Reflections W-4 part 3 of 3

Everything on the table tasted wonderful, just the right temperature, including some of the fruit, which was chilled. The woman merely sat at the head of the table the whole time and watched, mostly Wlvn. Wlvn felt uncomfortable having those eyes trained on him, but for most of the time he got too busy stuffing his face to protest. When she produced the raspberry ices at the end of the feast, Wlvn finally had to say something.

“My Lady is too kind to us poor travelers,” he said, and she smiled at his sentiment while he continued. “Have you tried orange ices? You must, though I don’t know where you can get oranges this time of year outside of Italy or perhaps Iberia.”

The lady opened her beautiful blue eyes just a little wider and brushed her long, blond hair behind her ear. “I thought you were the one,” she said, without explanation.

Wlvn returned her smile and got to the point. “I would not like to impose on your hospitality, but we are being pursued by Loki’s creatures and I would be most grateful if you would give us sanctuary for the night.” Wlvn had looked out the long window in the room and he saw that the sun getting ready to set.

The lady eyed him for another moment before she answered. “Your horses will be safe. The creatures will not come up to the house, though I may require you to teach me how to ride one of the beasts.” She paused to flash her smile for him once more. “As for the rest, your rooms are already prepared. If you will follow me.” She stood. Somehow, she had changed out of her robe and skintight clothes and now wore a dress, still skintight from the waist up, and which did not even fall to her knees, and when she walked, moved in a way to where it is safe to say the three travelers who followed her did not see any other parts of that great house.

“For your servants,” the lady said and opened a door to a room with two beds. She stepped back to let Wlkn and Badl enter the room, and she took Wlvn by the arm. He could hardly protest, though he thought she seemed taller when he first saw her. Presently, she looked just tall enough for her head to top out about at his eyes. That made her his perfect height, as Wlvn supposed, and he had no doubt that was what she wanted to be. “Call if you need anything.” The lady turned Wlvn to walk down the hall.

“My friends will be safe, Ydunna?” Wlvn had to ask. He knew the woman’s name. She was the goddess of youth, keeper of the golden apples.

Ydunna stopped in mid stride and turned to face him. Clearly, she had made herself to be as ordinary and human as possible and looked a little miffed that he guessed. He looked down into her blue eyes and saw her change of mind as she pulled herself in real close and planted her lips on his. What could he do but oblige? But when they parted, he spoke again.

“My friends will be safe?”

Ydunna looked miffed again. “Yes,” she said. “And your horses. The Alfader says your mission is too important to keep you here, much as I might like.” She looked up again into his eyes and smiled as if in search of another kiss, but then she seemed to change her mind and turned him toward a door. That room was filled with a great big double bed, and Wlvn thought that maybe the Goddess did not change her mind after all. “In the meantime, you are mine tonight, and you will always have a bed here when you want it.” The way she said that gave Wlvn chills, as she followed Wlvn into the room and closed the door behind her, tight.

“What about your husband?” Wlvn asked.

“Oh, I’m not married,” Ydunna responded.

Wlvn quickly grabbed her to keep her at arm’s length. He studied her for a minute. “Only because you are so young,” he concluded. “What are you, fifty? Sixty?”

Ydunna dropped her eyes for the first time. “How could you possibly know that?” She asked.

“I’ve been around.” Wlvn softened a bit.

Ydunna looked up, and the look in her eye made her look like a cat and Wlvn felt like the mouse. “But I just love red hair.” She reached up to lay her hand tenderly on his cheek. Wlvn became afraid she might start to purr or growl at any moment, so he felt he had no choice but to change. One second Ydunna stroked Wlvn’s young cheek and looked longingly into his eyes and the next second she snatched her hand away like she had been burned. Wlvn went away and Flern came to stand in his place; and Flern frowned at the goddess.

Ydunna backed away and thought for a second before she came to a conclusion. “I don’t go that way.”

“I don’t either,” Flern said. “But look, as lovely, desirable and attractive as you are, my Wlvn has not had a good night’s sleep in three nights. He really needs to rest, if you follow what I am saying. Please, not tonight. Maybe some other night, but not tonight. Okay?”

Ydunna looked down for the second time. “But maybe it is too late,” she said. “I painted his ice with ambrosia. Odin said he was going to go against the Titan, and I was afraid he might need some extra help. He should be immortal now. What?” She asked what because Flern kept shaking her head.

“It doesn’t work on me. I’m immune. Whoever is in control to make sure I keep getting reborn at the right time and in the right places has taken me out of the hands of the gods altogether. Ambrosia is just apples to me. Oh!” It became Flern’s turn to act startled and Ydunna responded appropriately.

“What?”

“I just realized. Wlkn and I shared a taste of our ices because I didn’t think mine tasted like raspberries. That old man had a taste of ambrosia.”

“No! He can’t have had enough to be made immortal.”

“No, but I bet he gets a fair bit younger.” Flern started to laugh and Ydunna joined her in her laugh, and even put out her hand to touch Flern’s hand in a spirit of sharing. “You really blew that one,” Flern said.

“Now what is that old man going to do?” Ydunna asked and both girls began to laugh again just thinking about it. Then at once the laughter stopped and Ydunna looked hard into Flern’s eyes. “You know; you look exactly like him in a way. You have the same skin, same hair and same eyes.”

“We have the same soul,” Flern said.

“I know that, but I mean you look exactly alike, except you are a girl and he is very much a young man.”

“Thanks for that,” Flern said.

Ydunna patted Flern’s hand before she took her own hand back. “All right. I won’t have him tonight. I will let him rest, but remember, you promised I will have a turn.”

“No, no.” Flern spoke quickly. “I said maybe. The gods never make promises, and you might as well learn that now before you get any older.”

“We don’t?” Ydunna had to think. “I never heard that before. The gods never make promises?”

“Exactly.” Flern patted Ydunna’s hand this time and went away, letting Wlvn return to his own place and time. “That way you never promise something that you can’t deliver or that gets you in trouble later on.”

Ydunna put her hand to her mouth at the change. “That is remarkable the way you do that.” She stepped in and grabbed him and kissed him good night, but like she meant, see you later. “Just so you remember me,” she said, as she pulled away. Then a wry little grin crossed her face. “Right now, I have to go check on an old man.” She left, and Wlvn thanked Flern with all his mind and heart because there was no way he was going to be able to resist Ydunna if she became really determined. Wlvn tried not to think of poor Wlkn as he crawled up into the big bed. It turned out to be not much of a struggle for him to put Wlkn and everything else out of his mind because his head only touched the pillow and he fell asleep.

When Wlvn returned to the dining room in the morning, he found the table set once again with every delectable food to break his fast, but this time Ydunna did not come around. Badl came in and joined him as he partook of the feast, and Wlkn came in last of all, slapping his hands against his skinny chest. The gray hair was black again and it looked like a full head of hair. His teeth were restored, the wrinkles were all gone, and his eyes sparkled with vitality and youth.

“I’m a new man, I tell you.” He fairly shouted. “Never in all the world has a man been blessed as I have, to be young again and full of life.”

“Good,” Wlvn said. “So you can carry your own grain again to the center of the universe and once again risk being selected. Pass the butter.” He said the last to Badl who obliged with a straight face.

Wlkn sat down quietly, having the wind knocked out of him a little with that comment. “Now, that was hardly something to bring up when I was just thinking how good it felt to be a man again.”

“You have my sympathies,” Badl said. “Fortunate for me, I was never a man in the first place. Pass the bread.” Wlvn passed it and tried not to grin too hard.

Wlkn placed his chin in his hand, his elbow on the table and stared hard at his two companions. He looked like he was ready to sulk until Wlvn spoke up. “You better fill your plate. No telling when we may get a next meal, and you are skinny as a sapling, new man or not.”

Wlkn said nothing, but he did fill his plate, twice. Then he mumbled as he sat back with a contented grin on his face. “Still, it’s been a good dream so far, overall.”

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MONDAY

A good sleep and a good meal helps, but the night creatures are still after them and Badl can’t think of where to lead them except into the swamp.  Happy Reading

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Reflections W-4 part 2 of 3

Wlvn woke at first light and found that Badl already had the fire up and three perch cooking on the end of sticks. “Morning Lord.” Badl tipped his hat before he pulled a good-sized clay cup out of a hidden pocket in his cloak and wandered down to the river to fill it. Wlvn looked over at Wlkn, who appeared to be sleeping comfortably despite the loss of his mattress. He looked to see that the horses were near, and then he paused as he heard the baby wailing in the distance. The night creatures had crossed the river in the night, and Wlvn stood to get a better grasp on his bearings and perhaps get a better determination on how far away they might be. There were a few trees nearby, and he thought to climb one to look, but he supposed that crying sound likely traveled for several miles and the creatures might be too far away to see. He knew that they would make up the distance soon enough once the night came so it did not really matter if they were a mile away or three.

“Son.” Wlvn heard the word and paused. Someone stood in the shadow of the trees, someone hard to make out in the dim light of the dawn. “Son.” The man spoke again, and Wlvn took one step back. When the man stepped out from the shadow, Wlvn took another step back, not believing what he was seeing.

“Father.” He breathed the word because this could not be his father. His father got selected by the helpers, and as he looked closer, he saw the deadness in the eyes. A sudden breeze blew the stench of death in his direction.

“Son.” The body spoke again. “I have come to help you.”

Wlvn shook his head. “I don’t know what demons are keeping your body upright, but my father is dead.” He spat the words, for even in death and decay, this man did look like his father.

“Wlvn, my son. I am your father. I set out with six others, and they gave me their flesh and bone so I could reach you. I want to help. I know you seek to kill the Lord of All and I have come to show you how that can be done. Here, take my hand, I haven’t much time left.”

The man reached out his hand and tried to smile with putrid, decaying lips. Wlvn jumped back. “No! Keep away.” Wlvn had watched a fly enter a hole in the man’s cheek and come out somewhere near the opposite eye. He knew this man was stone dead and he felt afraid to listen, yet he could not help himself, because this man looked and sounded so much like his father. “I will listen,” he said. “But you must stand where you are and come no closer. I will not be infected with your death and demons.”

“Son.” The dead man paused for a moment as if thinking of what to say or do. At last, the putrid smile returned and he grabbed hold of his left wrist with his right hand. One yank, and the left hand broke free of the arm. “You are right. A touch would infect you, but it would also infect the Titan. Here. Take this hand in a cloth so when you find the Titan you may infect him with death.” The man shuffled forward one step and came out from the trees altogether.

“No!” Wlvn jumped back again. He loved his father so much he wanted to cry, but this was not right; it was not good. It had to be a trick to kill him—to give the demons entrance to his soul. “No!” He shouted again. “You are demon flesh. You are not my father.”

“Son, I am your father.”

“My father does not know what a Titan is,” he yelled and found two tree branches come up along each side of him. Wlkn held one and Badl had the other. They caught the zombie in the chest and arms and shove for all they were worth. They might have knocked the zombie on its back which would have accomplished nothing, but the zombie was slow to react and was still holding out the hand, trying to get Wlvn to take it. With that bit of balance going for it, the dead man began to stumble backwards.

“Son.” It spoke once more as its legs tripped back over a fallen log. It headed toward the water, a bane for any dead man, and when a foot stayed at the log, it became completely off balance. It rolled when it caught the riverbank and as a last gesture, it tossed the broken off hand in Wlvn’s direction. It fell short, even as the dead man fell into the water and began to break up into little pieces of flesh and bone.

“Don’t touch it.” Badl yelled at Wlkn about the hand and the foot while he went to find the right sort of branches to pick up the appendages and add them to the body in the river. All Wlvn could do was cry.

Once settled back around the fire, no one felt hungry.

“Save these for later,” Badl said, and they disappeared into a pocket in his cloak. Wlvn got the horses while Wlkn put out the fire and Badl protested. “Not up on those things again!”

Once all got settled, no small task in itself, Wlvn started them upriver.

“But the creatures are this way,” Wlkn protested.

Wlvn said nothing until they were well beyond the place where the zombie had fallen in. “Cross.” He said, and he went down once again into the frigid water. They rode all that day along paths Badl selected and in that way, they came in the late afternoon to a strange sight. It looked like a mansion; at least that was what Wlvn called it. It stood two stories tall, all painted white, and it had great columns along a wide porch, and double doors in the front where Wlvn half expected to find a doorbell. Out beside the mansion, there stood a great orchard which looked to be filled with apple trees and what he guessed were golden apples.

Badl shook his head. “Never saw this place before. It must be new.”

“Who lives here?” Wlkn asked the more practical question.

“I have an idea,” Wlvn said. “I only hope she will shelter us for the night.” He rode up and tied Thred and Number Two off at a railing. Wlkn followed his lead. Badl was a little slower getting down. He sniffed the air and did not trust what his senses told him.

“Apples,” Badl confirmed. “God’s apples. Not for the likes of me.” He got down and did not care if Strn’s horse wandered off.

Wlvn found a great copper knocker on the door and when he knocked, he heard the boom echo through the house. The door opened of its own accord, and they stepped in, Wlkn and Badl doffing their hats in the process. Wlvn, who had no hat, shook out and ran his fingers through his long red hair before he spoke.

“Hello?”

“Hello.” The answer came from a woman, and they moved as a group into what appeared to be a dining room. The table looked laid out with a sumptuous feast of boar’s head, venison, pigeon, salmon and flounder. Plenty of vegetables and fruits completed the feast, though Wlvn noticed there were no apples. A kind of rude beer sat ready to wash it all down, not that they needed any encouragement. They were starving, only having tasted a bit of perch at lunchtime, surprisingly still warm, but full of lint from Badl’s pocket.

“Smells wonderful,” Wlkn said, but he felt unwilling to move forward until invited, no matter how tempted he might be.

“Welcome.” The woman’s voice came before they saw the woman. That only happened when she stood up from a high-backed chair that sat facing away from them and toward the fire. “Please, come and help yourselves.” The woman smiled and put out her arm to invite them to sit at the table. She opened her robe in the process in what seemed a most innocent and welcoming gesture. Of course, the men were unable to move, seeing what they saw. This young woman had skintight, see-through clothing on under her robe which hid nothing, and neither was there a smidgen on that glorious body that needed to be hidden.

“I’m too old for this,” Wlkn mumbled.

“I’m too young,” Wlvn echoed.

“Gentlemen, please.” The woman smiled more broadly, apparently satisfied for the moment with the reaction she provoked.

“Well, I’m hungry,” Badl said. “Er, thanking you very much.” He tipped his hat and he moved to a chair at the table, and that got the others moving as well.

Reflections W-4 part 1 of 3

“I tell you, there’s good eating on these beasts.” Badl raised his voice.

“And I tell you these horses are not for eating.” Wlkn sounded just as determined and he looked up when Wlvn rejoined them. “Lord, you have to straighten out this little person.”

“Little person? I am not a short human, I’m a dwarf, a gnome if you want to get technical, and anyway, I am sure you have never tasted horse bacon and sausage the way I can make them.”

“Badl.” Wlvn spoke the dwarf’s name and Badl thought about things again and whipped off his hat.

“Lord?”

“And Wlkn. You said Lord.”

“Well, I was listening to this gnome person,” he pointed. “Anyway, maybe that’s a fair word for the god of the horses, or anyway, someone who seems to be friends with the real gods.”

“Loki is not my friend,” Wlvn mumbled.

“The god with the Lord of All.” Wlkn smiled. “I figured that one out all by myself.”

“God of horses? I never heard anything so lame in my life. He’s my god, god of all the elves, light and dark, and the dwarfs in between, too. The gods decided that some fifty years ago, in the days of Kartesh.” Badl built up a good head of steam before he remembered himself once again. He turned back to face Wlvn. “Counted among the gods, he is, even when he is no more than a grubby boy. That’s a fact.”

“See? That hardly makes you a normal, human mortal, does it?”

“Counted among the gods, he is.” Badl nodded.

“Stuff it,” Wlvn responded. “We have to decide what we are going to do here.” They paused as the wailing in the distance came again and this time it abruptly turned into a scream, like the scream of a mountain lion.

“They’ve got the scent.” Badl looked worried. “Let’s hope it is the horses they are after because they never give up, and they never quit until they are dead, or they got what they are hunting.”

“What can we do?” Wlkn looked as worried as the dwarf, but it seemed hard to tell because worried was Wlkn’s natural expression. Wlvn heard a different sound, looked up, and saw that beautiful bird. For some reason, the bird had come back and circled over their heads. Even as Wlvn looked up, it took off across the river. Wlvn had to run to the hole he made in the back of the shack to see, and the others followed. The bird landed in the water again, just like before, and it climbed the bank and took off again to the southwest, paralleling the river on the far side.

“Maybe she wants us to follow her,” Badl suggested.

“She?” Wlvn wondered.

“What is it?” Wlkn asked and stared off in the distance, though the bird flew out of sight.

“Called a swan, she is. Isn’t she beautiful?”

“Yes.” Wlvn and Wlkn spoke together as they heard the screaming again, but not quite as far away, and with perhaps a bit of a roar mixed in.

“It’s got the scent,” Badl said once again, and worried his hat almost to the point of tearing it.

“We cross the river.” Wlvn made the decision. He knew that horses were good swimmers, and while the river appeared fairly wide and deep at that point, the current looked gentle enough. “The trick is going to be getting Badl up on a horse.” He laughed, but it turned out not a difficult thing to do. Wlvn had to order the dwarf to get up on Strn’s mount, and even then Badl only felt prompted by the fact that the night creatures were clearly getting closer. He sat well despite the short legs, and the horse looked very comfortable with the gnome on his back.

Wlvn guided Thred slowly into the water. It felt very cold, and he remembered that it was November, but the horses went without argument. Even Badl’s horse followed the crowd, though to be sure, Badl looked more like Brmr’s size on the beast’s back and hardly looked in a position to guide, much less control the horse. Then again, the gnome, like all true gnomes, had a natural affinity for animals beyond anything a normal, human mortal might imagine. If Badl could not exactly speak to the horse, he could make himself understood, and now that the horse knew that it would not be eaten, it responded willingly to Badl’s verbal directions.

As the horses got to the depths and began to swim, Wlvn lost Number Two’s reigns. He looked back to make sure the horse still followed and saw in the last of the sunset, three beasts looking like gray terrors, standing in the shadows on the bank of the river, smack in the hole in the shack—the very place they just vacated. One of the creatures lifted its head and let out a wail such as they had not heard before. It sounded like a lost soul in torment. The other two beasts growled and roared at them like something between a bear and a lion’s roar, frightening to hear. The horses picked up their pace, and Wlvn saw one of the beasts enter the water to follow. The other two waited on the shore and watched. Wlvn raised an eyebrow at that behavior and wondered how intelligent these creatures might be. At first, the beast in the water did fine since it started in the shallows and it could wade without problem, but once it hit the deep water, where the footing fell away, it stopped, and it might have stood there for a time if a wave had not come and pushed the beast into the deep.

“Incoming,” Wlvn said. He expected the night creature to begin to swim after them, but instead he heard the beast whelp and squeal in despair as it sank into the deep to drown. “Halleluiah!” Wlvn changed his tune. “They can’t swim. We should be safe as long as we can keep the river between us.”

Wlkn looked up as if thanking the Alfader himself. Badl stayed too busy trying to hang on to the horse’s mane to do much more than make a simple comment. “Water sprites,” he said, and Wlvn heard and swallowed hard. The water sprites were his, too, just like the earth sprites—the elves and the dwarfs—and the fire sprites, and sprites of the air, too. It was too much, he thought, as Thred found his footing again and came up out of the water. Fortunately, at that moment, he hardly had time to contemplate it all.

“Lord.” Badl spoke as soon as he could speak again. “They will find a place to ford the river and be on us again before you know it, but I know some spirit paths that can take us out of range in short order.”

“Dwarf paths, where you can cover many miles in a few short hours?” Wlvn asked.

“I guess,” Badl said, not knowing what a mile or an hour was.

“You can find these ways in the dark?” Wlkn asked, aware of the conversation while his eyes still looked back. He lost his mattress in the water, but that was not what he looked at.

“This way.” Badl did not answer directly.

“Wait.” Wlvn got off of Thred’s back and mounted Number Two. Thred puffed, badly from all the exercise he had that day. Then again, he was not going to be pulled along like just any horse, so about all Wlvn could do was shake his finger in Thred’s face and tell the horse to keep up. With that, Badl started out and the others followed, though Wlkn at least wondered how the dwarf could see anything in the dark. He did not know the virtue of the dwarf nose or the fact that dwarfs in general were underground creatures and well suited to dim light.

It took only a couple of hours before Badl said they would be safe. The river still sat on their left, and indeed, having abandoned it almost at the start, they came upon it suddenly again just before stopping. Apart from a few small clumps of trees, neither Wlvn nor Wlkn saw anything but grassland that whole time. How a dwarf could find a short-cut through that was beyond them, but Wlvn at least remembered one old adage and decided not to look this gift horse in the mouth.

“Even if they find a way across right away, they won’t get here before morning, fast as they are,” Badl said. “Of course, in the morning they will have to find shelter from the sun where they can lay low for the day. You say night creatures can’t swim and that may be, but I know for certain that sunlight is like a bane to them, and they can’t move in it at all.”

Wlvn nodded, but he kept watching Wlkn make a fire. “I wish we had something to eat,” he said.

Wlkn looked up briefly and went back to work. “I wish I had that mattress,” he said. “Lord, that was comfortable.” And with that, and the fire burning, the three travelers lay down in the grass by the river and slept, not altogether successfully.

Reflections W-3 part 3 of 3

It took all morning to complete the gentle turn around the bend in the stream. They had to walk their horses slowly through the rocks and briars of the grasslands, and sometimes they had to walk through the stream itself. The gully, which had been shrinking by the hour on both sides, now joined the flat grasslands, and the stream meandered across the surface of that land until, far in the distance, it ran into a great river. They could see a village along the riverbank, and Wlvn nudged his horse to a trot. He dragged Number Two along with him. Wlkn came at a little slower pace with two horses in tow, but by around three in the afternoon they came within sight of the houses. The village looked like the villages of their people apart from it being out in the open, not surrounded by trees, and yet one thing was very different about this village by the river. This village looked to have a stockade, like a little fort built at the back of the houses, right up against the water.

“Looks deserted.” Wlkn commented as they slowed again to a walk.

Wlvn nodded. “Deserted for some time,” he said, as he examined the farm fields. They were grown over with weeds like they had not been planted in several years.

“Maybe the Lord of All sent his helpers to burn them out,” Wlkn suggested.

Wlvn shook his head this time. “The buildings are run down, but still standing, not burnt. Besides, the Lord of All is not Lord of as much as he says. The arm of that Titanic monstrosity does not reach this far.” Wlvn had to shiver just thinking about that giant.

“So! There is land beyond the center of the universe.” Wlkn grinned, knowing for certain something that had long been a debate among the villagers. “The Lord can’t reach us here.” He looked happy for a second.

“I didn’t say that,” Wlvn said, as he kicked Thred again to a trot and only stopped and dismounted when they came up alongside the first hut. Sure enough, there were no fires, and no sign of people at all, but there were signs of wreckage. It looked like some kind of battle had been fought there.

“What happened here?” Wlkn asked.

Again, Wlvn did not answer right away as both the Princess and Diogenes came up into his mind and directed his eyes. He found a spear at his feet, under a tarp of some kind, with golden hairs, animal hairs, still attached to the stone tip as if glued there by blood. Just inside a big, ragged hole in the wall of one hut, in a place where the rain could not wash it away, there were more golden hairs.

“Hello?” Wlkn called out, just in case.

Wlvn walked up to the fort. The stockade had been broken through in several places, like with a battering ram, or something very heavy that got applied with great force. If he did not know better, he imagined some person might have thrown himself against the wall until he made the hole, but then he supposed even the Gott-Druk were not that strong.

“Hello?” Wlkn called again. He dismounted but held his reigns tight, no doubt thinking of the need for a quick getaway.

Wlvn dropped the reigns of his horses and stepped through one of the holes in the stockade wall. “Hello?” He echoed Wlkn. “If anyone is here, please come out. We will not hurt you.”

“So you say.” A voice responded and both Wlvn and Wlkn got startled to hear a response. Wlkn took a couple of steps back in case he had to run. The voice came from inside the hut at the back of the stockade, but no one could be seen.

“You see? I have no weapons in my hand. I only wish to talk, to ask what happened here.”

“I see weapons at your back. Dark elf, by the look of them. What are you, a Hobgob?”

“Just a boy and an old man,” Wlkn said as he stepped up beside Wlvn, having decided that standing next to the one with weapons might be the safer course. “We seek only shelter for the night and mean you no harm.” With that, Wlkn decided some show of their peaceful intent was due, and he began to gather up some lumber with the idea of making a fire while he thought, too bad they had nothing to eat. Of course, both he and Wlvn were well used to going without food for a day or two.

“Oh, no!” A head popped out of a window in the hut. It had a bulbous nose, a long brown beard that hung from the window almost to the ground, and beady little eyes that nevertheless looked old and wise and much older than Wlkn. “It isn’t safe here,” the face said. “Especially not at night. Night is when they come. You will bring them back here. They will come for you. It isn’t safe.” The head withdrew, back into the dark shadows of the hut.

“Bain!” The name, burst from Wlvn’s lips before he could stop it. The face in the window immediately popped out once with terribly wide eyes and withdrew again. The little one looked utterly shocked to hear that name, of all names.

“Bain?” Wlvn questioned himself, having no idea where that name came from, but it sounded right, even if it did not sound right at the same time. “But you can’t be Bain. You are far too young,” Wlvn concluded.

“How do you know that?” The voice fairly shouted from the hut, but the face stayed hidden. “How can you possibly know that?”

“Come out.” Wlvn shouted right back. “Let me look at you.” Something clicked in Wlvn’s psyche, and he knew this was one creature over which he had some say. The creature, a dwarf of sorts, came out of the door like his Lord had called him. He trembled, just like Wlkn trembled in the face of the Alfader. Wlkn took one look at the dwarf and dropped every stick of wood. This creature, clearly not human, made Wlkn tremble, too. “Your name?” Wlvn had it on the tip of his tongue, but he could not quite verbalize it.

“Badl,” the dwarf said, and he removed his hat in Wlvn’s presence because he felt it was appropriate.

“Badl. Of course. You must be Bain’s—”

“—Son. Yes, your worship, your honor, sir.”

“What the…?” Wlkn watched the exchange between the boy and this spirit of the Earth, and he decided then and there what had been brewing in the back of his mind all day; that this all actually had to be a dream and he was safe in his hut sleeping, or maybe he died, only he did not feel dead.

“You must be the god my dad told me about, but he said you were a woman.” Badl tried to make sense of what he felt. “But then he did say you were a man when you changed him, you know, from a regular imp to a gnome.

“I suppose I was, Badl.” Wlvn got that much out before he froze. Everyone looked up as they heard the distant sound of wailing, like a baby’s cry. The sun looked ready to set, and Badl had a quick look as if checking the time before he spoke. It felt near five.

“Lord, you have to get out of here. The night creatures, they will come like they came before. All they do is eat, and they are fast and strong and nearly impossible to kill, and…”

“What are night creatures?” Wlkn got back to his questions and looked at Wlvn. He decided that even if this was all a dream, he did not want it to turn into a complete nightmare if he could help it.

“I don’t know, except they have golden fur.”

“Mostly. Some are black and motley colored.” Badl started to answer before he shook his head and started again. “You have to get out. They hunt and eat, and never give up. They rest in the day under the shade but hunt as soon as the night comes.”

“Loki’s guardians.” Wlvn suddenly understood and put two and two together. “How long have they been walking the perimeter of the forest?” he asked.

Badl twisted his hat in his hands. “Couple of years,” he said, his face all twisted up with thinking.

“Since the days we started with horses and riders,” Wlvn concluded.

“Maybe we can fix the barricade.” Wlkn tried to be practical. He still did not know what night creatures were, but he did not like the sound of them. “Loki?” he wondered.

“No good.” Badl started to whine. “The men made it as strong as they could. Look, they used whole trees, but the night creatures busted through anyway. They just kept hurling themselves against the wall until they finally broke in. All those women and children.” Badl looked ready to cry.

“Bring the horses inside the barricade,” Wlvn told Wlkn, and the old man nodded. It was something to do to keep his mind off night creatures that he never saw and hoped he never would.

“Lord, lord!” Badl seemed about to shred his hat when Wlvn put his hand on the dwarf’s shoulder.

“It will be alright,” he said, and he stepped into the hut to look out the back window, except the back wall had no window. The hut had literally been built right up to the water and framed without an opening, so in order to see, he had to kick hard against the logs of the hut until they started to give way. “Help me,” he said, and Badl helped until the back wall opened up in a large gap. Several logs collapsed and Wlvn only looked up once to be sure the roof would not fall on his head.  He looked across the river and saw the most beautiful bird he ever saw fly down on to the water, near the far bank. It appeared to look right at him, but Wlvn assumed it could not really be looking at him, being a poor, dumb beast. It began to sing an alluring birdsong that sounded as lovely as the creature itself, and it climbed carefully to the bank. With one more look back in Wlvn’s direction, it took again to the air and flew off in a southwesterly direction. Wlvn watched it for a time before voices drew him back into the stockade.

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MONDAY Chapter 4

They gain a dwarf to go on the journey once they convince him the horses are not for eating.  And they find a lovely lady who will feed them.  Until Monday, Happy Reading

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Reflections W-3 part 2 of 3

Wlkn swallowed slowly before he fell to his knees and dropped his head. Odin ignored the man and bent over toward Wlvn. Somehow, he laid his hands on Wlvn’s head and before Wlvn could object, something went from the king of the gods into Wlvn’s stomach, or at least it felt that way.

“So you can return fire yourself if they should send another airboat in your direction,” Odin said and sat up straight. “So, where are you headed, any ideas?”

Wlvn frowned. First Poseidon filled his spirit with horses and now Odin filled him with a power strong enough to take a Gott-Druk shuttle out of the air in flight. “Southwest,” Wlvn said, but he could only guess.

Odin did not look pleased with that, but his words were merely curious. “I would think your troubles are behind you, back the way you came.”

“Zeus has something I need,” Wlvn said. “I have to have something to kill the Titan. That is not an easy thing to do, you know.”

“Yes, I know,” Odin responded from experience, but then he had another question. “So, your intention is to kill the Titan?”

“Yes. It is my intention.” Wlvn spoke flatly, but it scared him to death to think about facing that great creature, so he thought instead about getting a swing at Loki if he could.

“Good, good.” Odin appeared to be satisfied with Wlvn’s answer. “Then I won’t stand in your way or keep you.” He shook his reigns, and without another word, his horse began to carry him up into the sky. Wlvn saw the rainbow bridge drop down for him, but he said nothing because he felt sure a dumbfounded Wlkn could not see anything but the Alfader flying. After only moments, Odin was too high to be seen, and then Wlkn looked once at Wlvn, but stayed on his knees.

Wlvn frowned. He did not understand what was going on. If Odin wanted the Titan dead, why didn’t he just do it himself? If he did not want to do it himself, Wlvn knew Tyr or Thor, or any number of other Gods would be glad to kill one more giant. Why did Odin want Wlvn to do it?

Wlvn had to whistle again for Number Two. “Get up old man,” he spoke sharply to Wlkn. “We have a long way to go.” Wlkn got up but said nothing at all until they started out along the stream at a slow and gentle pace. Then he seemed to burst with questions.

“That was the king of the gods?”

“Yes.”

“And to be clear, who was that woman who met us earlier, the one that gave me this wonderful sleeping pad?”

“Vrya. Goddess of love and war.”

“I figured it had to be something like that,” Wlkn said. “Did you know she spoke to me, even though I was unconscious at the time?” He seemed a little confused by that idea.

“What did she say?”

“She said I am supposed to stay with you and use my wise, old head to help you in any way I can. You do know I am too old for this? All this riding will probably kill me, I shouldn’t wonder, and then I will be no good to you at all.” He brushed back his gray hair, what he still had of it.

“And I am too young,” Wlvn admitted. “Your point?”

Wlkn shrugged. “I am traveling with the god of the horses, why should the rest of this surprise me?”

“Not me,” Wlvn said. “I’m just as normal, mortal, and human as you are.” Or at least he was before Odin laid hands on his head. It made him wonder what Mother Vrya did. She touched him, twice.

“Hmm.” Wlkn had to think about that. “So now, I suppose you know where we are going?”

“Right out of this world altogether,” Wlvn responded. “The king of the gods in the next world over has something I need to kill the Titan.”

“What?” Wlkn tried to grasp the concept of passing out of the world, altogether, but Wlvn thought he asked what he needed to kill the Titan.

“I need blood, from a beast called the Golden Hind; that is, if Zeus has not yet destroyed them all.”

“And you did not mention this to the Alfader?”

Wlvn shook his head. “I would guess he probably already knows; but in any case, it would not have been polite to talk about something that can kill a god.”

“The gods can die?” Wlkn started having real mental problems with all of this. Wlvn decided to hold his tongue. After a moment of silence, Wlkn stopped so Wlvn felt obliged to stop as well, and he turned Thred to face the man and waited patiently until the man spoke.

“I need to know,” he said. “Gods know the knowledge will probably kill me, but the gods also know that I will be no good to you if I don’t know. I can’t imagine the surprises we may have to face out here on this journey, but I hate surprises. A big enough surprise might make my old heart stop altogether, so I figure you have some explaining to do.”

Wlvn understood, but he hardly knew what to say. “I don’t know where to start.”

“Try the beginning,” Wlvn folded his arms.

“Well,” Wlvn swallowed. It already sounded impossibly strange to his ears, and he had not yet said anything out loud. “I’ve lived before, in the past, and I will live bunches of times in the future as well. You see, when I die, I won’t really die. I’ll just be reborn somewhere else and grow up into a new person. I won’t just be a copy of me, Wlvn.”

Wlkn scrunched his arms tighter around his chest. “And how do you know this?”

Wlvn knew that like Flern he had no choice but to show the man. “Back there,” he said. “When Loki yelled at his helpers to stop that man, me. I traded places with the Princess and got away.” And he did that very thing again. Of course, when Wlvn vanished to be replaced by a beautiful young woman with long, golden-brown hair and deep blue eyes, Wlkn’s jaw dropped. The Princess smiled and raised her arms like she was showing off. “Do you like my disguise?”

With that, Wlkn slid right off his horse, and had no mattress on the ground to catch him this time. The Princess jumped off Thred’s back. “Are you alright?” she asked, worried, and lifted his head gently from the ground.

Wlkn shook his head opened his eyes and screeched. Immediately the Princess went away and Wlvn came back. “Sorry,” he said. “I suppose it can be a bit of a shock.”

Wlkn nodded. “So, when the goddess said she was your mother, she was not kidding.”

“One day she will be,” Wlvn confirmed.

Wlkn scratched his chin. “That explains a lot already.” He paused before he offered his assessment. “And it helps. Yes, it actually helps me understand and be more comfortable.” Wlvn felt glad for that and helped the old man back up on his horse. Wlkn had another thought as Wlvn got back up on Thred.

“So how many lives do you have in there?”

Wlvn paused again. How could he explain this? They were not inside of him, but in their own time and place. The Princess came into the past from almost four thousand years in the future. He decided it was best not to get into why he was the Traveler in time and did a quick count, instead. “Ten right now that I can remember.” He got the man riding again as he talked. “There is the Princess. She is the huntress, an expert beyond any our village ever saw. I’ll be depending on her to help find the Golden Hind when we get there. Then there is Diogenes, chief of spies for Alexander the Great —but then you don’t know Alexander the Great. Diogenes is the consummate warrior, but I hope we don’t have to call on him. Mishka is the doctor, the healer, and I hope we don’t need her either. Then there is the Storyteller.” Wlvn paused.

“What does he do?”

“Keeps a record of all these different lives. Keeps my mind straight, you might say.”

“That’s four,” Wlkn pointed out, and Wlvn nodded.

“Then there are the two who belong to the gods. There is Vrya’s son and Amphitrite. She was wife of the god that first brought me the horses. A goddess of the sea, actually.”

“Like I said, that explains a lot. You spoke to the king of the gods as neighborly as I might have spoken to your father in the old days. I suppose we might expect all sorts of gods and goddesses popping in and out on this journey.”

“God, I hope not.” Wlvn turned up his nose at that idea, but Wlkn could not see him. “There are two more. They are the last two lives I lived before I was born. First there is Faya. I think though I only remember her because she is connected to Nameless in some way that I have not yet figured out. She died some eighty years ago or so.”

“I thought you said you did not die.”

“Oh, I feel all the pain, not the least the pain of letting go of all the people I love.”

There was silence again for a moment before Wlkn spoke. “I’m sorry for that.”

What could Wlvn say? He took a deep breath and continued. “My last life was Kartesh.” Wlvn smiled at his stray thought. “She discovered dragons.”

“What are dragons?”

“You don’t want to know.”

They rode a bit before Wlkn brought it up again. “There are still two missing.”

Wlvn nodded. “Me you know. And the one I am closest to is Flern. She doesn’t live that far away, only about six hundred years in the future. We are like partners, I think. I am experiencing her life while I am experiencing mine, and she is experiencing mine as well as her own.”

“I would be pleased to meet her,” Wlkn said honestly enough.

Wlvn shook his head. “Maybe later. Besides, apparently, she looks like me. We are genetic reflections, like identical twins of the opposite gender, if you know what I mean.”

“No idea what that means, but I have to say you are a very masculine young man. I can’t imagine a girl that looks like you.”

“She is very pretty. She is a beautiful young woman, and just thanked me, by the way, for calling her a woman instead of a girl.”

“You can talk to these other lives?”

“Sometimes. In my head,” and he got lost in an internal conversation that Wlkn stayed polite enough not to interrupt.

Reflections W-3 part 1 of 3

Wlvn returned to consciousness very slowly. The sun appeared to be ready to rise in the sky by the time he sat up and listened for sounds of pursuit. All he heard was the sound of a baby crying in the distance, and he remembered his experience from the last time he came to the edge of the land of the abomination, as Vrya called it. He arrived back in the spring, before he had eight months stolen from him. He decided that he still did not want to know what might be making those calls, because when he listened more closely, he concluded that it did not sound like babies at all. Thred dutifully stood there, not in a panic yet, so Wlvn knew the babies were not close enough to smell. He hoped they were not close enough to smell him and the horses. He considered that possibility as he took a good look around.

“I was beginning to think you were going to sleep forever, or maybe die on me,” Wlkn said, as he stirred the small fire he had built.

Wlvn said nothing. Wlkn had tied off Brmr’s, Gndr’s and Strn’s horses, and Thred stood close by, but Wlvn had to whistle for his second-best horse. The horse trotted right up when called, and Wlvn’s first thought was Number Two was not a very good name. On second thought, he looked in the direction where Number Two had been foraging and he saw that they were at the edge of the forest. A wide grassy plain sprawled ahead of them. One dip that rose again on the other side, up to some rocks—boulders, really, that protruded from the grass, but then the grass appeared to level off and it seemed to go on forever.

“We have to keep moving.” Wlvn spoke at last.

“Where?” Wlkn asked. “I don’t even know where we are.” He stood and looked around in a complete circle.

Wlvn grabbed Number Two’s reigns and climbed up on Thred’s back with only a slight groan. Wlkn shrugged and got up again on Brmr’s horse, having tied the other horses to trail behind. Wlvn had laid hands on Wlkn some time ago, so he knew about horses well enough, even if he never rode much and never wanted a beast of his own.

“Before the undead get here,” Wlvn added in the slightest whisper. He nudged Thred forward, knowing that the horse had already had more than enough work that day, but he only planned to walk the horses in a general south westerly direction, and he felt fairly sure that he had not recovered enough yet to do the walking himself. Thred did not seem to mind, so they passed beyond the trees, out on to the grasslands, and started down into the gully where they discovered a stream that bent around a corner and moved on its own in a southwesterly direction. Wlvn amended his plans and decided to follow the stream, thinking that at least they would not die of thirst.

Half-way down the dip, Wlvn heard a screaming sound above his head. A Gott-Druk shuttle shot down from the clouds, straight toward them. Wlkn let out a little screech. He did not recognize the craft from that distance, but he did not like the look of a bird that big. Wlvn surmised that the Gott-Druk hovered up beyond eyesight and scanned to see where he emerged from the trees. He turned Thred and kicked the poor horse to make the full effort but going uphill proved not nearly as easy as going downhill. Wlkn also turned his horses around, but he stopped when the mattress Vrya had made slid off the back of Gndr’s mount.

A high radiation particle stream came from the ship in a sudden burst. The shuttle appeared armed. Though the shot had not been well aimed, the shuttle not yet being close enough, it turned a boulder into gravel, vaporized part of the stream, and sent a great cloud of steam into the air. This convinced Wlkn to leave the mattress where it lay.

“Come on!” Wlvn shouted to encourage Wlkn and the horses in the climb. At least under the trees the Gott-Druk could not get at them so easily.

The shuttle fired a second shot. This one came closer, but even as Wlvn topped the hill, he saw an echoing shot of something strike back. The shot from the ground looked much better aimed, and more powerful besides. It tore through whatever screens the shuttle had and punched a hole all the way through the ship itself where it came out the top side to disappear in the clouds. The shuttle began to wiggle in the air and Wlvn guessed the lucky shot from their savior must have melted the stabilizers. Smoke poured from the back engines as the shuttle headed toward the far side of the rock ridge. The pilot tried to keep the nose up but could not. It disappeared behind the rocks and a ball of flame and smoke burst into the sky in the distance, like a mini-volcanic eruption. Wlvn and Wlkn heard the thunder of the explosion and the scream of twisted metal.

Wlvn turned again and let Thred walk down the hill to the stream. Wlkn wisely decided to stay put on the edge of the trees while Wlvn dismounted where Thred and Number Two could water. He used his own recovering legs to climb the other side of the gully as he wondered who fired that answering shot. He felt grateful, but it was a mystery because he knew the Elenar could not be anywhere near the Earth, yet. As Wlvn huffed and puffed his way to the top, a man stepped out from behind a boulder, a helper, a Gott-Druk. He looked cut, bruised and burned, and he appeared to limp, but he held the high radiation pistol in his hand steady enough.

Wlvn stopped and considered putting his hands up but changed his mind when he thought the gesture would be lost on the elder.

“Stay where you are,” the Gott-Druk spoke in a gravel voice. The pistol wavered as the helper cleared his throat.

“Gott-Druk.” Wlvn called the man by his proper designation and that got his full attention, and curiosity. “You were removed from this world in the time of the great disaster and no longer have a place on this planet. Leave.”

The Gott-Druk grinned and chomped his teeth which had been unnaturally sharpened and presented a horrifying sight. “We were invited, whoever you are.”

“I thought your kind was all vegetarian,” Wlvn said. The Gott-Druk were omnivorous, but not great meat eaters apart from the snow and cold days of winter.

The Gott-Druk broadened his grin. “You do not know everything, whoever you are. We are the Children of Layettee and have vowed to consume Adam’s flesh until your kind are no more.”

“You can’t have the Earth back. Leave, before it is too late,” Wlvn said, and with that, he turned to start back down to the stream. He knew his legs were shaky, but he figured the Gott-Druk was in no better shape to catch him.

“Stop!” the Gott-Druk yelled. “Stop where you are, or I will fire.”

Wlvn shook his head. “Your kind always shoots first. If that pistol had a charge, I would already be dead.”

The Gott-Druk roared and threw the pistol at Wlvn’s head, but Wlvn anticipated this and easily ducked. “I will catch you, and when I do!” The Gott-Druk hissed at him without finishing the sentence. He did not have to. Wlvn knew if the Gott-Druk did ever get his hands on him, the elder would probably tear Wlvn to pieces. The Gott-Druk were very strong.

“Save your strength.” Wlvn paused and turned to face the elder again. “The Elenar have been called. They will be here soon. If I were you, I would go back and get your crew and leave this world while you can.” The Gott-Druk’s jaw dropped, but he stared at Wlvn to see if Wlvn might be lying. Wlvn responded to the stare. “I may not know everything, Child of Layettee, but I know who your enemies are.”

The Gott-Druk roared again, but this time Wlvn heard the sound of frustration. The Gott-Druk began to limp in a different direction and headed down that side of the gully to where the stream turned into the woods. From somewhere in that direction, closer than last time, both Wlvn and the Gott-Druk heard the baby wail. Both paused and the Gott-Druk glanced back in Wlvn’s direction once before he took the short cut, down into the gully and up the other side to the woods. Wlvn decided that it might be a good idea to get away from whatever made those sounds.

When Wlvn got back down to the stream and horses, he had a surprise waiting for him. A man, an ordinary, human-looking man sat astride a horse of his own, only this strange horse had six legs. Wlvn shaded his eyes a little against the rising sun in order to take in the man’s face and features. He saw no eye patch, but the horse remained a dead giveaway. Wlvn knew who it was, and he named the man. “Odin. Alfader.”

“Should I do away with the elder one?” Odin asked. That felt strange enough. The gods never asked, especially young human, mortal boys.

“I should say not.” Wlvn spoke with certainty. “I want him to get back and take his people off this planet, preferably before the Elenar get here. The last thing I want is a space battle in the upper atmosphere with high radiation weapons shooting every which way. Better they should be gone so when the Elenar arrive, on not finding them, they may turn around and go, too.”

“Avoid the conflict altogether.” Odin sighed a little. “Probably wise.”

“Hello.” Wlkn came up leading the horses, having stopped long enough to retrieve his mattress. “We have company?” He shaded his eyes like Wlvn and looked up. The early morning sun that shone around the man on horseback seemed exceptionally strong.

Wlvn made the introductions. “Wlkn, this is Odin, the Alfader, king of the gods.”

Reflections W-2 part 3 of 3

Dismounting got the boy babbling.

“B-but, you were, you were….”

“One of the gods. Yes.” Wlvn dragged Gndr to old man Wlkn’s house where Strn and Brmr were already piling out of the doorway.

“N-no, you were….”

“Dressed for war and with weapons, yes I know.” Wlvn picked up Brmr for a hug while he looked at Strn. “Get your things, all of them,” he said.

Gndr tugged on his sleeve. “N-n-no! You were a girl.” Gndr, at fifteen, noticed.

“Oh. I suppose I was,” Wlvn said. He had not really thought about it that way until Gndr mentioned it.

“You’re not a girl,” Brmr assured him and Wlvn took a second to smile for her, but that was all the time he had. The mothers, children, and few old men and women left in the village were beginning to gather and ask questions. Wlkn asked as well. Wlvn whistled for all of his horses before he turned to the gathering crowd.

“Go,” he said. “Flee. Go visit your parents or relatives in the other villages. Go visit a friend. Move in.”

“What? Why?” People asked.

“The helpers will be here soon with their flying wagon, and I don’t expect there will be any village left after they are done.” The people looked horrified, but they did not move until Wlvn yelled. “Go! Now!” A few screamed and everyone shouted as they rushed off to gather whatever few possessions they might have.

“Wlvn?” Old man Wlkn did not ask an actual question.

“You need to come with us,” Wlvn said, and he turned to his siblings. “Gndr and Strn, mount your horses. We have to ride hard and fast.”

“Not again,” Gndr complained, but he did as he was told.

“But it will be dark soon,” Strn protested.

“I don’t know if I can,” Wlkn said, honestly enough, while Wlvn gathered the reigns of the gentle mare that Brmr started learning to sit upon.

“You must do your best,” Wlvn told Wlkn, even as he looked at Strn.

“But that’s my horse,” Brmr complained.

“You are riding with me,” Wlvn assured her, and he lifted her to the back of his second-best horse, and after realizing that he had nothing worth taking, he jumped up behind her and grabbed the reigns.

“But wait.” Old man Wlkn, who had gotten up very carefully on to the back of Brmr’s horse, looked like he wanted to dismount again, like he forgot something, but Wlvn interrupted the old man’s worried mumbling.

“Too late. Ride.” He took off. Gndr and Strn followed, after a moment, and Wlkn tried to catch up the whole way. Fortunately, with the coming darkness, Wlvn knew he would have to slow their pace, considerably. He only hoped that they could gain an insurmountable lead, first. He knew the shuttle might find them through the trees; but then it might not have scanners sophisticated enough for that. To be honest, the thing that scared him most was the idea that they were being followed by a bunch of dead men on horseback.

Wlvn never looked back, he didn’t dare, but he kept his ears open. He expected to hear the faint whine of the helpers’ shuttle at any moment. Helpers! Wlvn gagged a little on the name. He remembered who they were, one of the elder races of humanoids that had once shared the earth, but who had been taken off world in the time of a world-wide catastrophe. The Storyteller called them Neanderthal, but they called themselves Gott-Druk; and then he remembered something else. The Gott-Druk were not supposed to come back to the earth. Neither they nor any of the other elder races were supposed to return. Nor were they welcome. Yet here they were, helping Loki and a Titan enslave the one remaining earth-bound race, the human race. Fortunately, Wlvn remembered yet one more thing. One elder race, the one called the Elenar had issues with the Gott-Druk. Wlvn did not know where the message came from, whether it came to him from somewhere in time, or from somewhere closer to home, he heard the message loud and clear that the Elenar were on the way.

“Great!” He mumbled. All he needed was two ancient, space-faring races battling it out right over his head.

“It is great!” Brmr shouted, her face in the wind and her hair blowing for all it was worth. “It is great.” She said it again and turned her head to smile up at her brother with a smile so full and sure, Wlvn could practically count her teeth.

 Wlvn prayed mightily, but he did not stop when he saw the line in the ground up ahead, now in the dim light of the moon rise.  He felt the sting as soon as they touched the barrier, but he had every hope that the horses would carry them across to safety, and they did, though it was not far before they slowed and eventually stopped. Both Strn and Gndr had slipped off to lie unconscious on the ground. Old man Wlkn stayed up on horseback, but he sagged and looked ready to slip off his mount at any moment. Brmr still breathed, thank God. Wlvn felt terribly dizzy, but he alone stayed conscious, not because of any virtue on his part, but because he was more or less fully grown, going on nineteen years, and yet still young enough to withstand the electrical shock. Sadly, there would be nothing he could do for the others for some time. Good thing he did not have to.

Mother Vrya arrived. She helped the boys recover quickly and made a cushion for Wlkn to fall on. Wlvn got down, Brmr in his arms, but he quickly fell to his knees and felt in danger of passing out. “Mother.” He managed the word before he slumped forward. He felt grateful for her attention, and he imagined she would speak soothing words. He did not expect the scolding.

“Quit being so dramatic. You survived the electric fence; now change to my son for a minute.”

“Oh.” Wlvn spoke with his face in the dirt and once again, he vanished from that time and the Nameless god came to take his place. “Mother!” Nameless almost scolded her right back as he sat up and spit the dirt from his mouth that Wlvn should have tasted: but the word of near scolding came also full of love. Vrya, after all, was the goddess of love.

Vrya stood over Brmr, the little one, but she paused as Nameless stood. She walked up to him with a very strange look on her face. “How long before you will be my little one?” She asked and placed her gentle hand on his cheek to caress his face.

“You know I cannot tell you that,” Nameless responded, but he had to smile when he said it.

“You know I cannot help asking,” Mother Vrya said, and she returned to her task. She picked up Brmr in her loving arms. Gndr and Strn shuffled up to stand beside her as she glanced at Wlkn who lay still, unconscious on his cushion. “Now that you are free of the land of the abomination, I can take these children to a safe place. I am sure you already have something in mind to do. I suspect that it will not be an easy journey, especially if you run into too much interference, only remember, I will be there when you need me, my son.” And she vanished. They were all gone, disappeared into thin air so only Nameless, old man Wlkn and the horses were there, including Thred, who had followed them all of the way from Wlvn’s village.

Nameless got to his knees as a precaution before he went away and Wlvn came back, also on his knees, of course. Wlvn thanked Nameless for being thoughtful because he decided that he might pass out for a while after all.

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MONDAY Chapter 3

Wlvn and old man Wlkn begin their quest but are immediately interrupted by Odin and by a high radiation energy blast which is luckily not well aimed.  Until then, Happy Reading

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Reflections W-2 part 2 of 3

Wlvn had a week to prepare for his journey to the center of the universe. He left the actual preparation of the grain and the wagon in Gndr’s hands since Gndr came of age and could not avoid going. Strn, not old enough, had to stay home and take care of Brmr, though Wlvn expected old man Wlkn to do most of the watching since he finally reached the age considered too old to make the trip.

“It will probably snow,” Wlkn said, while his eyes examined the sky. “And the villagers from Mskvt will fail to show up with the grain, and with the snow, we probably won’t be able to hunt or gather much.” Wlvn ignored the man and walked away before Wlkn started in on starving to death and whatever other worries might be on his mind.

While Gndr got the grain ready, Wlvn carved a new kind of harness, one where the horse could pull with his shoulders, not cut against his neck. He knew he tempted some time displacement in doing that, but he would not put Thred in any other kind of harness, and he would not take any other horse. Thred did not like being made to pull a wagon at all, but he was willing to lower himself for Wlvn’s sake who believed, without any evidence, that it was imperative he have the quick means for a getaway.

“All right, Thred. It won’t be for long.” Wlvn assured the horse and the horse puffed in response, but settled into a nice, easy pace. When they got to the line, Gndr seemed amazed. He never saw so many people in his life and he did not know that many existed. Wlvn hushed him and told him to keep his head lowered and do as he was told, just as he had been instructed by their father. “Don’t draw attention to yourself.” Wlvn talked to both Gndr and Thred, and then he looked around for his mysterious cloak, but he did not see Mother Vrya anywhere.

When they came to the top of the rise, Gndr let out the expected gasp, and Wlvn hushed him as he had been hushed. As they came near enough to be within range of hearing, Gndr, Wlvn, and every man and woman in the train had a terrible start. Wlvn had to cover Gndr’s mouth to keep him from screaming, and he had to look away to keep his own scream at bay. The Titan came out of the dome. He eyed the horses in the line and drooled like he could eat several, raw, and no doubt he would have if the immortal had not stepped between them.

“My Lord!” Loki shouted up and did something in the exercise of his godly power to be sure he was heard. Wlvn and everyone else found their eyes drawn up to the Titan, but in his fear, Wlvn quickly pulled his gaze away and turned it toward a party of mounted men that were half-hidden by one of the long houses. Wlvn recognized several men from the villages who looked to be riding in good order, and some helpers were with them, though they did not look at all comfortable on horseback. “My Lord!” Loki regained Wlvn’s attention. “Consider this new development before you act in haste. Think how these riders can extend your territory and bring ever more to the truth.”

The Lord of All did consider, and he looked out over the line of humanity which already served him, utterly. When he spoke, it was in a voice like thunder.

“Very well.” The Titan’s face seemed easy to read. He looked reluctant to give up his lunch. “For it has been said: cursed is the ground because of men. Through wretchedness they shall eat of it all their days. By the sweat of the ground, they shall eat until they return to the ground from whence they came, for they are dust and to the dust they shall return. All men must know this. We will extend our reach until all men can be made to understand.” With that, the Titan reached out and grabbed a man, snatched him right up off the ground. The man screamed. Many people screamed and looked away. The man stopped screaming when the Titan bit the man’s head off and went back into his dome because clearly the smell of horseflesh was driving him crazy.

Wlvn focused his eyes for a minute on Loki and noted how easily he swayed the Titan, even when the Titan wanted something. Wlvn wondered who was in charge here, and the worst of it, Loki would probably get away with it by blaming it all on the Titan. Wlvn felt like letting out a little Flern-type “Grrr,” but he got interrupted by a woman’s voice.

“No, no, my son.” He felt the tap on his forehead. Of course, by the time Wlvn looked around, the cloak went half-way down the line. He watched it disappear over the little rise, and then he heeded Mother Vrya’s advice, turned his eyes from Loki and concentrated on the task at hand. He reached down and scooped up a big handful of mud left from the recent fall rains. He splattered it directly in Gndr’s face which made Gndr open his eyes, wide. The mud went back and forth for a little, but then Wlvn ended it when he spoke.

“That is about as unappetizing as I can make us, now drag your feet and look down. Don’t do anything except what you are told.”

Gndr looked like he finally understood on the third telling. He tried to look stupid which Wlvn thought was a very simple thing for his brother to do.

When Wlvn and Gndr were third from the front, the movement of the horsemen caught Wlvn’s attention. He looked up, but his first sight was the face of Eir, peering out from the little window in her cage. He felt like she called him and spoke to him, though she could not have been speaking, exactly, from that distance. “It is a trap.” Wlvn hardly had time to respond when the horsemen pulled up for a closer look.

Wlvn looked down, emptied his mind and did everything he could think of to hide, hoping they would pass him by, but they stopped alongside the wagon all the same. Wlvn looked up at the riders in a last, mad hope that they might not give him away, but what he saw disturbed him beyond anything he had yet seen. The humans looked like empty shells. This appeared far worse than mere mind control or brainwashing. These men were the living dead, soulless zombies, animated flesh or flesh reanimated by the souls of the men after death, and it seemed a wonder the horses would even let them ride. Again, Wlvn suspected Loki. Wlvn knew that none of those living-dead options would be beyond the reach of the gods, but he also knew that the flesh was probably no longer under human control. No doubt, the flesh had become demon infested. They certainly pointed out Wlvn without hesitation, and one of the decaying corpses even made a sound probably meant to be, “He is the one,” but it came out, “Eeeaawonn”

Gndr screamed at the sight of the flesh falling off that finger, but Wlvn did not have the luxury to scream. One second, he reached for his knife and the next second he no longer stood there. Diogenes came all the way back in time from the court of Alexander the Great to stand in Wlvn’s place. What is more, he came clothed in the armor of the Kairos, god-forged chain mail over leather, and he had a sword at his back and a long knife across the small of his back also forged of that wonderful new material the dark elves had discovered, Flern’s dream metal, bronze.

“G-gods of Olympus!” Diogenes’ sword jumped into his hand, and he cut down the nearest helper where the helper had a hard time keeping his seat. He cut the restraining harness on Thred’s back with the same stroke. Thred responded by rearing up and making a great noise in the face of the zombies. Terrified by the smell of death, he could hardly contain himself. Gndr barely got out of the way, and at the same time, Diogenes sheathed his sword, well-practiced soldier he was, leapt up on Thred’s back and grabbed Gndr with his hand to drag the fifteen-year-old up behind him in one motion.

The zombies started to push their horses in to cut off his escape route, but Diogenes grabbed Gndr’s hands around his waist and brought Thred up again. Thred responded with a great noise and motion that made the other horses hesitate, and Diogenes seized the opportunity to race for freedom, brushing by the horse formerly occupied by one of the helpers, where the horse desperately tried to back away. Diogenes considered and went away from that place to let the Princess come and sit with Gndr, lightening the load on Thred’s back.

The sudden appearance of the woman in the man’s place disturbed and confused the zombies and dumbfounded the helpers so none of them went rushing after her. That allowed the Princess to take off back up the road at great speed, and she wasted none of the opportunity. Thred seemed more than happy to get out of there; but then, Loki, a master of false appearances, had not been fooled in the least; yet even he shouted, “Get him! Stop him! Kill him!” That did not help the zombies or the helpers since the boy, Gndr, was the only him present at the moment. The Princess wondered why Loki did not simply trap her with a small exercise of his godly power, but then, she did not waste too much energy wondering.

As soon as they were over the rise and out of sight, the Princess considered trading places once again through time even as she caught sight of the robe out of the corner of her eye. She thought Mother Vrya smiled. Of course! She traded places with Vrya’s son-to-be, the Nameless god, and that proved a good thing, because Gndr could not hold on much longer. Nameless glued the boy to his seat, but then he found he could do little more. No way they were going to disappear and reappear in Wlvn’s village. “Eir.” He said her name out loud. She was the one, blocking Loki’s efforts, canceling out any exercise of Loki’s godly power. That eased the Princess’ getaway. Unfortunately, Eir blocked Nameless as well. Nameless knew it was only because she was so young and did not exactly know what she was doing. Nameless smiled and loved the girl as he always would, and he at least tried to send a message. “Thanks. I’ll be back for you.” He felt her heart beat a little faster.

Thred let out great gasps of air by the time they got back to Wlvn’s village. The sun would soon be down, so he did not have much time to make his moves. Nameless unglued Gndr, who looked to be in absolute, uncomprehending shock, and then he let go of that place so Wlvn could return to his own life. Wlvn decided to keep the armor and weapons, however, and his armor dutifully adjusted itself to fit this new form

“Get down.” Wlvn had to tell his brother what to do and help him dismount.

Reflections W-2 part 1 of 3

It did not take long to disseminate the knowledge of the horses. Several villages were nearby, the fields almost touching, a necessity given the harsh conditions of their lives. Giving the knowledge of horses entailed Wlvn laying his hands on a lot of heads. The men were always grateful. With horses and knowledge, their hunting range would be increased ten-fold, and that alone might be enough to keep the winter plague at bay.

With horses beneath them, it did not take long to capture more. Some were trained to be ridden while others were trained to pull the plow or wagon. Wlvn got to select the riders and separate them from the work horses, though every village often had more than one able student, quick to learn. The people gave Wlvn the name, God of the Horses, and people began to treat him like one of the gods, whether he liked the name, or protested, or not.

The villagers agreed to keep this knowledge as far away from the helpers as possible. The villagers all agreed to keep their horses in the fields away from all well-worn paths, but as the days wore on into summer, people became animated about the possibilities for the future. Men, who had lived their whole lives without the slightest glimpse of hope, now became excited about the future. One man even had the courage to dream the impossible.

“Perhaps we might pay back the helpers for their cruelty and flee to a place beyond the reach of the dome altogether,” he said.

“There is no place beyond the dome.” A different man gave the crushing response.

“Then we will have to destroy the dome.” A third man spoke. He thought he was being realistic, though no one mentioned the Titan, or the immortal in residence, or the fact that the helpers had airships that could rain down fire from the sky. Wlvn did not imagine the fire cared if the man walked on foot or rode on horseback, but he held his tongue. Nothing he could say would deter men from dreaming, and he knew these dreaming men had never dared to dream before in their whole lives.

In the end, Wlvn got proved right. The secret of the horses lasted until the next harvest. Then, more than one idiot hitched his horse to his wagon to haul in his grain. Wlvn felt glad that at least no one proved so terminally foolish as to ride to the center of the universe. To Wlvn’s surprise, there did not seem to be much reaction from the dome. As one man described it, “The immortal convinced both the helpers and the Lord of All to let the men keep their horses. He said, “Consider the increase that may come from this new beast of burden the wretched have found for themselves.” You can be sure he meant to increase their take. He also said that the Lord of All should get horse meat off his mind. I suspect the Lord was thinking of his supper.” The man snickered.

Wlvn and his father were shocked at the man’s brash words. Just six months earlier, no one would have dared speak of the Lord of All with such disrespect.

~~~~~

Early one spring, the spring of Wlvn’s eighteenth year he whistled for his best stallion and took off across fields. He raced around the stubborn drifts of snow and through the trees just to see how far he could get. Thred, the horse, seemed more than willing to get into a good run, being an energetic three-year-old. Wlvn considered his horse’s name. It was the first horse among them all that the Princess called, “beautiful,” and she should know. She had been virtually raised on the back of a horse. Thred meant “beautiful” or “beauty,” but still, Wlvn could hardly call to his horse without thinking of his friend, or rather, Flern’s friend, Thrud. The language had degraded by Flern’s time, but Thrud still meant beautiful. Vinnu meant flower. Elluin meant little one. Pinn was a tough one, but it probably meant a gift, where in another time and place, the Storyteller suggested that it might mean “Gift of Grace.” Flern meant doe a deer, a female deer. To avoid singing, Wlvn imagined the grace and speed of his beast; but then he could not help envisioning Flern staked out on some guy’s dinner platter with an apple in her mouth. Would it be Strawhead Trell, Fat Fritt or Tird? Wlvn laughed as he heard, or imagined in his mind, the distant sound of a “Grrr.”

Wlvn turned his mind to his own prospects. He was not interested in any of the girls he knew, and though he supposed any unmarried young woman in the nearest dozen villages would have been overjoyed to be the wife of the God of the Horses, he found none of them especially attractive and imagined there might not be a brain among them all. True, Flern was known to say that Trell, Fritt and Tird shared a single brain. “They take turns using it.” Wlvn heard her say. But there it was. It bothered him and her. Whoever they ended up with simply had to be able to carry on a conversation. Wlvn wondered briefly if that would be the case in every life he lived.

Wlvn rode, prepared to camp out in the night. He honestly wanted to see how far he could get in a single day so he kept to a straight line as well as he could. He rode away from the center of the universe, and he did not stop until poor Thred became all breathless and sweating. Wlvn leapt from the back of his horse, not because he had seen something in the lowering sun that turned the sky red in front of him but a bit off to the left, and not because the land appeared any different up ahead, but because of something he saw in the dirt. It looked like a strip of dirt all along the ground where no grass grew, and it made a line in both directions for as far as Wlvn could see, perhaps curving just a little in the distance to suggest a circle.

Wlvn reached down and found a good stone. He threw it past the line, but nothing prevented the stone from following its normal course. At least he knew it could not be some kind of particle screen. Wlvn looked again, and he saw a bird pass right through the space. He thought he might just be imagining things, but the line in the dirt appeared so pronounced, it had to be something. When Wlvn walked up to where he stood only a hand span from the line, he found Thred by his shoulder. He patted the horse’s nose and apologized before pushing his horse’s nose beyond the line. The horse felt nothing, but as Wlvn’s fingers got close, he felt something like an electrical charge run right up his arm. Wlvn withdrew his hand, quickly and told Thred to eat up because it would be a long way home. Thred puffed and went right to grazing on the stubborn grass that survived all winter beneath the snows.

Wlvn tried to put his hand out again, but he felt it tingle and decided not to get any closer, even as something caught his eye. He saw a face in the clouds out near the sun. Wlvn had taught his baby sister, Brmr, to look at the shapes in the clouds, and he got good at picking out all sorts of animals and such, but this seemed more of a face than he had ever seen before. It almost looked like a real face, even before it winked at him. Wlvn felt so shocked at the wink, he fell back and landed hard on his rump. The face puffed its cheeks and began to blow, and when Wlvn felt the wind, he knew it had to be one of the gods. The wind blew strong, and it covered him and Thred, who paused in his munching to draw closer to Wlvn. Wlvn reached up with one hand for the drooping reigns, and Thred helped pull Wlvn to his feet, but at the same time, Wlvn had to use his other arm to cover his face and eyes, because the wind blew leaves, twigs, and plenty of dirt in his direction.

The wind stopped all at once, not at all like a natural wind. When Wlvn looked again, he was not surprised that the face in the clouds had gone. “Strange events,” Wlvn mumbled, as he patted Thred’s nose. Thred puffed again and seemed to nod in agreement.

~~~~~

Wlvn camped in the night, and about two in the morning, he woke when he heard some eerie sounds in the distance. It sounded to him like a baby wailing. Wlvn jumped up when he first heard it. He wanted to find out if it might actually be a baby in distress, but he paused when he realized that the sound came from over the line. He stopped altogether when he heard several babies start wailing at once. He decided then and there that it really did not sound all that much like a baby, and maybe he did not want to know what it was. He threw another log on the fire and went to see Thred. The horses’ eyes widened, and his ears darted back and forth as if listening, intently, yet Thred did not seem to be in a panic at the sound. Wlvn decided that the horse probably did not recognize the sound. Wlvn never heard such a sound before either, so he rubbed his horse’s flank for reassurance and threw yet another log on the fire.

In the morning, Wlvn decided not to test the line. He would save that for another day, and besides, he had to get home. Father, hardly a mother substitute, only had eight-year-old Brmr, not much better, to help. Of course, Strn at thirteen and Gndr at fifteen were completely useless, and Wlvn wondered briefly if he had been as useless as Gndr at fifteen.  That thought made him wonder again about Flern and her Gunder. Gunder and Vinnu were married for a whole year by then, and Wlvn wondered how long it would be before Vinnu became pregnant. Meanwhile, Thrud and Kiren were about to marry, and Pinn and Vilder were officially engaged, though as far as Wlvn knew, no one had yet seen them touch. That left Flern, and sadly, Elluin, who looked like she would marry Drud the crud. Wlvn decided that he would like to get his hands on Drud just once to beat him up for a change, and then maybe beat up Bunder as well, just because of the way he looked at him, her—Flern.

Wlvn pulled his ragged cloak up tight against his shoulders. It might have been early spring, perhaps around April first on the Storyteller’s calendar, but it still felt cold in the wind. He rode, mostly without thinking at all, just looking at the trees and grasses, and wondering how long it would be before he saw the buds. With that thought in mind, he rode into the village and found everything changed.

For one, no one could be found at the house. For two, people came up to him and asked where he had been all that time. For three, he found out it was not early spring anymore, but after the fall harvest and only a week away from having to make the trip to the center of the universe. Wlvn felt a bit like Rip Van Winkle, but then he got angry. That god in the cloud had taken advantage of him in a way not strictly lawful. Unfortunately, he still did not know who that god might be, so he was not quite sure who to be mad at. More unfortunately, he got quickly distracted by Brmr who came running up to him for a hug. She arrived in tears, and she said that she and Strn and Gndr had been staying with old man Wlkn for three days, ever since the helpers came. Wlvn looked around, quickly, but Father was nowhere to be seen.

Reflections W-1 part 3 of 3

Since Wlvn had turned old enough for the pilgrimage, he got to hunt that winter with the men. He did not have to hang around his mother’s skirts and dig through the snow to gather whatever he could or climb trees to steal nuts from the squirrels. All of that digging and climbing could be hard work, especially when it turned ten or twenty below. Of course, hunting was not exactly easy, though as often as not, for the first couple of years Wlvn got to stay in the camp and keep the fire burning while the older men went out into the wilderness. In fact, he was busy doing that very thing one day when he had an unexpected visitor.

A mature man came to him, one certainly older than Wlvn, though it seemed hard for Wlvn to tell exactly how old the man was, like the man appeared very old and quite young at the same time. The man held in his hand a string of large, swift animals tied in a line. Wlvn had seen such animals before and ate one once when the men brought back one that they claimed had fallen into a ditch. He had never seen them before, though, with bits in their mouths and reigns and standing still in a line as if the man himself was the lead stallion.

“You are Wolven?” The man pronounced the name imperfectly. “I’m sorry. You must be. I can’t read your mind all that well.”

Wlvn felt that he knew this man even if he could not find a name. He decided to stand up as tall as he could to show that he was not afraid, though indeed, if he felt anything, it was a protective warmth that emanated from the man.

“I am Wlvn,” Wlvn said. “What brings you so far from home?” He asked that because he felt that surely this man had to be a long way from his normal haunts.

“I have Odin’s permission,” the man said, assuming that Wlvn knew who Odin was. “Nereus, the Sea Elder said that in all the world you would be the only one who would know what to do with these and make proper use of them.”

“Horses?” Wlvn said the word like a question even as his mind flooded with images from the future—images of riding horses, plowing in the fields, of chariots and carriages and millennia of cooperation. The dog might be man’s best friend, but the horse was always man’s best help. Wlvn had to sit down again to clear his head.

“Who are you, really?” The man asked as he tied the lead horse to a tree branch and stepped closer. Obviously, the man had some thoughts on the subject.

“Poseidon?” Wlvn named the man and the man stopped where he was. “But I don’t really know what to do with them. The idea of catching them and training them and caring for them is all too complicated right now for me to remember. I think I am still too young.” Wlvn looked up into the big man’s eyes, but the man smiled as if he had guessed correctly.

“No, but that is easy,” the man said, and before Wlvn could protest, the man took that last step forward and laid his big hands on Wlvn’s head. Then Wlvn knew. In that moment, he knew more about horses than anyone alive, perhaps ever. “And here.” The man took Wlvn’s hands to help him stand, and Wlvn felt a strong tingling in his hands as he stood. “Now you can give the basic knowledge to others. It is that simple.”

“But where did they come from?” Wlvn asked. He let go of the man’s hands to examine the lead horse. He felt a little uncomfortable and not sure he liked the way the man kept staring at him.

Poseidon tried to get serious as he shrugged. “Athena won.”

Wlvn put his hand to his head. It all felt like too much, too fast. He felt a little dizzy. “Athens.” He got that word out and it helped him say the rest. “The olive tree.” Poseidon nodded and smiled and Wlvn felt the strangest thing happen that he had yet imagined. A woman pushed up inside of him; or rather, not inside, but from somewhere in time, one of those imaginary lives he would one day live. She pressed really close to his consciousness. It almost sounded like she might be speaking to him, like she stood right beside him, or inside him as he thought at first. She appeared to be asking if she could visit with her husband for a minute.

No. Wlvn thought, absolutely not. But the woman pleaded so sweetly, and Wlvn felt so confused at the moment, he finally said yes, but make it quick. Then Wlvn no longer stood in his own shoes. A woman stood in his place and Poseidon spoke her name.

“Amphitrite.”

She stepped up into his arms and they kissed, passionately, before she asked how the children were.

“How like a woman,” Poseidon responded. “Our son is just fine.” Then he got a very curious expression. “Children?”

Amphitrite nodded but said no more. She had obviously appeared very deep in the past, and they only had one son, Triton, so far. She knew she was not supposed to tell him about the future, so instead she reached up again and let him kiss her again and again. Finally, they heard a “Cooo! Cooo!” in the distance and Amphitrite stepped back.

“I will do my best with your gift.” Amphitrite spoke for Wlvn.

“You always do.” Poseidon grinned, knowing it was time to leave. “Children.” He let that word float on the air as he vanished.

“Thank you Wlvn,” Amphitrite said, not hiding the grin on her own face. She said the words out loud, though she knew Wlvn would have heard her merest thought. She told the horses to be good and mind the boy, and then she let out a “Cooo!” in Wlvn’s voice before she vanished and let Wlvn come home.

The first thing Wlvn did was wipe his lips clean, though it had not been his actual lips that did the kissing. Then he sat down because that had been the strangest experience in his life. He wondered briefly if he could do that again, and he thought of Flern; but no, he did not want to be another stupid girl. He got a shock when he actually heard a response.

“And I don’t want to be a stupid boy, either.” Flern spoke clearly into Wlvn’s mind, and he even heard the raspberries. Fortunately, the lead horse had just nudged him and let out a puff of cold air. Wlvn had to look at the horse. The men were coming back, and he realized that he had to act fast. Even so, it was nearly impossible to keep Ktrn from immediately killing one of the beasts.

After Wlvn explained things as well as he could, leaving out the part about Amphitrite, of course, he laid hands on the men so the horses would not appear to be simply lunch. They returned to the village without much meat, but with the most sensational find any village ever knew. They rode home, and Wlvn felt two things he never felt before. First, he felt proud, and second, he felt happy. Until that moment, Wlvn could honestly say he did not really know what happiness was, and given the hardship of his life, that was no wonder. Now, with the horses, that life might be immeasurably improved. Sadly, that elated feeling lasted a very short time. Mother had been taken by the selection.

A great deal of yelling happened at first. Brmr and the boys fell to tears. They could not frame clear sentences, but Wlvn could hardly blame them. Finally, Father and the other hunters got old man Wlkn to explain.

“They came on the ground and with one of their air wagons, though I cannot imagine how it stays up in the air. Anyway, they had some selections on the ground, and they looked like a despairing lot, though I did not see anyone from the other villages that we know.”

“They come around for selections every few years.” Father interrupted. “They want to make sure we are not hiding any grain in the years of calling. We know this.”

“They searched everywhere,” Wlkn said, and his eyes got big and filled with fear at the memory. “They were very thorough, and I felt sure that this time I would be selected, but when they finished searching my house, your wife asked me to keep the children while they searched your house. Then they asked about everyone and made sure we were all accounted for. They wanted families and ages and all. Your wife was very honest. She said she had three sons and a daughter that was six. That seemed to satisfy them, and I thought they would leave, but they said something about her replacing herself and she got added to the selections. It was just like that.” Wlkn snapped his wretched old fingers. “They tied her to the end of the line, and they were gone.”

“Where did they go?” Wlvn spat and growled. The red rose to his face and made him look and feel like he had a fever.

Wlkn raised his brows, surprised by the fury of the boy. “To the next village, I suppose.”

“Father.” Wlvn turned to his father, but the man stood still like a statue. “Father, we have to go after them and get her back.”

“Oh, that would be very dangerous.” Wlkn verbalized his fears. “They have an air wagon that can rain fire from the sky, and the immortal came with them.”

“What?” That got Wlvn’s attention. “What immortal?”

“The tall, boney one with the crooked eyes.” Wlkn blinked. “They said he was looking for a particular person. I am only glad he did not find that person here. I hate to think what might have become of us.” Wlkn looked away and started to shake his head.

“Loki!” Wlvn spat again as he turned to his father, but the man kept shaking his head as well. “But we have the horses now. We can catch them by surprise.”

Father looked up at that, but his head still shook. “No, son. There is nothing we can do.” He grabbed Wlvn by the shirt and spoke sternly into his son’s face. “And I forbid you to go after them.” He shook his son hard before he let go.

Wlvn’s face turned red with both anger and tears. He stomped off and for the first time in his life he seriously considered being disobedient. Someday, someone had to do something. He knew the Princess could track them easily in the snow. She had been gifted by the goddess Artemis herself and knew all of the ways of the hunt. And Diogenes could beat them up. Wlvn believed that Alexander the Great’s first cousin was the greatest warrior of all time. It was hard to think of Diogenes as simply himself in another lifetime. And if Mother is hurt, Doctor Mishka can heal her.

“And accomplish what?” Wlvn heard the words clearly in his head. It was like when Flern talked to him, except this sounded like a man’s voice—like the Storyteller. “All you will do is make them mad enough to kill everyone.” There. He said it.

“I’m sorry, Wlvn.” Flern added her words, but by then, Wlvn sat down to cry, bitterly. There was nothing he could do.

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

MONDAY Chapter 2

It does not take long to get horses into the hands of the people, but it puts a strain on Wlvn.  He takes a break before his village is called to the center of the universe where Loki and the Neanderthals are looking for him.

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