do the deed.  Manannan and Rhiannon showed no expression.  Mavis cried.

With one hand on her belly and tears in her eyes, Greta called to her long knife, Defender.  It appeared in her hand, and she shoved it into Lucius’ back where his heart ought to be.  Neither Lucius nor Mithras made a sound.  Greta pulled Defender back out, and Lucius began to crumble.  They saw a flash of light, and Mithras stood alone on the ridge top.  Greta cried great big tears while Darius ran to her, to hold her and offer every ounce of comfort he had.

“I am whole again,” Mithras said quietly.  “I must think about the other side.”

“You can do it,” Greta interrupted her cry.  “You have the courage.  I have seen it.”

Mithras made no answer.  He simply faded until he vanished.  Curiously, Danna’s disobedient children who themselves had yet to let go of this life had also gone from sight.

Darius still cooed when Greta pushed back.  “Oh, but Darius,” she pointed.  The enemy on the wings were starting the attack, and though the Sarmatians withdrew completely from the battle, perhaps because they concluded the magic turned against them was too great for victory, there were some seven thousand Scythians determined to get some revenge for their beating the day before.  That still added up to some twenty-one thousand men attacking some sixteen thousand human defenders.  Greta knew, if it was not for the addition of her little ones, the defenders in their bunkers and behind their make-shift walls and ridge would be hard pressed to fight off such an attack.  Greta buried her face in Darius’ chest.  She did not want to watch.  She did not do well in panic situations.

The Goths on the left, with their Roman and Celtic allies fought like the berserkers Greta called them.  As they showed no quarter and drove back the Lazyges and Outsider Dacians with their fury, the Romans and Celts were impressed that these men were serious about war, and very good at it.

On the right, the Slavs, with their Celts and Romans had a bit more difficulty, in part because the Slavs kept attacking, like they were the aggressors, not the defenders.  Small pockets of Slavs kept getting surrounded by the enemy, and it took some serious work to rescue them.  When they did, they usually found a pocket of Slavs surrounded by dead bodies, and the Slavs laughing and ready to do it again.  Indeed, Venislav seemed to laugh the whole time, even when he hacked an enemy in two.  The Romans and Celts came away from there thinking that these Slavs were warriors and great fighters, but also insane.  Eventually the enemy figured this out as well, and when they withdrew, no doubt some felt they were lucky to get away from those mad men.

In the center, Drakka, Bragi and the men of Porolissum were backed up by the Romans and Celts.  Nudd and his brothers fought there, and Hans finally got to use that sword. Father was in charge, and when the Scythians dismounted outside the trenches and spikes, he charged, Slav style. The Scythians were not ready for that turning of the table, and they withdrew.  Father ran his people back to their wall and bunkers, before the arrows started to fly again.

Father pulled that off twice, but by the third time he figured he might be pushing his luck and kept his men back to await the attack. It proved wise, because the third attack came with less men on foot and more men still in the saddle firing arrows to keep the Roman and Celtic heads down.  Once the Scythians on foot got near enough to be in the way, the Scythians had to hold their arrows, and many of them dismounted and joined the attack. They got close, too close for many of the defenders, but this time, Father used his advantages.  He let loose the goblins, the trolls, ogres and dwarfs with their big axes and their most frightening aspect.  Most of the Scythians screamed, turned and ran to be picked off by elf and fairy archers, who rarely missed.  Those who did not run right away became meat for the grinder. By the time the Romans moved out in formation, backed up by the Celts and Bragi’s locals, they only had some cleaning up to do.

Greta yelled at her father the minute she heard. How dare he put her little ones in that kind of danger.  They were there, kind enough to back up the humans.  They were not there to take the lead.  Some of them got killed, and Greta did not talk to her father for a whole day. The only thing that made it palatable was the fact that the little ones all praised her father for what he did, and thought things like it was about time they got the chance to really fight, and said things about how they hated to always have to be in the background.

“You’re all crazy,” Greta shouted.

“So I keep saying,” Venislav agreed.  “Your sprites are hard to trust and all crazy in the head.”  Coming from Venislav, that did not help.

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

MONDAY

Greta is angry and upset, and the Scythians refuse to leave the battlefield, even though they know the tide has turned against them.  Greta dreads what she will have to do to clean up the mess.  Monday: Cleaning Up.  Until then, Happy Reading.

*

R6 Greta: The Sun Runner, part 2 of 3

As the light grew in the valley, the slow, sneaky movement of the Wolv became evident.  Alesander pointed out the closest four out of six, and when they were ready, he said, “Fire.”  The Wolv were caught unprepared, and it took a moment before they crouched down and returned fire.  The return fire did not get through the screen of the goddess, though there were some good shots.  Sadly, the fire from the people had little impact on the shielded Wolv, except as a distraction.

The elves and fee were able to get close, and when the shuttle had a small explosion and began to smoke and send sparks on to the field, every Wolv eye turned to see.  The elves struck with five or six spears on each Wolv.  The wooden spear handles did not conduct the electricity of the shield, but the metal spear points strained the shield generator until it burned out.  The unprotected Wolv then died from multiple wounds.

When the two Wolv abandoned the shuttle, being without wrist shields, they got easily cut down by the fairies.  Two fairies, being the size of men in order to draw their blades, were sliced by Wolv claws in the exchange, one in the arm, and one right through his chest protector; but the wounds were not deep.  Eight elves were shot in the attack on the six Wolv in the field, three fatally, and the other five seriously, but the five would heal in the next hundred years.

The smidgens, elves and fairies pulled back right away once the work was done, and good thing because the moment the sun broke the horizon, people had to shield their eyes.  A magnificent, dazzling white horse came racing over the far ridge. It glowed with a light as bright as the sun, and Junior had to look to make sure Ulladon did not turn to stone.

“They are all fine,” Rhiannon assured him as Junior turned his eyes again toward the horse.  It left the ground and flew, which reminded him of the twin horses of Apollo that drew the chariot of the sun.  It landed at a spot beside the Wolv shuttle, and stomped the ground several times before it opened its mouth and began to roar.  As it roared, it changed shape.  The horse stood on its hind legs, which thickened to ogre-like legs, and its front legs became arms.  Its body grew to a titanic size as the light it gave out faded and blended into the appearance of the body being on fire, especially in the eyes.  The horse nose diminished as the head ballooned.  The pointed ears remained, but softened, as the eyes moved to the front and the teeth became long and sharp.  What had been the horse became the titan from the cave, and it quickly grabbed the whip it carried on its belt.

The whip cracked three times, and the ground spit fire. Ten thousand Sarmatians in their armor, on their armored horses, carrying their deadly lances lined up far behind the titan, ready to charge.  Five thousand Scythians prepared to back them up.  The other combined tribes on the left and the right prepared seven thousand men each to attack the flanks.  It was close to double the number of defenders, and the enemy still had men in reserve.

The Sun-runner, Heliodrom, the titan stepped a few steps forward and cracked the whip, which somehow reached all the way to the line of defenders.  One Roman burned to a crisp.  One Celt burned next.  The third crack turned a Goth to ash, to blow away on the wind.  The fourth crack killed a Slav.  The fifth crack had been meant for Junior.  Junior saw it in the titan’s eyes, but a man in a long cloak with his hood up and a staff in his hand stepped up and raised his arm.  The whip curled around the arm and the man yanked the whip free of the titan’s grasp.  The titan roared, and the Sarmatians began to move forward at a slow walk.

A second man showed up on the other side of Junior before Junior could say anything to the man in the hood.  This second man looked tall and lean, a swimmer’s build. His skin appeared gray-green and moist, covered only in seaweed.  He held something in his hand and held it out to Junior as he spoke from behind steel-gray eyes filled with death for Junior’s enemies.

“The Lance of Lugh,” the man said.  “And the apples taken by Apollo have been found and returned to the island of Avalon of the Apples where they can be guarded against misuse.”

Junior took the lance, said thank you to Manannan, Celtic god of the sea, and turned to the man in the cloak.  “You thought to make ambrosia with the apples of youth and healing.  You thought to make new gods for yourself.  Now, that will be impossible.”

“So I gather,” the cloaked man said in a familiar voice, because of course it was the Pater, Mithras himself.

Junior called for his own shield to go with the lance, and he caused the likeness of a dragon to appear on the shield.  Then he called for a plain white fairy weave tunic to wear over his armor, and he caused a dragon emblem to appear on the tunic as well.  “In honor of Fae and Berry’s father who sacrificed himself to bring down the Raven of Mithras.  All of the elves, dark and light, the dwarfs and the fee should have dragon tunics. It will help the Goths, Slavs, Romans and Celts remember who is on their side.”  Junior smiled toward the ladies before he turned to the task.

“Stinky.”  Junior called and whistled, and the mule trotted up, a true saddle with stirrups on its back over a blanket of white with red crosses on it, much like the knights of the lance. That was the thought that ran through Junior’s mind, though he honesty imagined more of a warhorse.  Stinky ignored the gods that stood to Junior’s left and right.  It butted right up to Junior, and Junior stroked the mule’s nose and instructed it before he traded paces with Gerraint. Gerraint mounted.  Junior had called to his armor to replace Greta’s dress when he first came, so all Gerraint had to fetch was his helmet.  He got ready, but he thought to add one thing out loud to whomever might be listening.  “Go for the face and eyes.  Maybe you can distract the titan this time so I can get close enough.”

Gerraint and the mule walked down the front of the man-made ridge and carefully went out beyond the trenches and spikes.  He paused there and saw the Sarmatians were still a long way off, coming from the hill on the other side of the valley. The horses still walked, though the line already looked a bit ragged.  It would be a couple more minutes before they started to trot, and they would trot for a little way before they galloped and charged.  The ragged line reminded Gerraint that these were semi-nomadic men, and mostly farmers.  Arthur’s men were also mostly farmers, but these men and their horses did not have the rigorous training of the RDF.  All the same, they were formidable warriors when they went into battle. The Sarmatians invented heavy cavalry several centuries before the Middle Ages.

Gerraint paused long enough to be distracted.  He saw the look on the titan’s face, when the laughter stopped and got replaced with surprise.  Stretching out to Gerraint’s left and right, only a Titan size away, were what looked like thousands of knights of the lance. Stinky started to walk as Gerraint yelled in his mind.  “Yin Mo!” Then he saw something, or several somethings appear around the titan’s head.  They were giant images of the faces of all the ancient sun gods, and they swirled slowly around the titan’s head and looked down on the Helios with disapproval.  Gerraint made out the faces of Apollo from Olympus, Utu from Samaria, Ameratsu from far away Nippon, and Lugh as well, and he saw the titan raise his hands against the accusing faces.  Stinky started to trot when the knights trotted, and Gerraint thought real loud “Sunstone!”  He imagined having words with the elf wizard, but then he had to focus on what he was doing.

Gerraint told the lance to slay the titan, and no one else.  The lance had the reputation of an older dragon, slow to obey once it started to feed. He tucked the lance up under his arm. He knew the work well.  He also knew Stinky would never reach a thundering gallop, like a real war horse, but the mule’s size, weight and strength would make up for much of that when they rammed the lance home.

Grassly and his gnomes were out in force, all but invisible in the winter grass under the cloud filed sky.  The knights of the lance were spaced around Gerraint to give the titan a wide berth, but at the last second, the titan noticed one of the oncoming knights headed right at him.  He reacted too late, got one of Grassly’s arrows in his left eye and got the Lance of Lugh shoved up under his ribs.

The lance was hungry after being on the wall for centuries.  Gerraint tried to hold on, but the lance twisted in his hands.  It felt like a ravenous beast let loose to devour the very fires of the sun.  It drank the titan’s blood of fire and far from being burned by the sun, it remembered when the fire of the sun carried it to victory after victory.

Despite the special saddle, stirrups and all, Gerraint got knocked completely off Stinky’s back.  He landed hard on the field.  He got shaken, but not hurt, and he rose quickly and pulled his sword, Wyrd, in case he needed to finish the job.  He watched as the faces of the old gods faded from sight, and the arrows of Grassly’s gnomes, that had no affect or bounced off at first, were now turning the titan into a true pincushion.  Gerraint smiled at the name for one second before he looked for Stinky. The mule skirted the titan and galloped with the knights of the lance for several hundred yards without Gerraint, before it stopped and started trotting back.  Gerraint only then looked up at his opponent.

The titan had been completely blinded by then, but the eyes were glazed over, and Gerraint watched as the titan fell to his knees.  The Lance of Lugh pushed out the back as the spearhead pulled the butt of the lance all the way into the titan’s body.  When the lance head became exposed, he heard a great moaning sound that echoed across the fields.  It came either from the titan’s lips, though the lips did not move, or from the titan’s body, like the slow leak of air escaping, or it was the lance itself roaring.

R6 Greta: The Sun Runner, part 1 of 3

Greta wore her red cloak to the battlements and pulled it tight against the cold.  The moon had set and the stars were hidden behind a thick layer of clouds. Greta expected another cold rain, and maybe some thunder and lightning to go with it.  She knew she had eight weeks left before the baby, but she felt plenty big already and her ankles started swelling again in the cold weather.

“I can’t see a thing,” Greta confessed. Fortunately, Ulladon stood there to do the seeing.  Mavis came with the extra blankets, and Briana stood there as well, she said, to be Greta’s bodyguard against so many strange men.

“The enemy camps are stirring,” Ulladon announced. “But after not sleeping much for a second night, I imagine they were stirring all night.”

“You can see that?” Briana squinted into the dark.

“Too far.”  Ulladon shook her head.  “Even if my eyes pierce the darkness as they do, I don’t have fairy eyes.  That is too far to see details.  My husband Crag, Rotwood and others are sending me information and pictures.  I can even smell the bacon cooking, which is making me hungry.  Time for my supper.”

“That may be our bacon,” Alesander interrupted as he came out of the bunker.  Soldiers brought a dozen chairs, now being used to the women and their needs. Alesander stayed to hug Briana and took the seat beside her.  They stared off into the dark, but only for a moment before they reached for each other’s hand.

“My bacon,” Pincushion said, as Rhiannon, Pincushion and a big fire appeared on the top of that man-made ridge.  Pincushion had an oversized pan of eggs scrambling on one side of the fire, a whole side of bacon frying on the other side, and in the middle of the fire, she had a cauldron full of oatmeal that she called mush. Rhiannon squeezed into a seat between Greta and Ulladon and announced that she liked bacon.

“You missed lunch yesterday,” Pincushion scolded. “I felt it my duty to see you got a good breakfast.”

“Hush,” Greta said.  A mist rose up from the ground to meet the cloud covered sky.  It looked like the last gasp of the few piles of snow that held on here and there around the town.  Greta heard whispers at first, but they became clear when two small clouds drifted close and spoke.

“Lady, we are here.”

“Here we are, Lady.”

“Fluffer and Sprinkles,” Greta identified them. “Is Bubbles with you?”

“He is high up above.”

“He is not down below.”

“Good.”  Greta said, and considered her options before she spoke.  “I would appreciate it if you kept the sky covered and the sun hidden today. I fear after yesterday’s disasters, the Heliodrom will show himself, and I want the source of his strength hidden as far as possible.  Keep Bubbles and his people with you if you can.  I will let you know when to let him fall and drive into the face of the enemy.”

“That will be hard to do, do you think Sprinkles?”

“Yes Fluffer, hard for us.  The heavier we get, the more we leak.”

“Some will leak when we get heavy, but we will try.”

“We will try our best.”

“That is all I can ask,” Greta said.  “Now fly into your sky and give my greetings to the Lord of the Rainclouds and Lord Zephyrus of the winds.”

“We will.”

“We most certainly will.”

Fluffer and Sprinkles floated up and disappeared rapidly in the dark, while Darius, Bogus, Hermes and Vedix came down the ridge, followed by Stinky the mule.  “Was that our sky friends?” Hermes asked, and Greta answered affirmative while Mavis got up to fetch him and sit him beside herself.

Vedix leaned over to speak to Briana.  “I left Nudd with his brothers.  They are all jealous that he is married to Heidi, a sweet girl, and they are still just engaged.”

“Pincushion,” Bogus interrupted.  “You hover over that cauldron and the fire in the night like the veritable Witch of Endor, or maybe Madea herself.”

“Please, no,” Greta said with a roll of her eyes. “But maybe the Witch of Balmoor.”

“Who was that?”  Rhiannon started to ask before she shook her head and answered her own question.  “Someone not born yet.”

Pincushion started to serve up, and as usual, she cooked more than anyone could possibly eat, even after Father came with Cecil, Olaf, Venislav and Tribune Hadrianus; and Olaf and Venislav both did their best, like they were in an eating contest.  The men went off to their own meeting place when the Lords Treeborn, Horns, Crag and General Redbeard arrived.  The Ladies Oreona and Goldenrod took their seats, and Karina came without the children because she said at least one utterly, ordinary human being ought to be there.

A couple of women got up and hugged her, as did Pincushion when she brought her some eggs.  The rest encouraged her, verbally, and told her what good children she had. They were presently with Liselle, Drakka’s wife, “And she laughs when Padme and I talk about all of you.”

“Oh,” Mavis spoke with a glance at Greta.  “We are not exactly a secret, but in general, the less humans that know about us, the better.”

“Those of us who went with Greta to the Land of the Lost know,” Briana explained.  “And I understand my father of the Eagle Clan, Olaf the Goth, Venislav of Moldav and Tribune Hadrianus know because they have to.”

“Olaf and Venislav met us in the Venedi town.” Greta reminded her about Bonebreaker being there.

“Oh yes, and Darius and your father know, but I understand your father just learned about it since being here.”

Greta nodded.  “I kept it from him for years, and Mother still has no idea.”

“But why should you trust me?” Karina asked.

“You and Bragi and your children are family, with Hans and Berry and whatever children they have.  My sprites can’t help caring about all of you.  It comes as natural as a bird on the wing or a flower in bloom. For the sprites, it is what the storyteller calls a no-brainer.”

“Snowflake would not go to Liselle’s except in her big size,” Karina said, like now it made sense.

“Being big for a long time is hard for a fairy,” Goldenrod explained.  “But I am sure she will hide to take a break and won’t let Liselle see her in her natural small fairy form, I hope.”  She turned to Greta.  “She is quite young.”

“I wouldn’t mind if Liselle saw,” Karina interjected. “She might not laugh so hard next time,”

“I don’t mind if Liselle knows, or Drakka for that matter, him being Bragi’s best friend,” Greta said.  “You know, I had a crush on Drakka when I was young.  It shows you how stupid I can be.”

Karina turned away to hide her laugh.  The others protested, but softly, and mostly they looked over at the men who appeared to be pacing, impatient, and morose, thinking about the coming day.  The women laughed and talked, and tried not to tell too many jokes about the men, and generally had a good time, while they waited for something to happen.

###

Mavis and Oreona heard it first with their good elf ears. The sun was due to rise but Ulladon did not worry as long as the clouds were thick.  She described the object making the sound as a box floating in the air, and Greta jumped even before she heard it.  “Lord Needle and your smidgen troop,” she commanded, and when she heard the floating box herself, she knew it was the Wolv shuttle, and it was landing,

“Fudge,” Briana said it this time when she recognized the sound.  She looked at Greta as a hundred little lights appeared to flutter and zip around Greta’s hand.  They were pin lights, and Briana asked what they were.

“These are nano-bites or nano-chits, the spiritual version.  They are smidgens, but some have called them gremlins for the way they love to gum up sophisticated machines.”

“Now, Lady,” a man said, as one pin light separated and turned into a five-inch fairy looking fellow, though even in his big size, he became not quite as big as a fairy.  “That is hardly fair since the only machines we have gummed up, as you say, are alien contraptions and thingy-ma-bobs that you told us about.”

“Right, and I have another one,” Greta said. ‘You will find it across the field, just landed.  I’ll get you through the screens and send you a picture of what to fry.”

“Lady,” Lord Needle bowed and returned to being a pinprick of light, and all of the lights followed him into the sky which by then had the faintest glimpse of light on the horizon.

Greta stood, and Amun Junior came to take her place. “Sorry, Ladies,” he said.  “But it is my turn.”  Of course, Junior could see the shuttle and the field perfectly, and he said as much.  “Fudge. I believe that is the current word. The shuttle let off six Wolv who are right now sneaking up to our lines.  Treeborn.  Horns.” The fairy and elf came right away, and Junior told them what they were facing.  Alesander, Hermes and Vedix followed, since conveniently, or by godly design, they were not really part of the command group.  Briana stood, and together they wondered if they might help.

“We still have the weapons and wristbands of the Wolv,” Alesander pointed out.

Junior shook his head, and then changed his mind. “If Rhiannon will hold up an energy screen against return fire, you might be able to draw the Wolv fire.  Maybe my elves and fairies can get close enough without being fried in the attempt.”

The humans were willing to draw the enemy fire, even if Rhiannon got stubborn, but Rhiannon was willing and only said one thing. “You do everything the hard way and make people work for their bread and butter.”

“I do,” Junior said.  “We do this by the book.”

R6 Greta: Battle Lines, part 3 of 3

The Scythians knew their business.  They made a line several men thick and swept from left to right across the face of the defenders, firing arrow after arrow at anything and everything.  When they reached the far end of the wall the town erected, having ridden outside the trenches and pikes set out against cavalry, the Scythians turned away to circle around and get in line for another go.  Roman, Celtic and Elf archers all returned fire when they could, but they mostly had to keep their heads down because the Scythians were very good at this tactic.

The Dacians and the Roxolani on the ends became the first to attack.  The other outsiders followed them and then several thousand Scythians joined them in the center while their fellow Scythians continued to send wave after wave of arrows over their heads and into the Roman and Celtic lines.

The Romans built well, as always.  The enemy could not bring their horses up through the pikes and ditches to impact the fight.  They had to dismount and charge on foot, a great disadvantage for horsemen forced to charge uphill.  The Romans in particular had the height and the skill, training and equipment to hold the line at all costs.  The fighting became intense in several places, but it did not last long.

When the Scythians started to withdraw, the Celts could not contain themselves.  They followed the retreating enemy with a charge of their own, so the Celtic Auxiliary units, which contained most of the Celtic horsemen, felt obliged to back them up. Then the Roman cavalry wanted some of that action.  Then several cohorts of the legion followed, and the orderly retreat of the Scythians turned into a route.

When the Scythians reached their hill, they thought to turn and drive the Celts and Romans back, but they found a surprise waiting for them.  Thousands of Goths and Slavs had come up in the early morning, just itching for a fight. The rout of the Scythians turned into a slaughter, and the Scythian line busted in two, with some fleeing to the Lazyges and others fleeing to the Roxolani.

“Bring them back,” the Princess said.  She stood on the battlement beside Darius, Cecil and the others.  “We don’t have the men to hold the center.  We are spread too thin to hold the town.”

“Alesander.”  Darius shouted.  “Sound the recall.”  Alesander did that, and trumpets blared out across the field in the late morning. Cecil agreed and signaled his men to sound the drums.  The Romans returned in order, and the Celts in disorder, but they returned, and the Goths and Slavs followed them at a safe distance.

The Princess went away.  Greta returned and gave Darius a great big kiss.  Then she asked for his help down from the battlements.  He asked, “Where are we going?”

“To introduce you to Olaf and Venislav.  Then you need to figure out how to fit a bunch of berserker Goths and barbaric Slavs into the line of defense.”

“Thanks a lot,” Darius said, but Greta already turned to the next thought.

“Redbeard.”  She spoke in her normal voice, at normal volume, but she knew the dwarf, a half mile away, would hear her.  “Get your men back here.”  The dwarfs were searching for surviving Scythians in order to finish the job, an act of mercy, they said.

###

The afternoon started quiet enough.  Darius, Alesander, Hadrianus, Olaf, Venislav and Cecil, a most odd command group, discussed a serious strike on the Roxolani wing where the large number of diverse tribes might make it hard for them to work together in a coordinated defense.

“We are pretty diverse,” Hadrianus pointed out.

“But we work together with you Romans pretty good,” Venislav nudged the Goth.  “Do you think my friend Olaf?”

“I like the idea of a quick attack, but I am not sure about pulling back again,” Olaf said, ignoring Venislav.

“Like a sortie from a city wall,” Darius explained.

“A feint,” Alesander said further.  “The object is to draw them into the hollow where two thousand archers are waiting.  The elves and fairies rarely miss, and we use our strengths and turn their numbers and many tribes stumbling over each other against them.”

The sound of laughter interrupted the meeting. Greta, Mavis, Berry and Briana were sitting in chairs not far away.  Venislav stepped up to Alesander and named them.

“Mother Greta, her elf maid, the beauty of the land and your woman?”

Alesander nodded.  “Just as soon as her father gives his blessing,” he said.

Cecil frowned.  “I’m still thinking about it.”

Olaf got it and let out a loud guffaw.  He slapped Cecil on the back and guffawed again.  “I think maybe we do this feint.  My father taught me to never trust the Romans, but this time we fight on the same side, eh, Venislav.”

“From what I see, I think fighting on the same side is better than fighting on the against side.”

Naturally, things did not exactly go as planned.  To prevent incidents of what Greta called friendly fire, Darius assigned the Romans, Celts, Goths and Slavs four different points in the enemy camp so they attacked four different tribes.  When the recall got sounded, the Romans were disciplined, and the Goths and Celts responded well enough, especially the Celts who were mostly auxiliary troops, but the Slavs took their time.  Their enemy tribe collapsed and ran right into a fifth tribe, and it looked for a bit like the Slavs might end up routing the whole enemy field, but the Roxolani stood firm, and when the Slavs rode back as fast as they could, they had a host of people chasing them, and the Slavs appeared to be laughing and whooping and having a great time.

The Slavs rode right through several large groups of men who were already pinned down in the archery area.  By luck and hastily shouted orders, only three Slavs got hit, and none fatally.  When the big group of men that were chasing them arrived, they took the men already there for the enemy and as hoped, Mithrites killed Mithrites.  The archers simply had to keep them penned in.  To be sure, it did not take long for the enemy to figure it out and hastily retreat from the hollow, but by then, the enemy dead outnumbered the allies by three to one, at least according to the fairies that flew over the enemy camps.

Everyone shouted for joy until Bogus put a damper on the celebration.  “We need to do that every time, since they outnumber us three to one.”  The numbering was actually closer to two to one, but the point got made and the men sobered.

All this while, Greta and her friends watched the Scythians move warily back up on the center hill across the valley.  The Ladies Oreona and Goldenrod got chairs and joined the group and they were invaluable in describing what happened on that far hill; Goldenrod in particular with her fairy eyes.  There were arguments down in the Lazyges and Dacian camp.  The Roxolani, Capri and Costoboci still licked their wounds and were in no condition to mount an offensive.  And the Scythian burned their dead.  Greta concluded.

“It’s about two o’clock.  Plenty of sunlight left, but I doubt there will be another attack today.”

“We do seem to have put them off their intentions,” Father said as he walked up and kindly acknowledged all the women, human and non-human alike.  “Bragi and Drakka have already sent the local men home for the night, to come back to position before dawn.”

“Fair enough,” Lady Oreona said.  “Our enemies were decidedly unsuccessful today.  With any luck, some of the tribes may rethink this whole enterprise in the night and begin to pull back by morning.”

“Once the sun sets, I am sure Ulladon and her people can handle the night watch just fine,” Briana said.

“The Romans can take the afternoon well enough,” Mavis agreed.

“Wait a minute.  What is that?”  Berry saw something and pointed.

“I was wondering myself,” Goldenrod said.

A flash of light, and Rhiannon arrived, and Karina and Padme in her arms arrived with the goddess.  Padme shrieked and giggled and clapped her hands at disappearing from one place and instantly reappearing somewhere else.  Karina looked a bit disoriented, but Rhiannon spoke.

“Sarmatians.  Their horses and men are armored and they have big lances meant to crack the Roman phalanx.  Another ten thousand, as you say.”

“Fudge,” Greta said, and she really said fudge. “And we’ve come such a long way already.”

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

MONDAY

The SunRunner shows himself, and some Wolv…  Until Monday, Happy Reading.

*

R6 Greta: Battle Lines, part 2 of 3

“Quiet,” Greta insisted.  “Everybody just be quiet for a minute.”  The little ones got quiet right away, and the humans followed after Briana finished her sentence.  They heard a sound from the back room.  A child was calling.  Karina got up right away, and Mavis excused herself from Ulladon’s company to follow. A moment later, Karina returned, struggling to keep six-year-old Kurt up in her arms, her hands clasped beneath the boy’s butt and a look on her face which said how heavy the boy started getting. Mavis carried Padme, and they giggled. She sat down facing Ulladon, Padme in her lap, and Padme immediately protested.

“Let me see.”

Ulladon looked at Greta who shrugged, so Ulladon let her glamour drop and Padme clapped and reached for Ulladon’s horns.  She giggled again when Ulladon stuck out her skinny and far too long forked tongue.  Padme tried to grab the tongue, but her little hands were not fast enough.  They played that game for a while and the rest of the group watched and smiled until Kurt woke up enough to look around and scream. He continued to scream after he shut his eye and Karina took him toward the door.

“No offence,” Karina said.  “But he might never get back to sleep.”

“Rather a compliment,” Rotwood said with a big tooth-filled grin, and he tipped his hat to Karina and again to the boy, even if Kurt screamed in his face.  Bragi got Karina’s cloak.  Kurt stayed wrapped in his blanket, and mother and child went outside.

“Now,” Greta began to get everyone’s attention again, but Bogus interrupted, as soon as everyone got quiet.

“Lady, I must protest again.”  Bogus looked around the table and apologized to the newcomers before he spoke.  “I have more than a thousand spirits in every shape and size waiting just south of the town. They are all volunteers from all over the province.  You know, normally we want nothing to do with human conflict and human wars, as you have taught us.  Some believe the world would be better off if the mortals just killed themselves off and were done with it.  But in times of rebellion and invasion, the world becomes a dangerous place, even for us. People run everywhere through the woods and hills, and they tend to kill everything that moves.  I am glad our friends from beyond the mountains are willing to help in this time of need, but you have people right here who are willing to help as well.”  He dropped his voice to a mumble.  “I was just waiting for a safe time to tell you.”  He sat down.

Greta nodded, and she reviewed the actual numbers, or as close as the various little ones were willing to admit.  “So that adds up to about four thousand extra arms,” Greta said, pleased that she added it all in her head without having to write it down.

“So, they only outnumber us two to one,” Darius whispered to Greta and Greta lost her smile, and doubly so when she had a thought.

“Wait a minute.  Wait a minute.”  Greta got everyone quiet again as she looked around the table.  “Where is Willow and her troop of frost fairies?”  People looked around the room and shrugged. “Chip?” she asked out loud. “Snowflake?” she asked more softly to the fairy on her shoulder.  They did not know.  They had not thought about it.  They became worried.

“Why weren’t we warned this morning, or a couple of days ago come to think of it, when the new armies came in from the east and west?” Darius asked.

Greta stood and turned to face the kitchen, the only open space in the room, and she called.  “Willow.  Willow!” She had no response, and Rhiannon and Darius stood on each side of Greta for support while everyone else watched. Greta got worried because only the greatest of powers could block her ability to contact her little ones.  Greta felt some urgency and grabbed Rhiannon’s hand for the extra power boost while she went away and let Danna, the Celtic mother goddess take her place.  “Willow,” Danna commanded with that single word.

Danna’s voice sounded soft, but it had an intensity about it that reminded some of the roar of a hungry lion.  It reverberated through everyone’s insides, like it searched their souls, and not finding what it was after, it went out into the town to echo down the streets and alleys.  By the time it reached the Roman, and Celtic battle lines, it rumbled, like a belly ache deep inside a mountain about to go volcanic.  It knocked down men and tents in the enemy lines where the earth itself shook, and men wondered if this invasion was really a good idea.  The little ones in their camps looked up and felt encouraged and loved, and the millions of little ones who were insubstantial and invisible and working hard across the face of the wilderness, paused and said a little prayer to their goddess.  In the wild places, the wolves of this world howled, the owls looked at the rising moon and hooted, while the great cats roared in echo to the roar of the queen.  The startled deer ran while badgers, beavers, rabbits and songbirds kept their young ones close in the dark.  Far away, in a secluded northern forest by the Muskva River, the Wolv who do not have a word for fear in their vocabulary, looked up and felt afraid.

Deep in a cave in the Carpathian Mountains, the call found its reason for being.  A picture formed in the air of Bragi’s kitchen, and everyone saw poor Willow, beaten, broken, burned and in despair.  She had been badly tortured, and everyone became furious, but Willow looked up and spoke.

“I never stopped believing.  Lady, it is the Helios.  The Sun-runner has held us captive for three days.”  She stopped talking when she ran out of energy, and Danna pulled the window back to broaden the view.  The whole troop of fairies was there, in cages, and the titanic demon was there as well, by a great fire in the middle of the cave.  It turned to look at them.  People screamed and looked away, not because he looked scary like a goblin, or detestable like an ogre, but because he looked like a nightmare, a demonic presence who bore more than the fires of the sun.  The fires of Hell itself danced in his eyes, and at the sight of Danna’s distress, he looked ready to laugh and spit in her face.

Danna grabbed an apple off the table and heaved it. It went right through the window, which surprised the Titan, and it hit the demon right between those eyes, which caused him to stumble and raise his hands.  Danna already started yelling.

“Rhiannon.  Pull.” Willow came through the window, followed by two, then three, then the whole fairy troop.  By the time the Titan found his angry face, Danna snapped her finger and the window vanished.

Willow flew to Danna’s worried face and hugged her. Snowflake and Icechip flew around the room, hugging their families and cousins and friends.  The kitchen became full of flashing lights, but Fae wisely stood and opened the door.  Clouds had pushed up from the south in the last half-hour and it began to drizzle, but most of the fairy troop went out into the cool of the evening and were glad to let the water drops cleanse them from the terror and pain of the last three days.

Greta came back to her own place and sat heavily in her seat.  She put her hand to her belly and cooed for a second to her baby, but she spoke out loud to whomever listened.  “See what we have to look forward to?”

###

Lord Crag and his goblins and trolls did their job in the night.  They came up from the solid earth, out of sight from the enemy and their guards. They took any that wandered too far from the camps, and screams could he heard here and there throughout the night. Going against orders, Lord Crag and Rotwood formed several teams to race through various camps to burn the tents and scatter the men and equipment only to disappear again in the dark.  They scared off plenty of horses, and though the horses did not wander too far, despite how frightened they were, some at least were stampeded through the camps, and the goblins found that great fun.

By dawn, the enemy had lost some good men and had little sleep, but their commanders offered their men no respite and plenty of men were angry enough to want revenge.  By mid-morning, the Scythians were ready to charge.  The Lazyges and Dacians on the left and the Capri, Costoboci and Roxolani on the right all sent a couple of hundred men as a token of support for the initial attack when the Scythians charged.

R6 Greta: Battle Lines, part 1 of 3

Just after sundown the family gathered one last time around the double tables, with Cecil of the Eagle Clan, there to represent the Celts, and Mavis and the Tribune Hadrianus squeezed in.  A place also got set for Rhiannon, in case she decided to show up.  The children were in bed, and the conversation stayed quiet enough not to wake them.  In fact, very little got said, out loud, because no one could think of what to say. Their position might not be hopeless, but it felt near enough to cause silence to fall over the table like a shroud.

There came a knock on the door and Bragi slid his chair out of the way so Alesander could answer it.  They assumed it was some report from the front line.  It turned out to be a woman.  She appeared to be a fine looking young woman from a family of money, and it took those who knew her a minute to see through the glamour she wore.

Briana jumped up and hugged the woman.  “Ulladon. I almost didn’t recognize you.”

“You weren’t supposed to recognize me,” Ulladon said, with a big smile.  “I have a friend of yours outside, and one for you, Mavis my friend.”

“Me?” Mavis raced to the door.  There were several men outside holding torches, and Rhiannon stood near, lighting up the area with more light than the moon and stars would normally provide, not that anyone particularly noticed.  Mavis and Briana ignored the goddess and ran to the men.

“Nudd!”  Briana hugged him and then saw he had a young woman beside him.

“Heidi,” Nudd said.  “This is my amazing cousin, Briana, the sister I was telling you about.”

Heidi said something so soft it was too hard to hear, and then she dropped her eyes to the ground.  She seemed terribly shy.

“Papa,” Mavis ran into Hermes’ arms and wept. Hermes still felt sore from the wound in his side, but he was whole, and he hugged Mavis with his whole heart and shushed her because now everything would be all right.

Bogus, Alesander and Greta all spouted at the beast that stood between the two men.  “Stinky!”  The mule pushed up to Greta and bobbed its head, looking for a carrot.

“I found them on the hill, trying to sneak through the Scythian lines.  I thought you might want them.”  Rhiannon grinned.  “More to the point, you must hear what Hermes has to say.”

“Come in,” Bragi invited them all, but the men with the torches opted to stay outside on watch, and hold the mule, which would have otherwise followed them right into the house.

Karina and Pincushion were by the kitchen counter dishing out the supper, which had miraculously doubled, with plenty of duplicate plates and cups, enough for all.  The table, now melted into one big table, got magically extended to sit everyone comfortably, with a half-dozen empty seats besides.

Bragi still sat at one end, and Father did not seem too far away at the other; yet somehow everyone became able to sit and see and hear everyone.  Father squinted his eyes to try and see how it was done.

“Now you know I can make a chair or two,” Rhiannon said to him with a touch on the old man’s hair.

“And kind of you to do so,” Father said, and let his smile replace his scowl.

“Lady,” Cecil touched his head since he had no hat to tip.  He had seen the lady about when she trained his daughter, Briana, but he never knew her name, so it was just Lady.  Vedix’ eyes got very big, and he nudged Cecil, but Bogus was right there with a hand and a word.

“Steady now,” he said, and he helped Vedix sit and stay quiet.

“My Lady is the kindest and most wonderful person in the whole world,” Briana spouted and found some tears as she sat an innocent Nudd in his chair and put Heidi between them.

Alesander took over the conversation with a nod from Darius.  Darius appeared too busy enjoying the show to begin any serious discussion.  “Time for pleasantries later.  We all want to hear about Nudd’s adventures, but right now we are facing a terrible enemy that has the skill and numbers to overcome our defenses and set the whole province to flames.  Hermes.  I understand you have something to tell us.”

Hermes stood, patted Mavis’ hand and gave a nod to both Ulladon, who sat beside Mavis, and Rhiannon, who sat on his other side, beside Greta.  He cleared his throat.  “I spoke with Lucius.  He is still the man of few words we all know, but he spoke this way.  After a hundred and fifty years, he has come to realize that the time for the gods is over.  Though he bears the name of Mars, he is not consumed with the blood lust like Ares.”  Greta nodded. Mithras was always a meek and humble soul; a bit of a scaredy-cat, truth be told.  Hermes continued.

“Since living in the Land of Aesgard, he has come to hear about and admire Tyr of the one hand, the war god of Aesgard.  He says war and combat must be noble and an act freely entered into for the sake of faith and high ideals.  He says in the old days, the gods encouraged and supported and inspired the people, but they never controlled them.  Now, the aspects of Mithras have twisted men’s minds and stolen their hearts, and he wants no part of that.  He says it is time for Mithras to go over to the other side, and time to give the people a chance to make peace.”  Hermes sat down.

“If only peace was so simple,” Greta said softly.

“Maybe we can use this division in Mithras to our advantage,” Darius suggested with equal quiet.

“Like Scops and Dames,” Alesander heard and spoke up.

“Scots and Danes,” Greta corrected.  “But we don’t have the time to sew distrust between the tribes that have gathered, and I don’t know if it would work as long as Mithras is twisting the men’s minds, as Hermes said.”

“And there are more men coming from the north,” Ulladon said.  “But I have brought some good help, if the Lady will let us help.”

Darius and Rhiannon both grinned, but Greta put her head in her hands.  Everyone waited and Greta finally sighed, “Bring them in.  I suppose it won’t hurt to hear what they have to say.”

Ulladon stood and stepped to the door.  She opened up and waved, and then put her fingers to her lips and let out a shriek of a whistle.  Briana turned to Heidi.

“It’s all right to close your eyes.  Nudd is very good at closing his eyes.”

“I am.  See?”  He showed her and she giggled, gave him a peck on the lips and shut her eyes with him.

“You didn’t bring Bonebreaker into the camp, did you?” Greta asked.

“No,” Ulladon responded with a roll of her eyes. “Give me some credit.”

“That closing the eyes thing sounds like a good idea,” Karina said.

“I think you don’t want to miss this,” Bragi responded as Alesander and Hobknot together held Tribune Hadrianus to his seat.

The first to fly in the door were Icechip and Snowflake who landed in front of Greta and Chip asked in a loud voice, “Can we watch?”  Greta invited Snowflake to her shoulder and Father wiped off his shoulder.

“Well, son.  come on.”  Chip waited for no further invitation.

The Lords Longbow and Horns came in talking about the Scythians on the hill, like they were in the middle of a private conversation.  Lady Oreona said hello to everyone, and especially to those she knew before she took a seat.  Lord Treeborn and Lady Goldenrod came in full sized, so apart from their extraordinary beauty, they seemed normal enough.  Portent the dwarf came in and Bragi and Hadrianus shifted in their seats at this obvious sight of someone that was not human.

Portent introduced his friend.  “My General, Redbeard.  We brought a whole army from the Alps to retake Movan Mountain.  But I figure we might as well get some practice.”

Grassly the gnome scooted in without many noticing because the last to arrive came on his heels, and they were the Lord Crag and Rotwood, the goblins.  Hadrianus opted to close his eyes.  Karina shrieked but tried to hold it in.  Bragi and Father on each end of the table turned pale and looked away.  The only reason everyone kept their seats was because Rhiannon caused a feeling of calm to fall on the people.

“Are we all here?” Lord Crag asked, and Cecil only stayed in his chair on the chilling sound of the goblin voice because Briana reached across the table and grabbed her father’s hand.  Greta thought it curious that anyone heard anyone, because by then the whole house became full of little conversations everywhere.

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

*