Neither Wlkn nor Badl moved, and Badl rather yawned.
“Well?” the man asked.
“Oh, are you talking to me?” Badl asked. “I thought you were talking to the man. There is only one at present.”
Wlkn shook his head. “I’ve lived my whole life under the gaze of the Titan. Now, there is a giant! What can a mortal man do worse than that?”
The big man grumbled.
“Hello. Do you have a name? My name is Elleya.” Of course, she had to speak up.
“What brings you our way?” Flern asked, as some suspicion crept into her voice.
“Hold on a minute, Red.” The man said. He seemed to be examining them closely. “It was the God of Light who sent me. He said I should meet you in the way. He said one dwarf, one halfling, one elf, one mermaid.” He counted his fingers as he pointed.
“I’m the mermaid.” Elleya said with glee.
“Wait! One elf, one mermaid, one old man, one lady, and one red headed man who I was to help reach the Great River beyond the mountains.” He paused and this time everyone waited in silence. “So are you them? Where is the old man and the red-headed man?” He stepped a little closer to Andrea and removed his hat altogether. “I see the wee spirits and the half-one, and the perfect lady.” He tried his best grin. “The god was right about that. But where are the others?”
“I’m the old man.” Wlkn spoke up. “I’m fifty and a bit, just older than the elf maid.”
“He had a run-in with Ydunna and one of her golden apples.” Badl said by way of explanation.
“And I’m the red-haired fellow?” Flern raised her hand.
The man looked again. “Sorry Red, but I can see you are definitely not a man. Why, you are almost as lovely as your lady friend here.”
“Andrea.” Andrea gave her name, though it seemed hard to read her expression.
“Boritz.” The big man readily gave his name in return.
“My name is Flern.” Flern tried to gain the man’s attention again. “And it is kind of complicated, but for now you have to pretend I am the red-headed man. Gods willing, he will come back here soon, and I can go home.”
There came a moment before the man shook himself free from staring at Andrea. “No. The god said a red headed man. Now, I don’t think the gods can be mistaken, and especially about something like that.” His eyes went back to Andrea and his smile returned as well.
Flern shook her head and tried to explain. “The gods don’t have my lifeline so what I do is a mystery to them. I am sure Wlvn was here when Vry talked to you; but Vry had no idea I would double trade and screw everything up.”
“Hush. Not so.” The others tried to comfort Flern, and she tried hard to hear them.
Boritz did not pay the least attention, staring as he did at Andrea. “Very clever, by the way, riding on the backs of your supper.”
“These horses are not for eating!” Wlkn spoke right up.
“I thought that very thing at first,” Badl admitted. “But I have since learned that these horses are good for something more than bacon, maybe.”
“Stop. You are making my mouth water,” Boritz said.
“My Moriah is a good cook, too,” Badl added. Moriah blushed.
“Your Moriah?” Andrea and Laurel spoke together.
“Ours.” Badl quickly corrected himself. “Our Moriah.”
“Do you know the way over the mountains?” Flern interrupted Boritz and stood between him and Andrea to be sure she had the man’s attention, not that he could not look right over her head. Boritz nodded. “And across the plateau and over the mountains on the other side?” Flern finished.
Boritz got serious for a minute. “The Were plateau is not for crossing. But I know some ways to go,” he said. “I’ve been all the way to the Great River several times.”
“Good.” Flern steeled herself and gave it her best shot. She grabbed Boritz the giant by his coat and lifted him right off his feet, to the surprise of everyone, not the least herself. She had to toss him a little to get him up on the horse but managed to set him behind Andrea. “I can’t just lay hands on like Wlvn, but you need to ride behind Andrea.” Andrea gave Flern a dirty look, but Flern knew that the god of light, Vry, was the twin brother of Vrya, the goddess of love, and she knew Vrya had a hand in Andrea’s arrival, so she simply added two and two together. She felt certain that Boritz had to be the one that Aphrodite knew would make Andrea happy. Flern remembered what Wlvn got told, that no one in the Greco-Roman world would make the girl happy. “And Elleya. Njord gave you to Wlvn?” Elleya did not understand the sudden question, but Wlkn answered.
“Yes, that’s right.”
Flern nodded. Njord was Vrya and Vry’s father. And Tyr sent Badl, and Tyr would one day be Vrya’s husband and father of Nameless, though Flern was not sure if Tyr or Vrya realized that yet. In any case, they respected each other and were cooperative and in agreement on most things, so where Thor, Njord and Baldur were giving women to tempt Wlvn—to be sure he faced the Titan—Vrya, Vry and Tyr were making sure those women got attached to someone else.
They made an early camp that evening, and Laurel went out with Moriah to hunt. Badl and Flern gathered what they could, while the other two couples sat around swapping stories. That evening when the sun set, Boritz lay down with Badl and Wlkn, though Elleya had to also lie beside her Wilken. That left the four girls to commiserate. It turned cold that night, so they huddled by the fire for warmth. Flern had to ask.
“I think he is the biggest, most arrogant, self-interested, and self-centered braggart on two feet.” Andrea answered. Laurel and Moriah looked shocked and felt sorry for Andrea, but Flern knew better.
“Really?” Flern said. “Do you like him that much?”
Andrea tried to keep a straight face, but she could not help the corners of her mouth or keep them from lifting up just a little. “Yes,” she said, and Flern said no more about it.
A short while later, Flern lifted her head from the conversation. She felt afraid that her ears were hearing the wail of a baby, but Laurel set her straight. “It is the swan’s song,” and Flern sighed in relief
“I thought swans were day creatures,” Moriah said, and Laurel shrugged. They all listened for a bit and Flern thought she heard something mournful in the song that maybe Wlvn never heard. It sounded very sad to her ears, though she could not imagine why.
Later still, when Flern finally got to sleep, she dreamed about the swan, and it seemed a lovely dream, but then she had a nightmare about the night creatures and felt fortunate that she did not start screaming in her sleep.